Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

of Nature. The construction of the eye and ear is so beautiful, and their mechanism so admirably adapted to the offices they have to perform, that they alone are sufficient to indicate the hand of an all-powerful Being. The rays of light imprint on the optic nerve, not only in all their variety of form and colour, but in one instant of time, a vast assemblage of external objects. The ear is not more to be admired for its use, than for the exquisite beauty of its mechanism ; and that the loss of the power of exercising its functions is more sensibly felt, than the loss of those appertaining to sight, is proved by the circumstance of blind persons being, for the most part, far more cheerful than deaf ones. The eye and the ear are allied more intimately to the soul, than any of the other organs ; since they are the chief media by which we receive : and until we receive we cannot communicate. They are, therefore, more important than the organs of speech : and yet speech has been, and may well be called, the greatest miracle of Nature. To be capable of eliciting 2,400 different tones is, indeed, a wonderful faculty : but to possess that of expressing every feeling, and of conveying every mental impression to the mind of others, is a miracle ; the association of which is lost in the contemplation of eternal excellence.

No bee has ever introduced a single improvement in the construction of its cell; no beaver in the style of its architecture; and no bird in the formation of its nest. They respectively arrive at perfection by intuition. Man could form a cell as geometrically as a bee; but he can collect neither the honey nor the wax. He surpasses the beaver; and can collect the materials for the nest of a bird : but the utmost effort of his art will not enable him to put it together. He can neither make the leaf of a tree, nor the petal of a flower; nor can he, when he finds them already formed to his hand, inclose the one in a calyx, or fold the other in a bud.

Beasts are covered with hair, with wool, and with fur ; birds with feathers ; fishes with scales ; and insects with a skin so hard, that it not only supplies their want of bones, but preserves their warmth. Of these the coverings of birds and fishes are the most perfect. There is a species of crab, which, as we have observed before, clothes itself in the discarded shell of a lobster ; but man is the only animal, that can regularly form a.covering for itself. He is the only animal, also, to whom Nature has intrusted the element of fire; an agent, which is the most wonderful of the elements ; and which still baffles, by its opposite effects, the researches of philosophy.

Whether we consider man as one complete bodily machine, or in his relative parts of head, arms, hands, fingers, thighs, legs, and feet; bones, ligaments, and membranes ; veins, arteries, glands, muscles, tendons, and nerves; the heart, the blood, the stomach, and the mechanism, by which all those members are connected, and the nice expedients, employed to convert the food into chyle, to blend it with the blood, and to diffuse it through the entire system ; it may truly be said, that man presents to the astonished imagination, an attesting wonder! But if we extend the contemplation to his sensations in youth, his reason in age, and his capacities in every stage of manhood, the visible signs, by which speech is embodied, and by which sounds are realised, are found to be inadequate of media, by which to express the excellence of the wonderful machine.

In fact, man needs not blush to be proud; since he is capable of expressing all his wants and all his ideas by the medium of four and twenty characters ; of calculating numbers to comparative infinity with only nine numerical figures ; and with only seven separate notes, to elicit, on musical instruments, almost innumerable combinations of sound.

But the universe is replete with miracles : from the first source of caloric to the simple grain of sand, which contains animals, to which it is a world, as large as the whole circumference of the globe is to us. For Nature constitutes a mirror, in which the Eternal seems to allow himself to be seen greatest in his smallest works : while, though a sublime mystery envelops and conceals, in awful solitudes, the first principles of life and reason ; yet, as it is the privilege of a great mind to be capable of seeing much, where common minds see little, the most apparently insignificant object will frequently present to an enlarged imagination more than all the associations, connected with Raphael's school of Athens.

COMPARATIVE QUALITIES.

leaves.

If charms are elicited from resemblances, Nature, too, exhibits contrasts, which, in their harmonies, present exquisite beauty. The solitudes of the Alps frequently afford instances of this in respect to colours. The ice is blue; the rocks of a dark brown ; and the sky of a deep serene azure: while the crocus, the snowdrop, and the laurustinus derive no little of their beauty from the snow, that surrounds them. The almond-tree of Africa, the finest flowering tree on that continent, delicate as are its blossoms, derives, also, additional beauty from the circumstance, that it blows when few other trees are even ornamented with leaves.

Contrasts are also exhibited in the manners and capacities of animals in the effects of plants. The horse can feed upon hemlock; the Egyptian parrot upon the seeds of the carthamus; the pholas, the most humble of insects, has the power of boring into the hardest marble ; and though the body of a star-fish is of a nature as soft as water, yet it swallows and digests objects, as hard as are the shells of muscles : and herons, though large and awkward, take a perpendicular flight; while hawks in pursuit of them, though apparently more capable of the action, take a circuitous one.

Some plants, which are poisonous in moist soils and situations, in dry ones are resolvent, carminative, and aromatic :

such are the sea holly, and the water navel-wort. But one of the greatest vegetable wonders, in respect to contrast, is presented in the root of the cassada : since, though in its crude state it is highly poisonous ; by washing, pressure, and evaporation, it not only loses all its noxious qualities, but in tropical climates constitutes the bread of thousands.

In Europe, mineral impregnations are fatal to vegetable productions. In Chili, however, they have no effect upon them whatever : while near the south cape of Africa iron, or its oxyds, mixed with clay, moistened with water, produces a most exuberant vegetation. In the northern regions the phalæna a tribe of insects, which, in the south, fly about in the evening, reverse their habits in Lapland by flying in the day, and reposing in the night. In Sweden the raspberry grows, best among ruins and conflagrated woods b; and the epilobium angustifolium, a native of every country in Europe, flourishes no where in such magnificence, as in a country' where every plant diminishes in size. Cork, which is the bark of a tree, has a multitude of pores : wood itself comparatively few : yet water and spirit will exude through wood, which has larger pores, sooner than they will through cork. Water elicits heat from lime; and clay, which is of a ductile nature, will become so hard with heat, as to strike fire with steel. Flint, the covering of which is rough, presents a smooth surface in whatever manner it is struck; and though to the touch it is as cold as snow, when struck with iron it elicits gems of fire. Sand, when mixed with lime, hardens into mortar; when mixed with soda and potash it will soften into glass. Lime makes water solid, and metals fluid. Bismuth, which is brittle, will, when combined with other metals, give them hardness : and though platina is remarkably ductile, yet it cannot be heated in a forge. The diamond, the hardest of bodies, is yet susceptible of the most brilliant polish ; and the a Acerbi, ii. 248, 4to.

1. Clarke, Scandinavia, 524, 4to. c Flora Lapponica.

oxyde of arsenic, which is a deadly poison, is frequently used in medicine for a beneficial purpose : while sulphur, one of the most combustible of substances, enters into combination with silver, copper, iron, pyrites, zinc, and other metals :--it even enters into the composition of sea water.

COMPARATIVE FECUNDATION.

CONTRASTS, too, may be observed in the relative fecundities of animals and vegetables. An orange tree generally yields from 1,500 to 2,400 oranges; but an elm, living a hundred years, produces not less than 33,000,000 of grains. I once

counted in a single plant of the purpura digitalis 107,000 : seeds. Some plants are, indeed, so prolific, that one flower

producing only four seeds, would, if left to itself, in a very short space of time, spread from one end of the globe to the other. Rapacious birds generally lay but four eggs: some, however, only two: as the eagle, the cinerous vulture, and the great horned owl. The merlin and the kestril lay six. Pigeons, on the other hand, are so prolific, that the produce of two pairs in four years may amount to 29,200. Vipers lay from six to ten eggs; the sea-tortoise ninety; the crocodile a hundred; spiders a thousand; and frogs eleven hundred. 9 The termes bellicosus even lays 80,000 eggs in four-and-twenty hours! The muscaria carnaria increase so fast, that some have not hesitated even to assert, that three of them will devour a horse, as quickly as a lion: while a single aphis, if undisturbed for five generations, will amount to 5,904,000,000. Fishes are equally wonderful in their relative powers of production : for though some large fishes produce only one, carps spawn 342,144 ovila ; and cod not unfrequently 9,384,000 !.

In the relative appetites of plants and animals, also, we may trace remarkable contrasts. The earthworm lives upon a small portion of very fine earth : but the caterpillar eats

« FöregåendeFortsätt »