Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/313

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301
METAPHYSICAL SYSTEMS.

and wisest of our race have devoted themselves to teaching us all about God and our immortal souls, the origin and final causes of the world, and so forth; yet when one comes to reflect on the matter it is overwhelmingly certain that not one of these men has ever really known anything about any of these things, or whether they really exist or not. By studying the signs of the times and commonly recurring sequences, men may learn how (with due adroitness and agility) to pick up a living for their microscopical selves in this shoreless and fathomless ocean of being, of whose main currents they are perforce perfectly ignorant. Let us imagine a small colony of mice in a great cathedral, getting a poor livelihood out of Communion crumbs and taper-droppings. Could any of them by much deep speculation comprehend the origin, the plan, the purpose of the cathedral, the meaning of the altar, the significance of the ritual, the clashing of the bells, the ringing of the chants, the thunderous trepidations of the organ? Yet a mouse explaining the final causes of all these things would be incomparably less absurd than is a divine or sage expounding the mysteries of Nature or God. The discreeter mice would limit themselves to noticing and remembering that certain periods and ceremonies were marked by more numerous tapers burning, whence came more grease on the floor, and by noting the spots where grease did more abound. These would be the practical philosophers among the mice, positivists or utilitarians; and if while grease was to be had, other mice lost their time in demonstrating that the final cause of a great Church festival was to increase the harvest of taper-droppings for their species, these shrewder mice would not stay to dispute the point with them, but would be off to their jolly feast of Candlemas.

I have said that the absolute systems have fascinated some of the profoundest intellects and noblest spirits among