Imagens da página
[merged small][ocr errors]

INNATE and total depravity is predicated of the whole human race, by the orthodox creed of the contemporaneous Christian Church. We were all, taught in infancy that our hearts are by nature corrupt and prone to “evil and only evil, and that continually ;” that no tendency to virtue inheres in our constitution, while we are full of passions ever impelling us almost irresistibly to vice. And this maternal teaching sunk deep into our souls, as do all well-learned lessons at that impressible seed-time of our being, especially when they come from a parent’s venerated lips. What they, with care and love for us, implanted, it seems almost sacrilege to eradicate, and nothing coull justify the attempt but the tender reflection that God has ever loved us with more than a mother’s affection, and that he has not only given us parents to rely on, obey and believe, during our immature years, but has also endowed us with a noble faculty of reason, to lead us to the truth, which in adult years is the only legitimate object of intollectual homage. Bowing to it alone, we would calmly and earnestly inquire whether the old tenet of depravity is its response to reason, asking about the moral nature of the soul. If we have heard aright, a thousand tones come back from nature, and the harmonious answer is a mighty No. Virtue is not an art, the first principles of which are to be laboriously learned or miraculously inspired. It is no unknown mystery to our nature, requiring for its knowledge thereforefan Elusinian initiation. Oh, no It exists and moves, feebly perhaps and unworthily, but nevertheless vitally. Withinus, within every man, however low and base and criminal, still remains something of his humanity, something therefore of his brother Christ’s exalted nature. Else whence the universal instinct which prompts us to admire and love virtue, to detest and abhor vice, whatever and however numerous may be the defects in our own character This instinct is equally prevalent and potent. It is present no less in the savage heart than in the breast of the enlightened and refined. The wild barbarian feels it, as he chants his uncouth war-song and rushes to his brutal battle, inspiring him to emulate what he admires; and perhaps its influence on him is ever greater than on the sage philosopher, who analyzes thought and feeling in the alembic of metaphysic, or surveys the works of nature, contemplating the intricate machinery and harmonious movements of worlds and systems infinite; or the intelligent scholar, who peruses the history of by-gone days and holds exciting converse with spirits of the mighty dead. It is every where present, prevading the universal heart of man. It will be found a constituent of every soul, affording conclusive proof that our noble, God-born nature, never has been and never can be totally changed, even by the frightful transforming power of temporarily triumphant animal passions. To this deep-seated and divine instinct I refer, as a demonstration that man is not entirely depraved; that he still retains, even in his admitted and lamentable degradation, some resembling lineaments of the great universal Sire in whose image he was made. It is the action of this holy instinct, that leads us to praise the hero, the man of lofty soul ; to hate wickedness wherein we are uninterested, and to despise the niggard whose only thought, object, hope, is self in its narrow sense, as the eating, drinking, sleeping animal me, forgetful of other senses, of more elevated desires, of nobler motives ; unmindful that his highest interest, his most enduring good, is always and can but be inseparably joined with the greatest advantage of the race. I affirm that we cannot restrain our feeling of approbation not only, but of admiration, for moral worth. We are unable to stifle in our bosoms any of those powerful instincts that are there implanted by a mighty hand and for a glorious purpose. We must bow before a great soul; our nature tells us he is worthy and imperatively commands our reverence. But, alas ! how perverted and misdirected do we often find this noble sentiment of respects How prone have all men, in all ages and in every clime, been found, to mistake its proper object and to admire, almost to adore, many whose characters as revealed by their whole lives are justly regarded as foul disgraces to humanity | We find, conspicuous on the page of human greatness and immortality, many names of monsters whose baneful example has proved contagious ; whose greatness really consisted in the magnitude and enormity of their crimes; whose minds were doubtless mighty, their talents undeniably brilliant, but all were prostituted at the polluted shrine of a mad ambition, or some other equally selfish and unholy passion ; and a complete disregard for the rights of others, where they in the least degree interfered with the accomplishment of their own favorite designs. An unhesitating abandonment of every great and worthy principle where its observance required anything incompatible with their plans for selfish aggrandisement, an 6*

inordinate lust for power, and a perfect recklessness as to the consequences to others, of their acts, are characteristics of these historically termed great men, whose names cluster on glory's brightest page, and as such must, with the memorial of their deeds, descend the stream of time. And the more enlightened the world becomes, the more will such characters and their principles be abhorred, until of each such man it will be said, that but for a halo of Tartarean fire, in the beautiful language of Cicero, “Idem tumulus qui corpus ejus contexerat nomen etiamobruisset.” But there is a class of men whom it is duty to admire, whose example it is glory and honor and immortality to imitate. Those master spirits who have flashed up here and there, delegated by Providence to illuminate the darkness of the surrounding horizon ; who have been born and lived and died for the good of mankind ; who, unprompted by selfish passion, have not driven

“Destruction’s ploughshare fiercely o'er creation,”

but have pursued “the even tenor of their way,” ever actuated by the pure desires of acquiring knowledge for useful purposes, and of employing their natural and acquired talents for the advancement of their neighbors’ happiness. Who does not feel an obligation imposed by the self-sacrificing example of such a one Who does not feel that the voice of Conscience, calling to duty, is louder and clearer when she points to a valiant brother victorious o'er temptation ? How eloquent is the bust of a great and good man How sweet and persuasive is the invitation to follow its noble architype, even as he followed our common Master | Full wisely, therefore, have our fathers ornamented many of our public halls with statues, or with portraits, of the venerable founders of our republic. Thus Washington and Franklin, Jefferson and Hamilton, being dead yet speak, from their exalted niches, with the still small voice that, unquenched by a tempest’s tumult, comes with a thrilling tone home to our heart of hearts. In the following notice I will be the mere interpreter of Franklin's lecture to my fellow-countrymen ; and as an interpreter for foreign witnesses in our courts of justice is required to take an oath of fidelity in his highly responsible office, I also swear, faithfully, so far as in me lies, to discharge my most holy trust, and to interpret truly to you that silent voice that issues from the spirit world. The patriot’s life shall speak. Benjamin Fraňklin was born in Boston. The Athens f America produced her Socrates; and on the 17th day of January, 1706, he began to breathe the vital air. His father was fortunately a poor man. I say fortunately, for poverty has often proved the nurse of greatness, while hereditary opulence has enervated and unstrung many a soul of native vigor. The youngest son of a numerous family, he was by his parents designed for the clerical profession ; and perhaps this intention to some extent regulated his infantile instructions, and did something to encourage his naturally meditative and philosophical turn of mind. ' The incidents of his early childhood are unrecorded ; and, as in the case of most great men, we are not allowed to watch the first manifestations of feeling and development of thought—a study which would certainly be most interesting and instructive. At the age of eight years he was entered at a grammar school, where, during a year's attendance, his rapid advancement gave proof of an energetic intellect and an industrious disposition. Even at this early age he was considerate enough

« AnteriorContinuar »