Billeder på siden


[ocr errors][merged small]



GENTLEMEN, If I had consulted my own wishes, I should not have presumed to address you on the present occasion. The habits of professional employment rarely admit of leisure for the indulgence of literary taste. And in a science, whose mastery demands a. whole life of laborious diligence, whose details are inexhaustible, and whose intricacies task the most acute intellects, it would be matter of surprise, if every hour withdrawn from its concerns did not somewhat put at hazard the success of its votary. Nor can it escape observation, how much the technical doctrines of a jurisprudence, drawn from remote antiquity, and expanding itself over the business of many ages, must have a tendency to chill that enthusiasm, which lends encouragement to every enterprise, and to obscure those finer forms of thought, which give to literature its lovelier, I may say, its inexpressible graces. The consciousness of difficulties of this sort may well be supposed to press upon every professional mind. They can be overlooked by those only, whose youth has not been tried in the hard school of experience, or whose genius gives no credit to impossibilities.

I have not hesitated, however, to yield to your invitation, trusting to that indulgence, which has not hitherto been withheld from well meant efforts, and not unwilling to add the testimony of my own example, however humble, in favor of the claims of this society to the services of all its members.

We live in an extraordinary age. It has been marked by events, which will leave a durable impression upon the pages of history by their own intrinsic importance. But they will be read with far

deeper emotions in their effects upon future ages; in their conse-
quences upon the happiness of whole communities; in the direct
or silent changes forced by them into the very structure of society ;
in the establishment of a new and mighty empire, the empire of
public opinion; in the operation of what Lord Bacon has charac-
terized almost as supreme power, the power of knowledge, working
its way to universality, and interposing checks upon government
and people, by means gentle and decisive, which have never before
been fully felt, and are even now, perhaps, incapable of being
perfectly comprehended.

have been marked by brilliant feats in arms.

Wars have been waged for the best and for the worst of purposes. The ambitious conqueror has trodden whole nations under his feet, to satisfy the lust of power; and the eagles of his victories have stood on either extreme of the civilized world. The barbarian has broken loose from his northern fastnesses, and overwhelmed in his progress temples and thrones, the adorers of the true God, and the worshippers of idols. Heroes and patriots have successfully resisted the invaders of their country, or perished in its defence; and in each way have given immortality to their exploits. Kingdoms have been rent asunder by intestine broils, or by struggles for freedom.

Bigotry has traced out the march of its persecutions in footsteps of blood; and superstition employed its terrors to nerve the arm of the tyrant, or immolate his victims. There have been ancient leagues for the partition of empires, for the support of thrones, for the fencing out of human improvement, and for the consolidation of arbitrary power. There have, too, been bright spots on the earth, where the cheering light of liberty shone in peace; where learning unlocked its stores in various profusion ; where the arts unfolded themselves in every form of beauty and grandeur; where literature loved to linger in academic shades, or enjoy the public sunshine; where song lent new inspiration to the temple; where eloquence alternately consecrated the hall of legislation, and astonished the forum with its appeals.

We may not assert, that the present age can lay claim to the production of any one of the mightiest efforts of human genius. Homer and Virgil, and Shakspeare and Milton were of other days, and yet stand unrivalled in song. Time has not inscribed upon the sepulchre of the dead any nobler names in eloquence than Demosthenes and Cicero. Who has outdone the chisel of Phidias, or the pencil of Michael Angelo, and Raffaelle ? Where are the

monuments of our day, whose architecture dares to contend with the Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian of Greece, or even with the Composite or Gothic of later times? History yet points to the pregnant though brief text of Tacitus, and acknowledges no finer models than those of antiquity. The stream of a century has swept by the works of Locke and Newton; yet they still stand alone in unapproached, in unapproachable majesty. Nor

may we pronounce, that the present age by its collective splendor in arts and arms casts into shade all former epochs. The era of Pericles witnessed a combination of talents and acquirements, of celebrated deeds and celebrated works, which the lapse of twenty-two centuries has left unobscured. Augustus, surveying his mighty empire, could scarcely contemplate with more satisfaction the triumph of his arms, than the triumph of the philosophy and literature of Rome. France yet delights to dwell on the times of Lewis the Fourteenth, as the proudest in her annals; and England, with far less propriety, looks back upon the reign of

Queen Anne for the best models of her literary excellence. [ But, though we may not arrogate to ourselves the possession of

the first genius, or the first era in human history, let it not be imagined, that we do not live in an extraordinary age. It is impossible to look around us without alternate emotions of exultation and astonishment. What shall we say of one revolution, which created a nation out of thirteen feeble colonies, and founded the empire of liberty upon the basis of the perfect equality in rights and representation of all its citizens? which commenced in a struggle by enlightened men for principles, and not for places; and in its progress and conclusion exhibited examples of heroism, patriotic sacrifices, and disinterested virtue, wbich have never been surpassed in the most favored regions ? What shall we say of this nation, which has in fifty years quadrupled its population, and spread itself from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, not by the desolations of successful war, but by the triumphant march of industry and enterprise? What shall we say of another revolution, which shook Europe to its centre, overturned principalities and thrones, demolished oppressions, whose iron had for ages entered into the souls of their subjects; and, after various fortunes of victory and defeat, of military despotism and popular commotion, ended at last in the planting of free institutions, free tenures, and representative government in the very soil of absolute monarchy? What shall we say of another revolution, or rather series of revolutions, which has

« ForrigeFortsæt »