WHEN that magnificent genius, Francis Bacon, sent forth one of his great works to the world, he wrote this prayer:
"Thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the first-born of thy creatures, and didst pour into man the intellectual light as the top and consummation of thy workmanship, be pleased to protect and govern this work, which coming from thy goodness returneth to thy glory. . . . We humbly beg that this mind may be steadfastly in us; and that thou, by our hands and the hands of others, on whom thou shalt bestow the same spirit, wilt please to convey a largess of new alms to thy family of mankind."
And again he says:
"This also we beg, that human things may not prejudice such as are divine; neither that from the unlocking of the gates of sense, and the kindling of a greater natural light, anything of incredulity, or intellectual night, may arise in our minds toward divine mysteries."
In the same spirit, but humbly halting afar after this illustrious man, I should be sorry to permit this book to go out to the world without a word to remove the impression which some who read it, and may believe it, may form, that such a vast catastrophe as I have depicted militates against the idea that God rules and cares for his world and his creatures. It will be asked, If "there is a special providence even in the fall of a sparrow," how
could He have permitted such a calamity as this to overtake a beautiful, populous, and perhaps civilized world?
Here we fall again upon the great debate of Job, and we may answer in the words which the author of that book puts into the mouth of God himself, when from out the whirlwind he answered him:
"Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him "He that reproveth God, let him answer."
In other words, Who and what is man to penetrate the counsels and purposes of the Creator; and who are you, Job?--
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare it, if thou hast understanding.
"Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who has stretched the line upon it?
"Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner-stone thereof?
"When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy."
Consider, Job, the littleness of man, the greatness of the universe; and what right have you to ask Him, who made all this, the reasons for his actions?
And this is a sufficient answer: A creature seventy inches long prying into the purposes of an Awful Something, whose power ranges so far that blazing suns are seen only as mist-specks!
But I may make another answer:
Although it seems that many times have comets smitten the earth, covering it with débris, or causing its rocks to boil, and its waters to ascend into the heavens, yet, considering all life, as revealed in the fossils, from the first cells unto this day, nothing has perished that was worth preserving.
So far as we can judge, after every cataclysm the world has risen to higher levels of creative development.
If I am right, despite these incalculable tons of matter piled on the earth, despite heat and cyclones and darkness and ice and floods, not even a tender tropical plant fit to adorn or sustain man's life was blotted out; not an animal valuable for domestication was exterminated; and not even the great inventions which man had attained to, during the Tertiary Age, were lost. Nothing died but that which stood in the pathway of man's development,--the monstrous animals, the Neanderthal races, the half-human creatures intermediate between man and the brute. The great centers of human activity to-day in Europe and America are upon the Drift-deposits; the richest soils are compounded of the so-called glacial clays. Doubtless, too, the human brain was forced during the Drift Age to higher reaches of development under the terrible ordeals of the hour.
Surely, then, we can afford to leave God's planets in God's hands. Not a particle of dust is whirled in the funnel of the cyclone but God identifies it, and has marked its path.
If we fall again upon
if "sensual sins grow huge"; if "brother spoils brother" if Sodom and Gomorrah come again--who can say that God may not bring out of the depths of space a rejuvenating comet?
Be assured of one thing--this world tends now to a deification of matter.
Dives says: "The earth is firm under my feet; I own my possessions down to the center of the earth and up to
the heavens. If fire sweeps away my houses, the insurance company reimburses me; if mobs destroy them, the government pays me; if civil war comes, I can convert them into bonds and move away until the storm is over; if sickness comes, I have the highest skill at my call to fight it back; if death comes, I am again insured, and my estate makes money by the transaction; and if there is another world than this, still am I insured: I have taken out a policy in the ----- church, and pay my premiums semiannually to the minister."
And Dives has an unexpressed belief that heaven is only a larger Wall Street, where the millionaires occupy the front benches, while those who never had a bank account on earth sing in the chorus.
Speak to Dives of lifting up the plane of all the underfed, under-paid, benighted millions of the earth--his fellow-men--to higher levels of comfort, and joy, and intelligence--not tearing down any but building up all--and Dives can not understand you.
Ah, Dives! consider, if there is no other life than this, the fate of these uncounted millions of your race! What does existence give to them? What do they get out of all this abundant and beautiful world?
To look down the vista of such a life as theirs is like gazing into one of the corridors of the Catacombs: an alley filled with reeking bones of dead men; while from the cross-arches, waiting for the poor man's coming on, ghastly shapes look out:--sickness and want and sin and grim despair and red-eyed suicide.
Put yourself in his place, Dives, locked up in such a cavern as that, and the key thrown away!
Do not count too much, Dives, on your lands and houses and parchments; your guns and cannon and laws; your insurance companies and your governments. There
may be even now one coming from beyond Arcturus, or Aldebaran, or Coma Berenices, with glowing countenance and horrid hair, and millions of tons of débris, to overwhelm you and your possessions, and your corporations, and all the ant-like devices of man in one common ruin.
Build a little broader, Dives. Establish spiritual relations. Matter is not everything. You do not deal in certainties. You are but a vitalized speck, filled with a fraction of God's delegated intelligence, crawling over an egg-shell filled with fire, whirling madly through infinite space, a target for the bombs of a universe.
Take your mind off your bricks and mortar, and put out your tentacles toward the great spiritual world around you. Open communications with God. You can not help God. For Him who made the Milky Way you can do nothing. But here are his creatures. Not a nerve, muscle, or brain-convolution of the humblest of these but duplicates your own; you excel them simply in the coordination of certain inherited faculties which have given you success. Widen your heart. Put your intellect to work to so readjust the values of labor, and increase the productive capacity of Nature, that plenty and happiness, light and hope, may dwell in every heart, and the Catacombs be closed for ever.
And from such a world God will fend off the comets with his great right arm, and the angels will exult over it in heaven.