Page images

quently venture into them. Society might be lively, various, and intelligent;-an alliance of wit, learning, genius, and fortune, on terms of just appreciation. Meanwhile, the higher standard of public sentiment in relation to intellectual pursuits would thrill along the nerves of literature and the arts,—to thousands, who now act in the belief, that money is the true and only Kalon. With the juster recognition of mental claims, and the increasing honors paid to letters by the few, would follow an increase of respect in the many. Thence would ensue rectified perceptions as to man's true aims; a calmer and righter mind; and less subserviency to our passions.

The People (meaning the mass) have been sharper sighted to their true interests than the rich. The means of elementary education are scattered every where; munificent funds are established in many of the States, which insure the benefit of common schools to all. Those inferior departments of knowledge, whose utility is more obvious to the multitude, and within their aims, have been provided for. But where are the great foundations of the affluent? where the evidences of their high appreciation of a noble education The sons of the laborer and mechanic are pushing forward ; the distance is growing less and less between them and the heirs of the wealthiest citizen nay, often, privation and seclusion have done for the heart and the intellect of the one, what the amplest means and opportunity have failed to purchase for the other,-failed because misapplied, or not applied at all. Blindness to the real value of intellectual accomplishment lies at the root of common opinion; and must first be cured. The possessors of wealth may, then, be disenchanted of the notion, that their sons, if not installed in the counting-room, or distributed among the professions, must be blotted from the roll of useful citizens.—They must and can be convinced, that our greatest want is the want of an order combining superior means with illuminated minds; and that the two especial testimonies, required by their country, at the hands of the opulent, are ---building towers of light to preserve rational liberty, amidst the fogs and shallows of democratical fanaticism; and bequeathing to her their sons equipped, either for public or private life, by a consummate education.


[ocr errors]


Cast your thoughts backward, and say, What transpired in Egypt, between Sesostris and Nectanebis! what in Assyria, between Ninus and Sardanapalus ? what in Persia, between Rustan and Cyrus ? Yet these were predominating Empires. We see dimly, through the mists of antiquity, vast shapes wearing kingly crowns, moving in the twilight, with power in their hands, and violence in their hearts; we hear the indistinct tread of their innumerable armies; and, here and there, a pillar remains to indicate the conqueror's foot. Their pyramids, their mighty rock-hewn sepulchres, the fragments of their gigantic temples, bespeak their industry, superstition, and despotism. But the lessons which their minuter history might have taught, are for ever lost. They, and others like them, were not lettered nations, and they have passed away, with all their vast and complex interests, with all their glory or ignominy, with all that could instruct and influence after ages. How different with that little people, whose emblem, the image of either of the Empires just named might hold in the hollow of his hand,—who, for only about three centuries, bustled, fought, wrote, built, declaimed, and colonized ; and then were swallowed up by vulgar conquest! To the present bour, their philosophy instructs, their poetry inspires, their heroism nerves, their great men are our types, their temples are our models, their artists are our wonder, their battle-grounds are holy, their name, fame, and influence are bounded only by the cope of heaven, and by noble sensibility in the breast of man!—Therein, see the power of mind :-mark, how pervading intellect surpasses barbaric splendor and vast dominion :--acknowledge, when Time has done his office, how the halo round the head of genius transcends the bauble of a King.

Direct your thoughts, once more, to our maternal Island. Compare her colonial expansion, her impregnable stations, her Neptunean armament, her viceregal empire, with the cloudy spot amidst the northern seas, where is the hiding of her power. She ransacks the Desert, and ransacks the Pole :-she sifts for the gems of the Deccan, she

pumps for the ore of Mexico :-her warehouses and looms supply the world :-her treasury pays the conflicts of nations. Yet, true to her glory, she has studied and discovered the secrets of the starry heavens; she has fathomed and revealed the laws of the mind; she has carried up natural and moral truth to the Great Source itself of all; she has shadowed herself with poetic laurels, which Greece might envy.

With such precedents, such a parentage, what must be our future estimate, unless we take in the strong conviction, that gain is not glory, or physical increase moral greatness? The field of our duties is wide, beneficent, and noble. It is ours, to put the crowning hand to the institutions of Liberty, and to prove their entire adequacy to safety, tranquillity, and justice :-to show, that Religion can flourish without human enactments ; Government be strong without an army; property respected, where the many rule ; personal dignity reverenced without aristocratic rank; and that the highest intellectual attainment can coexist with Republican equality. To satisfy the world on these and such-like points, by our happy example and philosophical comments, is a godlike trust.-Its triumphant discharge would probably banish Despotism from the civilized earth.-How magnificent our position for these and other purposes, not now to be discussed, which Providence may design to unfold, through our agency, to myriads who know as little of the light of Salvation, as of that of Liberty. Seated between the seas, on a nobler territory than was ever the portion of one kindred and language ; divested (fortunately, we hope,) of old systems and prejudices, the operation of present causes, if not arrested, must at no distant period arm this Union with unrivaled power! If her intelligence and virtue could be made commensurate with her responsibilities, she might sit like the Viceregent of Eternal Justice among the children of men. A calmer grandeur, less astonishing energy, (because less needed,) would characterize her, than have distinguished the tiny England; whose ascendency rests, not on numbers and territory, but on bright, immaterial pillars, which we dread to see vanishing from beneath her, like the departing rainbow. Should that day of eclipse and sorrow come,-should the ancestral spirit, which has so long disdained to meet its foes except beyond the seamark, find its vigor spent, its star declining,—-may We have the happiness to interpose the filial buckler, and teach the danger to Autocrats of any air sweetened by the language of our fathers !

How easy to sketch, how difficult to realize !-difficult, only, because man is selfish, reckless, and corrupt. The possibility is ours, -the staff of power is in our hand :-no foreign foe can take it

It may be broken by domestic quarrels; it may be cast away by levity, or a short-sighted policy. Disunion may reduce to fragmentary parts what would have been the greatest Commonwealth, and the most transcendent political spectacle, ever witnessed.

An important agency in averting these disasters, and bringing out the true results of Liberty, devolves on men of Letters. In the axiom of a sagacious writer, Instructed Reason is the necessary conservator of free institutions. From men who realize the magnitude of the principles involved in ours, but who despise the squabble for trusts under them;-who appreciate the power conferred by national and individual wealth, but who disapprove the insensibility to reputation engendered by excessive thrift;—who are apprized by an examination of many forms of polity of their general relations

from us.

to human nature, --who know how the strong have fallen, and the wise have erred ;-unfettered by the dogmas of any party, and wearing the badge of no profession ;- from such men, if such there be, we have a right to expect comprehensive views of national interests, profound expositions of fundamental questions, and a just sensibility to national glory. If such men do not exist among us, then are we destitute of an order indispensable to the dignity and safety of a free state. Is it not undeniable, that men in office stand in a perilous dilemma between their convictions and their constituents ? What is the essential difference to the public between statesmen without the second sight, and those, whose position entails on them the perpetual curse of unbelief !—Is it not plain, that the nation will not assent, with unity, to any theorems of political philosophy thrown out amidst the peals and flashes of debate ?-A great debater is charged with the double and opposite properties of the magnetic poles. Without able writers, who identify themselves with no section, sect, or party, there can be no incorruptible tribunal of public opinion, no high test of principle or men. left to the wild, conflicting jargon of the party press, -where each side confirms itself in error, and denies and discredits whatever is repugnant to its interests or its prejudices.

An immediate advantage from elevating the literary standard, would show itself in the diurnal prints. We should have the intelligence required by the age served up with more elegance and skill; with less coarse invective, less personal abuse, more argument, and less clamor. Decency accompanies refinement, refinement springs from knowledge. Moreover, with a literary arena, a recognized and honored field for the exercise of every species of talents, ambitious and ardent minds would feel less the necessity of seeking glory at the hands of the people.

The observer of the last twenty years, notwithstanding the engrossments of party strife, and the universal hurry to grow rich, descries, here and there, minds of clearer substance, springing up like lights in a dark place, growing visible at a distance, and beginning to touch our vanity as a people. Names could now be cited, in the ranks of science and literature, which the nation cherishes.We advert to them, as omens, that keep hope alive.

If considerations like the foregoing administer any spur to their national pride, any motives to their sense of duty, any concentration to their secret wishes for personal distinction, let literary men press forward :-greater wonders have been achieved than to bring this nation to a juster estimate of the claims we are urging. First of all, let them lift every voice, unite every influence, never desist from importunity, till one change is effected. Cottons and woolens have felt our protecting care, and all the interests of the spindle and the loom. Not so the native fabrics of thought, not so the sparkling woofs of fancy. Careful by our treaties and tariffs to place physical industry on an equal footing with competitors, we have left the lettered intellect of our country, under the difficulties incident to a new people, under the natural discouragements of a commercial spirit, under the derisive sneers of foreign nations, to struggle with great and wholly unnecessary disadvantages. The regions which acknowledge the English language, whether on this or that side the sea, constitute the great theater on which


writer of that language is entitled to fair play. Why, then, leave our reciprocal laws on their present basis ?—It is, now, the interest of every American Publisher to reprint, by thousands, English books, because a remuneration to the Author forms no item in his account. To place our countryman, therefore, on his own soil, on a par with English writers in the estimate of American Publishers, his labor must be gratuitous. Few will consent to that. Let

men, whose reflections have made them sensible how wanting this Union has been to herself, lose no opportunity to impress on others their own convictions. Let the Lyceums, and Athenæums, and every other literary forum, occasionally hear cutting truths and mortifying comparisons, instead of abstract discussion and elegant flattery; till the national sensibility is touched, and a blush called forth for the desolation of the high places of Letters. Where is the library in this powerful Empire (with one partial exception), that a sixpenny German Palatine would honor with the name ?*_Where are the archives in more than a single state, from which its own history could be written ?-Where are our observatories - Where are our fellowships ?- Where are the sums paid out for exploration and discovery ?-What national care or favor, as a people, have we extended to any high department of knowledge ? The consequences have not falsified common laws. We have effected-much that it would be wrong to discredit,

--some things excellent of their kind, but nothing great. We have no literary corps,-few thoroughly edcated men.

Have we a master capable of rising, in a learned and eloquent system of political ethics, to the height of even our own 'great argument,' of instructing while he delights, and cautioning

* Since the delivery of this address in 1836, the Library of Congress has expanded to 250,000 volumes ; the Astor Library to 180,000 volumes ; the Boston Public Library to 200,000 volumes, and there are now (1875) 50 Public Libraries with an aggregate of 3,000,000 volumes.

« PreviousContinue »