Page images
PDF
EPUB

head of the benignant influences at work in society. Indeed, it is the mother of them all. Modelled by unerring wisdom, and charged with a divine message to man, it stands out distinctly and pre-eminently above all other instrumentalities employed for the improvement of society. Having its origin in the rude beginning of things, and gradually developed with the spread of our race, it has everywhere assumed the chief responsibility in the instruction and guidance of man through this world of sorrow and trial to a happier home on high. And it has everywhere proved itself equal to the task. It took our race in its infancy, and, confined to a single branch of the human family till it became thoroughly established in the earth, and thence reaching out its arms towards the other branches, it has gradually gathered in one nation after another, till it now promises, by the clearest indications, soon to embrace the whole race of man. And wherever its influence has extended, its course has been marked by light. Even the schoolboy may trace it upon his map. The bright lines of civilization are everywhere coincident with the borders of the Christian church. Whilst nations have risen and fallen, and thrones been established and overturned, through the depths of ages and amidst the wreck of human schemes of government and social reform, the church has held on her steady course, ever in the advance of society, and ever beckoning it on to higher purity and perfection. And it is just as much ahead of society now as it ever was. schemes of human improvement which each age begets may work in co-operation with it, but in just so far as they are at variance with it, they must fail. No age has been more prolific in such schemes than the present, and none has put forward its claims to pre-eminence over the church with more confidence. “Great thinkers” are let fall upon the earth in these days, who have thought out systems much more plausible than that of the Bible, and projected institutions which are entirely to supersede the Christian church! Every petty reformer claims precedence of the established minister of the Word, and looks down upon him with pity, if not with contempt, as the expounder of obsolete ideas. Peace Societies, Temperance Societies, Abolition Societies, Mutual Relief Societies, and even Railroad Companies, are regarded by many as more efficient reformers than the church. We do not doubt that in their sphere much good may be done by such societies, but their claim to pre-eminence above the church is scarcely less than ludicrous. Some of them may survive the temporary causes which gave rise to them, and

The petty be acknowledged as permanent blessings to man; but we predict that the next generation, in reviewing the wondrous schemes of reform with which the age labors, will be compelled to say of most of them, with the caricaturist of the style of Dr. Johnson, “ The parturient mountains brought forth muscipular abortions.” But among these “ abortions,” we are persuaded, will not be reckoned the lyceum.

[graphic]

It contains, we conceive, a permanent element of good, though it cannot by any means be ranked with the Christian church. Indeed, it has no very direct connection with religion, otherwise than, as it professes to impart knowledge on all subjects indifferently, it may touch upon this ; and as all true knowledge tends to virtue, may promote virtue by imparting instruction.

The lyceum too, as we conceive, is below the school, as a beneficent instrumentality to man. They both work, to be sure, in the same line, but in very different ways. The school is thorough, systematic, and continuous in its efforts, while the lyceum is superficial, discursive, and occasional. The school, in its various forms of college, gymnasium, academy, &c., is the great educational institution for society, and occupies about the same position in intellectual, as the church does in moral affairs. It is subordinate to the church, it is true, and owes its origin and chief support to it, and is really one of her instruments, but the most polished and effective at her command. It is the product of the concentrated wisdom of ages in all parts of the civilized world. Its organization extends through the whole community, embracing a gradation of schools adapted to all ages

and capacities, sustained by immense contributions of wealth, and embodying in its books the results of the scientific labors of all time. The brightest and profoundest men in the community are engaged in conducting its affairs, to which they give their daily and nightly study and toil. Extending thus over the whole community, providing for the intellectual wants of all classes, furnished with the best books, men, and means for imparting knowledge the most successfully, and conducting its operations systematically and continuously through the year, how preposterous for any mere temporary means of information, addressing itself merely to the eye or ear, injecting knowledge into the mind, as it were, from without, or swathing it in, as in a cold-water sweat, to pretend to vie with the school in importance! The tendency of the age in everything is to exaggeration. And because now and then some subordinate means of improvement is discovered,

16

VOL. XV.NO. LX.

which has not been employed by the established institutions, these institutions are at once condemned, and the newly discovered and more flashy arts are commended as far better fitted to occupy their place.

Thus the lyceum lecture, having its proper place, and useful in its place, has been thrust forward by some shallow minds as a substitute for the drill of the school. According to this class of illuminati, the world is all wrong in the matter of education. There is no need of all this expenditure of time and toil and money in educating the mind! The venerable practices of drilling

, flogging and screwing are but remnants of the dark ages, and should be immediately abandoned for lecturing and other gentler processes! Knowledge, instead of being beaten into men's heads, should be poured into their mouths by the spoonful! Thus, as in other cases, a thing good in itself is prejudiced with sound minds, from the exaggeration with which its claims are set forth. But abating all exaggeration, we look upon the popular lecture as of very considerable value for educational purposes. It is a sort of spoken review. It embodies the results of private study, condenses or selects from the views of others, reports the progress of science and the arts, and this in such a style and with such accompaniments as to secure the attention and apprehension of common minds. It thinks for those who will not think for themselves, and even reads to those who cannot read. It holds an important place, therefore, as an educational instrumentality, though not so high a one as is sometimes claimed for it.

But the lyceum, in its true position, is the antagonist of the theatre, not of the school, nor of the church. This is the only proper idea of it. It is a protest against the theatre. It had its origin in the desire to substitute something more wholesome in the place of the theatre. It looks upon

human nature as it is, and endeavors to make the best of it. Those who cannot be attracted by the church or the school, it would at least keep from going to the devil. And there is a large class of such in every community-of persons whose characters are unformed, whose minds are unsteadied either by thought or devotion, but who float along with the current of things, the sport of every influence, the victims of every temptation. In this class are included most young persons, the hope of every community, who, full of life and animal spirits, must be interested in something, and if nothing improving presents itself, fall into sinful indulgences. With such the first step in the downward course is generally to the theatre, as this is at the same time the most pretending, the

[graphic]

XOX to

most attractive, and the most respectable means of fashionable dissipation. The lyceum is antagonistic to all enticing pleasures, but is especially so to the theatre, because it works something in the same line. Both make use of thought and language as their instrument, though in very different ways; the one as the principal thing, and the other as a convenient medium for exhibiting persons and action. The idea of entertainment is subordinate in the lecture, but predominant in the play. The lecture is didactic, the play artistic ; the lecture instructs, the play acts. With the mass, at least, the play derives its chief interest from the personation of character and action, from the individual actors, their costumes, their movements, their attitudes and situations. The sentiment is but little heeded, which, besides, is not of a nature to impart useful knowledge. It addresses itself almost wholly to the eye, or the passions through the eye, and hence, by varying movements and scenery, may please all who have the power of seeing. Doubtless the play-house has produced some of the noblest specimens of literature in every language, and has left a possession for all ages in such dramas as Hamlet, the Prometheus Bound, and the Clouds; but the great mass of plays are of a very different character from these. The drama is like statuary or painting, it is susceptible of the highest degree of ideal representation and the lowest degree of vulgar imitation ;-it may create from human elements something greater and more perfect than man, or represent with exaggerated prominence deformities, indecencies, and vulgarities, from which the veil should never be raised. Its character depends very much upon the audience. It is determined to please, at all hazards, and hence panders to the public taste, however depraved. Its great defect is that it has no middle ground of solid utility to rest upon. Its perfection consists in a high degree of ideality, which but few can appreciate, and hence it generally descends to low imitation, which the most vulgar can perceive and relish. And here, precisely, is the grand point of difference between the play and the popular lecture. The lecture would please as well as the play, but it would "please only to edification.” It rests ever on the solid middle ground of utility. It is necessarily didactic, and hence has but little scope for pandering. This alone is sufficient to make a strong line of distinction between the lyceum and the playhouse.

But it is often objected to the lyceum, that it is entirely unrestrained in the selection of its topics, and hence is free to

select improper, as well as proper ones. On the same ground one might object to freedom of speech and thought in general

, as many indeed have objected and still do object to it. But the question is fully settled that thought and speech must be free, and whether this be regarded as an evil or not, it is the part of wise men to recognize the fact, and act accordingly. In these days everything is at the mercy of thought, It pries into everything. Institutions the most sacred and venerable are liable to be undermined or exploded by it. And our objecting to it will not prevent these results either. Thought will work, and language will give utterance to its workings, whether we will or nill. This is the grand movement of the age, and the only proper course for wise and good men is, to put themselves at the head of the movement and control it. There is much that is impracticable and unwise on this point in the Christian community. Because all the influences in society cannot be guided quietly along in the old channels and under the control of the old agencies, the staid portion of the community, who have been in the habit of having things in their own way, and who managed them very well, too, while it was possible to do it after the established methods, withdraw themselves more and more from public affairs, till they almost realize the Oriental idea of a philosopher, symbolized by an enormously thick-shelled tortoise, with his head and extremities drawn in from all contact with earth, and completely imbedded within his impervious crust. But such withdrawment accomplishes nothing, completely nullifies, indeed, the influence of the man; and when at length, aroused from his profound repose by external commotions, he timidly thrusts out his head from his encasement to discover the cause, he finds himself, perhaps, with the whole community, tossed by the convulsions of a final overthrow. The truth is, freedom of thought and action necessarily disturb old agencies and cut out new channels of influence. Perfect freedom always tends to individuality, and hence to more multiplied ways of thinking and acting. Progress implies a previous state of imperfection, and at every step is a protest against the past. În the nature of things, this process of separation among those who, under less light, agreed, must continue to go on till truth and right being more universally established, men will unite in a higher and more comprehensive unity. The movement has fully commenced, and the most important question to be decided by the Christian community of the present age is, what course they should take in this general breaking up and reorganization of things.

« PreviousContinue »