Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

further enquiry, and supplying new proof of the benevolence that everywhere guides and over-rules.

This Benevolence shews itself in inorganic nature under two principal forms, viz., the composition of substances, and their action and re-action upon one another. The presence of every primary element can instantaneously be detected ; and if it be a poisonous substance that we are dealing with, we know pretty well how to neutralize the baneful operation it would exert. Although when we look at nature in the mass, the materials of which it is composed seem infinitely diversified, and practically, no doubt are so; yet on analysing them, we find that the absolutely different elements do not exceed seventy. It is much the same with the composition of the world as with language. There are scores, yea, hundreds of thousands of different words in constant utterance by mankind in their various countries. English alone has thirty thousand words in it; yet how few are the letters of the alphabet that are required for their construction! By varied intermixture of the simple twenty-six letters which form our first lesson at school, all that is needful for daily talk is produced, -all that is needful to express the highest and loveliest sentiments, the most recondite propositions, the most brilliant insights of poetry. First, these little letters are combined into syllables ; the syllables are united in twos and threes; they are variously arranged, multiplied and repeated, and an inexhaustible vocabulary is the result. It is precisely the same with the composition of the objects of nature. The seventy primitive elements correspond to the twenty-six alphabetical sounds and characters. Some, like q and 2, occur comparatively seldom; others, such as a and e, are incessantly in demand. The first result of their mixture is found in water, lime, salt, soda, &c. When these are blended, entirely new compounds result; and the blending of these again, gives the infinitely diversified materials the analysis of which introduced the chemist to the mysteries of his fascinating science. The bodies of all animals, trees, plants, and flowers are similarly compounded of a few of the primitive elements, by successive processes of combination, the new compounds often presenting few or no traces of the qualities which marked their atoms before united. Man is well called the “ noblest work of God.” Aristotle defined him as the “ imitative animal ;" other philosophers have called him the “cultivating," the “bargain-making," the "cooking,” animal ;—the chemist describes him as an elaborate compound of carbon, nitrogen, water, lime, and phosphorus, with a little iron, &c. superadded. And reduced to the ultimate analysis, in truth his material body is nothing besides, since the blood, the muscles, the

bones, the nails, the hair, are only so many exquisite mixtures, prepared by the agency of Life direct from Him in whom we move and have our being, and moulded by the fingers of infinite wisdom into shapes of absolute perfection, and of incomparable adaptedness to the noble purposes they are designed for. Similarly, the lovely and fragrant rose is composed of no more than a little carbon and water, some ammonia, and perhaps some iron superadded; and when disintegrated in the chemist's laboratory, can be presented as a few grains and drops of colourless ruin. How wonderful the guiding and controlling power that out of dull and inanimate materials such as these, can weave shapes so transcendently beautiful, filling them with energy to perform their comely uses, and then withdrawing in order that they shall dissolve, other things to rise in turn from their ashes. For it is not only a fact that the objects of nature are made out of a few elements, they are positively made out of identically the same particles, taking turn with one another. There is no reason to suppose that a single atom of matter has been added to material nature since it pleased God to dispose it in its present form; it is certain that not a single-atom has passed out of existence;—in other words, the bulk and weight of our planet and its enveloping atmosphere, are precisely the same to-day that they were thousands of years ago, when things “ began,” whatever the date of that beginning; and yet during those multitudinous years, countless millions of plants and animals have run their little race of life, have died, decomposed, and returned to the dust. Where has the material come from? It has been simply the old material. Every atom has done duty over and over again; to-day entering into the composition of a tree or flower, next year into that of an animal; after that, perhaps wandering in the air for a while, byand-bye re-appropriated into the fabric of a plant or bird ;-in fact, enduring like a piece of money, unaltered in itself, but passing incessantly from place to place ;-to-day, resuming the metaphor of the coin, a widow's mite, to-morrow part of the heaped-up treasures of a Crosus. Our very breath is of this history. The atmosphere we inhale is not of original English birth, nor does it abide permanently in England. Part of it has been sifted through the branches of the cedars of Lebanon ; part of it has been moistened with the spray of the unpastured sea, a thousand leagues from where we stand ;—when we have done with it, by degrees it will move away, on the wings of the wind, to supply nutriment to people of whom we know nothing but that they live, and to many a blossom “ born to blush unseen." In its history it is an image, viewless, but faithful as if wrought in perfect marble, of the whole economy of material nature, vicissitudes, wanderings, and transformations, all included. No portion is ever lost; and though the whole never comes again intact, we have it renewed and recapitulated without ceasing.

Let us now cite a few examples of the operation of the Divine Benevolence in regard to the power given to man to detect the various elements of nature. Every substance is discoverable by some “test,” which usually neutralizes it, or rather by uniting with it, forms a new compound. The whole fabric of chemistry rests upon this wonderful principle, as one of its corner-stones. Thus, if the minutest atom of copper be dissolved in acid, and the fluid be then diluted with water until no trace of colour remains, so potent, nevertheless, is the affinity of the well-known fluid called "ammonia” for the copper, that a single drop of the latter fluid will immediately reveal the presence of the metal by uniting with it, and forming a new substance of the loveliest violet colour. Similarly, if a morsel of lead be dissolved in acid, and the acid be then diluted with water, a single drop of a solution of “iodide of potassium,” will turn the whole to a brilliant crocus-yellow. The presence of iron, after the same manner, is discovered by the least drop of tincture of galls, which blackens it upon contact; that of silver by a little solution of common salt, which causes flakes of imitative snow to make their appearance; that of mercury again with “iodide of potassium,” which turns the fluid containing it to a beautiful red. Every one of these tests is reciprocal ; that is to say, we discover the presence of galls by administering a little solution of iron; and of ammonia by introducing a little copper. The test for zinc is remarkably curious. A drop of ammonia causes a white cloud in the watered solution of the metal, but in a few moments, if we shake it, the cloud dissolves, and the fluid becomes clear and limpid as before! The value of these simple facts to the science of chemistry cannot possibly be over-estimated. Every substance, in the hands of the magician of the laboratory, is a new Spear of Ithuriel, extorting confession on the instant of the character of that which is touched with it; and as no two results of " testing" in different directions are absolutely alike, the chemist is provided with an infallible clue to all the realities of the composition of things. How grand and inexhaustible does the Divine Wisdom appear, when we discover the humblest and commonest substances in nature to be connected by ties of affinity which a little child may bring to light; which are yet so mysterious as to captivate the philosopher, at the same moment that they provide him with his initial keys of knowledge. By means of these “ tests," we can detect all kinds of mineral poisons. No deadly substance can lie so deeply concealed as to evade answer when called. The “great trump” which awakens the sleeping is the expression in the highest degree of the self-same summons, which in its least and lowest form compels the lurking arsenic to shew itself. Hence the difficulty now-a-days, of administering poison without discovery. Though months may have elapsed after the commission of a murder by mineral poison, the traces may be found; some “test” will declare what has been done, and what kind of poison has been employed. Along with it there is this other great fact to be considered. The “ tests” which prove the presence of the poison will, as said above, often neutralize its effects. This is the case with “oxalic acid," a deadly poison not unfrequently given by mistake of ignorant people for Epsom salts." A small quantity of lime-water being added, the acid and the earth combine, a white powdery substance is formed in a moment, and this being insoluble, is perfectly harmless. So with the burning and corrosive fluid called “sulphuric acid," one of the most important of known substances, alike for the purposes of chemistry and for those of many of the useful arts. If a drop be spilled upon the table or upon the fingers, the instant that a similar drop of any solution of the earth called " baryta” is added to it, the burning property is neutralized, and we have a milk-white product no longer capable of doing harm.

No man need complain of the existence in this world of so many hurtful and deadly things, when he reflects how ready and certain are the antidotes. Wherever there is an evil, there is always for the intelligent mind some compensating good. No winter is so cold, but its asperities are outbalanced by the sweets of summer. While the nettle is preparing the sharp sap that makes its sting so virulent, the dock is preparing another sap that shall assuage the pain. In Chemistry we see more perhaps of this grand principle than in any other department of natural knowledge, since the effects are here at once instantaneous, and varied almost without end, and impossible to be misconceived. It brings palpably before us, over again, the fewness and the universality of the principles of the Divine government; all phenomena resulting in manifestations of bountiful care for the happiness and health of man, and all the phenomena of the natural world being no other than the economic laws of the moral world played forth in pictures and representatives. See, again, how beautifully the union of chemical elements, when placed in juxtaposition, becomes subservient to the highest purposes of human sympathy, in connection with invisible writing! When the remnant of English troops left after the disasters at Cabool, some fifteen years ago,

were shut up in a fort, surrounded and vigilantly watched by their enemies, they managed nevertheless to send brief letters to their nearest friends. These letters to appearance were only blank pieces of paper. But they were covered with words traced with rice-water instead of ink, every word becoming visible and bright blue when the paper was washed over with iodine! This wonderful substance, iodine, has the property of rendering starch blue or violet-colour; and as rice contains a considerable quantity of starch, an invisible ink prepared from it assumes that bue when touched with iodine, though previously quite colourless. Eventualities, such as the imprisonment adverted to, are quite as much a part of the system of nature as the most ordinary occurrences, and all are anticipated in these simple and beautiful laws.

The nourishment of our bodies consists in a series of chemical actions. Some portion of our food goes to the formation of flesh and blood ; another portion contributes to the substance and solidity of the bones ; a third portion is fuel. In this latter contrivance we have a most striking illustration of the simplicity and perfection of the Divine ordinances. There is no life without warmth, and warmth comes of the combination of certain elements, a process incessant in the human body, and consisting in no more than the chemical union of “ oxygen and “

carbon,"—the latter the chief constituent of fat, and the former inhaled continuously as part of the air. Every time we breathe we quicken the burning of the “flame of life,” which is thus maintained quite unconsciously. When we “hold our breath” it is to slacken the supply of oxygen, and when we cease to take food, it is to reduce the supply of carbon, each being equally requisite with the other to maintain the cheerful glow that we call our animal heat. Thus is one of the most agreeable sensations of life a simple result of chemical action, the materials broken up into atoms so minute as to be invisible to the most powerful microscope, but all obeying the great behest that all things shall work together for the comfort of the world and of mankind, and thus for the glory of Him who hath created them “for His pleasure.”

This of course is merely the origin of animal heat, regarded as a physical condition. All phenomena have their prior causes in the spiritual world; and if there were not in the bodies of animals that actuating energy which in man acquires its highest form of affection and will, chemical phenomena would not be possible there. Everything chemical lies far back, hidden from our view, as regards its origin; the beginning of all things, whatever the instrument and the medium, is the spiritual

« ZurückWeiter »