« 上一頁繼續 »
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, NO 17, PRINCE'S STREET, EDINBURGH;
AND T. CADELL AND W. DAVIES, STRAND, LONDON;
To whom Communications (post paid) may be addressed;
SOLD ALSO BY ALL THE BOOKSELLERS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM.
[OLIVER & BOYD, Printers.]
ON THE STATE OF LEARNING IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
LEARNING, in its limited and appropriate sense, is not to be found in America; the business of a scholar is not among the occupations of life; every man of liberal education must have a profession, and, as there are no fellow or scholarships in the colleges, and no exemption from regular professional labours for any portion of the clergy, it is evident there can be no class in society, who have leisure for the cultivation of science and general literature. The professors in the universities form the only body of men of letters, and from them alone could learned works be reasonably expected. But their situation, it will be recollected, is not like that of professors in this country; instead of half or more of the year in vacations, they have but a small portion of it; their duties are more laborious, being divided among a much smaller number; they have no good libraries to consult, and, above all, they are obliged to work through life, to repair the defects of early education. It may be added, in further explanation of the difference between the literary communities of America and of this country, that there, two other classes are nearly wanting, which here furnish no inconsiderable portion of the stock of literature, which are the army and navy. In consequence of thus confining the talents of the country to the circumscribed limits of professional duties, the absurd opinion has arisen of the inferiority of American intellect. It was a French philosopher who made the discovery; and it gratified him VOL. IV.
exceedingly, no doubt, to find that English blood could degenerate. This opinion will appear erroneous, by examining the grounds upon which it is formed. The display of talent always depends upon the situation of the country, in which it is called forth. One state of society demands practical cleverness and business men ; another closet speculations, scholars, poets, and artists.
In respect to the first, the Americans are equal to any people whatever, ancient or modern, as is fully proved by their ingenuity in the mechanic arts, their commercial enterprize, their activity in the field, their acuteness at the bar, and their eloFor a certain quence in the senate. time, this direction of their powers was not only justifiable, but necessary; they could not cultivate flower gardens, before they had cut down the forests and planted corn fields; nor erect temples to Apollo and the Muses, before they had built habitations for their own shelter. These reasons, however, no longer exist; the country is rich and powerful, and secure both from savage and foreign foes, and necessity cannot now be offered in justification of their neglect of learning; still its continuance may be explained, and the fewness of their contributions to science and literature accounted for, without supposing any deficiency of genius. It was a confession of Socrates, that the charm of knowledge consists in the fame it gives to its possessor; and the same confession would probably be made by every honest man, who has spent his life in the acquisition of it. 4 M 2
Ambition accompanies active talent, as uniformly as heat does combustion, and directs its efforts to the attainment of the most desirable honour within its reach. In America, this honour is public office or professional distinction, and, therefore, all the talent of the country is drawn into the current, which sweeps in one of these directions. To establish the truth of the opinion we have advanced, and prove, that the low literary reputation of America, and the small show she makes in our libraries, are owing to bad education, want of learning, and the peculiar use to which talent is there applied, and not to any deficiency of it, we must trace its display in the course, which we say it takes.
The bar is the profession, which attracts the greatest number and the highest talents, and, notwithstanding the wretched state of preparation, in which most young men are when called to it, the country may well boast of the lawyers it has produced. In this profession, the deficiencies of education must be made up by after diligence; no man can attain to a high rank in it without legal learning; in spite of all the prejudices of the country, and the general disposition to reduce the system of jurisprudence to a few maxims of common sense, the common law of England remains, for the most part, the law of the land; and a knowledge of that, every one knows, cannot be acquired without laborious study, by the mere force of genius, however great. In all the states where this system still continues in force, we find a learned bar; and, although the lawyers entitled to this distinction are few, these few are eminently so; and, to prove it, we refer to the common law reports of the cases adjudged in the courts of final jurisdiction in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In some of the states, the issue of a suit depends chiefly upon the jury, and then the pleas of the counsel are of course rather appeals to popular feeling, than legal arguments; these are admirable schools, in which, to acquire a readiness of extemporaneous speaking, and great powers of that kind are often displayed in them; but as courts of justice, they deserve not to be named. The learning of the American bar has been displayed principally in their courts; and the only written evidence of it is contained in the
reports. Blackstone's Commentaries, and many other of the English elementary treatises, have been reprinted in the country, with notes, pointing out the alterations or modifications of the English law by their statutes. The civil law is not used at all, and not studied but by a very small number of curious scholars; and, in general, the English books are the only authorities cited, except in the admiralty courts, where the early Italian, Spanish, French, and Dutch writers upon maritime law are often referred to. It is difficult to draw a just parallel between the American and English bars, for two reasons; first, because in the former, the various departments of legal business are united in the same individual; and, secondly, because their period of preparatory study is much shorter, and their means and system of education greatly inferior; if proper allowance be made for these disadvantages, the first class of lawyers in America may be considered equal to the same class in England, in point of legal learning, and superior in extemporaneous speaking. We need not repeat what we stated so explicitly in the first division of our subject, that the well educated lawyers form but a small part of the whole number; it is of this small part that we have been speaking, and upon them the whole character and credit of the bar must
The intimate connexion, which exists in America between the bar and the senate, leads us, in the next place, to consider the character of the latter. No country ever had occasion for a greater proportion of statesmen, and in none was political education ever less attended to. Three thousand five hundred legislators are constantly required for the general and state governments; and, in the whole country, there is not a course of lectures, either upon their own constitutions, the law of nations, political economy, statistics, or history, and very little public instruction of any kind in these important departments of science and learning. The bar is the school in which the greatest, and almost the only requisite for a statesman is acquired, fluency in speaking. Want of the necessary knowledge is not the greatest evil arising from the want of proper political education; a far greater one is, that men who have been pursuing a profession for a
long time, are very apt to have their minds somewhat narrowed by it, and are therefore not capable of taking such extensive views as politicians, as ought to be done by those, who are legislating for the whole community, and not for a particular class of it. Notwithstanding this defect, the Congress of the United States has generally been distinguished for the wisdom of its political measures, and always for a large proportion of powerful and eloquent speakers. It is not surprising that the latter characteristic should mark this body; the Americans are eminently a speech-making people; the practice begins in childhood; their colleges are full of clubs for exercise in this art; the frequent recurrence of elections, and of the caucuses which precede them, is continually nourishing this passion for haranguing; and it is in this way that a young man of talent always brings himself into notice. Nearly every thing is done by direct appeal to the people; a short speech has more effect than ever so many written volumes upon the same subject; and, therefore, the talent is cultivated as the great engine of political power. Thus we see how general is the habit of public speaking, and we may infer from the use, which is made of it, what must be its character; the genius it calls forth is as rich and luxuriant as the vegetation upon the great rivers of the west, and, at the same time, as wild and unpruned. The speeches of the members of Congress might be referred to, if they had ever been published collectively, as the best proof the country has given of the talents, which it possesses. Journals of both houses are regularly printed, but they do not contain full reports of the debates. American eloquence has its own peculiar character; it is not British eloquence; it is neither so dignified, chaste, nor learned, but it is bolder and more rapid in its flights, and more impassioned in style and manner. It somewhat resembles the Irish, but it is far less laboured and artificial. The striking defect, both in the forensic and parliamentary eloquence, is bad taste, a defect which evidently arises from neglect of classic reading. We are told in the beautiful biographical sketch of Fisher Ames, one of the finest geniuses and most elequent orators which the country has produced, that he read Virgil in the
original, and Homer in Pope; and even this is a degree of erudition far greater than is possessed by many of the best speakers in the land. The occasions, which have called forth the greatest exercise of talent, were the discussions in the state legislature of the proposed federal constitution; the debates in congress upon the treaty made with this country by Mr Jay, in 1794; and those upon the repeal of the judiciary bill, and the other changes made by the friends of Mr Jefferson, when they first came into power, in 1801. Most of the speeches upon these great questions have been published, and should be read by any one, who wishes to form a just opinion of American eloquence. Those of Mr Ames, upon the two former, are contained in his works, a book which makes every reader regret, that such superior talent and genius should have been wasted upon subjects of party politics, which, from their very nature, can be but of local and momentary interest. But with him there was only one object of ambition, and that was to serve his country; to this he sacrificed the more extended fame, which he certainly must have gained, if he had written for the world. The same period presents us with another strong testimonial in favour of American intellect; it produced the federalist a work, which saved the constitution from being strangled in its infancy. These papers, written by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, but mostly by the former, contain a remarkably clear and able defence of that constitution, and may be regarded as a perfect commentary upon its principles; could they but have conferred upon it the immortality they have procured for the country, we believe none of its friends would have cause to fear for its fate.
The observations we made upon Mr Ames, might be extended to the country in general; the writing talent is all expended upon short desultory compositions; newspaper essays, and ora tions upon the anniversary of their national independence, make up the whole body of political literature. The love of this kind of political food commences in childhood, and grows with the growth; the extent of it may be inferred from the number of different newspapers published in the country, which at present exceeds five hun dred.