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of their eminent professors. They are not compelled to think together, or to warm their genius by broad and comprehensive views of physical and intellectual science.
But there are other considerations, not of an academical nature, and belonging to us, in common with all our race, which ought not, on an occasion of this sort, to be wholly passed over. We live in an age full of intellectual excitement. It is not with us, as it was in former times, when science belonged to solitary studies, or philosophical ease, or antiquarian curiosity. It has escaped from the closet, and become an habitual accompaniment of every department of life. It comes, emphatically, home to men's business and bosoms. It accosts us equally in the highways and byways of life. We meet it in the idle walk, and in the crowded street; in the very atmosphere we breathe, in the earth we tread on, in the ocean we traverse, and on the rivers we navigate. It visits the workshop of the mechanic, the laboratory of the apothecary, the chambers of the engraver, the vats of the dyer, the noisy haunts of the spinning jenny, and the noiseless retreats of the bleachery. It seems a very spirit of all work, assuming all shapes, and figuring out all sorts of wonders, in that epitome of a world, a factory. It plays about us in the very smoke of the glasshouse, in the gas lights of our shops and theatres, in the beautiful coruscations of nature, and the exquisite imitations of art. It crosses our paths in the long, winding canal, in the busy railroad, in the flying steamboat, and in the gay and gallant merchant ship, wafting its products to every clime. It enters our houses, and sits down at our firesides, and lights up our conversations, and revels at our banquets. Not an ice-cream meets our lips, which has not felt the freezing coldness of its hand; not a vapor ascends, which may not be perfumed by its cosmetics and essences. One is almost tempted to say, that the whole world seems in a blaze; and that the professors of science and the dealers in the arts surround us by their magical circles, and compel us to remain captives in the spells of their witchcraft.
Under such circumstances, we are scarcely permitted to remain ignorant of principles, while we are encircled by practical applications of them. If curiosity does not stimulate us to knowledge, we are almost compelled to ask it for safety. Our very ignorance, if it does not betray us into peril, meets us like a spectre, at every turn. We are liable to be questioned on every side, and are not permitted to play the part of mutes. In short, we are driven to the necessity of confessing our ignorance, and avoiding the censure, or manfully
meeting the topic, we are obliged to redeem our credit by syllabling out the first outlines of science.
And yet, with the busy employments and crowded interests of society, how few can find leisure for collateral studies ! There is not a single branch of science or literature, which is not, at the present day, so extensive in its reach, that to master it requires a long life of patient labor. Nay, when such a life is at its close, the student seems but just arrived on the threshold of learning. He has done little more than to climb up a hillock, and look to the far distant valley, beyond which lie the mountains he would ascend, that he may survey a wider scene, and inhale a purer atmosphere. We seem, therefore, to be surrounded on every side by difficulties. We must learn what belongs to our own vocation, in order to attain the comforts and the honors of life. We must learn enough of what belongs to other vocations, that we may mingle in the interests, and partake the triumphs, and relish the pleasures of society. We must read something of other literature, besides that which belongs to our own pursuits, that we may understand the daily, and the weekly, and the monthly, and the quarterly journals, which crowd our tables. We must gather up something of other sciences, that we may not seem to belong to the class of mummies, or the dead relics of former ages. We must learn how to thread some of the labyrinths of knowledge, in which we are compelled to wander, lest we should be buried alive in its artificial catacombs. In short, we must be content to be superficial in many things, if we would be wise in the ways of this world; and yet, without this wisdom, we shall scarcely find ourselves, in a temporal sense, in the ways of pleasantness, or the paths of peace.
It seems to me, that, under such circumstances, the delivery of public lectures, by concentrating what is most valuable in science, and most interesting in art and literature; by gathering what comes home most closely to our common wants, and illustrates our common pursuits, and varies our common enjoyments; by shortening the road, and clearing the obstructions, and smoothing the ruggedness of the journey ; accomplishes a most valuable purpose. It has been very recently said, in the bitterness of sarcasm, that, “ in this age of extended and diluted knowledge, popular science has become the staple of an extensive trade, in which charlatans are the principal dealers."* If this be true, in any, however qualified, sense, it only
Quarterly Review, Oct. 1830. p 326.
proves the intrinsic value of the genuine commodity; and the insatiable thirst for knowledge, which is abroad in the whole community. It is a fact honorable to the spirit of the age, and brings neither our taste nor our judgment into discredit. It is in vain to contend, that, because we cannot find time to master all science, therefore we should seek for none; that, because we cannot understand all the details, we should never learn the elements; that we should seek to know every thing, or know nothing; that one should stop short at the first step in knowledge, because he cannot compass the universe. The same line of argument would go to the utter prostration of all intellectual attainments. It would furnish to ignorance its best vindication, and to indolence its boldest excuse. We should not consult a library, because it were a vain attempt to read all the volumes; we should not hear a lecture, because it did not embrace and exhaust all the science; we should disdain to hear one, who taught important truths, because he had not himself travelled round the farthest limits of human knowledge.
A just estimate of human life and human wants will lead us to far different conclusions. We are perpetually admonished, that life is short, and art is long, and nature is inexhaustible. Our destiny allows us, at best, but a narrow choice of objects of pursuit ; and our leisure, brief and transient as it is, admits of little variety of indulgence. We must content ourselves with getting knowledge by snatches; with gathering it up in fragments; with seizing on principles and results. We must welcome every mode, which abridges labor, and supersedes personal search. We must take the easiest demonstrations and the most simple enunciations. We must follow that, which is the ultimate object of all improved processes in the arts, to save labor, insure certainty, and husband time and resour
More than this can belong to the attainments of few, even of the most gifted minds. Less than this ought not to satisfy any one, who is conscious of the end and aim of his being; and who feels, that, in the proper pursuit of happiness here, he begins the race of immortality.
I have thus far spoken principally of the advantages of lectures upon the elements of science. But the same remarks apply with equal force to select disquisitions upon literary topics of general interest. In truth, literature is so abundant in its products of all sorts, whether for instruction, or pleasure, or ornament; whether to gratify the taste, or improve the morals, or enlarge the understanding; whether for the purpose of civil duties, or political education, or
intellectual discipline; that the task of selection is of itself not unattended with difficulties, and requires talents of no ordinary character. The literature of a single language, ancient or modern, is perhaps beyond the grasp of any single mind; but the literature of all languages, or even of those within the pale of European fellowship, would require more than an Atlas to carry it on his shoulders. All that can be done, under such circumstances, is to follow Lord Bacon's advice, and “read by deputy.”
But what strikes me of quite as much value, in such enlarged studies, as any which has been mentioned, is the delightful contemplation it affords us of the successful labors of other minds. We are brought into direct and active sympathy with men of genius in every age. We become witnesses of their toils, their disappointments, and their sufferings. We learn the slow and tedious steps, by which eminence has been acquired. We see the result of patient investigation and cautious sagacity. We trace the progress of discovery and invention, from the first clumsy process, or the first accidental guess, to the last glorious result. We see how the slightest incident leads gradually on to the most sublime truths ; how facts, apparently the most remote, converge to the same ultimate point; how human ingenuity conquers obstacles apparently insurmountable; and how human enterprise gathers courage even from its very defeats. What can be more curious, or more affecting, than the history of many discoveries? In the midst of poverty and disappointment, the discoverer is sometimes condemned to pursue his solitary studies. He wastes his health and his resources in experiments, which seem ever on the point of success, and yet mock his toil and delude his hopes. At length the discovery comes. But does it always reward his toil ? No-it but too often happens, that it is received by the public with a cold, reluctant indifference; or is put in operation, to his ruin, by some more thrifty competitor. Sometimes, indeed, as in the case of Galileo, it subjects him to a prison ; sometimes it sends him, like Dolland, to his grave, “unwept, unhonored, and unsung”; sometimes it leaves him, like Fulton, to witness fortunes reared by others upon his labors, and yet, to find himself destined to fall a sacrifice to the vindication of his right to his own discovery. These are some of the misfortunes, which affect us with lively sympathies for the benefactors of mankind. On the other hand, we are warmed, and sometimes dazzled, by the brilliant successes of genius. Who has not felt his soul melt within him, at the liberal ease and modest competence, which crowned the life of Newton? Who has not rejoiced in the opulence, which followed upon the labors of Watt, and Arkwright, and Franklin, and Davy ?
But that, wbich fills us with the deepest admiration, is the wonderful workings of genius, in its own silent studies and its inmost feelings. We see how it learns to thread the mazes of nature, and unfold her laws; at one time, tracing out the hidden causes, which link time to eternity, and earth to heaven ; at another time, descending to the most minute operations of her power, in the dark mine, or the dripping cave, or the invisible air; and, at still another time, applying its subtile analysis to the decomposition of bodies, until at last we seem in the very presence of the monads, whose miraculous vitality startles us into terror of our own delicate structure.
It is in the contemplation of such minds, and such discoveries, that we lose all grovelling thoughts and vulgar passions. We rise into a higher moral grandeur of desire. We relish holier views of our destiny. We see, that these are but the first fruits, or rather buds, of immortality. We enjoy the consciousness, that they are but emanations from that Almighty Being, who has formed and fashioned us from the dust, and breathed into us a portion of his own uncreated and eternal spirit.
And this leads me to remark, in the last place, that there is nothing so well adapted to make us feel a sincere and glowing devotion, such a lively sense of a present Deity, as a wide survey of the operations of nature. It is not by a few reflections alone, on the order and harmony of the visible universe, that we are brought to a just conception of the existence or attributes of God. It may even be doubtful, if the demonstrations of wisdom and design are more affecting, or more striking, in the power of the unsleeping ocean, or the rushing cataract, or the terrific earthquake, or the blazing volcano, than in the silent forms of crystallization, the infinite combinations of the gases, the microscopic perfection of the insect tribes, or the almost superhuman contrivances, by which the lowest order of beings builds up its coral continent for the dwellingplaces of man. Who would imagine, if he were not told, that the very law, which retains the planets in their spheres, enables the fly, by means of the pressure of the atmosphere, to walk securely on the ceiling over our heads, by an artificial vacuum instinctively made by its feet? that the very oxygen, which lights up and sustains the ignition of matter, is the same admirable principle, which carries on the circulations of our own blood, and keeps