« PreviousContinue »
be supposed to be injurious or fatal to unsettled authority. According to the degree of confidence which any government has in its own stability, will, in general, be the liberty allowed to the expression of the public sentiment, and in proportion to this liberty will be the proficiency made in literary pursuits. Nor must this freedom of opinion and expression be confined to particular subjects. Debarred of expatiating at large on those important subjects which involve the regulations of society, in politics, in morals, in manners, and in religion, the human faculties become contracted, devoted to minute and trivial discussions, and unable to operate with vigour and effect, even upon those subjects which are permitted to their research.
"It has therefore seldom been in the power of an absolute monarch, to afford a degree of literary liberty equal to that which the people enjoy under a mixed or popular form of government; and with whatever liberality it may be granted, being the bare concession of the sovereign, it is neither so certain in its duration, nor so extensive in its effect, as that which is founded on right, and defined by known and established laws. In a government legitimately constituted, the freedom of enquiry and expression is a permanent principle, interwoven with the existence of the state; in an absolute monarchy it is temporary and accidental, depending on the character and will of the prince, and may be suppressed or extinguished, whenever he may conceive that his interest or his safety requires the adoption of such means.
"There is a striking distinction between a despotic and a popular government, as applied to the improvement of the human mind; in the former, as the administration of public affairs is concentrated in an individual, who is jealous of any interference in the exercise of his authority, a large field of enquiry is shut out from the investigation of the people, when the chief encitement to exertion is the hope of those favours and rewards, which the sovereign may think proper to bestow; but in a state, which partakes of the nature of a popular government, the path to distinction, to wealth, to honour, and
importance, is open to all, and the success of every individual will, in general, be in proportion to his vigilance and talents. The studies of literature are only a reflection, or shadow, of the transactions of real life; and he who is a stranger to the hopes and fears, to the passions and emotions, which agitate the mind in the affairs of the world, will only repeat the ideas of others, but will never attain that originality and strength of thought, which is only derived from close examination, and long observation of real life.
"Among the external causes that deaden the operation of the intellect, and destroy the vital principle of exertion, few have been more effectual than a state of public insecurity, and a long continuance of desolating wars. The circumstances in which all Europe was placed, during the middle ages, when, for a long course of time, one species of desolation was followed by another, in quick succession, and the world was thinned in its number by pestilence and famine, the sword exhibited too certain a cause of the deep debasement of the human mind, and of the almost total relinquishment of liberal studies. In the arrogant estimation of brutal strength, wisdom and learning are effeminate and contemptible; and when those qualities are little esteemed, the attainment of them will no longer excite exertion.
"It then appears that a state of general tranquillity, and a government that admits of a free exertion of the mind, are indispensably necessary to intellectual improvement. It would, however, be in vain to expect, that the arts and sciences should flourish, to their full extent, in any country where they are not provided, or accompanied by a certain degree of stability, wealth, and competency, so as to enable its inhabitants occasionally to withdraw their attention from the more laborious occupations of life, and devote it to speculative enquiries, and the pleasures derived from the works of art. Whenever any state has allowed this enviable preeminence, and enjoys also the blessings of civil and political liberty, letters and arts are introduced, not as a positive convention of any people, but as a natural and unavoidable result.
"It is not merely on industry, but also on the proper appli
cation of industry, according to the natural situation and productions of a country, that its prosperity appears. Of all employments, the cultivation of the earth, as it is the most indispensable, is the most natural to man; and an attachment to the country seems interwoven in our very constitution. The pursuits of agriculture tend, not only to promote that competency which is requisite to our individual support, but, at the same time, to inspire those dispositions and feelings which are the source of intellectual enjoyment, and result in the productions of literature and taste. Instances might be adduced, both in the ancient and modern times, where the prosperity, and even refinement of a nation, has been chiefly raised upon the basis of successful agricultural pursuits.
"The effect of manufactures is different, and, upon the whole, not so conducive as agriculture, to the formation of intellectual character. It tends to increase the wealth of a country; but, it is much to be feared, that the unavoidable tendency of these employments is, to contract or deaden the exertion of the intellect, and reduce the powers of the body and mind to a machine.
"Of the connection that has, from the earliest ages, subsisted between commerce and intellectual improvement, the records of the human race bear constant evidence. The perfection and happiness of our nature arise, in a great degree, from the exercise of our relative and social feelings, and the wider these are extended, the more excellent and accomplished will be the character that will be formed; and we find, that in every nation where commerce has been cultivated upon great and enlightened principles, a considerable proficiency has been made in liberal studies and pursuits. It is not possible for us to repress our exultation at the rising prospects and rapid improvement of our own country, or to close our eyes to the decisive evidence which every day brings before us, of the mutual advantages which commerce and literature derive from each other. Not only in the nietropolis, but even in the commercial towns of the United Kingdom, academical institutions are formed, and literary societies established, upon different plans and different resources, but all of them cal
culated to promote the great object of intellectual improve
"It is not, by the mere laborious and serious occupation only, to which we have before adverted, that a nation is raised to honour and prosperity. Strange and novel as the assertion may appear, it is no less true, that the advantges and enjoyments which these studies and pursuits afford, are not only obtained without any expense to the country in which they are encouraged, but that they actually repay, in wealth and emolument, much more than they require for their support. To what are all the astonishing improvements lately made in manufactures, in mechanics, and in chemistry, to be attributed, but to the incessant researches of those distinguished individuals, whose talents have been exerted to improve the products of the soil, and to abridge the necessity of human labour?
'It would, however, be as degrading to ourselves, as unjust to the dignity of science, to estimate her importance only in a direct and pecuniary point of view. Are the powers of the mind to be considered merely as subservient to the accommodation of our physical wants, or the gratification of our selfish passions? Whatever is wise, beneficient, or useful in government, in jurisprudence, in political economy, is the result of her indefatigable exertions: exertions which always increase with the magnitude of the object to be attained.
"Nor are the arts, connected with design, as painting, sculpture, and architecture, to be considered as drawbacks on the augmentation of national wealth, or as useless dependants on the bounty of a country. How shall we estimate the influx of wealth into the cities of Italy in the sixteenth century, or into Holland and the Low Countries in the seventeenth, as a compensation for those works of art, which continue to increase in value to the present day, and form, at this time, no inconsiderable portion of the permanent riches of Europe? It must be clearly understood, that it is not as a matter of pleasure or gratification merely, or as an object of luxury, that I thus venture to recommend the cultivation of the fine arts,—
my purpose is, to demonstrate their utility. Whoever has attended, in the slightest degree, to this subject, must acknowledge how intimately the improvement in our manufactories have kept pace with the proficiency made in the arts of design; and that these are departments in which these arts, by their sole energies, have greatly contributed to the wealth and reputation of the country.
"I shall, perhaps, be accused of treating the subject in a manner unworthy of myself, and of my audience, by thus seizing upon the arts, whose province is to delight the imagination, and elevate the mind, by chaining them down to labour, in the dull round of pecuniary profit; but if you will protect the arts, the arts will, and ought to remunerate you. To suppose they are to be encouraged upon some abstract and disinterested plan, from which all idea of utility shall be excluded, is to suppose that a building can be erected without a foundation. There is not a greater error than to think the arts can subsist upon the generosity of the public: they are willing to pay for whatever is devoted to their advantage, but they will not become slaves. If, in the infancy of their progress, some assistance should be requisite, such a necessity cannot long exist. The arts can only flourish where they command. Till an artist can produce a work of such merit, as to induce some individuals to prefer it to its value in money, he ought not to expect a reward; it is a bounty and a degradation, and, in its effect, tends to mislead, and not to encourage the art.
"I acknowledge I should be unjust to my subject, were I to rest its pretensions here; and I hope I may be permitted, in a general way, to state the utility and importance of these pursuits. To what mode of expression did the ancients resort, when they wished to perpetuate the achievements of their heroes, or the ideal forms of their divinities, but to sculpture? Nor has this confidence in the immortality of art diminished in our own times. For the heroic deeds, by which so many of our countrymen have, of late years, been distinguished, what has been a higher recompense, or what has marked in a