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appear competent, and which were not accounted for under the old system, Epicurus supposed that some atoms were occasionally possessed of a third, by which, in some very small degree, they descended in an oblique or curvilinear direction, deviating from the common and right line anomalously; and in this respect resembling the oscillations of the magnetic needle.
These infinite groups of atoms, flying through all time and space in different directions, and under different laws, have interchangeabıy tried and exhibited every possible mode of rencounter; sometimes repelled from each other by concussion, and sometimes adhering to each other from their own jagged or pointed construction, or from the casual interstices which two or more connected atoms must produce, and which may be just adapted to those of other figures, as globular, oval, or square. Hence the origin of compound and visible bodies; hence the origin of large masses of matter; hence, eventually, the origin of the world itself. When these primary atoms are closely compacted, and but little vacuity or space lies between, they produce those kinds of substances which we denominate solid, as stones and metals; when they are loose and disjoined, and a large quantity of space or vacuity is interposed, 'they exhibit bodies of lax texture, as wool, water, vapour. In one mode of combination they form earth ; in another, air;, and in another, fire. Arranged in one way, they produce vegetation and irritability ; in another way, animal life and perception. Man hence arises, families are formed, societies are multiplied, and governments are instituted.
The world, thus generated, is perpetually sustained by the application of fresh tides of elementary atoms, flying with inconceivable rapidity through all the infinity of space, invisible from
their minuteness, and occupying the posts of those that are as perpetually flying off. Yet nothing is eternal or immutable but these elementary seeds or atoms themselves. The compound forms of matter are continually decomposing and dissolving into their original corpuscles; to this there is no exception : minerals, vegetables, and animals, in this respect all alike, when they lose their present make, perishing for ever, and new combinations proceeding from the matter into which they dissolve. But the world itself is a compound though not an organized being; sustained and nourished, like organized beings, from the material pabulum that floats through the void of infinity. The world itself must, therefore, in the same manner, perish: it had a beginning, and it will have an end. Its present crasis will be decompounded; it will return to its original, its elementary atoms; and new worlds will arise from its destruction.
Space is infinite, material atoms are infinite, but the world is not infinite. This, then, is not the only world, nor the only material system that exists. The cause that has produced this visible system is competent to produce others: it has been acting perpetually from all eternity; and there are other worlds, and other systems of worlds, existing around us.
Those who are acquainted with the writings of Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Locke, will perceive in this sketch of the Atomic philosophy the rudiments of a very great part of their own systems, so far as relates to physics; we may, indeed, fairly regard them as offsets from the theory before us, cleared in a very great degree of its errors, and enlarged in their principles, and fortified by more recent observations and discoveries. I must, for the present, confine myself to the following quotations from the first of these high ornaments of our country. “ All things considered,” says Sir Isaac, “it seems probable that God, in the beginning, formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles; of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportion to space as most conduced to the end for which he formed them.” So again: “While the primitive and solid particles of matter .continue entire, they may compose bodies of one and the same nature and texture in all ages; but should they wear away, or break in pieces, the nature of things depending on them would be changed. Water and earth, composed of old worn particles and fragments of particles, would not be of the same nature and texture now, with water and earth composed of entire particles at the beginning; and therefore, that nature may be lasting,
the changes of corporeal things are to be placed only in the various separations, and new associations and motions of these permanent particles : compound bodies being apt to break, not in the midst of solid particles, but where those particles are laid together, and touch only in a few points.”
The Epicurean doctrine, moreover, of a flux and reflux of elementary particles exterior to every material system, perpetually feeding and replenishing. it, and carrying off its dissolved and rejected rudiments, bears no small resemblance to the ethereal medium of Sir Isaac Newton; and, in its law of action, has been singularly revived within the course of the last six years by Professor Leslie, in his principles of impulsion, as detailed in his "Inquiry into the Nature of Heat.” It is a doctrine, also, peculiarly coincident with Dr. Herschel's recent theory of nebulæ, or milky ways in the heavens, which, contrary to his own earlier opinions, and those of former astronomers, who ascribed such appearance to the mixed light thrown forth from clusters of stars too remote to be reached by the best telescopes, he now resolves, as we shall have occasion to show more minutely in due time, into masses of a luminous fluid, existing independently of all stars or planets, though' originally, perhaps, emitted from them; aggregated by a variety of causes that tend to give its minute particles unity; sometimes forming new stars by its condensation, and often feeding and regenerating those that are exhausted.
Such is a brief survey of the chief theories of the primitive or elementary substance of matter which have been offered in ancient or modern times; from a combination of the different particles of which, in different modes and proportions, and under the operation of different laws, all sensible bodies are supposed to have proceeded.
of sensible bodies thus produced, some, however, in direct repugnancy to the Atomic philosophy, whether of ancient or more recent times, have been very generally conceived to have been formed first; to be peculiarly simple in their composition, indecomposable by any known powers in their structure, and to be the basis of all other bodies, or those from which all other bodies proceed, by different unions and modifications: and hence such substances have been denominated constituent principles, or constituent elements; concerning the kind and number of which, however, we have had almost as many opinions offered as concerning the origin and nature of the primitive principles themselves.
Thus, among both the ancients and the moderns, sometimes fire, sometimes air, sometimes earth, and sometimes water, has been considered as the sole constituent element or source of things. Sometimes two of these substances have been thus denominated, and sometimes three; but more generally the whole. Occasionally, indeed, a fisth and even a sixth have been added to the number, as cold and oil, each of these having at times been considered as simple and indecomposable substances: while, under the old Atomic system, and especially as improved by Epicurus, all such principles were completely swept away, and no one sensible substance whatever was conceived to be better entitled to the character of a constituent principle than another; the whole equally flowing from peculiar modifications and combinations of the primitive or elementary principles—the RERUM PRIMORDIA--and equally resolving into them upon decomposition.
of these different theories, the greater number are scarcely worth examining; and I shall only therefore observe, that for that which supposes the existence of four distinct elements, fire, air, earth, and water, and which for ages has been in almost universal acceptation, and would have been so still but for the recent discoveries of chemistry, we are indebted to Empedocles. This celebrated philosopher, and very excellent poet, flourished about four centuries before the Christain era. His opinions, like those of almost all the earliest sages, were given in metre, in a didactic poem,“ ON NATURE,” of which only a few fragments have descended to our own tinies.
He was a native of Sicily, and his talents and his country are celebrated by Lucretius, who was, nevertheless, of a very different school of philosophy, in verses so
elegant and so descriptive, that I cannot refrain from presenting you with a literal but very humble translation of them; introduced, more especially, as they are, with observations upon different rival philosophers, who employed one, two, and various other numbers of the commonly' esteemed elements, and in various combinations, as the basis of their respective theories.
Nor wanders less the sage who air with FIRE
Let our controvertists of the present day learn a lesson of liberality from this correct and polished reasoner, whose own theory is well known to have been that of Epicurus, to which I have just adverted, namely, that one substance is just as much entitled to the character of a constituent element as another, and that every thing equally proceeds from, and in turn is resolved into, the primitive and invisible atoms or principles of matter.
It is to this theory alone that all the experiments of modern chemistry are giving countenance. Air, water, and earth, suspected to be compounds in the time of Epicurus, have been proved to be such in our own day; while of the actual nature of heat or fire, mankind are just as uninformed now as they were then.
In the process, however, of destroying these supposed elements, chemistry has occasionally seemed to detect others; and hence, instead of air, fire, earth, and water, as simple or indecomposable substances, we have had phlogiston, acids, and alkalies; sulphur and phosphorus; oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon, progressively arising before us, and laying claim to an imperishable existence. All of them, however, have fallen, or are falling in their turn, without having lived long enough to reach the common age of man; all of them have been proved, or reasonably suspected, to be compounds of other substances, that may yet, perhaps, be detected to be compounds of something beyond. Even oxygen, the most brilliant of the whole, the boasted discovery of Lavoisier, and out of which he was supposed to have built to his own memory “a monument more durable than brass," has had its throne shaken to its foundation by Sir Humphry Davy, and is at this moment, like the Roman empire in its decline, obliged to divide its sway with a new and popular power, which this last celebrated chemist has denominated chlorine; while of the more subtle and active agents, light, caloric, the magnetic and electric fluids, we know nothing but from their effects, and can only say of each-stat nominis umbra.
Is physical science, then, a vain show?-a mere house of cards, built up for the sole purpose of being pulled down again ?-Assuredly not. The firm
footing we have actually obtained upon many essential points-a footing not to be disturbed by any future change of system, or novelty of discoveryand the ascertainment of a multitude of recondite facts, and their application to some of our most extensive and valuable arts, sufficiently prove that philosophy has neither lived nor laboured in vain. Although we have not been able to break through the spell completely-to follow up the Proteus-form of matter into its deepest recesses, and fix it in its last shape and characterwe have succeeded in developing many of its most important laws, as it will be the object of the ensuing lecture to point out, and to apply them to a solution of many of its most important phenomena.
Whatever is sure and trusty has remained to us, and whatever has given way has been miere chimera and shadow: we have chiefly, perhaps only, failed where we have either been too curious, or have suffered imagination to become our charioteer in the slow and sober journey of analysis.
Before we quit this subject, let us, in the candid spirit of genuine philoso phy, do the same justice to Epicurus as we attempted in our last lecture to Pythagoras and Plato. It has been very generally said and very generally believed, principally because it has been very generally said, that the great and mighty cause of this beautiful and harmonious formation of worlds, and systems of worlds, in the opinion of Epicurus, was mere CHANCE, or FORTUNE. There is nothing, however, in those fragments of his works which have descended to us, that can in any way countenance so opprobrious an opinion, but various passages that distinctly controvert it,-passages in which he peremptorily denies the existence of CHANCE OG FORTUNE, either as a deity or a cause of action; and unequivocally refers the whole of those complex series of percussions and repercussions, interchanges and combinations, exhibited by ihe elementary seeds oratoms of matter during the creative process, to a chain of immutable laws which they received from the Almighty Architect at the beginning, and which they still punctually obey, and will for ever obey, till the universe shall at length cease to exist.* Whom,” says Epicurus, in a letter to his disciple Menæceus, that has yet survived the preying tooth of time, and will be found in Diogenes Laertius,“ do you believe to be more excellent than he who piously reveres the gods, who feels no dread of death, and rightly estimates ihe design of nature? Such a man does not, with the multitude, regard CHANCE as a god, for he knows that God can never act at random; nor as a CONTINGENT CAUSE OF EVENTS; nor does he conceive, that from any such power flows the good or the evil that measures the real happiness of human life.” He held, however, that the laws which govern the universe were altogether arranged and iniposed upon it by the Creator at its first formation, and that the successive train of events to which they have given rise, have followed as the necessary result of such an arrangement, and not as the immediate superintendence of a perpetually controlling Providence. For it was the opinion of Epicurus, as well as of Aristotle, that perfect rest and tranquillity are essential to the perfect happiness even of Him, who, to adopt his own language in another place, possesses all immortality and beatitude. “ Think not,” says he, “that the different motions and revolutions of the heavens, the rising, setting, eclipses, and other phenomena of the planets, are produced by the immediate control, superintendence, or ministration of Him who possesses all immortality and beatitude; it is from the immutable laws which they received at the beginning, in the creation of the universe, that they punctually fulfil their several circuits.”
The origin of this calumny upon the character of Epicurus it is by no means difficult to trace, and it has been sufficiently traced, and sufficiently exposed, by Diogenes Laertius, Gassendi, Du Rondelle, and other distinguished writers, who have done ample justice to his memory; and upon the confessions of Plutarch, Cicero, and Seneca, abundantly proved, that it was the same rancorous spirit of envy among many of his competitors for public same, and especially among the Stoic philosophers, which strove to fix upon
* For a more extensive inquiry into this subject, the reader is referred to the author s Prolegomena to wis translation of “The Nature of Things," from which 1.113 summary is drawn
him the charge of voluptuous living, though the most temperate and abstemious Athenian of his day; that thus, with yet keener malevolence, endeavoured to brand him with the still fouler reproach of the grossest impiety and atheism. It is, indeed, scarcely to be believed, if the fact were not concurrently attested by all the writers of antiquity, that the philosopher whose name, from the low and malignant spirit I have just adverted to, has been proverbialised for general licentiousness and excess, drew the whole of his daily diet from the plainest pottage, intermixed with the herbs and fruits of his pleasant and celebrated garden. “I am perfectly contented,” says he, in an epistle to another friend,“ with bread and water alone; but send me a piece of your Cyprian cheese, that I may indulge myself whenever I feel disposed for a luxurious treat." Such, too, was the diet of his disciples. Diocles, was their common beverage ; and of wine they never allowed themselves more than a very small cup. And hence, when the city of Athens was besieged by Demetrius, and its inhabitants reduced to the utmost extremity, the scholars of Epicurus bore up under the calamity with less inconvenience than any other class of citizens; the philosopher supporting them at his own expense, and sharing with them daily a small ration of his beans. The pleasure of friendship, the pleasure of virtue, the pleasure of tranquillity, the pleasure of science, the pleasure of gardening, the pleasure of studying the works of nature, and of admiring her in all the picturesque beauty of her evolutions, formed the sole pursuit of his life. This alone, he affirmed, deserves the name of PLEASURE, and can alone raise the mind above the grovelling and misnamed pleasures of self-indulgence, debauchery, and excess.
There is something gratifying to an enlarged and liberal spirit in being thus able to rescue from popular, but unfounded obloquy, a sage of transcendant genius and almost unrivalled intellect, and in restoring him to the admiration of the virtuous and the excellent. That he did not feel the force of any argument offered by nature in proof of the immortality of the soul, and was in this respect considerably below the standard of Socrates and Cicero, must be equally admitted and lamented; and should teach us the high value of that full and satisfactory light which was then so much wanted and has since been so gloriously shed upon this momentous subject. But let it at the same time be remembered, that, with a far bolder front than either of the philosophers here adverted to, he dared to expose the grossness and the absurdities of the popular religion of his day, and in his life and his doctrines gave a perpetual rebuke to vice and immorality of every kind. And hence, indeed, the main ground of the popular calumny with which his character was attacked, and which has too generally accompanied his memory to the present day.
ON THE PROPERTIES OF MATTER, ESSENTIAL AND PECULIAR.
In our last lecture I endeavoured to render it probable, that all visible or sensible matter is the result of a combination of various solid, impenetrable, and exquisitely fine particles or units of the same substance, too minute to be detected by any operation of the senses. Of the shape or magnitude of these particles we know nothing: and even their solidity and impenetrability, as I then observed, is rather an assumption for the purpose of avoiding several striking difficulties and absurdities that follow from a denial of these qualities, than an ascertained and established fact.
From this unsatisfactory view of it in its elementary and impalpable state, let us now proceed to contemplate it in its manifest and combined forms, and to investigate the more obvious properties they offer, and the general laws by which they are regulated.