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between the vulgar pursuits of ambition, or of gain, which occupy the minds of mere men of the world, and the loftier meditations of the poet or the philosopher, and do you not think that those great men, whom you mention as political partizans, or it may be, as striving sometimes to acquire wealth as their highest aim, would not have been still greater, had they devoted themselves more entirely to their sublime contemplations ?—I do not mean to say, said Philo, that there is any one walk of human life, which does not almost necessarily carry us into some degree of error or corruption, more or less. A man who engages in political faction, or in pursuit of riches, will run great hazard of being carried by them into irritating and debasing feelings. All I mean to say is, that the greatest minds launch out with energy and interest upon the scene of human life, as it lives and breathes around them, and that, in fact, it is greatly owing to this vivacity of thought, and sensibility to real human concerns, that their imaginary and mental creations have so much more of the. freshness of reality about them, than those of the poets, who live solely in the dreams of their own minds. The purer their views of human pursuits, and the more generous the purposes with which they engage in them, the less incompatibility will men of genius find between them and their internal world—but that higher creation will always lose one of its first and most necessary ingredients, if it is not invested with the character of life and reality, which no one can give it who is not himself alive to actual and living interests.
There is, in truth, then, no incompatibility between those different occupations. "Man is born in society," says an eminent philosophical writer," and there he remains." His first exercises of mind are entirely of a social character. Before he has gained any habits of self-reflection, he has in innumerable ways had converse with his fellows;-and reflection, or meditation on his own thoughts, is, as I have said, only an imitation of this social communication. We think in words, and our reasonings and balancing of views and opinions are only a kind of internal dialogue. They are the results of the discursive faculty, and the term, discourse, is applied both to the communication which we have with each other, and with ourselves. Then, it is evident, reading is a continuation of the same kind of mental converse. A book is nothing but a written speech, addressed to us by one of the same race of beings with ourselves. Our converse with nature takes us out of the range of our own operations and of human society-but no one can look upon nature, either in its universal features, or in its minute details, without feeling that his intelligence
is called into constant action; and what can exercise intelligence but intellectual objects—but things arranged and formed on a plan, with relations to other things, in a manner consistent and useful?
Certainly, the more we look into nature, the more it appears to us in this character. If reading a book is conversation with its author— to read the vast book of nature is to converse with the Infinite Mind from which it proceeds. And here, in truth, is the origin of religion. This is the still small voice which has "gone out through all the earth, and the words thereof unto the ends of the world." This is, no doubt, the highest kind of converse, yet we feel it to be defective in point of vivacity and proximity, so to speak, when compared with what is properly termed society-the communication of man with his fellows. It is in this particular, too, like reading a book, in comparison with the actual living intercourse with its author. In the act of reading we often lose sight or recollection of the fact that it had an authorand seem to derive all the thoughts and facts which it presents to us as if they were the spontaneous produce of the words which we read, or the pages which we turn over. In like manner, and to a much greater degree, from the operation being so constant and habitual, we too often look upon nature,—its perpetual order,—its innumerable contrivances,—without one feeling of wonder and admiration, or even recollection that there is here before us the workmanship of an allwise Artificer. This feeling, or recollection, however, is really in the mind of every human being at every moment, even of those to whom it may never have presented itself in the shape of distinct thoughtas at every moment when we are reading a book, we cannot be said to have forgot that it has an author, although we may not, at the time, be thinking of him or of his authorship.
There are contrivances by which authors or their admirers endeavour to keep our memories more alive to their present or former existence, and to the relation which they hold to their writings. A lively representation of their form and features in the front of their works, has no slight influence in bringing the reader to this recollection. Even if it is a very bad representation, and does not at all correspond with the character of features which the traces of wisdom or benevolence in the written record would lead us to conjecture, it may have the effect of deepening our impression of the connection of the work with a living being like ourselves, and bring us more into his supposed presence. It is in some such way that the natural impressions of religion have in every age of the world been roused and brought into action. Men have always wished to seize, as it were, the mighty
Mind of the universe in some of its most striking manifestations— though, like the fabled Proteus, it has no less constantly eluded their grasp. It is easy to understand how these manifestations should chiefly be apprehended as displaying themselves, in those natural appearances, which affect men most in their hopes and fears-and hence the earthquakes, the storms, and the fires, are the favourite walks of the ignorance of superstition-while true religion muses in silent gratitude upon the universal harmony and unobtrusive benevolence of creation. In the same way, as we have no precise notions of any other intercourse of a social kind than that which we possess with each other, how naturally does the heart desire this kind of intercourse in religion! and hence the innumerable legends of superstition, some of them beautiful, others merely fantastic and degrading, of the appearances of divine natures upon earth, and of their communications with their human favourites. There is no need of going into particulars-but I cannot leave the subject, Cleanthes, without mentioning how condescendingly, and, at the same time, with what grace and dignity, Revelation meets this natural desire of the human heart.
Take the first intimations given us of the intercourse of the Creator with his human offspring in their state of innocence. How beautiful the conception of the voice of the Lord being heard, in the cool of the day, amidst the delightful walks and alleys of their garden in converse with the first pair! Such is now our condition, that probably we should not have comprehended any of the previous conversation, when all was peace and harmony, and when the tones of that blessed voice were expressive only of paternal love. So that the first words of the Deity, which we are permitted to hear, in his converse with our great progenitors, were those awful ones "where art thou?" — which brought them from the hiding-place into which the new consciousness of guilt had driven them. But from the style of this celestial colloquy, so calm and soothing amidst all its severity, we may form the conception what it must have been, when it breathed only love, and gentleness, and kindness.
The after communications in the course of the sacred records, singular as they may often seem, have always a wonderful adaptation to the various aspects of society in the progress of the world, and even when they seem to come closest to the features of superstition universal in those ages, there is always something of a divine air, and holier character, which most remarkably distinguishes them from any mere human conceptions. And at last, my friends, when Christianity
dawns upon the benighted world, how inexpressibly beautiful the accommodation made to the frailty, the fears, and the wants of the heart of man ;· - but how sublime and Godlike the communication, in the midst of all its profound humility! Most forms of superstition have their incarnations, or gods appearing in the shape of man- but in Christianity alone, while the condescension is of all others the most complete and soothing to the creature - it is made without any abatement, but rather with an infinite enhancement of the glory of the Creator.
But I have forgot all this time that I am but an invalid, and that you have come off a long journey ;—we had better now go within doors for a little rest and refreshment, and as I hope you are not going to quit me very soon, we shall have abundance of time for every kind of favourite talk and speculation, without hurrying them over too rapidly, or letting ourselves be exhausted by the ardour with which we pursue them.-So saying, Philo conducted us into his mansion.
When we assembled next morning, we were delighted to see from Philo's countenance that he had had a sound and salutary night's rest, and seemed to be evidently advancing in convalescence. The day was beautiful, and we could scarcely help imagining that nature, too, had made a visible progress during the hours while we were asleep, and had put forth a new profusion of leaves and spring flowers. We were saluted by the cheering voice of the birds from the garden and neighbouring thickets, and readily agreed to Philo's proposal, when the heat of noon was gathering, to wander slowly with him into one of his favourite retreats, where we might have most enjoyment of the delightful season. We followed the course of a wild path, which led along the brook over which the house is situated, and into the wooded dell from which it issues. Our way conducted us, at times, to heights from which we had openings of the blue ocean gleaming in the distance, but it generally kept at the foot of the bank, and near the clear stream murmuring over its rude channel. The trees rose above, sometimes hanging over precipices, sometimes on more gradual slopes, which were richly covered with primroses and other wild flowers, that seemed as if opening into existence before us. Some of the gigantic monarchs of the wood had been lately prostrated by the axe, and their vast and sprawling limbs stript of their bark, and gleaming whitely
through the shade, formed a singular contrast to their erect and rugged brethren that were putting forth their fresh leaves of every delicate green, and were resounding with the full chorus that peopled them. The portions of bark raised in rows for being dried, in the form of long benches or tables, added, to the natural wildness of the scene, some interesting hints of the presence and the arts of men; and the occasional blows of the axe, or echo of the woodman's voice from a distance, were no very discordant accompaniments to the music of the birds, and brook, and bees, no more than the rustic smell of the bark, — wafted at times upon the breeze, interrupted the more native scents of the forest.
We seated ourselves, at last, in a sequestered nook which commanded an extent of the stream winding in sunshine before us, or losing itself in shade, as well as many other of the woodland beauties, when, after we had, for some time, enjoyed the scene in silence,—“ Is it possible, said Philo, to look upon nature in any other light than as a grand medium of communication with higher intelligence; and what indeed, are those qualities which we call sublimity and beauty, but the varied features of that Divine presence?"-I have no objection, Philo, said Cleanthes, to those philosophical systems which explain our sense of those qualities you have now mentioned, as arising less from any mechanical operation of colours or forms upon the mind, than from the power which mind possesses to array in the garb of its own sentiments and affections the material objects which surround it; and, no doubt, the indications of wisdom, and power, and benevolence, which these objects exhibit, contribute largely to their sublimity and beauty; but I suspect, if you resolve the whole or the greater part of these qualities into a sense of the Divine presence, you will fall into an indistinct and misty Platonism, which, while it seems to be laying a deep and wide foundation for religious belief and emotion, only clouds and perplexes these important principles. It has been ably maintained, and with much force of beautiful illustration, that it is chiefly as they reflect upon the mind the thoughts and interests of human beings that the scenes of nature appear to us to be clothed in beauty.
It has happened, no doubt, said Philo, that in the long course of the history of man's connection with this world, there should be innumerable associations of every kind formed between his occupations and affections, and the scenes in which they have been unfolded; and certainly a great part of the interest which we take in the view of these scenes arises from their ready suggestion to us of such events and circumstances. This interest, too, chimes in with the sense of their direct