« PreviousContinue »
with this state of mind, all efforts and combinations to obtain such possessions, all banking associations, insurance companies, fur companies, copartnerships in trade, compacts of all sorts to lay a grasp on the main chance,' are the most reasonable things in the world. Nothing is visionary here but what fails; not the South Sea Company, till the bubble bursts; not the cotton or woollen factory, till the stock falls fifty per cent. But a Lyceum, a combination among the people to obtain knowledge, and especially scientific knowledge, a knowledge of such things as the air, and the light, and the stars, an ideal good, a bubble at the outset, a thing that cannot be put on the file of bonds and deeds, nor served up in the feast, nor made anything of in any way,-why, says our wise man, the project is chimerical! And forthwith he begins to talk about Utopia, and Oceana, and Arcadia, and sundry other things that have no real existence.
But knowledge is itself a good, and a real good. And the Lyceum that, in ten years' successful operation, adds twenty per cent. to a man's knowledge and enlargement of mind, will be, at least, as much valued by him, as the bank that, in the same time, adds twenty per cent. to his estate. The sort of knowledge that comes under the denomination of scientific, it is true, must, at least a portion of it, be sought for its own sake; and the defence of it is, therefore, to be put on that ground. We say, then, that the knowledge of nature, in those respects which have the least to do with men's business, is of itself a most delightful acquisition. To stand amidst the works of the wonderful Architect, as their admiring interpreter; to look around, not with the dull, unconscious gaze of mere animal sensations, but to comprehend, in their qualities. and uses, the things that we behold, the air, the sunshine, the storm, the lightning; to see all things rising in their order, and moving in their harmony; to stand, as did the first man, and call by their names' all things that pass before us,' is to take one of the noblest and happiest positions on earth; and fittest, too, for the lord of this lower creation. The bare classification of outward objects is of itself a great pleasure. It is this, in part, that accounts for the enthusiasm of the mineralogist. Mineralogy, at first view certainly, is a very dull science. And yet its votaries take journeys on foot; endure storms, cold, hunger, and weariness; traverse extensive districts; scale lofty mountains with an eagerness that seems
almost like mania; and all this they do, not to put gold in their purse, but to put a few useless stones in their cabinet. Now, whatever be the cause, here is undoubtedly a great deal of pleasure. The huntsman has not a keener; no, nor the miser, nor the voluptuary. And the objects which yield this satisfaction are abundant, are common, are everywhere to be found. The stones in the street, the dull walls by the wayside, present to the eye of the mineralogist well-known and interesting forms and qualities.
But if the dullest things in nature yield this pleasure, what must its brighter, its more beautiful, its living forms? its plants of every shape and structure, and birds of every plumage, and animals that sport in all its elements and regions? Let our Wilson tell,-for our country was his by adoption, who lived among the birds, made them as it were his companions, and understood their notes, as if they had been the voices of his children. Let the venerable Blumenbach of Germany tell, who has pursued the study of natural history till the period of eighty, with undiminished enthusiasm and delight. Or, to take singly the phenomena of vegetation, what a secret world of wonders is there in every plant? It seems unfortunate that any man should pass through one spring season, and understand nothing of these most curious and beautiful processes, that are going on all around him. Growth, vegetable growth, which to the ignorant is a bare and naked fact, to the scientific eye is a history, a whole history of things, the most interesting to every intelligent mind. Survey it throughout, from its foundation silently and mysteriously wrought in the dark and senseless earth, till it rises up to the stately plant, or the towering forest tree; examine its interior structure; trace the firm and tough fibres that give it strength to resist the storms amidst which it flourishes; observe the ducts and channels carefully laid in it, to convey streams from the rich fountains of life below; mark its numerous cells, those secret laboratories of nature; and then consider the liquid sustenance, carried to its topmost bough and its outermost leaf, with no forcing pump to raise it, and conveying each particle to the exact place and position where it is needed, by a process of secretion that seems like mystery, and mystery it is ;-survey this exquisite and wonderful workmanship, and who, we ask, would not know something of all this? Who would not give a little time to procure so great
a satisfaction? Who can be content to pass through the world in ignorance of these works of his Creator?
But there is another view of the intellectual good to be derived from such sources. Scientific knowledge supplies objects to the mind, that help to preserve it from stagnation, ennui, and melancholy. Something has been before said about the want of time for scientific inquiries. To this it has been answered in general, that there is time enough if it be well husbanded and improved. But to put this answer in the form of an indisputable fact, we say, that a great deal. of time is actually occupied with reading among the mass of the community around us. There are many persons, who are not students, but who spend some hours every week in the perusal of the light and fictitious works, that crowd, almost to the exclusion of all others, the shelves of our circulating libraries. Now one great evil of this sort of reading is, that it trains no mental faculty, and awakens no intellectual effort; that, although it arouses the passions, it leaves the mind passive to the impressions made upon it. No intellect is more void of activity, more fatally dull, than that of the worn-out novel-reader. Scientific researches would produce a wholesome action, a salutary curiosity; and the gratification of this taste would not be confined to the pent-up room and the waning lamp, but would attend the cheerful walk, amidst the light and breezes of day, and the rich and fair scenes of
There is much need of this kind of excitement. Most people want more to think about, and especially more that is useful, interesting, and worthy of a rational nature. In truth, there is a great deal of dulness, of mental sluggishness, in the mass of society. If it were not for the newspaper and the novel, our people would not know how to wear away the heavy hours allotted to them. But these do not sufficiently answer the purpose of excitement, not to say that one of them does not answer it in the best manner. Besides, our country is more destitute than any other of public entertainments, of public and professed holidays; and many of the simple resorts of this nature, the bees' and 'huskings,' are disappearing from our farm-houses, giving place, it may be feared, to grosser stimulants, to more solitary and sadder pleasures. All this, it is true, may not be so much felt in the immediate circle of commercial pursuits, of active and enVOL. XXX.-No. 67.
grossing trade, and hazardous speculation. But it is felt abroad in the land, where no deep risks or keen rivalships agitate the people, and no evening assemblies, no theatres nor shows invite them. The long winter evenings pass wearily and heavily in many a habitation. This is a people, then, one might think, ripe for the great modern project of improvement, ripe for Lyceums and library societies; too intelligent to sit down stupidly and think of nothing, and as yet too little supplied with objects. And if the more active classes, in our cities and villages, less need such resorts as we propose, on one account, they need them more on anothFor it were well, if it were possible, to calm down these agitating excitements of trade. It were well, if by any possibility it could be done, to make people feel that there is something valuable in this world besides money. It would be a truly republican project, too, to bring all classes of our citizens together, in the equally ennobling pursuit of knowledge.
Do our people, then, crave entertainment? Nature stands before them as a mighty storehouse of materials. The showman, the manufacturer of fire-works, has nothing like this. It would furnish to the people one grand and perpetual fête. It would open scenes of enchantment, and miracles of art, beyond all that theatre, or royal palace, or the fabled halls of oriental magicians could offer. The entertainment, too, would be comparatively cheap. Less than what it now costs to dress up artificial scenery, and yet, if the theatre could be the noble school that it ought to be, we should not object to it ;-less than what is given to pay for the feats of jugglers, mountebanks, and dancers; and less, far less than what it costs to distil the wholesome fruits of nature into poison, would be sufficient to unfold the secrets and wonders of this mighty treasure-house.
In the light of this contrast indeed, were it fully displayed, the contemplation of human folly would be perfectly overwhelming. If all that has been done, and expended, and lost, by the abuse of nature to purposes of gluttony, intemperance, luxury, vanity, and vitiating entertainment, had been devoted to the knowledge and cultivation of nature; and then, if all the boundless sum of treasure, toil, and life, that has been sacrificed in bloody and barbarous wars, had been converted to the same rational and beneficent use, it is impossible to describe or imagine the improved and happy condition in
If all human power,
which the world would now be found. wealth, activity, zeal, and ingenuity had been fairly brought to bear upon the world's improvement and welfare, a scene would have been presented, to which the fabled Arcadia of the poets would be as the simple field to the well cultivated garden. The earth would indeed have been as the garden of God.' Means of communication, means of comfort might have been provided; broad and beaten pathways might have been opened through mountains and forests, to convey the blessings of civilization, and the greetings of affection, to the uttermost regions; fair cities and marble palaces and temples might have risen in every wilderness; rich groves and bowers of peace and contentment might have covered every plain, now barren and desolate, and oftentimes stained with blood. There need have been no ill-constructed habitations, no damp and loathsome hovels, no scantily provided board, no gaunt and haggard visage of hunger, no looped and windowed raggedness'; and, comparatively, there need have been no disease, nor vice, nor misery,-at least, no such frightful masses of these evils, in the whole world. And yet, when we propose to turn the human mind to a consideration of the powers and uses of nature, when we propose to raise it from these dreadful and wasting delusions to knowledge, virtue, and religion, we are asked, as if the world had never proceeded upon any other rule,- What use is there in all these things?'
We say, to religion; and upon the tendency of a knowledge of nature to awaken a rational, habitual, and fervent piety, we must add a few remarks in close.
Among the qualities of the human character, it seems to us that piety has been, least of all, wisely and successfully cultivated. And we speak of the cultivation of piety now, as one of the great interests of mankind. This is not the place to enter into the reasons, why it is to be thus regarded. But that it is a spring of lofty sentiments, a direct source of happiness, a promoter of virtue in its noblest forms; that it is a needful refuge for human weakness, and an interpreter of what would otherwise be life's troubled mystery; that it is, moreover, a most reasonable homage of creatures to their Creator, we shall consider as positions undisputed by those to whom we choose at present to address ourselves.
But although it is thus the interest, and, we might say, the