RICHARD HERNE SHEPHERD.
Chelsea, June, 1881.
ON THE CHOICE OF BOOKS.
DELIVERED TO THE
STUDENTS OF EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY,
APRIL 2, 1866.
I have accepted the office you have elected me to, and have now the duty to return thanks for the great honour done me. Your enthusiasm towards me, I admit, is very beautiful in itself, however undesirable it may be in regard to the object of it. It is a feeling honourable to all men, and one well known to myself when I was in a position analogous to your own. I can only hope that it may endure to the end—that noble desire to honour those whom you think worthy of honour, and come to be more and more select and discriminate in the choice of the object of it; for I can well understand that you will modify your opinions of me and many things else as you go on. (Laughter and cheers.) There are now fifty-six years gone last November since I first entered your city, a boy of not quite fourteen—fifty-six years ago—to attend classes here and gain knowledge of all kinds, I know not what, with feelings of wonder and awe-struck expectation; and now, after a long, long course, this is what we have come to. (Cheers.) There is something touching and tragic, and yet at the same time beautiful, to see the third generation, as it were, of my dear old native land, rising up and saying, “Well, you are not altogether an unworthy labourer in the vineyard: you have toiled through a great variety of fortunes, and have had many judges.” As the old proverb says, “He that builds by the wayside has many masters.” We must expect a variety of judges; but the voice of young Scotland, through you, is really of some value to me, and I return you many thanks for it, though I cannot describe my emotions to you, and perhaps they will be much more conceivable if expressed in silence. (Cheers.)
When this office was proposed to me, some of you know that I was not very ambitious to accept it, at first. I was taught to believe that there were more or less certain important duties which would lie in my power. This, I confess, was my chief motive in going into it—at least, in reconciling the objections felt to such things; for if I can do anything to honour you and my dear old Alma Mater, why should I not do so? (Loud cheers.) Well, but on practically looking into the matter when the office actually came into my hands, I find it grows more and more uncertain and abstruse to me whether there is much real duty that I can do at all. I live four hundred miles away from you, in an entirely different state of things; and my weak health—now for many years accumulating upon me—and a total unacquaintance with such subjects as concern your affairs here,—all this fills me with apprehension that there is really nothing worth the least consideration that I can do on that score. You may, however, depend upon it that if any such duty does arise in any form, I will use my most faithful endeavour to do whatever is right and proper, according to the best of my judgment. (Cheers.)