« AnteriorContinuar »
for a concourse of unintelligent atoms can never produce intelligence; but if 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 I 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 pure! 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 Kndra! thou artPrajapat! thou art De'ionta! 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 !"J
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,fyof which I will beg your acceptance of the following version:— From God we spring, whom man can never trace, Though seen, heard, tasted, felt in every place;
The loneliest path, by mortal seldom trod
So iEschylus, in a passage still stronger in point, and imbued with the full
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 midune!, uli proceedsfrom Jove. Female is Jove, immortal Jove is male;
Jove the broad earth—the heaven's irradiate pale. Jove in ihe boundless spirit, Jove ihe (ire
That warms the world with feeling and desire.
Tire sea is Jnve, the sun, the lunar ball;
Jove kiuft supreme, the sovereign source of all. All power is his; to him all glory give, For his vast form embiacca all that live.t
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'lmmortalile 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
* 'Err Aids aax&ficoBciy rdv oirViror' ivjpcc tuptv
t Ztvs lariv aiOitp,
t ZcOc irprLroc ynho, Ztis tararos AwtKt^vttr
the great doctrines of a future state and the immortality of the soul. In our own day we allow to it a very liberal extent of bold imagery and poetic license, and with such allowance it may be perused without mischief; but a few verses alone are sufficient to prove its evil bearing, if strictly and literally nterpreted. The following distich, for example, beautiful as it is in itself, discloses the very quintescence of Spinosism —
AH nrebnt nans of one stupendous whntc, Whose body nature is, and God the soul:and the general result drawn from the entire passage, which is too long to be quoted, is no less so:— In spite of pride, In erring reason's spite, One truth is clear, Whatever Is, Is Riuht.
If every thing be right at present, there is no necessity for a day of correction or retribution hereafter; and the chief argument afforded by nature in favour of a future existence is swept away in a moment. Unite the propositions contained in these two couplets, and illustrated through the whole poem, and it follows that the universe is God, and God the universe; that amid all the moral evils of life, the sufferings of virtue, and the triumphs of vice, it is in vain to expect any degree of compensation or adjustment in a future state; every thing being but an individual part of one stupendous whole, which could not possibly exist otherwise; and that the only consolation which remains for us under the pressure of pain or calamity is, that if we are not at ease, there are others that are so—that if our own country is devoured by war, or desolated by pestilence, there are countries remote from us that know nothing of such afflictions—that the general good is superior to the general evil, and made to flow from it, and, consequently, that whatever is, is right —
If plagues nnd finrthquak.es break not Heaven's design, Why then a Borgia or a Catiline?The Third Hypothesis to which I have referred, is that of the idealists, or those who maintain that there is no such thing as a material or external world; that the existence of man consists of nothing more than impressions and ideas, T of pure incorporeal spirit, which surveys every thing in the same unsubstantial manner as the visions of a dream. Some of the tenets of Malbranche appear to have a tendency to this theory; but it has been chiefly developed in modern times by Bishop Berkeley and Mr. Hume. Their premises are indeed somewhat different, but their conclusion is the same; excepting that the argument is pressed much farther by the latter than was ever intended by the former, and leads to more dangerous consequences. In Germany, Professor Kant has allowed a part of this tenet, as well as parts of various other tenets,f to enter into his system, or that which he chooses to distinguish by the name of the Transcendental Philosophy, and which not long since bade fair to obtain a universal sway over the Continent, though for some years it has appeared to be considerably declining in its reputation. It was my intention to have traced the origin of the ideal hypothesis, and to have pointed out its sophisms, but our time will not allow me; and it is the less necessary, as I shall have an opportunity, on a future occasion, of reverting to all these various conjectures and examining them at full length.J But why, after all, is it necessary to support the proposition, that "nothing can spring from nothing?" Why may not something spring from nothing, when the proposition is applied to Omnipotence f may be answered, perhaps, because it is a self-contradiction, an impossibility, an absurdity. This, however, is only to argue in a circle; for why is it a self-contradiction, or an impossibility T "It is impossible," said M. Leibnitz, "for a thing to be
* Bee the author's Prnlesomenn to his translation of the Nature of Things, p. crxvL
t Deeerando, Ilistnire Cumpaiee des Syslemeade Philosophie, mm. it. 17.
% Sun ttw wttbur'a Prokgomcna, ot gnura, p.luviik
and not to be at the same time." This impossibility I admit; because, to assert the contrary, would imply a self-contradiction absolute and universal, founded upon the very nature of things, and consequently applicable to Omnipotence itself. But the position that " nothing can spring from nothing" is of a very different character: it is necessarily true when applied to man, but it is not necessarily true when applied to God. Instead of being abiolute and universal, it is relative and limited; the nature of things does not allow us to reason concerning it when its reference is to the latter: and hence we have no authority to say that it is impossible to the Deity; or to maintain that an absolute creation out of nothing by the Deity is an absurdity or self-contradiction. It is absurd to suppose that matter does not exist; it is absurd to suppose that it does exist eternally and independently of the Creator; it is absurd to suppose that it constitutes the Creator himself: but, as it is not absurd to suppose its absolute formation out of nothing by the exercise of an almighty power, and as one of these four propositions must necessarily be true, reason should induce us to embrace the last with the same promptitude with which we reject the other three. So far, indeed, from intimating any absurdity in the idea that matter may be created out of nothing by the interposition of an almighty intelligence, reason seems, on the contrary, rather to point out to us the possibility of an equal creation out of nothing of ten thousand other substances, of which each may be the medium of life and happiness to infinite orders of beings; while every one may, at the same time, be as distinct from every other, as the whole may be from matter, or as matter is from what, without knowing any thing farther of, we commonly denominate spirit. Spirit, as generally used among modern metaphysicians, is, to say the most of it, but a negative term employed to express something that is not matter; but there may be ten thousand somethings, and substrates of being, and moral excellence and felicity, which are not matter, none of which, however, we can otherwise characterize. Yet why, between all or any of these and matter itself, there should be such an utter opposition and discrepancy as was contended for by Des Cartes, and has since been maintained by most metaphysicians, I cannot possibly conjecture; nor conceive why it should be universally thought necessary, as it still appears to be thought, that the essence of the eternal Creator himself must indispensably consist of the essence of some one of the orders of beings whom he has created.—Why may it not be as distinct from that of an archangel as from that of a mortal? from the whole of these various substances, which I have just supposed, and which we cannot otherwise contemplate or characterize than by the negative term Spirit, as it is from matter, which is more immediately submitted to our eyes, and constitutes the substrate of our own being and sensations t
Matter, then, we are compelled to regard as a substance created out of nothing by an intelligent first cause; himself immaterial, self-existent, eternal, and alone; and of matter the whole visible universe is composed. It is arranged and regulated by an extensive code of laws, of which, however, we know but a few; and which give birth to a multiplicity of concrete forms, under which alone we are capable of contemplating it: for no effort has hitherto succeeded in ultimately enucleating the compound and tracing it to its elementary particles. We may divide and subdivide as we please; but when we have followed it up into its subtlest rudiments, its most retiring principles, by the aid of the best glasses which the best art of man can provide for us, we learn no more of the real nature of its primitive essence than we do from an acorn or a pebble. But we are as ignorant of matter in its total scope as we are of it in its elementary particles. We can examine it as it exists in the globe, but the globe on which we tread is but as a drop to the ocean; the earth is surrounded by other planets, by other worlds, by other systems of worlds ; all of which, we have reason to believe, are composed of the same substance, and regulated by the same laws. We stretch out our view on every side, but there are still worlds beyond us; we call in the aid of the best glasses, but they still surpass our reach; till at length we resign ourselves to imagination, and in the confusion of our thoughts and the weakness of our language, we speak of space as being filled, and of matter as being infinite. This view of the subject has given rise to a variety of magnificent speculations, at which I shall just glance, without meaning to dwell upon them. Is all this immensity of matter, this universe of worlds within worlds, and systems within systems, the result of one single fiat of the great Creator t Did the Power that spake it into existence give it from the first the general order and harmony and perfection that prevail at present* or did he merely produce avast central and aggregate chaos, as the rude basis of future worlds, the parent-stock or storehouse from which they have since issued by a series of distinct efforts and evolutions? or, thirdly, has every separate system of worlds, or every separate planet, been the result of a separate birth, and a separate act of creation?
It is of little importance which of these splendid fancies we adopt; for all of them are but fancies, and built upon conjecture alone. In a course of philosophical inquiry, however, it becomes us to be acquainted with their existence; and to be informed, beyond this, that the second is the speculation which has been more generally espoused by philosophers; that, I mean, which conceives the existence of a central and primary chaos, from which all the heavenly bodies have successively proceeded, of whatever kind or description, whether suns, stars, comets, or planets; though the mode by which such efforts have been produced has been variously accounted for. Des Cartes seems to have supposed stars to have preceded planets in the order of creation; and that the earth wa3 at first a star, and continued so till rendered opaque by having its bright surface incrusted with grosser and untransparent matter, and drawn into the vortex of the solar system; and Leibnitz adopted his conjecture. Whiston conceived it to have been originally a comet, the rude materials of which constituted the chaos of the earth; and Buffon, to have consisted of a comet and a portion of the sun's exterior limb or edge carried off by such comet, in consequence of its having given the sun an oblique stroke in the course of its orbit; the chaos of the earth being thus formed by the vapoury substance of the impinging comet uniting with a portion of the sun's igneous mass; and in this manner he endeavoured to account for the production of every other planet of the solar system. But of all this class of speculations (for assuredly they deserve no higher character), the most splendid and comprehensive is that which was first embraced by Dr. Herschel, and was perhaps an improvement on a prior hypothesis of M. Buffon; but which, so precarious is the life of a philosophical hypothesis, he himself discarded, not many years afterward, for something newer. It supposes the existence of an immense mass of opaque but igneous matter, seated in the centre of universal nature; that the sun and every other star were originally portions of this common substance; that it is volcanic in its structure, and subject to eruptions of inconceivable force and violence; that the sun and every other luminary of every other system were thrown forth from it at different times, by the operation of such projectile powers; and that these, possessing in a great degree the qualities of the parent body, threw forth afterward at different times, by means of similar volcanoes, portions of their own substance, each of which, by the common laws of projectiles, assumed an orbicular motion, constituted a distinct planet, and became the chaos of a rising world.* Hence, according to this comprehensive and daring hypothesis, the existing universe has acquired its birth; hence new systems of worlds are perpetually rising into being, and new planets are added to systems already created.
But worlds and systems of worlds are not only perpetually creating, they are also perpetually diminishing and disappearing. It is an extraordinary fact, that within the period of the last century, not less than thirteen stars in different constellations, none of them below the sixth magnitude, seem totally
* rhil. Trans, vol. lixxiv.