Building Church and State

    august 1791–april 1792

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    [To Samuel Deane]

    [1 August 1791]

    My habits of study, and ardent wish to see literature and science flourish through the eastern country, will secure my patronage (though as but a drop in the bucket) to the petition of the Magistrates and Clergy in the county of Cumberland to the General Court, for a College;1 and I wish a majority of the inhabitants of Portland were active in their exertions to get it placed in that town. This is certainly a matter of primary importance; and I should suppose it is a subject that can hardly admit of a division of sentiment among the citizens of the town, or a want of energy in prosecuting in the business, however different towns might claim the right of having it among them. But I agree with you—that if a College is ever established in the District of Maine, it ought to be in Portland. And I do not know but I may add that if it shall be erected in any other place, it will turn out like all attempts to raise southern fruit in a northern climate.

    The arts and sciences are all connected, and generally meet with the most encouragement, and flourish best in populous places. While youth are in a retired part of the country, they cannot have before them those interesting objects that operate on the human mind, as the strongest motives for application and perseverance in a course of study. Though Cicero retired to his Tusculum, when he wrote his philosophical speculations,2 yet he sent his son Mark to Athens for his early education.

    A philosopher, perhaps, may think and reason in the country as well as in a city. But gentlemen who recommend the retirement of a country situation for a College, will do well to examine into, and compare the motives that act in the mind of an aged philosopher, and those that induce young gentlemen to engage in and pursue a course of study, preparatory to their entering upon active life. I am sure they will find them very different things. The philosopher may be said to draw his encouragement from himself, that is, a desire so to compare, arrange and compound his ideas (ideas acquired in early life) as to present new truths to his hearers and readers. But students at College have yet no ideas, or very few. It is their business now to acquire them; and while they are doing this they stand in need of continual encouragement. Their ideas are too few, and their knowledge too confined, to present to themselves adequate views of those situations in society to which they should aspire. The force of example must now come in aid of their imperfect views of things; And living examples are the most powerful. A young person being present when a Lawyer pleads a cause, to the approbation of the court, and the admiration of a crouded audience, may be fired with an ardor for the profession, that will not only induce him to begin the study, but serve as a sufficient stimulus to carry him through the dry and less entertaining part of his introductory reading. But the same person in the country might never have his ambition excited enough to engage him to look into a law book. All which is true of the other professions, of which there are generally more and better living examples in populous, than in country towns. Retirement is as natural to young people, as bustle, noise, and situations that require great activity, are for old. Two or three times a week is not too often for College students to go into company. There they can hear and see people in honourable and lucrative situations, which they hold as a reward of having spent their time properly when students themselves. Such examples will never fail of having a good effect. And though it is well enough for philosophers to retire to their Tusculums, in order to commit to writing what they know, I am clearly of opinion it is best for students to frequent the schools at Athens for the acquisition of knowledge.

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    CG, 1 Aug. 1791. This piece appears under the headline “Cumberland College” and “Extract of a letter from a learned and ingenious Gentleman, in high station in Massachusetts, to his friend in this town.” GT’s authorship is based on the style and content of his other writings on the subject, and, more explicitly, on his reference to such a piece in his letter to Daniel Cony, 8 Jan. 1792 (No. 65, below).