Regard the Past

Shellabarger, Samuel

  • In a recording aired posthumously, Samuel Shellabarger describes his beliefs in his dependence upon God for eternal life, in the existence of natural laws that govern values and morality, and in the value of using the past to inform future decisions.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Samuel Shellabarger was an author of biography, historical fiction and mystery books. His biographies of Bayard and Lord Chesterfield have been regarded as classics. Last March, shortly after publication of his bestselling novel “Lord Vanity,” Doctor Shellabarger died of a heart attack. With his family’s permission we are presenting this statement of belief he recorded shortly before he died. Dr. Samuel Shellabarger.
What is belief? We have opinions about many things. But I am assuming that we are here concerned with a central faith, a way of thinking, which is the focal point and mainspring of everything else. Such a trend of thought, I suppose, is inborn rather than acquired. At least that is the case with me. As I look back over sixty years, I can see that the experiences of life have strengthened and enriched but have not substantially altered my original bent, which, at first unconscious, has since developed into a fundamental belief.
This, to express it simply, is reverence for the past, an active memory of what time has revealed as valuable and permanent it the traditions which are our roots and from which we can free ourselves only at the risk of futility. Such a regard for the past does not oppose progress, but it values evolution rather than revolution. To look forward wisely, we must look back.
Central in this belief of mine and, of course, permeating all of it, is the Christian religion. By this, in a few words, I mean the recognition of man’s helplessness collectively or individually to suffice unto himself,
his dependence on God and the divine love which has made possible a supernatural life to those who seek it. This seems to me without question the chief legacy of the ages. Together with the ethics and the arts which it has inspired, it represents humanity’s highest attainment. And if, in the course of time, it has drawn into itself certain other, originally non-Christian elements, it is all the richer and more universal because of them.
But reverence for the past includes more than religious faith, though it is the genius of Christianity to support and color all traditions that dignify man.
From the crucible of the ages, as a residue of human experience, has emerged the recognition of certain values that bear upon every phase of life. It seems to me that the value of order and self-discipline is perhaps the chief of these in its effect upon the concepts of law, freedom, justice, manners, education, and the arts. The values of patience, fortitude, honor, and modesty belong also to our inheritance.
I believe in the supreme importance of this tradition. Man cannot improvise the laws of his nature. He can only rediscover in the end what has been discovered long ago.
Thus, to conclude, I find my opinions on every subject and, indeed, the process of daily living, conditioned by an awareness of the past. It is the mainspring of my thought and action, the source of a philosophy, partly instinctive but also consciously accepted, which has become the guide and rationale of my life.
That was a statement by Dr. Samuel Shellabarger, the distinguished novelist, which he recorded shortly before his recent death.