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dria, where physical science was much cultivated by the Greek school, under the patronage of the Ptolemies.
These few and scattered historical notices, gentlemen, of important inventions, have been introduced only for the purpose of
suggesting that there is much which is both curious and instructive in the history of mechanics; and that many things which to us, in our state of knowledge, seem so obvious as that we should think they would at once force themselves on men's adoption, have, nevertheless, been accomplished slowly and by painful efforts.
But if the history of the progress of the mechanical arts be interesting, still more so, doubtless,
would be the exhibition of their present state, and a full display of the extent to which they are now carried. This field is much too wide even to be entered, on this occasion. The briefest outline even, would exceed its limits; and the whole subject will regularly fall to hands much more able to sustain it.
The slightest glance, however, must convince us that mechanical power and mechanical skill, as they are now exhibited in Europe and America, mark an epoch in human history, worthy of all admiration. Machinery is made to perform what has formerly been the toil of human hands, to an extent that astonishes the most sanguine, with a degree of power to which no number of human arms is equal, and with such precision and exactness as almost to suggest the notion of reason and intelligence in the machines themselves. Every natural agent is put unrelentingly to the task. The winds work, the waters work, the elasticity of metals work: gravity is solicited into a thousand new forms of action: levers are multiplied upon levers: wheels revolve on the peripheries of other wheels; the saw and the plane are tortured into an accommodation to new uses, and, last of all, with inimitable power, and“ with whirlwind sound,” comes the potent agency of steam. In comparison with the past, what centuries of improvement has this single agent comprised, in the short compass of fifty years! Everywhere practicable, everywhere efficient, it has an arm a thousand times stronger than that of Hercules, and to which human ingenuity is capable of fitting a thousand times as many hands as belonged to Briareus. Steam is found, in triumphant operation, on the seas; and under the influence of its strong pro pulsion, the gallant ship,
“ Against the wind, against the tide
Still steadies, witi an upright keel." It is on the rivers, and the boatman may repose on his oars; it is in highways, and begins to exert itself along the courses of land conveyance; it is at the bottom of mines, a thousand feet below the earth's surface; it is in the mill, and in the workshops of the trades. It rows, it pumps, it excavates, it carries, it draws, it lifts, it hammers, it spins,
it prints. It seems to say to men, at least to the class of artisans, “Leave off your manual labor, give over your bodily toil; bestow but your skill and reason to the directing of my power, and I will bear the toil,—with no muscle to grow weary, no nerve to relax, no breast to feel faintness.” What further improvements may still be made in the use of this astonishing power, it is impossible to know, and it were vain to conjecture. What we do know, is, that it has most essentially altered the face of affairs, and that no visible limit yet appears beyond which its progress is seen to be impossible. If its power were now to be annihilated, if we were to miss it on the water and in the mills, it would seem as if we were going back to rude ages.
This society, then, gentlemen, is instituted for the purpose of further and further applying science to the arts, at a time when there is much of science to be applied. Philosophy and the Mathematics have attained to high degrees, and still stretch their wings, like the Eagle. Chymistry, at the same time, acting in another direction, has made equally important discoveries, capable of a direct application to the purposes of life. Here, again, within so short a period as the lives of some of us, almost all that is known has been learned. And while there is this aggregate of science, already vast, but still rapidly increasing, offering itself to the ingenuity of mechanical contrivance, there is a corresponding demand for every work and invention of art,-produced by the wants of a rich, an enterprising and an elegant age. Associations like this, therefore, have materials to work upon, ends to work for, and encouragement to work.
It may not be improper to suggest, that not only are the general circumstances of the age favorable to such institutions as this, but that there seems a high degree of propriety that one or more should be established here, in the metropolis of New England. In no other part of the country, is there so great a concentration of mechanical operations. Events have given to New England the lead, in the great business of domestic manufactures. Her thickened population, her energetic free labor, her abundant falls of water, and various other causes, have led her citizens to embark, with great boldness, into extensive manufactures. The success of their establishments depends, of course, in no small degree, upon the perfection to which machinery may be carried. Improvement in this, therefore, instead of being left to chance or accident, is justly regarded as a fit subject of assiduous study. The attention of our community is, also, at the present moment, strongly attracted towards the construction of canals, railways, dry docks, and other important public works. Civil engineering is becoming a profession, offering honorable support and creditable distinction to such as may qualify themselves to discharge its duties. Another interesting fact is before us. New taste and a new excitement are evidently springing up in our vicinity in regard to an art, which, as it unites in a singular degree, utility and beauty, affords inviting encouragements to genius and skill. I mean Architecture. Architecture is military, naval, sacred, civil, or domestic. Naval architecture, certainly, is of the highest importance to a commercial and navigating people, to say nothing of its intimate and essential connexion, with the means of national defence. This science should not be regarded as having already reached its utmost perfection. It seems to have been sometime in a course of rapid advancement. The building, the rigging, the navigating of ships have, to every ones conviction, been subjects of great improvement within the last fifteen years. And where, rather than in New England, may still further improvements be looked for? Where is ship building either a greater business, or pursued with more skill and eagerness?
In civil, sacred, and domestic architecture, present appearances authorise the strongest hopes of improvement. These hopes rest, among other things, on unambiguous indications of the growing prevalence of a just taste. The principles of architecture are founded in nature, or good sense, as much as the principles of epic poetry. The art constitutes a beautiful medium, between what belongs to mere fancy, and what belongs entirely to the exact sciences. În its forms and modifications, it admits of infinite variation, giving broad room for invention and genius; while, in its general principles, it is founded on that which long experience and the concurrent judgment of ages have ascertained to be generally pleasing. Certain relations, of parts to parts, have been satisfactory to all the cultivated generations of men. These relations constitute what is called proportion, and this is the great basis of architectural art. This established proportion is not to be followed merely because it is ancient, but because its use, and the pleasure which it has been found capable of giving to the mind, through the eye, in ancient times, and modern times, and all civilized times, prove that its principles are well founded, and just; in the same manner that the Iliad is proved, by the consent of all ages, to be a good poem.
Architecture, I have said, is an art that unites, in a singular manner, the useful and the beautiful. It is not to be inferred from this, that everything in architecture is beautiful, or is to be so esteemed, in exact proportion to its apparent utility. No more is meant, than that nothing which evidently thwarts utility can or ought to be accounted beautiful; because, in every work of art, the design is to be regarded, and what defeats that design, cannot be considered as well done. The French rhetoricians have a maxim, that in literary composition, “nothing is beautiful which is not true.” They do not intend to say, that strict and literal truth is alone beautiful in poetry or oratory; but they mean that, that which grossly offends against probability, is not in good taste, in either. The same relation subsists between beauty and utility in architecture, as between truth and imagination in poetry. Utility is not to be obviously sacrificed to beauty, in the one case; truth and probability are not to be outraged for the cause of fiction and fancy, in the other. In the severer styles of architecture, beauty and utility approach, so as to be almost identical. Where utility is more strongly than ordinary the main design, the proportions which produce it, raise the sense or feeling of beauty, by a sort of reflection or deduction of the mind. It is said that ancient Rome had perhaps no finer specimens of the classic Doric, than were in the sewers which ran under her streets, and which were of course always to be covered from human observation: so true is it, that cultivated taste is always pleased with justness of proportion; and that design, seen to be accomplished, gives pleasure. The discovery and fast increasing use of a noble material, found in vast abundance, nearer to our cities than the Pentelican quarries to Athens, may well awaken, as they do, new attention to architectural improvement. If this material be not entirely well suited to the elegant Ionic, or the rich Corinthian, it is yet fitted, beyond marble, beyond perhaps almost any other material, for the Dóric, of which the appropriate character is strength, and for the Gothic, of which the appropriate character is grandeur.
It is not more than justice, perhaps, to our ancestors, to call the Gothic the English, classic architecture; for in England, probably, are its most distinguished specimens. As its leading characteristic is grandeur, its main use would seem to be sacred. It had its origin, indeed, in ecclesiastical architecture. Its evident design was to surpass the ancient orders, by the size of the structure and its far greater heights; to excite perceptions of beauty, by the branching traceries and the gorgeous tabernacles within; and to inspire religious awe and reverence by the lofty pointed arches;—the flying buttresses, the spires, and the pinnacles, springing from beneath, stretching upwards towards the heavens with the prayers of the worshippers. Architectural beauty having always adirect reference to utility, edifices, whether civil or sacred, must of course undergo different changes, in different places, on account of climate, and in different ages, on account of the different states of other arts, or different notions of convenience. The hypethral temple, for example, or temple without a roof, is not to be thought of in our latitudes; and the use of glass, a thing not now to be dispensed with, is also to be accommodated, as well as it may be, to the architectural structure.
These necessary variations, and many more admissible ones, give room for improvements to an indefinite extent, without departing from the principles of true taste. May we not hope, then, to see our own city celebrated as the city of architectural excellence? May we not hope, to see our native granite reposing in the ever during strength of the Doric, or springing up in the grand and lofty Gothic, in forms which beauty and utility, the eye and the judgment, taste and devotion, shall unite to approve and to admire? But while we regard sacred and civil architecture as highly important, let us not forget that other branch, so essential to personal comfort and happiness,--domestic architecture, or common housebuilding. In ancient times, in all governments, and under despotic governments in all times, the convenience or gratification of the monarch, the government, or the public, has been allowed too often, to put aside considerations of personal and individual happiness. With us, different ideas happily prevail. With us, it is not the public, or the government, in its corporate character, that is the only object of regard. The public happiness is to be the aggregate of the happiness of individuals. Our system begins with the individual man. It begins with him when he leaves the cradle; and it proposes to instruct him in knowledge and in morals, to prepare him for his state of manhood: on his arrival at that state, to invest him with political rights, to protect him, in his property and pursuits, and in his family and social connexions; and thus to enable him to enjoy as an individual, moral, and rational being, what belongs to a moral and rational being. For the same reason, the arts are to be promoted for their general utility, as they effect the personal happiness and well being of the
individuals who compose the community. It would be adverse to the whole spirit of our system, that we should have gorgeous and expensive public buildings, if individuals were at the same time to live in houses of mud. Our public edifices are to be reared by the surplus of wealth, and the savings of labor, after the necessities and comforts of individuals are provided for; and not, like the Pyramids, by the unremitted toil of thousands of half starved slaves. Domestic architecture, therefore, as connected with individual comfort and happiness, is to hold a first place in the esteem of our artists. Let our citizens have houses cheap, but comfortable; not gaudy, but in good taste; not judged by the portion of earth which they cover, but by their symmetry, their fitness for use, and their durability.
Without farther reference to particular arts, with which the objects of this society have close connexion, it may yet be added, generally, that this is a period of great activity, of industry, of enterprise in the various walks of life. It is a period, too, of growing wealth, and increasing prosperity. It is a time when men are fast multiplying, but when means are increasing still faster than men. An auspicious moment, then, it is, full of motive and encouragement, for the vigorous prosecution of those inquiries, which have for their object the discovery of farther and farther means of uniting the results of scientific research to the arts and business of life.