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studies and pursuits; and this attachment is perhaps still stronger, when such object is of a great, disinterested and meritorious nature, intend to promote the welfare of others and to extend its benefic effects to future times.-It is therefore with no common are of gratification, that I now find myself in the midst of an assembly convened together for the purpose of opening, in this great commercial town, an institution for the promotion of science, of literature and of art-an institution which has already been distinguished by royal patronage, and has received the liberal support of the municipal authorities of the place in which we live, whose members now honor us with their presence. Appointed by your Committee to address you on this occasion, I gladly avail myself of the opportunity, at this our first meeting, to congratulate you in our united names on the success which has hitherto attended our efforts; and to express our ardent wishes and humble hopes, that the Great Disposer of events may approve of the motives which have given rise to this attempt, and may render it subservient to those purposes of extensive utility which it is its avowed object
It will perhaps be expected that I should devote the time in which I hope to be honored with your attention, to explain the nature of this Institution; to point out the system of instruction to be adopted; and to expatiate on the various objects which it is intended to embrace; but this has already been done, as fully as present circumstances admit, first, in the detailed plan, and more recently in the Report of the Committee; both of which have been printed and submitted to the consideration of the proprietors. I shall therefore indulge myself, on the present occasion, in a wider range; and shall endeavor to discover to what causes we are to attribute the rise and progress of Letters, of science and of art, and to trace the vicissitudes which they have experienced; at the same time taking notice of the bearings they have upon the more important avocations of life, and on the prosperity of those countries in which they have been encouraged. These inquiries appear to me to be highly essential to our present purpose; as enabling us, in the first place, to determine how far the accomplishment of our object depends upon extrinsic circumstances, and how far on our own exertions; and secondly, as tending to confirm us in the opinion, that scientific and literary pursuits are not only consistent with our more serious avocations, but that they have a direct and manifest tendency to promote the welfare and exalt the character of every community into which they have been introduced.
To whatever remote period we may trace back the history of the human race, and in whatever state of ignorance we may find them, we must allow them to possess those feelings and characteristics which are common to our species. Hence man, in his
most uncultivated state, is as much alive to acts of beneficence as when he is improved by taste or enlightened by science. Generosity awakes his gratitude, and acts of hostility excite his resentment. The favors which he receives and sensibly feels, he will endeavor to acknowledge by some external act or expression; and his first effort for this purpose is that germ of civilization and refinement, the developement of which future circumstances may either hasten or retard.
Whether we suppose the idea of a Supreme Being to be innate or acquired, it is certainly one of those sentiments which are incident to the earliest periods of society; insomuch that we can scarcely suppose any nation to have been so ignorant, as to have enjoyed the bounties of Providence without once asking whence they were derived. It is indeed so natural that this should be the first reflection that must occur to a rational mind, that the aptitude and propriety of the conduct to the situation, satisfies us with the representation given by our great poet, of the feelings and language of our common parent—
"Thou sun, said I, fair light!
-Not of myself-by some GREAT MAKER, then,
If from previous reasoning we are led to suppose that such would be the language of a rational being, in the situation described-that opinion may perhaps be thought to receive some confirmation from the consideration, that the earliest traces of literary composition have in all countries been devoted to religious purposes, and to the acknowledgment of blessings, which it was impossible in any other manner to repay.
But with all these succours, the individuals of the human race are still weak without the aid and support of each other. Hence the man who first teaches us to screen ourselves from the inclemencies of the weather, who instructs us how to till the earth, or to navigate the ocean, who frees the country from beasts of prey, or opposes himself to the brutal fury of the oppressor, appears, in the estimation of those who are benefited by his labors, as a being of a superior order, entitled to their esteem, their veneration, and their homage. To attempt refined distinctions is not the character of a rude people-and hence the origin of Polytheism, or Hero-worship; which has been considered by a distinguished
writer, though upon grounds which I own do not carry with them Conviction. to my mind, as the "primitive religion of uninstructed mankind
Nor is it alone to the emotions of gratitude and the sense of ligion, that we are to attribute the expansion of those feelings which are expressed in works of literature and art. Whatever forcibly interests the affections of man, may be esteemed a concurrent cause of the efforts which he makes to communicate to another his own peculiar impressions. To the passion of love, we may in all ages attribute the most affecting and refined productions of the human intellect-even resentment and indignation have had no inconsiderable share in calling into action the faculties of the human race.
The intimate connexion which subsists between literature and the arts, is in no instance more apparent than in their common origin, and the certainty with which they may be referred to the same principles of human nature. Those emotions of admiration, of gratitude or of love, which call forth from one the spontaneous effusions of warm and energetic language, excite in another person the desire of perpetuating the resemblance of the object of his affection, or of recalling to memory those scenes which had afforded him so much pleasure. Whilst the poet celebrates in elevated language the deeds of his hero, the painter animates his canvas with the same subject; and whilst the former relates to us an impassioned narrative, the latter brings the transaction immediately before our eyes. The course of improvement thus begun is encouraged by applause, and excited to a still higher pitch by emulation; till at length not only individuals but nations become distinguished by their superior proficiency in these pursuits.
It may, however, justly be thought extraordinary, that when mankind have once arrived at a high degree of improvement, and by long and unwearied exertions have divested themselves of the shackles of ignorance, they should again be liable to fall into a state of debasement, and to forfeit those acquisitions which required such an effort of genius and of labor to obtain. It might reasonably have been presumed, that when letters and arts had arrived at a certain eminence, when the principles on which they are founded are known and acknowledged, and particularly when those principles are illustrated and exemplified by the permanent labors of the chisel, the pencil, and the pen, mankind would thus far have secured their progress; and instead of having to fear a relapse into their former state of ignorance and barbarism, would only have to look ardently forwards towards higher degrees of improvement. Experience however affords a perpetual proof, that this is not
the condition of our nature. Even when knowledge and taste E been interwoven with the very manners and habits of a people, disseminated amongst large and prosperous nations, frequent stances have occurred, in which they have in a short ti obliterated and lost; insomuch that their very existence would problematical, were it not for the ocular and substantial pro which they have left of their former excellence, and which, when measured by the powers and capacities of succeeding ages, appear like the productions of a superior race of beings.
To what causes we are to attribute the progress or decline of a nation, in letters, or in arts, is certainly an investigation of no inconsiderable difficulty. Mr. Hume appears to have doubted whether the rise and progress of all the refined arts are not rather to be attributed to chance; as if chance meant any thing more than causes which it is difficult or perhaps impossible to ascertain. He concludes, however, that "in many cases good reasons may be given why a nation is more polite and learned at a particular time than any of its neighbours;" and proceeds to explain this circumstance upon grounds to some of which it will be necessary hereafter to advert.
If we may trust to a very ancient popular opinion, the energies of nature have, from the earliest records of society, been continually declining; so that the productions of her later years can stand in no degree of comparison with those of her more vigorous youth. From the days of Homer, this has been the general burthen of the poet's song, and has frequently been confirmed by the deliberate sanction of the philosopher.—But although opinions mostly obtain credit by their antiquity, this opinion, in particular, derives no advantage from that circumstance. On the contrary, that very antiquity is the most decisive proof that it is wholly unfounded. If the human race had declined from its pristine vigor between the period of the Trojan war, and the time of Homer, to what a degree of imbecility must it have fallen in the reign of Augustus ! And if, in like manner, the complaints of the Roman poets, of the deterioration of the human race, be well founded, to what a miserable state of degradation must it before this time have been reduced! After so long a descent, is it possible that nature could still have produced a Dante or an Ariosto? a Shakspeare or a Milton? a Corneille or a Racine? Names which, without an invidious competition with those of ancient times, will sufficiently shew that her vigor is not exhausted; but that she sull continues to bring forth. the fruits of the mind, no less than those of the earth, in all their original strength, quality and flavor.
In direct opposition to this dispiriting idea of the declining condition of our nature, others have entertained an opinion, that the human race is in a regular and progressive course of improvement, and that every age of the world is more enlightened than
tich preceded it. As a proof of this, they point out the cate of each nation, and trace its progress from barbarism to ction, from civilization to refinement. Instead of bowing defore the mighty names of antiquity, and acknowledging an inty of intellect, they pretend to avail themselves of the kidge of former times, and suppose that by uniting with it the Sore important discoveries of the moderns, the circle of knowdge is enlarged, and the conveniencies, and even the elegancies of life rendered much more attainable than at any former period. Under these impressions, they scruple not to express their contempt for every former state of society, and their high opinion of that in which they have the happiness to live. Not however content with the eminence at which they have arrived, hope spreads her wings and launches into the realms of conjecture; and the confidence of having done much, gives the assurance that we shall accomplish more. Without wishing to damp this ardor, it may be proper to observe, that if we are to judge from the experience of past ages, we shall scarcely be allowed to conclude that such regular, or progressive improvement, is the characteristic of the human race. If such were the fact, it must of course follow, that nations once civilized never again become retrograde, but must continue to rise till they attain their highest degree of perfection. But where are the countries in which letters and arts have made an uninterrupted progress? or where have they for any great length of time been even stationary? Is India still the fountain of knowledge? and can she boast of her sages, the oracles of wisdom, who attract inquirers and disciples from distant regions? Is the condition of Egypt improved by the flight of three thousand years? or have her pyramids been surpassed by the labors of subsequent times? What was Greece once? what is she now? Characterised in the first instance by whatever was bright in genius, rich in intellect, excellent in art-in the latter by whatever is degraded and servile in human nature. Contrast republican with papal Rome. Examine the names that grace the rolls of antiquity, from the first to the second Brutus, and ask whether the inhabitants of modern Rome will be as well known at the distance of two thousand years, as their illustrious predecessors. Alas the scene is changed! and for century after century the peasant and the slave have trampled on the dust of heroes, as unconscious of their worth as the cattle that crop the herbage on their remains. Such is the boasted improvement of the human race; such the permanency of knowledge in nations where she has once established her seat! The tree perishes; and the transplanted scions will, unless they be carefully fostered, experience in their turn a similar fate.
Dismissing then the idea that there is in the human mind an