Brethren of the Alumni Association:
L. A. Eddy: We meet this evening under circumstances of affecting interest. Some of us have been for years absent from our beloved Alma Mater. We have just left the varied concerns of life, and once more assembled to greet each other; to review the numerous objects of interest connected with our academic course; to mingle our congratulations with those who are occupying the places which we have occupied, and to unite our influence for the continued prosperity of an Institution, which is not only associated with our tenderest recollections, but deeply enshrined in the affections of our hearts.
It would, doubtless, be pleasing to all present, and peculiarly interesting to those of this Society who have not yet performed the painful duty of bidding adieu to these endearing scenes, if time would permit, especially the older members, to give a familiar outline of their experience, since they first parted with their instructors and fellow-students here, to enter more fully into the toils, and grapple with the difficulties incident to the several departments of enterprise in which they have been called to act. Your pursuits have been as different, perhaps, as your various pathways have been checkered, and consequently, your narratives would be in some respects dissimilar, yet, the practical results of your observations would, in many important particulars, be identical.
It is true, your advantages for observation on men and things have not been equal. Some of you left these academic shades only to climb directly to still loftier heights of Parnassus [Greek mountain typifying intellectual endeavor]. Not a few engaged at once in the responsible duties of professional toil; while others were permitted to seek usefulness and happiness in the sequestered vale of private life. But, however various have been your callings, I greatly misjudge if you do not agree in your testimony, that the world in reality is a somewhat different thing from the world on which you gazed from the observatory of a temple of learning; and that in whatever direction the finger of Providence pointed you to travel, instead of an education being an incumbrance, you have found abundant use for the elements of knowledge which you here acquired.
Diversified as have been our pursuits, dissimilar as may be our tastes with reference to many things, there are some interests which we reciprocally cherish; some chords may be touched that vibrate with mutual harmony in every bosom of our united brotherhood. We not only sympathize together, for instance, in our regard for our cherishing matron [the Seminary], but we feel a degree of affectionate solicitude for our beloved country that increases with every revolving year. At the organization of this Association your attention was properly directed to our obligations in behalf of the former, and at this time, I propose, trite as the topic is, to venture a few remarks with regard to the interests of the latter, and especially the bearing that our literary institutions have upon her destiny.
Much as the subject of "Our Country" has been expatiated upon, the theme has not yet been, nor will soon be exhausted. Indeed, it is still a mooted question, not only among foreigners, but among ourselves, what is our most striking national characteristic - what the most prominent peculiarity of our citizens, as distinguished from the inhabitants of other climes. Some tell us, for example, that if the most prominent feature of our national character can be expressed in one term, that word is Enterprise. While, however, it is admitted by the more intelligent of our transatlantic brethren, that the Americans may justly be considered an enterprising people, in view of their brilliant military achievements, their vast internal improvements, their advancement in the arts and sciences and commerce, in the brief period of their national existence, still it is denied that the inhabitants of this Republic so far excel other nations in this respect, as to entitle them to a marked distinction on that account.
Others again, leaning from the extreme of undue partiality towards prejudice, in defining our most striking peculiarity, would substitute the word Hurry for enterprise. Hence it is said, the Americans are always in a hurry; that they work, and eat, and talk, and travel, and live and die in a hurry. It is asserted that they get rich and poor in a hurry; and that multitudes embrace religion in a hurry, and in a hurry abandon it. It is averred that the clergy preach in a hurry; the people listen in a hurry, and forget all they hear in a hurry. Whether all these assertions can be maintained it is not for me to say, but I must confess, that I sincerely pity the preacher of the gospel, who has not yet learned by observation if not by experience, that in these days, brevity is the crowning excellence of pulpit oratory.
It is not however my object, at this time, to attempt a solution of the question in dispute respecting the peculiarities of our countrymen. We trust more grave and important matters will occupy our attention. Differ as we may upon that point, there is one thing with regard to this Republic on which we can not be disagreed, namely: that, defective as our citizens may be in some particulars, our civil institutions are worth preserving. The truth can hardly be repeated too often, that the brightest interests of our world are materially involved in the success of the political experiment that is now being tried on Columbian soil [i.e., discovered by Christopher Columbus].
The tearful eyes of oppressed millions are looking this way, as to the only star of hope, for relief from the constantly accumulating woes of political bondage under which they are groaning. And, in proportion as the probabilities of the ultimate success of free institutions become stronger, in the same proportion are the jealousies and fears of despots increased. I firmly believe that God sent the passengers of the May-Flower and other accompanying vessels to these shores, not merely to emancipate themselves, and their posterity from religious and civil servitude, but to disenthrall a down-trodden world; and nothing but criminal remissness in duty, or recreancy to principle on our part, and those who succeed us, will defeat this grand design. But the political influence which this Republic is destined to exert upon other nations, is but one item in the inventory of blessings which it is ours to diffuse throughout the inhabited earth.
America, I doubt not, is destined to become the grand emporium of science - the Oxford and Edinburgh of the world. A glance at the wonderful progress of our citizens in the arts and sciences, since the foundation of our government was laid, will show that I am not extravagant in this prediction. We unreluctantly admit that in some respects American literature will not endure a comparison with that of the Old World. The Europeans have some facilities for literary and scientific pursuits, which we have not yet enjoyed for want of time. But, without wishing to boast, we ask where is the nation, where was ever the nation since the world began, that established itself on a new model, in a dense howling wilderness, confronted by opposition and discouragements almost insuperable, and in seventy years made such rich and splendid contributions to the stock of useful knowledge, as have been made by the citizens of these United States?
The improvements and discoveries already made, are pledges and first fruits of great and glorious things to come. The fact is, our people are just getting ready to engage in good earnest in the cultivation of elegant literature, and to enter the vast unexplored laboratories of nature, whose doors are opening all around us, and inviting scientific scrutiny. If we had time, it would be interesting to contemplate the numerous natural and political advantages which here encourage the student to go forward in science, and which in reality are enjoyed no where else. We might show in the language of another (Rev. Albert Barnes) that, "there is a freshness and a vastness in the works of nature here, which is peculiarly fitted to expand the mind, and elevate the soul, and fill it with grand conceptions, and to invite to successful investigations," while the genius and spirit of our free institutions furnish powerful incentives to intellectual activity and extensive research. I cannot, however, enlarge at this point; and it would also carry me too far from my main purpose to expatiate, as I should like to do, upon the prospective, moral and religious achievements that seem to be closely linked in with the perpetuity and healthful progress of our Republic.
I will only remark at this time, that there is such an intimate relation between the prosperity of our country and the final triumphs of the cross throughout the world, as to invest the simple and oft-repeated question: what are the prospects of our Republic? with an intenseness of interest which is inexpressible.
Leaving these general observations, I shall now proceed, with your permission, more directly to the illustration of my leading design, which is to try to show that the future destiny of our nation materially depends upon the attention bestowed on the moral, as well as intellectual cultivation of the youth in our high institutions of learning.
The time has been when it was supposed that to qualify people for self-government, the extensive diffusion of knowledge was the grand desideratum; but that time is now past. It is true, knowledge is an indispensable requisite, but mournful experience has proved that it is not sufficient, connected even with a spirit of enterprise, as a basis for a stable and healthy republic.
Why was it that the wheel of political revolution, which on our soil has moved so majestically and beautifully, when transferred to other lands, "whirled along with fearful celerity, until like the chariot wheels in the races of antiquity, it took fire from the rapidity of its own motion, and blazed onward, spreading conflagration and terror around?" The answer is, that here its rotation has been regulated and guarded by a comparatively virtuous public sentiment; while in France such a regulator was wanting. There was indeed a lack of popular intelligence, but there was a far greater deficiency of moral integrity. The history of the principal actors in the infamous "reign of terror," [of the French Revolution] not only furnishes an awful demonstration that knowledge is power, but proves that unsanctified knowledge is power to do mischief rather than good; that brilliant talent, associated with a corrupt heart, is like a weapon of death in the hands of a raving maniac, rendering him more dangerous, and his influence more dreadful.
One of the most deplorable and singular features of the present times is, the obvious tendency on the part of many of our citizens, to an abandonment of the great primary principle, which lies at the very foundation of our civil polity, that moral purity is essential to republican prosperity. Though the illustrious founder of our government labored not only to disseminate the doctrine, that religion and morality are indispensable supports of our political fabric, but also took early measures in Congress, I believe even before our independence was fully achieved, to supply the common people with that Book which is the only fountain of pure morality, multitudes of mock patriots at the present day are sounding the alarm from Maine to Texas, that our liberties are in jeopardy, not in consequence of the God defying abominations that exist among us, but from the vigorous efforts that are now in operation to promote the morality and religion of the sacred volume.
Happily for our country, such were not the principles of the great majority, especially of the leading men, in times that tried souls [Thomas Paine]. It is true, there were a few in our national council whose hearts were not sufficiently imbued with moral principle, nor alive to their obligations to the Almighty; but a simple incident, with which all of you may not be familiar, related a few years since by the Hon. Daniel Webster, beautifully shows how that skeptical influence was overcome by the superior force of genuine piety that prevailed in that august assembly.
"At the meeting of the first Congress, there was a doubt in the minds of some about the propriety of opening the session by prayer, and the reason assigned was the great diversity of opinion and religious belief. Until at last, Mr. Samuel Adams, with his grey hairs hanging about his shoulders, and with an impressive venerableness now seldom to be met with, rose in that assembly, and with the air of a perfect Puritan, said it did not become men professing to be Christian men, who had come together for solemn deliberation in the hour of their extremity, to say that there was so wide a difference in their religious belief that they could not as one man bow the knee in prayer to the Almighty, whose advice and assistance they hoped to obtain. And independent as he was, and an enemy to all prelacy as he was known to be, he moved that the Rev. Mr. Dushe of the Episcopal Church, should address the Throne of grace in prayer. And John Adams, in his letter to his wife, says, that he never saw a more moving spectacle. Mr. Dushe read the Episcopal service of the Church of England, and then as if moved by the occasion, he broke out into extemporaneous prayer. And those men who were then about to resort to force to obtain their rights were moved to tears; and floods of tears, he says, ran down the cheeks of the pacific Quakers, who formed part of that most interesting assembly."
I have already, perhaps, said more than is necessary upon the almost self-evident truth, that virtue must be joined with popular intelligence, to perpetuate our Confederacy; but I introduced it to prepare the way for a few remarks which have a more direct bearing upon the main question under consideration. I observe then, that the virtue, or destitution of virtue, among the masses of our people of both sexes, in a great degree depends upon the influence exerted by the educated part of our population. And here I must briefly explain what I mean by an educated man; for ridiculous, if not serious, mistakes are sometimes made in this matter.
One individual, for instance, arrogantly claims the enviable distinction of a profound scholar, because forsooth he has whiled away a few months or years in a temple of learning, where, notwithstanding his indolence, he has inhaled a literary atmosphere, and by frequent contact with students and the apparatus of education, he has somehow got into his head a superficial knowledge of the nomenclature of science.
Another has been considered a prodigy of wisdom, not because he has studied any thing, but because he has read the title page, and perhaps the table of contents of most of the standard and popular literature of the day! And as he points the admiring beholders to the ponderous tomes of ancient and modern lore, over whose pages perhaps his vacant eye has passed, as flies the cloud-shadow over the meadow,
"Amazed, the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gaze, and still the wonder grows,
That one small head can carry all he knows;" [Oliver Goldsmith]
whereas, in fact, his skull instead of being an inexhaustible repository of knowledge, is at best a mere lumber-room, stuffed with a heterogenous mass of other men's ideas; and thrown together in such confusion as to be of little more service to the possessor than a volume of Geometrical problems, would be to the untutored Hottentot. It is hardly necessary to remark, that the people are beginning to learn that even the "mystic sheep skin," as the late Dr. Emory calls it, contains no talismanic charm to bestow wisdom upon academic loafers, that have done little or nothing to merit baccalaureate honors, except to pay their bills, and so far restrain or conceal their vicious propensities, during the term of their under-graduate-ship, as to escape expulsion from College.
What then are we to understand as essential to constitute an educated man? By an educated man I mean one that has, at least in a good degree, developed the resources of his own mind; who has, by some process, so trained his intellectual faculties, and furnished his mind, that he has not only learned to think for himself, clearly, consecutively and successfully, but is habitually, by his mental industry, making more or less augmentation to the stock of human knowledge. In a word, a man who has found out he has a mind, and has learned how to use it, and how to use it with power, whether he has obtained his knowledge in the University, like Wesley, in the printing-office, like Franklin, or the cordwainer's bench, like Sherman, in the blacksmith shop, like Burritt, or on horseback, like some of our most eminent Divines; it is of little consequence, he is an educated man.
And such are those to whom I refer, when I say that the virtue or vice of our people, in a great degree, depends upon the influence exerted by the educated part of community. The truth of this statement is clear, when we consider that our educated men and women are, in a very important sense, the makers of public opinion. I do not hesitate to say, that what is called public sentiment, is generally the echo of the opinions and views of minds who have enjoyed superior advantages for intellectual improvement. Indeed, our intelligent men in this country, are for the most part called to such places of conspicuity in society, that they must of necessity exert a tremendous influence on the common mass of mind.
Like finger posts in public places, they are the directories for the passing throng. Like cities on a hill, they cannot be hid. Who are our expounders of civil law? our legislators? our teachers of youth? our religious instructors? They are generally our educated men; and every thing else being equal, their influence for the weal or woe of society, is in proportion to their mental acquisitions. "The agency of mind on mind," says an eloquent writer, "is the true sovereignty of the world, and kings and heroes are becoming impotent by the side of men of deep and fervent thought." How important then that this class of community give a right tone to public sentiment!
The assertion is not unfrequently made, in these days, that public morals in our country are constantly deteriorating. Now, I am not prepared either to affirm or deny this statement; but I hesitate not to say, if such be the case, in the same proportion as we are retrograding in morals, we are approximating a fearful catastrophe. And, if our magnificent political edifice shall prematurely crumble into ruins, in the day of doom when the Governor of the Universe shall institute a searching examination of the causes of our downfall, which is followed by so frightful and interminable a train of results, the vast proportion of guilt will rest, not on the ignorant and depraved rabble in the lower walks of life, who seem to be the principal instruments in consummating our destruction; but the mighty aggregate of guilt will be laid at the doors of those who occupy high places of influence, and who prostitute their splendid abilities to the base purpose of mere self-aggrandizement, or what is worse, throw the weight of their influence and example in the scale of vice and immorality.
No wonder, in view of this subject, that Dr. Nott exclaims "Every unprincipled youth that goes forth crowned from our seats of science, is, and ought to be, viewed as an assassin doubly armed, and let loose upon the world. No matter whether he mingles poison as a druggist, utters falsehood as an advocate, preaches heresy as a minister, practices treachery as a statesman, or sheds blood as a soldier, every where alike he will strengthen the hands of sinners, increase the amount of guilt, and add to the mass of misery."
And here we institute another inquiry which is essential to a correct understanding of the main topic which we are discussing, and deserves a more careful examination than we can bestow upon it at this time. Is not the moral character of our educated men, who give tone to popular opinion, materially affected by the course of training pursued in our institutions of learning? In other words, are not the conductors of our Seminaries [Colleges], in a very peculiar sense, responsible for the consequences which result from the influence of unprincipled young men, that leave their halls crowned with literary honors?
While we rejoice to know that powerful auxiliaries to the cause of virtue are constantly issuing from our seats of learning, the humiliating fact cannot be disguised, that our hundred and seventy Colleges, and multitudinous Academies annually send out a swarm of young men, whose hearts are as dark as their minds are luminous; and who by their skepticism of sentiment, and licentiousness of manners, like the fabled Upas [poisonous trees], poison the moral atmosphere in which they move. And what is more lamentable, is the fact, that in many instances, juvenile depravity, instead of receiving a check, is often fearfully aggravated while in the public school.
It has been observed, and perhaps truly, that relapses from religious enjoyment, and a delicate moral sensibility, are more frequently witnessed among students than in almost any other class of community. Alas, how often during the term of tutelage at College, has the amiable, humble christian, been metamorphosed into the vain, unprincipled pedant. And, instances like this have been of such common occurrence, as almost to produce an unyielding conviction in the minds of some, that science and religion have no affinity for each other; and that progress in the former is necessarily followed by retrogression in the latter.
It does not satisfy the unlettered observers to tell them that learning, so far from being an enemy, is the hand-maid of religion; nor that the natural sciences, instead of inducing distrust of revealed truth, when rightly understood, furnish a lucid commentary on revelation, if meanwhile their children go to the school [the] disciples of Jesus, and return home disciples of Infidelity.
We may tell our plain but observing people, that the tendency of large draughts from the Castalian fountain [on Mt. Parnassus] is to excite humility; and repeat for the hundredth time, the memorable language of Sir Isaac Newton, in which he compared himself to a child playing with pebbles on the ocean shore, to demonstrate how profound research diminishes self-esteem, but all this amounts to nothing with them, if their once modest and dutiful children go home from the Seminary so inflated with self-importance, and so encumbered with a mere fictitious refinement as not only to put common sense to the blush, but to make them, like Napoleon while intoxicated with ephemeral grandeur, actually ashamed of their mother! Yes, their mother, by whose incessant toils and sacrifices, perhaps, they have been maintained at a public school!
Now, if these things are so, to a greater or less extent, the enquiry is suggested: What are the causes which produce such bitter fruits? I confess this question cannot easily be answered. It would not be difficult to solve the problem, if our literary institutions were conducted in accordance with the infamous project of the Girard College, where all religion, except that of Infidelity, is excluded. But happily for our country this is not the case, nor likely to become so.
It must be acknowledged, however, that in view of the peculiar temptations that beset students, to cultivate their intellectual faculties, at the expense of their moral affections; in view of the severe temptations to indulge in unhallowed ambition in literary gladiatorship, and in consideration of the evils of association with some that are found at most of our Halls of science, who are imprisoned there only because they are utterly unmanageable at home; I say, in view of these temptations, to mention nothing more, it is a serious question, whether in the government and arrangement of studies in our public schools, the moral and religious education of the pupils is sufficiently attended to, in order to counteract the unfavorable influences that surround them.
It is not a part of my plan to go into a detail of the measures to be adopted to increase the amount of religious interest in our high institutions of learning. I need only say at this time, with reference to our Seminaries in general, in this country, something more effectual should be done; and the successful experiment of the late lamented Dr. Arnold, of the Rugby school in England [fictionalized in "Tom Brown's Schooldays"], demonstrates that something may be done, and that too without divesting the school-room of any thing that is cheerful and inviting, even to the uninitiated in religion; without transforming it into a Monastery for the safe keeping of superstition, or a Theological Seminary for the inculcation of sectarian dogmas.
It would be well for our country, if all who have the care of youth, realized the dignity and responsibility of their situation as did Dr. Arnold. In his self-sacrificing labors to reform the school system in England, he was not only inspired by religious motives, but was actuated by a spirit of genuine patriotism. He was a devoted lover of his country, and his interest in every thing that pertained to her welfare, super-added to a powerful intellect, made him thoroughly acquainted with all the accomplishments of a politician, in the best sense of the term; and many wondered that such a man should spend his precious time in teaching school boys. In answer to such exclamations of surprise, he informed his friends that however useful he might become as a statesman, were he to employ his energies directly and exclusively in that capacity, he believed there was no way in which he could promote the welfare of his country so well as in his humble employment in Rugby School.
For there he made statesmen; and statesmen to whom the interests of the nation might safely be confided. It was indeed a prominent feature of his educational economy, that a youth who was so deeply infected with moral depravity as to be utterly proof against the religious influences and restraints that were thrown around him, and especially who manifested his corruption of heart by open flagitiousness [extreme wickedness] of conduct, it was dangerous to educate; and such persons were therefore promptly dismissed from his school.
(The influence of his example in this respect, so far as that influence has been felt, is to teach parents who cannot give a liberal education to all their children, to select the lamb of the flock for college, rather than the tiger; although the latter may exhibit even greater precocity of intellect than the former.)
Who can tell the happy effect that would follow a universal practical adoption of this one principle? In a single generation, what a change would be visible in all our seats of literature! What a change would soon be manifest throughout the literary, civil and moral world! If it be true, as it is sometimes said, that our cities are the eyes of our country, is it not equally true that our literary institutions of the various grades, are the heart of our country, on whose mighty pulsations the life, the vigor, the health of our body politic materially depends? If the heart be radically diseased, the whole head becomes sick, and the entire body becomes a loathsome mass of moral putrefaction. [cf. Isa. 1:5]
In the light of these truths, what a watchful scrutiny should be maintained by every patriot and christian over these grand fountains of influence, whose streams are so powerful either to bless or to desolate all that is lovely and of good report among us! With what ceaseless vigilance and activity should they in a particular manner, whose talents and stations have made them the special guardians of these interests, exert themselves to render all our Seminaries emphatically nurseries of piety, as well as temples of science?
O, when this glorious reformation is universally consummated - and is such an anticipation extravagant? - when a healthful, religious atmosphere, like the brilliant cloud of glory that filled and encompassed the temple of Zion, shall surround all our Universities, Colleges and Academies; when the morality of the Bible is graven as with a pen of iron, indelibly upon the tablet of every student's heart, and shines out in his daily deportment, adding lustre and beauty to his intellectual wealth; whether he enters the sacred desk, or occupies the judicial bench, or thunders in the senate chamber, or fills the chair of a professor, or retires to the common walks of private life, depend upon it, an inconceivably happy change will be witnessed in every department of society.
And now, I ask, is not an alteration in some respects desirable in American character? Who is so blind to our national evils, or so insensible to the dangers that threaten us, that he can fold his hands in indifference in this matter?
Let us glance at a few of the practical results to our country that would legitimately follow the improvement of our schools under consideration. A moral reformation in our Seminaries will produce a revival of the cause of education throughout our land. I need not revert to the fact that there are prejudices which keep multitudes of children from our Colleges and Boarding Schools, which can never be removed until those institutions, generally, furnish better proof that the religious interests of their youth will not be endangered.
The change contemplated, will not only dissipate such objections, but, when our educated men are imbued with the spirit of the Bible, that aristocracy of intellect which too generally prevails where but few enjoy great literary advantages, will be destroyed; and those whose minds are most enlightened, instead of selfishly trying to monopolize scientific wealth, will consecrate their talents to the noble work of elevating as many of their fellow citizens as possible, from mental and moral degradation. And just in proportion, also, as this cause advances, in the same proportion will the masses of our community be divorced from those low and grovelling objects of pursuit which relate only to worldly self-aggrandizement, around which shrines, alas, the supreme affections of too many are clustered, to the neglect of other and higher interests, connected with their own welfare and the good of society.
"But when men," says Verplank, "have attained such an intellectual and moral elevation, where they can look steadily upon the glorious majesty of truth, they will be enabled to behold wealth, honor, fame, and all other objects of human pride, not as they seem, but as they are in themselves. Though they may show like the gorgeous pageant of the summer sunset clouds, piled in golden magnificence mountains high, glowing as with unborrowed light, and appearing as vast and solid as the rocky Alps, such men can gaze upon them all with an undazzled eye and without one covetous desire. Well knowing how suddenly they may be scattered by the winds of heaven, or at the most how soon they will fade away into mist and dark vapors."
Again, a higher tone of moral sentiment is necessary in our seats of science, to reform the literature of our country. While we are proud to say, that the more gifted of American writers have never prostituted their abilities to the production of works of a demoralizing tendency, it is a lamentable fact that there are multitudes of such books in circulation among us; many of which indeed are of foreign origin, but some of course have been written by graduates of our literary institutions, and are affecting an amount of mischief which eternity alone can fully reveal.
I trust the day is not remote when such a tender sense of moral and religious obligation will pervade the republic of letters, that manufacturers of, and dealers in, literary poison, will meet a similar doom with those who have dared to traffic in liquid poison. I concur with Dr. Kirk, in the opinion that the time has already arrived, when we are called upon to engage in good earnest in the work of checking the mighty torrents of desolation which are constantly issuing from the almost innumerable printing presses in our land, and flowing in every direction like burning lava, blighting and withering every green thing. And rely upon it, when the declaration is made in a tone of mingled authority and concern, from every professor's chair and every sacred desk in our Republic, that even the bookstore, by whomsoever kept, where works of an acknowledged licentious tendency are sold, like the dram-shop and the brothel, is an ante-chamber to ruin, and should be alike avoided, an effectual blow will be given in this work of reform.
It has already been more than intimated, that our public schools are the principle nurseries of American statesmen; and nothing can be more obvious than that our national destiny is vitally affected by the character of the makers, expounders, and executors of civil law. That some of the civilians and rulers of our country are as incorruptible patriots, and pure hearted citizens as ever saw the sun, I have no doubt; and yet I take the liberty to ask, whether our public officers, on the whole, in respect to moral principle, are what they should be, as Alumni of christian schools, and as magistrates of a nation where christianity is the law of the land?
And I ask again, would not an improvement in the moral machinery of our statesmen manufactories, produce a corresponding improvement in every department of our government? And is not greater governmental influence and efficiency loudly called for in these times? Many of our peaceable, law-loving citizens are justly alarmed at the increasing indications of a disposition on the part of some, to set civil authority at defiance; which state of things, as Dr. Wayland remarks, always indicates a tendency of society towards its dissolution.
These evils must be checked or we are ruined; and the most effectual antidotes are wholesome laws, and especially pure ministers of the laws. It is in civil as it is in religious matters, that the sacredness of law is estimated by the common people, not so much by its intrinsic excellence as by the character of its teachers. They are living epistles, known and read of most men, as the embodiments of what they profess to expound.
Let the time therefore ever arrive, and I confess that I am not without some fears on this subject, when the great mass of our legislators, and judges, and barristers, are unprincipled men, in whose moral character the people have no confidence, and our laws, however good in themselves, will be repudiated, or become a dead letter, while our population, either catching the infection of corrupt example in high places, or disgusted with rulers who are destitute alike of decency and self-respect, will become bold outlaws, or what is little better, will look on with trembling dismay, or sullen indifference, as the majestic ship of state, with its precious cargo, officered by such a crew, is swung from her moorings, and after wildly careering awhile, anchorless and rudderless, on the tumultuous billows of political strife, is engulfed and forever lost in the maelstrom of anarchy.
I repeat it, I am not without some apprehensions on this subject; nor will my fears be allayed until increased attention is paid to the religious education of our future statesmen; and our citizens, in their selection of civil officers, enquire more into the moral as well as political character of candidates for places of trust.
Although I do not wish to be tedious, I cannot willingly omit to remark that the vast improvement which would soon manifest itself in every department of the sacred ministry, furnishes a most forcible argument in favor of a more elevated religious influence in our institutions of learning. It is needless for me to expatiate upon the power of the pulpit on the prosperity and stability of our political institutions.
"The religious teacher," says an eminent American scholar, "has instruments to work with which turn to feebleness all other means of influence. There is not heard on earth a voice so powerful, so penetrating, as that of an enlightened minister, who under the absorbing influence of the mighty truths of the Bible, devotes himself a living sacrifice, a whole burnt offering, to the cause of enlightening and saving his fellow creatures."
A constant improvement in the ministry is imperatively demanded by the spirit of the age, as well as by the urgent claims of our beloved country. In these times, we need men of power and influence, fitted to act on men and make themselves felt in society. And the great secret of such power, is not so much head work, as heart-felt devotion to the cause of God. For deep devotion implies or promises almost every thing else essential to ministerial efficiency. But I ask, is it reasonable to expect an eminently pious ministry, who have during perhaps the entire course of academic training, been environed by influences, and I had almost said controlled by circumstances that were calculated seriously to depress rather than to inflame their religious zeal?
Show me, if you can, a more pitiable sight than a young man, who entered the Seminary, humble and devoted, to burnish his armor and be endued with spiritual as well as mental power, apparently forget his errand, and come forth from the literary retreat shrivelled up into a mere student, an almost inanimate book worm! Melancholy spectacle! His intellectual faculties, possibly, have been developed to an unnatural degree, but his moral power is proportionably weakened; like a plant under a sapling which becomes sickly and stinted as the tree grows luxuriant.
Now the remedy for this evil is not the annihilation of schools to prepare young men for the ministry, but to make them better adapted to this grand design. Supposing all our institutions of learning are so completely under the controlling influence of the Bible, that the spiritual cadets, now in the enjoyment of their advantages, will have the same facilities and encouragements to grow in grace as in knowledge; when they go out to holy war they will be likely to have on the whole panoply of God. And the result will be, not only the manifestation of a degree of ministerial energy which is now seldom witnessed, but most of us who are now occupying the sacred desk will be elbowed out of it, by the superior skill and efficiency of the army of new recruits, in the sacramental host.
I have said that fervent piety, connected of course with natural capacity, promises every thing else essential to ministerial success. Allow me for a moment to explain this remark. I am aware that the emergencies of the times call for a studious, investigating ministry, to correspond with the intelligence of the age, to meet error and vanquish it on its own ground, and defend the truth against the covert and open assaults of an ever varying infidel philosophy. But, I ask, where shall we look for such men if not among those who are baptized deeply with the spirit of the lively oracles, and are consequently enthusiastic lovers of the truth as it is in Jesus.
While it must be admitted that selfish motives may, and doubtless sometimes do, prompt men to be more or less studious even in Theological science, the history of the Church has shown, that those ministers who have been most distinguished for their vast research and varied learning, have been with few exceptions, equally distinguished for the ardor of their piety; and it is worthy of remark, they caught their zeal for the truth, not so much by lingering at the Pierian spring [of literary education], as by deeply bathing in Siloam's pool.
I have indeed heard of men who are said to betray a habitual aversion to mental industry, and are yet eminently holy; but I am not certain that I ever yet saw such a man. Nor do I ever expect to see one of this description, until the time arrives when two propositions which flatly contradict each other shall both be true. What! a man wholly consecrated to God, mind and body, and yet remorselessly bury his intellectual talent? Can a man be justly distinguished for piety, who has promised God and the Church that he will lay all his powers under contribution to make full proof of his ministry, and who in consideration of this pledge to the Church, is supplied with his daily bread; and yet suffer his mind to corrode in indolence, while his hungry flock look up from Sabbath to Sabbath and are unfed? No. One of the alleged facts must be false, for an individual cannot be eminently holy and intellectually lazy at the same time. But I must not enlarge.
I am not unmindful that something more than diligence in the study is requisite for the times in which we live. There are giant moral evils, which we have not time to particularize, that are striking at the very foundations of society, and undermining our free institutions, which must be met, rebuked and overcome by a potent moral power, brought in contact with them.
A great revolution is yet to be effected in public sentiment with reference to many subjects within the appropriate range of ministerial exertions, that are vitally affecting our safety and happiness. And this revolution is to be brought about not merely by devotion in the preacher's closet, nor philosophic research in his study, but by earnest, fearless, and persevering action in his divinely appointed field of public labor.
Now, a man may write an excellent work on military tactics, and yet live and die a consummate coward. So a minister may recluse himself from the world, and spend his days industriously, "looking into the seeds of things," and he may by habit acquire such comprehensive and far-reaching intellectual views as to be able at once, like the Apocalyptic Angel, standing in the sun, to explore the depths and sweep the ample circumference of important truths, which are far beyond the power of ordinary capacities to descry, and yet leave the world but little better for his having lived in it. In these times, we want, after all, practical evangelists, more than we need mere theoretical divines - men who are characterized by that energy, boldness, and love to man, which nothing but a live coal from the holy altar of God can inspire.
We need ministers distinguished by that laboriousness and perseverance which can result only from habits of moral heroism, formed by thorough discipline, before they enter the field of battle. We want men who, not like the slothful simpleton that, toiling and panting, is ineffectually trying to overtake the car of public opinion which has gone ahead of him; nor like the man who, having just zeal enough to watch for, and sagacity to distinguish the car of popularity, leaps aboard and, folding his arms and wiping his mouth, congratulates himself on his success and his security; but we need men like the engineer who raises the steam which propels, and plies the machinery which gives direction and celerity to the wheels of the ponderous vehicle.
If ministers of religion are not the appointed guardians and directors of a healthy moral sentiment in community, I would respectfully inquire who are? While I contend they may not innocently shrink from this responsibility, let me not be understood to encourage a spirit of contemptuous defiance of the opinions and usages of society; but rather a spirit of meekness, yet fidelity in instructing those who oppose themselves. Public opinion, let us remember, may be led by the hand, but not by the nose.
This last caution, however, is doubtless superfluous. Our greatest fear in these days, is, that there are few who will have the courage to "go ahead," and attempt to lead it at all. Dr. Channing justly observes, that "moral courage is not the virtue of our times. The love of popularity is the all-tainting vice of a Republic." And here lies our national danger. And here is furnished a powerful argument to leave no means untried to give additional energy and independence to the pulpit,
"Which is the most effectual guard,
Support, and ornament of virtue's cause."
But I must abruptly leave this train of thought, or I shall not have an opportunity even to inform my auditors that I have not forgotten the ladies of this association; nor the important and responsible position which educated females occupy in relation to society and our country. I should do injustice to my subject, not to allude to the fact that enlightened females have had very much to do in rendering our Republic as happy and inviting as it is.
Indeed, if our country is already distinguished for its social virtues, and zeal in those enterprises that are calculated to lessen the aggregate of human woes, and to elevate, refine, and beautify the moral aspect of society, it is no flattery to say that we are more indebted for this state of things, to the indefatigable and unobtrusive efforts of our intelligent christian women, than to any other class of community; if not to all other human agencies put together. But may I not be permitted to enquire whether our educated women are doing all that might and ought to be done by them?
Have all the appropriate fields of female enterprise been explored? I think not; and I must be allowed to add, I am afraid they will not be entered, generally, until the principles of the Bible are more fully incorporated into the system of female education at our high schools, and exert a more commanding influence over all the habits and feelings of their inmates. There are sore evils, found not only in rude, but what is called fashionable society, that must be remedied, which none perhaps, except the accomplished and pious lady can remove; and which even she will not, dare not attempt, until she has been thoroughly imbued with the self-sacrificing spirit of the gospel. When this is done, she will remonstrate against that curriculum of female instruction which tends to enfeeble, instead of invigorating the intellect, and render the recipients fit for almost any thing rather than to perform the everyday duties of useful life.
She will repudiate that false refinement which has invented for fashionable ladies, a spurious christianity, and adopted a maudlin philanthropy, consisting chiefly of the substitution of a sickly, vaporish sentimentality, for genuine devotion; and which disdains the drudgery of visiting the sick, teaching in the Sunday School, soliciting charity for the needy, and the like, as fit only for the employment of common minds and vulgar hands.
She will enter her solemn protest against those rules of politeness which are arrayed in direct hostility to the moral precepts of christianity. That many of the conventional usages of what is erroneously called good society, in our country, are in complete collision with the morality inculcated in the Bible, is susceptible of the clearest proof.
A small book fell into my hands a few weeks since, while visiting in a respectable religious family, called the "Laws of Etiquette," which purported to be the standard of politeness for the city of Philadelphia. I had read but few pages before I was convinced that the title of the book was an egregious misnomer, and that instead of being entitled Rules of Etiquette, should have been "Rules to make a Hypocrite," as deception, hypocrisy, and even falsehood, were repeatedly recommended as necessary in certain cases, to true politeness. Alas, what would become of society if these principles should become universally prevalent. Although the book in question was evidently not the production of a woman's heart nor hand, such sentiments must be exploded; and the confederated influence of educated pious females can do it, and I believe they will do it, for the work of reform has already commenced.
Aye, they will do more than this. They will assert their rightful dominion over the empire of Fashion; or at least emancipate themselves from the cruel thraldom which this capricious tyrant too frequently fastens, especially upon the sex, and utterly refuse to obey any laws which she may see fit to enact, maugre [in defiance to] all consequences, that are at war with the religion, and the humanity of the Bible.
The christian ladies of our Republic are doing much, in their noiseless sphere, to liberate the sable African from the fetters of captivity. They are heartily co-operating in the work of evangelizing the heathen world. They have labored with untiring zeal, and glorious success, in the dethronement of Prince Alcohol; but I am inclined to think the crowning triumph of female enterprise, because the most difficult, will be the complete emancipation of themselves and society from the tyranny of those fashions and rules of social order, which are in direct collision with the statutes of the Almighty. And, I repeat it, the simple fact that this work is commenced, and which I trust will soon be universally prosecuted, especially in our schools of young ladies, is a sufficient guaranty of its successful issue.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Alumni Association: I have attempted to show that the high institutions of learning, which are thickly sprinkled over our happy land, are powerful centers of influence; and that our dearest interests as a nation absolutely require a more rigorous and healthy moral discipline in these schools of various grades, than has ordinarily been exercised since the establishment of our government.
Whether I have succeeded in my illustrations or not, I wish it to be distinctly understood, that the speaker does not claim to have made the discovery of the defect under consideration. He has professed to broach no new theory of education. Wiser, and better men, before he was born, have thought upon, and wept over this subject; and labored with more or less success to remedy the above specified, and other kindred evils, in the educational economy of the civilized world. Indeed, I am greatly mistaken if this institution was not erected with a direct reference to the promotion of the great interests which we have been discussing.
The venerable founders of our esteemed Alma Mater, were not satisfied to establish a Seminary of an elevated literary and scientific character; though they considered this of great importance, they were, if possible, still more ambitious that it should be at the same time, a religious nursery; a rich and fertile garden, where tender plants of immortality might grow and flourish in all that strengthens, exalts, and refines our race.
Whether the expectations of the original projectors have thus far in the history of Cazenovia Seminary been fully realized, we, my brethren, are perhaps too nearly related to it, to be proper judges. That it has been a perfect model of a decidedly religious Institution of science, and literature, completely adapted to the enterprising spirit of the age, it would betray unpardonable vanity to assert. But this we may safely say, no Institution of a similar character in the United States, has been more frequently and signally blessed by revivals of pure religion, which are certain indications of Divine approval, and the prevalence of a comparatively healthy moral influence.
Some of us, my brethren, as we well remember, with grateful emotions, here found a treasure such as was never dug from the mines of Golconda. Here we have regaled ourselves on fruits and flowers, more delicious and fragrant than ever grew in the Vale of Tempe; and quaffed purer and sweeter waters than ever gushed from the base of the Helicon.
Nor does it detract in the least from the truth of these encomiums, that instances have been known of individuals, with corrupt hearts and stupid brains, leaving this temple of learning little better and wiser than they came; for even the chisel of Phidias could not have fashioned and polished a perfect statue of Minerva, without a suitable block of marble; and the name of Apelles, long since would have slept in oblivion, had he been required to execute, in a single day, those master pieces of skill which have excited the admiration of the world.
While some of us lament that we did not longer enjoy the advantages of this or a similar institution, we have all, I trust, been favored here long enough to appreciate in some degree its value; and have kept ourselves sufficiently acquainted with its operations since we left the school, to justify the firm belief that the objects contemplated by its founders have been steadily held in view, and are still maintained by those who have the direct supervision of its interests.
Animated by these considerations, let us, my Brethren, not only rally around our Alma Mater, and concentrate our energies to promote her future prosperity; but excel all others in our endeavors to advance her financial interests, to keep her halls thronged with students, and to render her just such a Seminary as the emergencies of our country and our world demand. Nor shall our zeal stop here.
We will not cease our exertions in the cause which we have been contemplating, until every where within the sphere of our influence, to borrow the beautiful language of the venerable Nott: "We see the ivy of Parnassus entwined around the cedar of Lebanon, the banners of the cross planted in the vestibule of science; and we witness her temples, already sacred to truth, sacred also to devotion."
An Address by Rev. L. A. Eddy delivered before the Alumni Association of the Oneida Conference Seminary, Cazenovia, New York, July 15th, 1846. [Emphasis his.]
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