Chapter 45: Genuine Nobility
Lan Jue’s voice grew more passionate, his voice commanding the classroom. Every eye was on him, silent and attentive.
“Later investigations found that sailors had jumped in to lifeboats two and six. However, when their commanding officer called them back they wordlessly returned to the deck to perform their duty.”
“A famous writer later explained it thusly; It was due to an ideal instilled in them at birth, the ideal that duty was to be considered above all else. In the hours before the sinking of the Titanic, this illusive ideal was proved by their strength of moral character.’”
“Indeed it was this spirit of responsibility that made George Henry Cavill turn around and return to the Number Four Boiler Room. He had made his way up, but returned to see if any of his fellow boiler men were still trapped; It was this spirit of responsibility that kept signalman George Thomas Rowe atop the deck sending messages in Morse code, even when all was beyond hope; It was this spirit of responsibility that made lifeboat paddler Samuel Earnest Hemming remain behind so that others could take his place, and waited until the last possible moment before releasing the boat in to the water; It was this spirit of responsibility wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride employed to remain working diligently in the radio room until the very last minute when Captain Smith came to relieve them of duty, imploring them to abandon ship – but still they remained, tapping away at that radio to send death tolls, dispatches and final wishes; It was this spirit of responsibility that filled Chief Engineer Joseph Bell and all under his charge when they toiled in the engine room, knowing they had given up any chance for escape; It was this spirit of responsibility channeled by band leader Wallace Henry Hartley and others of his band when they played their ragtime tunes, ending in their solemn rendition of Nearer My God to Thee until the rising waters drowned their music and their lives…”
“Calling this simply ‘bravery’ does not do it justice. There is a Western proverb that states: ‘Even heroes will be cowards in a hopeless situation.’ But the Titanic shows us that the myriad of common people can be heroes! This spirit of responsibility lifts humanity, makes us brave, makes us dignified, makes us beautiful.”
“That is nobility! In my eyes, each one of them is noble.”
“The survivors of the Titanic gathered to discuss who lives and who passed, and discovered that the number of female survivors far outnumbered males. They attributed it to the success of the rule “women and children first.” However, the company who had launched the Titanic stated that there were no maritime laws requiring men to sacrifice themselves. It was merely the strong taking care of the weak, and had no bearing on whether it was at sea or on dry land. This was a choice made of their own volition, not the requirements of some institutionalized law. It was an adherence to those ancient and eternal human values.”
“At that time multi-millionaire John Jacob Alistor asked the officer in charge of the lifeboat if he could join his pregnant life onboard the skiff. The crewman stopped him, telling him to allow women and children first. He did the gentlemanly thing and sat quietly on the deck, until the ship sunk, and it’s smokestack smashed in to the Atlantic ocean. Alistor was the only multi-millionaire on the Titanic, and was in fact one of the richest men in the world at the time. He had enough money to build eleven Titanics.”
“The Titanic’s captain, Smith, had a good relationship with nearly all the rich and powerful aboard his vessel. Not a few were his good friends, including Alistor. But even though Alistor knew Smith well, he didn’t go to him for any unfair advantage, to pull strings and get him on a boat. He had as good a reason as you can ask for, as his wife was five months pregnant. And yet he didn’t, or perhaps the thought didn’t even cross his mind. It was not an era of favors and backrooms dealings, but instead a time of striving for gentlemanly conduct, of being a true man. He was genuine nobility!”
“Another man with riches only surpassed by Astor himself was traveling aboard the Titanic that day, named Isador Straus. He was traveling with his wife, and the two had brought over a dozen servants and attendants with them in the event the boat’s help wasn’t sufficient. You can get a sense of their wealth and lifestyle. After the ship had collided with that ice burg Madam Straus had managed to board the number eight lifeboat, but the moment before her foot left the deck she had changed her mind. She returned to her husband, and said, ‘We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go.’ She gave her spot to a young woman, and threw her fur coat to the maidservants. ‘I wont be needing it,’ she said.”
“Someone spoke up, saying ‘I promise there is no one who would appose you climbing in to this boat’. Straus’ response; ‘Far be it for me to take another man’s place.’ Taking his wife Ida’s arm, the two staggered away to sit upon a pair of deckchairs, an affectionate couple spending their final moments together in silence.”
“Pipeline magnate Benjamin Guggenheim also knew his time was nigh. His response was to don his finest dining jacket. He said ‘I wish to die with dignity, like a gentleman.’ He handed his female companion a slip of paper upon which he’d written; Not a woman remains on this ship because I have helped them in to the lifeboats myself. I will not die like an animal, but I will instead die like a man. I am nobility!’”*
The stories ended, and Lan Jue’s eyes had grown moist in their telling, but were full of an enthusiasm that had infected everyone in the room.
“I cannot know if you will be called noble in the future, but I stand here today as an instructor of the National Eastern University, and in this first class it is my duty to teach you – what is the noble spirit.”
“It doesn’t not mean riches, for not all wealthy are noble. Nor is it possible to purchase with riches! If one day you all can stand tall, raise your head and call yourself nobility, then I would be filled with pride!”
*According to my research all of these stories appear to be true. The author credits parts of this story to Danny Allen Butler’s Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic.