Pronounced before the
SOCIETY OF PHI BETA KAPPA,
AUGUST 19, 1824.
By Samuel L. Knapp.
Published by request of the society.
COMMERCIAL GAZETTE PRESS.
A. Sampson, Printer.
Permit me, my brethren, after an absence of twenty years from this forum, in humble imitation of the Athenian, to dwell upon our beloved country; to speak of what she has been, what she is, and what she shall be; with the causes of her growth, and the principles, which will secure her prosperity.
Our ancestors here found a country stretched upon nature's broadest scale, abounding with lakes like oceans, mountains higher than they had ever seen, and rivers, "beside which the Rhine and Thames were rills," inhabited by a race of men of a warlike and hardy character, governed by a few simple principles in politics and morals. Gratitude or revenge swayed their actions, for they were then the unsophisticated children of the forest. Our ancestors brought with them all the seeds of human knowledge, and fully understood the doctrine of national compacts. The rights, which God had intended for man, they were determined here to enjoy. In the old world they had found it impossible to exercise them without molestation; but they here depended upon their own resources, and acted with the energy, which such feelings produce. Their invention was quickened by necessity, and their knowledge increased by freedom of thought and action. They reasoned freely upon man and his destiny; upon Deity and his laws.
It is only to begin to think, to find how necessary human learning is to bring the mind to satisfactory conclusions. They were not sufficiently enthusiastic or fanatical to believe God would vouchsafe them a special inspiration of his nature and laws; they knew they must come up to him through human wisdom and sound faith. With these impressions, they founded schools and established literary and scientific institutions, on a liberal plan; these they cherished and watched in every stage of their growth. Polemic skill and adroitness might have been the first fruits of these exertions, but the seeds of taste were sown at the same time. They did not travel, for the ornaments of learning; but they reaped where they did not strew, and found what they did not seek. The pursuits of the people had a hardihood of character, and their acquirements and habits of thinking partook of it. Their faith was not weakened by discussion, and they passed over the enchanted ground of classical literature, without feeling much of the magic of the spell, which there is upon it. They acquired the Greek and Latin languages for the purposes of understanding and defending their own religion, but they never stopped to pay homage to heathen divinities, or to gaze upon the beauty of their temples. The youthful scholar might have sometimes cast a side-long glance, but the grave part of the learned hurried him on through the sweet and imperishable emblems of fancy and taste, with the same anxiety they would have drawn him from the dance of Lais and the song of Sappho. Their improvement was regular, but rapid beyond a parallel. Every thing around them was changing, but their stern virtue and unconquerable love of liberty. Such were their exertions, difficulties, dangers and discipline, that they may be said to have been constantly at school, rising from one form to another, as the seasons passed away. These freemen remembered the land from whence they came, where the ashes of their fathers reposed, and where they had learned the first lesson of political wisdom, and were desirous of being equal to the mother country, in as many things as possible. Their peculiar situation gave them boldness and decision of character. A frequent communion of sentiments, in political and religious councils, gave a graver and severer cast to their eloquence, which still, in a good degree, belongs to their descendants.
What they then considered the scourge of God, proved the foundation of their ultimate success. The wars with the Indians kept them compact and united. This necessity of association gave them an opportunity to form plans of improvement. Their traditions were easily communicated, and every book in their possession was read by all. They ate, they prayed, they bled together. If they had felt the security of continual peace, they would have dispersed as widely as the settlers of the western frontiers now do. In such a state, the advantages of libraries, schools and religious communion -- the great mean of mending the heart, and improving the mind -- would have been lost; the wisest and best of them would have been assimilated to the savage, in his habits and manners, and the day of advancement in knowledge would have been far distant.
Man, left to himself, easily relapses from a state of refinement of coarse and vulgar habits, from which he is with difficulty aroused. Constant labor is required to keep the mind in the way of refinement, purity and virtue. The steeps of knowledge, however hard to gain, and difficult to keep, maybe deserted and left without a struggle.
The constant reading of the scriptures was another great cause of the singular advancement of our ancestors in literature. I have never seen a full analysis of the effects of this general use of the bible, in every stage of life, in private and public. I speak not as a theologian of its spiritual or religious influences on the soul of man; this is a subject too high and holy, and enters too far into eternity, for me to discuss, at this, or any other time. I shall not stretch forth my hand to touch the ark of God; I leave that for the ministers of his holy religion; I speak now of the bible, merely as a book of principles, of maxims, of history, of poetry, of tale and song; as a mirror, which shews man as he is, and as he ought to be; and I have no hesitation in saying that it has been an incalculable advantage to this people, informing their character. Its martial spirit, its splendid poetry, its refined illustrations, and its enchanting parables and allegories, produced an elevated comprehension of mind, and a sublimity of feeling, that no other book ever used by any nation cold have done. In these observations I have had particular reference to the old testament, for the new teaches a moral philosophy above the schools in any age. The hospitality, forbearance, kindness, humility, and all the axioms and principles for the rules of conduct in life, found in this revelation, are a sufficient proof of its holy origin, without going further. In addition to all this, it is so simple in its English dress, that a wider, chaster, and more tasteful vocabulary was furnished from both the old and new testament than ever a people found before. No word was fashionable among our ancestors, which could not be found there; and all having taken from the same hallowed source, our country is not disgraced by numerous idioms and vulgarisms, as other countries are. Another cause of the elevation of the character of our fore-fathers and one, we trust, which operates in some slight measure on us, is, that every man among them, after the first age had gone by, considered himself as descending from an enterprizing and daring ancestry, who never turned their backs to an equal force, nor bowed with unhallowed reverence before created man.
The sufferings, hardships and brilliant exploits of those, who had finished their pilgrimage, were kept alive by tradition and records, long after the day of adversity had passed away. There was a time, -- and how fresh that time is, in the minds of those who love their country and their progenitors! -- when the men felled the forest or tilled the field with arms by their sides, or within their reach, to defend themselves and family -- when mothers nurtured their infants on bosoms beating with the alarms of savage warfare, but sustained by a confidence in an overruling Providence. Then our mothers united the delicacy of the female with the spirit of the heroine and the calm resignation of the suffering saint. Who would not boast of having drawn his life-blood from such a fountain? Who lives, and would prove a recreant after such examples? On an inspection of our records and the contemplation of our history, the virtues of the great mass of the people, who were the early settlers of this land, rise in our estimation, while the reputation of those, who were fortunate enough to come down distinctly to our times, is not much enhanced by a critical examination of their merits. Many of them were advantageously situated for being known, while many of their cotemporaries were not so. The foremost men in the first pages of the history of every country appear greater than they really were. The morning traveller often sees his shadow at the rising sun thrown far up the mountains side, and passing from height to height, as he advances, in spectral and gigantic forms; but were he to continue his journey until the sun was well up, his shade cast in the path way would be of ordinary dimensions. The fame of every man, like his shadow, depends upon the time of day, and the point of light, in which he is viewed.
This may be illustrated by the case of John read, one of the most luminous minds of any age or country. He appeared on the stage at the close of the first century of our history: but not being on good terms with the writers of that period, having differed with some of the clergy in his religious opinions, his fame was suffered for a century to repose with his ashes, and it is now too late to do him full justice. The great may sometimes be in obscurity, or from accidental circumstances be kept from their place in the roll of fame. Envy, malice, superstition and prejudice may be made secretaries to History -- sometimes from choice, and often from necessity, she is obliged to employ them.
Providence, who had in store a great work for our ancestors, was not unmindful of preparing them for its performance. It was thought, at the time, a great calamity that France and England should have made this country a seat of war, and expended much blood and treasure here, and in which the colonies wasted their share of both, for their own safety, and for the honor of the mother country; but in the course of events these wars proved an excellent military school, to prepare the colonies for the great labor of achieving their independence. The two great belligerents carried on their warfare on a bold and extensive plan, from the banks of the Mississippi to the mouth of the St. Lawrence. This was a great military lesson to this scattered people, and brought the inhabitants of all the states to understand something of the art of war. By being called into constant action they acquired a knowledge of their own strength and capacity for the magnificent undertaking. It may sound harsh in the ears of the lovers of peace, to say that war was ever a blessing; but, verily, it is sometimes so. Had Great Britain offered us Independence in 1775, and then taken us under her special protection, in every probability it would have retarded the growth of this country for half a century; perhaps we never could have agreed to a confederation, and should have lingered along as petty state powers, without concert or energy: -- or perhaps we should have been engaged in quarrelling with one another. The struggle concentrated the strength of the whole, taught the South and the North the necessity of the union of interest and of effort. The might and talent of our country would not then have been known to the world, nor our rank among nations for ages established. It would have been wearing the wreath of honor at the Olympic games, without contending for the mastery. Without a seven years war, the force and strength of united American would not have been known to herself or to others: but the contest gave her the prize, and she has borne it with the consent of all nations. The blessings are lasting, while the cost of them is soon forgotten. In a few years there will be no grief from sympathy with those who once suffered. When memory gives up to history her tablet, all the heart-aches and corporeal anguish will be over; and the hour si rapidly on the wing when no bosom will be able to shew the traces of a wound inflicted in this great purchase of liberty. The convulsions of nature open the mine and the fountain; the agitations in the political world bring forth resplendent talents. No immortal flowers, such as wave, and spread their perfume over the grave of Warren, ever sprung from common dust. He yielded his life for his country, and his fame makes part of her glory. Had there been no revolution, there would have been no Washington to have excited the admiration of mankind -- a brave man would have lived, but the hero would not have been known. Difficulties create powers to meet them, and nations have often dated their prosperity from adverse circumstances. What we were, came from national education and national discipline. Before the revolution took place, an hundred and fifty years had passed away in this monitorial school of national instruction, in which the higher branches of human knowledge were constantly taught -- one class of intelligence conveyed to another, and that to the next, -- elementary and practical lectures, on the rights of man, on the value of freedom, the dignity of moral and political character, and the means of maintaining and defending them from decay or violence.
What we are, depends upon what we have done, and what we possess. It would be a waste of time to dwell upon the extent of our territories, the abundance and increase of our agriculture, the magnitude of our commerce, and the prosperity of our manufactories, for their details are known to all; but other matters, which go to make a nation's wealth and reputation, will occupy our attention for a short time. I will notice a few, out of the many items, of our national property. Among the first I would place the moral, literary and religious establishments scattered through the land. These institutions are fountains of living water, which flow in refreshing streams to the benefit of every member of the community. Without these, gushing through society, the present life would be useless, and the next perhaps hopeless. The second item in the schedule of national property, is individual character. The talents and virtues of each individual serve to enrich the whole community, for there can be no possible exercise of the mind, in an honest way, without producing some general benefit. I pass over the political services of great men, because it would be difficult to ascertain the worth of them. They can alone be weighed in the balance of eternal justice.
Among the most exalted properties we have to be proud of, is our inventive talent, and every town and village has its share of it. This gift abridges human labor, softens the hard lot of many, produces ease and opulence, where only the common necessaries of life were found before, and assists in taking the curse from the face of the earth. To give a catalogue of the inventions in use among us, with a sketch of their authors, would require volumes; but this task will, in no distant day, be done; at present it must suffice us, to cast a glance at the great lights of the world, in the mechanic arts, Fulton and Perkins, our countrymen. In many traits of character they were alike. Enthusiam and simplicity predominated in both over every other characteristic. Both struggled with poverty, obloquy, envy, and disappointment, before the recompense of reward came to sweeten life. Both were elastic and buoyant, for if they were cheated by one vision of hope, another, brighter and more seductive, arose to support them. It is a slander on such men, to say that necessity and avarice are the only mothers of invention, for they had as lofty an ambition, and as sincere a patriotism to urge them forward, as the leader of a cabinet or the hero of a field of battle. The sun of Fulton has gone down, prematurely for his country, but genius and friendship have erected for him a monument more durable than brass. Perkins yet lives, we trust, to complete his thirteenth labor, for his own honor, his country's glory, and the benefit of mankind.
We have no small amount of national property in the talents, acquirements and integrity in the learned professions in this country. The juridical department is distinguished for science and a knowledge of mankind. Our seats of justice are not only enlightened, but free from corruption of all sorts, pecuniary or political.
The profession of the law is now on a higher standing than formerly. By this profession, the rights of individuals at all times are protected; and its members have defended and supported the great fundamental maxims of public justice in every political convulsion. They have clung to the basis of a free government, when many others have been shaken. But I will leave others to do them justice; and if this comes ever so late, they will be content -- as patience is the badge of the profession.
Bright and glorious lights are burning already in the departments of medicine and surgery -- and others are kindling, to shine with still greater lustre. They have interrogated nature with unconquerable pertinacity, and her beneficial responses are echoed from one to another through the land. To relieve the maladies of the body and the mind, and to wake again the doubtful spark of life in the inanimate frame, is amongst their constant labors. That swarm of reptiles, which once pestered the world and vexed the physician, are getting out of fashion. The harvest-moon of quackery is waning, to wax no more. The wretch, who, like that, cursed to crawl forever on his belly, is now only found on the skirts of the regular field, and the decree has gone forth, from the common sense of the people, that the heel of science shall crush his head into the dust. Like the spectres of superstition, the tribe of quacks are receding as the rays of knowledge fall upon the public mind.
The profession of Divinity of late, as in earlier years, has commanded some of our first talents. The lamp of God in the Temple of the Lord has been watched with a pure and holy ardor. Instead of being contented with the researches of their predecessors, the members of the profession have explored the fields of divine philosophy, and made what appeared crooked, straight, and the obscure, plain. In the biblical criticisms and the polemic discussions of the present times, there has been infused a spirit of philanthropy and toleration unknown before. Men have been animated in the christian race, and the spirit of inquiry has been very general. Emulation is as necessary in this, as in any other profession. A few years since, the earth closed over the remains of a man, whose example has had a salutary influence among holy men. His spirit soared at a sightless distance above useless distinctions, which have ho vital piety in them. I am not discussing religious opinions -- I am only adverting to the aspirations of a pure and sanctified mind. He engaged in his high vocation with the lowliness of a saint, and pursued it with a zeal of a martyr. The dove of peace had not a warmer bosom of love than his, nor had the eagle an eye more keen than his mental vision. Stimulated by his eloquence and his example, the young and the old in the profession, shook off that portion of this world which hung upon their spirits, entered and searched the garden of God, for richer and choicer fruits from the tree of life, than they before had usually procured. This lovely image of his maker passed away, while yet the glow of youth was upon him, before the world had cankered a thought or corrupted a principle. Who is there, of any faith, could pass the grave of Buck-minster without dropping a tear on his hallowed dust?
Eloquence is a national property as well as an individual acquirement. This art, as much as any other, marks the progress of national taste and advancement in knowledge. There is a kind of eloquence which can exist where there is but little mental improvement, and it is often attractive and brilliant, full of rude and strong images drawn from observation, rather than from deep thought. The aborigines of this country once excelled in it -- the speech of Logan is a specimen. It shows acute feeling and lofty sentiment. But this eloquence will not do for enlightened society. Deep thought, logical deductions, metaphysical distinctions, lucid arrangement, and classical illustrations will alone satisfy modern tribunals -- no ordinary man can reach their standard. To this high eloquence our country makes no common claims. She shows so long a list of distinguished speakers, that it would be difficult to say who are the greatest; -- some excelling in one, some in another style of oratory; but on this day, and in this place, our Alma Mater may, without violence to her modesty, claim an equal right with the Roman matron, fondly to show her favorite sons, as they return from the forum crowned with civic wreaths, and followed with the plaudits of a grateful people; -- and shall not we, who claim kindred here, indulge our fraternal emotions in contemplating the wonderful fact, that in the changes of time, and the revolutions of the world, one from among us, has thrown back upon Greece the collected rays of her own wisdom upon the doctrine of liberty and independence, which emanated in the days of her power and glory? And this, too, chastened and elevated by higher views and nobler feelings, than that proud republic ever knew, even when Plato taught or Demosthenes harangued. The knowledge of all the various branches of natural philosophy has increased incalculably, within these last thirty years. Within this period, distinguished professors have arisen, who, by their assiduity and intelligence, have diffused a goodly portion of information throughout the community. May the Priests of the Temple of Nature soon wear the robes and receive the honors due to them. They have given to every tree, shrub, and flower, a name, and classified every mineral. They have enlarged all the powers of the alembic, beyond the dreams of the alchymist. New planets are discovered in the fields of space, which the piercing eyes of former ages could not find. Our own children are among these prophets of nature, and pursue the course with the devotion and the simplicity of the wise men of the East, who saw the star and followed it for an act of worship. In the higher branches of mathematics, which allow man to weigh and measure distant worlds, our self-taught Bowditch unites the first qualities of the greatest and the best of men. With the calm virtues of Newton he has the knowledge of La Place. He has not been content with fame alone, but has labored to do good, by bringing his acquirements to practical use; -- there is a benevolence in this, which deserves much. His correction of the old nautical tables has probably saved the lives of thousands of mariners.
Our country may fearlessly claim a great number of linguists, grammarians, and philologers. Our institution has had its share. Most of us recollect the learned Smith, whose knowledge of the languages was only surpassed by his apostolic purity of life, and amenity of manners. The great American lexicographer is more profoundly versed in his science than his predecessors on the other side of the Atlantic, Sheridan, Johnson, or Walker, and his immense work would probably long since have been before the public, if he had not suffered with that direful disease so common to our literati -- a love of public life. At the slightest noise of the comitia, or the whisper of a tribune, this profound scholar came up from the depths of etymology to call upon the multitude for their sweet voices.
The fine arts are of a later growth than most other national properties. They spring from the bosom of society when it has become mature and opulent. They are never found around the cradle of a nation, but sometimes are its crutch in its decay and decrepitude; generally, however, they thrive in the days of a nation's splendor, as the sacred Misletoe hangs upon the sturdy oak of the forest, when it is in the most flourishing state. The fine arts are in their infancy with us, but their frame is sound, and with proper nurture their growth will be rapid and certain. Architects, painters, engravers, and poets, are starting up before us to court the public smile, and if they are not instantly warmed into vigour, they will find that the severe atmosphere of earlier days, which chilled, and froze their predecessors before they could come to their growth, is greatly meliorated. Our country may be called the birth place of painters. Smybert was the first in New England, whose talents soared above the dignity of a sign painter; and he was sometimes engaged in that high calling of his art. Copely left . . .
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. . .they please; sometimes they inspire a youthful mother, dandling her new born infant, and teach her to win the prize of poetry; and then pass along through business-crowds and enter money institutions to warm the visions of a favorite votary, amidst discounts and deposites. The day is fast approaching when the shell shall sound, and "the tide of song shall flow" -- when the swans, now scattered here and there on our silver lakes, sporting with the wave, in solitude, shall be drawn together and sing in concert.
Our poets do not live constantly in the ever blooming regions of the imagination, but come, now and then, to Parnassus and the springs, as travellers do to a watering place, to get rid of the every day employments, for a season, and of course, put in no great claims for immortality; but some of them must not be lost.
Barlow has passed the ordeal of criticism, and is destined to live, notwithstanding the severity of the critics. His faults are numerous, but his beauties are sufficient to redeem them. He chose a fortunate subject and managed it with ability. He indulged in some matters of false taste, and bad philosophy, and in his dread of superstition, sometimes offended religion; but it ought to be remembered, that he wrote after the poison of the French revolution had been disseminated through the whole world -- and who is there that was not tainted by the pestilential breeze?
Dwight was a scholar, "a ripe and good one," a man of prime talents and a poet, but he lavished his powers on a subject, which, if not barren, was certainly not well chosen. The conquest of Canaan could not be made interesting to modern readers. God had decided that a wicked people should be destroyed; and the means which Omnipotence took for his purpose was not novel in the book of his wrath. Dwight's fancy was rich, and his verse sweet, but the subject could not be made interesting, however poetical he thought it. This author wrote a book on Divinity, which many extol; but it may be said with confidence, that his travels are most attractive. They are the best ever written by one of our countrymen, and will be a stock book for ages.
Trumbull, in his McFingal and other works, attacked prejudice and folly with "a right merry conceit," and his labors will not be lost when the occasion which called them forth is hardly remembered. Our brother Fessenden's Doctor Caustic, belongs to the same class, and is not behind the former in wit, and that pleasantry which never tires.
Paine had more poetical genius than any of his predecessors or contemporaries, but he wanted industry, and lost the world because he hd not courage and perseverance to win it.
Bryant and Percival are among the late claimants to the laurel; both are men of fine talents, but they must continue the contest for the palm for some time yet, before they can put themselves on the country to decide who is first.
Of music I shall say nothing, since you have so lately been delighted and instructed by one so capable of doing justice to his subject. The dissertation of Oliver was the philosophical analysis of Aristotle upon the magic influence of the Lyre of Timotheus.
The public begin to understand, that they must extend a substantial patronage to our own authors, before we can build up and sustain a high national literature. We have had some prose works of the imagination which have commanded public attention. The author of the Spy, the Pioneers, and the Pilot, has no cause to complain of neglect. These works possess much merit, and when the writer has acquired as much classical learning, and is as well acquainted with as many good works as the Great Unknown, he will write as well. That mind must be "rich with the spoils of time," which caters for public entertainment, and opens saloons of Apollo for the statues of Venus and the Graces, and builds halls of justice to display the busts of Brutus and the Gods. Our novels have been imitations, and Walter Scott has been the model; but Miss Edgeworth would have made a better one. Like Minerva with er Ægis and martial port, she is not at first so attractive as the other writers of her time, but follow her through the journey and the voyage, and the dullest will see that her precepts are wisdom, and her actions virtue. Her works are now n the dust of the shelf, but they will be resuscitated, read, and admired for their strength and beauty with the same enthusiastic fondness the modern artist views the chaste proportions, and fine execution of the ancient chisel.
A standard of taste in eloquence and fine writing is a desideratum with many persons, whose delicacy is superior to the strength of their understandings. We naturally prefer leaning on something, to standing by ourselves. But I am far from thinking that any standard wold be of advantage to us. There is something slavish in bowing to arbitrary rules, or yielding implicit faith to tests. Does any enlightened man wish that Goldsmith had been constrained to write in the style of Young? Or Johnson like either? Who could wish to change the swelling torrents of Burke, in his literary war-whoop against regicides, tot he oriental sweetness of Jones? Or who would give up Jones for any one, ancient or modern? The great author of nature traces his lines of beauty with an ever-varying hand. No flower of the garden or the world, -- no form or symmetry of life -- no human face divine ever came from his hand exactly resembling that he had previously made. His lessons of prophecy partook of the feelings and character of the individual through whom he deigned to have them pass to the world. He established no standard but in morals: he gave no rules, but for conduct. The mind and affections should be properly disciplined, and then suffered to discover their bent and inclination. When the capacity is enlarged by liberal studies, the errors of taste are easily corrected.
These national blessings and honors have a moral security at the present time, which was hardly known to former ages. The sun of science, which in earlier days only illumined the visions of seer and sage, now beams effulgently on the female mind, and lights the buoyant and youthful steps of the rising generation of females, to an elevation with man. There was once a doubt of an equality in intellectual powers. This doubt has been removed; and now those, who once were the sturdy adherents to the doctrine of masculine superiority, are ready to lend their aid to the advancement of female instruction. The revolution of wisdom which now pours its rays upon us, has changed the laws of Eden by the consent of its Creator. The woman may now partake of the tree of knowledge, and give of it to her husband and children to eat, and it will prove to them the fruit of the tree of life. When the infant is well instructed, the full grown man can not be ignorant; what a mother knows, she easily communicates to her child; nature and affection make teachers beyond all the schools can boast. Never! oh never, shall we grow remiss in our exertions to cultivate the principles of learning in the mind of women. The harvest will repay the toil a thousand fold. The philosophy of the head and the heart will hail female education, for the time to come, as the bow set in our hemisphere of knowledge, as a token of a covenant, that God will never suffer the tide of ignorance to deluge the mind, nor the dark ages of superstition to return upon man.
The possessions of a people, however extensive, would be of little value without the means of securing and defending them. Too often have politicians and literary men affected to treat our militia system as a mere thing of parade and show; but they reason incorrectly, who think lightly of this school of obedience, discipline, and gentlemanly and soldier-like conduct and feeling. Our militia are guardians of the laws as well as our protection against invasion. They keep every thing so quiet without a struggle, that this very repose is used as an argument against the establishment. Our standing army, from its limited number, can only be considered as a seminary to educate officers, who may have sufficient military knowledge to command armies, when the exigencies of the country require them to be raised. The defence of our long line of sea-coast will always depend mostly on the militia, who have never been backward when their services were wanted. Our Military Academies are admirable schools for the higher branches of science, and a practical knowledge of the art of war. The plan of these seminaries was judicious, and their success has been wonderful. The cadets have already diffused the spirit of their discipline through the militia. There can be no want of courage, where men are free, and well acquainted with the art of defence. While we have such means to protect ourselves, our liberties, property, and honor, are safe. But destroy your military establishments, neglect your militia, and you will court insult and contempt, and bring on war, so much to be deplored, when you are not prepared for it. Now, we are not only safe at home, but have a navy, which has grown by the natural means in the possession of a brave people, with unexampled rapidity -- its growth has been sound and regular. This navy has wafted our thunder to distant shores, to humble the pride of our foes, and to excite the admiration of our friends. There is an eloquence in cannon, and a force of argument in powder and ball, which wake the ear of despotism, so often deaf to all the charms of persuasive speech. A naval officer of the revolution said, some thirty years ago, I shall die content when I can see an American seventy-four, manned by American seamen, under the command of an officer, who has regularly passed from a midshipman to post captain, spreading her canvas to the breeze, destined to chastise the pirates of the Mediterranean. He has been so often gratified by the sight, that he has almost forgotten his observation. These preparations for war are the preservers of peace, and the only safeguards which can be relied on. To give dignity to a nation, and to create a high-minded class of men, who will identify themselves with their country's safety and fame, we must cherish those whose profession it is to fight and whose business it is to die --
"Hæc manus, inimica Tyrannis,
Ense petet placidam sub libertate quietem."
What we shall be. In dwelling this part of my subject, I shall not complain of the agonizing throes of prophecy, nor call aloud on unborn ages, and visions of glory not to appal my sight, or crowd upon my mind. The spirit of political philosophy, proceeding from cause to effect, will give a moral certainty to all calculations made upon common principles.
We have been sneeringly told that Americans live only in the future. This is untrue. We are satisfied with the present, but every day brings such wonderful changes for the better, and that future, on which our calculations are built, is so near us, that in our thoughts upon our own country, they necessarily commingle. This is natural. The farmer, who has an hundred bearing fruit trees, and a thousand more just coming to bear, fairly estimates them in one orchard, and may well value it higher than his neighbor's, worse trees for a few seasons may produce something more than his, but are decaying by age, and dying by the caterpillar and the canker worm. Many of the governments of the old world, like the decayed trees, will not long cumber the ground. The spirit of reform is abroad, and can never be subdued. The weak and shattered aristocracies will struggle awhile for existence, but will ultimately fall. Our own independence, prosperity, power and happiness, will be the beacon light of liberty to the remnants of nations.
If we examine the political structure of the great monarchies, -- for there has not been a great republic until this arose -- Rome can hardly be called a republic in any stage of her history, -- we shall find the seeds of their dissolution were incorporated in their growth. Power, acting upon and controlling ignorance, was the only security they had. The great mass of the people were kept ignorant of the motives of their rulers. One portion of a large empire knew nothing that was going on in a distant part of the government, and of course the people could never act in concert. A skilful monarch could make all the provinces he governed subservient to his wishes, and yet use them as a check upon one another -- but sometimes the game was badly played, and his power passed away in some political spasm. It is not so with our republic, for in our compact the very seminal principle is, mutual benefit. This has been tried, in our infancy, and the result sanctions the remark. If our data be correct, the inferences will also be just. Another age will not pass away before many of our anticipations will be realized. The literary, scientific, charitable, and religious institutions of our country will grow and expand as the population increases. The streams of knowledge as they flow on through future ages, like our great rivers, as they pass to the ocean, will become wider and deeper, and more navigable to the myriads who will float on the tide. Before two additional centuries shall have elapsed, fifty millions of freemen, speaking the same language, and professing the same religion, will be found in our territory. Ye unborn generations, who does not envy you? Who does not wish to share your destinies? Ye heirs of a nation's glory, when ye come forward to take what your fathers had provided, let nothing, but the errors of past ages be diminished, in your hands, but multiply the good things of former days, and let them be transmitted with new splendor in perpetual succession.
But to come back to ourselves. We must recollect that, however great and prosperous a nation may be, every individual, even if his life is continued to the utmost extent of human enjoyment and usefulness, has but a short time allotted him to finish his labors; but in this short time, if he is industrious, he can do much for himself and others. The mind and heart are ample fields for cultivation, and the fruit of both, in some shape or other, remains after he is gone. Some opinion, precept, or record of an action performed by him, will be left behind him to make a part of the thoughts, opinions, and actions of the living world. It is generally a solemn affair to a man, to think that after a short season he must look on this goodly heritage no more, but must give it up to others. To extract this sting from his heart, he must garner up his treasures where there is nothing to destroy them. He must set his affections on things above; then he will enjoy life as it passes, and travel the dark valley of the shadow of death without fear.
Our fathers -- where are they? "After life's fitful fever they sleep well," and we shall soon be called to rest by their side. Are we prepared with sarcophagi and epitaphs to keep ourselves from being forgotten? The little vain and useless struggles, so often made for fame, are mocked by every monument of human pride, from the humblest to the highest; from the grass grown stone of the village church yard to the lofty pyramid, from whose summit unnumbered ages look down on majestic desolation. Oblivion has thrown his broad mantle over the ashes of imperial greatness, buried under the ponderous mass, and hides them as effectually as the dust of the slave who labored his life away to rear the pile, that his master's fame might defy the sweep of time. Every page of history is full of commentaries upon vain glory. Cæsar's fate and Napoleon's exile, are but a small transcript of the record. Cannot man then become immortal? And must he perish forever? It is allowed him, to erect a monument for himself, which no time, nor accident can destroy. The corner stone of it must be faith; the pillars, knowledge and virtue; its ornaments, liberality, benevolence and kindness. It is a godlike ambition to build such a tower to the skies, and from the top thereof to reach Heaven. In fine, let us pursue our course without envy of the successful, and without repining at the evils we are doomed to meet in the pathway of life. Our journey may be dark and dreary, and our hearts grow faint and sick on the pilgrimage, but the lap of our mother earth is soft, and the bosom of our God is full of compassion, forgiveness and love.