« PreviousContinue »
Omnipotence itself, quietly submitting to the agency of an invisible spirit, and hurrying back, as it were, to her primeval chaos. And yet how little is known, actually known, of either electricity or galvanism! We are overwhelmed, struck dumb with astonishment, at their simplest manifestations, and yet we may be said to know comparatively nothing of them. So with the law of gravitation, so called-that unseen, but all-pervading and mighty influence which enters into the stupendous machinery of the universe, and so mysteriously, but unerringly, directs the motions of each heavenly orb ; which pursues the comet in its rapid flight, and, after the lapse perhaps of a thousand years, brings it triumphantly back to its destined point in the heavens.
Nor less astonishing is magnetism that wonderful agent which slept for so many ages in its own native iron element. What each of these principles are, is a question that must continue to sleep on in the deep of time. They are each and all a mystery too unfathomable for solution.
But what can we conceive, or think, or say, of LIFE—that principle without which the universe of God were a blank, without which existence itself were non-existence? It is manifestly something—something existing and seeking its own peculiar manifestation here in time and place. Yet you cannot investigate it, or subject it to a crucible. You cannot grasp it, or even the thought of it. The more you labor to comprehend it, the more incomprehensible it is to you. And yet it is in and around you, and by far the most material part of you. You can, in fact, find no spot in the creation of God where it is not. Go amid the burning sands of Sahara, where death howls his requiem in every blast, and you shall find almost an infinitude of life there. Each grain of sand fanned by a western breeze shall be peopled with its myriads of insective-little instinctive, semi-conscious creatures, existing far down in the scale of being, beyond the reach-almost infinitely so—of microscopic power; or, digging down into the solid strata of the planet, possess yourself of the obdurate flint, you shall find, by a process recently discovered, that it is in fact but a most marvelous condensation of life, an incessant activity in the flinty rock itself.
But this conscious me, this active, efficient, individual force, which has put on the brawn and thews of a man, invested itself in this perfection of clay, what is it? Ask yourselves, one and all of you this question; and yet who is there, out of the nine hundred millions of men that think and act on this globe of ours, that can answer the great sphinx-riddle? We exclaim, Oh, man! how wonderfully, how fearfully made ! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties ! In action, how like an angel ! in apprehension, how like a God! And yet, have we really known the first syllable either of God, or angels, or men ? Have we torn aside the veil that hides the deep mystery of being, or penetrated aught beyond the reach of mere feeble human sensation ? Have we, even in our attempts at investigating the properties of light and heat-those mysterious agencies of life and being-ever gone beyond the simplest apprehensions of physical sen
sation? We perceive that these principles are motive—are active, efficient forces in Nature, impregnating the Universe with life, and we erect our corpuscular and undulatory theories into certain stupendous systems, which we denominate the systems of Nature! And yet, who may not venture to doubt the reality of either of these theories ? Do the splendid bypotheses of Newton and others afford any thing more than a mere mechanical explanation of the phenomena of light? Do the two great rival theories of modern philosophers afford any real insight into the nature and propagation of this mysterious agent? Who can satisfy himself even that light is material ? What is it that, thus defying the most essential law of its existence, leaps out on the solar beam, and, after reflecting perhaps a thousand inferior orbs, returns back again to the great primal source of its being? Is it matter, in any sense in which that term is yet significant to us? We appropriate the terms “corpuscular” and “undulatory," and satisfy ourselves with that; but poor asphinxed mortals that we are, how unsatisfactory, except to the dull, sightless eye, that is ever looking beyond its power of vision! Down, far down in the “dim, mist-regions of vagary and phantasm,” we look up, and out, perhaps, for a brief moment, upon the clear heaven that is above us, and satisfy ourselves of what? Of our own insignificance and dust? No! presumptuous mortals that we are, we must soar proudly, daringly, up into the infinite unknown!
It is not for man, even with his god-created faculties, to know what Nature is. That sublime secret is not to be kenned by finite intelligence. If we can but rightly understand what Nature does, we shall possess ourselves in part of the great true wisdom. Those scales with which the sphinx has sealed up our mental vision, will be, at least, partially removed, and we shall satisfy ourselves to look once more through Nature up to her own Great Architect. This is all we should attempt even in fathoming the deep mystery of our own being.
The questions have long been, What is Gravitation? What is Electricity? What is Light ? &c.; and they have been answered in such strange Babel-confusion that the world has been well-nigh confounded by a second disjointure of tongues. Sir Isaac Newton has been little less than deified for his supposed discovery of the law of gravitation, to which he was said to have been led simply by the fall of a pippin. But it had been known from the earliest records of time, that bodies attracted each other. It was not known why. It is not known why now. It will never be known why to the mind of man, however infinitely his faculties may be expanded. He must possess some other and higher god-created faculty, before he can comprehend, in the slightest degree, this same law which Newton is said to have expounded.
Kepler had made known, not his, but God's, three great laws in the government of the system, and Newton's was a very natural deduction therefrom. It was no grand discovery,* flashing out to the astonish
* I know it has been customary to consider Newton the discoverer of the law of gravitation ; but the idea of such a law commenced with the ancients. Pythagoras ment of the age, but simply a reduction of known principles to mathematical certainty ; and Sir Isaac Newton always regarded the discovery of the Binomial Theorem, a single algebraical formula, by far his highest achievement, and that, notwithstanding the Law of Gravitation, and his contest with Leibnitz about the Integral Calculus.
All that we know, or can ever expect to know, of these subtler influences or laws of the system, is, that they exist. We may discover a few of their modes of action, that is all. It is not for us, in our vain attempts at knowledge, to enter the locked chambers of Eternal Wisdom.
But the subtilest of all principles yet discoverable in Nature, is this Subtility of Life, which, together with its manifestation in action, will constitute the subject of our present reflections.
“ Know thyself” is said to be a maxim that God alone can follow. We would, therefore, in the outset, eschew all self-knowledge. We would rather be esteemed, with Carlyle, the “foolishest articulate speaking soul now extant,” than to claim the slightest superiority over our brother in this matter of self-knowledge, so called. We would trouble our readers with no “ diseased self-retrospections—no agonizing inquiries." We would only seek an interview, for a brief moment or So, with the Life that is in Nature, as it exists within and around us. We venture no theory respecting its properties, but simply wish to view its manifestations.
We shall not condemn Leibnitz for using the terms “incessant activity,” nor La Place for his nebulous theory of worlds. It is enough for us to know, that God has impressed certain laws upon matter, which are as eternal as himself. The little nebulous cloud revealed to us by the powers of the telescope, far off on the confines of creation, informs us that He has impressed His law of gravitation there, and that it is but another mighty system in the progress of formation. It revolves upon its aerial axis, and, concentrating in obedience to this law of gravitation, throws off its exterior masses, or refuse material, to form for itself the essential parts of a planetary system. Ages hence, and that little nebulous cloud, which is, in fact, some hundreds of millions of miles in diameter, though now apparently but a speck in the creation of God, will present to the eye of its Great Architect a scene of life and activity beyond all but infinite comprehension. It may not be till myriads of ages hence, but the law of God is at work there, and it will
states, “that the gravity of a planet is four times that of another which is twice the distance.” Anaxagoras and Plutarch considered the rapid motions of the heavenly bodies as preventing them from falling together; but Lucretius attributed this to the infinite size of the universe. Copernicus considered gravity as a providence of the Deity, and Galileo as a governing principle in each planet. Kepler says, "that if the moon and earth were not retained by some equivalent force, the earth would ascend a fifty-fourth part towards the moon, while the moon would move over the remaining fifty-three parts, if they both have the same density.” In 1674, Dr. Hooke considered gravity as an essential property of matter; that all heavenly bodies gravitate to their own centres; and that this principle of gravitation extends to other bodies within the sphere of their activity. But Newton's Principia did not appear till 1687.
triumph over the mighty elements with which it has to contend. That huge mass revolves in an orbit some millions of miles in diameter, and yet, compared with the stupendous universe itself, it is at rest.
And has God done all that is necessary to effect the great ends of that system ? Are the laws which he has impressed upon that nebulous mass, sufficient to realize the conformation of a world ? It were well for us if we permitted not such thoughts to urge themselves upon our mind. It is not the province of men, graduated at our Theological Institutions of Jargon, or our Sectaries of Babel, to enter upon such inquiries. We should seek to feel how infinite the remove between our own feeble apprehension, and the creative energy of a God.
Nature is everywhere full of life-instinct, as it were, with activity. The vis inertiae is nowhere to be found, except perhaps as the resultant of violence; for it is a violation of the most essential law of being to cease from action. Man himself exists only as an active, efficient force. Limit his action, and you limit his being. Confine him to a prison-yard, and he has no existence beyond it. Casper Hauser existed only in his cell, until he had power to act without it. The simple question, therefore, Am I? do I exist? resolves itself into this, Do I act? If I act, I am ; and I have no existence beyond the limit of my action. Those who suppose, therefore, I need not say how impiously, that God, at some period far back in the deep of Time, began to create this matter of which our ball is composed, are little aware of the consequences flowing out of this supposition. If in that sublimely indefinite Beginning of Moses, God created the heavens and the earth, instead of forming them, according to the notions of the ancient Theogonies, then he inust have existed from all eternity without action, and if he existed without action, he existed not at all. He that from the first was present,
“ And with mighty wings outspread, Dove-like sat brooding on the vast abyss,
And made it pregnant,” may be a beautiful enough figure for Paradise Lost, but it is too sublimely poetical for this world, altogether.
The doctrine that time, space, and matter have existed coëternally with Deity, is the one to be found in all the ancient Theogonies, from Hesiod down. Nor can Religion startle at the idea of an eternal Mind that has presided over an eternal Matter, however much it should starile at the idea of one that had brooded, in an Eternity of Silence, over a vast abyss of uncreated nothing. We have unfortunately no word to express an uncreated void.
The terms life and activity seem in reality synonymous. The little acorn that expands itself into the oak, has life so long as it goes on expanding, or so long as it continues active. When it ceases expandingceases its activity, it becomes dead. It has no longer power to defy the tempest. Its dead arms drop one by one from its lifeless trunk, and you hear only their crash amid the silence of the forest. The spirit of the old oak is gone. Time has stript the Briareus of his hun
dred arms, and is soon to topple him down with the dust, giant that he is, standing there, blackening in the moonlit air ? But here comes a question, mightier than the sphinx-riddle, or all the riddles ever propounded to mortals. Where is the soul of that Briareus-that old century-stricken denizen of the forest? Where is the life.principle that reared that towering structure, and animated it for so many hundred years? Its material part, or, in other words, its most immaterial part, lies there, and is the dust you trample upon. No particle of it is lost, or ever can be lost. It may answer to the call of some other life-principle, and enter into other forms, whether in the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdoms; but it must exist on and on. And yet the soul that once animated that structure, had it no existence beyond the hour in which it threw off the dust that encumbered it ? Is it a law of Nature, or, rather, a law of God, that annihilation shall seize upon the superior part, and hurl it down to its own deep, dark, abyssmal realm, and leave to God and Nature only the inferior part? Believe it not, my brother; for thou art journeying on with me to an Eternity in which this same grim, awful Annihilation may seize upon thy soul also.
I love to contemplate Nature as she is, full of the great life-principle that God has implanted in her-it affords me so much of happiness to do so. I go out into the fields, it may be of a Sabbath morning. I feel that it is God's great sanctuary. The very silence around is so full of utterance, that it seems almost voice-like. It imparts such lessons of instruction, that my soul would be there continually. It is no Mr. Kirk's Church, or Mr. Knapp's Church-no Anti-This-Church or AntiThat-Church, with their confined atmospheres and horrid mephitic gases; but it is God's great Life-Sanctuary, full of religion, because it is full of activity. The sturdy, stalwort ox is there. He has no rituals, no liturgies, po platforms, or creeds ; but he is there at work. God has given him appetite, strange as it may seem, to be satisfied on the Sabbath; and he, like a rational ox that he is, is satisfying it. There, too, is the horse—the glorious horse, with his “ neck clothed in thunder," working lustily for himself. He has labored all the week for his master, (who is a considerate man in some respects, for he has not taken his horse to meeting,) and now he is laboring for himself. Behind the hill the parson has planted his field of corn, and the little stalks are now peeping out for the first time, to get a glimpse of God's sun-light. A burly flock of crows are apparently making merry of the parson's sermon, and helping themselves with a most voracious stomach to his corn. They are doing this even in defiance of some half-dozen shamparsons, having on the real parson's clothes, stuck up, in different parts of the field, as ineffectual bugbears to these old black philosophers of the "raven plume;" but they stalk on, regardless of these inventions of the parson, obedient as ever to the calls of their nature. A little crazy-headed woodpecker, who has the real spirit of work in him, is industriously hammering, as it were in spite, at an old dead tree, and faithfully drumming to the music of his more joyous, but less enterprisirg, companions. The nearest grove is vocal with the songs of the morning choristers, who are perfectly intoxicated with delight, and split