« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
appreciate them? Without life, what were they all ? What were a Creator himself, without life, intelligence understand. ing, to know and to adore Him, and to trace His finger in the works that He hath made ? Boundless varety and perpetual change are exhibited in the living beings around us. Take the class of insects alone : of these, not fewer than one hundred million distinct species are already known and described ; and every day is adding to the catalogue.
Wherever you penetrate, that life can be sustained, you find living beings to exist; in the depth of the ocean, in the arid desert, or at the icy polar regions. The air everywhere teems with life. The soil which clothes the earth all round is swarming with life, vegetable and animal. Take a drop of water, and examine it with the microscope ;EI lo! it is swarming with living creatures. Within life exists other life, until it recedes before the powers of human vision. The parasiticel animal'cule, El which preys upon or within the body of a larger animal, is itself preyed upon by parasites peculiar to itself. So minute are living animal'cules, that Ehrenberg has computed that not fewer than five hundred million can subsist in a single drop of water; and each of these mõnadse is endowed with its appropriate organs, possesses spontaneous power of motion, enjoys an independent vitality. During how many thousands of years has the vitality of seeds been preserved deep in the earth's bosom! Not less wonderful is the fact stated by Lord Lindsay, who took from the hand of an Egyptian mummy a tuber, El which must have been wrapped up more than two thousand years before. It was planted, was rained and dewed upon, the sun shone on it again, and the root grew, and budded, bursting forth and blooming into a beauteous dahlia ! EI
6. LIGHT. Finally, we have star-light, that wonderful messenger tnat brings us daily intelligence of the continued existence of numberless worlds, the expression of an immaterial essence which no longer obeys the laws of gravitation, and yet manifests itself to our senses by innumerable effects. Even the light of the sun, with the arrival of which upon the earth inanimate nature receives life and motion, we cleave asunder into rays which, without any power of illumination, produce the most important alterations and decompositions in organic nature. We separate from light certain rays which exhibit among theinselves a diversity as great as exists among colors. But nowhere do we observe either a beginning or an end. — Liebig.
7. WONDERS OF TIIE CREATED UNIVERSE. What mere assertion will make any one believe that in one second of time, in one beat of the pendulum of a clock, a ray of light travels over one hundred
and two thousand miles, and would therefore perform the tour of the world in about the same time that it requires to wink with our eyelids, and in much less than a swift runner occupies in taking a single stride? What mortal can be made to believe, without demonstration, that the sun is almost a million times larger than the earth ? and that, although so remote from us that a cannonball shot directly towards it, and maintaining its full speed, would be twenty years in reaching it, it yet affects the earth by its attraction in an inappreciable instant of time? Who would not ask for demonstration, when told that a gnat’s wing, in its ordinary flight, beats many hundred times in a second; or that there exist animated and regularly-organized beings many thou. sands of whose bodies, laid close together, would not extend an inch ?
But what are these to the astonishing truths which modern optical inquiries have disclosed, which teach us that every point of a medium through which a ray of light passes is affected with a succession of periodical movements, regularly recurring at equal intervals, no less than five hundred millions of millions of times in a single second! That it is by such movements communicated to the nerves of our eyes that we see; — nay, more, that it is the difference in the frequency of their recurrence which affects us with the sense of the diversity of color! That, for instance, in acquiring the sensation of redness, our eyes are affected four hundred and eighty-two millions of millions of times; of yellowness, five hundred and forty-two millions of mil. lions of times ; and of violet, seven hundred and seven millions of millions of times per second! Do not such things sound more like the ravings of madmen than the sober conclusions of people in their waking senses? They are, nevertheless, conclusions to which any one may most certainly arrive, who will only be at the trouble of examining the chain of reasoning by which they have been obtained. —Herschell.
8. ON THE VASTNESS OF THE UNIVERSE. — The aspect of the world, even without any of the peculiar lights which science throws upon it, is fitted to give us an idea of the greatness of the power by which it is directed and governed, far exceeding any notions of power and greatness which are suggested by any other contemplation. The number of human beings who surround us; the various conditions requisite for their life, nutri. tion, well-being, all fulfilled; the way in which these conditions are modified, as we pass in thought to other countries, by climate, temperament, habit; the vast amount of the human population of the globe thus made up, yet man himself but one among almost endless tribes of animals the forest, the field, the desert, the air, the ocean, all teeming with creatures whose bodily wants are as carefully provided for as his; the sun, the clouds, the winds, all attending, as it were, on these organized beings; a host of beneficent energies, unwearied by time and succession, pervading every corner of the earth ;— this spectacle cannot but give the contemplator a lofty and magnificent conception of the Author of so vast a work, of the Ruler of so wide and rich an empire, of the Provider for so many and varied wants, the Director and Adjuster of such com'plex and jarring interests. — Whewell.
CLXXXIX. — COMMON ERRORS.
1. THERE are a number of proverbial notions, which either square so well with some principle in our self-love, or appeal so forcibly to some of our besetting prejudices, or appear from fer some other cause so exceedingly plausible, that they are never brought forward without apparently producing conviction, while in sober truth they are either highly questionable or decidedly erroneous.
2. When a man, for instance, says, “ Away with all refinements — I take the broad common-sense view of the question," everybody immediately prepares to listen to him as a kind of ora. cle. He may, after that, speak for half an hour in the most vulgar and irrational jargon, without a single reference to the principle of the argument; and if he only takes care not to offend any of the prepossessions of his hearers, he will bear away the palm from the most acute reasoner.
3. The cause of this is, that when you speak of common sense you speak of a thing which all imperfectly-educated and ignorant people (unfortunately the great majority of common audiences) think they possess by intuition, though it is in reality but a composition of the prejudices of each particular person; and, flattered by their sense being considered as sufficient to give judgment, they are tempted into thinking themselves convinced, and pronounce accordingly.
4. Whenever a man happens to act rather absurdly, or perhaps somewhat reprehensibly, and is conscious of it, you are sure to hear him exclaim, “Well, I acted according to my conscience." If a man can only convince himself that he was ruled by this secret monitor, he is satisfied, because he has always been told to act according to conscience, and invariably hears conscientious people commended both by friends and
oppo'nents. Other people are satisfied too, and think no more of the error they were once disposed to censure. “0, he acted according to his conscience; there is no more to be said.” . 3. Now, this would be all very well if conscience were one uniform prompter of good, and preventive of bad, in the breasts of all men. But conscience is a quality which every man possesses only in a certain extent, in proportion as he may have been originally gifted with it, and as he may have cultivated it through life. An individual may have a conscience so very small, or so very dull, that it forms no obstacle to the worst indulgences : he may be so very stupid, in regard to all specu. lative questions, that the conscience he thinks he acts upon is only a blind supposition of the truth.
6. In these cases conscience is no excuse. The most flagitious criminal might make it a plea for arrest of judgment; the most unenlightened of human beings might sit down upon it in selfsatisfied ignorance; the bigot might adopt it as a sanction for a war against his species. Nine-tenths of all the worst mischief, negative and positive, that ever afflicted the world, is traceable to conscience. The duty of man is to improve those faculties which enable him to think and act correctly. He must make his conscience a good conscience, and then, but then only, will he be entitled to honor in acting upon it.
7. Akin to this error is one which makes meaning well an excuse for everything. Nay, some not only excuse all kinds of follies and mischiefs by telling themselves and others that they mean well, but they make it a regular boast as a primary rule of conduct, and take not the least care for anything else. They will deliberately go on from day to day in a course injurious to both themselves and others, and, reposing indolently upon their good intentions, neglect all fair opportunities of advantage, all feasible natural means of accomplishing their ends, and finally, perhaps, allow the broad wheel of ruin to come over them, with. out making an effort to get out of the way.
8. There is also a great sect of philanthropists, who, taking no pains to ascertain the true means of promoting human happiness, and possibly prepossessed in favor of many things which are adverse to it, form, in reality, through the very respect that is paid to their well-meaning impenetrability, the greatest existing obstacles to the object they profess to have in view. Men can never be sufficiently vigilant in guarding against this easy palliation of error and prejudice; their duty is to see that they both mean well, and take the proper means for forming a sound judgment and constructing a correct rule of action, CHAMBERS.
CXLVI. — SELECT PASSAGES IN VERSE.
1. TRUE GLORY. — Milton.
2. CONSOLATION FOR A FRIEND'S DEATH. — Milton
Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more,
3. T'RUTH. — Cowper. The only amaranthine El flower on earth Is virtue ; the only lasting treasure, truth.