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THE Essays, under the title of the Contemplative Philosopher, appeared originally in a well known periodical Miscellany; and were then so highly approved, and so eagerly inquired after, that it was thought expedient to publish them in a collected form. The favourable reception of the Work in that shape, evinced by the rapid and extensive sale of two large impressions, and by its extreme rarity for a long time past, added to the repeated demands for copies, have induced the Proprietors to prepare a new edition ; and, that it may be found still more deserving of public patronage, they have subjected the several papers to the careful revision of a gentleman of considerable reputation as a writer on philosophical topics.
The Editor has not considered it requisite, or indeed regarded himself at liberty, to make any alterations in the plan of the work, or to suppress any of the moral reflections which give to the whole so exquisite a charm; but has simply ventured upon a few occasional suppressions or additions, where recent improvements in science rendered them
necessary to prevent misconception and error. In a few cases, there will be found an additional flower scattered in the way, taken for the purpose from the regions of poetry; but these seem so strictly in accordance with the original plan of the author, that no apology can be requisite for their introduction.
Of the several causes which may be assigned for the wider diffusion of philosophical knowledge among the middle classes of society in Great Britain, none probably can be specified that has been more efficacious than the number and variety of popular books on scientific subjects, drawn up for the instruction of youth. And, from these, again, few can be selected that have contributed more than the Contemplative Philosopher; though several performances, now well known to the public, have been evidently formed upon the same model.
The prominent phenomena of Nature, as they are brought under the notice of the observer, in different seasons of the year, and in different portions of the globe, become in succession the topics of contemplation. Of some, the author traces the natural history; of others, developes the cause; of others, explains the use. The principles of the chemist, the astronomer, the mechanist, the botanist, the physiologist, the meteorologist, the entomologist
, and the metaphysician, are, in their turns, laid under contribution ; and all made to yield information and pleasure to the ingenious youthful inquirer. In a word, to use the expressive language of our author, in his concluding paper, the Contemplative Philosopher has wandered into some of the most fertile regions of philosophical discussion, and collected a variety of the wonderful phenomena of Nature, as rational subjects of curiosity, and investigation.
My young readers in particular,” (he continues) “ I have endeavoured to allure to these improving inquiries, by strewing, as it were, each winding path with flowers ;-showing, at the same time, how much some of the finest passages in poetry are indebted, for their beauty, to the gay and lively, or to the sublime, and even terrific images, which are every where so profusely scattered. But I have deemed this a consideration of infinitely less moment, than that of inculcating the principles of piety and virtue, by occasionally introducing such religious and moral reflections as each subject had a tendency to inspire; and pointing out, as the glorious theme of ail, the irresistible indications of a SUPREME BEING, the Great Creator and Governor of Universal Nature.”
By selecting for explanation or description such objects and appearances, as are most calculated to impress the inquisitive mind, at the same time that they admit of adequate elucidation without running into abstruse discussions, the author takes the best method, at once of exciting a thirst for useful know