« PreviousContinue »
or difficulty, but their value is to be measured by their usefulness and tendency. Insignificant observations should not take up any of our minutes; and those that enlarge our view, and give light towards further and useful discoveries, should not be neglected, though they stop our course, and spend some of our time in a fixed attention.
There is another haste that does often, and will, mislead the mind, if it be left to itself and its own conduct. The understanding is naturally forward, not only to learn its knowledge by variety-which makes it skip over one to get speedily to another part of knowledge—but also eager to enlarge its views by running too fast into genera! observations and conclusions, without a due examination of particulars enough whereon to found those general axioms. This seems to enlarge their stock, but it is of fancies, not realities; such theories, built upon narrow foundations, stand but weakly, and if they fall not themselves, are at least very hardly to be supported against the assaults of opposition. And thus men, being too hasty to erect to themselves general notions and ill-grounded theories, find themselves deceived in their stock of knowledge, when they come to examine their hastily assumed maxims themselves, or to have them attacked by others. General observations, drawn from particulars, are the jewels of knowledge, comprehending great store in a little room ; but they are therefore to be made with the greater care and caution, lest, if we take counterfeit for true, our loss and shame will be the greater, when our stock comes to a severe scrutiny. One or two particulars may suggest hints of inquiry, and they do well who take those hints; but if they turn them into conclusions, and make them presently general rules, they are forward indeed; but it is only to impose on themselves by propositions assumed for truths without sufficient warrant. To make such observations is, as has been already remarked, to make the head a magazine of materials which can hardly be called knowledge, or at least it is but like a collection of lumber not reduced to use or order; and he that makes everything an observation, has the same useless plenty, and much more falsehood mixed with it. The extremes on both sides are to be avoided; and he will be able to give the best account of his studies who keeps his understanding in the right mean between them,
Pleasure and Pain. The infinitely wise Author of our being, having given us the power over several parts of our bodies, to move or keep them at rest, as we think fit, and also, by the motion of them, to move ourselves and contiguous bodies, in which consists all the actions of our body; having also given a power to our mind, in several instances, to choose amongst its ideas which it will think on, and to pursue the inquiry of this or that subject with consideration and attention ; to excite us to these actions of thinking and motion that we are capable of, has been pleased to join to several thoughts and several sensations a perception of delight. If this were wholly separated from all our outward sensations and inward thoughts, we should have no reason to prefer one thought or action to another, negligence to attention, or motion to rest. And so we should neither stir our bodies nor employ our minds ; but let our thoughts-if I may so call it-run adrift, without any direction or design; and suffer the ideas of our minds, like unregarded shadows, to make their appearances there, as it happened, without attending to them. In which state, man, however furnished with the faculties of understanding and will, would be a very idle, inactive creature, and pass his time only in a lazy lethargic dream. It has therefore pleased our wise Creator to annex several objects, and the ideas which we receive from them, as also to several of our thoughts, a concomitant pleasure, and that in several objects to several degrees, that those faculties which he had endowed us with might not remain wholly idle and unemployed by us.
Pain has the same efficacy and use to set us on work that pleasure has, we being as ready to employ our faculties to avoid that, as to pursue this; only this is worth our consideration, that pain is often produced by the same objects and ideas that produce pleasure in us.' This, their near conjunction, which makes us often feel pain in the sensations where we expected pleasure, gives us new occasion of admiring the wisdom and goodness of our Maker, who, designing the preservation of our being, has annexed pain to the application of many things to our bodies, to warn us of the harm that they will do, and as advices to withdraw from them. But Hey not designing our preservation barely, but the preservation of every part and organ in its perfection, hath, in many cases, annexed pain to those very ideas which delight us. Thus heat, that is very agreeable to us in one degree, by a little greater increase of it, proves no ordinary torment; and the most pleasant of all sensible objects, light itself, if there be too much of it, if increased beyond a due proportion to our eyes, causes a very painful sensation; which is wisely and favourably so ordered by nature, that when any object does, by the vehemency of its operation, disorder the instruments of sensation, whose structures cannot but be very nice and delicate, we might by the pain be warned to withdraw, before the organ be quite put out of order, and so be unfitted for its proper function for the future. The consideration of those objects that produce it, may well persuade us that this is the end or use of pain. For, though great light be insufferable to our eyes, yet the highest degree of darkness does not at all disease them; because that causing no disorderly motion in it, leaves that curious organ unharmed in its natural state. But yet excess of cold, as well as heat, pains us, because it is equally destructive to that temper which is necessary to the preservation of life, and the exercise of the several functions of the body, and which consists in a moderate degree of warmth, or, if you please, a motion of the insensible parts of our bodies, confined within certain bounds.
Beyond all this, we may find another reason why God hath scattered up and down several degrees of pleasure and pain in all the things that environ and affect us, and blended them together in almost all that our thoughts and senses have to do with; that we, finding imperfection, dissatisfaction, and want of complete happiness in all the enjoyments which the creatures can afford us, might be led to seek it in the enjoyment of Him with whom there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore,'
History. The stories of Alexander and Cæsar, further than they instruct us in the art of living well, and furnish us with observations of wisdom and prudence, are not one jot to be preferred to the history of Robin Hood, or the Seven Wise Masters. I do not deny but history is very useful, and very instructive of human life; but if it be studied only for the reputation of being a historian, it is a very empty thing; and he that can tell all the particulars of Herodotus and Plutarch, Curtius and Livy, without making any other use of them, may be an ignorant man with a good memory, and with all his pains, hath only filled his head with Christmas tales. And, which is worse, the greatest part of the history being made up of wars and conquests, and their style, especially the Romans, speaking of valour as the chief if not the only virtue, we are in danger to be misled by the general current and business of history; and, looking on Alexander and Cæsar, and such-like heroes, as the highest instances of human greatness, because they each of them caused the death of several hundred thousand men, and the ruin of a much greater number, overran a great part of the earth, and killed the inhabitants to possess themselves of their countries-we are apt to make butchery and rapine the chief marks and very essence of human greatness. And if civil history be a great dealer of it, and to many readers thus useless, curious and difficult inquirings in antiquity are much more so; and the exact dimensions of the Colossus, or figure of the Capitol, the ceremonies of the Greek and Roman marriages, or who it was that first coined money; these, I confess, set a man well off in the world, especially amongst the learned, but set him very little on in his
I shall only add one word, and then conclude; and that is, that whereas in the beginning I cut off history from our study as a useless part, as certainly it is where it is read only as a tale that is told; here, on the other side, I recommend it to one who hath well settled in his mind the principles of morality, and knows how to make a judgment on the actions of men, as one of the most useful studies he can apply himself to. There he shall see a picture of the world and the nature of mankind, and so learn to think of men as they are. There he shall see the rise of opinions, and find from what slight and sometimes shameful occasions some of them have taken their rise, which yet'afterwards have had great authority, and passed almost for sacred in the world, and borne down all before them. There also one may learn great and useful instructions of prudence, and be warned against the cheats and rogueries of the world, with many more advantages which I shall not here enumerate.
Disputation. One should not dispute with a man who, either through stupidity or shamelessness, denies plain and visible truths.
Liberty. Let your will lead whither necessity would drive, and wou will always preserve your liberty.
Opposition to New Doctrines. The imputation of novelty is a terrible charge amongst those who judge of men's heads, as they do of their perukes, by the fashion, and can allow none to be right but the received doctrines. Truth scarce ever yet carried it by vote anywhere at its first appearance: new opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common. But truth, like gold, is not the less so for being newly brought out of the mine. It is trial and examination must give it price, and not any antique fashion; and though it be not yet current by the public stamp, yet it may, for all that, be as old as nature, and is certainly not the less genuine.
Duty of Preserving Health. If by gaining knowledge we destroy our health, we labour for a thing that will be useless in our hands; and if, by harassing our bodies—though with a design to render ourselves more useful-we deprive ourselves of the abilities and opportunities of doing that good we might have done with a meaner talent, which God thought sufficient for us, by having denied us the strength to improve it to that pitch which men of stronger constitutions can attain to, we rob God of so much service, and our neighbour of all that help which, in a state of health, with moderate knowledge, we might have been able to perform. He that sinks his vessel by overloading it, though it be with gold, and silver, and precious stones, will give his owner but an ill account of his voyage.
SIR ISAAC NEWTON. SIR ISAAC NEWTON holds, by universal consent, the highest rank among the natural philosophers of ancient or modern times. He was born, December 25, 1642, at Woolsthorpe, in Lincolnshire, where his father cultivated a small paternal estate. From childhood, he manifested a strong inclination towards mechanical and mathematical pursuits. He received his early education at the Grammarschool of Grantham, and at the age of fifteen was summoned to take charge of the farm at home; but he was found unfit for business, and was allowed to return to school and follow the bent of his genius. In 1661, he was admitted as a sizar in Trinity College, Cambridge; became a Junior Fellow in 1667, and M.A. in 1668. In 1669, he succeeded Barrow as mathematical professor ; in 1671, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, and communicated to it his new theory of Light. He served repeatedly in parliament as member for the university ; was appointed Warden of the Mint in 1695, became President of the Royal Society in 1703; and, two years afterwards, received the honour of knighthood from Queen Anne. To the unrivalled genius and sagacity of Newton, the world is indebted for a variety of splendid discoveries in natural philosophy and mathematics; among these, his exposition of the laws which regulate the movements of the solar system may be referred to as the most brilliant. The first step in the formation of the Newtonian system of philosophy was his discovery of the law of gravitation, which, as he proved, affected the vast orbs that revolve around the sun, not less than the smallest objects on our own globe. The traditional story of the philosopher sitting in his garden one day, and being led by the fall of an apple to meditate on the law of gravitation, may be a mere myth-the apple may be as fabulous as the golden fruit of the Hesperides; but the train of thought which led to the discovery may have been suggested by some circumstance as trivial. He saw that there was a remarkable power or principle which caused all bodies to descend towards the centre of the earth, and that this unseen power operated at the top of the highest mountains and at the bottom of the deepest mines.
When the true cause, the law of gravitation, dawned upon his mind, Newton is said to have been so agitated as to be unable to work out the problem. Mathematical calculation soon demonstrated the fact, and placed it on an immovable basis. “The whole material universe,' as Sir David Brewster says, “was spread out before him; the sun with all his attending planets, the planets with all their satellites, the comets wheeling in their eccentric orbits, and the system of the fixed stars stretching to the remotest limits of space. What must have been the sensations of Newton when all these varied movements of the heavenly bodies were thus presented to his mind-and presented, let us remember, as the result of that law which he had himself discovered! The situation of Columbus when, after his long voyage, he first descried the shores of the new world he had so adventurously sailed to explore, was one of moral and intellectual grandeur. So was the position of Milton, when old, and blind, and poor, he had realised the dream of his youth, completed his great epic, and sent it forth on its voyage of immortality. But the situation of Newton was one still more transcendent. His feelings were perhaps the most strange the most sublime-ever permitted to mortality. He had laid his hand on the key of Nature's secrets, and unlocked the mighty mystery-a mystery hidden from mankind for countless ages, and at that moment known only to himself. And in his joy at this vast discovery there was no room for fear or regret. The conqueror or explorer of a new country may sigh to think what sin and suffering may be introduced with civilisation, supplanting the ignorant innocence of the natives; but in this case nothing could result but fresh and astounding proofs of that divine wisdom and law of order which form the harmony of the universe.
The work in which Newton unfolded his simple but sublime system was written in Latin, and appeared in 1687, under the title of
Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.' To Newton we owe likewise extensive discoveries in optics, by which the aspect of that science was so entirely changed, that he may justly be termed its founder. He was the first to conceive and demonstrate the divisibility of light into rays of seven different colours, and possessing differ
ent degrees of refrangibility. After pursuing his optical investigations during a period of thirty years, he gave to the world, in 1704, a detailed account of his discoveries in an admirable work entitled • Optics : or a Treatise of the Refractions, Inflections, and Colours of , Light.' Besides these, he published various profound mathematical works, which it is unnecessary here to enumerate. Like his illustrious contemporaries, Boyle, Barrow, and Locke, this eminent man devoted much attention to theology as well as to natural science. The prophetic books of Scripture were those which he chiefly investigated ; and to his great interest in these studies we owe the composition of his · Observations upon the Prophecies of Holy Writ, particularly the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, published after his death. Among his manuscripts were found many other theological pieces, mostly on such subjects as the Prophetic Style, the Host of Heaven, the Revelations, the Temple of Solomon, the Sanctuary, the Working of the Mystery of Iniquity, and the Contest between the Host of Heaven and the Transgressors of the Covenant. The whole manuscripts left by Sir Isaac were perused by Dr. Pellet, by agreement with the executors, with the view of publishing such as were thought fit for the press : the report of that gentleman, however, was, that, of the whole mass, nothing but a work on the Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms was adapted for publication. That treatise accordingly appeared ; and, contrary to Dr. Pellet's opinion, the Observations upon the Prophecies,' already mentioned, were likewise sent to the press. “An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture' (John, v. 7, and 1 Tim. iji. 16), also from the pen of Sir Isaac, first appeared in a perfect form in Dr, Horsley's edition of his works in 1779. The timidity, no less than the profound humility, of this great man led him to shrink from any publication likely to lead to controversy, and perhaps the only defect in his noble nature was this morbidly sensitive and somewhat suspicious temperament. We subjoin a specimen of his remarks on
The Prophetic Language. For understanding the prophecies, we are, in the first place, to acquaint ourselves with the figurative language of the prophets. This language is taken from the analogy between the world natural, and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic.
Accordingly the whole world natural, consisting of heaven and earth, signifies the whole world politic, consisting of thrones and people; or so much of it as is considered in the prophecy. And the things in that world signifies the analogous things in this. For the heavens, and the things therein, signify thrones and dignities, and those who enjoy them; and the earth, with the things thereon, the inferior people ; and the lowest parts of the earth, called Hades. or Hell, the lowest or most miserable part of them. Whence, ascending towards heaven, and descending to the earth, are put for rising and falling in power and honour; rising out of the earth or waters, and falling into them, for the rising up to any dignity, or dominion, out of the inferior state of the people, or falling down from the same into that inferior state ; descending into the lower parts of the earth, for descending to a very low and unhappy state; speaking with a faint voice out of the dust, for being in a weak and low condition ; moving from one place to another, for translation from one office, dignity, or do