Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to rejoice and triumph in its new-found liberty. Contemplate the Principia of Newton, and the rich harvests of knowledge, of which those “ beginnings” were but the first fruits and earnest. Then turn your eyes in a different direction, and consider the evidence of human improvement, as well as of the vigorous pulse of AngloSaxon courage and independence, in the Magna Charta of Great Britain ; in the Revolution of 1668; in the successful resistance of tyranny and struggle for independence and constitutional liberty of the British Colonies of North America; and in the Irish Emancipation Bill and Parliamentary Reform Bill of our own times. The very block on which Louis XVI bled, the rock to which the tyrant Napoleon was chained, and the blood which besmeared the pavements of Paris on the memorable revolution of 1830, are irrefragable witnesses and eloquent expositors of the general progress of the race. The mariner's compass, which has, as it were, brought up a vast continent from the abyss of non-existence, and made the ocean the highway of nations; the art of printing, which has multiplied and diffused the means of knowledge beyond the wildest dreams of romance; the steam-engine, that miracle of modern ingenuity, that annibilator of space and enricher of nations; the telescope and microscope ; the blow-pipe ; the power-loom ; the cotton-cultivator ; and the thousand other inventions of our times, the ultimate design of which in Providence doubtless is, to allow to his intelligent creatures more time for pursuits congenial to their rational and immortal nature,—who, but a madman can contemplate these things, and add to the account the schools, the hospitals, the alms-houses, the asylums and retreats for the unfor

[ocr errors]

tunate of every name, and the innumerable other ministrations of love which the spirit of a living Christianity has prompted, and then desire to roll back the tide of time, and take refuge in the political, the ecclesiastical, and the intellectual despotisms of past ages ?

The American Institute of Instruction now celebrates its twelfth anniversary. My mind was irresistibly led into the above train of reflections, Gentlemen, in contemplating the great progress that has been made in education since the origin of your excellent institution. To give even a brief sketch of the advance of this great cause,--to show how widely an interest in it has been diffused, and how vigorously many of our State governments have prosecuted the labor of founding or improving systems of public instruction, to point out the improvement in the methods of training the intellectual powers, and of imparting knowledge and virtue to the young,— would be the work rather of an entire lecture than of a single paragraph. Doubtless to this great and salutary progress, the unobtrusive but efficient action of the American Institute has contributed in no inconsiderable degree. The eminently practical character, Gentlemen, which you have given to all your labors, has been not only a conservative, but a powerfully regenerative principle in them. I have not lost sight of this admirable quality in your operations, though you may, perhaps, have imagined that I had, in choosing for my subject The Girard College for Orphans. It is not my purpose to fill up the hour allotted to me with a barren history of the institution, or rather of the attempts, hitherto unhappily fruitless, to carry

into effect the intention of the testator. I design rather, after a brief historical statement, to use my sub

cease.

а

ject as a text for a few desultory, though, I hope, not impertinent observations on several topics connected with the cause, whose interests we are met to consider and promote.

It is now nearly eleven years since Stephen Girard, of Philadelphia, “merchant and mariner,” as, with characteristic simplicity, he styles himself in his will, closed bis earthly career. By extraordinary talents and success in business, he had, during a long and laborious life, amassed a fortune greater than that of any other American citizen. This fact was most that was known of him before his de

Holding himself aloof from society, absorbed in the cares of his vast estate, dead to all political honors, and scarcely allowing himself any recreations, except such as consisted in a change of labor, he seemed to live in a world of his own, and to have few feelings in common with his fellow men. Without children, frugal in his habits, and wealthy even beyond the desires of avarice, he yet toiled on, in old age, with as keen an industry as if he had had the first dollar of his fortune to make, mystery to the community in which he lived, who were incapable of understanding so laborious a diligence, prompted by no other apparent motive than the mere love of amassing and possessing. But death, which arrested his labors, revealed also their true source and object. It was not a fondness for money alone that had prompted and sustained him. Whatever share this sentiment may have had in shaping his life, others, more elevated and generous, had undoubtedly mingled with it. This is evident from the disposition which he made of his immense property,--the whole of it having been bequeathed to charitable uses. After making liberal be

quests to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the cities of Philadelphia and New Orleans, and to various charitable institutions, he bequeaths in trust to the Select and Common Councils of Philadelphia $2,000,000, for the erection and endowment of a college for "poor white male orphan children.” To this absolute appropriation, the whole of which might be absorbed at the discretion of the trustees, he adds the right, whenever the necessity arises, of claiming the income of residuary funds, amounting to about $4,000,000. The real endowment of the Girard College, therefore, may be set down at $6,000,000. This bequest is without a parallel in the annals of individual munificence. It is nearly, if not quite, equal to the endowment of the London Bluecoat School, the most wealthy of the charitable institutions of Great Britain, whose funds were contributed by successive British sovereigns.

The question is often asked, especially by strangers, why so many years (now nearly eleven) have been permitted to elapse since the death of Mr. Girard, without the reception of a single orphan to the enjoyment of the benefits of his noble bequest. Doubtless it was never in the intention, nor ever in the thought of the testator, that his princely benefactions should remain so long like seed buried in the earth, and yielding no fruit. The extraordinary delay in opening the college has occasioned much surprise over the whole country, and certainly not without cause. To the production of this delay, three causes appear to me mainly to have contributed. These I will now proceed, very briefly, to state.

1. The first is an impression, deeply wrought into the public mind immediately after the publication of the will,

[ocr errors]

mon.

from certain most unhappy provisions contained in it, that the proposed college would become a school of infidelity. I well recollect the feeling produced in my own bosom, when I first heard of these provisions in the will, and the remark I made at the time, that it would have been better for the interests of religion and morality if Mr. Girard had cast his money into the ocean. Many of those who now hear me, I doubt not, had similar feelings. Certainly the sentiment was by no means uncom

The venerable and illustrious Bishop White, of Pennsylvania, published in the National Gazette, under his own signature, an elaborate argument and appeal to the citizens of Philadelphia, to induce them to reject with disdain the proffered boon, as containing a deadly poison concealed beneath its fair exterior. And there are doctors of divinity, now living in Philadelphia, as well as in other parts of the country, who still entertain a similar belief.

That this opinion was and is without any just foundation, I hope to convince you in a subsequent part of my lecture. lecture. But

you

well know how difficult it is to erase an impression, even though ill-founded, which has been wrought into the mind of a whole community, and how powerful, either in encouraging or repressing exertion, the action of such impression is, while it remains.

2. The second cause of delay, which has been, perhaps, even more efficient than the first, is also found within the will itself. If Mr. Girard's charity towards the clerical profession forsook him when dictating one part of his testament, his accustomed sagacity appears to have slumbered in another. For, while he made the city of Philadelphia his trustee to carry into effect the bequest relating to the

« AnteriorContinuar »