« PreviousContinue »
thought, that gave life and interest to what they did. In the highest career of their glory, it is not their power or their success which fixes our attention, but that which made their power awful, and their success the result of wisdom, and not of accident. It is the energy of Mind to which we thus
involuntary homage ;--and our admiration of Athens and of Rome, is only the expression of that general sentiment of exultation—the instinctive confession “ that lofty powers lie treasured up in Man."
But these sublime indications of Mind, may from their very grandeur excite an unprofitable veneration. As those, who are not initiated in the secrets of nature, behold the mighty powers
of the material world when loosened from their usual restraints ;-astonished at their effects, and yet unconscious, that the very air they breathe, is supported by their unseen agency; so intellectual power may be regarded, as if it were solely the property of superior beings, and without the present conviction that it is the pervading energy of social life. That conviction is however essentially necessary to secure the useful cultivation of our faculties; and I know not that I could choose a more useful subject for the occasion of opening our Athen. æum, than that which is thus suggested to our meditation :We are now under the most auspicious circumstances, renewing our endeavours to extend the love, and facilitate the acquisition of knowledge. We hope to see those endeavours productive of beneficial effects on individual character, and on the intercourse of life. It must therefore be most interesting at the present moment to enquire, how the pursuits of Literature, Science, and the Arts, may be connected with moral improvement; and what means are within our reach to secure a more extensive co-operation of the Intellect and the Will. It is their probable influence on the conduct that can alone enable us to estimate the real value of our endeavours. It is by securing their beneficial influence, that we can alone recommend them to the Author of our being, who gave us reason, not for
idle speculation or personal distinction, but for the completion of a more glorious destiny, as the enlightened adorers of his greatness, and the humble imitators of his moral perfections.
There is nothing that more effectually secures the proper direction of our faculties, than a careful consideration of their mutual dependance. Man is endowed with contemplative and active powers, and they must administer to each other, or the harmony of nature is impaired. The energies of the mind must be defined and directed by the scene which calls them forth. Unless speculation and practice are connected as cause and effect, speculation must lose its worth, and practice its possibilities of improvement. The great object of a well regulated education is, at once, to develope these powers and to preserve their natural association. But few indeed are so admirably disciplined, as to escape, altogether, the tyranny of some disproportionate bias. Either an undue preference for abstruse researches or ideal enjoyments, gives a distaste for the humbler but essential duties of life; or an exclusive zeal to answer the demands of our social existence, fosters a suspicion that theoretical pursuits are deficient in utility. The few, who cultivate their contemplative faculties, too often become unable to bring them sufficiently within the sphere of social obligations; and the many, who are necessarily led to the details of active life, not unfrequently regard employments of an abstracted character, as something foreign to the real advantage of mankind. Even if the judgment be not perverted entirely by these hasty decisions of habit or inclination, it is too frequently so far influenced, as to check the fearless cultivation of every part of our intelligent nature, and to induce us to impose the shackles of our prejudices on those minds that are entrusted to our direction. Nor can it be at all matter of surprise that the importance of intellectual pursuits should be under-rated, when it is decided by the fallacious test of comparative utility. For the speculative labours of the student do not so challenge observation, as to permit their being fairly estimated; while practical exertions come so home to every man's business and bosom, that they may seem, to superficial notice, to be the only duties of life. The results of scientific experiment or calculation, which facilitate the ordinary business of mankind, bring indeed theory and practice so closely together, that the advantage of speculation, is in these instances unequivocally acknowledged: but even then it is allowed, only, when made evident by such profitable results. The philosopher in his laboratory, and the mathematician in his study are not known as the friends of society, until society has felt their value by some new addition to the sources of wealth or comfort. Thus the advantages of speculation are only confessed on a retrospect, when its manifest effects have . placed it in too strong a light to allow the possibility of neglect. The student is alone encouraged by his solitary anticipations ;-he must long be considered by many, as amongst the doubtful benefactors of mankind.
The conduct of those who attach themselves exclusively to what are called the Useful Arts, frequently gives an indirect sanction to this depreciation of studious habits. Those who confine themselves to demonstrative or experimental science, are too apt to undervalue whatever cannot be submitted to the rigid test of actual examination, and to discredit the share which the imaginative and moral faculties have in influencing the welfare of the world. The Poet, the Artist, and the lover of elegant Literature, are sometimes found equally forgetful of the obligations they owe to Science. The unthinking are always ready to adopt these prepossessions of superior minds; but the zeal of party soon subsides with them into a kind of general scepticism, and their want of knowledge conspires with their indifference, to persuade them that they have but little interest in these contentions of opinion. Thus the cultivation of the mind, beyond what is actually required for the ordinary s occupations of life, is considered frequently as distracting atatention, and repairing the mischief with but small returns of
practical utility. From these contracted views, the seeds of wisdom, that might most advantageously have been developed, are often carried by their unconscious possessors to the grave; and the entrusted talent is returned unimproved. By the technical mode of education, which such notions recommend, mankind are, as it were, divided into castes, and those prejudices and peculiarities are perpetuated, which are not essen-tial to practical skill, and cannot fail to become obstacles to the free use of the understanding. On the other hand, the abstraction from the business of life, and devotion to theoretical reasoning, which so often characterise the student, and the exclusive admiration, which not unfrequently is confined to his favourite pursuit, lessens the certainty of his knowledge by contracting that field of observation, from which all his conclusions must be derived. Thus either by distrust or by an illiberal partiality, the education which nature suggests and commences in us, is frequently over-ruled, and the faculties are submitted to the restraint of unwise prejudice.
The great restorer of rational philosophy, has taught us, that if we would approach perfection, we must in the devlopement of the moral character, imitate nature, who in her productions throws out, at once, the rudiments of all the parts; and does not, like the Statuary, while finishing the features leave the rest of the marble a shapeless mass.* This precept applies to the method in which the mind should be cultivated, to produce its proper effect on the happiness and conduct of mankind. To suppose that all would thus be brought to an intellectual equality, would be to attribute too much to human controul. The great lines of distinction are marked by nature; and we may surely, without any fear of disturbing the harmony which Supreme Wisdom has established, venture to do all for our endowments that we are enabled to do. We are not called on to forget that division of duties, which social necessities assign us. We are only thus taught to bring to our specific employments, the intelligence of an enlightened and liberal mind.' To throw on the distinct object of our pursuit, not a few selected rays, but all those blended streams of light, which we are enabled there to concentrate; that we may learn its various relations, and not set on it such an exaggerated value, as would withdraw us entirely from objects of still higher interest; or induce us to look down on the other engagements of mankind, without bestowing our sympathy and encouragement. It is only under such circumstances, that the beneficial results of cultivating the mind can be fully experienced. We might as justly hope to learn completely, the effects of the senses from one who is blind or deaf, as to see all the moral advantages of a cultivated mind, exemplified under the tyranny of a partial and prejudiced education.
* De Augmentis Scientiarum. Lib. 7. Cap 3.
A mind exactly disciplined according to the suggestions of nature, and not cramped in the developement of its powers, would be in little danger of mistaking their importance or their object. The higher principles of conduct would not be undervalued, by faculties so wisely adjusted ; and whatever may be the moral influence of intellectual pursuits, it would operate without any obstruction from a jealous rivalry or an illiberal neglect. The contemplation of this perfect harmony of mind, and of its happy consequences on society, has led some theoretical reasoners to imagine extraordinary results from the dissemination of knowledge; and to regard the progress of Science, and Arts, and Letters, as the visible gradation by which we are advancing towards a moral perfection. Such views are certainly attractive from the aspect in which they seem to place mankind, and the poetry which they throw around our present existence; but it must also be confesssed, that they have too little foundation to satisfy any one, who has been accustomed to consider the strength and the weakness of his nature. How shall we forget the lessons of ages? How can we reconcile to such a theory the lamentable inconsistencies which the history of man presents? Alas! Science