Orison Swett Marden Chapter XIII
Boston Days - Working Through Two Universities
The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter XIII:
Almost simultaneously, Orison Marden had passed two milestones, his
twenty-third birthday and his graduation from an academy. But he was in
precarious health. For years he had been burning the candle at both
Nature was calling insistently for rest. For the immediate future he had no definite plans. What should he do?
In his lonely childhood he had puzzled over questions of theology.
There was no one to whom he could take his questions. Outdoors,
surrounded by God's work, the wonders and beauties of Nature, he had
tried to answer them for himself.
Although he was a profound believer in the simple Christianity of the
Christ, the thought of entering the ministry apparently had never
seriously occurred to him. But the old childish questions that long ago
had perplexed and terrified him, when he was obliged to listen to Elder
Strong's fire-and-brimstone sermons, may have once more raised the
interrogation point in his mind. Whatever the motive, he decided to
Having been a good student at New Hampton, he had advanced
sufficiently to feel that this would not be nearly so difficult for him
as the full college course he was anxious to take.
In addition to providing him some time for resting and building up
his health, a course of study for the ministry would permit him to solve
certain financial problems which must be dealt with. Consequently he
entered the junior class in the Theological Seminary at Andover,
Massachusetts, where he spent one year. This gave him a groundwork in
the science of theology, on which he drew from later in his writings.
Each new plunge into the world of knowledge seemed but to increase
his hunger for more. The close of his year at Andover found him with
improved health and the feeling of the need of a college education
greatly intensified. He therefore lost no time in applying for admission
to Boston University, to which he had made up his mind to go. Having
passed the freshman's year examinations, he entered the sophomore class
While going through the regular university course, he continued to
work during summer vacations, first as head waiter and later as manager
of summer hotels. In addition, he had started what was known as the
"University Club," a dining club for professors and students, conducted
along lines similar to those of the one he had managed at New Hampton.
This endeavor netted him only seven dollars a week, but it was clear
profit and filled him with the joy of solving his financial
difficulties. It is doubtful if any "captain of industry" ever
experienced a finer thrill at the successful conclusion of a "big deal"
than did the amateur club caterer when he pocketed his first week's
earnings. "I felt that I was getting up in the world pretty fast," he
naively said, "when I could earn so much money and still be in college!"
A greater triumph was in store. So successful was the Boston
University Club that it attracted the attention of President Charles W.
Eliot, of Harvard University. He invited the young club manager to
Cambridge in order to establish a similar restaurant, on a larger scale,
There were numerous private student clubs throughout Cambridge, but
the faculty had long been anxious to create a more democratic spirit in
the university by getting the rich and the poor students together in a
social way. They wanted to strengthen the collective spirit of the
group, and felt that this could best be done by getting the students to
sit down together at the same table.
The experiment had been tried in Memorial Hall, a half-million dollar
building which had been erected to the memory of the Harvard men killed
in the Civil War, but it had failed because of inefficient management.
The food was so inferior, and at the same time so expensive, that it
pleased none of the students. The club did not in any way meet the needs
of the poor ones, who couldn't patronize it, and the rich ones
wouldn't. So the program had been reluctantly abandoned.
"After communing with a noble, magnetic personality, have you not felt
magnetized, as does a piece of iron on coming in contact with a great
- O.S. Marden
The friend who said that Doctor Marden had a genius for hotel making
did not exaggerate.
His ability in that direction had already begun to manifest itself. He
took hold of the Harvard problem, which had baffled older and more
experienced heads, and solved it to the satisfaction of all concerned.
The plan he submitted worked admirably in bringing the rich and poor
students together in Memorial Hall. In fact, it proved so successful
that the club remained in existence until the fall of 1924.
President Eliot was so pleased with what the young caterer had
accomplished that he recommended him to the trustees of the McClane
Asylum, in Somerville, for the position of financial steward. This was a
very responsible post for such a young man, the annual expenditure of
the institution being about two hundred thousand dollars, a very large
sum for that time. So anxious were the trustees to secure his services,
however, that, in addition to a large salary, they offered to furnish a
tutor to enable him to go on with his studies, if he would accept. He
refused the offer, however, as he wished to go on with his work in the
The institution was the same in which his guardian's son, George, the
"fashion model", who had been held up to Orison as a shining example,
had formerly held the position of a clerk. That wonderful young man had
recently been discharged. Meanwhile the much despised youth who had been
urged by George's mother to take him — George — as a pattern, was
forging ahead rapidly in his studies, and such an expert had he become
in the battle of life that, while still working his way through, he was
also beginning to save money.
It was fortunate that he had been able to do this, for the severe
strain on his eyes from so much extra study since entering the
university had begun to break down. The trouble became so serious that
his best friends advised him to give up his plans for completing the
course, but he could not be persuaded to do so. Instead, he employed a
student to read to him, and managed to go on with his work. His eyes
gradually grew better.
"Begin where you are; work where you are; the hour which you are now
wasting, dreaming of some far off success may be crowded with grand
- Orison Swett Marden
Orison Swett Marden Chapter XIII , continued...
About this time the whole country was stirred by the preparations for
the Centennial Exposition, which was opened at Philadelphia in 1876.
It was the first great exposition of its kind to be held in this
country, and everyone was eager to see it. Young Marden resolved to
give up his summer hotel work that year and go to Philadelphia.
"I wanted to see the great exposition," he says, "but I could not
afford to go unless I could pay my way. Out of that necessity was born
the idea of an exposition publication. So, with the assistance of four
other college men, from Harvard and Boston University, I published a
magazine called The Centennial Eagle. It gave me a really wonderful
experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. As I had a pass to the grounds,
there was an excellent opportunity to study the exposition, which I
visited nearly every day during the vacation months."
Between work and study there was little time in his strenuous daily
routine to see anything of social life, even if his bashfulness would
have permitted him to seek it. But, some time later, at the Boston
School of Oratory, he was fortunate enough to have a classmate who,
though younger than himself, took a great interest in him and invited
him to his home.
This was Franklin H. Sargent, the well-known dramatic teacher and
director. The friendship then formed between the two young men continued
up to the time of Sargent's death, only a short time before that of
Marden himself. Through the years they kept in close touch and
cherished the warmest affection for each other; and, when death took his
old friend, Doctor Marden grieved as he would for a brother.
Sargent belonged to one of the leading families of Boston, which was a
center of social activity in the 1870’s. His mother, widow of the
Reverend John Turner Sargent, was well known for her social graces and
her skill as an entertainer. Their home was an aristocratic and literary
center, and it was there that the famous Chestnut Street Club held its
Monday evening meetings, at which the celebrities of the day used to
gather and speak.
Mrs. Sargent took a kindly interest in her son's friend and did all
she could to give the bashful young man from the country a glimpse of
the social life of Boston. She frequently invited him to her home,
especially for the meetings of the Chestnut Club.
She knew it would be of great advantage to him to meet such men and
women as Phillips Brooks, Longfellow, Whittier, Dr. Bartol, James
Freeman Clark, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Julia Ward Howe, Mary A.
Livermore, and others of that stature, who were members of the Club.
These he often met at the Sargent home, in which a President of the
United States, orators of note, titled foreigners, and many other
interesting people had been entertained.
How he enjoyed these new opportunities and how grateful he was to the friends who provided them can hardly be imagined. Totally unaccustomed as he was to meeting people of culture and refinement, other than advanced students and college professors, what he saw and heard at Mrs. Sargent's amazed and delighted him. It awakened and fed the esthetic side of his nature, of which he had not before been conscious.
"It was," he said, "something to remember for a lifetime. I shall never forget how marvelously I was stirred to the very depths of my being by coming in contact with such wonderful characters. To see them, to hear them talk, to mingle with them, was, to one only recently emerged from the backwoods, like tasting a feast up in heaven!"
Of all the famous and interesting people whom he met at the Sargent home, the one who, perhaps, awakened his deepest admiration and love was Phillips Brooks.
"It is contemptible to look down when we may look up, to grovel when we
may soar, or to do the lower when the higher is possible."
"I had such a tremendous admiration for this great man," he says,
"that I actually overcame my bashfulness to the extent of calling on him
at his house in Boston. When I rang the bell my heart was beating like a
hammer, so that I could scarcely tell the servant my errand. The man I
admired so much not only received me, but also sat down beside me on the
sofa and talked to me in the kindest possible way.
I was in my first year in college and he gave me a lot of helpful
advice. In fact, he treated me so cordially and talked with me so
sympathetically, without making me feel in any sense that I was
intruding or taking up his valuable time, that the memory of our
interview has remained with me as one of my most treasured possessions.
It has had a great influence on my life."
The picture must have stood out vividly in his mind when, years
later, after the death of Phillips Brooks, he wrote: "After communing
with a noble, magnetic personality, a helpful soul, have you not felt
magnetized, as does a piece of iron on coming in contact with a great
steel magnet? Have you not felt yourself enlarged and entranced under
the spell of a great personality, just as one feels after witnessing a
great play, listening to a great orator, or reading a great book? You
must have realized the spell often for days; in fact, it never entirely
"No one is ever again the same who has been touched by one of these
godlike natures, one of these lofty minds which stir the divinity that
is inherent in every soul and afford a glimpse of one's real self, with
all its splendid possibilities."
"Many persons living today almost worship the memory of one such
inspiring personality, Phillips Brooks. Filled with an intense belief in
man's possibilities, he aroused many a mediocre youth to a realization
of the strength that lay dormant within him, made him feel almost like a
giant, and inspired him to do things of which he would not otherwise
have believed himself capable of. He made those who came in contact with
him feel that it is mean and contemptible to look down when we may look
up, to grovel when we may soar, or to do the lower when the higher is
Marden's friendship for Sargent was one of the most beautiful things
in his life. It was a part of his nature to follow the injunction of
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.
When, long after the death of Mrs. Sargent, Fate again brought the
two men together in the turbulence of New York life, the friendship of
their student days grew into fuller expression. It became something
sacred, imperishable, — no, immortal, — for one cannot conceive even
"the change called death" severing the tie that bound them.
After his graduation at Harvard, young Sargent had studied oratory at
Boston University. He continued his studies under private teachers in
the United States and in Europe. After two years' working as a dramatic
teacher and instructor in elocution at his alma mater, he moved to New
York, where he established the well-known Sargent Dramatic School and
became president of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
For years Sargent, who never married, was a frequent visitor at
Marden's home at Sea Cliff, Long Island. More than anything else, he
enjoyed being made one of the family group and became as great a
favorite with Mrs. Marden and the children as he was with the Doctor. In
the illness preceding his death, Mrs. Marden was as devoted in her
attention as her husband was, and grieved for him as sincerely.
Mr. Sargent bequeathed his friend various things he had loved and
treasured in life, including his valuable library, which contained many
rare volumes. His bequests to him were, in a way, symbolic of the
quality of their friendship.
One of Doctor Marden's most treasured possessions was an
old-fashioned gold watch left to him by his friend. The watch had a
unique interest and precious associations. It had been presented to
Sargent's mother by the members of the Chestnut Street Club as a mark of
their appreciation of their charming hostess and the many delightful
meetings they had had at her home.
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