Billeder på siden

discovers, forgetting that other ages too had their especial vices and errors, and forgetting in the excellence of what remains the large overbalance of worthlessness which has been swept away.

Yet the force of this obvious truth must never be allowed to deter the rea. sonable enquirer from a steady examination of the leading principles of thought and action which, whether for weal or woe, direct the age in which it is his fortune to live.

Now that in every age the accumulation of wealth and the increase of power have obtained far more than their due share of attention, is beyond question; and it is equally beyond question that in the present age, these objects are pursued on a more gigantic scale than at any former period, and obtain more, far more exclusive attention. In every former period there was at least some countervailing influence which had

powerful hold on the minds of mankind. But with us the spirit of Religious enthusiasm, except in the lowest and most disgusting form, the spirit of Chivalry, the spirit of elevated Philosophy which counteracts any excessive attachment to temporal and personal objects, by pre-occupying the intellect and the affections with permanent, universal, and eternal truths, all in short which tended to raise man from the earth, is departed to give place to the spirit of accumulation. To this every other passion bows.

From this every pursuit takes its tone and its colour, and, what is most melancholy of all, it is obviously desired to render even knowledge and education subservient to this ruling passion, and to estimate them only in proportion as they tend to increase man's sway over the material universe, to render it tributary to him, and thus increase his stock of wealth and power. That such a state of things is eminently unfavourable to Religion would be clear from mere reasonable considerations, and the facts of the case establish the point, I fear, still farther. Thus much at least can hardly be denied, that although there is undoubtedly a bustling external activity prevalent in the world with respect to Religious objects, there is not the same degree of spiritual and meditative Religion which other ages have possessed. The contrary opinion, it must be remembered, can derive little support from any appeal to the state of public morals, even if that state were likely to give the desired answer.' For although vital Religion is no doubt the best amender of men's practice, we must not forget that prudential considerations are also most powerful in their effect on the conduct, and it may perhaps be true that a prudential morality, and a sort of heartless and lifeless decency of conduct, necessary as they are to the well-being of society, and to the prosecution of schemes of interest, flourish in no small degree amongst us, while that. Religion which elevates man above this lower sphere of action, its concerns and interests, spiritualizes the being and guides and animates it to the prospect of an higher and more developed state, is too much cast aside and forgotten. In the belief then that very erroneous methods of thinking with respect to knowledge and education, resulting from our devotedness to the accumulation of wealth, have greatly contributed to

produce this tone of Religious feeling amongst us, let us shortly examine the prevalent opinions on these important points, especially as to their objects, their value, and their probable progress.

First of all then, wherever inordinate thirst for wealth exists, it is reasonable to suppose that the knowledge which will be the most highly prized, will be that which most contributes to its increase. And accordingly it is beyond all question, that of far, very far the greater portion of that knowledge, for which men at present labor, the only object is its immediate utility, and the return which it will make. This is entirely a question of facts, and they are so positive as to admit of no contradiction. The Country which once within a few years produced and gloried in a More, a Norris, a Cudworth, and a Stillingfleet, must blush to confess that she can hardly name among all her sons more than a single Metaphysical or Ethical Student; that scholarship of the higher class possesses only a bare and a dubious existence; that

Literature shares the same neglect; and that every department of intellectual research which requires time and thought and patience, without offering a prospect of immediate advantage, is rejected with a vehemence of anger, and branded as visionary. On the other hand, the grand object of pursuit is the knowledge of the material Universe, as tending most directly to add to the conveniences and comforts of life, and to bestow immediate reward on those whose sagacity leads them to discovery themselves, or to profit by the discoveries of others. Here then is at once a striking difference between the present and past ages, and a difference in no way favourable to our own. When it was said indeed in former times, for the maxim has passed away, that knowledge was to be valued for its own sake, little more was meant than an absolute denial of the belief entertained among ourselves, that it is to be valued only by its immediate utility. And that denial was founded on worthy views of human nature, its objects and its destiny. Coming into the world in a state of helpless weakness of body, and with a mind which, however endowed, is as yet undeveloped, it is the law of man's being, that by a mighty process of cultivation in a world of sense, the most wonderful and noble powers should be educed, and a being of infinite worth and dignity, though in many respects frail and imperfect, called, as it were, into an existence which is to last for ever. But it is the law of this being also, that whatsoever imperfection it can quer, whatsoever perfection it can attain, the one can be conquered, and the other attained only by a slow and gradual process, by a developement of the whole being, and by maintaining the harmony and due relation of the several faculties with which it is endowed. We may perhaps force a little immature produce by the strong excitement of immediate reward, but if we desire that man should attain his glory, we must remember that like the plant, his flowering time is only once in his life, when years of thought, of study, of careful and patient cultivation directed to that end alone, have expanded all his powers, and enabled him to send forth his blossom in perfectness of beauty.



Again, we may cultivate one faculty to the exclusion of the rest, and we may perhaps attain the specific end for which the care and cultivation was bestowed, but we shall not have the being Man in his glory, but a part only, and that part in an unnatural state. Now it needs no argument to shew that all knowledge which looks only to immediate utility and present reward, must sacrifice all to those objects, must cultivate the faculties only partially, and must lose sight entirely of the great end, the improvement of the being.

But still farther: it is a law of our nature, that truth on all great and important subjects, should be attained only by much labour, many struggles and many difficulties, and should be only slowly and gradually recognized. Snatches and fragments of truth we may attain rapidly, but not a fixedness and unity of view, such as is, alone worthy of an intellectual being, and alone can conduce either to his improvement or his happiness. When the metaphysician tells us that, we know only what we are, he re-echoes in fact the words of our Lord, that to understand his doctrine we must do his will. We cannot indeed comprehend any great truths with which we do not stand in constant relation, which have not grown with our growth, which have not melted into our being, and which do not form a part of it. Meditation and thought are in short absolutely and indispensably necessary to elevation, to the absolute possession of the individual mind, and to a consistency and harmony of the Being within itself, which no outward agency can reach to disturb or to impair.' How entirely opposed to such a state

« ForrigeFortsæt »