If the sceptical mind object to the word law as begging the question and postulating a governing intelligence with a governing will—if it tell me that when revolted Lucifer uprose in starlight—
and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he look’d, and sank.
Around the ancient track march’d, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law—
he was merely witnessing a series of predictable or invariable recurrences, I answer that he may be right, it suffices for my argument that they are recurrent, are invariable, can be predicted. Anyhow the Universe is not Chaos (if it were, by the way, we should be unable to reason about it at all). It stands and is renewed upon a harmony: and what Plato called ‘Necessity’ is the Duty—compulsory or free as you or I can conceive it—the Duty of all created things to obey that harmony, the Duty of which Wordsworth tells in his noble Ode.
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong:
And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and
Now the other and second great belief is, that the Universe, the macrocosm, cannot be apprehended at all except as its rays converge upon the eye, brain, soul of Man, the microcosm: on you, on me, on the tiny percipient centre upon which the immense cosmic circle focuses itself as the sun upon a burning-glass—and he is not shrivelled up! Other creatures, he notes, share in his sensations; but, so far as he can discover, not in his percipience —or not in any degree worth measuring. So far as he can discover, he is not only a bewildered actor in the great pageant but ’the ring enclosing all,’ the sole intelligent spectator. Wonder of wonders, it is all meant for him!
I doubt if, among men of our nation, this truth was ever more clearly grasped than by the Cambridge Platonists who taught your forerunners of the 17th century. But I will quote you here two short passages from the work of a sort of poor relation of theirs, a humble Welsh parson of that time, Thomas Traherne— unknown until the day before yesterday—from whom I gave you one sentence in my first lecture. He is speaking of the fields and streets that were the scene of his childhood:
Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe.... The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me.... Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die....