« PreviousContinue »
THE sermons included in this volume extend over the greater part of Mr. Potter's ministry,- from 1863, the date of "The Voice of the Draft," to 1893, when "The World's Parliament of Religions" was written. Nearly all of them were preached many times, and subject to such constant revision that the final form, as here printed, often differs materially from the original. For this reason I have not assigned a date to each sermon. The series of lectures on the Twenty-third Psalm, which he delivered in Boston and Worcester in the fall of 1893, had originally been given in part as sermons in New Bedford in 1892. These lectures it was my father's expressed intention to publish. In the selection of the sermons I have been guided partly by the frequency with which he preached them, thus following somewhat his own judgment; and, also, by suggestions kindly made by his friends and parishioners
in New Bedford. It is interesting to note that in many cases his own choice and that of his hearers seems to coincide. Many of these sermons, it may also be added, he carried with him and preached on his journey to the West in 1893.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS., Dec. 10, 1894.
ALFRED C. POTTER.
BY FRANCIS ELLINGWOOD ABBOT.
To be noble in character is the supreme service which one man can render to his fellows. It is greater than any particular achievement, however splendid, because it is itself the achievement of achievements, the most useful and the most difficult of deeds. Single actions may easily command more gratitude and more praise, since they tax less the average man's faculties of imagination, comprehension, and appreciation. But to be from birth to death one long activity devoted to the highest ends, disinterested and lofty and pure, is to be more than a doer of dramatic exploits, however brilliant, because, while this is possible to few, that is to exemplify and encourage what is possible to all. When asked what improvement he could suggest in the actual constitution of the universe, a pessimist replied: "I would make health as catching as disease." In this reply there was more wit than wisdom; for such is the actual order of things that, in the spiritual sphere at least, the contagiousness of good is even greater than that of evil. If it were not so, the world would scarcely hold together. And
that it is so has been made clear to all, with the powerful persuasiveness of an example as beautiful as it is rare, in the life of William James Potter.
The story of this life is simple and short. Little is found for the recorder of it to tell. Its events were not such as to attract wide attention or to furnish the materials of an exciting tale. But its quality was such as to command the reverence and win the love of an ever increasing circle of those whose judgment is the judgment of the universal conscience. From beginning to end it was the selfconsecration of a pure spirit to universal aims the devotion of large intellectual powers, great practical wisdom, a strong but never aggressive will, and shy but tender sympathies, to the highest welfare of all. To have lived such a life, in luminous contrast and superiority to the melancholy self-seeking so common among mankind, is to have won the truest and grandest success which can crown any human
William J. Potter was born at North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, youngest of the nine children of William and Anna (Aiken) Potter. A curious doubt in his own mind hung over the year of his birth. On February 1, 1848, he wrote in his journal: "Once more has time brought around my birthday -the first day of my twentieth year." On Febru ary 1, 1850, he wrote: "My twenty-first birthday
- I am now legally a man, a free-man." These two entries fix the date of his birth as February 1, 1829.
Yet in later times he habitually thought and wrote of the year of his birth as 1830. It does not appear on the town records, but in the records of the Friends at Dartmouth it is recorded as "2 mo. Ist, 1829." Examination of these records, however, shows that they are not original, but were written at some subsequent time; and, as their source is unknown, they cannot be considered final. The reader, therefore, is left to draw his own inference from the facts.
The original emigrant-ancestor of the Potter family, from whom William was descended in the seventh generation, was Nathaniel Potter, who came from England to Rhode Island, and died there prior to 1644. His son, Nathaniel Potter (1637–1704), who married Elizabeth Stokes, was born at Portsmouth, Rhode Island, but removed to Dartmouth, Massachusetts. In the third generation, Samuel Potter (1675-1748) married Mary Benton and lived at Dartmouth. In the fourth generation, Benjamin Potter, of Dartmouth, married Ruth Brownell in 1736. In the fifth generation, William Halladay Potter, of Dartmouth, who married Patience Thurston, was born in 1748 and died in 1814. In the sixth generation, William Potter (1784-1870) married Anna Aiken in 1812; and their ninth child, William James, was born, as just shown, on February 1, 1829.
Other lineal ancestors were Adam Mott, of Cambridge, England, whose son, Adam Mott, born in England, came over to Newport in 1634, and was a prominent member of the society of Friends; John Williams, who came from England to Scituate in