Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

who has been disposed to devote many years to the labour of illustrating this topic, has need of the earnest support of all who prize the truth; and, considering the extent and profundity of his subject, his work, at the best, must be very imperfect, requiring all the forbearance, and even the generosity of criticism.

In the intellectual infancy of a savage state, Man transfers to Nature his conceptions of himself, First opinions and, considering that every thing he does is of savage life. determined by his own pleasure, regards all passing events as depending on the arbitrary volition of a superior but invisible power. He gives to the world a constitution like his own. His tendency is necessarily to superstition. Whatever is strange, or powerful, or vast, impresses his imagination with dread. Such objects are only the outward manifestations of an indwelling spirit, and therefore worthy of his veneration.

After Reason, aided by Experience, has led him forth from these delusions as respects surrounding things, he still clings to his original ideas as respects objects far removed. In the distance and irresistible motions of the stars he finds arguments for the supernatural, and gives to each of those shining bodies an abiding and controlling genius. The mental phase through which he is passing permits him to believe in the exercise of planetary influences on himself.

But as reason led him forth from fetichism, so in due time it again leads him forth from star-worship. Fetichism Perhaps not without regret does he abandon the displaced by mythological forms he has created; for, long

star-worship. after he has ascertained that the planets are nothing more than shining points, without any perceptible influence on him, he still venerates the genii once supposed to vivify them, perhaps even he exalts them into immortal gods.

Philosophically speaking, he is exchanging by ascending degrees his primitive doctrine of arbitrary volition for the doctrine of law. As the fall of a stone, the flowing of a river, the movement of a shadow, the rustling of a leaf, have been traced to physical causes, to like causes at last are traced the revolutions of the stars. In events and

The idea of

tion to the

scenes continually increasing in greatness and grandeur, he is detecting the dominion of law. The goblins, and

genii, and gods who successively extorted his government fear and veneration, who determined events by by law.

their fitful passions or whims, are at last displaced by the noble conception of one Almighty Being, who rules the universe according to reason, and therefore according to law.

In this manner the doctrine of government by law is extended, until at last it embraces all natural events. It was thus that, hardly two centuries ago, that doctrine gathered immense force from the discovery of Newton that Its applica

Kepler's laws, under which the movements of the

planetary bodies are executed, issue as a mathesolar system. matical necessity from a very simple material condition, and that the complicated motions of the solar system cannot be other than they are. Few of those who read in the beautiful geometry of the Principia'the demonstration of this fact, saw the imposing philosophical consequences which must inevitably follow this scientific discovery. And now the investigation of the aspect of the skies in past ages, and all predictions of its future, rest essentially upon the principle that no arbitrary volition ever intervenes, the gigantic mechanism moving impassively in accordance with a mathematical law.

And so upon the earth, the more perfectly we understand the causes of present events, the more plainly are they seen to be the consequences of physical conditions, and And to terres- therefore the results of law. To allude to one

example out of many that might be considered, the winds, how proverbially inconstant, who can tell whence they come or whither they go ! If

any thing bears the fitful character of arbitrary volition, surely it is these. But we deceive ourselves in imagining that atmospheric events are fortuitous. Where shall a line be drawn between that eternal trade-wind, which, originating in well-understood physical causes, sweeps, like the breath of Destiny, slowly, and solemnly, and everlastingly over the Pacific Ocean, and the variable gusts into which it degenerates in more northerly and southerly regionsgusts which seem to come without any cause, and to pass

trial events.

away without leaving any trace? In what latitude is it that the domain of the physical ends, and that of the supernatural begins ?

All mundane events are the results of the operation of law. Every movement in the skies or upon the earth proclaims to us that the universe is under government.

But if we admit that this is the case, from the mote that floats in the sunbeam to multiple stars revolving round each other, are we willing to carry our principles to, their consequences, and recognise a like operation of law among living as among lifeless things, in the organic as well as the inorganic world? What testimony does physiology offer on this point ?

Physiology, in its progress, has passed through the same phases as physics. Living beings have been considered as beyond the power of external influences, and, conspicuously among them, Man has been affirmed And to the orto be independent of the forces that rule the ganic world. world in which he lives. Besides that immaterial principle, the soul, which distinguishes him from all his animated companions, and makes him a moral and responsible being, he has been feigned, like them, to possess another immaterial principle, the vital agent, which, in a way of its own, carries forward all the various operations in his economy.

But when it was discovered that the heart of man is constructed upon the recognised rules of hydraulics, and with its great tubes is furnished with common mechanical contrivances, valves; when it was discovered Especially to that the eye has been arranged on the most re- man. fined principles of optics, its cornea, and humours, and lens properly converging the rays to form an image-its iris, like the diaphragm of a telescope or microscope, shutting out stray light, and also regulating the quantity admitted; when it was discovered that the ear is furnished with the means of dealing with the three characteristics of sotind—its tympanum for intensity, its cochlea for pitch, its semicircular canals for quality; when it was seen that the air brought into the great air-passages by the descent of the diaphragm, calling into play atmospheric pressure, is conveyed upon physical principles into

In social as well as individual life.

the ultimate cells of the lungs, and thence into the blood, producing chemical changes throughout the system, disengaging heat, and permitting all the functions of organic life to go on; when these facts and very many others of a like kind were brought into prominence by modern physiology, it obviously became necessary to admit that animated beings do not constitute the exception once supposed, and that organic operations are the result of physical agencies.

If thus, in the recesses of the individual economy, these natural agents bear sway, must they not operate in the social economy too? Has the great shadeless desert nothing to do with the

habits of the nomade tribes who pitch their tents upon it—the fertile plain no connection with

flocks and pastoral life-the mountain fastnesses with the courage that has so often defended them—the sea with habits of adventure ? Indeed, do not all our expectations of the stability of social institutions rest upon our belief in the stability of surrounding physical conditions ? From the time of Bodin, who nearly three hundred years ago published his work 'De Republica,' these principles have been well recognized : that the laws of Nature cannot be subordinated to the will of Man, and that government must be adapted to climate. It was these things which led him to the conclusion that force is best resorted to for northern nations, reason for the middle, and superstition for the southern.

In the month of March the sun crosses the equator, dispensing his rays more abundantly over our northern hemisphere. · Following in his train, a wave of verdure

expands towards the pole. The luxuriance is in proportion to the local brilliancy. The animal

world is also affected. Pressed forward, or plants.

solicited onward by the warmth, the birds of passage commence their annual migration, keeping pace with the developing vegetation beneath. As summer declines, this orderly advance of light and life is followed by an orderly retreat, and in its turn the southern hemisphere presents the same glorious phenomenon. Once every year the life of the earth pulsates; now there is an

Effects of the seasons on animals and

abounding vitality, now a desolation. But what is the cause of all this? It is only mechanical. The earth's axis of rotation is inclined to the plane of her orbit of revolution round the sun.

Let that wonderful phenomenon and its explanation be a lesson to us; let it profoundly impress us with the importance of physical agents and physical laws. They intervene in the life and death of man personally and socially. External events become interwoven in our constitution; their periodicities create periodicities in us. Day and night are incorporated in our waking and sleeping ; summer and winter compel us to exhibit cycles in our life.

They who have paid attention to the subject have long ago ascertained that the possibility of human Individual existence on the earth depends on conditions existence altogether of a material kind. Since it is only physical conwithin a narrow range of temperature that life ditions. can be maintained, it is needful that our planet should be at a definite mean distance from the source of light and heat, the sun; and that the form of her orbit should be so little eccentric as to approach closely to a circle. If her mass were larger or less than it is, the weight of all living and lifeless things on her surface would no longer be the same; but absolute weight is one of the primary elements of organic construction. A change in the time of her diurnal rotation, as affecting the length of the day and night, must at once be followed by a corresponding modification of the periodicities of the nervous system of animals; a change in her orbitual translation round the sun, as determining the duration of the year, would, in like manner, give rise to a marked effect.

If the year were shorter, we should live faster and die sooner.

In the present economy of our globe, natural agents are relied upon as the means of regulation and of Animal and government. Through heat, the distribution vegetable life and arrangement of the vegetable tribes are by material accomplished; through their mutual relations conditions. with the atmospheric air, plants and animals are interbalanced, and neither permitted to obtain a superiority. Considering the magnitude of this condition, and its

« AnteriorContinuar »