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every instance considerably attenuated and wasted away admits, indeed, of no doubt; but to have borne the brunt of so long and incessant a warfare, without actually being worn down to the level of the circumjacent plains, affords no feeble proof of an almost imperishable nature, and a proof open to the contemplation of the most common capacities.
There are various examples of the Macedonian stater or gold coin, struck in the reign of Philip, at this time preserved in the rich cabinet of the Florence gallery,* which, though they have continued in existence for at least 2200 years, do not not appear to have lost any thing of their weight. Bar thelemi, making a trivial mistake in the weight of the drachma, which he calculated at 66.55 grains English, suspected that these had sustained upon the average a loss of about seven-eighths of a grain during this long period: but as M. Fabbroni has since satisfactorily proved that the drachma was nol more than 66.8 grains, and as this is the actual weight of several staters in this cabinet, we have a demonstration that they have sustained no diminution whatever.
Yet, in its liquid and gaseous state, matter often exhibits still more extratraordinary instances of indestructibility or resistance to decomposition; and it should be especially remarked, that its indestructibility or indecomposable power appears to hold a direct proportion to its subtility, its levity, its activity, its refined ethereal or spiritualized modification of being.
Water is as much a compound as any of the earths, yet we have strong reason for believing that for the most part it exists unchangeably from age to age; and that its integrity has been not essentially interfered with from the commencement of the world. Its constituent parts are by no means broken into, but continue the same, whether under a solid form, as that of ice; under its usual form, as that of a liquid; or under an elastic form, as that of vv pour: it is the same in the atmosphere as on the earth; it falls down of the very same nature as it ascends, and the electric flash itself appears, generally speaking, to have no other influence upon it than that of hastening its precipitation. It is only to be decomposed, that we know of, by a very concentrated action of the most powerful chemical agents; and even this, whether by art or by nature, upon a very limited scale.
A similar identity appears to exist in atmospheric air, which is, probably, at least as indestructible as water; for its composition, when purged of the heterogeneous substances which are often combined with it, is the same in the deepest valleys as on the highest cliffs; at the equator, and at the poles; the earth's surface, and the height of 21,000 feet* above it: in many of which situations, and especially the more elevated, it is impossible for it ever to be generated; since the constituent parts of which it is composed are not found to exist in a separate state for its production. It is capable, indeed, of decomposition; but, like water, becomes decomposed with great difficulty, and probably consists at this moment, as to its general mass, of the very identic particles that formed it on its first emerging from a state of chaos.
Of the composition of the subtler gases we know nothing. The specific weight of several of them has been ascertained, and the constituent principles of one or two of them, as nitrogen and hydrogen, have been guessed at, but nothing more; for the boldest experiments of chemistry have hitherto been exerted in vain to effect their decomposition. While as to those which are more immediately connected with the principle of animal life, and upon which many schools of modern philosophy have supposed it altogether to depend, as caloric, and the electric and voltaic fluids, the last of which seems in truth to be only a peculiar modification of the second, together with other substances or qualities which in subtilty and activity have a considerable resemblance to them, as light and the magnetic aura, we are not only wholly incapable of decomposing them by any process whatever, but even of determining them to be ponderable, or to possess any of the other common properties of matter, as extent and solidity. Whence we are, in fact, incapable
• Sec Nicholson's Journal, vol. xxxli. p. 25. t Sea Thomson's Chem. vol. Iv. W, aa alto Phil. Bfa». ill. 233.
ot ascertaining whether they be matter at all, whether mere qualities of matter, or whether some other more subtle and spiritualized substances,* intermixing themselves under different combinations with the material mass, and giving birth to many of its most extraordinary properties and phenomena.
The question is entered upon at some length by Professor Bezelius, in his "Explanatory Statement," published in the Memoirs of the Academy of Stockholm for 1812, in which he endeavours to support the probability that the electric fluids and caloric are material as well as the fluid of light; but, to do this, he is compelled to alter the common definition of matter, and to contend that matter does not necessarily possess gravitation or aggregation.f
The materiality of light has been attempted to be proved by its effects on solutions of muriate of ammonia and prussiate of potash, when placed in a situation to be crystallized. The crystallization of these salts may be directed at pleasure by the introduction of light at one or the other side of the vessels containing such solutions. Camphor displays a like affinity for light. All this, however, shows merely that light possesses an influence of some kind; but it by no means establishes that such influence is a material one.l
Is it inquired to what important point these abstruse speculations lead 1 I may reply, among others, to the following:
First, to a probability, if not to a proof, that matter, under peculiar modifications, is capable of making an approximation to something beyond itself, as ordinarily displayed; and hereby of becoming fitted, whenever necessary, for an intercourse and union with an immaterial principle.
And, secondly, to a clearer view of the coincidence of natural phenomena with one of the most glorious discoveries of revelation. For notwithstanding that matter, under every visible shape and texture, is at present, in a greater or less degree, perpetually changing and decomposing, the moment we perceive that this is not a necessary effect, dependent upon its intrinsic nature, but a beneficial power superadded to it for the mere purpose of rendering it a more varied and more extensive medium of being, beauty, and happiness—the moment we find ground for believing, that in its elementary principles it is essentially solid and unchangeable; and that even in many of its compounds it is almost as much exempted from the law of change—we are prepared to contemplate a period in some distant futurity, in which, the great object for which it has been endowed with this superadded power being accomplished, the exemption may extend equally to every part and to every compound: a period in which there will be new heavens and a new earth, and whatever is now corruptible will put on incorruption.
But what, after all, is matter in its elementary principles, as far as we are capable of following them up J Can it be divided and subdivided to infinity? or is there a limit to such divisibility, beyond which the process cannot possibly proceed? and if so, are the ultimate bodies into which it is capable of dissolving still susceptible of developement, or, from their attenuation, removed beyond all power of detection?
These are questions which have agitated the world in almost all ages, and have laid a foundation for a variety of theories, of too much consequence to be passed over in a course of physical investigation.
The tenet of an infinite divisibility of matter, whether in ancient or modern times, appears to have been a mere invention for the purpose of avoiding one or two self-contradictions supposed to be chargeable upon the doctrine of its ultimate and elementary solidity; but which, I much fear, will be found to have given birth to far more self-contradiction than it has removed. The mode of reasoning, however, by which this tenet was arrived at in ancient Greece, was essentially different from that by which it has been arrived at ir> our own day.
It being, as we observed in our last lecture, an uncontroverted maxim among all the Greek philosophers, of every sect and school whatever, that nothing could proceed from nothing, matter was of course conceived to have
* See Young's Lectures, Yoi. il. p. 743, tec. Ix. t See Nicholson's Journal, vol. xxxiv. p. 1W, lo\ t See Accum's Element! o> Crystallography, and TlUoeb'i Phil Hag. Tot. ill. p. 357.
existed eternally, or it could not have existed at all. But it appeared obvious to most of them, that matter is as certainly unintelligent as they conjectured it is certainly eternal. The existence of intelligence, however, is still more demonstrable throughout nature than the existence of matter itself; and hence such philosophers were driven to the acknowledgment of an intelligent principle distinct from a material substance; and from the union of these two powers they accounted for the origin of the world: matter being merely passive and plastic, and put into form and endowed with the qualities and properties of body by the energy of the intelligent agent. But if form and corporeal properties have been communicated to it, it must, before such communication, and in its first or primal state, have been destitute of form; and that it was thus destitute is incontrovertible, continued the same schools of philosophy, because form presupposes the existence of intelligence, and must be, under every shape and modification, the product of an intelligent energy; for it is impossible that matter could have had a power of assuming one mode of form rather than another mode: since, if capable of assuming any kind, it must have been equally capable of assuming every kind, and, of course, of exhibiting intelligent effects without an intelligent cause, which would be utter nonsense.
Such is the general train of reasoning that seems to have operated upon the minds of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, in impelling them to the belief that matter, in its primary state, to adopt the words of Cicero, in which he explains the Platonic doctrine, " is a substance without form or quality, but capable of receiving all forms, and undergoing every kind of change; in doing which, however, it never suffers annihilation, but merely a solution of its parts, which are in their nature infinitely divisible, and move in portions of space which are also infinitely divisible."*
But if we abstract from matter form and quality, and at the same time deny it intelligence, what is there left to constitute it an eternal substance of any kind? and by what means could pure incorporeal intelligence endow it with form?
These difficulties are insuperable; and, though attempted to be explained in different ways by each of these philosophers, they press like millstones upon their different systems, and are perpetually in danger of drowning them. Pythagoras compared the existence of matter, in its primary and amorphous state, to pure arithmetical numbers, before they are rendered visible by arithmetical figures. "Unity,'<' says he, "and one (the former of which he denominated monad) are to be distinguished from each other: unity is an abstract conception, resembling primary or incorporeal matter in its general aggregate; one appertains to things capable of being numbered, and may be compared to matter rendered visible under a particular form." So again, "Number is not infinite anymore than matter; but it is nevertheless the source of that infinite divisibility into equal parts which is the property of all bodies."f
Numbers, however, were not more generally had recourse to by Pythagoras, to typify elementary matter under different modifications, than they are in the present day by the most elaborate chemists, to express its particular combinations: "As in all well-known compounds," observes Sir Humphry Davy, " the proportions of the elements are in certain definite ratios to each other, it is evident that these ratios may be expressed by numbers."J In consequence of which they are so expressed in various places by himself, and by many French, Swedish, and English chemists, the hint having been first suggested, I believe, by Higgens or Dalton. And hence the doctrine of numbers is well known to have been very largely and very repeatedly had recourse to under the Pythagorean system, and to have been used in explanation, not only of the endowment of different portions of matter with different forms, but of the harmony with which the different natures of matter and
* Acad. Quest, lib. 1. cap. 8.
t Anon. Pbotii, lib. c. Nlcomac. apod Phot TbemiM. 1n rhvs. lib. iii. M«. 25, p. 87. See also Eft. flcld'a Uruckar, L b. 1L cb, 12, p. 383. t Davy, Elan. I. p. 112.
mind unite in identic substances. Numbers and forms are, in consequence, not unfrequently contemplated as the same thing—as the models or archetypes after which the world in all its parts is framed—as the cause of entity
to visible beings: Tovs api9noiis alrlovs etvat Tiif oiiotas*
And hence, again, under the term monad, or unity, Pythagoras is generally conceived to have symbolized God, or the active principle in nature; under duad, the passive principle, or matter; and under triad, the visible world, produced by the union of the two former.
Pythagoras, however, was as much attached to music as to numbers, regarding it as a mere branch of the science of numbers applied to a definite object. He has, indeed, the credit of having invented the monochord, and of having applied the principles of music, as well as those of numbers, to the study of physics. He conceived that the celestial spheres, in which the planets move, striking upon the elastic ether through which they pass, must produce a sound, and a sound that must vary according to the diversity of their magnitude, velocity, and relative distance; and, as the adjustment of the heavenly bodies to each other is perfect in every respect, he farther conjectured, that the harmony produced by their revolutions must also be the most perfect imaginable: and hence the origin of a notion, which is now, however, only entertained in a figurative sense, a sense frequently laid hold of by our own poets, and thus exquisitely enlarged on by Dryden:—
From harmony, from heav'nly harmony,
Arise, ye more than dead!
What Pythagoras thus called numbers, Plato denominated ideas; a term which has, hence, descended to our own day, and is on every one's lips, although in a different sense from what it originally imported. The reason or wisdom of the great First Cause, and which he denominates the logos of God, 6 Atyos, or 8 Xaymiiis m euv, and not unfrequently AwMnpyoi (Demiurgus), Plato describes as a distinct principle from the Original Cause or Deity himself, from whom this efficient or operative cause, this divine wisdom or logos, emanates, and has eternally emanated, as light and heat from the sun. Thus emanating, he conceived it to be the immediate region or reservoir of ideas or intellectual forms, of the archetypes or patterns of things, subsisting by themselves as real beings—SvT^Svn—in this their eternal and original well-spring; and the union of which with the whole, or any portion of primary or incorporeal matter, immediately produces palpable forms, and renders them objects of contemplation and science to the external senses.f
It is, hence, obvious that Plato contended for a triad or trinity of substances in the creation of the visible universe—God, divine wisdom, or the eternal source of intellectual forms or ideas, and incorporeal matter. And it is on this account that several of the earliest Christian fathers, who, as I have already observed, had been educated in the Platonic school, and had imbibed his notions, regarded this doctrine as of divine origin; and endeavoured, though preposterously, to blend the trinity of Plato, and that of the Christian Scripture, into one common dogma: an attempt which has been occasionally revived in modern times, especially by Cudworth and Ogilvie, with great profundity of learning and great shrewdness of argument, but, at the same time, with as little success as in the first ages of Christianity.
• Arist Met lib. I. c. 8. Pint. Flic. Phil lib. L MB I. Ailumaf Apol 49 t Plac. Phil lib i. cap. x Tim lib c. „
It is to this theory, which, indeed, is highly fitted for poetry, and much better so than for dry, dialectic discussion, Akenside beautifully alludes in the first book of his " Pleasures of Imagination:"—
Ere the radiant sun
While, however, we thus point out the fancifulness and imperfections of these hypotheses, let us, with the candour of genuine philosophy, do justice to the merits of their great inventors, and join in the admiration which has been so duly bestowed upon them by the wise and learned of every country. It was Plato who first suggested to Galileo, even upon his own confession, that antagonist power by which a rectilinear motion can be converted into an orbicular, and thus laid a basis for our accounting for the regular movements of the heavenly bodies,* a subject upon which we shall enter to a certain extent in our next lecture; who, in some degree, anticipated that correct system of colours which nothing but the genius of a Newton could fully develope and explain ;f who, in mathematics, unfolded to us the analytic method of solving a problem,! and in theosophy so far surpassed all the philosophers of his country, in his correct views and sublime descriptions of the Deity, that he seems almost to have drunk of the inspiration of Horeb or of Sinai; and who, in his Timaeus, applies to the wisdom of God, the Xorto^i rot ems—a term which in Hebrew could scarcely be translated by any other word than that of Jevah or Jehovah—»as turas "Whatever Is Essentially Eternal." . Of Pythagoras, it is only necessary to direct the attention to the two following very extraordinary facts, to place him beyond the reach of panegyric; the first of which has occasionally furnished reflection for other writers, though the latter remains unnoticed to the present moment. At an antedate of two thousand two hundred years from the age of Copernicus, this wonderful genius laid the first foundation of the Copernican system, and taught to his disciples that the earth revolves both around her own axis and around the sun; that the latter motion is conducted in an oblique path or zodiac ;| and that the moon is an earth of the same kind as our own, and replete with animals, whose nature, however, he does not venture to describe.1T
The second extraordinary fact to which I allude, is one we have already slightly glanced at, but which must not so cursorily be relinquished; I mean that, in ascribing to the primary or elementary forms of bodies, in their unions with each other, relative proportions so exact, yet so diversified, that forms and numbers may be employed as synonymes or convertible terms, he has exhibited so close a coincidence with one of the latest and most surprising discoveries of the present day, that though I dare not call it an anticipation, I
* Galilei Dlscorsi i Dituostrarioni Matematlche, p. S54, ita Leyd, 1638. Dutens, Origins des Decou ▼cries, &c. p. 90, 4to. Lond. 1796.
t Plut. de Flacitis Philos. lib. i. cap. 15, p. TL Dutens, ut supr. p. 101.
t Dutens, nt supr. p. 251. $ Plutarch. in Tim. lib. ill. 54. S7.
|| Plutarch, de Placitis, lib. Hi. cap. 11. 13. Diog. Laert. lib. viil. sect. 85. Copernicus himself admits that he derived his first hint of the earth's motion from Nicetas, a follower of Pythagoras. Vide his address to Paul nX
IT Plutarch, de Placit. Ctcer. Acad. Qutest. lib. iv. p. 984, col. 1. Something of this doctrine Is to be fbund kt the Orphic Hymn. Prod, de Orpheo, lib. Iv. la Timeum, p. 154.