« ZurückWeiter »
certain occasions, become subjects of investigation, as they can be illustrated without entering on the arena of theological controversy, or descending within the limits of sectarian opinions. I do not mean to say, that they should be discussed according to the method of Forensic disputations, by opposite parties taking different sides of a question—a mode of communicating knowledge, the tendency of which is very questionable—but that certain positions in reference to them should be proved and illustrated, in a direct manner, in the form of essays, lectures, or oral instructions. The topics now specified, and those which are intimately related to them, are subjects of the deepest interest and importance to every individual of the human race; and, therefore, no valid reason can be assigned why such subjects should not be occasionally elucidated in literary and scientific seminaries, if it be one object of such institutions to promote the happiness—and what is essentially requisite to it—the moral improvement of mankind. For example, is it not in the highest degree important to every human being, that he should be convinced of his immortal destiny, and have his mind impressed with the realities of a future world—that he should ascertain whether, at death, he is to be reduced for ever into the same situation as the clods of the valley, or transported to a more expansive sphere of existence 7 Take away from man the prospect of immortality, and you throw a veil of darkness and mystery over all the scenes of creation; you reduce the moral world to a scene of confusion, and involve the ways of Providence in a dark inextricable maze; you inwrap the character of the Deity in awful obscurity, and terminate every prospect of becoming more fully acquainted with the magnificence of the universe; you reduce man to an enigma—to the most inexplicable phenomenon in creation, and annihilate the strongest motives to the practice of virtue. But this is not all, you remove the most powerful motives to the pursuit of scientific knowledge; for, in this case, you confine its beneficial results merely to the promotion of the comforts and conveniencies of the present transitory life; and the discoveries of the order and extent of the universe it unfolds, and the speculations to which they lead, tend only to bewilder and perplex the mind, when it is cut off from all hopes of prosecuting its inquiries beyond the grave, and of beholding the mysterious scenes of creation more fully displayed. On this ground, a man who is exhorted to cultivate an acquaintance with science, might, with some reason, exclaim, “Of what avail is it, to spend anxious days and sleepless nights in acquiring scientific knowledge, when it may be all lost before to-morrow's dawn, or, at the farthest, after the lapse of a few short years, when my intellectual faculties shall be annihilated 7 I can acquire but a few scattered fragments of it at
most, although I were to prosecute my researces as far as the most distinguished geniuses have ever advanced ; and I must quit the field of investigation before the ten thousandth part of it is half explored. Had I a prospect of enlarging my faculties and resuming my researches in a future state of being, I might engage in them with some degree of interest and vigour; but to one who is uncertain whether his connexion with the intelligent universe shall be continued for another day, it appears quite preposterous, and tends to deprive me of many sensitive gratifications which I find essential to my present enjoyment.” What is affirmed of happiness, in general, may be applied to knowledge, one of its ingredients, that the expectation of its permanency is indispensably requisite to its persection. It is the prospect of science being prosecuted in a future world and carried to perfection, that consers a dignity on its objects, and forms the most powerful motive to engage in its pursuits; and, in this point of view, it may be considered as forming a part of that training which is requisite to prepare us for the activities, the contemplations, and enjoyments of that higher sphere of existence. But where no such hopes are indulged, intellectual pursuits are deprived of their chief excellence and importance, and the best af. sections of the heart of their sublimest objects and most exalted pleasures; and the more the powers of the mind have been exercised and improved, and the more it feels itself prepared for a series of rational enjoyments, the more chagrined and disappointed must it feel when years roll away and it approaches the point where it is to sink inte eternal oblivion. Without the hopes of admission to future sources of enjoyment, at the hour of dissolution, we may assume an air of composure, because we are unable to resist, or an air of fortitude from the last efforts of pride; but, in point of fact, we can await the extinction of our being only with a mournful and melancholy gloom. This representation has frequently been realized, in the case of men of cultivated minds, who had thrown aside the obligations of religion and the idea of a future world, when they approached the confines of the tomb-of which the following instances may suffice: Voltaire, when approaching his dissolution, looked back upon protracted years with remorse, and forward with dismay. He wished for annihilation, through the dread of something worse. He attempted to unburden his troubled mind by confessing to a priest; and he placed his hopes of peace with heaven, in an eager conformity to those rituals which he incessantly treated with contempt. In a previous indisposition, he insisted upon sending for a priest, contrary to the warmest remonstrances of his friends and attendants. On recovery, he was ashamed of his conduct, and ridiculed his own pusillanimity. This pusillanimity, however
returned upon a relapse; and he had again recourse to the miserable remedy. He acknowledged to Dr. Tronchin, his physician, the agonies of his inind, and earnestly entreated him to procure for his perusal a treatise written against the eternity of future punishment. These facts were communicated to Dr. Cogan, by a gentleman highly respected in the philosophical world, who received them directly from Dr. Tronchin; and they concur with many others, in demonstrating the impossibility of enjoying permanent felicity without the hopes and consolations of religion. M. Sechelles, to whose narrative I lately referred, relates, that, in one of his conversations with Buffon, the Count declared, “I hope to live two or three years longer, to indulge my habit of working in literary avocations. I am not afraid of death, and am consoled by the thought, that my name will never die. I feel myself fully recompensed for all my labours, by the respect which Europe has paid to my talents, and by the flattering letters I have received from the most exalted personages.” Such were the consolations which this philosopher enjoyed in the prospect of the extinction of his being. His name would live when he himself was or ever blotted out from that creation which it was the object of his writings to describe' But, that his mind was not altogether reconciled to the idea of sinking into eternal oblivion, may be inferred from another anecdote, related by the same gentleman. “One evening I read to Bufson the verses of Thomas on the immortality of the soul. He smiled. "Par dieu,’ says he, ‘religion would be a valuable gift if all this were true.’” This remark evidently implied, that the system he had adopted was not calculated to present so cheerful a prospect of futurity as the system of Revelation. Gibbon, the celebrated historian of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, had his mind early tinctured with the principles of infidelity; and his historical writings are distinguished by several insidious attacks on Christianity, by unfair and unmanly sneers at the religion of his country, and by the loose and disrespectful manner in which he mentions many points of morality regarded as important, even on the principles of natural religion. Such appears to have been his eagerness in this cause, that he stooped to
mortgage part of his estate, he thus expresses himself: “I regret that I had not embraced the lucrative pursuits of the law or of trade, the chances of civil office or India adventure, or even the fat slumbers of the church.” Such is too frequently the morality displayed by infidels, and there is reason to suspect that the church is not altogether purged of them even in the present day. That Gibbon's principles were not sufficient to support his mind in the prospect of dissolution, appears from many expressions in the collection of his letters published by Lord Sheffield, in which are to be traced many instances of the high value which he placed upon existence, and of the regret with which he perceived his years to be rapidly passing away. His letter on the death of Mrs. Posen, bears every mark of the despondent state of his mind at the idea, that, “all is now lost, finally, irrecoverably lost " He adds, “I will agree with my lady, that the immortality of the soul is, at some times, a very comfortable doctrine.” The announcement of his death, in the public prints, in January 1794, was accompanied with this remark, “He left this world in gloomy despondency, without those hopes and consolations which cheer the Christian in the prospects of immortality.”—Dr. A. Smith, in the account he gives of the last illness of Hume, the historian, seems to triumph in the fortitude which he manifested in the prospect of his dissolution, and he adduces a playfulness of expression as an evidence of it, in his jocular allusion to Charon and his boat. But, as Dr. Cogan, in his treatise on the passions, very properly remarks, “A moment of vivacity, upon the visit of a friend, will not conduct us to the recesses of the heart, or discover its feelings in the hours of solitude.” It is, indeed, altogether unnatural for aman who set so high a value upon his literary reputation, and certainly very unsuitable to the momentous occasion, to indulge in such childish pleasantries, as Hume is represented to have done, at the moment when he considered himself as just about to be launched into non-existence; and, therefore, we have some reason to suspect, that his apparent tranquillity was partly the effect of vanity and affectation. He has consessed, says Dr. Cogan, in the most explicit terms, that his principles were not calculated to administer consolation to a thinking mind. This appears from the following passage in his treatise on Human Nature. “I am affrighted and confounded with that forlorn solitude in which I am placed by my philosophy. When I look abroad, 1 foresee, on every side, dispute, contradiction, and distraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? I am confounded with these questions, and begin to sancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness.”* Diderot, one of the French philosophists, was a man of very considerable acquirements in literature and in the physical sciences. The first publication by which he attracted public notice, was a voiume written against the Christian religion, entitled Pensées Philosophiques. Afterwards, in company with Voltaire and D'Alembert, he conducted the publication of the Dictionnaire Encyclopédique, the secret object of which was to sap the foundations of all religion, while the reader, at the same time, was presented with the most splendid articles on the Belles Lettres, mathematics, and the different branches of physical science. Whilst a weak divine, to whom the theological department of the work was committed, was supporting, by the best arguments he could devise, the religion of his country, Diderot and D'Alembert were overturning those arguments under titles which properly allowed of no such disquisitions; and that the object of these digressions might not pass unnoticed by any class of readers, care was taken to refer to them from the articles where the question was discussed by the divine. Here was an example of that hypocrisy to which I have already adverted, as characteristic of the sect of infidel philosophers; and the following anecdote is illustrative of similar disingenuity, coupled with almost unparalleled impudence. In the course of his correspondence with the late Empress of Russia, Diderot mentioned his own library, as one of the most valuable in Europe, although it is supposed not to have contained above a hundred volumes. When Catharine wanted to purchase it and make him librarian, he said, that his constitution could not support the cold climate of Petersburgh. She offered to let him keep it during his lifetime at Paris; and the library was sold for an immense price. When her ambassador wanted to see it, aster a year or two's payments, and the visitation gould no longer be put off, he was obliged to run in a hurry, through all the booksellers’ shops in Germany, to fili his enlpty shelves with old volumes. It was customary for Diderot and D'Alembert to frequent the coffee-houses of Paris, and to enter with keenness into religious disputes, the former attacking Christianity, and the latter, under the mask of piety, defending it, but always yielding to the arguments of his opponent. This practice was put a stop to by the police; and Diderot, when reproached by the lieutenant for preaching atheism, replied, “It is true, I am an atheist, and I glory in it.” But such principles will not always support the mind, nor did they support the mind of Diderot, when his dissolution approached. When he perceived that death
* Treatise on Human Nature, vol I p. 458.
was at no great distance, he desired that a priest might be brought, and the Cure de St. Sulpice was introduced to him. He saw this ecclesiastic several times, and was preparing to make a public recantation of his errors, but Condorcet and the other adepts now crowded about him, persuaded him that his case was not dangerous, and that country air would restore him to health. For some time he resisted their attempts to bring him back to atheism, but they secretly hurried him to the country, where he died, and a report was spread that he died suddenly on rising from the table, without remorse, and with his atheisin unshaken. Such are the native effects of the highest intellectual accomplishments, and the most brilliant acquirements in science, when unaccompanied with the spirit of true religion and of Christian morality. They cannot improve the moral order of society; they cannot procure for their possessors substantial enjoyment, even in the present life, and they are altogether inadequate to support and tranquillize the soul in the prospect of the agonies of dissolving nature. Notwithstanding the rational gratifications such persons may have occasionally enjoyed in philosophical pursuits, they must be obliged to confess, that they have acquired no equivalent for those joys which frequently animate the hearts of the most illiterate, who are sometimes enabled to look forward to the king of terrors without dismay, and to depart in peace with hopes full of immortality,+ when the philosophist is obliged to exclaim, “All is now lost, finally and irrecoverably lost.” Yet such is the tendency of the principles which are now in operation in our literary and scientific seminaries, and such the result to which we must ultimately look forward, should the principles of religion be discarded from the pursuits of knowledge. It is therefore to be hoped, that all who have a sincere regard for the promotion of science, for the interests of religion, and for the welfare of their country, will devote a portion of their attention to this important subject, and set their faces in opposition to the spirit of that sceptical philosophy which has so long debased and demoralized the continental philosophists. Were all the instructions delivered in our seminaries, from infant schools, through all the gradations of grammar and parochial establishments, mechanics' institutions, academies, and universities, judiciously amalgamated with the principles of pure and undefiled religion, it would doubtless be accompanied with a variety of pleasing and beneficial effects. It would tend to remove the prejudices which a considerable portion of the religious world's ill entertain against the pursuits of science,—it would lead to correct and rational views of the Christian system, and tend to dissipate those foolish and superstitious notions which have too frequently been grafted upon it, it would promote the interests of genuine
No. 1.—Ignorance of the Dark Ages. Page 12.
The following facts, chiefly extracted from Dr. Robertson's history of Charles V., will show the low state of literature, and the deplorable ignorance which characterized the period to which the text refers. In the ninth century, Herbaud Comes Palatii, though supreme judge of the empira, by virtue of his office, could not subscribe his name. As late as the fourteenth century, Du Guesclin, constable of France, the greatest man in the state, could neither read nor write. Nor was this ignorance confined to laymen, the greater part even of the clergy were not many degrees superior to them in science. Many dignified ecclesiastics could not subscribe the canons of those councils of which they sat as members. One of the questions appointed by the canons to be put to persons who were candidates for Yoly orders was this—“Whether they could read the Gospels and Epistles, and explain the tenor of them, at least literally?”—Alfred the Great complained, that from the Humber to the Thames, there was not a priest who understood the liturgy in his mother tongue, or who could translate the easiest piece of Latin; and that from the Thames to the sea, the ecclesiastics were still nore ignorant. The ignorance of the clergy is quaintly described by Alanus, an author of the dark ages, in the following words:—"Potius dediti gule quam glosse; potius colligunt libras quam legunt libros; libentius invuentur Martham quam Marcum: malunt legere in Salmone quam in Solomone," i. e. They gave themselves inore willingly to the pleasures of gluttony than to the learning of languages; they chose rather to collect money than to read books; they looked upon JMartha with a more affectionate eye than upon Mark, and they found more delight in reading in Salmon than in Solomon.
One of the causes of the universal ignorance which prevailed during that period, was the scarcity of books, along with their exorbitant price, and the difficulty of rendering them more common. The Romans wrote their books either on
parchment, or on paper made of the Egyptian papyrus. The latter being the cheapest, was, of course, the most commonly used. But asier the communication between Europe and Egypt was broken off, on account of the latter having been seized upon by the Saracens, the papyrus was no longer in use in Italy and other European countries. They were obliged, on that account, to write all their books upon parchment, and as its price was high, books became extremely rare, and of great value. We may judge of the scarcity of the materials for writing them from one circumstance. There still remain several manuscripts of the eighth, ninth, and following centuries, written on parchinent, from which some former writing had been erased, in order to substitute a new composition in its place. In this manner, it is probable, several works of the ancients perished. A book of Livy, or of Tacitus might be erased, to make room for the legendary tale of a saint, or the superstitious prayers of a missal. Many circumstances prove the scarcity of books during these ages. Private persons seldom possessed any books whatever. Even monasteries of considerable note had only one missal. Lupus, abbot of Ferriers, in a letter to the Pope, A. D. 855, beseech eshim to send him a copy of Cicero De Oratore, and Quintilian’s “Institutions,” “for,” says he, “although we have part of those books, there is no complete copy of them in all France.” The price of books became so high, that persons of a moderate fortune could not afford to purchase them. The Countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, bishop of Alberstadt, two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet. Even so late as the year 1471, when Louis XI. borrowed the works of Racis, the Arabian physician, from the faculty of medicine in Paris, he not only deposited in pledge a considerable quantity of plate, but was obliged to procure a nobleman to join with him as surety in a deed, binding himself under a great forfeiture to restore it. When any person made a present of a book to a church or monastery, in which were the only libraries during several ages, it was deemed a donative of such value, that he offered it on the altar pro remedio animae suae, in order to obtain the forgiveness of his sins. In the eleventh century, the art of making paper, in the manner now become universai, was invented; by means of which, not only the number of manuscripts increased, but the study of the sciences was wonderfully facilitated.
No. II.-Foolish and Superstitious Opinions respecting Comets and Eclipses. P. 18.
Aristotle held comets to be fiery exhalations, rising from the lower atmosphere to the upper or fiery region, condensing during their rapid descent, kindling on their near approach to the Empyreum, and burning until exhausted. Leonard Digges, an Almanack maker of the fourteenth century, affirmed of comets—“That they signifie corruption of the ayre; they are signes of earthquake, of warres, chaunging of kingdomes, great dearth of corne, yea a common death of man and beast.”—Bodin supposed them spirits, which, having lived on the earth innumerable ages, and having at last completed their term of existence, celebrate their last triumphs, or are recalled to heaven in the form of shining stars. In the records of former ages, we read of a comet “coming out from an opening in the heavens, like to a dragon with blue feet, and a head covered with snakes.” And we are told, that “in the year 1527, about four in the morning, not only in the Palatinate of the Rhine, but nearly over all Europe, appeared for an hour and a quarter, a most horrible comet in this sort. In its length it was of a bloody colour, inclining to saffron. From the top of its train appeared a bended arm, in the hand whereof was a huge sword, in the instant posture of striking. At the point of the sword was a star. From the star proceeded dusky rays, like a hairy tail; on the side of them other rays like javelins, or lesser swords, as if imbrued in blood; between which appeared human faces of the colour of blackish clouds, with rough hair and beards All these moved with such terrible sparkling and brightness, that many spectators swooned with fear.”—Rosenburgi “Erampla Cometarum.”
The comet of 1454, seen at Constantinople, seemed there to be moving in the firmament, from west to east, and to present the aspect of a flaming sword. From its great magnitude, it is said even to have eclipsed the moon, and created among the Turks the utmost consternation, as it was thought to prognosticate nothing less than a crusade from all the kingdoms of Christendom, and forbode the certain overthrow of the crescent. Only two wears afterwards, when, notwithstanding these direful omens, the Turkish arias had proved eminently victorious, and were spreading dismay over all Europe, Halley's co
met, in 1456, with a long tail turned towards the east, created reciprocal and still greater alarms on the part of the Christians. Pope Calix 'us believed it to be at once the sign and instrument of divine wrath; he ordered public prayers to be offered up, and decreed, that, in every town, the bells should be tolled at mid-day, to warn the people to supplicate the mercy and forgiveness of heaven: “ut omnes de precibus contra 'Turca. rum tyrrannidem fundendis admonerentur. That all people may be admonished to pour out supplications against the tyranny of the Turks.— See Milne's Essay on Comets. Even in modern times, many foolish and preposterous opinions have been entertained respecting these anomalous bodies. In a late periodical publication, the writer of an article on comets, when alluding to the comet of 1811, proceeds to state “some singular changes and circumstances,” which its influence occasioned. “The winter,” says he, “was very mild, the spring was wet, the summer cool, and very little appearance of the sun to ripen the produce of the earth ; yet the harvest was not deficient, and some fruits were not only abundant, but deliciously ripe, such as figs, melons, and wall-fruit. Wery few wasps appeared, and the flies became blind, and disappeared early in the season. No violent storms of thunder and lightning, and little or no frost and snow the ensuing winter. Venison, which has been supposed to be indebted for its flavour to a dry and parched summer, was by no means deficient in sat or in flavour. But what is very remarkable,” continues this sage observer, “in the metropolis, and about it, was the number of females who produced twins; some had more; and a shoemaker’s wife, in Whitechapel, produced four at one birth, all of whom,” &c. &c. And all such “singular changes and circumstances,” it would appear, according to the fancy of this sapient Essayist, “were occasioned by the influence of the comet which appeared in the autumn of 1811 !!" The poets, likewise, by their bombastic descriptions, have tended to perpetuate superstitious feelings. The following is Du Barta's description of one of these visiters.
“Here, in the night, appears a flaming spire,
The following extract from “Tully's Letters from Tripoli,” contains a picturesque description of a solar eclipse, and the effects it produced on the inhabitants of Barbary.
“I cannot here omit describing what an extraordinary impression an eclipse makes on the uninformed part of the inhabitants of this country