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I must close these hasty sketches, thrown together in the midts of various cares, and with the languor of a drooping spirit. And yet I would not close them in the language even of gloom, and far less of discontent. In the natural course of events, indeed, the thought might have been indulged, that our respective places would be changed ; and that he might be called upon, at some future time, to perform a kindred office for one, who had cherished his friendship, and partaken of his labors. To Providence it has seemed fit to order otherwise. Nor can we justly mourn over the loss of such a man, as those who are without hope or consolation. Thanks be to God, in the midst of our sorrows there yet spring up in our hearts the most soothing recollections, and the most sublime contemplations. He is but removed before us to a more exalted state of being, immortal and unchangeable. We have nothing to regret but for ourselves. The tears, that fall upon his grave, are unstained by any mixture of bitterness for frailty, or for vice. The circle of his life was not large, but it was complete. If he had lived longer, he might have reared more enduring monuments of fame for posterity ; but his virtues could not have been more mature, or more endeared. They are now beyond the reach of accident, or question. They are treasured up among the records of eternity. He lived, as a wise man would aspire to live. He died, as a good man would desire to die. Well may we exclaim: “How beautiful is death, when earned by virtue !”
DELIVERED BEFORE THE BOSTON MECHANICS' INSTITUTE, AT THE OPENING
OF THEIR ANNUAL COURSE OF LECTURES, NOVEMBER, 1829.
Much has been said respecting the spirit of our age, and the improvements, by which it is characterized. Many learned discussions have been presented to the public, with a view to illustrate this topic; to open the nature and extent of our attainments; to contrast them with those of former times; and thus to vindicate, nay more, to demonstrate, our superiority over all our predecessors, if not in genius, at least in the perfection and variety of its fruits. There is, doubtless, much in such a review to gratify our pride, national, professional, and personal. But its value in this respect, if we stop here, is but of doubtful, or, at most, of subordinate importance. It is not the sum of our attainments, but the actual augmentation of human happiness and human virtue thereby, of which we may justly be proud. If every new acquisition operates, as a moving spirit upon the still depths of our minds, to awaken new enterprise and activity, to warm our hearts to new affection and kindness to our race, and to enable us to add something to the capital stock of human enjoyment, we may well indulge in selfcongratulation. It has been said, that he, who makes two blades of grass grow, where only one grew before, deserves to be reckoned among the benefactors of mankind. And it has been justly said ; because he has added so much means to the support of life, and thus promoted the effective power and prosperity of the whole community. The true test of the value of all attainments is their real utility.
I do not mean by this remark to suggest, that nothing is to be esteemed valuable, except its utility can be traced directly home to some immediate benefit, in visible operation, as an effect from a
Far otherwise. There are many employments, whose
chief object seems little connected with any great ultimate benefit, which yet administer widely, though indirectly, to the substantial good of society. There are many studies, which seem remote from any direct utility, which yet, like the thousand hidden springs, which form the sources and streams of rivers, pour in their contributions to augment the constantly increasing current of public wealth and happiness. We must not, therefore, when we examine an art, or an invention, a book, or a building, a study, or a curiosity, measure its value by a narrow rule. We must not ask ourselves, whether we could do without it; whether it be indispensable to our wants; or, whether, though missed, it could yet be spared. But the true question in such cases ought to be, whether, in the actual structure of society, it gratifies a reasonable desire, imparts an innocent pleasure, strengthens a moral feeling, elevates a single virtue, or chastens or refines the varied intercourse of life. If it does, it is still useful in the truest sense of the term, although it may not seem directly to feed the hungry, cure the sick, administer consolation to the afflicted, or even remove the irksome doubt of a poor litigant, groping blindfold through the dark passages of the law.
It is not easy, indeed, to name many pursuits, of which the inutility is so clearly made out, that they may be parted with without regret, or without disturbing the good order and arrangements of society. Some, that at a short sight seem, if not frivolous, at least unnecessary, to men of narrow capacities, will be found, on a larger survey, to be connected with the most important interests. The fine arts, for instance, painting, music, poetry, sculpture, architecture, seem almost the necessary accompaniments of a state of high civilization. They are not only the grace and ornament of society, but they are intimately connected with its solid comforts. If they did no more than gratify our taste, increase our circle of innocent enjoyment, warm our imaginations, or refine our feelings, they might fairly be deemed public blessings. But who is so careless, as not to perceive, that they not only give encouragement to men of genius, but employment to whole classes in the subordinate arts ? They not only create a demand for labor; but make that very labor a means of subsistence to many, who must otherwise be idle and indolent, or, by pressing upon other business, sink the compensation for labor, by a ruinous competition, to its minimum price. How many thousands are employed upon a single block of marble, before, under the forming hand of the artist, it breathes in sculptured life! before it meets us in the surpassing beauty of a Venus,
or the startling indignation of an Apollo ? Our granite would have slumbered for ever in its quarries, if architecture had not, under the guidance of taste, taught us to rear the dome, and the temple, the church of religion, and the hall of legislation, the column of triumph, and the obelisk of sorrow. To what an amazing extent are the daily operations of the press ! With how many arts, with how much commerce, with what various manufactures, is it combined! The paper may be made of the linen of Italy, and the cotton of Carolina, or Egypt, or the Indies; the type and ink of the products of various climes; and the text must be composed, and the sheets worked off, by the care and diligence of many minds. And yet, if no books were to be printed, if no newspaper or pamphlet were to be struck off, but what were indispensable ; if we were to deem all classical learning useless; and all poetry, and fiction, and dissertation, and essay, and history, a sad abuse of time and labor and ingenuity, because we could do without them, and because they did not plant our fields, or turn our mills, or sail our ships; I fear, that the race of authors would soon become extinct; and the press, busy, as it now is, with its myriads, would sink back into the silence of the days of Faustus, and require no aid from the supernatural arts of his suspected coadjutor. Sure I am, that the power-press of your own Treadwell, that beautiful specimen of skill and ingenuity, would be powerless, and no longer in its magical works delight us, in our morning search, or in our evening lucubrations.
I have made these suggestions, not so much as appropriate to the objects, which I have in view in this address, as to guard against the supposition in what follows, that the liberal arts are not worthy of our most intense admiration and respect.
If I were called upon to state that, which, upon the whole, is the most striking characteristic of our age, that, which in the largest extent exemplifies its spirit, I should unhesitatingly answer, that it is the superior attachment to practical science over merely speculative science. Into whatever department of knowledge we may search, we shall find, that the almost uniform tendency of the last fifty years has been to deal less and less with theory, and to confine the attention more and more to practical results. There was a period, when metaphysical inquiries constituted the principal delight of scholars and philosophers; and endless were the controversies and the subtleties, about which they distracted themselves and their followers. The works of Aristotle, one of the greatest gen
iuses of all antiquity, were studied with a diligence, which will hardly be believed in our day; and exerted an influence over the minds of men, almost down to the close of the seventeenth century, as wonderful, as it was universal. He was read, not in what would now be deemed most important, in his researches into natural history, and the phenomena of the external world, or in his dissertations on politics, and government, and literature ; but in his metaphysics, and endless inquiries into mind, and spirit, and essences, and forms, and categories, and syllogisms.
Lord Bacon, two centuries ago, in some most profound discourses, exposed the absurdity of the existing system of study, and of its unsatisfactory aims and results. He vindicated the necessity of inquiring into mental, as well as natural phenomena, by other means; by what is called the method of induction, that is, by a minute examination of facts, or what may properly be called experimental philosophy. This, in his judgment, was the only safe and sure road to the attainment of science; and, by subjecting every theory to the severe test of facts, would save a useless consumption of time and thought upon vague and visionary projects.
It may seem strange, that such wise counsels should not have been listened to with immediate, if not universal approbation. The progress, however, even of the most salutary truths is slow, when there are no artificial obstacles in the way. But when men's minds are preoccupied by systems and pursuits, which have received the sanction of many generations, every effort to overcome errors is like the effort to carry an enemy's fortress. It can rarely be accomplished by storm. It must be subdued by patient mining, by a gradual destruction of outposts, and by advances under cover of powerful batteries. Lord Bacon's admonitions can scarcely be said to have gained any general credence until the close of the seventeenth century; and their triumphant adoption was reserved as the peculiar glory of our own day.
It is to this cause, that we are mainly to attribute the comparatively slight attention at first paid to discoveries, which have since become some of the most productive sources, not only of individual opulence, but, in a large sense, of national wealth. The history of the steam-engine is full of instruction upon this subject. The Marquis of Worcester, early in the reign of Charles II. (1655), first directed the attention of the public to the expansive power of steam, when used in a close vessel ; and of its capacity to be employed as a moving power in machinery. The suggestion slept almost