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believe, remain quietly in the position in which nature has placed him. This medium state, which has fallen to our lot, being always infinitely distant from the extremes, what matters it whether man bag or has not a little more knowledge of the things around him ? If he has, why then he traces them a degree or two higher. But is he not always infinitely distant from the extremes, and is not the longest human life in finitely short of eternity.
Compared with these infinities, all finite things are equal; and I see no reason why the imagination should occupy itself with one more than another. Even the least comparison that we institute between ourselves and that which is finite, gives us pain.
25. The sciences have two extremities, which touch each other. The one is that pure' natural ignorance in which we are born : the other is that point to which great minds attain, who having gone the whole round of possible human knowledge, find that, they know nothing, and that they end in the same igporance in which they began. But then this is an intelligent ignorance which knows itself. Out of the many however, who have come forth from their native ignorance, there are some who have not reached this other ex treme ; these are strongly tinged with scientific conceit, and set up a claim to be the learned and intelligent. These are the men that disturb the world; and they generally judge more falsely than all others.The crowd and the men of talent generally direct the course of the world ; the others despise it and are-despised.
26. We think ourselves much more capable of reaching the centre of things, than of grasping the circumference. The visible expanse of the world, manifestly surpasses us ; but as we visibly surpass little things, we think ourselves on a vantage ground for comprehending them; aad yet it does not require less capacity to trace something down to nothing, to totality. This capacity, in either case, must be infinite; and it appears to me that he who can discover
the ultimate principles of things, might reach also to the knowledge of the infinitely great. The one depends on the other; the one leads to the other. These extremities touch and meet in consequence of their very distance. They meet in God, and in God only.
If man would begin by studying himself, he would soon see how unable he is to go further.
How can a part comprehend the whole ?
He would aspire probably to know, at least, those parts which are similar in proportion to himself. But all parts of creation have such a relation to each other, and are so intertwined, that I think it is impossible to know one without knowing the other, and even the whole.
Man for instance, has a relation to all that he knows. He needs space to contain bim-time for existencemotion that he may live-elements for his substancewarmth aud food to nourish him, and air to breathe. He sees the light, he feels his material body.
In fact, every thing is allied with him.
To understand man, therefore, we must know wherein it is that air is needful for his suppoçt; and to understand air, we must trace its relation to human life.
Flame will not live without air; then to comprehend the one, we must comprehend the other also.
Since, then, all things are either caused or causes, assisting or being assisted, mediately or immediately ; and all are related to each other by a natural and imperceptible bond which unites together things the most distant and dissimilar; I hold it impossible to know the parts, without knowing the whole, and equally so to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.
And that which completes our inability to know the essential nature of things is, that they are simple, and that we are a compound of two different and opposing natures, body and spirit; for it is impossible that the portion of us which thinks, can be other than spiritual; and as to the pretence, that we are simply corporeal, that would exclude us still more entirely from the knowledge of things; because there is nothing more inconceivable, than that matter could comprehend itself.
it is this compound nature of body and spirit which had led almost all the philosophers to confuse their ideas of things; and to attribute to matter that which belongs only to spirit, and to spirit, that which cannot consist but with matter; for, they say boldly, That bodies tend downwards ; that they seek the centre; that they shrink from destruction; that they dread a vacuum ; that they have inclinations, sympathies, antipathies, &c. which are all qualities that can only exist in mind. And in speaking of spirits, they consider them as occupying a place and attribute to them motion from one place to another, &c. which are the qualities of body
Instead, therefore, of receiving the ideas of things, simply as they are, we tinge, with the qualities of our compound being, all the simple things that we contemplate.
Who would not suppose, when they see us attach to every thing the compound notions of body and spirit, that this mixture was familiarly comprehensible to us? Yet it is the thing of which we know the least. Man is, to himself, the most astonishing object in nature, for he cannot conceive what body is, still less what spirit is, and less than all, how a body and a spirit can be united. That is the climax of his difficulties, and yet it is his proper being. Modus quo corporibus adhæret spiritus comprehendi ab hominibus non potest, et hoc tamen homo est.*
27. Man, then, is the subject of a host of errors, that divine grace only can remove. Nothing shews him the truth ; everything misleads him. Reason and the senses, the two means of ascertaining truth, are not only often unfaithful, but mutually deceive each other. Our senses mislead our reason by false impressions; and reason also has its revenge, by retorting the same trick upon our senses. The passions of
*The union of mind with matter, is a subject utterly incomprehensible to man, and yet this is man's essential nature.
the soul disturb the senses, and excite evil impressions ; and thus our two sources of knowledge mutually lie, and deceive each other.
TIIE MISERY OF MAN.
Nothing more directly introduces us to the knowledge of human misery, than an inquiry into the cause of that perpetual restlessness, in which men pass their whole lives.
The soul is placed in the body to sojourn there for a short time. She knows that this is only the prelude to an eternal progress, to prepare for which, she has but the short period of this present life. Of this the mere necessities of nature engross a large portion, and the remainder which she might use, is small indeed. Yet this little is such a trouble to her, and the source of such strange perplexity, that she only studies how to throw it away. To live with herself, and to think of herself, is a burden quite insupportable.Hence all her care is to forget herself, and to let this period, short and precious as it is, flow on without reflection, whilst she is busied with things thať prevent her from thinking of it.
This is the cause of all the bustling occupations of men, and of all that is called diversion or pastime, in. which they have really but one object-to let the time glide by without perceiving it, or rather without perceiving self, and to avoid, by the sacrifice of this portion of life, the bitterness and disgust of soul which would result from self-inspection during that time. The soul finds herself nothing gratifying. She finds nothing but what grieves her when she thinks of it. This compels her to look abroad, and to seek, by a devotion to external things, to drown the consciousness of her
real condition. Her joy is in this oblivion; and to compel her to look within, and to be her own companion, is to make her thoroughly wretched.
Men are burdened from their infant years with the care of their honor and their property, and even of the property and the honor of their relations and friends. They are oppressed with the study of languages, sciences, accomplishments, and arts.
They are overwhelmed with business, and are taught to believe that they cannot be happy unless they manage by their industry and attention, that their fortune and reputation, and the fortune and reputation of their friends, be flourishing: and that a failure in any one of these things would make them miserable. And hence they are engaged in duties and businesses which harass them from morning till night.
6 A strange method this,” you would say, 66 to make men happy ; what could we do more effectually to make them miserable ?!? Do you ask what we could do ? Alas! we have but to release them from these cares, for then they would see and consider themselves; and this is unbearable. And in proof of this we see, that with all this mass of cares, if they have yet any interval of relaxation, they hasten to squander it on some amusemenť that shall completely fill the void, and hide them from themselves.
On this account, when I have set myself to consider the varied turmoil of life; the toil and danger to which men expose themselves at courts, in war, and in the pursuit of their ambitious projects, which give rise to so much quarrelling and passion, and to so many desperate and fatal adventures : I have often said that all the misfortunes of men spring from their not knowing how to live quietly at home, in their
If a man, who has enongh to live on, did but know how to live with himself, he would never go to sea, or to besiege a city, merely for the sake of occupation ; and he whose only object is to live. would have no need to seek such dangerous emple ments.