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THE title chosen for this Volume expresses very fairly the nature of its contents. It consists of De Quincey's occasional excursions on his own account, apart from certain translations of his from the German, into those questions of Metaphysics and Ethics which constitute what is usually regarded as Philosophy proper, or as Philosophy in connexion with Theology.
The opening Essay, entitled System of the Heavens as revealed by Lord Rosse's Telescopes, though standing in some respects by itself, is yet a very fit introduction to the rest. While it is interesting as an eloquent exposition of some abstruse points in astronomical science, its chief value, both in De Quincey's intention and actually, consists in its sketching out exactly that kind of general vision of sidereal immensity which most surely compels the mind into the mood of metaphysical wonder and musing. De Quincey has himself remarked on the strange fact that people in general in these days have contracted a habit of always looking sideways or downwards, so that it is but an exceptional few that, in a walk in a city street or on a country road in the most splendid of starry nights, ever lift their eyes to the rolling glories overhead. It is perhaps but the same thing in another shape that, while there is such a unanimous passion at present for the systematic inclusion of Chemistry and the various Biological Sciences in the business of education, Astronomy, which is the most soul-dilating of all the sciences, and was in past centuries the one all-sufficing form of cosmography taught in schools and colleges, has passed now into compara
tive neglect. The specific virtue of De Quincey's paper is that it tends to counteract this neglect of the physically vast. With a general effect resembling that of Chalmers's Astronomical Discourses, though after another fashion, it impresses once more that lesson of awe and amazement which has been taught to all generations of mortal men more emphatically by the spectacle of the spangled heavens than by anything else, and more emphatically than ever in these later generations, when the fretted roof of the old familiar firmament has been burst, and the universe of worlds and starry systems which we are called upon to conceive has receded into utter boundlessness, and therefore into racking defiance of all conceivability whatever. The very portion of the paper which some will condemn as but a daringly intruded whimsy, out of keeping with the context,-the conversion of one momentary aspect of the Nebula in Orion into a hideous living fiend or phantasm, like Milton's Death, imaginable as tenanting one ill-fated tract of the immeasurable depths of space, might be justified perhaps on some such principle as that, when the human mind is irremediably baffled in the conception of any physical reality, it has a right to revenge itself by some moral or poetical substitute. At all events, this passage increases the impressiveness of the paper, and is the surest to remain in the memory. But it is certainly an addition which Shakespeare would never have anticipated to his sweeter cosmological inventory of
"all things rare
The appended Postscript On the True Relations of the Bible to merely Human Science connects itself naturally enough with the matter of the preceding paper, but is of wider application. It expounds an idea of De Quincey's on the subject of Biblical Inspiration well worthy of more attention from theologians than it has yet received. The idea reappears in a later paper in the present volume.
Of the paper entitled Plato's Republic one has to give a mixed opinion. So far as it is an onslaught, from the point of view of Christian morality, on the ethics of Plato's Republic, one has nothing to object; but, as it chances to be an
onslaught also virtually on Plato in general, one has to register
"Six wings he wore, to shade His lineaments divine."
Passing to the next two articles, we recover our confidence. In Kant in his Miscellaneous Essays there is a good deal of information that will be new yet to most British readers respecting Kant personally, his religious and political beliefs, and the subjects of some of his minor writings. Similarly instructive is the Glance at the Works of Mackintosh.