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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Philosophy of Analogy

By Francis Wayland (1796–1865)

[Born in New York, N. Y., 1796. Died at Providence, R. I., 1865. Occasional Discourses. 1833.]

YOU observe that I speak of the science of analogy, as something which is yet to be. It does not now exist, but it must exist soon. He who shall create it will descend to posterity with a glory in nowise inferior to that of Bacon or of Newton. He who would complete such a work must be acquainted with the whole circle of the sciences, and be familiar with their history; he must examine and analyze all the circumstances of every important discovery, and, from the facts thus developed, point out the laws by which is governed the yet unexplained process of original investigation. When God shall have sent that genius upon earth who was born to accomplish this mighty labor, then, one of the greatest obstacles will have been removed to our acquiring an unlimited control over all the agents of nature.

But passing this first part of the subject, I remark that, whenever the laws of such a science shall have been discovered, I think that they will be found to rest upon the two following self-evident principles.

First. A part of any system which is the work of an intelligent agent, is similar, so far as the principles which it involves are concerned, to the whole of that system.

And, secondly. The work of an intelligent and moral being must bear, in all its lineaments, the traces of the character of its Author. And, hence, he will use analogy the most skilfully who is most thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the system, and at the same time most deeply penetrated with a conviction of the attributes of the First Cause of all things.

To illustrate this by a single remark. Suppose I should present before you one of the paintings of Raphael, and, covering by far the greater part of it with a screen, ask you to proceed with the work and designate where the next lines should be drawn. It is evident that no one but a painter need even make the attempt; and of painters, he would be the most likely to succeed, who had become best acquainted with the genius of Raphael, and had most thoroughly meditated upon the manner in which that genius had displayed itself in the work before him. So, of the system of the universe we see but a part. All the rest is hidden from our view. He will, however, most readily discover where the next lines are drawn, who is most thoroughly acquainted with the character of the Author, and who has observed, with the greatest accuracy, the manner in which that character is displayed, in that portion of the system which he has condescended to reveal to us.

All this is confirmed by the successive efforts of mind which resulted in the greatest of Sir Isaac Newton’s discoveries…. I think it self-evident, that this first germ of the system of the universe would never have been suggested to any man whose mind had not been filled with exalted views of the greatness of the Creator, and who had not diligently contemplated the mode in which those attributes were displayed in that part of his works which science had already discovered to us.

And if this distinction be just, it will lead us to divide philosophers into, those who have been eminent for attainment in those sciences which are instruments of investigation; and those, who, to these acquisitions, have added unusual skill in foretelling where these instruments could with the greatest success be applied. Among the ancients, probably Aristotle belonged to the former, and Pythagoras and Archimedes to the latter class. Among the moderns, I think that infidel philosophers generally will be found to have distinguished themselves by the accurate use of the sciences, and Christian philosophers by the additional glory of foretelling when and how the sciences may be used. I am not aware that infidelity hath presented to the world any discoveries to be compared with those of Boyle and Pascal, and Bacon and Newton, or of Locke, and Milton, and Butler.

And here I may be allowed to suggest that, often as the character of Newton has been the theme of admiration, it has seemed to me that the most distinctive element of his greatness has commonly escaped the notice of his eulogists. It was neither in mathematical skill nor in mathematical invention, that he so far surpassed his contemporaries; for in both these respects, he divided the palm with Huygens, and Kepler, and Leibnitz. It is in the wide sweep of his far-reaching analogy, distinguished alike by its humility and its boldness, that he has left the philosophers of all previous and all subsequent ages so immeasurably behind him. Delighted with his modesty and reciprocating his confidence, nature held communion with him as with a favorite son; to him she unveiled her most recondite mysteries; to him she revealed the secret of her most subtile transformations, and then taking him by the hand, she walked with him abroad over the wide expanse of universal being.