Address at Memorial Exercises
by Alexander G. Eells
The following address was given at the dedication ceremony for the LeConte Memorial
in Yosemite Valley, 1904.
It has fallen to me to take part to-day, on behalf of the Alumni of the University of
To say what the name LeConte signifies and stands for to me, or to any other of the
older graduates, is far beyond my powers of expression. "Dr. John" and
"Professor Joe"! The names call up images of the springtime of one's life, with
its freshness and vividness, when all was eager anticipation, and a rosy haze veiled the
difficulties and dangers - of the chivalric period, with its rainbows of promises and its
sowing of the seeds of future achievements.
Dr. John I met unawares during my entrance examinations, those days of dread to the
stripling applicant for admission from a country school. Restless from nervous
apprehension I had wandered to the end of the old "dummy" track toward Oakland,
and was sitting at the station, waiting for the car to take me back to Berkeley, when a
most kindly old gentleman sat down beside me and drew me into conversation. If he had been
my own father, his sympathetic interest could not have been greater, nor his words more
full of cheer and encouragement. the incident is amongst the most vivid of my college
Professor Joe I first met, soon afterwards, at one of the home gatherings which were
common then. I cannot explain the fascination which led me shyly to follow him about, to
listen whenever he spoke, nor the thrill of his words when he chanced to speak to me -for
he neglected no one. No more can I describe or explain the charm of a good woman, but I
know that Professor Joe had it; and that with it he had also that nobility of spirit which
commands respect, loyalty, and devotion.
It is not so much what he said nor what he taught that lives in my memory. The man
impressed himself. My most distinct recollection of his teaching os of the substance of a
lecture on the importance of scientific methods - those "tools of thought." The
idea was new to me at the time, and striking. Yet that idea seems as little connected with
himself as though gleamed from an encyclopedia. In himself, he was far above, and he
inspired thoughts far above any mere method,- thoughts for which words are too coarse and
too scant. In this was his true greatness; and however valuable his scientific work, it
cannot in the mind of any of his one-time students be compared in importance with his
personal influence nor with his spiritual radiance.
There are keen and brilliant minds that are yet as distant and as cold as Arcturus with
reference to human emotions. Men of science especially are apt to deem it a merit that
their thinking is impersonal, uninfluenced by considerations of the consequences to merely
human interests. Their admirably logical conclusions are held and taught with a lofty
disregard, and sometimes disdain, of the pity of it. They are more interested in the
"success" of the operation than in the life of the patient. The student at our
colleges, and even the average man of affairs of these days, has his impulses and
instincts curbed and his sympathies blunted by certain abstract and wholly unemotional
doctrines which are dignified and sanctified with the name of laws - the law of wages, the
law of supply and demand, the law of population and subsistence, the law of the survival
of the fittest, and the rest. These do credit to the human mind as a thinking machine, an
intellectual engine, but are hardly creditable as ideals for an immortal spirit, whose
wealth is not in the abundance of the things it possesses here but cannot take into the
Fortunate is the institution of learning whose influential teachers are men, rather
than dispensers of formulae; men whose measure of success is the effect upon the character
of the student rather than conformity with abstract laws.
Fortunate indeed also are the students whose impelling ideas, however severely
scientific, are yet alive, not excavated from books, but throbbing with the human grace of
such a teacher as Joseph LeConte - alive to pity, and to kindness, and to the service of
Professor Joe was a scientist, but science to him was not merely clods and beasts and
laws and logic. Human nature, human ambitions, human affections he rated far above these.
For him science was but the stepping-stool for aspirations and for ideals which do not
halt at the grave - which indeed can come to full fruition only beyond the grave. He knew
well, and he made his hearers know, that scientific methods are only contrivances,
man-made artifices, to be made us of where useful; but that to be bound by them is to be
enslaved by one's own servants. In the great crises of life it is not any of the
"ologies" that save. It is the homely truths consecrated by the experience of
the whole race of man, and embodied in the words mother, sister, wife, children,
friends. Neither the Greek Sage nor the Galilean Prophet taught science.
It is fitting that we should dedicate this memorial in this unpretentious way. It is
entirely in keeping with the simple, unaffected character of him to whose memory we do
Around us are the scenes he loved. Yonder dome holds up its massive head doing honor to
his name. To us all the surroundings are enriched by associations derived from him. Like
him, they hold themselves grandly superior to the trivialities and artifices of
conventional life, and to its petty distinctions. These mountains are hospitable to all
alike. As the President of the Sierra Club puts it, when we come to the mountains we come
home - home from the hollow pageants, the narrow conventions, the whited sepulchers - home
to the peace and calm of the spirit.
In his autobiography Professor Joe tells us that at one time he thought seriously of
joining the ministry; but found his calling elsewhere, - not to this regret, - for, as he
says: "One may be a preacher of righteousness in more ways than one." His
life-work demonstrates that there is no more effective way than just to be true, stoutly
and sturdily true, to one's higher self, to one's ideals. This, after all, is the only way
to make those ideals animate and forceful in the practical world. Mere preaching about
them cannot give them vitality nor influence, any more than reading about it in a book can
impart what Nature has in store for those who set foot upon her mountains.
These sublime surrounds are attuned to what is noblest in us. Through them, voiceless
Nature is preaching righteousness. He stands for it stoutly and massively, and she needs
no ritual, and she needs no artifice.
So he that hath the sublime in his soul, let him preach righteousness by living in
forth in its native simplicity, stoutly and sturdily. He shall awaken a responsive chord
in all unperverted natures, and a multitude shall call him blessed.
Let us dedicate this simple lodge to this purpose, to this ministry. Here our beloved
teacher came again and again, as one comes home, for cheer and for aid. Hither let us turn
as often as we may, not only for what we may gain of good from the sermons in these
stones, but still more for the higher, more quickening inspirations from a life true to
itself and in touch with Nature.
"God's truth has many voices; sun and star
And Mountains and the deep that rolls afar
Speak the great language; and of mightier worth
The lips and lives of godlike men on earth."
The LeConte Memorial Lodge still operates in Yosemite Valley today, due to the
contributions of those who share Joseph LeConte's love of Yosemite.
For more information, contact:
Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club LeConte Lodge Committee, P.O. Box 3543, Visalia, CA 93278.
Phone: (559) 697-3525. e-mail: email@example.com
Curator, LeConte Memorial Lodge, P.O. Box 755, Yosemite, CA 95389, (559) 372-4542. (summer
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