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and to say that knowledge is not better than ignorance, on any subject connected with human happiness and improvement, (and what subject worthy the interest of a rational being is not so connected ?) is to maintain an absurdity. The absurdity, indeed, is so gross, that few, as we have said before, will assert it in express terms; but we act quite as absurdly when, in a serious pursuit, we allow any consideration to weigh with us more than the simple question, What is true ?
In our present state of being, we can, indeed, know truth only in part. We are surrounded with mysteries which our faculties are unable to solve, and the real essence of being, whether material or spiritual, human or divine, seems impenetrably veiled from our eyes. Much of our knowledge, therefore, can be only relative, but it is real as far as it is grounded upon the true relations of things. Thus, religious truth is the knowledge of the relations existing between man and his Creator, and the duties arising from them. Scientific truth is the knowledge of the relations between the different parts of the material world as the causes of natural phenomena. Metaphysical truth is the knowledge of the essential principles of our nature and their relations to each other and to the external world. The whole or absolute truth on any of these subjects we shall probably never attain ; but our knowledge, if accurate, is truth relatively to us, to our present position, and so long as we remain in this position we may act upon it with perfect security. A different position will not make that false which is now true; it will only show us that partial and relative truths are steps to one greater and more comprehensive, in which they are included. This is best illustrated by the progress of discovery in physical science. Isolated facts are first observed ; then their relations to each other, as cause and effect, are traced out and classed under a particular law. Gradually, new relations are discovered be. tween these and other classes of phenomena, and finally, as the methods of scientific investigation become more perfect, and the sphere of observation is widened, these numerous subordinate laws are found to resolve themselves into a few general ones, which are themselves, probably, portions of one still more How many par
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general which yet remains to be discovered. tial and apparently isolated facts have thus been reduced under the law of gravitation ? And this magnificent law, of which the influence extends to the farthest visible realms of space, seems itself on the eve of being resolved into one yet more comprehensive, which shall include all the infinite and wonder. ful phenomena of heat, light, and electricity. None of the previous discoveries are falsified by this progressive advance, though the theories founded on them may be proved to be more or less erroneous. It is only the relation they bear to each other and to us which is seen to be different.
In proportion as we become more accurately acquainted with such relations, our knowledge becomes power, use of certain means to produce certain results. Knowledge of the effect of different substances on the human frame gives us the power to heal or mitigate disease ; but it is evident that this power depends on our knowing the true relations of things, or we may fall into errors as ludicrous as the learned physicians of the last century, who believed the sight of scarlet to be a cure for the small-pox. The vain labors and wasted treasure of the alchemist teach us the same lesson. The true alchemy was found when by patient investigation and repeated experiment the real laws of chemical action were discovered and applied to the arts which have created the wealth of nations.
Such irresistible proofs of the value of truth as the foundation of man's power over nature have long since triumphed over the absurd prejudices which caused the persecution of Galileo, and which, by a singular union, made the Bible and Aristotle the sole sources and the final limits of human knowledge. With the exception of a small minority, too hopelessly prejudiced to be accessible to reason, every intelligent mind is now convinced that, in physical science, at least, truth must be our sole object, and our search for it bounded only by the limits of our capacity.
But the same argument applies with equal, if not greater, force to religion, morals, and politics. Physical science, however necessary to the material civilization of man, however powerful its indirect influence in raising and refining the mind, must still yield in importance to those studies which directly bear upon conduct, as religion and morals, or on the government of society, as legislation and social economy. If it is of moment to us to know the constitution of the material universe, and the real functions and relations of its several parts, it is at least of equal moment that we should know the constitution of our own minds, the purposes for which we were created, and the principles on which we must act in order to fulfil them. Alas that these should be the very questions in which truth, abstractedly from all other considerations, is least sought for! We are all ready enough to maintain that truth is the especial possession of our sect or our party, but we take little pains to examine whether the principles of either are really founded on truth, or conducive to its farther development. It is, however, as Archbishop Whately well expresses it, “a very different thing to wish to have truth on our side, or to wish to be on the side of truth." While the former remains the predominant feeling in the minds of those most actively engaged in the religious or political controversies of the day, we cannot wonder at the slow progress of morals and good government, nor at the virulent opposition which every attempt to clear the way for a freer and more enlightened state of opinion is sure to encounter. We must still submit to see physical science outstripping with giant strides the feeble advance of mental and political philosophy, and to feel that, whilst we calculate with unerring precision the movements of the heavenly bodies, we yet remain in ignorance or fierce contention respecting the principles on which depend human conduct and happiness.
Yet the sad effects of this ignorance might have taught us ere this the value of the truth we neglect to seek. We may safely affirm the great mass of human misery to have been caused by ignorance of the means of happiness, of the real sources of national and individual prosperity, rather than by neglect of them when known. Even an Eastern despot, could we convince him that the true source of national wealth lies in the security of life and property, which assures to industry its due reward, and, consequently, that he would fill his coffers better by a just and equal administration than by violence and extortion, would assuredly (except where passion directly interfered) mould his future government on those principles. If such principles should spread widely amongst his subjects, and just views of legislation, of religious and political freedom, become at length universal, the monarch, however despotic, must yield to them or lose his throne ; since, as history has abundantly proved, no government can be long carried on in opposition to the feelings and opinions of the great mass of the people.
The wide spread of education in our days, and the rapid circulation of thought and knowledge, by means of the press, give to public opinion now a weight which it never before possessed, and it becomes, therefore, daily more important that that opinion should be enlightened. Some of our readers may think that, as women, they have no concern with these matters; but a little reflection will show them that public opinion is only the general expression of the individual opinions most prevalent in the community. Taken singly they are insignificant; in the aggregate they govern the nation ; and thus the soundness of each individual's judgment affects more or less the soundness of the whole result. The influence of women must be a heavy weight thrown into the scale of truth or error, and, viewed in this light, it becomes a social no less than a private duty to form correct opinions on subjects that so materially affect the welfare of our fellow-creatures.
As Christians, we can look for no higher testimony to the value of truth than that borne by Christ himself, when, before the judgment-seat of Pilate, he declared that “for this end was he born and for this cause came he into the world, that he might bear witness to the truth.” Was not this to declare that knowl. edge of the truth was the only means by which man could be raised from his fallen state, and restored to that position in the scale of beings for which God designed him when he created him in his own image ? Christianity was the first religion which founded its claim to acceptance solely on its truth, and invited inquiry before it required obedience. Far different from the pagan philosophy, which considered truth as too precious to be disclosed to the vulgar gaze, it has thrown open the portals of her temple, and promised that all who seek shall find. It has made truth the end and aim of our highest aspirations by declaring that “God is Truth.”
And, in seeking truth, are we not indeed seeking God? The subjects of human inquiry are no other than the phenom. ena presented to us by the material world, by our own minds, and by the progress of society, together with the laws by which they are governed. Beyond these our knowledge cannot ex. tend. But what are these laws but expressions of the will of the Lawgiver, manifestations of his character; and to seek them as such, is it not, in the strictest sense of the words, to seek the knowledge of God? They are, indeed, too often sought in a very different spirit; but it is not the less certain that he who, in singleness of heart, seeks only for truth, will find God. It follows that the love of truth is but one phasis of the love of God, and if to love God be man's highest duty, to love truth must be an obligation equally imperative.
To considerations like these, of the sacred claims of truth to be sought and valued for its own sake, may be added another, though, of course, a secondary one; we mean its superiority to error, as a source of those delightful emotions arising from the contemplation of the sublime and beautiful. Such a superiority was naturally to be expected, since error is the invention of man, and truth the creation of God; but, from the state of our own minds, truth is often so distasteful to us that we are in no fit state to appreciate its beauty. “Truth," says Lord Bacon, “is an open daylight that doth not show the masques and mum. meries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily as candle-lights," * and even as we shrink from letting the morning shine in upon a scene of nightly revel, and feel its pure, cold rays unpleasing to eyes accustomed to the glare of artificial light, so truth, in its simple beauty, seems strange and uncongenial when its beams first pierce through the atmosphere of
* Essay on Truth.