« ZurückWeiter »
tad reflective powers, and the phenomena which result from its various properties and modifications—the meteors which appear in its different regioas— thunder and lightning, winds, hail, rain, clouds, rainbows, parhelias or mock-suns, meteoric stones, the aurora boreal is, luminous arches, ignes fktui, the mirage, the fata morgana, hurricanes, monsoons, whirlwinds and waterspouts, sounds and echoes.
In prosecuting our surrey of sublunary nature, we would next advert to the various orders of the vegetable tribe*—their anatomical structure —the circulation of their juices—the food by which they are nourished—the influence of light and air- on their growth and motions—their male and female organs—their periods of longevity— Their, modes of propagation—their diseases and oissoiution—their orders, genera, and species— their immense variety—their influence on the salubrity of the atmosphere—the relation which their roou, leaves, and fruits bear to the wants of man an I other animals, in supplying food, clothing, and materials for constructing habitations—the gum* and resinous substances they exude—the odours they exhale—the variety of colours they exhibit—the vast diversity of forms in which they appear—and the beauty and variety which they spread over the whole face of nature.
The mineral kingdom would next require to be surveyed. We would inquire into the facts which have been ascertained respecting the earthy t sofine, i*jlammMe, and metallic substances which are bund on the surface and in the bowels of the earth—their specific and distinguishing characters—the elementary principles, or simple substances, of which they are composed—the regions of the earth where the respective minerals most frequently abound—and the ends which they are designed to accomplish in the constitution uf the globe. We would consider, more particularly, the various metals, such as iron, copper, lead, tin, gold, silver, bismuth, zinc, &tc. in reference to the substances with which they are united in their native ores—the changes produced upon them by the action of oxygen and the different acids—their combustibility—their combination with phosphorus, sulphur, and carbon ; and the various compounds into which they may be fjrraed—their important uses in the arts which minister to the comfort and embellishment of human life—their relation to the multifarious necessities of man—and the wisdom and goodness of the Creator, as displayed in their arrangement in tbe bowels of the earth, and in (he admirable properties of which they are possessed, tn these details, the natural history of /' io would hold a prominent place. In point of utility, it claims the highest rank in the class of metals, and is intrinsically more valuible than gold and silver, and all the diamonds of the East. —There is scarcely a mineral substance in the
whole compass of nature, which affords a more striking instance of the beneficial and harmonious adaptation of things in the universal system. We would, therefore, consider it in reference to its vast abundance in all parts of the world— the numerous substances into which it enters into combination—its magnetical properly—its capability of being fused and welded—the numerous useful utensils it has been the means of producing—its agency in carrying forward improvements in art and science, in the civilization of barbarous tribes, \nd in promoting the progress of the human mind; and the aids which it affords to the Christian missionary in heathen lands.
Having surveyed the inanimate parts of the terraqueous globe, and its appendages, we might next direct our attention to the animated tribes with which it is peopled. Beginning at Man, the head of the animal creation, we would dotail the principal facts which have been ascertained respecting his structure and organicai functions—the muscular movements of the human body, the system of bones, nerves, veins, and arteries ; the process of respiration; and the organs of vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, by which he holds a correspondence with the material world—the modifications which appear in his corporeal frame and in his mental faculties, during the periods of infancy, puberty, manhood, and old age—the causes and phenomena of sleep and dreaming—the varieties of the human race, in respect of colour, stature, and features— the deviations from the ordinary course of nature, which occasionally occur, in the case of monsters, dwarfs, and giants—the moral and intellcctua. faculties—and those distinguishing characteristics which prove the superiority of man over the other tribes of animated nature.
The inferior ranks of the animal creation would next demand our attention. We would take a survey of the numerous tribes of Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Serpentst IJzards, and Insects, in reference to the characteristic marks by which the different species are distinguished,— their food and habitations—the different modes in which they display their architective faculty, in constructing places of abode for shelter and protection—the clothing with which they are furnished—their sagacity in finding out the proper moans for subsistence and self-preservation— their hostilities—their artifices in catehing their prey, and escaping their enemies—their modes of propagation—their transformations from one state and form to another—their migrations to different countries and climates—their various instincts—their care in rearing and protecting iheir young—their passions, mental characters, and social dispositions—their language, or modes of communication with each other—their capacities for instruction and improvement—their different powers of locomotion—the adaptation of •ajl their organs to the purposes fur which they teem intended—the indications they give of being possessed of moral dispositions and rational powers—their different periods of longevity, and the ends which they are intended to subserve in the system of nature. Along with these details, certain views might be exhibited of ihe various forms of sensitive life, and modes of existence, which obtain in those numerous species of animals winch are invisible to the naked eye, and which the microscope discovers in almost every Jepartment of nature.
Having surveyed the objects which compose our sublunary system, we would next direct our view to the regions of the sky, and contemplate the facts which have been discoveredSn relation to the celesti&l orbs. We would first attend to the apparent motion of the sun, the different points of the horizon at which he seems to rise and set, and the different degrees of elevation to which he arrives, at different seasons of the year,—the different aspects he presents as viewed from different parts of the earth's surface, and the different lengths of days and nights in different parts of the world. We would next attend to the varied phases of the moon—the direct and retrograde motions of the planets — the apparent diurnal motion of the whole celestial sphere, from east to west—and the different clusters of stars which are seen in our nocturnal sky, at different seasons of the year. We would next consider the deductions which science has made, respecting the order and arrangement of the planets which compose the solar system—their distances from the sun, and from the earth—their magnitudes —the periods of their diurnal and annual revolutions — the secondary planets, or moons, which accompany them—their eclipses —the various phenomena which their surfaces present when viewed through telescopes—the physical influence which some of trem produce on the surface of our globe—and the singular appearance of those bodies called Comets, which occasionally visit this part of our system. We would, in the next place, extend our views to the starry regions, and consider the number of stars which present themselves to the naked eye — the immensely greater numbers which are discovered by telescopes—the systems into which they appear to be arranged — the facta which have been ascertained respecting new stars—double and triple stars—stars once visible, which have now disappeared from the heavens—variable stars, whose lustre is increased and diminished at different periods of time—and the structure and position of the many hundreds of Nebulit. or starry systems, which appear to be dispersed throughout the immensity of creation.
All the particulars now slated, and many others which might have been specified—eonaidered simply as foci* which exist in the system ef Nature—form the appropriate and legitimate objects of Natural History, and demand the se
rious attention of every rational intelligent* that wishes to trace the perfections and agencj of the Almighty Creator. To investigate the causes of the diversified phenomena which the material world exhibits, and the principles and modes by which many of the facts now alluded to are ascertained, is the peculiar province of Natural Philosophy, Chymistry, and the Mathematical Sciences.
Amid so vast a variety of objects as Natural History presents, it is difficult to fix on any particular facts, as specimens of the interesting nature of this department of knowledge, without going beyond the limits to which I am necessarily confined in this volume. I shall content myself with a description of two objects, which have a reference chiefly to the vegetable kingdom.— The first of these is
The Bakiam Tree.—"This tree, which is also called the Butt Tree, or the Indian Fig, is one of the most curious and beautiful of Nature's productions,in the genial climate of India, where she sports with the greatest variety and profusion. Each tree is in itself a grove; and some of them are of an amazing size and extent, and, contrary to most other animal and vegetable productions, seem to be exempted from decay. Every branch from the main body throws out its own roots; at first, in small tender fibres, several yards from the ground ; these continually grow thicker, until, by a gradual descent, they reach the surface, and there, striking in, they increase to large trunks, and become parent trees, shooting out new branches from the tops. These, in time, suspend their roots, and receiving nourishment from the earth, swell into trunks, and shoot forth other branches; thus continuing in a state of progression, so long as the earth, the first parent of them all, contributes her sustenance. A banian tree, with many trunks, forms the most beautiful walks, vistas, and cool recesses, that can be imagined. The leaves are large, soft, and of a lively green; the fruit is a small fig, wbe* ripe of a bright scarlet, affording sustenance to monkeys, squirrels, peacocks, and birds of various kinds, which dwell among the branches.
"The Hindoos are peculiarly fond of the banian tree ; they consider its long duration, its outstretehing arms, and its overshadowing beneficence, as emblems of the Deity, and almost pay it divine honours. The brahmins, who thus * find a fane in every sacred grove,' spend much of their time in religious solitude, under the shade of the banian tree; they plant it near 'heir temples or pagodas; and in those villages where thert is no structure erected for public worship, they place an image under one of these frees, and there petform a morning and evening sacrifice. The natives of all castes and tribes are fond of recreating in the cool recesses, beautiful walks,and lovely vistas of this umbrageous canopy, impervious to the hottest beams of a tropical sun. The** •re the 1isex under which a sect of naked philosophers, called Gymnosophists, assembled in Arrian's days, and this historian of Ancient Greece presents a true picture of the modern Hindoos.—' In winter,' he says, 'the Gymnosophists enjoy the benefit of the sun's rays in the open air: and in summer, when the heat becomes excessive, they pass their time in cool and moist places, under targe trees, which according to the accounts of Nearchus, cover a circumference of Jtw acres, and extend their branches so far, that ten thousand men may easily find shelter under them.
"On the banks of the river Narbuddy, in the province of Giuzerat, is a banian tree, supposed, by some persons, to be the one described by Nearchus, and certainly not inferior to it. It is distinguished by the name of Cubbeer Burr, which was given it in honour of a famous saint. High floods have, at various times, swept away a considerable part of this extraordinary tree; but what still remains, is nearly two thousand fed in circumference, measured round the principal stems; the overhanging branches, not yet ■truck down, cover a much larger space; and under it grow a number of custard-apple and other fruit trees. The large trunks of this single tree amount to three hundred and Jifty; and the smaller ones exceed three thousand; every one of these is constantly sending forth branches and hanging roots, to form other trunks and become the parents of a future progeny. The Cubbeer Burr is famed throughout Hindostan, not only on account of its great extent, but also of its surpassing beauty. The Indian armies generally encamp around it; and at stated seasons, solemn Jatarras, or Hindoo festivals, to which thousands of votaries repair, from every part of the Mogul empire, are there celebrated. It is said that seven thousand persons find ample room to repose onder its shade. It has long been the custom of the British residents in India, on their hunting and shooting parlies, to form extensive encampments, and spend weeks together, under this delightful and magnificent pavilion, which affords a shelter to all travellers, particularly to ihe religious tribes of the Hindoos. It is generally filled witn greenwood pigeons, doves, peacocks, and a variety of feathered songsters—with monkeys, wnich both divert the spectator, by their antic tricks, and interest him by the paternal affection they display to their young offspring, in teaching fhem to select their food, and to exert themselves in jumping from bough to bough,—and is shaded by bats of a large size, many of them measuring upwards of six feet from the extremity of one wing to the other. This tree affords not only shelter, but sustenance, to all its inhabitants, being covered, amid its bright foliage, with small figs, of a rich scarlet, on which they all regale with as much delight as the lords of creation on their more costly fare,in their parties of pleasure." - *See Encyclopedia Briiannica, Art. Fictts,
This tree, which is doubtless one of the most singular and magnificent objects in the vegetable kingdom, appears to be a world in miniature, in which thousands, both of human beings and of the inferior tribes that traverse the earth and the air, may find ample accommodation and subsistence. What a striking contrast does it present to the forests of trees, or mushrooms, which are perceived by the help of the microscope, in a piece of moutdiness—every plant of which is several hundreds of times smaller than the point o1 a fine needle! Yet both are the effects of tho agency of the same All-wise and Omnipotent Being. And what an immense variety of gradations is to be found in the vegetable world, between those two extremes—every part of the vast interval being filled up with flowers, herbs, shrubs, and trees of every colour, form, and size, and in such vast multitudes and profusion that no man can number them!
An object, which approximates in a certain degree to the one now described, is mentioned in "Staunton's Account of Macartney's Embassy to China," p. 70. It is called by botanists Odontoma, and is also known by the name cf the Monkey Bread TVee, and was discovered in the island of St. Jago. "The circumference or girth of the base was 56 feet, which soon divided into two vast branches, the one in a perpendicular direction, whose periphery, or girth, was 42 feet, tho other 26. Another, of the same species, stood near itj whoso single trunk, girthing only 38 feet, was scarcely noticed."'
The only other specimen I shall exhibit to the reader has a relation both to the animal and to the vegetable kingdom. It is welt known that the examination of flowers, and vegetables of every description, by the microscope, opens anew and interesting field of wonders to the inquiring naturalist. Sir John Hill has given the following curious account of what appeared on his examining a carnation.
"The principal flower in an elegant bouquet was a carnation: the fragrance of this led me to enjoy it frequently anu near. The sense of smelling was not the only one affected on these occasions: while that was satiated with the powerful sweet, the ear was constantly attacked by an extremely soft, but agreeable murmuring sound. It was easy to know that some animal within the covert must be the musician, and that the little noise must come from some little creature, suited to produce it. I instantly distended the lower part of the flower, and placing it in a full light, could discover troops of little insects frisking, with wild jollity, among the narrow pedestals that supported its leaves, and the little threads that occupied its centre. What a fragrant world for their habitation! What a perfect security from all annoyance, in the dusky husk that surrounded the scene of action' Adapting a microscope to take in, at one view, the whole base of the flower, I gave myself an opportunity of contemplating what they were about, and this for many days together, without giving them the least disturbance, Thus, I could discover their economy, their passions, and their enjoyments. The microscope, on this occasion, had given what nature seemed tc have denied to the objects of contemplation. The base of the flower extended itself under its influence to a vast plain ; the slender stems of the leaves became trunks of so many stately cedars; the threads in the middle seemed columns of massy structure, supporting at the top several ornaments; and the narrow spaces between were enlarged into walks, parterres, and terraces. On the polished bottoms of these brighter than Parian marble, walked in pairs, alone, or in larger companies, the winged inhabitants; these from little dusky flies, for such only the naked eye would have shown them, were raised to glorious glittering animals, siained with living purple, and with a glossy gold, that would have made all the labours of the loom contemptible in the comparison. I could, at leisure, as they walked together, admire their elegant limbs, their velvet shoulders, and their silken wings; their backs vying with the empyrean in its blue; and their eyes, each formed of a thousand others, outglittering the Utile planes on a brilliant; above description, and too great almost for admiration. I could observe them here singling out their favourite females; courting them with the music of their buzzing wings with little songs, formed for their little organs;leading them from walk to walk, among the perfumed shades, and pointing out to their taste the drop of liquid nectar, just 1bursting from some vein within the living trunk—here were the perfumed groves, the more than mystic shades of the poet s fancy realized. Here the happy lovers spent their days in joyful dalliance, or, in the triumph of their little hearts., skipped after one another from stem to stem, among the painted trees, or winged their short flight to the close shadow of some broader leaf, to revel undisturbed in the heights of all felicity."
This picture of the splendour and felicity of insect life, may, to certain readers, appear somewhat overcharged. But those who have bean much in the habit of contemplating the beauties of the animal and vegetable world, through microscopes, can easily enter into all the views which are here described, I have selected this example, for the purpose of illustrating the unbounded goodness of the Creator, in the vast profusion of enjoyment he has communicated, even to the lowest tribes of animal existence, and as a specimen of those invisible worlds which exist beyond the range of our natural vision. Fur it appears that there is a gradation of worlds downward as well as upward. However small our globe may appear when compared with the sun and with the immensity of starry systems which lie dispersed through the infinity
of space, there are worlds filled with myriad* of living beings, w hich, in point of size and ex* tent, bear as small a proportion to the earth, as the earth bears to the vast assemblage of the celestial worlds. A single flower, a leaf, or a drop of water, may appear as large axx', as diversified in its structure, to some of the beings which inhabit it, as the whole earth appears to the view of man ; and a thousand scenes of magnificence and beauty may be presented to their sight, of which no distinct conception can be formed by the human mind. The many thousands of transparent globes, of which their eyes are composed, may magnify and multiply the objects around them without end, so that an object scarcely visible to the eye of man may appear to them as a vast extended universe.
"Having examined," says Si. Pierre, "one day, by a microscope, the flowers of thyme, I distinguished in ibem, with equal surprise and delight, superb flagons with a long neck, of a substance resembling the amethyst, from ihe gullets of which seemed to flow ingots of liquid gold. I have never made observations of the corolla, simply of the smallest flower, w ithout finding it composed of an admirable substance, half transparent, studded with brilliants, and shining in the most lively colours. The beings which live under a reflex thus eariched, must have ideas very different from ours, of light, and of the othet phenomena of nature. A drop of dew, filtering in the capillary and transparent tubes of a plant, presents to them thousands of cascades ; the same drop fixed as a wave on the extremity of one of its prickles, an ocean without a shore ; evaporat ed into air, a vast aerial sea. It is credible, then, from analogy, that there are animals feeding on the leaves of plants like the cattle in our meadows and on our mountains, which repose under the shades of a down imperceptib'e to the naked eye, and which, from goblets formed like so many suns, quaff neclarof the colour of gold and silver."
Thus it appears, that the universe extends to infinity on either hand; and that whenever matter exists, from the ponderous globes of heaven down to the invisible atom, there the Almighty Creator has prepared habitations for countless: orders of existence, from the seraph to the aurmalcula, in order to demonstrate his boundless beneficence, and the infinite variety of modes by which he can diffuse happiness through the uni* venial system.
"How sweet to muse upon His skill Jisplay'd,
With regard to the religion* tendency of the study of Natural History, it may be remarked— that, as all the objects which it embraces are the workmanship of God—ihe delineations and descriptions of the Natural Historian must be considered as 1' The history of the operations of the Creatoror, in other words, so far as the science extends, '1 The hislof, of ihe Creator himself:" for the marks of his incessant agency, his power, wisdom, and beneficence, are impressed on every object, however minute, throughout the three kingdoms of nature, and throughout every region of earth, air, and sky. As the Deity is invisible 10 mortal eyes, and cannot be directly contemplated by finite minds, without some material medium of communication—there are but two mediums with which we are acquainted, by which we can attain a knowledge of his nature and perfections. These are, either the facts which have occurred in the course of his providential dispensations towards our race, since the commencement of time, and the moral truths connected with them—or, the facts which are displayed in the economy of nature. The first class of facts is recorded in the Sacred Hisory, and in ihe Annals of Nations; the second class is exhibited in the diversified objects and motions which appear throughout the system of the visible universe. The one may be termed the Moral History, and the other, the Natural History, of the operations of the Creator. It is obviously incumbent on every rational being, to contemplate the Creator through both these mediums; (breach of I hem conveys its distinct and peculiar revelations; and consequently our perception of Deity through the one mtdiumdoes not supersede the necessity of our contemplating him through the other. While, therefore, it is our duty to contemplate the perfections, the providence, and the agency of God, as displayed in the Scripture Revelation, it is also incumbent upon us, to trace his attributes in the System of Nature, in order that we may be enable to contemplate the eternal Jehovah, in every variety of aspect, in which he has been pleased to exhibit himself, in the universe he has formed.
The visible creation may be considered as a permanent and sensible manifestation of Deity, intended every moment to present to our view the unceasing energies of Him "in whom we live ami move." And if the train of our thoughts were directed in its proper channel, we would perceive God in every object, and in every movement : we would behold him operating in the whirlwind, and in the storm; in the subterraneous cavern, and in the depths of the ocean; in the gentle rain, and the refreshing breeze ; in the rainbow, the fiery meteor, and the lightning's flash; in the splendours of the sun, and the majestic movements of the heavens ; in the frisking of the lambs, the songs of birds, and the buzz of insects , in the circulation of our blood, the move
ments of our joints, the motion of our eyeballs and in the rays of light which are continually darting from surrounding objects, for the purpose* of vision. For these, and ten thousand oth1* agencies in the system of nature, are nothing else but the voice of Deity, proclaiming to the sons of men, in silent but emphatic language, "Stand stilt, and consider the wonderful works of God."
If, then, it be admitted, that the study of Nature is the study of the Creator—to overlook the grand and beautiful scenery with which we are surrounded, or to undervalue any thing which Infinite Wisdom has formed, is to overlook *nd contemn the Creator himself. Whatever God has thought proper to create, and to present to our view in the visible world, it becomes man to study and contemplate, that, from thence, he may derive motives to excite him to the exercise of reverence and adoration, of gratitude and praise. 1n so far as any individual is unacquamted with the various facts of the history of nature, in so far does he remain ignorant of the manifestations of Deity; for every object,on the theatre of the universe, exhibits his character and designs in a different point of view. He who sees God only as he displays himself in his operations on the earth, but has never contemplated the firmament with the eye of reason, must be unacquainted with those amazing energies of eternal Power, which are displayed in the stupendous fabric and movements of the orbs of heaven. He who sees God only in the general appearances of nature, but neglects to penetrate into his minute operations, must remain ignorant of those astonishing manifestations of divine wisdom and skill which appear in the contrivances, adaptations, and functions of the animal and the vegetable kingdoms. For, the more we know of the work, the more accurate and comprehensive will be our views of ihe Intelligence by whom it was designed; and the farther wo carry our investigations of the works of God, the more admirable and astonishing will his plans and perfections appear.
In tmorl, a devout contemplation of the works of nature tends to ennoble the human soul, and to dignify and exalt the affections. It inspire* the mind with a relish of the beauty, the harmony, and order which subsist in the universe around us—-it elevates the soul to the love and admiration of that Being who is the author of our comforts, and of all that is sublime and beneficent in creation, and excites us to join with all holy beings in the chorus of praise to the God and Father of all. For they
"Whom Nature's works can charm, with God himself
The man who surveys the vast field of nature with the eye of reason and devotion, will not onlf