Page images
PDF
EPUB

and ready to sacrifice truth, integrity, and their country, to their own selfish schemes of personal aggrandizement. From a country cursed with such a government, riches' take to themselves wings and fly away.

PROPER COURSE OF READING FOR THE YOUNG.*

The literary association which have established this course of lectures, by the zeal and efficiency with which they have carried their enterprise into execution, have given the strongest demonstrations of the estimation in which they hold the cause of science and letters. Those, therefore, who have the honor to address you, have the satisfaction of believing that the benefit you have derived from our endeavors, if any such there be, will not be confined to the present hour, but that you will be disposed to keep up the impetus you have received, to drink deep of those fountains from which we have brought but a few drops to your lips, to explore for yourselves those fields whose boundaries, merely, we have pointed out.

You will soon be left to the ordinary motives of self-cultivation, which operate upon the mass of society, and to those means which are in the hands of all.

* A Lecture delivered before the Mechanical Library Association of Baltimore, 1840.

I have thought it therefore not inappropriate to the present occasion to pass in review some of the most prominent subjects of scientific and literary pursuit, and the inducements and facilities which all possess of making themselves conversant with the most important objects of human knowledge. That any one should remain ignorant of any species of knowledge, which he might have acquired, I hold to be a most serious loss to himself and to society. That all, even the most busy, have leisure for these employments, I hold to be demonstrated by the well known fact, that self-improvement bears no proportion to external advantages, that the disposition is infinitely more important than the means to improve, the will creates to itself a way; and the most successful in the long annals of literary and scientific distinction, have been self-taught and self-made men, who have cultivated knowledge under the greatest disadvantages. What is most wanted is zeal, love of knowledge for its own sake; when this is once kindled, half the work is already accomplished.

Our city lies at present under the imputation of utter insensibility to the charms of literature and science. Pride impels us to deny, truth forces us in a measure to admit the charge. These walls have been the witness of our disgrace. A few years ago, a course of lectures was advertised by an able professor on the

most interesting subject of the animal economy, which had drawn crowds of delighted auditors in other cities. The evening came, and about fifty assembled as the representatives of the scientific taste of Baltimore. And lately not a sufficient number could be obtained to form a class for the celebrated author of the “Constitution of man." And is it ever to be so?. Are the ladies of Baltimore-unsurpassed in beauty, grace, vivacity, and loveliness-never to add to their other charms that of high intellectual culture ? Are they always to find more satisfaction in the unseasonable hours, the tasteless forms, the trifling personalities, the vapid entertainments of routs and parties, than in becoming acquainted with the high mysteries of nature and the soul; the wonders of the universe and the immensity of God?

Are the gentlemen of our city, known throughout the world for their courtesy, their enterprise and their honor, never to deem any higher of life than to think that its purposes can be rounded by the narrow circle of business and pleasure ?

I trust the time is approaching which will bring in a new order of things. At least I hope that those who now hear me are resolved, so far as they are concerned, that this reproach shall be wiped off, that in the rapid advance which is every where else taking place in the

development of mind, they will not be left entirely in the rear.

I am first to speak of the means and materials, which are within the reach of all, of intellectual culture. And here I place, as the most important requisite, the habit of personal observation and reflection. God has given to each one of you senses and a soul, to study the universe for himself. Without an early habit of rightly exercising these, little progress will afterwards be made in the acquisition of true knowledge. The mind that has early learned to busy itself in trifles, soon becomes dwarfed in all its faculties and superficial in all its operations. All the opportunities which it enjoys are of course thrown away. It would bring away from an intercourse with a sage no idea above the furniture of his apartment, nothing of Europe but the fashions of Paris, nothing of Niagara but the recollection that the air was very damp. To the eye that is ever open, the observation that is ever awake, to the reflection which digests and treasures up all, every conversation, though with a peasant, is a lesson of instruction, every scene a school of wisdom. Without these the greatest advantages are enjoyed in vain. Extensive reading only encumbers the mind. Learning only enfeebles the powers, and degenerates into tiresome pedantry, rendering its

« PreviousContinue »