תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

sponsible to the great demands, and all commanding voice, of the sensitive and intelligent world. The conflicting opinions, which have been formed in different ages, upon tbe nature of man, are demonstrative of extreme imbecility and superstition on the one haud --and the extreme of pbilosophic penetration on the other. The current opinion has always been, that man is not at home, that he is a mere bird of passage--that terrestrial attachments partake of false. hoods, ignorance, infirmities, and religious heresies; his judgment being thus warped in the early stages of his existence, a manly refutation became extremely impracticable. The world, however, has not been without its benevoleot pbilosopbers, who have perpetually invited man to reflect upon bis own powers—to contemplate his moral and physical predicament in the universe. Censure and calumpy, it is true, have been heaped with a liberal hand upon the benefactors of mankind; but calumny is nothing to a great and good mind conscious of the faithful performance of its duty. The records of antiquity present imperfectly to our views the state of the human mind and the results of its activity in Egypt, Persia, Hindostan, China, Greece, and Rome.

The opinions which were entertained by the pbilosophers of those countries, concerning the vature of existence and the predicament of man in the universe, will stand as renerable testimonies in favour of the strength of genius, and of the bold integrity of intellect. Plato, Pythagoras, Zhericedes, among the Greeks, were men whose minds were elevated far above common follies and prejudices; they perceived, in the organic structure of the universe, the character of immortal mechavism; but they discovered, at the same time, in the dissolution of subordinale parts, the coessential and the coeternal relationship of the wbole material world.

From the Island of Japan, to the centre of the Roman Empire, similar opinions formerly prevajled, upon the subject of philosophy. The doctrine was not the transmigration of souls: but the transmutation of matter. The pyramids of Egypt, those stupendous fabrics of human folly, and get the source of fruitful reflection to all contemplative travellers, were built upon the plan of the transmutation of all the bodies in the universe. Th: royal tyrants, whose remains were there deposited, holding in contempt all other animals, and even their own species, thought, by this method, to seclude themselves from all subsequent intercourse with the animal world. Preposterous and fallacious expectation!

They knew nothing of the power and activity of matter. Its subtile qualities escaped the vigilance of their discernment, and they fancied themselves armed against the energetic and diffusive operations of nature, by the magnificent structures of wbich they had been the authors. When the spirit of the Christian theology infused itself into modern Europe, it gave birth to a general sentiment, hostile to the philosophy of ancient times. The Chinese, the Persian, the Egyptian, even the Greeks and Romans, all were denounced as damnable beretics, and the church was warned against a reception of such detestable doctrines. “ Beware,” says the great apostle of fanaticism,“ lest any mr.an spoil you through pbilosophy aud vain deceit.” This single sentence demonstrates in wbat contempt some of the pbilosopbic opinions of former ages were holden by the propagators of Christianity. These first abettors of the celestial Jesus, ignorant of pbilosophy themselves, despised both the appearance and the reality of it in others; they sougbt to traduce its dignified character, and they make a powerful effort to drive it out of the world. The new sect of Christians, with its subsequent and subor. dinate divisions, was not without success in its fanatic struggle against reason and sound philosophy. Fifteen centuries of moral darkness, under the reign of Christianity, is irrefutable evidence in favour of this assertion. The revival of learning in Europe was soon followed by the resuscitation of thought in the intellectual powers of the civilized world. It will be perceived, that a distinction is here made between learning and pbilosopbic reflection; a man may profess a profundity of erudition, and yet remain wholly destitute of ihose bigh and exalted energies of mind wbich lead to independent thought, and a contemplative survey of the character and essential properties of all existence. The opinions, which have been generated in modern times, from a combination of historic knowledge with the active principle of intellect, are coincident, in a high degree, with the philosophic doctrives prevalent anterior to the establishment of Christianity. The properties of matter, and the results of its combination, were better understood by ancient pbilosophers, and by them more clearly developed, than the qualities of any other subject. The object, here, is not to eulogize antiquity, nor to extol its supposed scientific preeminence. C'pou many important subjects, such as the science of politics, mechanical philosophy, and astronomy, the present age is far superior to that of any other, of which history has given us any account. Thoughiful and contemplative men, however, who have, in modern times, surveyed the system of the material world, recognize the same truths as were developed in former ages by many philosophers of the eastern bemisphere. Britain and France have been most conspicuous in producing men whose minds were elevated far above common prejudices. These men saw, with great acuteness of intellectual power, the character and essential properties of existence, and some of them have not been afraid to speak in the language of bold and unqualified truth upon this subject. Hume and Bolingbroke understood the properties of the material world, and the relationship existing between the parts and the whole; but they qualified, in some instances, their publications, in order, no doubt, to guard against the acrimonious resentment of current and popular opinion. In some instances, they might have been deficient in their knowledge of real trutb; but, in general, they took a comprebensive view of the system of nature, and ascribed to it those interual powers and essential energies, which have produced all the astonishing varieties surveyed by the thoughtful mind of man. The French philosopbers were not bebind these heretical luminaries in the bold disclosure of important truths, and their opinions, with some slight shade of difference, are presumed to be the same with those formerly propagated by Pythagoras among the Greeks, and by Antoninus among the Romans. Of all the men, bowever, whose pbilosophic researches have extended the farthest into the properties of the material world, John Stewart*, a celebrated traveller of the present day, a single individual who has dared to despise all compromise with prejudices, appears to be entitled to the highest estimation. He possesses a bold, contemplative and energetic understanding, and his enquiries into the nature of the human mind, the qualities of the material world, and the connection subsisting between the parts and the whole, have never been equalled by any individual, either in ancient or in modern times. · If there has been, for nearly four thousand years, a coincidence of opiniou upon some of the prominent subjects of a philosophic kind, it is fair to presume, that the present consoling opportunity of diffusing knowledge will, ere long, give a stability to some fundamental truths, which no occurrence hereafter will be able to shake or destroy. The properties of the material world being well understood, and the predicament of man in the universe well ascertained, it will follow of course, that moral and po

* Died in London, in 1822.-Editor.

litical institutions must conform to facts, and be ultimately regulated by a spirit of truth and public utility.

CHAPTER II. Constitution of man, competency of his powers to answer all the im

portant purposes of human life, influence of civil and ecclesiasti

cul despotism upon the useful activity of these powers. Man is an organized being whose existence has resulted from the powers of the physical universe; he is supported by its vital energies, and he is destined for ever to co-operate in some shape or form with every other part of nature. Medical anatomists have, at last, been successful in dissecting the physical constitution of man, in explaining the just relationship of tbe parts, in discovering the sources of vitality and the causes of premature or ultimate dissolution. These anatomical disquisitions and developements have led to a clearer view of the intellectual properties of our existence; the source of thought has been recognized, and if it has not been striped of all its occult modes of operation, it has at least lost one half of the ancient mysteriousness of its character. The brain is the sublimated fountain of cogitation; it is here that we must look for the subtilty of thought, with all its electrical celerity of action. The spiritual anatomists object to this depositary of intellectual energy, and refer us to a variety of theological considerations, beyond the sphere of human experience and repugnant to all rational belief. Sometimes, we are told, that divinity breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul; at other times, that he is part of the divinity itself, and that, after the dissolution of the body, this spiritual substance will again be incorporated with its celestial author and become essentially united with the almighty mind. These religious reveries, in proportion as they were inconsistent with the laws of pature, infallibly led the bulk of mankind astray from truth, and prevented a clear discernment of the most important facts. Hypothesis was substituted for demonstrable principle, and every well informed man is acquainted with the pecessary consequences and destructive results.

The world, under this new theological dispensation, became filled with ghosts, angels, fairies, witches, and demons of every kind and description; the reality of existence became a subject of sceptical confidence, and the world was overwhelmed with a host of immaterial nonentities, Religion always and only triumphs when she becomes unintelligible. Matter cannot think, said certain theologists and philosophers; they might as well have said, that matter cannot act, for thinking is only the fiuer action of matter. That all matter is possessed of an inherent power of action, is now a doctrine which boldly challenges all logical refutation, even with the assistauce of a sacred and supernatural theology. There is not a single particie of dead matter in the universe, all is action, all is life; but in various and different degrees according to circumstances, locality, and combination.

Vegetable organism is inferior to that of man or animals; but the structure of vegetables is evidently an effect of the regular and combining powers of matter. Each particle proceeds with a steady step to take its destined position, so long as that species of organic life shall possess a durable character. It is true that every organized body must dissolve; but this dissolution does not affect the inherent properties of the constituent parts. These parts form new relations, contract new alliances, and become susceptible of new pleasures; they are, nevertheless, not lost--they are destined to an immortality of being-to an everlasting routine of combining and dissolving action.

When the constitution of man, as a physical being, shall be well understood, it will be much more easy to develope and render intelligible the moral structure of his existence. This moral structure is so inherently and essentiaily connected with physical organization, that nothing but the grossest superstition, the most profound ignorance, and the most inreterate prejudice, could ever have prevented the buman mind from a clear and comprebensive view of the real truth. Benighted and bewildered, by the mysteries of spiritualisin, thoughtful investigators, into the nature of man, passed over the plainest facts presented to their view by the energetic operations of the intelligeut world. Every thing was recoudite, because every thing was discoloured ; every thing was mysterious, because material combination bad not been thorougbly examined; every thing was involved in the deepest perplexity, because this answered best the nefarious purposes of tbe juggling impostors of the world. It is not necessary to stop here to enquire, whether these impostors consisted of priests, lawyers, physicians, or astrologers; to tbis venerable pbalanx of antiquity, we shall pay suitable respect, before we come to the close of the present work. It is sufficient, here, to note them as the prominent agents of that

« הקודםהמשך »