Instructor's note: This essay by a young Edwards is best-known today as the inspiration for a famous poem (see below) by the leading 20th-century poet Robert Lowell, but the essay also deepens our appreciation of Edwards's intellectual range in a time of change between the balance of science and religion. Today Edwards is best remembered for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and the religious emotionalism associated with the Great Awakening, in contrast to the Enlightenment attitudes of his contemporaries including the more secular-minded Founders of the USA like Benjamin Franklin. In contrast to this stereotype, "Of Insects" shows Edwards both aware of and practicing the science of the Enlightenment by his references to Sir Isaac Newton and by his careful powers of empirical observation. Yet Edwards retains a Puritanical overlay to his science by witnessing all actions of nature as evidences of the glory of God.
 Of all insects, no one is more wonderful than the
spider, especially with respect to their sagacity
and admirable way of working. These spiders, for the present, shall be
distinguished into those that keep in houses and those that keep in
forests, upon trees, bushes, shrubs, etc. for I take ’em to be of very
different kinds and natures (there are also other sorts, some of which keep in
rotten logs, hollow trees, swamps and grass).
[2a] And what is still more wonderful, I know I have several times seen, in a very calm and serene day at that time of year, standing behind some opaque body that shall just hide the disk of the sun and keep off his dazzling rays from my eye, multitudes of little shining webs and glistening strings of a great length, and at such a height as (that one would think they were tacked to the sky by one end, were it not that they were moving and floating. And there often appears at the end of these webs a spider floating and sailing in the air with them, which I have plainly discerned in those webs that were nearer to my eye.
And once [I] saw a very large spider, to my surprise, swimming in
the air in this manner, and others have assured me that they often have seen
spiders fly. The appearance is truly very pretty and pleasing, and it
was so pleasing, as well as surprising, to me, that I resolved to
endeavor to satisfy my curiosity about it, by finding out the way and of their
doing it, being also persuaded that, if I could find out how they flew,
I could easily find out how they made webs from tree to tree.
[3a] So I brought [him] back to the same bush again. To be sure that there
was nothing for him to go upon the next time, I whisked about a stick I had in
my hand on all sides of the bush, that I might break any web going from it, if
there were any, and leave nothing else for him to go on but the clear air, and
then shook the bush as before. But it was not long before he again to my
surprise went to the next bush. I took him off upon my stick and,
holding of him near my eye, shook the stick as I had done the bush, whereupon he
let himself down a little, hanging by his web, and [I] presently perceived a web
out from his tail and a good way into the air. I took hold of it with my hand
and broke it off, not knowing but that I might take it out to the stick with him
from the bush; but then I plainly perceived another such string to
proceed out at his tail.
 Corollary [practical outcome]. We hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities, but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, and even the insects and those that are most despicable.
 Another thing particularly notable and worthy of being inquired into about these webs is that they, which are so exceeding small and fine as that they cannot be discerned except held in a particular position with respect to the sun or against some dark place when held close to the eye, should appear at such a prodigious height in the air when near betwixt us and the sun . . . . But the chief reason must be referred to that incurvation of the rays passing by the edge of any body, which Sir Isaac Newton has proved.
 One thing more I shall take notice of, before I dismiss
this subject, concerning the end of nature in giving spiders this way of
flying, which though we have found in the corollary to be their pleasure and
recreation, yet we think a greater end is at last their destruction.
And what makes us think so is because that is necessarily and naturally brought
to pass by it, and we shall find nothing so brought to pass by nature but what
is the end of those means by which is brought to pass; and we shall further
evince it by and by, by strewing the great usefulness of it. But we must show
how their destruction is brought to pass by it.
 Corollary 1. [corollary = deduction] Hence also we may behold and admire at the wisdom of the Creator, and be convinced that is exercised about such little things, in this wonderful contrivance of annually carrying off and burying the corrupting nauseousness of our air, of which flying insects are little collections, in the bottom of the ocean where it will do no harm, and especially the strange way of bringing this about in spiders (which are collections of these collections, their food being flying insects) which want wings whereby it might be done. And what great inconveniences should we labor under if there were no such way. For spiders and flies are so exceeding multiplying creatures that if they only slept or lay benumbed in [winter] and were raised again in the spring, which is commonly supposed, it would not be many years before we should be as much plagued with their vast numbers as Egypt was. And if they died for good and all in winter they, by the renewed heat of the sun, would presently again be dissipated into those nauseous vapors which they are made up of, and so would be of no use or benefit in that [in] which now they are so very serviceable.
[Corollary] 2. Admire also the Creator in so nicely and
mathematically adjusting their multiplying nature, that notwithstanding their
destruction by this means and the multitudes that are eaten by birds, that they
do not decrease and so, little by little, come to nothing; and in so adjusting
their destruction to their multiplication that they do neither increase, but
taking one year with another, there is always just an equal number of them.
Robert Lowell (1917-77)
Mr. Edwards and the Spider
I saw the spiders marching through the