Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Orville Dewey repeated Lowell lectures on Human Destiny in New York City, January-February 1852

The New York Public Library Digital Collections
UPDATE: Links are now provided below to the New York Daily Tribune articles on Orville Dewey's lecture series, where I found them in the database of Historical American Newspapers at the great Library of Congress Chronicling America site.

So Orville Dewey repeated his popular Lowell lectures on Human Destiny at the Church of the Messiah on Broadway in New York City.

In October and November 1851 Orville Dewey had lectured on The Problem of Human Destiny to full houses at the Lowell Institute in Boston. Hershel Parker gives the dates in Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, courtesy of Dennis Marnon:
“Dewey delivered 12 lectures on successive Tuesday and Thursday nights late in 1851: Oct. 21 and 23, Oct. 28 and 30, Nov. 4 and 6, November 11 and 13, Nov. 18 and 20, Nov. 25 and 28.”
As Parker shows in his Herman Melville: A Biography V2 and, with Brian Higgins, Reading Melville's Pierre, the unmistakable influence of Dewey and his popular lecture title shows up in Book 17 of Melville's Pierre, when the young hero receives an obsequiously written request to lecture on "Human Destiny." Higgins and Parker date the parody of Dewey's chosen subject to January 1852, when
"Melville remembered the pomposity and arrogance of the title of Dewey's lecture series and wrote the lecture title "Human Destiny" into his book as the ne plus ultra of fatuousness." --Reading Melville's Pierre - page 15
No doubt Melville knew of Dewey's popular Lowell lectures in Boston. Coolly practical Falsgrave and Plinlimmon both probably owe something to Dewey (Higgins and Parker 14-17). That dig at Dewey's lectures on "Human Destiny" occurs in the first chapter that Melville seems to have added in anger after a big fight with his friend Evert Duyckinck, in early January.

Still, the timing of Dewey's repeat performances in New York suggestively coincides with Melville's latest additions and revisions to the manuscript of Pierre--completed before February 20, 1852 when his brother Allen signed the Harpers contract in New York (Parker, V2.93). Yep, Human Destiny was the talk of the town when Pierre was finally turned over to the Harpers.

In Manhattan at the Church of the Messiah, Dewey gave eight lectures on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from January 27, 1852 (first in the series) to February 19, 1852 (eighth and final lecture). Accounts of each lecture were published as follows in the New York Daily Tribune:
I. New York Daily Tribune, Wednesday, January 28, 1852
The Problem of Human Destiny.
LECTURE I. [Tuesday, January 27, 1852]
The course of lectures by Rev. Orville Dewey, on the Problem of Human Destiny, was opened last evening in the Church of the Messiah before a numerous audience. The special interest of the problem, said Dr Dewey, which he proposed to discuss consisted in the fact of the existence of evil. Without this, the condition of man on earth would present few mysteries. Floating down the easy current of existence, he would be a mere partaker of enjoyment; he would observe, but would not question; and content with the present, would not attempt to explore the future for the solution of his doubts. But evil exists. It throws its dark shadow over the fairest scenes of our present life. We are exposed to physical evil, which is pain, and to moral evil, which is sin. An irresistible instinct has always compelled the human intellect to pry into the reason for this condition of our being.

It may be said that the subject is above our comprehension. Man, in attempting to penetrate its depths, has been compared to a fly, attempting to explain the revolution of a wheel, by which he is carried round. But with this mock modesty, said Dr. D., I do not sympathize. It is the sentiment of the atheist or skeptic. It proceeds from arrogance rather than humility. Even the famous saying of Socrates, that he knew nothing but his own ignorance, had its origin in intellectual pride. For my own part, continued the lecturer, I make no claim to this philosophical ignorance. I venture to believe that I know something about the subject, and stand here to tell what it is. Not that I pretend to have wholly fathomed its infinite depths. I have not exhausted its illimitable wealth. Nor does the emigrant to California exhaust the affluent stores of her golden placers. But this fact does not forbid our engaging in the research with confidence, for we may be certain that some precious fruit will await our labor.

For after all, it is a problem which we propose to discuss. And a problem, by its etymology pro ballo Greek, means something which is thrown out for consideration, something to be examined on all sides, like a ball which is to be kept rolling. We may compare the universe to a ball, wound round with the mysteries of life, of which we endeavor to catch a glimpse in its rapid revolution, even if we cannot fathom its vast profundities. After a series of comments on the argument of Leibnitz, as set forth in the Theodice, Dr. D. said that he should explain the existence of evil on the following principles.

It is no limitation of the attributes of the Deity to assert that he cannot make a contradiction possible. The illustration is often used that God cannot make two mountains without a valley between them. But the question does not involve the consideration of power, in the slightest degree. It is not correct to say, that God cannot do the thing, but that the thing cannot be. It is an absurdity, in the nature of things. It follows from the nature of a triangle, that the sum of it angles is equal to three right angles. It cannot be otherwise. To ask whether God could not make a triangle, the three angles of which should be equal to five or seven right angles, is the same as to ask whether he could construct a figure, which should be a triangle and not a triangle at the same time, or in other words, whether he could make an impossibility possible.

Applying these principles to the question of the origin of evil, Dr. D. argued that the present system is created, is not self existent, does not depend on its own inherent energies. Hence, it must be limited. This is involved in the fact of creation. The thing created cannot share the fullness of the Creator. The finite must by the nature of the case be inferior to the Infinite on which it depends. Hence, it must be imperfect, and hence EVIL, natural and moral. It is inherent in the very idea of creation. Its absence would be an impossibility, would imply a contradiction; for if the created being were not liable to evil, it would be perfect; but perfection is an attribute of the Creator. The creature and the Creator, on this supposition, would be identical. Evil must therefore be inevitable in any system of creation.

The same thought may be presented in another light. All created being must begin somewhere. The fact of beginning implies infancy, or imperfection, or in other words evil. The first time a thing is done, the result must be inferior to the excellence which comes from long practice. This is another illustration of the inevitableness of evil in a created system.

Proceeding from these views, to the fact of the moral freedom of man, Dr. D. showed that evil was an essential contingent in the discipline by which he was trained to virtue and happiness. This point was elucidated by a variety of considerations, with which the lecture was finally brought to a close.
II. New York Daily Tribune, Friday, January 30, 1852; describes second lecture on “various adaptations of the material universe to the uses of man, as indicative of the power and benignity of the Creative Providence.” To demonstrate "influence of natural beauty on the soul," Dewey closed by quoting from the first book of Wordsworth's The Excursion:
          ----------Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank      
The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request;
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the power
That made him; it was blessedness and love!
III. New York Daily Tribune, Thursday, February 5, 1852 describes third lecture on “the subject of human organization, regarded in its connection with the formation of character and the development of mind.”
Now-a-days we have a philosophy of everything. The most superficial treatises of shallow sciolists are dignified with the title of philosophy. But the true aim of philosophy is elevated and rational, and intimately connected with the progress of humanity. Let us, then, examine the difference between the organization of man and that of the lower animals, in regard to its influence on the training and perfection of his spiritual nature....

A coarse skin is almost incompatible with a refined mind. If I knew a man who could let a fly creep over his face without feeling it, I should be apt to set him down as harsh and coarse-grained in his spiritual nature, and destitute of noble, expansive and sympathetic sensibilities. The skin in man, then, is an efficient means of his spiritual education....

Another important element in his training to higher ends is the faculty of laughter. The animals are not endowed with this power, unless the grinning of monkeys is an exception. This is not merely an expression of the sense of the ludicrous. Laughter is the symbol of a contented mind, of a genial fellowship, of a comfortable sense of satisfaction, and tends to unite the scattered elements of society in a common feeling of fraternity. Its influence on health is not to be overlooked. An explosion of laughter is an excellent aid to digestion. Superior to old wine, or old cheese, or other celebrated peptic persuaders.
IV. New York Daily Tribune, Saturday, February 7, 1852; describes fourth lecture “on the Human Soul, in reference to its capacities for spiritual culture.”
When I ponder over the lucid pages of Dugald Stewart, that most sublime modern philosopher, to whom such a just and eloquent tribute has been paid by Sir James Mackintosh, I feel as if I were a head taller and can only give vent to my ineffable feelings by striding across the room.
V. New York Daily Tribune Thursday, February 12, 1852 Dewey's fifth lecture “devoted to a consideration of the complex nature of man, consisting of soul and body, as adapted to his spiritual culture.”

The complex nature of man, moreover, places him in society, with all its comprehensive and powerful influences. This was the grand educator of the race. Some of its features have been considered unfavorable to human development, such as its selfishness, its inequalities, is competition, and its solidarity. But the ill-effects of these had been greatly exaggerated. Wealth and rank are the objects of strong aversion with many: they have been called in question by the moralist, ridiculed by the satirist, and abused by the cynic. But they form a part of the inevitable system of inequality which prevails in the world. I am opposed, indeed, said Dr. D. to the possession of hereditary wealth, founded on a system of entails. But where every man has a fair chance, no hurtful inequalities can exist. And you cannot do them away. Make all men equal to-morrow, they would at once change places, and the old distinctions would return. Nor was competition so rife as it was often stated. There was little of it in the country. It was almost exclusively confined to cities.
VI. New York Daily Tribune, Monday, February 16, 1852; reports sixth lecture on “the forms of human activity and the conditions to which they are subjected, considered in their relations to spiritual culture."
He was going to lead his audience, said Dr. D. into the midst of common every day themes. He did not pretend to be the teacher of a transcendental philosophy, but trusted that he was able to expound the principles of common sense…. It was a great error first put forth by feudalism, and strengthened by the institution of slavery, that labor was disgraceful, whereas it is one of the primeval ordinances of the Creator, and at the basis of human improvement and dignity....
... The conditions of human activity, noticed by Dr. D., were imperfection, illusion and fluctuation. In treating of illusion, he said that many persons had a great desire to obtain the absolute truth, but he doubted whether this was desirable. Remove the thin veil of mysticism which covers the universe, dispel all the bright illusions which now so strongly pique the imagination, let everything be presented in the pure and awful reality, he doubted whether the human eye could bear the spectacle. After giving an eloquent panegyric on sleep, under the head of fluctuation, with some remarks on the fancied superiority of angels to men, the Lecturer closed his original and instructive Discourse.
VII. New York Daily Tribune, Thursday, February 19, 1852; reports seventh lecture on the subjects of Pain, Hereditary Evil, and Death:

... certain conditions of human life which were usually regarded as most perplexing and mysterious. They present themselves before us in grim array, challenging investigation, and demanding us to reconcile them with the order of Providence.  In every age they have caused many anxious doubts.  The sublime mind of Plato seems at times to have staggered beneath their weight, as when he describes them as the work of some inferior, malicious demon; although, on the whole, he appears to have inclined to the theory of necessity, as developed in the present course.  This is the only key to the mystery, as has been already stated….
... But pain is necessary as a lesson of prudence.
VIII. New York Daily Tribune, Friday, February 20, 1852; on “the grand movement of humanity, or the phases of progress in the history of man.”
The lecturer then gave a condensed and graphic sketch of the course of civilization from the earliest ages to the present time. Everything shows that progress has been made in government, arts, literature, religion and social happiness. But this is only a foretaste of what we may expect. The visions of Condorcet, who, in the midst of the ferocity and carnage of the French Revolution, wrote a treatise on the destiny of the race to freedom, virtue, and happiness, had a foundation in reality. The lecture was closed with a glowing description of the resources of the present and the hopes of the future, for the advancement of humanity.

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