« PreviousContinue »
Dossible to hide those trer ernotions deep in the heart. He immediately began converring in his usual style the chief topic being Captain Denham (whom I had recen seen in London and his book of African Travels, which Sir Walter had evidentis red with much attention. * * $ $ After sitting & quarter of an bour, we cade away, well pleased to see our friend quite unbroken in spirit- and though bowed down a little by the blast, and here and there a branch the less, as kurdy in the trunk as ever, and very possibly all the better for the disciplinebetter, I mean, for the public, inasmuch as he has now a vast additional stimulus for exertion and one which all the world must admit to be thoroughly noble and generos,
Dary. SIE HUMALZ7 Dary, the great chemist, may fairly take his place amongst the best anthors." The qualities by which he raised himself to his professional eminence were the very qualities that make a great writer-& vivid imagination subjected to the discipline of wcurate reasoning, and both working with unwearied industry. Davy took the largest views of science; but he worked them out by the most diligent examination of the minutest facts. We trace the same genius in his lighter writings. The extract which we are about to give is from his little book on fiy-fishing, entitled "Salmodia'- book full of the most charming pictures of external nature, seen through the brilliant atmosphere of a poetical philosophy. Davy was born in Penzance, in 1778. His father was a carver in wood; and, while an apprentice to a surgeon and apothecary, the future president of the Royal Society was laying up materials for his career in diligent study. In 1801 he came to London, and became a Lecturer at the Royal Institution; from this time his life was one continued series of brilliant discoveries and beautiful exposition. The Miner's Safety Lamp is one of the most signal examples of the practical benefit of the highest theoretical science. He died, in the maturity of his famne, at the comparatively early age of fifty-one.]
Poid. I hope we shall have another good day to-morrow, for the clouds are red in the west.
Phys. I have no doubt of it, for the red has a tint of purple.
Phys. The air when dry, I believe, refracts more red, or heat-making, rays; and as dry air is not perfectly transparent, they are again reflected in the horizon. I have observed generally a coppery or yellow sunset to foretel rain ; but, as an indication of wet weather approaching, nothing is more certain than a halo round the moon, which is produced by the precipitated water; and the larger the circle, the nearer the clouds, and, consequently, the more ready to fall. Hal. I have often observed that the old proverb is correct
A rainbow in the morning is the shepherd's warning
A rainbow at night is the shepherd's delight. Can you explain this omen ?
Phys. A rainbow can only occur when the clouds containing or depositing the rain are opposite to the sun,-and in the evening the rainbow is in the east, and in the morning in the west ; and as our heavy rains, in this climate, are usually brought by the westerly wind, a rainbow in the west indicates that the bad weather is on the road, by the wind, to us; whereas the rainbow in the east proves that the rain in these clouds is passing from us.
Poist. I have often observed that when the swallows fly high, fine weather is to be expected or continued ; but when they fly low, and close to the ground, rain is almost surely approaching. Can you account for this ?
Hal. Swallows follow the flies and gnats, and flies and gnats usually delight in warm strata of air ; and as warm air is lighter, and usually moister than cold air, when the warm strata of air are higher, there is less chance of moisture being thrown down from them by the mixture with cold air ; but when the warm and moist air is close to the surface, it is almost certain that, as the cold air flows down into it, a deposition of water will take place.
Poict. I have often seen sea-gulls assemble on the land, and have almost always observed that very stormy and rainy weather was approaching. I conclude that these animals, sensible of a current of air approaching from the ocean, retire to the land to shelter themselves from the storm.
Orn. No such thing. The storm is their element; and the little petrel enjoys the heaviest gale, because, living on the smaller sea insects, he is sure to find his food in the spray of a heavy wave, and you may see him flitting above the edge of the highest surge. I believe that the reason of this migration of sea-gulls, and other sea birds to the land, is their security of finding food, and they may be observed, at this time, feeding greedily on the earth worms and larvæ, driven out of the ground by severe floods; and the fish, on which they prey in fine weather in the sea, leave the surface and go deeper in storms. The search after food, as we agreed on a former occasion, is the principal cause why animals change their places. The different tribes of the wading birds always migrate when rain is about to take place ; and I remember once, in Italy, having been long waiting, in the end of March, for the arrival of the double snipe in the Campagna of Rome, a great flight appeared on the 3rd of April, and the day after heavy rain set in, which greatly interfered with my sport. The vulture, upon the same principle, follows armies; and I have no doubt that the augury of the ancients was a good deal founded upon the observation of the instincts of birds. There are many superstitions of the vulgar owing to the same source. For anglers, in spring, it is always unlucky to see single magpies, but tuo may be always regarded as a favourable omen; and the reason is, that in cold and stormy weather one magpie alone leaves the nest in search of food, the other remaining sitting upon the eggs or the young ones ; but when two go out together, it is only when the weather is warm and mild, and favourable for fishing.
Poid. The singular connections of causes and effects, to which you have just referred, make superstition less to be wondered at, particularly amongst the vulgar ; and when two facts, naturally unconnected, have been accidentally coincident, it is not singular that this coincidence should have been observed and registered, and that omens of the most absurd kind should be trusted in. In the west of England, half a century ago, a particular hollow noise on the sea coast was referred to a spirit or goblin, called Bucca, and was supposed to foretel a shipwreck : the philosopher knows that sound travels much faster than currents in the air, and the sound always foretold the approach of a very heavy storm, which seldom takes place on that wild and rocky coast, without a shipwreck on some part of its extensive shores, surrounded by the Atlantic.
Phys. All the instances of omens you have mentioned are founded on reason ; but how can you explain such absurdities as Friday being an unlucky day, the terror of spilling salt, or meeting an old woman? I knew a man, of very high dignity, who was exceedingly moved by these omens, and who never went out shooting without a bittern's claw fastened to his button-hole by a riband, which he thought ensured him good luck.
Poict. These, as well as the omens of death watches, dreams, &c., are for the most part founded upon some accidental coincidence; but spilling of salt, on an uncommon occasion, may, as I have known it, arise from a disposition to apoplexy, shown by an incipient numbness in the hand, and may be a fatal symptom ; and persons, dispirited by bad omens, sometimes prepare the way for evil fortune ; for confidence in success is a great means of ensuring it. The dream of Brutus, before the field of Pharsalia, probably produced a species of irresolution and despondency which was the principal cause of his losing the battle : and I have heard that the illustrious sportsman to whom you referred just now, was always observed to shoot ill, because he shot carelessly, after one of his dispiriting omens.
Hal. I have in life met with a few things which I found it impossible to explain, either by chance coincidences or by natural connections : and I have known minds of a very superior class affected by them— persons in the habit of reasoning deeply and profoundly.
Phys. In my opinion, profound minds are the most likely to think lightly of the resources of human reason; and it is the pert superficial thinker who is generally strongest in every kind of unbelief. The deep philosopher sees chains of causes and effects so wonderfully and strangely linked together, that he is usually the last person to decide upon the impossibility of any two series of events being independent of each other; and in science, so many natural miracles, as it were, have been brought to light-such as the fall of stones from meteors in the atmosphere, the disarming a thunder cloud by a metallic point, the production of fire from ice by a metal white as silver, and the referring certain laws of motion of the sea to the moon-that the physical inquirer is seldom disposed to assert, confidently, on any abstruse subjects belonging to the order of natural things, and still less so on those relating to the more mysterious relations of moral events and intellectual natures.
25.—THE PRESENT AGE.
CHANNING. [It is our intention, from time to time, to give specimens of those writers of the United States, who have added something to the glories of “the tongue which Shakspere spake." Amongst those, one of the most celebrated is William Ellery Channing, D.D. He was born in 1780 or 1781 ; was educated at Harvard College; became a member of the Unitarian communion; and spent his life as pastor of a congregation at Boston. He died in 1842. Dr. Channing's reputation is very high in this country; chiefly from the republication of his Essays on Milton and on Napoleon Bonaparte. He is a great master of words, which he pours forth with fluency, elegance, and even splendour ; but there appears sometimes a want of solidity. This is, no doubt, a consequence of the diffuseness of his style; which has the flow of the orator, rather than the condensation of the writer. But without doubt Channing may be advantageously read. Passing over his controversial works, there is great benevolence in all his tendencies. He sees the conditions of human progress very clearly. He aims to banish vice and ignorance from the world by the general elevation of the great masses of the people. His efforts for the abolition of negro slavery were unremitting.)
In looking at our age, I am struck, immediately, with one commanding characteristic, and that is, the tendency in all its movements to expansion, to diffusion, to universality. To this, I ask your attention. This tendency is directly opposed to the spirit of exclusiveness, restriction, narrowness, monopoly, which has prevailed in past ages. Human action is now freer, more unconfined. All goods, advantages, helps, are more open to all. The privileged petted individual is becoming less, and the human race are becoming more. The multitude is rising from the dust. Once we heard of the few, now of the many ; once of the prerogatives of a part, now of the rights of all. We are looking, as never before, through the disguises, envelopments of ranks and classes, to the common nature which is below them; and are beginning to learn that every being who partakes of it, has poble powers to cultivate, solemn duties to perform, inalienable rights to assert, a vast destiny to accomplish. The grand idea of humanity, of the importance of man as man, is spreading silently, but surely. Not that the worth of the human being is at all understood as it should be ; but the truth is glimmering through the darkness. A faint consciousness of it has seized on the public mind. Even the most abject portions of society are visited by some dreams of a better condition, for which they were designed. The grand doctrine, that every human being should have the means of self-culture, of progress in knowledge and virtue, of health, comfort, and happiness, of exercising the powers and affections of a man ; this is slowly taking its place, as the highest social truth. That the world was made for all, and not for a few; that society is to care for all ; that no human being shall perish but through his own fault ; that the great end of government is to spread a shield over the rights of all; these propositions are growing into axioms, and the spirit of them is coming forth in all the departments of life.
If we look at the various movements of our age, we shall see in them this tendency to universality and diffusion. Look, first, at science and literature. Where is science now? Locked up in a few colleges, or royal societies, or inaccessible volumes ? Are its experiments mysteries for a few privileged eyes? Are its portals guarded by a dark phraseology, which, to the multitude, is a foreign tongue ? No; science has now left her retreats, her shades, her selected company of votaries, and with familiar tone begun the work of instructing the race. Through the press, discoveries and theories, once the monopoly of philosophers, have become the property of the multitude. Its professors, heard, not long ago, in the university or some narrow school, now speak in the Mechanics’ Institute. The doctrine that the labourer should understand the principles of his art, should be able to explain the laws and processes which he turns to account; that instead of working as a machine, he should join intelligence to his toil, is no longer listened to as a dream. Science, once the greatest of distinctions, is becoming popular. A lady gives us conversations on chemistry, revealing to the minds of our youth vast laws of the universe, which, fifty years ago, had not dawned on the greatest minds. The school-books of our children contain grand views of the creation. There are parts of our country (the United States) in which lyceums spring up in almost every village, for the purpose of mutual aid in the study of natural science. The characteristic of our age, then, is not the improvement of science, rapid as this is, so much as its extension to all men.
The same characteristic will appear, if we inquire into the use now made of science. Is it simp ya matter of speculation ? a topic of discourse ? an employment of the intellect? In this case, the multitude, with all their means of instruction, would find in it only a hurried gratification. But one of the distinctions of our time is, that science has passed from speculation into life. Indeed it is not pursued enough for its intellectual and contemplative uses. It is sought as a mighty power, by which nature is not only to be opened to thought, but to be subjected to our needs. It is conferring on us that dominion over earth, sea, and air, which was prophesied in the first command given to man by his Maker ; and this dominion is now employed, not to exalt a few, but to multiply the comforts and ornaments of life for the multitude of men. Science has become an inexhaustible mechanician; and by her forges, and mills, and steam cars, and printers' presses, is bestowing on millions not only comforts, but luxuries which were once the distinction of a few.
Another illustration of the tendency of science to expansion and universality may be found in its aims and objects. Science has burst all bonds, and is aiming to comprehend the universe, and thus it multiplies fields of inquiry for all orders of minds. There is no province of nature which it does not invade. Not content with exploring the darkest periods of human history, it goes behind the birth of the human race, and studies the stupendous changes which our globe experienced for hundreds of centuries, to become prepared for man's abode. Not content with researches into visible nature, it is putting forth all its energies to detect the laws of invisible and imponderable matter. Difficulties only provoke it to new efforts. It would lay open the secrets of the polar ocean, and of untrodden barbarous lands. Above all, it investigates the laws of social progress, of arts, and institutions of government, and political economy, proposing as its great end the alleviation of all human burdens, the weal of all the members of the human race. In truth, nothing is more characteristic of our age than the vast range of inquiry which is opening more and more to the multitude of men, Thought frees the old bounds to which men used to confine themselves. It holds nothing too sacred for investigation. It calls the past to account; and treats hoary opinions as if they were of yesterday's growth. No reverence drives it back. No great name terrifies it. The foundations of what seems most settled must be explored. Undoubtedly this is a perilous tendency. Men forget the limits of their powers. They question the infinite, the unsearchable, with an audacious self-reliance. They shock pious and revering minds, and rush into an extravagance of doubt, more unphilosophical and foolish than the weakest credulity. Still, in this dangerous wildness, we see what I am stating, the tendency to expansion in the movements of thought.
I have hitherto spoken of science, and what is true of science is still more true of literature. Books are now placed within reach of all. Works, once too costly except for the opulent, are now to be found on the labourer's shelf. Genius sends its light into cottages. The great names of literature are become household words among the crowd. Every party, religious or political, scatters its sheets on all the winds. We may lament, and too justly, the small comparative benefit as yet accomplished by this agency; but this ought not to surprise or discourage us. In our present stage of improvement, books of little worth, deficient in taste and judgment, and ministering to men's prejudices and passions, will almost certainly be circulated too freely. Men are never very wise and select in the exercise of a new power. Mistake, error, is the discipline through which we advance. It is an undoubted fact, that, silently, books of a higher order are taking place of the worthless. Happily, the instability of the human mind works sometimes for good, as well as evil, men grow tired at length even of amusements. Works of fiction cease to interest them, and they turn from novels to books, which, having their origin in deep principles of our nature, retain their hold of the human mind for ages. At any rate, we see in the present diffusion of literature the tendency to universality of which I have spoken.
The remarks now made on literature, might be extended to the fine arts. In these we see, too, the tendency to universality. It is said, that the spirit of the great artists has died out; but the taste for their works is spreading. By the improvements of engraving, and the invention of casts, the genius of the great masters is going abroad. Their conceptions are no longer pent up in galleries open to but few, but meet us in our homes, and are the household pleasures of millions. Works, designed for the halls and eyes of emperors, popes, and nobles, find their way, in no poor representations, into humble dwellings, and sometimes give a consciousness of kindred powers to the child of poverty. The art of drawing, which lies at the foundation of most of the fine arts, and is the best education of the eye for nature, is becoming a branch of common education, and in some countries is taught in schools to which all classes are admitted.
I am reminded, by this remark, of the most striking feature of our times, and showing its tendency to universality, and that is, the unparalleled and constantly accelerated diffusion of education. This greatest of arts, as yet little understood, is making sure progress, because its principles are more and more sought in the common nature of man ; and the great truth is spreading, that every man has a right to its aid. Accordingly, education is becoming the work of nations. Even in