By George W. Light

We only find out what we have a sincere desire to know. All men have in themselves nearly the same fund of primitive ideas; they have especially the same moral fund; the difference which there is in men, comes from the fact, that some improve this fund, while others neglect it.


No argument ought to be required at the present day, to prove that all men, however their capacities may differ in kind or degree, possess the natural ability to make considerable progress in some useful study. The principles of our government proceed upon this ground, and place every man under strong moral obligation to make the most of himself, that he may be able to bear the responsibility that rests upon him. The protestant principle, that all men have the right to judge for themselves in matters relating to religion, is founded on the same basis. Even the principles of trade—which every body is supposed to be able to know—call for the exercise of no small amount of intellect, to understand and apply them to their full extent. The intimate connection between the arts and sciences proves conclusively, that those who are engaged in the one, ought to be acquainted with the other. We are aware of the common belief, that the study of the sciences is not necessary with the mass of the community who are engaged in the various active pursuits. But this narrow view is fast going out of date. The progress of steam, if nothing else, will ere long convince the most incredulous, by its abridgment of human labor, that the great body of mankind were intended for something besides mere machines. The sciences of law and medicine are no more closely connected with the practice of the lawyer and physician, than mechanical and agricultural science with the business of the mechanic and farmer. The same may be said of other sciences, as, for instance, of Political Economy, in its application to mercantile affairs. In accordance with the spirit of these views, opportunities for instruction are provided, and means of self-education are multiplied, to an unparalleled degree.

Notwithstanding, however, the general admission of the truth under consideration, not a few persons who think the improvement of their minds a matter of little importance, undertake to excuse themselves, by modestly confessing that they have no natural taste for study—that they cannot study. But it is difficult to understand how they can be so blinded to the resources they have within them, under the light which this day of civilization is pouring upon them. Where do they suppose themselves to be? Are they in some dark domain, shut out from all the soul-stirring influences of a boundless universe, dragging out an existence as hopeless as it is degraded?—or do they dwell in the midst of a glorious creation, with no understanding to unravel its divine mysteries, and no heart to be moved by the eloquence of its inspiration? One of these things must be true, if we may reason from their own language. If they do possess the high faculties of the soul, and can do nothing for their cultivation, it cannot be that they have their dwelling-place upon a world belonging to the magnificent empire of God. There can be no sun blazing down upon them, flooding the earth with his glory, and giving fresh life and beauty to every living thing. The evening can reveal to them no myriads of stars, burning with holy lustre beyond the clouds of heaven. They can see no mountains towering to the skies; no green valleys, spangled with the flowers of the earth, smiling around them. They can hear no anthem sounding from the depths of the ocean. They can see no lightnings flashing in the broad expanse,—nor hear the artillery of heaven thundering over the firmament, as if it would shake the very pillars of the universe. If they could see and hear this, with minds awake to the most noble objects of contemplation, and hearts susceptible of the loftiest impulses, they would inquire about the earth they tread upon, the beautiful things scattered in such profusion around them, and the sun and the ever-burning stars above them. And they would not stop here. They would search into the mysteries of their own nature. They would look into the wonders of that upper life, where the sun of an eternal kingdom burns in its lofty arches, where the rivers of life flow from the everlasting mountains, and where the pure spirits of the earth shall shine like the stars forever.

But, however paradoxical it may seem, these men do dwell in the grand universe of God—and they do possess inexhaustible minds: and they have been compelled to quench the brightest flames and to prevent the swelling of the purest fountains of their existence, in order to descend to the condition of which they complain. The Creator doomed them to no such degradation. The truth is, they know nothing of themselves. They do not understand their relations to the creation that surrounds them. They do not comprehend the great purpose to which all their labors should tend. They waste those hours which might be devoted to the elevation of their being, in practices that render them insensible to the glories of the universe in which they dwell, and to the sublime destiny for which they were created. They deny themselves to be the workmanship of God.