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Thus seek thy presence, Being wise and good!
On the moral uses of various appearances in the material universe.-ALISON.
By means of the expressions of which it is every where significant, the material universe around us becomes a scene of moral discipline; and in the hours when we are most unconscious of it, an influence is perpetually operating, by which our moral feelings are awakened, and our moral sensibility exercised. Whether in the scenery of nature, amid the works and inver ions of men, an the affections of home, or in the inter ourse of general society, the material forms which surroun us are secretly but incessantly influencing our character & nd dispositions. And in the hours of the most innocent delight, while we are conscious of nothing but the pleasures we enjoy, the beneficence of Him that made us, is employed in conducting a secret discipline, by which our moral improvement is consulted, and those sentiments and principles are formed, which are afterwards to create not only our genuine honor, but the happiness of all with whom it is our fortune to be connected.
There is yet, however, a greater expression which the appearances of the material world are fitted to convey, and a more important influence, which, in the design of nature, they are destined to produce upon us; their influence, I mean, in leading us directly to religious sentiment. Had organic enjoyment been the only object of our formation, it would have been sufficient to establish senses for the reception of these enjoyments.-But if the promises of our nature are greater; if it is destined to a nobler conclusion; if it is enabled to look to the Author of being himself, and to feel its proud relation to HIM; then nature, in all its aspects around us, ought only to be felt as signs of his providence, and as conducting us, by the universal language of these signs, to the throne of the Deity.
How much this is the case with every pure and innocent mind, I flatter myself few of my readers will require any illustration. Whether in fact, the eye of man opens upon
any sublime or any beautiful scene of nature, the first impression is to consider it as designed as the effect or workmanship of the Author of nature, and as significant of his power, his wisdom, or his goodness: and perhaps it is chiefly for this fine issue, that the heart of man is thus finely touched, that devotion may spring from delight; that the imagination, in the midst of its highest enjoyments, may be led to terminate in the only object in which it can finally repose; and that all the noblest convictions and confidences of religion, may be acquired in the simple school of nature, and amid the scenes which perpetually surround us.
Wherever we observe, accordingly, the workings of the human mind, whether in its rudest, or its most improved appearances, we every where see this union of devotional sentiment with sensibility to the expressions of natural scenery. It calls forth the hymn of the infant bard, as well as the anthem of the poet of classic times. It prompts the nursery tales of superstition, as well as the demonstra'tion of the school of philosophy. There is no era so barbarous in which man has existed, in which the traces are not to be seen of the alliance which he has felt between earth and heaven; or of the conviction he has acquired, of the mind that created nature, by the signs which it exhibits: and amid the wildest, as amid the most genial scenes of an uncultivated world, the rude altar of the savage every where marks the emotions that swelled in his bosom when he erected it to the awful or the beneficent deities, whose imaginary presence it records.
In ages of civilization and refinement, this union of devotional sentiment with sensibility to the beauties of natural scenery, forms one of the most characteristic marks of human improvement, and may be traced in every art which professes to give delight to the imagination. The funereal urn, and the inscription to the dead, present themselves every where as the inost interesting incidents in the scenes of ornamental nature. In the landscape of the painter, the columns of the temple, or the spire of the church, rise amid the ceaseless luxuriance of vegetable life, and, by their contrast, give the mighty moral to the scene, which we love, even while we dread it: the powers of music have reached only their highest perfection when they have been de voted to the services of religion: and the description of the genuine poet has seldom concluded, without some hymn to the Author of the universe, or some warm appeal to the devotional sensibility of mankind.
Even the thoughtless and the dissipated yield unconsciously to this beneficent instinct; and in the pursuit of pleasure, run, without knowing it, to the first and the noblest sentiments of their nature. They leave the society of cities, and all the artificial pleasures which they feel have occupied, without satiating, their imagination. They hasten into those solitary and those uncultivated scenes, where they seem to breathe a purer air, and to experience some more profound delight. They leave behind them all the arts and all the labors of man, to meet Nature in her primeval magnificence and beauty. Amid the slumber of their thoughts, they love to feel themselves awakened to those deep and majestic emotions, which give a new and nobler expansion to their hearts, and, amid the tumult and astonishment of their imagination,
To see the resent God in nature's wild
It is on this account that it is of so much consequence, in the education of the young, to encourage their instinctive taste for the beauty and sublimity of nature. While it opens to the years of infancy and youth a source of pure and of permanent enjoyment, it has consequences on the character and happiness of future life, which they are unable to foresee. It is to provide them, amid all the agitations and trials of society, with one gentle and unreproaching friend, whose voice is ever in alliance with goodness and 'virtue, and which, when once understood, is able both to smooth misfortune and to reclaim from folly. It is to identify them with the happiness of that nature to which they belong; to give them an interest in every species of being which surrounds them; and, amid the hours of curiosity and delight, to awaken those latent feelings of benevolence and of sympathy from which all the moral or intellectual greatness of man finally arises. It is to lay the foundation of an early and of a manly piety; amid the magnificent system of material signs in which they reside, to give them the mighty key which can interpret them; and to make them look upon the universe which they inhabit, not as the abode only of human cares, or human joys, but as the temple of the LIVING GOD, in which praise is due, and where service is to be performed.