Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/311

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299
METAPHYSICAL SYSTEMS.

reach unto heaven. When such a tower has been reared, many of the bystanders believe that its top does reach to heaven, for it is generally lost in the clouds, and, as Carlyle observes, what we cannot see over is infinite to us. But as men are removed from it in time, they perceive that its summit gradually sinks beneath the horizon, and they who visit it perceive that the structure announced everlasting is mouldering away and falling to ruin like the vulgarest building man erects for his sojourn. Then a new architect sets to work with the same sublime aspirations, the same indomitable self-sufficiency; a fresh metaphysical tower with a brand-new terminology loses its head in the clouds, to be regarded with awe and reverence by its bystanders, to crumble away and fall to ruin in its turn; for the legend of Babel and the confusion of tongues is the legend of system-building in all ages.

And now that we have seen in history so many such systems arise and disappear, all with the same assurance of plan, all with the same instability of structure, it is natural that we should ask the question I have put. What is their worth? To myself it appears that as systems their worth is, and always has been, little or nothing. The building and study of them has had a great educational worth in developing powers and skill which could scarcely have been called forth in their utmost energy by a hope less immense and sublime; and the study of them may be of great educational worth still. But examining any one of the great systems as a system, we seem to discern that its value consisted altogether in the value of some great thoughts or noble sentiments embodied in it, and that these were not improved but injured by the incorporation. When the structure into which they were built is a ruin, they remain as precious marbles, goodly for use in edifices less vast but less imperfect, more humble but more habitable; only to suit