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GENTLEMEN,-In obedience to your call, I appear before you to-day, to offer my contribution to the entertainment of your literary festival. The sight of these academic walls, the manifest enthusiasm of so many young men looking forth from these walks of study and accomplishment upon the world, where they hope to reap honor and success, most vividly recall to my memory the emotions which, at the most susceptible period of life, were roused in my bosom, when from the midst of embowering trees the spires of a university first rose upon my sight. There had trod the good and the great of former generations. There they had amassed those treasures and formed those habits of honorable exertion, all unconsciously it is true, which made them the lights of the succeeding age. The same path is open to all, and ignorance of the future, of which we so much complain, then at least stands our friend,
* An oration, delivered before the Literary Societies of Marshall College, 1842.
inasmuch as it opens to all the boundlessness of hope. The scenes of that most interesting and eventful period of life were passed through, with its various alternations of success and defeat, and now, at the distance of fifteen years, I come back from that world which you are so soon to enter, to offer you the counsels which the lessons of those fifteen years have taught me.
The subject which I am to present to your consideration on this occasion, is the appropriate education and the peculiar duties and responsibilities of professional men in America. I have chosen this subject as most interesting to young men, the object of whose residence here is, in most cases, to fit themselves for some sphere of professional life.
It is not necessary, I take it for granted, to prove to such an audience as this, that the professional men of America exert, as a class, the most controlling influence over its destiny. It is so from the stern republicanism of our institutions, which has decreed the total absence of every thing like hereditary castes in society. In other countries, by the institutions which secure to a few a larger division of property, and the hereditary right of legislation, a class is created, which, from position alone, exerts a controlling sway over the masses. Few though they be in numbers, they contrive to monopolize
nearly the power to themselves. Pride prompts them, and wealth enables them, to obtain the most finished education that their natural indolence will allow. Their manners have the irresistible sway of fashion, and their opinions and prejudices have a currency, of which, in a republican country, it is impossible to conceive. Original talent and professional eminence are overshadowed and overborne by the hereditary aristocracy, lose their independence, and are led to cultivate those arts and habits which will make them acceptable to the few, rather than form that character which will enable them to win the respect and guide the destiny of the masses. Here, in this land of absolute freedom, native talent and laudable ambition have no such impediment in their path. Every man has precisely that amount of influence to which he is entitled by his capacities, his education, his character and position. The members of the professions necessarily exert the widest influence, not because their original endowments are greater, nor because they are disposed to usurp a control not readily conceded by the community to which they belong, but because, devoting themselves to the acquisition of knowledge, and the cultivation of the intellectual powers, the position they assume in society, and their extensive intercourse with their fellow men, enable them to act on wider circles
and with greater force than any other class. Such being the case, it is of the highest importance that they should receive the best education which the country can afford. And, paradoxical as it may seem, I believe they do receive as good an education, that is, as well calculated to attain its objects, as the profes sional men of any other country. I mean, of course, those who are educated at all. This leads me to speak of the ends and objects of a liberal education.
I count it no small part of the advantages of our condition, as a new and original people, that our literary institutions are the native offspring of the soil, and not offshoots from the antiquated stocks of European institutions. They have grown out of the wants of the people, and are therefore calculated to meet those wants. They are swathed and cramped by none of those outworn forms and prejudices which mar and disable similar institutions in the old world. There, the scholastic usages of the middle ages still linger, and consume the most precious years of life, and exhaust the energies of the mind in learning what after all is almost entirely useless. There, is still committed the egregious folly of pursuing education as an end instead of a means. There, years are sacrificed to gain the useless accomplishment of being able to dispute in Latin, or the
still more useless faculty of writing that language with the elegance of Cicero. As well might a man practise with bow and arrows in order to gain expertness in the use of fire-arms. With them, across the Atlantic, he is a great man at college who has gained a given quantum of dry mathematical knowledge, while, perhaps, in obtaining it his mental vision has become so contracted that he is incapable of observing either man or nature. Hence, there is with them a thing utterly unknown among us, a generation of mere scholars, mere abstractions in the world, men who know Greek, and Latin, and mathematics, and nothing else-Dominie Sampsons, who can tell you all the minutiae of the Attic and Ionic dialects, and solve any problem in the differential calculus, and at the same time can hardly tell you whether they have on the same clothes they wore yesterday, and when pushed out into the world, are found as helpless, except in their peculiar province, as a man from the moon dropt suddenly among sublunary beings. From these great follies, thanks to our youth and ignorance of the past, we are happily delivered.
The rigid utilitarianism of our countrymen inquires what are these things worth? The public, on whom the professional man is to act, speak the English and not the Latin language. His power over them will depend on his skill in