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Come forth, my lord, and see the cart
The harvest swains and wenches bound
To prayers than to merriment,
Well, on, brave boys, to your lord's hearth,
The First Man.
BUFFON. THE Comte de Buffon, the most eloquent, if not the most accurate, of naturalists, was born in 1707, and died in 1788.
The first man describes his first movements, his first sensations, and his first ideas, after the creation.
I recollect that moment, full of joy and perplexity, when, for the first time, I was aware of my singular existence; I did not know what I was, where I was, or where I came from. I opened my eyes: how my sensations increased! the light, the vault of heaven, the verdure of the earth, the crystal of the waters, everything interested me, animated me, and gave me an inexpressible sentiment of pleasure. I thought at first that all these objects were in me, and made a part of myself. I was confirming myself in this idea, when I turned my eyes towards the sun: its brilliancy distressed me: I involuntarily closed my eyelids, and I felt a slight sensation of grief. In this moment of darkness I thought I had lost my entire being.
Afflicted and astonished, I was thinking of this great change, when suddenly I heard sounds: the singing of the birds, the murmuring of the air, formed a concert, the sweet influence of which touched my very soul; I listened for a long time, and I soon felt convinced that this harmony was myself. Intent upon and entirely occupied with this new part of my existence, I had already forgotten light, that other portion of my being, the first with which I had become acquainted, when I reopened my eyes. What happiness to possess once more so many brilliant objects! My pleasure surpassed what I had felt the first time, and for awhile suspended the charming effect of sound.
I fixed my eyes on a thousand different objects; Isoon discovered that I might lose and recover these objects, and that I had, at my will, the power of destroying and reproducing this beautiful part of myself; and, although it seemed to me immense in its grandeur, from the quality of the rays of light, and from the variety of the colours, I thought I had discovered that it was all a portion of my being.
I was beginning to see without emotion, and to hear without agitation, when a slight breeze, whose freshness I felt, brought to me perfumes that gave me an inward pleasure, and caused a feeling of love for myself.
Agitated by all these sensations, and oppressed by the pleasures of so beautiful and grand an existence, I suddenly rose, and I felt myself taken along by an unknown power. I only made one step; the novelty of my situation made me motionless, my surprise was extreme; I thought my existence was flying from me: the movement I had made disturbed the objects around me, I imagined every thing was disordered.
I put my hand to my head, I touched my forehead and eyes; I felt all over my body; my hand then appeared to me the principal organ of my existence. What I felt was so distinct and so complete, the enjoyment of it appeared so perfect, compared with the pleasure that light and sound had caused me, that I gave myself up entirely to this substantial part of my being, and I felt that my ideas acquired profundity and reality.
Every part of my body that I touched seemed to give back to my hand feeling for feeling, and each touch produced a double idea in my mind. I was not long in discovering that this faculty of feeling was spread over every part of my body; I soon found out the limits of my existence, which had at first seemed to me immense in extent. I had cast my eyes over my body; I thought it of enormous dimensions, so large, that all the objects that struck my eye appeared to me, in comparison, mere luminous points. I examined myself for a long time, I looked at myself with pleasure, I followed my hand with my eyes, and I observed all its movements. My mind was filled with the strangest ideas. I thought the movement of my hand was only a kind of fugitive existence, a succession of similar things. I put my hand near my eyes; it seemed to me larger than my whole body, and it hid an infinite number of objects from my view.
I began to suspect that there was an illusion in the sensations that my eyes made me experience. I had distinctly seen that my hand was only a small part of my body, and I could not understand how it could increase so as to appear of immoderate size. I then resolved to trust only to touch, which had not yet deceived me, and to be on my guard with respect to every other way of feeling and being.
This precaution was useful to me. I put myself again in motion, and I walked with my head high and raised towards heaven. I struck myself slightly against a palm-tree; filled with fear, I placed my hand on this foreign substance, for such I thought it, because it did not give me back feeling for feeling. I turned away with a sort of horror, and then I knew for the first time, that there was something distinct from myself. More agitated by this new discovery than had been by all the others, I had great difficulty in reassuring myself; and, after having meditated upon this event, I came to the conclusion that I ought to judge of external objects, as I had judged of the parts of my own body, that it was only by touching them that I could assure myself of their existence. I then tried to touch all I saw; I wanted to touch the sun; I stretched out my arms to embrace the horizon, and I only clasped the emptiness of air.
At every experiment that I made, I became more and more sur prised; for all the objects around appeared to be equally near me; and it was only after an infinite number of trials, that I learnt to use my eyes to guide my hand, and, as it gave me totally different ideas from the impressions that I received through the sense of sight, my opinions were only more imperfect, and my whole being was to me still a confused existence.
Profoundly occupied with myself, with what I was and what I might be, the contrarieties I had just experienced humiliated me. The more I reflected, the more doubts arose in my mind. Tired out by so much uncertainty, fatigued by the workings of my mind, my knees bent, and I found myself in a position of repose. This state of tranquillity gave new vigour to my senses. I was seated under the shadow of a fine tree; fruits of a red colour hung down in clusters within reach of my hand. I touched them lightly, they immediately fell from the branch, like the fig when it has arrived at maturity. I seized one of these fruits, I thought I had made a conquest, and I exulted in the power I felt of being able to hold in my hand another entire being. Its weight, though very slight, seemed to me an animated resistance, which I felt pleasure in vanquishing. I had put this fruit near my eyes; I was considering its form and colour. Its delicious smell made me bring it nearer; it was close to my lips; with long respirations I drew in the perfume, and I enjoyed in long draughts the pleasures of smell. I was filled with this perfumed air. My mouth opened to exhale it; it opened again to inhale it. I felt that I possessed an internal sense of smell, purer and more delicate than the first. At last, I tasted.
What a flavour! What a novel sensation! Until then I had only experienced pleasure; taste gave me the feeling of voluptuousness. The nearness of the enjoyment to myself, produced the idea of possession. I thought the substance of the fruit had become mine, and that I had the power of transforming beings.
Flattered by this idea of power, and urged by the pleasure I had felt, I gathered a second and a third fruit, and I did not tire of using my hand to satisfy my taste; but an agreeable languor by degrees taking possession of my senses, weighed on my members, and suspended the activity of my mind. I judged of my inactivity by the faintness of my thoughts; my weakened senses blunted all the objects around, which appeared feeble and indistinct. At this moment, my now useless eyes closed, and my head, no longer kept up by the power of my muscles, fell back to seek support on the turf. Everything became effaced, everything disappeared. The course of my thoughts was interrupted, I lost the sensation of existence. This sleep was profound, but I do not know whether it was of long duration, not yet having an idea of time, and therefore unable to measure it. My waking was only a second birth, and I merely felt that I had ceased to exist. The annihilation I had just experienced caused a sensation of fear, and made me feel that I could not exist for ever,
Another thing disquieted me, I did not know that I had not lost during my sleep some part of my being. I tried my senses. I endeavoured to know myself again.
At this moment, the sun, at the end of the course, ceased to give light. I scarcely perceived that I lost the sense of sight; I existed too much to fear the cessation of my being; and it was in vain that the obscurity recalled to me the idea of my first sleep.