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DELIVERED ATRUTGERS COLLEGE, ON THE FOURTEENTH OF JULY, 1829.
GENTLEMEN OF THE PHILOCLEAN AND PEITHESSOPHIAN SOCIETIES, THE occasion which has brought us together is calculated to awaken earnest and anxious reflection. Youth is the season of preparation for manhood. In a short time those who are in a course of training for the duties of life, will, in the order of Providence, succeed to the charge which is now borne by their seniors; and distributed among the varied employments of social and civilized existence, be called by their own strength, each in his allotted sphere, to sustain, preserve, and improve the advantages which are derived to them from their predecessors. To fit them for the task which is thus to devolve upon them, is the design of all education. In what manner, and by what means this great design may be most effectually accomplished—what are the methods most likely to aid in forming a wise and virtuous man, an honest and useful citizen, is a question of great interest, which cannot be too deeply pondered. An eminent man of antiquity has remarked, with equal beauty and force, that “a state without youth, would be like a year without the Spring.” But what avails the Spring, if its blossoms perish without producing fruit or seed? If sporting for a while in the gaiety of the season, and charming the senses with their bloom and fragrance, they disappoint the hope which forms their greatest value, and dwindle, fade and die, as if they had never been 7
The insect obeys the law of its ephemeral existence; it spreads its wings in the sunshine, rejoices in a moment of life, and then flutters and disappears. The brute animal is governed by its appetites, and guided by its instinct. It is neither acquainted with its faculties, nor capable of improving them. The individual and the species, for successive generations, move on in their appointed course, without undergoing any sensible change, as little subject to degeneracy from any neglect or folly of their own, as they are able, by their own efforts, to exalt or improve their nature. They live, and they die—they sink into inanimate matter, and are lost in the uninformed mass.
But man is endowed by his Maker with moral and intellectual powers, which not only distinguish him from all the visible creation, but absolutely separate him from any affinity with it. His bodily frame is dust, fearfully and wonderfully made; but still a portion of inanimate matter, which cleaves to the ground ! His bodily powers, his sensual passions and appetites have their dwelling upon the earth, in common with the animal creation. His intellect—his power of “large discourse, looking before and after,”—aspires to communion with intelligence, and seeks its kindred beyond the limits of this life. His animal nature may truly say to the worm, “Thou art my brother, and to corruption, Thou art my sister and my mother " His intellectual and moral faculties have no fellowship upon earth.
These faculties are the talent which his Maker has given to man. By means of them, he is enabled to exercise dominion over the earth, and to subdue it to his own enjoyment and happiness. By their means too, it is intended that he shall exercise dominion over the earthly parts of himself—that he shall regulate the exercise of his corporeal powers, subdue his passions and appetites, and live upon the earth, as if he were not of the earth, enjoying the bounties of Providence with cheerful gratitude; doing good to his fellow men, and exalting, by rational discipline, his own character, and the character of his race.—This is his greatest glory—this is his highest happiness—this is his obvious duty.
The faculties which thus constitute the high and distinguishing privilege of man, exalting him above all that surrounds him, and placing him but a little lower than the angels,” are progressive and improveable. It is true, also, that the bodily powers are capable of some improvement. But the measure of their growth is limited ; and, comparatively, it is soon attained.—Their highest perfection seems to continue but for a moment. The intellectual and moral capacity, on the contrary, flourishes more and more with culture—becomes continually enlarged and invigorated, and yields a daily and increasing harvest, even when the bodily powers are visibly declining.
When the bloom has forsaken the cheek—when the beautiful smoothness of youth has yielded to the furrows of age, and the step has begun to lose something of its elasticity and briskness—the cultivated and disciplined mind, nourished by wholesome food, and enlivened by exercise, is still advancing in its career, extending the sphere of its beneficent influence, and, as it were, supplying, by its own graces, the ravages which time has made in the external form. The light within, if duly trimmed and fed, continues to spread its lustre with unabated, and even increasing splendour, when the frame that encloses it has lost its freshness, and begun to grow dim from age.
But we must also remember, that these faculties are liable to debasement and degeneracy. They will rust from sloth and indolence—they will decay from want of exercise and nourishment-and they will be smothered and destroyed, if subjected to the dominion of our passions and appetites. That is an empire they cannot endure. They were intended to be masters—and they will not submit to exist as slaves. The sluggard suffers the light of his intellect to go out. The drunkard drowns and extinguishes it. The one
sinks into a state of calm brutality—the other, with frenzy in his brain, resembles more a savage and maddened animal rushing upon his own destruction, but dangerous to all who are in his way. Both are guilty in the same kind, though not in the same degree. They destroy the chief talent committed to man, and they degrade and dishonour his nature.
It has already been remarked, that the higher and nobler faculties of man will not exist in subjection to his sensual nature. They decline, decay and perish, unless they are allowed to exercise the authority allotted to them by a wise Providence. The moment their just empire is successfully invaded, they begin to languish-resistance becomes gradually more feeble, until at length they are overpowered and destroyed. And what then is the condition of the individual? Wisdom and virtue are synonymous, and happiness in their attendant reward. Folly and vice, on the contrary, not only lead to misery, but are sure to be accompanied by it at every step. In their first efforts to shake off the wholesome restraints of reason and conscience, they have to maintain a painful conflict with the accusers within, which constantly mars and disappoints their expected enjoyment. The poison is manifest in the cup, and they feel that it is there. They may throw off the rein of reason and conscience, but they will still suffer from the lash! When they have gained the victory, (as it must be admitted they may,) they have subverted the natural empire which providence had intended should be established; and in the wild misrule which follows, the conquerors are sure to be the victims of the disorder and confusion they have created.
Vicious indulgence destroys the body as well as the soul. It brings to an untimely end the very capacity for enjoyment. Its food is its deadly poison. Does the sluggard enjoy his sloth? It is impossible. There is no rest without labour. Unbroken idleness is more irksome than severe exertion;
and it has no relief. The diligent man has delight in his honest occupation, even though it be wearisome; and he rejoices in the repose which he earns by it. He, and he alone, can duly estimate the force of the truth, that the sabbath is made for man He is thankful for the refreshment and rest it affords him; while the habitual idler finds that it only increases his weariness. Has the drunkard or the debauchee any enjoyment." He has scarcely taken one step in the delirious path, before he begins to totter, and finds that by associating with vice, he has made a companion also of disease. They fasten upon him together; and however he may for a while be deluded, he soon becomes their conscious and degraded slave, the contempt of mankind gradually settling upon him, and his own reason approving the justness of their sentence. The base chains he wears are of his own forging. His own are the pain and the disgrace they inflict. Self-denial and discipline are the foundation of all good character—the source of all true enjoyment—the means of all just distinction. This is the invariable law of our nature. Excellence of every sort is a prize, and a reward for virtuous, patient, and well directed exertion, and abstinence from whatever may encumber, enfeeble or delay usin our course. The approach to its lofty abode is rightly represented as steep and rugged.—He who would reach it must task his powers—But it is a noble task for besides the eminence it leads to, it nourishes a just ambition, subdues and casts off vicious propensities, and strengthens the powers employed in its service, so as to render them continually capable of higher and higher attainments. What mean the cheers which greet the ingenuous youth, when he arrives at the high honours of a seminary of learnsng ' Why do the hearts of his parents swell with unusual gladness, and tears burst forth to relieve their almost suffocating joy? Why is this epoch in life marked, as it