Address at Laying of Corner-Stone of The Academy of Sciences.
(Delivered at Lincoln Park, Chicago, October 10, 1893.)
Yesterday over 700,000 people celebrated the restoration of Chicago, that city which twenty-two years ago lay in ashes, and which has been rebuilt on a scale of magnificence and grandeur that excites the admiration and wonder of the world. But, great as is Chicago — great in its railroads, great in its factories, its warehouses, its office temples, great in its energy and enterprise of its people — its glory will fade unless it builds on more than material foundations.
The generations to come will care nothing for our warehouses, our buildings or our railroads; but they will ask what has Chicago done for humanity; where has it made man wiser, nobler or stronger: what new thought, or principle, or truth has it given to the world?
There have been nations which have had great material grandeur, but nothing more, and their very existence has faded from the memory of time; and those nations and cities which we regard as the greatest, are remembered, not for physical prowess, but for their intellectual achievements.
Greece was a great country for ages. It had granaries, and ships, and armies, and wealthy men; but they are all forgotten, and to-day the world looks with interest only to that period which it calls the classic age, when dramatists wrote, philosophers investigated, poets sang, artists created, and orators thundered.
Rome was, in a material sense, the most mighty nation on earth. It had conquering armies, countless slaves, great fleets, vast granaries, charming baths, and wonderful temples; but those are all covered with the dust of time. The world calls that the golden age of Rome which followed these things. The age when poetry flourished, when jurisprudence was studied, when art was cultivated, and literature was patronized.
England has been a great nation for many centuries; the mistress of the seas, the counting house, and for a time, the work-shop of the world; yet men turn away from all this and look with admiration to the England of Elizabeth, for it was then that letters thrived; that learning was fostered; that the mind of man looked upward, to higher ideals and nobler sentiments. The generations which coined their lives into sordid gold, are forgotten, while those which struggled to uplift humanity, are remembered and honored.
New England has exercised a powerful influence over the entire Republic; has shaped its institutions and largely determined its destiny and has done this, not through any material advantages, for she had none, but she has done it through her ideas. Her schools, her colleges, her universities have shed their lights across this continent; and while we know little of her shops or her cities, we read her books with delight.
We, of Chicago, must learn from the past that gold cast upon the waters will return no part bread, but sinks forever out of sight, while ideas given to the world go on for generations, and every new principle coaxed out of Nature's secrets will insist mankind in the onward struggle. We have reached the highest notch of material development and prosperity, and we must set our eyes toward the spiritual. We must look toward the ideal; must labor for the discovery and the establishment of truth.
This age has wrested from the earth, from the air and from the clouds many of their secrets, and has harnessed some of their vital forces to the chariots of men and taught them to carry man's burdens and to do his work, while, at the same time, it has extended the horizon and given us a wider view of the universe.
We are here to-day to lay the corner-stone of a temple that is to be devoted to science, devoted to analysis, investigation, to discovery; a temple in which the youth of the land may be instructed in all those branches of knowledge which lie at the basis of modern civilization. And if the lofty conceptions of its founders shall be realized, it will shed a light through the centuries, and will add to the luster of our achievements.
On behalf of the people of the State of Illinois, on whose ground we stand, I place this stone in position, with the hope that the influence of this institution which we here found may be as enduring as the earth on which it stands.