« PreviousContinue »
which bore down and eclipsed all the lesser glories of the firmament. And there is much in the scenery of a nocturnal sky to lift the soul to pious contemplation. The moon and these stars, what are they? They are detached from the world, and they lift us above it. We feel withdrawn from the earth, and rise in lofty abstraction from this little theatre of human passions and human anxieties. The mind abandons itself to reverie, and is transferred in the ecstasy of its thoughts to distant and unexplored regions. It sees nature in the simplicity of her great elements, and it sees the God of nature invested with the high attributes of wisdom and majesty.
But what can these lights be? The curiosity of the human mind is insatiable; and the mechanism of these wonderful heavens has, in all ages, been its subject and its employment. It has been reserved for these latter times to resolve this great and interesting question. The sublimest powers of philosophy have been called to the exercise, and astronomy may now be looked upon as the most certain and best established of the sciences.
We all know that every visible object appears less in magnitude as it recedes from the eye. The lofty vessel it retires from the coast shrinks into littleness, and at last appears in the form of a small speck on the verge of the horizon. The eagle with its expanded wings is a noble object; but when it takes its flight into the upper regions of the air, it becomes less to the eye, and is seen like a dark spot upon the vault of heaven. The same is true of all magnitude. The heavenly bodies appear small to the
of an inhabitant of this earth only from the immensity of their distance. When we talk of hundreds of millions of miles, it is not to be listened to as incredible. For remember that we are talking of those bodies which are scattered over the immensity of space, and that space knows no termination. The conception is great and difficult, but the truth is unquestionable. By a process of measurement which it is unnecessary at present to explain, we have ascertained first the distance and then the magnitude of some of those bodies which roll in the firmament; that the sun, which presents itself to the eye under so diminutive a form, is really a globe, exceeding, by many thousands of times, the dimensions of the earth which we inhabit; that the moon itself has the magnitude of a world; and that even a few of those stars, which appear like so many lucid points to the unassisted eye of the observer, expand into large circles upon the application of the telescope, and are some of them much larger than the ball which we tread upon, and to which we proudly apply the denomination of the universe.
Now, why should we think that the great Architect of nature, supreme in wisdom as he is in power, would call these stately mansions into existence, and leave them unoccupied ? When we cast our eye over the broad sea, and look at the country on the other side, we see nothing but the blue land stretching obscurely over the distant horizon. We are too far away to perceive the richness of its scenery, or to hear the sound of its population. Why not extend this principle to the still more distant parts of the universe? What though, from this remote point of observation, we can see nothing but the naked roundness of yon planetary orbs ? Are we therefore to say, that they are so many vast and unpeopled solitudes; that desolation reigns in every part of the universe but ours; that the whole energy of the divine attributes is expended on one insignificant corner of these mighty works; and that to this earth alone belongs the bloom of vegetation, or the blessedness of life, or the dignity of rational and immortal existence ?
9.-ON THE IMPORTANCE OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION. A READER unacquainted with the real nature of a classical education will be in danger of undervaluing it, when he sees that so large a portion of time at so important a period of human life is devoted to the study of a few ancient writers, whose works seem to have no direct bearing on the studies and duties of our own generation. This appears to many persons a great absurdity; while others who are so far swayed by authority as to believe the system to be right, are yet unable to understand how it can be so.
It may be freely confessed that the first origin of classical education affords in itself no reason for its being continued
When Latin and Greek were almost the only written languages of civilized man, it is manifest that they must have furnished the subjects of all liberal education. The question therefore is wholly changed since the growth of a complete literature in other languages; since France, and Italy, and Germany, and England, have each produced their philosophers, their poets, and their historians, worthy to be placed on the same level with those of Greece and Rome.
But although there is not the same reason now which existed three or four centuries ago for the study of Greek and Roman literature, yet there is another no less substantial. Expel Greek and Latin from your schools, and you confine the views of the existing generation to themselves and their immediate predecessors; you will cut off so many centuries of the world's experience, and place us in the same state as if the human race had first come into existence in the
1500. For it is nothing to say that a few learned individuals might still study classical literature; the effect produced on the public mind would be no greater than that which has resulted from the labours of our oriental scholars; it would not spread beyond themselves, and men in general after a few generations would know as little of Greece and Rome, as they do actually of China and Hindostan. But such an ignorance would be incalculably more to be regretted. With the Asiatic mind we have no nearer connexion and sympathy than is derived from our common humanity. But the mind of the Greek and of the Roman is in all the essential points of its constitution our own; and not only so, but it is our mind developed to an extraordinary degree of perfection. Wide as is the difference between us with respect to those physical instruments which minister to our uses or our pleasures; although the Greeks and Romans bad no steam engines, no printing presses, no mariner's compass, no telescopes, no microscopes, no gunpowder, yet in our moral and political views, in those matters which most determine human character, there is a perfect resemblance. Aristotle, and Plato, and Thucydides, and Cicero, and Tacitus, are most untruly called ancient writers; they are virtually our own countrymen and contemporaries, but have the advantage which is enjoyed by intelligent travellers, that their observation has been exercised in a field out of the reach of common men; and that, having thus seen in a manner with our eyes what we cannot see for ourselves, their
onclusions are such as bear upon our own circumstances, while their information has all the charm of novelty, and all the value of a mass of new and pertinent facts, illustrative of the great science of the nature of civilized man.
Now when it is said, that men in manhood so often throw their Greek and Latin aside, and that this very fact shows the uselessness of their early studies, it is much more true to say, that it shows how completely the literature of Greece and Rome would be forgotten, if our system of education did not keep up the knowledge of it. But it by no means shows that system to be useless, unless it followed that when a man laid aside his Greek and Latin books, he forgot also all that he had ever gained from them. This, however, is so far from being the case, that even where the results of a classical education are least tangible, and least appreciated even by the individual himself, still the mind often retains much of the effect of its early studies in the general liberality of its tastes, and comparative comprehensiveness of its views and notions. All this supposes
indeed that classical instruction should be sensibly conducted; it requires that a classical teacher should be fully acquainted with modern history and modern literature, no less than with those of Greece and Rome. What is, or perhaps wbat used to be, called a mere scholar, cannot possibly communicate to his pupils the main advantages of a classical education. The knowledge of the past is valuable, because without it our knowledge of the present and of the future must be scanty; but if the knowledge of the past be confined wholly to itself, if, instead of being made to bear upon things around us, it be totally isolated from them, and so disguised by vagueness and misapprehension, as to appear incapable of illustrating them, then indeed it becomes little better than laborious trifling, and they who declaim against it may be fully forgiven.
WHEN I am in a serious' humour, I very often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey, where the gloominess of the place', and the use' to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness', that is not disagreeable'. I yesterday passed the whole afternoon in the church-yard, the cloisters', and the church', amusing myself with the tomb'-stones and inscriptions that I met with in those several regions of the dead'. Most of them recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born' upon one day, and died upon another'; the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances, that are common to all' mankind. I could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of brass or marble', as a kind of satire' upon the departed persons, who had left no other memorial of them, but that they were born', and that they died.
Upon my going into the church', I entertained myself with the digging of a grave, and saw in every shovel'-full of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone' or skull', intermixed with a kind of fresh mouldering earth', that some time or other had a place in the composition of a human body. Upon this I began to consider with myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral'; how men and women', friends' and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries', were crumbled amongst one another, and blended together in the same common mass'; how beauty', strength', and youth', with old age', weakness', and deformity', lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter'.
After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as it were in the lump', I examined it more particularly, by the accounts which I found on several of the monuments' which are raised in every quarter of that ancient fabric. Some of them were covered with such extravagant epitaphs, that if it