Robert Mudie.

A popular guide to the observation of nature; or, Hints of inducement to the ... online

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as you please, so that it is not exclusive, the prac-
tice of art is highly commendable ; and people can
never make too many useful things, make them too
well, or be too diligent, or take too much delight ih
the making of them. It is that attention to art
which has made our country what it is, — given to
■the humblest of our cottagers comforts for which
•the chiefs and kings of some tribes would be de-
lighted to change their kingdoms and thrones. Not
only that, but which, in absolute comfort, and iu

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that greatest of ail comforts, the means of acquiring
information* has placed the peasant of the present
day in circumstances more favourable than those of
the peer two centuries ago ; which has now rooted
itself firmly throughout the country, and is like a
^odly tree, ever verdant and ever fruitful, rear mg
Its top to the heavens, and spreading its boughs to
the uttermost ends of the earth. Well should we
love that, and dear to us all should be that country,
thos^ fathers, and those institutions which have
brought it forward, and preserved it for our use ; and
gladly should we bestow our brightest thought and
our best nerved arm upon the farther spread and
perfection of it ; so that we may not have the ignoble
name of the ^' idle generation;'^ but make our chil-
dren still more indebted to us than we are to our

But though the obligation on us to do that be of
the clearest and, at the same time, of the most im-
perative and binding character, it does not thence
follow that we too should not have our full share of
enjoyment. Indeed, that is absolutely necessary to
the successful execution of the other ; for it is mat-
ter of common observation, that the miserable worit
miserably, and spread miser}r around them, as an
unclean thing spreads ccmiption.

And we really have the key to that enjoyment,
in the character and conduct of those mountain
races to whom allusion has been made, inasmuch
as their love of native, and nature which is barren
as compared with ours, is really greater than our
love of all the nature and all the art which we pos-
sess. The Grecian fable of Antaeus, the earthly
ffiant, wrestling with Hercules, the giant of celestial
descent, is far from an uninstructing one ; because it
may show us, and probably was intended to show us,
how we may most successfully wrestle with the giant
of our cares, under what form ox circumstances so-
ever that ffiant may assail us. When Antsus was

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in danger of beinff worsted, he '* touched the esrth f*
and the instant he touched that, he became reno-
vated, and more mighty than his antagonist. So
also, when we are worn out by business, when we are
exhausted by study, when we '* donH know what to
do with ourselves^' with listless idleness ; nay, even
when our limbs are pained, and our temples throb-
bing with disease, if we would " touch the earth," —
hold converse with nature for a little, in the way of
knowledge, we would find relief in all cases, and
renovation in many.

If we examine the matter aright and carefully, we
shall find that at all ages, and under every circum-
stance of life, it is really nature which sweetens our
cup, and that, skilfully used, there is no gall in life
so bitter as that nature cannot turn it into honey.
Look at a little child on the meadow, — ^no matter
though it has been bom in the very heart of a city,
and seen nothing but brick walls, and crowds, and
rolling carriages, and pavements, and dust; let it
once get its feet upon the sward, and it will toss
away the most costly playthings, and never gather
enough of the buttercups, and daisies, and other wild
flowers which prank the sod. And if it shall start
a httle bird, which bounces onward with easy wing,
as if it were leaping from portion to portion of the
sightless air, how it will stretch its little hands, and
shout, and hurry on to catch the living treasure,
which, in its young but perfectly natural estimation,
is of more value than the wealth of the world. And
if the bird perches on the hedge, or the tree, and
sings its sweet song of security^ '^ the little finger
will at once be held up by the little ear," and the
other hand will be extended, with the palm back-
wards, as if a sign were given by nature herself for
the world to listen and admire. Infants are, in
truth, our schoolmasters in the study of nature ; and
though we might feel our exnerience compromised
in learning wisdom of them, taere is no reaaon why

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we should tijum our wisdom into folly, by refusing to
learn a little happiness. Grant that age and gravity
are as wise as you will, the palm of happiness must
be awarded to early youth, — ^to those sportive days
and nights of sound repose, before the business of
the world has c<»ne upon us, and absorbed all our
attention. Now, as the aim and object of all that
we do is happiness, why should not we make the
happiness of our youth a store through life, and an
increasing store, as well as our knowledge ? Our
bodily activity and pleasure have their periods : they
wax and they wane, just as is the case with matter
and all the qualities of matter ; but happiness, like
knowledge, is in the mind, and they should strike

- hands like twin-brothers at our birth, and never quit

us, or gain upon each other, till they bring us to

those regions in which both shall be in maturity, and

our bliss perfect.

In our business or profession, we cannot carry the

-child with us through life. Life is a succession of
iilferences, the fruits of experience ; and in it we

>must have the wisdom of age to give counsel, and
the vigour of manhood to carry that counsel into

(execution. But still, while we counsel with all our
wisdom, and execute with all our might, we are like
Antsns wrestling; and if we come not down and
txMich the earth, we shall be, as Antaeus was when
prevented from that, overcome and vanquished. So
thaty even in order to work properly and pleasantly
as ntein, we should continue to play like children ;
and if our play-hours be shorter and farther between,
tbey will be sweeter, because they will always have
the freshness of novelty.

The value of things never strikes us so forcibly
as when we are deprived of them ; and if we were

-tothinlc how sad an inroad would be made upon our

liappiness were we deprived of only a smaU portion
of nature, or of one of those senses which were
givanitous for. the purpose of knowing it, we would

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prize senses and their objects far more than we do.
It is a dismal thing for an innocent man to be cooped
up within the four walls of a dungeon for life, with
only a little glimmer of reflected light coming
through the grating, and never to behold the direct
light of the sun. But even in that situation the man
may study nature : there is that reflected glimmer
fadmg off into the darker tints : th^e are the dif-
ferent spots and the colours they reflect ; and the
motes are dancing even in that dim light ; and the
spider is busy in the comer ; and, it may be, that
things which a man in the free air would call loath-
some are crawling about the floor. But the solitary
man can make all these lowly things his kingdom ;
can claim brotherhood with the spider, the snail, and
the lizard ; and, if his heart has been true to nature
and to man, he will kneel down and thank Heaven
as fervently for its bounty, when the moniing gives
him the first dawning of that streamy light, as if he
beheld the sun rise on the sweetest valley in Eng-
land, and could call all that valley his own : and, let
but one drop of the bitter waters of remorse for
wrong done, fall in the rich man's free and fuU cup,
and he would give the solitary all his wealth for an
exchange of feeling.

We would consider it a piece of most wanton
cruelty to build up the little gratings— the dim light
to the captive ; but even that would not deprive him
of the pleasure of nature: even then he might
"touch the earth," and, by so touching, his mind
would rise up and wrestle with the giant, and he
could seize happiness in the dark. It is a common ob*
servation, that blind people are always cheerful; and
the fact is nearly as general that they are all musical.
Now, as these are general truths, like all genera]
truths, there is instruction in them ; and it is instruc-
tion that any one may obtain without the form or in-
tricate preparation of any thing that can be called
learning or science. It is delightful to look on tho

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^ lowing heavens and the green earth ; and as there are
'ew things more calculated to afford us pleasure than
our sight, so there are few things that we suffer more
by neglecting or using improperly. But from the
proverbial happiness of the blind, and their fondness
for music, it is extremely probable that all nature be-
comes to them as if it were one vast musical instru-
ment. Nor is there any doubt that sounds convey
to them the notions of form and distance, in a man-
ner as intelligible to the mind as that which those
who have the advantage of sight receive through
that medium. Strange as it may seem, too, the
touch of blind people may be so educated as not
only to distinguish one colour from another, but to
distinguish different depths of shade in the same
colour. Human perception is a very curious matter ;
and the different senses so co-operate with each other,
and they are all so linked with nature, that it is dif-
ficult to say within what limits we could confine that
which any one of them might reveal to us, though
we were deprived of all the others. It is probable,
indeed, that sensation itself is a much more general
principle than any of those modifications of it which
reside in the particular organs ; and that it is really
those powers of the body by which we move matter
from place to place, and change its appearance, that
are the original sources of all our knowledge of the
mechanical properties of matter.

In common language, indeed, we are accustomed
to say that we measure visible distance by the eye,
and the distance of sound by the ear; but it is ex-
ceedingly probable, nay, almost certain, that the
x>ngin.of our knowledge in those cases is in our
XBUsclea, our organs of motion ; and that, even in the
case of the eye itself, which is the or^an that we
can best understand, and most nearly imitated by
artificial contrivances, it is the muscular action by
which it is adapted to different distances, and not the
degree of light, or the magnitude, or intensity of the

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picture formed on the retina of the eye, that gives
us notions of distance and also of magnitude. The
formation of that picture, though, as there is little
doubt it does, it takes place in the living eye, is,
after all, merely a mechanical matter ; and any one
can produce it at pleasure, by closing the shutters,
boring a hole in them, placing a glass which is con-
vex, or thick in the middle, in the opening, and hold-
ing a sheet of paper at the proper distance behind.
Not only that, but, by means of mirrors properly
placed, or prisms of glass, which reflect from their
hinder surfaces, we can convey those images of visi-
ble things whithersoever we will. That beautiful
contrivance of Ramsden's, which, from being in itself
invisible, is called " Ramsden's ghost," is a remark-
able instance of that. In a fine astronomical instru-
ment for taking the elevations of the celestial bodieS;
it is necessary that the plummet should, by means
of the spider's thread, or whatever other delicate
substance is used for marking it, pass in a down-
ward line, from the very centre of the axis on which
the instrument turns to the very centre of the earth.
The axis itself is enclosed in the workmanship, so
that the observer cannot see it, or make any direct
reference to it for adjusting^ his instrument; but
Ramsden's ghost brings it faithfully to his view, let
the path be ever so intricate or circuitous. On the
3x]e there is .a dot no bigger than a pin's point : one
prism receives the light from that, reflects it to an-
other, that to a third, and so on, till the picture of it is
thrown upon the limb of ^e instrument, Just where
It is crossed by the spider's thread of the plummet ;
and as those prisms are all perfectly parallel, the
reflection is made to fall on the limb more exactly
under the very centre of the axis than any one could
discover by immediate observation. Thus we can,
by means that are perfectly mechanical, do even
more than eyes can do in the forming of a picture on
the retina. Therefore, we are warranted in con-

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dudin;:, that that is not the act of sight, but that
there is something mental consequent upon it, far
more nice and curious than any thing which mate-
rial eyes can discriminate. And we have proof of it,
in those pictured scenes which, sleeping or waking,
arise to the imagination, far different from any thins
that the eyes ever beheld, and yet equally bright and
perfect in the colouring. But those imagined views
are^ in truth, all made up of that which has been
seen^ or otherwise perceived by the senses; and,
therefore, though, after observation has given us the
materials, we can, by the operation ^orour mindsi
work it into endless forms and combinations of de-
light) we must obtain the materials originally from
observation. Nor must we forget to bear in mind,
that the case is here the same as it is everywhere
else ; we cannot " gather ^apes of thorns, or figs
of thistles ;" we cannot buud palaces of marble, if
we have observed only mud and rushes. If our ob-
servation has been narrow, our imaginings must be
meager; and if our observation has been vulgar,
they must be mean.

The formation of those imagined works is perhaps
the very highest pleasure we can enjoy, and i^is the
foundation of all that we invent and the greater part
of what w© do. If, therefore, we do not, by obser-
vation, find the mind sufficient materials whereon it
may work, and out of which it may elaborate valua-
ble or splendid combinations, we chain ourselves
down, and are humble beings in the estimation of
our neighbours, and wretched in our own feelings :
we not only cut ourselves off from a vast volume of
enjoyment; but we blight and wither our very
powers of enjoying.

The ennui that comes upon us ,when we have
been long idle and listless, and the revery and obli-
vion which are consequent upon excess of mere
thought, without the exercise and use of the senses.
ere proofs of the pleasure that we do derive, ana

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were meant to derive from observation, and espe*
cially from the observation of nature. All of iis^
too, may find practical proofs more convincing than
even these. A sleepless night, even when the conch
IS soft, and the body free from pain, is one of " the
miseries of human life.'' How long and how lonely
it feels ! The clock beatj hours instead of seconds ;
and it seems an age before it will count to us that
hour which is a pledge that the dawn is to break,
and the sun to arise and reveal the world to our ob-
servation before the clock shall number another.
But even then we have feeling, and the very dark«
ness makes sound more audible. Yet still our siU
nation is painful, and though we are fatigued and
exhausted, we want something ; and cannot, on that
account* find repose. If we rise, and open the case*
ment, and see the moon among the light clouds in
the west, or the stars and planets in the clear sky,
or the summer lightning playing from cloud to
cloud ; or if we even see the lamps in the street, or
the outlines of the buildings, or of trees and hills,
how dimly soever, against the sky; we feel our
connexion With nature,*— «ven that little of obser-
vation dispels the revery of the night, — otir minds
are tranquillized, we return to bed renovated in
our minds, and refreshed in our bodies; and that
sleep which fled us when we before sought it with
diligence now comes unbidden, because we hav«
wooed it in the right way— by the observation of

If we loiter on the sleepless pillow, and have not
resolution enough to get up, then our torment lasts
till the dawn has so far advanced as that we can see
distinctly, or till the beams of the early sun are
breaking in through the chink of the shutters, or the
opening of the curtains ; but soon after even the
articles of the room are revealed to our observation,
our minds ere tranquillized, and we glide intodoxmg

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THE Muni's, TRUK A9LACB. 6ft

fifen those contrivances to which we resort fov
the purpose of pcocuring sleep, are proofs that ob-
senratton is the means by wliich we obtain that re-
fk-eshnsent When the mother stills her infant to
vepose, it is not by silence, which^ as it is the ac-
companiment, we woukL naturally think should be>
the best means of procuring sleep. She sings her
lullaby; and it is well worthy of remark that the
sweeter her voice is, and the more musical and.
modulated its tones, the sooner does her smiling
charge sink into that balmy rest which is so essen-
tial to its present health and its future growth. The
tickii^ of the clock too, the slow droppiujg of water
from the eaves of the house, the chirping of the»
cricket at the hearth, and the booming of the wind,
and especially its soft music in the chinks and cran^
nies, where it is murmuring in promise of rain, all:
lead us to that comfortable state of tranquillity which
is the preface to balmy slee^

btall these cases, it is really observation whicb
is the. solace of the mind — ^the sdl-hesJthful medicine
which -drugs the body to a state of wholesome and
invigorating repose ; so also, in the contrivances to,
which we have recounse in order to procure sleepy
if it is not direct observation, it is someUiing very
much resembling it, which is. the real cause why we
obtain that refreshing sleep which mere quietude,
will not bring us.. Ordinary people have recipes for
sleep, which are all but infallible, in slowly repeat*.
img the letters of the alphabet, or counting the. nuoi*.
bers ufiwiards from one, until sleep puts an end. to.
the. monotonoBs lepetitioa. Those who know a
liDtleimorA may be proof against these very simple
contrivances.;, but. they:, too^ have their resources*
and they all: in so far resemble observation, — ^they
are aUr operations of the mind, upon something which <
stands outt clear and graphic, as if thene were a pic«
ture of it befom the ej/>tt^ and onlyena step removed
IsGnK actual obaexvmtkMi.. Thea^ihiplication^oftvioo

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numbeis, the division of one nmnber by another,
the fiummation of a series, or the solution of ao
equation are all infallible recipes for sleep ; and, if
a moderate degree of preparation was necessary, I
have never been able to keep awake so long, as to
complete the square in a common quadratic. These
may seem to be trifling matters ; but, in truth, great
part of the enjoyment and happiness of our lives is
made up of such trifles ; and it is very often just be-
cause the sources of error and misery are in trifles
so light that we deem them unworthy of notice, that
we do not stop them at the outset ; but sufier them
to grow and gather, till our habits are debased, and
our happiness is destroyed.

Indeed, it is through affected contempt for what
we consider to be smSl and simple matters — ^matters
too minute and trifling for the range and grasp of our
extended and powerful minds— that we are so often
ignorant of what we might easily know; baffled
with what we might easily accomplish ; and, in con-
sequence, miserable, when it would really cost us
less time and trouble to be happy. In matters of
bodily action only we do not so frequently fall into
those mistakes. We are not vexed and mortified
because we cannot shoot across the Thames by one
motion of the swimmer, or because every stroke of
the oar does not get us along a reach of that river.
We feel no mortification because we cannot plant
one foot at the general post-oflice and the other at
Bristol or at York ; and even Sir Christopher Wren
thought it no humiliation that the splendid pile of
St. Paul'i^ had to be built up in a number of little
parts, stone by stone, and brick by brick. In all
these visible cases, which are, as we may term
them, matters of pure observation, we are perfectly
contented to take " the method of interpolations,''
and we should be accounted stupid — ^absolutely out
of our senses, if we even spoke of jumping to the
conclufiion at a single bound. We know the length

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of onr leap, and we know our strength. If the
stream is too wide, we lay stepping-stones, and if it
is also too deep, we take the boat, or go round by
the bridge. In all these cases, the present step of
our progress is the footing that enables us to take
the next step, and we know that that is the case, and
act accordingly, — ^if the last planted foot is not on
firm ground, we pause, and consider before we move
the other.

Now, it would save us from much disappointment
and uneasiness, and so give us much indirect plea-
sure, as well as the immediate and positive pleasure
of succeeding sooner and better, if in all matters of
thought and knowledge we would take along with
us the lesson which observation here gives us. In
matters of mere thought, the mind neither knows its
own power nor its own rapidity ; because, in thought,
we can do any thing, and we take no time in the
doing of it. But there is no action, and no use, in
which the body does not bear its part ; and, there-
fore, if the mind does not take the body along
with it, oiir thoughts are idle dreams, not capable
of being reduced to practice, and hence of no use
or value. It is the former step that jsupports us
while we take the present one, as it is the former
course of bricks or stones that supports the one
which we are building, and enables us to build it ;
and as, without the former, and the former in irnme*
diate juxtaposition, we could not possibly have the
latter in either of these, or in any one practical case
that we can imagine ; even so it is in all matters
of thought, if these are to be of a practical kind, or
in any way to deserve the name of knowledge, or
even to return in that suggestion which we call mem^
art/, or be any thing else than an idle waste of the
time that they take in passing, and anguish and re-
morse because that time has been wasted to so little

If we could always thus '* keep sight of observa-

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64 Tormm superior fro art.

tion,^' inoarddnkiixgt'wewoijld have the ^coilsolatiOn
of knowing that we were an every instance "think-
ing rightly and to some purpose," — that every thought
would " tell'' practically ; and that alone would give as
both eollectedness and pleasure. As we wouEl then
never attempt any thing but what we felt confident
we could do, we wotdd altv*ys have the exultation
of success to chiee^ us on.

Now, it is only in the observation of nature that
we can get that ready-mindedness ^hk^ cheers us
on with the confidence that we ^re always thinking
aright and to good potpose. 'Out business, if we
are to conduct it in the most successful and proper
marnier, must not he half so wide in its range as a
mind of even any ordmary capacity will wander;
and as for the productions of art, though many of
them are curious, and far from tinworthy of our at*
tention, in order that from them w^e may " learn to
excel," they are at best but second-liaod applica-
tions of thos6 properties and principles which we
find original ana fresh when we turn to nature itself.
The very depth of hunkan knowledge, ^nd the very
height and perfection of human irt, are^ in truth,
nothing more than tlie revesding and appljing of a
few of the laws and principles of nature ; and though
we often flatter outsielves tikat thei^ is something
profound in what we kitow, and mighty in what we
60, it is still an in nature ; and what we call in^
ventions, even clever onbs, are only the applications
of discoveries ; and of discoveries which lie as much
in the way of one man as another, if both are equally
diligent in seanrch of theel.

It is matter of common t^mark, 4%at many of the
most valuable discov«riteS) or applications of discov.
eries (call them inventiotis, if you wiH), have been

Online LibraryRobert MudieA popular guide to the observation of nature; or, Hints of inducement to the ... → online text (page 4 of 27)