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IT rarely occurs that those who are possessed of real worth, are not forced to contend, while living, with influences which will not allow them the enjoyment of the full measure of reputation to which their merit has justly entitled them. This is a fact which has its foundation in some of the deep seated principles of human action— principles which we may look to see exhibited in all the circumstances and relations of life—and which we should be conscious, enter largely into our own views on all subjects connected with our own personal prospects and happiness.
In a state of society where the interests of men are perpetually clashing—where the elevation of one individual in the scale of importance, must be purchased at the sacrifice of the rising hopes of another—and where each is pursuing his own ends, indifferent to the fate of those around him, the promptings of our common nature are to the indulgence of feelings and passions, which do even less to establish our characters upon a basis dignified and elevated, than they do to substantiate our claims to liberality and impartiality. Envy, prejudice, the rancor of party spleen, and the narrowness of bigotry may all lend their influence, and may all do much for a season at least, to obscure the brightest talents, and sully the fairest reputation. Death furnishes the only screen from their malice—the grave is the only sure refuge from their attacks, and happy is he who can gain it unscathed by the darts to which he is exposed from their malevolence. Its sanctity opposes a strong barrier to the completion of their purposes; the wild flames of passion which they kindled and fanned while the object of their rage was within their reach, are allowed to die away and become extinguished when he has reached this point of security—one beyond which prejudice and envy dare not penetrate; where the existence of party is unknown, and where even bigotry herself, cannot but forget the artificial distinctions of her own creation. Then it is that the character begins
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to be viewed as it really is—through no medium of distortion, and disconnected from those topics with which it was before associated, and to which selfishness had lent a temporary excitement; new excellencies are discovered, or those which before were reluctantly acknowledged, seem to be appreciated, while a “veil of charity” is allowed to conceal any supposed obliquities—such as may have had a real existence in the impersections of nature, or such as have only existed in the imaginary conceptions of interested malice. This is a favor uniformly claimed and conceded to the sailings of humanity— but is it all which departed worth has to hope from our generosity ? Are we to rest content with offering it this scanty boon—a pittance which we can deny to none, whatever their claims to standing or character? Should we aim at nothing beyond the negative merit of correcting the false views which have originated in our own stupidity, with no expression of concern for the injustice which our mistake has occasioned, or the sufferings which have resulted from our intolerance Ought we to dispense this summary justice to all, recognizing in our indiscriminate kindness, none of the distinctions of vice and virtue : Is justice to the departed requires that we correct the false impressions of the past, justice to ourselves as possessed of honorable sympathies, and substantial views of the principles of right and wrong, equally demands that we furnish, by some testimonials of respect to the memory of the virtuous and illustrious, proof that we have a deeper interest in matters so intimately connected with the weal of society. It is a question which will not admit of apathy or indifference; it appeals directly to all our refinement of feeling, all our liberality of sentiment, in short, to all those nobler qualities which adorn character and give it its sairest proportions; and as we value a reputation based on the possession of these, the appeal may not with safety be disregarded. But it is less the design of this essay to explain the demands of justice, or the operations of sympathy, than to present some of the considerations of general advantage connected with this subject— considerations of the first importance, when regarded in their tendency to influence the opinions of men, since they strike more powerfully than any other, if not more nicely, the springs of feeling in the human heart. The first point worthy of particular attention, is, the influence of public honors paid to the memory of the illustrious dead, upon the character of a nation abroad. Any addition to the reputation of an individual is, in the view of the world, but so much added to that of the nation, in the particular department towards which the bent of his mind has been directed. Nations are but individuals, associated under the restraints of society, and those regulations which are rendered necessary for the protection of their mutual interests; and the character of every nation is but the character of the distinguished personages who have figured in its history. Its conquests are but the achievements of their valor—its literature, the productions of their genius—its philosophy, the results of their research—its system of policy, the comprehensive views which they have formed of the principles of justice, and the relations of society. Strike out from the annals of ancient Greece the records of her Demosthenes, her Pericles, her Socrates, and their equally distinguished cotemporaries, and you will have extinguished the lustre of her same. Blot from the bright page of history, which tells us of Rome in her proud character of Mistress of the World, all that would serve to remind us of her Scipios, her Bruti, her Caesars, and their associates in honor, and the “Eternal City” will have lost the splendor of her glory. Carthage, too, that restless state, whose ambition grasped at universal empire—what is it that has perpetuated her name, and given her claims to consideration among the nations of antiquity, but the splendid achievements of a single hero—her matchless Hannibal Trace back for centuries that long succession of events by which England has been raised to her present enviable rank in the scale of empire—what is there in all this lengthened series, that does not clearly indicate that the efforts of individual genius have formed the basis of national prosperity ? Erase from the chronicles of our own times and nation, all the evidence they are designed to furnish of the sterling talents and virtues of our Spartan ancestry, and though our national existence could not cease, yet we should have lost almost all, that, in the opinion of mankind, could render this existence desirable. In short, take in the whole range of universal history, and you will find it only a mass of private memoirs, an exhibition of the effects which have been produced upon the condition and prospects of the world by the unaided energies of individual minds—those minds which, in their respective ages, have shone forth as suns in a firmament where nothing was visible but by the reflection of their brightness, or which have appeared, in comparison with the thousands of their cotemporaries, like the islands which stud the bosom of the senseless ocean—spots of verdure and beauty amidst the wide waste of waters. Yet to history have the nations of antiquity been indebted for all their celebrity, and on it must we rely, if we would secure an influence which shall be felt without our own borders, and beyond the period of our existence. The inducements to do honor to the distinguished dead, are therefore as strong as can be furnished by the powerful considerations of national character and national glory. But these motives will be rendered still more efficient if we consider the effects resulting to the peace and prosperity of a nation at home. This is a point most vital to the interests of any country, at the same time it is one most difficult to be secured. Here lies concealed the rock, on which all who have made the full experiment of government before us have split—a danger, to shun which calls for the exercise of the utmost care and circumspection in all who are “entrusted with the helm of state.” It matters comparatively little what are our foreign relations, or what place we hold in the estimation of the world for rank or character, if intestine disorders and domestic discord are allowed to prevail, the chances against us are such as to warrant the expectation that a crisis in our history will speedily arrive, when our rank and character abroad will serve us no purpose of protection. It has ever proved one of the nicest points in legislation, so to balance the interests and humor the views of all concerned, as to preserve that union and harmony among them which is indispensable to their common safety. Especially is this difficulty felt in nations, where freedom of opinion and discussion is made a fundamental principle of government. Diversity of interest, the distinctions of party, local prejudices and sectional jealousies, operate with peculiar force among a people who are conscious of the possession of rights, and jealous for their maintenance. Amidst the dissensions to which they give rise, the general welfare is liable to be forgotten or neglected, and the safety of the state sacrificed to the blindness of chance, or the licentiousness of corrupt ambition. In such a state of things, where the tendencies to disunion are so strong, some powerful tie of affinity is necessary to unite and embody firmly, elements between which the principles of repulsion are so mutual and fixed. The evils are such as admit of no ordinary cure; they completely disorder the vital functions of the body politic, and their remedy must be radical. The bond of union must be one the influence of which shall be felt far below the surface of things, and take deep hold upon the finest sensibilities of nature, as well as the firmest principles of duty. This tie of affinity—this remedy for evils which are beyond the control of legislation, is to be found in the sacred associations of past history, in the sentiments of national pride or patriotism which these are fitted to awaken, and especially, in the recollections of those, whom all are equally authorized to regard as their benefactors, and the benefactors of mankind. Here is presented a subject which, all must see, admits of no illiberal or contracted views. Living under institutions which they can trace to the same origin, and descended from an ancestry to whom they bear a mutual relation, it is impossible that they should not feel that they are standing upon common ground. The glorious events of past history furnish matter for gratulation, which is not subject to party limitations or local restrictions: The virtues of those distinguished dead whose efforts have mainly contributed to forward these events, and the honor which they have reflected upon the national character, are liable to no sectional appropriation ; they are the nation's legacy, and to a participation of them, all are alike entitled. The deeper the impressions which such considerations as these are calculated to make upon the mind, the more rational is the ground for hope that minor distinctions and petty interests will be forgotten ; and the more frequent the opportunities of which avail can be made, and the greater the variety of forms under which they can be presented, the stronger are the probabilities that their influence will be felt, and the threatened dangers of anarchy and dissolution averted. But there are other effects resulting from these public honors to the distinguished dead, which, in their operation upon the domestic character of a nation, deserve not to be overlooked. By the example of those whom they are intended to commemorate, they furnish an incitement to high and noble effort, as well as cherish the spirit of patriotism, that fundamental element of national safety—the only sure guarantee for the preservation of national honor, and the permanency of national institutions. They, in a measure, also regulate the moral sense of the community, by the connection which they are designed to establish between the practice and rewards of virtue. Such, briefly sketched, are some of their effects upon national security at home, and consideration abroad—two points which are recognized as of the first importance in the policy of every government. Nor is their influence less efficient in contributing to the elevation and refinement of society, by the encouragement which they furnish to literature and the arts. It has already been remarked of history, that its materials have been mainly drawn from the actions of the illustrious dead; and it may with equal truth be asserted, that these afford the finest field for the display of oratory, and furnish the noblest themes for the inspiration of poetry. It is the peculiar province of poetry and oratory to celebrate the renowned deeds of heroes, and the wisdom of sages, or eulogize the virtues of philanthropists, the self-devotion of patriots, and the soundness and prudence of statesmen. The Iliad of Homer—a production which by universal concession embodies more completely than any other, the genuine conceptions of poetic genius—what is it but a series of raptures upon the valor of Achilles, the persuasive eloquence of Nestor, the shrewdness and penetration of Ulysses, and the majestic, noble bearing of Agamemnon In what do we feel more the power of this “Chief of Poets,” than in his delineations of individual character, and his descriptions of the valiant exploits of individual heroes Where has the wild imagination of Ossian taken a more free or bolder range, opening to the mind conceptions of greater sublimity and grandeur, than in describing the dauntless bravery of his Fingal and Oscar, Trenmor and Cuthullin —On what theme do the orators of Greece and Rome kindle into a glow of more servid eloquence, than in the celebration of the praises of their ancestors, and extolling the seats of their valor? And from what have those of our own nation borrowed more soul-stirring appeals to the patriotism and national pride of their countrymen, than the example of the great and good whose names are interwoven with our earlier history —These public honors furnish also no slight encouragement to the arts. Painting finds its fittest subjects in the scenes of heroic exploits, where warriors have exhibited their prowess, and commanders have established their