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be able; to exhaust nothing, but to touch upon many things j to give a desire for learning, rather than to consummate the learning that may be desirable,to run over the vast volume of nature, not in its separate pages, but in its table of contents, so that we may hereafter be the better prepared for studying it more minutely, and for feeling in some measure at home upon the various subjects it presents to us.
Yet, after all, lectures alone can do but little, whatever the energy or perspicuity with which they may be delivered. They may, perhaps, awaken a latent propensity, or enkindle a transient inclination; but unless the newborn flame be fed and fostered, unless it be nourished by study, as well as excited by hearing, it will perish as soon as lighted up; or, if it continue, will only blaze forth in a foppery of knowledge far more contemptible than the grossest ignorance.
Let us, then, enter upon our respective duties with equal ardour. The path of science is open to every variety of age, and almost to every variety of education. Thousands at this moment behind are pressing forward, and will surpass those that are before; and the richest and most gratifying reward I can ever receive will be, to find that many to whom this course of study is delivered will hereafter be able to communicate to me the same proportion of information, which it is my duty to suppose I can at present communicate to them.
One of the first inquiries that can ever press upon the mind must relate to the nature of Matter, and the origin of the world around us: what is this common substance from which everything visible has proceeded, and to which every thing visible is reducible? has it existed from all eternity? or has it been called into being by the voice of an Omnipotent Creator? and in either case, has it uniformly exhibited its present harmony and arrangement, or has there been a period in which it was destitute of form and order, a waste and shapeless chaos 7
These are questions which have tried the wisdom of man in all ages; and, I may add, which in all ages have proved its littleness, and the need we stand in of illumination from a superior source. Such, upon one or two points, we have received; upon the rest we are still ignorant; and, but for what we have received, we should have been still ignorant upon the whole.
If we search into the systems of all the ancient schools of philosophy, amid an infinite variety of jarring opinions in other respects, we find them, perhaps without an exception, concurring in a belief of the eternity of matter, or that general substance which constitutes the visible world around us; which was sometimes conceived to be intelligent in many of its corpuscles, and unintelligent in the rest, as was taught by Democritus; sometimes intelligent as a whole, though unintelligent in its separate parts, as taught both by Aristotle and Plato; and sometimes unintelligent in all its parts and particles, whether united or disjoined, which formed the dogma of Epicurus. Under some modification or other, however, the doctrine of the eternity of matter appears to have been universal among the philosophers of ancient nations. That a loose and floating idea of its creation, by the energy of a pure intelligence, is occasionally to be met with, and which probably existed as a remnant of patriarchal tradition, must be admitted; for the Tuscans were generally allowed to have entertained such an idea, and we find it frequently adverted to and opposed by the leaders of the different schools; but in no instance does it seem to have been imbodied or promulgated as a doctrine of philosophy.
The grand motive for this general belief appears to have been a supposed absurdity in conceiving that any thing could be created out of nothing.* The Epicureans, and many other schools of philosophers, who borrowed it from them, perpetually appeal to this position. It was current, however, among many of the philosophers of Greece at a much earlier period; for Democritus expressly asserted, according to Diogenes Laertius, "that nothing could
* This, and two or three subsequent passages in the present lecture, are given summarily from an ampler and more recondite view of the subject in the author's prolegomena to his translation of " Thb lUtuaz or tHXiroi *
spring from nothing, or could ever return to nothing." Epicurus, in the few fragments of his that have reached us, echoed the tenet in the following terms: "Know first of all, that nothing can spring from nonentity." It was thus given by Aristotle: "To suppose what has been created has been created from nothing, is to divest it of all power; for it is a dogma of those who pretend thus to think, that every thing must still possess its own nature." From the Greeks it passed to the Romans, and appears as follows in Lucretius:—
ubl vidrrimus nihil posse cn-arl
De nthilo, nun, quod sequimur, jam reams Inde
Admit this truth, that naught from nothing springs,
And it was thus long afterward reiterated by Persius, as the common doctrine of his day:—
De nihilo nil, In nihilum nil posse reveru.t
Naught springs from naught, and can to naught return.
The Greeks themselves, however, seem to have received it from the East, and to have become acquainted with it as a branch of gymnosophy; for it constitutes, even in the present day, a distinct doctrine ot Brahminiciil religion, and is thus urged in univocal terms in the Yajur Veid, in the course of an address to Brahm, or the Supreme Being: "The ignorant assert that the universe, in the beginning, did not exist in its author, and that it was created out of nothing. O ye, whose hearts are pure! how could something arise out of nothing P'^
This reasoning seems, indeed, to have spread almost universally, and perhaps from the same quarter; for we find many of the Jewish theologians, and not a few of the Christian fathers, too much influenced by Platonic principles, giving countenance to the same doctrine, though probably not to the full extent of the Platonic school. Thus, the author of the Book of Wisdom, a book written in Greek instead of in Hebrew, and hereby proving his own era as well as the school in which he had studied, expressly asserts that " The almighty hand of the Lord created the world out of unfashioned (amorphous) matter" % a^^ou 0Xf|c;$ while Athenagoras, Tatian, rf heophilus of Antioch, Athanasius, and Gregory Nazianzen, appear to have concurred in the same opinion; and Justin Martyr affirms it to have been the general creed of his own era: "For that the word of God," says he, "formed the world out ofunfashioned matter, Moses distinctly asserts, Plato and his adherents maintain and ourselves have been taught to believe."
This is one specimen of the very common attempt in the writings of the fathers to blend the narrative and doctrines of Moses with the principles of Platonism, which, in truth, had been embracedby many of them before their conversion. The text of Moses, when accurately examined, will be found, if I mistake not, to lead us to a very different conclusion. This text consists of the first and second verses of the book of Genesis, and is as follows: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth; and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep (or abyss); and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Now in this passage we seem to have a statement of three distinct facts, each following the other in a regular series: first, an absolute creation of the heaven and the earth, which, we are expressly told, took place foremost, or in the beginning; next, the condition of the earth when it was thus primarily created, being amorphous and waste, or in the words before us, " without form and void;" and, thirdly, the earliest creative effort to reduce it from this shapeless and
• De Rer. Nat. 1.147. t Sat ill. S3.
J The passage is quoted from M. Anquetil du Perron's Latin version. The reader may And various, sunder extracts tn t»r William Jones's works, vol. vL era. odlt. $ f*p. xl. 17.
void or waste condition into a state of order and productiveness—" the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." And hence, to maintain from the Mosaic narration that the heaven or the earth existed in a waste and amorphous mass antecedently to the first act of creation, is to derange the series of such narration, and to put that process first which Moses has put second.
I enter not here into the correctness of the general rendering, nor into the exact import of the word ma, " created;" for whatever be the rendering, the same consecutive order of events must be adhered to, and the same conclusion must follow. I am perfectly ready, however, to admit that Kia does by no means at all times import an absolute creation out of nothing, but, like create in our own language, that it occasionally denotes the formation of one thing out of another; yet when we are told that, if Moses had really intended to express an absolute creation of the earth out of nothing, he would have used some other word, which should have limited us to this idea, I confidently put it to any critic, what word he could have employed specially appropriated to such a purpose, and limited to such a sense, at the time he wrote? or even what word, thus restrained, he could select in our own day, from any spoken language throughout the world? Words are not invented for an exclusive expression of solitary facts, but for general use. The creation of the world, or of any thing whatever, out of nothing, is a fact of this kind; and no language ever had or ever will have a term precisely struck out for the purpose of representing such an idea, and exclusively appropriated to it: and assuredly there could be no such word at the time Moses first spoke of the fact, and communicated the doctrine; as, antecedently to this, it could not have been called for. And it will not be questioned, I think, that there is more sound sense 8nd judgment in employing, as on the present occasion, a well understood term, that comes nearest to the full extent of the idea intended to be conveyed, than to invent a new word for the purpose, that nobody has ever heard of, and, consequently, that nobody can comprehend the meaning of, till the very term that is thus objected to, or some other word from the vulgar dialect, shall be had recourse to as its interpreter. Yet although, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word is occasionally used synonymously with our own terms, " to make, produce, or cause to be," to import a formation from a substance already in existence, we have sufficient proof that it was also understood of old to import emphatically, like our own word "create," an absolute formation out of nothing. Maimonides expressly tells us, that it was thus understood in the passage before us, as well as in all others that have a reference to it, by the ancient Hebrews; while Origen affirms, that such was its import among many of the Christian fathers, whatever might be the opinion of the rest, and forcibly objects to the passage just quoted from the Book of Wisdom, as a book not admitted into the established canon of Scripture.
Still, however, the doctrine of a creation of something out of nothing was generally held to be a palpable absurdity; and a variety of hypotheses were invented to avoid it, of which the three following appear to have been the chief; each of them, however, if I mistake not, plunging us into an absurdity ten times deeper and more inextricable. The first is that of an absolute and independent eternity of matter, to which I have already referred; the second, that of its emanation from the essence of the Creator; the third that of idealism, or the non-existence of a material world.
I have already remarked, that the First of these was modified under the plastic hands of different philosophers of antiquity into a great variety of shapes; and hence, in some form or other, is to be traced through most of the Grecian schools, whether of the Ionic or Italic sect—or, in other words, whether derived from Thales or from Pythagoras. In no shape, however, is it for a moment capable of standing the test of sober inquiry. We may regard matter as essentially and eternally intelligent, or as essentially and eternally unintelligent; as essentially intelligent in its several parts, or as essentially intelligent as a whole. The dilemma is equal in all these cases. Matter cannot be intelligent as a whole, without being intelligent in every atom. for a concourse of unintelligent atoms can never produce intelligence; but il it be intelligent in every atom, then are we perpetually meeting with unintelligent compounds resulting from intelligent elements. If, again, matter be essentially eternal, but at the same time essentially unintelligent, both separately and collectively, then, an intelligent principle being traced in the world, and even in man himself, we are put into possession of two coeternal independent principles, destitute of all relative connexion and common medium of action.'
The second Hypothesis to which I have adverted is not less crowded with difficulties and absurdities; but it has a more imposing appearance, and has hence, in many periods and among many nations, been more popular, and was perpetually leading away a multitude of the philosophers from the preceding system. According to this hypothesis, the universe is an emanation or extension of the essence of the Creator. Now, under this belief, however modified, the Creator himself is rendered material; or, in other words, matter itself, or the visible substance of the world, is rendered the Creator; and we merely shift the burden, without getting rid of it. There can be no difficulty in tracing this doctrine to its source. It runs, as 1 have already observed, through the whole texture of that species of materialism which constitutes the two grand religions of the East—Brahmism and Buddhism; and was undoubtedly conveyed by Pythagoras, and, perhaps, antecedently, by Orpheus (if such an individual ever existed, which Cicero* seems to have disbelieved, from a passage of Aristotle, not to be found, however, in any of his writings that have descended to us), into different parts of Greece, in consequence of their communications with the gymnosophists. From Pythagoras it descended to Plato and Xenophanes, and, under different modifications, became a tenet of the academic and eleatic schools. I have already quoted the principle on which it is founded, from M. Anquetil du Perron's translation of the Oupnek'-hat, or Abridgment of the Veids;f the passage at large is as follows, and developes the entire doctrine as well as the principle: "The whole universe is the Creator, proceeds from the Creator, exists in him, and returns to him. The ignorant assert that the universe, in the beginning, did not exist in its Author, and that it was created out of nothing. O ye, whose hearts are pu;e! how could something arise out of nothing 1 This First Being alone, and without likeness, was the All in the beginning: he could multiply himself under different forms; he created fire from his essence, which is light," &c. So, in another passage of the Yagur Veid, "Thou art Brahma! thou art Vishnu! thou art Kodra! thou artPrajapat! thou art Delonta! thou art air! thou art Andri! thou art the moon! thou art substance! thou art Djam! thou art the earth! thou art the world! O lord of the world! to thee humble adoration! O soul of the world! thou who superintendest the actions of the world! who destroyest the world! who createst the pleasures of the world! O life of the world! the visible and invisible worlds are the sport of thy power! Thou art the sovereign, O universal soul! to thee humble adoration! O thou, of all mysteries the most mysterious! O thou who art exalted beyond all perception or imagination! thou who hast neither beginning nor end! to thee humble adoration !"t
As this doctrine became embraced by many of the Greek and Roman philosophers, it is not to be wondered at that it captivated still more of their poets; and hence we find it, with perhaps the exception of Empedocles and Lucretius, more or less pervading all of them, from Orpheus to Virgil. It is in reference to this that Aratus opens his Phenomena with that beautiful passage which is so forcibly appealed to by St. Paul in the course of his address to the Athenians on Mar's Hill,y of which I will beg your acceptance of the following version:—
From God we spring, whom man can never trace,
The loneliest path, by mortal seldom trod
So jEschylus, in a passage still stronger in point, and imbued with the full spirit of Brahmism:—
Jupiter Is the air;
But perhaps the passage most express is one contained in a very ancient Greek poem entitled De Mundo, and ascribed to Orpheus, in the original highly beautiful, and of which, for want of a better, I must trouble you with the following translation:—
Jove first exists, whose thunders roll above; Jove last, Jove midmost, all proceeds from Jove.
Female is Jove, immortal Jove is male;
Jove the broad earth—the heaven's irradiate pale.
Jove Is the boundless spirit, Jove the fire
That warms the world wuh ferling ami desire.
The sea fs Jove, the sun, the lunar ball;
Jove king supreme, the sovereign source of all.
All power is his; to him all glory give,
For his vast form embiaces all that live.}
This doctrine has not been confined to ancient times, or to the boundaries of India and the republics of Greece and Rome; it has descended through every age, and has its votaries even in the present day. M. Anquetil du Perron, whom I have already spoken of, as the Latin translator of the Oupnek'- hat, or Upanishad, from the Persian version, has himself distinctly avowed an inclination to it; the writings of M. Neckarare full of it and M. Isnard has professedly advanced and supported it in his work, "Sur l'lmmortalite de l'Ame," printed at Paris in 1802. I do not know that it exists at present to any great extent in our own country; but if we look back to something less than a century, we shall find it current among the philosophers of various schools, and especially that of which Lord Bolingbroke has been placed at the head; and hence running through every page of the celebrated Essay on Man, in the composition of which it is probable that Mr. Pope was imposed upon by his noble patron, and was not sufficiently alive to the full tendency of its principles. The critics on the Continent, however, perceived the tendency on its first appearance; and hence its author was generally, though incorrectly, denominated the modern Lucretius, and the poem itself was regarded as one of the most dangerous productions that ever issued from the press; as a most insidious attempt, by confining the whole of our views, our reasonings, and our expectations to the present state of things, to undermine
* 'E* Ai3f «p\t5/JEiT0.T, t6v obSbror* Svipcs t&ptv
t Zrii$ tarty aWi)p,
X Zeiss Itp&tos ytvho, Zebs tararos apciKenHivof
$ See Sir W. Jones's Works, I. p. 448.