Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/310

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298
ON THE WORTH OF

noblest spirits among mankind? The fascination itself is not to be wondered at, for no fascination can be stronger to such intellects and such spirits than the hope of securing certitude beneath the transitory and illusive shows of this world and life. So intense, indeed, is this fascination that it has bewitched exceedingly able and good men, who despaired of attaining such certitude by rational inquiry, into abjuring their reason, strangling their doubts, and seeking peace in blind faith and abject submission to authority, mutilating their minds as Origen mutilated his body, as in the deplorable instance of J. H. Newman. But the builders of systems do not, or will not, despair. The subtlest of them recognise quite clearly the practical trustworthiness of what the natural or relative sciences have established within their limits; but they cannot endure the utter blank immeasurable beyond those strait limits, the formless void unfathomable beneath their thin surface. They see plainly what many of the triumphant and triumphing natural philosophers do not see at all, that even the most obvious and common-place so-called facts are undermined by deepest metaphysical doubts. Admitting the relative truth, they must seek the absolute basis; acknowledging the limited fact, they hunger for the universal law. They will build out of pure thought a faithful counterpart of the world, a microcosm the pefect image of the macrocosm; believing that the laws and processes of the human mind correspond with those of the universe. With gigantic self-sufficiency each labours at his task, in no wise daunted by the manifold and manifest failures of all who have hitherto made the same attempt, in no wise doubting that his mind is a true mirror of the world, though he sees that its reflections are more or less different from those of all other minds. Century after century, sometimes generation after generation, sees the selfsame attempt renewed, the building of a tower whose top shall