Page images
PDF
EPUB

required to remove but a little dexterity of conduct and readiness of expedients.

No degree of knowledge attainable by man is able to set him above the want of hourly assistance, or to extinguish the desire of fond endearments, and tender officiousness; and therefore, no one should think it unnecessary to learn those arts by which friendship may be gained. Kindness is preserved by a constant reciprocation of benefits or interchange of pleasures ; but such benefits only can be bestowed, as others are capable of receiving, and such pleasures only imparted, as others are qualified to enjoy.

By this descent from the pinnacles of art no honour will be lost; for the condescensions of learning are always overpaid by gratitude. An elevated genius employed in little things appears, to use the simile of Longinus, like the sun in his evening declination, he remits his splendour but retains his magnitude, and pleases more though he dazzles less.

XXI.-THE PLANETARY AND TERRESTRIAL WORLDS.

To us, who dwell on its surface, the earth is by far the most extensive orb that our eyes can anywhere behold: it is also clothed with verdure, distinguished by trees, and adorned with a variety of beautiful decorations; whereas, to a spectator placed on one of the planets, it wears a uniform aspect, looks all luminous, and no larger than a spot. To beings who dwell at still greater distances, it entirely disappears. That which we call alternately the morning and the evening star-as in one part of the orbit she rides foremost in the procession of night; in the other, ushers in and anticipates the dawn-is a planetary world; which, with the five others that so wonderfully vary their mystic dance, are in themselves dark bodies, and shine only by reflection ; have fields, and seas, and skies of their own; are furnished with all accommodations for animal subsistence, and are supposed to be the abodes of intellectual life: all which, together with

our earthly habitation, are dependent on that grand dispenser of divine munificence, the sun; receive their light from the distribution of his rays, and derive their comfort from his benign agency.

The sun, which seems to perform its daily stages through the sky, is, in this respect, fixed and immovable ; it is the great axle of heaven, about which the globe we inhabit, and other more spacious orbs, wheel their stated courses. The sun, though seemingly smaller than the dial it illuminates, is abundantly larger than this whole earth, on which so many lofty mountains rise, and such vast oceans roll. A line extending from side to side, through the centre of that resplendent orb, would measure more than eight hundred thousand miles: a girdle formed to go round its circumference, would require a length of millions. Were its solid contents to be estimated, the account would overwhelm our understanding, and be almost beyond the power of language to express.

Are we startled at these reports of philosophy ? Are we ready to cry out, in a transport of surprise, “How mighty is the Being who kindled such a prodigious fire; and keeps alive, from age to age, such an enormous mass of flame !" Let us attend our philosophic guides, and we shall be brought acquainted with speculations more enlarged and more inflaming.

This sun, with all its attendant planets, is but a very little part of the grand machine of the universe: every star, though in appearance no bigger than the diamond that glitters upon a lady's ring, is really a vast globe, like the sun in size and in glory ; no less spacious, no less luminous, than the radiant source of day. So that every star is not barely a world, but the centre of a magnificent system ; has a retinue of worlds, irradiated by its beams, and revolving round its attractive influence; all which are lost to our sight in immeasurable wilds of ether. That the stars appear like so many diminutive, and scarcely-distinguishable points, is owing to their immense and inconceivable distance. Immense and inconceivable indeed it is; since a ball, discharged from a cannon, and flying with unabated rapidity, must travel, at this impetuous rate, almost seven hundred thousand years, before it could reach the nearest of these twinkling luminaries.

While, beholding this vast expanse, I learn my own ex. treme meanness, and also discover the abject littleness of all terrestrial things. What is the earth, with all her ostentatious scenes, compared with this astonishingly grand furniture of the skies? What, but a dim speck, hardly perceivable in the map of the universe? It is observed by a very judicious writer, that, if the sun himself, which enlightens this part of the creation, were extinguished, and all the host of planetary worlds, which move about him, were annihilated, they would not be missed by an eye that can take in the whole compass of nature, any more than a grain of sand upon the sea-shore. The bulk of which they consist, and the space which they occupy, are so exceedingly little in comparison of the whole, that their loss would scarcely leave a blank in the immensity of God's works. If then, not our globe only, but this whole system, be so very diminutive, what is a kingdom or a country? What are a few lordships, or the so-much admired patrimonies of those who are styled wealthy? When I measure them with my own little pittance, they swell into proud and bloated dimensions ; but, when I take the universe for my standard, how scanty is their size! how contemptible their figure! They shrink into pompous nothings.

XXII.-THE PLEASURES OF SCIENCE.

To pass our time in the study of the sciences, has, in all ages, been reckoned one of the most dignified and happy of human occupations; and the name of philosopher, or lover of wisdom, is given to him who leads such a life. But it is by no means necessary that a man should do nothing else than study known truths, and explore new, in order to earn this high title. Some of the greatest philosophers, in all ages, have been engaged in the pursuits of active life ; and he who, in whatever station his lot may be cast, prefers the refined and elevating pleasures of knowledge, to the low gratification of the senses, richly deserves the name of a Philosopher.

It is easy to show that there is a positive gratification resulting from the study of the sciences. If it be a pleasure to gratify curiosity-to know what we are ignorant of_to bave our feelings of wonder called forth; how pure a delight of this very kind does natural science hold out to its students! Recollect some of the extraordinary discoveries of mechanical philosophy. Observe the extraordinary truths which optical science discloses. Chemistry is not behind in its wonders ; and yet these are trifling when compared to the prodigies which astronomy opens to our view: the enormous masses of the heavenly bodies; their immense distances; their countless numbers; and their motions, whose swiftness mocks the uttermost efforts of the imagination. Then, if we raise our view to the structure of the heavens, we are again gratified with tracing accurate, but most unexpected resemblances. Is it not in the highest degree interesting to find that the power which keeps the earth in its shape, and in its path wheeling round the sun, extends over all the other worlds that compose the universe, and gives to each its proper place and motion; that the same power keeps the moon in her path round the earth ; that the same power causes the tides upon our earth, and the peculiar form of the earth itself ;and that, after all, it is the same power which makes a stone fall to the ground ? To learn these things, and to reflect upon them, produces certain as well as pure gratification.

We are raised, by science, to an understanding of the infinite wisdom and goodness, which the Creator has displayed in all his works. Not a step can we take in any direction without perceiving the most extraordinary traces of design ;

and the skill everywhere conspicuous, is calculated, in so vast a proportion of instances, to promote the happiness of living creatures—and especially of ourselves—that we feel no hesitation in concluding, if we knew the whole scheme of Providence, every part would appear to be in harmony with a plan of absolute benevolence. Independently, however, of this most consoling inference, the delight is inexpressible of being able to follow, as it were with our eyes, the marvellous works of the Great Architect of nature, and to trace the unbounded power and exquisite skill which are exhibited in the most minute, as well as in the mightiest parts of his system.

XXIII.--DEPENDENCE ON PROVIDENCE.

REGARD the world with cautious eye,
Nor raise your expectations high ;
See that the balanced scale be such,
You neither fear nor hope too much,
For disappointment's not the thing;
'Tis pride and passion point the sting.
Life is a sea where storms must rise :
'Tis folly talks of cloudless skies ;
He who contracts his swelling sail,
Eludes the fury of the gale.

Be still, nor anxious thoughts employ ;
Distrust embitters present joy;
On God for all events depend;
You cannot want when God's

your

friend.
Weigh well your part, and do your best ;
Leave to your Maker all the rest.
The hand which form’d thee in the womb,
Guides from the cradle to the tomb.

Can the fond mother slight her boy;
Can she forget her prattling joy?

« PreviousContinue »