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When we examine the internal structure of a plant or animal, a wonderful subtlety of mechanism is displayed. Man, in his mechanical operations, is confined to the surface of bodies; but the operations of nature are exerted through the whole substance, so as to reach even the elementary parts. Thus the body of an animal, and of a plant, are composed of certain great vessels; these of smaller; and these again of still smaller, without end, as far as we can dis
This power of diffusing mechanism through the most intimate parts, is peculiar to nature, and distinguishes her operations, most remarkably, from every work of art. Such texture, continued from the grosser parts to the most minute, preserves all along the strictest regularity. The fibres of plants are a bundle of cylindric canals, lying in the same direction, and parallel or nearly parallel to each other: in some instances, a most accurate arrangement of parts is discovered, as in onions, formed of concentric coats, one within another, to the very centre. An animal body is still more admirable, in the disposition of its internal parts, and in their order and symmetry; there is not a bone, a muscle, a blood vessel, a nerve, that has not one corresponding to it on the opposite side; and the same order is carried through the most minute parts: the lungs are composed of two parts, which are disposed upon the sides of the thorax; and the kidneys, in a lower situation, have a position no less orderly: as to the parts that are single, the heart is advantageously situated near the middle; the liver, stomach, and spleen, are disposed in the upper region of the abdomen, about the same height; the bladder is placed in the middle of the body, as well as the intestinal canal, which fills the whole cavity with its convolutions.
The mechanical power of nature, not confined to small bodies, reaches equally those of the greatest size; witness the bodies that compose the solar system, which, however large, are weighed, measured, and subjected to certain laws, with the utmost accuracy. Their places round the sun, with their distances, are determined by a precise rule, corresponding to their quantity of matter. The superior dignity of the central body, in respect of its bulk and lucid appearance, is suited to the place it occupies. The globular figure of these bodies, is not only in itself beautiful, but is above all others fitted for regular motion. Each planet revolves about its own axis in a given time; and each moves round the sun, in an orbit nearly circular, and in a time proportioned to its distance. Their velocities, directed by an established law, are perpetually changing by regular accelerations and retardations. In fine, the great variety of regular appearances, joined with the beauty of the system itself, cannot fail to produce the highest delight in every one who is sensible of design, power, or beauty
Nature has a wonderful power of connecting systems with each other, and of propagating that connection through all her works. Thus the constituent parts of a plant, the roots, the stem, the branches, the leaves, the fruit, are really different systems, united by a mutual dependence on each other: in an animal, the lymphatic and lacteal ducts, the blood-vessels and nerves, the muscles and
glands, the bones and cartilages, the membranes and bowels with the other organs, form distinct systems, which are united into one whole. There are, at the same time, other connections less intimate : every plant is joined to the earth by its roots; it requires rain and dews to furnish it with juices; and it requires heat to preserve these juices in fluidity and motion: every animal, by its gravity, is connected with the earth, with the element in which it breathes, and with the sun, by deriving from it cherishing and enlivening heat: the earth furnishes aliment to plants, these to animals, and these again to other animals, in a long train of dependence. That the earth is part of a greater system, comprehending many bodies mutually attracting each other, and gravitating all toward one common centre, is now thoroughly explored. Such a regular and uniform series of connections, propagated through so great a number of beings, and through such wide spaces, is wonderful: and our wonder must increase, when we observe these connections propagated from the minutest atoms to bodies of the most enormous size, and so widely diffused as that we can neither perceive their beginning nor their end. That these connections are not confined within our own planetary system, is certain : they are diffused over spaces still more remote, where new bodies and systems rise without end. All space is filled with the works of God, which are conducted by one plan, to answer unerringly one great end.
But the most wonderful connection of all, though not the most conspicuous, is that of our internal frame with the works of nature: man is obviously fitted for contemplating these works, because in this contemplation he has great delight. The works of nature are remarkable in their uniformity no less than in their variety; and the mind of man is fitted to receive pleasure equally from both. Uniformity and variety are interwoven in the works of nature with surprising art: variety, however great, is never without some degree of uniformity; nor the greatest uniformity without some degree of variety: there is great variety in the same plant, by the different appearances of its stem, branches, leaves, blossoms, fruit, size, and color; and yet, when we trace that variety through different plants, especially of the same kind, there is discovered a surprising uniformity: again, where nature seems to have intended the most exact uniformity, as among individuals of the same kind, there still appears a diversity, which serves readily to distinguish one individual from another. It is indeed admirable, that the human visage, in which uniformity is so prevalent, should yet be so marked, as to leave no room, among millions, for mistaking one person for another : these marks, though clearly perceived, are generally so delicate, that words cannot be found to describe them. A correspondence so perfect between the human mind and the works of nature, is extremely remarkable. The opposition between variety and uniformity is so great
, that one would not readily imagine they could both be relished by the same palate; at least not in the same object, nor at the same time: it is however true, that the pleasures they afford, being happily adjusted to each other, and readily mixing in intimate
union, are frequently produced by the same individual object. Nay, farther, in the objects that touch us the most, uniformity and variety are constantly combined; witness natural objects, where this combination is always found in perfection. Hence it is, that natural objects readily form themselves into groups, and are agreeable in whatever manner combined: a wood with its trees, shrubs, and herbs, is agreeable: the music of birds, the lowing of cattle, and the murmuring of a brook, are in conjunction delightful; though they strike the ear without modulation or harmony. In short, nothing can be more happily accommodated to the inward constitution of man, than that mixture of uniformity with variety, which the eye discovers in natural objects; and, accordingly, the mind is never more highly gratified than in contemplating a natural landscape.
CONGRUITY AND PROPRIETY,
Congruity and propriety not applicable to one object, Man has a sense of con
gruity and propriety— They are agreeable, because man is so formed-Congruity and propriety required, in proportion to the relation between thingsNo coincidence between congruity and beauty—Distinction between congruity and propriety-A great degree of congruity between a part and the whole Principal and accessory, mean appearance-Congruity relates to kind, as well as to quantity of ornament-A slight impropriety, makes a stronger impression than a slight incongruity-The improprieties which excite laughter and contempt, ridiculous-A mixed emotion consists of one too risible for anger, and too serious for derision-The effect of contempt for another upon ourselves~ Congruity, as its final cause, contributes to our happiness—Impropriety furnishes entertainment-It makes us cautious—It prompts to moral conductPropriety regulates our actions—It induces justice to ourselves and othersIt enforces the performance of social duties.
Man is superior to the brute, not more by his rational faculties, than by his senses. With respect to external senses, brutes probably yield not to men; and they may also have some obscure perception of beauty: but the more delicate senses of regularity, order, uniformity, and congruity, being connected with morality and religion, are reserved to dignify the chief of the terrestrial creation. Upon that account, no discipline is more suitable to man, nor more congruous to the dignity of his nature, than that which refines his taste, and leads him to distinguish, in every subject, what is regular, what is orderly, what is suitable, and what is fit and proper.*
* Nec vero illa parva vis naturæ est rationisque, quod unum hoc animal sentit quid sit ordo, quid sit quod deceat in factis dictisque, qui modus. Itaque eorum ipsorum, quæ aspectu sentiuntur, nullum aliud animal, pulchritudinem, venustatem, convenientiam partium sentit. Quam similitudinem natura ratioque ab oculis ad animum transferens, multo etiam magis pulchritudinem, constantiam, ordinem, in consiliis factisque conservandum putat, cavetque ne quid indecore effeminateve faciat; tum in omnibus et opinionibus et factis ne quid libidinose aut faciat aut cogitet
. Quibus ex rebus conflatur et efficitur id, quod quærimus, honestum. Cicero de Officiis, l. 1.
Nor is it a trilling power of nature and of reason that this animal alone understands order, decency in words and deeds, and propriety of manner. No other
It is clear from the very conception of the terms congruity and propriety, that they are not applicable to any single object: they imply a plurality, and obviously signify a particular relation between different objects. Thus we say currently, that a decent garb is suitable or proper for a judge, modest behavior for a young woman, and a lofty style for an epic poem: and, on the other hand, that it is unsuitable or incongruous to see a little woman sunk in an overgrown farthingale, a coat richly embroidered covering coarse and dirty linen, a mean subject in an elevated style, an elevated subject in a mean style, a first minister darning his wife's stocking, or a reverend prelate in lawn sleeves dancing a hornpipe.
The perception we have of this relation, which seems peculiar to man, cannot proceed from any other cause, than from a sense of congruity or propriety; for, supposing us destitute of that sense, the terms would be to us unintelligible.
It is matter of experience, that congruity or propriety, wherever perceived, is agreeable; and that incongruity or impropriety, whereever perceived, is disagreeable. The only difficulty is, to ascertain what are the particular objects that in conjunction suggest these relations; for there are many objects that do not: the sea, for example, viewed in conjunction with a picture, or a man viewed in conjunction with a mountain, suggest not either congruity or incongruity. It seems natural to inser, what will be found true by induction, ihat we never perceive congruity nor incongruity but among things that are connected by some relation; such as a man and his actions, a principal and its accessories, a subject and its ornaments. We are, indeed, so framed by nature, as, among things so connected, to require a certain suitableness or correspondence, termed congruity or propriety; and to be displeased when we find the opposite relation of incongruity or impropriety.t animal has an eye to perceive the beauty, agreeableness, and convenience of parts. Nature and reason, in transferring this similitude from the eyes to the mind, thinks that beauty, constancy, and order, are much more to be preserved in counsels and actions, and takes care that nothing be done indecorously or effeminately, and that, in opinions and actions, nothing libidinous should be thought or done. That, which we seek, honesty, is made up of this.
* From many things that pass current in the world without being generally condemned, one at first view would imagine, that the sense of congruity or propriety has scarce any foundation in nature; and that it is rather an artificial refinement of those who affect to distinguish themselves from others. The fulsome panegyrics bestowed upon the great and opulent, in epistles dedicatory and other such compositions, would incline us to think so. Did there prevail in the world, it will be said, or did nature suggest, a taste of what is suitable, decent, or proper, would any good writer deal in such compositions, or any man of sense receive them without disgust? Can it be supposed that Louis XIV. of France was endued by nature with any sense of propriety, when, in a dramatic performance purposely composed for his entertainment, he suffered himself, publicly and in his presence, to be styled the greatest king ever the earth produced ? These, it is true, are strong facts ; but luckily they do not prove the sense of propriety to be artificial: they only prove, that the sense of propriety is at times overpowered by pride and vanity, which is no singular case, for that sometimes is the fate even of the sense of justice.
+ In the chapter of beauty, qualities are distinguished into primary and secondary: and to clear some obscurity that may appear in the text, it is proper to be observed, that the same distinction is applicable to relations. Resemblance,
If things connected be the subject of congruity, it is reasonable beforehand to expect a degree of congruity proportioned to the degree of the connection. And, upon examination we find our expectation to be well founded: where the relation is intimate, as between a cause and its effect, a whole and its parts, we require the strictest congruity; but where the relation is slight, or accidental, as among things jumbled together, we require little or no congruity: the strictest propriety is required in behavior and manner of living; because a man is connected with these by the relation of cause and effect: the relation between an edifice and the ground upon which it stands is of the most intimate kind, and therefore the situation of a great house ought to be lofty: its relation to neighboring bills, rivers, plains, being that of propinquity only, demands but a small share of congruity : among members of the same club, the congruity ought to be considerable, as well as among things placed for show in the same niche: among passengers in a stage-coach we require very little congruity; and less still at a public spectacle.
Congruity is so nearly allied to beauty, as commonly to be held a species of it; and yet they differ so essentially, as never to coincide : beauty, like color, is placed upon a single subject; congruity upon a plurality: farther, a thing beautiful in itself, may, with relation to other things, produce the strongest sense of incongruity.
Congruity and propriety are commonly reckoned synonymous terms; and hitherto in opening the subject they have been used indifferently: but they are distinguishable; and the precise meaning of each must be ascertained. Congruity is the genus, of which propriety is a species; for we call nothing propriety, but that congruity or suitableness, which ought to subsist between sensible beings, and their thoughts, words, and actions.
In order to give a full view of these secondary relations, I shall trace them through some of the most considerable primary relations. The relation of a part to the whole, being extremely intimate, demands the utmost degree of congruity : even the slightest deviation is disgustful; witness the Lutrin, a burlesque poem, which is closed with a sericus and warm panegyric on Lamoignon, one of the king's judges:
Amphora cæpit Institui; currente rota, cur urceus exit ?* Examples of congruity and incongruity are furnished in plenty by the relation between a subject and its ornaments. A literary equality, uniformity, proximity, are relations that depend not on us, but exist equally whether perceived or not; and upon that account may justly be termed primary relations. But there are other relations, that only appear such to us, and that have not any external existence like primary relations; which is the case of congruity, incongruity, propriety, impropriety: these may be properly termed secondary relations. Thus it appears from what is said in the text, that the secondary relations mentioned arise from objects connected by some primary relation Property is an example of a secondary relation, as it exists no where but in the mind. I purchase a field or a horse: the covenant makes the primary relation; and the secondary relation built on it, is property.
* The two-handed vessel, of a foot square, is getting in fashion as the wheel turns, why does the pitcher disappear ?