« PreviousContinue »
powers and affections of the mind, and affirming, that its operations are governed by no regular principles.
That a perfect knowledge of the nature and faculties of the mind is not to be acquired in our present condition, cannot poffibly be denied. Neither can the contrary be affirmed of any subject of philosophical inquiry. Yet our internal feel. ings, our observation and experience, supply us with rich materials, fufficient to animate our love of knowledge ; and, by enabling us to prosecute our researches, to extend the limits of human understanding. Neither can we affirm, that our thoughts, feelings, and affections, are in a state of anarchy and confusion. No. thing, you say, seems wilder and more incoherent, than the images and ideas continually fluctuating in the mind : Like the "
gay motes that people the sun-beams," they know no order, and
are guided by no connection. We are conscious of no power that regulates their motions, restrains their impetuofity, composeth their disorder. No less irregular and disagreeing are the feelings and emotions of the heart. We are alike accessible to love or hatred, confidence or suspicion, exultation or despondency. These passions and dispositions are often blended together, or fucceed each other, with a velocity which we can neither meafure nor conceive. The foul that now melts with tenderness, is instantly frantic
The countenance now adorned with complacency, and beauteous with the smile of content, is in a moment clouded with anxiety, or distorted with envy. He must therefore be more than mortal who can reduce this tumultuous and disorderly chaos to regularity.. • Lift up thine eyes to the firmament,” said a countryman to a philosopher,
.66 number the stars, compute their distances, and explain their motions. Observe the diversity of seasons, and the confusion occasioned by the changeableness of the weather: 'The fun and refreshing showers cherish the fruits of the earth; but our fields are often blighted with mildews, the sky is suddenly overcast, the storms descend, and the hopes of the year are blasted. Prescribe laws to the winds, and govern the rage of the tempests; then will I believe, that the course of nature is regular and determined.” Thus, even external phaenomena, to an uninstructed person, will seem as wild and incongruous as the motions and affections of the mind. On a more accurate inspection, he finds that harmony and design pervade the universe; that the motions of the stars are regular; and that laws are prescribed to the tempest. Nature extends her attention to the most insignificant productions : The
principles of vegetation are established immutable in the texture of the meaneft blossom
the laws of its existence are accurately defined ; and the period of its duration invariably determined. If these observations are just, and if we still maintain that the mind is in a state of anarchy and disorder, we are reduced to the necessity of affirming, that nature hath exhausted her powers in the formation of inferior objects, and neglected the most important; that the hath established laws and government in the inanimate creation, and abandoned the mind to mifrule; and that she hath given us a body suited to our condition, fashioned according to the most accurate proportions, and adjusted to the nicest rules of mechanics ; and left the animating principle, the mover and director of this wonderful machine, to be actuated by random impulses, mishapen, and imperfect. Shall we acquiesce in this opi
nion, nion, and ascribe negligence or inability to the Creator? The laws that regulate the intellectual system are too fine for fu= perficial attention, and elude the perception of the vulgar. But every accurate and sedate observer is fenfible of their existence,
Difficulty in making just experiments is the principal reason why the knowledge of human nature has been retarded. The materials of this study are commonly gathered from reflection on our own feelings, or from observations on the conduct of others. Each of these methods is exposed to difficulty, and consequently to error.
Natural philosophers possess great advantages over moralists and metaphysicians, in so far as the subjects of their inquiries belong to the senses, are external, material, and often permanent. Hence they can retain them in their presence till they have examined their motion, parts,