« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Think you Galvani dreamed that his discovery was the first step to so magnificent results? Dare we, even at this day, assign limits to the benefits mankind may yet derive from it?
One more example, drawn from another department of science. The immortal John Kepler was regarded by his contemporaries as an enthusiast, wrapped up in futile dreams about the celestial harmonies, raked from the ashes of the Pythagorean philosophy.Without friends, without assistance, without sympathy, chilled by poverty, and emaciated by hunger, he toiled on in his abstruse investigations. Mark him at his midnight study. The agony of intense thought is thrilling along his trembling nerves. Anon a ray from the light of truth darts through the shadows of doubt that envelop his mind, and see how his eye flashes with unearthly joy! how his breast dilates with excessive emotion! Hope renewed, still on he toils. Look again. The day is dawning. The morning twilight streaks the east. The clouds of uncertainty vanish from his mind, and truth's bright sun pours a full blaze of light upon his soul. He starts up in transport, and exclaims, "Nothing can restrain me; I yield to the sacred phrensy; I have stolen the golden vessels of the Egyptians, and I will build of them a tabernacle to my God." He has written a book—a book which he knows the coming generations will read, though it fall unnoticed upon his own. He is content "it should wait a century for a reader, if God had waited six thousand years for an observer."* And long after the sublime soul of Kepler had fled from the discordances of earth, to listen in heaven to the harmonies of the spheres, his book did find a reader. Newton rose, and the three laws of Keplert were the basis on which he reared his own stupendous fabric.
If an apology is necessary for devoting so much time to the discussion of utility as a motive to exertion in scientific pursuits, it may be found in the tendencies of our own age and people. My aim has been to give the motive due consideration, but to hold it always subordinate to the love of truth. In the breast of the real philosopher truth holds an empire whose throne no aspirant can usurp. In her revered presence he breathes a purer atmosphere, and is illuminated with a clearer light. When he has discovered a new fact, or a new law, he feels that he has approached one step nearer to that infinite intelligence which he can never reach. But the feeling is not one of pride or self-exaltation. At every step of his advance he has a wider view of the immensity of that untrodden space which still separates him from Omniscience. He regards the laws of nature as the Creator's modes of operation in the material world. The study of nature, then, is the study of God, and the knowledge of his relations to the material world is the knowledge of his physical relations to the great Author of all. Humility and awe penetrate and pervade his soul as in the palpable presence of Divinity.
Another class of motives to physical studies is drawn from the
* Si ignoscitis, gaudebo; si succensetis, feram; jacio in aleam, librumque scribo, seu presentibus, seu posteris legendum, nihil interest; expectet ille suum lectorem per annos centum; si Deus ipse per annorum sena millia contemplatorem præstolatus est.-Harmonices Mundi, Præmium, lib v.
+ Regulæ Kepleri. 1. The planets move in ellipses of which the sun is in one of the foci. 2. The radii vectores describe equal sectors in equal times. 3. The squares of the times of revolution of the planets are as the cubes of their mean distances from the sun.
beneficial effect of these studies upon the mind. And allow me here to remark, these motives address themselves with peculiar force to young men whose mental and moral habits are not yet perfectly formed, and to those, if any be present, who are still hesitating as to their future pursuits, and the kind of mental training suited to the work of preparation. In this connection I shall briefly consider the influence of the study of nature, first, upon the intellectual, and, secondly, upon the moral character.
That formation of intellectual habits, usually called mental discipline, is more important to the scholar than the actual amount of knowledge acquired during a course of study. This discipline is the foundation on which he is to erect his superstructure. It enables him to pursue, by his own unaided powers, any science, and to investigate any subject to which he may apply himself in future life. It teaches him to command his attention, to concentrate his strength, and to remove the obstacles he meets with by patient reliance on his own resources. Doubtless every department of study, rigidly and faithfully pursued, is favorable to this discipline. But the science of nature seems peculiarly adapted to the cultivation of those habits of thought and reasoning which fit men for the duties and emergencies of this plain, matter-of-fact world in which they live. It is a science in which the most perfect order, method, and system prevail; and which deals in realities, rather than abstractions and hypotheses in things which are, rather than things which might be, or which we imagine ought to be. It exercises the faculties which men have most frequent occasion to employ in the affairs of life. Attention, memory, judgment, and the powers of analysis and classification, it calls into constant and vigorous action. It suffers us not to indulge in speculative vagaries, which
"Lead to bewilder and dazzle to blind."
Its logic never teaches sophistry for reasoning, nor permits us to contend for victory rather than truth. In fine, if careful observation of phenomena, diligent collection and collation of facts, accurate delineation of properties, bold induction and far-reaching generalization can prepare the mind for noble achievements, then, without question, the man who has studied and understood the relations established by the Creator in the natural world, will be most competent to trace and illustrate the laws impressed by the same Being on the world of mind and morals. The science of mind is yet brooded by the incubus of scholastic philosophy. And if MIND is ever to be extricated from the labyrinth of logomachies which have been piled above and around her, NATURE must furnish the thread that shall guide her to the light.
I have condensed my remarks on the influence of physical studies upon the intellect, that I might have a more reasonable claim to your indulgence while I dilate more upon their moral influence. If we examine the lives and character of men eminent in natural science, we shall find them, with rare exceptions, conspicuous for moral integrity. In Linnæus, in Werner, in our own lamented Godman, and in many others who have made the study of nature the business of their lives, we are charmed with a simplicity of manners, a kindness of heart, a purity of sentiment, an elevation of principle, and an integrity of purpose, which seem to have been
nurtured and matured by the pursuits to which they were devoted. There is in these studies an innocence, a silent, unobserved, but constant influence, which purifies the soul from the gross and sensual, and surrounds it with a healthful moral atmosphere. The habits of mind formed by contemplation of the order and harmony of nature readily extend to the observance and love of those moral harmonies in which virtue consists.
After the love of virtue, the next strongest restraint from vice is the fear of punishment. Though a man have no desire to practice virtue for her own sake, if he understand the laws of his physical being, he knows that every violation of these laws will be followed, sooner or later, by inevitable and severe retribution. It is just as certain that habits of licentiousness, intemperance, or excess of any kind will introduce derangement into the physical economy as that a dose of arsenic will cause pain and death. But he who is ignorant of those laws may give loose reins to passion and appetite, and if he escape present suffering may think he is safe. He knows not that from the seed he is now sowing will spring up, as from the fabled dragon's teeth, an armed host to torment his advancing years. He rushes on blindly, and therefore has nothing to restrain him. The man of science, on the contrary, when perhaps no principle of moral goodness would be strong enough to deter him, might be held back from ruin by his knowledge that the day of reckoning, though late, must come.
Again: the principle of curiosity is a part of our constitution, and its moral tendency depends on the character of the objects of its gratification. Directed to frivolous or vicious objects, its perverted strength becomes a fearful instrument of moral desolation. Its victim listens to the tongue of slander, and forthwith his own drips with the same venom. He enters among scenes of expensive amusement and corrupting pleasure. He looks on vice to assure himself of her deformity, and then clasps her to his familiar bosom. Over every new form of wickedness and crime the morbid principle gloats with insatiate delight. But nature, from her varied storehouse, can furnish aliment to keep curiosity ever active, yet ever healthy. Is it pleased with simple and quiet beauty? The rivers, the groves, the fields, and hills teem with unnumbered objects for its innocent gratification. Does it love the grand and the terrific? The tornado, the earthquake, and the volcano will satisfy it. Does it seek the new and the romantic? The vast volume of entire nature is a novel that never cloys; and whether we view the skill of the plot, the variety of incidents, the fitness of the arrangement, or the beauty of the illustrations, we find the book unsurpassed and inimitable. Does curiosity delight to roam with the antiquary among the monuments of ages past? Nature reveals wonders older than man himself. And if there is a noble pleasure in examining coins and medals, deciphering inscriptions, and surveying ruins, which are the only authentic annals of some remote age and country, how much nobler to read the hieroglyphics imprinted on the everlasting hills by the finger of God himself! to study the wrecks of ancient worlds, the relics of organic bodies, which, long before "man was seen walking with countenance erect," filled the air, the earth, and the waters with the hum of joyous life, the voices of love, and the conflicts of carnivorous belligerents! Champolion sought the secrets of four thousand
years in the tombs of buried Pharaohs; but the sublimer genius of Cuvier untombed and translated the records of the world, compared with which the learning of Egypt was a bawble of yesterday; and
"Backward to the birth
And in the mingled mass of earth
Curiosity delves in the ashes of Pompeii and Herculaneum for specimens of ancient art and illustrations of ancient customs. But in the study of nature it has a wider scope; to unbury the history of extinct races of animated beings, and to trace the gradual progress of this residence of man from its primitive chaos to order, consistence, and solidity. Curiosity numbers the broken columns of the Parthenon, measures the dimensions of the Coliseum, and admires the sculptured relics of Phidias and Praxiteles. But nature shows the grander architecture of the mountains and the bolder sculpture of the rocks. Do men admire the power and perseverance that reared the massy pyramids, and will they not ask what mighty force rent asunder the crust of the globe, and upheaved mountains, islands, and continents from the bed of the primeval ocean? In contemplation of such a succession of existences and convulsions we feel that man is indeed "of yesterday, and knoweth nothing." We seem to wander through eternity, to explore the secrets of creation, yea, almost to hold converse with the "Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters."
The study of natural science is also favorable to virtue, because it opens to the aspiring a safe path to honorable reputation. The desire of distinction, so strong in most men, if directed to proper objects, and restricted within the necessary bounds, is certainly right and commendable. A writer whose political career has excited much more notice than his poetry, has said,
"Teach not your children then to shun ambition,
To deeds of virtue and of glory turn."
This principle of action, however, often leads through devious and dangerous roads. The prize is sought by some in the mad schemes which agitate and paralyze society; by others, in the clamors of party strife, in the fierce conflicts for political aggrandizement, and in the perilous struggle for military renown. But all these paths are thickly set with snares; and few, very few pass through them unscathed. Even literary pursuits have wrecked the morals of many a brilliant genius, and left melancholy monuments of perverted talents. Before a young man rushes into the midst of temptation, and, boastful of his fancied strength, deems that virtue worthless which has been nurtured where no motives to forsake her are confronted, he well may pause.
But in the study of nature the aspirant for distinction meets few temptations to deviate from moral rectitude. Here he may attain his end without sacrificing integrity to selfishness. Here he need not fear to be honest, lest he should not become honorable. Better would it be for the young men of our country, and for our country itself, were they less eager to plunge into the whirlpool of politics and speculation. There the race is not always to the swift, nor the
battle to the strong. He often wins who makes the most irreparable of all sacrifices to his object—the sacrifice of principle. But here merit is sure of its recompense-a recompense, too, unsullied by the shadow of remorse. There, if success attend him, he will sit on those tarnished seats of honor to which, perhaps, a reptile has wormed his tortuous way before him, and where he must feel degraded as a man by the measures he is compelled to advocate as a partisan. Here he can walk erect in the proud integrity of virtue, gain a name more enviable than the civic crown of the modern demagogue, secure pleasures which wealth can never purchase, and reap rewards compared with which the soldier's laurel, reeking with tears and blood, withers and fades.
An objection has been sometimes urged against physical studies, that they lead to infidelity; and a catalogue of the names of infidel philosophers has been arrayed to support the charge. To this it may be answered, if the question is to be settled by the authority of names, the charge can be easily met. For every name of an eminent natural philosopher who has rejected Christianity, we can produce two equally eminent who have embraced and defended it. The argument, however, seems to be defective. When it is alleged that certain philosophers were unbelievers, unless it can be proved that their favorite studies made them so, we cannot infer that the same studies have a tendency to make others so. But where is the proof that the pursuit of physical studies was the cause of unbelief in any one of these philosophers? If the argument prove any thing, it proves too much. Let us apply it to other cases, and see to what it would lead. It was stated a few years since that all the professors of theology in a celebrated German university were infidels: therefore theological studies lead to infidelity! Unbelievers have been found in every department of philosophy: therefore all science leads to infidelity! If to correct the gross ideas entertained by many of God, his attributes, and his works, and to eradicate superstitious and ridiculous notions from the minds of men, lead to infidelity, then indeed these, in common with all liberal studies, do lead to infidelity. Science has certainly uprooted many absurd and foolish opinions, and made men rational on a variety of subjects. Superstition once saw in the secret arts of magic the agency of invisible demons. Science has exhibited the same phenomena, and given their simple and obvious rationale. Superstition regarded thunder as the rumbling of the chariot wheels of Jupiter careering in the clouds and hurling his bolts upon the affrighted earth. Science has shown that this sound is produced by the concussion of the air after the passage of the electrical discharge. Superstition looked upon comets as the terrific harbingers of impending calamities. Science has shown them to be harmless as the planets, and obedient to the same laws, Superstition saw in the aurora borealis the conflicts of embattled armies, the flickering of crimson swords, and "garments rolled in blood." Science declares this phenomenon to be caused by the passage of diffused electricity through the rarefied regions of the atmosphere. Superstition believed the earthquake portentous of wrath, when Olympus trembled beneath the rod of its despot. Science demonstrates that it is caused by the operation of subterranean agents, in accordance with chimical laws. But while science refers these phenomena to natural laws, she teaches men to stop