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THE METHOD OF NATURE:
AN ORATION DELIVERED BEFORE THE SOC CIETY
AN ORATION DELIVERED BEFORE THE SOCIETY
OF THE ADELPHI,
AUGUST II, 1841.
GENTLEMEN, -Let us exchange congratu
lations on the enjoyments and the promises of this day and this hour. A literary anniversary is a celebration of the intellect, and so the inlet of a great force into the assembly of the learned, and through them into the world. The land we live in has no interest so dear, if it knew its want, as the fit consecration of days of reason and thought. Where there is no vision, the people perish. The scholars are the priests of that thought which establishes the foundations of the earth. No matter what is their special work or profession, they stand for the spiritual interest of the world, and it is a common calamity if they neglect their post in a country where the material interest is so predominant as it is in America. We hear something too much of the results of machinery, commerce, and the useful arts. We are a puny and a fickle folk. Avarice, hesitation, and following, are our diseases. The rapid wealth which hundreds in the community acquire in trade, or by the incessant expansions of our population and arts, enchants the eyes of all the rest; the luck of one is the hope of thousands, and the proximity of the bribe acts like the neighbourhood of a gold mine to impoverish the farm, the school, the church, the house, and the very body and feature of man.
I do not wish to look with sour aspect at the industrious manufacturing village, or the mart of commerce. I love the music of the water-wheel ; I value the railway; I feel the pride which the sight of a ship inspires ; I look on trade and every mechanical craft as education also. But let me discriminate what is precious herein. There is in each of these works one act of invention, one intellectual step, or short series of steps taken ; that act or step is the spiritual act: all the rest is mere repetition of the same a thousand times. And I will not be deceived into admiring the routine of handicrafts and mechanics, how splen
did soever the result, any more than I admire the routine of the scholars, or clerical class. That splendid results ensue from the labours of stupid men, is the fruit of higher laws than their will, and the routine is not to be praised for it. I would not have the labourer sacrificed to the splendid result, I would not have the labourer sacrificed to my convenience and pride, nor to that of a great class of such as me. Let there be worse cotton and better men. The weaver should not be bereaved of that nobility which comes from the superiority to his work, and the knowledge that the product or the skill is a momentary end of no value, except so far as it embodies his spiritual prerogatives. If I see nothing to admire in the unit, shall I admire a million units ? Men stand in awe of the city, but do not honour any individual citizen; and are continually yielding to this dazzling result of numbers, that which they would never yield to the solitary example of any
Whilst, therefore, the multitude of men live to degrade each other, and give currency to desponding doctrines, the scholar must be a bringer of hope, and must reinforce man against himself. I sometimes believe that our literary anniversaries will presently assume a greater importance, as the eyes of men open to their capabilities. Here, a new set of distinctions, a new order of ideas prevail. Here, we set a bound to the respectability of wealth, and a bound to the pretensions of the law and the church. The bigot must cease to be a bigot to-day. Into our charmed circle, power cannot enter; and the sturdiest defender of existing institutions feels the terrific inflammability of this air which condenses heat in every corner that may restore to the elements the fabrics of ages. Nothing solid is secure; everything tilts and rocks. Even the scholar is not safe ; he too is searched and revised. Is his learning dead? Is he living in his memory? The power of mind is not mortification, but life. But come forth, thou curious child! hither, thou loving, all-hoping poet! hither, thou tender, doubting heart, who hast not yet found any place in the world's market fit for thee; any wares which thou couldst buy or sell,—so large is thy love and ambition,—thine and not theirs is the hour. Smooth thy brow, and hope and love on, for the kind heaven justifies thee, and the whole world feels that thou only art in the right
We ought to celebrate this hour by expressions of manly joy. Not thanks, not prayer, seem quite the highest or truest name for our communication with the infinite,—but glad and conspiring reception,-reception that becomes giving in its turn, as the receiver is only the All-Giver in part and in infancy. I cannot,—nor can any man,speak precisely of things so sublime, but it seems to me, the wit of man, his strength, his grace, his tendency, his art, is the grace and the presence of God. It is beyond explanation. When all is said and done, the rapt saint is found the only logician. Not exhortation, not argument, becomes our lips, but pæans of joy and praise. But not of adulation ; we are too nearly related in the deep of the mind to that we honour. It is God in us which checks the language of petition by a grander thought. In the bottom of the heart, it is said, “I am, and by me, O child! this fair body and world of thine stands and grows. I am: all things are mine: and all mine are thine."
The festival of the intellect, and the return to its source, cast a strong light on the always interesting topics of Man and Nature. We are forcibly reminded of the old want. There is no man; there hath never been. The Intellect still asks that a man may be born. The flame of life flickers feebly in human breasts. We demand of men a richness and universality we do not find.