Ohio History Journal

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President of Harvard University


We are gathered here tonight, I take it, because we believe

that "to be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to be

always a child." I count it a privilege to give the address at this

annual dinner of a society dedicated to a furtherance of the study

of the history of this state; I am particularly glad to be here when

you are dedicating a new addition to your building and in the

twenty-fifth year of the presidency of Mr. Arthur Johnson, who

has done so much for the society and the state of Ohio. I count

it a privilege to be here because I believe so strongly in the im-

portance of a sense of history as a stabilizing force in the life of

both an individual and a community.

John Selden, the writer of one of the earlier significant

English social histories, laid down in 1618 a doctrine about his-

torical studies which I venture to think might be the platform of

all of us who have a deep interest in the past. After speaking of

historical truth as a deterrent to "the many ridiculous impostures

thrust on the too credulous by those which stumble on in the road,"

he gives a balanced judgment as to the use and abuse of anti-

quarian zeal:

For, as on the one side, it cannot be doubted but that the too studious

affectation of bare and sterile antiquity, which is nothing else but to be

exceeding busy about nothing, may soon descend to a dotage; so on the

other, the neglect or only vulgar regard of the fruitful and precious part

of it, which gives necessary light to the present in matters of state, law,

history, and the understanding of good authors, is but preferring that

kind of ignorant infancy which our short life alone allows us, before

the many ages of former experience and observation which may so


* This is the text of an address delivered at the sixty-fifth annual meeting

of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, held at the Ohio State

Museum, Columbus, April 14, 1950.