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I know not, my friends, in what other testament — saving always the Testaments of Holy Writ- a more suggestive sentence can be found than this. No one, I think, can read it, or can hear it read, without reflecting how different were the books of the men and of the boys of 1774, from those of the men and of the boys of the present day. No one can read it, or can hear it read, without reflecting, too, what a very few volumes it took, three-quarters of a century ago, to make up a library worthy of being sacredly handed down from father to son.
Here are, at most, five-and-twenty or thirty volumes, - capable of being compressed, in what are called the library editions of modern days, into eight or ten volumes, -- and what a store of instruction and entertainment, of philosophy and science, of wisdom and of true wit, do they contain! Add to them only a Bible and a Shakspeare, of both of which there is ample evidence that Quincy understood the value, - and what more could be required to supply one with reading and with study, I had almost said for a life-time ?
And yet, how many are there, I wonder, among all whom I address, - whether youths of fifteen or men of fifty, — who have ever read or studied either of them ? How many persons present are there, of any age or of either sex, who have resisted the temptations of Scott and Dickens, of Bulwer and Thackeray, of Blackwood and the Edinburgh and the Living Age, or even of the far less wholesome and less innocent literature — if, indeed, it deserves to be dignified by the name of literature -- which solicits the prurient appetites of our young men and our young women at every shop window and at every railway station, — how many are there, I say, who have turned away from such temptations, to hold converse with these mighty master spirits of history, philosophy, and politics?
I do not ask, how many have read the Instauratio Magna or the Novum Organum of Bacon, his History of Henry VII., his Law Tracts, or his Letters, — but how many among my younger hearers, at least, have even enjoyed the luxury of those delightful Essays of his, which Edmund Burke, we are told, read again and again, both in his youth and in his manhood, pronouncing them “ the greatest works of that great man," and which, let me say, for richness of thought and of style, have never been surpassed in our language, - not even by Edmund Burke himself.
I do not ask how many have ever studied John Locke's wonderful Essay on the Human Understanding, or his replies to the Bishop of Worcester, or his History of Navigation, -- but how many are familiar with his briefer and more practical Tracts on Government, on Toleration, on Education, on the Reasonableness of Christianity, or how many know him, except by hearsay, as the framer of a Constitution for our own Carolinas?
I do not ask how many have ever read in the original, or even in the translation of Gordon or of Murphy, the Annals or the Histories of the profound and statesmanlike Tacitus, who surpassed even Sallust, at least in this, that he rebuked the vices of his day by the spotless example of his life, as well as by the stern severity of his language, - but how many have ever read even his brief but beautiful Dialogue concerning Oratory, his charming little treatise on the manners of the ancient Germans, in which has been traced the very type and original of the institutions of the modern Britons,* - or, still more, that most exquisite of all biographies, the Life of his father-in-law, Cnæus Julius Agricola, who had so many noble traits of character in common with our own incomparable Washington ?
While, as to Cato's Letters, how many are there of this generation, I wonder, who know exactly what the book is, which Quincy intended by this title? How many are there who do not imagine it to be the Epistles of that Marcus Porcius Cato, the soldier, the orator, the statesman, the philosopher, the stern censor, the venerable senator, who, though sprung from an ancient and distinguished race, so entirely outshone all who had worn the name before him, that he is always spoken of as the founder of his family; — who so far relaxed the rigor of his national prejudices as to study the Greek language and literature at eighty years of age, - but the intensity of whose love of country, in the hour of its peril, could only find vent and expression for itself in that memorable sentence of extermination which he is said to have repeated in the senate chamber, whether in season or out of season, to every question which was proposed to him, Delenda est Carthago, - Delenda est Carthago!
* Montesquieu, Spirit of Laws. Book XI. ch. 6.
Or, if this book called “Cato's Letters” in Quincy's Will be not the letters of Cato the Censor, who doubts that they are the letters of Cato of Utica, the stern and implacable opponent of the great Roman Triumvirate, and afterwards the inexorable foe of Cæsar, whom one of the ancient poets * has taken as the very personification of godlike virtue, and of whom another † has said that tyranny could subdue every thing except the indomitable soul of Cato; - the Cato of Addison, who, rather than submit to grace the triumph of an insolent usurper, composed and fortified himself by reading a few pages of Plato's Dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul, and then, with a heroism which we might almost be pardoned for admiring in one who had not enjoyed the light of the Gospel, sent his own soul out upon the wing to test the truth of what was then but a glorious theory?
Cato's Letters! How many of this generation are aware, I wonder, that they are only a series of English Essays, published weekly for a period of nearly four years in London, commencing with November 5, 1720, and with which Cato the Censor, or Cato of Utica, had as little to do, as Lucius Junius Brutus, or Junius Mauricus, or Junius Maximus, had to do with the more celebrated letters, whose authorship has so long puzzled the world. The letters of Cato, however, had no mystery connected with them, like those of Junius, to give them a sort of factitious immortality, by making them the subject of never-ending controversy. If any doubt ever rested upon their authorship while in course of weekly publication, it was soon set at rest by the explicit avowal of Thomas Gordon, the translator of Tacitus, that they were written by himself and John Trenchard, - a man, I dare say, hardly ever heard of before by most of my audience, ..but of whom there is sufficient authority for saying, that he was one of the most remarkable writers of his day.
These letters, at any rate, had an extraordinary run at the time, and were afterwards collected into volumes and carried through many editions. And editions in those days, I may add, were something more than the mere tricks of the trade, designed to give an appearance of rapid sale and vast circulation to books which were in danger of proving a drug upon the shelves of the
publishers. I have seen a copy of the sixth edition, published in London as late as 1755, a quarter of a century after their original appearance, and which furnishes ample evidence of the estimation in which they were held. The title of the volumes is Cato's Letters, or, Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and other important subjects. And most vigorous essays they are, full of stern denunciations of arbitrary power, and full of bold and brilliant vindications of the rights of the people. Hence their charm for our young Boston Patriot, and hence his bequest of them to his son with the impressive prayer, that the Spirit of Liberty might rest upon him.*
And here I am brought to the most interesting view of this pregnant sentence of the last will and testament of Josiah Quincy, Jr. It shows us what were the books from which our patriot fathers derived their ideas of civil freedom, from what examples they took courage, at what altars they kindled the fires of liberty in their own breasts, and to what fountains they repaired to draw light for others. It was not Bacon's Works, and Locke's Works, and Tacitus, and Cato's Letters, as the mere works of profound philosophers, and brilliant historians, and vigorous essayists, that the Boston Patriot commended as a dying legacy to his son. Had these been his views, he would not have omitted Shakspeare, of whom he was himself so diligent a student in his youth, that not less than seventy quarto pages of manuscript citations from the immortal dramatist were found among his posthumous papers. Had these been his views, he would not have preferred the Essays of Gordon and Trenchard to those of Addison, and Steele, and Dr. Johnson. But it was Bacon as the bold revolutionizer of philosophy, the great reformer of the systems of human science; it was Locke as the vindicator of religious toleration and the vanquisher of the slavish doctrine of passive obedience; it was Tacitus as the unsparing discloser and denouncer of the vices of an imperial court, and the crimes of a profligate prince; and it was Cato's Letters, as the brave and manly utterances of a spirit of free inquiry into the grounds and limits of civil and religious liberty ; – these were the views with which he selected them out from all his other books, and bequeathed them specifically and prayerfully to his child.
* Dr. Franklin, in his “Proposals relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania,” published in 1749, says “ Tillotson, Addison, Pope, Algernon Sidney, Cato's Letters, &c., should be classics,” in the academy which he proposed to have established. — 1 Vol. Sparks's Franklin (Appendix), p. 572.
And no one can doubt that it was with these views more especially, that he named, first and foremost on this little list, the Discourses of Algernon Sidney, - a work to which I have hardly yet alluded, but which, with its author, will form the subject of all that remains of this Lecture.
The name of Algernon Sidney is everywhere known and honored as the name of one of the great martyrs of civil liberty; but I doubt whether either the circumstances of his life or the character of his writings are as familiar as they ought to be in this country and in this generation. I may be able to add little to the details of his career, as they have been already furnished in one form or another; but, if I can succeed in brushing off some of the dust and mould which have begun to accumulate on his memory, I shall have occupied another hour of your attention not altogether unprofitably. *
He was the second son of Robert, the second Earl of Leicester, his mother being the Lady Dorothy Percy, daughter of Henry, the Earl of Northumberland. He was a great-nephew, on his father's side, of the gallant and accomplished Sir Philip Sidney, whom Queen Elizabeth considered “the jewel of her times," and whose life has been well characterized by Campbell as “poetry put into action.” Neither the day, the month, nor even the year of his birth has been authentically recorded. His birthday is sometimes referred to the year 1617; but he is generally believed and stated to have been born in 1622. His father is said by Sir William Temple to have been “a person of great learning and observation, as well as of truth;" and the concur
* After this Lecture was prepared, and while I was in New York for the purpose of repeating it, I saw for the first time a Biography of Algernon Sidney, fresh from the press of Charles Scribner, by Mr. G. Van Santvoord, and which contains an instructive and interesting account of his life and writings. I had supposed that there was nothing more recent than Meadley's Life, which was published in England in 1813. An edition of the Discourses on Government, with a spirited sketch of the Author's career, was reprinted at New York in 1805 from the English edi