« AnteriorContinuar »
MY CLASSMATES :
PERHAPS there will never occur a period in our lives, characterized by so many and so important changes as the present. To-day, from having been under the control of others, and under the guidance of mature years and faithful experience, we are thrown upon the resources of an individual judgment; to-day, we sever associations which have not only united us by most familiar ties, but have given an immutable die to our characters; to-day we transfer our labors from the limited sphere of self-improvement to the exercise of our faculties upon the great system of American society ; to-day, from having been taught we become teachers ; to-day, we stand on the outset of life with advantages which not one in a thousand possesses of the seventeen millions who claim the same birth-spot; and it is in view of this last consideration only, that I ask to-day-where ought we to stand in our country's history? What is the worth of Learning, that we have spent the flower of our life in its acquisition ? WHEREIN CONSISTS ITS TRUE DIGNITY, AND HOW SHALL IT BE BEST MAINTAINED IN THE FIELD NOW IN REALITY BEFORE US?
With these thoughts practically in view, I propose to occupy your attention on the present occasion.
During the primitive ages of the world, the elevation which learning gives to individual character, was little appreciated ; and to the cultivated ancients it was but an intellectual habit, or at best, a shrouding up in mystery, and then—the end.
True, many schooled in learning were accredited supernatural vision, and reverenced as a higher order of intelligences ; but in this event, dignity accrued not to learning for itself, but to the supposed vicegerency of Heaven. It had then only its seasons of ascendancy; and it was under a princely patron that Socrates, and Hesiod, and Eschylus, and Phidias, wrought so mightily in philosophy, history, the drama, and arts. For centuries on did learning writhe under the iron thrall of despotism ; but years ago the beautiful revelations of science in the heavens and on earth ; the studied records of the past, throwing their blaze of light upon civil polity ; the increased vigor and cope of the human understanding, from its newly found aids of philosophical induction and analysis, baffled the energies of monarchs, who looked to
" High raised battlement, and labored mound,
Thick wall and moated gate,"
as the types of national strength. Nor was it strange that in this event, when ambition saw a way of advancement by individual effort—when the mind became awakened to the possession of resources of which it had before slumbered unconscious, that all should grasp eagerly at learning, and devise methods of attainment that should lead many astray, and the end be forgotten amid the thousand means for arriving at Truth ;—that nations suspicious of the slightest control, should in their pride cry out as one man for more and more freedom, forgetting that while they had a mind made for liberty, they had also passions which must be governed by some authority above them and out of their reach ;—that learning should run into a thousand vagaries, and the very consciousness of ability to attain intellectual power so intoxicate the passions as to make them paramount. In view of these facts, I ask again, wherein consists the true Dignity of Learning ? And I answer, in an independence of all save truth ; in a consistency regulated only by the same severe standard, and in a strict subordination to morality.
When Learning concedes a dependence on any other sovereign than Truth, it is no longer learning, but only a gross debasement of its title. In science, civil economy, or philosophy, it can never conduct to accurate results if it once forsake its natural guardian. But the danger is not that learning will relinquish its independence in these higher pursuits, so much as in the common transactions of life; yet the danger is no less imminent when its purity is prostituted, where its influence is most seen and felt. Popular prejudice, political partisanship, and individual passion are then powerful antagonists of the true Dignity of Learning. Uneducated mind, possessed but in a small degree of the more important truths in science and national conduct, may effect comparatively little harm by violating its allegiance to truth ; but with learning the evil is at the fountain, whence should flow the fertilizing streams of the whole moral world.
Yet it matters not how strictly and unflinchingly the judgment decides for truth and opposes error, except the tenor of the outward life be regulated thereby. Consistency is this avowal of truth in action. And it is a very dangerous step to deny in action the dictates of a truth-seeking and a truthgrasping mind; whether it be in the sphere of philosophical inquiry, or in the practical details of life. And shall I add, that when actions deny each other, or actions the judgment, the superiority which cultivation bestows loses its dignity, and man, from having attained the power of thorough inquiry and correct decision, scorns its office ?
Subordination to morality, I need hardly affirm to be essential to the dignity of all human inquiry ;-morality as comprehending man's duties to his fellow and his Maker. To