Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/620

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themselves. And the consideration of the subject which such examples would afford, could not fail to hasten the adoption of what I am fairly entitled to call, the Natural, in place of the present Artificial Treatment of the body after death.—Contemporary Review.



THERE are few ideas more fatal to the exercise of that prophetic sight, by which we hope to penetrate the uncertainty of the what-is-to be, and distinguish the dark forms of the future, than the two notions: that history repeats itself, and that any form of feeling, of thought, or of motive, when once extinguished, must forever remain so. Though widely accepted, these two notions evidently contradict each other, and this contradiction is in itself a sufficient proof of their necessary mutual limitation. Yet, when limited by comparison, the two ideas find a joint expression in the moral law, that while infallibility is not of the human mind, and while all our views and forms of mental activity enshrine but a spirit of verity in a clay of illusion, it is only this body of error which the scythe of Time consigns to the grave, while the immortal soul of truth lives on.

Some centuries ago, the system of ideas known to history as Alchemy held universal sway over the minds of men; now there are none, among the cultivated at least, who dare to defend its assertions. And yet we may inquire what there was in these ideas that so commended them to men's minds, that at a time their authority was almost beyond dispute. What, we may ask, was the soul of truth, the immortal part, in the day-dreams of wealth, of power and of beauty, of magic and mystery, which formed the erroneous body of alchemistic belief?

The opinion most widely and popularly entertained at the present time ascribes to the alchemistical pursuits of the middle ages a mixed character: it holds the aim of alchemy to have mainly consisted in the transmutation of the baser metals into gold; it regards the alchemist as a man who, intensely selfish in his purpose, bore either the character of the unreasoning, visionary dreamer, of the magician moving among the phantoms of superstition, or of the charlatan and cheat living upon the credulity of the avaricious, and who sought, in the application of an exceedingly limited stock of scientific knowledge, the means for the accomplishment of his ends.

But, to the thoughtful student of history—not the history of political events, it is true, nor the history of science, or of any other isolated and abstract phase of human activity, but of history in its highest conception; a history which seeks and finds, in each of the