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Title: "On the Influence of Women," Commencement Address of R. Don Wilson, [June] 1841: Electronic Edition.
Author: Wilson, Richard Don, 1819-1883
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Risa Mulligan
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 35K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2005
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-04-11, Risa Mulligan finished TEI/XML encoding
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Source(s):
Title of collection: Senior and Junior Orations, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "On the Influence of Women," Commencement Address of R. Don Wilson, [June] 1841
Author: Richard Don Wilson
Description: 12 pages, 12 page images
Note: Call number VC378 UO1(North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Examples of Student Writing/Commencement Addresses
Reading and Writing/Reading
Social and Moral Issues/Women and Women's Roles
Politics and Government/Political Issues
Editorial practices
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Transcript of the personal correspondence. Originals are in the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Document Summary

Wilson's commencement address extols the virtues of women throughout history. She softens the manners of men, hallows the home, preserves the morality of a nation, inspires the warrior, and elevates the character of the age.
"On the Influence of Women," Commencement Address of R. Don Wilson , [June] 18411
Wilson, Richard Don, 1819-1883



Page 1
On the influence of woman
Though occupying but a small space on the page of history woman has from the earliest infancy of the world exerted a truly wonderful influence upon its destinies. The fair sex do not require that their advocates should maintain that mother Eve was created within the garden of Eden in complement to her beauty, the man without, or that they should declare her ignorant of the Almighty's edict and innocent in her fall. It is sufficient for them to know that even if Eden was lost by Eve's transgression, they have repaid its loss by their devotedness, their virtues, and their love; and that man, Adam-like, had rather share her fall than rove alone amid the brightest creations of fancy.
Above our first parents spread lovingly the young sky, and far away in the blue distance shone the silvery moon and sparkled the pearly stars, and myriads beyond sought to send their light to that house of happiness. There was in them then a beauty and a mystery no longer seen, and our first parents felt their spiritualizing effects with emotions to which earth's tenants are strangers now, but a vague shadow of which yet haunts the poesy of feeling. By day the sun in glory careered on high and sunk unclouded to his rest. Beautiful was the drapery of many and skyey hues which heralded his rise and hung around his eve's decline. Beneath them was spread a velvety carpet of new sprung dewey grass, and trees loaded with luscious fruit formed umbrageous parterres along which bloomed luxuriant flowers and evergreens, and over these birds of bright wing and musical were glancing on in light and joy; and clustering vines manlted with purple grapes wreathed the boughs in arching canopies. The breeze of morn and zephyr's sigh at eve were freighted with sweet odours

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and fairy sounds. Sweet was the tinkling of the rills that ran from mossy founts whose surface was their mirror. The nightingale's mellifluous notes serenaded their rest and the waves of the Pison had music in its flow as it laved its golden banks; and the spheres that move in mystic harmoney—those living lyres of the universe had tones for their ears—music of which earth's sweetest melodies are but the dying echoes. Eden was a scene of enchantment, pregnant with delight. Even Tempe's vale, or Cashmere's lovlier still is but a dim reflection. And all this was lost, and never will earth see so fair a scene again. No more will angels revisit its blossoming bowers. The sun has lost its splendor, the flowers their2 bloom, and the garden is a waste. Yet was our father Adam wise to leave even Paradize for land where thorns and thistles grew so he might gaze on woman's eyes.
Since then fair Helen's shining charms have roused the world to arms and set the lofty domes of Troy on fire. Zenobia has fought, and Boadicea too and sweet Aspasia's fluent wit has flashed in Grecian halls more eloquent than even Demothenes. She ruled the famous Pericles and even the sage, old Socrates forgot his cold philosophy and hung enraptured on her honeyed words. The beauty of Egyptia's queen has conquered conquerors and for her the "ancient world was won and lost"3 as erst times Paradize for mother Eve. Thus woman's power is limitless, nor is there now on earth a man within whose breast is left a lingering spark of chivalry who would not sing to some fair ladye love,
"I cannot lose a world for thee
But would not lose thee for a world."4
The days of chivalry are gone: those high toned sentiments which inspired the knights of by-gone centuries are no more. No longer the knight seeks adventures high to win the smile of her he idolizes.

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He does not challenge now a brother knight who dares deny her charms superior to those of all others. He does not guard her rest beneath night's holy vault, nor chant beneath 5 the mild moon-light a serenade soft as the airs of June. The tournament with all its gallant sports—the last fond glance which woman's champions cast ere he poised his ready lance—the shock—the shiver—the prize bestowed by lady's hand—the lady eyes that shone thereon—all are no more. The rose has lost its emblem—Gloves their token—and rings the power to exorcise: Woman had no no mail clad knight to right her wrongs or by his deeds to win her love. No longer robed in purple and in gold she sits in state the contest to behold and hand the wreath around the warrior's victor's brow. Those days are gone: but the sprit—the essence of them remain—The same devotion differently displayed burns on its holy altar yet. that love of honor has its home—that gallantry its shrine in hearts that throb with fearful bliss. The outward forms and ceremonies have undergone a change but the hallowed principle is the same. The influence of woman is despotic yet.
It stirs the warrior's soul, and fires the patriot's heart, and where his banner waves its fold are hands to do and souls to dare what woman please command. It lights the statesman's brow and eloquence bursts blazing forth, and kindles in its audience the flame of high resolve or virtuous indignation. We see the sturdy gripe—the flashing eye—the heaving chest—the stamp—the rush—how it melts the stubborn heart in one deep mingling flow of sympathy. Hate is disarmed and prejudice forgot—and eyes unused to weep are full of tears. The orator has found his way unto their hidden

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source—unlocked their long closed founts, and given their waters vent. Hence too romance her coloring draws—her airy ministers—her brilliant images—and tender sentiments—her world of fadeless flowers and chrystal skies. Hence, poesy, thy inspiration comes! Woman is the poet's theme. she flashes ore his page the rich golden hues of fancy,—strows in wild profusion the flowers that embellish his works and fills his ears with the sounds of fairy land. Even the poor student feels her influence—and wastes his healht, and tasks his mind to gain her smiles. That enervated frame—that faded eye—that pallid cheek—that furrowed brow—that thoughtful countenance—bespeak the toils of intellect—the fire that preys upon his heart felt but unseen. The zest of youth is gone, his energies impaired, and flickering is the vital6 flame. Oft does he trim his midnight lamp, and oft his dimming eyes do wander from his book and gaze on misty vacancy. Oh he had rather die a martyr striving for the palm of woman's smiles, than live a life of indolence and ease, unhonored and unloved.
The condition of woman varies in different lands and different stages of society, and may be taken as an infallible index of the degree of civilization to which any nation has arrived. Among the savage tribes no envious lot is hers, she has no kneeling worshippers to swear her eyes are like twin stars, her blushes like the morning skies and breath like fragrant airs. The slave of him whose passions

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are his guide she suffers wrongs untold from his caprice and look to death alone as a release from toils her tender frame was never meant to bear. Her tyrant throws his well strung bow across his brawny shoulder and decked in all the foppery of gaudy feathers roves the pathless wilds free as the winds that round him blow or streams that lave their fringed flowery banks; while she degraded, s[u]nk, must till the soil, and unsocial meals prepare for his return; and when they meet no smile is on his brow no pleasure in his eye. No savage ornaments do glitter round her neck or wanton in her hair. She is too low to feel a pride in decoration.
As man emerges from this savage state the condition of woman is improved. Still all lonely does she live, secluded from the world and doomed to feel herself the most abject, she whom heaven designed should be the paragon of creatures.
It is only where man has risen to refinement, where the arts and sciences are known that woman attains that elevated station her softer qualities are suited to adorn. Here in beauty's light and freedom's pride she moves along, enchantress of the scene. Pure are the stars that spangle heaven's cerulean vault. Here are the dews the evening air distils; and the moon as she walks her path of light so wildly beautiful and bright is pure. Pure the vermeil dyes of morn and eve, and these are lovely too. But purer than all is the flush that suffuses the modest maiden's cheek—that slight vermilion tinge—that rainbow token of a future covenant. More lovely than they are the bright eyes of woman—her eloquent eyes. The universe is full of beauty. It waves in the green leafed trees, blooms in the

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flowers, decks the grass, colors the wings of birds, floats in the clouds, flows on the water, lights up the gems in hidden mines, haunts oceans coral depths, beams in the sunshine, smiles in the landscape. Earth, sea, and sky with beauty overflow. More beautiful than these is woman, that beauty which breatheth from her face, and speaketh to the heart—that sparkles in her eye, glosses her hair, waits on her steps, waves and lightens, Aurora Borealis-like in each graceful movement. Oh charms are hers, which art cannot boast or nature rival—the masterpiece of creation—His last—His loveliest work.
There is music in the song of birds—in the flow of water and murmur of its fall, in the wind from its gentlest breath to the louder organ tones that swell amid the harmonies of Nature's mighty temple. The ocean has its voiceless anthems and the chords of the great universe move in harmonic choirs, and the rolling spheres, which "weave the dance that measures their years",7 have melodies which fancy hears. But sweeter far than any yea than all these is the seraph voice of woman—soft dulcet tones, ye have an echo in every heart—a chord in every breast, which trembles to your minstrelsy, and sings responsive sympathy. More musical are ye than the tones of the mellow flute, or the strings of the Aeolian harp, when they quaver to the viewless spirit of the air.
But what would all these adornsments be worth were it not for the soul whose virtues shine through all and harmonize the whole—for the intelligence, which irradiates her countenance, and gives her all that poets dream, with all that rapt enthusiasm can hope for. Her persuasion is more

Page 7
powerful than the tongue of Tully [Cicero] , more commanding than a tyrant's sword are her tears; These endow her with that influence by which she ruleth man, and through him the world. Her frame is of a more delicate texture, her mind of a more angelic mould than his. Her qualities are winning and attractive. Man's stern and commanding. Man's joy is in lofty scenes—in awful sights—and wild terrific sounds—in convulsions of nature and of nations. In storms—their thunder and lightning—in volcanoes—in earthquakes—in mountains and the billowy main. Her joy is in the stars and dews, and tranquil skies, and placid streams—in 8 and flowers—in all things tender, soft, sweet, musical, and fair. Yet do the two dispositions9 blend in delicious harmony. The realm of poesy and fiction is hers. She transports to brighter worlds and lovelier bowers, than man imagines which she has breathed into existence and peopled with forms of life and light. Such are the writings of Landon, Hemans, and our own Sigourney—the pride of her sex—and no less of her nation.
Earth has not a more angelic vision than a young girl just dawning into womanhood with all her new blown charms around. Her path is one of roses—her anticipations are warm—and hope—illusive hope lures on but to bewilder. There is something in the inexperience—the artlessness of the confiding girl—which breathes of Paradize. An atmosphere of purity is around her. But when the wings of time shall have showered their blessings and their flowers on her suny lawn of life, the bloom must fade from her rosy cheek,—the sparkle

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leave her eye—the zephyr that waits on her step must flag—
But then the rose of affection has a brighter bloom than the Hebean flush of youth and health—and the tenderness mirrored in her eyes is more eloquent than the fire of earlier days and her voice has a mellower tone—and her step is beautiful as that of a messenger on the mountain tops, that bringeth glad tidings.
On woman depend the polish—the manners of the rougher sex. From its mother the child will take the hue which colors the web of existence. In after years, when gloom, and desolation—and the storms of adversity are around him—and the winds sweep fearfully along—and the awful roll of the thunder is heard—and the lurid flash of the lightning seen—and the waves are high—and the clouds of heaven are black and ominous, and the haven is afar—and his bark is tempest-tost: then the precepts of a mother are the pilot and the helm which guide him through the many and deep waters of life's tumultuous sea. To them her securs in his passage over the Bridge of Sighs—that fearful transit from youth to manhood—and sustained thereby advances fearless of the frowns of fortune, and the dangers that await him. Wherever he may be—in the suny vales of the south—amid polar snows—on the Alps or the Andes—still like the prayer of the mussulman his heart's aspirations are turned towards the Mecca of his home. The waste of years—

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the blighted hopes—the thorns and trials of the rugged world—its cares and sorrows—amid that one rush of feelings are forgot. the long lost tones of other days—earlier and brighter—like hallowed airs and dying symphonies of harp strings woke to music by the soft south west and broken in the waking sigh around him—A second spring renews the joys and the hopes of his sunny youth—The steril desert of life is watered by the dews of reminiscences, pleasant but mournful to the soul—and the chilled and base heart leafs out again, and the very soul of life's young poesy breathes around him.
Why is this? why do the scenes of childhood crowd on the memory after the lapse of years and the wear and tear of time? Why is the sun—
and the sand—and the toil—the thirst and the faintness forgot. Because of the mother whose love has hallowed that home. The spirit which she breathed into our budding infancy sheds its fragrance on the faded leaves of age. Distance and time are annihilated—and we are transported back to the green bowers of home. A mother's hand is laid on that brow where the ashes of former fires and the tombs of former thoughts lie mouldering. Home, mother, with those two words what associations are connected—by them what feelings are awakened. He who has gained the pinnacle of fame by his sword—his tongue—or his pen—looks back to his mother as the founder of his greatness, and his joy and his pride like Coriolanus of old is that she shares in his glory and is proud of her son.
On woman then depends the morality of a nation—the preservation of its liberties. Vain is the effort of the most

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brilliant genius, though his wit may wither and his eloquence electrify—vain his attempt to rise to eminence without the aid of woman. If woman inspire not the warrior—if her lilly hand weave not liberty on his standard—the eagle of victory will never perch thereon—or if it do—If he prefer to wade through streams of blood—to pave his way with human bones to crowns and thrones, rather than dying in the strife for freedom to leave a name which she would hallow and gain a grave her tears would bedew. If so, a curse is abroad on that land, and the lava fire of ambition will ere long scath and scorch its very vitals.
If this calamity befall the young America—the pride of the world—the home of freedom—and the asylum of the oppressed, the sun of its glory will be darkened—and the stars—the twenty six stars—the constellation of the west—the most brilliant among nations will be dimmed and the stripes will be of a deeper dye—the crimson dye of blood—and the banner torn and flying will pass away like the red cloud of an autumnal night. The nation will heave with a mighty convulsion—the presaging throes which forebode its dissolution. The song—and the dance—and the bright saloon will be exchanged for the war-whoop and the drum—the march and the camp. The demon of war will be loosed—order become a chaos—and every social tie be broken. The son and the sire will meet in the unholy conflict. The blood of martyred millions will gush in torrents from their veins—and run a purple river to the ocean—and the bones of the owners will bleach their fields. The hearth will be left desolate—the altars defiled—sanctity violated—and the wife and the daughter be left

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alone—mourners over many tombs.
Hark! a voice is borne from the depths of the wilderness which is not of the sounds that pass away. The trump—the drum—the cries of martial hosts—the loud soar of artillery—the onset—the clashing of swords and the ringing of steel—the goans—the deaths—and all is over. The grass grows again and nature resumes her wonted course—But hearts are left to mourn and ivy twines around the deserted homes—and weeds obscure the portals.
Such mothers of America will you be doomed to experience unless principles are instilled into the young mind of order and love of liberty which will grow with his growth and strengthen with his strength.
Daughters of Carolina—"Land of the beautiful and the brave"—the fair and the chivalric—It is yours to elevate—to give tone—and character to the age—you in whom is realized all that the novelist has dreamed of ideal perfection:
"Who walk in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies."10
The chivalry of Carolina is here and look to you to reward their toils—they look to you as the rose that adorns their path of life—and the honey that sweetens its cup. But others of maturer age look to you as the preservers of this favored land—and of its noble institutions—as the inspirers of virtue—the palladium of its liberties. In your heart of hearts is the shrine of virtue—that highest gift of the Creator—an essence—an emanation of himself, and from his heaven of heavens he will defend. The earth and the orbs that roll through the blue depths of ether are material & will vanish, when they shall have served the purposes of their creation. But virtue is eternal. While its abode is the human heart—the host of angels guard, and the banner of heaven waves over it, and the music which swells in the temple of temples shall tell its praise and the amaranthine wreath shall crown it.

Back cover page

R. Don Wilson

University of No Ca 1841

Endnotes:

1. Senior and Junior Orations (1839-42), NCC. The volume contains approximately 160 compositions written by juniors from the Fall 1839 through the Spring 1842 semesters; sixty-three students are represented by two compositions. At least nine additional works by students appear in the volume, including two poems, a few senior speeches, and three commencement addresses given by debating society representatives. Wilson , a member of the Dialectic Society, gave his address on June 2, 1841, the day before commencement, as one of six elected debating society representatives. The following year, speeches by society representatives were abandoned because they were too long. The last page of Wilson's speech is inscribed "R Don Wilson / University of No Ca/1841."

2. Wilson wrote ir on top of r.

3. George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron, "Stanzas Written in Passing the Ambracian Gulf" (1809).

4. George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron, "Stanzas Written in Passing the Ambracian Gulf" (1809).

5. Wilson wrote b and the down stroke of a second character above beneath; they are twice underlined.

6. Wilson wrote vi on top of unrecovered characters.

7. William Cullen Bryant, "Song of the Stars" (1825): "Glide on in your beauty, ye youthful spheres,/To weave the dance that measures the years."

8. Wilson crossed out both in and the dash preceding the word.

9. Wilson wrote the first i on top of e.

10. George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron, "She Walks in Beauty," Hebrew Melodies (1815).