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THE PROGRESS The customary style of this very valuable writer may be sufficiently appreciated by a page from almost any part of his elaborate Essay. He thus delivers his opinion on the adaptation of our faculties to our situation.
“ The infinite wise contriver of us, and all things about us, hath fitted our senses, faculties, and organs, to the conveniences of life, and the business we have to do here. We are able, by our senses, to know and distinguish things; and to examine them so far, as to apply them to our uses, and several ways to accommodate the exigencies of this life. We have insight enough into their admirable contrivances and wonderful effects, to admire and magnify the wisdom, power, and goodness of their author. Such a knowledge as this, which is suited to our present condition, we want not faculties to attain. But it appears not, that God intended we should have a perfect, clear, and adequate knowledge of them: that perhaps is not in the comprehension of any finite being. We are furnished with faculties (dull and weak as they are) to discover enough in the creatures, to lead us to the knowledge of the Creator, and the knowledge of our duty; and we are fitted well enough with abilities, to provide for the conveniences of living : these are our business in this world. But were
our senses altered, and made much quicker and acuter, the appearance and outward scheme of things would have quite another face to us; and, I am apt to think; would be inconsistent with our being, or at least well-being, in this part of the universe which we inhabit. He that considers how little our constitution is able to bear a remove into parts of this air, not much higher than that we commonly breathe in, will have reason to be satisfyed, that in this globe of earth allotted for our mansion, the all-wise architect has suited our organs, and the bodies that are to affect them, one to another. If our sense of hearing were but 1000 times quicker than it is, how would a perpetual noise distract us? And we should in the quietest retirement be less able to sleep or meditate, than in the middle of a seafight. Nay, if that most instructive of our senses, seeing, were in any man 1000 or 100,000 times more acute than it is now by the best microscope, things several millions of times less than the smallest object of his sight now, would then be visible to his naked eyes; and so he would come nearer the discovery of the texture and motion of the minute parts of corporeal things; and in many of them, probably, get ideas of their interpal constitutions. But then he would be in a quite different world from other people : nothing would appear the same to him, and others; the visible ideas of every thing would be different. So that I doubt whether he and the rest of men could discourse concerning the objects of sight, or have any communication about colours, their appearances being so wholly different. And perhaps such a quickness and tenderness of sight could not endure bright sun-shine, or so much as open day-light; nor take in but a very small part of any object at once, and that too only at a very near distance. And if by the help of such microscopical eyes (if I may so call them) a man could penetrate farther than ordinary into the secret composition and radical texture of bodies, he would not make any great advantage by the change, if such an acute sight would not serve to conduct him to the market and exchange; if he could not see things he was to avoid, at a convenient distance, nor distinguish things he had to do with, by those sensible qualities others do. He that was sharp-sighted enough to see the configuration of the minute particles of the spring of a clock, and observe upon what peculiar structure and impulse its elastick motion depends, would no doubt discover something very admirable: but if eyes so framed could not view at once the hand and the characters of the hourplate, and thereby at a distance see what a clock it
was, their owner could not be much benefited by that acuteness; which, whilst it discovered the secret contrivance of the parts of the machine, made him lose its use *.”
The abstruse and didactic nature of his subject seldom calls upon our author for more exalted diction than the passage we have just quoted affords. A few instances, however, do occur where a greater warmth of colouring is required, where for a few moments abstract reasoning recedes before the powers of imagination. An example of this kind we shall quote, in which both the imagery and style may be pronounced truly excellent.
“ The memory in some men is very tenacious, even to a miracle : but yet there seems to be a constant decay of all our ideas, even of those which are struck deepest, and in minds the most retentive; so that if they be not sometimes renewed by repeated exercise of the senses, or reflection on those kind of objects which at first occasioned them, the print wears out, and at last there remains nothing to be seen. Thus the ideas, as well as children of our youth, often die before us: and our minds represent to us those tombs, to which we are approaching; where, though the
* Locke's Works, vol. i. p. 129, Book 2d. Chapter 23d. folio edition of 1714.
brass and marble remain, yet the inscriptions are effaced by time, and the imagery moulders away. The pictures drawn in our minds are laid in fading colours; and if not sometimes refreshed, vanish and disappear. How much the constitution of our bodies, and the make of our animal spirits are concerned in this, and whether the temper of the brain make this difference, that in some it retains the characters drawn on it like marble, in others like free-stone, and in others little better than sand; I shall not here enquire : though it may seem probable, that the constitution of the body does sometimes influence the memory; since we oftentimes find a disease quite strip the mind of all its ideas, and the flames of a fever in a few days calcine all those images to dust and confusion, which seemed to be as lasting as if graved in marble *.”
We have thus reviewed a period of forty-two years, from the Restoration to the accession of Queen Anne; a period productive of many ex. cellent writers, and of many improvements in English style. The cumbrous and inverted dic. tion of the age of Elizabeth, which still lingered through the reigns of James and Charles the First, was now completely laid aside; and a
* Vol. i. p. 55, 56. Book 2d. Chapter the 10th.