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POETRY AND IMAGINATION.
The perception of matter is made the common-sense, and for cause. This was the cradle, this the go-cart, of the human child. We must learn the lonely laws of firo and water; we must feed, wash, plant, build. These are ends of necessity, and first in the order of nature. Poverty, frost, famine, disease, debt, are the beadles and guardsmen that hold us to common-sense. The intellect, yielded up to itself, cannot supersede this tyrannic necessity. The restraining grace of common-sense is the mark of all the valid minds, -of Æsop, Aristotle, Alfred, Luther, - Shakspeare, Cervantes, Franklin, Napoleon. The common-sense which does not meddle with the absolute, but takes things at their word, — things as they appear, - believes in the existence of matter, not be. cause we can touch it, or conceive of it, but because it agrees with ourselves, and the universe does not jest with us, but is in earnest, is the house of health and life. In spite of all the joys of poets and the joys of saints, the most imaginative and abstracted person never makes, with impunity, the least mistake in this particular, – never tries to kindle his oven with water, nor carries a torch into a powder-mill, nor seizes his wild charger by the tail. We should not pardon the blunder in another, nor endure it in ourselves.
But whilst we deal with this as finality, early hints are given that we are not to stay here; that we must be making ready to go; - a warning that this magnificent hotel and conveniency we call Nature is not final. First innuendoes, then broad hints, then smart taps, are given, suggesting that nothing stands still in nature but death ; that the creation is on wheels, in transit, always passing into something else, streaming into something higher; that matter is not what it appears; – that chemistry can blow it all into gas. Faraday, the most exact of natural philosophers, taught that when we should arrive at the monads, or primordial elements (the supposed little cubes or prisms of which all matter was built up), we should not find cubes, or prisms, or atoms, at all, but spherules of force. It was whispered that the globes of the universe were precipitates of something more subtle ; nay, somewhat was murmured in our ear that dwindled astronomy into a toy ; — that too was no finality; -- only provisional, - a makeshift; that under chemistry was power
purpose: power and purpose ride on matter to the last atom. It was steeped in thought, — did everywhere express thought; that, as great conquerors have burned their slips when once they were landed on the wished-for shore, so the noble house of Nature we inhabit has temporary uses, and we can afford to leave it one day. The ends of all are moral, and therefore the beginnings are such. Thin or solid, everything is in flight. I believe this conviction makes the charm of chemistry, - that we have the same avoirdupois matter in an alembic, without a vestige of the old form; and in animal transformation not less, as in grub and fly, in
and bird, in embryo and man; everything undressing and stealing away from its old into new form, and nothing fast but those invisible cords which we call laws, on which all is strung. Then we see that things wear different names and faces, but belong to one family; that the secret cords, or laws, show their well-known virtue through every variety, - be it animal, or plant, or planet, - and the interest is gradually transferred from the forms to the lurking method.
This hint, however conveyed, upsets our politics, trade, customs, marriages, nay, the common-sense side of religion and literature, which are all founded on low nature, - on the clearest and most economical mode of administering the material world, considered as final. The admission, never so covertly, that this is a makeshift, sets the dullest brain in ferment; - our little sir, from his first tottering steps, as soon as he can crow, - does not like to be practised upon, suspects that some one is “ doing” him, — and, at this alarm, everything is compromised ; - gunpowder is laid under every man's breakfast-table.
But whilst the man is startled by this closer inspection of the laws of matter, his attention is called to the independent action of the mind, - its strange suggestions and laws, - a certain tyranny which springs up in bis own thoughts, which have an order, method, and beliefs of their own, very different from the order which this
Suppose there were in the ocean certain strong currents which drove a ship, caught in them, with a force that no skill of sailing with the best wind, and no