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It was thought the fate of these nymphs had so near a dependence on some trees, more especially oaks, that they lived and died together. For this reason they were extremely grateful to such persons who preserved those trees with which their being subsisted. Apollonius tells us a very remarkable story to this purpose,
with which I shall conclude my letter. "A certain man, called Rhæcus, observing an old oak ready to fall, and being moved with a sort of compassion towards the tree, ordered his servants to pour in fresh earth at the roots of it, and set it upright. The Hamadryad; or nymph who must necessarily have perished with the tree,appeared to him the next day, and, after having returned him her thanks, told him she was ready to grant whatever he should ask. As she was extremely beautiful, Rhæcus desired he might be entertained as her lover. The Hamadryad, not much displeased with the request, promised to give him a meeting, but commanded him for some days to abstain from the embraces of all other women, adding, that she would send a bee to him, to let him know when he was to be happy. Rhæcus was, it seems, too much addicted to gaming, and happened to be in a run of ill-luck when the faithful bee came buzzing about him; so that, instead of minding his kind invitation, he had like to have killed him for his pains. The Hamadryad was so provoked at her own disappointment, and the ill usage of her messenger, that she deprived Rhæcus of the use of his limbs. However, says the story, he was not so much a cripple, but he made a shift to cut down the tree, and consequently to fell his mistress.'
N° 590. MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 1714.
Assiduo labuntur tempora motu,
OVID. Met. XV. 179.
And innovates some act, till then unknown.-DRYDEN. The following discourse comes from the same hand with
the essays upon infinitude. We consider infinite space as an expansion without a circumference: we consider eternity, or infinite duration, as a line that has neither a beginning nor an end. In our speculations of infinite space, we consider that particular place in which we exist as a kind of centre to the whole expansion. In our speculations of eternity, we consider the time which is present to us as the middle, which divides the whole line into two equal parts. For this reason many witty authors compare the present time to an isthmus or narrow neck of land, that rises in the midst of an ocean, immeasurably diffused on either side of it.
Philosophy, and indeed common sense, naturally
throws eternity under two divisions, which we may call in English that eternity which is past and that eternity which is to come. The learned terms of Æternitas a parte ante, and Æternitas a parte post, may be more amusing to the reader, but can have no other idea affixed to them than what is conveyed to us by those words, an eternity that is past, and an eternity that is to come. Each of these eternities is bounded at the one extreme; or, in other words, the former has an end, and the latter a beginning.
Let us first of all consider that eternity which is past, reserving that which is to come for the subject of another paper. The nature of this eternity is utterly inconceivable by the mind of man: our reason demonstrates to us that it has been, but at the same time can frame no idea of it, but what is big with absurdity and contradiction. We can have no other conception of any duration which is past, than that all of it was once present; and whatever was once present is at some certain distance from us, and whatever is at any certain distance from us, be the distance never so remote, cannot be eternity. The very notion of any duration being past, implies that it was once present, for the idea of being once present is actually included in the idea of its being past. This therefore is a depth not to be sounded by human understanding. We are sure that there has been an eternity, and yet contradict ourselves when we measure this eternity by any notion which we can frame of it.
• If we go to the bottom of this matter, we shall find that the difficulties we meet with in our conceptions of eternity proceed from this single reason, that we can have no other idea of any kind of duration than that which we ourselves, and all other created beings, do exist; which is, a successive duration made up of past, present, and to come. There is nothing which exists after this manner, all the parts of whose existence were not once actually present, and consequently may be reached by a certain number of years applied to it. We may ascend as high as we please, and employ our being to that eternity which is to come, in adding millions of years to millions of years, and we can never come up to any
fountain-head of duration, to any beginning in eternity: but at the same time we are sure that whatever was once present does lie within the reach of numbers, though perhaps we can never be able to put enough* of them together for that purpose. We may as well say, that any thing may be actually present in any part of infinite space, which does not lie at a certain distance from us, as that any part of infinite duration was once actually present, and does not also lie at some determined distance from us. The distance in both cases may be immeasurable and indefinite as to our faculties, but our reason tells us that it cannot be so in itself. Here therefore is that difficulty which human understanding is not capable of surmounting. We are sure that something must have existed from eternity, and are at the same time unable to conceive, that any thing which exists, according to our notion of existence, can have existed from eternity.
' It is hard for a reader, who has not rolled this thought in his wn mind, to follow in such an abstracted speculation ; but I have been the longer on it, because I think it is a demonstrative argument of the being and eternity of God: and, though, there
other demonstrations which lead us to this great truth, I do not think we ought to lay aside any proofs in this matter, which the light of reason has suggested to us, especially when it is such a one as has been urged by men famous for their penetration
* Enow. The singular number is here used for the plural.
and force of understanding, and which appears altogether conclusive to those who will be at the pains to examine it.
Having thus considered that eternity which is past, according to the best idea we can frame of it, I shall now draw up those several articles on this subject, which are dictated to us by the light of reason, and which
may be looked upon as the creed of a philosopher in this great point.
First, It is certain, that no being could have made itself; for if so it must have acted before it was, which is a contradiction.
Secondly, That therefore some being must have existed from all eternity.
Thirdly, That whatever exists after the manner of created beings, or according to any notions which we have of existence, could not have existed from eternity.
· Fourthly, That this eternal Being must therefore be the great Author of nature, 66 the Ancient of Days," who, being at infinite distance in his perfections from all finite and created beings, exists in a quite different manner from them, and in a manner of which they can have no idea.
• I know that several of the schoolmen, who would not be thought ignorant of any thing, have pretended to explain the manner of God's existence, by telling us that he comprehends infinite duration in every moment: that eternity is with him a punctum stans, a fixed point; or, which is as good sense, an mfinite instant; that nothing with reference to his existence is either past or to come: to which the ingenious Mr. Cowley alludes in his description of heaven :
Nothing is there to come, and nothing past,
But an eternal now does always last. 1. For my own part, I look upon these propositions