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February 1840


Monmouth Debating Association; Warren County, Illinois

The Concluding Argument in a Discussion of the question “Which is the greatest curiosity to man, the works of Nature or the works of Art?”

Written by E. R. Snow, and read by a Member of the debating Association in Warren Co. Ill. Feb. 1840.

I’d fain admit Art’s structures often please;

Because, less curious—scann’d with greater ease;

From Nature’s works, the slothful oft recoil—

They’re oft too curious for such scanty toil.

You’ll often find the weaker, feebler part

Among mankind, intent extoling Art,

Who’ve not ambition, dubious paths to try;

Lovers of ease, Art, may indeed, supply.

Tho’ eyes disorder’d, shun the solar rays—

To shadowy forms confine their sickly gaze;

Hence ne’er infer, the dubious gloom of night

Presents more beauty than refulgent light.

Among your Artists, where shall one be found

Sublime as Boyle, or as a Newton, sound?

Or, which is greater, he who Art surveys,

Where nicest structure, but frail man, displays;

Or he whose mind o’er universe, has trod

And sees in Nature, Nature’s bounteous God?

Or, which is greater, in true balance weigh’d,

The Cause, the Author, or the object made?

Man’s Nature’s work—Art is the work of man—

What man has wrought, has he not power to scan?

If that’s most curious, which we fullest know,

The problem’s solved—on Art, the palm, bestow.

Pray, what is Art? It is the scheme of man—

’Tis his invention, his intrigue, or plan:

If such is Art, say, what can Art produce— [n.p.]

But draw from Nature, tools for Nature’s use?

Where is the structure, Art alone, has made,

Without kind Nature’s everpresent aid?

The mason may, consummate tools produce—

The best materials for masonic use;

If no cohesive pow’r, kind Nature lend,

Where his cement? How will the members blend?

The Russian Empress might employ her Art,

But did not Nature execute its part,

Her icy palace had, till now, remain’d

The wat’ry liquid which the Neva drain’d.

In all that’s curious—show us what you will,

Some nat’ral power succeeds the artist’s skill.

O’er ev’ry glist’ning paint, our limners use,

The hand of Nature, brilliant lustre, strews;

The workman’s polish, does to Nature, owe

Its shining lustre—its transparent glow.

Nature’s the basis of mechanic rules—

From Nature’s works, the chemist forms his tools.

Like Nebuchad’nezzar, when he look’d abroad

Himself applauded, rather than his God;

You judge amiss, by your contracted view—

You credit Art with what is Nature’s due.

Do curious minds, Sir Franklin’s wand admire?

Or the attractions of electric fire?

Art’s sphere is small, did you its limits know—

Think you, ’tis Art which moves the spade, or hoe?

Since Art appear’d, indeed there never was

The least effect, unless produc’d by cause;

And if from cause, 'tis not th’ effect of force,

’Tis Nature’s work—it takes a nat’ral course. [n.p.]

You plans invent, which way your ground to till;

Can plans alone, your purposes, fulfil?

’Tis not your plan, 'tis gravitation’s force,

Which gives the seed you sow, or downward course.

When understood, there are no works of Art,

Except the projects of the head and heart.

From Nature’s God, ten thousand diff’rent springs—

Each varied cause, its natural offspring brings;

Each thing produc’d, produces thousands more,

These still extending onward, as before;

Though Nature varies, nought on earth below,

Seen, or unseen, but from a cause, must flow—

By different causes, different scenes unfurl’d—

’Tis Nature still: This is a natural world.

But, if you please, give Art its broadest space—

In Nature’s works, more curious depth, we’ll trace.

The stores of Nature, man can ne’er exhaust—

Art, grown familiar, in disgust, is lost;

From hollow soundings, Nature is exempt,

E’en Pliny perish’d in the vain attempt.

The wise philosophers of ancient Greece,

Consum’d their oil and sacrific’d their ease;

Still Nature’s field in midnight shadows lay—

Still prov’d too deep for mortals to survey.

How nice the structure—Art cannot surpass

The tubic system of a blade of grass.

View Nature’s chain—its vast extension trace,

Till lost at length in universal space:

No vague connexion in the gen’ral scheme—

No place—no friction, and no loose extreme; [n.p.]

’Tis that same law which governs one and all—

The lark’s ascension and the acorn’s fall.

Atom to atom chain’d—from atom small

The chain extends o’er this terrestrial ball—

From earth’s extent, where spheres celestial move,

The self-same chain connects the worlds above,

Those heav’nly spheres—celestial pearly mould,

Orb circling orb—each on its axis, roll’d—

Sublime and awful, in eternal course,

Pois’d by attractive and projectile force.

In spite of Art, in feeble judgment’s spite,

The curious querist, Nature’s scenes invite:

Her book develop’d to his wond’ring view,

Forever op’ning, and forever new;

The min’ral strata, lin’d with deadly gas—

Volcanic ruptures and the lightning’s pass—

The famous cataract, grotto, gem and spar—

The shooting meteor and the blazing star,

The ocean’s tide, the vortex’[s] awful roar,

Celestial orbs, which heathen worlds adore.

But here the myst’ries still more deeply shine—

Where is the Sage, who can our life, define?

By Art unsullied, this is Nature’s plan—

And what a miracle to man, is man.”

[. . .] [n.p.]

Source Note

Eliza R. Snow, Journal (1842–1882), n.p., CHL (MS 1439).