Imatges de pàgina

He would have said: “I bequeath the whole of my property, subject, &c., to the United States of America, lo found, at Washington, a library, under the name of the Smithsonian Library."

It is difficult to believe that any man having such an object in view would have abandoned the plain, simple, intelligible language in which no difference of construction could, by any possibility, have arisen, and have substituted for it the sentence which is found in his will, namely: " To found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge

among men.”

Again, Mr. Smithson was, as the committee have before said, a man of science, the author of scientific memoirs, a member of the Royal Society, and a contributor to its transactions. What is more natural than that such a man should, when about to pass away from the scene of action, dedicate bis property to the continued prosecution of those researches to which his life had been principally devoted. The words of the bequest are strongly corroborative of this view. It is for the “increase of knowledge,” not merely for the acquirement of that which now exists. A library would subserve the latter purpose, but could only indirectly aid in the accomplistiment of the former by enabling those who had mastered its contents to do what the Board is now doing, namely—to prosecute researches for the increase of knowledge. But the terms of the bequest require not merely that it should be applied to the increase of knowledge, but also to its diffusion, and to its diffusion AMONG MEN.

The benevolent purposes of Mr. Smithson were not limited to the citizens of Washington, nor yet to the people of the United States. They had a far wider scope. A man of science belongs exclusively to no particular country. He is in one sense a cosmopolite, at home in all places where the votaries of science dwell, and under every clime they are the objects of his benevolence. They are men among whom he desires the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

And he has provided for this in his will. How could a vast library established here accomplish this object? At most it would be accessible to the people of Washington, to casual visiters, and to those who came here for the purpose of consulting its volumes. How infinitely short would this fall of the purpose of the testator, which was first the increase and then the diffusion of knowledge among men of whatever country or whatever clime.

If a national library be a national want, who should supply it? Cannot Congress, which represents a population of twenty-five millions, with resources almost incalculable, and with a treasury not exhausted or impoverished, but overflowing with revenue? Can it not spare out of this abundance whatever may be necessary? Is it not now supplying that want in the great library of Congress, to which in the last three years they have appropriated more than ninety thousand dollars ? It is accessible now to every scholar who may be at Washington, and will in a few years be so increased under the policy of its present administration as to supply many of the wants of the student and the scientific investigator. Shall a nation such as ours depend for this na

tional want upon the bounty of a stranger? The generous impulse of the American heart will quickly prompt the answer-no.

The resolutions of compromise, as they were called, to which the committee have before alluded, were repealed by the Board of Regents before the period when by their terms they were to go into operation. What has been already said will show that the committee think that they were properly repealed. Their effect was to tie up the hands of the Board of Regents, to deny to the successors of those who passed them the exercise of that discretion with which the law invested the Board, and thus to defeat the act of Congress by taking away that discretion in regard to the disposal of the fund which the law made it not only the right but the duty of the regents to exercise. Nor can there be any breach of faith in this repeal. The faith which the regents owe is to the law and to the purpose of the will of Smithson, and any arrangement of their own which should restrain them from promoting this purpose by the means which they deem best suited to it, would itselt, in the opinion of the committee, approach more nearly to a breach of faith.

The regents, by pledging their faith to one another, cannot escape from the obligation to apply the funds at their control to the objects which they deem best suited to promote the purpose of the testator.

The act of Congress, according to the plain import of its terms, authorizes the Board of Regents to employ all monies arising from the income of the endowment not therein appropriated nor required for the purpose therein provided, in such manner as they shall deem best suited for the promotion of the “purpose of the testator," namely, the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men,” and this authority is rendered incontestible, in the judgment of the committee, by the concluding clause of the section which empowers the Board of Regents to exercise their discretion in the disposal of the surplus income, “ ANYTHING HEREIN (in the act of Congress) CONTAINED TO THE CONTRARY NOTWITHSTANDING.”

This grant of the power imposes the obligation to exercise the discretion which it confers. Judicial tribunals would never reverse the construction of a statute, the terms of which were so plain and unmistakeable, by what is at all times dangerous, a resort to speeches made by a few of the lawgivers who framed it, or the votes of members actuated by motives beyond the scrutiny of the expounder. Looking, therefore, to the act of Congress itself, which, as was said by a senator in a recent discussion, is best construed by the examination and comparison of its various provisions and the admitted purpose of its enactment,” the committee found no difficulty in coming to these conclusions on this point. They find in the law directions to the Board of Regents to erect, on a liberal scale, a building in which can be arranged collections of natural history, a geological and mineralogical cabinet, a museum, a library, chemical laboratory, gallery of art, a lecture room; and, of course, to use these various means of increasing knowledge in the manner and for the purpose to which they are adapted, and for which they are required. In effect the law says: “All other portions of the income dispose of as you may think best calculated to promote the purpose of the testator.” A larger discretion can hardly be conceived.

It is absolutely unlimited in relation to every one of its objects except a library, and to this the appropriations which the regents are authorized to make are limited to a maximum amount which they are not at liberty to exceed. It would seem to be most singular, if this had been the primary and cherished object of Congress, that it should be the only one subjected to such a limitation.

It might be thought, if this had been their primary purpose, that the restrictions would have been imposed upon the appropriations for other objects, leaving that for the library unfettered. If we turn from the act of Congress to the will of Smithson to determine the manner in which the trust should be executed, if we look to his antecedents and find that he was himself a searcher into the mysteries of nature which science is laboring to develop-not so much employed in studying the pages of those who have written as striving to read the unwritten pages of nature's book—if we consider the plain and obvious import of the simple language in which his wishes are expressed, and contemplate the benefits to result from one or the other scheme of appropriation which have been in controversy, if we consider these things, we cannot doubt that it is both the right and the duty of the regents, resulting from the will of Smithson, and enjoined by the act of Congress, to appropriate such portion of his funds as they can advantageously employ in scientific researches and the publication and circulation of the results “ among men” wherever men exist capable of appreciating them, while, at the same time, they apply another portion of the fund, according to a sound and honest discretion, to the particular purposes specified in the act.

Thus they will not depart from any plan devised by Congress and prescribed in the act, as Mr. Choate seems to have erroneously supposed, but will fill up and develop that very plan, of which only some of the outlines were sketched in the law.

It would be impracticable, within the limits proper to this report, to go into the examination of the minute outline of arganization of the institution submitted to the Board of Regents by the secretary, and approved by them. It will be found reprinted in detail in the appendix to the eighth annual report of the Smithsonian Institution, published by Congress in 1854.

A brief notice of the plan, and of its results, is all that we can here present.

The object of the plan is, first: To increase knowledge by stimulating original research by the rapid and full publication of results; by aid in procuring the materials and appliances for investigation; and, if necessary, by direct rewards.

Experience has shown that no other means are so effective in stimulating research as the rapid publication of results ; not in a stinted form of abstract, and without illustrations, (too often the necessary condition of the publication of scientific labors,) but in full, with illustrations drawn, engraved, and printed in the best style of art. How many investigations are stopped for the want of instruments, of specimens, and general appliances for research? How many are laid aside, because, first of all, men must live? What more noble or useful object for the Smithsonian Institution than to remove these difficulties from

Rep. 141—3

the path of genius ? What more consonant to the intention of the founder? An expedition is setting out, and instruments are required to investigate the magnetism of the earth, the temperature of the ocean, the climate, soil, and productions of places explored, their latitudes and longitudes, heights, &c. These instruments are lent or furnished by the Smithsonian Institution, and the results obtained with them become public property. Means are furnished to explorers to make collections of minerals and ores; of plants and animals; of fishes, reptiles, and insects; and to provide for their transportation from the field. These collections are submitted to the most successful cultivators of the branches of science to which they belong: to men who have made these objects their especial study, and their investigations are made public. The specimens are returned to the Smithsonian collections to be taken care of, and, perhaps, to be re-examined at some more advanced period. By these and similar modes research is stimulated. The provision of meteorological instruments, and of instructions for their use; the collections of the observations made, and their comparisons, have already furnished most important information in regard to the climate and storms of the United States, and the full publication of the results will enable men of science, of this and other countries, to draw from these materials most valuable inferences and laws.

2. To diffuse knowledge, by the publication of the contributions, from researches and explorations, of reports on treatises on different subjects or branches of science and its application, of reports showing the history and progress of these subjects or branches, is the second

object of the "active operations." These publications diffuse among men the knowledge obtained by the agency of the institution, or from without. The subjects which have been already embraced in the Smithsonian Contributions, and in the different volumes of reports, &c., have been numerous and well distributed among the various branches of knowledge, the abstract and the practical. The publications are widely scattered among the institutions of this and of other countries, given to them or exchanged for their proceedings, transactions, or other publications, and accessible at moderate rates to individuals. Of the impression made abroad by the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge the learned professor of Greek of Harvard University thus speaks:

"CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 30, 1854. “I have but recently returned from Europe, and I now desire to acknowledge the service you did me by your circular letter of introduction to the librarians of the European establishments, which are in correspondence with the Smithsonian Institution. Wherever 1 presented it I was received with great kindness and attention, and had the opportunity of seeing whatever was curious, interesting, and valuable, in the libraries and collections.

“It gave me pleasure to notice the high estimation in which the Smithsonian Institution, under its present management, is held everywhere in Europe. The volumnes published under its auspices have done the highest honor 10 American science, and are considered most valuable contributions to the stock of knowledge among men. They are shown to visitors as among the most creditable publications of the age, and as highly interesting illustrations of the progress of science and the arts in the United States; and the eagerness to possess them is very great among the savans of the Old World. They were shown to me wherever I went, and the commendations bestowed on the civilization of America, as evinced by the excellence of these works, both in matter and form, was deeply gratifying to me. The last time I had an opportunity of seeing them was in the university library at Athens; the librarian pointed them out to me, and expressed ihe greatest anxiety to complete the set, one or two volumes of which were wanting.”

The publications thus approved bring to the Smithsonian Institution a return of works published by the learned societies of the world and by governments such as could not be procured in any other way, supplying the library with rich productions of both literature and science. The gradual formation of a valuable library would result from this system of international exchanges even without direct purchase.

The programme of organization of the institution and its execution have met with the unqualified support of a very large majority of the scientific and literary men of our country, expressed individually or in the associations of which they are members. This is general throughout the Union, and from no quarter have more decidedly favorable opinions been expressed than from that to which the regent at whose instance this investigation has been made (Mr. Choate) belongs. The committee must necessarily be brief in its selections from the numerous letters and other communications before it. In speaking of the general considerations proposed by Professor Henry as guides in adopting a plan of organization, a committee of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of Boston say, that “they command the entire assent of the committee,” and proceed to discuss favorably the various provisions for the increase and diffusion of knowledge furnished by the programme. This committee consisted of such scholars as Everett, Sparks, and Longfellow, and such men of science as Peirce and Gray.

Since the appointment of this committee, Professor Peirce, of Harvard university, has renewed his testimony to the wisdom of the plan of organization, and has spoken further in relation to the efficiency of its execution. In a letter addressed to the chairman of this committee,

he says:

“Of all men, none can be more sensible of the value of the great storehouses of the wisdom of past ages than they who are obliged to resort to them in the development of their own researches. The knowledge which has already been given to the world, and which is accumulated in the library, stimulates and invigorates the mind for original thoughts, and supplies important materials for investigation; it is to the author what the collection of models in the Patent Office is to the inventor; but, nevertheless, the increase of knowledge depends chiefly upon the native vigor of intellect, and its diffusion is performed by the press. To the strong mind the collections of the Vatican are a golden opportunity, richer than the mineral harvest of California; but not richer than the hills and streams which abound within every man's

« AnteriorContinua »