Chapter 7

Containing Observations

 The institution of the American Philosophical Society, does great honor to the founders: and what has been published by that body, comes not behind what has appeared from societies of the same nature else where. But of late years, it has ceased to be presumptive evidence, at least what the lawyers call violent presumption, of philosophical attainments, to be a member; owing to the spurious brood of illiterate persons that have been admitted indiscriminately with the informed; this again owing to a political dispute in the government where this society exists. For where there are parties in a commonwealth, they naturally subdivide themselves, and are found even in the retreats of the muses. It has become the question with this society, not whether a man is a philosopher or not, but what part he has taken in some question on the carpet. The body conceived itself to pay a compliment to the person admitted, as if it could be any honor to a man to be announced what he is not. The contrary is the case here. For as honour is the acknowledgment which the world makes of a man’s respectability, there can be no honour here; for it has became a mere matter of moon-shine to be a member. To be, or not to be, that is the question; but so trifling, that it is scarcely ever made. The way to remedy this, would be, to have an over-hauling of the house, and derange at least three parts in four. As in the case of Tarquin, and the three remaining books of the Sybils, you would receive as much for the fourth part of that body, should you set them up at market, as for the whole at present.

I have often reflected with myself, what an honour it must be, to be one of the society of the French academy; forty, of twenty-four millions of people, are selected in consequence of literary characters already established.

I recollect the time when I had high ideas of philosophical membership in America. But it does not appear to me now to be the highest thing that a man could wish, since even a common Teague O'Regan, trotting on the high way, has been solicited to take a seat. It may be said, that this is an exaggeration of the facts; and can be considered only as burlesque. I profess it is not intended as such, but as a fair picture of what has taken place. Should it be considered in the light of burlesque, it must be a very lame one; because where there is no excess there can be no caricatura. But omitting all apologies and explanations, let the matter rest where it is.