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THOUGHTS ON RELIGION.

CHAPTER I.

ON SELF-KNOWLEDGE.

When man considers himself, the first thing that claims his notice is his body; that is, a certain portion of matter evidently appertaining to himself. But if he would know what this is, he must compare himself with all that is superior or inferior to him; and thus he will ascertain his own just limits.

But he must not rest contented with the examination of the things around him. Let him contemplate universal nature in all the height and fulness of its majesty. Let him consider that glorious luminary, hung as an eternal lamp, to enlighten the universe. Let him consider that this earth is a mere point, compared with the vast circuit which that bright orb describes.* Let him learn with wonder, that this wide orbit itself is but a speck compared with the course of the stars, which roll in the firmament of heaven. And if here our sight is limited, let the imagination take up the inquiry and venture further. It will weary with conceiving, far sooner than nature in supplying food for thought. All that we see of the universe is but an almost imperceptible spot on the ample bosom of nature. No conception even approaches the

* The Copernican system was not then generally received by the members of the Romish Church.

limits of its space. Let us labor as we will with our conceptions, we bring forth mere atoms, compared with the immensity of that which really is. It is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is no where. And, in fact, one of the most powerful sensible impressions of the omnipotence of God is, that our imagination is lost in this thought.

Then let man return to himself, and consider what he is, compared with all else that is. Let him consider himself as a wanderer in this remote corner of nature; and then from what he sees of this parrow prison in which he lies—this visible world ; let him learn to estimate rightly the earth, its kingdoms, its cities, himself, and his own real value. What is man in this infinity ? Who can comprehend him ?

But to shew him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him search among the minutest objects around him. Let a mite, for instance, exhibit to him, in the exceeding smallness of its frame, portions yet incomparably smaller; limbs well articulated: veins in those limbs : blood in those veins; humors in that blood ;globules in that humor; and gases in those globules; -and then dividing again their smallest objects, let him exhaust the powers of his conception, and then let the lowest particle that he can imagine become the subject of our discourse. He thinks, perhaps, that this is the minutest atom of nature, but I will open to him, within it, a new and fathomless abyss. I can exbibit to him yet, not only the visible universe, but even all that he is capable of conceiving of the immensity of nature, embosomed in this imperceptible atom. Let him see there an infinity of worlds, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth; bearing the same proportion to the other parts as in the visible world : and in this earth, animals, and even mites again, in which he shall trace the same discoveries which the first mites yielded; and then again the same in others without end and without repose. He is lost in these wonders, equally astonishing in their minuteness, as the former by their extent. And who would not wonder to think that this body which so lately was not perceptible in that universe, which universe was itself an imperceptible spot on the bosom of intipity, should now appear a colossus, a world, a universe, compared with that ultimate atom of minuteness to which we cannot arrive.

He who thus thinks of kimself, will doubtless be alarmed to see himself, as it were, suspended in the mass of matter that is allotted to him, between these two abysses of infinity and nothingness, and equally remote from both. He will tremble at the perception of these wonders; and I would think that his curiosity changing into reverence, he would be more disposed to contemplate them in silence, than to scrutinize them with presumption.

For what after all is man, in nature ? A nothing compared with infinity,--a universe compared with nothing, -a mean between all and nothing. He is infinitely distant from both extremes. His being is not less remote from the nothing out of which he was formed, than from the infinity in which he is lost.

His mind holds the same rank in the order of intel ligent beings, as his body in material nature; and all that it can do, is to discern somewhat of the middle of things, in an endless despair of ever knowing their beginning or their end. All things are called out of nothing and carried opward to infinity. Who can follow in this endless race? The Author of these wonders comprehends them. No other can.

This state which occupies the mean between two extremes, shews itself in all our powers.

Our senses will not admit any thing extreme. Too much noise confuses us, too much light dazzles, too great distance or nearness prevents vision, too great prolixity or brevity weakens an argument, too much pleasure gives pain, too much accordance annoys. We relish neither extreme heat, nor extreme cold. AJI excessive qualities are injurious to us, and not perceptible. We do not feel them, we suffer them. Extreme

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youth and extreme age alike enfeeble the mind; too much or too little nourishment weakens its operations; by too much or too little instruction it becomes stupid. Extreme things are not ours, any more than if they were not: we are not made for them.

Either they escape us, or we them.

This is our real condition. It is this which confines our knowledge within certain limits that we cannot pass, being equally incapable of universal knowledge, or of total ignorance; we are placed in a vast medium : ever floating uncertainly between ignorance and knowledge : if we attempt to go farther onward, our object wavers and eludes our grasp—it retires and flies with an eternal flight, and nothing can stay its course.

This is our natural condition ; yet it is ever opposed to ourinclination. We burn with desire to sound the utmost depth, and to raise a fabric that shall reach inanity. But all we build up, crumbles; and the earth opens in a fathomless abyss beneath our deepest foundation.

2. I can readily conceive of a man without hands or feet; and I could conceive of him without a head, if experience had not taught me that by this he thinks. Thought then is the essence of man, and without this we cannot conceive of him.

What is it in us which feels pleasure ? Is it the band ? the arm ? the flesh ? the blood ? It must be something immaterial.

3. Man is so great, that his greatness appears even in the consciousness of his misery. A tree does not know itself to be miserable. It is true that it is misery indeed to know one's self to be miserable ; but then it is greatness also. In this way, all man's miseries go

to prove his greatness. They are the miseries of á mighty potentate-of a dethroned monarch.

4 What man is unhappy because he is not a king, except a king dethroned. Was Paulus Æmilius considered miserable that he was no longer consul?

On the contrary every one thought that he was happy in

ways consul.

having it over, for it was not his condition to be al

But Perseus, whose permanent state. should have been royalty, was considered to be so wretched in being no longer a king, that men wondered how he could endure life. Who complains of haying only one mouth? Who would not complain of having but one eye ? No man mourns that he has not three eyes : yet each would sorrow deeply if he had

but one.

5. We have so exalted a notion of the human soul, that we cannot bear to be despised by it, or even not to be esteemed by it. Man, in fact, places all his happiness in this esteem.

If on the one hand this false glory that men seek after is a mark of their misery and degradation, it is on the other a proof of their excellence. For whatever possessions a man has on the earth, and whatever health or comfort he enjoys, he is not satisfied without the esteem of his fellow men. He rates so highly the human mind, that whatever be his worldly advantages, if he does not stand, as well also in man's estimation, he counts himself wretched.

That position is the loveliest spot in the world. Nothing can eradicate the desire for it. 's And this quality is the most indelible in the human heart; so that even those who most thoroughly despise men, and consider them equal with the brutes, still wish to be admired by them; their feelings contradict their principles.

Their nature which is stronger than their reasonings, convinces them more forcibly of the greatness of man, than their reason can do of his vileness.

6. Man is but a reed; and the weakest in nature ; but then he is a reed that thinks. It does not need the universe to crush him: a breath of air, a drop of water will kill him. But even if the material universe should overwhelm him, man would be more noble than that which destroys him; because he knows that he dies, while the universe knows nothing of the advantage which it obtains over him.

Our true dignity, then, consists in thought. From

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