Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Aspect of Nature to the Savage
By Adam Smith (17231790)
From Essay on the History of Astronomy. Before 1759.
MANKIND, in the first ages of society, before the establishment of law, order, and security, have little curiosity to find out those hidden chains of events which bind together the seemingly disjointed appearances of nature. A savage, whose subsistence is precarious, whose life is every day exposed to the rudest dangers, has no inclination to amuse himself with searching out what, when discovered, seems to serve no other purpose than to render the theatre of nature a more connected spectacle to his imagination. Many of these smaller incoherences, which in the course of things perplex philosophers, entirely escape his attention. Those more magnificent irregularities, whose grandeur he cannot overlook, call forth his amazement. Comets, eclipses, thunder, lightning, and other meteors, by their greatness, naturally overawe him, and he views them with a reverence that approaches to fear. His inexperience and uncertainty with regard to everything about them, how they came, how they are to go, what went before, what is to come after them, exasperate his sentiment into terror and consternation. But our passions, as Father Malebranche observes, all justify themselves; that is, suggest to us opinions which justify them. As those appearances terrify him, therefore, he is disposed to believe everything about them which can render them still more the objects of his terror. That they proceed from some intelligent though invisible causes, of whose vengeance and displeasure they are either the signs or the effects, is the notion of all others most capable of enhancing this passion, and is that therefore which he is most apt to entertain. To this too, that cowardice and pusillanimity, so natural to man in his uncivilized state, still more disposes him: unprotected by the laws of society, exposed, defenceless, he feels his weakness upon all occasions; his strength and security upon none.