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Ruff, or reeve
606, 612, 616
ON THE STUDY OF NATURE.
“Once upon a time, when the Seven Wise Men of Greece were met together at Athens, it was proposed that each of them should state to the others what he considered to be the greatest wonder in the Creation. One of them asserted that nothing was so wonderful as the heavenly bodies. He explained the opinions of some of the astronomers respecting the fixed stars, that they were so many suns, each havicg planets rolling round them, which were stocked with plants and animals like this earth. Fired with the idea, they instantly agreed to supplicate Jupiter that he would at least permit them to take a journey to the Moon, and remain there three days, in order that they might view the wonders of that place, and give an account of them to the world at their return. Jupiter cousented: he directed them to assemble on a high mountain, where a cloud should be in readiness to convey them thither. They did so, and took with them some men of talents, to assist in describing and painting the objects they should discorer. At length they arrived at the Moon, where they found a palace fitted up for their reception. On the day after their arrival, they were so much fatigued with their journey, that they remained in the house till noon; and, continuing still faint, they partook of a delicious entertainment, which they relished so much that it quite overcame their curiosity. This day they only saw, through the windows, a delightful country, adorned with luxuriant verdure, and with flowers exquisitely beautiful, and heard the melodious singing of the birds. The second day they rose very early, to commence their observations ; hut some clegant females of the country, calling upon them, advised that they should first recruit their strength before they exposed themselves to the laborious task they were about to undertake. The sumptuous banquet, the rich wines, and the beauty of these females, prevailed over the resolution of the strangers. Music was introduced, the young ones began to dance, and all was turned to jollity; so that the whole of this day seemed dedicated to gaiety and mirth, till some of the neighbors, envious of their happiness, rushed into the room with swords. With some difficulty these were secured ; and it was promised, as a recompense to the younger part of the company, that, on the following morning, they should be brought to justice. On the third day the trial was heard ; and, in consequence of the time occupied by the accusations, pleading, exceptions, and the judgment itself, the whole day was occupied, and the term which Jupiter had allowed to the Wise Men expired. When they returned to Greece, the whole country flocked around them to hear the wonders of the Moon described; but all they could say, for it was all they knew, was this : that the ground was covered with verdure, intermixed with flowers; and that tho birds sang delightfully among the trees : but what was the nature of the flowers they had seen, of the birds they had heard, or of the country they had visited, they were entirely ignorant. On which they were every where treated with contempt."
This fable was applied, by Linnæus, to mankind in general. In youth we are too feeble to examine the great objects around us; all that season, therefore, is lost amidst weakness, indolence, luxury, and amusement. We are little better in manhood; settling ourselves in life; marrying; bustling through the world; overwhelmed, at length, with business, cares, and perplexities, we suffer those years also to glide away. Old age succeeds: still some employments intervene, till, at last, we
• In the Lectures of Linnæus on Natural History, he frequently made use of somo apt similitude by way of exciting the attention of his audience. The preceding fable was ono that bo adopted in his Lecture on Insects.
have passed throngh the world, without scarcely a single recurrence to the admirable works of our Creator ; and, in too many instances, even without having duly con... sidered the end for which we were brought into it. This, with a few exceptions, is the progress of man through life. It is true that no one is able to avoid being led, by his own feelings, occasionally to notice the wonderful productions with which he is sui rounded. All can remark the beautiful verdure of the fields and woods; the elegance of the flowers; and the melodious singing of the birds; yet few indeed give themselves the trouble of proceeding a single step further, or exhibit any desire of examining into the nature of these astonishing combinations of Divine Power.
It is one material use of the study of Nature, to illustrate this most important of all truths: “That there must be a God: that he must be Almighty, omniscient, and infinite in goodness; and that, although he dwells in a light inaccessible to any mortal eye, yet our faculties see and distinguish him clearly in his works.”
In these we are compelled to observe a greatness far beyond our capacities to nnderstand: we see an exact adaptation of parts composing one stupendous wholo; a uniform perfection and goodness, that are not only entitled to our admiration, but that command from us the tribute of reverence, gratitude, and love to the Parent of the Universe. Every step we take in our observations on Nature, affords us indubitable proofs of his superintendence. From these we learn the vanity of all our boasted wisdom, and are taught that useful lesson, humility. We are compelled to acknowledge our dependence on God, and that, deprived of his support, we must instantly dissolve into nothing.
Every object in the Creation is stamped with the characters of the infinite perfection and overflowing benevolence of its Author. If we examine, with the most accurate discrimination, the construction of bodies, and remark even their most minute parts, we see clearly a necessary dependence that each has upon the other; and, if we attend to the vast concurrence of causes that join in producing the several operations of Nature, we shall be induced to believe further, that the whole world is one connected train of causes and effects, in which all the parts, either nearly or remotely, have a necessary dependence on each other. We shall find nothing insulated, nothing dependent only on itself. Each part lends a certain support to the others, and takes in return its share of aid from them. Let us, for instance, refer to the eye, an organ which is common to nearly all animal bodies. Here we have exhibited to us nicety of formation, connections, and uses, that astonish us. We see it placed in a bony orbit, lined with fat, as an easy socket in which it rests, and in which all its motions readily take place. We know it to be furnished, among many others, with those wonderful contrivances, the iris, the pupil, and different humors; and with that incomprehensible mechanism the optic nerve, which affords to the brain, in a manner greatly beyond our conceptions, the images of external objects. How admirable is the construction of the skeleton! every particular bone adapted peculiarly to the mode of life and habits of the animal possessing it. The muscular system is still more entitled to our wonder; and if we enter into examination of the viscera, the skin, and other parts of the body, we can fix no bounds to our astonishment.
But all the common operations of Nature, surprising as they are, become so familiar to us, that in a great measure they cease to attract our notice. Thus also all the usual powers of animal life, which, were they but adverted to, could not fail to affect the mind with the most awful impressions, are suffered to operate unheeded, as if unseen.—We all know, for example, that, whenever inclination prompts to it
, we can, by a very slight exertion of our vital faculties, raise our hand to our head. Nothing seems more simple or more easy, than this action ; yet, when we attempt to form an idea of the way in which that incorporeal existence which we call mind, can operate upon matter, and thus put it in motion, we are perfectly lost in the incomprehensible immensity that surrounds us. When we try to investigate the properties of matter, we perceive that, by patience and attention, we can make a progress in attainments to which, according to our limited ideas, bounds can scarcely be assigned. The motions of the planets can be ascertained, their distances measured, and their periods assigned. The Mathematician is able to demonstrate, with tlie most decisive certainty, that no Fly can alight upon this globe which we inhabit without communicating motion to it; and he can ascertain, if he choose to do it, what must be the exact amount of the motion thus produced. In this train of investigation the mind of a Newton can display its superior powers, and soar to a ON THE STUDY OF NATURE.
height that exalts it far above the reach of others; and yet, in trying to explain the cause of animal motion, the meanest reptile that crawls upon the ground, humiliating as the thought may be, is on a footing of perfect equality with a Newton : they can alike exert the powers conferred on them by the Almighty Creator, without being able to form the smallest idea of the way in which they are enabled to produce these effects. Man, however, can contemplate these effects if he will; and Man, perhaps alone of all the animal sthat exist on this globe, is permitted, by contemplating the wonders which these unfold, to form, if he please, some idea of his own nothingness, with a view to moderate his pride, and thus to exalt himself above the unconscious agents that surround him.
When the Anatomist considers how many muscles must be put in motion before any animal exertion can be effected; when he views them one by one, and tries to ascertain the precise degree to which each individual muscle must be constricted or relaxed, before the particular motion which is indicated can be effected, he finds, himself lost in the labyrinth of calculations in which this involves him. When he further reflects that it is not his own body only that is endowed with the faculty of calling forth these incomprehensible energies, but that the most insignificant insect is vested with similar powers, he is still more confounded. A skillful naturalist has been able to ascertain that, in the body of the minutest Caterpillar, there are upwards of two thousand muscles, all of which can be brought into action with as much facility, at the will of that insect, and perform their several offices with as much accuracy, promptitude, and precision, as the most perfect animal; and that all this is done by the caterpillar, with equal consciousness of the manner how, as the similar voluntary actions of Man himself are effected! It would be no easy matter to make some men believe that the most minute insect, whose whole life may be calculated for the duration of only a few hours, is, in all its parts, as complete as the Elephant that treads the forests of India for a century. Little do some persons imagine that even in its appearance, under the greatest magnifying powers, it is as elegant in every respect, and as beautifully finished, as any of the larger animals ! Unlike the productions of men, all the minute parts of the works of God appear in greater perfection, and excite in us greater admiration, the more minutely and more accurately they are examined. M. de Lisle saw, with a microscope, a very small insect, that in one second of time advanced three inches, taking five hundred and
forty steps; and many of the discoveries of Leuwenhoek were even still more wonderful than this.
If, from the contemplation of microscopic objects, we turn our attention to the system of the Universe, and view the Heavens, what an astonishing field of admiration is here afforded us! The immense globe that we inhabit is but a speck in the Solar system ; and that system, stupendous as it is, is lost in the immensity of the space around. Our Sun becomes a star to Planets revolving round other Suns, as their Suns become Stars to us. Of these no fewer than seventy-five millions may be discovered in the expanse exposed to our investigation. But what are even all these, when compared with the multitudes distributed through the boundless space of air i The Universe must contain such numbers as exceed the utmost stretch of human imagination. To obtain some faint conception of the wonderful extent of space, we may remark that stars of the first magnitude, or such as seem to us the largest, are nearly 19,000,000,000,000 miles from our Sun; and that some of the smallest stars are at many times that distance! “Great is our God, and great is his power! O God, who is like unto thee !”
But to return to the Animal Creation; we find there innumerabie additional proofs of our hypothesis. We see that all the smaller creatures, which serve us for food, are particularly fruitful, and that they increase in a much greater proportion than others. Of the birds it is extremely remarkable, that, lest they should fall short of 8 certain number of eggs, they are endowed with the power of laying others in the place of those that are taken away ; but that, when their number is complete, they invariably stop. Here is an operation, like many others which we shall have to observe, much beyond the reach of our faculties to comprehend. How the mere privation of part should cause a fresh production, is not indeed easy to understand. The organization of an offspring should, in this case, almost seem a voluntary act of the female ; but, in what manner it is done, we are not only ignorant at present, but shall most probably ever remain so. Noxious animals in general multiply slowly; abd whenever we find an unusual increase of such, we generally discover that somo