ePub 版

repress their gaiety, for, feeling their strength, they treated the authorities with contempt. Their last historical occurrence is in 1681, when they addressed the Lord Mayor on removing "the grievances of the nation," and published a vindication of their conduct. Since that period they have become more tractable, owing to a change of manners, the interference of the legislature, or a fortunate concurrence of those causes. Of their poet, not even the name is preserved; but his politics, always an object of research to the critic, may be partly ascertained. Had he not coincided with his brethren, he could not have omitted to lash the city dames, who, like Semiramis, forsook the toilet for the battlement. That task was left for Butler, who has discovered other points of resemblance.

Those who are induced to peruse the Character of a Cockney, by the hope of meeting with a repetition of the entertainment presented under similar titles, will be disappointed: it contains some good passages in epigrammatic couplets, and its descriptions are respectable; but let the renovators beware. We have refrained from minutely investigating its merits, wishing to keep our antiquarianism'as distinct as possible from criticism.

Art. X.—The Discovery of a New World; or, A Discourse tending to prove, that 'tis probable there may be another habitable World in the Moon. With a Discourse concerning the possibility of a Passage thither. By Dr. John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester. Written in the year 1638.

The learned and right reverend person whose memory is responsible for this work, appears to have been a man of profound and exact erudition, of vigorous intellect, and of great Eersonal virtue. According to all the biographical dictionaries, e obtained the high respect of the literary generation among whom he lived, and the various works which are attributed to him, will enable posterity to understand how fully he was entitled to it. We think it right to say this of Bishop Wilkins, at the very outset of our remarks upon his book; because, unless we thus expressly acknowledged his general claim as an author to approbation, the tone of our observations upon that small portion of his works, to which we shall confine ourselves, might possibly create a belief, that we were either deceived as to the Bishop's true character, or, at any rate, that we were inclined to deceive others. For we are afraid that we shall have occasion to laugh a little, in the course of this article, at some of the speculations in which the worthy prelate indulged himself; and it is but fair, therefore, to say, that in one very small part of this very small treatise, he is as rational a writer as any man who ventured upon subjects of natural philosophy before the age of Newton.

Having thus made our peace with the admirers of Bishop Wilkins, we proceed at once to state, that certain persons in the Bishop's own day, and many before it, had broached sundry astronomical doctrines, which the learned prelate thought it not amiss to explode. He, therefore, put forth a tractate, the title of which we have given, wherein he very triumphantly exposes some of the more vulgar errors into which the smatterers in natural philosophy had fallen; and urges, with very considerable ingenuity, several a priori reasons for believing in some of the prominent doctrines which have since been established by Newton and his successors. But the good Bishop pursues his triumph too far; he drives his enemies back into the land of speculation, and unluckily gets lost in it himself. For having established, or, at least, talked sensibly enough upon thirteen preliminary propositions as to the nature of the moon, and her relation to the earth, he waxes bold, and ventures at once to enunciate his fourteenth proposition, thus :—" That it is possible for some of our posterity to find out a conveyance to this other world; and if there be inhabitants there, (which, by the bye, is settled in proposition thirteen) to have commerce with them." How he supports this notion, we intend briefly to shew.

Before, however, we proceed to the execution of this task, we cannot but express our astonishment, that, in this our day of speculation, no projector should have attempted to do that of which Bishop Wilkins has here, in some sort, shewn the possibility. The philosophers' stone is even now sought after; and some lives are at this day consumed in search of the elixir vita. The academy, which Gulliver found at Lagado, is still in existence; and though the projects which he describes have been, for the most part, supplanted by others, many of the new ones are not one whit less hardy and extravagant. It would be equally invidious and endless to adduce examples: no one, with the use of his eyes, can fail to perceive that the "nil mortalibus arduum est," is as applicable now as ever. And, therefore, we again marvel at the abandonment of this project of Bishop Wilkins, which, to say the plain truth, is, in comparison with some that we could name, " sense, absolute sense."

The Bishop sets out in his adventurous course with a very pretty piece of sophistry:

"If we do but consider by what steps and leisure all arts do usually rise to their growth, we shall have no cause to doubt why this also may not hereafter be found out amongst other secrets. It hath constantly yet been the method of Providence, not presently to shew us all, but to lead us on by degrees, from the knowledge of one thing to another.

"It was a great while ere the planets were distinguished from the fixed stars; and some time after that ere the morning and evening stars were found to be the same. And in greater space (I doubt not) but this also, and other as excellent mysteries, will be discovered.— Time, who hath always been the father of new truths, and hath revealed unto us many things, which our ancestors were ignorant of, will also manifest to our posterity that which we now desire, but cannot know. Veniet tempus (saith Seneca) quo ista quce nunc latent, in lucem dies extrahet, fy longioris ctvi diligentia. Time will come, when the endeavours of after ages shall bring such things to light as now lie hid in obscurity. Arts are not yet come to their solstice. But the industry of future times, assisted with the labours of their forefathers, may reach that height which we could not attain to. Veniet tempus quo posteri nostri nos tarn aperta nescisse mirentur. As we now won • der at the blindness of our ancestors, who were not able to discern such things as seem plain and obvious unto us; so will our posterity admire our ignorance in as perspicuous matters.

"In the first ages of the world, the islanders thought themselves either to be the only dwellers upon earth, or else, if there were any other, they could not possibly conceive how they might have any commerce with them, being severed by the deep and broad sea. But after times found out the invention of ships, in which, notwithstanding, none but some bold, daring men durst venture.

"And yet, now, how easy a thing is this even to a timorous and cowardly nature? And, questionless, the invention of some other means, for our conveyance to the moon, cannot seem more incredible to us, than this did at first to them; and therefore we have no just reason to be discouraged in our hopes of the like success."

Upon which ingenious reasoning we will only observe, that it might be used, with equal propriety, to shew that we may hereafter mount up to the fixed stars themselves, or build houses at the South Pole, or live at the bottom of the ocean, or, in short, do any thing which our ancestors thought could not be done. The professors in Swift's academy, and that ingenious projector, who, in the reign of George I., actually broached a scheme for manufacturing deal boards out of sawdust, reasoned, no doubt, after the fashion of this learned prelate.

In the following passage, however, he bethinks him of some few difficulties:

"Yea, but (you will say) there can be no sailing thither, unless that were true which the poets do but feign, that she made her bed in the sea. We have not now any Drake, or Columbus, to undertake this voyage, or any Daedalus to invent a conveyance through the air.

"I answer, though we have not, yet why may not succeeding times raise up some spirits as eminent for new attempts and strange inventions, as any that were before them? 'Tis the opinion of Keplar, that as soon as the art of flying is found out, some of their nation will make one of the first colonies, that shall transplant into that other world. I suppose, his appropriating this pre-eminence to his own countrymen, may arise from an overpartial affection to them. But yet thus far I agree with him, that whenever that art is invented, or any other, whereby a man may be conveyed some twenty miles high, or thereabouts, then 'tis not altogether improbable that some or other may be successful in this attempt.

"For the better clearing of which I shall first lay down, and then answer those doubts that may make it seem utterly impossible.

"These are chiefly three.

"The first, taken from the natural heaviness of a man's body, whereby it is made unfit for the motion of ascent, together with the vast distance of that place from us.

"2. From the extreme coldness of the aethereal air.

"3. The extreme thinness of it.

"Both which must needs make it impassible, though it were but as many single miles thither, as it is thousands."

And then he comes to a query which, we do wonder, did not frighten him from any further prosecution of his scheme. For having shewn that, even if men could fly, the swiftest of them would probably be half a year before he arrived at his journey's end, he asks the following very natural question.

"And how were it possible for any to tarry so long without diet or sleep?

"1. For diet. I suppose there could be no trusting to that fancy of Philo the Jew, (mentioned before,) who thinks that the musick of the spheres should supply the strength of food.

"Nor can we well conceive how a man should be able to carry so much luggage with him, as might serve for his Viaticum in so tedious a journey.

"2. But if he could: yet he must have some time to rest and sleep in. And I believe he shall scarce find any lodgings by the way. No inns to entertain passengers, nor any castles in the air (unless they be enchanted ones) to receive poor pilgrims or errant knights. And so, consequently, he cannot have any possible hopes of reaching thither."

We have certainly no intention of following our author through the dull train of reasoning—or rather through that complicated web of conceits and hypotheses—by the aid of which he overcomes or eludes the three first of his difficulties. It is sufficient for us to say, that after soundly swingeing Aristotle "for teaching that heaviness is an absolute quality of itself, and really distinct from condensity," and honouring with his approbation certain admirable but inapplicable doctrines of "the learned Verulam;" he comes to the following notable conclusion, wherein, after writing more weary passages than we have patience to count, he does not seem to us to have made any great progress towards his promised demonstration.

"From hence then (I say) you may conceive, that if a man were beyond this sphere, he might there stand as firmly in the open air as now upon the earth. And if he might stand there, why might he not also go there? And if so, then there is a possibility likewise of having other conveniences for travelling." Quod erat demonstrandum. .

But then recurs the grand difficulty: how is a man to carry with him provisions for half a year's journey? For as to sleeping by the way, to provide for which would have puzzled a less sanguine projector than the bishop, in that he finds nothing to stop him.

"Seeing we do not then spend ourselves in any labour, we shall not, it may be, need the refreshment of sleep. But if we do, we cannot desire a softer bed than the air, where we may repose ourselves firmly and safely as in our chambers."

But, still as to the viaticum!—how is that affair to be managed? The bishop obviously feels himself hard pressed here, and accordingly, after approaching the question two or three times, and as often running away from it, he puts a bold face on the matter, and, girding up his loins, attacks the difficulty thus. The manner in which he contrives to introduce a hit at the papists is capital.

"And here it is considerable, that since our bodies will then be devoid of gravity, and other impediments of motion, we shall not at all spend ourselves in any labour, and so consequently not much need the reparation of diet; but may, perhaps, live altogether without it, as those creatures have done, who by reason of their sleeping for many days together, have not spent any spirits, and so not wanted any food, which is commonly related of serpents, crocodiles, bears, cuckoos, swallows, and such like. To this purpose, Mendoca reckons up divers strange relations. As that of Epimenides, who is storied to have slept seventy-five years. And another of a rustic in Germany, who being accidentally covered with a hay-rick, slept there for all the autumn, and the winter following, without any nourishment.

"Or, if this will not serve, yet why may not a papist fast so long, as well as Ignatius or Xaverius? Or if there be such a strange efficacy in the bread of the Eucharist, as their miraculous relations do attribute to it, why then, that may serve well enough for their viaticum.


« 上一頁繼續 »