N O, Brighton
Entomology, Collecting, Piety, Feeling, Wonder, Superstition, Medical Practitioners, Education, Infidelity, Societies, Natural History, Materialism
The narrator describes a rural walk on a 'sultry afternoon in August'. He wearies himself 'in the fruitless chase of a brilliant dragon-fly' which proves 'too nimble to allow himself to be placed in [his] cabinet'. He enters a wood by the bank of the Thames, and encounters 'a gentleman reaching forwards, supporting himself by an overhanging branch of a tree, to secure a small plant' blooming on the surface of a 'deep and shaded spring' (336). The branch breaks, and the narrator rescues the gentleman, who proves also to be 'an enthusiastic admirer of the works of nature'. They compare specimens, and the narrator observes that he has been reflecting on how delightful it is to 'look through nature up to nature's God'. His companion agrees, but contrasts those who in quoting that sentiment 'feel not its force', and are actuated merely by the 'same emotions' as the superstitious heathen, with those who view such scenes as the creation of their 'reconciled God in Christ Jesus' and can say 'My Father made them all'. (337) After further conversation, the gentleman gives the narrator an account of his early life. The son of pious parents, he used often to walk with them in the fields, 'where every plant, every flower, that attracted [his] attention, gave them an occasion of reminding [him] of Him who is the "Rose of Sharon", and the "Lily of the Valley"' (338). Going to London to train as a surgeon, he was surrounded by infidel fellow students, and himself became impious. The students formed themselves into a 'select literary society', and he was 'giving a course of lectures on the different departments of Natural History, with the expressed intention of proving from them the awful doctrines of materialism', when news came that his father was dying (339). Through his father's death and his own subsequent illness he was brought back to his former faith. Twenty years later he still steals an hour 'to enjoy the contemplation of nature's beauties', and it reminds him that he once used the 'works of creation as an argument for the non-existence of the Great Creator', as well as of the love of the saviour who subsequently redeemed him (340).
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