PRONOUNCED AT NEW-HAVEN,
THE CONNECTICUT ALPHA
Phi Beta Kappa Society,
SEPTEMBER 13, 1825.
By JAMES GOULD.
PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE SOCIETY.
PRINTED BY T.G. WOODWARD AND CO.
The cultivation of the human mind is, unquestionably, the most elevated, and most important of all human pursuits. It is an obvious suggestion of reason, that the nobler faculties of our nature must have been designed for the most exalted uses: And as their capacity of culture admits of no limit, they are evidently destined to an interminable progress, in improvement.
The physical powers of men have assignable limits, and are circumscribed, in their exercise, by narrow boundaries, which they can never pass: while the action of a single mind is frequently felt in its effects, to the extremities of the earth, and the remotest ages. Throughout the known regions of nature, there is scarcely an object which lies beyond the reach, or the scrutiny, of the human intellect. From its humble earthy tenement, it breaks away, and expatiates throughout immensitydrawing instruction, alike, from the vast, and the minute; from other spheres, and other systems; from the living, and the dead; from "the years beyond the flood," and the ages of endless futurity. Its theatre of action is the universe: from the universe it derives its aliment, and its treasures. To fix it to the earth, or limit its operations to time, or space were as impossible, as to imprison the winds, or chain the ocean to its rocks.
Such are the nobler powers of man, when expanded, and matured by their proper culture. But even these exalted faculties might lose their highest uses, and chief importance, in the social system, but for the power, with which mind is endowed, of acting on mindthe power, in other words, which intelligent natures possess, of acting upon kindred natures, and thus of exerting that intellectual and moral influence, which sustains the whole frame, and structure of human society. The same law of nature, which originally conferred upon mankind, in various proportions, the power of influencing the opinions, affections, and volitions of each other, established the foundation of an intellectual empire, which has existed, throughout the world, in all ages, and must continue to exist, under every modification of society. All artificial systems of dominion, all forms of civil government, are composed of perishable elements. They successively rise, and flourish; and like all other works of art, decay and disappear: But the empire of intellect is founded in nature, and universal fitness; and like the ordinances of nature, upon which. it rests, must be perpetual.
There are, however, comparatively few, it would seem, who are in the habit of assigning to the dominion of the mind, its actual extent, or of contemplating its vast and momentous results.Those great events., and conjunctures, which suddenly, and sensibly, affect the condition of society, force themselves, like the grand operations of external nature, upon the attention of mankind: But we seldom contemplate, and still more seldom justly estimate, the efficient influence, which the intellectual light of a single age or even a single mind, may diffuse throughout the globe, and transmit to all posterity. Who can define the limits of that dominion, which the philosophers and orators, the poets, historians and moralists, of former ages, have constantly exercised, and continue to exercise, over the human mind?a dominion, far transcending, in authority, that of thrones and sceptres; and extending to what mere civil power can never reachthe opinions, and sentiments, and tastes, and affections, of mankind.
Who can determine, to what extent, the views, and habits of, thinking, and by necessary consequence, the morals, and character, of the present age, have been formed and moulded, by the master-spirits of former times?by minds like those of Aristotle and Bacon, of Cicero and Locke, of Hume and Voltaire, of Addison and Johnson? For more than two thousand years, Aristotle, alone, gave law to the empire of mind, throughout the civilized world; and swayed a dominion, surpassing, in extent and duration combined, that of any monarch, or conqueror, who ever held in subjection, the persons, and the rights, of men. How vast, then, how immeasurable, must be the combined influence of superior and enlightened intellects, throughout the globe, in forming the characters of individuals, and communities, and giving to the body of every age, "its form and pressure!"
The efficient power of intellectual influence, both for good and evil, is a power of exhaustless activity, and unbounded extent. Like a subtle and expansive fluid, it diffuses itself to the utmost borders, and pervades all the recesses, of human society. For how many of those practical rules of life and conductof those sententious maxims of traditional wisdom and duty, which even the most illiterate, in all civilized communities, possess, are they unconsciously indebted to teachers, of other nations, and other times, and whose very names are known only to the scholar, and general reader! As intellectual culture advances in the world, the light of antiquity is transmitted from age to age; and many of those useful lessons, which the wise and the learned, of every period, have bequeathed to mankind, thus find their way, as well to the cottage as the palace. And thus the recorded wisdom of each generation becomes the instructor of all classes, of men, in all succeeding times.
It is the remark of a modern writer, that intellect governs the world; and the assertion is verified, by all general experience. In the ordinary, and regular current of human affairs, superior intelligence and sagacity, in the discovery, and selection of means, and in adapting them to ends, must ever, ultimately, prevail, as they ever have prevailed, over the counsels, and expedients, of ignorance and imbecility. In every system, or community, of intelligent beings, intellect is the natural seat of empire. This facultyhowever liable to be misdirected, by passion, or evil propensities, must, by the general laws of our nature, be supremeso far as any one principle of power can be soin the moral, social, and political systems of the world. Hence it is, that, in all stages of societyunder all forms of civil government, as well the most free, as the most despoticand in all the natural, and artificial, divisions of civil and social life, the many have been ruled, by the few; and physical strength has bowed before the supremacy of mind. In human governments, the external symbols, even of sovereign dominion, may, indeed, devolve upon infancy, imbecility, or fatuity; but such a pageant of empire can be but the nominal depository of a power, which, if not sustained by the energy of other minds, must be overwhelmed by its own weight.
The empire of the universe is, itself, an empire of intellect. Infinite power is but the minister of infinite wisdom, and goodness. But the principle of goodness resides in the will: And if that will of the lawgiver, which constitutes the law, were not, itself, directed, and the means of accomplishing its purposes devised, and regulated, by a presiding principle of intelligence; all system, order, law, and regular government, throughout the universe, would cease.
It is a truth, familiar to all, at the present day, that moral influence, is illimitable. In the conduct of human affairs, it supplies the desideratum of Archimedes, for moving the world. Moral influence, itself, however, is but another name, for a control, over the opinions, and affections, of moral agents. And how is this control to be exerted, to any great, and important end, except by intellectual power?
The influence of mere moral example, unconnected with intellectual superiority, is not, indeed, to be overlooked, among the causes, which may affect the characters of individuals, or that of society. But that mighty spirit of command, which, with more than a monarchs power, can compose, control, and harmonize, the jarring elements of human opinions and human passions, is an attribute of the intellectual principlethe master-faculty of the soul. To what cause have the great masters of the human mind, in all ages, owed their dominion over the understandings, the passions, and the prejudices of their fellow-beings? To what latent principle of power were Pericles, and Demosthenes, and Cicero, and Chatham, indebted, for their boundless ascendancy over the minds of men? Was it by their own distinguished moral excellenceby the display of pre-eminent personal virtueby any superior and exemplary morality, in their lives, or manners, that they were enabled to reduce the human mind, with all its wild and refractory elements, to a state of captivity, and submission? No: It was the energy of disciplined geniusof instructed reasonof enlightened intellect, exerted with irresistible effect, upon the great springs of the human soul.
In all nations, and all communities, the original source, and ultimate seat, of power are the same. A free, or popular government is generally, and justly, denominated a government of opinion: But the same denomination may, with propriety, be assigned, though in a more qualified sense, to the most absolute despotism, that the world has ever witnessed. No tyrant holds his subjects in bondageno military chieftain rules his hostby the strength of his own right arm. Submission to civil, or martial rule, is the effect of a train of influence, operating, through all the gradations of authority, upon the minds of men. And that power, which can sway, at pleasure, the opinions of the many, can, in the last resort, command their physical strength.
Of what immense importance, then, must be the proper cultivation, and direction, of those faculties, which exert such a controlling influence upon the character, conduct, and destinies, of mankind! Every consideration, which can render the advancement of the human race, in whatever is noble, or useful, or estimable, a desirable object, must, necessarily, recommend those pursuits, which conduce to the improvement of the higher and nobler powers of our nature.
Far the greatest, and most momentous revolution, which has ever taken place in the affairs of men, is that by which the human mind has been emancipated from the dominion of ignorance, and barbarism, and elevated to that rank, which it was fitted, and destined, by, the Author of nature, to hold. For this mighty change, in the condition of human society, and for those countless benefits, which that change has brought, in its train, the world is primarily, and principally indebted to science, letters, and the liberal arts. These are , the greater and the lesser lights, by which nations have been directed, in their progress, through the dark and dreary wastes of primitive barbarism, to the brighter realms of civilization, and refinement. These are the grand instruments of advancement, in useful knowledge, and in all the great interests of the human race.
In an age, like the present, to offer ones self, as an advocate, in the cause of science and literature, or formally to urge their claims to general patronage and favour, may, perhaps, appear to many, like entering the lists, "to beat the air," or affecting to inculcate, what is already known, acknowledged, and felt, by all. It is certain, however, from universal experience, that, in no nation, and in no age, has the popular, or public, suffrage attached to those claims, an importance, corresponding, in any reasonable degree, to their intrinsic merits.
We learn, indeed, that, temples have been reared, and that altars have smoked with incense, to the deified authors, and patrons, of the rude arts and learning, of primitive times: But the practical utility of high advancement, in liberal knowledge, has been but little understood, by a vast majority of mankind. The important uses of elementary learning are, indeed, sufficiently obvious, to be perceived, and felt, by all classes of men. And such acquirements, even in classical learning as may be deemed indispensable to a respectable standing in the liberal professions, are, in general, perhaps, regarded with public favour. But high attainments, in science and literature, are, too generally, considered, as calculated rather to gratify the pride, and multiply the honours, of useless learning, than to confer any practical benefit upon mankind. Their value, in popular estimation, is arbitrary and ideal like that of other possessions, which are rare, and merely ornamental. Such acquirements never fail, it is true, to confer personal distinction, and celebrity, upon their possessors: But the natural and necessary connexion of all useful institutions, and of all the great interests of society, with a high state of advancement, in science and letters, is one of those realities which the mass of mankind is slow to familiarize, or perceive. In an age of learning, there is a proneness, in the public mind, to believe, that literature, and the liberal sciences, are already sufficiently advanced; or, that they have, already, reached their highest attainable point of improvement; and therefore, that all further advancement in these departments of knowledge, must be either hopeless, or useless.If this opinion, which was, doubtless, as prevalent, a century ago, as it now is, had, then, been universal; how many of those improvements, which we, now, deem invaluable, would have been, to the present hour, unknown to mankind!
The practical tendency of this popular error, wherever it prevails, is the same, as that of a spirit of direct hostility to all high proficiency, in intellectual pursuits. In a state like this, especially, where royal and aristocratical munificence is unknown, and where all public, as well as private, liberality in the cause of learning depends on popular opinion, the influence of this general belief, in counteracting all efforts, to elevate the standard of liberal knowledge, cannot be too much deprecated. And to this influence may be ascribed, in no inconsiderable degree, the comparatively humble condition of the literary institutions of our country, in relation to the means of advancement, in the higher spheres of learning.
It is demonstrably certain, that the great and various improvements, which have taken place, as well in the physical, as the moral, and social, condition of man, in his transition, from a state of nature, to that of the highest refinement, are to be traced, almost exclusively, to the cultivation of his intellectual powers. This truth, though reflected from almost every object, which, in a land, and an age, of science, meets the eye of observation, is, nevertheless, one of those, to which the public mind has not been familiarized. While every member of cultivated society, daily experiences, or witnesses, the numberless ordinary blessings, which science and letters have conferred, and can, alone, confer upon mankind, there are few who consider, from what sources, such blessings originally spring. The fact, however, is no matter of wonder, or surprise. Proximate causes, acting sensibly, upon sensible objects, obtrude themselves upon the notice of the most inattentive observer: But those, which lie more remote from their effects, or operate insensibly, are observed, only by inquisitive and reflecting minds. The immediate effects of action and rest, of sleep and watchfulness, of heat and cold, upon the human body, are familiar to the least considerate of mankind: While the silent action of most of the vital functions, in our animal economy, is unfelt, and therefore, unheeded, by a great majority of those, whose health, and existence it sustains. The most superficial observer cannot fail to discern the genial and quickening influences of solar light, upon the objects of external nature; while the noiseless, but diffusive, influence of the light of science, upon the character, and condition of society is, in a great measure, unperceived. In an age of refinement, when the means of supplying human wants are abundantwhen the comforts and conveniences of life are multiplied, and diffusedand when the benefits, resulting from the useful institutions and improvements of civilized life, are experienced by all, how seldom do they reflect, that for these habitual comforts and enjoyments, they are, in any measure, indebted to the secret and solitary lucubrations of the philosopher, or the scholar!But what would have been the condition of the human race, if the light of science had never shone? and what would be their present prospects, if that light were, now, to be, forever extinguished.
This enquiry may be answered, with a sufficient approximation to accuracy, by a very general, and brief exhibition of the character, and circumstances of mankind, in the primitive stages of society. For, such as their condition then was, such, in its chief, and distinguishing characteristics, it must have continued to be, but for those institutions, and improvements, which the progress of liberal knowledge has introduced, and multiplied, in later times.
In what is termed a state of nature, the human mind is a field, run to waste. Though susceptible of unlimited degrees of culture, and fertility, "things, rank and gross in nature, possess it, merely." The golden age of the world is "a golden dream." The innocence, peace, and happiness, with which poetry has invested, and adorned, the primeval state of society, are visions, suited, only, to a world of fancy.
The difference between civilized, and savage man, is little less, than that, between the latter, and his brute fellow-tenants of the forest. The mere savage, though heir to an exalted nature, is a being, shorn of his dignity, and degraded from his state. Indolent in body, torpid in mind, devoted to present gratification, and utterly careless of the future, he scarcely exhibits the attributes of a thinking being. His ideas are limited to the immediate object of his senses; and his virtues, and vices, are qualities rather of instinct than of mind. His habits, his pursuits, his purposes, are as mechanical, and almost as little diversified, as those of the ant, or the beaver. Those objects of reflection, which, in a state of civilization, employ, and expand the faculties of the mind, and which the mind itself, by its own combinations, creates, and multiplies, are foreign to his thoughts. Indifferent to all objects, which do not minister to his immediate gratification, and equally impatient of thought, and of bodily labour, he abandons himself, and his faculties to a life of sloth, sensuality, and mental apathy; from which he can be roused, only by the unappeasable cravings of necessity, or the occasional stimulus of some high and unusual excitement. To the spirit of inquiry, and the impulses of curiosity, he is a stranger. Even his imagination, though wild and licentious, when stimulated to action, is habitually sluggish; and he slumbers out his existence almost as unconscious of his nobler powers, as the flint, of its fire, or the rock, of the gem, which it encrusts. The great volume of nature, open before him, may, occasionally, afford employment for his credulity, and superstitious fancy; but to his understanding the volume is sealed. Regardless, alike, of the past, and the future, he lives, without reflection, to instruct his reason; without anticipation, to elevate his hopes.
But a state of mental languor, and inaction, is, universally, a state of mental suffering. And hence a barbarian, as described by the most eloquent, and most philosophic, of ancient historians,* is, in the intervals of his gross enjoyments, by turns, the most listless, and most restless, of human beings. In quest of relief, from this irksome state of existencethis inanimation of the soulhe plunges, alternately, into the opposite extremes of oblivion, and excitement; and either drowns his languor, and restlessness, in the lethargy of inebriation, or, hazarding whatever he values, upon the issue of chance, stimulates his mind to action, by agitating it into emotion.
And here we may discover, how it comes to pass, that these two desolating vicesa propensity to intoxication, and a passion for desperate gaminghave become generally characteristic of savage life. They spring, in barbarous ages, not as in cultivated society, from any peculiarity, in the vices, or circumstances, of individual men; but from a general law of human naturea species of moral necessity, arising, out of the condition of barbarism.
To the same cause, may, perhaps, be attributed that extravagant fondness for the marvellous, which marks the savage character. This principle operates, indeed, to a limited extent, in the higher stages of society; but acts, most powerfully, upon the untaught savage. Whatever is grand, or terrible, or mysterious, in the visible world, dilates his rude imagination, and rouses his mind to "a superior consciousness of its own existence." He delights to recognize a deity in every stupendous object, and a miracle, in every extraordinary phenomenon, in the physical world ; because the human mind delights to be excited, without exertion: A fact, let me remark, in passing, which may, in some measure, at least, account for that fondness, so prevalent, in the more advanced stages of society, for scenic exhibitions of imaginary grief, and terror, and pity.But in the absence of those high excitements, which occasionally interrupt his habitual apathy, the life of the barbarian is a life of sleep, and gluttony, and mental vacuity.
Such, in its principal features, has ever been the character of the human race, in barbarous ages; and such, the abyss of degradation, from which the civilized portion of mankind has been raised, by mental culture, to that comparative elevation or character, and conditionthat state of advancement, in knowledge and manners, in civil order, and social happiness, which the present generation is permitted to witness.
There is, perhaps, no single consideration, which can more strikingly exemplify the immense influence of mental improvement, upon the human race, than that endless diversity of character, manners, tastes, pursuits, and modes of life, by which the aspect of society is variegated, in an age of refinementcontrasted with that uniformity, or sameness, in all these particulars, which marks the savage state. To describe, minutely, all those peculiarities,those numberless marks of distinction, which characterize the different civilized communities of the world, or the different classes of men, who compose them, were a task, from which the most versatile and gifted mind might well shrink. But the barbarian, of one age and country, iswith the exception of a few minute varieties, necessarily arising from difference of climate, or other physical causesthe barbarian of every other; and he, who has seen one complete specimen of savage society, in any part of the world, has, generally speaking, seen it, in all its principal and distinguishing features, throughout the globe.
Hence it is, that the delineation of the ancient German character, by the unrivalled and unerring pencil of Tacitus, has been found to be a faithful portraita true reflected imageof barbarous society, in all ages, and all countries. The uninstructed child of naturewhether he roams the forests of Tartary, or bends the bow, in the Western wilderness; whether he inhabits the regions of polar frost, or those, glowing under the fervors of a tropical sunis still the same indolent, sensual, and restless being.
The causes of this uniformity, however, are obvious. The mind is enlarged, in proportion to the variety, and magnitude, of the objects, it embraces; and as these are multiplied, in the progress of knowledge and civilization, they find employment for every faculty of the soul, and diversify, proportionally, the characters, views, habits, and enterprize, of men. But those objects, which alone can interest a barbarous age, are too limited, both in number and variety, to furnish scope for the expansion of the mind. The same paucity of ideas, the same sterility of thought, and inactivity of intellect, which stamp a sameness of character and manners, upon the early stages of our natural infancy, produce a correspondent uniformity, in those of the early infancy of society.
It is a fact, still more remarkable, that even the physical characteristics of mankind are not exempt from the all-pervading influence of intellectual improvement. The very countenance of a barbarian indicates his condition. That unlimited diversity of expressionthose minute and undefinable shadowings of character, intelligence, and sentiment, which mark the human countenance, in an age of refinement, are attributable, almost exclusively, to the influence, of mental culture and civilization. Upon the savage countenance, Nature has stamped an habitual, unexpressive uniformity of aspecta listless, but rigid, fixedness of featureas a visible badge, by which he may be distinguished from his civilized fellow-beings. On his brow, sits no "deliberation, nor public care:"
Neither reflection, nor memory, nor fancy, has impressed its image upon his features. The glow of sentiment, the animation of industry, the ardor of enterprize, find no expression there. A transient passion may, occasionally, disturb the ordinary composure of his aspect; but the dead calm of indifference, and mental apathy, reigns, habitually, as well in his countenance, as in his manners. As animals, when domesticated or reclaimed, exhibit numerous varieties, not only in manners, but in physical characteristics, which never appear in their natural state; so men, in a state of civilization, are distinguished, by numberless diversities, as well of aspect, as of character, unknown in a state of barbarism. This analogy, considered as an insulated fact, is merely, a curious phenomenon, in what may be termed the natural history of mankind; but in connexion with the present subject, it furnishes a most impressive illustration of the vast, and various, influence of intellectual culture.
Let it here be remarked, that those varieties of character, taste, and pursuits, which distinguish an age of science and refinement, are not matters of mere curious speculation: They are indispensable to the existence, and preservation, of that improved state of society, in which, alone, they exist. They are, to a state of civilization, what the combined powers of limbs and orgrans, of circulation, digestion, and secretion, are to the animal bodydiffusing life, and strength, and healthful action throughout the system. They are the springs of all that vast variety, in industry, enterprize, and useful exertion, both intellectual and physical, which affords employment and gives activity, to every human faculty.
It is clear, indeed, from all history, and experience, that the character and condition of society are graduated, in general, by its intellectual state. Nor is this remark to be understood, as derogating, in the slightest degree, from the vast and acknowledged importance of religious and moral culture: Since the latter can never be brought to a high degree of advancement, in a low state of intellectual improvement.
It is time, however, to turn from generalities, to a survey of some of the more specific uses of science, and general learning. In attempting such a survey, the mind is embarrassed, by the multiplicity of objects, which claim its attention. To recapitulate all the multifarious benefits, which learning, and the arts of civilization, have conferred upon mankind, would be a labour, like that of numbering, the solar rays, or the drops of morning dew. In this Address, the utmost that can be proposed, is a very brief, and cursory, notice of a few of the more prominent topics, which the subject suggests.
The arts which we term useful, are regarded with universal favour, as the sources, from which all the ordinary comforts and conveniences of civilized life, are immediately derived. But the useful arts themselves, must have remained, forever, in a state of rudeness, without the aids, which they have received, from the liberal sciences. Uninstructed industry, or accident, may, occasionally, lead to the discovery of an insulated fact, of primary importance to the useful arts; but science, alone, can furnish the principles, necessary to the development of the highest practical uses, and results, of such discoveries. There is scarcely an art, practised among men, and transcending the rude and simple expedients of primitive necessity, to which the liberal sciences have not been, in some important degree, ancillaryas contributing either to its invention, or to its highest, and most efficient application.
We contemplate, with admiration, that skill, by which the astronomer, or man of science, measures the magnitude and distance, or ascertains the position, the course, and the periodical revolutions, of a heavenly body; or by which he calculates the velocity, and aberration, of light; or predicts with, unerring, accuracy, the eclipses, not only of the superior luminaries, but of every satellite, in the solar systemwithout once reflecting, perhaps, that it is this science of the heavenly bodies, which enables us to measure the globe, which we inhabit; to ascertain the relative positions of its various parts; to trace our way, through the trackless wastes of ocean; and thus to hold communication with the remotest regions of the earth. How unimportant, comparatively speaking, would have been the manual dexterity of the artisan, in moulding masses of wood, or metal, into those forms, which constitute the component parts of a machine without the aid of those principles of philosophical and mathematical science, which regulate all works of mechanism! Without similar aids, derived from the same sources, how partial, and relatively insignificant, would have been the uses of the mechanical powers, and of those forces, which nature has furnished, in heads of water, and the expansive power of steam; and which, under the direction of genius and science, united have virtually, endowed one human agent, with the physical strength of a multitude, and almost realized the bold and aspiring anticipation of "the omnipotence of mind over matter!" Who can detail the multifarious uses of chemical science, in agriculture and manufactures; in pharmacy, and the art of healing; and in all the various arts of rural and domestic economy? Need I mention that necessaryupon which all national security, dependsthe modern art of war? to which, in several of its great departments, and especially, in those of fortification, gunnery and engineering, high and various attainments, in mathematical, and physical science, are indispensable. What, comparatively, would have been the benefits, derived from the arts of ship-building and seamanship; from the discovery of the polarity of the magnet, and even the invention, (if, indeed, mere mechanical skill could have accomplished it,) of the mariners compasswithout the light and guidance of mathematical and astronomical science to direct, extend, and multiply their several uses? What numberless benefits have mankind derived, from that free and regular intercoursethat habitual interchange of products, intelligence, opinions, and improvements, which maritime skill and enterprise have established, between the various nations of the earththat intercourse, by which the discoveries, and inventions, the learning, and wisdom, of every community, and of every mind, have been laid open to the common use of the civilized world. And yet, how seldom do we trace these invaluable benefits to any causes, more remote, than the direct and proximate means, by which they are brought within our reach?
It becomes a philosophical age, however, to reflect, that the primary sources of these multiplied blessings are mountain-springs, found only in the elevated regions of learning: And that the present unexampled augmentation and diffusion of useful improvements, and of the treasures of nature and art, throughout the civilized world, are but the natural effects of an advanced state of literature and science. While, then, we boast of those high achievements, in the arts of utility, which excite the wonder even of our own age, and would, in former times, have been pronounced miraculous, let us not forget, that, without the aids of liberal knowledge, those achievements had never been accomplished.
But to leave a topic, on which detail would be endless, let us very briefly inquire, what has been the influence of the advancement of learning, upon the moral condition of society?
By the laws of our nature, there appears to be an established connexion between intellectual and moral improvement. This proposition, however, is not intended to imply, that a man of learning is, of course, a man of virtue; and much less, that the morality of individuals is proportioned to their respective intellectual attainments. The extent of the assertion is, merely, that the advancement of knowledge is, in its general tendency, and therefore, in its ordinary effects, subservient to the cause of general, practical morality. And it may be added, that this salutary tendency is more visible, in its influence upon society, at large, than upon individuals: Since the general aspect and condition of society is open to universal observation; while the distinctive features of individual character fall under the notice of comparatively few.
It has been supposed, by many, that deep research, especially in physical and metaphysical science, or abstract learning, in general, has a tendency to promote scepticism, and free-thinking, and consequently, licentiousness in morals: And the names of Bolingbroke, Hume and Gibbon, Voltaire, Rosseau, and others, are often pointed to, as beacons, to warn mankind of the dangers, which lurk, in the deep recesses of human learning. But this opinion mistakes an anomaly, for a general law. How many names, more illustrious than thesewhat an array of giant mindsmight be marshalled against this little band of sceptics! The latter are, indeed, the more conspicuous, from their comparative rarity; as a comet thwarting the firmament, is, for a season, an object of more attention, that the whole glorious "host of heaven."
That advancement in knowledge is friendly to the cause of virtue, would seem deducible, by reason, from the known attributes of the Deity. All science, properly so called, consists in the developement of truth; and the same may be said, in general, of all sound literature. And is it to be supposed, that any system of truth can be, in its essential nature, hostile to the cause of virtue? It would seem like an impeachment of the existing constitution of things, and consequently, of the wisdom, or goodness, of Him, who ordained it, to hold, that profound discoveries, in the laws, or economy, of the physical, intellectual, or moral world, could, from any inherent tendency, conduce to error, or licentiousness, in reasoning, or in morals. "An undevout astronomer is mad;" and is not an undevout proficient in any other branch of science equally so? Whether the man of science investigates the properties of matter or of mind; the laws of the universe, or the economy of the minutest insect tribe; the wonders of external nature, or those of his own existence; he can hardly fail to be impressed with high and reverential thoughts of Him, "who passes wonder"the Author of this stupendous system. And who can doubt, that such sentiments are, in their direct, and natural tendency, subservient to the cause of virtue?
Of a kindred nature, is the moral tendency of general literature. Whatever enlarges, tends to elevate, the mind. There is, indeed, a literature, falsely so called, which has been justly styled "a moral poison." But that genuine, chastened, learning, by which the mind of the sage and the scholar is instructed, is scarcely less conducive to the interests of morality, than to those of philosophy, and general knowledge.
It is eminently worthy of remark, that there is a general connexion, between the intellectual, and the moral, taste. To the truth of this position, the genius of language, itself, bears testimony, in characterizing polite literature, by the terms, liberal, ingenuous, humane; and common observation, it is believed, will prove, that a cultivated taste, and a gross, base, or violent spirit, are not frequently united, in the same mind.
The importance of intellectual improvement to the great interests of religion, can scarcely be doubted, by any reflecting mind. These interests have never flourished, in the absence, or in a deressed state, of human learning. To what a depth of degradation was Christianity reduced, during the long, dark, and dreary period of the middle ages!a period, during which, a system of doctrines and precepts, dictated by infinite wisdom and purity, was reduced, by ignorance and imposture, to a compound of mere absurdity and grossness! This depravation of Christianity commenced with the subversion, and terminated with the full restoration of learning. And it is as certain, as mere moral certainty can render any fact, that, had the light of science and literature, never again broken in upon the world; the light of the Protestant Reformation had never dawned upon Christendom.
That great event, which unsealed the Word of God to the world, to which it was sent, was reserved for a learned, and philosophical age. When science, and literature had been re-established, upon an immovable foundation; when the inventions of the mariners compass, of paper, and of the art of printing, had opened innumerable channels, before unknown, for the circulation of knowledge; when the discovery of India, and the Western continent, had given an impulse, almost universal, to the spirit of enterprize and inquiry; then, and not till then, did the Reformation burst upon the Christian world. The see of Rome, which had, then, attained a degree of power and splendor, unexampled, in that age, and unrivalled, in later times, was held, by the most munificent, and accomplished pontiff, who had ever worn the mitre; and each of the temporal thrones in Europe, was occupied by one of the ablest, and most powerful, of its own monarchs. Against this combined, and tremendous array of power, was the banner of the Reformation displayed; and without the assistance of the literature of the age, it must have been trampled in the dust, almost without a struggle. But the cause of reform was, not only in fact, but professedly, identified with that of learning; and the history of the period clearly proves, that, without the aid of Erasmus, Melancthon, and other eminent scholars of the age, even the stern and unyielding spirit of Luther himself, would have despaired of success. The triumph of the Reformation was, in truth, the triumph no less of learning, than of the Protestant faith.* And if the light of science, and literature, were now extinguished; by whom could that faith be vindicated, and sustained? There can be no rational doubt, that, so far as it depends upon human exertion, for support, it would soon be banished from the world.
In the present age, and especially in our own country, the influence of science and letters, upon the civil condition of mankind, is a subject of deep, and universal interest.Of the existing nations, of the earth, the most enlightened are the most free. And, so far as we are enabled tojudge, either from experience, or those known laws, which govern human nature, and human affairs, it would seem impossible, that an intelligent, and well informed people can ever be long oppressed, by their civil rulers: A lesson, which appears to have been well understood, by tyrants, in all ages. Charlemagne and Alfred have been rendered illustrious, by their efforts, in the propagation of learning: And examples there have been, of despotic monarchs, who, within the narrow circle of their own courts and flatterers, have patronized letters and the arts, from the ambition of adding lustre to their thrones. But who, among the great oppressors of mankind, ever encouraged the general diffusion of knowledge? Tiberius, than whom a more sagacious despot never outraged humanity, led the way, in the degradation of Roman learning; and Caligula faithfully followed his example. Nero murdered the poet Lucan from fear of his genius, and acquirements. Domitian literally declared open war, upon every department of learning, and banished, from Italy, its professors, of every denomination. When Edward the First had resolved upon the conquest of Wales, he found it necessary, as a preliminary measure, to destroy her Bards. That arch-tyrant, Louis the Elevenththe Tiberius of modern historyaffected the dishonour of literature, by denying a literary education, even to his son, the immediate heir and successor to his throne; and Frederick the Second of Prussia, though vain, himself, of the title of philosopher, and scholar, treated with systematic contempt, every man of learning in his dominions.Such, without doubt, is the true policy of all tyrants. Ignorance is the natural handmaid of despotism: Learning, morals and liberty have usually flourished, declined, and expired, together.
It is idle to suppose, that the forms, of a free government can, alone, secure the civil freedom of any people. It is not in the power of any constitutional charter, however free, nor of any administration, however able, and faithful, to protect, and perpetuate the rights of a nation, against its, own ignorance, or vices.
It is a natural, and therefore, a common subject of regret, to benevolent minds, that the blessings of civil liberty have been, and still are, enjoyed by so few of the nations of the earth. But is it not a matter of, at least, some doubt, whether most of the nations, now existing, are not, already, in possession of as much civil freedom, as they are, yet, qualified to exercise? May we not, in general, suspect, from the very fact of a peoples long, and tamely, submitting to the deprivation of civil liberty, that they are, in some respect, unworthy of it, or unfit to enjoy it? This may, perhaps, be deemed austere speculation; but it cannot be more irrational, than the supposition, that any one given form of government, however excellent in the abstract, is adapted to the condition, or would conduce to the welfare, of all nations. If the British constitution were now to be conferred upon the empire of China, or Turkey, or Russia; or if that of the United States should, at this time, be adopted by the states of Barbary, or the Aborigines of our own country; is it possible to believe, that the change would, in either case, confer a benefit? It would be like harnessing for battle, the youthful shepherd of Bethlehem, with the armour of Saul; or like joining a living head to an inanimate body.
The wish, so frequently expressed, in our country, that our own free civil institutions might be extended to the whole human race, originates, without doubt, in a sentiment of humanity: But its present accomplishment would, probably, bring more calamity upon the world, than it now suffers, from all its oppressors. How many of the existing nations of the earth are, now, qualified for the enjoyment of civil liberty, it is, surely, not for me to decide. France has made one memorable effort, for the attainment of republican freedoman effort, which threatened, and convulsed, the whole frame of civilized society, throughout the world. But even France was compelled to seek a refuge, from the effects of her own attempt, in the protection of an unlimited, inexorable, despotism. And the result of the experiment, now in progress, in a remote part of our own continent, time alone can unfold. Thus much, however, appears certain: The mere establishment of free institutions of government cannot qualify a people for the enjoyment of civil freedom: They must qualify themselves for it, by intellectual and moral culture; or the establishment of its forms will be in vain, and worse than in vain.
The same causes, which contribute to the interests of a people, in their social and civil relations, are equally conducive to the great interests of nations, in their relations to each other. Since civilization first adorned society, pre-eminence, in science, letters, and the liberal arts, has been, not only, among the highest attributes of national character, but one of the principal elements of national power. Character commands credit; knowledge is the fountain of resource; and hence it happens, that, among the communities of the world, the seat of science has, usually, been the seat of empire. While the learning, and arts, and enterprize, of Greece were flourishing, in their meridian splendour, she could defy, and repel, the world, in arms. The gigantic power of Persia was prostrated before her; nor was her freedom finally subverted, until she was self-vanquished, by unbounded luxury, intestine divisions, the corruption of her citizens, and the intrigues of her conqueror. And Rome herself, was, in effect, subdued, by her own degeneracy,by the degradation of learning and moralsbefore she was overwhelmed by the barbarians of the North.
But the same lessons, which are taught, by examples from antiquity, may be derived from the experience of our own, and of all, times. Compare the more enlightened, with the ignorant or less informed, nations of the earthand how vast is the difference of their condition! We have only to open our eyes, upon the existing state of the world, to discover that, wherever seats of learning, wherever science, and the arts are flourishing, there are found national character, industry, enterprize, wealth, and public happiness: And that, where the mind is uncultivated, where science and letters are unknown, degraded, or neglected, it is vain, to look for high advancement, in the useful arts, or productive industry; for noble enterprize, national dignity, or general prosperity. What wonders have been wrought, in the career of national greatness, by that people from whom we derive our origin! An island, which one of our own native lakes might encircle, and which shows, on the map of the world, but like a rock, in the ocean, has, confessedly, attained the highest rank, among the nations of the globe; and now occupies the summit of national grandeur. In wealth, character, influence, and efficient power, the resources of Great Britain far surpass, at this moment, those of any other nation existing. In the darkest, and most appalling hour, which the modern world has ever witnessedwhen a gigantic, and ferocious despotism threatened destruction to the independence of nations, and the political liberties of mankind; even in that awful hour, she stood, alone in arms, against the combined strength of continental Europe; and like her own native cliffs, she stood unmovedtriumphant! And whence has she derived this pre-eminence, but from her schools, and seats of learning, the intellectual and moral culture of her subjects, and the wisdom of her institutions? The experience of the world is replete with instruction, upon these important topics: But the occasion forbids detailed illustrations, and claims our attention to considerations, which relate, more immediately, to ourselves.
In the main subject of this Address, no nation is more deeply interested, than our own. Our country, in its original settlement, was dedicated to the cause of religious liberty, and learning; and to us, of the present generation, is that cause now committed, as a sacred trust. To discharge this trust, with fidelity, and transmit it, entire, to posterity, is a duty, not only of gratitude, to those from whom we derived it, but of justice to ourselves, to mankind, and to future ages.
We are a new nation, placed in a new world, to work out our own happiness, under new institutions; and to those, who are observant of the existing state of things, and the signs of the times, it must be apparent, that we are destined, as a nation, to act a most important part, in human affairs. What our future condition may be, is, of course, like other future events, unknown to us. But since we know, that nations, as such, are the subjects of no other, than temporal retributions; we may conclude, with some degree of confidence, that those of them, which deserve prosperity, will not fail to attain it. And with this dictate of reason, all general experience coincides.
The true glory, and lasting interests, of a nation, are to be sought, in the cultivation of useful knowledge, good morals, and the arts of peace. And, wherever the first of these is made to flourish, the two latter are found in its train.
The importance of intellectual culture was clearly understood, by the original founders of our free institutions. Among their early cares, was the establishment of those seats of learning which, for generations past, have enlightened and adorned our country. These have been the sources of that portion, which we possess, of useful learning and general morality; the pillars of that system of popular and universal instruction, by which this section of our country has been distinguished, above all the communities of the earth; the nurseries, which have supplied learning, and wisdom, to our halls of legislation, our pulpits, and our tribunals of justice. May we never incur the reproach of permitting such institutions to languish, in our hands!
It is a fact, pre-eminently worthy of our attention, that the literary character of every nation is, in a great measure, determined, by that of its literary institutions. And it is vain to expect that our country can ever reach, and maintain, that rank, to which she aspires, among the nations of the earth, without supporting a correspondent rank, in intellectual improvement. Until "American books" shall be "read," in Europe, and especially in Great Britain: until there shall be an interchange, between the two countries, a well of learning, as of the physical products of industry, it is idle, to think of our maintaining a literary competition with that nation: And those boastsof which we witness but too many examplesof our own superiority, in genius and learning, expose us to the derision of the world.
Our vernacular literature is still in its rudiments. It would, however, be a gross slander upon our country, to deny, that she possesses a large, and invaluable, fund of literary and scientific knowledge. But of this, far the greater part is derived from foreign sources. Some of our literary institutions, it is true, are above all praise, for their perseverance, and success, in raising the standard of education, and learning, in our country, without means and in the midst of discouragements. But no human efforts can, accomplish impossibilities: And that our unaided collegiate establishments should successfully vie with the amply-endowed, and cherished, universities of Europe, or of Great Britain alone may, safely, be pronounced impossible.
Such, in a great measure, must the relative state of our literature, probably continue to be, until we shall have full-organized universities, and a body of literati, forming a distinct profession. But such a consummation can never be attained, until, in emulating the literary character, we shall also emulate the literary patronage of foreign nations. As the standard of learning and education rises, it becomes necessary, that the means of sustaining it, portionally augmented.
Unfortunately, however, those very civil regulations, upon which we justly set the highest value, present serious obstacles, to the attainment, by our literary institutions, of that rank, to which they might, otherwise, aspire. In other nations, princes, nobles, and the possessors of great hereditary wealth, are the natural, and prescriptive founders, and patrons, of seats of learning. But by the frame of our civil policy, and its equalizing effect, in the division and subdivision, of inheritances, our institutions of learning are entirely, excluded from the two former, and, in a great measure from the last, of these sources of patronage, And it is apparent that, unless some new source of pecuniary aid shall be opened, __ our principal seats of learning; unless they shall be enabled, by their endowments, to keep pace with, the advancement of the age, and even to take a lead in that advancement; they must, ultimately, decline.
Let it not be forgotten, that our literary institutions, and the general learning of our country, must flourish, or decay, together: And that, if they are permitted to languish, the fault, the folly, the disgrace, will all be our own.Let the friends of our country, then, unite their efforts, to avert so great a reproachso great a calamity.
Our present condition, as a people, is a subject of just congratulation; and our future destiny is committed, under Providence, to our own care. We have advantages, possessed, to an equal extent, by no other people, on the globe, for a high career, in intellectual improvement. Our unlimited freedom of inquiry, of opinion, and of enterprize; our free and frequent intercourse with ever region of the earth; a language, more widely extended, and known, throughout the world, than any other living tongue; a freedom of competition, which enables the humblest citizen to aspire to the highest distinctions; and the general prosperity, and increasing resources, of our country; all these, combined, present peculiar facilities, and scope, for exertion, and emulation, in every useful pursuit.
But, above all, the age, in which we live, and the existing state of the world, bring with them, irresistible motives to exertion, in the cause of liberal, and useful knowledge. There are certain periods, in which the human mind is excited, by an almost simultaneous, and universal impulse, to unusual activity: And such is the period, which we, this day, witness. The present is, pre-eminently, an age of inquiry, and enterprize, of discovery, of invention, and of universal improvement. It is an age, full of destiny; and, if we are just to ourselves, of most auspicious augury to our country.
The present generation has introduced a new era, in science, and productive industry. Liberal knowledge and the useful arts are now pursued, to an extent, far surpassing all former example the general scale of learning is enlarged; and even in these latter days, sciences, unknown to our fathers, have sprung into life. Mineralogy, geology, galvanism, statistics, political economy, and the modern system of chemistry, may all be regarded, as new, or recent, sciences: That great desideratum, the longitude has, virtually, and to most practical purposes, been discovered, by the invention of the chronometer: The physical and abstract sciences, and general literature, are steadily advancing: Geographical discovery is prosecuted, with a zeal and perseverance, which yield neither to the rigors of an arctic climate, nor to the terrors of an African desert. Every mountain, and valley, in both, hemisphere, is a scene of scientific research: And universal learning, in its numerous departments, is rapidly extending its limits, and augmenting its stores.
To the honour of our country, she has thus far, partaken, largely, of the spirit of the age. And what a noble field, for exertion, and improvement now lies before her! In commerce, she is second, only to a single nation. Her internal resources are inexhaustible; and in native enterprize, she yields to no nation, on the globe. With a population, doubling, in the lapse or a single generation; an almost boundless territory, of which the shores are washed by two oceans, and comprehending nearly every variety of soil and climate; with the freest civil institutions existing, and a people, intelligent, and addicted to inquiry; it may, surely, be said of her, if of any nation, visited by the sun, that the means of achieving greatness and glory, are at her own command. While her external commerce visits every shore, a spirit of internal improvement has gone forth, which nothing can resist. In the mean time, her frontier settlements are rapidly advancing their limits: Her population is pressing to the furthest barrier of the West: And the silent, and desolate shores of the Pacific, will, soon, resound with the cheering, voice of industry, and beam with the light of science. Those neglected regions, hitherto the wastes of nature, are, shortly, to become the abodes of knowledge, and wealth, and civilized life.
Nos, primus equis Oriens afflavit anhelis,
Illic, sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.
The faculties of the human mind are, at the present time, in a state of strenuous and emulous activity; and the circumstances of the world afford the amplest scope, and highest encouragement, to intellectual exertion. An unexampled spirit of enterprize is continually opening new sources of improvement, in every department of knowledge, and ever useful pursuit. By the enlarged, and still extending, intercourse of mankind, every valuable intention, and discovery, is speedily transmitted "from sea, to sea, and from shore, to shore:" And the present generation may gratefully hail the arrival of that auspicious period, of which it was predicted, of old, that "many should run, to and fro, and KNOWLEDGE SHOULD BE INCREASED."