NEVER had the ambiguous injunction Vivere Secundum Naturam held more complex and more contradictory meanings than it did for the eighteenth century. Man had long looked to Nature for a model, but the new astronomy and the discoveries of micro-biology had given him as pattern a universe that encompassed at once the realms of infinite space and the design of the microscopic atom.1 "Worlds within worlds of infinite minuteness"2 springing to life under his microscope taught man the lesson of universal variety. "Those wild fields of ether, that reach in height as far as from Saturn to the fixed stars, and run abroad almost to an infinitude,"3 overwhelmed him with a realization of cosmic immensity.
In the faint of heart the grandeur of the universe awakened Pascal's despairing question, "what is man in the Infinite?"4 and the millions of creatures crowding creation evoked feelings of bewilderment and fear. But braver souls watched the cosmic show with eagerness and enthusiasm. With Shaftesbury they hailed the marvels of the world:
All nature's wonders serve to excite and perfect this idea of their author. . . . Whence we are naturally taught the immensity of that being, who thro these immense spaces has dispos'd such an infinitude of bodys, belonging each as we may well presume to systems as compleat as our own world: since even the smallest spark of this bright galaxy may vie with this our sun; which shining now full out, gives us new life, exalts our spirits, and makes us feel divinity more present.5
Whether they quailed or whether they exulted, eighteenth-century gentlemen were fascinated by the spectacle of creation. Deeply impressed by the successful efforts which men of their gen
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Publication information: Book title: First Follow Nature:Primitivism in English Poetry, 1725-1750. Contributors: Margaret M. Fitzgerald - Author. Publisher: King's Crown Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1947. Page number: 97.
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