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Browne 1743 Edition - Book 2

[1] 'Tis pleasant, when a tempest drives the waves in the wide sea, to view the sad distress of others from the land; not that the pleasure is so sweet that others suffer, but the joy is this, to look upon the ills from which yourself are free. It likewise gives delight to view the bloody conflicts of a war, in battle ranged all over the plains, without a share of danger to yourself: But nothing is more sweet than to attain the serene 'tho lofty heights of true philosophy, well fortified by learning of the wise, and thence look down on others, and behold mankind wandering and roving every way, to find a path to happiness; they strive for wit, contend for nobility, labor nights and days with anxious care for heaps of wealth, and to be ministers of state.

[14] O wretched are the thoughts of men! How blind their souls! In what dark roads they grope their way, in what distress is this life spent, short as it is! Don't you see Nature requires no more than the body free from pain, she may enjoy the mind easy and cheerful, removed from care and fear?

[20] And then we find a little will suffice the nature of our bodies, and take off every pain; nay will afford much pleasure, and Nature wishes for nothing more desirable than this. What tho' no golden images of boys, holding forth blazing torches in their hands, to light the midnight revels of the great, adorn they house? What tho' thy rooms shine not with silver, nor are overlaid with gold, nor do thy arched gilded roofs rebound with the strong notes of music? Yet we find men sweetly indulge their bodies as they lie together on the soft and tender grass, hard by a river's sie, under the boughs of some high tree, without a heap of wealth; chiefly when the spring smiles, and the season of the year sprinkles the verdant herbs with flowery pride. Nor will a burning fever sooner leave the body when you are tossed in clothes embroidered on beds of blushing purple, than when you lie in coarsest blankets.

[37] Since riches then afford no comfort to our bodies, nor nobleness, nor the glory of ambition, 'tis plain you are to think they do the mind no good. If, when you behold your furious legions embattled over the plains, waging mock war, or when you view your navy stand eager to engage, or bear away over the wide sea, if struck with sights like these your fearful superstitions and the dread of death forsake your mind, and leave your breast serene, and free from care, 'twere something.

[46] But if these things are vain and all grimace, and the truth is that nor the fears of men, nor following cares fly from the sound of alarms or cruel darts, but boldly force their way among the kings and mighty of the earth; nor do they homage pay to shining gold, nor the gay splendor of a purple robe. Do you doubt but all this stuff is want of sense, and all our life is groping in the dark?

[54] For as boys tremble and fear every thing in the dark night, so we, in open day, fear things as vain, and little to be feared, as those that children quake at in the dark, and fancy making toward them. This terror of the mind, this darkness then, not the sun's beams, nor the bright rays of day can scatter, but the light of nature and the rules of reason.

[61] But now, come on, remember you attend, while I explain by what motion the genial seeds of matter produce the various kinds of bodies, and dissolve them when produced, and by what force compelled they act, and what celerity of motion they possess to force their way through all the mighty void.

[66] For certain it is that no seeds of matter stick close and unmoved among themselves; for we see every thing grows less, and perceive all things wear away by a long tract of time, and old age removes them quite from our sight. And yet the mass of things still remains safe and entire; and for this reason, because the particles of matter which fall off, lessen the bodies from which they fall, but add to those to which they join. There they force to decay; those, on the contrary, they increase: nor do they remain in this posture. And thus the universe of things is continually renewing; generations succeed one another, one kind of animal increases, another wastes away; and in a short time the living creation is entirely changed, and, like racers, delivers the lamp of life to those that are behind.

[82] But if you think the seeds of things can be at rest, and, being themselves unmoved, can give motion to bodies, you wander wildly from the way of true reason. For since all the seeds of things are rambling through the void, they must necessarily be born along either by their own natural gravity, or by the outward stroke of something else; for then these seeds tending downward meet with others, they must all fly off, and rebound a different way, and no wonder, since they are hard bodies and of solid weight; nor is there any thing behind to stop the motion. But, that you may perceive more plainly how all the seeds of matter are tossed about, you must recollect that there is no such thing in the universe as the lowest place, where the first seeds may remain fixed, because I have shown fully, and proved by certain reason, that space is without end, without bounds immense, and lies extended every way.

[94] This being plain, there can be no rest possibly allowed to these first seeds, for ever wandering through the empty void; but being tossed about with constant and different motion, and striking against other bodies, some rebound to a great distance, others fly off, but not so far; such of them as rebound but for a small distance, their contexture being more close, and being hindered by their natural twinings, these compose the solid root of rocks, and the hard bodies of iron, and a few other things of the same nature; but such as wander widely through the void, and moved by the blow, fly further off, and rebound to greater distances; these compose the thin air, and the Sun's bright light.

[108] Besides, there are many seeds keep wandering through the void that are refused all union with other seeds, nor could ever be admitted to join their motion to anything else. An instance or representation of this, as I conceive, is always at hand, and visibly before our eyes. When the Sun's light shoots its rays through a narrow chink into a darkened room, you shall see a thousand little atoms dance a thousand ways through the empty space, and mingle in the very rays of light, engaging, as it were, in endless war, drawing up their little troops, never taking breath, but meeting and exercising their hostile fury with constant blows. And hence you may collect in what manner the principles of things are tossed in this empty void; so small an instance will give you an example of these extraordinary motions, and open a way to your knowledge of greater events.

[124] But here it is fit you should apply yourself more closely to observe these bodies which seem so disturbed in the Sun's beams; for it appears by these disorders that there are certain secret principles of motion in the seeds themselves, though invisible to us, for some of these motes you will see struck by secret blows, and forced to change their course, sometimes driven back, and again returning, now this, now that, and every other way; and this variety of motion is certainly in the very seeds, for the principles of things first move of themselves, then compound bodies that are of the least size, and approach nearest, as it were, to the exility of the first seeds, are by them struck with blows unseen, and put into motion, and these again strike those that are something larger; so from first seeds all motion still goes on, til at length it becomes sensible to us; and thus we see how these motes that play in the Sun's beams are moved, though the blows by which they are driven about do not so plainly appear to us.

[141] And now, my Memmius, you may in brief, from the following instance, collect how rapid is the motion of the first seeds; for when the morning spreads the Earth with rising light, and sweet variety of birds frequent the woods, and fill each grove with most delightful notes through the soft air, every one perceives, and the thing we see is plain, how suddenly, and in a moment, the rising Sun covers the world and shines with instant light. But that vapour, that glittering ray, which the Sun sends forth, does not pass through mere empty space, and therefore is forced to move slower, as it has resisting air to part and divide as it goes; nor are the principles that compose this ray simple first seeds, but certain little globular bodies made up of these first seeds that pass through the air; and these first seeds being agitated by various motions, these little bodies which are formed of them are retarded by different motions within themselves, and are likewise hindered from without by other bodies, and so are obliged to move the slower.

[156] But seeds that are solid and simple in their nature, when they pass through a pure void, having nothing to stop them from without, and being one, and uncompounded through all their parts, are carried at once, by an instant force, to the point to which they first set out. Such seeds much exceed the rays of the Sun in their motion, and be carried on with much more celerity; they must pierce through longer tracts of space in the same time in which the sunbeams pass through the air; for these seeds cannot agree together by design to move slowly, nor stop in the air to search into particulars, and be satisfied for what reason their several motions are thus carried on and disposed.

[167] But some object to this, fools as they are, and conceive that simple matter cannot of itself, without the assistance of the gods, act so agreeably to the advantage and convenience of mankind, as to change the seasons of the year, to produce the fruits, and do other things which Pleasure, the deity and great guide of life, persuades men to value and esteem. It could not induce us to propagate our race, by the blandishments of tender love, lest the species of mankind should be extinct, for whose sake they pretend the gods made all the beings of the world; but all conceits like these fall greatly from the dictates of true reason - For though I were entirely ignorant of the rise of things, yet from the very nature of the heavens, and the frame of many other bodies, I dare affirm and insist that the nature of the world was by no means created by the gods upon our account, it is so very faulty and imperfect; which, my Memmius, I shall fully explain. But now let us explain what remains to be said of motion.

[184] And here, I think, is the proper place to prove to you that no being can be carried upwards or ascend by any innate virtue of its own, lest by observing the tendency of flame you should be led into a mistake. For flame, you know, is born upwards, as well when it begins to blaze as when it is increased by fuel; so the tender corn and lofty trees grow upwards. Nor when the flames aspire and reach the tops of houses, and catch the rafters and the beams with a fierce blaze, are you to suppose they do this by voluntary motion, and not compelled by force. 'Tis the same when the blood gushes from a vein, it spouts bounding upwards, and sprinkles all about the purple stream. Don't you observe likewise with what force the water throws up the beams and posts of wood? The more we plunge them in, and press them down with all our might, the more forcibly the stream spews them upwards, and sends them back; so that they rise and leap up at least half their thickness above the water. And yet I think, we make no question that all things as they pass through empty void are carried naturally down below. So likewise the flame rises upwards, being forcibly pressed through the air, though its weight, by its natural gravity, endeavors to descend. Don't you see the nightly meteors of the sky flying aloft, and drawing after them long trains of flame, which way soever Nature yields a passage? Don't you see also the stars and fiery vapours fall downwards upon the Earth? The Sun too scatters from the tops of heaven his beams all round, and sows the fields with light: Its rays therefore are downward sent to us below. You see the lightning through opposing showers fly all about; the fires burst from clouds, now here now there engage, at length the burning vapour falls down upon the ground.

[216] I desire you would attend closely upon this subject, and observe that bodies when they are carried downward through the void in a straight line, do at some time or other, but at no fixed and determinate time, and in some parts of the void likewise, but not in any one certain and determinate place of it, decline a little from the direct line by their own strength and power; so nevertheless, that the direct motion can be said to be changed the least that can be imagined.

[221] If the seeds did not decline in their descent, they would all fall downwards through the empty void, like drops of rain; there would be no blow, no stroke given by the seeds overtaking one another, and by consequence Nature could never have produced any thing.

But if any one should suppose that the heavier seeds, as they are carried by a swift motion through the void in a straight line, might overtake and fall from above upon the lighter, and so occasion those strokes which produce a genial motion by which things are formed, he is entirely out of the way, and wanders from the rule of true reason. Indeed, whatever falls downward through the water, or through the air, must necessarily have its speed hastened in proportion to its weight, and for this reason, because the body of water and the thin nature of the air cannot equally delay the progress of every thing that is to pass through it, but must be obliged to give way soonest to heavy bodies. But, on the contrary, mere empty space cannot oppose the passage of any thing in any manner, but must, as its nature requires, continue for ever to give way: Therefore all things must be carried with equal force through a void that cannot resist, though their several weights be unequal, so that the heavier bodies can never fall from above upon the lighter, nor occasion those blows which may change their motions, and by which all things are naturally produced.

[243] It follows then that the seeds do every now and then decline a little from a direct line in their descent, tho the least that can be imagined, lest we should think their motion were oblique, which the nature of things refutes. For we see this is plain and obvious, that bodies by their natural gravity do not obliquely descend, when they fall swiftly from above through a void, which you may discovery by your eyes. But that nothing declines in its descent ever so little from a direct line, who is so sharp-sighted as to distinguish?

[251] Besides, were all motion of the seeds uniform, and in a straight line, did one succeed another in an exact and regular order, did not the seeds, by their declining, occasion certain motions, as a sort of principle, to break the bonds of fate, and prevent a necessity of acting, and exclude a fixed an eternal succession of causes, which destroy all liberty, whence comes that free will, whence comes it, I say, so sensibly observed in all creatures of the world who act as they please, wholly rescued from the power of fate and necessity? That will by which we are moved which way soever our inclination leads us? We likewise forbear to move, not at any particular time, nor at any certain place, but when and here our mind pleases; and without doubt, the will is the principle that determines these motions, and from whence all motion is conveyed to the limbs. Don't you observe, when the barriers of the lists are thrown open of a sudden, the eager desire of the horses cannot start to the race with that celerity as their mind requires? Because the spirits, or particles of matter that maintain the course, must be got together from all parts of the body, and stirred through every limb, and fitly united, that they may readily follow the eager desire of the mind. You see then the beginning of motion rises in the heart, proceeds then by means of the will, and is thence diffused through every limb over the whole body.

But the case is otherwise, when we act as we are compelled by force by the prevailing power and the great violence of another, for then we feel plainly that the whole weight of our body moves, and is urged on against our consent, til our will restrains the motion through all our limbs. Don't you see now that though an outward force drives us on, and often compels us to proceed against our will, and hurries us headlong, yet there is something in the heart that resists and strives against that compulsion, at whose command the spirits or particles of matter are forced through the nerves into the several limbs and members, and are curbed likewise by the same nerves, and obliged to retire backwards.

Wherefore you must needs confess there is something else beside stroke and weight which is the cause of those motions from whence this innate power of our will proceeds. We see nothing can arise from nothing, for weight, which is natural to bodies, hinders us to conclude that all things are moved by stroke or outward force, and lest the mind should seem to act by some necessary impulse within itself (this is, by motion that proceeds from weight) and overpowered, be compelled, as it were, to bear and suffer, this is occasioned by ever so little a declination of the seeds, which however is done at no certain or determinate time or place.

Nor was the mass of matter ever more close or more loose, nor did the number of seeds ever increase or diminish, and therefore the same course in which the seeds move now, the same motion they had for the time past, and they will be carried on hereafter in the very same manner, and the things that have been hitherto produced shall be formed again in the same way; they shall come into being, grow, and arrive at perfection, as far as the laws of their respsective natures will admit. For this universe of things no force can change, neither is there any place into which the least particle of matter may fly off from the whole mass, nor is there a place from whence any new seeds may break in upon this All, and so change the nature of things and disorder their motions.

There is nothing wonderful in this, that when all the principles of things are in continual motion the whole should at the same time seem to be at perfect rest, though every particular body has a sort of motion peculiar to itself, for the nature of first seeds is so subtle that they lie far beyond the reach of our sense. And therefore, since you cannot perceive them by the eye, their motions are much less to be discerned, especially, as we observe many things are discovered to us by our sight whose motions we cannot perceive, by being placed at a remote distance from us. For often the wooly flock upon a hill wander about, and crop the tender grass, wherever the sweet herbs crowned with pearly dew invite. The lambs, their bellies full, wantonly play and try their tender horns. All this to us standing far off appears confused, and like a steady white spread over the green. And this a mighty army fills the plain, and moves about, and acts a real fight - the horse scour over the field and wheel at once, and in the center charge, and shake the ground with mighty force. The blaze of arms darts up to heaven, all the earth around glitters with brazen shields, and groans beneath the feet of men engaged. The neighboring hills, struck with the noise, rebound it to the skies. Yet place yourself upon a mountain-top to view this wild confusion, and you'd think it was a fixed and steady light that filled the plain.

Now learn at length the form of these first seeds, these principles of things, how widely different is their shape, of what variety of figure their frame consists. For though many are endowed with a form not much alike, yet all are far from being of the same figure. And no wonder, for since (as I have said) their number is so great that no end, no bound is to be set to them; they ought, for the same reason, to be all of a different contexture, and not fashioned alike of the same form.

Besides, consider well mankind, the scaly fry of silent fish that swim the flood, the verdant trees, wild beasts, the various kinds of birds, such as flock about the banks of pleasant streams, the fountains and the lakes and those who frequent the thick covers of the woods; consider all these in their several kinds, and you will find them all consist of forms different among themselves. 'Tis by nothing else the tender young knows its own Dam, and thus the Dam distinguishes her young, thus we see each creature knows its own kind, no less than men, and so unite together. For often before the gilded temples of the gods a young heifer falls a slain victim beside the alter flaming with incense, and breathes from her heart a reeking stream of blood. The Dam, robbed of her young, beats over the fields and leaves the marks of her divided hoofs upon the pressed grass, and searches every place with careful eyes to find her the young she lost; then stops and fills the branched woods with her complaints, and often returns back to her stall, distracted with the love of her dear young - no more the tender willows, or the herbs freshened with dew, nor can the running streams within the full banks divert her mind, or turn away her care, nor can a thousand other heifers, as they play wantonly over the grass, take off her eye, or ease the pain she feels - so plain it is that she searches for her own, for what she knows full well. And thus the tender kids find by their bleat their horned Dams, and so the sporting lambs know their own flocks, and, as by Nature taught, each hastest to the full dug of its own Dam.

Observe again the various sorts of corn, you'll find each grain, though in kind of the same, not so much alike; but there will be a difference in their figure; and so a great variety of shells, we see, paints the Earth's lap, where the Seas gentle waves feed the most sand along the winding Shore. And thus, by parity of reason, it must follow that the first seeds of things, as they are formed by Nature, not made by Art in any certain figure, must fly about in shapes various and different among themselves.

'Tis easy for us now to unfold the Difficulty


[1066] Now since there is so great a plenty of seeds, that all the ages of men would not be sufficient to number them, and the same power, the same nature remains, that can dispose the seeds of things in any other place, by the same rule as they united in this world of ours, we must needs confess, there are other worlds in other parts of the universe, possessed by other kinds of inhabitants, both of men and beasts.

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