Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

learned bis letters, has both head and heart better furnished than those who have spent their whole lives amongst books.

How then is this? God has given us all ability to read His Own Book of Nature, without going to school. He has given us eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to handle, hearts to feel, and mental and moral faculties to understand, to admire, and to be grateful. He has made the world for us, and us for the world. Every thing without, around, and about us, answers to every thing within ; and it is really astonishing to find, how readily and heartily we can learn what he wishes to teach us, if we only use our natural powers and affections as we ought to use them.

Many of us talk a great deal of the wisdom of the ancients : and there might have been some great and wise men in former times; but, speaking generally, knowledge is a very young thing. In England there was very little a few centuries ago, if we except (as of course we must don) that Divine Wisdom imparted from above which never grows by natural research. There were wise men in the Scriptural sense of that expression, “ born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;" but there were very few who had much of that kind of knowledge which is now possessed by thousands, even in our Infant schools—the knowledge of facts-of objects-of matters to be investigated by observation, induction, collation, or comparison -of things outside the mind, and rightly appreciable only by being seen, felt, and handled.

Before the days of Bacon, persons used either to invent truth, or to take it altogether on trust from the writings of those who lived before them. They were not accustomed to see and think for themselves, and, as might have been expected, they made very few accessions to knowledge that were worth anything at all. And yet many of those who lived before his time were shrewd, clever, learned, erudite men-great scholars, great logicians, and very great thinkers. But great as they were in their own way, the world owes them very little. They established very few truths, and corrected very few errors. Almost all the real knowledge we possess was obtained, not by what is called book. learning, but simply by observation and thinking-by seeing things, and reasoning upon them.

We mention these facts for the sake of encouraging our young

readers, if they are anxious to grow wiser and happier, to “go and do likewise”--to use their eyes, and all those faculties of mind with which God has endowed them, in examining all the wonders of Creation and Providence, as those of their predecessors did, who laid the foundation of all true science, especially in the witching department of Natural History—a study almost co-extensive with the universe itself.

There is an individual, now well known in the world of letters, whose powers of observation and description have received the highest commendation from Dr. Buckland and many others of our illuminati, who, but a short time since, was a common quarry. man in Scotland.* And how do our young friends think that he attained his present standing? He saw, and recorded his observations; and, by this simple and easy process, took a foremost rank among geologists and authors. Many similar instances might be mentioned; but we purpose for the present to refer only to John Ray, the naturalist, whose“ Memorials” published by a Society which takes its name from him, and numbers about 800 members, are now before us.

John Ray was born in 1628, and, according to Dr. Derham, 4 was bred a scholar at Braintree school, under one Mr. Love, the master thereof, where he made such proficiency, that, before he arrived at the age of sixteen, he was sent to the University of Cambridge, and entered at Catherine Hall, on June 28th, 1644, under the tuition of Mr. Duckfield. Here he continued about a year and three quarters, and then removed to Trinity College, but for what reason or by what means I cannot tell, only I find he was afterwards much pleased therewith, because in Catherine Hall they chiefly addicted themselves to disputations, but in Trinity, the polite arts and sciences were principally minded and cultivated.”

Thus was John Ray spoiled for a mere casuist and logician, and translated from the world of words, to that of things-from disputations of science falsely so called, to the amenities of true philosophy and art-from the dry logic of the schools, to the living freshness of nature--from toilsome travel through meta. physical perplexities, to the glorious and ample fields afforded by

* See our Magazine for June, p. 274.

a "simpling voyage” or an itinerary. And no wonder he was “ much pleased” with the change. Had he been nothing but a mere scholar, the services he has rendered to his country would have been lost, and the delightful pursuit of Natural History would have probably remained unredeemed from the conjectural rubbish and silly conceits of the pseudo-philosophers, who preceded him in this department.

But Mr. Ray had made up his mind to dream no longer. He began to deal with realities, never forgetting the Great Reality of Christianity; for he was good as well as wise, and amongst his philosophical writings, his biographers have discovered and given to the public many of his prayers and sacred meditations. That had such an one would rightly use his talents, and really enjoy his varied knowledge, no one could have been disposed to doubt, had he heard him at the family altar, thus pouring out his soul before God—“ Make us more spiritual, more heavenly-minded, more zealous for thy glory, more careful in all things to serve and please thee, and more fearful to offend thee. Help us to grow daily in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, that so our last days may be our best days; and when thou shalt call for us out of this world, we may be ready to leave it, and die with a comfortable hope and expectation of eternal life and happiness." - The light of the glorious sun, if it have no landscape to paint or play upon, loses much of its enlivening and inspiriting character. And so does the landscape itself if uncheered by sunshinc. The gospel, when it shines into a heart, unfurnished with natural knowledge, finds no salient points to light up, no details to bring out: and a merely natural mind, wise only in the things of this world, has no beauty that we, as Christians, should desire. But when all our attainments are consecrated by true piety, the prospect is a lovely one. God who gives all, the means of acquiring knowledge, knows how to mould and direct its use, when acquired, and that which we have gatheres in the world he often teaches us to employ elsewhere. Thus it was that the observations and experience of John Ray came to his aid in the sanctuary. “ Although he was much fancle his preaching he did it in a way very different from the of those fanatical times. His Grace the late pious and L Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Tenison told me," write

[ocr errors]

om

the

fashion

earned

S and L

[ocr errors]

Derham, “ that Mr. Ray was much celebrated in his time in Cambridge, for his preaching solid and useful divinity, instead of that enthusiastic stuff which the sermons of that time were generally filled with.”

And what wonder if he had studied in the same school with Job, with Moses, or with Solomon ? He had found tongues in trees and sermons in every plant, from the cedar which is in Lebanon to the hyssop which springeth out of the wall. His

“Catalogue of Cambridge Plants” published in 1660, “ was le of singular use in promoting the study of Botany, a branch of

learning much neglected at that time, not only in Cambridge, but in most other parts of the kingdom. But after this book was published, many were prompted to those studies, and to mind the plants they met with in their walks in the fields."

This, indeed, was the secret of Mr. Ray's fame. He taught the world that there was much more knowledge to be picked up out of doors than in the library or the study. He introduced men to his Maker's great work; examined, analysed, compared, collated and contrasted the many wonders of the visible creation, and laid the foundation for a new order of things, and a new school of philosophy.

Yet this took place less than two centuries ago, before which

time it would appear that persons went through the world with De their eyes shut, and without minding any of the myriad lessons

with which the Best of all Teachers had inscribed it, like the mystic scroll of Revelation within and without.” The “sim. pling journeys ” of Ray were almost the first essays made in this country, towards the formation of sound views of Natural History; for, not satisfied with his favorite pursuit of Botany, he sought out, set in order and described “ other curiosities"birds, beasts, fishes, objects of antiquity, old laws and customs, and a variety of matters not merely interesting, but practical and profitable. And all these enquiries he prosecuted with that pains-taking meekness so rare amongst high-flown philosophers, but so characteristic of the truly great. “ For my own part," says he, writing to his friend, Dr. Lister, in 1667 , “ I cannot boast of many discoveries made the last year, save of mine own errors."

Soon after this he set out again upon his travels, “ describing

[ocr errors]

many fowls, fishes, and plants, taking notes of their uses, the way of smelting metals, making salt, and divers other things.” Two years later he visited “ the famous fir-trees some two miles and a half distant from Newport, in a village called Wareton, in Shropshire. The greatest, and which seems to be the mother of the rest, we found, (he says,) by measure, to be fourteen feet and a half round the body, and they say fifty-six yards high, which to me seemed not incredible.” There is something wonderfully interesting in contemplating our philosopher riding up to these trees “ as they appear pleasantly like so many spire-steeples to travellers," with all the keen relish and freshness of a student in the great volume of nature.

It was not long afterwards that he lost his good friend and companion in these happy itineraries, Mr. Willughby, a man like-minded with himself, “who, among other virtuous employments, delighted in the searching after and describing of animals, birds, beasts, fishes and insects. And in these matters he was a great master, as he was also in plants, fossils, and, in short, the whole history of nature.”

From the itineraries of Ray we may form some idea of the state in which he found not only the natural history, but the morals and general acquirements of the people. His mention of the piece of ancient Roman pavement, perhaps that which they call tessellatum," and of the effigies of a native of Groenland in the Trinity-house at Hull, as unparalleled rarities—of “phocæ, which they call soiles,” of which he could not certainly learn, “whether they have four, or only two legs, and them before," of a vast number of plants now almost as common as the common daisy, which were then worthy of minute notice, and his frequent allusion to the popular superstitions, and traditional lore of the peasantry “ done into metre," as a substitute for any better vehicle of transmission, all prove how little progress in real knowledge had been made up to that period. Holy wells, and miracle working, and abject ignorance in the masses, form the staple of his notes and observations, and the “good old times,” look very bad indeed in many of his rural pictures. A few specimens may interest. Of St. Winifred's Well, he writes, “Over it is a handsome stone building, and by it a chapel where lie continually a great number of poor, lame, impotent people, more I believe to beg

« ZurückWeiter »