« ForrigeFortsett »
EVERY individual, however obscure, owes duties to society at large as well as to other individuals and to himself
. To enable him to perform those duties, it is important to enquire for what purposes society was instituted, and is maintained. If we conceive of man in a state of ignorance and barbarity, about to enter into society, we may suppose his inducement to be the protection from violence which it will afford him, whether of individuals or of hostile tribes, and the security with which he will be enabled to provide for the gratification of his animal wants. But in society he will find other gratifications, of a higher nature, such as he had not previously conceived. He will find the pleasure of knowledge, in which no great pro.. gress can be made but by mutual incitement and instruction and the concurrence of many minds. He will find the pleasure of mutual benevolence, and that by contributing to the happiness of others, he promotes to the highest degree his own. He will find, with respect both to knowledge and virtue, that there is enjoyment in their mere possession and exercise, independently of their results in his condition. He will find the feelings which prompt him to take an interest in the community in which he lives, and to promote its improvement, prosperity and honor, sources of the highest gratification.' He will find that as others are more highly cultivated, morally and intellectually, his own security and happiness will be increased. Natural wanis will become the sources of elegant arts ; animal passion will be refined into moral sentiment, and all afford enjoyment more exquisite as more refined. We may pronounce, then, that though it be an indispensable object of civil society that its members should be protected, whether from domestic fraud or violence, or foreign force, yet its great and highest pur: pose is to promote in the highest possible degree the moral and intellectual cultivation of all its members.
It is said by Burke,“ Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts, for objects of occasional interest, may be dissolved at pleasure--but the State ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved at the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all per: fection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those vho are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular State is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, lioking the lower with higher natures,
connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact, sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.
All of us owe duties to all the members of this great partnership... We owe them to the dead-to record their actions-to cherish their fame, wherein they were worthy, and to vindicate them wherein they had been misrepresented—to perpetuate, and as far as we can, improve and perfect the knowledge, the freedom and the good institutions which they have transmitted to us. As the most eloquent orator is most sensible of the power of eloquence; as the greatest poet is most alive to the charm of poetry, so those who are capable of great and generous actions will be most disposed to cultivate “the worship of the great of olul.” The disposition to venerate what is great and excellent, is an essential part of a well composed moral constitution, and nothing can express more strongly the idea of a people utterly depraved and debased, than to say that among them nothing is held sacred. We owe these duties to the living. He who receiving the benefits of this great association, is indifferent to its improvement and prosperity, and consulis only his own ease or interest, abandons the great pur: poses of existence, and violates in the most criminal degree his duty and his faith. We owe them to those who are to be born to transmit to them the inheritance of knowledge and of virtue ; and that they may have cause not only to love but to be proud of their country, to transmit to them an honest, and as far as we can, an elevated fame. As we have received a country improved and allorned by the cares and labors of our ancestors, a debt is imposed on us, which we can only pay by transmitting it still more improved to posterity.
To enable us more effectually to discharge these duties, we profess to be the
purpose for which this society was instituted. In setting about a great enterprise, which concerns the public welfare, the first step of preparation -to borrow the expression of a man of genius--is "to purify our own hearts”--to be sure that we honestly and faithfully intend a good and generous purpose, and that no selfish or malignant passion, even unknown to ourselves, mingles with our motives and prompts us to action. Thus we obtain the best assurance of success by the confidence which will be inspired in ourselves and in those whose co-operation we shall-require. And if along with the loftier motive, there should mingle, as there must and will and ought to mingle, the desire of honorable distinction for ourselves, to be perfectly sure that this is in subordination to the general useful and honest purpose. And it is not only public enterprises, commo:ly so called, that sequire this preparation. Every great work should be set about in the same spirit -intending some useful or beneficial result beyond what directly concerns ourselves alone. And I will say that no truly great work was erer accomplished, which was not thus inspired. Dr. Johnson says that Paradise Lost might justly be expected from the noble aspiration of Milton, when he promises to undertake something that may be of use or honor to his country
" This is not to be obtained but by fervent prayer to that eternal spirit that can enrich with all uiterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar to touch and purify the lips of whom he
pleases. To this must be added industrious and select reading, steady obser: vation and insight into all seemly and generous acts and affairs Till which in some measure be compast, I refuse not to sustain this expectation." In this spirit and with such aspirations we hope that we have formed our society.
The objects of human kuowledge are commonly divided into physical, or natural, and moral science; and though the boundaries of these are not in every instance exactly defined, yet the division is sufficiently accurate for our present purpose. Even if I were competent to the task, the consideration of the whole circuit of human knowledge would be too extensive an undertaking for the occasion ; I shall therefore confine myself to the presenting some views in relation to certain topics of moral science, such as I suppose to be connected with the forming of the moral and intellectual character of the State. And let me not be supposed to undervalue the cultivation of physical science. It is true I believe that no sort of knowledge has been successfully cultivated amongst any people, where every sort of knowledge was not cultivated. The nations and the ages which have ex.celled most in science, have excelled most in literature, in arts and arms.
It has been observed that great men appear in constellations, and it is rare indeed that an individual, by the force of his own genius and exertions, can raise himself greatly above the level of those minds by which he is surrounded. But it is not always necessary that to produce this emulation and mutual excitement which is necessary to high excellence, the individuals should be engaged in the same pursuit. Genius is fired by genius, in however different a direction il may display itself, and the success which crowns persevering and generous exertion in one pursuit, stimulates to similar exertions in another. If not essential, it is certainly very advantageous to the higbest cultivation of any one department of science, that the individual should
possess a general acquaintance with the whole circuit of human knowledge. It is said by Bacon that “no one can justly or successfully discover the nature of any one thing in that thing itself.” No one will attain to the highest excellence in any profession or intellectual pursuit, whose knowledge is confined exclusively to that profession or pursuit. The acuteness, as well as the enlargement of mind, which is formed by the study of moral subjects, is fit preparation for the pursuit of physical science. The masculine energy and power of attention which is requisite to the attainment of mathematieal science, will be suitable discipline for the successful prosecution of any other intellectual pursuit whatever ; for there is no human pursuit in which these are not required. And what is calculated to inspire higher moral conceptions, than the observation of fitness, order, beauty and intelligence through the whole of the physical creation ?
Under the head of moral science are ranked the philosophy of intellect; morals, properly so called, which relate to the formation of character and the conduct of life, laws, and politics. History, so far as it is philosophy teaching by example, must also be regarded as moral science. To this must likewise be referred the productions of imagination, poetry, and fictitious narrative, and, indeed, in their highest purposes, the whole of literature and the fine arts. It is not my purpose to enter into a detailed and separate consideration of these several departments of moral science; but to point out some portions of them which seem to be peculiarly adapted to our pursuit.