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Like inspiration, sager and more true
Than e'er the PYTHIAN maid, with laurels crown'd,
E'en those mistook the principles of things,
And greatly wander'd in attempt so great.
Let our controvertists of the present day learn a lesson of liberality from this correct and polished reasoner, whose own theory is well known to have been that of Epicurus, to which I have just adverted, namely, that one substance is just as much entitled to the character of a constituent element as another,
and that every thing equally proceeds from, and in turn is resolved into, the primitive and invisible atoms or principles of matter.
It is to this theory alone that all the experiments of modern chemistry are giving countenance. Air, water, and earth, suspected to be compounds in the time of Epicurus, have been proved to be such in our own day; while, of the actual nature of heat or fire, mankind are just as uninformed now as they were then.
In the process, however, of destroying these supposed elements, chemistry has occasionally seemed to detect others; and hence, instead of air, fire, earth, and water, as simple or indecomposable substances, we have had phlogiston, acids, and alkalies; sulphur and phosphorus; oxygene, hydrogene, nitrogene, and carbone, progressively arising before us, and laying claim to an imperishable existence. All of them, however, have fallen, or are falling in their turn, without having lived long enough to reach the common age of man; all of them have been proved, or reasonably suspected, to be compounds of other substances, that may yet, perhaps, be detected
to be compounds of something beyond. Even oxygene, the most brilliant of the whole, the boasted discovery of Lavoisier, and out of which he was supposed to have built to his own memory a monument more durable than brass," has had its throne shaken to its foundation by Sir Humphry Davy, and is at this moment, like the Roman empire in its decline, obliged to divide its sway with a new and popular power, which this last celebrated chemist has denominated chlorine; while of the more subtle and active agents, light, caloric, the magnetic and electric fluids, we know nothing but from their effects, and can only say of each-stat nominis umbra.
Is physical science, then, a vain show? house of cards, built up for the sole purpose of being pulled down again? - Assuredly not. The firm footing we have actually obtained upon many essential points-a footing not to be disturbed by any future change of system, or novelty of discovery and the ascertainment of a multitude of recondite facts, and their application to some of our most extensive and valuable arts, sufficiently prove that philosophy has neither lived nor laboured in vain. Although we have not been able to break through the spell completely-to follow up the Proteus-form of matter into its deepest recesses, and fix it in its last shape and character- we have succeeded in developing many of its most important laws, as it will be the object of the ensuing lecture to point out, and to apply them to a solution of many of its most important phænomena. Whatever is sure and worthy of trust has remained to us, and whatever has given way has been mere chimæra
and shadow: we have chiefly, perhaps only, failed where we have either been too curious, or have suffered imagination to become our charioteer in the slow and sober journey of analysis.
Before we quit this subject, let us, in the candid spirit of genuine philosophy, do the same justice to Epicurus as we attempted in our last lecture to Pythagoras and Plato. It has been very generally said, and very generally believed, principally because it has been very generally said, that the great and mighty cause of this beautiful and harmonious formation of worlds, and systems of worlds, in the opinion of Epicurus, was mere CHANCE, or FORTune. There is nothing, however, in those fragments of his works which have descended to us, that can in any way countenance so opprobrious an opinion, but various passages that distinctly controvert it, passages in which he peremptorily denies the existence of CHANCE or FORTUNE, either as a deity or a cause of action; and unequivocally refers the whole of those complex series of percussions and repercussions, interchanges and combinations, exhibited by the elementary seeds or atoms of matter during the creative process, to a chain of immutable laws which they received from the Almighty Architect at the beginning, and which they still punctually obey, and will for ever obey till the universe shall at length cease to exist. Whom," says Epicurus, in a letter to his disciple Menæceus, that has yet survived the preying tooth of time, and will be found in Diogenes Laertius, " do you believe to be more excellent than he who piously reveres the Gods, who feels no dread of death, and rightly estimates the design of nature? Such a man does not, with
the multitude, regard CHANCE as a God, for he knows that God can never act at random; nor as A CONTINGENT CAUSE OF EVENTS; nor does he conceive that from any such power flows the good or the evil that measures the real happiness of human life." He, held however, that the laws which govern the universe were altogether arranged and imposed upon it by the Creator at its first formation, and that the successive train of events to which they have given rise have followed as the necessary result of such an arrangement, and not as the immediate superintendence of a perpetually controlling Providence. For it was the opinion of Epicurus, as well as of Aristotle, that perfect rest and tranquillity are essential to the perfect happiness even of Him who, to adopt his own language in another place, possesses all immortality and beatitude. "Think not," says he, "that
the different motions and revolutions of the heavens, the rising, setting, eclipses, and other phænomena of the planets, are produced by the immediate control, superintendence, or ministration of Him who possesses all immortality and beatitude; it is from the immutable laws which they received at the beginning, in the creation of the universe, that they punctually fulfil their several circuits."
The origin of this calumny upon the character of Epicurus it is by no means difficult to trace, and it has been sufficiently traced, and sufficiently exposed, by Diogenes Laertius, Gassendi, Du Rondelle, and other distinguished writers, who have done ample justice to his memory; and, upon the confessions of Plutarch, Cicero, and Seneca, abundantly proved that it was the same rancorous spirit of envy among many of his competitors for public fame, and espe
cially among the Stoic philosophers, which strove to fix upon him the charge of voluptuous living, though the most temperate and abstemious Athenian of his time; that thus, with yet keener malevolence, endeavoured to brand him with the still fouler reproach of the grossest impiety and atheism. It is, indeed, scarcely to be believed, if the fact were not concurrently attested by all the writers of antiquity, that the philosopher, whose name, from the low and malignant spirit I have just adverted to, has been proverbialised for general licentiousness and excess, drew the whole of his daily diet from the plainest pottage, intermixed with the herbs and fruits of his pleasant and celebrated garden. "I am perfectly contented," says he, in an epistle to another friend, "with bread and water alone; but send me a piece of your Cyprian cheese, that I may indulge myself whenever I feel disposed for a luxurious treat." Such, too, was the diet of his disciples. Water, says Diocles, was their common beverage; and of wine they never allowed themselves more than a very small cup. And hence, when the city of Athens was besieged by Demetrius, and its inhabitants reduced to the utmost extremity, the scholars of Epicurus bore up under the calamity with less inconvenience than any other class of citizens; the philosopher supporting them at his own expense, and sharing with them daily a small ration of his beans. The pleasure of friendship, the pleasure of virtue, the pleasure of tranquillity, the pleasure of science, the pleasure of gardening, the pleasure of studying the works of nature, and of admiring her in all the picturesque beauty of her evolutions, formed the sole pursuits of his life.