Images de page

each proposition being the subject of a new analysis in the proposition which follows it. Man is fallible. He who is fallible may err, even when he thinks himself least exposed to error. He who may be in error, even when he thinks himself safest from it, ought not to be astonished that others should think differently from him, even on points which may seem to him perfectly clear; and thus, successively, through the whole ratiocination, the predicate becomes in its turn a subject of new analysis, till we arrive at the last proposition, which is immediately extended backwards to the primary subject of analysis, man,-as involved in that which is itself involved in that primary complex conception, or aggregate of many qualities. There are minds, perhaps, which, merely by considering man, and opinion, and punishment, would discover, without an intervening proposition, that fallible man ought not to set himself up in judgment as a punisher of the speculative errors of fallible man; there are others, perhaps, who might not perceive the conclusion, without the whole series of propositions enumerated, though the conclusion is involved, as an element, in the first proposition,-man is fallible: and according as the particular intellect is more or less acute, more or fewer of the intervening propositions will be necessary.

In every such case of continued intellectual analysis, it is impossible for us not to feel, when we have arrived at the conclusion, that the last proposition is as truly contained in the first, as any of the intervening propositions, though it is not seen by us, till exhibited, as it were, in its elementary state, by the repetition of analysis after analysis. It is, in this respect, precisely like the decompositions of chemical analysis, which are constantly shewing us something new, in the very substances which we carry about with us, or in those which are every moment before our eyes. The air, for example, after being long considered as simple, in the sense in which chemists use that term, is afterwards shewn to be composed of different gazeous fluids, nor are even these regarded as simple, but each is believed to be composed of a certain base and the matter of heat; and it is impossible to predict, or even to guess, what future analyses may be made of these elements. Yet the atmosphere, now considered as compound, is, in kind, the same air which was continually flowing around the earth before this analysis ; and, in the mere animal function of VOL. II.



respiration, all mankind had, from the first moment of their infant breath, been incessantly employed, in separating into its constituent parts, the very substance which they considered as incapable of division. The last chemist, whose labours, when this scene of earthly things is to perish, are to close the long toils of his predecessors, will perhaps regard scarcely a single substance in nature in the same light in which we now regard it; and yet it is evident that the same terrestial objects, which now meet our eyes, must continually have been present to his sight;—the same seasons presenting the same herbage and flowers and fruits to the same races of animals,-to which, indeed, he may have given different names, or may have detected in them new elements, or proportions of elements, but of which all his arrangement and analysis are incapable of altering the nature.

In the truths of reasoning, which a profound and penetrating genius is able in like manner to exhibit to us, we perceive a similar analysis, which presents to us, as it were, the elements of our own former conceptions; since the very reasoning, if it be at all intelligible, must begin with some conception already familiar to us, in which it asserts something to be contained, and proceeds only by tracing similar relations. A new truth, of this kind, is not so much added to us, therefore, as evolved from the primary truth already familiar; it is not as if new objects were presented to us, to be seen, but as if our intellectual senses—if I may venture to use that expression-were quickened and rendered more acute, so as to perceive clearly what we saw dimly, or not even dimly before, though we might have seen it as now, if we had not been too dull of vision to perceive what was in our very hands. The truths, at which we arrive, by repeated intellectual analysis, may be said to resemble the premature plant, which is to be found enclosed in that which is itself enclosed in the bulb or seed which we dissect. We must carry on our dissection, more and more minutely, to arrive at each new germ ; but we do arrive at one after the other, and when our dissection is obliged to stop, we have reason to suppose, that still finer instruments, and still finer eyes, might prosecute the discovery almost to infinity. It is the same in the discovery of the truths of reasoning. The stage, at which one inquirer stops, is not the limit of analysis, in reference to the object, but the limit of the analytic power of the individual. Inquirer after inquirer discovers truths, which were

involved in truths formerly admitted by us, without our being able to perceive what was comprehended in our admission. It is not absolutely absurd to suppose, that whole sciences may be contained in propositions that now seem to us so simple as scarcely to be susceptible of further analysis, but which hereafter, when developed by some more penetrating genius, may, without any change in external nature, present to man a new field of wonder and of power. Of the possibility of this, the mathematical sciences furnish a most striking example. The rudest peasant may be said to have in his mind all, or nearly all, those primary notions, of which the sublimest demonstrations of the relations of number and quantity are the mere developement. He would be astonished, indeed, if he could be made to understand, that on notions, which appear to him of so very trifling import, have been founded some of the proudest monuments of the intellectual achievements of man, and that, among the names, to which his country and the world look with highest veneration, are the names of those whose life has been occupied in little more than in tracing all the forms of which those few conceptions, which exist in his mind as much as in theirs, are susceptible. What geometry and arithmetic are to his rude notions of numbers, and magnitudes, and proportions, some other sciences, unknown to us, indeed, at present, but not more unknown to us than geometry and arithmetic are now to him, may be, in relation to conceptions which exist, and perhaps have long existed in our mind, but which we have not yet evolved into any

of their important elements. As man is quicker or slower in this internal analysis, the progress of all that philosophy, which depends on mere reasoning, is more or less rapid. There may be races of beings, or at least we can conceive races of beings, whose senses would enable them to perceive the ultimate embryo plant, enclosed in its innumerable series of preceding germs; and there may perhaps be created powers, of some higher order, as we know that there is one Eternal Power, able to feel, in a single comprehensive thought, all those truths, of which the generations of mankind are able, by successive analysis, to discover only a few, that are, perhaps, to the great truths which they contain, only as the flower which is blossoming before us, is to that infinity of future blossoms enveloped in it, with which, in ever renovated beauty. it is to adorn the summers of other ages.

“ Lo! on each seed, within its slender rind,
Lise's golden threads in endless circles wind :
Maze within maze the lucid webs are roll's,
And as they burst, the living flame unfold.
The pulpy acorn, ere it swells, contains
The oak's vast branches in its milky veins,
Each ravel'd bud, fine film, and fibre-line,
Traced with nice pencil on the small design.
The young Narcissus, in its bulb compress'd
Cradles a second nestling on its breast,
In whose fine arms a younger embryon lies,
Folds its thin leaves, and shuts its floret-eyes;
Grain within grain successive harvests dwell,
And boundless forests slumber in a shell."


Such too, perhaps, are the boundless truths that may be slumbering in a single comprehensive relation at present felt by us. The evolutions of thought, however, in our processes of reasoning, though, in one respect, they may be said to resemble the evolution of organic germs, have this noble distinction, that, if their progress be unobstructed, the progress itself is constant improvement. We have no reason to believe that the earth, after the longest succession of the ages during which it is to exist, will, at least without some new exertion of the power of its Creator, exhibit any races of organized beings different from those which it now pours out on its surface or supports and feeds. But, when thought rises after thought, in intellectual evolution, the thought which rises is not a mere copy of the thought from which it rose, but a truth, which was before unknown and unsuspected, that may be added to the increasing stores of human wisdom, and which, in addition to its own importance, is the presage, and almost the promise, of other truths which it is to evolve in like manner.

Every truth, indeed, at which we arrive, in our reasoning, becomes thus far more than doubly valuable, for the field of fresh discoveries, to which it may be opening a tract,—the facility of new analysis, after each preceding analysis, increasing, as this great field opens more and more on our view, with a wider range of objects,--stimulating at once, and justifying the hopes, which, in the language of Akenside,

Darwin's Botanic Garden, Canto IV. v. 381-394.

urge us on,
With unremitted labour, to pursue
Those sacred stores, that wait the ripening soul,
la Truth's exhaustless bosom."'*

If the profoundest reasonings, then, as we have seen, be nothing more than a continued analysis of our thought, stating at every step what is contained in conceptions that previously existed, as complex feelings of our mind, it may, on first reflection, seem extraordinary, when we consider the important truths which have been thus afforded to us, that we should have been able previously to form opinions, wbich involve these important truths, afterwards detected in them, without having, at the time, the slightest knowledge, or even the slightest suspicion, that any such truths were contained in the general notions and general phraseology which we formed. But the reason of this is sufficiently obvious, when we attend to the nature and order of the process of generalization, the results of which are the subjects of this consecutive analysis. If, indeed, we had advanced, in regular progress, from the less to the more general, from individuals to species, from species to genera, and thus gradually upward, since we should then have known previously, the minute specific circumstànces involved in the higher orders and classes to which we had gradually ascended, it might have been absurd to suppose, that these specific circumstances previously known, could be discovered to us by analysis. The mode in which we generalize, is, however, very different. In our systematic tables, indeed, if we were to judge from these only, we might seem to have a regular advance from individuals to classes, through species, genera, orders. But, in the actual process of generalizing, we form classes and orders before we distinguish the minuter varieties. We are struck. first with some resemblance of a multitude of objects, perhaps a very remote one, in consequence of which we class them together, and we attend afterwards to the differences which distinguish them, separating them into genera and species, according to these differences. Every general term which we use, must express, in

, deed, an agreement of some sort, that has led us to invent and apply the term ; but we may feel one resemblance, without feeling,

* Pleasures of Imagination, B. I. v. 241–244.

« PrécédentContinuer »