Wisdom of the Past: Knox's Inaugural Address to Union Lit
Knox's Inaugural Address to Union Lit
June 7, 1839
Fellow members of the Union Literary Society –
You have seen fit to elevate me to the highest post in your power to bestow on a private member of your association. Need I say that I thank you for it. Actions, it is said, speak louder than words. Let then my actions proclaim my thanks. Let my actions prove my devotion to your interests. When my heart ceases to remember with gratitude my obligations to you, and forgets the interests of Union Hall – then may this right hand forget her cunning and my brow receive the brand "ungrateful."
Fellow members: we are about to commence anew our exercises and services in the Union Hall. And now, Gentlemen, let each one forget what has gone before, or let it be remembered only as a warning in his future course. Let our strifes and animosities be buried. If anyone retain any lingering of doubt, or enmity toward another member let him quench it immediately. Let each one, like the Roman Soldier renew his vow of obedience and of affection. Let him take upon himself again the sacrament of devotion and of love. Let all join hand in hand and let each go on his way resolutely and nobly, and though out of the Hall separate, yet here united. Let each one, in his intercourse with the other members of the society be urbane in his manners, and mild in his expressions, and steadfast in his friendship.
Then shall it be, Gentleman, that one shall be to the other as a brother, and the name of Union Lit shall be the shibboleth of Love.
1. Recall that Knox was elected President of Union Lit at a stormy time in her history; he had been secretary on his 19th birthday, May 20, 1839 when three members were expelled. Nevertheless, in strong and very remarkable words, he tries to instruct and inspire his brothers towards a hopeful future.
2. "sacrament": in ancient Rome, something which binds a person (from sacer = holy); also the military oath of allegiance. Later use by Christianity derives from this idea.
3. shibboleth - see Judges 12:6. At that time, there were certain dialects of Hebrew in which the symbol for S was pronounced "sh"; in others it was pronounced "S" - this variation induced the use of a test word "shibboleth" (which means ear of corn) to distinguish the nationality - hence, the word came to indicate a test used to discern a true member from a false one.
A comment: Though written relative to the Union Literary Society, Knox's words on gratitude are significant, and applicable to us even now. The English journalist G. K. Chesterton said "Thanks are the hghest form of thought" so perhaps this might suggest an appropriate response...