Gambar halaman

coasting neighbouring lands. Reassured by success in their earlier expeditions, and improved in their nautical science, both in the construction, and in the management of their vessels, they ventured, by degrees, to lose sight of the shore. When the boundless expanse of ocean rolled around them, to what object could they direct their attention but the heavens? Before the compass was known, some friendly star was hailed, as their guide over the tractless wilderness of waters. When the storm was abroad, and these orbs were obscured, despair assailed the wretched mariners. " When neither sun, nor stars, in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on them, all hope that they should be saved was then taken away." As to the fact of these enterprises of the Phænicians, no doubt can be entertained. They have left every where the vestiges of their language, and in many places the trophies of their skill. According to some of our best antiquarians, Britain owes her name to their tongue, and that name was imposed in consequence of the kind of traffic in which they were engaged with our countrymen. When Cæsar first invaded Britain, he found no inconsiderable difficulty in commanding the attendance of his troops, who imagined that he was passing over the limits of the known world: but the Phænicians had visited this remote island, and were acquainted with her mines of tin and of lead—the riches of her minerals.

The attention of this distinguished assembly would not have been so long directed exclusively to one branch of philosophical investigation, were it not, that while astronomy was unquestionably the earliest, it is almost the only science connected with India, with Chaldea, and with Phænicia, concerning which we can speak with any certainty. Conjectures, various and contradictory, have been formed relative to the philosophy of these countries, and, however ingenious and interesting these may be in themselves, however useful as they may be by their reciprocal concussion, elicit some sparks of truth, they could not be allowed a place in the rapid sketch now given of the progress of knowledge, which, however imperfect as to extent, will, I trust, be found true as to character, so far as it reaches. Sir William Jones, from whose inquisitive and penetrating mind, united with his indefatigable industry, it was scarcely possible for any thing important to escape, and whose opinions certainly were not lightly formed, admits that “on the sciences, properly so named, the Asiatics, if compared with our western nations, are mere children. I have seen," he adds, “a mathematical book in Sanscrit, of the highest antiquity; but soon perceived from the diagrams that it contained only simple elements." Yet in regard to the


[ocr errors]

principles of that philosophy which was afterwards so admired in Greece, and thence diffused over Europe, he observes, "The six Philosophical Schools, whose principles are explained in the Dersana Sastra, comprise all the metaphysics of the old Academy, the Stoa, the Lyceum; nor is it possible to read the Védánta, or the very fine compositions in illustration of it, without believing, that Pythagoras and Plato derived their sublime theories from the same fountain with the sages of India.” Floating upon the surface of general information alone, we may yet anticipate a time when the treasures of the East, unlocked of late with so much assiduity, and distributed with corresponding liberality, shall enrich the western world; and, while I cannot avoid tracing all science and philosophy to the East, I feel persuaded that there are mines of exhaustless intellectual wealth yet to be broken up: and I indulge the fond hope, that while the extension of British dominion in India shall add to the affluence and power of the empire, the new and boundless field opened before the enterprising and philosophic mind, will repay its painful researches with spoils more precious than thousands of gold and silver.

In following philosophy and science into Greece, where it was carried by the Phænicians, the mind is in danger of being distracted by the variety of objects forcing themselves upon the attention. Egypt was unquestionably the repository of the wisdom which afterwards distinguished Europe.

To equal the wisdom of the Egyptians was proverbially the Hebrew tribute to transcendant acquirements. The highest eulogy pronounced upon Moses, their illustrious legislator, as a philosopher and a scholar, was, that “he was learned in all the learning of the Egyptians. It necessarily happened, that when the Phænicians took out the symbols of Egyptian science, many of them local, and relating to the singular properties of their river, without understanding their import; the Grecians, by whom they were adopted, supplied the absence of information with conjecture, and adduced an inexplicable system of mythology from simple signs originally referring to philosophical observations. Nor must it be forgotten, that Egypt was the depositary of the wisdom of the world—as well as of her own.' She was the basin into which the springs of the East flowed, so that when Plato and other Grecian sages visited her, if they could not be said to have drank at the fountain-head, they drew from an ample reservoir, in which the several streams of knowledge were collected.

While the mistaken symbols of Egyptian science gave birth to a senseless idolatry, the eminent men of Greece drew from her the sublimest principles of philosophy; and we soon find,

[ocr errors]

springing from Thales and Pythagoras, a variety of sects and schools, which, however discordant and opposed, and however pernicious to morals, were the tenets of some of them, still stimulated the pursuit of knowledge, by their action and re-action upon each other. Although some of the precious monuments of their eloquence have perished, we find ourselves surrounded by remaining specimens of excellence, in philosophy, in science, in history, in poetry, in rhetoric, in the arts, in one word, in every thing that can adorn and elevate society. To enter into a detail of these several attainments would be as impossible, as it is unnecessary.

Force of arms put the Romans in possession of these intellectual treasures; and while Italy enslaved Greece, Greece emancipated her conquerors from the chains of ignorance and barbarity in which they had been before held. How well Rome profited by these lessons, her trophies of art, which have survived her ruin, and her immortal writers, whose productions shall be handed down through all generations, sufficiently testify.

In the mean while, philosophy had found its way to Britain ; whose Druids were so celebrated, that the Gauls flocked to this island, for the benefit of their instructions, in great numbers. Whatever admiration we might feel for their genius and knowledge, it is destroyed by the cruelty of their institutions. Their savage manners, and their human sacrifices, stained a philosophy pure and elevated. I

I may be permitted to advert to the great moral fact, that Christianity abolished those sanguinary rites. Nor should the censure rest upon the Druids alone. This horrible custom prevailed among all nations. The Egyptians, at one period of their history; the Cretans, the nations of Arabia, the Persians, all the states of Greece, the Romans, the Gauls and Germans, as well as Britons, practised these horrid rites. They are still prevalent in America, in Africa, in the East, and in the islands of the South Sea. The Carthaginians and Tyrians carried this sanguinary superstition to the most dreadful extent, sacrificing the flower of the young nobility, in numbers almost incredible. Not all the influence of the sages of Greece and Rome could suppress this cruelty; and it is a fact of no small moment to us, whose object is to include morals in our philosophy, and to note whatever has tended to their furtherance or preservation, that these revolting rites yielded, in every instance, at the approach of Christianity.

Thus, with the arms of Rome, civilization and science overspread Europe, and wherever her eagles directed their flight, they carried knowledge, and when they departed, left behind them the indelible traces of cultivation. It should seem as though they were destined to repair the devastations which they made in the natural world, by the benefits which they conferred upon the intellectual.

To follow the revolutions which brought back ignorance and slavery upon Europe, and to assign the causes of the extinction of science and philosophy in the dark ages, was a part of my plan when I commenced this address: but it would carry me too far, and exhaust that candour and patience upon which I have already trespassed too much. The slight sketch also which it would be in my power to present, could little repay the additional infringement on your time and attention. It shall suffice to observe the fact, that physics were neglected from the eighth to the fourteenth century.--The influence of the Reformation upon science and philosophy has been so repeatedly and ably written upon, that it were superfluous to insist upon it here. It was my intention to have touched upon the crusades as affecting the literature of Europe, but an inquiry so difficult and interesting would demand that diligent investigation, and comprehensive knowledge, to which I could advance no pretension. Engaged almost incessantly in public life, and pressed by most arduous duties of a professional nature, I am obliged to content myself with general principles, and to leave the accurate research and ample detail to others more favoured by circumstances auspicious to philosophical and scientific pursuits. It might, however, be proved, that we owe the sparks which were kept alive in those gloomy centuries, in some degree, to the mutual animosities between the Monks and the Saracens. It is a fact, as singular as it is important, that the Saracens destroyed the classics, and the Monks philosophy; that the Saracens prized philosophy, and the Monks literature: consequently, each labouring to secure what the other attempted to destroy, both have been miraculously preserved to the world.

From this melancholy gloom Europe emerged, led by the sublime genius, and the daring spirit, of the incomparable Lord Bacon. Disdaining to wear the fetters which schoolmen had forged from the system of Aristotle-he exposed " the absurdity of pretending to account for the phenomena of nature, by syllogistic reasoning from hypothetical principles :" and, exploding hypotheses with syllogisms, appealing to facts and experiment, he must be considered as the parent of that philosophy which is so usefully and so successfully cultivated in the present day. After this glorious sun had set, arose Newton, and Boyle, and Locke, and a constellation of brilliant orbs in the world of intellect. It would be an act of injustice in adverting to the dark ages, to omit the name of

[ocr errors]

Roger Bacon, to whom science was indebted at a period when she had so few friends, that his homage to her worth, subjected him to the imputation of magic.

But nothing has conduced more to the interests of true philosophy than the establishment of literary associations, some of which have been incorporated with equal advantage to themselves and to society at large. The Royal Society originated in the meeting of a few literary friends at Oxford, in the reign of Charles the First, and “rose gradually to that splendid zenith,” to use the words of Sir W. Jones, at which a Halley was their secretary, and a Newton their president. The Society of Antiquaries has contributed largely to the extension of useful knowledge, by ascertaining the changes which have taken place on the surface of the earth, encouraging the study of our national antiquities, and elucidating the earliest periods of history, from neglected records. The present day has given birth to numerous literary associations, which need not to be named, but which are not inferior to their predecessors in a national point of view.

Princes of the Royal House step forward to afford such institutions their assistance and patronage. It is worthy of a family sitting on the throne of a free and a great people, to distinguish themselves as the friends of knowledge,-a throne founded on wisdom and liberty can never be overturned. Thus countenanced, let us redouble our exertions in pursuit of those noble objects proposed by our association; and prove that our philosophy is founded in truth and morals. We have nothing to fear for the result.--Empires are destroyed “the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rocks are removed out of their place,”-the features of the natural and political world are perpetually changing, but the characters of truth last for ever!

[ocr errors]
« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »