O glorious nature! Supremely fair and sovereignly good! All-loving and all-lovely, all-divine! — a set of photos from the Cambridge University Botanic Garden

A day of much needed rest today after a very busy week last week and a very busy week to come. Susanna and I (first two photos to the right), as we so often do, decided to go to the wonderful Cambridge University Botanic Garden to restore our bodies and souls. It truly is THE place in Cambridge where I go to do this through prayerful, quiet acts of walking, sitting, conversation, contemplation and reflection.

As on many other occasions a prayer written by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671 - 1713) came back into my mind. Of course, I don’t take it at all literally! These days a personified God (whether that of traditional theism or the personified nature imagined here by Shaftesbury) seems to me to be an idea vanishingly unlikely to be true but, for all that, I continue to have a real fondness for this prayer. The speaker is standing on a hilltop at sunrise:

O glorious nature! Supremely fair and sovereignly good! All-loving and all-lovely, all-divine! Whose looks are so becoming and of such infinite grace, whose study brings such wisdom and whose contemplation such delight, whose every single work affords an ampler scene and is a nobler spectacle than all which every art presented! — O mighty nature! Wise substitute of Providence! Empowered creatress! Or thou empowering deity, supreme creator! Thee I invoke and thee alone adore. To thee this solitude, this place, these rural meditations are sacred while thus inspired with harmony of thought, though unconfined by words and in loose numbers, I sing of nature’s order in created beings and celebrate the beauties which resolve in thee, the source and principle of all beauty and perfection.

Thy being is boundless, unsearchable, impenetrable. In thy immensity all thought is lost, fancy gives over its flight and wearied imagination spends itself in vain, finding no coast nor limit of this ocean, nor, in the widest tract through which it soars, one point yet nearer the circumference than the first centre whence it parted. — Thus having oft essayed, thus sallied forth into the wide expanse, when I return again within myself, struck with the sense of this so narrow being and of the fullness of that immense one, I dare no more behold the amazing depths nor sound the abyss of deity.—

Yet since by thee, O sovereign mind, I have been formed such as I am, intelligent and rational, since the peculiar dignity of my nature is to know and contemplate thee, permit that with due freedom I exert those faculties with which thou has adorned me. Bear with my venturous and bold approach. And since nor vain curiosity, nor fond conceit, nor love of aught save thee alone inspires me with such thoughts as these, be thou my assistant and guide me in this pursuit, while I venture thus to tread the labyrinth of wide nature and endeavour to trace thee in thy works. (Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times ed. Lawrence Klein, Cambridge University Press, 1999 p. 298-99).

You can download a free pdf copy of the original text thanks to the Online Library of Liberty as this link.

All the photos in this blog were taken today with my iPhone 6 and using the wonderful Lenka app.