A Successful life
There are several kinds of Success. One is to have lived long and well; to have inspired all who knew you to clearer thought and better life; to have stood always as a rock for the decent thing; to have dealt so with ten thousand younger people that each, when you are done, shall feel that intimate grief as of a father’s death.
That was the success of Henry Lummis. He found life good—he made life better for an innumerable company. When he died, April 13, 1905, he had rounded out more than sixty years as a teacher. He was probably the senior Greek and Latin professor in the United Sates, in point of service, as he was one of the oldest, best-known and best-loved of educators. His surviving pupils are scattered over all the world—some of them still boys and girls; some of them great-grandparents. There is not one of them but remember with almost filial love the man who was so much more to them than a mere professor. William Lloyd Garrison has told me that no other one personality so charmed and shaped his life as a student; and there are thousands of others who will say as much. For three-score years, almost without a day’s interruption, his magnificent constitution bore him easily through an amount of scholastic work that few have ever equaled. Even in his old age, when the younger professors broke down with “overwork,” he took their classes on top of his own—and enjoyed it. A man of medium height, small-boned, close-knit, light as a cat in every motion, never looking his normal 165 pounds, a steady burner of the midnight oil—and for half a century without “exercise” except walking and similar mild exertions—he was of extraordinary physical power. His arms were round and smooth as a woman’s; but their sinews were steel.
No one, I think, that ever saw that face will ever forget it—particularly in the later years. A halo of snow-white hair, still thick and vigorous; a forehead broad and full and lofty; bushy brows, a strong but clear-cut aquiline nose; a thick white mustache that could not, after all, hide the firm mouth and chin. And more than all, those grey eagle eyes, full of humor and of love, but the last eyes in the world to defy. I have myself seen him daunt and cow a mob of drunken ruffians—his hands hanging loosely open at his sides, his voice so soft and clear that it sounded like a woman’s—but those eyes like whetted steel.
The eyes were life the mind—the clearest, cleanest, most alert and most logical of mentalities. Dr. Lummis was one of the most critical—as well as one of the longest trained—linguists in America; particularly in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. In the latter he probably had no peer. And he had the rare quality of being able to make his exactnesses reasonable and real and attractive. He was no less at home in the higher mathematics, and often taught them. It was a strange catholicity of heart and head—an absolutely unwavering devotion to right as he saw it, along with a tenderness and geniality and tolerance which nearly every pupil and parishioner will admit had no parallel in their acquaintance; an inflexible reverence for exactitude, combined with the gift to popularize.
Henry Lummis was born May 25, 1825, in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey. On his mother’s side he was descended from John Paul Jones, the naval hero of the American Revolution. His grandfather, William Lummis, was in Washington’s army. Many of the immediate family on the paternal side were of that iron band of circuit riders whose hardships and devotion in the cause of Wesley form one of the most heroic chapters in the history of the church in America.
Working his way by labor and by teaching, Dr. Lummis graduated from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Ct., in the class of 1855, and took his A. M. degree. Soon after, he became a professor at the seminary at Newbury, Vt., and later principal of the Lynn (Mass.) High School. He was married in Bristol, N. H., May 5, 1858 to Harriet Waterman Fowler, who had been his pupil at Newbury and an associate teacher at the Lynn High School. Their home in Lynn was in the famous Gen. Lander house, on Ocean street, where the oldest son was born, March 1, 1859. The girl wife died in April, 1861, leaving a baby daughter. Shortly afterward, Dr. Lummis became principal of the New Hampshire Conference Seminary and Female College at what is now Tilton, remaining there for about five years. His oldest daughter has since been for years a teacher there. Thence he went as professor to Lasses Seminary at Auburndale, Mass., and remained about five years. This professorship he resigned to enter the Methodist itineracy under the New England Conference, and held successive pulpits—in almost every case for the full term of three years—at Natick, Boston Highlands, Ashland, Monson, Watertown, Stoneham and Leominster, Mass. From the latter charge, eighteen years ago, he went to Lawrence University at Appleton, Wis., as professor of Latin and Greek. Until the last few months, he practically never minded a recitation. At his death, he was senior professor there. By subscription of the alumni, a life- sized portrait of him is being presented to the university library.
In 1894, Dr. Lummis spent the summer in Los Angeles with his eldest son; and there are many here who remember that rare old man. It was his plan to come this summer again—but he has gone to the one Better Countr
For a few weeks he had been unable to go to the university, and his classes came to him at his home. An attack of cardiac asthma had for the first time handicapped his quenchless energy. On Thursday, April 13, the classes recited to that undimmed intelligence. A little later, the white-haired old teacher leaned back in his chair, book in hand, for a little nap—and wakened no more in this world. No pain, no premonition, no tears.
It is something to have lost such a man—but it is more to have had him. Some of us began dead and will stay dead; but that kind of life never died. It goes on forever in every life it every life it ever touched, and in every life that they shall touch.
Dr. Lummis was by many years the last survivor of his father’s seventeen children. He leaves a widow (Jane Brewer Lummis) and six children—Charles F. Lummis, Louise Elma Lummis (now visiting her brother), Harriet Lummis, editor of the Young People’s Weekly in Chicago, Katherine Lummis of Milwaukee High School, Mrs. Gertrude Stehn, Chicago, and Laura Lummis, now in Stanford University taking a post-graduate course. Another son, Harry B. Lummis, died in this city about four years ago.
—C. F. L. (Charles Fletcher Lummis, editor, Out West:
A Magazine of the Old Pacific and the New, Vol. 22)