Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of view, and free from the particular relations in which we have been in the habit of contemplating them. There is also a great advantage in having a centre of union for men of thought in every department, where mind can sharpen mind, and the faculties be kept in active exercise. There is great need for a union of this kind in a town like Liverpool, so exclusively devoted to commerce.

The question has often been discussed as to the nature and extent of the influence exercised by business pursuits on intellectual life and progress. On the one hand it is asserted that the activity and energy engendered by commercial pursuits will give a capacity and power capable, when turned in a mental direction, of producing great results ; that almost all progress in the arts of life has been developed in the great centres of population ; that the quickening and stimulating influences of mind acting upon mind, which is found in its greatest extent in our crowded cities, must be favorable to mental progress. It may also be said that every community, , whether ancient or modern, in which art, literature, or philosophy, have flourished, has been more or less commercial or manufacturing in its character. Athens, Rome, Alexandria of old, Florence and Venice in the medieval period, and London and Paris in more moderu times, may be mentioned as not more distinguished by their fame in literature and art than for their commercial and industrial successes. It is to Lorenzo the Magnificent, a Florentine merchant, that the restoration of learning and the arts is more indebted than to any other single individual. Gibbon says of him that "bis credit was ennobled into fame, that his riches were dedicated to the service of mankind, and that he often imported in the same vessel a cargo of Indian spices and Greek books." All this is, no doubt, true ; but there are causes operating in more modern times, and particularly amongst ourselves, which present the subject in a more unfavourable light. Commerce is now conducted on a larger scale, and requires far more undivided attention than formerly. There is a tendency to centralisation and combination in every department. Every community is distinguished by some special pursuit which gives its character to the locality; and the elements, which are discordant from the general object, are gradually eliminated, and drawn elsewhere. Liverpool is essentially commercial—all her interests are bound up with foreign trade. The large operations which are here successfully carried on require a power of mind, and strength of character which are capable of great things, but which are almost entirely absorbed by the daily calls of the exchange and the countinghouse. When we add to this the transaction of public business, to which many must necessarily devote themselves, and the claims of the various religious and charitable associations on the time as well as money, of our townsmen, which claims (it may be said to their honour) are nowhere more cordially responded to,—the residue, which is left for the cultivation of science, literature, and the arts, is necessarily exceedingly small.

From this busy uncongenial atmosphere, so unfavourable to the quiet of the student, and so destitute of external aids, it is no wonder that the studious and learned man should make his escape to the vast resources of London, or to the quiet shades of our University towns. Sculptors, and painters, and men of genius have arisen amongst ourselves as well as in other places. The names of Gibson and Ansdell stand high in the rolls of artistic fame, and would do honour to any community; but, as a matter of necessity, the duties of their profession lead them elsewhere. Beyond even these causes, another is at work amongst ourselves, and constantly increasing; I mean the tendency of using the town merely for business, and living at a distance in the pure air of the country, -one of the greatest advantages which modern civilisation affords, but which, nevertheless, has its drawbacks and penalties. Under these circumstances, I am afraid we must admit that the condition of things amongst ourselves is not so favourable as could be desired for the cultivation of literature and science. I say the cultivation, as distinguished from their diffusion. We live in a reading age, and, to a certain point, the minds of all our educated townsmen appreciate and enjoy the literature of the day; but this merely receptive process is very different from that active pursuit of knowledge and thirst for the discovery of truth which constitutes what is properly termed study.

But, although I have thought it desirable candidly to acknowledge the peculiar difficulties which exist amongst us in working out thoroughly the objects of a society like this, I am by no means inclined to take a gloomy view of our condition and prospects. Whatever difficulties may exist in carrying out a noble object, there will always be found spirits endowed with temper and edge sufficient to cut their way through every obstacle. Comparatively, they may be few; but in a large community like this their number in the aggregate will always be considerable. The very fact of the uncongeniality of atmosphere in which they move should only tend to unite them more closely in their common pursuit. Nor are there wanting many bright examples of success to encourage those who would brighten their daily path of commercial or professional toil by the pursuit of truth in its higher branches. Bailey, the astronomer, was a stockbroker in the city of London ; and our own list of members affords at least one name eminent in the same science, who, until recently, was engaged in commercial life in Liverpool. William Yarrell—whose works on Natural History place him in a very high rank as a student of nature, was all his life a newspaper agent in London. It would be invidious to mention the names of those living amongst us, or a goodly list might be made out

[ocr errors]

even in Liverpool, of men who, in spite of the deadening influences of daily routine, have raised themselves to a high position in the literary and scientific world.

In order to obtain the largest amount of benefit from an association of this nature, there are, I think, one or two leading principles to be kept in mind, which you will, I am sure, pardon me for mentioning, not as any novelty, but merely as bringing into more prominent and immediate notice, what we all are ready to admit. The first is earnestness. I mean by this, taking hold of some study or pursuit, and following it out resolutely and determinedly to its results. If this were kept in mind, the papers presented at our meeting, communicating these results, could not fail to be of the highest interest. It must be kept in mind that this society is not one for the diffusion of knowledge, but for the discovery of truth, an institution for mutual study, not for popular instruction. In this point of view I cannot but think that the plan which has been adopted of late, of throwing open our meetings, will have to be carefully watched. In itself the idea is an excellent one, and will be attended with good results in opening wider the portals of knowledge to those members of our families who are necessarily debarred from the means at our own disposal ; but, if carried too far, it cannot fail to have a relaxing tendency in substituting the polish of dilettantism for that muscle and nerve and energy which the study of the higher walks of truth will ever require. We ought to be pioneers in the van of science, not the mere distributors and parcellers out of the ground already won. This energy of purpose also ought to lead every one whose name is enrolled to see in what manner he can best contribute some scrap of material at least to the fabric of knowledge which we are all attempting to rear. Individually our attempts may be feeble; but when united, each contributing according to his vocation, the result will be powerful and effective.

The second principle which we should ever bear in mind in the pursuit of our objects is reverence. The praises of knowledge scarcely need be sounded at the present day

“Who loves not knowledge? Who shall rail
Against her beauty ? Let her mix
With men and prosper. Who shall fix
Her pillars. Let her work prevail.
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell,
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before-

But vaster." All truth is holy as it is an emanation from the God of truth. The more we know the more we feel our own ignorance. This is generally admitted ; but there is something beyond this, that the more we know the more we feel the unsatisfying nature of merely intellectual as compared with moral truth. Pursued in this frame, all studies assume a higher and more dignified character. The faculties preserve their due subordination; and with this guiding clue, we may safely scale the highest peaks of knowledge, assured that our search shall not be in vain.

One other principle I would further briefly allude to—that of mutual charity and forbearance. There is a natural tendency in every mind, whatever our pursuits may be, to adopt a certain set of opinions—to run, so to speak, in a certain groove of thought-and any proposition which opens up a new view, inconsistent with the conclusions already adopted, jars upon our frame, disturbs our self complacency, and leads us to view the intruder as an enemy to our peace. This is not peculiar to any study, science, or art. Luther, in the 16th century, was hardly denounced in stronger terms for his heresy in doctrine than Harvey in the 17th, and Jenner in the

19th, for their heresies in physiology and medicine; and even at the present day the propounder of a new theory, the interpreter of the laws of nature in a new sense, has need either

« AnteriorContinuar »