Sidebilder
PDF

1

American Steam Navigation.

127Alone sufficient to sustain the war;

Seven orbs within a spacious round they close,

One stirs the fire, and one the bellows blows.

The hissing steel is in the smithy drowned,

The grot with beaten anvils groans around.

By turns their arms advance in equal time,

By turns their hands descend, and hammers chime;

They turn the glowing mass with crooked tongs,

The fiery work proceeds with rustic songs."

Although the science of our own day has not succeeded in forging the bolts of Jove, it has, by the discovery of Franklin, drawn them harmless from the sky. If modern art seeks not to perfect the axletrees of Mars, it has finished other axletrees which run along our railroad tracks with greater speed than those fabulous chariots of antiquity. If it has not embossed upon the shields of our warriors the Roman triumphs of the race of Julian, its patriotism has impressed upon the soil in our public works, and the present political condition of our people, as enduring a record. If it does not work in Cyclopean caverns, and form the celestial armory of the gods, it has moulded the wheels and ponderous beams of the steamengine, that have conquered the ocean and the land by the clockwork of machinery. If it does not renew the golden scales of the snake that writhed upon the shield of Pallas, it has decorated the gilded and floating halls of our steamships with rich painting, repeated their carved oak, their embroidered carpets, and their tapestry in the reflected light of the mirror, and adorned them with all the appliances of a palace. It is this application of the fine to the useful arts that constitutes a marked feature of the present age. We have divested Vulcan, the blacksmith of the mythology, who has come down to us as the personified type of mechanical labor, of his most odious features. We have left in his hand his own sledgehammer, and added to it the compass and the broadaxe. In the other we have placed the painter's pallet and the chisel of the sculptor. We have enrobed his form with a garment, woven from modern looms, more beautiful than the Tyrian purple, and garlanded his brow with a gorgeous crown that we have gathered from the wheat-sheaf.

If such have been the results of steam navigation in advancing colonization and production, within a period of only thirty-three years, since Fulton first launched his steamboat upon the Hudson, what are the natural and necessary consequences that will be produced upon the country by this agent within the next half-century 1 Although parties and sects will continue to disagree, steam will so concentrate the opinions of the remotest portions of the republic, and so illuminate the mind, that it will be brought into general unison and co-operation. By multiplying the means of national intercourse, it will strengthen the bonds of national amity; for the lines of our steamships, running from state to state, will be like so many chains of adamant to bind them together. It will carry out the doctrines of our glorious constitution. It will be the messenger of the press in distributing its productions far and wide, productions that are even now, in their number, poured down upon the national mind like the paper snow-storm of a theatre. It will multiply the comforts of life in innumerable forms, as they have already been multiplied by this agency, to an unmeasured extent. By opening new channels of communication into the interior, it will lay open the vast agricultural resources of the country, and transport them to their best markets, both at home and abroad. What man who has occasion to travel any considerable distance from his own door does not now feel its influence upon his own personal comfort? It will work out even greater convenience by its constantly progressive improvement, so that to journey from the orange groves of Florida to the pine forests of Maine, from the port of New York to the Falls of St. Anthony, will be as easy as to repose in a parlor upon a silken ottoman. It will stretch along the thousand hills and valleys of the west the rejoicing harvests of autumn, and enliven them with myriads of bleating flocks and herds. It will crowd our coasts with a hundred cities, and people our shores with foreign immigrants. It will bring Philadelphia, and other interior ports, to the very shores of the sea, and crowd their harbors with commerce. It will give to the republic one national heart, and one national mind. The southern planter, who now reposes in patriarchal simplicity amid his cotton and rice fields, will be kindled with new energy, as the steamboat or steam-car rushes by his door. The trapper of the northwest will have left his canoe, and turn from the pursuit of the hunter to that of an agriculturist, shipping his wheat to the market in a steamship. Who doubts that steamboats may at some future time ply upon our canals, or that the Archimedian screw may supply the place of paddle-wheels, and double their speed?

But steam navigation will not only produce marked improvements upon the physical condition of our interior; it will throw us more directly upon the great highway of the world, for a journey across the ocean has now got to be a matter of but little moment, and will bring us nearer to the interesting associations which for ages have been clustering upon the domain across the water whence we sprang. By casting us into more direct contact with other nations, it will liberalize our minds, and while we survey the political miseries of foreign governments, we shall be induced to cling more strongly to our own constitution, and love our country more. It will increase the throbbing of the national heart, as new and exciting scenes break in upon us, and induce the workings of that national thought, which, like the swelling and heaving of the ocean, conduces to purity and vigor. It will be the handmaid of civilization, the agent of that commerce which ransacks all the treasures of the sea and of the land, and pours them in exhaustless profusion into the broad lap of nations. It will consolidate the union of this vast empire, now the only just government upon the earth, whose liberty and law, the spontaneous will of the people, invigorate all, as the all-pervading air.

Steam navigation is republican. It opens its ample halls to all, where they may in common discuss the affairs of state, as they move along upon its vapory wings. It multiplies a thousandfold the power of the individual man. It augments his strength to that of the Macedonian phalanx. Steam cares not for bad roads and adverse breezes. Formerly the mariner, before he sailed from the port, deemed it a matter of prudence to watch the heavens and take due heed of the winds. Now he oils the machinery of his engine, and advances into the sea, bidding defiance to the wildest storms that plough up the billows of the mid-ocean. Before its introduction into this country, three days were the shortest period generally occupied in a journey from New York to Boston, even if the traveller was enabled to reach the latter port within twice that time, by reason of bad roads and head winds. The cost of the journey was seldom less than twelve dollars. Now, the same distance may be made with precision in fourteen hours, and for the petty sum of five dollars. Thus, in a single passage between the two places, more than half of the time and more than half of the money are saved. The conveniences for travel are so rapidly improving, that a party of pleasure to Prairie du Chien or Fond du Lac will in a few years be as common as a journey to Saratoga or Niagara is now. Steam navigation will soon have its ships, of peace and of war, prowling around our coasts, and advancing into every inlet and bay where a freight can be taken in and a cargo landed. Connected, as it soon must be, with the numerous railroads that intersect the country, it will quicken into greater activity the enterprise of every village within our borders; so that the nation will be, in its impulses and energies, as one great metropolis. But our steamships will not only float upon every shore, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the agent of commerce, the producer, the civilizer, the enlightener, the peace-maker of the nation; they will be instrumental in diffusing abroad the light of our free constitution, that light which is now glowing in mild glory before the eyes of oppressed nations throughout the earth, like the star that beamed above the fields of Judea, the herald of justice and of peace.

[graphic]

Akt. II.—COMMERCE AND COMMERCIAL CHARACTER*

The interest I take in the Mercantile Library Association, and the pride I feel in having assisted in its planting, and contributed in some small degree to its growth, have accustomed me to respond with pleasure to every call which it makes upon me, and to contribute my humble efforts to promote its laudable objects.

In this spirit I appear before you on this occasion, not as a contributor to the intellectual fund on which its members are about to draw, but in the less pretending character of a porter, whose duty it is to open the door of the temple, and disclose the fair vista in which may be seen, as in some fairy palace, the flowing streams of useful knowledge, illumined by literary gems of goodly lustre; and where the flowers of fancy and the fruits of experience unfold and ripen, to be gathered by the hand of youthful emulation. In this humble capacity I am content to remain in the vestibule, until, with you, I am permitted to partake of the banquet provided within.

Gentlemen of the Mercantile Library Association :

It is a pleasing and not unprofitable task, on occasions like the present, to look back to the origin of your institution; to revert to some of the circumstances which have marked its progress; to exult in its present condition; and to indulge in hopes of its future prosperity: these topics, though they may want the charm of novelty, are interesting, and afford encouragement to your future efforts to promote the success of your undertaking.

It is now twenty years since a few young men, merchants' clerks, hav

* An address made before the Mercantile Library Association, as an introductory to their course of lectures, December 7, 1840, by Philip Hone, Esq., now first published in the Merchants' Magazine, by request of the board of directors. VOL. IV.—NO. II. 17

ing come to the delightful conviction that "wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness," first sowed the seeds from which sprung this wide-spreading, healthy, and productive "tree of knowledge;" from an obscure apartment in Gold street, a small streamlet modestly stole forth, which, irrigating and fertilizing in its course the channel through which it passed, and receiving supplies on all sides from the tributary streams of public favor and private benefaction, increased, until it has become a mighty river, giving power to, and rendering practical the theories of science, and conveying upon its bosom the rich merchandise of knowledge. The nucleus of the library, consisting of a collection of books, less in number than the stock in trade of the itinerant bookseller who has his stand at the corners of our streets, has increased to twenty-three thousand volumes, of which number three hundred are issued daily; and the little band of a dozen associates now numbers five thousand, of whom, as nearly as can be calculated, about four thousand are regularly paying members.

For the character of the works contained in the library, I take pleasure in referring to the learned and elaborate Catalogue Raisonnee and Index, compiled by Mr. Edward C. Johnston and Mr. Thomas Delf, under the judicious superintendence of the board of directors. Nor can 1 withhold my humble praise from the valuable little volume, entitled " A Course of Reading," recently compiled for the use of the members, by my venerated friend, Chancellor Kent, in which that eminent jurist has characteristically contributed from the stores of his diversified learning, to direct the steps of the youthful traveller in the paths of knowledge.

Within the last three years, classes have been formed under the control and care of the institution, for the study of the modern languages, elocution, mathematics, book-keeping, penmanship, drawing, chemistry, natural philosophy, and astronomy, from which many of the members derive great advantage; and, in some branches, (particularly the modern languages, writing, and drawing,) even those who may have had the advantages of a classical education, do not find their time unprofitably employed.

To the liberality of the trustees of Columbia College, your association and that of Clinton Hall are each indebted for the valuable privilege of a gratuitous nomination to two scholarships in their highly-respected institution.

On the 21st of February, 1828, a meeting of merchants and others was held at Masonic Hall, of which my respected predecessor in the office of President of the Board of Trustees of Clinton Hall, the late William W. Woolsey, was President, and Jonathan D. Steele, Secretary. This meeting was convened for the purpose of expressing the sense of the citizens of New York generally, on the occasion of the death of Governor De Witt Clinton, which melancholy event had occurred on the eleventh day of that month. At this meeting, at which I had the honor of assisting, and offering the resolutions which were adopted, a plan was proposed "for permanently assisting the Mercantile Library, by erecting a building to be styled 'Clinton Hall,' in honor of our late illustrious chief-magistrate, who presented the first volume to the library."

The attention of the merchants had been for some time previously directed to the infant institution, which had found favor in their eyes; and they embraced with avidity the opportunity then offered, combining two leading motives of mercantile action, prudence and liberality, by assisting those who had shown the disposition and ability to assist themselves; while at the same time, an occasion was offered to express their respect for the memory of the merchant's friend and the city's benefactor.

The impulse thus given was crowned with success. Three hundred shares, of $100 each, were subscribed, and a board of trustees elected, whose first duties were to purchase the ground, and commence the erection of the edifice. The following list of the names of original subscribers, of two shares and upwards, is presented at this time, not with the expectation that this public record of their liberality may meet their approbation, but to bring to the members of the Mercantile Library Association a recollection of their early friends.

John Jacob Astor, and Arthur Tappan & Co., each subscribed ten shares; Peter Remsen, John Hone & sons, and John Haggerty, each five shares; John W. Leavitt, four shares; David Austin, Thomas Brooks, William W. Woolsey, Ogden, Ferguson & Co., and Samuel Whittemore, each three shares; and Richard Varick, John Lamb, Otis Loomer, Benedict & Oakley, N. L. & G. Griswold, Hamilton, Donaldson & Co., Reed, Hemstead, & Sturges, and Sands, Spooner, & Co., each two shares. Others also are entitled to the gratitude of the institution, whose subscriptions of one share each were equally liberal in proportion to their means; and praise is due to all, when the circumstance is considered, that no expectation of pecuniary returns could possibly be entertained.

The trustees having purchased an eligible site, and plans being agreed upon, and the contracts made, the corner-stone of the substantial and commodious edifice in which I have now the honor to address you, was laid with suitable ceremonies, on the 20th of July, 1829; Isaac Carow, Esq., vice-president of the chamber of commerce, officiating on the occasion.

The building was completed with reasonable despatch, and on the 2d of November, 1830, it was dedicated to the use of the association, and the library removed from its humble place of sojournment to permanent apartments, more commensurate with the state of prosperity to which it had already arrived, and its future hopes, which have been so signally realized.

In the prosecution of this work, all the trustees assume to have done their duty, but it would be unfair to deny, that to Mr. John W. Leavitt, one of our number, the credit is most especially due. With the same zeal and perseverance which prompted him to take the most active part in establishing the institution and raising the necessary funds, he assisted in preparing the plans and making the contracts, and his vigilant superintendence marked every step of its progress to the final completion.

The funds raised by subscription were known to be inadequate to pay for the ground and building, and a debt was contracted, amounting originally to twenty-two thousand dollars. The trustees expected to discharge this debt in a few years out of the rents of such parts as were not required for the use of the library. The progress of liquidation has been more tardy than they anticipated, owing to the rapid increase of the library, its consequent demands for extended accommodations, which diminished the rents, and the expensive alterations to adapt them to its use. Of this debt twelve thousand dollars remains unpaid, which balance will be gradually reduced, until, in a few years, the period will have arrived, when, by the articles of association, no use will remain for the surplus revenue over the expenses but its appropriation to the increase of the library. And

« ForrigeFortsett »