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become instructed in science, the inventions of this class will be more numerous, more useful, more profitable, and more ingenious, than those of any other class, and even perhaps of all other classes of society.
What an animating prospect does this afford! What noble ends, to poor, neglected, suffering genius! What constant comfort, to cheer the hard hours of labor, and the heavier hours of despondency! Much less of success in life is in reality dependent upon accident, or what is called luck, than is commonly supposed. Far more depends upon the objects, which a man proposes to himself ; what attainments he aspires to; what is the circle, which bounds his vision and his thoughts; what he chooses, not to be educated for, but to educate himself for; whether he looks to the end and aim of the whole of life, or only to the present day or hour; whether he listens to the voice of indolence or vulgar pleasure, or to the stirring voice in his own soul, urging his ambition on to the highest objects. If his views are low and grovelling; if the workshop, in its cold routine of duties, bounds all his wishes and his hopes, his destiny is already fixed; and the history of his whole life may be read, though the blush of youth still lingers on his cheeks. It is not a tale merely twice told; it has been told for millions. If, on the other hand, he aspires to be a man, in dignity, independence, spirit, and character, and to give his talents their full scope and vigor; if, to a steady devotion to the practice of his art, he adds a. scientific study of its processes and principles, his success is as sure, as any thing on this side of the grave can be. He may even go farther, and dream of fame; and, if he possess the sagacity of genius, may build a solid immortality upon the foundation of his own inventions.
And why should it not be so? Why should not our youth, engaged in the mechanic arts, under the auspices of institutions like this, reach such a noble elevation of purpose ? America has hitherto given her full proportion of genius to the cultivation of the arts. She has never been behind the most intelligent portions of the world, in her contribution of useful inventions for the common good. There are some circumstances in the situation and character of her population, which afford a wider range for talent and inquiry, than in any other country. The very equality of condition; the natural structure of society; the total demolition of all barriers against the advancement of talent from one department of life to another; the non-existence of the almost infinite subdivisions of labor, by which, though more perfection in the result is sometimes
obtained, the process has an almost uniform tendency to reduce human beings to mere machines; the mildness of the government; the general facility of subsistence; the absence of all laws regulating trades, and obstructing local competition ; — these, and many other causes, and especially our free schools, and our cheap means of education, offer to ingenuous youth the most inviting prospects to expand and cultivate their intellectual powers. Under such circumstances, is it too much to prophesy, that hereafter America may take the lead in mechanical improvements, and give another bright example to the world, by the demonstration of the truth, that free governments are as well adapted to perfect the arts of life, and foster inventive genius, as they are to promote the happiness and independence of mankind ?
There are no real obstacles in the way, which may not be overcome by ordinary diligence and perseverance. A few hours, saved every week from those devoted to idle pleasure, or listless indolence, would enable every artisan to master, in a comparatively short time, the elementary principles of the arts. He would have the constant benefit of refreshing his recollection by the practical application of them, and receive the demonstration, at the same time that he was taught the truth. He would find, that the acquisitions of every day added a new facility for future improvement; and that his own mind, quickened and fertilized by various stores of thought, would soon turn that into the truest source of enjoyment, which at first was the minister of toil and anxiety. Consider, for a moment, what must be the immediate effects of the general adoption of a system of mutual instruction. How powerfully would it work by way of encouragement to laudable ambition ; how irresistibly, to an increase of skill and sagacity in the most common employments of life! Ask yourselves, what would be the result of one hundred thousand minds engaged at the same moment in the study of mechanical science, and urged on by the daily motives of interest, to acquire new skill, or invent new improvements. It seems to me utterly beyond the reach of human imagination to embody the results, to which such a constant discipline of the intellect, strengthened by the daily experience of the workshop, would conduct us. The slightest spark of intelligence (if I may borrow a figure from the arts) would be blown into a steady flame, and the raw material of genius be kindled by a spontaneous combustion into the most intense light.
Gentlemen, I will detain you no longer. The remarks, which I have addressed to you, have been unavoidably of a loose and
desultory nature. They have been thrown together, not in the abundance of my leisure, but of my labors; in the midst of private cares, and many pressing public duties. Such as they are, I trust they may receive your indulgence, if not for their intrinsic value, at least as my small tribute to the merit of this Institution. If I had possessed more leisure, I should have preferred to have given you, as a more suitable topic for an introductory discourse, some account of the rise and progress of the more important arts and inventions in modern times. A close survey of the difficulties overcome, and of the triumphs achieved by mechanical genius, would, after all, constitute the most valuable commentary upon the powers of the human mind, and the most encouraging lesson in the study of science.
I conclude with the reflection, naturally arising from the subject, that as the true end of philosophy is to render us wiser and happier, so its tendency is to warm our hearts, and elevate our affections, and make us, in the highest sense, religious beings. When we contemplate the physical creation, and observe, from the minutest atom up to the highest intelligence, continual displays of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness; when we trace out by the light of science the laws, which govern the material world, and observe the order, and harmony, and wonderful adaptation of all, from those, which form the sparkling diamond in the mine, or prepare the volleyed lightning, or generate the terrific earthquake, or direct the motions of the ocean, up to those, which hold the planets in their spheres; when we turn our thoughts within us, and endeavour to learn what we ourselves are, and consider the nature and capacities of our minds, and feel the divinity, as it were, stir within us; when we look abroad at the curious displays of human invention in the arts and arrangements of life, and see how man has acquired dominion over the earth, and the sea, and the air, and the water ;-how is it possible, I say, when we contemplate such things, not to look up with awe, and admiration, and gratitude, to the First Great Cause of all these blessings? How is it possible not to feel, that we are an emanation of that eternal Spirit, which formed and fashioned us, and breathed into us a rational soul ? How is it possible not to read for ourselves a higher destiny, where our powers shall be permitted to expand in endless progression, and continually witness new wonders of the divine perfection? Surely, in the contemplation of such things, we may well exclaim,
“Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; in wisdom hast thou made them all.”
INTRODUCTORY TO A COURSE OF LECTURES BEFORE THE FAMILIES OF THE PROFESSORS IN HARVARD COLLEGE, DELIVERED IN HOLDEN CHAPEL, DECEMBER 23, 1830.
I should have hesitated to address you on the present occasion, if it had been supposed to involve any peculiar or extraordinary duties. I have not the leisure to mature a discourse, which should invite the attention of the learned by the extent of its views, or the depth of its investigations. The necessities arising from the constant pressure of professional engagements would alone be sufficient to induce me to decline the task, even if more obvious considerations did not lead me to the same result. He, who would address himself to those, who have cultivated literature with eminent success, or who have travelled, not merely through the broad ways, but the intricate mazes of science, must feel, that he has many things to do, before he can suitably meet the just expectations of his audience. It is not for him, under such circumstances, to place entire reliance upon the resources of his own mind, however comprehensive they may seem to be. It is not for him, under such circumstances, to draw exclusively upon his own genius or imagination for views original, or attractive. He may not rest even on the powers of eloquence (if he should happen to possess them) to adorn his topics with the beauties of an animated diction, or the graces of a vivid style. His thoughts may be brilliant, without being just; or just, without being striking ; so as to lead to the bitter sarcasm, that his discourse contains many things new, and many things true ; but the new is not true ; and the true is not new. The least of his anxiety, however, should be, under such circumstances, to be original; for who can, without rashness, imagine, that, after the lapse of so many ages, in which the lives of so many of the brightest of human minds have been devoted to the cause of science; who, I
say, can, without rashness, imagine, that little of truth has hitherto been gathered, and that her ample stores are, for the first time, about to be revealed to his sight? If he should indulge in such a vain and dreamy self-complacency, he would painfully learn, that other minds had already anticipated almost all his peculiarities of opinion and comment; that antiquity had exhausted them in its captivating literature, never yet excelled, and perhaps never to be excelled; or that modern science, by its exact experiments, had put to flight whatever of theory might float round his own physical researches.
No- under such circumstances, he could rely securely on nothing, but the results of deep and various study. He would seek to fill his mind with the thoughts of others, and elevate his own conceptions by making them the familiar spirits of his hours. He would feel it necessary to in vigorate his own powers, by giving his early and his later vigils to the profound meditations of the great men of other days. He would endeavour to comprehend the large conceptions of Lord Bacon, and, by following the method of induction, pointed out by his wonderful mind, he would invite nature to disclose her mysteries, and aid him in the analysis of her inexhaustible stores. He would meditate — but it is unnecessary to dwell on such considerations. Enough has been said, and more than enough, to teach us the difficulties of such a task; and to demonstrate that time, as well as diligence, and patience, as well as strength, are necessary to the successful accomplishment of such an achievement.
As I comprehend it, the design of our meetings involves no such complexity of effort or attainment. The lectures, which belong to the brief course sketched out for these walls, belong to a humbler, and more facile duty. It is our design, not to sound the depths of any portion of science or literature, but to bring together some of the truths, which lie on the surface; not so much to seek for buried treasures, as to unfold those, which are known and approachable ; not so much to display rarities, as to bring together the useful and the simple; to present what may not be unworthy of the contemplations of manhood, but yet may lie within the reach of the playfulness of youth. In short, we are here to listen to thoughts, which are so familiar to the wise, that they come almost without bidding, and are dismissed without question or criticism. The poet has told us in two lines, of the masculine brevity and strength of the best days of