Page images

attention of the East, so conspicuously devoted, especially in costly manufactures, and in Architecture. Their progress in the latter is testified by the otherwise inexplicable enterprise, undertaken by the new world, when only one hundred and fifteen years old, viz. the building of the giant tower of Babel. Whatever we may think of the end or the means, we know that the latter became unavailing, and the former was frustrated by the confusion of tongues. This unprecedented phenomenon in the history of mankind, doubtless retarded for a season, the advancement of Art and Science. But the human mind, from its native elasticity, and from the pressure of necessity, soon recovered from this unexpected shock: and thenceforward, instead of a common effort by one community, the scattered tribes of men struggled onwards, each a separate nation, in a separate country, for its own happiness and improvement.

Then for the first time, we behold the institution of separate nations; and beyond question, each departed farther and farther, under every variety of change, from the common model, such as it was, in the two thousand two hun. dred and thirty third year before the Christian Æra. Thenceforward, the landmarks of nations were set, in all that belonged to independent existence, whether we regard territory and boundaries, or language and government, Arts and Sciences, or manners and customs. But while we can readily imagine much, that appertained to the detailed progress of the several Arts and Sciences, before and after this period; yet it must be confessed, that many a century elapsed, after the call of Abraham (B. C. 1921,) and even after the time of Moses, (B. C. 1051,) and, we may even advance beyond this to the time of Solomon, (B. C. 1015,) before we can trace, by the aid of sufficient and authentic documents, the progressive improvement of Arts and Sciences.

Let us imagine ourselves at the date, when Thales flourished (B. C. 581,) and look back on the preceding state of the world. Science was then in a most imperfect condition; although some of the arts, especially architecture, manufactures and agriculture, had made, comparatively speaking, surprising progress. Still, however, we are forcibly struck by several considerations, arising from a review of the vast period of three thousand four hundred and twenty three years, before the age of Thales.

1st. We must reject from our estimate of time the one thousand six hundred and fifty six years, antecedent to the



deluge; because Noah and his family, could have possessed but little of that improvement in Arts and Sciences, which, according to the opinion of many learned men, existed at the time of the flood.

2dly. From the Deluge to the Age of Thales, is a period of one thousand seven hundred and sixty seven years. Between these dates, occurs the invention of writing, pretty generally used at the æra of Cadmus, probably nine hundred and thirteen years before the time of Thales; so that during eight hundred and fifty four years of the entire number of one thousand seven hundred and sixty seven, between the Flood and Thales, little or nothing could have been effectually and permanently done, for want of the means of preserving it.

3dly. During the greater part of the remaining period of nine hundred and thirteen years, between Cadmus and Thales--we are comparatively ignorant of what was done, and we may judiciously believe that little was effected, if we take in the whole circle of Arts and Sciences. Such was the fact, chiefly, because the means of communication were limited, the number of persons engaged, compared to the population, was very small; this number was an exclusive, peculiar class, not so much influenced by a love of Science, or a just estimate of its value to their fellow men, as governed by considerations, connected with political and ecclesiastical concerns.

4thly. We discover every where in this retrospect, that whatever attention may have been lavished on some particular branches of Art, and perhaps on one department of philosophy, viz. astronomy; yet the neglect of Science and Literature was almost universal, and that in moral Science especially, in the extensive meaning of the term, Man had done nothing. Still, however, it may be conceded, that much had been effected in providing necessaries, comforts, conveniences and luxuries. In architecture and manufactures, society had attained a high degree of improvement; but while this embraced within its sphere, almost every thing which related to the physical, it comprehended very little, that affected the moral condition of Man. The progress of society, in these two important particulars, was indeed singularly different. In the splendor of palaces, in the costliness and pomp of courts, in the magnificence and ostentation of public buildings, and other national works ; in a word, in all that could dazzle the ignorant, invest the monarch with

imaginary glory, and command the admiration of foreigners, the world was then conspicuous. But the moral improvement of Man, through the cultivation of those Sciences, which relate to his political and moral welfare, was totally neglected: in a word, THE PEOPLE WERE AS YET UNNOTI- J CED AND UNKNOWN, IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE.

Such is our retrospect, standing at the age of Thales (581 before Christ.) Let us now survey, with a rapid glance, not only the period embraced between that date, and the Christian æra, but also that which follows, down to the decline of learning in Western Europe, when the northern barbarians had possessed themselves, of Italy and Gaul, of Spain and Northern Africa. The characteristics, which had hitherto distinguished the governments of the East and of Egypt, still continued to prevail, in all the oriental regions; but, above the waste of waters in the West, the first popular governments, the world had ever seen, arose, like Fortunate Islands in the barren and desolate sea of human affairs. All these had, indeed, existed long before the age of Thales. It was not, however, until after this date, that they appear in themselves, in relation to each other and to the rest of the world, as communities worthy of much consideration in the history of Learning. Alcman, Archilochus and Terpander, had indeed flourished in the seventh century: Lycurgus, the iron-souled, or rather the rock-hearted Lawgiver of Sparta, in the eighth; and " longo intervallo," Homer and Hesiod in the ninth.; but as yet, only the morning star and the early flush of dawn had heralded the way to Grecian glory.

In the new state of things, which now existed in Europe, the people were comparatively speaking, much considered: and appeared as important agents in all the vicissitudes of Grecian history. Still, however we behold with pain and regret, the same love of conquest and military honors, the same prodigal expenditure of national treasure on objects of mere ambition, the same sacrifice of the people, to the selfish passions and corrupt ambition of rulers, and the same inverted social order, which builds the good of society on the glory of the state, instead of national renown, on the happiness of the people. All these had marked the Eastern monarchies, and now distinguished, only to dishonor, the self-styled republican governments of the West. Among them, we look in vain for the application of political and moral Science, or indeed of any of the Sciences, to the ac


tual wants and condition of the people; to the individual, domestic and social improvement of Man or the developement, establishment, and combination of those important principles, which constitute real national happiness. In the structure and administration of their governments : in political economy, as to the public and private affairs of the community; we discover an extreme deficiency in practical wisdom, and, if I may so express the thought, in political common

Their alterations in government, seem little better than temporary expedients or occasional changes, accomplished by violence or trick, by fortune or accident. On the one hand, we behold, comparatively speaking, no controlling power to regulate the conduct of rulers: and on the other, no adequate, protective authority to guard the rights of the citizen. All the remarks thus made upon Greece, apply with more than double force, to Rome. While Athens was a wild democracy, and Sparta a republic in name, but, in reality, a compound of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy—the imperial republic of antiquity exhibited all the fierce elements of anarchy and tyranny, of rebellion and despotism, under a form still more imperfect, and far more terrible at home and abroad, than the many-headed monster of Athens, or the triple-bodied monster of Sparta. This view of the state of society in the territories of Greece and Rome, brings us down to the Christian æra: and, as we advance towards that period, the evils and imperfections of which I have spoken, became aggravated; until the abominations and horrors of Roman Provincial Government, had filled the whole empire, while the proscriptions of Marius and Sylla, and the reign of terror, of two Triumvirates, inflicted on Rome and on the boasted Roman citizen, such miseries, as scarcely ever occurred in the annals of despotism. After reviewing this period of five hundred and eighty one years, if we should inquire, with mortified and indignant feelings, what was done for the substantial happiness, for the moral and political improvement of the people, the emphatic answer must be, little or nothing.

Should I be asked, what relation has this survey to the cause of Science, I answer emphatically, as I have said, in a former part of my discourse, Science is nothing worth, except it bless the people, as well as adorn the State. The same is equally true of Literature and the Arts. Of what avail indeed, were the original fires of Grecian genius, and the imitative splendors of Roman taste, if they produced so little effect on the actual happiness and improvement of the people? Take the whole body of Grecian philosophy, natural, political, moral, social, and we must acknowledge, that it exerted scarcely any salutary influence on the mass of the community; that their education was no part of its theory, or practice; that it lived, and moved, and had its being, an alien in the very land of its birth, and existed almost independently of the very society, which it boasts to have adorned; and left behind, no monument, save the works of its devotees. Considering the rights and property, the happiness and improvement of the people as the great objects of society, and government, as the most important of all human concerns, we desire in vain to find proofs, that the lawgivers and statesmen, the orators and philosophers of antiquity; rendered permanent, essential services to the cause of the people, of social order, and of good government. It is a melancholy and humiliating reflection, that the genius and learning, the eloquence and taste of Greece and Rome, did so litile, in the cause of truth,-moral, political and philosophical. This, indeed, is so remarkably the fact, that we refer to Greece and Rome, as authoritative guides in government* and philosophy, no more than in morals. When, therefore, I reflect upon this surprising state of facts, that Science and Literature were cultivated with such ener

and enthusiasm, by the Greeks and Romans; that minds of the first order put forth all their strength, in a spirit of noble, generous emulation; that their works have been almost universally extolled as prodigies of intellectual power and literary excellence; that the glory of Grecian and Roman letters, has been generally considered, as unrivaled by the Augustan age of any modern nation; when I contemplate these things, I am compelled to believe, that those, who have thus admired and applauded, have overlooked the only legitimate use of Science and Literature,—to bless and I not to adorn. We gaze with astonishment, on the wonderful powers of a Crichton, and a Mirandula, of a Servin, and a Magliabechi; but when we inquire what they did for the substantial good of their fellow men, the answer must be, almost nothing. It is the same with the Science and Learning of Greece and Rome. We admire them as phenomena, but we discover in them, comparatively speaking, very little


See note A.

« PreviousContinue »