« PreviousContinue »
WILLIAM HERTZOG COLLINS.
During the past year the State Historical Society has lost by the death of William Hertzog Collins one of its directors who was also one of its earliest and most highly valued members. He has joined the “Great Majority” who have passed into the other life. He died at his home in Quincy, Illinois, July 29, 1910, at the age of seventy-nine years.
Mr. Collins was born in Collinsville, Illinois, March 20, 1831, and attended the public school in that place. Later he graduated at Illinois College in Jacksonville, a member of the class of 1850. He later served as trustee of the institution for several years.
After leaving Illinois, he took a post-graduate course at Yale in philosophy and theology, and for six years was pastor of the Congregational church at LaSalle, Ill. In 1858, he bought a controlling interest in the Jacksonville, (Ill.) Journal, which he conducted until 1861, when he was made Chaplain of the Tenth Illinois Infantry. A short time later he resigned this position for one in which he might perform a more active service, and assisted materially in raising the One Hundred and Fourth Illinois Infantry. He was chosen to command Company D of this regiment, and participated in the battles of Elk River, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Mission Ridge and Ringgold. In the spring of 1864, he was appointed upon the staff of Major General John M. Palmer and he served with distinction during the campaign which ended with the fall of Atlanta. From December, 1864, to December, 1865, he served as Provost Marshal of the Twelfth district of Illinois.
In 1866, Mr. Collins engaged in the manufacture of plows and agricultural implements in Quincy, and later organized the Collins Plow Company. He was also interested in other business enterprises in Quincy but for the last decade or two he had not been in active business.
In politics, Mr. Collins was an ardent republican. While seldom being an avowed candidate for office, he has been the nominee of his party on numerous occasions, and for many responsible offices, and when elected proved himself to be worthy of the people's confidence. Though the representative district, city and ward were overwhelmingly democratic, he was twice elected to the State Legislature, was an alderman from the ward in which he lived, and when death occurred in the mayoralty chair
-5 H S
during his service as alderman, he was elected to the vacancy by a democratic council. He was a member of the State Legislature from 1884 to 1892.
Mr. Collins was a member of the State Historical Society, and, for several years was Historiographer of the Quincy Historical Society and was much interested in matters pertaining to both. He had been president of the Anna Brown Home for the Aged in Quincy for many years. He was always interested in the various phases of education and did much to place the Quincy public school system on its present efficient basis He was president of the Board of Education for a number of years, and resigned on account of ill health a few weeks before his death.
Mr. Collins was also a writer of ability, having contributed largely to the local press, and to magazines. His writings cover subjects of travel, hunting expeditions, economic questions, theological controversies, and general philosophy. Some of his magazine articles are “Elements of Truth in all Religions,” “Reaction of Law upon Theology,” and “The Logos.”
During his service in the State Legislature, he gave by invitation, orations upon Decoration Day, upon the occasion of the memorial service of Senator John A. Logan, and upon the occasion of the anniversary of the death of President Lincoln, both of the last two were extensively published by the daily press.
It was upon such themes as these that Mr. Collins' oratory was especially strong. By reason of his training as a preacher and his strong religious faith, his highly poetic temperament, his unusually varied experience in life, and his exceptional command of language, what he had to say upon such occasions found ready and wide appreciation and sympathy.
He wrote a great deal of what may be called occasional poetry. All of it has been characterized by keen intellectual quality, true poetic conception and imagination, originality and facility in expression.
Mr. Collins was a man of fine education, had read widely, and was familiar with literature and modern thought. He was abreast of the age in his views, and was ready to present them upon suitable opportunity. He was often called upon to deliver addresses and he embodied his ideas in lucid and forcible language.
He was a public-spirited citizen, deeply interested in the reform movements of the day, which he delighted to discuss, and on which he spoke with fullness and freedom.
Mr. Collins was a splendid type of man, strong, high-minded, bright, cheery, and of noble purposes. Socially he was a delightful companion, and his hospitality was generous, his friends always delighting to visit with him in his home, young people, as well as those of his own age, finding in him a most congenial friend. His radiant disposition did not leave him in his declining years. It cheered him on and brightened the pathways of those about him.
Mr. Collins was one of the men who helped to make Quincy. He was ever enthusiastic in her behalf. For the city he gave a portion of that affection contained in the patriotic love of his country, for which later he rendered brave and faithful service on the battlefield. With his death Quincy lost one of her most estimable and best loved citizens.
Mr. Collins was not only statesman and scholar but was gifted with poetic thought and fancy. When he was sixty-nine years old he wrote a poem for his birthday anniversary. It was retrospective in mood and abounded in the cheerful philosophy characteristic of the man. Ten years later, on the occasion of his seventy-ninth birthday—on March 20th last, he added in blank verse the reflections on another decade that left him standing on the brink of infinity. He wrote at his winter home at Biloxi, Miss., on the shores of the blue Gulf of Mexico, and beneath a glorious sun. The words he wrote in that placid environment were read as a part of the eloquent memorial tribute of Rev. James Robert Smith, at the funeral services and are as follows:
Ten years! The eager days have hurried by
Like glimmering spokes in the swift wheel
Viewed in the perspective, now grow dim.
Are still. Comrades, wrapped in the starry flag
Old shores, in outline indistinct, recede-
Or drift upon the tide that bears me on,
With emerald verdure clad, do slowly fade,
My vision sweeps the all-embracing sea;
I ask, what waits me in the port I seek?
Oft Silence mocks my spirit's earnest quest;
As sunshine gleams upon the dusky wings
Of the darkening seas at set of sun.
On tireless pinion make his way, till lost
This be the symbol of my voyage end.
So that my life shall prove a manly part
When end my four-score years or more, let me
Step erect from deck to ampler life-
WILLIAJ HERTZOG COLLINS, 1831-1910.
So speaks Jonathan to his beloved friend, David, when he knows he is not to be in his accustomed place the next day. And so say we today as we come to lay the body of our beloved dead beneath the trees, the grass and the flowers. For surely by the passing of this man a large place has been left vacant to those who remain. When a great tree falls in the forest we are strangely impressed by the place made vacant by its fall. It is difficult to become accustomed to its absence. So when a life which has grown strong in our world, and in our midst, is suddenly removed from its accustomed sphere of activity it is difficult to adjust ourselves to its absence. And here was a life' which had come to occupy a large place, in many ways, in our world; and as we stand by his bier we do but state a palpable fact when we say “Thou wilt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.”
First, in the realm of politics, statesmanship and public affairs. Throughout his active career he was interested in the public affairs of the civilized world, and particularly of his own beloved country. He was a sincere believer in democracy and representative government. loyalty to the principles which underlie constitutional government was demonstrated beyond all shadow of doubt when he offered his life on the field of battle for the preservation of the Union during the dark days of the war.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend) country.” So there stands to his credit today an honorable record as a soldier of the Republic.
Spared to return to the pursuits of peace he continued to live for his country as nobly as he had offered to die for it in time of war. His example in the business world is one we might all emulate to the very highest advantage. Loved and honored alike by associates and employees. Honesty was the very center of his life and character and he lived what he was in his daily dealings with his fellowmen.
In public life he stood for clean politics, an honest ballot, and for the general public welfare, as opposed to unrestrained selfishness and dishonest men and measures. To attain these high ends he was willing to move slowly if he could feel he was going in the right direction. He was an idealist who moved toward his goal along the line of the practical; willing to take, of the good, what he could get, if he could not get all he wanted. When representing his community in legislative halls, or in any public capacity, he tried to settle in his own mind, from all the facts and conditions, what he thought to be right, and this he proceeded to carry out without hesitation. If he seemed at any time to waver it was on account of his scrupulous desire to know what was true and right and wise, never for lack of integrity or courage. Thus he stood for the very best things in our State and national life; and when the seat of such a man is made vacant by death most truly do we say “thou wilt be missed.”
But he was equally interested in the local community where he lived, and stood for the public welfare there. He leaves behind him a clean and honorable record as a member of our city council. And doubtless he will be most distinctly remembered by the entire community by reason of his long and enviable service as president of the Board of Education. This to him was a labor of love and conscientious public service. He believed that the stability of the government, the peace, prosperity and happiness of the people were dependent upon public education; that our public schools are the very citadel of our liberties. Thus without remuneration of any kind, and sometimes in the face of bitter criticism, he gave his time and strength and ripe experience, through many years, to the advancement and betterment of our public schools. It would be difficult to measure the debt we owe to him for the great development and improvement of our schools during the last few years. His unselfish spirit was manifest by his service rendered the public through his connection with the schools, as also through his devotion to important local charities and benevolences, after he had retired from his own active business life and deserved a complete rest. It is a noble tribute to his character that he was willing to accept the annoyances incident to such a position simply that he might be helpful to the community. Through these schools the lives of the teachers in them, and the multitudes of young people who have been helped by his services here into an ampler life, he will live on for generations. From this field of his recent activity we but feebly express it when we say “Thou wilt be missed.”
And he believed most profoundly in the moral and spiritual culture of the individual and of the community, and was, therefore, a staunch supporter of the church and of religion. His religion was not a narrow dogmatic belief in creeds, rituals and services, but a large, deep, sweet, strong faith in God, in man, in the kingdom of heaven, the ultimate good. He could express himself in Tennyson's beautiful words:
“Behold, I know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last-far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring." Perhaps nothing more truly represents the honesty of his heart, the clearness and sincerity of his mind than the fact that he refused to preach what he could not understand and intelligently believe and teach others. To him liberty and honesty of thought were priceless. He knew the world had to throw off much ancient dogma, superstition and formality that the soul might be free to commune with the Eternal in spirit and in truth, first hand. So he lived the life of a layman through all these years, although a duly ordained minister, that he might be free in mind and soul and help others to a similar blessing. Thus through this silent lay ministry he helped to leaven the church with a