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Est animorum, ingeniorumque nostrorum naturale quoddam quasi pabulum, consideratio, contemplatioque naturæ.
It is somewhere remarked by an intelligent writer, that he thinks the present condition in which man is placed in this world, where perpetual toil and attention are necessary to the search and discovery of truth, is preferable to one in which all truth should be disclosed to his understanding by intui. tive perception. One of the purest and most exalted enjoyments of which the human mind is susceptible, is that which it experiences in the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge; and there can be no doubt, that according to the usual wisdom discoverable in the works of the Creator, who annexes a pleasure to every virtuous exertion of the human powers, there is a high degree of satisfaction derived from every effort of the understanding in quest of science. Truth is to the mind of man what light is to the eye, while ignorance and error are like darkness to that sense. And as in the
case of the outward organ, there is such an admirable contrivance for refracting and transmitting the rays of that singular fluid, in order to render visible an exterior world; so also in the mind, there would appear to be constituted no less wonderful organs, to fit it for the perception of what might justly be denominated, in the language of the Peripatetick philosophy, the intelligible world. There is such a congeniality between truth and the human mind, such a nice and exquisite adaptation of the intellectual powers to the reception of this moral light, that it cannot fail to be remarked even by the most superficial observers, whenever we are perusing the works of a good author, all the thoughts which seem spontaneously to arise out of the subject he is treating of, appear only to reflect back upon us the image of our own ideas. This is the only circumstance which gives any colour of probability in fact and experience to the opinion of Plato, to which allusion is so frequently made, that all knowledge is reminiscence, or simply the recollection of what was previously known. This phenomenon, however, is readily explained, without a recurrence to that fanciful doctrine, by admitting what is known to be the fact, that in the original conformation of the mind, there is a wise correspondence or conformity in its powers to those truths, which it is its province to investigate, a correspondence or conformity analogous to that which subsists between the organs of sense and the objects which excite them into action.
But while we do not hesitate to admit the justness and force of the observation, made by the writer beforementioned, that there is a high degree of pleasure to be derived from that intellectual toil necessary to the prosecution and successful issue of our inquiries into nature, and cheerfully acquiesce, moreover, in the disposal of infinite wisdom, which allots it as our portion to become humble labourers in the vast mines of science, and to pay the sweat of our brow, as
a tribute for every morsel of ore which we extract from them; the reflection cannot but frequently obtrude itself upon the contemplative mind, how great would be the privilege, and how sublime the enjoyment, to have the whole system of nature, that“ wondrous frame of things,” ordained by the Great Contriver, with its magnificent apparatus of materials, its vast and curious machinery, its matchless combinations and contrivances, and the diversified laws of its action unfolded to us. If that scanty pittance of knowledge which we are at present able to attain by the judicious exercise of our limited faculties, affords us so much rational and refined satisfaction; great, beyond all human conception, would be our gratification, were we able to solve all the phenomena, both of the physical and moral world, to trace the mighty chain of causes and effects throughout its whole extent, to explore those fields of nature which lie within the limits of human understanding, and even those which extend beyond them, and which the feet even of Newton, Locke, and the most il. lustrious philosophers, both of ancient and modern times, never dared to tread. It was a noble saying of Democritus, recorded by Eusebius, that he would rather discover one true cause of things, than be master of the Persian empire. This sentiment was uttered in the genuine spirit of philosophy. If the man whose inclinations are but in a slight degree turned to the pursuits of science, has only to walk abroad into nature, and contemplate for a moment that variegated scene of magnificence and beauty which she holds forth to view, in order to awake within him the most agreeable emotions of complacency and satisfaction, into what a transport of delight and astonishment would he be thrown, were he capable of comprehending the structure and operations of the whole system! On whatever side we direct our view, wonders upon wonders rise, which our straining faculties in vain essay to resolve. In attempting to penetrate into the mysteries of nature, our reason soon finds herself entangled in
inextricable labyrinths. To begin with the simplest and most familiar instances—what are the natures and whence the active energies of the four great elements, earth, air, fire and water, by the multiform combinations and diversified operations of which all those bodies are evolved, and those revolutions performed that compose the Universe? What is the origin and nature of light, that curious and admirable fluid which pervades the hemisphere, and without whose cheering influence the earth would be a scene of dreariness and desolation? What is the nature of that substance which occupies the space between our atmosphere and the sun, for substance there must be some, whether it be that of light, emanating from that luminary, or a medium interposed between it and our planet, through means of which the one body is able to operate upon the other? What is the sun himself, that wonderful object of contemplation and by what secrei means is he furnished with such an inexhaustible supply of light? By what hidden process could the universe have been formed, in ascertaining which the geniuses of Thales, Democritus, Plato, Leibnitz, and Des Cartes, together with a host of philosophers both of ancient and modern times, have only indulged themselves in vain conjectures and unsatisfactory hypotheses? What is the occult cause of that great principle of attraction which binds the heavenly bodies to their spheres, and upon which their revolutions depend, but with the results and laws of which only did Newton profess to be acquainted? Coming down to our own globe, we find our understandings posed by mysteries no less insoluble, in the wonderful process by which dead is converted into living matter, and in what the principle of life itself consists, in the inscrutable structure of our own minds, the mysterious ties by which they are connected tu our bodies, the mode of their reciprocal action upon each other, the incomprehensible manner in which feeling, perception, thought
and voluntary motion are accomplished. These and many other principles and operations of body and mind, are among the unsearchable arcana of nature, and great and sublime as would be our enjoyment did infinite wisdom think proper to unfold them to us, are, for the present, refused to our most eager curiosity, and perhaps the disclosure of them may be reserved to enhance and invigorate our happiness in a more exalted state of being. Let us not, however, from considering the limited nature of our faculties and the scantiness and imperfection of that knowledge which, with our best exertions, we are able to attain, be discouraged in pushing on, the utmost extent of our time and opportunities, our philosophical investigations. The triumphs which philosophy has obtained, and the conquests she has made in the dominions of nature, are numerous and important, and have contributed to improve and exalt our species. What new worlds have Newton, Locke, and other illustrious adventurers upon the great deep of science, laid open to our view, in which our spirits, ranging at large, are at once supplied with an inexhaustible store of intellectual wealth, taught to expand with sublime conceptions, and catch the sentiments of greatness from the grandeur of the objects that surround them. For my part, I regard the philosopher, toiling in quest of knowledge, pursuing his peaceful conquests into the departments of nature, and returning from his adventures, laden with the spoils and graced with the trophies of new discoveries, with which to enrich and adorn the treasury of science, as entitled to the highest honours which his fellow-men can bestow, and among the greatest benefactors of his race. He extends the views, enlarges the powers, elevates the character, refines the moral feelings, and multiplies the rational enjoyments of his species, gives new value to their existence and dignity to their nature. His name should be venerated when living, and when dead the noblest monuments should perpetuate his memory.