OUR age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes
biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and
nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an
original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and
philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us,
and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of
life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to
action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the
past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe?
The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are
new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and
Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust
the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the
order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.
Every man's condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would
put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner,
nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let
us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us
inquire, to what end is nature?
All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. We have theories
of races and of functions, but scarcely yet a remote approach to an idea of
creation. We are now so far from the road to truth, that religious teachers
dispute and hate each other, and speculative men are esteemed unsound and
frivolous. But to a sound judgment, the most abstract truth is the most
practical. Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test
is, that it will explain all phenomena. Now many are thought not only
unexplained but inexplicable; as language, sleep, madness, dreams, beasts, sex.
Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul.
Strictly speaking, therefore, all that is separate from us, all which Philosophy
distinguishes as the NOT ME, that is, both nature and art, all other men and my
own body, must be ranked under this name, NATURE. In enumerating the values of
nature and casting up their sum, I shall use the word in both senses;�in its
common and in its philosophical import. In inquiries so general as our present
one, the inaccuracy is not material; no confusion of thought will occur.
Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the
air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with
the same things, as in a house, a canal, a statue, a picture. But his operations
taken together are so insignificant, a little chipping, baking, patching, and
washing, that in an impression so grand as that of the world on the human mind,
they do not vary the result.