Original Document
Original Document
John Bartram, On "the wonderful works of the Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator," 1762.


March the 25th, 1762.

I received thy very kind letter of February the 15th, am glad my remarks of the Ohio gave thee such satisfaction.

I have just received two very loving letters from New England, one from Doctor GALE-the other from Doctor ELIOT, a very worthy Presbyterian minister, one that spends his time in pious exercise, and in promoting the general good of mankind. He found out the method, about three months past, to make out of sea-sand excellent iron. One hundred weight of sand will yield fifty of good iron. I think little coal will do it. It was advertised in the York paper, a month past; and many curious people thought it so very improbable, that they gave little or no credit to it. He sent me a specimen of both the sand and iron. I showed it, not only to our smiths, but to the owners of the furnaces and forges, and they allowed it to be very fine, and some thought it would make choice steel. And now, dear friend, not to keep thee too long upon the rack–and as mutual friends should always ease, and not torment-explain, and not perplex one another,-the sand out of which he makes his iron, is not the white crystalline sand; but a black, bright, fine mixed sand, in great beds, that will adhere to the magnet, as the filings of iron. But the grand query is, from whence it came, and how it got there.

My dear worthy friend, I am much affected every time that I often read thy pious reflections on the wonderful works of the Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator. The more we search and accurately examine his works in nature, the more wisdom we discover, whether we observe the mineral, vegetable, or animal kingdom. But, as I am chiefly employed with the vegetable, I shall enlarge more upon it.

What charming colours appear in the various tribes, in the regular succession of the vernal and autumnal flowers-these so nobly bold-those so delicately languid! What a glow is enkindled in some, what a gloss shines in others! With what a masterly skill is everyone of the varying tints disposed! Here, they seem to be thrown on with an easy dash of security and freedom; there, they are adjusted by the nicest touches. The verdure of the empalement, or the shadings of the petals, impart new liveliness to the whole, whether they are blended or arranged. Some are intersected with elegant stripes, or studded with radiant spots; others affect to be genteelly powdered, or neatly fringed; others are plain in their aspect, and please with their naked simplicity. Some are arrayed in purple; some charm with the virgin's white; others are dashed with crimson; while others are robed in scarlet. Some glitter like silver lace; others shine as if embroidered with gold. Some rise with curious cups, or pendulous bells; some are disposed in spreading umbels; others crowd in spiked clusters; some are dispersed on spreading branches of lofty trees, on dangling catkins; others sit contented on the humble shrub; some seated on high on the twining vine, and wafted to and fro; others garnish the prostrate, creeping plant. All these have their particular excellencies; some for the beauty of their flowers; others their sweet scent; many the elegance of foliage, or the goodness of their fruit: some the nourishment that their roots afford us; others please the fancy with their regular growth: some are admired for their odd appearance, and many that offend the taste, smell, and sight, too, are of virtue in physic.

But when we nearly examine the various motions of plants and flowers, in their evening contraction and morning expansion, they seem to be operated upon by something superior to only heat and cold, or shade and sunshine; -such as the surprising tribes of the Sensitive Plants, and the petals of many flowers shutting close up in rainy weather, or in the evening, until the female part is fully impregnated: and if we won't allow them real feeling, or what we call sense, it must be some action next degree inferior to it, for which we want a proper epithet, or the immediate finger of God, to whom be all glory and praise.

I don't dwell so long in the vegetable kingdom, as though I thought the wisdom and power of God were only manifest therein. The contemplation of the mineral, and especially the animal, will equally incline the pious heart to overflow with daily adorations and praises to the Grand Giver and Supporter of universal life. But what amazing distant glories are disclosed in a midnight scene. Vast are the bodies which roll in the immense expanse! Orbs beyond orbs, without number, suns beyond suns, systems beyond systems, with their proper inhabitants of the great Jehovah's empire, how can we look at these without amazement, or contemplate the Divine Majesty that rules them, without the most humble adoration? Esteeming ourselves, with all our wisdom, but as one of the smallest atoms of dust praising the living God, the great I AM.

Credit: Letters, 1734-1768, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall, edited by William Henry Dillingham. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849.
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