Page images

yond the reach of our powers to conceive. And hence we say, the question respecting the origin of man resolves itself into the general question respecting the origin of the entire system of the world, of which he is a part-and whatever opinion our speculations may incline us to adopt respecting the latter of these questions, must also be considered as applicable to all our doubts and curiosity, as connected with the former.

And hence, the following general conclusions may be considered as resulting-in the first place, that man is not to be viewed, philosophically speaking, as having merely been sent into a world which had existed previously to his appearance, and from which he is distinct in all his powers and relations, but as a production simultaneous with that world, and to be viewed as its most perfect and glorious result.

In the second place, that neither is he to be considered as a production of nature itself—that is to say, of the earth on which he treads-in which low acceptation, the term nature is frequently employed-but as the result, along with that form of nature, of powerful changes or causes, which had their origin amidst higher arrangements, or more widely diffused elements-and of whose occasional operations, thus called, according to laws of divine

and universal wisdom, into exercise, the beautiful order of subordinate nature throughout all its successive changes-whether past-present-or future--is the appointed result.

Hence also it follows, in the third place, that man is necessarily subject, in all his exertions and in all his powers of speculation and discovery, to the laws of the system amidst which he holds his place and of which he is but a portion.

And hence also it may be stated, in the last place, that in one sense, man is essentially connected in his destiny with that of the system amidst which he lives—as in his origin he was simultaneous with it—and in its now established progress cannot act or think with precision, beyond its ordinations.

All of which principles and conclusions may be considered as a commentary on the well known words of Bacon, though in some measure applied to purposes which he had not probably in view at the moment of recording them—“Homo_naturæ minister et interpres tantum facit et intelligit quantum de naturæ ordine re vel mente observaverit; nec amplius scit aut potest.-Man, the minister and interpreter of nature, is limited in his exertions and in his speculations by his observation of the order of nature—and beyond this neither his knowledge nor his power extends."

2. Human perfectibility.—This too is a phrase frequently met with in the writings of speculative or political inquirers—but which is evidently extremely vague in its construction-imperfectly understood in its meaning—and which has led to many errors and extravagancies.

In all speculations involving the phrase or leading to its employment, however, we must keep in view the same subjection of man to the order of nature to which we have alluded under the preceding topic-and when this subjection is attended to, it will be evident that the phrase never can be understood as meaning or entitling us to suppose that by any change or improvement which can have been destined for man, the essential elements of his constitution are to undergo any alteration-for that would be to suppose that nature herself, in one of her most important parts, was to be changed --and that so far the order which we find established in life, was not to be coeval with the other arrangements of the system.

Neither is it to be understood, perhaps, as even authorizing us to imagine that the diversities which nature has appointed to distinguish the great varieties of the human family, are ever entirely to be obliterated-for there is the same sort of variety among the human species, as in all the other pro

ductions which cover the different regions and countries of the world;-these make part of the same vast scheme, in which not uniformity of production, but infinite variety—or at least variety suited to the peculiar situations and purposes of the races or species that are called into existence, is obviously the plan upon which the arrangements of nature are conducted-and the universe, accordingly, is not, at least so far as we see it, the mere exhibition of one order of natures or of powers, operating with precisely the same kind of endowments-but boundless variety of powers subservient or subordinate to each other-all filling with exquisite propriety the place in existence which Providence has alloted to them-and all co-operating for the production, by their infinitely varied powers, of one vast, but as yet unrevealed and mysterious result-so that to suppose all this variety and subordination of endowments to be merged in one prevailing kind or measure of powers would, in fact, be to suppose that the essential order of nature was to be unhinged, or that the plan was to be altered, according to which she has intimated that her designs, during, at least, the general subsistence of the present order, should be carried on.

Nor is the phrase to be understood as authorizing the belief, in the last place, that error, and vice,

and misery, to a certain extent and in some of their forms, will not forever continue to characterize the condition of the essentially frail and imperfect race that people this province of the vast kingdom of God;--for wherever frailty and imperfection exist, error, and vice, or deviation from the rule of rectitude, and consequently suffering, must also, in some measure, be understood to prevail, and the entire absence of these would involve the supposition of an entirely new order of things having taken place.

With these limitations, however, the phrase has still a great and inherent significancy--and we are not disposed or authorised, by the principles of this work, to limit that significancy more than the obvious laws and purposes of nature require.

We admit, therefore, in the first place, that the phrase is justified by the consideration that the mere physical nature of man is susceptible of great improvements--and that if the laws of his organic structure were better understood and attended to, a race might be produced far more perfect, so far as the mere physical portion of his frame is concerned, than is generally supposed. This fact is universally admitted with respect to all the other organised and living productions of nature-and it is strange that it should have been so generally

« PreviousContinue »