« PreviousContinue »
"wills, as far as it is possible, every thing good and nothing evil *;" "but it cannot be that evil should be destroyed, for there must always be a something contrary to good†,” a kúμQutos étiovμía, “ an innate propensity to disorder‡," in that eternal and independent principle of matter out of which all visible things are created.
How much more consolatory, as well as agreeable to right reason, is the view taken of this abstruse subject in the pages of genuine, unsophisticated, and correctly interpreted revelation, in which the present is represented as a state, not of actual necessity, but of pre-ordained probation; willed, in infinite wisdom, by the great First Cause, to promote the best ultimate happiness of man: and matter as a substance produced out of nothing by his almighty fiat! It was one of the express objects of the preceding lecture to prove, not only that matter does exist, in opposition to those who have thought it expedient to deny the being of a sensible and material world, but that it could not exist by any other means; and that, whilst there is no self-contradiction or absurdity in contending that matter, and that ten thousand other substances than matter, may be produced out of nothing by the energy of an infinite and omnipotent intelligence, there is so decided and perfect an absurdity in endeavouring to account for its existence upon every other theory which has hitherto been invented, that right reason should induce us to embrace the former opinion with the same promptitude with which we fly from every opinion that opposes it.
Theæt. t. i. p. 176.
Phileb. See also Brucker, Hist. Phil. lib. ii. cap. viii. § 1.
Matter, then, is the production of an almighty intelligence, and as such is entitled to our reverence; although, from a just abhorrence of many ancient, and not a few modern errors, it has too often been regarded in a low and contemptible light. Though not essentially eternal, as was contended for by all the schools of Greece and Asia, nor essentially intelligent, as was contended for by several of them, it evinces in every part and in every operation the impress of a divine origin, and is the only pathway vouchsafed to our external senses by which we can walk
Through nature up to nature's God;
that God whom we behold equally in the rounded pebble and the painted flower—in the volcano and in the corn-field-in the wild winter-storm and in the soft summer moonlight. Although, when contemplated in its aggregate mass, and especially in its organised form, it is perpetually changing, it is every where perfect in its kind, if indeed it does not bear indubitable proofs of being fitted for incorruptibility. In its elementary principles it is maintained by the best schools of both ancient and modern times to be solid and unchangeable; and, even in many of its compound forms, it discovers an obvious approach to the same character. The firm and mighty mass that constitutes the pyramids of Egypt has resisted the assaults of time and of tempests for, perhaps, upwards of four thousand years, and by some critical antiquaries is even supposed to have triumphed over the deluge itself. While there is little doubt that the hard and closely crystallised granitic mountains of every country in
which they occur, "the everlasting hills," to copy a correct and beautiful figure from the pages of Hebrew poetry, are coeval with the creation, and form at this moment, as they formed at first, the lowest depths, as well as the topmost peaks of the globe. That they are in every instance considerably attenuated and wasted away, admits, indeed, of no doubt; but to have borne the brunt of so long and incessant a warfare, without actually being worn down to the level of the circumjacent plains, affords no feeble proof of an almost imperishable nature, and a proof open to the contemplation of the most common capacities.
There are various examples of the Macedonian stater or gold coin, struck in the reign of Philip, at this time preserved in the rich cabinet of the Florence gallery, which, though they have continued in existence for at least 2200 years, do not appear to have lost any thing of their weight. Barthelemi, making a trivial mistake in the weight of the drachma, which he calculated at 66.55 grains English, suspected that these had sustained upon the average a loss of about seven eighths of a grain during this long period; but as M. Fabbroni has since satisfactorily proved that the drachma was very nearly 66-8 grains, and as this is the actual weight of several staters in this cabinet, we have a demonstration that they have sustained no diminution whatever.
Yet, in its liquid and gaseous state, matter often exhibits still more extraordinary instances of indestructibility or resistance to decomposition; and it
* See Nicholson's Journal, vol. xxxii. p. 25.
should be especially remarked, that its indestructibility or indecomposable power appears to hold a direct proportion to its subtilty, its levity, its activity, its refined, etherial, or spiritualised modification of being.
Water is as much a compound as any of the earths, yet we have strong reason for believing that for the most part it exists unchangeably from age to age; and that its integrity has been not essentially interfered with from the commencement of the world. Its constituent parts are by no means broken into, but continue the same, whether under a solid form, as that of ice; under its usual form, as that of a liquid; or under an elastic form, as that of vapour : it is the same in the atmosphere as on the earth; it falls down the very same in nature as it ascends, and the electric flash itself appears, generally speaking, to have no other influence upon it than that of hastening its precipitation. It is only to be decomposed, so far as we know, by a very concentrated action of the most powerful chemical agents; and even this, whether by art or by nature, upon a very limited scale.
A similar identity appears to exist in atmospheric air, which is, probably, at least as indestructible as water; for its composition, when freed from the heterogeneous substances which are often combined with it, is the same in the deepest valleys as on the highest cliffs; at the equator, and at the poles; the earth's surface, and the height of 21,000 feet* above it in many of which situations, and especially the more elevated, it is impossible for it ever to be
* See Thomson's Chem. vol. iv. p. 64., as also Phil. Mag. vol. xxi. p. 225.
generated; since the constituent parts of which it is composed are not found to exist in a separate state for its production. It is capable, indeed, of decomposition; but, like water, becomes decomposed with great difficulty, and probably consists at this moment, as to its general mass, of the very identical particles that formed it on its first emerging from a state of chaos.
Of the composition of the subtler gases we know nothing. The specific weight of several of them has been ascertained, and the constituent principles of one or two of them, as nitrogene and hydrogene, have been guessed at, but nothing more; for the boldest experiments of chemistry have hitherto been exerted in vain to effect their decomposition. While, as to those which are more immediately connected with the principle of animal life, and upon which many schools of modern philosophy have supposed it altogether to depend, as caloric, and the electric and voltaic fluids, the last of which seems in truth to be only a peculiar modification of the second, together with other substances or qualities which in subtilty and activity have a considerable resemblance to them, as light and the magnetic aura, we are not only wholly incapable of decomposing them by any process whatever, but even of determining them to be ponderable, or to possess any of the other common properties of matter, as extent and solidity. Whence we are, in fact, incapable of ascertaining whether they be matter at all, whether mere qualities of matter, or whether some other more subtle and spiritualised substances *, intermix
* See Young's Lectures, vol. ii. p. 742. lect. lx.