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(Lecture II., page 29.)


The most remarkable indictment of Nature as a source of evil rather than of good is to be found in Mr. J. S. 219Mill’s posthumous Essays, recently published. The passage is one which must be held to show the weakness rather than the strength of the writer’s mind. It is steeped throughout in that unconscious Anthropomorphism which is the professed bane of the modern school—and yet so often a distinctive note of their writings. Few men were more deeply tinged with this spirit than Mr. Mill—to the credit of his earnest and deeply philanthropic character; and yet while lavishing what can be called little else than abuse upon Nature, in the interests of man, apparently he refused to see in man himself anything but an outcome of the same cosmic Forces which he so vigorously denounced:—

“In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are Nature’s everyday performances. Killing, the most criminal act recognized by human laws, Nature does once to every being that lives; and in a large proportion of cases, after protracted torture such as only the greatest monsters whom we read of ever purposely inflicted on their living fellow-creatures. . . . Nature impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations, and has hundreds of other hideous deaths in reserve, such as the ingenious cruelty of a Nabis or a Domitian never surpassed. . . . She mows down those on whose existence hangs the wellbeing of a whole people, perhaps the prospects of the 220human race, for generations to come, with as little compunction as those whose death is a relief to themselves, or a blessing to those under their noxious influence. Such are Nature’s dealings with life. Even when she does not intend to kill, she inflicts the same tortures in apparent wantonness. In the clumsy provision which she has made for that perpetual renewal of animal life, rendered necessary by the prompt termination she puts to it in every individual instance, no human being ever comes into the world but another human being is literally stretched on the rack for hours or days, not unfrequently issuing in death. Next to taking life (equal to it according to a high authority) is taking the means by which we live; and Nature does this too on the largest scale and with the most callous indifference. A single hurricane destroys the hopes of a season; a flight of locusts, or an inundation, desolates a district; a trifling chemical change in an edible root starves a million of people. The waves of the sea like banditti seize and appropriate the wealth of the rich, and the little all of the poor, with the same accompaniments of stripping, wounding, and killing, as their human antitypes. Everything, in short, which the worst men commit either against life or property, is perpetrated on a larger scale by natural agents. . . . Even the love of ‘order,’ which is thought to be a following of the ways of Nature, is in fact a contradiction of them. All which people are accustomed to deprecate as ‘disorder,’ and its consequences, is precisely a counterpart of Nature’s ways. Anarchy and the Reign of Terror are overmatched in injustice, ruin, and death, 221by a hurricane and a pestilence.”—‘Three Essays on Religion,’ p. 28 et seq.

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