« ForrigeFortsæt »
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 be 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, from 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 only made 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 in nature, from a plant to a man, is filled up with diverse kinds of creatures, rising one over another, by such a gentle and easy ascent, that the little transitions and deviations from one species to another are almost insensible. The intermediate space is so well husbanded and managed, that there is scarce a degree of perception which does not appear in some one part of the world of life. Is the goodness or 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 such a regular progress, so high as man, we may, by a parity of reason, suppose that it still proceeds gradually through those beings which are of a superior nature to him; since there is an infinitely greater space and room for different degrees and perfection, between the Supreme Being and man, than between man and the most despicable insect. This consequence
of so great a variety of beings which are superior to us, from that variety which is inferior to us, is made by Mr. Locke, in a passage which I shall here set down, after having premised, that notwithstanding there is such infinite room between man and his Maker for the creative power to exert itself in, it is impossible that it should ever be filled up, since there will be still an infinite gap or distance between the highest created being and the power which produced him.
"That there should be more species of intelligent creatures above us than there are of sensible and material below us, is probable to me from hence; that in all the visible corporeal world, we see no chasms, or no gaps. All quite down from us, the descent is by easy steps, and a continued series of things, that in each remove differ very little one from the other. There are fishes that have wings, and are not strangers to the airy regions: and there are some birds that are inhabitants of the water; whose blood is cold as fishes, and their flesh so like in taste, that the scrupulous are allowed them on fish-days. There are animals so near of kin both to birds and beasts, that they are in the middle between both: amphibious animals link the terrestrial and aquatic together; seals live at land and at sea, and porpoises have the warm blood and entrails of a hog; not to mention what is confidently reported of mermaids and sea-men. There are some brutes, that seem to have as much knowledge and reason as some that are called men; and the animal and vegetable kingdoms are so nearly joined, that if you will take the lowest of one and the highest of the other, there will scarce be perceived any great difference between them: and so on till we come to the lowest and the most inorganical parts of matter, we shall find everywhere that the several species are linked together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees. And when we consider the infinite power and wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to think that it is suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and the great design and infinite goodness of the Architect, that the species of creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upward from us toward his infinite perfection, as we see they gradually
1 This consequence is made.] To make a consequence is strange English: and, the consequence of so great a variety, &c., is almost as strange. He might have said, more briefly and properly-This conclusion is drawn by Mr. Locke, &c.
descend from us downwards: which if it be probable, we have reason then to be persuaded, that there are far more species of creatures above us, than there are beneath; we being in degrees of perfection much more remote from the infinite being of God than we are from the lowest state of being, and that which approaches nearest to nothing. And yet of all those distinct species, we have no clear, distinct ideas."
In this 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 intellectual nature, the visible and invisible world, and is that link in the chain of beings which has been often termed the Nexus utriusque Mundi. So that he, who in one respect being associated with angels and arch-angels, 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."
No. 523. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30.
-Nunc augur Apollo,
Nunc Lycia sortes, nunc et Jove missus ab ipso
I AM always highly delighted with the discovery of any rising genius among my countrymen. For this reason I have read over, with great pleasure, the late miscellany published by Mr. Pope, in which there are many excellent compositions of that ingenious gentleman. I have had a pleasure of the same kind, in perusing a poem that is just published "On the Prospect of Peace," and which, I hope, will meet with such a reward from its patrons, as so noble a performance deserves. I was particularly well-pleased to find that the author had not amused himself with fables out of the Pagan theology, and that when he hints at anything of this nature, he alludes to it only as to a fable.
Many of our modern authors, whose learning very often extends no farther than Ovid's Metamorphoses, do not know how to celebrate a great man, without mixing a parcel of
school-boy tales with the recital of his actions. If you read a poem on a fine woman, among the authors of this class, you shall see that it turns more upon Venus or Helen, than on the party concerned. I have known a copy of verses on a great hero highly commended; but upon asking to hear some of the beautiful passages, the admirer of it has repeated to me a speech of Apollo, or description of Polypheme. At other times when I have searched for the actions of a great man who gave a subject to the writer, I have been entertained with the exploits of a river-god, or have been forced to attend a fury in her mischievous progress from one end of the poem to the other. When we are at school, it is necessary for us to be acquainted with the system of Pagan theology, and may be allowed to enliven a theme, or point an epigram, with a heathen god; but when we would write a manly panegyric, that should carry in it all the colours of truth, nothing can be more ridiculous than to have recourse to our Jupiters and Junos.1
No thought is beautiful which is not just, and no thought can be just which is not founded in truth, or at least in that which passes for such.2
In mock-heroic poems, the use of the heathen mythology is not only excusable but graceful, because it is the design of such compositions to divert, by adapting the fabulous machines of the ancients to low subjects, and at the same time by ridiculing such kinds of machinery in modern writers. If any are of opinion, that there is a necessity of admitting these classical legends into our serious compositions, in order to give them a more poetical turn, I would recommend to their consideration the Pastorals of Mr. Philips. One would have thought it impossible for this kind of poetry
The way of writing, here very justly condemned, sprung up with the revival of letters; and was to be expected in that state of things, when every poet was in effect a school-boy; when those agreeable stories of the Pagan gods were new to most people, and the knowledge of them gave so much distinction. But this puerile mode of writing would not have continued to Mr. Addison's days, if Mr. Waller had not made it his own, and set it off with the utmost grace and ingenuity.
2 Or at least in that which passes for such.] This exception, which must be admitted, reduces the general rule of Bouhours and the French critics, from whom Mr. Addison took it, to just nothing: for what is that thought, which in the hands of an able writer may not be so turned as to pass for truth, with most readers ?
to have subsisted1 without fauns and satyrs, wood-nymphs and water-nymphs, with all the tribe of rural deities. But we see he has given a new life, and a more natural beauty, to this way of writing, by substituting in the place of these antiquated fables, the superstitious mythology which prevails among the shepherds of our own country.
Virgil and Homer might compliment their heroes, by interweaving the actions of deities with their achievements; but for a Christian author to write in the Pagan creed, to make Prince Eugene a favourite of Mars, or to carry on a correspondence between Bellona and the Marshal de Villars, would be downright puerility, and unpardonable in a poet that is past sixteen. It is want of sufficient elevation in a genius to describe realities, and place them in a shining light that makes him have recourse to such trifling antiquated fables; as a man may write a fine description of Bacchus or Apollo, that does not know how to draw the character of any of his contemporaries.
In order, therefore, to put a stop to this absurd practice, I shall publish the following edict, by virtue of that spectatorial authority with which I stand invested.
WHEREAS the time of a general peace is, in all appearance, drawing near, being informed that there are several ingenious persons who intend to show their talents on so happy an occasion, and being willing, as much as in me lies, to prevent that effusion of nonsense which we have good cause to apprehend; I do hereby strictly require every person, who shall write on this subject, to remember that he is a Christian, and not to sacrifice his catechism to his poetry. In order to it, I do expect of him in the first place, to make his own poem without depending upon Phoebus for any part of it, or calling out for aid upon any one of the muses by name. I do likewise positively forbid the sending of Mercury with any particular message or despatch relating to the peace; and shall by no means suffer Minerva to take upon her the shape of any plenipotentiary concerned in this great work. I do further declare, that I shall not allow the Destinies to have had a hand in the deaths of the several thousands who have been slain in the late war, being of opinion that all such deaths may be very well accounted for by the Christian system of powder and ball. I do therefore strictly forbid the 1 Without doubt, "to subsist."