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MERTHYR LITERARY INSTITUTION. MR. STEPHENS' LECTURE. On Thursday evening, Sept. 11th, the members of the Merthyr Literary Institution and Debating Society held their fortnightly meeting. In tbe absence of Mr. John Thomas, the permanent chairman, Mr. L. Reynolds pre- sided, and some preliminary matters having been gone through, Mr. Stephens was called upon to deliver his promised lecture" On the Importance and Utility of Historical Knowledge." Of the lecture the following is a brief summary :— In this the nineteenth century, we are placed in circumstances peculiarly favourable; and if knowledge conduces to human happiness, we ought to be infinitely happier than the genera- tions who have preceded us. Knowledge pours in upon us from aU. quarters; the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the 08llb.n with all its finny tenants, contribute their quota to the common fund; every tree that grows unfolds its store of silent arguments, and all nature, animate and inanimate, te11s its in.- structive tale, From all the points of the compass these nume- rous rills converge to the central position occupied by ourselves; but this is not all. The position of the Angel in Marsden's description of Time is eminently characteristic of ours :— "I saw a mighty angel stand One foot on sea, and" one on solid land;" For we are not only tenants of the present, but also masters of the past; and when philosophy endeavours to explain that awfully and wonderfully made c:reature-man, it not only em- ploys all the ston's of existing knowledge, but history enriches its collection with the combined experience of fonr thousand years. Our senses make us acquainted with what is passing around us, and reflection teaches us the proper use of the facts thus acquired hat as there are many disinclined to indulge in the luxury of thought, and too lazy to reflect upon the things presented to their notice, it becomes necessary for their sake* to have lessons of wisdom ready prepared, and to place foun- tains of bubbling thought within their reach, This desideratum is only to be found in the pages of history: there we may grasp mountains of thought without the trouble of thinking, and acquire wisdom without toiling uP, the steep ascent of experi- ence, Ilistury IS a term of very wide signification its object is to make us acquainted with the steps by which things now present to our senses have become what they seem; and under this designation wIll come the detail of the progress of arts, sciences, institutions, and nations—of everything which has ascended from imperfection to perfectIon-from confused frag- ments to order, regularity, and consolidation, and of everything which has attained importance from comparative insignificance. Into so wide a field I need not enter; and on thIS occasion I will confine my attention to the History of Man. This branch of knowledge may be diVIded Into two parts, and Yiewed under two lights. ht, As a source of interest. 2nd, As a medium of instruction. In treating these points I take for granted that the facts of history are undisputed, and that they are related lU the most instructive and interesting form, History, when read as an exercise or searched for amusement, lias no higher claim upon Our attention than that of bemg mOO- resting knowledge. It Conveys to the young and thoughtless, who cultivate It under th,ese circumstances and for these pur- poses, I1ttle or no instruction; though as a source of interest It must ever retain a prominent position, It is interesting to trace the numerous steps by whICh a lu10wledge of the heavenly bodies has become a science—by W;hicb, bundreds of years after their deaths, the sagacious conceptions of Hipparchus Ptolemy, and Copernicus have been by Galileo and Newton established npon the immutable basis of mathematical demonstration and to peep over Herschel's shoulders mto the obscurity of bound- less space, there to discover, in the specks of tinsel studding our native air, worlds quite as wonderful and systems far more stu- pendous than our own. It is interesting to stand upon the threshold of creation, and ascend step by step, stratum by stra- turn, to the present surface of our globe-to see whole genera- tions of animals and several races of plants swept away ere man became an inhabitant of the scene; and it is no less interesting to speculate, from the data furnished by the past. upon what our own ultimate destiny may be, It 1S interesting to see "the starving alchemist" poring over a dirty, crucible, and supremely blest" in the golden prospect of discovering the philosopher's stone; and it .is no less pleasing to reflect that niD Fl.Ir5uit laid the foundation ot that sipit experimental and conclusive of all the sciences—the science of chemistry. The history of all these are objects of very lively interest; but none of them can vie in ecstasy with the interest excited while tracing the progress of mind, as exemplified in the history of man as a member of society. The growth of man—the pro- gress from infancy to childhood—from childhood to youth—from youth to manhood—and from manhood to ripened age, is a perpetual reproduction of the history of social advancement. Here followed an enumeration of various objects of historical interest, which want of space compels us to omit, but which our readers, with a little effort, will imagine for themselves. The lecturer then went on- Modern history, generally speaking, can only be reckoned as interesting knowledge while the greatest fund of instruction is to be derived from ancient story. The reason for this is ob- vious. Society is an algebraic problem: it rises from step to step in an infinite series, but the first step affords no indication of what the next will be until it is practically worked out. Mankind are always progressive—they are sometimes slower on the march than at others, but they are never stationary and for the reason that no one age is an exact couotppart of the preceding. the history of the past stages of modern European society can afford us no clue to what our next step is to be. The early history of this and all other European countries, is about as instructive as a recital of the scufilings of a tavern-the ragings of braces ofbull-dogs, or the battles of kites and crows and the chief truths we glean of its later stages is the fact of progression. The histories of Greece, Rome, and India are there- fore far more instructive, inconsequence of their having already ran over a great portion of the ground which we are now en- gaged in traversing, when the barbarian hordes of Germany broke in upon them, and swamped for ages the glories of the ancient world, thereby commencing the second course of Euro- pean civilization. Literature, however, survived, and we have preserved for our special edification the history of their progress. It is from this source that we must derive the most important rules for the guidance of our own lives. Let us profit by their experience, since we are travelling over the road which they have trod before us—avoid their errors, and practice that which appears in them to have conduced to beneficial results, in the confident anticipation that as like causes will always produce the same effects, the same happiness may accrue to ourselves. In order to give practical illustrations of the views here laid down, we will enquire what are the lessons which these histo- ries teach us in morals, religion, politics, and commerce ? In Morals, we have very important lessons. No where is the proof so overwhelming of the superiority of virtue to vice, as a rule of conduct, and in conferring happiness upon the posses- sors, That honesty is the best policy is a lesson impressed upon every page, and written in the life of every eminent man. If vice is ever in the ascendant, its triumph is of but a moment's duration •. soon its deformity is seen, and is no sooner seen than hated. Honesty may be banished from a tyrant's court; but History lifts up its drooping head, and gives to the petty nabob of an hour a blasted immortality. The Athenians were envious of hearing Aristides called the Just; and yet these little butter- flies have long been forgotten, while the name of Aristides will last as long as the glory of ancient Greece. Alexander, in a fit of drunkenness, slew his friend; and all his glories have been too few to blot out the stain. The glory, renown, and greatness of nations depend to a very great extent upon public morality. In the existence of morality there is a hope but when the man- ners begin to degenerate, that nation is for ever lost. Witness the fate of Greece, Carthage, Rome, Venice, and Genoa. As regards Religion, we are taught the folly and injustice of persecution. A differs from B upon a religious point, which neither can ever hope clearly to prove but the fact of difference does not imply either superiority or inferiority nor is there any reason wh)" one should give up his opinions in deference to another. If we conceive men to hold erroneous opinions, the best way is M convince them of their error by reasoning for we may be assured thumbscrews, racks, dungeons, petty perse- cutions, and slanderous reports, are the worst possible means to effect the desired purpose. No man was ever yet convinced of his being in the wrong by being deprived of his life—annoyed in his business, or by being called a fool or an idiot. The relations of History are, however, most important in their bearing upon the political questions of the day. All the annals of man's political condition bear the impress of two distinct ten- dencies. The first is the tendency to change, progress, and improve, and this has been called the Law of Development. The secondis the tendency which thingshave to find their level, and this is the Law of Equalization. The operations of these laws vary according to the elements upon which they act. In' early times, the Law of Development raised the marauding chief and his band into a haughty baron surrounded by abject vas- sals and its continued action gave rise to the order of nobility, and to the form of government called Aristocratic. The same law, acting upon different materials, created a mercantile class; and the Law of Equalization bringing these two powers into contact, caused the struggle between wealth and nobility. In the old world this terminated in the equalization of the two classes in the modern it is not yet over, but the political annals of the day show that the merchant is treading closely on the heels of the noble. The antagonism of these two laws has given rise to another struggle between property and numbers. A very able essay has lately been written on this subject, in which the writer anticipates that that the bloody scenes of Pelopones- sian wars among the Greeks, and the proscriptions of Marius and Sylla, will be paralleled in modern times by a repetition of the French Revolution. I do not participate in his fears. The progress of intelligence will gradually approximate the extremes of unbounded wealth and wretched poverty and the gradations, just and nice dependencies of one upon the other, must, I think, prevent a hostile contact. In the old world this struggle is over-in the modern it has but just commenced: the result will be recorded by the historian, and form a subject of comment to some future historical lecturer. The lecturer then ably and philosophically entered upon the History of Commerce," and concluded with the following remarks :-The direct is, perhaps, less important than the indi- rect influence of history. Who can read the histories of Greece and Rome without imbibing the spirits of the Greeks and Romans ? Who can converse with heroes without endeavouring to exalt his own moral character ? This spirit is contagious- blends itself with a man's whole character, and imperceptibly infuses into him strengthening, improving, and ennobling tenden- cies. Of all sermons, that preached upon the mount was the best; and the next best will be that which shall present the character of Jesus in all its moral purity-free from the sickly hue of fanaticism-untarnished by any admixture of bigotry and intolerance. To such a precept who can be indifferent, and who would neglect to imitate so illustrious an example ? L. P.

i&atltoag Intelligent.


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