Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

ideas as to his intention. Nothing, so far as I know, has transpired or been suggested that would have any bearing towards such a change, unless it be in a remark that the secretary had made to the following effect : That it had recently been ascertained that Smithson once made a will in which he bequeathed his property to the Royal Society ; that he cancelled that will, and made the one under which the United States claimed the legacy; therefore, it is argued he intended to establish something like the Royal Society here. I should draw just the opposite inference, particularly inasmuch as he was, as the secretary has said with apparent reason, a man accustomed to weigh well his words, and a man of science, who knew what were the objects and operations of such a society. If he intended to create such a society, or institute such a set of operations, exclusively, he knew how to say so, and he would have said so. But he used general terms, which might include a great many instrumentalities“ for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” without in any way intimating which he preferred. It would be doing injustice to his liberality to suppose that he meant to limit it at all. He doubtless meant that the particular instrumentalities for the increase and diffusion of knowledge to be employed in the future Smithsonian Institution should be left to the suggestions and wants of the civilization of the country to which he confided the trust. And the fact of his having repented of giving his money to the Royal Society, if it were well established, (as it is not supposed to be,) would, if it indicated anything with reference to his subseqent intentions, rather insinuate that reflection had led him to prefer something different, or at least not to positively prefer that.

But to return to the topics of the last extract from the secretary's report.

He intimates that the compromise may have been necessary in the beginning in order to harmonize conflicting opinions, and to submit a variety of schemes to a judicious trial; but that changes have taken place, and it is no longer necessary. The necessity must have reference either to the reconciling of opinions or to the judicious trial.

If it is no longer necessary to harmonize conflicting opinions, it must be either that the harmony has been produced, or that it is no longer a desideratum. That it is not already produced, is evident from the adherence of the original parties to the compromise to their respective opinions; and, from the fact that others still coincide with each of them, many more with the opinions of those who favored the library than with those who favored other things as I firmly believe.

I turn now to the supposition, that the necessity mentioned relates to the “ judicious trial." If the compromise were necessary in order to submit various plans to a judicious trial, and it is now argued that changes have occurred which render the compromise no longer necessary on this account, it must be that the trial has been satisfactorily made; and if further it be proposed to found upon the result of the trial a decree, taking away something from one department and giving it to the other, it must be proved not only that the trial has shown the one department to be practicable, and not chimerical, but it must also be proved that the other department has been tried and found impracticable and chimerical.

The necessity of the compromise for the harmonizing of opinions seems as great now as ever; the desirableness of harmony is the same. The trial of the plan has not resulted in the proof that the library and museum are impracticable; therefore, no argument predicated on the result of the trial can be urged against them; consequently, there would seem to be no argument here for breaking the compromise. The asserted opinion of a majority of intelligent persons has not been made to appear, and if it had been, and related to the point mentioned, (the intentions of Smithson,) it would be upon a point which Congress alone is competent to decide, and which Congress has decided.

The principal argument of the secretary which is fully presented in the first four pages of his last printed report, is briefly as follows: The active operations, that is, the publications and reseaches, have born good fruit. This has been acknowledged by scientific men and societies throughout the world. Consequently, they should be made the paramount interest of the Institution.

I am glad that it is not necessary for me, in noticing this argument, to ask whether there is anything to be said in disparagement of the publications which have been made, the researches which have been instituted, and the results which have been secured.

Afier all that has been given to them in the time of officers and in money, it would be a most humiliating conclusion if all praise could not be given in truth to the results.

It would be additionally mortifying, if no polite and grateful acknowledgments had been given; if the recipients had not showered these profusely upon the donors of munificiently printed and illustrated works. It is not to be supposed that they would stop to inquire into the means by which results to them so gratifying had been produced. They would never raise any question whether these results had been produced by the use of a fund, devoted by due process of law to another purposeor whether they were produced by preventing the success of some other great literary scheme. They would not stop to consider whether the organization by which these results had been obtained was one which could, with safety to science, and to individual scientific right and justice, be entrusted with the permanent management of the system of operations necessary to produce such results. Why should they ask themselves whether this plan is free from liability to abuse, or particularly exposed to it? Such polite expressions of approval are mere matters of course, and have no more weight than the conventional expressions of social intercourse. They have no bearing whatsoever upon the question before the Board, unless such can be produced as show an acquaintance with the act of Congress establishing the Institution, the subsequent history of the Institution itself, and the discussions respecting the distribution of the fund.

If these letters and testimonials are introduced merely to show the esteem in which the publications are held, they are appropriately introduced, and should have weight according to the ability of the writers to judge and the carefulness of the examination upon which their opinion is founded.

But, unquestionable success, unanimous approbation of results produced, would not justify the Regents in making a paramount interest

out of that which Congress did not place in that position, much less in opposition to that which Congress did place as paramount, and less still, when the scheme thus proposed to be made paramount can only be legally introduced at all under a clause which allows the Regents to dispose of income remaining after other objects have been provived for, on a liberal scale as required by the act.

I understand the proposition of the secretary to go still further. I quote iwo extracts from his report:

" These are the fruits,” (he says, after an enumeration of the principal publications and researches made and favored,) "of what is called the system of active operations of the Institution, and its power to produce other and continuous results is only limited by the amount of the income which can be appropriated to it, since each succeeding year has presented new and important fields for its cultivation. All the anticipations indulged with regard to it have been fully realized; and after an experience of six years, there can now be no doubt of the true policy of the Regents in regard to it."

And further on, in the same report:

“Whatever, therefore, may be the future condition of the Institution, the true policy for the present is to devole its energies to the system of active operations. All other objects should be subordinate to ihis, and in nowise suffered to diminish the good which it is capable of producing. It should be prosecuted with discretion but with vigor; the results will be its vindication.”

It will be seen that I have not misstated the position of the secretary. All other objects are to be subordinate to the active operations.

No other object is to be suffered IN ANYWISE TO DIMINISH the good which it is capable of producing, which good is limited only by the AMOUNT OF INCOME which can be appropriated to it. That is to say, the Regents are distinctly told by the secretary, that upon the publications and researches, (“ active operations," as they are called,) it is their duty to bestow all the funds of the establishment.

But, if the law of Congress, if the solemn compact between two parties among the Regents, adopted by the Board as the permanent policy of the Institution respecting the distribution of its funds, stand in the way, what then?

The answer of the secretary is, “the results will be its vindication.” But is it a sound doctrine in ethics that results will vindicate measures ? that the end will sanctify the means? Is it safe to establish a principle which, if it justifies one set of operations this year, under one secretary, may overthrow it another, under a secretary whose estimate of such results, or the dictates of whose conscience respecting the means, may be different ?

It is not results that are to be vindicated, and in no other case has this argument any weight. It is measures, operations, that are under discussion, and measures are to be vindicated only by their legality, and in no degree by any quality of whatever results may follow.

I have thus remarked upon every direct argument which I have been able to glean from the reports of the secretary in favor of the proposed scheme of devoting more money to the active operations, and less to the library and museum, with the exception of those remarks and statements of the secretary introduced into various reports, directly opposed to the idea of establishing here a great library of reference and research, and a great museum. To these remarks and staternents I wish to call attention for a few moments.

The secretary says it must never be supposed that a great library can be collected with the part of the income that will come to the library under the compromise.

But are we not bound in good faith to try? Are we not bound to make the best use, and to allow the best use in every way to be made of what does, without doubt, under the compromise, belong to the library for this purpose? If we say to the world that we never expected to form a library, and particularly if we argue against a library, and more particularly still, if we say we would not take a library of 100,000 volumes as a gift, if we must provide for it room and custody, we cannot, of course, expect to get a library with the part of the fund under the compromise devoted to that purpose, nor could we with the whole income.

It has never been supposed that by direct purchases with this part of the fund we can form the library which is wanted in this country. But, by showing a wish for such a collection, a liberal and enlightened appreciation of it, a sympathy with those who say they want it, rather than with those who do not feel the need of it, if we buy judiciously with the means which, under the compromise, we have, and accept the means that are offered to us, we shall with astonishing rapidity collect a magnificent library here. Such a library, when fairly started in such a position, is sure to increase rapidly. There is now a library of 25,000 volumes, the best in the world in its speciality, and that speciality the most important of all to this country, which could be had on terms entirely within our means. I met, the last week, a gentleman who had a special collection of autograph letters, which might well be coveted by any library in the world, and which it would cost next to nothing to keep for centuries, and be worth thousands of dollars. He stated that he had made his will, and given this collection to Harvard University, that he had desired to give it to the Smithsonian Institution, but his intentions had been repelled by remarks such as I have alluded to.

With the half or the whole of the available income, the main hope of the library would be on public and private liberality. And such a hope was never known to be deceived, and will not here be deceived if we are true to ourselves, and make an honest and diligent use of our advantages.

There are in this country some of the best private libraries in the world, libraries well nigh complete in particular departments. These libraries belong to men of great wealth, who will never allow them to be sold by auction. There is (besides the Smithsonian Institution) no establishment to which they would be so likely to bequeath such collections. They would wish to place them in a central institution, connected with the government, one where libraries in other specialities would be likely to be given or otherwise gained. This Institution answers precisely to their wishes. Under the compromise, no friend of the library has sought for more than belonged to it, has grudged anything to the museum, or to any other authorized purpose. They have made no use of arguments, which lay in abundance at their hands, against other operations. But they certainly ought to be allowed to make the best use of the means they have without opposition, without discouragements, without being obliged to answer arguments which had been fairly heard and decided on, without having their efforts neutralized, their hopes destroyed, and the friends on whom they relied repelled.

The secretary has frequently urged, as an argument against collections of all kinds, that their tendency is to a "statical condition." The time must come, he says, when all the income will be needed for the support of the collection, and leave nothing for its increase.

But such an argument would prevent getting anything, unless you can both keep what you get and get more. It would utterly prohibit the accumulation of books and works of art, unless the resources of the Institution were exhaustless. It would allow no institution to get 100,000 books, unless it saw clearly how it could not only keep them but get more.

Nay, further, it is of equal weight against every enterprise, against all effort. It amounts, indeed, to no more than this, namely, that finite causes can produce only finite effects—that a power fully exerted is inadequate to further results. But, if the attainment of this result be necessary or useful, and be equivalent to the power expended, the sooner the "statical condition” be arrived at the better.

But let us suppose the case of a statical condition actually come. We will suppose, for example, that the active operations had not been introduced, and that the library and museum, &c., had been left in full possession of the income for ten years, and that the results produced had been, as they doubtless would have been, a finished building, 200,000 volumes of books, one of the most interesting museums in the world, with lectures, and a chemical department. Now, suppose that the whole of the income of the fund which can properly be bestowed upon the library for the future is only sufficient to support it, has it not already done an immense service; and will it stop? A library like that which I have described exists nowhere in this country, and is not likely to exist for many years. It would attract hither the scholars and scientific men of the country more than any or all other objects. They would concentrate themselves about it. Would they allow such an institution to languish? There is nothing in the history of such institutions to sustain such a belief, but everything to assure us of the contrary. It is only about 100 years since the British museum was commenced by the conditional bequest of an individual, not one-third in amount that of the Smithsonian fund. The statical condition of that institution has not yet arrived, and of all the instrumentalities in England for the increase and diffusion of knowledge, none has been more universally appreciated. But a large proportion of its prosperity has been owing to private liberality.

A library in one of our own cities seemed lately to have reached that condition. The funds had been used in erecting a costly building, and in buying books, and statues, and paintings. There was not even enough to pay the salary of a librarian. Did the enterprise stop? No.

« AnteriorContinua »