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again, which Lucretius prayed might not happen
For afterwards, the World should subsist by its own quantity and power. Yet from the beginning there was no rest: For in the Celestial Regions there first followed notable Mutations, which by the Power of the Sun (predominating over superior Bodies) were so quieted, that the state of the World should be conserved : and afterwards in inferior Bodies) by the suppressing and diffipating of Inundations, Tempests, Winds, and general Earthquakes, a more peaceable durable Agreement and Tranquillity of Things followed. But of this Fable it may convertibly be said, that the Fable contains Philosophy, and Philosophy again the Fable : For we know by Faith, that all these Things are nothing else but the long since ceasing and failing Oracles of Sense, seeing that both the Matter and Fabrick of the World are most truly referred to a Creator.
xiii. Proteus, or Matter.
HE Poets fay that Proteus was Nep
tune's Herdsman, a grave Sire, and so excellent a Prophet, that he might
well be termed thrice excellent ; for he knew not only Things to come, but even Things past as well as present; so that besides his Skill in Divination, he was the Messenger and Interpreter of all Antiquities and hidden Mysteries. The Place of his Abode was a huge vast Cave, where his Custom was every Day at Noon to count his Flock of Sea-calves, and then to go to sleep. Moreover he that desired his Advice in anything, could by no other means obtain it, but by catching him in Manacles, and holding him fast therewith; who nevertheless, to be at liberty, would turn himself into all manner of Forms and Wonders of Nature ; sometimes into Fire, sometimes into Water, sometimes into the shape of Beasts, and the like; till at length he were restored to his own Form again.
This Fable may seem to unfold the secrets of Nature, and the properties of Matter. For under the Person of Proteus, the first Matter (which next to God is the ancientest Thing) may be represented: for Matter dwells in the concavity of Heaven, as in a Cave.
He is Neptune's Bondman, because the Operations and Dispensations of Matter are chiefly exercised in liquid Bodies.
His Flock or Herd seems to be nothing but the ordinary Species of sensible Creatures, Plants, and Metals, in which Matter seems to diffuse and as it were spend itself; so that after the forming and perfecting of these Kinds, (having ended as it were her Task,) she seems to Sleep, and take her Reft, not attempting the Composition of any more Species. And this may be the Moral of Proteus's counting of his Flock, and of his sleeping.
Now this is said to be done, not in the Morning, nor in the Evening, but at Noon; to wit, at such time as is most fit and convenient for the perfecting and bringing forth of Species out of Matter, duly prepared and predisposed, and in the middle, as it were, between their Beginning and Declinations, which we know sufficiently (out of the Holy History) to be done about the time of the Creation: For then by the power of that Divine Word (Producat,) Matter at the Creator's Command did congregate itself (not by Ambages or Turnings, but instantly) to the Production of its Work into an Act and Constitution of Species. And thus far have we the Narration of Proteus (free and unrestrained) together with his Flock complete : For the universality of Things, with their ordinary Structures and Compositions of Species, bears the Face of Matter, not limited and constrained, and of the Flock also of Material Beings. Nevertheless if any expert Minister of Nature, shall encounter Matter by main force, vexing and urging her with Intent and Purpose to reduce her to nothing; she contrariwise (seeing Annihilation and absolute Destruction cannot be effected but by the Omnipotency of God) being thus caught in the straits of Neceflity, doth change and turn herself into divers strange Forms and Shapes of Things, so that at length (by fetching a Circuit as it were) she comes to a Period, and (if the Force continue betakes herself to her former Being. The reason of which Constraint or Binding will be more facile and expedite, if Matter be laid hold on by Manacles, that is, by Extremities.
Now whereas it is feigned that Proteus was a Prophet, well skilled in three differences of Times, it hath an excellent Agreement with the Nature of Matter: for it is necessary that he that will know the Properties and Proceedings of Matter should comprehend in his Understanding the sum of all things which have been, which are, or which shall be, although no Knowledge can extend so far as to fingular and individual Beings.
xiy. Memnon, or a Youth too
HE Poets say, that Memnon was the
Son of Aurora, who (adorned with beautiful Armour, and animated with
popular Applause,) came to the Trojan War; where in rash Boldness hasting unto, and
· The Montagu edition omits the word but here, thus rendering the passage absurd. There are in other places omissions and perversions, but it is unnecessary to point them all out.
thirsting after Glory, he enters into single Combat with Achilles, the valiantest of all the Grecians, by whose powerful Hand he was there slain. But Jupiter pitying his Destruction, sent Birds to modulate certain lamentable and doleful Notes at the Solemnization of his Funeral Obsequies. Whose Statue also (the Sun reflecting on it with his Morning Beams) did usually, as is reported, send forth a mournful Sound.
This Fable may be applied to the unfortunate Destinies of hopeful young Men, who, like the Sons of Aurora, (puffed up with the glittering fhew of Vanity and Oftentation,) attempt Actions above their Strength, and provoke, and press the most valiant Heroes to combat with them ; so that, meeting with their overmatch, [they] are vanquished, and destroyed : whose untimely Death is oft accompanied with much Pity and Commiseration. For among all the Disasters that can happen to Mortals, there is none so lamentable, and so powerful to move Compassion as the flower of Virtue cropped with too sudden a Mischance. Neither hath it been often known that Men in their green Years become so loathsome, and odious, as that at their Deaths either Sorrow is stinted, or Commiseration moderated; but that Lamentation and Mourning do not only Autter about their Obsequies, like those Funeral Birds ; but this pitiful Commiseration doth continue for a long space, and especially by Occasions, and new Motions, and beginning of great Matters, as it were by the Morning Rays of the Sun, their Passions and Desires are renewed.