S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Aristotle tells us that the world is a copy or transcript of those ideas which are in the mind of the first Being, and that those ideas which are in the mind of men are a transcript of the world. To this we may add, that words are the transcript of those ideas which are in the mind of man, and that writing or printing is the transcript of words.
We are prone to engage ourselves with the business, the pleasures, and the amusements of this world; we give ourselves up too greedily to the pursuit, and immerse ourselves too deeply in the enjoyments of them.
If the end of the world shall have the same foregoing signs as the period of empires, states, and dominions in it, that is, corruption of manners, inhuman degenerations, and deluge of iniquities; it may be doubted whether that final time be so far off, of whose day and hour there can be no prescience. But while all men doubt, and none can determine how long the world shall last, some may wonder that it hath spun out so long and unto our days if we consider the incessant and cutting provocations from the earth, it is not without amazement how his patience hath permitted so long a continuance unto it.
The world was made to be inhabited by beasts, but studied and contemplated by man; it is the debt of our reason we owe unto God, and the homage we pay for not being beasts: without this the world is still as though it had not been, or as it was before the sixth day, when as yet there was not a creature that could conceive, or say, there was a world. The wisdom of God receives small honour from those vulgar heads that rudely stare about, and with a gross rusticity admire his works: those highly magnify him whose judicious inquiry into his acts, and deliberate research into his creatures, return the duty of a devout and learned admiration.
Where are now the great empires of the world, and their great imperial cities? their pillars, trophies, and monuments of glory? show me where they stood, read the inscription, tell me the victors name. What remains, what impressions, what difference, or distinction, do you see in this mass of fire? Rome itself, eternal Rome, the great city, the empress of the world, whose domination and superstition, ancient and modern, make a great part of the history of this earth, what is become of her now?
The world was not eternal, or from eternity. The matter of the world cannot be eternal. Matter cannot subsist without form, nor put on any form without the action of some cause. This cause must be in being before it acted; that which is not cannot act. The cause of the world must necessarily exist before any matter was endued with any form; that, therefore, cannot be eternal before which another did subsist; if it were from eternity, it would not be subject to mutation. If the whole was from eternity, why not also the parts; what makes the changes so visible then, if eternity would exempt it from mutability?
Search, therefore, with the greatest care, into the character of all those whom you converse with; endeavour to discover their predominant passions, their prevailing weaknesses, their vanities, their follies, and their humours; with all the right and wrong, wise and silly springs of human actions, which make such inconsistent and whimsical beings of us rational creatures. A moderate share of penetration, with great attention, will infallibly make these necessary discoveries. This is the true knowledge of the world: and the world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description: one must travel through it ones self to be acquainted with it. The scholar who in the dust of his closet talks or writes of the world, knows no more of it than that orator did of war, who judiciously endeavoured to instruct Hannibal in it. Courts and camps are the only places to learn the world in.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Oct. 2, 1747.
I have sometimes thought, if the sun were an intelligence he would be horribly incensed at the world he is appointed to enlighten: such a tale of ages, exhibiting a tiresome repetition of stupidity, follies, and crimes!
Another thing which suspends the operations of benevolence is the love of the world; proceeding from a false notion men have taken up, that an abundance of the world is an essential ingredient in the happiness of life. Worldly things are of such a quality as to lessen upon dividing, so that the more partners there are the less must fall to every mans private share. The consequence of this is, that they look upon one another with an evil eye, each imagining all the rest to be embarked in an interest that cannot take place but to his prejudice. Hence are those eager competitions for wealth and power; hence one mans success becomes anothers disappointment; and, like pretenders to the same mistress, they can seldom have common charity for their rivals.
However highly we may esteem the arts and sciences which polish our species and promote the welfare of society; whatever reverence we may feel, and ought to feel, for those laws and institutions whence it derives the security necessary for enabling it to enlarge its resources and develop its energies, we cannot forget that these are but the embellishments of a scene we must shortly quitthe decorations of a theatre from which the eager spectators and applauded actors must soon retire. The end of all things is at hand. Vanity is inscribed on every earthly pursuit, on all sublunary labour; its materials, its instruments, and its objects all alike perish. An incurable taint of mortality has seized upon, and will consume, them ere long. The acquisitions derived from religion, the graces of a renovated mind, are alone permanent.
Robert Hall: Discouragements and Supports of the Christian Minister.
But the impotence of the world never appears more conspicuous than when it has exhausted its powers in the gratification of its votaries, by placing them in a situation which leaves nothing further to hope. It frustrates the sanguine expectations of its admirers as much by what it bestows as by what it withholds, and reserves its severest disappointment for the season of possession. The agitation, the uncertainty, the varied emotions of hope and fear which accompany the pursuit of worldly objects, create a powerful interest, and maintain a brisk and wholesome circulation; but when the pursuit is over, unless some other is substituted in its place, satiety succeeds to enjoyment and pleasures cease to please. Tired of treading the same circle, of beholding the same spectacles, of frequenting the same amusements, and repeating the same follies, with nothing to awaken sensibility or stimulate to action, the minion of fortune is exposed to an insuperable languor; he sinks under an insupportable weight of ease, and falls a victim to incurable deletion and despondency.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
Such are the vicissitudes of the world, through all its parts, that day and night, labour and rest, hurry and retirement, endear each other. Such are the changes that keep the mind in action: we desire, we pursue, we obtain, we are satiated: we desire something else, and begin a new pursuit.
This great world which some do yet multiply as several species under one genus, is the mirror wherein we are to behold our selves, to be able to know our selves as we ought to do. In short, I would have this to be the book my young gentleman should study with the most attention; for so many humours, so many sects, so many judgments, opinions, laws, and customs, teach us a right to judge of our own, and inform our understandings to discover their imperfection and natural infirmity, which is no trivial speculation. So many mutations of states and kingdoms, and so many turns and revolutions of publick fortune, will make us wise enough to make no great wonder of our own. So many great names, so many famous victories and conquests drownd and swallowd in oblivion, render our hopes ridiculous of eternizing our names by the taking of half a score light horse, or a paltry turret, which only derives its memory from its ruine.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
But the question is, whether, if Ptolemy was therein formerly deceivd, upon the foundations of his reason, it were not very foolish to trust now in what these people say: and whether it is not more like that this great body which we call the world is not quite another thing than what we imagine. Plato says that it changes countenance in all respects: that the heavens, the stars, and the sun, have all of them sometimes motions retrograde to what we see, changing east into west. The Egyptian priests told Herodotus, that from the time of their first king, which was eleven thousand and odd years (and they shewd him the effigies of all their kings in statues taken by the life) the sun had four times alterd his course: that the sea and the earth did alternately change into one another. Aristotle and Cicero both say that the beginning of the world is undetermind.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lxix.
It was that gay and splendid confusion in which the eye of youth sees all that is brave and brilliant, and that of experience much that is doubtful, deceitful, false, and hollow; hopes that will never be gratified, promises that will never be fulfilled, pride in the disguise of humility, and insolence in that of frank and generous bounty.
Ours is a melancholy and uncomfortable portion here below! A place where not a day passes but we eat our bread with sorrow and cares: the present troubles us, the future amazes; and even the past fills us with grief and anguish.