Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/312

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ON THE WORTH OF

them to his purpose the ancient builder hacked and chipped them into forms inconvenient for anything else, and perchance kept them obscure for ages in sombre crypt or lofty dome. A man discovering some new truth or some new aspect of an old one, will probably only strain and distort it in trying to expand it into a complete system. For to him such truths are not as splendid jewels which he may cut and polish, and set in star or cross or circlet, as his taste may prefer; this is the work of the poet; the philosopher undertakes to cut and set them in the sole best form and order, harmonious with the form and order of sun and moon and stars, and failing in this he damages them for other use. Or, to vary the illustration, if from the depths of a forest we glimpse a fragment of the remote horizon, and mentally complete the circle in accordance with that arc, our ring will not even be the ring of the meeting of earth and sky encompassing our standpoint; ours will be all shipless sea or green valley-bottom, while the true horizon would be sea and shore, vale and river, wood and hill, abounding with various life.

But it is strange that we have to appeal to history to show the worthlessness of absolute systems. How can man, an infinitesimal atom in the infinite universe, embrace that infinity? How can man, whose life is an inappreciable moment in eternal time, comprehend the laws of that eternity? A critic may be very small, and a philosopher or theologian very great (according to our petty human standards), yet the former in relation to the latter must be immeasurably greater than the latter in relation to the universe he has the audacity to expound. Therefore even the most stupid of men is quite justified in rejecting decisively and without examination any universal system whether of theology or philosophy, for beyond doubt it is ludicrously inadequate. During many millenniums some of the best