« AnteriorContinuar »
Great men do not content us. It is their solitude, not their force, that makes them conspicuous. There is somewhat indigent and tedious about them. They are poorly tied to one thought. If they are prophets, they are egotists; if polite and various, they are shallow. How tardily men arrive at any thought! how tardily they pass from it to another thought! The crystal sphere of thought is as concentrical as the geological structure of the globe. As all our soils and rocks lie in strata, concentric strata, so do all men's thinkings run laterally, never vertically. Here comes by a great inquisitor with auger and plumb-line, and will bore an Artesian well through all our conventions and theories, and pierce to the core of things. But as soon as he probes one crust, behold gimblet, plumb-line, and philosopher, all take a lateral direction, in spite of all resistance, as if some strong wind took everything off its feet, and if you come month after month to see what progress our reformer has made, not an inch has he pierced --you still find him with new words in the old place, floating about in new parts of the same old vein or crust. The new book says, “I will give you the key to Nature," and we expect to go like a thunderbolt to the centre. But the thunder is a surface
phenomenon, makes a skin-deep cut, and so does the sage. The wedge turns out to be a rocket. Thus a man lasts but a very little while, for his monomania becomes insupportably tedious in a few months. It is so with every book and person : and yet-and yet--we do not take up a new book, or meet a new man, without a pulsebeat of expectation. And this discontent with the poor and pinched result, this invincible hope of a more adequate interpreter, is the sure prediction of his advent.
In the absence of man we turn to nature, which stands next. In the divine order, intellect is primary: nature, secondary : it is the memory of the mind. That which once existed in intellect as pure law, has now taken body as Nature. It existed already in the mind in solution : now, it has been precipitated, and the bright sediment is the world. We can never be quite strangers or inferiors in nature. We are parties to its existence; it is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. But we no longer hold it by the hand : we have lost our miraculous power: our arm is no more as strong as the frost ; nor our will equivalent to gravity and the elective attractions. Yet we can use Nature as a convenient standard, and the meter of our rise and fall. It has this advantage as a witness, it will not lie, it cannot be debauched. When man curses, Nature still testifies to truth and love. We may, therefore, safely study the mind in Nature, because we cannot steadily gaze on it in mind; as we explore the face of the sun in a pool, when our eyes cannot brook his direct splendours.
It seems to me, therefore, that it were some suitable pæan, if we should piously celebrate this hour by exploring the Method of Nature. Let us see that, as nearly as we can, and try how far it is transferable to the literary life. Every earnest glance we give to the realities around us, with intent to learn, proceeds from a holy impulse, and is really songs of praise. What difference can it make whether it take the shape of exhortation, or of passionate exclamation, or of scientific statement? These are forms merely. Through them we express, at last, the fact, that God has done thus or thus.
In treating a subject so large, in which we must necessarily appeal to the intuition, and aim much more to suggest than to describe, I know it is not easy to speak with the precision attainable on topics of less scope. I have no taste for partial statements: they disgust me also. I do not wish in attempting to paint a man, to describe an airfed, unimpassioned; impossible ghost. My eyes and ears are revolted by any neglect of the physical facts, the limitations of man. And yet one who conceives the true order of Nature, and beholds the visible as proceeding from the invisible, cannot state his thought, without seeming to those who study the physical laws, to do them some injustice. There is an intrinsic defect in the organ. Language overstates. Statements of the infinite are usually felt to be unjust to the finite, and blasphemous. Empedocles undoubtedly spoke a truth of thought, when he said, “I am God;" but the moment it was out of his mouth, it became a lie to the ear; and the world revenged itself for the seeming arrogance, by the good story about his shoe. How can I hope for better hap in my attempts to enunciate spiritual facts ? Thus only ; as far as I share the influx of truth, so far shall I be felt by every true person to say what is just.
The method of Nature: who could ever analyse it? That rushing stream will not stop to be observed. We can never surprise Nature in a corner; never find the end of a thread; never tell where to set the first stone. The bird hastes to lay her egg : the egg hastens to be a bird. The wholeness we admire in the order of the world, is the result of infinite distribution. Its smoothness is the smoothness of the pitch of the cataract. Its permanence is a perpetual inchoation. Every natural fact is an emanation, and that from which it emanates is an emanation also, and from every emanation is a new emanation. If anything could stand still, it would be crushed and dissipated by the torrent it resisted, and if it were a mind, would be crazed ; as insane persons are those who hold fast to one thought, and do not flow with the course of Nature. Not the cause, but an ever novel effect, Nature descends always from above. It is unbroken obedience, The beauty of these fair objects is imported into them from a metaphysical and eternal spring. In all animal and vegetable formis, the physiologist concedes that no chemistry, no mechanics, can account for the facts, but a mysterious principle of life must be assumed, which not only inhabits the organ, but makes the organ.
How silent, how spacicus, what room for all, yet without place to insert an atom,-in graceful succession, in equal fulness, in balanced beauty, the dance of the hours goes forward still. Like an odour of incense, like a strain of music, like a sleep, it is inexact and boundless. It will not be dissected, nor unravelled, nor shown. Away, pro