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BEFORE THE BOSTON - MECHANICS' INSTITUTION, AT THE OPENING OF THEIR ANNUAL COURSE OF LEC
TURES, NOVEMBER, 1829.
BY JOSEPH STORY.
Gentlemen, Much has been said respecting the spirit of our age, and the improvements, by which it is characterized. Many learned discussions have been presented to the public with a view to illustrate this topic ; to open the nature and extent of our attainments; to contrast them with those of former times; and thus to vindicate, nay more, to demonstrate, our superiority over all our predecessors, if not in genius, at least in the perfection and variety of its fruits. There is doubtless much in such a review to gratify our pride, national, professional and personal. But its value in this respect, if we stop here, is but of doubtful, or at least of subordinate importance. It is not the sum of our attainments, but the actual augmentation of human happiness and human virtue thereby, of which we may justly be proud. If every new acquisition operates as a moving spirit upon the still depths of our minds, to awaken new enterprise and activity, to warm our hearts to new affection and kindness to our race, and to enable us to add something to the capital stock of human enjoyment, we may well indulge in self-congratulation. It has been said, that he, who makes two blades of grass grow, where one only grew before, deserves to be reckoned among the benefactors of mankind. And it has been justly said; because he has added so much means to the support of life, and thus promoted the effective power and prosperity of the whole community. The true test of the value of all attainments is their real utility.
I do not mean by this remark to suggest, that nothing is to be esteemed valuable, except its utility can be traced directly home to some immediate benefit, in visible operation as an effect from a cause. Far otherwise. There are many employments, whose chief object seems little connected with any great ultimate benefit, which yet administer widely, though indirectly, to the substantial good of society. There are many studies, which seem remote from any direct utility, which yet, like the thousand hidden springs, which form the sources and streams of rivers, pour in their contributions to augment the constantly increasing current of public wealth and happiness. We must, not, therefore, when we examine an art, or an invention, a book, or a building, a study or a curiosity, measure its value by a narrow rule. We must not ask ourselves, whether we could do without it; whether it be indispensable to our wants, or, though missed, could yet be spared. But the true question in such cases ought to be, whether in the actual structure of society, it gratifies a reasonable desire, imparts an innocent pleasure, strengthens a moral feeling, elevates a single virtue, or chastens or refines the varied intercourse of life. If it does, it is still useful in the truest sense of the term, although it may not seem directly to feed the hungry, cure the sick, administer