Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

an individual member of some higher and which teems with them-and what are they more extended arrangement. This car- who occupy it? The universe at large ries us upwards through another ascend- would suffer as little, in its splendour and ing step in the scale of magnificence, and variety, by the destruction of our planet, as there leaves us wildering in the uncer- the verdure and sublime magnitude of a tainty, whether even here the wonderful forest would suffer by the fall of a single leaf. progression is ended; and at all events fixes The leaf quivers on the branch which supthe assured conclusion in our minds, that, ports it. It lies at the mercy of the slightest to an eye which could spread itself over the accident. A breath of wind tears it from its whole, the m which accommodates stem, and it lights on the stream of water our species might be so very small as to lie which passes underneath. In a moment of wrapped in microscopical concealment; and, time, the life which we know, by the microin reference to the only Being who pos- scope, it teems with, is extinguished ; and, sesses this universal eye, well might we an occurrence, so insignificant in the eye of say, “What is man that thou art mindful man, and on the scale of his observation, of him, or the son of man that thou shouldest carries in it, to the myriads which people deign to visit him ?”

this little leaf, an event as terrible and as And, after all, though it be a mighty decisive as the destruction of a world. Now, and difficult conception, yet who can ques on the grand scale of the universe, we, the tion it? What is seen may be nothing to occupiers of this ball, which performs its what is unseen; for what is seen is limited little round among the suns and the systems by the range of our instruments. What is that astronomy has unfolded—we may feel unseen has no limit; and, though all which the same littleness and the same insecurity. the eye of man can take in, or his fancy can We differ from the leaf only in this circumgrasp at, were swept away, there might still stance, that it would require the operation remain as ample a field, over which the Di- of greater elements to destroy us. But vinity may expatiate, and which he may these elements exist. The fire which rages have peopled with innumerable worlds. If within, may list its devouring energy to the the whole visible creation were to disappear, surface of our planet, and transform it into it would leave a solitude behind it-but to one wide and wasting volcano. The sudden the infinite Mind, that can take in the whole formation of elastic matter in the bowels of system of nature, this solitude: might be the earth—and it lies within the agency of nothing, a small unoccupied point in that known substances to accomplish this—may immensity which surrounds it, and which explode it into fragments. The exhalation he may have filled with the wonders of his of noxious air from below, may impart a omnipotence. Though this earth were to be virulence to the air that is around us; it may burned up, though the trumpet of its disso- affect the delicate proportion of its ingre lution were sounded, though yon sậy were dients; and the whole of animated nature to pass away as a scroll, and every visible may wither and die under the malignity of glory, which the finger of Divinity has in- | a tainted atmosphere. A blazing comet scribed on it, were to be put out for ever- may cross this fated planet in its orbit, and an event so awful, to us and to every world realize all the terrors which superstition has in our vicinity, by which so many suns conceived of it. We cannot anticipate with would be extinguished, and so many varied precision the consequences of an event scenes of life and of populatiou would rush which every astronomer must know to lie into forgetfulness—what is it in the high within the limits of chance and probability. scale of the Almighty's workmanship? a It may hurry our globe towards the sun mere shred, which, though scattered into or drag it to the outer regions of the planenothing, would leave the universe of God tary system : or give it a new axis of revo one entire scene of greatness and of majesty. lution—and the effect which I shall simply Though this earth, and these heavens, were announce, without explaining it, would be to disappear, there are other worlds, which to change the place of the ocean, and bring roll afar; the light of other suns shines upon another mighty flood upon our islands and them; and the sky which mantles them, is continents. These are changes which may garnished with other stars. Is it presump- happen in a single instant of time, and tion to say, that the moral world extends to against which nothing known in the present these distant and unknown regions ? that system of things provides us with any secuthey are occupied with people? that the rity. They might not annihilate the earth, charities of home and of neighbourhood but they would unpeople it; and we who flourish there? that the praises of God are tread its surface with such firm and assured there lifted up, and his goodness rejoiced footsteps, are at the mercy of devouring in ? that piety has its temples and its offer- elements, which, if let loose upon us by the ings ? and the richness of the divine attri- hand of the Almighty, would spread solitude, butes is there felt and admired by intelli- and silence, and death over the dominions of gent worshippers ?

the world. And what is this world in the immensity Now it is this littleness, and this inse

curity which make the protection of the of so insignificant a province in the mighty Almighty so dear to us, and bring, with field of his creation ? Are we the befitting such emphasis, to every pious bosom, the objects of so great and so signal an interpoholy lessons of humility and gratitude. sition? Does not the largeness of that field The God who sitteth above, and presides in which astronomy lays open to the view of high authority over all worlds, is mindful modern science, throw a suspicion over the of man; and, though at this moment his truth of the gospel history; and how shall energy is felt in the remotest provinces of we reconcile the greatness of that wonderful creation, we may feel the same security in movement which was made in heaven forthe his providence, as if we were the objects of redemption of fallen man, with the comparahis undivided care. It is not for us to bring tive meanness and obscurity of our species ? our minds up to this mysterious agency. This is a popular argument against ChrisBut, such is the incomprehensible fact, that tianity, not much dwelt upon in books, but, the same Being, whose eye is abroad over we believe, a good deal insinuated in conthe whole universe, gives vegetation to versation, and having no small influence on every blade of grass, and motion to every the amateurs of a superficial philosophy. particle of blood which circulates through At all events, it is right that every such the veins of the minutest animal ; that, argument should be met, and manfully conthough his mind takes into its comprehen- fronted; nor do we know a more discreditasive grasp, immensity and all its wonders, I ble surrender of our religion, than to act as am as much known to him as if I were the if she had any thing to fear from the ingesingle object of his attention ; that he marks nuity of her most accomplished adversaries. all my thoughts; that he gives birth to every The author of the following treatise enfeeling and every movement within me; and gages in his present undertaking, under the that, with an exercise of power which I full impression that a something may be can neither describe nor comprehend, the found with which to combat Infidelity in all same God who sits in the highest heaven its forms: that the truth of God and of his and reigns over the glories of the firma-i message, admits of a noble and decisive ment, is at my right hand, to give me every manifestation, through every mist which the breath which I draw, and every comfort pride, or the prejudice, or the sophistry of man which I enjoy.

may throw around it; and elevated as the But this very reflection has been appro- wisdom of him may be, who has ascended priated to the use of infidelity, and the very the heights of scien and poured the light language of the text has been made to of demonstration over the most wondrous bear an application of hostility to the of nature's mysteries, that even out of his faith. “What is man, that God should be own principles, it may be proved how much mindful of him, or the son of man, that he more elevated is the wisdom of him who should deign to visit him ?” Is it likely, sits with the docility of a little child, to his says the Infidel, that God would send his Bible, and casts down to its authority all eternal Son to die for the puny occupiers Jhis lofty imaginations.

DISCOURSE II.

The Modesty of True Science. " And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.".

1 Corinthians vii. 2. THERE is much profound and important we cannot, with every power of expression, wisdom in that proverb of Solomon, where make an adequate conveyance, as it were, it is said that the heart knoweth its own bit of all our sensations, and of all our circumterness. It forms part of a truth still more stances, into another understanding. There comprehensive, that every man knoweth his is a something in the intimacy of a man's own peculiar feelings, and difficulties, and own experience, which he cannot make to trials, far better than he can get any of his pass entire into the heart and mind even of neighbours to perceive them. It is natural the most familiar companion—and thus it is, to us all, that we should desire to engross, that he is so often defeated in his attempts to the uttermost, the sympathy of others to obtain a full and a cordial possession of with what is most painful to the sensibili- his sympathy. He is mortified, and he wonties of our own bosom, and with what is ders at the obtuseness of the people around most aggravating in the hardships of our him—and how he cannot get them to enter own situation. But, labour it as we may, I into the justness of his complainings-nor

to feel the point upon which turn the truth severy eye towards it--and the homage paid and the reason of his remonstrances-nor to intellectual superiority, will place its idol to give their interested attention to the case on a loftier eminence than all wealth or than of his peculiarities and of his wrongsanor all titles can bestow-and the name of the to kindle, in generous resentment along with successful philosopher will circulate, in his him, when he starts the topic of his indigna- own age, over the whole extent of civilized tion. He does not reflect, all the while that, society, and be borne down to posterity with every human being he addresses, there in the characters of ever-during rememis an inner man, which forms a theatre of pas- brance-and thus it is, that, when we look sions, and of interests, as busy, as crowded, back on the days of Newton, we annex a and as fitted as hisown to engross the anxious kind of mysterious greatness to him, who, and the exercised feelings of a heart, which by the pure force of his understanding, rose can alone understand its own bitterness, and to such a gigantic elevation above the level lay a correct estimate on the burden of its of ordinary men-and the kings and warown visitations. Every man we meet, carries riors of other days sink into insignificance about with him, in the unperceived solitude around him; and he, at this moment, stands of his bosom, a little world of his own--and forth to the public eye, in a prouder array we are just as blind, and as insensible, and of glory than circles the memory of all the as dull, both of perception and of sympathy men of former generations--and, while all about his engrossing objects, as he is about the vulgar grandeur of other days is now ours; and, did we suffer this observation to mouldering in forgetfulness, the achievehave all its weight upon us, it might serve ments of our great astronomer are still fresh to make us more candid, and more consi- in the veneration of his countrymen, and derate of others. It might serve to abate they carry him forward on the stream of the monopolizing selfishness of our nature. time, with a reputation ever gathering, and It might serveto sosten down all the malignity the triumphs of a distinction that will never which comes out of those envious contem-, die. plations that we are so apt to cast on the Now, the point that I want to impress fancied ease and prosperity which are upon you is, that the same public, who are around us. It might serve to reconcile so dazzled and overborne by the lustre of every man to his own lot, and dispose him all this superiority, are utterly in the dark to bear, with thanksulness, his own burden; as to whai that is which confers its chief and sure I am, if this train of sentiment merit on the philosophy of Newton. They were prosecuted with firmness, and calm- see the result of his labours, but they ness, and impartiality, it would lead to the know not how to appreciate the difficulty or conclusion, that each profession in life has the extent of them. They look on the its own peculiar pains, and its own beset- stately edifice he has reared, but they know ting inconveniences; that, from the very not what he had to do in settling the foundabottom of society, up to the golden pinnacle tion which gives to it all its stability-nor which blazons upon its summit, there is are they aware what painful encounters he much in the shape of care and of suffering had to make, both with the natural predito be found-that, throughout all the con- lections of his own heart, and with the preceiveable varieties of human condition, judices of others, when employed on the there are trials, which can neither be ade- work of laying together its unperishing quately told on the one side, nor fully un- materials. They have never heard of the derstood on the other—that the ways of God controversies which this man, of peaceful, to man are as equal in this, as in every de- unambitious modesty, had to sustain, with partment of his administration--and that, all that was proud and all that was intolego to whatever quarter of human expe- rant in the philosophy of the age. They rience we may, we shall find how he has have never, in thought, entered that closet provided enough to exercise the patience, which was the scene of his patient and pro and to accomplish the purposes of a wise and found exercises-nor have they gone along a salutary discipline upon all his children. with him, as he gave his silent hours to the

I have brought forward this observation, labours of the midnight oil, and plied that that it may prepare the way for a second unwearied task, to which the charm of lofty There are perhaps no two sets of human contemplation had allured him--nor bave beings, who comprehend less the move- they accompanied him through all the ments, and enter less into the cares and con- workings of that wonderful mind, from cerns of each other, than the wide and busy. which, as from the recesses of a laboratory, public on the one hand; and, on the other, there came forth such gleams and processes those men of close and studious retirement, of thought as shed an effulgency over the whom the world never hears of, save when, whole amplitude of nature. All this, the from their thoughtful solitude, there issues public have not done; for of this the great forth some splendid discovery, to set the majority, even of the reading and cultivated world on a gaze of admiration. Then will public, are utterly incapable; and therefore the brilliancy of a superior genius draw is it, that they need to be told what that is,

in which the main distinction of his philo- of his mind, though authority scowled upon sophy lies; that when labouring in other it, and taste was disgusted by it, and fashion fields of investigation, they may know how was ashamed of it, and all the beauteous to borrow from his safe example, and how to speculation of former days was cruelly profit by that superior wisdom which mark- broken up by this new announcement of ed the whole conduct of his understanding the better philosophy, and scattered like

Let it be understood, then, that they are the fragments of an aerial vision, over the positive discoveries of Newton, which, which the past generations of the world in the eye of a superficial public, confer up- had been slumbering their profound and on him all his reputation. He discovered their pleasing reverie. But, on the other the mechanism of the planetary system. hand, should the article of science want He discovered the composition of light. the recommendation of evidence, he shut He discovered the cause of those alternate against it all the avenues of his understandmovements which take place on the waters ing--aye, and though all antiquity lent of the ocean. These form_his actual and their suffrages to it, and all eloquence had his visible achievements. These are what thrown around it the most attractive brilthe world look at as the monuments of his liancy, and all habit had incorporated it greatness. These are doctrines by which with every system of every seminary in he has enriched the field of philosophy; Europe, and all fancy had arrayed it in and thus it is that the whole of his merit is graces of the most tempting solicitation; supposed to lie in having had the sagacity yet was the steady and inflexible mind of to perceive, and the vigour to lay hold of Newton proof against this whole weight of the proofs, which conferred upon these doc- authority and allurement, and, casting his trines all the establishment of a most rigid cold and unwelcome look at the specious and conclusive demonstration.

plausibility, he rebuked it from his presence. But, while he gets all his credit, and all The strength of his philosophy lay as much his admiration for those articles of science in refusing admittance to that which wantwhich he has added to the creed of philoso- ed evidence, as in giving a place and an ocphers, he deserves as much credit and ad- cupancy to that which possessed it. In miration for those articles which he kept that march of intellect, which led him onout of his creed, as for those which he in- wards through the rich and magnificent troduced into it. It was the property of his field of his discoveries, he pondered every mind, that it kept a tenacious hold of every step; and, while he advanced with a firm one position which had proof to substanti- and assured movement, wherever the light ate it-but it forms a property equally cha- of evidence carried him, he never suffered racteristic, and which, in fact, gives its any glare of imagination or prejudice to seleading peculiarity to the whole spirit and duce him from his path. style of his investigations, that he put a Sure I am, that, in the prosecution of his most determined exclusion on every one wonderful career, he found himself on a position that was destitute of such proof. way beset with temptation upon every side He would not admit the astronomical theo- of him. It was not merely that he had the ries of those who went before him, because reigning taste and philosophy of the times they had no proof. He would not give in to contend with; but, he expatiated on a to their notions about the planets wheeling lofty region, where, in all the giddiness of their rounds in whirlpools of ether—for he success, he might have met with much to did not see this ether-he had no proof of solicit his fancy, and tempt him to some its existence-and, besides, even supposing devious speculation. Had he been like the it to exist, it would not have impressed, on majority of other men, he would have brothe heavenly bodies, such movements as ken free from the fetters of a sober and met his observation. He would not submit chastised understanding, and, giving wing his judgment to the reigning systems of the to his imagination, had done what philosoday-for, though they had authority to re- phers have done after him-been carried commend them, they had no proof: and away by some meteor of their own forming, thus it is, that he evinced the strength and or found their amusement in some of their the soundness of his philosophy, as much own intellectual pictures, or palmed some by his decisions upon those doctrines of sci- loose and confident plausibilities of their ence which he rejected, as by his demon- own upon the world. But Newton stood stration of those doctrines of science, which true to his principle, that he would take up he was the first to propose, and which now with nothing which wanted evidence, and stand out to the eye of posterity as the only he kept by his demonstrations, and his monuments to the force and superiority of measurements, and his proofs; and, if it be his understanding.

true that he who ruleth his own spirit is He wanted no other recommendation for greater than he who taketh a city, there any one article of science, than the recom- was won, in the solitude of his chamber, mendation of evidence-and, with this re- many a repeated victory over himself, which commendation, he opened to it the chamber I should give a brighter lustre to his name

than all the conquests he has made on the not belong to them. There is no one object field of discovery, or than all the splendour to which the exercised mind of a true Newof his positive achievements.

tonian disciple is more familiarized than I trust you understand, how, though it this limit, and it serves as a boundary by be one of the maxims of the true philoso- which he shapes, and bounds, and regulates, phy, never to shrink from a doctrine which all the enterprises of his philosophy. All has evidence on its side, it is another max- the space which lies within this limit, he im, equally essential to it, never to harbour cultivates to the uttermost, and it is by such any doctrine when this evidence is want- successive labours, that every year which ing. Take these two maxims along with rolls over the world, is witnessing some you, and you will be at no loss to explain new contribution to experimental science, the peculiarity, which, more than any other, and adding to the solidity and aggrandize goes both to characterise and to ennoble ment of this wonderful fabric. But, if true the philosophy of Newton. What I allude to their own principle, then, in reference to to is, the precious combination of its the forbidden ground which lies without strength and of its modesty. On the one this limit, those very men, who, on the field hand, what greater evidence of strength of warranted exertion, evinced all the hardithan the fulfilment of that mighty enter- hood and vigour of a full grown underprise, by which the heavens have been standing, show, on every subject where the made its own, and the mechanism of un- light of evidence is withheld from them, all numbered worlds has been brought within the modesty of children. They give you the grasp of the human understanding ? positive opinion only when they have inNow, it was by walking in the light of a disputable proof-but, when they have no sound and competent evidence, that all this such proof, then they have no such opinion. was accomplished. It was by the patient, The single principle of their respect to truth, the strenuous, the unfaltering application secures their homage for every one posiof the legitimate instruments of discovery. tion, where the evidence of truth is present, It was by touching that which was tangi- and, at the same time, begets an entire difble, and looking to that which was visible, fidence about every one position, from which and computing that which was measure this evidence is disjoined. And thus you able, and in one word, by making a right may understand, how the first man in the and a reasonable use of all that proof which accomplishments of philosophy, which the the field of nature around us has brought world ever saw, sat at the book of nature within the limit of sensible observation. in the humble attitude of its interpreter and This is the arena on which the modern its pupil-how all the docility of conscious philosophy has won all her victories, and ignorance threw a sweet and softening lusfulfilled all her wondrous achievements, and tre around the radiance even of his most reared all her proud and enduring monu- splendid discoveries—and, while the flipments, and gathered all her magnificent pancy of a few superficial acquirements is trophies to that power of intellect with enough to place a philosopher of the day which the hand of a bounteous heaven on the pedestal of his fancied elevation, and has so richly gifted the constitution of our to vest him with an assumed lordship over species.

the whole domain of natural and revealed But, on the other hand, go beyond the knowledge; I cannot forbear to do honour limits of sensible observation, and, from that to the unpretending greatness of Newton, moment, the genuine disciples of this en-than whom I know not if there ever lighted lightened school cast all their confidence on the face of our world, one in the characand all their intrepidity away from them. ter of whose admirable genius so much Keep them on the firm ground of experi- force and so much humility were more atment, and none more bold and more deci- tractively blended. sive in their announcements of all that they I now propose to carry you forward, by. have evidence for—but, off this ground, a few simple illustrations, to the argument none more humble, or more cautious of any of this day. All the sublime truths of th thing like positive announcements, than modern astronomy lie within the field of they. They choose neither to know, nor actual observation, and have the firm evito believe, nor to assert, where evidence is dence to rest upon of all that information wanting; and they will sit, with all the pa- which is conveyed to us by the avenue of tience of a scholar to his task, till they have the senses. Sir Isaac Newton never went found it. They are utter strangers to that beyond this field, without a reverential imhaughty confidence with which some phi- pression upon his mind, of the precarious losophers of the day sport the plausibilities ness of the ground on which he was standof unauthorised speculation, and by which, ing. . On this ground, he never ventured a unmindful of the limit that separates the positive affirmation-but, resigning the lofty region of sense from the region of conjec- tone of demonstration, and putting on the ture, they make their blind and their im- modesty of conscious ignorance, he brought petuous inroads into a province which does forward all he had to say in the humble

« FöregåendeFortsätt »