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ples, other powers, higher orders of beings, an immaterial world which we cannot yet know; other modes of existence which we cannot comprehend; yet, however inscrutable to us, this spiritual world must be guided by its own unerring laws, and the harmonious order which reigns in all that we can see and understand, ascending through the series of immortal and invisible existence, must govern even the powers and dominions, the seraphim and cherubim that surround the throne of God himself.
Such are the views, such the high and lofty themes which the fabric of nature will present; which inust be embraced in an extended survey of creation. But this task is not allotted to man, he is not even permitted to behold but through the obscure veil of revelation and of prophecy, the remote boundaries of this great system. His duties and his researches are limited, his business is with that portion immediately connected with the welfare and existence of the human race; an inhabitant of this globe, his means, his enjoyments, his physical wants are here; a transient visitor on its surface, it is yet with that surface and its inhabitants that all his temporal cares are entwined—and natural history, as now understood, is confined to earth, and is employed to ascertain and to disclose some idea of the structure of the globe he is destined to inhabit, of the rude and inorganic materials of which that globe is composed, and of the living forms that repose on its bosom, and derive support from its teeming and productive surface.
Every step in this inquiry is interesting to man-every object combined more or less intimately with his welfare, associated more or less absolutely with his health, his happiness and his prosperity. Man is altogether and forever dependent on Nature; the air be breathes, the light and heat by which he is viified and cherished, the food by which he is nourished, the garments by which he is protected, the roof by which he is sheltered, are all derived from her exhaustless bounty, but for the most part must be acquired and rendered useful and valuable by his knowledge. Researches, therefore, connected with natural history, must, in some form or degree, from the earliest period of his existence, have attracted his attention ; nor is it surprising that as these researches increased in importance in proportion to the extended and multiplied wants of society, they should have occupied more seriously his time and his reflections. In the infant stages of society, and in unlettered ages, all that appeared theoretical and abstracted must necessarily have been neglected, and only that knowledge noticed and remembered which was essential and practical. Most of the first efforts of intelligent man were probably misdirected, and many of
his original discoveries and opinions have been forgotten, for triumphant ignorance and barbaric force have frequently swept over the fairest portions of the globe, and defaced or obliterated the brightest records of the human understanding; yet, vestiges, even if imperfect, remain to prove, that in the early ages of the existence of our race, there have been illuminated æras; and monuments more ancient than the pages of profane history, attest the improvement in very remote periods, of some portions of the human species—and indicate that much of our present knowledge has been derived from sources of which the origin is now unknown, has descended to us from ages and generations, and people that are now forgotten.
It was no illiterate age, it was no ignorant people who could insculpture on the portals of the temple of Isis, the great mother of nature, its sublime inscription :- I AM WHATSOEVER IS, WHATSOEVER HAS BEEN, WHATSOEVER SHALL BE, AND THE VEIL WHICH IS OVER MY COUNTENANCE NO MORTAL HAND HAS EVER RAISED.
We will humbly approach the threshold of this great temple, and if to mortal hand it is not given to raise the veil
which covers the secret mysteries of nature-if the eye of man is not permitted to scrutinize, nor the understanding to comprehend the origin of matter or of life, we may still search them in their existing power, and trace them in their changing, yet definite career. We are privileged to examine and ascertain the principles and the modifications of being, the composition and structure of all that we observe, and the diversified forms which an omnipotent and omniscient Creator has impressed on the animate and inanimate portions of the material world. We may discover the qualities, uses and habits which distinguish each object of our research, the properties and characters which connect each individual with surrounding bodies, and the relations of each to man. Of inorganic substances, we can only determine the immediate and mechanical uses; but of those which are organized, it is permitted to us to trace their progress from infancy to age, from life to death: to investigate and determine the laws which govern their production, their growth, their multiplication, their decay, their dissolution; to observe the circumstances which extend their duration, or the causes which promote their disorganization; the principles which confirm health, or generate disease; and, applying the results of these researches to the iminediate benefit and improvement of our own species, we may cast on the physical history and constitution of the human race, nay, even on his moral and intellectual character, light reflected from every department of nature. This is among the primary
objects of natural history as a study and as a science this should be an ultimate view in all of our inquiries and labours.
And if the whole extent of our material world is thus submitted to our investigations; if the powers, the productions, the volition itself of the animate, and the materials of the inanimate tenants of our globe are more or less subjected to our control, and may be rendered subservient to our purposes, need we inquire whether these researches are useful, even in the narrow sense to which utility is sometimes confined. Every thing that can attract our senses. every thing that can promote our physical welfare is intermingled with these pursuits. It is true that the beauty and variety of the productions of nature often captivate the mind, and lead the votaries of this science rather to disport on the surface than to penetrate to its profound depth, rather to search for new forms, to pursue substances yet unknown, to ascertain the species and varieties of every family, (and thus to enlarge our knowledge as far as forms or species are concerned) than to investigate the characters, the affinities, the properties of the families or individuals themselves. But even this pursuit is valuable, and in some measure necessary, for no system of arrangement or classification can approach even our ideas of perfection, until a great proportion of the species to be arranged shall be discovered and described—and this pursuit is also more immediately beneficial, for, as the knowledge of man over the component parts of the material world has been extended, his dominion has been greatly enlarged, his resources and his enjoyments proportionally multiplied.
To give man, however, a real dominion, an efficient sovereignty over the earth and its inhabitants, it is essential that he should acquire an intimate insight into the laws and principles by which they are respectively governed, that he should thoroughly understand their mutual relationship and dependence. It is in vain that we shall endeavour to exact from nature her treasures, if we know not the secrets of her laboratories. Vainly shall we seek her choicest productions, or depend solely on accident for their discovery, if we have not learned under what circumstances and in what situations and connexions her inorganic masses have been deposited, or the laws which influence the multiplication and the habits of her animated tribes.
Nor is it individual advantage merely that results from these pursuits. National wealth and national power depend on the skilful appropriation of the productions of nature and their application to objects of general utility. They are the elements from which all of our resources spring, the materials which must be employed in all of our occupations. The anvil and the loom,
the vessel and the plough, even “man and steel, the soldier and his sword,” derive their means and their efficient force from the same prolific power.
Neither is it utility alone that allures to these researches. The productions of nature are in themselves so beautiful, so diversified, so innumerable, their arrangements are so harmonious, their coinbinations so wonderful, that the mind when once engaged in their study, becomes insensibly attracted by their multiplied fascinations, and finds in the pursuit itself, a charm independent of all possible and ultimate results.
Let it not be supposed that we have given to these pursuits a factitious value: that we have estimated too highly their importance to man. We stand in the midst of creation, connected by mutual dependencies on every side with substances animate or inanimate-and although habit and familiarity may diminish the sensations these objects are calculated to excite; though business or care, or the sluggishness of earthly minds may overpower or absorb them-yet are they intermingled so variously with our pleasures or our sufferings, entwined so necessarily with our very existence, that their study in some shape or under some disguise, constitutes a great part of the occupation of our lives. If we acknowledge their value, it is surely desirable that we should understand the principles on which researches into nature, and our studies of natural history as a science, ought to be conducted, and the essential results to which our inquiries ought to be directed. It is not every one who has leisure, even if he may have inclination to study this science or any of its branches in its minute details, but its general views, its fundamental principles, its comprehensive relations ought to be included in the investigations of every educated mind.
It is the great object of natural history to acquire a comprehensive, complete and accurate knowledge of every form and substance, every structure and combination, every principle and power in the material world. It is the great aim of natural history, when considered as a science, to group, to arrange all of these objects, all of these modifications of being on such principles, that the individuals of each group shall be connected by common qualities, by composition, by structure, by habit, and, as an almost necessary consequence, by their properties and uses—that when an intimate knowledge of one individual of each group is obtained, much knowledge may also be acquired of every kindred species; and every important discovery of new properties, in any of these divisions of nature, may become, in this manner, a valuable conquest over an extensive series,
These circumstances include all that is practically useful to man, and therefore all that is most valuable in science. They will disclose, to its full extent, his connexion with the material world, and form the basis on which philosophy may build her lofty speculations. They will unfold the essential qualities and forms of animals, of vegetables, of minerals, exhibit their characteristic peculiarities, display the great system of nature as far as it is to us accessible and intelligible, its simple but infinitely diversified principles, and its harmonious order. It may be interesting, therefore, to review, somewhat more distinctly, these final objects of natural science.
The composition of substances or the nature and proportion of their constituent principles, will readily distinguish their mineral, vegetable, or animal nature. But as a guide and a foundation for classification, it is only of moment as applied to the mineral kingdom. The chemical analyses of animal and vegetable substances, although sufficient to determine the class or kingdom to which they respectively belong, yet differ too little in each kingdom, much less in each tribe or family, to afford any basis, or even any material aid for their arrangement. But, in the investigation of minerals, the products of these analyses are essential. However ingenious may be the theories built on other principles, it is impossible, that in any system intended to exhibit the arrangements of nature, flint and clay and lime and iron, or minerals in which these or other substances greatly predominate, can be promiscuously mingled together, either in conformity to their external characters, or to the forms of their primitive crystals. In the infancy of science, in the still imperfect state of chemical analysis, perhaps even at a later period, systems like these may have their value, because they all are founded on some of the arrangements of nature, and explain some of her operations, but more particularly because they sometimes afford great facilities in recognizing the substances which have already been examined. But our final views should extend beyond mere practical convenience, they should rest on no partial circumstance, on no particular feature; they should embrace the wide extent of matter and of life, and endeavour to combine in our systems, truth and nature and science.
Structure relates, perhaps, exclusively to the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and must be the basis of every arrangement in those departments of nature. Crystals, it is true, manifest wonderful symmetry in their figure, and are singularly interesting when traced through the different modifications of their primitive form, but their formation is altogether mechanical, and has no dependence on internal organization; whilst in