S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
There is something unspeakably cheerful in a spot of ground which is covered with trees, that smiles amidst all the rigours of winter, and gives us a view of the most gay season in the midst of that which is the most dead and melancholy.
When we contemplate the wonderful works of Nature, and, walking about at leisure, gaze upon this ample theatre of the world, considering the stately beauty, constant order, and sumptuous furniture thereof; the glorious splendour and uniform motion of the heavens; the pleasant fertility of the earth; the curious figure and fragrant sweetness of plants; the exquisite frame of animals; and all other amazing miracles of nature, wherein the glorious attributes of God, especially His transcendent goodness, are more conspicuously displayed: so that by them, not only large acknowledgments, but even gratulatory hymns, as it were, of praise have been extorted from the mouths of Aristotle, Pliny, Galen, and such like men, never suspected guilty of an excessive devotion: then should our hearts be affected with thankful sense, and our lips break forth in praise.
This happy sensibility to the beauties of nature should be cherished in young persons. It engages them to contemplate the Creator in his wonderful works; it purifies and harmonizes the soul, and prepares it for moral and intellectual discipline; it supplies a never-failing source of amusement; it contributes even to bodily health; and, as a strict analogy subsists between material and moral beauty, it leads the heart by an easy transition from the one to the other, and thus recommends virtue for its transcendent loveliness, and makes vice appear the object of contempt and abomination. An intimate acquaintance with the best descriptive poetsSpenser, Milton, and Thomson, but above all with the divine Georgicjoined to some practice in the art of drawing, will promote this amiable sensibility in early years; for then the face of nature has novelty superadded to its other charms, the passions are not pre-engaged, the heart is free from care, and the imagination warm and romantic.
It is strange to observe the callousness of some men, before whom all the glories of heaven and earth pass in daily succession without touching their hearts, elevating their fancy, or leaving any durable remembrance. Even of those who pretend to sensibility, how many are there to whom the lustre of the rising or setting sun, the sparkling concave of the midnight sky, the mountain forest tossing and roaring to the storm, or warbling with all the melodies of a summer evening; the sweet interchange of hill and dale, shade and sunshine, grove, lawn, and water, which an extensive landscape offers to the view; the scenery of the ocean, so lovely, so majestic, and so tremendous, and the many pleasing varieties of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, could never afford so much real satisfaction as the steam and noise of a ball-room, the insipid fiddling and squeaking of an opera, or the vexations and wranglings of a card-table!
Nature sometimes means the Author of Nature, or Natura naturans; as, Nature hath made man partly corporeal and partly immaterial. For Nature, in this sense, may be used the word Creator. Nature sometimes means that on whose account a thing is what it is and is called; as when we define the nature of an angle. For nature, in this sense, may be used, essence or quality. Nature sometimes means what belongs to a living creature at its nativity, or accrues to it at its birth; as when we say, a man is noble by nature; a child is naturally forward. This may be expressed by saying, the man was born so, the thing was generated such. Nature sometimes means an internal principle of locomotion; as we say, the stone falls, or the flame rises, by nature. For this we may say, that the motion up or down is spontaneous, or produced by its proper cause. Nature sometimes means the established course of things corporeal; as, nature makes the night succeed the day. This may be termed established order, or settled course. Nature sometimes means the aggregate of the powers belonging to a body, especially a living one; as when physicians say that nature is strong, or nature left to herself will do the cure. For this may be used, constitution, temperament, or structure of the body. Nature is put likewise for the system of the corporeal works of God; as, there is no phnix or chimera in nature. For nature, thus applied, we may use, the world, or the universe. Nature is sometimes, indeed, taken for a kind of semi-duty. In this sense it is better not to use it at all.
Nor do I so forget God as to adore the name of nature; which I define, not, with the schools, to be the principle of motion and rest, but that straight and regular line, that settled and constant course, the wisdom of God hath ordained the actions of his creatures, according to their several kinds . And thus I call the effects of nature the works of God, whose hand and instrument she only is: and therefore to ascribe his actions unto her, is to devolve the honour of the principal agent upon the instrument; which if with reason we may do, then let our hammers rise up and boast they have built our houses, and our pens receive the honour of our writing.
Never was there a jar or discord between genuine sentiment and sound policy. Never, no, never, did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another. Nor are sentiments of elevation in themselves turgid and unnatural. Nature is never more truly herself than in her grandest forms. The Apollo of Belvedere (if the universal robber has yet left him at Belvedere) is as much in Nature as any figure from the pencil of Rembrandt or any clown in the rustic revels of Teniers. Indeed, it is when a great nation is in great difficulties that minds must exalt themselves to the occasion, or all is lost.
Edmund Burke: Letters on a Regicide Peace, Letter III., 1797.
It is truly a most Christian exercise to extract a sentiment of piety from the works and appearances of Nature. Our Saviour expatiates on a flower, and draws from it the delightful argument of confidence in God. He gives us to see that taste may be combined with piety, and that the same heart may be occupied with all that is serious in the contemplation of religion, and be, at the same time, alive to the charms and loveliness of Nature.
There is no such thing as what men commonly call the course of nature, or the power of nature. The course of nature, truly and properly speaking, is nothing else but the will of God producing certain effects in a continued, regular, constant, and uniform manner,which course or manner of acting, being in every movement perfectly arbitrary, is as easy to be altered any time as to be preserved.
The word nature has been used in two senses; viz., actively and passively, energetic and material. In the first it signifies the inward principle of whatever is requisite for the reality of a thing as existent . In the second or material sense of the word nature, we mean by it the sum total of all things, so far as they are objects of our senses, and consequently of possible experience,the aggregate of phenomena, whether existing for our outward senses or for our inner sense.
Nature never deceives you: the rocks, the mountains, the streams, always speak the same language; a shower of snow may hide the verdant woods in spring, a thunder-storm may render the blue limpid streams foul and turbulent; but these effects are rare and transient: in a few hours, or at most in a few days, all the sources of beauty are renovated. And nature affords no continued trains of misfortunes and miseries, such as depend upon the constitution of humanity; no hopes forever blighted in the bud, no beings, full of life, beauty, and promise, taken from us in the prime of youth. Her fruits are all balmy and sweet; she affords none of those blighted ones, so common in the life of man, and so like the fabled apples of the Dead Sea, fresh and beautiful to the sight, but, when tasted, full of bitterness and ashes.
Surely there is something in the unruffled calm of nature that overawes our little anxieties and doubts: the sight of the deep-blue sky, and the clustering stars above, seem to impart a quiet to the mind.
Pantheism, when explained to mean the absorption of the infinite in the finite, of God in nature, is atheism; and the doctrine of Spinosa has been so regarded by many. When explained to mean the absorption of nature in God, of the finite in the infinite, it amounts to an exaggeration of atheism.
The term nature is used sometimes in a wider, sometimes in a narrower extension. When employed in its most extensive meaning, it embraces the two worlds of mind and matter. When employed in its most restricted signification, it is a synonyme for the latter only, and is then used in contradistinction to the former.
The knowledge of that which a man is in reference unto himself and other things in relation unto man, I may term the mother of all those principles which are decrees in that law of nature; whereby human actions are framed.
Who the guide of nature, but only the God of nature? In him we live, move, and are. Those things which nature is said to do are by divine art performed, using nature as an instrument: nor is there any such knowledge divine in nature herself working, but in the guide of natures work.
I am persuaded that the more we inquire and search into the economy of Nature, so far from finding any defects, we shall have more and more reason to be convinced that not only every bird, but every animal, from the highest to the lowest in the scale of creation, is equally well adapted for the purpose for which it is intended. The chief object of a naturalist should be always to look through Nature up to Natures God; and if we do so with a sincere desire to be benefited by the survey, we shall have fresh cause for wonder and admiration, and find our minds more fitted to receive the good impressions which such a study must produce.
A man finds in the productions of Nature an inexhaustible stock of material upon which he can employ himself, without any temptation to envy or malevolence; and has always a certain prospect of discovering new reasons for adoring the Sovereign Author of the universe.
The principal operations of nature are not the absolute annihilation and new creation of what we call material substances, but the temporary extinction and reproductionor rather, in one word, the transmutationof forms.
The works of nature and the works of revelation display religion to mankind in characters so large and visible that those who are not quite blind may in them see and read the first principles and most necessary parts of it, and from thence penetrate into those infinite depths filled with the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Nature will be reported: all things are engaged in writing its history. The planet, the pebble, goes attended by its shadow. The rolling rock leaves its scratches on the mountain, the river its channels in the soil, the animal its bones in the stratum, the fern and leaf their modest epitaph in the coal. The fallen drop makes its sculpture in the sand or stone; not a footstep in the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting a map of its march; every act of man inscribes itself in the memories of his fellows, and in his own face. The air is full of sounds, the sky of tokens, the ground of memoranda and signatures; and every object is covered over with hints which speak to the intelligent.
In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake of her rejoicing with heaven and earth.
But whoever shall represent to his fancy, as in a picture, that great image of our mother nature, pourtrayed in her full majesty and lustre; whoever in her face shall read so general and so constant a variety; whoever shall observe himself in that figure, and not himself, but a whole kingdom, no bigger than the least touch or prick of a pencil in comparison of the whole; that man alone is able to value things according to their true estimate and grandeur.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
The Author of nature has not given laws to the universe which, like the institutions of men, carry in themselves the elements of their own destruction. He has not permitted in his works any symptom of infancy or old age, or any sign by which we may estimate either their future or their past duration. He may put an end, as he no doubt gave a beginning, to the present system at some determinate period of time; but we may rest assured that this great catastrophe will not be brought about by the laws now existing, and that it is not indicated by anything which we perceive.
The laws of nature are the rules according to which effects are produced; but there must be a cause which operates according to these rules. The rules of navigation never steered a ship, nor the law of gravity never moved a planet.
The works, whether of poets, painters, moralists, or historians, which are built upon general nature, live forever; while those which depend for their existence on particular customs and habits, a partial view of nature, or the fluctuation of fashion, can only be coeval with that which first raised them from obscurity.
There is religion in everything around usa calm and holy religion in the unbreathing things of nature, which man would do well to imitate. It is a meek and blessed influence, stealing in, as it were, unawares upon the heart; it comes quietly, and without excitement; it has no terror, no gloom, in its approaches; it does not rouse up the passions; it is untrammelled by the creeds, and unshadowed by the superstitions, of man; it is fresh from the hands of its Author, glowing from the immediate presence of the Great Spirit, which pervades and quickens it; it is written on the arched sky; it looks out from every star; it is on the sailing cloud and in the invisible wind; it is among the hills and valleys of the earth, where the shrubless mountain-top pierces the thin atmosphere of eternal winter, or where the mighty forest fluctuates before the strong wind with its dark waves of green foliage; it is spread out, like a legible language, upon the broad face of the unsleeping ocean; it is the poetry of nature; it is this which uplifts the spirit within us until it is strong enough to overlook the shadows of our place of probation; which breaks, link after link, the chain that binds us to materiality; and which opens to our imagination a world of spiritual beauty and holiness.
In nature, all is managed for the best, with perfect frugality and just reserve, profuse to none, but bountiful to all; never employing on one thing more than enough, but with exact economy retrenching the superfluous, and adding force to what is principal in everything.