William Jennings Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois, March 19, 1860. He was sturdy, round-limbed and fond of play. There is a tradition that his appetite, which has since been a constant companion, developed very early. The pockets of his first trousers were always filled with bread, which he kept for an emergency. One of the memories belonging to this period was his ambition to be a minister, but this soon gave place to determination to become a lawyer "like father". This purpose was a lasting one, and his education was directed toward that end.
His father purchased a farm of five hundred acres, one mile from the village, and when William was six years old the family removed to their new home. Here he studied, worked and played, until ten years of age, his mother being his teacher. He learned to read quite early; after committing his lessons to memory, he stood upon a little table and spoke them to his mother. This was his first recorded effort at speech-making. His work was feeding the deer, which his father kept in a small park, helping care for the pigs and chickens, in short the variety of work known as "doing chores". His favorite sport was rabbit hunting with dogs. I am not sure that these expeditions were harmful to the game, but they have furnished his only fund of adventure for the amusement of our children.
At the age of ten, William entered the public school at Salem, and during his five years' attendance, was not an especially brilliant pupil, though he never failed in an examination. In connection with his school, he developed an interest in the work of literary and debating societies.
His father's Congressional campaign in 1872 was his first political awakening, and from that time on he always cherished the thought of entering public life. His idea was to first win a reputation and secure a competency at the bar, but he seized the unexpected opportunity which came to him in 1890.
At fourteen he became a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. Later, he joined the First Presbyterian church at Jacksonville, Illinois, and, upon our removal to Nebraska, brought his letter to the First Presbyterian church of Lincoln, to which he still belongs. It may not be amiss at this point to quote from an eulogy which Mr. Bryan delivered upon a colleague in the Fifty-third Congress. This extract will serve a double purpose, in that it gives his views upon immortality, and, at the same time, presents a passage which I think may without impropriety be called a finished bit of English.
I shall not believe that even now his light is extinguished. If the Father deigns to touch with divine power the cold and pulseless heart of the buried acorn, and make it burst forth from its prison walls, will He leave neglected in the earth the soul of man, who was made in the image of his Creator? If He stoops to give to the rosebush, whose withered blossoms float upon the breeze, the sweet assurance of another springtime, will He withhold the words of hope from the sons of men when the frosts of winter come? If Matter, mute and inanimate, though changed by the forces of Nature into a multitude of forms, can never die, will the imperial spirit of man suffer annihilation after it has paid a brief visit, like a royal guest, to this tenement of clay?
Rather let us believe that He who, in His apparent prodigality, wastes not the raindrop, the blade of grass, or the evening's sighing zephyr, but makes them all to carry out His eternal plans, has given immortality to the mortal, and gathered to Himself the generous spirit of our friend.
Instead of mourning, let us look up and address him in the words of the poet:
"Thy day has come, not gone;
Thy sun has risen, not set;
Thy life is now beyond
The reach of death or change,
Not endedóbut begun.
O, noble soul! O, gentle heart! Hail, and farewell."