The pursuit of wealth, for instance, certainly one of those most incompatible with mental culture, may be mentioned, because it is so common among our own countrymen. This is undoubtedly, as someone has observed, the golden age, and the image of our idolatry is a golden image. If there be any truth in the doctrine that the mind assimilates itself to whatever it long and lovingly contemplates, what wonder if many among us turn out to be golden calves with souls utterly materialized and stone dead. No man can serve two masters, especially if one of them is the stern and exclusive mammon. We have heard, when children of men who had sold their souls for gold to the spirit of evil.
It is substantially true that every wealth-hunter parts with his soul, sells his intellect, in the very act of inordinately seeking to be rich. This is the inevitable condition of success, and hence Bunyan in his inimitable Pilgrims’ Progress has represented his muck-rake as incapable of looking any other way than downward and as unwilling to sell his rake through offered in exchange for it a celestial crown. Not only does the love and pursuit of riches choke the mind and dwarf it, but the disease itself is hopelessly beyond remedy. We often see men after they have spent half their lifetime at the plough, the anvil, or the bench, drop the implements of their craft to run the race of greatness; but rarely, if ever, does this happen in the case of a worshipper of riches.
There is a vast waste of mind in the political competitions to which we are continually subject in this country. The idea that political influence and distinction are important enough to justify and invite their ardent pursuit, has taken possession of multiples of young and promising minds, and gives infinite excitement to political ambition. It turns the active talent of the country to public station as the supreme good, and makes it restless, intriguing and unprincipled. It calls out hosts of selfish competitors for comparatively few places; and encourages a bold unblushing pursuit of personal elevation, which a just moral sense and self-respect in the community would frown upon and cover with shame.
Lastly, there is a sad waste of mind resulting from the hurry of imperfectly educated persons to appear before the public as writers, or as professional men. Hours and weeks which are wasted in injudicious reading, or in premature attempts at authorship, if spent in a well directed course of study, and in the acquisition of mental furniture would at least qualify them to become ornamental and intellectually rich members of society; and be respectable if not distinguished. Instead of this, most young men of a little reading imagine they have fathomless wells of literature and poetry gushing up within them, and they continue to think so even after the bucket they have sent down for it returns hundreds of times empty. And this hastening to be what we are not, and are not prepared to be, runs through all classes, and seems to be a disease of the times. The young theological student is weary with the tedious length of his prepatory course, and hurries into the arduous and responsible labors of the ministry; long before he is ready to assume them, and having assumed them, finds little leisure, and perhaps as little inclination to inform and discipline his mind, and atone in some degree for the deficiencies in his education. Others are panting for the day when they shall figure in the legal or the medical profession, satisfied if they can pass without disgrace a nominal examination; and have permission to hang out their sign; this done, the will be content to be sciolists and ignoramuses all their days. Consequently the liberal or learned professions as we have been wont to call them are filled with very unlearned men, with men who have entered them not from love to science, but for the sake of lure or reputation. There are, it is true, many honorable exceptions in all the professions; but still the force of our conclusion is unabated.
March 27th, 1846
It is observed, that education is generally the worse, in proportion to the wealth and grandeur of the parents. Many are apt to think, that to dance, fence, speak French, and to know how to behave among great persons, comprehends the whole duty of gentlemen; which opinion is enough to destroy all the seeds of knowledge, honor, wisdom, and virtue among us.
Some men are exceedingly diligent in acquiring a vast compass of learning; some in aspiring to honors and preferments; some in heaping up riches; others are intent upon pleasures and diversions; hunting, or play, vain contrivances, to pass away their time; others are taken up in useless speculations; others set up for men of business and spend all their days in hurry and noise; but amid this variety, few apply themselves to the wisdom, which should direct their lives.
It is stated in the papers that Abott Lawrence has given fifty thousand dollars to Harvard College, for the support of two professorships of practical science. This gift should be set down to the credit of the factory girls, as they and not Lawrence, furnished the money.
That’s a fact; and so long as the factory girls who earn Abbott Lawrence’s money are required to work the present number of hours per day, not only to the deterioration of health, but of intellect, all such boasting regard for the intellectual and scientific welfare of this country as made by Mr. Lawrence in his letter to the Treasurer of Harvard College, seems to us to evince but little pure, consistent philanthropy. Mr. Lawrence seems to think but little about the education of the great mass of factory operatives who are toiling from morning till night to fill his coffers, and many of whom are to be mothers and guides of the generation to come. But supporting colleges and endowing professorships, where the heads of rich men’s sons may be taught to control the hands of the poor, is of vast importance!