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rather to be condoled with, than congratulated. The mere fact, that the orator is one in a series of men, each of whom has performed the same duty with more or less of ability, imposes a clog and restraint upon the mind, and fills a sensitive person with nervous apprehensions of the disadvantageous comparisons that may be drawn by those whose memories are painfully retentive. Every year, too, increases the intrinsic difficulty, since every year yields its pamphlet, in which the same subject is treated, and less room is left for him who comes after. Notwithstanding the boundless variety of the human mind, it is natural that persons of average capacity should be led into similar trains of thought by a consideration of the same themes under circumstances very nearly similar, and none, but a mind of decided originality, can escape falling into the worn and familiar track of discussion.
These inferences, we believe, are borne out by facts. Of the innumerable anniversary discourses which bave been pronounced in New England, how few comparatively have marked superiority enough to rescue them from the teeth of Time, who, omnivorous as he is, takes a peculiar pleasure in consuming every thing of the pampiilet race. Most of these productions are not even fair specimens of the powers of their several authors. They are generally characterized by a tameness of thought and a well-bred propriety in expression, a formal annunciation of commonplace truths, a proper sprinkling of the current phrases of the day, and an indulgence in self-complacent reminiscences and glowing anticipations. We find in them the same thoughts in new garbs, the old sentiments paraphrased and often diluted, and recognise distinctly a strong family likeness. To these, as to all general remarks, there are, of course, exceptions, though not always favorable ones. There are but few symmetrical and well-balanced minds; and many men, in their desire to avoid being commonplace and formal, fall into startling extravagance, and show an indecorous disrespect for public opinion, common sense, and common taste. Anxious to escape the regular elliptical orbit, they rush into the eccentric vagaries of a comet, and, in their search after originality, forsake that dignity and propriety which are always becoming, and, to the pulpit
, nothing less than essential. After inaking all these deductions, there remains still a small
minority of productions rich in every thing requisite to secure a permanent reputation, in vigorous and striking thoughts, eloquent expressions, purity of style, and manly independence of sentiment.
Among this minority we rank without hesitation the Artillery Election Sermon of Mr. Hedge. It is not one of those serinons which men read from a sense of duty. It has the stamp of originality on every page, and we can hardly turn over the leaves without feeling that we are communing with a mind which thinks for itself, and thinks wisely and well. His views are large, liberal, and comprehensive. He has the philosophic glance which sees objects in their just proportions, and which groups heterogeneous masses into a wellarranged whole.
His sermon has the somewhat rare merits of unity and completeness. He does not seem to have begun it without knowing where or how it should end, and to have cast himself upon a current of thought without heeding where it might carry him, but to have drawn the plan of his work before he began to build. The several departments of the discourse succeed each other in a natural and harmonious order, and give to the whole the beauty of symmetry and proportion.
The style of this discourse, no less than its historical allusions, shows the trained and accomplished scholar. It is rich, vigorous, and flexible, -smooth without being insipid, and polished without being elaborate. It has, what we frequently miss in these days of rapid and careless composition, purity and precision. We look in vain for a slovenly sentence, or a slip-shod expression. Mr. Hedge does not treat his thoughts with so little respect as to send them into the world with a scanty or unbecoming garb. The following introductory paragraphs explain the objects and purposes of the discourse with much simplicity and beauty.
“ The occasion which has now brought us together, has claims upon all who feel an interest in the early history of this Commonwealth. The anniversary, which we celebrate this day, is among the oldest that our annals record ; it carries us back through two centuries of revolution and improvement to the first planting of New England, - that day of earnest expectation, when a new manifestation of the sons of God was believed to be at hand.
“Your institution, gentlemen of the Ancient and Honorable
Artillery Company, connects you with that period, which may, emphatically, be called the heroic age of our country; an age, when manhood and individual worth possessed an influence, which they can command only in the infancy of nations. Your charter has come to you from brave and godly men, who, in an age of depravity and misrule, were called to exhibit, in this far corner of the earth, the novel spectacle of a nation founded in truth and righteousness : — men, who, though they dreamed not of glory, are become exceeding glorious in our eyes, - who, though they toiled not for fame, have earned the brightest that earth affords.
“ There are periods in the progress of society, when new prospects of social happiness unfold themselves to the philanihropist. The great hope of humanity, the hope of infinite progress, is never entirely extinct: now and then it breaks forth through some long eclipse of history, and becomes a guidingstar and a bright augury to coming centuries. It may be the discovery of some new principle in the natural or moral world, that awakens this hope; or it may be kindled by the ministry of some pious reformer, or by a whole generation of reformers, as at the founding of these colonies: whatever the cause, the effects are blessed ; a new interest is felt in the destination of man, and a prophecy of better days is abroad in the earth. In the contemplation of such periods, the passage of Scripture, which I have selected for this occasion, will not be thought misplaced. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God:' in other words, the world is eagerly awaiting that better state of things which the reformers sent by God are about to effect. At the time when these words were written, the most abandoned of tyrants was seated upon the throne of the world.* period of deep corruption, of universal woe, a season of despair to most men, and of fiery trial to the few in whom a better faith precluded despair. In the strong language of the Apostle whom I have quoted, the whole creation groaned and travailed together' in helpless anguish. In the midst of this darkness, there sprung up a race of men, such as the world had never seen before, - men, born of the spirit, and baptized with fire, a band of reformers, who, in the midst of corruption, maintained a blameless conversation ; in the midst of superstition, worshipped the true God; in the midst of a selfish and luxurious generation, devoted themselves to hardship and death. These were the sons of God sent to reprove and re
It was a
** The Epistle to the Romans was written while Nero was emperor."
deem the world ; and soon the world was filled with the glory of their manifestation, and with the fruits of their ministry. Thus it hath ever happened, that the most corrupt ages of the world have witnessed the loftiest manisestations of faith and devotion; whenever the frame of society is most diseased, the remedy is near."
Mr. Hedge then passes to the consideration of another epoch when the earnest expectation of the creature again awakened, the period when the Fathers of New England entered on their mission. There was much in the character of these men, and in the heroic nature of their enterprise, to justify these expectations, and the growth of their settlements did not disappoint the friends of humanity in the old world. Their peaceful and uninterrupted progress during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is happily and forcibly contrasted with the wars, disorders, and struggles which prevailed in the old world, during the same period. The present condition of our country is such as to satisfy all reasonable expectations, and the moral influence, which it has exerted and continues to exert upon the world at large, is great and valuable. Mr. Hedge justly remarks that “all the great moral movements of the day, the abolition of slavery, the instruction of the poor, the suppression of vice, the reformation of prison discipline, and the first systematic efforts to promote universal peace, have either originated or received their strongest impulse here; and the fact augurs well for the future prospects of our country.”
These future prospects Mr. Hedge proceeds to consider in a strain of sober good sense, without extravagant confidence or equally extravagant despondency. He regards the efforts for the improvement of the family of man as the leading characteristics of the times. The means generally used to effect this consist in voluntary associations, whose utility and dangers Mr. Hedge discusses at considerable length. We will not do injustice to his eloquent and discriminating remarks by condensing them. They deserve the serious consideration of every patriot and philanthropist. The vast number and variety of our benevolent, literary, and religious associations, are beginning to be felt as an evil, and those who have been most efficient in promoting them may be ready to acknowledge the truth of the saying quoted by Lord Bacon, “Stay a little, that we may make an end the
sooner.” The following extract shows the spirit and character of this portion of the discourse.
“A still further objection to the system of combination is, that it destroys individuality of character, endangers freedom and independence of thought, and thereby retards the progress of truth. Truth is not elicited by popular excitement, nor discovered in public discussions. It is to be found only in self-communion, in the private study of ourselves and of God. And it is not to be found there, unless the mind acts with perfect freedom and originality, unbiassed by party associations, unprejudiced by public opinion. This freedom is rarely to be met with in those who have leagued themselves with numerous associations. The habit of acting only in conjunction with large bodies tends to enfeeble and enslave the mind. It disqualifies us for independent thought and action ; it disposes us to receive the opinions and principles of the body to which we belong, as our own opinions and principles ; it induces us to coöperate with that body in measures, which our unbiassed judgment would not approve.
There is a tacit pledge, an unconscious obligation to do so, which few have self-knowledge enough to perceive, or firmness enough to resist. Right views and a sound morality are attainable only by a nature, which knows itself, and which acts from principles itself has established, without regard to public opinion or public example. Such natures are as little prone to follow blindly in the steps of the multitude when they happen to be treading a right path, as when they are moving in a wrong direction : they seek their motives of action within themselves; they seek the right because it is right, never asking and never caring whether it is practised by others or not. It is only by such principles that a manly character, or indeed any character, can be formed. Habits of action into which we are led by the influence of example, however good, are not moral, – can never constitute a character. He who acts on principles derived from others, who sacrifices his individuality to the opinions and the will of a party, hus no character; he is merely a reflection of the character of some leading mind.”.
14. Mr. Hedge next proceeds to the objects contemplated in the philanthropic movements of the day, and confines himself to the consideration of an appropriate and important one,
the abolition of war. He dwells upon the difficulty of the project of a universal peace, and the following paragraph is as true in sentiment, as it is brilliant in expression.