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example. Whichever way we turn, we may see minds of the first class diverted from the established professions of law, physic, and divinity, to become the votaries, nay, the enthusiastic votaries, of the arts. And we are beginning to realize the first effects of this intense application and appropriation of the genius of our age, in simultaneous and elegant inventions in various arts.
It is true, in the general progress of society, that art commonly precedes science. The savage first constructs bis hut, prepares his food, fashions bis weapons of defence, and multiplies his power, by the application of the rudest materials. His wants being supplied, he may next dream of luxuries. But the road lies open to him, not by the investigation of principles, but by the application of manual dexterity and steady labor to acquire them. And this, for the most part, continues, or rather has continued, to be the order of things, until very late stages of civilization and refinement. At present, this order is almost entirely reversed. It may now be said with truth, that, in a general view, science precedes art; that is, the improvements, which are made in art, arise more often from an exact investigation of principles, than from bare experiments, or accidental combinations. Principles suggest the experiment, rather than experiment the principles. In the most important branches of manufactures, where skill is so constantly in demand, and economy in operation is so indispensable, and competition is universal, there is now a perpetual tasking of the wit of man to invent some cheaper, thriftier, or neater combination. Something to increase the velocity and uniformity of motion, the delicacy and certainty of spinning, the beauty or fineness of fabrics, the simplicity or directness in the application of power, or something to ascertain and separate the worthless from the valuable in materials, is the ambition of a thousand minds at the same instant; and the project holds out ample rewards to the fortunate discoverer. The result is, that the discovery is often simultaneously made by different minds at great distances, and without the slightest communication with each other. At other times, different inventions are at the same moment employed, and work out with rival skill the same purposes by opposite means. In this way, and especially in manufactures, the most perfect existing machinery is perpetually in danger of becoming useless, or at least unprofitable, by the introduction of a single improvement, which gives it a superiority of one per centum upon the capital employed. An instance, illustrative of these remarks, occurred in the course of my own official duties, in a suit for the infringement of a patent right. A beautiful improvement had been made in the double-speeder of the cotton spinning machine, by one of our ingenious countrymen. The originality of the invention was established by the most satisfactory evidence. The defendant, however, called an Englishman, as a witness, who had been but a short time in the country, and who testified most explicitly to the existence of a like invention in the improved machinery in England. Against such positive proof there was much difficulty in proceeding. The testimony, though doubted, could not be discredited; and the trial was postponed to another term, for the purpose of procuring evidence to rebut it. An agent was despatched to England, for this and other objects; and, upon his return, the plaintiff was content to become nonsuited. There was no doubt, that the invention here was without any suspicion of its existence elsewhere; but the genius of each country, almost at the same moment, accomplished independently the same achievement.
I have introduced these considerations to the view of those, who are engaged in the arts, and especially of those, whose studies this society is designed to patronize, for the purpose of leading them to the reflection, that, in the present state of things, it is no longer safe to be ignorant; and that mere dexterity and mechanical adroitness, expertness of hand, or steadiness of labor, are not alone sufficient to guaranty to the individual a successful issue in his business. Science is becoming almost indispensable, in order to master improvements, as they occur, and to keep up, in some measure, with the skill of the age. It will otherwise happen, that a mechanic, by the time he has arrived midway in life, will find himself superseded by those, who, though much younger, have begun life under more favorable auspices. But upon this I may have occasion to enlarge a little more hereafter.
I have already spoken of the advantages resulting from scientific men's becoming familiar with the workshop, and the operations of
But a far more important object, and the second great step in improvement, is to elevate mechanics and artisans to the rank of scientific inquirers.
It is singular, that no attempt was ever made to provide systematically for such an object, until a period so recent, that it seems but an affair of yesterday. The truth is so obvious, that he, who is engaged in the practice of an art, must, with equal advantages, be far better qualified to improve and perfect its operations, than he, who merely theorizes, without any knowledge of practical difficulties, that it is matter of surprise, that it should have been so long overlooked. The origin and history of Mechanics’ Institutions were brought before you, on the first opening of your own Institution, with so much fulness and accuracy, by the learned gentleman, who addressed you on that occasion, that I may well be spared any effort to retouch, what he has so faithfully delineated. Until the nineteenth century, no one thought of a system of scientific instruction, much less of mutual instruction, for those, who were to be bred in the arts. These institutions began, as you know, under the auspices of Professor Anderson, at Glasgow, and so slowly worked their way into public favor, that, ten years ago, they were unknown in that city, which boasts herself the modern Athens; and, seven years ago, all the influence and reputation of Dr. Birkbeck were requisite to introduce them into the reluctant circles of London.
I look upon this, as a new era in the history of science; and it may be safely predicted, that these establishments are destined hereafter to work more important changes, in the structure of society, and in the improvement of the arts, than any single event, which has occurred since the invention of printing.
What I propose in the residue of this discourse is, to offer some considerations in vindication of this opinion, and also some considerations by way of encouragement to those, who, as mechanics and artisans, are invited to devote themselves to the pursuit of liberal science.
And, in the first place, I might remark, that genius and talent are limited to no rank or condition of life. They have been distributed by the bounty of Providence, with an equal hand, through every class of society. They are among those gifts, which poverty cannot destroy, or wealth confer; which spring up in the midst of discouragements and difficulties, and, like the power of steam, acquire new elasticity by pressure ; which ripen in the silence of solitude, as well as in the crowded walks of society; which the cottage may nourish into a more healthy strength, than even the palace, or the throne. The most formidable enemy to genius is not labor, but indolence; want of interest and excitement; want of motive to warm, and of object to accomplish; ignorance of means, leading to indifference to ends. Hence it is, that the very highest and the very lowest orders of society often present the same mental phenomena -- a fixed and languishing disease of the intellectual powers, where curiosity wastes itself in trifles, and a cold listlessness, brood
ing over the thoughts, lets fall a preternatural stupor. Their misfortune is that, so beautifully touched by the poet,
“But knowledge to their eyes her ample age,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll." I might remark, in the next place, that the rewards of science are most ample, whether they be viewed in reference to personal enjoyment, to rank in society, or to substantial wealth. It is one of the wise dispensations of Providence, that knowledge should not only confer power, but should also confer happiness. Every new attainment is a new source of pleasure ; and thus the desire for it increases as fast as it is gratified. It not only widens the sphere of our thoughts, but it elevates them, and thus gives them a livelier moral action. When one has seen an apple fall from a tree, and is told, for the first time, that its fall is regulated by the law of gravitation, the simplicity of the truth may scarcely awaken his curiosity. When he is told, that the same law regulates the plumb line, and enables him unerringly to erect his house in the true perpendicular, he perceives, with pleasure, a new application of it. When he is further told, that there is a constantly increasing rapidity in every descending body, by the same law, so that it falls in the second instant double the space it does in the first; and that the whole doctrine of projectiles, both in nature and art, depends upon it; that it governs the flow of rivers, and the fall of cataracts, and the gentle rains, and the gentler dews, and the invisible air; that it guides the motion of the water-mill, the aim of gunnery, and the operations of the steam-engine; — he cannot but awaken to some emotions of admiration. But when he has been taught, that the same law regulates the ebb and flow of the tide, the motions of the earth, and the planets, and the sun, and the stars, and holds them in their orbits, and binds them in an eternally revolving harmony; that to this he owes the return of day and night, the changes of the seasons, seed-time and harvest, summer and winter; if he be any thing, but a clod of the valley, how can he but exclaim, in wonder and amazement,
“ These, as they change, Almighty Father, these
Is full of thee." What can tend more to exalt the dignity of our nature, than the consideration, that the mind of man has not only been able to grasp and demonstrate this law, but to apply it to the solution of an infinite
number of questions, apparently beyond the reach of his boldest efforts? He has been able to ascertain the motions and size of the whole planetary system; to calculate every perturbation, arising from the constant, but changeful influence of mutual gravitation ; to ascertain the paths of comets ; to calculate eclipses with unerring certainty ; and to foretell the very minute, nay, the very instant, of occultation of the most distant satellites. He can thus read, through the past, as well as the future, all the various states of the heavens, for thousands of years. He has been able to apply this knowledge to the noblest purposes; and the mariner, by its aid, descries his home-port with the same ease, on the dark bosom of the ocean, as he points it out from the little hill-top, that overlooks his native
If we pass from the contemplation of this sublime law of nature to others, which belong to animal or vegetable life, to those, which form and preserve the treasures of earth, and of the sea, even down to those, which regulate the minutest particles of matter, the light of science will enable us every where to behold new and increasing wonders, and to remark the operations of infinite power, for ever varied, and yet for ever the same. It is impossible, that the mere perception of such laws should not afford pleasure to every rational mind. But when we further learn, that these very laws are made continually subservient to the use of man; that, by the knowledge of them, he is enabled to create power, and perfect mechanical operations; that he can make the winds and the waves, the earth and the air, heat and cold, the ductile metals and the solid rocks, the fragile flower and the towering forest, minister to his wants, bis refinements, and his enterprise ; we are compelled to admit, that the capacity to trace back such effects to their causes must elevate, and enlarge, and invigorate the understanding.
There is also real dignity, as well as delight, in such studies ; and whenever they shall become the general accompaniment of mechanical employments, they must work a most beneficial change in the general structure of society. The arts of life are now so various and important, so intimately connected with national prosperity and individual comfort, that, for the future, a very large proportion of the population of every civilized country must be engaged in them. The time is not far distant, when the mechanic and manufacturing interest will form the great balancing power, between the conflicting interests of commerce and agriculture ; between the learned professions and the mere proprietors of capi