For the latest news on Judith Sargent Murray, please "Friend" her on Facebook!
This essay appeared in the October 1793 edition of the Massachusetts Magazine
under the name "Constantia." It examines Nature, and its ability to "expand and elevate the mind" as well as God's plan.
The Repository. No. XIII.
WHAT a delightful employ is the investigation of nature -- how does it expand and elevate the mind. The accurate observer will trace, with advantage, the texture of the smallest mite: He is ready to say, corruption hath not the power to give being; he will never ascribe to decaying flesh a capacity of forming an organized body, and of communicating the inestimable gift of life. This attribute he will regard as proper only to the Creator, and if he sees insects gather round a putrified substance, he will not conceive that these animals are engendered by putrifaction. No, he will rather admire the impartial œconomy of nature, who hath given sufficient discernment to the progenitors of these beings, to chuse with propriety where to deposite their eggs; who hath taught them, by instinct, to distinguish, and to conclude, that impaired and corrupt bodies will afford the properest nourishment for their young; by the odours from hence exhaled, they are attracted, nay, he will say, this very odour was appointed to act upon them by attraction, and he will observe the choice of the parent, to lay her eggs in a place which abounds with convenient nourishment for her young, as a confirmation, that corruption cannot engender -- In short, to chance he will ascribe no agency; but to God alone he will attribute the power of prescribing to every animal its place, its function, and its food.
Various, and ever new, are thy splendid works, O plastic Nature! The investigation of a butterfly is sufficient to engage the attention of the first of our species. How surprising are its several metamorphoses, and how nice the process; ere arrayed in dazzling plumage, and fluttering in the radiant sun beam, we mark its flight. From the smallest mite, which can only by the microscopic eye be delineated, gradually we ascend; and imagination, fixing upon the feathered tribes, roves with unbounded latitude, amid those gay inhabitants of air. The humming bird, and the Ostrich, become the extremes of contemplation; and glowing admiration dilates the mind, it shines along the numerous species which form the shades between. Now, herbs, fruits and flowers, arrest the delighted gaze; anon, the towering woods put in their venerable claim; here, with rapt contemplation, we delight to wander; fond to trace the embryo tree, until its spreading branches attain their full perfection. But the aspiring mind stops not at the contemplation of this globe, and its varieties. By a beautiful progression, it assays to traverse the starry heavens; the motions of the planetary system conceives open to his view -- beyond the solar path, or milky way, it presumes to expatiate. Nor can we wonder, if amid the insufferable splendour, it becomes absorbed in a labyrinth of astonishment, admiration, and ecstasy.
2007 © Bonnie Hurd Smith
Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths
a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history
-- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community
outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.