Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ate the human mind. Accordingly we find, that all ido, laters, having separated the provinces of their deities, have recourse to that invisible agent, to whose authority they are immediately subjected, and whose province it is to superintend that course of actions, in which they are, at any time, engaged. Juno is invoked at mara riages; LUCINA at births. NEPTUNE peceives the prayers of seamen ; and Mars of warriors. The husbandman cultivates his field under the protection of CERES ; and the merchant acknowledges the authority of MERCURY. Each natural event is supposed to be governed by some intelligent agent; and nothing prosperous or adverse can happen in life, which may not be the subject of peculiar prayers or thanksgivings*.

It must necessarily, indeed, be allowed, that, in order to carry mens attention beyond the present course of things, or lead them into any inference concerning invisible intellgent power, they must be actuated by some passion which prompts their thought and reflection, some motive which urges their first inquiry. But what passion shall we here have recourse to, for explaining an effect of such mighty consequence ? Not speculative curiosity surely, or the pure love of truth. That motive is too refined for such gross apprehensions; and would lead men into inquiries concerning the frame of nature, a subject too large and comprehensive for their narrow capacities. No passions, therefore, can be supposed to work upon such barbarians, but the ordinary affections of human life; the anxious concern for happiness, the dread of future misery, the terror of death, the thirst of revenge, the appetite for food and other necessáries. Agitated by hopes and fears of this nature,

* See NOTE [YY.]

especially the latter, men scrutinize, with a trembling eur riosity, the course of future causes, and examine the vam rious and contrary events of human life. And in this disordered scene, with eyes still more disordered and as. stonished, they see the first obscure traces.of divinity:

Įhe same Subject continued.

We are placed in this world, as in a great theatre, where the true springs and causes of every event are en. tirely concealed from uş; nor have we either sufficient wisdom to foresee, or power to prevent those ills, with which we are continually threatened. We hạng in perpetual suspense between life and death, health and sick. ness, plenty and want; which are distributed amongst the human species by secret and unknown causes, whose operation is oft unexpected, and always unaccoụntable, These unknown causes, then, become the constant object of our hope and fear; and while the passions are kept in perpetual alarm by an anxious expectation of the events, the imagination is equally employed in forming ideas of those powers, on which we have so entire a dependence. Could men anatomize nature, according to the most probable, at least the most intelligible philosophy, they would find that these causes are nothing but the parti, cular fabric and structure of the minute parts.of their own bodies and of external objects; and that, by a regular and constant machinery, all the events are produced, about which they are so much concerned. But this philosophy exceeds the comprehension of the ignorant multitude, who can only conceive the unknown causes in a general and confused manner; though their imagination, perpetually employed on the same subject, mụst labour to form some particular and distinct idea of them. The more they consider these causes themselves, and the uncertainty of their operation, the less satisfaction do they meet with in their researches; and, however unwilling, they must at last have abandoned so arduous an attempt, .were it not for a propensity in human nature, which leads into a system, that gives them some satisfaction.'

There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice or good will to every thing that hurts or pleases us. Hence the frequency and beauty of the prosopopæia in poetry i where trees, mountains, and streams are personified, and the inanimate parts of nature acquire sentiment and pasa sion. And though these poetical figures and expressions gain not on the belief, they may serve, at least, to prove a certain tendency in the imagination, without which they could neither be beautiful nor natural. Nor is a river-god or hamadryad always taken for a mere poetis cal or imaginary personage ; but may sometimes enter into the real creed of the ignorant vulgar; while each grove or field is represented as possessed of a particular genius or invisible power, which inhabits and protects it. Nay, philosophers cannot entirely exempt themselves from this natural frailty ; but have oft ascribed to inanimate matter the horror of a vacuum, sympathies, antipathies, and other affections of human nature. The absurdity is not less, while we cast our eyes upwards ; and transferring, as is too usual, human passions and infirmities to the Deity, represent him as jealous and revengeful, capricious and partial, and, in short, a wicked

and foolish man in every respect, but his superior power and authority. No wonder, then, that mankind, being placed in such an absolute ignorance of causes, and being at the same time so anxious concerning their future fora tune, should immediately acknowledge a dependence on invisible powers, possessed of sentiment and intelligence. The unknown causes, which continually employ their thought, appearing always in the same aspect, are all apprehended to be of the same kind or species. Nor is it long before we ascribe to them thought and reason and passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order to bring them nearer to a resemblance with ourselves

In proportion as any man's course of life is governed by accident, we always find that he increases in supera stition; as may particularly be observed of gamesters and sailors, who, though, of all mankind, the least capable

of serious reflection, abound most in frivolous and super· stitious apprehensions. The gods, says CORIOLANUS in

Dionysius *, have an influence in every affair ; but above all in war; where the event is so uncertain. All human life, especially before the institution of order and good government, being subject to fortuitous accidents į it is natural that superstition should prevail everwhere jn barbarous ages, and put men on the most earnest inquiry concerning those invisible powers, who dispose of their happiness or misery, Ignorant of astronomy and the anatomy of plants and animals, and too little curious to observe the admirable adjustment of final causes, they remain still unącquainted with a first and supreme Creator, and with that infinitely Perfect Spirit, who alone, by his Almighty will, bestowed order on the whole frame of nature, Such a magnificent idea is too big for their narrow

* Lib. viii.

conceptions, which can neither observe the beauty of the work, nor comprehend the grandeur of its author. They suppose their deities, however potent and invisible; to be nothing but a species of human creatures, perhaps raised from among mankind, and retaining all human passions and appetites, together with corporeal limbs and organs. Such limited beings, though masters of human fate, being each of them incapable of extending his influence every where, must be vastly multiplied, in order to answer that variety of events which happen over the whole face of nature. Thus every place is stored with a crowd of local deities ; and thus polytheism has prevailed, and still prevails, among the greatest part of un. instructed mankind *. .

Any of the human affections may lead us into the notion of invisible, intelligent power ; hope as well as fear, gratitude as well as affliction : But if we examine our own hearts, or observe what passes around us, we shall find, that men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the melancholy than by the agreeable passions. Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author. It begets cheerfulness; and activity, and alacrity, and a lively enjoyment of every social and sensual pleasure : And during this state

# The following lines of Euripides are so much to the present purpose, that I cannot forbear quoting them. ·

OUX ESIV NSSY Pisov, vt sy do&rx,
Ουτ’ αν καλως πρασσονα μη πραξειν κακως.
Quprou d'avo'o, f801 OMOV TE xas x porn,
Tagaynov evtober785; ws ayuwoice
16W LEY aulys,

HECUBA. “ There is nothing secure in the world; no glory, no prosperity. « The gods toss all life into confusion ; mix every thing with its re. “ verse; that all of us, from our ignorance and uncertainty, may pay 6 them the more worship and reverence.”

« ZurückWeiter »