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we made eager inquiries after Scylla and Charybdis. He assured us that he had never heard of either, said that he found ample sea-room and safe navigation through the strait, and could not tell what the old poets meant by filling so comfortable a ship's track with supernatural terrors.
After science had begun to clear away the mystery and awe that rested on outward nature, superstition still had a strong hold, not only on the ignorant, but among the lettered and refined; and even those who had themselves outgrown ideas of this class have sympathized sufficiently with the popular mind to enjoy imagery founded upon them. Accordingly, since the classic mythology yielded place, demons, fairies, supernatural appearances and interpositions, have furnished, almost up to our own day, ample materials for romance and poetry; and there has been full enough of nature left unappropriated by art and unexplored by philosophy for the free range of fancy. But this is the case no longer. Art and science have driven the imagination from her last earthly covert, have let in broad daylight upon her lurking-places, - have supplanted her world of chimeras and fantastic forms by a world of stiff, stubborn, angular facts, which she can neither bend nor mould.
Here, then, we have the true position of our age. have subdued and mastered the material universe. have availed ourselves of its uses, registered its laws, and shaken out its mysteries. We stand where we were made to stand, at the summit of this lower creation. We are at an era of high attainment, which the ages that are gone had hopelessly longed to reach. No wonder, then, that boastfulness presents itself among the prominent characteristics of our times. There are, indeed, other worlds to be conquered, and sublimer elevations to be scaled; but, though it be ungraceful, is it unnatural that we should pause for a while, and look down? Ours is indeed a boastful age. How ready we are to scorn the treasured wisdom of vanished generations, and to look back on the men of former times as if they had been mere barbarians, forgetting that the slavery and the wars of our day will come to be regarded with unmingled detestation and horror, as no less marks of the lowest grade of civilization than cannibalism seems to us now! But self-gratulation, self-praise, now tinges every expression of the general mind. The giant strides, which the
last few years have taken in all the arts of life and in the sciences on which they rest, make the age a golden one, in the eyes of all who regard material prosperity as the supreme good; and those who think that they occupy a higher point of view are prone to look on the newly invented moral machinery of the day as perfect in its workings, and on the point of exterminating all inequality, wrong, and evil, unmindful that crime is growing beneath the reformer's fingers, and the rankest harvest of iniquity springing up in the wake of the radicalist's plough. We think proudly of the age, because we measure it for the most part by a material standard, and not by its spiritual attainments and promise. But the next generation will be as humble as we are boastful; for it will have become accustomed to the elevation that makes us giddy, and will begin to look with earnest aspiration upon the loftier and more arduous heights at the foot of which we stand, - even as the dwellers in the vales of Switzerland make slight account of the hundreds of feet that lift them above the sea, while they feed their flocks at the base of inaccessible, cloud-encircled cliffs.
Our age is also eminently utilitarian, in the lowest sense of the word. The powers of outward nature are so fully developed, and in such vigorous exercise, as to claim a disproportionate share of men's time and energies. Such great mechanical inventions are yet recent, such marvellous applications of science to art are among the wonders, or rather, have ceased to be the wonders, of the day, that most persons talk, reason, and feel, as if the rapid creation of value were the test of genius, the supreme end of being, and the crowning purpose of life. Man is looked upon as a mechanical power, and men educate themselves for the same uses to which they consecrate spinning-jennies and steam-boilers. Certain intellectual traits and endowments a man must have, in order to be a successful producer, for mere bone and muscle can no longer work out valuable results; in modern mills, a wise child can outgrind an unreasoning Samson. But with regard to the elements of a more spiritual culture, the question is virtually asked, "What is their market value? Will they help me make better, or sell more, goods? Will they tell on 'change, or have weight at the stockboard? Will they make me sharper at a bargain, or wiser as to my investments?" Money-scales are made to answer
all uses, and the balance of the sanctuary seldom has the dust shaken from its beam.
A day or two after Washington Allston's death, we occupied a seat in a railroad car behind a spruce jobber from Kilby street, who was expounding to his wife (who with a woman's truer instinct seemed aware that a great man had fallen), that Allston's decease would not be half so much felt as that of any common business man about the city; for, said he, "I do not suppose that he circulated in all his life so much money as we sometimes take in a single week." This piece of stupidity, which the man might have been too shrewd to utter for any other ear, tells the whole story of the too frequent indifference and contempt with which the fine arts are treated in this country, and of the dearth throughout the civilized world, in this age of traffic, of artists whose works are likely to live. We often find the artist regarded simply as the complement of the carpenter and upholsterer. Pictures and statues are done to order, to fill up architectural vacancies, or to supply the absence of columns or curtains, instead of demanding room and a welcome, because they sprang from the artist's own inspiration. On no other ground could the rotunda of our national Capitol have been defaced by the sacrilegious caricature of the baptism of Pocahontas, the work of that Chapman, who has since executed the Harpers' brilliant travesty of the Holy Scriptures. A similar stubborn determination to have a group of statuary where something seemed lacking on the front of the Capitol could alone have licensed the figure of that respectable old gentleman, with an orange in his hand, standing in no very delicate juxtaposition with a pretty young lady dressed as was Eve in Eden, which, by "making believe a great deal," and practising with closed eyes, the frequenters of the premises have at length learned to regard as representing Columbus, as he startles a sleeping aboriginal beauty by his rapture on discovering the roundness of the world. On the other hand, that noble master-work of Greenough false to the ideal of Washington only because it suggests a more than human majesty of soul, and might well represent the highest achievement of Christian art, with Jupiter Tonans for its seedling conception is left by the collected wisdom of the nation in a leaky shanty outside the Capitol walls, not because there is no room for it within, but
because there is no place that specially needs to be thus
We may trace the workings of this same grovelling utilitarianism in the gradual decline of classical learning. The scholar is challenged in vain to produce a philosopher's stone which can transmute the dead languages into gold; and, as business letters never need to be written, or orders made or answered, in Latin or Greek, they are pronounced useless by multitudes of those who ought to know better, and the generous nurture that they may give to the higher powers and finer susceptibilities of youth is disdained and rejected. Meanwhile, as Horace says was the case in his day,
"Pueri longis rationibus assem Discunt in partes centum diducere."
And with regard to many of the most approved and popular maxims and modes of education, we may well ask with the same poet,
"An, hæc animos ærugo et cura peculi Quam semel imbuerit, speramus, carmina fingi Posse linenda cedro, et levi servanda cupresso?"
Again, in an intellectual point of view, ours is a peculiarly unproductive age. There seems to be very little of vigorous, independent thought. On subjects on which the mind ought to be the most active, reading to a great degree takes the place of thinking, and one is very apt to be of the opinion of the last author that he has read. Men, too, reason in platoons, and hold belief and sentiment in joint-stock corporations, in corporations for the most part with fictitious capital; for the draft, when made, for solid reasons and arguments, betrays a missing treasurer. Public opinion, sourceless as the wind, groundless as moonshine, is the tyrant; individual intellect, the supple sycophant, the passive slave. If a man gets a new idea, he goes out into the street to ask if there is any thing in it, or looks up to the high places to inquire whether any of the rulers or chief-priests have believed thus; and if his thought finds no echo, it seldom occurs to him to compare it with his own intuitions, to analyze it by his own subtilty, or to verify it by his own experience. This indifference to the higher forms of thought results, no doubt, from the vast amount of indisputable material philosophy and
wisdom now in the possession of civilized man, in the process of being used up, and promising to supply the practical demands and outward wants of the race for centuries to
The prevalent tastes of the reading community indicate a similarly low intellectual standard. The writer who would have the world's suffrages must employ himself in reducing the strong meat of manly minds to the neutral savour and pulpy consistency demanded by the feeble organs of mental infancy. A very large portion of the literary energy of the age is employed in writing history, and that not philosophical, but merely entertaining history, biographical gossip, insignificant detail, fragmentary, episodical narrative, which, so far from aiding in the search for ultimate causes and principles, heaps up piles of impertinent rubbish in the inquirer's path. If the public press may be taken as an exponent of the general mind, the collecting and compiling no matter what from the annals of the past is deemed the most dignified and momentous pursuit that a man can be engaged in. How cursory notice is given to a really profound work, at least in any journal short of a quarterly! If the book is seriously argumentative, it is passed by as obscure and dull. If novel in its speculations, it is denounced as heretical, with garbled specifications, and the shades of free and noble thinkers, who were in advance of their own times and loved bold thought, are evoked to utter anathemas upon the offending author. But does a man publish some pitiful town history, and is he enabled by the careful collation of ancient records to ascertain the precise length of Governor Endicott's beard, or the dimensions of the first meeting-house in Rowley, or the names and accounts of the earliest tythingman and pound-keeper of Dedham, he bends under a whole forest of newspaper laurels, he is doing noble service to his land and his race, it is of such materials as these, that the future historian, who has been promised us ever since we can remember, is to build the imperishable monument of our country's renown.
Meantime, how vast the issues of the groaning press! "Of the making of many books there is no end"; but the process is, for the most part, or rather for the wisest and best part, the decanting of old wine into new bottles, even according to the good words of Chaucer,