Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

It was a childish ignorance,

But now 'tis little joy
Te know I'm farther off from heaven

Than when I was a boy.

LXXII.--GOD CREATES NO BROKEN FORMS.

HUGH MILLER,

1. In the pages of no writer is the argument, drawn from the miracle of creation—if argument it may be termed - at once so ingeniously asserted and so exquisitely adorned, as in the pages of Chateaubriand. The

passage

is

comparatively little known in this country, and so I quote it entire from the translation of a friend:

2. “We approach the last objection, concerning the modern origin of the globe. "The earth,' it is said, 'is an old nurse, whose decrepitude everything announces. Examine its fossils, its marbles, its granites, and you will decipher its innumerable years, marked by circle, by stratum, or by branch, like those of the serpent by his rattles, the horse by his teeth, or the stag by his horns. This difficulty has been a hundred times solved by this answer, "God should have created, and without question has created, the world with all the marks of antiquity and completeness which we now see.'

3. “Indeed, it is probable that the author of nature at first planted old forests and young shoots,—that animals were produced, some full of days, others adorned with all the graces of infancy. Oaks, as they pierced the fruitful soil, would bear at once the forsaken nest of the crow and the young posterity of the dove; the caterpillar was chrysalis and butterfly; the insect fed on the herb, suspended its golden egg amid the forests, or trembled in the wavy air; the bee which had lived but a single morning reckoned its ambrosia by generations of flowers. We must believe that the sheep was not without its young, the fawn without its little ones ---that the thickets hid nightingales, astonished with their own first music, in warming the fleeting hopes of their first loves.

4. “If the world had not been at once young and old, the grand, the serious, the moral would disappear from nature; for these sentiments belong essentially to the antique. Every scene would have lost its wonders. The ruined rock could not have hung over the abyss; the woods, despoiled of every chance appearance, would not have displayed that touching disorder of trees bending over their roots, and of trunks leaning over the courses of the rivers.

5. "Inspired thoughts, venerable sounds, magic voices, the sacred gloom of forests, would vanish with the vaults which served them for retreats; and the solitudes of heaven and earth would remain naked and disenchanted, in losing those columns of oak which unite them. The very day when the ocean dashed its first waves on the shores, it bathed—let us not doubt-rocks already worn by the breakers, beaches strewn with the wrecks of shells, and headlands which sustained against the assaults of the waters the crumbling shores of earth.

6. “Without this inherent old age, there would have been neither pomp nor majesty in the work of the Eternal; and, what could not possibly be, nature in its innocence would have been less beautiful than it is to-day amid its corruption, An insipid infancy of plants, animals, and elements, would have crowned a world without poetry.

But God was not so tasteless a designer of the bowers of Eden as infidels pretend. The man king was himself born thirty years old, in order to accord in his majesty with the ancient grandeur of his new kingdom; and his companion reckoned sixteen springs which she had not lived, that she might harmonize with flowers, birds, innocence, love, and all the youthful part of the creation.”

7. This is unquestionably fine writing, and it contains a considerable amount of general truth. But not a particle of the true does it contain in connection with the one point which the writer sets himself to establish. There exists, as has been shown, a reason, palpable in the nature of things, why creation, in even its earliest dawn, should not have exhibited an insipid infancy of plants and animals; the animals otherwise could not have survived, and thus the great end of creation would have been defeated. But though there exists an obvious reason for the creation of the full-grown and the mature, there exists no reason whatever for the creation of the ruined and the broken.

8. It is a very indifferent argument, to allege that the poetic sentiment demanded the production of fractured shells on the shore, or of deserted crows' nests in the trees. If sentiment demanded the creation of broken shells that had never belonged to molluscous animals, how much more imperatively must it have demanded the creation of broken human skeletons that had never belonged to men; or, if it rendered necessary the creation of deserted crows' nests, how much more urgent the necessity for the creation of deserted palaces and temples, sublime in their solitude, or of desolate cities partially buried in the sands of the desert !

9 There is a vast deal more of poetry in the ancient sepulchers of Thebes and of Luxor, with their silent millions of the embalmed dead, than in the comminuted shells of sea-beaches; and in Palmyra and the pyramids, than in deserted crows' nests. Nor would the creation of the one class of productions be in any degree less probable, or less according to the principles of human belief, than the other. And mark the inevitable effects on human conduct! The man who honestly held with Chateaubriand in this passage, and was consistent in the following out to their legitimate consequences of the tenets which it embodies, could not sit. as a juryman in either a coroner's inquest or a trial for murder, conducted on circumstantial evidence.

10. If he held that an old crow's nest might have been called into existence as such, how could he avoid holding that an ancient human dwelling might not have been called into existence as such ? If he held that a broken patella or whelk-shell might have been created a broken shell, how could he avoid holding that a human skull, fractured like that of the murdered Clark, might not have been created a broken skull? To him Paley's watch, picked up on a moor, could not appear as other than merely a curious stone, charged with no evidence, in the peculiarity of its construction, that it had been intended to measure time.

11. The entire passage is eminently characteristic of that magnificent work of imagination, “The Genius of Christianity,” in which Chateaubriand sets himself to reconvert to Romanism the infidelity of France. He never attempts dealing by the reasoning faculty in his countrymen. As the Philistines of old dealt by the Jewish champion,-instead of meeting it in the open field, and with the legitimate weapons, he sends forth the exquisitely beautiful Delilah of his fancy io cajole and set it asleep, and then bind it as with green withes.

[blocks in formation]

LXXIII. - BURN OF EATHIE.

HUGH MILLER.

1. We enter along the bed of a stream. A line of mural precipices rises on either hand-here advancing in ponderous overhanging buttresses, there receding into deep, damp recesses, tapestried with ivy, and darkened with birch and hazel. A powerful spring, charged with lime, comes pouring by a hundred different threads over the rounded brow of a beetling crag, and the decaying vegetation around it is hardening into stone.

2. The cliffs vary their outline at every step, as if assuming in succession all the va us combinations of form that constitute the wild and the picturesque ; and the pale hues of the stone seem, when brightened by the sun, the very tints a painter would choose to heighten the effect of his shades; or to contrast most delicately with the luxuriant profusion of brushes and flowers that wave over the higher shelves and crannies. A colony of swallows have built from time immemorial under the overhanging strata of one of the loftier precipices; the fox and badger harbor in the clefts of the steeper and more inaccessible banks.

3. As we proceed, the dell becomes wilder and more deeply wooded; the stream frets and toils at our feet — here leaping over an opposing ridge -- there struggling in a pool --yonder escaping to the light, from under some broken fragment of cliff. There is a richer profusion of flowers, a thicker mantling of ivy and honey-suckle; and after passing a semi-circular inflection of the bank, that waves from base to summit with birch, hazel, and hawthorn, we find the passage shut up by a perpendicular wall of rock about thirty feet in height, over which the stream precipitates itself, in a slender column of foam, into a dark, mossy basin. The long arms of an

« ForrigeFortsett »