Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

applied the telescope to the heavens, ascertained the pressure of the atmosphere; Bacon wrote the ‘Novum Organon ;' Torricelli invented the barometer; Pascal proved it; the scientific academies of Italy, England, and France were founded; experiments were commenced, and the dogmatism of the schools scattered to the winds; Newton discovered and applied the laws of gravitation, wrote the ' Principia,' constructed a reflecting telescope; Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood; Boyle improved the air-pump to its present form, and developed a variety of facts connected with the air; Hooke published his discoveries with the microscope; Halley prosecuted his researches in terrestrial magnetism; Leibnitz lived; Descartes lived; the steam-engine was invented ; electricity was developed as a science, and many chemical discoveries made. This list might be much extended; but enough has been mentioned to shew that the time in question constitutes almost a new era in the history of mankind, as it unquestionably does in that of philosophy; and enough also to shew the nature and number of those valuable truths which were only waiting to be gathered by the first adventurous person who, leaving behind the fables of a past age, would stretch out his hand to the things really presented before him in nature.

In approaching the conclusion of this sketch of philosophy in her childhood, we part with regret from our consideration of the early inquirers into the mysteries of nature. They felt that peculiar charm in the study of science which is lost to ourselves—the freshness of a first-love. They were the first to apply the principle of interrogation to the world around them, and the first to catch the half-obscure replies returned by the things of nature with which they dealt. The things which to them were great discoveries are matters of everyday with us. Boyle, Wilkins, Digby, and the young Royal Society, with all the new marvels that enchanted them, and invited fresh pursuit into the untrodden ways of experimental science, are forgotten now, and the world rolls on, for ever turning up wondrous things of science to the contemplation of philosophers who are but little prone to dwell on the past. One remarkable feature distinguishes the time of which we have spoken and no other before or since—and that is the humility of the philosophers, their diffidence in the present and in themselves, and their confidence in the future and in the coming men. They appeared to feel all the feebleness of their infancy in science, all the imperfections which characterised their attempts, and had ever a watchful eye on the future, reliant upon the ultimate success of the investigations they had commenced and their method of pursuing them. And such is the true spirit of an experimental philosopher. The very fact of his seeking truth by experiment implies a consciousness of his ignorance of results, and inculcates a deep reliance on the laws instituted by the Creator among natural things, and humility in observing their operations. Yet this is very opposite to the natural impulses of the human mind. • Excited,' writes Humboldt, ' by the brilliant manifestation of new discoveries, and nourishing hopes, the fallacy of which often continues long undetected, each age dreams that it has approximated closely to the culminating point of the recognition and comprehension of nature.' Of this fault, however, the time of which we have written was less guilty than any before it, or than any subsequent period. Experimental philosophy began with a confession of its ignorance; and Newton touchingly professed himself to be but a little child gathering pebbles by the ocean side.

What the philosophers of the time in question sowed we now reap the fruits of. In setting the example of separating certain knowledge from mere conjectures founded on analogy, and subjecting every portion of natural knowledge to the strict criticism of measure, weight, and experiment, they have done mankind at large, and the cause of natural philosophy in particular, the most essential service. The weakness and unsatisfactory nature of those studies in which "unfounded opinions take the place of certain facts, and symbolical myths manifest themselves under ancient semblances as grave theories,' has been demonstrated by them, and contrasted with the lasting and solid results attainable by research begun in the right spirit, and pursued in the true direction. The philosophic enthusiasm they awakened has never gone out. Its influence pervades society in our own time. Experimental investigation is not contined to the philosophic few among whose ranks it first had origin. The humblest student of nature whose knowledge is gleaned from things, not books, resembles the experimentalists of the time in question, and is seeking truth by the same route. At the same time the most arduous experimental researcheswitness those of Faraday in electricity—are being carried on. Philosophers are in every direction knocking at the portals of truth, and daily evidences of their success surround us. The momentum of that wonderful mode of developing truth set in movement by these children of science is now carrying us forward daily to higher and still higher discoveries. “Who knows,' says an animated philosopher of our day, 'what may yet be in store for our use; what new discovery may again change the tide of human affairs; what hidden treasures may yet be brought to light in the air or in the ocean, of which we know so little; or what virtues there may be in the herbs of the field and in the treasures of the earth; how far its hidden fires or stores of ice may yet become available? Ages can never exhaust the treasures of nature.' Let us learn to imitate the humility of the childphilosophers, and with them learn, too, our grateful dependence upon Him from whom every good and perfect gift proceeds—not the least of His gifts, through man to man, being that experimental philosophy which now forms the foundation of every department of natural knowledge.

CONFUCIU S.

HE most instructive chapter in the comprehensive records of philosophy typified in life. By this agency has the Divine Being most perfectly revealed himself; and by it, in the moral economy of his universe, are the virtuous energies of humanity continually renewed. The happiest inspiration of which society is the source is the influence diffused through it in various attractive forms by its most distinguished members. Coleridge has beautifully, and with his accustomed significance, remarked that 'it is only by celestial observations that even terrestrial charts can be constructed scientifically.' To gaze steadfastly at the intellectual and moral lights of the world is at once the criterion and pledge of our own advancement; and in that constellation there are for all of us some bright particular stars, which, on account of the brilliancy with which they have shone forth upon mankind under the most peculiar circumstances, should be most earnestly and studiously regarded. Such a one was Confucius : a man who, to use the language of a distinguished living writer, ' six centuries before Christ, considered the outward economy of an empire a worthier object of study than all hidden and abstracted lore; who prized maxims of life and conduct more than all speculations regarding the Divinity; who had actually anticipated some of the most modern propositions respecting the governor and the governed. This man was not a mere name for a set of opinions: he had a distinct, marked personality. And his words and acts have not been limited to a narrow circle or to one or two centuries. He has left an impression of himself upon the most populous empire in the world. After two thousand years his authority is still sacred among the people, the mandarins, the emperors of China; his influence is felt in every portion of that vast and complicated society.' Of this man it is our intention here to give some account.

Koong-foo-tse, or Confucius, as his name has been Latinised by the Jesuits, was born in the autumn of the year 551 B.C. at Shang-Ping, in the kingdom of Loo, within the district now called Keo-fow Hiew, just to the eastward of the great canal, in Shan-tung province. It will be observed from the date that he was a contemporary of Pythagoras. Various prodigies, as in other instances, were, we are told, the forerunners of his birth. On the eve of his appearance upon earth, two dragons encircled the house, five celestial sages entered it at the moment of the portentous

No. 77.

1

birth, and vocal and instrumental music filled the air. When he was born this inscription appeared on his breast : “ The maker of a rule for settling the world. His pedigree is traced back in a summary manner to the mythological monarch Hoang-hj, who is said to have lived more than two thousand years before Christ. His father was a magistrate in his native kingdom; for China was then divided into a number of small feudal states, nominally dependent on one head, but each ruled by its own laws. Confucius, therefore, undoubtedly belonged to the literary class from which the mandarins are chosen; and it is said that from his infancy he distinguished himself by his remarkable progress in philosophy. Certain it is that he made those advances in rank and dignity which in China could not be made without much study and an acquaintance with the works of his predecessors in different branches of learning; for he became, say his biographers, one of the first mandarins in the kingdom of Loo.

The early part of his life, as recorded by his followers, presents some curious traits. He was but three years old, says the tale, when his father, Shuh-Leang-Ho, died in a state of honourable poverty, leaving young Confucius to the care of his wife Yan-She. The young philosopher, we are told, took no delight in playing like other boys-a very bad symptom, as we should have apprehended, of the vigour of his intellectual faculties, but which is, of course, recorded to his honour. He was remarkably grave and serious in his deportment, and endeavoured in all things to imitate his grandfather. For this old gentleman he entertained an extraordinary degree of veneration, but nevertheless he one day ventured to reprove him with much philosophic dignity. The occasion was as follows: the grandfather was sitting absorbed in a melancholy reverie, in the course of which he frequently sighed deeply. The child observing him, after some time approached him, and, with many bows and formal reverences, spoke thus: “If I may presume, without violating the respect which I owe you, sir, to inquire into the cause of your grief, I would gladly do so. Perhaps you fear that I, who am descended from you, may reflect discredit on your memory by failing to imitate your virtues.' His grandfather, astonished, asked him from whom he had learned to speak in such a

From yourself, sir,' replied the boy. 'I listen attentively to your words, and I often hear you say that a son who does not imitate the virtues of his forefathers is not worthy to bear their name.' The result of this sage discourse is not mentioned, but it is evidently a story fabricated to hold him up to admiration among a people whose distinguishing character is that of filial respect for their parents. Another tale is told to exemplify his veneration for the ancients. After the death of his grandfather, which happened when Confucius was a mere child, the latter pursued his studies under a learned doctor, who was likewise a magistrate and governor, although a teacher in a public school, by whose instruction he was soon enabled to read and comprehend many ancient works long since lost. This progress he had made at the age of sixteen, when he fell into company with a person of high rank, and more than twice as old as himself. The great man, who did not entertain so high a respect as Confucius for the works in question, declared that they were obscure, and not worth the trouble of studying. Whereupon our young student sharply reproved him, saying: "The books which you despise are full of profound knowledge, and their obscurity is a recommendation to them. In consequence of this they can only be understood by the wise and learned. If they were plain and intelligible to the people in general, the people would despise them. It is very necessary to the subordination and tranquillity of society that there should be degrees of knowledge, to render the ignorant dependent on the wise. As society could not exist with equality of power, so it could as little exist with equality of knowledge; for every one would wish to govern, and no one would be willing to obey. I have heard from a low, ignorant person, the same observation which you now make, and it did not surprise me from him, but I am astonished to hear it from a person of your rank and dignity, who ought to be so much better informed.' The story goes on to say that the mandarin, incensed at the rebuke, and unable to reply to it by reasoning, would have fallen upon the young logician, and given him a sound beating, if he had not been prevented by those who stood by.

manner.

He was now made a subordinate magistrate, with the duty of inspecting the sale and distribution of corn, and distinguished himself by his industry and energy in repressing fraud and introducing order and integrity into the whole business. This led to a higher appointment—that of inspectorgeneral of pastures and flocks—which he entered upon when in his twentyfirst year; and the result of his judicious measures, we are told, was a general improvement in the cultivation of the country and the condition of the people. Before this he had entered into the holy estate of matrimony. Early marriages are common in China ; and Confucius, who seems to have had a peculiar aptitude for conforming to established customs, took to himself a wife at the age of nineteen. The lady was Ke-Kwan-She, of an ancient family in Sung, and by her he had one son, named Pe-Yu, who died before his father at the age of fifty, but left a son, named TsuTse, who grew up in the paths pointed out to him by his grandfather, became very learned, and attained to the highest honours of the state. Confucius, who appears to have entertained no great regard for the fair sex, divorced his wife four years after marriage, for no other reason than that he might attend the better to his books, and be able to discharge more efficiently his duties as a mandarin and superintendent of the agriculture of the province.

The death of his mother, which happened when he was twenty-three years of age, interrupted his administrative functions. According to the ancient and almost forgotten laws of China, children were obliged to resign all public employments on the death of either of their parents; and Confucius

, desirous of renewing the observance in his native land of all the practices of venerable antiquity, did not fail to conform to this enactment. He further resolved that instead of consigning the dead, as was now customary in China, to any piece of waste ground at hand, the obsequies of his mother should be celebrated with a decorum and magnificence which should be an example to the whole country. This spectacle, in which pomp united with propriety, struck his fellow-citizens with astonishment, and inspired them with such touching recollections, that they determined to restore the observance of what were supposed to be the ancient funeral rites, and to bury their dead in future with all the honours of antiquity. This example was soon followed by the inhabitants of the neighbouring states, and the whole nation, excepting the poorest class, has continued

!

« ForrigeFortsæt »