S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Sir Humphry Davy
The caterpillar, on being converted into an inert scaly mass, does not appear to be fitting itself for an inhabitant of the air, and can have no consciousness of the brilliancy of its future being. We are masters of the earth, but perhaps we are the slaves of some great and unknown being. The fly that we crush with our finger or feed with our viands has no knowledge of man, and no consciousness of his superiority. We suppose that we are acquainted with matter and all its elements; yet we cannot even guess at the cause of electricity, or explain the laws of the formation of the stones that fall from meteors. There may be beings, thinking beings, near or surrounding us, which we do not perceive, which we cannot imagine. We know very little; but, in my opinion, we know enough to hope for the immortality, the individual immortality, of the better part of man.
Even in a moral point of view, I think the analogies derived from the transformation of insects admit of some beautiful applications, which have not been neglected by pious entomologists. The three statesof the caterpillar, larva, and butterflyhave, since the time of the Greek poets, been applied to typify the human being,its terrestrial form, apparent death and ultimate celestial destination; and it seems more extraordinary that a sordid and crawling worm should become a beautiful and active flythat an inhabitant of the dark and fetid dunghill should in an instant entirely change its form, rise into the blue air, and enjoy the sunbeamsthan that a being whose pursuits here have been after an undying name, and whose purest happiness has been derived from the acquisition of intellectual power and finite knowledge, should rise hereafter into a state of being where immortality is no longer a name, and ascend to the source of Unbounded Power and Infinite Wisdom.
Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindnesses, and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart, and secure comfort.
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.
Religion, whether natural or revealed, has always the most beneficial influence on the mind. In youth, in health, and prosperity, it awakens feelings of gratitude, and sublime love, and purifies at the same time that which it exalts: but it is in misfortune, in sickness, in age, that its effects are most truly and beneficially felt: when submission in faith, and humble trust in the divine will, from duties become pleasures, undecaying sources of consolation; then it creates powers which were believed to be extinct, and gives a freshness to the mind which was supposed to have passed away forever, but which is now renovated as an immortal hope. Its influence outlives all earthly enjoyments, and becomes stronger as the organs decay and the frame dissolves; it appears as that evening star of light, in the horizon of life, which we are sure is to become, in another season, a morning star, and it throws its radiance through the gloom and shadow of death.
I envy not quality of the mind or intellect in others; not genius, power, wit, or fancy: but if I could choose what would be most delightful, and I believe most useful to me, I should prefer a firm religious belief to every other blessing: for it makes life a discipline of goodness,creates new hopes when all earthly hopes vanish; and throws over all decay, the destruction of existence, the most gorgeous of all lights; awakes life even in death, and from corruption and decay calls up beauty and divinity; makes an instrument of torture and of shame the ladder of ascent to paradise; and far above all combinations of earthly hopes calls up the most delightful visions of plains and amaranths, the gardens of the blest, the security of everlasting joys, where the sensualist and the sceptic view only gloom, decay, annihilation, and despair.