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Tell not me that between ignorance and virtue, ignorance and piety, or ignorance and bliss, there exists any shadow of native affinity—that in the hearts of the uninformed rather than of the enlightened, of the clown rather than of the gentleman, and of the peasant rather than of the philosopher, we are to look for the workings of genuine religion. The sentiment, although often defended and strenuously inculcated in the cant of the day, is a violation of truth, an outrage on common sense, and a presujnptuous insult to the God of knowledge. I venture to assert, but not irreverently, that while debased by ignorance, warped by superstition, and brutalU zed by the vices which necessarily accompany them, the Deity himself not only will not, but cannot make man the subject of high and celestial happiness. The ground of this assertion must be obvious to every one. The Deity, all perfect as he is, and governed by the infinity of his own perfections, can neither achieve contradictions, nor act in opposition to his own nature and his own laws.
True knowledge, sound virtue, and rational piety are natural associates. If not related to each other as parrent and offspring—which might, perhaps, be proved to be the case—they must, at least, be recognizad as twin sisters, knowledge being the elder and the more efficient. Unless she afford her lights to direct her younger sisters, virtue and piety, and her influence to retain them within their legitimate bounds, they forfeit their names, by pursuing a career in all cases fruitless, and in many preeminently revolting and destructive. Of the truth of this,the history of religion is abundantly pregnant with instructive examples.
If, then, knowledge is the most invaluable of human possessions,if it has constituted avowedly and still constitutes, the fairest and loftiest object of ambition with many of the greatest and best of men that the world has produced; and if, as I trust is the case, an ardent love of it has assembled you within these walls, and the attainment of it, in ample measure, is the object to which you zealously and perseveringly aspire—-If these things are true, it will not, as I flatter myself, be deemed by you either uninteresting or useless, that I should so far examine the subject, as to disclose to you some of the obstacles which you will be compelled to encounter in the prosecution of your wishes. It is only from an intimate acquaintance with those obstacles, that you can hope or be prepared to avoid, remove, or ultimately surmount them.
Next to the intrinsic difficulty of the pursuit, arising out of the limited capacity of man, and the extent and intricacy of the system of nature, the most formidable obstacle to the attainment of knowledge, is presented by the dependent and shackled condition of the human intellect—a condition, which not only enfeebles its energy in action, but detracts not a little from its disposition to act
To many, if not to most of you, this proposition will probably appear, at first view, to stand on a foundation dubious at least, if not radically defective. You, no doubt, fancy y ourselves convinced by personal consciousness, that your own intellects, neither dependent nor trammeled, but under your own entire control, are perfectly free to search for truth wherever it may lie concealed, and embrace it freely, wherever it may present
itself. And hence you will probably infer that the intellects of others are, in an equal degree, independent and free.
If such be your opinion, permit me respectfully to express my apprehension, that you have formed it hastily, without that thorough examination of your own feelings, and that strict attention to your own experience, which are essential to a perfect acquaintance with yourselves. It is indeed a matter exceedingly doubtful, whether the most enlightened, severe, and accurate self-scrutinizer who honors me with his presence, is aware of the extent to which his intellect is deprived of its independence and freedom. An analysis of this s subject being somewhat curious as well as useful, encourages me to hope, that you will neither deem it an unsuitable theme for the remainder of my address to you, on the present occasion, nor refuse me your attention in the course of the discussion.
, As a preliminary, essential to accuracy in the disquisition, allow me to observe, that as the person of man is deprived of a portion of its liberty by every thing that prevents or impedes its entire freedom and efficiency of action, the same is true in relation to his intellect. To be independent and free, the latter, like the former, must be exempt from restraint, coercion and bias. It mnst be at liberty to investigate, without prepossession, every subject that may be presented to it, in every mode of research of which the subject is susceptible.
The first consideration to which I shall invite your attention, as tending to the abridgment of intellectual freedom, is what is usually denominated the prejudice$ of education.
The vast extent of this cause, and the great amount of its influence in the control of the intellect—in one case restraining it from action, in another irresistably urging it on; now authoritatively directing the course it is to pursue and the topics it is to investigate, and again interdicting it from the course and subjecis H would itself select; and inmost instances modifying the issue of its labours—The extent, I say, of this cause, and the influence it exercises over the condition of the intellect, but few, perhaps, have examined with the strictness they deserve, or allowed them the weight which they actually possess in their effects on the progress of human knowledge.
It will be understood and born in mind, that the term education, as here employed, is not limited to the mere information we receive, and the intellectual discipline we experience, at seats of learning. Its interpretation is intended to have a much wider scope. It embraces the entire amount of the intellectual cultivation we attain during life, by reading, observation, reflection, conversation, oral instruction generally, and every other mode of improving our faculties, and acquiring knowledge. It means the general course of inquiry our intellect is compelled to pursue, the shape into which it is moulded, the opinions it adopts and the principles implanted in it, and the modes of investigation to which it is forced to conform, by the predominant spirit and peculiar character of the age, country, and civil community in which we live. It means, in fact, the aggregate effect, produced on man by all sensative impressions from without, whether literary or social, physical or moral, theological or political, and all the intellectual exercises in which he engages.
That this confederacy of agents exerts over the intellect a very marked and controling influence, abridging, in many instances, its freedom of action, first principles induce us to believe, and all experience definitively proves.
By a recognized and immutable law of his nature, cultivated man is necessarily the creature of the circumstances that surround him. By them, as instruments in the hand of Heaven, he is fashioned into the being which he ultimately becomes. Nor, while placed in the midst of them, does he possess the power to resist their action. The general sweep of the combined influences, moral and physical, social and political, philosophical and literary, of the period and country in which he lives, he can no more resist intellectually, than he could corporeally, if thrown on its surface, the surge of the ocean when driven by a tempest.
The customary studies of the time are his studies, and it is rare that he either varies or transcends them; the science, letters, and arts are his, and he goes not beyond them; the manners, customs and amusements ate his; the feelings, taste and opinions ate his; and his are the prejudices and superstitions, the pre,* dilections and antipathies that generally prevail. Even when of the highest order and the most capacious span, his intellect can be nothing more than a correct epitome of the intellect of the time. If to this rule a few rare and signal exceptions have existed, they are but exceptions, and but few—ran nantes in gurgite vasto—and must be so considered.
That this statement is true, the works of authors who have flourished at different periods bear ampte