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and discriminating; when difficulties, which have before stood in the way of inquiry, vanish; when confusion is looked into order; when prominent and decisive principles stand out in strongly marked relief; when subjects, hitherto impracticable and unyielding, unfold to us their different parts and capabilities; when rich and before undiscovered veins of thought are opened to us, as by an enchanter's wand; when striking and apt illustrations present themselves on every side; when memory lays before us all her stores; when, in a word, all the mental operations are freer, bolder, more effective, than they ordinarily are; when, by a sort of instinctive impulse, the best access to other minds is seized upon; when meek but strong anticipations of success make labor light, and fervid mental effort a chosen work, a high and distinctive privilege. At such moments we gain intimations of what the human intellect is, and what it can do. We stand amazed at this new revelation of ourselves to ourselves. We resolve, it may be, that we will henceforth be faithful to these glorious capacities, and would we but be true to these resolves, who or what could place a limit to intellectual progress!
If these remarks on self-education be just, then it is necessary, in the first place, to give efficacy to all those instructions which come from without; it is, in the second place, in point of fact, the very source of all human improvement; and, in the third place, when duly carried into effect, leads to an indefinite advancement towards perfection. It would be easy to illustrate these positions by referring to examples of those self-taught men, who, without the ordinary aids of education, have risen to eminence in every department of human pursuit. But this, however interesting it might prove, as well as a consideration of the means and processes of self-instruction, which would be a fitting sequel to these remarks, must be omitted.
We shall only further observe, that the doctrine we have endeavoured to support, is fraught with instruction of the most practical kind, and with motives for improvement the most encouraging.
And, in the first place, let us make a proper estimate of the means of intellectual and moral improvement. uable as these certainly are, they are valuable to us, as individuals, so far, and only so far, as we do actually and faithfully use them as aids in self-discipline. And this sim
ple truth seems to be particularly worthy of attention, at the present day, in reference to prevailing modes of popular instruction. The present is flatteringly called a practical age, by which, if we understand the term (but of this we are by no means confident), is meant an age, wherein all intellectual processes are as much as possible abridged, and are brought to bear, as directly as possible, upon the familiar concerns of life. Hence, countless expedients are proposed for shortening the path to knowledge, and for making it accessible to all. These objects, so far as they can, in reality, and without the sacrifice of higher interests, be effected, are doubtless worthy of regard. But in the pursuit of them, there are some important considerations, which should not be forgotten. Is there not danger that these popular modes of teaching will be apt to render the learners superficial, ignorant, in consequence, of the extent of their ignorance? Is there not reason to fear, that instead of these summary methods of instruction being available to smooth the ascent to the 'summit and absolute principle of any one important subject,' the real thing done, is to keep such subjects out of sight; so that if our progress is apparently rendered easier, it is because our aims are humbler? And above all, should it not be ever kept in view, that, valuable as the results of learning are, even if they could thus cheaply be gained, there is one thing far more valuable, and this is the improvement of the mind itself, that all-comprehending, incomprehensible principle within, which is to outlive all its present necessities, and whose condition, considered in itself alone, is of more importance, in every individual case, than all things else? Any process that serves directly or indirectly to damp its energies, to lap it in indolence, or, in any way, to check its full and perfect developement, is greatly to be deprecated.
And there is another view of this subject which seems to us to be, at this time especially, worthy of particular attention. It is the influence which the attempts to render every thing popular amongst us are liable to exert on the growth and establishment of a sound, a vigorous, an elevated, and truly national literature. How much this has become a crying want of the country, has been amply shown in a former number of this journal. Indeed, does not our present condition as a people render such a literature vitally necessary? Do we not need it to control our selfish pursuits; to adorn
our prosperity; to bridle the lust, and shame the pride of wealth; to rebuke frivolity in all its forms; to raise the tone of public sentiment; to purify the public taste; to neutralize, in some measure, the effects of that dark and portentous bigotry, which is now spreading over the land; to give us a name and a praise' among the nations of the earth? We have proved ourselves, confessedly, an active, shrewd, enterprising, and indefatigable people. Our yeomany are among the happiest, most enlightened, and most efficient of any upon earth. Our commercial enterprise has, almost literally, no limits. The productive arts receive and reward a full share of attention. The various professions meet the claims of society, and will, necessarily, always monopolize a large part of the talent of the country. Natural science, in all its branches, is not neglected, and our mechanical invention has made Europeans, in some remarkable instances, our reluctant as well as ungrateful pupils. Our systems of common-school education, and of religious instruction, are, of themselves alone, monuments of prophetic wisdom and of true public spirit, which place the founders of our republic among the greatest legislators who have lived. But while the immediately profitable and necessary interests of life are thus worthily cared for, and a degree of information more widely diffused in our country, than in any other; it should not be kept out of view, that the higher branches of literature, using the term in its widest extent, have languished for want of culture. More, indeed, has been done, than has been willingly allowed to us; but still it must be confessed, that profound scholars, in every department of learning, are rare. There are comparatively very few, within the compass of our broad land, whose attainments have depth, solidity, and finish. Such, until recently, has been the natural, and, perhaps, the necessary course of things. America, like the Spartan children, was cradled upon a shield; and the din of arms was the only music of her infancy. The cares of subsistence, then, and the more productive arts and professions, received, as they ought, the first attention. But we are now becoming rich and powerful, and it is quite time to lay deep and strong the foundations of intellectual greatness. Let us reverently take counsel of our ancestors in this respect. When the country was yet new, and scarcely a spot in the thick and boundless forest was permeable to a sun-beam, they, with a
meek and sublime confidence in their own virtue and energy, and a holy trust in God, who had divided the waters before them and been the pillar and the cloud of their pilgrimage, founded our colleges and schools, and framed all their institutions, not for themselves merely, nor for any merely temporary advantage, but with reference to a future empire. Their endeavours have, as we have said, been greatly blessed. And it now remains for their children to prove themselves worthy of such sires, by carrying forward and perfecting the institutions which they began, with a wise reference to the improved condition of society. The savage has been driven off. The forests have given place to smiling harvest-fields. The resources of the country are every where developing themselves. Good institutions have gained a prescriptive title to our regard. The fabric of government, we may hope, is settling down to a firmer base, and gaining strength by age. Let us now strive for a better literature, and a sounder learning; for some of the real refinement and grace of life. Let no profligate reviler, with any appearance of truth, again say of our native land,
'Mind, mind alone, without whose quickening ray,
Mind, mind alone, in barren still repose,
Nor blooms, nor rises, nor expands, nor flows.'
When that day comes, when we shall neglect all liberal pursuits, because they do not minister palpably and directly to personal advancement, or a sordid love of gain; when the remoter influences of letters and taste on individual character shall be disregarded and despised; when we shall listen exclusively to those political enconomists, who legislate for men's bodies, but forget that they have souls; when we shall blight, by a cold derision, all generous purposes and high aspirations; when that day comes,
'Sed mihi vel tellus optem prius ima dehiscat!'
the era of our national decline will have begun; our ancestral honors will be our shame and our reproach; ignorance and barbarism will spread over and blight all that endears or ennobles life. We may live for a while, indeed, on the patrimony of which we have proved ourselves unworthy, we may have for a while, a Tyrian or a Turkish greatness, but thick darkness will cover the land, and gross darkness the people.”
But yet further. We not only need a generous and a sound and noble literature, in the widest scope of the words, but we need, and that too in the strong sense of want, a National literature, a literature of our own. There is a strange insensibility, there is a strange inconsistency in our conduct, on this subject. We are much afraid of those foreign manufactures which interfere with our domestic arts, and make tariffs against them. We scoff at the very idea of the prevalent abuses of the worn-out governments of the old world; we claim great immunities from their entailed errors and venerable absurdities. But we stand in no fear of a wholesale importation of a literature, which is thoroughly imbued with thoughts and sentiments that have been suggested and formed by that very state of things, which we affect to despise. Alas! there are here no discriminating duties. Alas! here nothing is contraband. All, all is received, and, what is worse, is in familiar use amongst us. Would, at least, that we had a sort of literary quarantine, to guard us against the moral pestilence that lurks in most of the fashionable light-reading which comes from abroad. And how is this free reception of a foreign literature to be restrained? Or rather (and this is the true state of the question) how are we to avail ourselves of it, so far as it is innocent and useful and adapted to our purposes, and, at the same time, to guard ourselves against its injurious effects? The answer is very obvious. We must, as has been said, produce a literature of our own. We must meet the literary wants of the country from our own resources. We must create amongst ourselves a literature, which, while it is furnished and fraught with all that is excellent in foreign scholarship, shall yet spring from our own soil, be adapted to meet the literary wants of our own country, and breathe the free, racy, original spirit of our own institutions. In one word, we must call into being a truly National literature.
And now the great question is, How is this to be done? This is the point to which all these remarks have been tending. We do not propose to answer this question in detail. But, it is believed, one thing is especially necessary; and this is, that we patronize, more than we have done or do, painstaking, persevering, concentrated labor of the mind. It is well, it is certainly very desirable, that, as far as possible, what is already known should be reduced to use, and be spread
VOL. XI. N. S. VOL VI. NO. III.