페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

may last,

There are productions of man however that seem more durable than any of the edifices he has raised. Such are, in the first place, modes of government. The constitution of Sparta lasted for seven hundred years. That of Rome for about the same period. Institutions, once deeply rooted in the habits of a people, will operate in their effects through successive revolutions. Modes of faith will sometimes be still more permanent. Not to mention the systems of Moses and Christ, which we consider as delivered to us by divine inspiration, that of Mahomet has continued for twelve hundred years, and for aught that appears, twelve hundred more. The practices of the empire of China are celebrated all over the earth for their immutability.

This brings us naturally to reflect upon the durability of the sciences. According to Bailly, the observation of the heavens, and a calculation of the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, in other words, astronomy, subsisted in maturity in China and the East, for at least three thousand years before the birth of Christ : and, such as it was then, it bids fair to last as long as civilisation shall continue. The additions it has acquired of late years may fall away and perish, but the substance shall remain. The circulation of the blood in man and other animals, is a discovery that shall never be antiquated. And the same may be averred of the fundamental elements of geometry and of some other sciences. Knowledge, in its most considerable branches shall

endure, as long as books shall exist to hand it down to successive generations.

It is just therefore, that we should regard with admiration and awe the nature of man, by whom these mighty things have been accomplished, at the same time that the perishable quality of its individual monuments, and the temporary character and inconstancy of that fame which in

instances has filled the whole earth with its renown, may reasonably quell the fumes of an inordinate vanity, and keep alive in us the sentiment of a wholsome diffidence and humility.

many

ESSAY V.

OF THE REBELLIOUSNESS OF MAN.

There is a particular characteristic in the nature of the human mind, which is somewhat difficult to be explained.

Man is a being of a rational and an irrational nature.

It has often been said that we have two souls. Araspes, in the Cyropedia, adopts this language to explain his inconsistency, and desertion of principle and honour. The two souls of man, according to this hypothesis, are, first, animal, and, secondly, intellectual.

But I am not going into any thing of this slight and every-day character.

Man is a rational being. It is hy this particular that he is eminently distinguished from the brute creation. He collects premises and deduces conclusions. He enters into systems of thinking, and combines systems of action, which he pursues

from day to day, and from year to year. It is by this feature in his constitution that he becomes emphatically the subject of history, of poetry and fiction. It is by this that he is raised above the other inhabitants of the globe of earth, and that the individuals of our race are made the partners of “gods, and men like gods."

But our nature, beside this, has another section. We start occasionally ten thousand miles awry.

We resign the sceptre of reason, and the high dignity that belongs to us as beings of a superior species ; and, without authority derived to us from any system of thinking, even without the scheme of

gratifying any vehement and uncontrolable passion, we are impelled to do, or at least feel ourselves excited to do, something disordinate and strange. It seems as if we had a spring within us, that found the perpetual restraint of being wise and sober insupportable. We long to be something, or to do something, sudden and unexpected, to throw the furniture of our apartment out at window, or, when we are leaving a place of worship, in which perhaps the most solemn feelings of our nature have been excited, to push the grave person that is just before us, from the top of the stairs to the bottom. A thousand absurdities, wild and extravagant vagaries, come into our heads, and we are only restrained from perpetrating them by the fear, that we may be subjected to the treatment appropriated to the insane, or may perhaps be made amenable to the criminal laws of our country.

A story occurs to me, which I learned from the late Dr. Parr at Hatton, that may not unhappily illustrate the point I am endeavouring to explain.

Dr. Samuel Clarke, rector of St. James's, Westminster, the especial friend of Sir Isaac Newton, the distinguished editor of the poems of Homer, and author of the Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, was one day suinmoned from his study, to receive two visitors in the parlour. When he came downstairs, and entered the room, he saw a foreigner, who by his air seemed to be a person of distinction, a professor perhaps of some university on the continent; and an alderman of London, a relation of the doctor, who had come to introduce the foreigner. The alderman, a man of uncultivated mind and manners, and whom the doctor had been accustomed to see in sordid attire, surrounded with the incumbrances of his trade, was decked out for the occasion in a full-dress suit, with a wig of majestic and voluminous structure. Clarke was, as it appears, so much struck with the whimsical nature of this unexpected metamorphosis, and the extraordinary solemnity of his kinsman's demeanour, as to have felt impelled, almost immediately upon entering the room, to snatch the wig from the alderman's head, and throw it against the ceiling: after which this eminent person immediately escaped, and retired to his own apartment. I was informed from the same authority, that Clarke, after exhausting his intellectual faculties by long and intense study, would not unfrequently quit his seat, leap upon the table, and place himself cross-legged like a tailor, being prompted, by these antagonist sallies, to relieve himself from the effect of the too severe strain he had previously put upon his intel

lectual powers.

« 이전계속 »