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that?" say we. “Our fathers — they were giants, were
they? Not at all, only great boys, and we are not only taller than they, but mounted on their shoulders to boot, and see twice as far. My dear wise man, or wiseacre, it is we that
. are the ancients, and have forgotten more than all our fathers knew. We will take their wisdom joyfully, and thank God for it, but not their authority, - we know better, - and of their nonsense not a word. It was very well that they lived, and it is very well that they are dead. Let them keep decently buried, for respectable dead men never walk."
Tradition does not satisfy us. The American scholar has no folios in his library. The antiquary unrolls his codex, hid for eighteen hundred years in the ashes of Herculaneum, deciphers its fossil wisdom, telling us what great men thought in the bay of Naples, and two thousand years ago. do you tell of that for?” is the answer to his learning, “What has Pythagoras to do with the price of cotton ? You may be a very learned man; you can read the hieroglyphics of Egypt, I dare say, and know so much about the Pharaohs, it is a pity you had not lived in their time, when you might have been good for something; but you are too old-fashioned for our business, and may return to your
dust." An eminent American, a student of Egyptian history, with a scholarly indignation declared, “ There is not a man who cares to know whether Shoophoo lived one thousand years before Christ, or three.”
The example of other and ancient states does not terrify or instruct us. If Slavery were a curse to Athens, the corruption of Corinth, the undoing of Rome, - and all history shows it was so, - we will learn no lesson from that experience,
“ We are not Athenians, men of Corinth, nor pagan Romans, thank God, but free Republicans, Christians of America. We live in the nineteenth century, and though Slavery worked all that mischief then and there, we know how to make money out of it -- twelve hundred millions of dollars, as Mr. Clay counts the cash.”
The example of contemporary nations furnishes us little warning or guidance. We will set our own precedents, and do not like to be told that the Prussians or the Dutch have learned some things in the education of the people before us, which we shall do well to learn after them. So when a good man tells us of their schools and their colleges, “patriotic schoolmasters exclaim, “ It is not true; our schools are the
for we say,
best in the world! But if it were true, it is unpatriotic to say so; it aids and comforts the enemy. Jonathan knows little of war; he has heard his grandfather talk of Lexington and Saratoga ; he thinks he should like to have a little touch of battle on his own account: so when there is difficulty in setting up the fence betwixt his estate and his neighbours, he blusters for a while, talks big, and threatens to strike his father; but, not having quite the stomach for that experiment, falls to beating his other neighbour, who happens to be poor, weak, and of a sickly constitution; and when he beats her at every step,–
“For 't is no war, as each one knows,
When only one side deals the blows,
Jonathan thinks he has covered himself “ with imperishable honors,” and sets up his general for a great king. Poor Jonathan - he does not know the misery, the tears, the blood, the shame, the wickedness, and the sin he has set a-going, and which one day he is to account for with God who forgets nothing!
Yet while we are so unwilling to accept the good principles, to be warned by the fate, or guided by the success, of other nations, we gladly and servilely copy their faults, their follies, their vice and sin. Like all upstarts, we pique ourselves on our imitation of aristocratic ways. How many a blusterer in Congress, - for there are two denominations of blusterers, differing only in degree, your great blusterer in Congress and your little blusterer in a bar-room, — has roared away hours long against aristocratic influence, in favor of the “pure
' democracy,” while he played the oligarch in his native village, the tyrant over his hired help, and though no man knows who his grandfather was, spite of the herald's office, conjures up some trumpery coat of arms! Like a clown, who, by pinching his appetite, has bought a gaudy cloak for Sabbath wearing, we chuckle inwardly at our brave apery of foreign absurdities, hoping that strangers will be astonished at us which, sure enough, comes to pass. Jonathan is as vain as he is conceited, and expects that the Fiddlers, the Dickenses, and the Trollopes, who visit us periodically as the swallows, and likewise for what they can catch, shall only extol, or at least stand aghast at the brave spectacle we offer, of "the freest and most enlightened nation in the world”; and if they tell us that we are an ill-mannered set, raw and clownish, that we pick our teeth with a fork, loll back in our chairs, and make our countenance hateful with tobacco, and that with all our excellences we are a nation of “rowdies," — why, we are offended, and our feelings are hurt. There was an African chief, long ago, who ruled over a few miserable cabins, and one day received a French traveller from Paris, under a tree. With the exception of a pair of shoes, our chief was as naked as a pestle, but with great complacency he asked the traveller, “What do they say of me at Paris ?”
Such is our dread of authority that we like not old things; hence we are always a-changing: Our house must be new,
. and our book, and even our church. So we choose a material that soon wears out, though it often outlasts our patience. The wooden house is an apt emblem of this sign of the times. But this love of change appears not less in important matters. We think “ of old things all are over old, of new things none are new enough. So the age asks of all institutions their right to be ; What right has the government to existence; who gave the majority a right to control the minority, to restrict trade, levy taxes, make laws, and all that? If the nation goes into a committee of the whole and makes laws, some little man goes into a committee of one and passes his counter resolves. The state of South Carolina is a nice example of this selfreliance and this questioning of all authority. That little brazen state, which contains only about half so many free white inhabitants as the single city of New York, but which none the less claims to have monopolized most of the chivalry of the nation, and its patriotism, as well as political wisdom that chivalrous little state says, “ If the nation does not make laws to suit us ; if it does not allow us to imprison all black seamen from the North ; if it prevents the extension of Slavery wherever we wish to carry it — then the state of South Carolina will nullify, and leave the other nine and twenty states to go to ruin !"
Men ask what right have the churches to the shadow of authority which clings to them -- to make creeds, and to bind
, and to loose! So it is a thing which has happened, that when a church excommunicates a young stripling for heresy, he turns round, fulminates his edict, and excommunicates the church. Said a sly Jesuit to an American Protestant at Rome, “But the rites and customs and doctrines of the Catholic church go back to the second century,after the apostles!” “No doubt of it," said the American,
who had also read the Fathers, “ they go back to the times of the apostles themselves; but that proves nothing, for there were as great fools in the first century as the last. A fool or a folly is no better because it is an old folly or an old fool. There are fools enough now, in all conscience. Pray do n't go back to prove their apostolical succession.”
There are always some men who are born out of due season, men of past ages, stragglers of former generations, who ought to have been born before Dr. Faustus invented printing, but who are unfortunately born now, or, if born long ago, have been fraudulently and illegally concealed by their mothers, and are now, for the first time, brought to light. The age lifts such aged juveniles from the ground, and bids them live, but they are sadly to seek in this day; they are old-fashioned boys; their authority is called in question ; their traditions and old wives' fables are laughed at, at any rate disbelieved ; they get profanely elbowed in the crowd - men not knowing their great age and consequent venerableness; the shovel hat, though apparently born on their head, is treated with disrespect. The very boys laugh pertly in their face when they speak, and even old men can scarce forbear a smile, though it may be a smile of pity. The age affords such men a place, for it is a catholic age, large-minded, and tolerant, - such a place as it gives to ancient armor, Indian Bibles, and fossil bones of the Mastodon ; it puts them by in some room seldom used, with other old furniture, and allows them to mumble their anilities by themselves; now and then takes off its hat; looks in, charitably, to keep the mediæval relics in good heart, and pretends to listen, as they discourse of what comes of nothing and goes to it; but in matters which the age cares about, commerce, manufactures, politics, which it cares much for, even in education, which it cares far too little about, it trusts no such counsellors, nor tolerates, nor ever affects to listen.
Then there is a Philosophical Tendency, distinctly visible; a groping after Ultimate Facts, First Principles, and Universal Ideas. We wish to know first the Fact, next the Law of that Fact, and then the Reason of the Law. A sign of this tendency is noticeable in the titles of books; we have no longer “ treatises” on the Eye, the Ear, Sleep, and so forth, but in their place we find works professing to treat of the “ Philoso phy" of vision, of sound, of sleep. Even in the Pulpits men speak about the “ Philosophy” of Religion ; we have philo
sophical lectures delivered to men of little culture, which would have amazed our grandfathers, who thought a shoemaker should never beyond his last, even to seek for the philosophy of shoes.” “What a pity,” said a grave Scotchman in the beginning of this century,“ to teach the beautiful science of geometry to weavers and cobblers.” Here nothing is too good or high for any one tall and good enough to get hold of it. What audiences attend the Lowell lectures in Boston two or three thousand men listening to twelve lectures on the Philosophy of fish! it would not bring a dollar or a vote, only thoughts to their minds! Young ladies are well versed in the philosophy of the affections, and understand the Theory of Attraction, while their grandmothers, good easy souls, were satisfied with the possession of the Fact. The circumstance that philosophical lectures get delivered by men like Walker, Agassiz, Emerson, and their coadjutors — men who do not spare abstruseness get listened to and even understood in town and village by large crowds of men of only the most common culture,
- this indicates a philosophical tendency unknown in any other land or age. Our circle of professed scholars, men of culture and learning, is a very small one, while our circle of thinking men is disproportionately large. The best thought of France and Germany finds a readier welcome here than in our parent land : nay, the newest and the best thought of England finds its earliest and warmest welcome in America. It was a little remarkable that Bacon and Newton should be reprinted here, and La Place should have found his translator and expositor coming out of an Insurance Office in Salem ! Men of no great pretensions object to an accomplished and eloquent politician : “ That is all very well; he made us cry and laugh, but the discourse was not philosophical; he never tells us the reason of the thing; he seems not only not to know it, but not to know that there is a reason for the thing, and if not, what is the use of this bobbing on the surface? Young maidens complain of the minister that he has no philosophy in his sermons, nothing but precepts, which they could read in the Bible as well as he; perhaps in heathen Seneca. He does not feed their souls.
One finds this tendency where it is least expected; there is a philosophical party in politics, a very small party it may be, but an actual one. They aim to get at Everlasting Ideas and Universal Laws not made by man, but by God and for man, who only finds them; and from them they aim to deduce all