Page images
PDF
EPUB

the hopes of those noble minds, who, while toiling for truth in the Old World, send to Heaven their aspirations for its final triumph in the New.

But while we glory in such honorable facts, we must not shut our eyes to the serious deficiencies chargeable on our country. In the department of Natural Science, we have few collections, except those made by individual enterprise and at private expense. The Old World is still our school of letters and art, our scholars are still the pupils and pensionaries of European literature. The Germans, whose achievements in every province of intellectual labor have made the name of their lettered race illustrious, furnish the erudition of the world. Our artists must banish themselves from their native land, because the great collections of painting and statuary are found only under the skies of Italy. Having few resources of art at home, the Greenoughs, Powers, Crawford, Story, Paige, Thompson, whose genius and labors honor the American name, must wander to a foreign, soil, made sacred by the genius of the past, and take their lessons in the Ufficii, the Pitti, — the Vatican and the Capitol.

These wants may and ought to be supplied, so far as the nature of the case admits. True, we can never hope to bring the Apollo Belvedere, or the Parthenon, to our shores. We can annex many things, but we cannot annex the Vatican, or the Museo Borbonico, or the buried city of Pompeii; but we are rich and may buy copies of every work of art, and of every book that comes from a teeming press. It is no excuse to say we are a young people, and it takes time to build up great collections and vast libraries. The best libraries in Europe are not so old as that of Harvard College; Gottingen counts not half so many years, and the noble University Library of Berlin scarcely surpasses the average age of man. The library of the University of Athens — although that city of ancient fame lay in ruins after the desperate and bloody war of the Revolution, only five-and-twenty years ago — now contains eighty thousand volumes, and is constantly used by six hundred students and forty learned professors. The smallest German principality has its university, its museums, its richly furnished library, compared with which our own, except the Astor Library in New York, are but poor and insignificant. Will it be said that a petty German principality, of a few square miles in extent, can support establishments which the United States are too young and too poor to maintain %

The museums and libraries of Europe are kept abreast with the progress of the age, by the munificence of even the despotic governments. Men of learning may investigate any subject, without the necessity of travelling from place to place, to find the books or specimens they need. Unhappily, men of learning are not always rich, and works of science, when published, are not always found in railway libraries, and bought by a discerning public, like popular novels. The astronomer, who lives laborious days in the profoundest researches, must publish his results by giving his time and labor gratuitously, and perhaps eke out his publisher's balance against his subscription list by private tuition in the elementary mathematics. A great historical scholar plans a work for the delight and instruction of the world: he must send to Europe and buy books, and get manuscripts copied, at his own ex-' pense: the good taste of the English and American public perhaps in time repays with interest the outlay that must be made, before the History of Ferdinand and Isabella and the Conquest of Mexico can be produced. Another distinguished scholar writes a History of Spanish Literature, destined to take the highest rank at home and abroad, and to become the standard of authority in that department of elegant letters. But that work could not have been written in our country by any scholar, however accomplished, who was not at the same time endowed with a large share of this world's goods. Books must be purchased, public and private libraries in Europe must be visited, and thus, at a vast expenditure of time and talent and money, that great literary achievement is accomplished, conferring on our country the honor of having produced a work on an interesting branch of European literature, which European scholarship welcomes as a precious addition to its treasures of learning. Could a poor man, however able, have written Bancroft's classical History of the United States 1 Could Longfellow have expounded Dante and Goethe to his classes, with the literary resources of Harvard College Library 1 Can any scholar write the history of Greek or Roman literature, with no other books than the College Library affords, and no other pecuniary means than a Professor's scanty salary? Is it possible, here or anywhere in the United States, for the scholar, in any department of knowledge, to maintain himself at the height of the ■ age, — to know what is elsewhere known, and what he must know, if he would do justice to his subject or himself %

And yet our relations with the rest of the world are peculiarly favorable to unobstructed progress. We are the friends of all, — the enemies of none. We .are the heirs of all past ages. Greece and Rome and Mediaeval Europe have bequeathed their treasures, and placed their culture and wisdom within our reach. We can make our own the best contributions of the best minds in the present world, and all over the world. Inventive genius is everywhere redeeming the hand of man from slavery, to give fuller scope to the thoughtful brain. The sweating brow is becoming a reminiscence, or a figure of speech. The forces of nature, working with no sense of fatigue, do willing homage to the mind of man, and render endless service to society by multiplying and improving production a thousand-fold; and no cities of meagre workmen, standing on the brink of famine, arrest by violence the progress of mechanical art, driven to despair by the spectres of falling prices and starvation. All this intellect disengaged from toil by the giant powers of nature should be so much gained to the cultivation and enlargement of knowledge. We sprang from a civilized nation, — not a horde of barbarians, — more than two centuries ago; and for the longer part of that time we have had no greater difficulties to overcome than our brethren who staid at home; not so great as those which have checked the progress of other kindred and older nations. At the present moment the New World need lag behind the civilization of the Old only by the nine days in which the ocean steamers cross the dividing seas; and the returning voyage of these same ocean steamers ought to change the balance on the other side.

An ancient orator, claiming for his beloved Athens the leadership among the states of Greece, rests his argument chiefly on her preeminence in those intellectual graces which embellish the present life of man, and her inculcation of those doctrines which gave to the initiated a sweeter hope of a life beyond the present. Virgil, in stately hexameters, by the shadowy lips of father Anchises in Elysium, calls on the Roman to leave these things to others : —

"Excudent alii spirantia mollius sera
Credo equidem; vivos ducent de marmore vultus,
Orabunt causas melius, ccelique meatus
Describent radio et surgentia sidera dicent;
Tu regere imperio populus, Romane, memento,
Hae tibi erunt artes; pacisque imponere morem,
Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos."

These lines strike the' key-notes to Greek and Roman character, — Greek and Roman history. During the long existence of the Athenian Republic, amidst the interruptions of foreign and domestic wars, — her territory overrun by Hellenic and Barbarian armies, her forests burned, her fields laid waste, her temples levelled in the dust, — in those tumultuous ages of her democratic existence, the fire of her creative genius never smouldered. She matured and perfected the art of historical composition, of political and forensic eloquence, of popular legislation, of lyric and dramatic poetry, of music, painting, architecture, and sculpture; she unfolded the mathematics, theoretically and practically, and clothed the moral and metaphysical sciences in the brief sententious wisdom of the myriad-minded Aristotle, and the honeyed eloquence of Plato. Rome overran the world with her arms, and though she did

« PreviousContinue »