figure. It is made, I confess, with an excellent gusto, and according to the rules of perfection; but yet it is chance alone made it. Among so many pieces of marble there was one that formed itself of its own accord in this manner; the rains and winds have loosened it from the mountains; a violent storm has thrown it plumb upright on this pedestal, which had prepared itself to support it in this place. It is a perfect Apollo, like that of Belvedere; a Venus that equals that of the Medicis; an Hercules, like that of Farnese. You would think, it is true, that this figure walks, lives, thinks, and is just going to speak. But, however, it is not in the least beholden to art; and it is only a blind stroke of chance that has thus so well finished and placed it.”
SECT. VIII. Fourth Comparison, drawn from a Picture.
If a man had before his eyes a fine picture, representing, for example, the passage of the Red Sea, with Moses, at whose voice the waters divide themselves, and rise like two walls to let the Israelites pass dryfoot through the deep, he would see, on the one side, that innumerable multitude of people, full of confidence and joy, lifting up their hands to heaven; and perceive, on the other side, King Pharaoh with the Egyptians frighted and confounded at the sight of the waves that join again to swallow them up. Now, in good earnest, who would be so bold as to affirm that a chambermaid, having by chance daubed that piece of cloth, the colours had of their own accord ranged themselves in order to produce that lively colouring, those various attitudes, those looks so well expressing different passions, that elegant disposition of so many figures without confusion, that decent plaiting of draperies, that management of lights, that degradation of colours, that exact perspective—in short, all that the noblest genius of a painter can invent? If there were no more in the case than a little foam at the mouth of a horse, I own, as the story goes, and which I readily allow without examining into it, that a stroke of a pencil thrown in a pet by a painter might once in many ages happen to express it well. But, at least, the painter must beforehand have, with design, chosen the most proper colours to represent that foam, in order to prepare them at the end of his pencil; and, therefore, it were only a little chance that had finished what art had begun. Besides, this work of art and chance together being only a little foam, a confused object, and so most proper to credit a stroke of chance—an object without form, that requires only a little whitish colour dropped from a pencil, without any exact figure or correction of design. What comparison is there between that foam with a whole design of a large continued history, in which the most fertile fancy and the boldest genius, supported by the perfect knowledge of rules, are scarce sufficient to perform what makes an excellent picture? I cannot prevail with myself to leave these instances without desiring the reader to observe that the most rational men are naturally extreme loath to think that beasts have no manner of understanding, and are mere machines. Now, whence proceeds such an invincible averseness to that opinion in so many men of sense? It is because they suppose, with reason, that motions so exact, and according to the rules of perfect mechanism, cannot be made without some industry; and that artless matter alone cannot perform what argues so much knowledge. Hence it appears that sound reason naturally concludes that matter alone cannot, either by the simple laws of motion, or by the capricious strokes of chance, make even animals that are mere machines. Those philosophers themselves, who will not allow beasts to have any reasoning faculty, cannot avoid acknowledging that what they suppose to be blind and artless in these machines is yet full of wisdom and art in the First Mover, who made their springs and regulated their movements. Thus the most opposite philosophers perfectly agree in acknowledging that matter and chance cannot, without the help of art, produce all we observe in animals.
SECT. IX. A Particular Examination of Nature.
After these comparisons, about which I only desire the reader to consult himself, without any argumentation, I think it is high time to enter into a detail of Nature. I do not pretend to penetrate through the whole; who is able to do it? Neither do I pretend to enter into any physical discussion. Such way of reasoning requires a certain deep knowledge, which abundance of men of wit and sense never acquired; and, therefore, I will offer nothing to them but the simple prospect of the face of Nature. I will entertain them with nothing but what everybody knows, and which requires only a little calm and serious attention.
SECT. X. Of the General Structure of the Universe.
Let us, in the first place, stop at the great object that first strikes our sight, I mean the general structure of the universe. Let us cast our eyes on this earth that bears us. Let us look on that vast arch of the skies that covers us; those immense regions of air, and depths of water that surround us; and those bright stars that light us. A man who lives without reflecting thinks only on the parts of matter that are near him, or have any relation to his wants. He only looks upon the earth as on the floor of his chamber, and on the sun that lights him in the daytime as on the candle that lights him in the night. His thoughts are confined within the place he inhabits. On the contrary, a man who is used to contemplate and reflect carries his looks further, and curiously considers the almost infinite abysses that surround him on all sides. A large kingdom appears then to him but a little corner of the earth; the earth itself is no more to his eyes than a point in the mass of the universe; and he admires to see himself placed in it, without knowing which way he came there.
SECT. XI. Of the Earth.
Who is it that hung and poised this motionless globe of the earth? Who laid its foundation? Nothing seems more vile and contemptible; for the meanest wretches tread it under foot; but yet it is in order to possess it that we part with the greatest treasures. If it were harder than it is, man could not open its bosom to cultivate it; and if it were less hard it could not bear them, and they would sink everywhere as they do in sand, or in a bog. It is from the inexhaustible bosom of the earth we draw what is most precious. That shapeless, vile, and rude mass assumes the most various forms; and yields alone, by turns, all the goods we can desire. That dirty soil transforms itself into a thousand fine objects that charm the eye. In the compass of one year it turns into branches, twigs, buds, leaves, blossoms, fruits, and seeds, in order, by those various shapes, to multiply its liberalities to mankind. Nothing exhausts the earth; the more we tear her bowels the more she is liberal. After so many ages, during which she has produced everything, she is not yet worn out. She feels no decay from old age, and her entrails still contain the same treasures. A thousand generations have passed away, and returned into her bosom. Everything grows old, she alone excepted: for she grows young again every year in the spring. She is never wanting to men; but foolish men are wanting to themselves in neglecting to cultivate her. It is through their laziness and extravagance they suffer brambles and briars to grow instead of grapes and corn. They contend for a good they let perish. The conquerors leave uncultivated the ground