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Closing Remarks of Prof. H. E. Peebles’ Address, 1868

Henry E. Peebles

The following speech was delivered by Henry E. Peebles before the graduating class of the Missouri Dental College, at its Second Commencement, February 26, 1868.  Peebles (1812–1871), a charter member of the St. Louis Dental Association, was one of the founders of the Missouri Dental College and the Missouri State Dental Association.

Henry E. Peebles


Gentlemen of the Board of Trustees – You now hold in trust the mere germ of the Missouri Dental College, that looms up in the distance, to our gaze.  Cast your eyes into the future, and behold your school, in all her imposing grandeur; not as the mere western outpost of the little sisterhood of dental schools, fighting her way into existence and notice, but as the great central college of dental learning.

Students from the East, and students from the West – students from the North and from the South, will come flocking to your school.  Your platform is broad and your curriculum is large; but the former may need another plank, and the latter another section or two.  You marked out a new course, and now you must elaborate and amplify it.

Other colleges will be established upon your excellent model.  The Gulf States must have a school; the Pacific States must have schools; the Lake States will not long stay behind.  But these, all, in the very nature of things, must draw their support from mere local supplies, owing to their marginal positions; while we are occupying the grand geographical center of the vast field of supply, and hold the vantage ground, and must and will draw our supplies from every quarter, and from each point of the compass.

All you have to do, gentlemen, is to amplify your plan, fill your chairs with the best talent and encourage a respectable journal, replete with science and art.

If this vision, seen by your speaker, is not clear and distinct to your own eyes, just permit him to point out to your mind’s eye a few prominent facts, a few salient points in the picture that now lies spread out before us.  First, behold this great American valley, stretching from the Alleghenies on the east, to the Rocky mountains on the west; from the table lands and great chain of lakes, in the north, to the Gulf of Mexico, in the south.  In vastness of extent, and diversity of climate, in fertility of soil, and variety of productions, it has no equal on the face of the earth.  This great valley is capable of producing grain enough to bread the world.  It is capable of sustaining a population as dense as that of the British Isles.  Its mineral wealth is so great, that the extent thereof has never yet been measured, calculated, or even approximately guessed at.

But this view does not show you the entire picture.  This is only the center-piece – this is only the common-school district, from whence we are to get the day scholars, so to speak.  But ours is a boarding-school; and our supply is to be much enlarged by pupils from far distant points.

Why, even now, in this early period of our history, we have a student from one of the chief capitals of continental Europe, who comes here to take a thorough course, and fully qualify himself as an American dentist, and then return to his fatherland and display his diploma to the admiring gaze of the citizens of confederate Germany.  And may he be honored as dentist to His Majesty.  And O, that he may extract the fangs of the dreaded Bismark, and quiet the fears of the “nephew of his uncle.”

Why, even now, in our mere germinal stage, look up, look off, raise your eyes, and see afar off; cast about, and behold your surroundings, and note your central position.

But come with us once more and we will trace out the prominent lines on the map.  And just here, let us remind you that one of the peculiar traits of American enterprise has established a custom among us of selecting the place where two public roads or high-ways cross each other, as the most eligible site for the church, the store, the school-house and the blacksmith shop, and in strict conformity to this time-honored national custom, we have selected this point as the place for our school-house.  Here, too, the church, the store, and the smith shop, are also building at this grand central cross, where the road crosses the river.  The river, did we say; yes, the river, that rises upon the great plateau that divides the waters of the Arctic slope, from that of the tropics, and flows down through this rich valley to the Gulf of Mexico.

She gathers the rich products of the east and the west, of the north and of the south, and bears the wealth of the forests, the fields and the mines, the lakes and the seas upon her generous bosom, to fill our stores, and enrich our community.  Behold this mighty river, this great highway of freight and of travel!

See the beautiful and majestic Mississippi.  Calmly resting her head in the cooling shades of the dark and dense pine groves of the distant north; note her tresses, all spangled and sparkling, with gems of virgin copper and silver of the out-cropping plutonic rocks, of Lake Superior; look admiringly at her attractive curls and beautiful ringlets; examine her fashionable waterfall at St. Anthony’s, and steal an admiring glance at her heaving bosom on Lake Pepin.  She stretches out one arm to the east, and toys with the carboniferous wealth of the Alleghenies, and gathers in her hand the petroleum of the valleys.  The other arm she extends westward, and caressingly embraces the mighty snow-crowned peaks of the Rocky Mountains.  These she induces to yield their golden treasures and rich furs, to swell the gorgeousness of the robe that covers her.  But time would fail us to point out the vastness of her resources, describe her power, or name a tithe of her generous deeds.  But come, and let us contemplate her, as she lies, resting her head upon that adamantine pillow, reclining upon her bed, all down through this immense vale, and see her lave her feet in the thermal waters of the greatest gulf in all the earth.  Into this mighty cauldron of the vastly deep, she pours her living stream, rich in the vegetable gatherings from all the vast extent of the American valley, there to mix and commingle with the salts of old Ocean, and to be stirred and turned and tumbled, by the power of the trade-winds, heated up by a tropical sun, and poured out through the mighty Gulf-Stream, and hurled away across the Atlantic Ocean upon the north-western coast of Europe, to mollify the climate and fertilize the shore.

This majestic river, we say, is one of the great highways of the earth.  Crossing this great river at right angles, runs the Atlantic-Pacific Railway, uniting with its extensions by ocean steamers, Europe and Asia via St. Louis.

The magnificent iron bridge, with its three grand arches, will soon span the Mississippi, and the last rail will be laid, and the last spike will be driven, in the iron chain that is to bind the East and the West together.

Then, ah! then, will come the great iron-horse, thundering o’er the plains, breathing out fire and smoke, careering onward, from east to west, and from west to east, making old Earth tremble under the ponderous wheels of his richly freighted and heavily laden car.

This great road-way of nations will bring the manufactures of the East and the products of the West to enlarge our store, and make us rich.  Here, too, is the place for our blacksmith shop, right here, beside the biggest pile of iron in all the world.

Ah, yes; then, too, our lovely Pilot Knob will be seen and admired for her stateliness, and our Iron Mountain for her riches, by the wise men of the East and the avaricious men of the West, and they will be ravished of their virgin treasures, to be borne away in exchange for merchandise of the Orient, or for peltries of the Occident.  While in our store we are accumulating the rich silks of Japan, the costly shawls of Cashmere, the fragrant teas of China, the pure and luscious wines of California, with the golden nuggets of Montana, and the silver bricks of Colorado – thus, while in our smith shop, we will forge the chains that are to bind the nations of the earth in one great community of common interest and fraternity.  In our church the gospel of everlasting peace will be preached to the assembled representatives of the nations of the earth.

You, gentlemen, will still continue to build up your school-house, here, at the cross-roads, and train the sons of men for usefulness and honor in our NOBLE PROFESSION.


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