The Storm, by Daniel Defoe

Chapter I

Of the natural causes and original of winds.

Though a system of exhalation, dilation, and extension, things which the ancients founded the doctrine of winds upon, be not my direct business, yet it cannot but be needful to the present design to note, that the difference in the opinions of the ancients, about the nature and original of winds, is a leading step to one assertion which I have advanced in all that I have said with relation to winds, viz.:— that there seems to be more of God in the whole appearance, than in any other part of operating nature.

Nor do I think I need explain myself very far in this notion: I allow the high original of nature to be the Great Author of all her actings, and by the strict rein of his providence, is the continual and exact guide of her executive power; but still it is plain that in some of the principal parts of nature she is naked to our eye. Things appear both in their causes and consequences, demonstration gives its assistance, and finishes our further inquiries: for we never inquire after God in those works of nature which depending upon the course of things are plain and demonstrative; but where we find nature defective in her discovery, where we see effects but cannot reach their causes; there it is most just, and nature herself seems to direct us to it, to end the rational inquiry, and resolve it into speculation: nature plainly refers us beyond herself, to the mighty hand of infinite power, the the author of nature, and original of all causes.

Among these Arcana of the sovereign Oeconomy, the winds are laid as far back as any. Those ancient men of genius who rifled nature by the torch-light of reason even to her very nudities, have been run a-ground in this unknown channel; the wind has blown out the candle of reason, and left them all in the dark.

Aristotle, in his problems, sec. 23, calls the wind, “Aeris Impulsum.” Seneca says, “Ventus est aer fluens.” The Stoics held it, “Motum aut fluxionem aeris.” Mr. Hobbs, “Air moved in a direct or undulating motion.” Faumier, “Le Vent et un movement agitation de l’air causi par des exhalations et vapours.” The moderns, “A hot and dry exhalation repulsed by antiperistasis;” Des Cartes defines it, “Venti nihil sunt nisi moti, &c.” Dilati Vapores, and various other opinions are very judiciously collected by the learned Mr. Bohun in his treatise of the origin and properties of wind, p. 7, and concludes, “That no one hypothesis, how comprehensive soever, has yet been able to resolve all the incident phenomena of Winds.” Bohun, of winds p. 9.

This is what I quote them for, and this is all my argument demands; the deepest search into the region of cause and consequence, has found out just enough to leave the wisest philosopher in the dark, to bewilder his head, and drown his understanding. You raise a storm in nature by the very inquiry; and at last, to be rid of you, she confesses the truth and tells you, “It is not in me, you must go home and ask my father.”

Whether then it be the motion of air, and what that air is, which as yet is undefined, whether it is a dilation, a previous contraction, and then violent extension as in gunpowder, whether the motion is direct, circular, or oblique, whether it be an exhalation repulsed by the middle region, and the antiperistatis of that part of the heavens which is set as a wall of brass to bind up the atmosphere, and keep it within its proper compass for the functions of respiration condensing and rarefying, without which nature would be all in confusion; whatever are their efficient causes, it is not to the immediate design.

It is apparent, that God Almighty, whom the philosophers care as little as possible to have anything to do with, seems to have reserved this, as one of those secrets in nature which should more directly guide them to himself.

Not but that a philosopher may be a Christian, and some of the best of the latter have been the best of the former, as Vossius, Mr. Boyle, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Verulam, Dr. Harvey, and others; and I wish I could say Mr. Hobbs, for it a pity there should lie any just exceptions to the piety of a man, who had so few to his general knowledge, and an exalted spirit in philosophy.

Researches of Christians and Philosophers.

When therefore I say the philosophers do not care to concern God himself in the search after natural knowledge, I mean, as it concerns natural knowledge’, merely as such; for it is a natural cause they seek, from a general maxim, that all nature has its cause within itself: it is true, it is the darkest part of the search, to trace the chain backward; to begin at the consequence, and from thence hunt counter, as we may call it, to find out the cause: it would be much easier if we could begin at the cause, and trace it to all its consequences.

I make no question, the search would be equally to the advantage of science, and the improvement of the world; for without doubt there are some consequences of known causes which are not yet discovered, and I am as ready to believe there are yet in nature some terra incognita both as to cause and consequence too.

In this search after causes, the philosopher, though he may at the same time be a very good Christian, cares not at all to meddle with his Maker: the reason is plain; we may at any time resolve all things into infinite power, and we do allow that the finger of Infinite is the first mighty cause of nature herself: but, the treasury of immediate cause is generally committed to nature; and if at any time we are driven to look beyond her, it is because we are out of the way: it is not because it is not in her, but because we cannot find it.

Two men met in the middle of a great wood; one was searching for a plant which grew in the wood, the other had lost himself in the wood, and wanted to get out: the latter rejoiced when through the trees he saw the open country; but the other man’s business was not to get out, but to find what he looked for: yet this man no more under-valued the pleasantness of the champion country than the other.

Thus in nature, the philosopher’s business is not to look through nature, and come to the vast open field of infinite power; his business is in the wood; there grows the plant he looks for; and it is there he must find it. Philosophy’s aground if it is forced to any farther inquiry. The Christian begins just where the philosopher ends; and when the inquirer turns his eyes up to heaven, farewell philosopher; it is a sign he can make nothing of it here.

David was a good man, the scripture gives him that testimony; but I am of the opinion, that he was a better king than a scholar, more a saint than a philosopher: and it seems very proper to judge that David was upon the search of natural causes, and found himself puzzled as to the inquiry, when he finishes the inquiry with two pious ejaculations, “When I view the Heavens, the works of thy hands, the moon and the stars which thou hast made; then I say, what is man!” David may very rationally be supposed to be searching the causes, motions, and influences of heavenly bodies; and finding his philosophy aground, and the discovery not to answer his search, he turns it all to a pious use, recognises infinite power, and applies it to the ecstacies and raptures of his soul, which were always employed in the charm of exhalted praise.

Thus in another place we find him dissecting the womb of his mother, and deep in the study of anatomy; but having, as it may be well supposed, no help from John Remelini, or of the learned Riolanus, and other anatomists, famous for the most exquisite discovery of human body, and all the vessels of life, with their proper dimensions and use, all David could say to the matter was, good man, to look up to heaven, and admire what he could not understand, Psal. — “I was fearfully and wonderfully made,” &c.

This is very good, and well becomes a pulpit; but what is all this to a philosopher? It is not enough for him to know that God has made the heavens, the moon, and the stars, but must inform himself where he has placed them, and why there; and what their business, what their influences, their functions, and the end of their being. It is not enough for an anatomist to know that he is fearfully and wonderfully made in the lowermost part of the earth, but he must see those lowermost parts; search into the method nature proceeds upon in the performing the office appointed, must search the steps she takes, the tools she works by; and, in short, know all that the God of nature has permitted to be capable of demonstration.

And it seems a just authority for our search, that some things are so placed in nature by a chain of causes and effects, that upon a diligent search we may find out what we look for: to search after what God has in his sovereignty thought fit to conceal, may be criminal, and doubtless is so; and the fruitlessness of the inquiry is generally part of the punishment to a vain curiosity: but to search after what our maker has not hid, only covered with a thin veil of natural obscurity, and which upon our search is plain to be read, seems to be justified by the very nature of the thing, and the possibility of the demonstration is an argument to prove the lawfulness of the inquiry.

The design of this digression, is, in short, that as where nature is plain to be searched into, and demonstration easy, the philosopher is allowed to seek for it; so where God has, as it were, laid his hand upon any place, and nature presents us with an universal blank, we are therein led as naturally to recognise the infinite wisdom and power of the God of nature, as David was in the texts before quoted.

And this is the case here; the winds are some of those inscrutables of nature, in which human search has not yet been able to arrive at any demonstration.

Mr. Bohun's Opinion.

“The winds,” says the learned Mr. Bohun, “are generated in the intermediate space between the earth and the clouds, either by rarefaction or repletion, and sometimes haply by pressure of clouds, elastical virtue of the air, &c., from the earth or seas, as by submarine or subterraneal eruption or decension or refelition from the middle region.”

All this, though no man is more capable of the inquiry than this gentleman, yet to the demonstration of the thing, amounts to no more than what we had before, and still leaves it as abstruse and cloudy to our understanding as ever. Not but that I think myself bound in duty to science in general, to pay a just debt to the excellency of philosophical study, in which I am a mere junior, and hardly any more than an admirer; and therefore I cannot but allow that the demonstrations made of rarefaction and dilation are extraordinary; and that by fire and water wind may be raised in a close room, as the Lord Verulam made experiment in the case of his feathers.

But that, therefore, all the causes of wind are from the influences of the sun upon vaporous matter first exhaled, which being dilated are obliged to possess themselves of more space than before, and consequently make the particles fly before them; this does not seem to be a sufficient demonstration of wind: for this, to my weak apprehension, would rather make a blow like gunpowder than a rushing forward; at best this is indeed a probable conjecture, but admits not of demonstration equal to other phenomena in nature.

And this is all I am upon, viz., that this case has not equal proofs of the natural causes of it that we meet with in other cases: the Scripture seems to confirm this, when it says, in one place, “He holds the wind in his hand;” as if he should mean, other things are left to the common discoveries of natural inquiry, but this is a thing he holds in his own hand, and has concealed it from the search of the most diligent and piercing understanding: this is farther confirmed by the words of our Saviour, “The wind blows where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but knowest not whence it Cometh”; it is plainly expressed to signify that the causes of the wind are not equally discovered by natural inquiry as the rest of nature is.

If I would carry this matter on, and travel into the seas, and mountains of America, where the mansones, the trade-winds, the sea-breezes and such winds as we have little knowledge of, are more common; it would yet more plainly appear ‘that we hear the sound, but know not from whence they come.’

Nor is the cause of their motion parallel to the surface of the earth, a less mystery than their real original, or the difficulty of their generation: and though some people have been forward to prove the gravity of the particles must cause the motion to be oblique; it is plain it must be very little so, or else navigation would be impracticable, and in extraordinary cases where the pressure above is perpendicular, it has been fatal to ships, houses, &c., and would have terrible effects in the world, if it should more frequently be so.

From this I draw only this conclusion, that the winds are a part of the works of God by nature, in which he has been pleased to communicate less of demonstration to us than in other cases; that the particulars more directly lead us to speculations, and refer us to infinite power more than the other parts of nature does.

That the wind is more expressive and adapted to his immediate power, as he is pleased to exert it in extraordinary cases in the world.

That it is more frequently made use of as the executioner of his judgments in the world, and extraordinary events are brought to pass by it.

From these three heads we are brought down directly to speak of the particular storm before us; viz., the greatest, the longest in duration, the widest in extent, of all the tempests and storms that history gives any account of since the beginning of time.

Storms recorded in scripture.

In the farther conduct of the story, it will not be foreign to the purpose, nor unprofitable to the reader, to review the histories of ancient time and remote countries, and examine in what manner God has been pleased to execute his judgments by storms and tempests; what kind of things they, have been, and what the consequences of them; and then bring down the parallel to the dreadful instance before us.

We read in the Scripture of two great storms; one past and the other to come. Whether the last be not allegorical rather than prophetical, I shall not busy myself to determine.

The first was when God caused a strong wind to blow upon the face of the deluged world; to put a stop to the flood, and reduce the waters to their proper channel.

I wish our naturalists would explain that wind to us, and tell us which way it blew, or how it is possible that any direct wind could cause the waters to ebb; for to me it seems, that the deluge being universal, that wind which blew the waters from one part must blow them up in another.

Whether it was not some perpendicular gusts that might by their force separate the water and the earth, and cause the water driven from off the land to subside by its own pressure.

I shall dive no farther into that mysterious deluge, which has some things in it which recommend the story rather to our faith than demonstration.

The other storm I find in the Scripture is that “ God shall reign upon the wicked, plagues, fire, and a horrible tempest.” What this shall be, we wait to know; and happy are they who shall be secured from its effects.

Histories are full of instances of violent tempests and storms in sundry particular places. What that was, which mingled with such violent lightnings set the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah on fire, remains to me yet undecided: nor am I satisfied the effect it had on the waters of the lake, which are to this day called the Dead Sea, are such as some fabulous authors have related, and as travellers take upon them to say.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37