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FURTHER PROOF OF THE DIVINE GOODNESS IN
THE SCALE OF BEINGS. THOUGH there is a great deal of pleasure in contemplating the material world; by which I mean, that system of bodies, into which nature has so curiously wrought the mass of dead matter, with the several relations that those bodies bear to one another ; there is still, methinks, something more wonderful and surprising, in contemplations on the world of life; by which I intend, all those animals with which every part of the universe is furnished. The material world is only the shell of the universe: the world of life are its inhabitants.
If we consider those parts of the material world, which lie the nearest to us, and are therefore subject to our observation and inquiries, it is amazing to consider the infinity of animals with which they are stocked. Every part of matter is peopled; every green leaf swarms with inhabitants. There is scarcely a single humour in the body of a man, or of any other animal, in which our glasses do not discover myriads of living creatures. We find, even in the most solid bodies, as in marble itself, innumerable cells and cavities, which are crowded with imperceptible inhabitants, too little for the naked eye to discover. On the other hand, if we look into the more bulky parts of nature, we see the seas, lakes, and rivers, teeming with numberless kinds of living creatures. We find, every mountain and marsh, wilderness and wood, plentifully stocked with birds and beasts; and every part of matter affording proper necessaries and conveniences, for the livelihood of multitudes which inhabit it.
The author of the Plurality of Worlds draws a very good argument, from this consideration, for the peopling of every planet; as indeed it seems very probable, from the analogy of reason, that if no part of matter, with which we are acquainted, lies waste and useless, those great bodies, which are at such a distance from us, are not desert and unpeopled; but rather, that they are furnished with beings adapted to their respective situations.
Existence is a blessing to those beings only which are endowed with perception; and is in a manner thrown away upon dead matter, any further than as it is subservient to beings which are conscious of their existence. Accordingly we find, from the bodies which lie under our observation, that matter is only made as the basis and support of animals; and that there is no more of the one, than what is necessary for the existence of the other.
Infinite goodness is of so communicative a nature, that it seems to delight in conferring existence upon every degree of perceptive being. As this is a speculation which I have often pursued with great pleasure to myself, I shall enlarge further upon it, by considering that part of the scale of beings which comes within our knowledge.
There are some living creatures which are raised but just above dead matter. To mention only that species of shell-fish which is formed in
the fashion of a cone; that grows to the surface of several rocks; and immediately dies on being severed from the place where it grew. There are many other creatures but one remove from these, which have no other sense than that of feeling and taste. Others have still an additional one of hearing ; others of smell; and others of sight. It is wonderful to observe, by what a gradual progress the world of life advances, through a prodigious variety of species, before a creature is formed, that is complete in all its senses : and even among these, there is such a different degree of perfection, in the sense which one animal enjoys beyond what appears in another, that though the sense in different animals is distinguished by the same common denomination, it seems almost of a different nature. If, after this, we look into the several inward perfections of cunning and sagacity, or what we generally call instinct, we find them rising, after the same manner, imperceptibly one above another; and receiving additional improvements, according to the species in which they are implanted. This progress in nature is so very gradual, that the most perfect of an inferior species, comes very near to the most imperfect of that which is immediately above it.
The exuberant and overflowing goodness of the supreme Being, whose mercy extends to all his works, is plainly seen, as I have before hinted, in his having made so very little matter, at least what falls within our knowledge, that does not swarm with life. Nor is his goodness less seen in
the diversity, than in the multitude of living creatures. Had he made but one species of animals, none of the rest would have enjoyed the happiness of existence: he has, therefore, specified, in his creation, every degree of life, every capacity of being. The whole chasm of nature, from a plant to a man, is filled up with diverse kinds of creatures, rising one after another, by an ascent so gentle and easy, that the little transitions and deviations from one species to another are almost insensible. This intermediate space is so well husbanded and managed, that there is scarcely a degree of perception which does not appear in some one part of the world of life. Is the goodness, or the wisdom of the divine Being, more manifested in this his proceeding ?
There is a consequence, besides those I have already mentioned, which seems very naturally deducible from the foregoing considerations. If the scale of being rises by so regular a progress, so high as man, we may, by parity of reason, suppose that it still proceeds gradually through those beings which are of a superior nature to him ; since there is infinitely greater space and room for different degrees of perfection, between the supreme Being and man, than between man and the most despicable insect.
In this great system of being, there is no creature so wonderful in its nature, and which so much deserves our particular attention, as man; who fills up the middle space between the animal and the intellectual nature, the visible and the invisible world; and who is that link in the chain of being, which forms the connection between both. So that he who, in one respect, is associated with angels and archangels, and may look upon a being of infinite perfection as his father, and the highest order of spirits as his brethren, may, in another respect, say to corruption, thou art my father; and to the worm, thou art my mother and my sister.'
THE BOUNTY OF GOD IN THE ECONOMY OF VEGE
TABLE PROPAGATION. It was curious to observe that the greatest part of the plants found on these islands (St. Paul and Amsterdam in the Indian ocean] were products of Europe; and the question was equally difficult of solution, how any plant, European or Indian, should first have been brought upon two little specks of land in the middle of the ocean, at the distance of two thousand miles from the nearest shore. Were they borne on the wind, wafted on the waves, or carried by the fowls of the air? or were their rudiments, after lying for ages dormant in the bowels of the earth, thrown up, by the agency of subterranean fire, into a situation favourable for vegetable life to burst forth?
The natural historian, in contemplating facts like these, cannot fail to be most forcibly impressed with the wise and benevolent designs of the great Author of the universe, which are so apparent in all the works of the creation, and in none more so than in the providential means he has