J. Stevenson (John Stevenson) Bushnan.

Introduction to the study of nature : illustrative of the attributes of the almighty, as displayed in the creation online

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Online LibraryJ. Stevenson (John Stevenson) BushnanIntroduction to the study of nature : illustrative of the attributes of the almighty, as displayed in the creation → online text (page 1 of 19)
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THE unspeakable importance of the study of
Nature, when properly directed, and the almost
unlimited extent of the phenomena which it
embraces, as well as of the enquiries to which
these phenomena give rise, and of the illustra-
tions by which they are explained, seem to ren-
der any apology for the publication of the follow-
ing pages altogether unnecessary.

It is true that the Author only follows in the
track of others ; but it will scarcely be alleged,
that a field so wide is already preoccupied, or
that the number of labourers is too great. He
assumes not the character of a rival, desirous to
supplant ; but of an humble coadjutor, willing
to lend his feeble efforts to so good a cause,
happy if he shall, in any degree, contribute to
kindle or to foster, in the ingenuous mind, a de-
sire to become better acquainted with the won-
ders of creation ; and, in these wonders, to read
more clearly the perfections of the great Creator.


The particular task which he has assigned to
himself is, that of presenting the most familiar
appearances, under the aspect of facts which
solicit attention, and amply repay investiga-
tion ; that he may show how entirely within the
reach of every man are those studies which en-
large the sphere of useful knowledge, while they
aiford the most interesting employment to the
understanding, and improve the heart.

It did not, therefore, accord with his plan to
confine himself to the consideration of any one
department of Nature ; or to be fastidious as to
the scientific arrangement of the various subjects
which came under his review. These subjects
are treated rather in the form of distinct and
independent Essays, than as different steps in
one unbroken argument ; and yet, he shall have
but ill accomplished his object, should not the
whole of his investigations, various and desul-
tory as they may appear, be found to bear on
one great conclusion, and that the most impor-
tant to which unassisted reason can come,
namely, that the hand of a wise and intelligent
Creator is every where visible, demanding the
reverence and adoration of his rational crea-
tures. Nor shall he have less failed in his aim
should he leave the mind satisfied with this dis-
covery, or unprepared to seek, in rewalcd reli-


gion, an answer to those mysterious questions,
which Nature anxiously proposes, but cannot ,

In conclusion, the Author has to remark, that
he is indebted for much of the substance of the
Chapters on Zoology, and the Adaptations in
the formation of Animals to their appointed
modes of life, to Notes, taken while attending
the Lectures on Physiology, of Dr. Fletcher of
Edinburgh. It must at all times afford him
pleasure to acknowledge the benefits he received
from that gentleman's instructions, and the co-
louring which they have given to his own opi-
nions and practice.




IT is not less instructive than it is interesting
to examine the formation, and functions, and
histories of animate and inanimate bodies, and
to trace out their various relations to each other;
and to whatever branch of this study we apply
our minds, in the spirit of candid enquiry, we
cannot fail to discover adaptations, so wise, so
beneficent, and sometimes so surprising, that it is
impossible to resist the evidence of a Divine hand,
or to withhold the tribute of the profoundest

Among these adaptations, that of external
nature to the powers of the human mind, has
lately been treated with much eloquence and
felicity by a deservedly celebrated author ; but I
do not remember that, in his varied illustrations,
he has noticed that beneficent provision in the
moral and intellectual constitution of our race
which affords them a relish for the very enquiry
he has so successfully prosecuted, in one of its
most important departments.

It is not easy, however, to turn our attention
to this subject, without being struck with admi-^


ration at the wisdom which it unfolds. Man is
destined to be long conversant with external
objects ; it is, therefore, of essential importance
that these objects should be calculated to please
his taste and to interest his affections. Were it
otherwise, he might still indeed be stimulated to
exertion by the cravings of hunger ; but he would
be deprived of all that is generous in his motives
and elegant in his employments. His mind
would be cold, morose, and intensely selfish ;
and, through the whole period of his history, he
would be doomed to remain a worthless and
brutal savage.

To save us from this degradation, we are en-
dowed with various feelings and propensities,
which receive an ennobling gratification from
the sensible objects with which we are sur-

In childhood it very early appears that there
is a peculiar pleasure resulting from the mere
exercise of the different senses. The mother, as
she fondles her infant offspring, traces the first
dawn of intelligence, not merely in the eagerness
with which he seeks the delicious food that na-
ture has provided for him, but in the eye which
courts the cheerful light of heaven, and the ear
which delights in harmonious sounds and tones
of kindness, and the hand which gladly seizes
the bauble which affection offers. Nor is this
simple and primary source of enjoyment less
distinctly indicated in the innocent smile which
plays upon his little cheek, as objects flit before


him, or the chuckle of transport with which he
replies to the fond arts of parental endearment.

But other faculties of a still less equivocal
nature are quickly developed. Curiosity, and a
desire of possessing, are among the first propen-
sities which strongly move the infant mind ; and
these, while they prove the powerful hold that
external nature takes of the young affections,
appear evidently to be implanted as the means
of calling the mental and bodily powers into
vigorous action, and of preparing the tender
child, by a salutary discipline, for the sterner
employments of manhood.

It is edifying to observe how these two prin-
ciples operate in producing this salutary result.
The love of possessing extends the eager arm,
and teaches the hand tenaciously to grasp, and
the eye to guide it surely and directly ; while
curiosity employs all the senses, assisted by the
judgment, in a minute and unwearied examina-
tion of the objects possessed, until their various
sensible qualities are ascertained and treasured
among the stores of memory. Hence, along
with the first rude ideas of property, a fund of
useful information is acquired, always accumu-
lating and becoming more important ; and as
infancy passes into boyhood, and boyhood into
youth, imagination, gaining strength, lends its
enchanting power to give intensity to the mental
energy, and shedding over every new discovery
the warmth of its colouring, kindles and fosters
the Love of Nature in the susceptible heart.

To all this may be added another faculty,
which without attempting accurately to analize
it, may be described as that which affords to the
mind the perception of natural beauty and gran-
deur. This fine emotion, which is distinguished
by the name of Taste, on whatever ultimate
principles it may depend, is, doubtless, the chief
source of the pleasure arising from the contem-
plation of natural appearances. We perceive
objects lovely in themselves, or lovely in their
combinations, and our hearts warm with a veiy
peculiar and elevating enjoyment ; we perceive
objects sublime from their vastness, or magnifi-
cent from combined splendour and greatness,
and immediately within us sentiments arise of
wonder and astonishment, or of awe and vene-
ration. Who can find words to express the
delight he has experienced from contemplating
the beauties of a summer landscape, when the
shades of evening were falling sweetly and tran-
quilly around ; or the sublimity of the starry
heavens, when the darkness of a winter night
gave depth to the etherial blue of the firmament,
and brilliancy to the innumerable worlds which
gemmed that boundless canopy ?

The Love of Nature, then, is a complex feel-
ing, arising from different qualities of the mind,
mysteriously combined, and with which external
objects have been made to harmonize, so as to
call them into powerful exercise, and cause them
to be a source of exquisite and varied enjoy-
ment ; and it is useful to trace the adaptations

by which this beneficent system has been con-

It is easy to conceive a world whose appear-
ances and various relations would offend our
taste, and be altogether discordant with our feel-
ings, as well as unsuitable to our powers and
faculties ; nor is it possible to doubt that the
disgust or apathy arising from this unhappy con-
trariety, if it did not lead to utter extermination,
would at least deeply affect the character, and
entail misery on the lot of humanity.

It is, therefore, no insignificant proof of an
intelligent and bountiful Creator, that there
should exist so harmonious an agreement be-
tween mind and matter, that the powers of the
one should be so wonderfully adapted to the
aspect and qualities of the other, and that the
happy combinations which are thus effected
should be productive of such high and rational

It must not be forgotten, however, that al-
though such suitableness between the mental
powers and the phenomena of the external world
actually exists, it partakes of the imperfection
inherent in all sublunary things. The fall of
man, which has so deeply affected the character,
the condition and the mutual relations of the
moral and physical worlds, has thrown a mystery
over them, which mere human philosophy at-
tempts in vain to penetrate.

We can readily form an idea of a state of
things corresponding, far nearer, to our notions


of perfection, than is to be found in the earth we
inhabit. It were easy for our imaginations to
portray a world in which love, and peace, and
joy should universally prevail; in which the
passions of intelligent beings, nicely balanced,
should yield without an effort to the guidance of
reason and duty ; in which the mental powers
should be accurate, penetrating, and unbiassed;
and in which external nature, harmonising with
this perfection of the moral and intellectual
powers, should be always serene, beautiful and
exhuberant blessing the ear with sounds of
sweetest melody, charming the eye with sights
of uncloying beauty, exhaling the most delicious
perfumes, and filling all the senses with endless
delight. In such a world the perfections of the
great Creator would be openly displayed, and
the whole relations of rnind arid matter would,
almost intuitively, exhibit the evidence of wise
and beneficent design.

Such was Paradise ; but such is not the pre-
sent state of our world. A fearful blight has
passed over the face of nature, and marks of
imperfection and disorder every where perplex
the enquiring mind. In the intellectual world
there are error and ignorance, fatuity and folly ;
in the moral world there are passions, preju-
dices, selfishness, wars, cruelties and innume-
rable crimes ; and in external nature the air,
the earth and the sea teem with agents of appa-
rent evil ; whirlwinds and tempests, mildew
and drought, with famine arid pestilence in their

train, carry desolation abroad while decay arid
death fill the world with mourning.

Before we can safely interrogate nature, there-
fore, there is a previous question of unspeakable
difficulty to be settled ; namely, what is the end
that Providence has in view in the present mys-
terious order of things ? Perfection is not here.
Happiness is not here. What then ? The an-
swer, in one word, is, "A school of discipline to
train mortal man for immortality ; " arid that
answer cannot readily be extorted from nature
it is only to be clearly read in the book of Reve-

We have thus obtained a principle, which
opens a new view of the various relations of
mind and matter, and renders the investigation,
though not free from difficulties, at all events in
some of its bearings, within the grasp of human
intellect. The adaptations which we now look
for are of a lower kind ; they are not perfect, but
apposite not absolute, but relative. We expect
a system which may train weak and erring crea-
tures, by various gradations, to excellence, and
may fit them, by the combined operation of
moral and physical means, for a higher state of
existence ; embracing evil, but overruling it for
good; employing pain, disappointment, calamity,
and even death itself; but converting them into
instruments of happiness and immortality.

Such a system is necessarily more obscure
and more complicated than that which excludes
the agency of evil ; and, on tracing its operation,


the half informed mind can scarcely avoid being
occasionally involved in difficulty, and harrassed
with doubts ; but when rightly understood, it af-
fords the most surprising and beautiful displays
of an all-pervading goodness and wisdom. It
may be impossible for unassisted reason to un-
derstand why evil should be permitted to exist
in any form, under the administration of a Cre-
ator and Governor of infinite perfection ; but
that it does exist is undeniable. Adopting,
therefore, the fact, and resting its histoiy on
the declarations of revelation, where the only
satisfactory explanations of it are afforded, what
remains for the philosopher is to exhibit the
amazing contrivances which Divine wisdom has
adopted for mitigating inherent defects, and con-
verting them into blessings.

We have thus seen that the love of external
nature is a principle, for wise and evident rea-
sons, implanted within us ; and, looking abroad,
over the vast and various nations that inhabit the
different regions of the globe, we find that men
of all ages, wherever they be placed, and by
whatever government they are ruled, loving and
venerating external nature. If we revert to the
bright and golden ages of antiquity, man pre-
sents himself to our view as surveying, with the
delight and wonder of a curious child, the scenes
by which he is surrounded the stern and soli-
tary mountain the lonely and untrodden wil-
derness the foaming cataract and the desolate
shores of ocean ; as astonished and overwhelmed


with awe at the cloudy majesty of the tempest,
or the bright glories of the noon-day sun ; as
listening to the voice of the thunder, or to the
rolling of the distant torrent, descending from
the lofty mountain's side ; and, as falling down
in lowly admiration of the Ruler of the earth,
the sea and sky. Full of the Love of Nature, and
absorbed in the contemplation of the beauties and
wonders which, in every variety of aspect she un-
folds to his view, he yields to the guidance of his
imagination ; on every side he beholds a God,
he hears his voice in the thunder, and sees his
red right arm made bare in the lightening.

Turning to the immortal land of the Greeks,
we behold in their beautiful, and varied, and
highly imaginative mythology, the intensity of
the love and admiration of external nature which
they possessed. They embodied, in delightful
allegories, the loftiest conceptions of the universe
and the origin of things, exalting them as objects
of awe and of the admiration. Night, arid dark-
ness, and old chaos, and heaven, and earth, and
all the powers and elements of nature, they per-
sonified in their mystical imaginings, giving to

" many an airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."

Their numerous divinities, and all that was
grandest, and holiest, and dearest in their reli-
gion arose from nature. In Jupiter was embo-
died forth the majesty of the heavens; in Neptune
the alternate storm and tranquillity of the sea ;


and in Pluto the darkness and horror of imagi-
nary eternal gloom. Inanimate nature, too, was
represented by a fanciful, but most beautiful
mythology. What classical reader has not been
charmed with such grotesque and fanciful beings
as Pan, and Pomona, and Flora, and Vertumnus,
all creatures of imagination, sweetly breathing of
their fresh and flowery domains ? Or, who that
ever tasted the pure waters of ancient poesy,, and
imbibed the peculiar feelings and joys of the
olden Grecian times, has not beheld, in fancied
vision, the wild nymphs of the mountains, or the
Dryads and Fauns sporting amidst the sylvan
scenery of the untrodden grove, or the Naiads
pouring from their urns the limped fountains, or
the Neraids moving along the ocean, where Tri-
ton blows his hollow-sounding shell, and Proteus
drives his herd to pasture on the waves ? But
looking upon the moral world, wherever it is
presented to our view, we find the Love of Na-
ture universally manifested, and equally exerting
its power, in the breast of the untutored savage
and refined European. In the North American
Indians, a passion for nature is a predominate
feature ; and to say that any intelligent peasant,

" Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn,"

beheld his rising with indifference, and all the
beauties of the morning scenery, unconscious of
delight, were to do great injustice to his charac-
ter. It is evident, therefore, that we are fitted,


by our mental constitution, for the study of those
wonders which a Divine hand has every where
scattered in such profusion around us ; and surely
no one will be found who thinks that such an
adaptation has been afforded us without a point,
an end, a meaning, or a destination ; on the
contrary, all must acknowledge that the study
and contemplation of nature, while it tends to
gratify a laudable curiosity, and to fill the mind
with a rational delight, is calculated, in no trifling
degree, to improve the understanding, and to
give scope and vigour to all the powers of the

In the mere gratification of our taste for the
study of nature, viewed in its various phases and
arrangements, there is not only enjoyment, but
the means of mental cultivation. Taste has been
sometimes considered as nothing but the appli-
cation to external nature of that faculty, which,
in morals, enables us to distinguish between right
and wrong the beautiful, in objects of sense,
being supposed to be perceived by the same ope-
ration of the mind, which distinguishes what is
proper and becoming in the intercourse of soci-
ety ; but without adopting this opinion, we may
confidently assert, that, from the exercise of the
former, a salutary effect upon the character re-
sults, somewhat analogous to that which arises
from the exercise of the latter.

The man who has been accustomed to cherish
a Love of Nature, and eagerly to pursue her steps,
wherever they are to be traced, acquires a habit

of sober contemplation, or of lofty thinking,
which gives a firmer tone to his mind, and ele-
vates him above the sordid views and low vices
of the vulgar herd with whom he is surrounded.
The employments which the necessities of our
nature originate, when perverted by an undue
indulgence, and a corrupting intercourse with
our fellows, into incentives to cupidity, selfish-
ness and cunning, as well as the mean pleasures
to which such vicious propensities give rise, seem
uncongenial to the mind which seeks for gratifi-
cation in so grand and elevated a field. There
is assuredly something ennobling in the cultiva-
tion of those feelings which lead us to traverse
the undulating valley, or to linger in the sylvan
glade, when the plastic hand of Spring clothes
the fields and woods in the softest green, and
" the time of the singing of birds is come ;" and
when glowing Summer sheds her profusion of
flowers and perfumes ; and when Autumn waves
her golden harvest, and tinges the trees with her
russet fingers ; and when Winter spreads over
expiring vegetation his snowy winding-sheet, and
howls through the desolated forest ; or which
lead us to seek the grandeur of the lofty moun-
tain, the craggy steep, and the foaming cataract ;
or which induce us to indulge in the sublime
enjoyment arising from the war of elements,
when the tempest-tost ocean mingles with the
sky, and thunder rends the welkin, and lighten-
ings dart their livid fires from pole to pole.
Such a temperament has been sometimes sup-


posed to be the exclusive prerogative o
^irid although the trath of this opinion cannot be
admitted, it must be owned that the susceptibility
of the poetic mind cherishes most ardently a
feeling which the beneficent Creator has deeply
implanted in every breast. It is impossible, in-
deed, not to perceive the justice, as well as the
beauty, of the description which the Scottish
poet gives of his own youthful admiration of na-
tural sublimity and beauty

" I saw thee seek the sounding shore,
Delighted with the dashing roar ;
Or when the North his fleecy store

Drove through the sky,
I saw grim Nature's visage hoar

Struck thy young eye.

" Or when the deep green mantled earth
Warm cherished every flowret's birth,
And joy and music pouring forth

In every grove,
I saw thee eye the general mirth

With boundless love.

" When ripened fields, and azure skies
Called forth the reapers' rustling noise,
I saw thee leave their evening joys,

And lonely stalk
To vent thy bosom's swelling rise

In pensive walk."

These sentiments, although more strongly felt
by the poet, and more vividly embodied in his
glowing lines, draw a sympathetic response from
every heart which has not been debased and
brutifted by counteracting influences ; and it is


not easy, I would think, to be conversant with
such objects, and to derive from them the plea-
sures they are capable of affording, without re-
tiring from the exercise not only a wiser, but a
better man.

The Love of Nature is implanted, not merely
for the purpose of humanizing, but of instructing
the mind ; and he who should content himself
with the simple but exquisite enjoyment arising
from the faculty of Taste, would but partially
and feebly pursue the path pointed out by the
propensities which the God of nature has be-
stowed upon him.

But it is not the mere superficial view of na-
tural appearances which is calculated to engage
our attention and interest our hearts. The more
eagerly we penetrate into the hidden recesses of
nature, and the more importunately we question
her, the more astonishing are the discoveries she
lays open, and the more readily does she afford
a glimpse of the deeper and richer treasures,
which lie still beyond our reach, and which far-
ther progress, and more devoted assiduity may
yet enable us to attain.

The youthful eye, when it first begins to take
a survey of external nature, imagines that it sees
and comprehends every thing around it ; but, as
it gazes, new scenes arise, new combinations
appear, new properties are elicited, wonder on
wonder fill the admiring view, till at last it is felt
that he who sees farthest, and penetrates deepest,
only learns that he knows nothing. The mind


is thus at once overwhelmed ; and the child of
mortality, perceiving that all is dim and myste-
rious here below, longs to burst his prison-house
and to expatiate in those higher regions, where
he shall be able to look through the surface to
the essence ; and in the immediate presence of
his Creator, " to see even as He is seen, and to
know even as He is known."

There is no department of natural science
which does not amply repay the enquirer for all
the zeal and diligence he can bestow upon it,
provided only he begin the study in a right spirit,
and prosecute it with a candid and an humble
mind. Whatever be the subject to which he
directs his attention whether the earth or the
skies whether the great laws of nature, as ex-
hibited in the vast universe, or their minute
combinations and relations, in reference to ob-
jects with which he is daily familiar whether
the mighty masses of inanimate substances, or
the properties of organized matter and beings
in every instance the superficial view to which
he was accustomed quickly disappears, and he
is introduced, as it were, into a new world, in
which he traces more distinctly, at eveiy turn,

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Online LibraryJ. Stevenson (John Stevenson) BushnanIntroduction to the study of nature : illustrative of the attributes of the almighty, as displayed in the creation → online text (page 1 of 19)