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with visions of prospective happiness and earthly glory, and thus set at naught the sober deductions of reason. No wonder, then, that youth from the country are generally led astray by first impressions, on entering one of our large and crowded cities, and sigh to exchange their quiet and peaceful abodes for a residence amid the bustle and noise of the town. It was the opinion of the celebrated Dr. Rush, that human life was abridged ten years, at least, by a residence in cities—and I concur with him. Perhaps a certain degree of excitement is necessary, to awaken and to call into action our mental and physical powers. Excess, however, wastes and destroys both. The case of the inebriate illustrates my position. That abode and that society which presents the most attractions to sense, arouses passion, calls into play the selfish principle, and thus strengthens it in man, is hostile to virtue, and of course destructive to happiness. In large cities this is emphatically the case. In them the population is almost to a man employed in trade, and constant dealing gives rise to duplicity, and attempts to overreach one another. The love of gain absorbs every other consideration. It is the ruling passion of nine-tenths of the inhabitants of popular cities. With them it appears to be the only desideratum. To amass this world's treasure, is the grand point at which all aim, and to which all devote their time, and direct their untiring energies. To accumulate a fortune as speedily as possible — to be able to retire and live upon the income, at ease and in splendor -- is deemed a consideration worth all others. Men, hence impelled by this powerful passion, are not always scrupulous about the means, and those selected are not always honorable nor honest. Unfortunately, in the opinion of the great majority of mankind, the end justifies, and even sanctifies, the means.
I am aware that the spirit of gain also abounds in the country; but there it is not a passion universally prevalent; there it has not acquired such potentiality as in the city. It is confined within reasonable bounds. There the obligations of morality and religion have not wholly yielded to its dominion and power.
It will not be denied, that where there is most temptation, there is the greatest danger, and that in cities there are more incentives to vice
than in the country. To balance this evil, we are told, that in cities there are constant demands upon our charity, and thus are presented the finest opportunities for the manifestation of our sympathies; that here the loftier and holier principles of our nature are perpetually called into requisition, and thus man is made a better instead of a worse being. But frequent appeals to one's sympathy rather tends to blunt the moral sense, and harden the human heart, than to awaken emotions of tenderness, or call forth a display of generosity.
The closer the proximity of men to one another, the more likely to stir up the angry elements of human nature. In cities they come too often into collision to cherish feelings of brotherly regard.
Beside the love of gain, which predominates universally in cities, pride and vanity spring up in rank luxuriance in these hot-beds of vice and immorality. There are few young men of the present day, who would not feel themselves degraded by carrying a bundle through our streets; and to be compelled to wheel a barrow along the pavement, as the illustrious Franklin did, would cause profound
pain and mortification to the dandies of the town. Such, however, is the effect of city life upon the rising generation.
A citizen feels his consequence, and is apt to institute invidious comparisons between the town and country to speak of the latter, its intellect, attainments, and manners — with supercilious contempt. Frequently we hear them boast of the superiority of their talents, the extent of their acquirements, and the polish of their manners. With many this is a theme of repeated discussion, and a perennial source of self-gratulation and enjoyment. I know this is not the case with all. It is the practice only of those whose intellects are barren, whose minds are contracted, whose vanity is unbounded, whose upstart insolence and haughty bearing toward their fellows is precisely in the inverse ratio to their lack of merit. Having risen from the dunghill
, these fellows, like chanticleer, strut and crow, as if they were the legitimate lords and sovereigns of the earth. Far be it from me to sow the seeds of jealousy, or awaken unkind feelings in the country against the town. I rejoice to see them fraternize; it is essential to their mutual prosperity and happiness. But to return.
Give me the country for my residence, with its pure water, its invigorating atmosphere, its golden fields and green meadows, its shady forests and mountain scenery, its' calm and solemn quiet' — for these are friendly to humility
these foster sound morals, promote health, are propitious to intellectual improvement, and furnish the immortal mind of man with rational, substantial, and enduring enjoyment. The quiet of the country speaks to my ear a language far more intelligible, in tones vastly more solemn — breathes into my soul a religion infinitely more holy — than was ever within my hearing proclaimed by the tongue of mortal man.
Possibly some of my readers may think I have been too censorious in my remarks upon the demoralizing tendency of city life, and animadverted with too much severity upon that nondescript animal, the dandy of the town. I appeal, however, for the truth of what has been said, to the tribunal of fact, and am perfectly willing to abide by its arbitrament. If I have done him injustice, there will not be wanting advocates, able and willing enough, to point out my error, by demonstrating the fallacy of my arguments.
Hail, thou bright evening star! I fix my gaze
October 15th, 1836.
E colo descendit γνώθι σεαυτόν.-JUVEN AL.
The Greeks were the only people who studied wisdom. Among other nations, and in other times, its pursuit has been the monopoly of the few. In the earlier ages of the several republics, their lawgivers and statesmen were also the instructors of those whom they governed. They guided by example and precept, and inculcated moral and political knowledge by daily conversation. From the beginning, and in all ages, the Greeks were imbued with an instinctive love of learning. They were governed, both nationally and individually, by a maxim or an apothegm. The seeking of wisdom was a part of their religion. In times of doubt or danger, they always courted the interposition of divine direction through the responses of their oracles.
There was a political philosophy, plain, simple and practical, which preceded the metaphysical subtleties of the schools. Traditionary and sententious, that wisdom is still popularly in vogue, but how different is its application! The maxims of Solon once governed Athens and enlightened Greece: they now constitute the copy-scrawl of the unthinking school-boy; and if, perchance, in after years
he should remember the golden precepts of Grecian wisdom, they are eternally associated with the reminiscence of his painful progress from `pot-hooks' to 'joining-hand!' The 'seven wise men' rank with the seven champions of Christendom, and their learned labors form perhaps a part of the nursery-code, but certainly
do not constitute an item in the modern education of later years. The human mind is now of the growth of centuries; and the first lessons of lisping infancy are gleaned from the master-pieces of ancient learning. The lessons of the great fabulist were written for the instruction of men, but modern discipline devotes them to the entertainment of children. And yet it was so, even in the palmy days of Roman education.
The early wisdom of Greece forms a part of our common stock of knowledge, but its apothegms are received rather as abstract truths, than as the practical and practicable lessons of experience. Like virtue, 'laudatur et alget.' It may not be unpatriotic, even in these times of utility, to regret that the economical precepts of Franklin are better suited to the genius of his countrymen, than those more elevated prototypes recorded by Plutarch.
The sententious philosophy of early Greece exercised an important effect upon the manners and morals of the people. Its precepts possessed the efficacy of laws, and were written upon the public mind as well as inscribed upon their tempies. Of these one of the most celebrated and familiar is contained in our present motto. Its character of divine origin is supposed to have been derived from the circumstance of its being engraven upon the Temple of Apollo, at Delphos. Dr. Johnson, in one of the numbers of the Rambler, regrets that history does not inform us whether this celebrated sentence was uttered as a general instruction to mankind, or as a particular caution to some private inquirer; whether it was applied to
some single occasion, or laid down as the universal rule of life. There can be no doubt that in the primitive eyes of the Grecian states, the condensation of wisdom into such brief and popular sentences was intended for political purposes. part of the patriarchal machinery of a government which strove to enlighten the minds and morals, as well as regulate the conduct, of its citizens. The recitation of maxims of political and general wisdom formed a part of the competition of the public games; and the wise were accustomed to assemble together for the purpose of concerting such precepts as should be promulgated for the public benefit, and to these was insured a publicity equal to that given to the laws themselves. Pliny says that his contemporaries granted to Chilo, one of the reputed authors of our motto, a fellowship with the oracles, by the consecration of three of his maxims, in golden letters, to the Temple at Delphos. These considerations would seem to remove all difficulty in regard to the origin and purpose of the precept now in question.
It might be presupposed that in the progress of mental philosophy man would soon learn a proper sense of the importance of selfknowledge. But, alas ! even in the present era of improvement, as in the degenerate age of the Satirist, we may equally exclaim :
• Ut nemo in sese tentat descendere : nemo! It is the unchanging fate of humanity, that its only teacher shall be experience; and self-knowledge is the last lesson of experience.
The precept know thyself' is sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole life, conduct, and pursuits of mankind :
'Spectandaque rebus In summis, minimis ; etiam cumpiscis emeter.' But although of such general application, it is only as an individual rule, and when applied to particular cases, that it can be made available and useful. What then is its definite meaning and philosophy ? It refers both to our good and our evil qualities. It means not simply that we should understand and control our errors and weaknesses; but it also teaches us to ascertain, appreciate, and develope, the virtues and capacities with which we may be endowed.
Self-knowledge must, necessarily, always be an individual acquisition, and yet it is also the trait of a class. It is an attribute of genius, and must accompany its efforts, in whatever sphere they may be exerted. It is, indeed, the very foundation of its success; for however the divinus afflatus' may assist in the progress of a work, still the project, in its inception, must be based upon a correct appreciation of the varied powers which are to be tasked in its accomplishment. What avails imagination, even in the fine arts, unless assisted by knowledge and self-knowledge ? The 'prophetic eye of taste,' and the learned spirit' in ‘human dealings,' are not alone sufficient for the conception and execution of the immortal productions of the poet and the orator. That deep-felt consciousness of power
which renders all the faculties of mind subservient to the will, is equally required. The self-knowledge of genius is not only thus necessary to the effectual action of the intellectual agents, but it is also boastful and prophetic in its anticipations. We frequently hear of the
innate modesty, the shrinking sensitiveness, supposed to be uniformly associated with distinguished talents. These qualities may have been exemplified in the lives of many, for the true artist forgets himself in his art ; but where is the evidence of their existence in the immortal products of the mind? They are the attributes of life, not of immortality. The fears of humanity may have affected the man, but they touched not his mind. The soul was all confidence, and exulted in the full consciousness of its destiny. The non omnis moriar' has been echoed and rëechoed by all who share in the fulfilment of its prophecy.
Could our precept but find its way to the consciences of that servile band who live upon the petty larcenies of literature, what a revolution might be accomplished! How many skilful manipulators, the scissor-bearers and filchers of small wares, to whom the corps editorial are too often the guilty receivers, would be transferred from their patch-work operations to the more congenial employments of humble utility! But, alas ! this may not be. The troop of jackalls must follow the footsteps of the lion; not feeding upon relinquished garbage, but preying upon the very vitals of the monarch. Man has been defined to be the ‘imitative animal ;' and certain it is, that many always have displayed, and ever will exhibit, this generic trait. As of old, there must be modern Fanii who, ‘ultro delatis capsis et imagine, continue to usurp even the chosen seats of the temple, until they are scourged out with many stripes.
But beside the numerous tribe of poetasters who are afflicted with the imitative cacoethes, there is another class to whom self-knowledge would be peculiarly useful. There are many who have the misfortune to possess the feelings of the poet, without the gift of that expressive power which can hallow the recorded miseries of existence, and lend a meritricious beauty even to folly and depravity. These are they, of whom some mistake taste for talent, the impression for the impressive power, and others who, under the delusion of excitement, voluntarily
'Sit at the altar which they raise to wo,
And feed the source whence tears eternal flow;' whose only hope is despair; who cultivate Byronic pangs, and die, in print, of delicate distress.' How happy, could they but know the unreality of their misery! But this species is the creation of a particular influence, which, in this respect at least, is fortunately on the wane. The clouds and mists have passed away from Parnassus, and gladdening sunshine rests upon its summit. May it be perpetual !
Indolence, that canker of the mind, is not always attributable to the constitutional temperament of the individual. It is sometimes the offspring of ignorance - the effect of a deficiency of self-knowledge and self-appreciation. How often does the full tide of genius pour through the untaught mind, wasting its freshness, and drying up with the fountain whence it springs, undiscovered by the individual, unsuspected by the world! With the eye fixed on vacancy, the dreamer muses idly upon the fairy shapes and hues which glow through the 'wild universe' within; he turns his eye inward to revel on “thick-coming fancies,' and feels conscious of the beautiful pageanfries which glitter in his mental eye; but he understands not the