Graham's Magazine, Vol. XXXIV, No. 5, May 1849 online

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appreciations, the noblest conceptions, or lowered to the most sordid
views, the most groveling level, and this is left to man himself—to
rise or fall, to sink or soar, is left to his own choice, and is within
his own power.

Of course this remark is not unqualified, it is not intended that the
natives of Central Africa, or of the inhabited regions around the Poles,
can improve their moral condition, and rise to the same high standard as
may the enlightened nations of Europe or of our own loved country. To
assert such a thing would be preposterous, to expect it ridiculous. Our
resources are not their resources, our advantages not theirs, but there
is implanted in the breast of every man a frame-work and basis, with
which, and upon which, he may build something that shall make him better
than he now is. And the greater his advantages, the vaster the amount of
material furnished him wherewith to work, the more will be expected of
him, and higher and higher will the eyes of men rise, seeking for the
pinnacles of that temple of the mind which they of a right expect him to

To ensure without fail the meeting of their views, (perchance to surpass
them,) it is not sufficient to seize indiscriminately and pile block
upon block, and stone upon stone. It is not sufficient to heap up a vast
mountain of brick and mortar, jumbled together without taste or
elegance, and then write upon it—This is Parian marble—these are
classic proportions. This will not do, the cheat will be found out, and
Ridicule will mingle her laughter with the shouts and jeers of the
multitude as they mock and scan the shallow attempt at imposition.

What then is to be done?

This—let us seek Taste, let us acquaint ourselves with her, coax her,
court her, make her our own, and we are safe. But we must be sure it is
no impostor, no false being who assumes the name, for there are such,
and they are to be shunned. We must “be sure we are right, then” onward,
right onward.

True taste will teach us to select the choice blocks, the finely grained
and unflawed marble, she will bid us to reject the huge, coarse,
glittering rocks with which some will strive to dazzle our eyes and
mislead our judgment, and cause us to turn aside from those brittle and
perishing kinds which will scarce bear handling.

Having chosen our materials, now let us build. Up go the blocks one
after another, and high the temple grows. Day by day it increases in
height, but why is it men stand and gaze with mortified and disappointed
looks upon the structure? Why do no sounds of encouragement, no
acclamations and shouts of admiration reach the ear? Hear the reason—we
sought Taste—we courted her, we bid her aid us seek our materials, and
teach us how to judge of them. She did so—that done we scorned her aid,
we forgot her, and trusting in ourselves we reared a vast work of folly.

But “_nil desperandum_,” there is yet time. Tear down the monument of
heedlessness and call Taste to teach us once again. Faithful she returns
at our bidding. Now hark to the sound of the mallet and chisel as they
ring against the stone, chip by chip of superfluous material is worked
away, piece by piece which is unneeded is broken off and thrown aside
until some other work shall call them into use.

Now seems to become exhumed, as from a grave of stone and rubbish, the
massive pedestal, the firm base, the graceful column, the sculptured
capital and the rich cornice. Day by day, and hour by hour, these
multiply in true and classic beauty, and higher and higher skyward soars
the now elegant structure, until, amid the shouts and admiration of the
world, the voice of Reason proclaims that Taste has fashioned it.

This, then, is an edifice, a work worthy of the mind, formed from
materials the choicest within man’s reach, wrought out and builded by
the hand of Taste; it is worthy to be gazed upon, to be admired and
copied by all.

Age after age will go by, but still it will stand firm, and beautiful,
and admired as when the artist gave the last stroke, and proclaimed it
to the world as finished.

Are proofs required, among the names of the ancients may be found those
time-honored and long worshiped ones of Lysippus, Polycletus,
Praxiteles, Timanthes, Appelles, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, Plato, Aristotle,
Pliny, Ovid, Pollio, Catullus, Demosthenes, Thucydides, Xenophon,
Aristophanes, Orpheus, Archilocus and Timotheus, together with many,
many of their cotemporaries, for whose names I have no space, but whose
memories are still, and still are to be, revered.

Following in the path which these have hewn through the thickets of
prejudice and ignorance comes a long bright train. Amidst the stars of
this latter day firmament gleam conspicuous the names of Banks, Young,
Cole, West, White, Vandyck, Tasso, Titian, Rittenhouse, Mozart, Milton,
Crabbe, Gallileo and Godfry, and ever and anon new and brilliant planets
flash forth and shed their glad effulgence around.

Could this be without Taste?

It could not. Glorious and rich and varied as are the works of those
whose efforts and the productions of whose minds have tended to elevate
and improve our condition, they never could have been without Taste to
suggest—Taste to aid, and Taste to accomplish the mighty, the
stupendous, the gigantic works they have wrought.

What was it, let us inquire, that induced the ancient Egyptians to build
the city of Thebes in such glorious magnificence that even its ruins
produced effects upon historians to cause them to be immortalized? Homer
tells of her hundred gates, from each of which two hundred chariots and
ten thousand warriors could issue at a time. To her palaces painting and
sculpture had lent all their art, combining to render this city one of
the glories of the world. Was not this Taste?

What, too, induced them to erect those monuments of the strength of man
and tyranny of kings—the Obelisks and Pyramids, to erect them in such
huge size and vast strength that still they stand, as through long ages
they have stood, firm and immovable as the “everlasting hills?”


Need we ask Astronomy, that grand and elevating science, the
contemplation of which forces upon us our own insignificance, and raises
us from “Nature up to Nature’s God”—that science which teaches us to
admire and wonder, to gaze and fear, to glorify and adore the _Great
Being_ who formed “Arcturus, Orion and the Pleiades.” Need we ask to
what considerations upon the part of man we are indebted for the
important and immense researches which all lie open to us, which teach
us to trace out the constellations, and “call the stars by their
names”—which drew Phytheas from his home and caused him to wander
unsatisfied with the observations he was able to make in his own
country, from the Pillars of Hercules to the mouth of the Tanais—which
made Egypt, Rome, Spain, France, Germany and Denmark the cradles of the
then infant science?

Is it necessary to reply it is Taste?

Turn we then to Philosophy, and in the deep researches of Thales, the
moral reasoning of Socrates, the eloquence of Plato, and the
disinterestedness of Zenocrates read of Taste.

Chemistry, with all its brilliant discoveries, and Rhetoric, in its
elegance, speak of it.

Music, Oratory, History, Geography, Grammar and Physic are each and all
of them proofs of Taste in its truth and purity; and Poetry shouts forth
with glad and eager pride Eureka! we have found it.

The beauty, delicacy and usefulness of Botany, the rich and varied hue
of the flowers, those “gems of earth,” whisper softly to us of Taste;
and the importance of Anatomy proves it.

Metaphysics and Geometry demonstrate its truth; while the wild bird’s
carol hymns forth its notes of praise and gladness to the Creator of it
and of that element of man’s happiness, Taste.

It is here, it is there, it is everywhere, one grand, pervading
principle, one first element, one chief ingredient of all things.

It was implanted in the mind by _Him_ who formed us, and it is as much
the duty of man to cultivate and improve his taste, as it is his duty to
improve and cultivate any other talent lent him to keep; and he will be
considered no more excusable for wrapping this precious deposit in a
napkin and hiding it away than was the servant of old, who buried the
talent until the coming of his lord. Let us then cultivate Taste, each
according to the kind and portion given us.

It has been said that “every man is born to excel in something, and the
only reason so many fail is they mistake their calling.” Be this as it
may, it sounds marvelously like sense, and it would be well for every
one to examine strictly, that he may discover wherein it is intended he
shall excel, and what the peculiar Taste or Tastes may be which, to
himself, to society at large, and to a _higher power_ than either, it is
his duty to cultivate.

Yet although Taste has been given us, and we are required to improve and
use it to the best advantage, it is not intended there are no other
gifts bestowed on man which can equal it. That would be to assume for it
more than could well be proven. It is intended that Taste shall act as a
means of enjoyment and happiness, as a means whereby we can investigate
causes, and admire and apply effects—a means whereby we can dive into
the very depths of science and open the sealed treasure-house of
knowledge—a means of searching out the beauties and glories of
creation, and comprehending, as far as the mind of man is capable of
comprehending, the wonderful omnipotence of the Deity.

* * * * *



At nineteen, Silas Loring left college and went into a store to be
educated for a merchant. At the same time, a school-companion, named
Alfred Benedict, with whom he had been intimate, was placed by his
parents in the counting-room of a large shipper. The two young men had
enjoyed equal advantages, so far as education was concerned; but they
had improved these advantages differently. The father of Loring early
impressed upon his mind the idea that wealth gave a man all power and
influence in the world; that it was the greatest good that could be
sought; while the father of Benedict urged his son to gain knowledge as
the highest and best possession. The two young men had been influenced,
as well by their natural tastes and feelings as by the opinions and
advice of their parents. On leaving college, Loring left behind him all
affection for literature or scientific pursuits, and took with him only
an ardent desire to become wealthy, accompanied by a confident assurance
that he possessed the ability required to attain the summit of his
wishes. Benedict, on the contrary, entered the world with his love of
knowledge as active as ever, and his desire for its attainment more
ardent than when he passed at first over the threshold of Wisdom’s

Equal as to external advantages, the two young men started in the world.
Neither of their parents were rich, though both were able to give their
children a good education, that surest guaranty of success. But
difference of purpose in a few years made a great difference in their
relative positions. When Loring was twenty-five years of age he was a
partner in the house where he had served his apprenticeship, and the
most active and really intelligent business man in the firm; while
Benedict was merely a book-keeper, receiving a salary of twelve hundred
dollars a year. All the energies of the active mind of Loring, inspired
by his love of money, were given to business; while the no less active
mind of Benedict was as deeply absorbed in literary pursuits and
scientific investigations. As a book-keeper, the latter was faithful,
attentive and accurate, and valued by his employers; but beyond his
journal and ledger his thoughts never penetrated the arcana of trade. He
had no affection for it. His mind loved rather to explore the arcana of
knowledge, and gather in from fields that were ever opening before him,
rich harvests of intelligence.

In the manners and appearance of the two young men there was also a
noticeable change. Loring had an air of self-importance, and an
off-hand, dashing sort of manner, that bespoke a mind well satisfied
with itself, and conscious of having done something. But Benedict had
become more quiet and unobtrusive. He looked like a man who did not
entertain a very high opinion of himself, as being of consequence in the

As men appear in society, so are they usually estimated by the mass.
Loring was bowed to across the street a dozen times in every square; was
met in company by a hearty shake of the hand, and treated wherever he
went as an individual of some importance. And such he really felt
himself to be. Benedict, on the contrary, might walk a dozen squares
without receiving a nod, or mingle in society and be almost unnoticed
and alone. But he did not feel this. In fact he was hardly conscious of
it; for he rarely, if ever, thought any thing about the estimation in
which others held him. His mind was in a higher and purer region.

The intimate friendship that had existed between Loring and Benedict,
did not continue very long after they left college, although they
remained friends and acquaintances, and were interested in each other
for some years. But, after Loring had changed from a clerk to a
merchant, he began to feel that he was no longer on a level with a mere
book-keeper, who was likely to remain a book-keeper for life. Merchants
were now his associates. Men who used to bow to him with distant
formality, _now_ took him cordially by the hand, and were as familiar
with him as he had been with mere clerks before. He likewise received
invitations to the houses of these merchants, and was introduced into a
new and higher circle. In this circle he never met his old friend
Benedict. Is it any wonder that he looked down upon him as an inferior?
None. We see by means of the atmosphere by which we are surrounded,
whether naturally or spiritually. The atmosphere in which the mind of
Loring breathed and saw, was so different from the one that gave life
and vision to the mind of Benedict, that he was unable to see by it the
true quality and character of his friend. He could see in his own
atmosphere, but that which surrounded the humble book-keeper was
darkness to his eyes.

Thus the years went by, Loring accumulating gold, and Benedict treasures
of knowledge, that neither moth nor rust could corrupt, nor thieves
break through and steal. As these treasures increased, he began to feel
a desire to impart something of what he possessed to others. This desire
prompted him to write out his reflections, experiences, and the new
views that were constantly pressing in upon his mind, and send them to
the various literary and scientific journals for publication. It was not
long before this brought him into honorable notice, and made his name
familiar to men of intelligence throughout the country, with many of
whom he gradually came into correspondence.

“What has become of Benedict?” asked Mr. Loring, one day of the merchant
whose book-keeper he had been for many years. “I have missed him from
your store for some time.”

“He left me several months ago,” was the reply.

“How came that? But I suppose his mind got so lost in his literary
pursuits that he was no longer good for any thing as a clerk.”

“He was faithful and correct to the last,” promptly answered the
individual to whom this remark was made. “I never had and never expect
to have a more valuable clerk than Benedict. But he has obtained a
better place, and one more suited to his tastes and abilities.”

“Ah, where has he gone?”

“To Bowdoin College. The Professorship of —— was offered to him, and
he accepted it.”

“I didn’t know that he had any friends away off there. Isn’t it rather
singular that he should be appointed to such a chair? Do you think him
capable of filling it?”

“I presume those who appointed him knew his ability.”

“Did he apply for it?”

“No. He knew nothing of the vacancy until he was notified of his

“That is a little singular,” remarked Loring, wondering for the moment
how a man of so little importance, and no very distinguished ability,
should be voluntarily tendered a high professorship in Bowdoin College.
But the wonder did not occupy his mind very long. It passed away with
the thought of his old school-friend.

Great activity and energy in a business already firmly established, in
which was ample capital, made Loring the possessor, in a few years, of
quite a handsome property. Ambitious of a more rapid increase of
fortune, and believing that he ought to have the entire benefit of his
activity, energy, and capacity for trade, he withdrew from the house in
which he was a partner, and commenced business alone. He did not err in
his calculations. The results was as favorable as he had expected. Money
came in more rapidly, and with its accumulation rose his ideas of his
own importance, until he looked down upon every man whose coffers were
not quite as full as his own, at the same time that he felt himself to
be as good as any millionaire in the land.

It is a little singular how the mere possession of money raises a man’s
ideas of his own importance, and causes him to think meanly of all who
are not favored with any considerable portion of this world’s goods.
Upon what a slender basis of real worth do men sometimes build a
towering structure of self-conceit! Wealth is very rarely the
correspondent of solid virtue and sterling merit in those who possess
it; not that men of wealth are less virtuous or meritorious as a class,
but wealth, upon which most persons value themselves, is not the true
standard for estimating the man. It never gives quality to the heart,
principles to the mind, nor to the understanding rational intelligence.

As Mr. Loring continued to grow richer, his ideas of his own importance
continued to rise, until he felt himself quite an “exclusive” in
society. At the age of forty, he determined to take a trip across the
Atlantic, and see the world abroad. He must spend some time in London,
Paris and Italy. In order to be prepared for this journey, he brushed up
his French, and spent his leisure time in reading about the places he
proposed to visit. So far as his knowledge of matters and things in his
own country, out of the mercantile sphere, was concerned, it was very
limited. Even in politics he was not very well posted up. As to what was
doing in literature and science, he was altogether ignorant. He was a
successful merchant, and that was about all that could be said of him.

All things ready, Mr. Loring took passage in a steamer for Liverpool.
The ship had cast off her moorings, and was gliding swiftly along the
smooth waters of the bay, when the merchant, in turning his eyes from
the diminishing city to the nearer and more palpable objects on board
the vessel that was bearing him on to the ocean, noticed a familiar
face. At first he was at a loss where to place its owner. But soon his
memory was clear upon that subject. His old friend, Benedict, was a
fellow-passenger! The eyes of the latter were upon him, and his
countenance about expressing a pleasurable recognition, when Loring
turned away and glanced back again upon the dim and distant city. He did
not wish to renew the acquaintance. When he next looked around upon his
companions for the voyage, Benedict was not to be seen.

There were one hundred passengers on board, and among them several men
of high reputation in the United States. A former Governor of
Massachusetts, whose name and fame were familiar to every one, was among
the number; also two men from the South, who had distinguished
themselves during many years in the national legislature. One of them
had held the office of Secretary of State. Besides these, there were
many men of standing and character both from the mercantile class and
the learned professions. In looking over the list of passengers, Mr.
Loring was well satisfied to find himself in such good company. The only
drawback was the presence of so obscure an individual as Mr. Benedict,
with whom he had once been acquainted, but toward whom he must now, in
justice to his own character and position, conduct himself as a

Such were the reflections of Mr. Loring, as he turned from the vessel’s
side and went below, late in the afternoon of the day on which they had
sailed. On entering the cabin, the first objects that met his eyes were
the ex-governor of Massachusetts and Mr. Benedict engaged in
conversation. This surprised him at first, but on reflection, he
explained the circumstance by supposing that Benedict had intruded
himself upon the individual with whom he was conversing, and that the
latter submitted to the intrusion from mere politeness. He sat down at
some distance from them, expecting to see their interview quickly
terminated. But he was disappointed in this, for the parties grew more
and more interested. Whenever Benedict spoke, he observed that the other
listened with deep attention, and that his manner toward him was always
respectful, and sometimes even deferential. The conversation was
prolonged until tea-time, and then the two men separated.

There was something in this that the man of wealth could not understand.

On the next day Mr. Loring sought an opportunity to make the formal
acquaintance of Mr. ——, from the Bay State, through the introduction
of a friend on board, who presented him as “one of our first merchants,”
going out to visit Europe. Mr. —— was very polite, and made some
commonplace remarks to the merchant, who replied with a self-importance
in his manner that did not make the impression he designed. The
ex-governor knew just how much money was worth as a standard by which to
estimate the man. The words, “one of our first merchants,” made no
impression upon him whatever. In fact, he scarcely noticed it. After
talking a short time with Mr. Loring, with a polite bow he moved away
and joined Mr. Benedict, who was standing on the opposite side of the
vessel. He was soon again in close conversation with this obscure

Loring was not only surprised at this, but chafed. It puzzled as well as
annoyed him. He could not but remark that Mr. Benedict was perfectly at
his ease with the distinguished individual who had just left him, and
that there was nothing in the manner of Mr. —— approaching to
condescension. Not many minutes elapsed before they were joined by a
third person, to whom Mr. —— presented Loring’s old friend in a formal
introduction. This individual was from the South. He had formerly held
the office of Secretary of State at Washington. At the mention of Mr.
Benedict’s name he shook him warmly by the hand, and treated him with
marked attention. The three men then went below, where Loring saw them,
about an hour afterward, in the centre of a group of five or six, all
men of standing and character in the United States. Benedict was
speaking, and all were listening to him with deep attention.

“Can it be possible that his fortunes have changed—that he has become
wealthy?” the merchant said to himself; and a feeling of respect for his
old acquaintance arose in his mind.

Day after day went by, and still Mr. Benedict continued to be on terms
of intimacy with these men, while they treated Mr. Loring, who was
introduced to them by a friend, with reserved and distant politeness.

“Who is that man?” asked the merchant, affecting not to know Benedict.
The question was put to a fellow-passenger.

“That’s Professor Benedict,” replied the person addressed, manifesting
surprise at the question. “Are you not acquainted with him?”

Loring shook his head.

“You have heard of him, of course?”

“I can’t say that I have.”

“Not heard of Professor Benedict!” The passenger looked into the face of
Loring with a broad stare. “Why he is known from one end of our country
to the other as a distinguished scholar and man of science. His articles
in the Quarterly Review, and his essays on Political and Social Economy,
‘Wealth and Labor,’ ‘The Times,’ etc., have won for him an enviable
reputation. There are few abler men in our country than Professor

Mr. Loring asked no further questions. He felt rebuked and mortified.

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Online LibraryVariousGraham's Magazine, Vol. XXXIV, No. 5, May 1849 → online text (page 9 of 15)