PRONOUNCED BEFORE THE
PHI BETA KAPPA SOCIETY
ON TUESDAY, JULY 27th, 1841
BY WILLIAM KENT.
PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE SOCIETY.
PRINTED BY JAMES VAN NORDEN & CO.,
No. 27 Pine-street.
GENTLEMEN OF THE F. B. K.
In appearing before you, in obedience to the request with which I have been honoured, the great difficulty I have experienced, has been the selection of a subject to present for your consideration. From the high philosophical studies, and the scientific investigations of naturethe noblest themes for the attention of an audienceI have been unhappily debarred by the disqualifying character of my ordinary pursuits : and how, in the fields of elegant literature, shall a mere man of the world, pursuing an exclusive profession, presume to address the inmates of academic bowers, where wisdom, as described by Milton, with her sweet nurse contemplation, "retires, to plume her feathers and let grow her wings?"
There is one topic, however, on which, it is said by strangers, every American is able to converse, and, it is added, I earnestly hope with not less truth, every American is indulgent to hear. "Lovers" (says La Rochefoucault) "are never tired of each other's company, because they talk only of themselves." Availing myself of this gentle foible of the human, and the American heart, I venture to offer a few and desultory thoughts on the prospects of our country, and the tendencies and effects of its institutions, few and circumscribed as they necessarily must be, if compressed within the time in which it is permitted to address you.
Turning first to the natural advantages of America, who can cast his eye over the broad map of his country, without an expansion of feeling, and a proud exultation, which doubt cannot shake, nor ridicule repress? If ever the hand of nature visibly pointed to the seat of empire, it will be on the continent of North America. It is not national vanity that prompts the remark, since enlightened foreigners are the loudest to declare it; and I speak now under the vivid impression of a late French work by Michael Chevalier, on the Internal Communications of the United States. Of all foreigners, by the way, the French seem the best to apprehend the physical and political qualities of our country: while the English, on the other hand, seem environed, in their discussions of America, by ignorance and prejudice, hopeless and invincible. If we wish to place before an inquirer a book, which shall minutely explain the structure and workings of our complicated political system, while it abounds in comprehensive, and even sublime, views of the progress and destiny of America, where can we so well resort as to the writings of the accomplished and philosophical De Tocqueville? And we find nowhere so perfect a description of the physical resources, and great natural features of the continent, as in the works of Chevalier, who is, at this moment, endeavouring to allure his countrymen to the arts of peace, and the benefits of internal improvements, by the example of the infant republics of the west. It is not surprising that France is dear to America, or that our hopes and wishes, sometimes without the concurrence of our judgment, accompanied her in the vicissitudes of her revolutionary, and even her imperial, wars; since, beside the substantial national benefits, which, in our emergency, we have obtained from France, it is from her writers alone we receive impartial apprehension of our national qualities, with the enchanting influences of French courtesy and politeness.
Your time will not be profitably employed by a lecture on the geography of the United States; yet it may be permitted to compress into one or two sentences some of the leading thoughts of Chevalier, who in his glance at the divisions and the water-courses of the United States, conveys the most vivid idea of their wonderful advantages and resources. The Union, then, consists of three great natural divisions. The first is the Atlantic region, stretching from Maine to Florida, bounded on the west by the Alleghanies, containing the thirteen states that fought the battle of the revolution, and have now attained considerable longevity and population, and possess the arts and refinements of civilized life. The second is the Oregon region, between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific, in the possession of only roving Indians, and where some unsettled claims as to boundaries must, perhaps, be one day settled with the English or the Russians. The third is the great Central region, the Valley of the Mississippi, and its tributaries "an immense triangle, of which the vertex is at the south, and the base at the north possessed of a temperate climate traversed by vast and beautiful water-courses covered by forests, whose majestic vegetation astonishes the European traveller, and adding to subterranean treasures the indispensable requisite to the greatness of nations a soil, to which grand diluvian movements, and accumulated deposits of decayed vegetation, have given powers of remarkable fertility." To bring more vividly its picture before you, let the memory accompany the currents of its mighty rivers, compared with which the rivers of Europe, and, indeed, of the Eastern world, shrink into insignificance. On the north, the chain of the great lakes, those magnificent reservoirs of immense masses of crystal waters, supply unfailing fountains to the noble St. Lawrence, whose equal stream, the same in summer and in winter, in the meltings, of spring, and the drought of autumn,
"like to the Pontic Sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne'er feels retiring ebb,"
glides in a rocky channel to the Straits of Belleisle. Further west, nature appears on a still more extended scale. From the north, rising in the smaller lakes, proceeds the Mississippi proper, limpid, beautiful and majestic, watering, a fertile region, and passing mines of metals shortly to furnish materials for the industry, and accessions to the wealth of the nation. From the cast comes down to.join it, with no tribute flood, our own Ohio, (for New-York may claim, in its beautiful Alleghany, the parent stream,) exhibiting already, in its matchless valley, fertility and agricultural productiveness, overpowering to the imaginationflowing, first, through the land of the forest, of primeval and overshadowing woods, lofty in stature, and exuberant in foliage, attesting the richness of the soil, and the ardours of the sun; and passing thence into the land of the prairie, where luxuriant herbage covers the traveller, and whose gently swelling plains, like vast undulations, present, in their season, with wild fertility, the similitude of an "ocean of flowers !" On the right, in the boldest contrast, wild, turbid and uncontrollable, rushes in the mighty Missouri, "coming down 3,000 miles from among the savages, and impressing its barbarian character on the Mississippi." Consistent throughout, no fair lakes have produced this Titanian torrent, and no fertility marks its progress. Draining for the space of nine degrees of latitude, it draws its waters from the clefts and gorges, the torrents and glaciers of the Rocky Mountains and, rushing thence eastward, through deserts sterile and wild as the steppes of Tartary, when the heat of summer has dried up its tributaries, it rolls its sullen and turbid waves through silent, deserted territories. And, lastly, we behold those great rivers forming the lower Mississippi pouring its multitudinous waves to their confluence with the ocean attesting the volume of its flood in the undermining banks, the extended marshes, the low lagunes, while the rankness of vegetation, the tropical fruits, the miasmas, and the very monsters engendered by its slime, exhibit the ardours of a southern sun, and the almost diseased energy of nature!
Over these extended regions, whose water-courses have been thus alluded to, as best conveying to a momentary glance an idea of their natural unity, the cornucopia of nature has poured its boundless profusion the fruit, the corn, the vine, the olive, the cotton, the cane the production of every climate of the temperate zones. Nor is the race of men, to whom the sovereignty of these regions is evidently committed, unequal to develope their resources, and to wield the powers, which the exuberance of nature lays at their feet.
It is not two hundred years, since a few Englishmen and Virginians, living in the Falls of James' River, crossing the Alleghany Mountains, entered the country of the Ohio, and discovered several branches of that river, and of the Mississippi. But the prize, thus beheld, was not yielded to the English without a struggle; and our early history receives romantic interest from the efforts of accomplished and far seeing Frenchmen to reverse the decrees of fate, and to plant permanently on the continent the banners of France. Now that the contest is long over, and new national associations and antipathies have arisen, here on the spot, where, 150 years ago, Schenectady was wrapped in flames by French soldiery and their barbarian allies, we can speak of the event coolly as of a work of fiction, and even be conscious of something like regret, that the English cause our own cause ultimately prevailed! The French race is almost unknown on the continent; but the reader of its history dwells, with melancholy interest, on the annals of the early adventurers the missionary, the soldier, the Jesuit and the noble by whom the Catholic faith was sedulously, but evanescently, disseminated, and the lilies of the Bourbons gallantly, but unsuccessfully, upheld.
The story is an epic, with a regular beginning, middle, and end, the interest rising to the close. We first see Jaques Cartier, the discoverer of Canada, sailing from St. Malo (in May, 1535) with three vessels, of tonnage actually inferior to the boats that traverse our canal, and reaching, in the termination of his voyage, the island of Montreal. We point, with exultation, to one of the most perfect results of art in a modern ship of war concentrated and compact graceful in its curves, symmetrical in its spars, beautiful in its pyramidal canvass, and guided over the ocean by the numberless means and appliances of modern science and experience, as if instinct with life and animated by soul: but is not admiration rather due to the hardihood of the early navigator, in feeble barks, without chronometers, or charts, or quadrants, or tables, encountering the storms of Arctic seas, and the ices of the coast of Labrador, with no aids but the native courage of his heart, and the unyielding sinews of his frame? Such was Cartier, and Baffin, and Henry Hudson. Indeed, such was Columbus himself. Among the successors of Cartier will be noticed Robert de la Salle, who, 163 years ago, built the first ship that sailed on Lake Erie; and who discovered the mouths of the Mississippi, and, falling by violent death, deserved the encomium of his friend and fellow Jesuit, Hennepin, as "intrepid, courteous, ingenious, constant in adversity, and capable of every thing." There is something bold, and akin to the extended strategy of modern war, in the design of Frontenae and his successors to hem in the English colonies by a chain of posts extending from Canada to Louisiana. And, at last, when the fated hour of French dominion had arrived, there is an adequate termination of this episode of history in the death of Montcalm, yielding the trust of his king and country only with his life, and dividing, with his youthful conqueror, the laurel and the tomb on the blood-stained plains of Abraham.
Though cautious myself, and even sceptical, in admitting the last influence of any particular event, or even of any series of events, on the general condition of man, yet, viewed in the ordinary philosophy of history, the battle of Quebec was as momentous in its consequences as perhaps any recorded in the annals of the world. Even the celebrated victories of' history, as Actium, or Pharsalia, or Waterloo, are removed from the vulgar slaughters of mankind, rather in the splendour of the dramatis personŠ, than in their consequences to the condition of the world. The conflicts of Lexington and Bunker Hill, had their issues been different, had only postponed for a few years a separation of countries, which could not be prevented such as is written now in the fate of Canada though soldiers and statesmen combine to oppose. But the victory of Wolfe, or rather the decision in his victory of the contest between the two races, determined the manners, language, institutions and religion of a continent for ages; and ranks, in its results, with the battle of Zama, which is supposed to have determined whether the old world should be Carthagenian or Roman; with that of Tours, where Charles Martel rolled back to the south the deluge of the Saracens; or with that of the great Sobieski, under the walls of Vienna, which shielded occidental Europe from the baleful influence of the Crescent.
A similar train of thought perceives, in the discovery and settlement of English America, a coincidence of time, and a selection of ends, which must strike even those most inclined to doubt, or to ridicule, the belief in a special interference of Providence in the affairs of man. During the night of the middle ages, the Western continent lay dark, unattainable and unknown. It was not permitted to the wild sea-kings and earls of the savage and heathen north, to transplant to our coasts the superstitions and tyrannies of Scandinavia, with the robust energies of mind and body, that might have rendered them, at once, permanent and progressive. The appropriation of America was reserved for the sixteenth century, when learning and liberty had become established in Europe, and the modern arts and sciences had commenced their brilliant and unceasing progress. The compass had given to the mariner mastery of the ocean, and brought to certainty and precision the intercourse between the old continent and the new. The art of printing accompanied the pilgrim in his voyage, and shed some rays of letters and education within his rude hut on the verge of the wilderness. The reformation had excited the mind and the conscience, and given the Bible to the world. Civil liberty had arisen, raising the commons, reducing the nobles, and limiting the throne. And it was from the land where these results were most attained, that the destined rulers of North America proceeded the "rock-made" men, in the quaint etymology of Carlyle stern in enthusiasm, austere in religion, severe in morals, tried in adversity a race that, in five centuries, has never encountered an equal antagonist by sea or by land self-governed and progressive, enduring and invincible who commenced, and are now fulfilling, their allotted task of felling the forest, taming the wilderness, and covering the continent with a homogeneous people, speaking the same language, obeying the same laws, and exhibiting the same manners, in uniform equality of condition, under the same republican institutions.
Such is the race, of whom millions are already moving over the territories, the extent of which it has been my feeble effort to call before your imaginations in which ten countries like France, with her "vine-bearing hills and gay vallies," which ten countries like mighty Germany, with its hundred cities, might be described: the English-Americans rapidly advancing to the density of European population, over a country equal in its extent to all western and southern Europe to the whole of that portion of the globe which has alone furnished aliment for history, and, by its arts, its arms, and its genius, exercised, from the earliest times to the present, predominating influence on the fortunes of men.
Ah! could we for a moment penetrate into the indiscoverable future! could we carry our minds over the lapse of the coming century, have we not reason to suppose that, like the Bard of Gray, our mental sight would ache before the visions of glory? But the law of our nature is irreversible. In the beautiful tale of the Pilgrim Good-Intent, he encounters on his journey a lofty column the pillar of history and of prophecy. On the face, which meets him, he reads, in legible characters, the history of the past, on the reverse, which looks forward on his journey, there is a vivid inscription, which no mortal eye can decipher it is the history of the future. This pillar is met by nations, as well as individuals, in the journey through time. Who, that recalls the history of the nineteenth century, will speculate, with confidence, of the rise or fall of kingdoms? Who, that looks around him, will dare to imagine what mysteries of the elements will be developed; what new agencies, combinations, or creations of mechanical power will be discovered; what the human mind will conceive, or the human hand perform? Yet, though feeble our faculties, and erroneous our views we are authorized to believe in the progress, on our continent of the power and empire of man, and to fancy the vast Valley of the Mississippi subdued by his labours, and covered by the results of his science and civilization: where the traveller shall wander from city to city, each vieing with the other in the beauties of architecture, in the spires of its churches, the turrets of its cathedrals, the halls of its lyceums, the cloisters of its universities varying, though emulous in excellence: one, perhaps, renowned for its schools of medicine and natural science; another for the keenness and erudition of its lawyers and civilians, a third the residence of famed theologians, where old doctrines shall be defended with gorgeous learning, or new theories be promulgated with heretical ingenuity; one the resort of the exact sciences, another of elegant literature; here, a school of painting, where grace, like Raphael's, shall shed its pervading influence, while there, a rival academy shall display the magic colouring of Titian: one place renowned for the studios of its statuaries, while, in a different city, the actors beautiful art, rescued from unjust degradation, shall exert the high mimetic power, by which
"Verse ceases to be airy thought,
And sculpture to be dumb."
Oh! if in those regions of the sun, unity of government shall be preserved, or, at least, liberty to excite the ardent and glowing a minds of Americans who is so cold as not to kindle with the vision, nor recall the prophetic line of Berkely,
"Time's noblest empire is his last."
Restricting myself, however, from so general a view of the future, and desisting from the attempt bold, even where the indications are so striking to predict the condition of a continent, through the long lapse of time, I propose to devote the few remaining moments to reflections on the political, religious, and literary tendencies around uskeeping in view our own republic of New-York, rather than the whole Union, with the peculiarities and diversities of which, in its various and wide-spread parts, I can pretend no especial acquaintance.
Turning first to our political and legislative tendency, in which there is so much ceaseless action, and so many means and powerful machinery in operation, it is the first article of my political creed, that there will not be, in our times, any essential change in the civil, social or political circumstances of our countrymen. I believe this of the existence of our Union, as to which, whatever may be its ultimate fate, the fruit is not, I conceive, ripe enough, by many a long year, for the dissolution, so often, and indeed, periodically predicted. An intelligent friend, of old experience, finds much similarity in the predictions, with the consequent results, of farmers as to the seasons, and of politicians as to the Federal Union. There never was a year, in which, according to the farmer, it was not too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, or in which calamity or destruction to the fruits or the crops was not to be sustained by drought, or frost, or rain. So of the Union; it was to be dissolved by the war, divided by the Hartford Convention, rent by the Tariff, torn by the Missouri question, and fractured by Nullification. Yet the years roll on; the predictions are never verified; the harvests yield their rich returns; and thc Union remains to bless the nation.
Be this as it may, and whether the confederacy of our Commonwealths endure or not, I apprehend no essential change in the institutions, whose operations come home to the business and bosoms of men, from the ultraism of Democracy on the one hand, or from a reaction on the other of a spirit adverse to republican equality. A writer of some notoriety, in an eastern state, lays it down as a principle of party, hereafter to be acted on, that the hereditary descent of property, and the separate existence of a Priesthood, must be abolished, and some timid persons have been alarmed at the promulgation of such doctrine. There were equal reason for alarm, if this gentleman had proposed, as the principle of his party, that all the mountains in the country should be levelled, and all the streams and rivers forced back to their fountains. His system, and all like it such as Fourier, which would break up the division of families, or Owen's, of Lanark, who would have us all live in parrallelograms are the natural results of a restless love of notoriety, or of political ambition, that to get itself patronized makes itself feared; or of eccentricity, sometimes rising to, and intermingling with, actual insanity, or of some or all of these causes combined; and dissolve, like waves against the rock, when opposing institutions, reared by the habits of ages, intertwined with the interests of the many, and founded on the deep, instinctive feeling of the heart. No political revolution ever did take place unless by external force, as when Alaric and the Goths, or Mahomet and the Saracens, planted foreign nations in the country of the conqueredin which the institutions, affecting national habits, manners and interests, were suddenly changed. We certainly shall not witness such a revolution in our times.
Yet we shall see, and now see, a ceaseless progress in the principles of Democracy and equality slow, from the cautiousness of our national character, and from the predominance of the agricultural interests and class a class essentially and stubbornly republican, but then, e converso, not prone to change, with much of the vis inertiŠ, and segregated from tile wild enthusiasm and heated passions which crowded cities engender. Violent changes with such a class are impossible. But the gradual advance of our distinctive principles, in asserting the equality of all men in the removal of all regulations not essentially necessary in the jealousy of unusual wealth in the reduction of the magistracy to the level of the community in the relaxation of the strictness of jurisprudence, and the sternness of the sanctions of law in the abatement of reverence for the individual, and the elevation, and even tyranny, of public opinion all this we shall see, and it were madness to resist, and folly to deplore. A modern system of geology finds a sufficient solution of the problems of the science in the contemporaneous action of the elements around us. And thus, though anticipating, in the political world, nothing like the earthquake, or the deluge, or volcanic fire, yet the great principles of our system more and more divergent from those of our ancestors, will flow on their course, each year producing effective, but not startling results, and gradually wearing away the maxims, claims, laws, prejudices and manners derived from preceding times, and transatlantic systems and governments.
This permanence, amidst mutation or rather this gradual yielding to political action, which, on a cursory view, seems to threaten the dissolution of all things, will never check party-spirit, which has increased, is increasing, and ought to be, but never will be, diminished. It is naturally incident to our country, as the snows of our December, or the heats of our July. We hear, every day, the hope expressed, that when some particular event shall come when one man, or other, shall be elected to or rejected from office, or one measure be carried or defeated, there will be repose. That repose will never come. Go on the ocean, an predict that its gales will cease to blow, and its billows to roll: but venture not to foretell that, in our American Democracy, parties and factions will not follow each other, in endless succession, till the laws of human nature shall moulder with age, and hope shall cease to animate, and discontent to rankle, anger to irritate, selfishness to seduce, and erring reason to obscure the heart and mind of man.
But what duties will await the patriot among us? Will he be called to feebler trials, than in other countries, and need he be invested with slighter courage and weaker nerves? Far from it! When the American patriot shall come forth, in seasons of emergency, to oppose national injustice or oppression, he will comenot like the resistant of kingly despotism, like the Russells and Hampdens of England: but he will come in the majestic form of a Cato, or an Aristides, and "the features of his character will wear the hardihood of antiquity." De Tocqueville, and other writers on our politics, deplore the isolation of the individual, who resists popular opinions, and the very prostration of soul, which occurs before the will of a multitudinous democracy. This belief is probably much exaggerated exaggerated in the alleged tyranny of opinion on the one side, and in the imputed surrender of independent thought on the other; but it must be conceded that the highest and sternest virtue is required to resist popular errors and popular oppression.
The physical punishments of the victim of tyranny are not essentially different in either case probably are preponderant in the cruelty of the single tyrant. An excited multitude are too impatient for protracted suffering. Their instruments of vengeance are the rapid axe the neighbouring lamp-post the adjacent precipice. It requires the pampered luxury of individual malice to invent "Luke's iron crown and Damian's bed of steel." Still less can the restless, curious, and turbulent passions of the populace affect the higher misery of the solitary dungeon, where the human mind itself is made the instrument of torture, and its affections, its hopes and its memories, arc converted into slow corrosives of the tenement of the soul. But there is wanting to the object of the people's anger, the stimulant, which sympathy sheds, as by enchantment, over the victim of a nobility or a king. He may appeal, like Casimer Perier, from the minority that oppresses, to the conscious, if silent, nation, whose pulse is beating in unison with his own. If called to encounter the extremity of punishment, the voices of those who surround his scaffold may be hushed, but he sees, beaming in their eyes, pity, admiration and love. But to him, who alone confronts a maddened nation, and, without support or sympathy, raises the calm voice of reason and justice, amid universal error and rage what to him is left, but conscious virtue, and the proud appeal of innocence under oppression, uttered, like that of Prometheus, to " the witnessing elements to coming ages, and the just ear of Heaven?"
It has been already remarked, that the changes of our jurisprudence are, probably, to be gradual, and the alterations of our society slowly and gently effected. No error is greater, in the historian or his reader, than imputing the condition of nations to the influence of a few striking events, whether in legislation or in war. Neither in the natural nor in the moral world, is it the system of God to work by single and isolated acts, but by minute, never-ceasing, and, oftentimes, invisible influences, producing consequences, attained by insensible gradations, though vast and astonishing in their final results. It is not by the appalling convulsions of nature, the flood or the storm, that the great alterations of the world are produced: but it is by the invisible dew, the gentle rain, the gradually tempered breeze, and the mildly increasing sun-beam, that the seasons, insensibly melting into each other, turn the desolation of winter into the verdure and harvests of summer. It was not by the field of Runnimede, the conflict of Marston-Moor, the battle of Bunker-Hill, or the siege of Yorktown, that the English or American character, or even national rights, were formed and moulded. They were the work of preceding ages, of the pervading influence of Christianityof increasing educationof progressive scienceof advancing art and of causes, minute, innumerable and imperceptible as the labours of the insects in the southern seas, whence rise tile coral reefs, and the foundations of islands and continents.
Neither is it by such comparisons, as ordinary history affords, that we arrive at the true similitudes and contrasts between our own, and other countries and times. The state of New-York, for example, is not now essentially different, in population or extent, from England in the reign of Elizabeth. According to Hume, indeed, England contained, at this era, less than two millions of inhabitants, yet her influence over the world was then great as now; and dare we challenge comparison with her glories, literary, martial or intellectual? In what aspect in what splendour, that sparkles on the page of history, can we abide the comparison? In political eloquence, indeed, no comparison is admissible, for such eloquence could not then exist in England. The haughty daughter of the Tudors, as a Queen or as a woman, could endure no criticism, nor contradiction; and, with a success, that the Congress at Washington cannot attain, succeeded in restraining the discursiveness of Parliamentary discussion. Instead of limiting speeches by the hour, she abolished them altogether, not by "moving the previous question," but by moving the orator himself, bodily, to the tower. But where mind was allowed to operate, where, with all the aids of modern improvement, do we rise to equality? We have lawyers in abundance; have we any that equal the infinite learning and astuteness of Lord Coke? We have bold seamen and true; but do they rise to the daring energy and enterprise of Sir Francis Drake, and Frobisher, and the conquerors of the Armada, the discoverers of Arctic seas, and the circumnavigators of the world? We have brave and intrepid soldiers but does the age admit of the high chivalry and romantic bravery of Sir Walter Raleigh, or of him, the very Paladin of Romance Sir Philip Sidney, who died under the walls of Zutphen? We have poets of high excellence one, Bryant, the poet of external nature, with taste, pure as the purest of her fountains, and beauties finished as the most exquisite of her colourings; but they, and he, will shrink before the mighty names of Spencer and Shakespeare. Have we philosophers to name with Bacon? And do our statesmen, able, adroit, and experienced as they may be, equal the comprehensive wisdom and far-reaching sagacity of Walsingham and Cecil or even, woman though she was, of the imperial and imperious virago, Elizabeth herself'? Must it not, in candour, be confessed, that not only is our state inadequate in this comparison, but if we add all her sister states, with all their history from the adoption of the Federal Constitution, their united excellence pales before the intense and concentrate splendour of the reign of the Virgin Queen?
We might evade this comparison by the reflection, that, to some extent, the simultaneous appearance of numbers of great men seems to be independent of the government, provided it be not an overpowering and savage despotism, and the result of some freak, or undiscovered rule of nature, which hangs the stars in clusters of constellations, and, without apparent cause, distinguishes particular years by the exuberance of the harvest, or the luxuriance of the vintage. Thus was genius accumulated in the days of Pericles, in the reign of Augustus, in the age of Louis XIV.,and during the regency of George IV. in England.
But the true comparison, to do justice to our country, and observe the philosophy of history, is to compare the existing race of men with that of the times of Elizabeth: to Perceive the vast progress of the sciences, the widespread influence of the practical arts, and how the unattainable luxuries of the noble, and even of the prince, in the sixteenth century, have become the common comforts of the people in ours. Our cities consist no longer of clay-built hovels. Education has reached the nation. The Bible is in every cottage, and, with it, the eye to read, the mind to apprehend, and the heart to feel. Liberty, pervading and universal as the.atmosphere, invests every individual. There are no serfs, no vassals, nor the corresponding noble, or prelate. No secretary's warrant can seize the person; no regal prerogative can rifle the property of the peasant. No arrorrant hierarchy can enforce its dogmas with the fagot and the stake. The police, though slight, is effective. Ten thousand gipsies and banditti do not cover our state. Humanity has reached the government and the people and, every year, four hundred capital punishinents, for theft and robbery alone, do not mark the ordinary course of justice, and shock, at once, the reason and sensibility. The race of man is elevated, though the individual may be less exalted.
Pursuing these desultory, and necessarily much limited reflections to another topic, are we likely to see, in our time, any important religious changes or alterations in the numerous and contending sects that divide the public mind? A few years since, there seemed a general assimilation in progress: polemical discussions were rare; and the barriers that divided the Protestant sects, at least, appeared to diminish and decay. A new spirit certainly has arisen among us. The ecclesiastical hosts, again stand to their arms. Religious champions press forward into the arena. The distinctive banners are raised; former divisions become again apparent; old school and new school high church and low church Catholic, and Protestant, and semi-Protestant, arraying themselves opposite to each other, seem to exhibit some of the zeal and intolerance of former years. In glancing for a single moment, at this delicate topic, it cannot be, in any way, improper in even an untutored layman, to give it such calm consideration as arises from a very impartial indiffierence to the divisions of religious sects, accompanied nevertheless, by most profound respect for the great cause which all Christian sects profess exclusively to support, and from which none in the cool estimation of charity, is entirely and essentially removed. One remarkable characteristic of the times is, the absence of infidel writings, and the bold exhibitions of impiety and unbelief, which disturbed and distressed the Christian world at the beginning of the present century, and the close of the last. Have scepticism and doubt then vanished, or at least diminished? or have they shrunk from the observation of society, and are they desirous to linger quiet and unnoticed in obscurity and concealment? It is difficult to answer this question. In one respect there certainly is an essential difference between the days of the French Encyclopedists and our own the prominent classes of society have ceased to exhibit, and far more to propagate infidelity; and they, whose social and political position depends on the preservation of existing laws and institutions, regard religion as an ally, whose strength and efficiency are to be cultivated as auxiliary to their cause. The last fifty years have been fruitful in events, and productive of deeply felt experience. Scepticism is one thing in the elegant library of Lausanne, or the luxurious castle of Ferney, or in the polished circles of Edinburgh: and quite a different thing at a political dinner of the friends of Thomas Paine, or in the orgies of the Paris Jacobin Club, or at a torch-light meeting of English Chartists. If the gibing, jesting, mocking, witty, brilliant and malignant spirit of Voltaire could be recalled to earth, he would himself he, the admired of the aristocracy and the correspondent of kings and popes ere he, restless and mischievous as he was, contributed to overturn a system of society, so congenial to his tastes and favourable to his fortunes. Modern infidelity has grown prudent, decorous and conservative. It is seen every day in our churches, not to mock, but, by outward conformity, to support a cause, which it believes to be essential to civil society, and to repress rude impiety, which is contrary to its tastes, and injurious to its interests. There is not, then, any probability of the open propagation of infidelity among us by that class of writers, at least, who have been hitherto its chief propagators the learned, the eloquent and the philosophical the Bolingbrokes, the Gibbons and the Humes.
But what means the new resuscitation of sects among us? Is any one to become predominant? any new revolution or counter-revolution at hand? Are we to be overrun by Catholics? or converted by Oxford tracts? sophisticated by Jesuits? or broken into religious anarchy by ultra-Protestantism? The very asking of such questions appears to answer them: the very variety of the apprehensions seems to dispel them. "All nature's difference makes all nature's peace." No sect with us, happily, can become predominant; and their near equality in numbers preserves us from the oppressive tyranny of any. Nor do I anticipate, in the endless discussions and controversies which will arise, that last extremity of fierceness and intolerance which, in the old world, mark religious dissentions; because, in the old world, religion is distinguished by political privileges or temporal wealth. Men will differ, and discuss, and quarrel on every subject. The satire of Swift is scarcely extravagant, which divided the kingdom of Lilliput into great parties on the breaking of the egg, and in wearing the heels to the shoe, into the 1ittle-endians and the big-endians into the high-heel and the low-heel parties. And, according to Mr. Hallam, there is an indelible distinction in the theological world, creating two permanent classes, the one contending for the right of bigots to think for others, and the second for the right of fools to think for themselves. But in all these dissensions, there is, thank Heaven! no political privilege, nor temporal wealth dependent on the issue of the contest. All sects and divisions will unite in opposition to this result, at least in favour of any particular one. There are no glebes, nor probends, nor tithes attendant on peculiar faith. No accursed badge, as in Europe, denotes that political privilege accompanies religious ascendancy. The strong arm of flesh is not brought, in aid of the church, to wrest from the wretched peasant contributions to a faith he abhors.
These securities attained, it matters little what speculative intolerance is reciprocally entertained. Let the pulpit resound to the impassioned polemic; it will not become the "drum ecclesiastic." If it were possible seriously to apprehend the predominance of a particular sect, and that sect were the one, against which we feel hereditary prejudice, I should still believe in the utter groundlessness of the conventional terror, which some profess to feel at, the restored dominion of the Priesthood, in the full and true sense of the word in the sense in which we read it in history, without too going back to the days of Boniface, or Innocent, or Gregory. As rivers (in the well-known simile of Bacon) take their hue and taste from the soil through which they flow, so the Church of every sect, unalterable though it profess to be, is inevitably modified by the institutions and civil circumstances of the country in which it is established. I should anticipate, in the supposed growth of the Roman Catholic Church among us, nothing like the gloom and intolerance of Spain, but a spirit akin, or superior, to that of the Gallican Church in the days of its independence and glory, ere the lofty spirit Bossuet had departed, or the eloquence of Massillon was hushed, or piety, that angels might emulate, had hallowed the tomb of Fenelon. I look, then, without the slightest fear, at the polemical warfare going on between sects, and within sects, on points which I cannot always understand, and which is not, in my theory, essential that I should understand, since I admit none to be exclusively right, nor any of them to be entirely wrong anticipating rather benefit and improvement to the national mind, in the revival of learning, and in the conflict of acute dialectics; indulgent to variety of taste, whether it prefer the quiet and authority of an infallible Church, the deep learning and measured dignity of Episcopacy, the energy and exciting eloquence of the more Protestant sects, (as the modern phrase is,) or looking at them all, with serene indifference, it seek "the calm, but obscure regions of philosophy."
I trust the spirit of these remarks is not misapprehended, nor because I speak calmly, that I shall be supposed to speak irreverently. The idea, which I wish to enunciate, is simply thisthat, as in political matters, I see the slow progress of true principles, though appearances are sometimes adverse, so in religion I believe in the certain advances of Gospel truth and influence, not the less because it will be accompanied by greater charity. Of my reverence for that truth, and my aspiration fbr the advance of that influence, can it be necessary for me to speak? Oh! a mere man of the world does not attain middle life, without feeling, exclusive of its divine authority and awful sanctions, the necessity of that heavenly light, "which, in the night of this evil world, has cheered the despondency of ill-requited worth, and illumined the darkness of suffering virtue."
In drawing to a conclusion these slight remarks on a subject so extensive that it was perhaps presumptuous to select it, I have time for only a single remark on that most fruitful subject, the probable effect of our institutions on our literature. I cannot perceive, then, the least justice in the theory, which supposes that literature will be cheapened, and its standard lowered, by the wide dissemination of an ordinary degree of education among us. Grant it to be so far correct that there shall exist among us a large class of persons, whose learning shall be so moderate, that the highest attainments may not be expected from them, yet is this class itself a proper superstructure for a higher class above it proper to appreciate, and, by its appreciation, to animate and excite those of higher genius and loftier attainments. I cannot conceive that the existence of such a class is to be a clog upon talent; or that a partially educated community is not better, as the patron of genius, than a community not educated at all; or that readers and hearers may not be culled from them quite equal to the audience, high in rank though they may have been, to whom the plays of Shakespeare were addressed, or by whom the poems of Dryden were admired; or even to the haughty nobles of the middle ages, when the genius of Tasso was persecuted, and when
To gayer music, struck his light guitar
In EstŔ's halls."
No! we may, and possibly must, admit that English-America has not made her adequate contribution to the literature of the language; that she is even now, though improving, far surpassed by contemporaneous nations; that, though some eminent writers have been produced among us, no great original genius has come forth to vindicate the glory of his country: all this we may acknowledge, and seek the solution in the wilfulness of nature, which produces extraordinary talent by no fixed rule, or, more probably, in the circumstances of our country the "res dura et novitas regni" which drives us to the practical from the ideal to action from contemplation;in any cause, in short, rather than unjustly and untruly, in the partial education of our countrymen, or the effects of Democratic institutions.
If the view thus taken of our country's institutions shall seem to some too flattering too much of the "couleur de rose" I can only say it is not the one I have always had but, gradually dawning, it has become stronger and brighter, as observation and reflection removed prejudice, and ripened hope into conviction. If at times the American republican permits some inconveniences to irritate, or, dazzled by the genius of the novelist and the poet, invests distant countries or preceding ages with illusive colours, let him abstract himself for a short time from adventitious circumstances, and ascending the serene height of historic contemplation, calmly observe the times and country in which he lives. How quickly the little ills of his condition will disappear! How softly the features of the moral landscape will assume symmetry and beauty! And to the temperate ear of philosophy, the jarrings of our sects and the wranglings of our parties, will acquire an union and assimilation of tone, like the effect which distance produces on the noises of a populous town, when (in the language of Shelley's beautiful ode)
"The city's voice itself is soft as solitude's."
I am not insensible, however, to some of the evils that exist, and will continue to exist, among us; and, as Bolingbroke gave us his "idea of a patriot king," I wish that some philosopher would present for our guidance the "idea of a patriot American republican." It were a noble theme; but by no rash partizan hand, by no passionatc or selfishly ambitious heart, must it be desecrated. Every year that has rolled over my head, has taught me forbearance, the probability of mistake, the existence of kindred virtues in opposing bosoms. I love the word moderation. I adopt, as the rule of belief, the sarcastic imputation of the "New Morality;" and, in political and religious dissentions, believe,
"Black's not so black, nor white so very white."
The impartial observer, looking back on the contest of our parties, may believe the right succeeded, while he respects the virtues, and even foibles, of the vanquished. He may believe Jefferson not destitute of faults, but, in his politics, most in accordance with the spirit of the age in which he lived, and the necessary action of the system adopted in his country; while he pardons the apprehensions, and admires the bright genius and creative power of Hamilton. Looking around him, he may rank himself with the moderate reformers, not attempting the impossible task of resisting popular will and progressnot desiring to resist it, if he had the power; but endeavouring to guide, to divert, to moderate it. He may distrust the ultimate effect of many things going on around him, but he will perceive and cherish the real good involved in them. He may doubt, for instance, whether there will be stability in the sudden conversion of millions from intemperance, but there is present good in it. He may believe it unwise to proscribe entirely the grape, and to argue, from the abuse, against the use of the bounty of nature, in that "offspring of the sunshine and the dew ;" nevertheless, there is not great harm in trying to proscribe it, and much present evil may be alleviated by every reduction of intemperance. He may believe the old Federalists to have been mistaken in their anticipations of evil; but that they were certainly honest, and, not only possessed of high virtues, but acted a salutary part in checking the too violent action of the political machine. He may not prefer the Catholics; but having them among us, he may think it best to educate them: and if they will not accept education, except in their own way and from their own teachers, even to let them so receive it, rather than not receive it at all. He may believe the old school Presbyterian to be travelling the straight path, and yet the new-school proselyte, though neither will admit it, to be making the same journey in the same way. He may believe the high-church Episcopalian endowed with pure religion; while the ultra-Protestant, on the other side, may, in his opinion, claim the benefit of even "covenanted mercies." Nor will all this moderation be levity of principle, for he will be flint and adamant to every thing that leads to human oppressionhuman misery. He will oppose, with unceasing resistance, every thing opposed to human happiness and progress political intolerance, which persecutes "superstition, which is tyranny to man, and fanaticism, which is an insult to God!"