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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

distances ; and the suns and worlds themselves, imponder-
able figures of abstraction, NH3 and H20. Consideration
dares not dwell upon this view; that way madness lies;
science carries us into zones of speculation, where there
is no habitable city for the mind of man.

But take the Kosmos with a grosser faith, as our senses
give it us. We behold space sown with rotatory islands,
suns and worlds and the shards and wrecks of systems:
some, like the sun, still blazing; some rotting, like the
earth; others, like the moon, stable in desolation. All
of these we take to be made of something we call matter :
a thing which no analysis can help us to conceive; to
whose incredible properties no familiarity can reconcile
our minds. This stufi, when not purified by the lustration
of fire, rots uncleanly into something we call life; seized
through all its atoms with a pediculous malady ; swelling
in tumours that become independent, sometimes even (by
an abhorrent prodigy) locomotory; one splitting into
millions, millions cohering into one, as the malady pro-
ceeds through varying stages. This vital putrescence of
the dust, used as we are to it, yet strikes us with occasional
disgust, and the profusion of worms in a piece of ancient
turf, or the air of a marsh darkened with insects, will
sometimes check our breathing so that we aspire for cleaner
places. But none is clean: the moving sand is infected
with lice ; the pure spring, where it bursts out of the
mountain, is a mere issue of worms ; even in the hard
rock the crystal is forming.

In two main shapes this eruption covers the countenance
of the earth : the animal and the vegetable : one in some
degree the inversion of the other : the second rooted to
the spot; the first coming detached out of its natal mud,
and scurrying abroad with the myriad feet of insects or
towering into the heavens on the wings of birds : a thing
so inconceivable that, if it be well considered, the heart
stops. To what passes with the anchored vermin, we have
little clue : doubtless they have their joys and sorrows,
their delights and killing agonies : it appears not how.
But of the locomotory, to which we ourselves belong, we
can tell more. These share with us a thousand miracles :