ページの画像
PDF
ePub

I repeat it, we have no reason to blush for what we have been, or what we are. But we shall have much to blush for, if, when the highest attainments of the human intellect are within our reach, we surrender ourselves to an obstinate indifference, or shallow mediocrity; if, in our literary career, we are content to rank behind the meanest principality of Europe. Let us not waste our time in seeking for apologies for our ignorance, where it exists, or in framing excuses to conceal it. Let our short reply to all such suggestions be, like the answer of a noble youth on another occasion, that we know the fact, and are every day getting the better of it.

What, then, may I be permitted to ask, are our attainments in science and literature, in comparison with those of other nations in our age? I do not ask, if we have fine scholars, accomplished divines, and skilful physicians. I do not ask, if we have lawyers, who might excite a generous rivalry in Westminster Hall. I do not ask, if we have statesmen, who would stand side by side with those of the old world in foresight, in political wisdom, in effective debate. I do not ask, if we have mathematicians, who may claim kindred with the distinguished of Europe. I do not ask, if we have historians, who have told, with fidelity and force, the story of our deeds and our sufferings. I do not ask, if we have critics, and poets, and philologists, whose compositions add lustre to the age. I know, full well that there are such. But they stand as light-houses on the coasts of our literature, shining with a cheering brightness, it is true, but too often at distressing distances.

In almost every department of knowledge the land of our ancestors annually pours forth from its press many volumes, the results of deep research, of refined taste, and of rich and various learning. The continent of Europe, too, burns with a generous zeal for science, even in countries where the free exercise of thought is prohibited, and a stinted poverty presses heavily on the soul of enterprise. Our own contributions to literature are useful and creditable; but it can rarely be said that they belong to the highest class of intellectual effort. We have but recently entered upon classical learning for the purpose of cultivating its most profound studies, while Europe may boast of thousands of scholars engaged in this pursuit. The universities of Cambridge and Oxford count more than eight thousand students trimming their classical lamps, while we have not a single university, whose studies profess to be extensive enough to educate a Heyne, a Bentley, a Porson, or a Parr. There is not, perhaps, a single library in America sufficiently copious to have enabled Gibbon to verify the authorities for his immortal History of the Decline and Fall of te Roman Empire. Our advances in divinity and law are probably as great as in any branch of knowledge. Yet, until a late period, we never aspired to a deep and critical exposition of the Scriptures. We borrowed from Germany and England nearly all our inaterials, and are just struggling for the higher rewards of biblical learning. And in law, where our eminence is least of all questionable, there are those among us, who feel, that sufficient of its learning, and argument, and philosophy, remains unmastered, to excite the ambition of the foremost advocates.

Let me not be misunderstood. I advert to these considerations not to disparage our country, or its institutions, or its means of extensive, I had almost said, of universal education. But we should not deceive ourselves with the notion, that, because education is liberally provided for, the highest learning is within the scope of that education. Our schools neither aim at, nor accomplish such objects. There is not a more dangerous error than that which would soothe us into indolence, by encouraging the belief that our literature is all it can, or ought to be ; that all beyond is shadowy and unsubstantial, the vain theories of the scientific, or the reveries of mere scholars. The admonition which addresses itself to my countrymen respecting their deficiencies, ought to awaken new energy to overcome them. They are accustomed to grapple with difficulties. They should hold nothing which human genius or human enterprise has yet attained, as beyond their reach. The motto on their literary banner should be, Nec timeo nec sperno. I have no fears for the future. It may not be our lot to see our celebrity_in letters rival that of our public polity and free institutions. But the time cannot be far distant. It is scarcely prophecy to declare, that our children must and will enjoy it. They will see not merely the breathing marble, and the speaking picture, among their arts, but science and learning every where paying a voluntary homage to American genius.

There is, indeed, enough in our past history to flatter our pride, and encourage our exertions. We are of the lineage of the Saxons, the countrymen of Bacon, Locke, and Newton, as well as of Washington, Franklin, and Fulton. We have read the history of our forefathers. They were men full of piety, and zeal, and an unconquerable love of liberty. They also loved human learning, and deemed it second only to divine. Here, on this very spot, in the bosom of the wilderness, within ten short years after their voluntary exile, in the midst of cares, and privations, and sufferings, they found time to rear a little school, and dedicate it to God and the church. It has grown ; it has fourished; it is the venerable university, to whose walls her grateful children annually come with more than filial affection. The sons of such ancestors can never dishonor their memories; the pupils of such schools can never be indifferent to the cause of letters.

There is yet more in our present circumstances to inspire us

[ocr errors]

with a wholesome consciousness of our powers and our destiny. We have just passed the jubilee of our independence, and witnessed the prayers and gratitude of millions ascending to Heaven for our public and private blessings. That independence was the achievement, not of faction and ignorance, but of hearts as pure, and minds as enlightened, and judgments as sound, as ever graced the annals of mankind. Among the leaders were statesmen and scholars, as well as heroes and patriots. We have followed many of them to the tomb, blessed with the honors of their country. We have been privileged yet more; we have lived to witness an almost miraculous event in the departure of two great authors of our independence on that memorable and blessed day of jubilee.

I may not in this place presume to pronounce the funeral panegyric of these extraordinary men. It has been already done by some of the master spirits of our country, by men worthy of the task, worthy as Pericles to pronounce the honors of the Athenian dead. It was the beautiful saying of the Grecian orator, that “ This whole earth is the sepulchre of illustrious men. Nor is it the inscriptions on the columns in their native soil alone, that show their merit; but the memorial of them, better than all inscriptions, in every foreign nation, reposited more durably in universal remembrance, than on their own tomb."

Such is the lot of Adams and Jefferson. They have lived, not for themselves, but for their country; not for their country alone, but for the world. They belong to history, as furnishing some of the best examples of disinterested and successful patriotism. They belong to posterity, as the instructors of all future ages in the principles of rational liberty and the rights of the people. They belong to us of the present age, by their glory, by their virtues, and by their achievements. These are memorials which can never perish. They will brighten with the lapse of time, and, as they loom on the ocean of eternity, will seem present to the most distant generations of men. That voice of more than Roman eloquence, which urged and sustained the declaration of independence—that voice, whose first and whose last accents were for his country, is indeed mute. It will never again rise in defence of the weak against popular excitement, and vindicate the majesty of law and justice. It will never again awaken a nation to arms to assert its liberties. It will never again instruct the public councils by its wisdom. It will never again utter its almost oracular thoughts in philosophical retirement. It will never again pour out its strains of parental affection, and in the domestic circle, give new force and fervor to the consolations of religion. The hand, too, which inscribed the Declaration of Independence is indeed laid low. The weary head reposes on its mother earth. The mountain winds sweep by the narrow tomb, and all around has the loveli

ness of desolation. The stranger guest may no longer visit that hospitable home, and find him there, whose classical taste and various conversation lent a charm to every leisure hour; whose bland manners and social simplicity made every welcome doubly dear; whose expansive mind commanded the range of almost every art and science; whose political sagacity, like that of his illustrious coadjutor, read the fate and interests of nations, as with a second sight, and scented the first breath of tyranny in the passing gale; whose love of liberty, like his, was inflexible, universal, supreme; whose devotion to their common country, like his, never faltered in the worst, and never wearied in the best of times; whose public services ended but with life, carrying the long line of their illumination over sixty years; whose last thoughts exhibited the ruling passion of his heart, enthusiasm in the cause of education; whose last breathing committed his soul to God, and his offspring to his country.

Yes, Adams and Jefferson are gone from us forever-gone, as a sunbeam to revisit its native skies—gone, as this mortal to put on immortality. Of them, of each of them, every American may exclaim

“ Ne'er to the chambers, where the mighty rest,
Since their foundation, came a nobler guest,
Nor e'er was to the bowers of bliss conveyed
A fairer spirit, or more welcome shade.”

We may not mourn over the departure of such men. We should rather hail it as a kind dispensation of Providence, to affect our hearts with new and livelier gratitude. They were not cut off in the blossom of their days, while yet the vigor of manhood Aushed their cheeks, and the harvest of glory was ungathered. They fell not as martyrs fall, seeing only in dim perspective the salvation of their country, They lived to enjoy the blessings earned by their labors, and to realize all which their fondest hopes had desired. The infirmities of life stole slowly and silently upon them, leaving still behind a cheerful serenity of mind. In peace, in the bosom of domestic affection, in the hallowed reverence of their countrymen, in the full possession of their faculties, they wore out the last remains of life, without a fear to cloud, with scarcely a sorrow to disturb its close. The joyful day of our jubilee caine over them with its refreshing influence. To them, indeed, it was “a great and good day.” The morning sun shone with softened lustre on their closing eyes. Its evening beams played lightly on their brows, calın in all the dinity of death. Their spirits escaped from these frail tenements without a struggle or a groan. Their death was gentle as an infant's sleep. It was a long, lingering twilight, melting into the softest shade.

Fortunate men, so to have lived, and so to have died. Fortunate, to have gone hand in hand in the deeds of the revolution. Fortunate, in the generous rivalry of middle life. Fortunate, in deserving and receiving the highest honors of their country. Fortunate in old age to have rekindled their ancient friendship with a holier flame. Fortunate, to have passed through the dark valley of the shadow of death together. Fortunate, to be indissolubly united in the memory and affections of their countrymen. Fortunate, above all, in an immortality of virtuous fame, on which history may with severe simplicity write the dying encomium of Pericles, “No citizens, through their means, ever put on mour

ing."

I may not dwell on this theme. It has come over my thoughts, and I could not wholly suppress the utterance of them. It was my principal intention to hold them up to my countrymen, not as statesmen and patriots, but as scholars, as lovers of literature, as eminent examples of the excellence of the union of ancient learning with modern philosophy. Their youth was disciplined in classical studies; their active life was instructed by the prescriptive wisdom of antiquity; their old age was cheered by its delightful reminiscences. To them belongs the fine panegyric of Cicero, “ Erant in eis plurimæ litteræ, nec eæ vulgares, sed interiores quadam, et reconditæ ; divina memoria, summa verborum et gravitas et elegantia ; atque hæc omnia vitæ decorabat dignitas et integritas."

I will ask your indulgence only for a moment longer. Since our last anniversary, death has been unusually busy in thinning our numbers. I may not look on the right, or the left, without miss ing some of those who stood by my side in my academic course, in the happy days spent within yonder venerable walls.

“ These are counsellors, that feelingly persuade us, what we are," and what we must be. Shaw and Salisbury are no more. The one, whose modest worth and ingenuous virtue adomed a spotless life; the other, whose social kindness and love of letters made him welcome in every circle. But what shall I say of Haven, with whom died a thousand hopes, not of his friends and family alone, but of his country? Nature had given him a strong and brilliant genius; and it was chastened and invigorated by grave, as well as elegant studies. Whatever belonged to human manner and pursuits, to human interests and feelings, to government, or science, or literature, he endeavored to master with a scholar's diligence and taste. Few men have read so much or so well. Few have united such manly sense with such attractive modesty. His thoughts and his style, his writings and his actions, were gorerned by a judgment in which energy was combined with candur.

.

« 前へ次へ »