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objects of natural history as a study and as a science this should be an ultimate view in all of our inquiries and labours.
And if the whole extent of our material world is thus submitted to our investigations; if the powers, the productions, the volition itself of the animate, and the materials of the inanimate tenants of our globe are more or less subjected to our control, and may be rendered subservient to our purposes, need we inquire whether these researches are useful, even in the narrow sense to which utility is sometimes confined. Every thing that can attract our senses. every thing that can promote our physical welfare is intermingled with these pursuits. It is true that the beauty and variety of the productions of nature often captivate the mind, and lead the votaries of this science rather to disport on the surface than to penetrate to its profound depth, rather to search for new forms, to pursue substances yet unknown, to ascertain the species and varieties of every family, (and thus to enlarge our knowledge as far as forms or species are concerned) than to investigate the characters, the affinities, the properties of the families or individuals themselves. But even this pursuit is valuable, and in some measure necessary, for no system of arrangement or classification can approach even our ideas of perfection, until a great proportion of the species to be arranged shall be discovered and described-and this pursuit is also more immediately beneficial, for, as the knowledge of man over the component parts of the material world has been extended, his dominion has been greatly enlarged, his resources and his enjoyments proportionally multiplied.
To give man, however, a real dominion, an efficient sovereignty over the earth and its inhabitants, it is essential that he should acquire an intimate insight into the laws and principles by which they are respectively governed, that he should thoroughly understand their mutual relationship and dependence. It is in vain that we shall endeavour to exact from nature her treasures, if we know not the secrets of her laboratories. Vainly shall we seek her choicest productions, or depend solely on accident for their discovery, if we have not learned under what circumstances and in what situations and connexions her inorganic masses have been deposited, or the laws which influence the multiplication and the habits of her animated tribes.
Nor is it individual advantage merely that results from these pursuits. National wealth and national power depend on the skilful appropriation of the productions of nature and their application to objects of general utility. They are the elements from which all of our resources spring, the materials which must be employed in all of our occupations. The anvil and the loom,
the vessel and the plough, even “man and steel, the soldier and his sword,” derive their means and their efficient force from the same prolific power.
Neither is it utility alone that allures to these researches. The productions of nature are in themselves so beautiful, so diversified, so innumerable, their arrangements are so harmonious, their combinations so wonderful, that the mind when once engaged in their study, becomes insensibly attracted by their multiplied fascinations, and finds in the pursuit itself, a charm independent of all possible and ultimate results.
Let it not be supposed that we have given to these pursuits a factitious value: that we have estimated too highly their importance to man. We stand in the inidst of creation, connected by mutual dependencies on every side with substances animate or inanimate--and although habit and familiarity may diminish the sensations these objects are calculated to excite ; though business or care, or the sluggishness of earthly minds may overpower or absorb them yet are they intermingled so variously with our pleasures or our sufferings, entwined so necessarily with our very existence, that their study in some shape or under some disguise, constitutes a great part of the occupation of our lives. If we acknowledge their value, it is surely desirable that we should understand the principles on whịch researches into nature, and our studies of natural history as a science, ought to be conducted, and the essential results to which our inquiries ought to be directed. It is not every one who has leisure, even if he may have inclination to study this science or any of its branches in its minute details, but its general views, its fundamental principles, its comprehensive relations ought to be included in the investigations of every educated mind.
It is the great object of natural history to acquire a comprehensive, complete and accurate knowledge of every form and substance, every structure and combination, every principle and power in the material world. It is the great aim of natural history, when considered as a science, to group, to arrange all of these objects, all of these modifications of being on such principles, that the individuals of each group shall be connected by common qualities, by composition, by structure, by habit, and, as an almost necessary consequence, by their properties and uses that when an intimate knowledge of one individual of each group is obtained, much knowledge may also be acquired of every kindred species; and every important discovery of new properties, in any of these divisions of nature, may become, in this manner, a valuable conquest over an extensive series.
These circumstances include all that is practically useful to man, and therefore all that is most valuable in science. They will disclose, to its full extent, his connexion with the material world, and form the basis on which philosophy may build her lofty speculations. They will unfold the essential qualities and forms of animals, of vegetables, of minerals, exhibit their characteristic peculiarities, display the great system of nature as far as it is to us accessible and intelligible, its simple but infinitely diversified principles, and its harmonious order. It may be interesting, therefore, to review, somewhat more distinctly, these final objects of natural science.
The composition of substances or the nature and proportion of their constituent principles, will readily distinguish their mineral, vegetable, or animal nature. But as a guide and a foundation for classification, it is only of moment as applied to the mineral kingdom. The chemical analyses of animal and vegetable substances, although sufficient to determine the class or kingdom to which they respectively belong, yet differ too little in each kingdom, much less in each tribe or family, to afford any basis, or even any material aid for their arrangement. But, in the investigation of minerals, the products of these analyses are essential. However ingenious may be the theories built on other principles, it is impossible, that in any system intended to exhibit the arrangements of nature, flint and clay and lime and iron, or minerals in which these or other substances greatly predominate, can be promiscuously mingled together, either in conformity to their external characters, or to the forms of their primitive crystals. In the infancy of science, in the still imperfect state of chemical analysis, perhaps even at a later period, systems like these may have their value, because they all are founded on some of the arrangements of nature, and explain some of her operations, but more particularly because they sometimes afford great facilities in recognizing the substances which have already been examined. But our final views should extend beyond mere practical convenience, they should rest on no partial circumstance, on no particular feature; they should embrace the wide extent of matter and of life, and endeavour to combine in our systems, truth and nature and science.
Structure relates, perhaps, exclusively to the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and must be the basis of every arrangement in those departments of nature. Crystals, it is true, manifest wonderful symmetry in their figure, and are singularly interesting when traced through the different modifications of their primitive form, but their formation is altogether mechanical, and has no dependence on internal organization; whilst in
vegetables and animals, structure is connected intimately with the vital power, and however convenient it may be in our systems to avail ourselves of external forms, those ought always to be preferred and selected, which have an intimate and necessary relation to the most important functions of life-to the essential portions of their internal organization. Particular features, the claw of a bird, the teeth of a quadruped, the wings of an insect, will frequently indicate the character and the habits of the animal to which they belong-will give, perhaps, the history of the species. For these are all the results of structure. To structure, therefore, as the source of all affinity and discrepance in these departments of nature, our attention should be almost exclusively directed, and due importance must be allowed to those organs which most powerfully influence and regulate the character of the species and the functions of life.
Habit and instinct appear so necessarily to result from structure, that they might have been comprehended under the same head. But they merit a separate notice, not only on account of their intrinsic importance, but because they frequently serve to correct erroneous opinions and systems. They open of themselves, independent of scientific investigations, a wide field for study and observation. . They indicate the use and application of organs, which no dissection, no abstract, perhaps, no analogical reasoning would ever have unfolded. They disclose the wise provision which Divine Providence has prepared for the preservation and propagation of each species, and they serve, as we have already reinarked, to correct systematic arrangements, for, if in our classifications, we have associated beings whose habits are dissimilar, we may conclude with certainty, that we have overlooked some important, even if obscure, feature in their organization.
Qualities and Uses.-A knowledge of these are to man the most important result of his researches in natural history, and it will be a most valuable termination, if, in the ultimate views of science, the arrangements of system shall be made to accord with practical utility, that we shall be able by distinct, prominent and essential characters, to associate those substances and forms, and those only which are intimately allied, and avoid the incongruous combinations which have hitherto appeared even in the best systems; and, that the principles of classitication shall be made to conform to the apparent designs of nature, and shall at once develope the composition, properties, habits and instincts of all objects submitted to its examination. This, however, is still a doubtful result. We know not how far the views of nature herself correspond with our wishes, whether that be possible
which we consider as desirable. But no one can question the influence which extensive and accurate investigation may have on this inquiry, even if it were only to point out the exceptions and deviations from any plan, nor the immense benefit which would be derived from its accomplishment. To this object, the great efforts of man should be directed. Its attainment would complete his triumph over the material world, and give him that absolute dominion which has long been promised.
After this will remain an inquiry among the most curious, the most interesting, perhaps, ultimately, among the most momentous in the whole range of human investigation. I mean the relation of beings to each other, the power of organization, the influence of life, the gradation of the vital and intellectual functions, the whole forming, not as it has frequently been called, a chain of beings, for there is no continued series, but a web connecting every portion of the material, perhaps we may also add, the immaterial world. A web so wonderfully woven, as to form but one work, yet displaying in every part radiating centres of distinct circles; some closely allied to adjacent circles, some so slightly attached that we can with difficulty trace the film that unites them to their fellows. This must be the last term, the latest effort of science. We must know all the tribes, all the productions of nature, before we can comprehend and exhibit accurately their mutual connexion and dependence. Who shall summon together the inhabitants of the air, the ocean, and the land? Who shall ever number up the living species, who shall trace out and recal those which are extinct and forgotten? These, perhaps, once occupied many of the broken and disordered portions of this web. We perceive every where marks of convulsions that have been permitted to disarrange the fabric of nature, who can tell the extent or the magnitude of these devastations ?
When we survey this great work of creation, its extent, its harmony, the magnificence of its outline, the perfection of its minute details, we cannot be surprised that its study should have engaged and occupied minds of the highest power, nor that such minds should have failed thoroughly to explain what infinite wisdom has devised, infinite power executed, and what mortal spirits may be permitted only partially to comprehend. Yet let us not despond. In the study of nature we tread in the footsteps of wisdom. We listen to a voice, which is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. And while the erring and fluctuating opinions of man, his crimes, his follies, his power pass away and are forgotten, the empire of nature is immutable, to urs eternal--the knowledge of nature which is once accurate,