“What’s in a Name?”
He who divided the great into three
orders—those born great, those who achieve greatness and those who
have greatness thrust upon them—reckoned but poorly. There is a
fourth class, comprising a few who, having achieved a measure of
greatness, are thrust upon with yet more.
Such men are often in their day looked
upon as scourges of humanity and instruments of an evil power. One
such was Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedon, born a prince,
to be sure, but only of a wild region of northern Greece. His after
greatness was, in truth, achieved through indomitable will and a
capacity for organization and control of men. Alexander the Great
later conquered the world, carrying in his mind the great idea of
Hellenizing it, of imbuing it with the spirit of Hellenic thought
In so far he achieved greatness. But
little did he think that his Hellenistic conquest, great as it was,
was simply the preparation of the ground for a far greater Christian
conquest to follow later. In this respect a much more significant
greatness was thrust upon him.
Napoleon Bonaparte, in his turn, of
comparatively humble birth, achieved a greatness second only to
that of Alexander. By the force of his will and the power of his
imagination, with an Alexandrian dream of world-conquest, he held
part of Europe in his hand and the whole in his fear. A united Germany
stands as a monument to him. But his memory, and the memory of his
greatness, are anathema and accursed.
The achievements of Alexander and
of Napoleon were great, but they were, each in his day, assassins
of thousands, and their greatness was devilish. With the adventitious
greatness thrust upon them they personally had nothing to do. Providence
prevails, but yet their names live and will live so long as lives
the world, cursed even though they were by the men of their day.
Another of this fourth class of men
has but just passed along. Of low birth, as we reckon birth, in
a single second he achieved greatness, of an unenviable and abhorred
sort, to be sure, but yet greatness it cannot be gainsaid. So long
as there is a memory of this country, so long will there be a record
of its wars, for wars are the landmarks of history. So long as there
is any record of the Spanish war, with its tremendous significance,
so long will there be a memory of William McKinley. And with the
name of McKinley must ever be linked that of his murderer. Cassius
Brutus and the rest slew Caesar. Czolgosz slew McKinley. So the
page must run. He slew a greater than himself, and by the act achieved
greatness. The insignificant became significant.
Standing as we do with a long look
backward, possessing the perspective of history, we can estimate
exactly the greatness thrust upon Alexander and Napoleon. Who shall
say how men looking at Czolgosz with our perspective towards Alexander
may not regard him?
Points of view change with changing
epochs. He whom we execrate today may, in the course of time, be
called a martyr. Not the less should we execrate him today, however.
And yet, his name, murderer though he be, will doubtless live on
into the ages, whether blessed or cursed of men, while we shall
have been long forgotten. Providence prevails, but mysteriously.