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For instance, is there any one who hath not an idea of * immaterial substance ?-Now what is immaterial substance, more than Nothing But here we are artfully deceived by the use of words : for were we to ask another what idea he had of immaterial matter, or unsubstantial substance, the absurdity of affirming it to be something would shock him, and he would immediately reply it was Nothing.
Some persons perhaps will say, then we have no idea of it; but, as I can support the contrary by such undoubted authority, I shall, instead of trying to confute such idle opinions, proceed to shew; first, what Nothing is; secondly, I shall disclose the various kinds of Nothing; and, lastly, shall prove its great dignity, and that it is the end of every thing.
It is extremely hard to define Nothing in positive terms, I shall therefore do it in negative. Nothing then is not Something. And here I must object to a third error concerning it, which is, that it is in no place; which is an indirect way of depriving it of its existence; whereas indeed it possesses the greatest and noblest place on this earth; viz. the human brain. But indeed this mistake hath been sufficiently refuted by many very wise men; who, having spent their whole lives in the contemplation and pursuit of Nothing, have at last gravely concluded--That there is Nothing in this world.
Farther, as Nothing is not something, so every thing which is not Something is Nothing; and wherever Something is not Nothing is : a very large allowance in its favour, as must appear to persons well skilled in human affairs.
* The Author would not be here understood to spcak against the doctrine of immateriality, to which he is a hearty well. wisher ; but to point at the stupidity of those, who instead of immaterial essence, which would convey a rational meaning, have substituted immaterial substance, which is a contradiction in terms.
For instance, when a bladder is full of wind, it is full of Something; but when that is let out, we aptly say, there is Nothing in it.
The same may be as justly asserted of a man as of a bladder. However well he may be bedaubed with lace, or with title, yet if he have not Something in him, we may predicate the same of him as of an empty bladder.
But if we cannot reach an adequate knowledge of the true essence of Nothing, no more than we can of matter, let us, in imitation of the experimental philosophers, examine some of its properties or accidents.
And here we shall see the infinite advantages which Nothing hath over Something; for, while the latter is confined to one sense, or two perhaps at the most, Nothing is the object of them all.
For, first, Nothing may be seen, as is plain from the relation of persons who have recovered from high fevers; and perhaps may be suspected from some (at least) of those who have seen apparitions, both on earth and in the clouds. Nay, I have often heard it confessed by men, when asked what they saw at such a place and time, that they saw Nothing. Admitting then that there are two sights, viz. a first and second sight, according to the firm belief of some, Nothing must be allowed to have a very large share of the first; and as to the second, it hath it all entirely to itself.
Secondly, Nothing may be heard : of which the same proofs may be given as of the foregoing. The Argive mentioned by Horace is a strong instance of this.
-Fuit haud ignobilis Argis
That Nothing may be tasted and smelt is not enly kno:vn to persons of delicate palites and nostrils. How commonly do we hear, that such a thing smells or tastes of Nothing ? The latter I have heard asserted of a dish compounded of five or six savoury ingredients. And as to the former, I remember an elderly gentlewoman who had a great antipathy to the smell of apples; who, upon discovering that an idle boy had fastened some mellow apple to her tail, contracted a habit of smelling them whenever that boy came within her sight, though there were then none within a mile of her.
Lastly, feeling; and sure if any sense seems more particularly the object of matter only, which must be allowed to be Something, this doth. Nay, I have heard it asserted (and with a colour of truth) of several persons, that they can feel nothing but a cudgel. Notwithstanding which some have felt the motions of the spirit; and others have felt very bitterly the misfortunes of their friends, without endeavouring to relieve them. Now these seem two plain instances, that Nothing is an object of this sense. Nay, I have heard a surgeon declare, while he was cutting off a patient's leg, that he was sure be felt Nothing. Nothing is as well the object of our passions as our
Thus there are many who love Nothing, some who hate Nothing, and some who fear Nothing, &c.
We have already mentioned three of the properties of a noun to belong to Nothing; we shall find the fourth likewise to be as justly claimed by it: and that Nothing is as often the object of the understanding as of the senses.
Indeed some have imagined that knowledge, with the adjective human placed before it, is another word for Nothing. And one of the wisest 'men in the world declared he knew Nothing.
But, without carrying it so far, this I believe may be allowed, that it is at least possible for a man to know Nothing. And whoever hath read
over many works of our ingenious moderns, with proper attention and emolument, will, I believe, confess, that if he understands them right, he understands Nothing.
This is a secret not known to all readers; and want of this knowledge hath occasioned much puzzling; for where a book, or chapter, or paragraph, hath seemed to the reader to contain Nothing, his modesty hath sometimes persuaded him, that the true meaning of the author hath escaped him, instead of concluding, as in reality the fact was, that the author, in the said book, &c. did truly, and bond fide, mean Nothing. I remember once, at the table of a person of great eminence, and one no less distinguished by superiority of wit than fortune, when a very dark passage was read out of a poet famous for being so sublime that he is often out of the sight of his reader, some persons present declared they did not understand the meaning. The gentleman himself, casting his eye over the performance, testified a surprize at the dulness of his company; seeing Nothing could, he said, possibly be plainer than the meaning of the passage which they stuck at. This set all of us to puzzling again; but with like success; we frankly owned we could not find it out, and desired he would explain it.--Explain it ! said the gentleman, why he means Nothing.
In fact, this mistake arises from a too vulgar error among persons unacquainted with the mystery of writing, who imagine it impossible that a man should sit down to write without any meaning at all! whereas, in reality, nothing is more common : for, not to instance in myself, who have confessedly set down to write this essay with Nothing in my head, or, which is much the same thing, to write about Nothing, it may be incontestably proved, ab effectu, that Nothing is commoner among the moderns. The inimitable author of a preface to the Posthumous Eclogues of a late ingenious young gentleman, says,There are men who sit down to write • what they think, and others to think what they shall write. But indeed there is a third, and much more numerous sort, who never think either before they sit down or afterwards ; and who, when they produce on paper what was before in their heads, are sure to produce Nothing.'
Thus we have endeavoured to demonstrate the nature of Nothing, by shewing first, definitively, what it is not; and, secondly, by describing what it is. The next thing therefore proposed is to shew its various kinds.
Now some imagine these several kinds differ in name only. But, without endeavouring to confute so absurd an opicion, especially as these different kinds of Nothing occur frequently in the best authors, I shall content myself with setting them down, and leave it to the determination of the distinguishing reader, wliether it is probable, or indeed possible, that they should all convey one and the same meaning.
These are, Nothing per se Nothing; Nothing at all; Nothing in the least; Nothing in nature ; Nothing in the world; Nothing in the whole world ; Nothing in the whole universal world. And perhaps many others, of which we say Nothing.