SECTION VII. Third Comparison, drawn from a Statue.
If a man should find in a desert island a fine statue of marble, he would undoubtedly immediately say, "Sure, there have been men here formerly; I perceive the workmanship of a skilful statuary; I admire with what niceness he has proportioned all the limbs of this body, in order to give them so much beauty, gracefulness, majesty, life, tenderness, motion, and action!"
What would such a man answer if anybody should tell him, "That's your mistake; a statuary never carved that figure. It is made, I confess, with an excellent gusto, and according to the rules of perfection; but yet it is chance alone made it. Among so many pieces of marble there was one that formed itself of its own accord in this manner; the rains and winds have loosened it from the mountains; a violent storm has thrown it plumb upright on this pedestal, which had prepared itself to support it in this place. It is a perfect Apollo, like that of Belvedere; a Venus that equals that of the Medicis; an Hercules, like that of Farnese. You would think, it is true, that this figure walks, lives, thinks, and is just going to speak. But, however, it is not in the least beholden to art; and it is only a blind stroke of chance that has thus so well finished and placed it."
SECTION VIII. Fourth Comparison, drawn from a Picture.
If a man had before his eyes a fine picture, representing, for example, the passage of the Red Sea, with Moses, at whose voice the waters divide themselves, and rise like two walls to let the Israelites pass dryfoot through the deep, he would see, on the one side, that innumerable multitude of people, full of confidence and joy, lifting up their hands to heaven; and perceive, on the other side, King Pharaoh with the Egyptians frighted and confounded at the sight of the waves that join again to swallow them up. Now, in good earnest, who would be so bold as to affirm that a chambermaid, having by chance daubed that piece of cloth, the colours had of their own accord ranged themselves in order to produce that lively colouring, those various attitudes, those looks so well expressing different passions, that elegant disposition of so many figures without confusion, that decent plaiting of draperies, that management of lights, that degradation of colours, that exact perspective--in short, all that the noblest genius of a painter can invent? If there were no more in the case than a little foam at the mouth of a horse, I own, as the story goes, and which I readily allow without examining into it, that a stroke of a pencil thrown in a pet by a painter might once in many ages happen to express it well. But, at least, the painter must beforehand have, with design, chosen the most proper colours to represent that foam, in order to prepare them at the end of his pencil; and, therefore, it were only a little chance that had finished what art had begun. Besides, this work of art and chance together being only a little foam, a confused object, and so most proper to credit a stroke of chance--an object without form, that requires only a little whitish colour dropped from a pencil, without any exact figure or correction of design. What comparison is there between that foam with a whole design of a large continued history, in which the most fertile fancy and the boldest genius, supported by the perfect knowledge of rules, are scarce sufficient to perform what makes an excellent picture? I cannot prevail with myself to leave these instances without desiring the reader to observe that the most rational men are naturally extreme loath to think that beasts have no manner of understanding, and are mere machines. Now, whence proceeds such an invincible averseness to that opinion in so many men of sense? It is because they suppose, with reason, that motions so exact, and according to the rules of perfect mechanism, cannot be made without some industry; and that artless matter alone cannot perform what argues so much knowledge. Hence it appears that sound reason naturally concludes that matter alone cannot, either by the simple laws of motion, or by the capricious strokes of chance, make even animals that are mere machines. Those philosophers themselves, who will not allow beasts to have any reasoning faculty, cannot avoid acknowledging that what they suppose to be blind and artless in these machines is yet full of wisdom and art in the First Mover, who made their springs and regulated their movements. Thus the most opposite philosophers perfectly agree in acknowledging that matter and chance cannot, without the help of art, produce all we observe in animals.
SECTION IX. A Particular Examination of Nature.
After these comparisons, about which I only desire the reader to consult himself, without any argumentation, I think it is high time to enter into a detail of Nature. I do not pretend to penetrate through the whole; who is able to do it? Neither do I pretend to enter into any physical discussion. Such way of reasoning requires a certain deep knowledge, which abundance of men of wit and sense never acquired; and, therefore, I will offer nothing to them but the simple prospect of the face of Nature. I will entertain them with nothing but what everybody knows, and which requires only a little calm and serious attention.
SECTION X. Of the General Structure of the Universe.
Let us, in the first place, stop at the great object that first strikes our sight, I mean the general structure of the universe. Let us cast our eyes on this earth that bears us. Let us look on that vast arch of the skies that covers us; those immense regions of air, and depths of water that surround us; and those bright stars that light us. A man who lives without reflecting thinks only on the parts of matter that are near him, or have any relation to his wants. He only looks upon the earth as on the floor of his chamber, and on the sun that lights him in the daytime as on the candle that lights him in the night. His thoughts are confined within the place he inhabits. On the contrary, a man who is used to contemplate and reflect carries his looks further, and curiously considers the almost infinite abysses that surround him on all sides. A large kingdom appears then to him but a little corner of the earth; the earth itself is no more to his eyes than a point in the mass of the universe; and he admires to see himself placed in it, without knowing which way he came there.
SECTION XI. Of the Earth.
Who is it that hung and poised this motionless globe of the earth? Who laid its foundation? Nothing seems more vile and contemptible; for the meanest wretches tread it under foot; but yet it is in order to possess it that we part with the greatest treasures. If it were harder than it is, man could not open its bosom to cultivate it; and if it were less hard it could not bear them, and they would sink everywhere as they do in sand, or in a bog. It is from the inexhaustible bosom of the earth we draw what is most precious. That shapeless, vile, and rude mass assumes the most various forms; and yields alone, by turns, all the goods we can desire. That dirty soil transforms itself into a thousand fine objects that charm the eye. In the compass of one year it turns into branches, twigs, buds, leaves, blossoms, fruits, and seeds, in order, by those various shapes, to multiply its liberalities to mankind. Nothing exhausts the earth; the more we tear her bowels the more she is liberal. After so many ages, during which she has produced everything, she is not yet worn out. She feels no decay from old age, and her entrails still contain the same treasures. A thousand generations have passed away, and returned into her bosom. Everything grows old, she alone excepted: for she grows young again every year in the spring. She is never wanting to men; but foolish men are wanting to themselves in neglecting to cultivate her. It is through their laziness and extravagance they suffer brambles and briars to grow instead of grapes and corn. They contend for a good they let perish. The conquerors leave uncultivated the ground for the possession of which they have sacrificed the lives of so many thousand men, and have spent their own in hurry and trouble. Men have before them vast tracts of land uninhabited and uncultivated; and they turn mankind topsy-turvy for one nook of that neglected ground in dispute. The earth, if well cultivated, would feed a hundred times more men than now she does. Even the unevenness of ground which at first seems to be a defect turns either into ornament or profit. The mountains arose and the valleys descended to the place the Lord had appointed for them. Those different grounds have their particular advantages, according to the divers aspects of the sun. In those deep valleys grow fresh and tender grass to feed cattle. Next to them opens a vast champaign covered with a rich harvest. Here, hills rise like an amphitheatre, and are crowned with vineyards and fruit trees. There high mountains carry aloft their frozen brows to the very clouds, and the torrents that run down from them become the springs of rivers. The rocks that show their craggy tops bear up the earth of mountains just as the bones bear up the flesh in human bodies. That variety yields at once a ravishing prospect to the eye, and, at the same time, supplies the divers wants of man. There is no ground so barren but has some profitable property. Not only black and fertile soil but even clay and gravel recompense a man's toil. Drained morasses become fruitful; sand for the most part only covers the surface of the earth; and when, the husbandman has the patience to dig deeper he finds a new ground that grows fertile as fast as it is turned and exposed to the rays of the sun.
There is scarce any spot of ground absolutely barren if a man do not grow weary of digging, and turning it to the enlivening sun, and if he require no more from it than it is proper to bear, amidst stones and rocks there is sometimes excellent pasture; and their cavities have veins, which, being penetrated by the piercing rays of the sun, furnish plants with most savoury juices for the feeding of herds and flocks. Even sea-coasts that seem to be the most sterile and wild yield sometimes either delicious fruits or most wholesome medicines that are wanting in the most fertile countries. Besides, it is the effect of a wise over-ruling providence that no land yields all that is useful to human life. For want invites men to commerce, in order to supply one another's necessities. It is therefore that want that is the natural tie of society between nations: otherwise all the people of the earth would be reduced to one sort of food and clothing; and nothing would invite them to know and visit one another.
SECTION XII. Of Plants.
All that the earth produces being corrupted, returns into her bosom, and becomes the source of a new production. Thus she resumes all she has given in order to give it again. Thus the corruption of plants, and the excrements of the animals she feeds, feed her, and improve her fertility. Thus, the more she gives the more she resumes; and she is never exhausted, provided they who cultivate her restore to her what she has given. Everything comes from her bosom, everything returns to it, and nothing is lost in it. Nay, all seeds multiply there. If, for instance, you trust the earth with some grains of corn, as they corrupt they germinate and spring; and that teeming parent restores with usury more ears than she had received grains. Dig into her entrails, you will find in them stone and marble for the most magnificent buildings. But who is it that has laid up so many treasures in her bosom, upon condition that they should continually produce themselves anew? Behold how many precious and useful metals; how many minerals designed for the conveniency of man!
Admire the plants that spring from the earth: they yield food for the healthy, and remedies for the sick. Their species and virtues are innumerable. They deck the earth, yield verdure, fragrant flowers, and delicious fruits. Do you see those vast forests that seem as old as the world? Those trees sink into the earth by their roots, as deep as their branches shoot up to the sky. Their roots defend them against the winds, and fetch up, as it were by subterranean pipes, all the juices destined to feed the trunk. The trunk itself is covered with a tough bark that shelters the tender wood from the injuries of the air. The branches distribute by several pipes the sap which the roots had gathered up in the trunk. In summer the boughs protect us with their shadow against the scorching rays of the sun. In winter, they feed the fire that preserves in us natural heat. Nor is burning the only use wood is fit for; it is a soft though solid and durable matter, to which the hand of man gives, with ease, all the forms he pleases for the greatest works of architecture and navigation. Moreover, fruit trees by bending their boughs towards the earth seem to offer their crop to man. The trees and plants, by letting their fruit or seed drop down, provide for a numerous posterity about them. The tenderest plant, the least of herbs and pulse are, in little, in a small seed, all that is displayed in the highest plants and largest tree. Earth that never changes produces all those alterations in her bosom.
SECTION XIII. Of Water.
Let us now behold what we call water. It is a liquid, clear, and transparent body. On the one hand it flows, slips, and runs away; and on the other it assumes all the forms of the bodies that surround it, having properly none of its own. If water were more rarefied, or thinner, it would be a kind of air; and so the whole surface of the earth would be dry and sterile. There would be none but volatiles; no living creature could swim; no fish could live; nor would there be any traffic by navigation. What industrious and sagacious hand has found means to thicken the water, by subtilising the air, and so well to distinguish those two sorts of fluid bodies? If water were somewhat more rarefied, it could no longer sustain those prodigious floating buildings, called ships. Bodies that have the least ponderosity would presently sink under water. Who is it that took care to frame so just a configuration of parts, and so exact a degree of motion, as to make water so fluid, so penetrating, so slippery, so incapable of any consistency: and yet so strong to bear, and so impetuous to carry off and waft away, the most unwieldy bodies? It is docile; man leads it about as a rider does a well- managed horse. He distributes it as he pleases; he raises it to the top of steep mountains, and makes use of its weight to let it fall, in order to rise again, as high as it was at first. But man who leads waters with such absolute command is in his turn led by them. Water is one of the greatest moving powers that man can employ to supply his defects in the most necessary arts, either through the smallness or weakness of his body. But the waters which, notwithstanding their fluidity, are such ponderous bodies, do nevertheless rise above our heads, and remain a long while hanging there. Do you see those clouds that fly, as it were, on the wings of the winds? If they should fall, on a sudden, in watery pillars, rapid like a torrent, they would drown and destroy everything where they should happen to fall, and the other grounds would remain dry. What hand keeps them in those pendulous reservatories, and permits them to fall only by drops as if they distilled through a gardener's watering-pot? Whence comes it that in some hot countries, where scarce any rain ever falls, the nightly dews are so plentiful that they supply the want of rain; and that in other countries, such as the banks of the Nile and Ganges, the regular inundation of rivers, at certain seasons of the year, never fails to make up what the inhabitants are deficient in for the watering of the ground? Can one imagine measures better concerted to render all countries fertile and fruitful?
Thus water quenches, not only the thirst of men, but likewise of arid lands: and He who gave us that fluid body has carefully distributed it throughout the earth, like pipes in a garden. The waters fall from the tops of mountains where their reservatories are placed. They gather into rivulets in the bottom of valleys. Rivers run in winding streams through vast tracts of land, the better to water them; and, at last, they precipitate themselves into the sea, in order to make it the centre of commerce for all nations. That ocean, which seems to be placed in the midst of lands, to make an eternal separation between them, is, on the contrary, the common rendezvous of all the people of the earth, who could not go by land from one end of the world to the other without infinite fatigue, tedious journeys, and numberless dangers. It is by that trackless road, across the bottomless deep, that the whole world shakes hands with the new; and that the new supplies the old with so many conveniences and riches. The waters, distributed with so much art, circulate in the earth, just as the blood does in a man's body. But besides this perpetual circulation of the water, there is besides the flux and reflux of the sea. Let us not inquire into the causes of so mysterious an effect. What is certain is that the tide carries, or brings us back to certain places, at precise hours. Who is it that makes it withdraw, and then come back with so much regularity? A little more or less motion in that fluid mass would disorder all nature; for a little more motion in a tide or flood would drown whole kingdoms. Who is it that knew how to take such exact measures in immense bodies? Who is it that knew so well how to keep a just medium between too much and too little? What hand has set to the sea the unmovable boundary it must respect through the series of all ages by telling it: There, thy proud waves shall come and break? But these waters so fluid become, on a sudden, during the winter, as hard as rocks. The summits of high mountains have, even at all times, ice and snow, which are the springs of rivers, and soaking pasture-grounds render them more fertile. Here waters are sweet to quench the thirst of man; there they are briny, and yield a salt that seasons our meat, and makes it incorruptible. In fine, if I lift up my eyes, I perceive in the clouds that fly above us a sort of hanging seas that serve to temper the air, break the fiery rays of the sun, and water the earth when it is too dry. What hand was able to hang over our heads those great reservatories of waters? What hand takes care never to let them fall but in moderate showers?
SECTION XIV. Of the Air.
After having considered the waters, let us now contemplate another mass yet of far greater extent. Do you see what is called air? It is a body so pure, so subtle, and so transparent, that the rays of the stars, seated at a distance almost infinite from us, pierce quite through it, without difficulty, and in an instant, to light our eyes. Had this fluid body been a little less subtle, it would either have intercepted the day from us, or at most would have left us but a duskish and confused light, just as when the air is filled with thick fogs. We live plunged in abysses of air, as fishes do in abysses of water. As the water, if it were subtilised, would become a kind of air, which would occasion the death of fishes, so the air would deprive us of breath if it should become more humid and thicker. In such a case we should drown in the waves of that thickened air, just as a terrestrial animal drowns in the sea. Who is it that has so nicely purified that air we breathe? If it were thicker it would stifle us; and if it were too subtle it would want that softness which continually feeds the vitals of man. We should be sensible everywhere of what we experience on the top of the highest mountains, where the air is so thin that it yields no sufficient moisture and nourishment for the lungs. But what invisible power raises and lays so suddenly the storms of that great fluid body, of which those of the sea are only consequences? From what treasury come forth the winds that purify the air, cool scorching heats, temper the sharpness of winter, and in an instant change the whole face of heaven? On the wings of those winds the clouds fly from one end of the horizon to the other. It is known that certain winds blow in certain seas, at some stated seasons. They continue a fixed time, and others succeed them, as it were on purpose, to render navigation both commodious and regular: so that if men are but as patient, and as punctual as the winds, they may, with ease, perform the longest voyages.
SECTION XV. Of Fire.
Do you see that fire that seems kindled in the stars, and spreads its light on all sides? Do you see that flame which certain mountains vomit up, and which the earth feeds with sulphur within its entrails? That same fire peaceably lurks in the veins of flints, and expects to break out, till the collision of another body excites it to shock cities and mountains. Man has found the way to kindle it, and apply it to all his uses, both to bend the hardest metals, and to feed with wood, even in the most frozen climes, a flame that serves him instead of the sun, when the sun removes from him. That subtle flame glides and penetrates into all seeds. It is, as it were, the soul of all living things; it consumes all that is impure, and renews what it has purified. Fire lends its force and activity to weak men. It blows up, on a sudden, buildings and rocks. But have we a mind to confine it to a more moderate use? It warms man, and makes all sorts of food fit for his eating. The ancients, in admiration of fire, believed it to be a celestial gift, which man had stolen from the gods.
SECTION XVI. Of Heaven.
It is time to lift up our eyes to heaven. What power has built over our heads so vast and so magnificent an arch? What a stupendous variety of admirable objects is here? It is, no doubt, to present us with a noble spectacle that an Omnipotent Hand has set before our eyes so great and so bright objects. It is in order to raise our admiration of heaven, says Tully, that God made man unlike the rest of animals. He stands upright, and lifts up his head, that he may be employed about the things that were above him. Sometimes we see a duskish azure sky, where the purest fires twinkle. Sometimes we behold, in a temperate heaven, the softest colours mixed with such variety as it is not in the power of painting to imitate. Sometimes we see clouds of all shapes and figures, and of all the brightest colours, which every moment shift that beautiful decoration by the finest accidents and various effects of light. What does the regular succession of day and night denote? For so many ages as are past the sun never failed serving men, who cannot live without it. Many thousand years are elapsed, and the dawn never once missed proclaiming the approach of the day. It always begins precisely at a certain moment and place. The sun, says the holy writ, knows where it shall set every day. By that means it lights, by turns, the two hemispheres, or sides of the earth, and visits all those for whom its beams are designed. The day is the time for society and labour; the night, wrapping up the earth with its shadow, ends, in its turn, all manner of fatigue and alleviates the toil of the day. It suspends and quiets all; and spreads silence and sleep everywhere. By refreshing the bodies it renews the spirits. Soon after day returns to summon again man to labour and revive all nature.