Page images

share of protection amongst men eminent by their rank and opulence, and when enjoyed by them in the perfection they sometimes attain, tend to their refinement, and to fix their attention on some principles connected with science, do not, as we believe, in an inferior degree of improvement, when they become the objects of request of the less informed classes of mankind, much conduce to benefit their morals, or to enlighten or strengthen their understandings ; but some of more exact sciences, as chemistry and mechanics, in their most elementary principles, and still more in their advanced state, are equally well calculated to fill up their leisure, and must always help in extending, sharpening, and improving the human intellect, and we think by such powerful authority, might be recommended with success, (not to the total exclusion of other sources of amusement, which is neither possible or to be desired,) but to assist in conducing to their happiness. With such encouragements as these, the improvements in the arts and sciences must be preserved, and soon receive assistance by a gradual augmentation of discoveries. No circumstances lead us to suspect, that experiencing the benefits of the increasing comforts they confer upon us, we should blindly and voluntarily abandon the road which led us to this state of happiness and prosperity. It is, however, an observation founded on unquestionable facts, that some arts and sciences have attained at particular periods of the history of mankind, a high degree of excellence and perfection; and that afterwards, without any marked or obvious cause, they have ceased to advance, have gradually declined, and have sometimes been for ever lost. We do not pretend to the learning that can enable us to remove the difficulties that attend a question filled with intricacy and doubt, but still we think some light may be thrown on the subject, by an attention to the distinction we have before attempted to enforce, between such arts and sciences as are matters of taste and amusement, and such as by their effects promote our comfort, and protect or secure our existence. In the desolation of barbarous wars, when whole nations are eradicated or transplanted, and the habitations of men and means of subsistence are swept away, all learning, sciences, and arts, must necessarily be involved in undistinguished ruin, and were it not that their vestiges have sometimes been impressed on materials, on which human madness had exercised its fury in vain, we might be ignorant they had ever existed : but history affords no example of a nation, that having made considerable progress in sciences and arts serviceable to mankind, and who by experience, had learnt the comforts they added to our existence, ever relinquished without compulsion or necessity their use and their improvement, unless, perhaps, where one art could be better supplied by the adoption of another. The memorials that remain of the ravages of wars throughout the globe, sufficiently account for the disturbance and interruption the progress of such arts have received at all periods since man has been enabled to record his transactions; and although the first principles of sciences cannot be wholly obliterated from the intellect of our species, their improvements, which are always interwoven with a variety of knowledge and dependant on each other for their mutual support, are easily impeded, and when once this embodied system is broken or destroyed, we must again resort to the rudiments of our information. Our longest period of exemption from such calamities, is too short to have ascertained by experience, that we are as capricious in our attachments to the means of comfort and the modes of protecting and securing our existence, as to the effects of those arts which form our amusements, our luxury, or pleasure, or are connected with our prejudices or superstitions. The latter arts must ever be subject to fluctuation in their degrees of perfection, from the alteration of our tastes, our love of variety, the natural instability of our wishes, or the proportion of reason with which we happen to be enlightened; and although a change in our desires, inclinations, and understanding, may be too gradual for distinct observation within a very limited period, it must infallibly operate to abate the ardour of improvement and diminish the incentives to excellence in such arts as are ceasing to be the objects of our request or admiration Painting, sculpture, poetry, music, magic, and astrology, have been peculiarly subject to these

alternations of real and sometimes imaginary rise and of decline. Many arts known to the ancients, would probably have been lost from these causes, without any violent vicissitudes in the kingdoms of the world. It did not require Egypt should have been successively the prey of the various nations who subdued it, that the art of embalming a man or an Ibis should be forgotten, or that it sometimes should have been progressive and sometimes stationary; and we have no doubt that the philosophers of Memphis had often reason to enquire, at what periods in the annals of Egypt, the professors of the science of corporal eternity had attained the summit of their glory, or were relapsing into ignorance and barbarity.

But when the cruelty of conquest has ceased to extirpate mankind and their habitations, the arts and sciences, which contribute to the well-being of men, invariably improve, or at least rarely revert from an improved state to that of inferior cultivation. Astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, mechanics, navigation, agriculture, manufactures, have all obtained a gradual or sudden augmentation in their excellence and value since their revival after the fall of th Roman empire, and although great difference may exist in their degrees of perfection in different countries, or in the same country at different times, no person will hesitate to pronounce that the patrimony of such learning is continually improving and sometimes increasing.

It is not, indeed, iminediately connected with the object of our Journal, but it may not be improper to observe, that these remarks extend to most other sciences useful to man, with the exception of the civil code of law in one distinguished empire, and of christian theology in general. The former in the excepted countryhas been nominally improved, augmented, and refined; but it is become nearly useless iu furnishing principles for the guidance of mankind in their various dealings, and almost every civil transaction requires a decree for its explanation. The latter is not, perhaps, gaining in its purity, though certainly it has much extended its dominion and influence, and we are not sure it can be much benefitted, except by inspiration. The daily discussions we hear, do not give a favourable opinion of its advance, and we may safely assume, that the highest state of excellence it ever attained, was at the period of the rerelation, and in the few successive years in which the apostles had the managment of its doctrines.

The celebrated Rousseau was the author of a treatise abounding with ingenuity and glowing with eloquence, in which he attempts to prove that no advantage has been derived to mankind from the cultivation of the arts and sciences, and that in proportion as we deviate from the simplicity of our habits and our tastes, we are steering our course from the shores of happiness and tranquillity. If it could be proved there had been many sectarists of this philosophy at different periods of the world, we might attribute the various declensions of our learning to the labours of such enlightened individuals; but we do not believe such sect ever existed, or that Rousseau ever made a proselyte, and there are some reasons to suspect he did not convince himself. It is true, that he retired from the society of the learned and the tables of the rich, and assumed the language and manners of a distinguished Cynic except the residence in a tuh. But he was never satisfied with the change, he seized the most frivolous pretences for escaping from his retreats, and at last contrived to fix his permanent residence and close his life in the gardens, and contiguous to a palace and the splendour of the house of Luxemburgh.

Whether some of the arts have attained their utmost degree of perfection, or that there are irremoveable boundaries beyond which human science is not permitted to penetrate, we cannot determine from experience. We have no reason to think that it is yet time to relax in the endeavours of extending our enquiries into any branch of knowledge, because we know enough, nor that any of the objects of our researches are like the fruit of the tree that grew in Paradise forbidden to our taste, because we may know too much. With the intimate causes, indeed, of the laws that regulate the phænomena of the universe, and of its materials, we shall probably never be acquainted; and the doors of such science, for reasons that can be only known to the Author of our being, seem closed before our steps.

It is improbable that learning and science should be enlarged, until their extent will render them unmanageable, and overpower the strength of our understanding. One of their great improvements consists in removing the materials and scaffolding that served only to rear the edifice, and in leaving the columns which support or ornament the temples of our knowledge, free from the rubbish that may impede our access or intercept our views.

Before the appearance of Newton, our ancestors were, perhaps, hopeless of penetrating further than they had done, into the mysteries of nature; and the veil that he removed, and the wonders he disclosed, were not the objects of their expectation. That such a man may again appear, is not impossible, and that the prediction in Seneca may be accomplished often in its figurative, as it has once been in its literal sense, is to be earnestly desired.

Venient annis sæcula seris
Quibus oceanus vincla rerum
Laxet, et ingens pateat Tellus.
Tethysque novos detegat orbes,
Nec sit terris ultima Thule.

Art. II. A Description of Adam's Peak. By John

DAVY, M.D.F.R.S. In a Letter addressed to Sir Humphry Dary, F. R. S. LL. D.

Colombo, May 1st, 1817. І ли

Au just returned from Adam's Peak. It is a noble mountain, surrounded by mountains, and surpassing them all. The road to its summit, for eight miles, is steep, difficult, and, in

« PreviousContinue »