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SIR, Being so great a lover of antiquities, it was reasonable to suppose, you would be very much obliged with any. thing that was new. I have been of late offended with many writers of essays and moral discourses, for running into stale topics and threadbare quotations, and not handling their subject fully and closely: all which errors I have carefully avoided in the following essay, which I have proposed as a pattern for young writers to imitate. The thoughts and observations being entirely new, the quotations untouched by others, the subject of mighty importance, and treated with much order and perspicuity, it has cost me a great deal of time; and I desire you will accept and consider it as the utmost effort of my genius.
A TRITICAL ESSAY
FACULTIES OF THE MIND.*
PHILOSOPHERS say, that man is a microcosm, or little world, resembling in miniature every part of the great ; and, in my opinion, the body natural may be compared to the body politic; and if this be so, how can the Epicurean's opinion be true, that the universe was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms : which I will no more believe, than that the accidental jumbling of the letters of the alphabet, could fall by chance into a most ingenious and learned treatise of philosophy. Risum teneatis amici ? This false opinion must needs create many more : it is like an error in the first concoction, which cannot be corrected in the second ; the foundation is weak, and whatever superstructure you raise upon it, must, of necessity, fall to the ground. Thus, men are led from one error to another, until, with Ixion, they embrace a cloud instead of Juno; or, like the dog in the fable, lose the substance in gaping at the shadow. For such opinions cannot cohere; but, like the iron and clay in the toes of Nebuchadnezzar's
* The object and irony of this piece are obvious. VOL. IX.
image, must separate and break in pieces. I have read in a certain author, that Alexander wept because he had no more worlds to conquer: which he needed not have done, if the fortuitous concourse of atoms could create one : but this is an opinion, fitter for that many-headed beast, the vulgar, to entertain, than for so wise a man as Epicurus ; the corrupt part of his sect only borrowed his name, as the monkey did the cat's claw to draw the chesnut out of the fire.
However, the first step to the cure, is to know the disease ; and though truth may be difficult to find, because, as the philosopher observes, she lives in the bottom of a well, yet we need not, like blind men, grope in open daylight. I hope I may be allowed, among so many far more learned men, to offer my mite, since a stander-by may sometimes, perhaps, see more of the game, than he that plays it. But I do not think a philosopher obliged to account for every phenomenon in nature, or drown himself with Aristotle, for not being able to solve the ebbing and flowing of the tide, in that fatal sentence he passed upon himself, Quia te non capio, tu capies me. Wherein he was at once the judge and the criminal, the accuser and executioner. Socrates, on the other hand, who said he knew nothing, was pronounced by the oracle to be the wisest man in the world.
But to return from this digression : I think it as clear as any demonstration of Euclid, that nature does nothing in vain ; if we were able to dive into her secret recesses, we should find that the smallest blade of
grass, or most contemptible weed, has its particular use : but she is chiefly admirable in her minutest compositions ; the least and most contemptible insect most discovers the art of nature, if I may so call it, though nature, which delights in variety, will always triumph over art : and as the poet observes,
Naturam expellas furcâ licet, usque recurret.*
Hor. Lib. I. Epist. X. 24.
But the various opinions of philosophers have scattered through the world as many plagues of the mind, as Pandora's box did those of the body; only with this difference, that they have not left hope at the bottom. And if Truth be not fled with Astrea, she is certainly as hidden as the source of Nile, and can be found only in Utopia. Not that I would reflect on those wise sages, which would be a sort of ingratitude ; and he that calls a man ungrateful, sums up all the evil that a man can be guilty of,
Ingratum si dixeris, omnia dicis.
But, what I blame the philosophers for, (though some may think it a paradox,) is chiefly their pride; nothing less than an ipse dixit, and you must pin your faith on their sleeve. And though Diogenes lived in a tub, there might be, for aught I know, as much pride under his rags, as in the fine-spun garments of the divine Plato. It is reported of this Diogenes, that when Alexander came to see him, and promised to give him whatever he would ask, the cynic only answered,
« Take not from me what thou canst not give me, but stand
* For Nature, driven out, with proud disdain, All-powerful goddess, will return again.