ANNUAL ORATION
delivered before the
PHILOMATHEAN SOCIETY
of the
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA,

 

IN THE COLLEGE HALL, July 30th, 1832.
BY JAMES C. BIDDLE

 

PHILADELPHIA:

Printed by John Young, No. 3, Black Horse Alley.

________

1832.

Philadelphia, July 31, 1832.


Sir, — We, the undersigned, a Committee appointed by the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania, have the honour of transmitting to you, a Resolution; passed this morning, unanimously, by that Society:

"Resolved, That the thanks of the Society be presented to James C . Biddle, Esq. for the highly appropriate address delivered last evening, and that a copy of it be requested for publication."

The Committee, indulging the hope that the wish of the Society may be gratified, remain

Respectfully yours, &c.

KINGSTON GODDARD,

JOHN M’KINLEY,

W. SMITH,

W.D. BERRIEN,

F. JOHNSON.

 

James C. Biddle, Esq.

(Copy.)

 

______

 

Philadelphia, July 31, 1832.

 

To Mssrs. Kingston Goddard,

John M’Kinley,

W. Smith,

W.D. Berrien,

F. Johnson,

Committee, &c.


Gentlemen,—In compliance with the request o the Philomathean Society, I have the honor to furnish for their use, a copy of the address I delivered before them last evening. Be pleased to express to the Society my sense of their too partial kindness, and for yourselves accept my sincere thanks. With great regard, I am, yours, &c.

JAMES C. BIDDLE.

 

ORATION.


Gentlemen of the Philomathean Society:

 

Who can look on a body of young men, ardent, buoyant, generous, possessed of the advantages of moral and industrious habits, enjoying a liberal education, and with an empire before them, offering the richest rewards to mental exertion, and not feel his heart warm at the anticipation of the glorious results which some among them may be destined to accomplish? On an occasion like this, such feelings are natural and powerful. A society of young men, embarked with all the freshness of early life, in the strenuous pursuit of knowledge, are here assembled to commemorate their association, for the purpose of promoting their intellectual improvement. As yet they have scarcely trodden the field of life ; — with an elastic foot and a light heart they now bound over meadows, verdant with the first opening of Spring. —In perspective they behold a brilliant prospect.—There is among them, probably, not one whose expectations do not point to a life of usefulness, of honor, and of eminence. —Such feelings should be cherished.—Some will, in all probability, reach the summit on which they have fixed their proudest hopes. Why should it not be so?

You, my friends, enjoy privileges which fall to the lot of but few. You are living in a country where peace and plenty, prosperity and happiness, are equally possessed by the community and by the individuals of which it is composed; where civil and religious freedom are enjoyed by all; where poverty and crime, and the wretchedness which usually accompanies them, are comparatively rare; where industrious, frugal, moral and religious habits, are generally prevalent; where labor meets with a liberal reward, and persevering integrity can scarcely fail to earn a comfortable subsistence, embracing all the necessaries and comforts, and many of the luxuries of life; where the advantages of education are so truly appreciated, that it is a rare thing to meet with one who has arrived at maturity, ignorant of the rudiments of learning. Here personal security, personal liberty, and private property, are held by a tenure so secure, that a feeling of uneasiness as to its durability is almost unknown. Indeed, the very security which is so general, is in itself productive of evil, inasmuch as it induces citizens, who would otherwise interest themselves in maintaining and protecting with vigilance their rights, to withdraw from public concerns, and devote themselves to the more tranquil and grateful pursuits of private life ; —there they feel, that happiness may most certainly be found, and they are not pressed by an exciting cause which impels them to abandon comforts so seductive, for the vexation, the cares, and the turmoil, incident to a political career. Among such as these, are to be found those virtuous, intelligent, and patriotic men, who are best fitted to become safe guardians of the general weal.

In times of perfect security, when nothing exists to call forth the energies of the people, mere demagogues may prevail, and the paltry contrivances of party politicians may elevate the unworthy to places of confidence, and high public trust; and by slow and imperceptible degrees much injury may thus be done.—But when danger impends, when the crisis demands the display of energy and talents, the incompetent will be found either voluntarily to relinquish their trusts, or they will be compelled to retire in disgrace. Then it is, that real worth will be sought for, then it is, that good men, putting aside all selfish considerations, will dedicate themselves to the public service, and places of dignity will be filled by enlightened patriots, and illustrious statesmen. Hence let us learn, not to despair because we behold so few men of lofty character in high places. Be assured that when the exigencies of the republic shall require master spirits to direct its councils, and preside over its destinies, men will spring forth ready to devote their lives in defending the country from foreign assaults, as well as from the more disastrous consequences of internal convulsions. It is consolatory to reflect that causes alarming in their immediate tendency, are often thus made the means of great and permanent good.

Here the people are justly considered the source of political power, and all are possessed of equal privileges. No descent through a long line of ancestors, no fanciful and arbitrary distinctions of rank exclude form preferment to the highest honors, any, whose virtues, talents, and worth, may command the esteem of their fellow citizens, and win the popular favor. The only true aristocracy, is one, founded on virtue, knowledge, and capacity.—Let us not, because experience has taught us, that low tricks, hollow professions, and a subserviency to favored demagogues are too often successful, therefore be discouraged. Knowledge and talents strenuously exerted, cannot fail to raise their possessor to a high level. Some may succeed without these qualifications, but with them, it can but seldom happen that eminence will not be attained. Here the public are freely educated. —Wisely appreciating that "knowledge is power," and that in proportion as it is widely disseminated among the people, a republic will therefore be mighty, it has been the policy of this commonwealth, to encourage the promote the general diffusion of education. A practical character is the predominant one, and the curious enquirer will be surprised and gratified at the extent of useful information which he will find distributed among every class of society. Here, also, we enjoy a climate favorable to the full developement of the mental faculties and physical strength, neither chilling the intellect by the extreme of cold, nor inducing languor and inertness, rom the intensity of heat. Among the advantages here possess, one of the most experience, that he is in a great degree dependent on himself for the station he shall assume in society. —This conviction can scarcely fail to be productive of great benefit, stimulating all by the most powerful motive which can operate on human conduct to the strenuous employment of the means within their reach, to gain the esteem, respect, and admiration of their fellow men. These lead directly to influence, wealth, and power — and who is there, that is indifferent to the influence of such considerations?

Not only are the rudiments of education imparted generally, but in not a few instances, the first earnings which parents have been enabled to apply beyond supplying the necessaries of life, have been bestowed in giving their children a college education—and amply, in some instances, have they repaid the debt. The best estate a parent can give his offspring, is habits of industry, of frugality, of integrity, and an abundant stock of useful knowledge.—Thus armed, he will enter life, ready to avail himself of every advantage, prepared to encounter and to vanquish difficulties, he will always be sustained by a self respect and dignity of conduct which must command esteem, and will often secure wealth, and honour. On the other hand a young man cannot well encounter the difficulties which beset the path of all, with a worse preparation than belongs to him, who, brought up in luxurious case and indulgence, has acquired habits of selfishness, indolence and extravagance; who has become accustomed to consider all things fashioned for the purpose of ministering to his gratification; who neither can understand nor appreciate the characters of those engaged in active life, with whom he has scarcely associated; and, who in addition to wasting his time and energies, has, perhaps, impaired his health. Such an entrance on the theater of such a life, as in this busy, active, rising empire, is opening to every ambitious youth, may be deemed a sad misfortune. How is it probable, that in the maturity of life, the situation of such a one will compare with that of the hardy youth, who, self-dependent, and struggling through difficulties, has worked his way, ‘the architect of his own fortune?’

I have enquired, my friends, why each of you may not reasonably hope to realize the brightest anticipation, to which the ardent feelings, natural to your age, lead you to aspire. Many of you, who now eagerly anticipate distinction and fame, will be disappointed. Such is the lot of man–But it will be a delightful reflection, if, in after life, you shall not be obliged to ascribe your failure to your own neglect, to your want of persevering exertion, to an aberration from the path of rectitude, to an omission to make the right use of the means within your reach.

All the advantages, which the most favored possess, are your’s. Your are at that period of life when habits and character are yet only partially formed–the early difficulties of education you have overcome–you are now engaged in acquiring the higher branches of learning, in a college where, under the anxious direction of a provost and professors of distinguished ability, devoted to the advancement of your interests, you are day by day, guided and assisted in the toilsome, though not undelightful pilgrimage up the steep of science. If you lag by the way,–if through thoughtlessness, faint-heartedness, or wearisomeness, you linger in obscurity, failing to reach the summit, you will have yourselves only to blame. You will have thrown away the golden opportunity, never to be recalled. In after, life the pursuit of pleasure, the cares of business, the numberless perplexities and duties which will distract your attention and demand your time, will prevent that regular and systematic course of study, which alone gives a sure presage of success. Many, doubtless, now design, at some future day, to supply the omissions and neglect of the passing hour. All experience teaches us the illusory character of such expectations. Each day of indulgence in habits of indolence, renders it less probable, that the season of diligent application will ever arrive. No natural parts, however quick;–no genius, however bright, will supply the want of study. Desultory and unsustained fits of studiousness will produce slight effects. It is only by daily and nightly labor long continued, that results, worth struggling for, can be obtained. There is no royal road to wealth and fame–no steam power, by which the difficulties of accumulating wisdom can be vanquished.

Not only do you possess the high privilege of being students in a college, where every facility is afforded and furnished to assist your labors, and where you are earnestly and affectionately invited and encouraged to perseverance; but also, those peculiar to your association, as members of the Philomathean Society. In this society you have an important auxiliary. In your exercises, you acquire the habit of making a practical use of the stores of knowledge, you are constantly accumulating in your severer scholastic studies. Here, mingled with the grateful feelings of social intercourse, you are engaged in improving yourselves in composition, in oratory, and in debating. Here, you bring your minds into active exercise, wit quickens wit, and in your earnest struggles in a laudable competition, you mutually develope and improve the capacities and the resources of each other. It will depend on yourselves to make the Society, at the same time, a delightful recreation and a valuable means of improvement.

There is another society established from among your fellow students and friends, having the same laudable design. Let the true spirit of emulation animate and govern your feelings and intercourse with each other. Strive to be distinguished by courtesy, by accomplishments, by scholarship. Such a competition is generous, and honorable; bearing no similitude to that narrow spirit which generates a jealous rivalry. Thus you will strengthen the bands of union, conciliate good will, and reciprocally promote each other’s prosperity.

While engaged in the performance of your duties in this university, you are laying the foundation on which a splendid superstructure may be reared. But remember it is only the foundation. If on leaving these walls you shall abandon habits of diligent application and research, supposing the work of education to be completed, you will soon discover how easy it is to descend from a height, how hard to retrace the downward steps, "hic labor, hoc opus est." Persevere then. The pursuit of wisdom, you have already experienced, is in itself a high gratification. Every acquisition of information is pleasurable, while it will increase your means of usefulness; and by opening a pure and ennobling occupation, it will elevate you characters, and furnish a panoply against the dangers which surround you. The allurements of dissipation will yield up their seductiveness, subdued by the loftier enjoyments which will captivate your affections and engross your attention. These will be progressive, while gratifications of a sensual kind will uniformly abate by indulgence, requiring some constantly accumulating stimulant to prevent their palling on the appetite and producing disgust.

Every inducement to a continuance in well doing is placed before you. No avenue to wealth, distinction, or fame, is closed: All invite your approach; the church, the healing art, the bar, the army, the navy, the pursuit of commerce, manufactures, the numberless paths of life lie open before you. None of them are to be travelled successfully without labor, without encountering disheartening obstacles,–there will be times of depression; but then it is, that you will be called on to put forth the manly strength of your character, and to prove that you do indeed deserve success–there will be days of triumph, of strenuous and skillful exertion amply rewarded, and these will be multiplied in proportion to your own worthiness.

Cherish those feelings of high honor which you have here imbibed. Let the most delicate sense of gentlemanly propriety be maintained, and even those who practise, impelled by less exalted motives, will yield you the tribute of their respect and commendation. Hypocrisy has been well called the homage which vice pays to virtue.

Life is a continued struggle. here you have been well prepared for the contest; you have buckled on your bright armour, your arms are at your command; relax not your limbs, put forth your energies, strain every nerve in the contest; should you perish, your fall will be honorable; should you succeed, you recompense will be great. It will be the triumph of learning, of principle, of truth–such a triumph will be embittered by no painful reflection, the retrospect will present no shame to be concealed–no crimes to be deplored.

This college has claims on you, which few, I trust, will disregard. As you advance in life, and as the scenes of your youth recede, you will feel a gratification, scarcely to be defined, in reverting to the pleasures, the toils, even the cares, which now engage and occupy you. The friendships here formed, will in many instances be lasting,–and may many of you experience, when age shall have sobered your feelings, how delightful a thing it is to be cheered and supported by a friend, who has proved constant through every vicissitude, from the early days of unreserved confidence, when the heart yields itself up with all the fervor of unsuspecting love. These considerations will make you regardful of your duty to this seminary.

Your country has high claims on you. I have already dwelt on many of the obligations which bin you, by the tie of gratitude, for benefits conferred, to be mindful of them. This institution has been generously endowed by the commonwealth, whose name she bears, and thus have you directly experienced the fostering care of Pennsylvania. That constitution and those laws, admirably calculated to maintain right, to redress wrong, to encourage virtue, to promote religion, and to protect all, while they oppress none, are the work of your fathers. These institutions are about to pass to your charge. It will be your duty to strive still further to improve them, to correct error, to perfect that which is incomplete, and to guard sacredly from the invasion and assaults of the reckless and designing, those principles of true freedom which the wisdom and valour of your ancestors have transmitted to you.

It is not, now, a fit occasion to dwell upon the early history of Pennsylvania–to enlarge on the justice, the purity, the magnanimity, which marked her government and her policy–to descant on her unbroken faith, her uncompromising integrity–or to pay a passing tribute to the good, wise, and great men, who adorned her annals by their virtues and deeds of active philanthropy. Pennsylvania is well entitled to your best affections. Her resources are vast. Her rich agricultural products, her iron, her coal, her salt, all place within her reach wealth and power. Her capacities she is only beginning to develope. The improvement of the state, now progressing, when perfected will open a field for the display of talent and enterprise equal to the expectations of the most ardent adventurer.

While it is your$duty to aid in the work of improving these natural advantages, on you will devolve an equally binding, and surely not less interesting obligation–that of elevating the moral, literary, and intellectual character of the people. The world is anxiously watching our political experiment, and it is for us to demonstrate, that a republic, where all participate in the government, may exist and continue without licentiousness or anarchy. Let it be yours to disseminate sound political principles, enlightened views of freedom, to inculcate that there is nothing more unlike liberty than uncontrolled turbulence; that true freedom can only prevail, where the people acknowledge and bow to the supremacy of the law. Exhibit in your lives and conduct an example of pure love of country. Political independence is a quality, which like most other things of great value, is proportionally scarce. But few men are to be found who, influenced by disinterested patriotism, pursue the interests of their country, regardless whether it will propitiate the favor or draw on them the frown, of those possessed of patronage. Popular applause is too often sought by gratifying the prevailing popular impulse, whether right or wrong. He is utterly unworthy of being considered the friend of the people, who is ready at any moment to sacrifice their substantial interests to gain their present favor. The real patriot adopts a different course. He steadfastly does that which he believes will best promote the general happiness, though by so doing he may offend the prejudices and lose the support of the multitude. He is sustained by a consciousness the time serving politician can never feel, who is engaged in watching movements as uncertain, as those of the weathercock drives about by the wind "which bloweth where it listeth."

There is a popularity which may be truly prized. It is that of which Lord Mansfield spoke, when in the celebrated case of the King against Wilkes, he exclaimed, "I wish popularity, but it is that popularity which follows; not that which is run after. It is that popularity, which sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends by noble means. I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong, to gain the huzzas of thousands, or the daily praise of all the papers which come from the press: I will not avoid doing that which I think is right, though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels, all that falsehood and malice can invent, or the credulity of a deluded populace can swallow. I can say with a great magistrate, upon an occasion, and under circumstances not unlike, "Ego hoc animo semper fui, ut invidiam virtute partam, gloriam, haud infamiam putarem." The good citizen feels that in public and in private life, he is equally bound to regulate his conduct in accordance with principles of undeviating integrity, and that he, who is guilty of tampering with his conscience in the one case, can never be relied on, should temptation assail him in the other.

Remember that your responsibilities are great in proportion to your advantages–Use them diligently, and may the blessing of the Providence crown your exertions wit success. May health and happiness attend you through your lives–and may you always be mindful, that the first offerings of your hearts are due to your Creator, who has so kindly and bountifully blessed you!