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Obed J. Wilson
EXAMPLES that impress force of character on all who study them are worthy of record, and the mission of a great soul in this world is one that is calculated to inspire a multitude of others to better and grander things; so its subsequent influence cannot be measured in metes and bounds, for it affects the lives of those with whom it comes in contact, broadening and enriching them for all time to come. By a few general observations may be conveyed some idea of the noble career of the late Obed J. Wilson, educator, publicist, capitalist, philanthropist, and patron of the arts, who, for over a half-century ranked as one of the foremost citizens of Ohio and who is destined to rank among the great men of the nation, of the past.
Mr. Wilson, who was a direct descendant from Puritan stock, was born at Bingham, Maine, August 30, 1826, and was the youngest child of a family of fourteen children, an equal number of sons and daughters. He was the son of Rev. Obed and Christiana (Gray) Wilson. His father was a successful minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, toiling indefatigably for forty years in the service of the churches which this religious body had planted, or was planting, in the sparsely-settled communities in that remote section of New England. He took rank among his ministerial brethren as a man of strong mind, gifted with uncommon powers of clear thinking and popular eloquence. Because of his marked ability and reputation for wisdom, he was chosen by his fellow citizens as a member of the convention, which formed the constitution by which the "Province of Maine" was made a State, in 1820-21, and he became a representative in the first session of the legislature and proved such a valuable public servant that he was thereafter repeatedly elected to succeed himself as a member of the House of Representatives of the new State, and, later on, honored by being chosen State Senator, and thus aided largely in shaping the legislative policy of the Pine Tree State. He also had direct bearing upon the moral development of the people. He was a ready and forceful speaker, a wise counselor, always earnest in doing with all his might whatever his hands and heart found to do. He was prompt to respond to every call of human need and Christian charity, in fact, was an active and earnest worker in various fields of usefulness. Absent much of the time from home on account of his ministerial and public duties, it threw upon his sons the chief responsibility and labor of managing, with the help of their mother, the farm at home. Though poor, like most of the ministers of that day, because of the small salaries received, he and his good wife were rich in their children. Few fathers and mothers have been blessed with such riches. But poor as he was, and therefore without the means of giving to his children the advantages of a liberal education--having himself been handicapped on account of the lack of it--he did what he could to encourage and assist his sons to acquire this by their own exertions. They thus mostly earned it for themselves, so that they all became men of well-disciplined minds, unusual intelectual attainments, and manifest culture. They did this by qualifying themselves to teach school winters, by which they obtained the means of securing in the autumn, after the work of the farm was done, the educational advantages of the county academy, the Wesleyan Institute of Kents Hill and of the college. The oldest son went to Waterville College (now Colby University), and had nearly completed his course when he died at the age of twenty-one, the victim of exposure and overwork. The second son, Oliver, and his younger brothers, John and Horace, attended school at Kents Hill, which offered a good course of the higher studies. Obed J., the youngest, lost his mother when but seven years of age. His schooling was more limited than that of his brothers, being confined to the studies pursued at the public schools and to the advantages offered at the Bloom field Academy, at Skowhegan, which he attended for several terms.
His school days at the academy having ended, he came to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1846, in his twentieth year. He was drawn hither by the fact that his older brother, Oliver, was then a highly esteemed teacher of one of the city's public schools, through whose influence he hoped to find employment there. His hope was fulfilled. He obtained a situation in the public schools in which he taught for five years, studying law at the same time during his spare hours. His close attention to his books so impaired his eyesight that he was finally obliged to abandon his studies, give up teaching and seek such occupation as would allow him complete rest to his overtaxed sight, and he also abandoned the law for the same reason. At this time, 1851, he was offered a position as traveling agent with the firm of Winthrop B. Smith and Company; school-book publishers, and in view of the fact that this would afford him almost complete rest for his eyes, he at once accepted.
His success in this line of work, on account of his pleasing personal address and business ability, was phenomenal, because of it he won the high esteem of the firm and the warm personal regard of its head, Mr. Smith, who became and remained through life, his strongly-attached friend. After traveling for a few years, during which he greatly increased the prestige and business of the firm, and, finding his eyesight restored, he quit the road. By reason of the firm's appreciation of his services, he was given, with a substantial increase of salary, the more important position of correspondent, literary critic, and referee. From this position he was subsequently advanced to the responsible position of editor-in-chief of the publications of this noted house. Later, upon the retirement of Mr. Smith from the firm, Mr. Wilson became a member of the new firm then organized, of Sargent, Wilson, and Hinkle, and later senior member of the firm of Wilson, Hinkle, and Company. Business rapidly grew, in fact, assumed gigantic proportions, and under our subject's immediate supervision, this concern, which is not the American Book Company, became the largest of its kind in the world.
Because of too close application to business, Mr. Wilson's health was again impaired and he was advised to seek rest and recreation in a trip abroad, so in 1869 he made a tour of Europe with his wife and her niece, Miss Fanny M. Stone. The change and the attractions of the different cities and places of tourist resort visited proved to be immediately beneficial and his impaired health was restored. While in Rome, a dispatch informing him of the death of a partner, terminated his European travels abruptly, and he returned in mid-winter to Cincinnati to again plunge into business with more zeal than ever. The next seven years were given to unremitting work. The school-book publishing business which he had been instrumental, more than any other man, in upbuilding to a proud position at the head of the list of similar houses, was, in 1881, merged in that of the American Book Company. However, back in 1877, Mr. Wilson, having accumulated sufficient wealth to satisfy his desires, withdrew from active business, then being but fifty-one years old. At that time the firm was in the enjoyment of its hitherto unexampled prosperity; but he concluded that he had enough, and so determined to gratify his passion for travel. For five years, accompanied by his wife, as fond of travel as he, he lived the life of a cosmopolitan. He spent some time in northern and eastern Africa, and lived for a time in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, visited the principal cities and capitals of Europe, sojourning for months in some of them, in fact, there was not a country in Europe that he did not visit and study thoroughly, and in these extensive travels his observant eye and receptive, aesthetic nature noted and appropriated for his mental satisfaction and enlightenment of view the profitable fruits of travel. In 1882, he returned to America, resolved to settle down to a hard course of study in his library, of which he was always passionately fond, but in 1886 a love for travel again overcame his love for his adopted city, and, with his wife and two nieces, Miss Florence M. Wilson and Miss Cora Stone, he started for the Antipodes. They journeyed to the Sandwich Islands, where they spent the winter, in the spring sailing for Japan, thence to China, then to farther India and Egypt, then again to the principal cities of Europe, and viewing every interesting place in Great Britain, after which they crossed the Atlantic home, thus completing the trip around the world.
Mr. Wilson was Married on December 19, 1852 to Amanda M. Landrum, of Augusta, Kentucky, a representative of an estimable old Southern Family, and a daughter of Rev. Francis Landrum, a prominent pioneer minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born in February 5, 1789, and died October 12, 1834. He was widely known in southern Ohio and throughout Kentucky during the first half of the nineteenth century and was greatly beloved by all, being not only an earnest and able minister but a progressive, broad-minded, and useful man, hospitable and helpful, always ready to lend his assistance to those in need of succor in any way. He did as much as any other man in his day and generation in establishing civilizing agencies in the wilderness of the Middle West, enduring the usual hardships and privations of such work on the frontier unflinchingly.
Mrs. Amanda m. Wilson is a lady of education and the highest refinement, and possessing those winning attributes of the best families of the South, she has always been a favorite with a host of warm friends and acquaintances. Owing to the similarity of their tastes and interests, she and our subject always lived together in the greatest harmony, their home life, in fact, being ideal, during their long wedded journey of three score years. Their enjoyment of travel found tangible expression, when following his retirement they went abroad and found much mutual happiness in viewing and discussing the sights of the Old World. Their last trip abroad was made during the summer and autumn of 1892, spending their time wholly in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The beautiful Wilson homestead is in Clifton, the oldest and most attractive suburb of Cincinnati, and here, surrounded by works of art, gathered in extensive travels in many lands, by books with which she was ever at home, and by spacious lawn decorations, Mrs. Wilson continues to reside, the December of her years resting serenely upon her, awaiting without fear or misgiving, without regret or compunction for the past, the eternal summons. Her union with Mr. Wilson was without issue.
Politically, Mr. Wilson was a Republican, but never active in political affairs. Although not a communicant in any church, he was a great friend of the Methodist Church. It was he who gave the site of the present Methodist Home on College Hill, and he also contributed about one hundred thousand dollars to complete its construction. He was, in every respect, a man of the highest culture.
Obid J. Wilson was called to his reward on August 31, 1814, the day after his eighty-eighth birthday, heaven having thus granted him a span of years not commonly allotted to mortals. This was due, no doubt, in very large measure, to his correct habits of life and his methods of right thinking. Regarding his funeral, on September third following, which was attended by a vast throng of mourners, we quote the following from the "Cincinnati Enquirer" in its issue of September 4, 1914:
"Few citizens of Cincinnati have had such earnest and touching tributes paid their memory as were accorded Obed J. Wilson at his funeral yesterday afternoon. Five ministers of the gospel took part, and a remarkably large and sympathetic assemblage was present at the services. A profusion of the rarest flowers exhaled their aroma throughout the beautiful home on Lafayette Avenue. Mr. Wilson had reached the ripe age of eighty-eight years and the friends of his early days had passed away, but the succeeding generations showed their veneration and respect along with the very few survivors who knew the departed when he was one of the great business men of the entire country. In opening the obsequies, Professor A. H. Currier, of Oberlin, delivered a brief invocation. Dr. A. H. Norcross, President of the Methodist Home for the Aged, read the Twenty-third Psalm. Rev. C. G. McNeill, of Madisonville, spoke of the many admirable qualities of Mr. Wilson, and a more extended eulogy was pronounced by Professor Currier. A son of Professor Currier, living in Oregon, sang with rare sweetness two favorite hymns of Mr. Wilson, 'The Shadow Land so Beautiful' and 'Abide with Me.' Rev. Heber D. Ketcham, former pastor of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, and organizer of the Clifton methodist Episcopal Church, through the efforts of Mr. Wilson and others, offer a fervent prayer, and Rev. Benjamin Meyers, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Columbus, Ohio, pronounced the benediction. The pallbearers who bore the body to the Wilson lot in Spring Grove were, Mr. R. H. Stone, Jr., Cincinnati, Ohio; Mr. Frank M. Wilson, Redwing, Minnesota; Mr. George W. Stone, Cincinnati, Ohio; Mr. Oliver Obed Wilson, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Mr. Obed Wilson Stone, St. Louis, Missouri; Mr. William G. Miner, Cincinnati, Ohio; all nephews."
We quote in part from an article on Mr. Wilson by Heber D. Ketcham, which appeared in the "Western Christian Advocate," of Cincinnati, in its issue of September 23, 1914:
"It is with genuine sorrow that we record the death of Obed J. Wilson, who, for sixty-eight years, has stood a marked and commanding figure in Cincinnati's business and social world. On the morning of the day following his last birthday anniversary, as if the Sabbath benediction of the invisible world were awaiting the completion of the anniversary here, he entered upon his coronation. He was of sturdy New England ancestry, his father a Methodist minister, so that he was schooled in that rigid, splendid economy, that care for others, and that love of virtue that laid the foundation for his sterling character, maintained unswervingly to the end. Through all his active career he stood unquestioned, so that, throughout the business world, he was regarded as the soul of honor. It is safe to say that no man in the last half-century, among those who have made Cincinnati great, has there been on more influential and more highly esteemed that Obed J. Wilson. He was possess of a keen, discriminating mind; was ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, and justly merited a high rank in the intellectual world. He was genuinely cultured. His philanthropy knew no bounds. Not alone has he made institutions such as the Home for the Aged possible, but his benefactions were scattered on every hand, yet withal so modest and unassuming that he would blush when his deeds of kindness were mentioned. He preferred to let the good he did speak for itself rather than himself be known as the giver. He was free from assumption and courteous to every one. He was gentle, tender, strong, and true; at once fearless and kind, firm yet pliable, uncompromising in every virtue, uncomplaining in every sorrow, a man of affairs, a Christian gentleman. With a grace of manner and thought wrought out of years of consistent self-disipline, with an all-abounding love for the good, with a mind open to the infinite, he stood supreme in the love of his fellows. His home was beautiful in the richness of its simplicity. Nowhere did his marked and beautiful character find nobler expression than there. Hospitality and devotion were perfectly commingled, and his wife was in perfect accord with him in all his ideals of culture and Christian living. She has been devoted and tender of his every interest. Together they walked in truest love for sixty-one years. Whether in the life of Cincinnati or in distant lands, among the loved friends or in the quiet of their own beautiful Clifton home, they were the same--their interests one--always strong, ever hospitable, loving the good and worshiping God."
We here quote, in part, the tribute paid Mr. Wilson at his funeral by Rev. C. G. McNeill, of Madisonville, Ohio, a near relative of Mrs. Wilson. Using the text, "Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?" he said:
"Sometimes we stand so close to things that we do not and cannot see them properly. An artist at work on his canvas finds it necessary frequently to step back a few paces to inspect his work. He can see it more clearly as it recedes from him. So we find ourselves looking after our friend and kinsman, as he takes his departure from the world, and realize in the perspective the great worth of the man and of his life work, better than ever we could have realized it while close to him. My sober judgment is, that no man lived in the last one hundred years who has exerted so profound an influence on society for its permanent good. He it was wo made possible the wonderful advance in education which the last century marked. The standardizing of the school books made possible the standardizing of methods and the standardizing of courses of study. By it our schools took the form of a real system. Every educational institution in the land, from the little read school house to the foremost university, owes him a might debt of gratitude for benefits received. That means that every boy and every girl, every young man and every young woman in these schools, colleges, and universities has been and will be benefited. His work is abiding. It will go on. So long as the world shall stand, it is not likely that through any vicissitudes society will surrender the benefits he conferred. With all this to his credit, his was a modest life, humble as it was noble. To have expressed in his presence the appreciation to which he was entitled would have embarrassed him. And now he is gone. But his work abides. He builded for all time, and for eternity. And his gentle, genial, lovable personality will abide in our hearts all the journey through. He has gone on ahead."
Prof. A. H. Currier, for twenty-six years instructor in Homiletics and Practical Theology in Oberlin Theological Seminary, a cousin and lifetime friend of Mr. Wilson, spoke at the funeral, in part, as follows:
"My remembrance of him goes back to the time of his attendance at Bloomfield Academy. He lived with his sister, Christina, on the Skowhegan side of the river. I recollect distinctly his personal appearance: a tall, young man, of perhaps eighteen years of age, with an intelligent, scholarly, starting from his siter's home, opposite to my father's store, to go over to the academy, at the top of the hill on the bloomfield side of the river. I was but a small boy, eleven years his junior, but not too young to notice this student--my mother's cousin--whose pleasant greetings pleased me, and whose resolute face and decisive steps, animated by a purpose to endeavor well, impressed me. He owed his remarkable success, one of his friends says, to a rare combination of the qualities of business man and writer. His ability in writing was doubtless natural, but developed to excellence by his work in the book firm. He was not content with being a mere business man, absorbed entirely in money-making, and satisfied with the success he won in it. He diligently cultivated his mind and wished to possess the intelligence and culture of a well-read man. He was fond of books, and became familiar, through his wide reading with the choicest literature in our language. His private library became large and well furnished with the works of the illustrious authors of the remote past and of recent times. It was a pleasure just to look over its well-ordered shelves with their beautiful, costly array of books. But this library was for use and not for ornament. It enriched his mind and heart. No stranger could talk with him without discovering him to be a man of remarkable intelligence, broad culture, and refinement. His language in conversation was always apt and felicitous. He was interested in the problems of our time--pondered them carefully, and usually came to some conclusion in regard to them. To the culture of books he added that of extensive foreign travel. For the most of the time, in his later years, he has stayed in his beautiful home here, in the society of his books and family friends. When I first visited him here, after the long interval of many years, since I knew him in my boyhood as a student in Skowhegan, maine, attending Bloomfield Academy, I felt that I had made a happy discovery. I found in my cousin, who, during that time of non-intercourse had almost been lost to my knowledge and acquaintance, a most attractive gentleman and valuable friend.
"Standing here to-day, in the atmosphere created by this religious service, which forbids any false utterance or untrue statement concerning my departed friend, I say this in regard to him, that he was one of the most remarkable men I have ever known. He was remarkable for his intelligence and scholarly attainments in view of the fact that his educational advantages were so limited. He owed nothing to any college or university, and yet he was a liberally educated man--proving that one may rightly be said to have a liberal education, though he holds no diploma from college or university, if he has diligently improved his mind by liberalizing studies. Had he devoted himself to literature instead of business, I believe he would have won distinction as an author. When a young man he prepared and printed, for private circulation among friends in 1855, a biographical sketch of Oliver Wilson, soon after the death of that beloved and gifted brother. This sketch, presented to me by the author, is a literary gem, displaying in composition rare gifts of authorship. The reading of it has reminded me of Walton's brief 'Life of George Herbert,' a classic in English literature. He was remarkable for his unfailing courtesy, shown alike to high and low, rich and poor. He greeted the humble driver of the carriage that came to take him out for an airing as carefully and cordially as he would have done the Supreme Judge of the United States Court. He was remarkable for his abounding benevolence--a radiating center of good-will and helpful generosity. He exemplified the familiar description in homely verse of the good man who 'counted the day lost whose low descending sun had seen from his hand no worthy action done.' His benefactions were multitudinous, multifarious, and princely.
"Finally, he was remarkable for his Christian character and consistent life. He loved the church of his father, liberally and contributed to its support, and held essential its evangelical faith. His faith was evidenced in various ways, in the notes of approval given to his brother Oliver's religious belief in the 'Brief Sketch' I have referred to; in a recent letter to me, written with his own and with difficulty, in which he avowed his trust in Christ as his Savior; and, best proof of all, in the serenity and patience which he evinced to the last, showing that his religion was genuine and had sanctified his soul. And so he has passed from a Christian's life to a Christian's reward. Assured of this, we now think of him as united with those of whom our Lord Jesus said to his Father, 'I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.' We will not, therefore, reckon this occasion as a sorrowful one. It is well with our departed friend. 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors.' 'Delivered from the burden of the flesh, they are in joy and felicity.' As you look upon his face at the end of this service, note how the peace of God is reflected it in."
A letter of consolation from Bishop David H. Moore, of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Indianapolis:
"Indianapolis, Indiana, Sept. 18, 1914.
"Dear Mrs. Wilson: The blow so long dreaded has fallen. The Christian, the courtly, the philosophic, the refined, and noble Obed J. Wilson has been called up higher. What an exceptional character he was! He was in a class all by himself. He lived in a different atmosphere. He walked upon the earth, but his head reached the heavens. Poesy and art and lofty meditation were his recreation. He was knightly in his service to humanity. He was a prophecy of the coming man. Requiescat in pace! How lonely you will be. You were so devoted to each other. His growing feebleness called out your wealth of tender affection. It will stand expectant, awaiting a call that does not come. Yet the parting cannot be long and the union will be so blessed.
"Unto Him who is the resurrection and the life, I commend you. 'His loving kindness, Oh, how sweet!'
"In prayerful sympathy,
"David H. Moore."
In closing this review, we desire to quote a letter from a former business associate, Henry H. Vail, of Milton, Massachusetts:
"Milton, Mass., October 29, 1914.
"Dear Mrs. Wilson: I thank you for the kindly remembrance of me, shown by the receipt of a few of the testimonials of love and regard printed or written by those who knew Mr. Wilson. Others have come to me from my former business associates. Not a day has passed since I received that woeful telegram in which I have not prayerfully remembered you in your loneliness.
"Words cannot express how much I owe to Mr. Wilson. It is nearly fifty years since I first sat near him in the little office. I was a mere country youth; he was a scholarly man and a good business man. I don not remember that I ever received from him and express command or direct instruction; but with a gentle hint or a mirthful suggestion I was led to see where I had blundered. From him I received all my business training. To him was due my admission as a partner in his business when he was the potent chief. I have met most of the publishers of my day. Not one of them had a tithe of the power possessed by Mr. Wilson. In all the years of my business career he was my pattern and substantially my guide. I loved him and I now cherish his memory. I am proud to have had his friendship. This is not a letter of consolation. God alone can give you that. i know full well how you suffer, and you have my warmest sympathy.
"Henry H. Vail."
Extracts from a Letter
Miss Florence M. Wilson
"My Dear Aunt Amanda:
"I wish I could lessen the loneliness of these sad days; but I have no words. My heart is one big ache for you. The good Father seems to make us see things more sanely when a terribly heavy blow falls--something which we had felt could not possibly be borne--and I know he has in some way softened this for you. I cannot but be thankful that you have been spared all these years, to be with him, always, even to the very last.
"When I think of the years of travel, in all lands, and under almost every kind of circumstances, it seems incredible that you two should be allowed to spend your last years in such quiet and comfort, and together in the home you both loved. God has been very good to you, and you both have richly deserved it. . . .
"You know with what reverent respect Inagaki Sama has always looked upon you and Uncle Obed. Your beautiful and continued kindness to her daughters has never been forgotten, nor has her appreciation lessened with time. When the first word came that your dearest one had gone, she asked a few questions, first about you, then me, and then slipped away to her shrine, to light a tiny lamp to guide the traveler on the unknown way. When I went into the parlor an hour later, I saw that she had placed uncle's picture in a niche of the tokonoma, with a scarf of white softly draped around it. Beneath was a white vase of white chrysanthemums, and a little bronze burner holding a lighted stick of incense. She had asked her daughter if she might do this and she told her that Mr. Wilson was such a good man that he was worthy of the respect that could be shown by any custom of any religion. Then Inagaki Sama knelt before the picture, softly clapped her hands, and asked the gods to allow your husband to be always near you as long as your life shall last. . . .
"I must close. I send love from the deepest wells of my heart, and the whole household joins with me in wordless, but deep sympathy. My dear, dear Aunt Amanda, most lovingly I say, 'Good night.'
Extract from a letter from Mr. Frank B. Ellis, Director of the American Book Company, Cincinnati, Ohio.
"OBED J. WILSON.
"In the decease of O. J. Wilson there passes from earthly scenes a man of unusual nobility of character, of steadfast purpose, and keen intellect. He possessed distinctly literary proclivities, and had he chosen the career of writer, he must have won renown in that sphere. Even his business letters were models of correct composition, perspicuity, and force. His competitors, the great publishers of his generation, sincerely admired and respected him for his probity, his clear sense of justice, and his business acumen. To his commercial associates and employes he was the embodiment of considerate thoughtfulness and gentleness, yet exacting of them in all matters pertaining to honorable, fair, and upright dealing. A man of the highest dignity and reserve, he nevertheless carried a quick and responsive sense of wit and humor. He was a sympathetic and helpful friend, a sage counselor. In impulse, thought, and daily habit he was in the truest sense a gentleman. Of Mr. Wilson's business partners and successors, Winthrop B. Smith, Edward Sargent, Anthony H. Hinkle, Robert Q. Beer, Caleb S. Bragg, Robert F. Leaman, A. Howard hinkle, have passed on, leaving memories of honorable and useful careers; Henry A. Vail and Harry T. Ambrose are living. All of them appreciated his attractive generality, the breadth and strength of his wisdom; and all have benefited by his skillful foresight.
"Frank R. Ellis"
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