Reverend Mortimer Blake, Commencement speaker
The Reverend Mortimer Blake, A.M., D.D., minister of the Winslow Trinitarian Congregational Church in Taunton, Massachusetts, provided the Commencement address.
Although born in Pittston, Maine, in 1813, Blake and his family moved to Franklin, Massachusetts, when he was four years old. He "had a strong passion for books, and devoured all the libraries within his reach. When about ten years old he fell in with a Latin grammar, and began study without any teacher." His grandfather employed the Rev. E. Smalley to teach Mortimer Virgil, Cicero, and Greek. When he was fifteen, Blake studied Hebrew with a group of local ministers being taught by a German Jewish immigrant named Seixas. Blake attended the academy of Rev. Abijah R. Baker in Medway, and entered Amherst College in 1831. After graduating in 1835, he taught at Hopkins Academy in Hadley, and then for three years at his own school in Franklin. Whilst teaching he studied theology with Rev. Smalley. After returning to teach at Hopkins Academy for one year, he was ordained pastor of the newly established Orthodox Congregational Church in Mansfield, MA, in 1839. He remained there for sixteen years, then removed to the Winslow Church in Taunton, MA, in 1855, where he remained until his death on 22 December 1884.
Blake was a member of Wheaton Seminary's Board of Trustees from 1854 to 1859, was reelected in 1868, and served as its President from 1872 until his death in 1884. Of his four children, his youngest, Harriet Daniels Blake, graduated from Wheaton in 1878, and taught private classes in natural science and literature. While Harriet was a student, her father "took special interest in every aspect" of the Seminary's operation, sometimes interfering in social and academic policy to the vexation of the Principal, Trustees, and Mrs. Wheaton. Blake particularly opposed any lessening of religious intensity at the Seminary, and this was partly the reason that he influenced the departures of both Ellen Haskell and Martha Sprague. Despite his opposition to the appointment of A. Ellen Stanton, however, she was named Principal in 1880. Well-known by the Seminary teachers, Blake gave the funeral sermon for popular teacher and friend of Mrs. Wheaton, Ann E. Carter, in 1882.
Known for his wise counsel, "the young find in him a sympathizing, helpful friend in all their attempts to improve time and knowledge." He was an active member of the Agassiz Club, founded for the study of mineralogy and natural science. Blake served on the executive committee of the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society and of the Congregational Publishing Society. In 1868, Amherst College awarded Blake the honorary D.D.
Blake was a member of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Temperance Alliance, which would have endeared him to Eliza Baylies Wheaton, herself a teetotaler.
Blake was a member of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, Vice President of The Old Colony Historical Society in Taunton, and published a number of historical lectures and sermons. These include: Gethsemane and Calvary, 1844; A Centennial History of the Mendon Association of Congregational Ministers, with the Centennial Address...and Biographical Sketches of the Members and Licentiates, 1853; The First Quarter Century of the Winslow Church, containing a Historical Discourse, 1862; The Issues of the Rebellion; a Sermon preached before the Taunton and Raynham Volunteers, 1861; and A History of the Town of Franklin, for the town's centennial in 1878.
In 1886, his daughter, Mrs. Evelyn Morse, collected fifteen of Blake's sermons under the title Soundings. His fellow Wheaton Trustee, the Rev. Jacob Ide, wrote the preface, in which he described Blake as a "ripe scholar and profound thinker". Ide said that Blake
seemed like one who had sailed over the ocean of truth, not merely glancing at its surface, but exploring its depths and bringing up rich treasures. He skilfully avoided the seaweed and barnacles of profitless speculation, and dropped his lead where it was sure to fasten itself upon a priceless pearl.
Biographical information is from Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1883, p. 871-872.