« PreviousContinue »
system of chemistry, may all be regarded as new, or recent, sciences. That great desideratum, the longitude, has, virtually, and to most practical purposes, been discovered, by the invention of the chronometer: the physical and abstract sciences and general literature are steadily advancing; geographical discovery is prosecuted with a zeal and perseverance which yield neither to the rigors of an arctic climate, nor to the terrors of an African desert; every mountain and valley, in both hemispheres, is a scene of scientific research; and universal learning, in its numerous departments, is rapidly extending its limits and augmenting its stores.
To the honor of our country, she has, thus far, partaken largely of the spirit of the age. And what a noble field for exertion and improvement now lies before her! In commerce she is second only to a single nation. Her internal resources are inexhaustible; and in native enterprise she yields to no nation on the globe. With a population doubling in the lapse of a single generation; and almost boundless territory, of which the shores are washed by two oceans, and comprehending nearly every variety of soil and climate; with the freest civil institutions existing, and a people intelligent and addicted to inquiry; it may, surely, be said of her, if of any nation visited by the sun, that the means of achieving greatness and glory are at her own command. While her external commerce visits every shore, a spirit of internal improvement has gone forth which nothing can resist. In the mean time, her frontier settlements are rapidly advancing their limits; her population is pressing to the farthest barrier of the west; and the silent and desolate shores of the Pacific will soon resound with the cheering voice of industry, and beam with the light of science. Those neglected regions, hitherto the wastes of nature, are shortly to become the abodes of knowledge, and wealth, and civilized life.
The faculties of the human mind are, at the present
time, in a state of strenuous and emulous activity; and the circumstances of the world afford the amplest scope and highest encouragement to intellectual exertion. unexampled spirit of enterprise is continually opening new sources of improvement in every department of knowledge and every useful pursuit. By the enlarged and still extending intercourse of mankind, every valuable invention and discovery is speedily transmitted "from sea to sea, and from shore to shore ;" and the present generation may gratefully hail the arrival of that auspicious period of which it was predicted, of old, that many should run to and fro, and knowledge should be increased."
Conversation in a Library.-JANE TAYLOR.
A FATHER and his son, having passed some hours very agreeably in surveying the various magnificent apartments of a nobleman's seat, sat down to rest awhile in the spacious and well-furnished library, which was celebrated as containing as complete a collection of ancient and modern literature as any private one in the country. As their eyes wandered leisurely over this curious congregated mass of human thought, reflections natural on such an occasion passed silently in the mind of each, and at length gave rise to the following conversation, which, should it prove somewhat desultory, the candid reader will please to remember that the speakers were fatigued.
Father. What think you, Arthur-should such a sight as this impress us most forcibly with the greatness or the littleness of the mind of man?.
Arthur. With its greatness, surely, should it not? for what an immense number of clever men must have lived
in the world to write such a number of books! and how very clever some of them were !
Father. They were so, indeed, compared with other men; but the question is, whether the united ingenuity and cleverness of all mankind does not rather tend to expose the narrow bounds of human knowledge, and the feeble powers of the human intellect, than to exalt them. It is, indeed, the conclusion which the wisest of men, and the most profound philosophers have come to, as the result of their most laborious researches in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, that the more they know, the more they discover how little can be known.
Arthur. But still, what very useful and ingenious discoveries have been made in science and philosophy!
Father. That is true; and it is one proof of the good sense and superior light of modern times, that the researches of science are now confined to practical purposes, and such as are of real utility; while vague hypothesis and barren speculation are abandoned. But then this very circumstance shows that the limited extent of man's powers and operations is acknowledged by common consent.
Arthur. What an immense sum all these books must have cost! It is at least one advantage of being richhaving it in one's power to possess such a capital library.
Father. Indeed it is however, it is gratifying to reflect that the choicest productions of literature are by no means confined to the opulent; for, although persons in moderate circumstances cannot enjoy the indulgence and luxury of possessing such a complete collection, yet the few works of the few great geniuses that have appeared in the world are so easily procured, as to be within the reach of most persons who are capable of appreciating them. There is no monopoly or aristocracy in literature. Its richest treasures are generally and easily accessible. It is really a curious, and certainly a gratifying thought, that the sublime imaginings of our greatest poet-those
thoughts which were produced at such an incalculable expense of mental labor-are contained in so small a compass (as, indeed, all sublime imaginings must be) that they may be procured for a sum that any decent lad may soon save from his weekly allowance. Thus it is, by the kind and wise arrangements of Providence, that, while great riches and worldly honor are the portion only of a few, and unattainable, generally speaking, by those who have them not; yet that all that is of intrinsic worth in this world-knowledge and virtue-are placed within the reach of every one who diligently seeks them. For with regard to the most important and interesting discoveries of science, the grand results are known even to the vulgar; and the most material facts are of no difficult access. it were necessary to possess all these books, and in their splendid bindings too, in order to know what Newton discovered, or to enjoy what Milton thought, gold would, indeed, attain a value and a dignity which no image or superscription whatever has yet stamped upon it.
Arthur. When one is looking at such a number of books, it is amusing to observe what very different subjects different writers have chosen.
Father. Yes, and it is well they have. We are apt to feel discontent, and sometimes contempt, when we meet with people whose tastes, pursuits and opinions differ widely from our own; yet to this circumstance (the vast variety of tastes, pursuits and opinions that exists amongst men) is chiefly to be attributed the progress that has been made in useful knowledge. Only suppose that all thinking men had been of one opinion on every point of philosophy, and exactly agreed on all matters of taste, how little stimulus would there have been to thought and invention! and what a dull uniformity in the few writings that would have been produced! Nothing, therefore, is more narrow or illiberal, than to regret the diversity of opinion and taste that exists; since it is the grand means which Providence has appointed for
keeping the human mind from stagnation, and for eliciting truth. We should, therefore, learn not only to tolerate but to respect the views and predilections of other people, however they may differ from our own.
Arthur. Yet surely we ought to regret it when we think, and are almost sure, that people are in the wrong?
Father. We ought to be very sure of that, indeed, before we even regret it: there are, however, some errors of opinion, which are so injurious in their consequences, and which show such a perversion of mind in those who hold them, that we ought not only to regret but to counteract them by every fair and gentle means in our power. But there are very widely differing opinions, on less essential points, amongst persons of equal piety, learning and genius; and while it is both curious and instructive to observe this, it is, at the same time, most consoling and satisfactory to remark how, in all things most important, the wise and good agree. Observe that large compartment opposite to us, entirely occupied by works on divinity. Doubtless there is much error and much lumber mingled there with what is valuable and true. Yet, with respect to all those amongst these writers who may be fairly called men of piety, what a happy harmony would, after all, be found to exist in their sentiments! There is, indeed, no consideration more satisfactory to the inquiring mind, than this universal agreement of good men, in opinion and experience, on essential points. Nor is there any reflection more impressive than to consider the weight of argument and force of persuasion which their united testimony affords, as to the importance of the subjects on which they write. Thus the very sight of these books preaches silently as persuasive and eloquent a sermon as can be heard from any pulpit.
Arthur. Then, father, it seems one may, by a little reflection, get more good from the outside of a book than many people do from its contents.
Father. Why truly, it is more profitable to reflect