« PreviousContinue »
ments. By Joseph Story, LL.D., Dane Professor of Law in Har-
States of America.
A Letter to his Countrymen, by J. Fenimore Cooper.
1.- An Address delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society
of Harvard University, 28th August, 1834, on Classical Learning and Eloquence. By WILLIAM HOWARD GARDINER,
Counsellor at Law. Cambridge: 1834, 2.-A Discourse on the Studies of the University. By ADAM
SEDGWICK, M. A., F. R. S., &c. Woodwardian Professor and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Second Edition.
Cambridge (Eng.): 1834. 3.-A Discourse pronounced at the Inauguration of the Author as Eliot Professor of Greek Literature in Harvard University. August 26th, 1834. By CORNELIUS C. FELTON,
A. M. Cambridge: 1834. 4.-Oration on the Comparativ Elements and Dutys of Gre
cian and American Eloquence: Deliverd before the Erodelphian Society of Miami University, at Oxford, Ohio; on the 23d September, 1834: being their ninth annual celebration ; with notes. By THOMAS Smith GRIMKE, of Charleston, S. C. Cincinnati : 1834. 5.-An Address delivered on Monday, December 22d, 1834,
by Rev. Joun Ludlow, D. D., on the occasion of his Inauguration as Provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia : 1835.
We trust the time may one day arrive, though we may not live to welcome it, when there shall be some prescription in favour of the wisdom of our forefathers--when the self-sufficiency and arrogance of the present, will graciously yield a little deferVOL. XVII.--NO. 33.
ence to the experience of the past, and when the elements of knowledge, political, moral, and religious, shall cease to be daily reproduced, in new and monstrous combinations, to confound and bewilder all simple and sober inquiry; to puzzle the will, and harass the judgment. We cannot but hope, that the ferment of opinion, upon every debateable question, which distinguishes our age and country, is a process which, out of chaos, not only will produce forms beautiful and new, but which, on the retiring of the waters, will leave in our view, not shattered relics merely, but many a lofty column, with the evidence of ancient truth, untarnished, upon its capital.
It might be a subject of curious and not unphilosophical investigation, to inquire, whither the lust of innovation may carry a people, whose very national existence originated in a bold disregard of probabilities and precedents, and whose government is even yet one of experiment. Speculation is a grand element of the American character. In physics it has done so much for us, that we would fain apply it to give direction to the laws which regulate moral action, and to the science of politics. Accordingly, none but the most general principles are held to be settled among us.
There is a fascination to most men in the novelty of change, which causes them to forget the sacrifices which are made to produce it. Besides, it flatters the intellect, the assumption of the moment always being that it is for the better. That very activity of mind, which impels our countrymen to the execution of feasible and beneficial undertakings, prompts them, at the same time, to entertain every wild and visionary scheme which enthusiasm or cunning can broach. The wildest fanatic allures followers,* because, in an extended and diversified population, with much self-confidence and some acquirement, hemmed within no ancient boundaries of thought, and shackled by no venerable forms, he is sure to strike some responsive cord among the millions of his fellow-citizens. The imagination, which in old countries is fed from the past, and principally by the material, is with us forced upon the future and the moral. Our population, therefore, is more reflective than that of Europe, but reflection, undirected, or ill-directed, is not a little dangerous. It may teach a man his powers, but it is very apt to mislead him in their
application. Thus, in no country is there to be found a greater mass of crude and undigested theory, of variant and absurd belief-in no country where rights are so accurately defined, are they so liable to be misconceived--in no country are the rules of action subject to so many modifications and interpretations,
* Witness the progress of Mormonism, and the blasphemous and impudent imposture of Matthias.
from uninformed and visionary jurisprudence, striving to adjust at a stroke, complicated and jarring elements. The anomalies of our situation are, we trust, more a subject of curiosity than apprehension. Yet they have thus far been overcome rather by the flexibility than the force of our institutions. A looker-on might suppose that we have enough to grapple with in the heterogeneous nature of our population, and the problems which the progress of government affords for our solution, without diverging any farther from old opinion, (the cohesive power, say what we may, that has thus far kept the world together,) upon subjects of a different character. We ought at least to learn the art of selfgovernment, before we attempt to revolutionize morals and literature, settling, if it be possible, one rock below the quicksand, for a safe and secure foundation.
This versatility of mind, looking less to improvement than to alteration, and bending its energies agreeably to each new impulse, is the direct antagonist of social order. It tampers ignorantly with the most delicate elements, and foolishly rushes in “where angels fear to tread.” Society lives with it as in an agitated cauldron, where the lees are as frequently on the surface as the nobler ingredients. As we are more liable to its influences than any other nation, so in many respects we are worse provided against its effects. In Europe, there is a barrier over which Lycurgus himself, with a new code in his hand, would find it hard to climb. Established institutions are so interwoven with the tenure of property, and the long chain of private rights, that innovation, incautiously conducted, is revolution.
We have no such check, and heaven forbid that we should have ; but it is earnestly to be desired, that we may acquire some of the caution which attends it. Better that there should exist some theoretical errors, than that fundamental doctrines should be kept forever astir. The Locrian law is preferable to incessant uncertainty and change. It is a mistake to believe that any edifice can sustain continual alterations and substitutions, without being weakened. Doctrines abstractedly unexceptionable, may be ill adapted to a particular form of government, and yet, were society in the eggshell, they might be among those which it ought soonest to adopt on its advent.® Time,” says a favourite author, “changes anomaly into system, and injury into right; examples beget custom, and custom ripens into law, and the doubtful precedent of one generation, becomes the fundamental maxim of another. Ancient systems and opinions are valuable, not because they bring with them the sanction of a remote age, but because they are the product of the wisdom of many ages-an alluvion rich with the aecretions of successive centuries.
There is another feature in the national mind, the result of a peculiar position and discipline, to which we must necessarily