Archive for April, 2011


Few studies are more useful, few more easily attained, and none more universally neglected, than that of geography. The vast importance of this branch of study is sufficiently obvious to any one who takes the least interest in the passing events of the world, or who receives any pleasure in pondering the revolutions of mighty empires, and their consequences, recorded in history.

Bacon so highly estimated the value of this science, that he dignified it with the appellation of divine. “Geography,” says he, “is a heavenly study, but an earthly subject.” . . .

“Without a knowledge of this science,” says Bennet, “our reading would be a confused mass, without order, light, or perspicuity.”

Lord Chesterfield used to say, “geography and chronology are the two eyes of history.”

Were I permitted to carry the allusion still further, and make a very odd figure, I would consider history an allegorical Polypheme, whose eye should be Geography. Nor would the student in history, destitute of light afforded by geography be in a much better condition than Polypheme, groping among the rocks of Sicily, with his “ingens lumen ademptum.” It is not easy to conceive how it is possible to make any valuable progress in the study of history without a previous knowledge of this science. He who attempts to study history without this knowledge, is much in the same condition as him who attempts to read an unknown language, while he is yet ignorant of the greatest part of the words of which it is composed, or the painter, who fancies he can draw a fine countenance before he has learnt to sketch the outlines of a likeness.

* This essay forms a twelve-page manuscript item in the voluminous Sparks Collection (132, Misc. Papers, Vol. I, 1808-1814) and is published with permission of the Harvard College Library. Mr. Clifford K. Shipton, custodian of Harvard University Archives, contributes the information that the Aurius Ramus Society was a college debating group. Other factual material regarding Sparks at Harvard was secured from H. B. Adams, Life and Writings of Jared Sparks (1893) and Samuel E. Morison’s Development of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1930.

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