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MODERN CIVILIZATION:

Its EFFECTS ON HUMAN LIFE, ETC.

“The number of a man's days are at most one hundred years.” Ecclesiasticus xviii. 9.

MODERN CIVILIZATION,

ETC.

MAN

AN lives in a world of wonders, and of all its

marvels he is to himself the greatest. Although he is the only being who can contemplate his own existence, yet it may with truth be said, that nowhere is he so much a stranger as at home. As he looks within at his mysterious being, the question arises, What am I?-a rather puzzling one in the contentiousness of rival schools of philosophy. For there is the Materialist who denies him a soul, and the Idealist who denies him a body, and, then again, there are those who dispute the existence of both, who make matter a figment and mind also, who regard them as but names for the imaginary substrata of groups of natural phenomena. No wonder that as the novice puzzles his brain, which is not “large enough to lodge all these controversial intricacies," he should feel, like the student in Faust, “as if within his head a wheel was whirling round with ceaseless reel.” According to his so-called “stupid common sense,

,”* he sees, or thinks he sees; he feels, or thinks he feels; at any rate, to him "pain is a reality;" and he often contents himself, at last, after the manner of the monkey, who, having dabbled in metaphysics satisfactorily to himself, solved the difficulty of the objective and the subjective by boiling his own tail, and was able at one and the same moment, not only to perceive objectively the process of boiling, but to be subjectively conscious of it. Again, as he looks abroad in the world, there are a number of questions which this sphinx-like age of inquiry is ever ready to propound to him, and which he must answer somehow at his peril. What is his place here? Was the earth made for him, or he for the earth ? Is earth to earth his final resting-place, and that which is called the soul to pass away like an exhalation of gas or vapour, as the bodily compounds are reduced to their elements, in much the same way as the Buddhist believes in the final absorption of the spirit in Nervana; only the one is a material, and the other a spiritual dissolution ? These are questions which knock at the door of his heart for answer; and if in his perplexity he seeks aid from science or philosophy, he finds that they only create more difficulties in his mind than they can solve, for “the greater the knowledge the greater the doubt."*

* G. H. Lewes.

Thus it befalls him who is taught to submit faith to reason instead of reason to faith, until he is often brought to the same conclusion as Voltaire's ignorant philosopher, who, after plunging himself with Thales into water as the first principle of all things, after roasting himself at the fire of Empedocles, after running in a straight line in the vacuum with Epicurus's atoms, after calculating numbers with Pythagoras and hearing his music, after paying his devoir to the Androgines of Plato, and passing through all the regions of metaphysics and of madness, “his wide voyaging" has found no home for his soul, and he is at last led to believe nothing because he can know nothing. It seems that man was not born to solve the great problems of his life and destiny. Shakespeare and Goethe, Bacon and Mill, Carlyle and Herbert Spencer, Tyndall and Huxley, can give us no more light than did Job or Solomon, Plato or Lucretius, &c. And alas, how many have found from bitter experience that the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life! and learned the truth of the sad text, “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."

* Goethe.

Because some of our philosophers cannot interpret the mystery of human existence, or penetrate into the arcana of nature, they have asserted, with an air of dignified conclusiveness, that nature is a great bungler, that she is irrational and immoral. We read of her clumsy provision for the perpetual renewal of animal life; how she tortures her victims, such as only the greatest monsters whom we read of ever purposely inflicted on their living fellowcreatures; that anarchy and the reign of terror are overmatched in injustice, ruin, and death, by a hurricane and a pestilence.* As we read these grave charges, we are reminded of Alphonse of Castile, who said that the universe was defective, and that, if he had been consulted in the making of it, he could have given many useful hints towards its improvement.

Putting aside the speculations and technicalities of

* J. S. Mill's Essay on Nature.

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