Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

But then, if it does produce them, it is much more likely to discover them, develop them, and to give them to mankind ; if we do produce them, we will not keep our Miltons “mute and inglorious," as they were in the churchyard. As for our “ village Hampdens,” I do not know what we can do with them. I hope I say it without offence to a very excellent and kind-hearted neighbour of yours, I do not know what else we can do with them than send them to protect Heath Common against its threatened inclosure. For these reasons, as well as for many more that have been often better said, I do hope that all whom I now address, and all whom my words may in any way reach, will continue and extend their support of all Mechanics' Institutes within their neighbourhood and influence. They will do well to attend to all suggestions respecting improved methods and enlarged means for instruction and enjoyment which the progress of time and the increased attention given to the whole subject will be continually supplying. I need not caution you not to make your proceedings too frivolous, or occasions either for idle dissipation or boisterous clamour ; but neither would I have you make them too grave and stiff. You may generally mix the acquisition of sound knowledge and rational improvement with social enjoyment, with occasional merry-making, with all that lights a smile on the brow of care, throws a spell uver the weariness of labour, or promotes mutual good will and neighbourly heartiness ; nor need I add, that, although in the remarks which I have made I have confined myself to what seemed the direct object of these institutions, that is, the promotion of useful knowledge and the pursuit of rational enjoyment, I might remind you that, while all kinds of knowledge are useful, there is one, and perhaps only one, which is absolutely needful; and while of all knowledge we are told that it shall vanish away, of Christianity we know that it never faileth.

LEEDS MECHANICS' INSTITUTION.

(February, 1845.) ME. CHAIRMAN, LADIES, AND GENTLEMEN,

Even without the very friendly introduction of your chairman (Mr. E. Baines), I should have felt that I did not present myself before you as an absolute stranger. When I have come before you, it has generally been under the pressure of some exciting topics of the moment, and also at periods when I could not hope to chime in with the unanimous feeling of all who might hear me On the occasion of our present meeting, though our topics are not deficient in interest or in dignity, yet I am happy to feel that they are calm, conciliating, and combining; and that not one person whom I have the pleasure to address, probably, will find any opinion of his ruffled by any counter-sentiment which I may have to offer. That the constitution and purpose of your society the object and spirit which has brought together this intelligent and genial assembly-exactly falls in with all my sympathies, and stirs up all my warmest interest, it will be almost superfluous in me to declare. If I wanted testimony to the value of such institutions, I do not think that it could have been borne in a more interesting or striking manner than in the address which you have just heard from your late honorary secretary, Mr. Kitson, who, in addition to the happy and encouraging results which he has observed in others, tells you, with all the force and warmth of his own consciousness and his own gratitude, that if it had not been for the Mechanics' Institution, he probably would not have stood before you in the same honourable position, and in the same creditable sphere of society, which he now fills. I should feel the utility and import, ance of such an institution in any place whatsoever ; but I feel them most abundantly in this busy city, in this populous district, in this stirring hive of industry and enterprise, amid these bristling stacks of chimneys, this roaring clatter of wheels, this cease. less hum of tongues, this wear and tear of human 'life. Do not think that in any of the expressions that I have used I mean to depreciate the dignity of labour, or to rob it of any of its well-won honours. On the contrary, when your chairman was talking just now of temples erected by the pagan population of Rome to Virtue and to Honour, I cannot help feeling that if I had lived in the old times of mythology, almost the first power to which I should have been willing to pay divine honours would have been Labour. Indeed, of all the heathen gods and goddesses, by far the most creditable character seems to me to have been Vulcan, who went hammering on in his sooty forge, while the rest of them either indulged themselves in idle dissipation, or were engaged in slaughtering the unhappy mortals supposed to be subject to their

caprice. If I wanted to cite a testimony and an evidence of the magic power of labour, and of the mode in which it can alter the whole surface, and transmute the entire substance, of the matter on which it acts, I think I might adduce as my proof the contrast of the times when your forefathers met to transact the business of the

year under the old oak of Skyrack, or when the cloth market of Leeds was held upon the bridge, and the clothiers exposed their goods upon its battlements; and of these our own times, when every hill and valley teem with life and occupation; when the moorland is turned into hamlets, and every hámlet has become a town, large and important in itself; and the rustic lanes of olden times are transformed into crowded thoroughfares and busy markets, where the interchanges of a wide-spread commerce are being passed and repassed in their perpetual current ; where the fleeces of the Elbe, or the Crimea, or Australia, are mixed up with our home-grown "noils and shorts;" and whence the products of your looms and your workshops are sent forth to clothe the freed inhabitants of the West India Islands, or the countless hordes of the farthest China. I am, indeed, far from belonging to that fond, and, as I think, rather foolish school, which is always looking wistfully back to the past, and thinking that our sires had a better job of it than ourselves. I am, indeed, far from questioning that this school comprises many very able and amiable men. At the same time, I own that “ Young England” has rather too much of Old England

I cordially believe that, on the whole, this is the time, and this is the country, to live in. When I say this, I am far from meaning that all is just as it should be. I know that there is much which is amiss, and which needs to be set right. There are our dwellings,-sewerage,--the supply of water, of air, of light,-improvement in education, both in quantity and quality. Above all, there is a deep, stagnant mass of poverty, which needs to be moved, and sifted, and uplifted. But still, making all due allowance for these real and unquestionable drawbacks, I believe that there never was a community like that which an eminent and lamented writer, the late Dr. Arnold, termed “this kingly commonwealth of England," - there never was a period like the present, which afforded more food for every appetite of manly intellect, and more scope for

every exercise of active virtue. I believe there is scarcely anything which might not be attained, if we could only one and all of us determine to rise up to what we might be; if it could only be felt

thoroughly by every one of us, no matter how humble his place, or how contracted his sphere, that each one has his own appointed work and mission,-not, assuredly, by indulging in any puffed-up opinion of his own capacity, and endeavouring to escape from his natural place or his allotted business, but by constant and conscientious perseverance, in which he might do much, very much, to smooth all the troubled elements of the daily life around him, and to aid the general welfare and advancement of his species. I believe that there is nothing at once so ambitious, and yet so humble, as duty; and it is the true, the practical, the Christian philosophy to endeavour rightly to apportion and attemper the ambition and the humility. It is because I believe that labour affords the main occasion and chief exercise-ground of duty, and because I see what labour has already done, and stretch my eyes forward to the yet greater things which it has to do in the world, that I said that if I had lived in the olden times, I should have been ready to build temples and altars in its name.

But when I give this merited praise to labour, I believe, at the same time, that, with a view to the interests of labour itself, with a view to its vigorous, and permanent, and cheerful exercise, we ought not to exact too excessive and engrossing a service; but that breaks and relaxations are desirable, and salutary, and even necessary, to its own proper development and support. It is, therefore, that I love to read occasionally of the expeditions made by the Monster trains which convey large numbers far away from the smoke and confinement of their own streets and shops, to see whatever may be worthy of note, upon the many points of that great net-work of railways by which we are in the process of being surrounded, to the crowded quays of Liverpool or the gothic aisles of York; and I should not repine, let me say it with the peace of Mr. Wordsworth — if a protracted line of railway should, on some sunny afternoon, carry a large bevy of the tradesmen of Leeds to the soft margin of Windermere or Ullswater. It is on the same ground that it has given me peculiar pleasure to have the privilege of witnessing and sharing the celebration of this evening, in the midst of such a community as I have already adverted to, and in the presence of such a company as that which I now see around me. It has, indeed, fallen to my lot often to be present at what are termed fashionable amusements in various quarters of the globe, and I have always found that they are pretty much the same thing wherever in the world it might be — whether amongst the courtier circles of St. Petersburgh, or the republican dandies of New York. I do not mean to assume any very severe or moralizing tone with respect to the attempts of people to amuse or enliven themselves, but I must say that I have generally found these very polished amusements to be rather listless, unmeaning, and unsatisfying things, where people seemed to come because they had nothing better to do, and to find it a great relief when it was time to go away. But an assembly like this, confined to no class or walk in life, comprising very many of what are termed the middle and labouring classes of society, those who keep the business of daily life really going, brought and kept together by no other tie than the love of knowledge, the wish to attain it and to communicate it, to acquire for themselves and to dispense to others the reciprocal benefits of instruction and advancement—this, to say nothing of its being more useful and more ennobling, seems to me a far fresher, livelier, heartier thing, than the high-flying entertainments I have adverted to, the morning battue or the midnight polka. The constitution of your society seems to me to embrace all the objects which it must have been designed to accomplish. I am glad to hear from the lips of your respected chairman that it has lately been growing by hundreds, and I hope the time is coming when it is to increase by thousands. The purposes which it effects seem to me to supply a suitable and harmless relaxation to the strain of daily toil, and a pleasant variety and stimulus to what is, perhaps, even worse than the strain and severity of toil, the sameness of habitual tine. The mechanic or the operative, shut up during the day within the precincts of the shop, or with his ear dulled with the recurring sound of his shuttle, may here learn something of that Nature from the personal observation of which he is, in a great measure, debarred; and something of the past history of his country, to whose wealth and power his industry and enterprise make no mean contribution; or something of the links which attach him to higher and more enduring destinies. The delivery of oral lectures and the communication of original papers appear to me to be a most valuable supplement to the hoarded treasures of past wisdom and genius which are stored in the volumes of On looking over your report, I was greatly struck with the interesting subjects which formed the materials of the lectures and

1

your libraries.

F

« ZurückWeiter »