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of his followers added little credit either in principles or conduct to the name of their master. He contrived to bridle the roaming atoms, and subdue them to his pleasure. A remarkable oversight was detected in the axiom of Democritus, which ascribed an equable motion to the atoms, and sent them forward in parallel right lines. Thus situated, they must move forever without coming in contact.
This was a fatal blow to the whole system, as neither a world, nor any part of a world, could rise into existence, except by a concussion and coalescence of these primeval atoms. The fertile mind of Epicurus easily overcame this apparent obstacle. He found out, that, notwithstanding the particles moved in right lines, yet these lines were not parallel; and however small the angle in which two or more particles were moving toward each other, they must at last meet.
Here the concourse began ; two united particles soon met with a third, and a general confusion ensued. Age after age rolled away before the symptoms of harmony appeared in any part; millions of combinations were gone through ; the war was furious and dreadful; the imagination has no power to conceive the number of objects, the variety of forms, which arose and perished in the strife of these chaotic elements. But the time came when one particle after another found its appropriate place, its sympathizing particle, and then began to appear things in regular shapes and consistency. These atoms were of all forms; some were round, others cubical, triangular, hooked, cellular. The hooks clenched themselves into the cells, and in this close contact formed hard substances, rocks, precious stones, and metals. Atoms of irregular forms combined into substances of different densities, as clay, earth, soil; and last of all came the globular atoms, which constitute water and other fluids, and can only be kept on the earth by resting in cavities. Thus the globe, trees, plants, animals, and all terrestrial things were brought into being. They continue so, because in this state the atoms maintain a harmonious union, which the ordinary force of infringing atoms cannot dissolve.
Such was the contrivance by which Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus, made the world, or rather their discovery of the manner in which the world made itself. Cudworth
New Series, No. 18. 35
writes learnedly to prove, that Leucippus deserves not the honor of the original discovery, and would fain tear the laurel from his head, where it has flourished so long, and place it on the brow of Pythagoras, or some earlier sage. We are not convinced by the arguments of Cudworth, but in so grave a matter we would not decide with precipitancy, reserving to ourselves the right of further inquiry and consideration.
A system like this of Epicurus, a system of atheism and absurdity, however ingenious and highly wrought, could hardly have survived its author, had it not been embraced by a few of the loftiest minds of antiquity, and immortalized by the powerful, the brilliant, the exhaustless genius of Lucretius. The poem of this extraordinary man, entitled De Rerum Natura, is a methodical exposition and defence of the atomical physiology, and more strikingly combines the richness of a poetical fancy with the deep thought of philosophy, a universal knowledge, refinement of taste, and polished elegance of language, than any other similar composition ancient or modern. As it runs through the whole domain of nature, and seeks the causes of all things, physical and moral, its topics are innumerable ; many of them dry and crabbed, it is true, and such as no magic of fancy nor skill in poetry could adorn; but where the subject will admit, almost every line discovers a master's hand, and every period breathes the spirit and glows with the imagery of poetical inspiration. The opening of the several books, and the episodes, are particularly beautiful. The poet talks wisely on the origin of government and the arts, on the principles of politics and morals; and foolishly enough on physics, because his axioms are false. Take these for granted, and his logic is exact; the wonder is, that with so much folly at bottom, he could rear an edifice so magnificent and imposing. He never labors for a reason, and the facility with which he accounts for every phenomenon in nature, without deviating from his first principles, proves the astonishing reach of his ingenuity, and the resources of his marvellous intellect.
In the judgment of Dryden he was closely copied by Virgil, especially in the Georgics. Dryden characterizes him as a sublime and daring genius, whose thoughts are masculine, and full of argumentation, and from whose warmth and energy 'proceed the loftiness of his expressions, and the perpetual torrent of his verse, where the barrenness of his subject does not too much constrain the quickness of his fancy. Julius Scaliger calls him an incomparable poet, incomparabilis poeta. He affected the old dialect, and although the variety, thus attained, adds to the copiousness of his language, and sometimes to the sweetness of his expressions, yet it is too apt to convey a tone of harshness to the ear accustomed to the more modern and regular phraseology of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. But good judges have been unanimous in extolling the uncommon elegance of his latinily. In this respect Casaubon places him above all the Latin writers. Lucretius latinitatis author optimus. By the premature death of the poet, his work was deprived of his last touches, and this may account for the occasional dark spots in the beautiful polish, which he has communicated to the body of his style. Cicero was the editor and publisher of this posthumous poem. If the voice of antiquity is to be heeded, and the critics trusted, the illustrious editor was not highly gifted with the qualities most requisite for the task he undertook ; and it is reasonable to suppose, that defects escaped his notice, which the author's revising hand would have removed.
Notwithstanding the singular notion of Anaxagoras, mentioned above, respecting the nature of the sun and stars, this philosopher was the first to lay the foundation of a rational system of the creation. He put the elements of chaos under the direction of an intelligent mind, or a being, who had knowledge and power to govern and arrange them according to his will. Had this great truth been rigidly adhered to, the immense absurdities, which bewildered the minds of later philosophers on this subject, would have been avoided. It has been said, and probably with truth, that some of the ancients borrowed their notions of the creation from the book of Genesis. Juvenal testifies, that the writings of Moses were known to the Romans, and proof is not wanting, that the same knowledge was conmon to the Greeks. It cannot be doubted, that Ovid's description of the creation, in the first book of the Metamorphoses, was copied from the Bible, The facts, and frequently the language, correspond with the narrative of the Jewish lawgiver.
Ante mare et tellus, et, quod tegit omnia, coelum,
Nec quicquam, nisi pondus iners, &c. The whole description, in its important features, resembles the Mosaic account not less closely than these opening lines. The poet yields to his fancy, and, for his machinery and embellishments, draws on the mythology of the times; but his cosmogony, his account of the early wickedness of mankind, his deluge, his Deucalion and Pyrrha, are all derived from the first chapters of Genesis.
During a long lapse of centuries, from the time of Ovid, little seems to have been done in contriving any better mode of world-making, than the ancient sages had employed, or in attempting to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries of creation, than is warranted by the revealed truths of Scripture. After a wide blank of ages, Descartes came forward as the inventor of a new system of cosmogony. To his exploits we have already alluded.
Next to Descartes may be ranked Dr Burnet, as well in the wildness of his theory, as in the extravagance of his conceptions, and the native fertility of his imagination. No modern world-maker has built his airy castle with more ingenuity, or decorated it more gorgeously. In the extent of his aims he falls behind the contriver of the vortices, for he looks no farther than the origin and revolutions of the terrestrial ball; whereas, Descartes grasps in the theory of his whirlpools the systems of all worlds, and puts in motion the wheels and springs of universal nature.
In imitation of his predecessors, Dr Burnet begins with the elements of chaos, which he fashions without difficulty to his liking. We will not follow him through his processes of creation, but take the world as it rose in primitive freshness from his hands, and hint only at the disastrous revolution by which, in consequence of its peculiar conformation, it was doomed to be convulsed and disfigured. This globe of earth, he informs us, was at first round and smooth, not deformed by frowning, craggy mountains, nor marred with such unseemly bays and oceans, as now rest on its surface. Rivers there were, but not like modern rivers, hurrying along with dashing cataracts, and foaming eddies, and furious rapids; they moved with tranquil dignity to an expanse of glassy waters, whose repose no angry tempest invaded. Neptune was a powerless monarch then, nor had Æolus strength to raise his slumbering storms and winds. The elements were friends to one another and to man, and had not learnt to wage the devouring wars, to which they have since been so much addicted. Then were the happy days of which poets sing, the golden age, the perennial spring
Ver erat aeternum, placidiqué tepentibus auris
Mulcebant zephyri natos sine semine flores. The fruits of the earth came forth in spontaneous abundance, man lived without labor, the plains and the hills were always green and fragrant, made fertile by the moisture of dews and the beams of the sun, the heavens were bright, and the season without change. Such was the world before the deluge, and it is one of the chief labors of bishop Burnet to explain the causes, by which it has been reduced to its present condition.
In moulding his chaos into a ball, he makes the heavier and harder parts settle to the centre; around the globe thus conglomerated he spreads a layer of water; and above this comes a solid crust, which constitutes the surface of the habitable earth. As this surface was never overshadowed by clouds, nor cooled by rains, it was exposed perpetually to the scorching heat of the sun. Cracks began to appear, which grew broader and deeper, till at length they penetrated to the layer of water, and this outer covering fell with tumultuous uproar into the nether abyss; the waters gushed out, and the general deluge ensued. Mountains reared their sightless heads in one part, immense caverns yawned in another to receive the outpoured oceans from the central regions, vapors ascended, clouds gathered, rivers foamed over precipices, and the beautiful temple of the world was converted into a ruin. Mortals, whose lot has been cast in these degenerate times, can form but a feeble conception of the primitive earth; such only as we have of the splendor of an ancient city, by wandering over its remains, and contemplating its fallen columns, its decaying monuments, and buried edifices.
But the catastrophe, bewailed more than any other by Dr Burnet, was the terrible shock, which the earth suffered in being wrenched from its original posture in regard to the sun. He says, when the earth escaped so narrowly from being