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THE MORAL ASPECTS OF THE WORLD.
only by legislative invasions of this law that existence can be given to slavery. To the common law the right of property in man is unknown. This law, with such modifications as our form of government and circumstances have introduced, we claim as our birthright; and as a system, it can no more be abolished than our language.
But though American mind is English in its great characteristics, yet it has necessarily received modifications from circumstances. The shackles which an hereditary monarchy and aristocracy fastened on this mind in England, have fallen from it in America. We recognize no virtue in mere descent. From the highest in intellect to the lowest in ignorance—from the millionaire to the beggar-we stand on the same level platform of equal personal and political rights. There is no station which mere birth gives us, or from which it debars us. And instead of being pent in by seas, on a narrow island, we are here in the midst of a country as boundless as the most restless love of change can desire.
And mind, while still essentially English in its strong practical common sense, and in its naturally sturdy independence, has received a new impulse from the largeness of the region which invites to active enterprise. At the North, the descendants of the pilgrims, whether in their own New England home, or giving shape, and form, and character, to society, through the Middle and Western States, are emphatically a thinking people; and in inventive genius, they have already placed themselves in advance of the world. At the South, mind, less patient of continued labor, and less fitted to contend against difficulties, which yield only to stubborn perseverance, but impulsive in its character, often reaches its object at a bound, and the individual just seen at the base, now stands on the pinnacle at a giddy hight.
The religion of this people is Protestant, and whatever fears may at times prevail, of the aggressive efforts of Romanism, it must continue to be so, unless a radical change can be made in the essential character of their minds. Habit, thought, feeling, are all eminently Protestant, partaking of its large and free spirit. Our in. stitutions and laws, from base to apex, are in. wrought with the principles of this religion, and must be demolished to their deepest foundations, before the puerilities of Romanism can make themselves a home, or its slavishness be substituted for independence of thought. Politicians may at times become the panders to papal religionists, and to secure the votes of naturalized
foreigners, be ready to barter away cherished principles; but, as in recent examples, they will find a rebuke from the people too stern to be again lightly risked. Romanism has nothing in its past history or its present character, to commend it to a nation, where superstition has little power, and where all have been accustomed to examine and think and decide for themselves. With us it is foreign in all its features, and can no more be Americanized than the religion of the Koran. It possesses no irradiating, vivifying, liberalizing principle. On the contrary, it calls on mind to gather itself from its expansion into the narrowness of a nutshell. Imported by foreigners, it must ever be isolated from American principles and feeling. There is a vigor of intellect and a moral power in this land, competent in its strength to vanquish every danger which can be brought to our doors from the Vatican of Rome. We must cease to be American in principle before we can become Roman in religion. - In the free expression given to our opinions, or rather in the unrestrained indulgence of speakers and writers in our heated political contests in the dismal pictures of coming ruin drawn by one party and retorted by another-foreigners, looking at us from a distance, have more than once fancied that they saw the vol. cano of revolution just bursting forth to engulph our boasted institutions. But yet, an election over,
however one party may chase and grumble at the result, we sit down in submission to the will of the majority, with not the first thought of resistance, yet with a stubborn resolution to essay every art to change that will at a succeeding election. John-Bull-like, we may abuse the government with all the vigor of our souls, but yet stand ready to fight the whole world in its defence.
We may be thought, thus far, to be glancing at the character of the people, rather than viewing the moral aspects of the country. Whether our remarks are pertinent to our title we shall not stop to inquire—it is enough that they are apropos to our purpose. In pursuing our subject we may not rightfully magnify the virtues or close our eyes to the faults of our people. We shall not flatter that national vanity with which we have been too justly reproached from abroad. There is much, very much, when contrasted with the moral condition of other nations, over which we may rejoice ; and there is not less, when contrasted with attainable perfection, over which to mourn.
In all ages, there has been a prevailing dispo
sition to regard the present as inferior to the past. Men are naturally inclined to magnify the virtues and to forget the faults of their ancestors. A better patriotism, a holier spirit of piety, and a higher grade of moral virtues, are attributed to those who have gone before us, while we reproach our own as a degenerate age.
This respect to our sires and reverence for antiquity is not without its use, so long as we find much in the present to regret, and much that demands rebuke. It is not without its effect in awakening a generous emulation in whatever is good and excellent. Yet, it should not repress an intelligent comparison of the present with the past. If a general advance is discovered, it will at the same time be found that some virtues in our ancestors have lost their vigorous power in their descendants.
In the United States full scope is given to the promulgation of opinions and to the agitation of any subject of morals which individuals may choose to embrace. Public opinion is the tribunal before which every question of politics or morals is brought. This tribunal has been acquiring power in other countries, but the means of creating and influencing public opinion are there comparatively limited. With us the means are abundant. The pulpit, the press, public lectures and discussions reach at once the masses. Truth, in its contests with error, has only the power of its own intrinsic merits. And neither truth nor error is so consecrated by antiquity that the one or the other can safely rest on any established order of things in thought or action. Both must stand forth on the public arena, and mind grappling with mind, makes our country a moral battle-field. Though error may gain an occasional triumph, yet we have an abiding confi. dence that this must be temporary in its power, and that truth will ultimately be victorious. Notions, crude and absurd, acquire, sometimes, a momentary popularity by the boldness and impudence with which they are brought forth, but the better judgment of the community, when it has time to operate, sets its seal of condemnation upon them. And assault after assault on the great principles of moral truth, while they keep up the active energy of mind, will also result in rendering that truth more apparent and more unassailable. Authority, save the authority of the Bible, has less power over public opinion than in any other nation-all claim the right to think and decide for themselves. There is no safety for dogmas, and they who cannot make good their positions by convincing the un
derstanding, however strenuous the struggles of bigotry, must ultimately submit to defeat,
Since the Reformation, no age of the world has presented scenes of such stirring moral interest as the present, and no nation holds a more prominent position in these scenes than the United States. Our influence is felt through the nations of Europe and Asia, and among the tribes of Africa. The spirit of liberty from our shores has awakened new ideas in rulers and subjects throughout Christendom. We have shown to the world that religion can exist by its own intrinsic power without the aid of governments, and that to its spiritual power human laws can add no efficiency. Against intemperance our banded forces are counted by millions. Our aposules of total abstinence from intoxicating drinks, have been welcomed to the courts of kings, and have gathered converts from all the nations of Europe. The principles of temperance reform, having their origin with us, have worked miracles over the whole extent of Ireland, seeming. lý the most unpromising field on the earth. In Asia, and on the ocean, these principles are making their way with irrepressible energy. Our missionaries stand on every shore proclaiming the truths of the gospel amid the dark superstitions of heathenism. We claim, then, that young as we are in the family of nations, we have done something for the world beyond even our own borders, and we have done this while society among ourselves has been only in its forming state, and while we have had annually thousands or hundreds of thousands from other shores to care for.
During the last quarter of a century, peace has prevailed, with slight interruptions, among the nations. A public sentiment has been rapidly forming that national misunderstandings may be settled by a better arbitrament than the sword, and by more rational means than human butchery. Changes within this period have been in progress promising much for the regeneration of the world. In the great moral battle now fighting, and which will wax hotter and hotter, till He, whose right it is, shall reign, this country, as she has commenced, must continue to bear an important part. With stout hearts and unbending resolution must the ministers of a pure faith, and all good men of every creed, nerve themselves to the work. There must be a moral courage in the pulpit ready to rebuke error in all its forms--that shall not falter before the pride of station or the influence of wealth —that shall not fear to hold up to just odium
“ Eternal spirit of the chainless mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty ! thou art,
For there thy habitation is the heart.
To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And thy sad floor an altar-for 'twas trod,
Lord Byron, Sonnel on Chillon,
The Castle of Chillon, which the writings of Byron and Rousseau have rendered so celebrated, stands at the head of Lake Leman, about fisty miles from Geneva. It is surrounded by a branch of the Alps, and is situated at the foot of one of them, on the edge of the water. The lofty hills around it, which cast their deep shadows upon its white walls, washed by the waves of the Lake, give it a gloomy appearance. It is a very large building, with several high towers, and is visible at a great distance on the Lake.
The foundation of Chillon rests on a huge rock, projecting into the water. It is separated from the shore by a deep moat, filled with water. The visitor, after crossing a small bridge and passing under a portcullis, enters a small courtyard in the interior of the Castle. Hence he is led down a few steps into a large hall under ground. This is the entrance to the dungeons, and here soldiers were stationed in
ancient times to guard the prisoners. Further on, he enters a small cell, where the light is so dim that it is some time before he can distinguish a large beam hung across it; this was the gallows on which the condemned were hung; and from the little window opposite it, their dead bodies were thrown into the Lake below.
A low and narrow door leads to the dungeon where Bonnivard, the “ Prisoner of Chillon,” was confined. This dungeon is rather lighter than the others; several small grated windows admit the light. Byron, in his beautiful poem on this subject, exercises the license of his art when he describes the only light of this prison as being
" A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And through the crevice and the cleft
Like a marsh's meteor lamp."
Prisoner of Chillon. II.
Bernese, was also used as such by them. It now belongs to the Canton of Vaud; and is a magazine for gunpowder and fire-arms.
A short account of the life of Bonnivard, the hero of Byron's “ Prisoner of Chillon,” may be interesting to those who have read that beauti
ceiling; the floor and part of one wall are excavated from the damp rock on which the Castle stands. The seventh column is close to the wall at the further end, which is perfectly dark; there the spot is shown where the two brothers of Bonnivard where buried. At each column there still remains an iron ring, and around the pillar to which the “ Prisoner” was chained, the rock seems somewhat worn. On this column are inscribed the names of Byron, Victor Hugo, and, I believe, Rousseau. From the narrow holes which admit the light can be seen the waves, dashing against the rocks below.
At the further end of the dungeon there was formerly a secret staircase, now walled up, which led to the Hall of Inquisition above. There the victims were tortured, and their fates decided ; and from this Hall they were led either to the dungeons or to the gallows. Above this are seen the rooms of the Duke of Savoy, which he occupied on his visits to Chillon. These royal chambers, with their immense fire. places and dreary appearance, would scarcely suit the royalty of the present age.
I can hardly imagine a more beautiful and striking scene than a sunset at Chillon. The sinking orb, reflected with doubled glory in the transparent lake, casts its last rays upon the surrounding mountains; while the shades of evening are slowly gathering around the gloomy walls of the old Castle. A few towns and villages appear in the distance; and thus lies the small green isle, the only one in view,” with its
three tall trces;
or gentle breath and hue."" The Castle of Chillon was built, I believe, in the fourteenth century; it was used by the Duke of Savoy as a prison, and, when taken by the
Byron, “Prisoner of Chillon," xiii,
Francis de Bonnivard was the son of a mar. tyr to the truth. He was by birth a Savoyard, but became a citizen of Geneva, and was one of its most zealous defenders. He was a man of an upright heart, a strong mind, and a courageous spirit; he sacrificed his riches and his liberty in the cause of freedom. He wrote an excellent history of Geneva
Bonnivard came forth openly in his youth as a defender of Geneva against the Duke of Savoy. In 1519 the Duke entered Geneva with five hundred men.
Bonnivard feared his vengeance, and tried to escape to Fribourg, but was betrayed by two men who accompanied him, and was taken to the Castle of Grolée. There he remained a prisoner for two years. After his release, he was taken on the Jura, by some robbers, who gave him up to the Duke of Savoy. He was then imprisoned in the dungeon of the Castle of Chillon, where he was confined for six years.
When the Bernese took the Canton of Vaud, he was released by them.
Bonnivard had been a martyr in the cause of liberty ; his love for Geneva and his ardor in defending it, had drawn upon him the hatred of his enemies. When he returned to Geneva, after his confinement in Chillon, he found that that city had embraced the Reformed faith. That Republic showed its gratitude to him by giving him a house and an annual pension. He afterwards became a member of the Council.
Bonnivard was a pious man, as well as a zealous patriot; he induced the government of Geneva to tolerate the Roman Catholics in that city. After a life of sufferings and benevolence. he died in 1570.