Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 7, November 1836, 2:???-???


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[page 786:]

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MR. LEE’S ADDRESS.

Address delivered before the Baltimore Lyceum, Athenæum Society, William Wirt Society, Washington Lyceum, Philo-nomian Society and Franklin Association, Literary and Scientific Societies of Baltimore, on the 4th of July, 1836. By Z. Collins Lee, Esq.

Having reason to be well aware of Mr. Lee’s oratorical powers, we were not altogether at liberty to imagine his Address, merely from the deep attention with which, we are told, its delivery was received, the impassioned and scholar-like performance we now find [column 2:] it upon perusal. Few similar things indeed have afforded us any similar pleasure. We have no intention, however, of speaking more fully, at this late day, of an Address whose effect must have depended so largely upon anniversary recollections. We allude to it now with the sole purpose of recording, in brief, our opinion of its merits, and of quoting one of its passages without comment.

Is it now, as it was formerly, the necessary tendency of all alarming and apparently fatal convulsions of society and governments, to realize often permanent good out of temporary evil? The political revolutions which distinguished the close of the 18th century were accompanied with various secondary movements more benign and pacific in their character, and more lasting in their results, though not contemplated by the then apostles of anarchy. The changes to which I refer were perhaps among their legitimate results, and when they have been studied through a period longer than the perturbations which produced them, they will doubtless be ranked among the compensatory adjustments, in which Providence strikes a balance between present and overwhelming evils and future and permanent good; for in the political as well as in the natural world the desolating torrent, which sweeps away its bulwarks, often loses its power in the depths of its own excavations, whilst it forms a new barrier out of the very elements it displaced. Thus, in every country which has passed like ours through a great and sudden revolution, or been the scene of public excitement and party spirit, there will be a principle of adjustment and order springing out of the most dangerous and disorganizing commotions. That our land has been lately the witness of most daring outrages upon public peace and private rights — that the torch of the incendiary, and the more fearful and disgraceful out — breakings of lawless violence and ferocious passion, have trampled law and order before our eyes in the dust, and that life and property have been swept away by the sirocco breath of popular tumult, are melancholy facts attested in many parts of our country — and to one unacquainted with the genius of our institutions and the habits of our people, these were indeed most startling evidences of the inefficiency of the one and the unfitness of the other for self-government. But, my fellow-citizens, at the bottom of the American character and closely interwoven with its general sentiment, is a recuperative and renovating principle of right and order, which, sooner or later compensates for the devastation and ruin of one day, by years of order and submission to the laws, and binds as victims upon their own Moloch altars the mad passions and daring spirits which perpetrated it. Let not, therefore, our confidence and hopes be diminished or torn from the true, essential and conservative principles of our institutions, but rather let these evils stimulate us to greater zeal and more devoted labor, in spreading far and wide, by means of knowledge and religion, the true and only remedies — and though the storm may howl and the clouds gather over portions of the country, oh! let us still cling with unfaltering confidence to our union, to our religion, to our liberties. In this age kindred minds will unite their sympathies either for good or evil; wealth seeks its perservation [[preservation]] by uniting itself to wealth — power strives to extend itself by an alliance with power — in such cases wealth and rank have frequently exercised a predominant influence, and brute force has still oftener enjoyed its short lived triumph; but intellectual power guided by high religious and moral motives, has never failed to establish its just rights and proper sway. The education therefore of the people, the diffusion of knowledge, and the encouragement of literature and science are the only safeguard for a government and social system like ours, exposed as they are to the double hostility of popular menace and the arrogant inroads of exclusive and aristocratic orders; but the most efficacious (fall these elements of stability is that of intellectual power, whether it is exhibited in the statesman’s forethought and sagacity — in the philosopher’s powers of combination and judgment — or in the lighter and more elegant accomplishments of the scholar and the poet — the shaft of the stately column is not weakened by the acanthus that curls at its summit, nor is reason less enlightened when embellished by the imagination.

The foundation, therefore, of a literature peculiarly free and national, and the encouragement of all the arts of life, should be our first aim; and here, gentlemen of the societies, which have so honorably been dedicated to these noble objects, permit [page 787:] me to animate, if I can, your laudable zeal, and invoke to you the praise and support of our proud city — of the whole country. In your hands are deposited sacred and beneficial trusts — on your efforts as citizens and scholars depend much of the future prosperity and glory of Maryland. It is not enough therefore that you are the nominal and passive members of these scientific and literary associations, or the admirers of all that is beautiful in the culture of letters and the promotion of science. You may walk indeed through the gorgeous temple of knowledge and explore its holiest recesses or arcana, or bow before its altars with homage and adoration, but you must unfold its portals and lift high its gates that the people may enter, and become as enlightened as they are free. Above all, in aiding by your exertions in this great work, you should endeavor to found a literature whose seat is the bosom of God — whose end the elevation of man. Let then the Bible be its chief pillar or corner stone, from whose pure pages and sublime truths, the waters of life may gush forth, and mingling with the full stream of rational and social prosperity, form

“ —— as deep and as brilliant a tide

As ever bore freedom aloft on its wave.”

 


Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (November 1836)