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Vol. XIV. PART I.
Art. I.-Philosophical Letters between the learned Mr. Ray and
several of his ingenious Correspondents, Natives, and Foreigners ; to which are added those of Francis Willughby, Esq. The whole consisting of many curious Discoveries and Improvements in the History of Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Insects, Plants, Fossiles, Fountains, 8c. Published by W. Derham, Chaplain to his Royal Highness George Prince of Wales, and F. R. S. London, 1718.
The remote and ultimate point to which the higher branches of abstract science tend, is within the reach of few save those who, gifted alike with talent and leisure, can dedicate no inconsiderable portion of life to their culture and attainment. The deep mysteries of philosophy, into which the mind of a Newton could penetrate, are, to the greater part of mankind, as inaccessible as the very heavens of which they treat; but in natural history, and all that vast field of subordinate science which leads to the contemplation of Deity, in his works in this his lower world, we find an ample space to which all may retire for their moment of leisure, and, without any overwhelming demand on their intellect, discover wherewithal to expand its powers and lead it from Nature up to Nature's God. There is another advantage, too, upon which we would willingly expatiate beyond the fair limits by which we are confined; we allude to that tranquillising spirit, falling like the shades of evening over those who retire from the world to “ suck in the sweets of sweet philosophy,” amidst fields and flowers and woods, enlivened by the melody of birds and the busy hum of the myriads of organised beings enjoying their brief hour of existence. There is something in
VOL, XIV. PART I,
the contemplation of these rural scenes that excites a thrill which the world cannot impart; there is a feeling of repose which softens down the harsher passions of our nature, and before which party spirit, and the contentious wranglings of men, flee away and seem to be at rest. It is our firm belief, that no individual has ever yet existed, however depraved and abandoned may have been his life, who has not felt (more, possibly, than he was aware of) this appeal of the workings of nature upon his soul, under the influence of those associations which rural scenery can excite, and who has not experienced something like a feeling of awe and adoration, transitory indeed we are ready to allow, and again to be darkened and effaced by re-communion with the world : and if our conjecture is correct; if, upon the cold and heartless, the breathings of animated nature can infuse warmth, and generate a better spirit even amongst the worst of those who their “devious course pursue" amidst life's " thickets and its brakes entangled;" we may easily calculate the effect on others of a different cast, predisposed, by education and habit, for the enjoyment within their reach.
The volume before us is an admirable illustration of the remarks we have just made. In its pages, we find the interesting correspondence of a select few, who, during a series of unparalleled political agitations and changes, pursued the even tenor of their way in spite of the chequered proceedings of this tumultous period, from the despotism of Cromwell to the accession of Queen Anne. Hume,* in the conclusion of his history, remarking upon the early part of this æra, observes, that during " the thick cloud of bigotry and ignorance which overspread the nation during the commonwealth and protectorship, there were a few sedate philosophers, who, in the retirement of Oxford, cultivated their reason, and established conferences for the mutual communication of their discoveries.” Now, far from considering this as an extraordinary consequence, we are inclined, in glancing over the peculiar features of these times, to view it as an obvious and natural result. The reformation had been established long enough to restore to mankind the full use and knowledge of their faculties; printing had further confirmed the power of reason; and the censorship of the press (for that powerful engine of liberty was yet in thraldom) fell leniently, if at all, on works unconnected with political opinion and party questions. Under these circumstances, it would rather be a matter of surprise, if cultivated minds, disgusted with faction, fanaticism, and court-intrigues, had not sought shelter within those precincts where they might wander uninterrupted, and
* Hume, vol. viii., p. 332.