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T is surprising, that while such trifling matters employ the masterly pens of the present age, the great and noble subject of this Essay should have passed totally neglected; and the rather, as it is a subject to which the genius of many of those writers who have unsuccessfully applied themselves to politicks, religion, &c. is most peculiarly adapted.
Perhaps their unwillingness to handle what is of such importance may not improperly be ascribed to their modesty; though they may not be remarkably addicted to this vice on every occasion. Indeed I have heard it predicated of some, whose assurance in treating other subjects hath been sufficiently notable, that they have blushed at this. For such is the awe with which this Nothing inspires mankind, that I believe it is generally apprehended of many persons of very high character among us, that were title, power, or riches to allure them, they would stick at it.
But whatever be the reason, certain it is, that except a hardy wit in the reign of Charles II. none ever hath dared to write on this subject. I mean openly and avowedly; for it must be confessed, that most of our modern authors, however foreign the matter which they endeavour to treat may seem at their first setting out, they generally bring the work to this in the end.
I hope, however, this attempt will not be imputed to me as an act of immodesty; since I am convinced there are many persons in this kingdom who are persuaded of my fitness for what I have undertaken. But as talking of a man's self is generally suspected to arise from vanity, I shall, without any more excuse or preface, proceed to my Essay,
Of the Antiquity of Nothing.
THERE is nothing falser than that old proverb which (like many other falsehoods) is in every one's mouth :
Ex nihilo nihil fit,
Nothing can come of nothing. Whereas in fact from Nothing proceeds every thing, And this is a truth confessed by the philosophers of all sects: the only point in controversy between them being, whether Something made the world out of Nothing, or Nathing out of Something. A niatter not much worth debating at present, since either will equally serve our turn. Indeed the wits of all ages seem to have ranged themselves on each side of this question, as their
genius tended more or less to the spiritual or material substance. For those of the more spiritual species have inclined to the former, and those whose genius hath partaken more of the chief properties of matter, such as solidity, thickness, &c. have embraced the latter.
But whether Nothing was the artifex or materies only, it is plain in either case, it will have a right to claim to itself the origination of all things.
And farther, the great antiquity of Nothing is apparent from its being so visible in the accounts we have of the beginning of every nation. This iş very plainly to be discovered in the first pages, and sometimes books, of all general historians; and indeed, the study of this important subject fills up the whole life of an antiquary, it being always at the bottom of his inquiry, and is commonly at last discovered by him with infinite labour and pains.
Of the Nature of Nothing. ANOTHER falsehood which we must detect in the pursuit of this essay is an assertion, " That no
one can have an idea of Nothing :' but men who thus confidently deny us this idea, either grossly deceive themselves, or would impose a downright cheat on the world : for, so far from having none, I believe there are few who have not many ideas of it ; though perhaps they may mistake them for the idea of Something.