AN ESSAY ON THE MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE.
IT is with humility really unassumed—it is with a sentiment even of awe—
that I pen the opening sentence of this work: for of all conceivable subjects I
approach the reader with the most solemn—the most comprehensive—the
most difficult—the most august.
What terms shall I find sufficiently simple in their sublimity—sufficiently
sublime in their simplicity—for the mere enunciation of my theme?
I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical—of the
Material and Spiritual Universe:—of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its
Present Condition and its Destiny. I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge
the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the
greatest and most justly reverenced of men.
In the beginning, let me as distinctly as possible announce—not the theorem
which I hope to demonstrate—for, whatever the mathematicians may assert,
there is, in this world at least, no such thing as demonstration—but the ruling
idea which, throughout this volume, I shall be continually endeavoring to
suggest.
My general proposition, then, is this:—In the Original Unity of the First
Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their
Inevitable Annihilation.
In illustration of this idea, I propose to take such a survey of the Universe
that the mind may be able really to receive and to perceive an individual
impression.
He who from the top of Ætna casts his eyes leisurely around, is affected
chiefly by the extent and diversity of the scene. Only by a rapid whirling on
his heel could he hope to comprehend the panorama in the sublimity of
its oneness. But as, on the summit of Ætna, no man has thought of whirling on
his heel, so no man has ever taken into his brain the full uniqueness of the
prospect; and so, again, whatever considerations lie involved in this
uniqueness, have as yet no practical existence for mankind.
I do not know a treatise in which a survey of the Universe—using the word
in its most comprehensive and only legitimate acceptation—is taken at all:—
and it may be as well here to mention that by the term “Universe,” wherever
employed without qualification in this essay, I mean to designate the utmost
conceivable expanse of space, with all things, spiritual and material, that can
be imagined to exist within the compass of that expanse. In speaking of what
is ordinarily implied by the expression, “Universe,” I shall take a phrase of
limitation—“the Universe of stars.” Why this distinction is considered
necessary, will be seen in the sequel.
But even of treatises on the really limited, although always assumed as
the unlimited, Universe of stars, I know none in which a survey, even of this
limited Universe, is so taken as to warrant deductions from its individuality.
The nearest approach to such a work is made in the “Cosmos” of Alexander
Von Humboldt. He presents the subject, however, notin its individuality but in
its generality. His theme, in its last result, is the law of each portion of the
merely physical Universe, as this law is related to the laws of every
other portion of this merely physical Universe. His design is simply
synœretical. In a word, he discusses the universality of material relation, and
discloses to the eye of Philosophy whatever inferences have hitherto lain
hidden behind this universality. But however admirable be the succinctness
with which he has treated each particular point of his topic, the mere
multiplicity of these points occasions, necessarily, an amount of detail, and
thus an involution of idea, which precludes all individuality of impression.
It seems to me that, in aiming at this latter effect, and, through it, at the
consequences—the conclusions—the suggestions—the speculations—or, if
nothing better offer itself the mere guesses which may result from it—we
require something like a mental gyration on the heel. We need so rapid a
revolution of all things about the central point of sight that, while the minutiæ
vanish altogether, even the more conspicuous objects become blended into
one. Among the vanishing minutiæ, in a survey of this kind, would be all
exclusively terrestrial matters. The Earth would be considered in its planetary
relations alone. A man, in this view, becomes mankind; mankind a member of
the cosmical family of Intelligences.
And now, before proceeding to our subject proper, let me beg the reader’s
attention to an extract or two from a somewhat remarkable letter, which
appears to have been found corked in a bottle and floating on the Mare
Tenebrarum—an ocean well described by the Nubian geographer, Ptolemy
Hephestion, but little frequented in modern days unless by the
Transcendentalists and some other divers for crotchets. The date of this letter, I
confess, surprises me even more particularly than its contents; for it seems to
have been written in the year two thousand eight hundred and forty-eight. As
for the passages I am about to transcribe, they, I fancy, will speak for
themselves.
“Do you know, my dear friend,” says the writer, addressing, no doubt, a
contemporary—“Do you know that it is scarcely more than eight or nine
hundred years ago since the metaphysicians first consented to relieve the
people of the singular fancy that there exist but two practicable roads to Truth?
Believe it if you can! It appears, however, that long, long ago, in the night of
Time, there lived a Turkish philosopher called Aries and surnamed Tottle.”
[Here, possibly, the letter-writer means Aristotle; the best names are
wretchedly corrupted in two or three thousand years.] “The fame of this great
man depended mainly upon his demonstration that sneezing is a natural
provision, by means of which over-profound thinkers are enabled to expel
superfluous ideas through the nose; but he obtained a scarcely less valuable
celebrity as the founder, or at all events as the principal propagator, of what
was termed the deductive or à prioriphilosophy. He started with what he
maintained to be axioms, or self-evident truths:—and the now well understood
fact that no truths are self-evident, really does not make in the slightest degree
against his speculations:—it was sufficient for his purpose that the truths in
question were evident at all. From axioms he proceeded, logically, to results.
His most illustrious disciples were one Tuclid, a geometrician,” [meaning
Euclid] “and one Kant, a Dutchman, the originator of that species of
Transcendentalism which, with the change merely of a C for a K, now bears
his peculiar name.
“Well, Aries Tottle flourished supreme, until the advent of one Hog,
surnamed ‘the Ettrick shepherd,’ who preached an entirely different system,
which he called the à posteriori or inductive. His plan referred altogether to
sensation. He proceeded by observing, analyzing, and classifying facts—
instantiæ Naturæ, as they were somewhat affectedly called—and arranging
them into general laws. In a word, while the mode of Aries rested
on noumena, that of Hog depended on phenomena; and so great was the
admiration excited by this latter system that, at its first introduction, Aries fell
into general disrepute. Finally, however, he recovered ground, and was
permitted to divide the empire of Philosophy with his more modern rival:—the
savans contenting themselves with proscribing all other competitors, past,
present, and to come; putting an end to all controversy on the topic by the
promulgation of a Median law, to the effect that the Aristotelian and Baconian
roads are, and of right ought to be, the solo possible avenues to knowledge:
—‘Baconian,’ you must know, my dear friend,” adds the letter-writer at this
point, “was an adjective invented as equivalent to Hog-ian, and at the same
time more dignified and euphonious.
“Now I do assure you most positively”—proceeds the epistle—“that I
represent these matters fairly; and you can easily understand how restrictions
so absurd on their very face must have operated, in those days, to retard the
progress of true Science, which makes its most important advances—as all
History will show—by seemingly intuitive leaps. These ancient ideas confined
investigation to crawling; and I need not suggest to you that crawling, among
varieties of locomotion, is a very capital thing of its kind;—but because the
tortoise is sure of foot, for this reason must we clip the wings of the eagles?
For many centuries, so great was the infatuation, about Hog especially, that a
virtual stop was put to all thinking, properly so called. No man dared utter a
truth for which he felt himself indebted to his soul alone. It mattered not
whether the truth was even demonstrably such; for the dogmatizing
philosophers of that epoch regarded only the road by which it professed to
have been attained. The end, with them, was a point of no moment, whatever:
—‘the means!’ they vociferated—‘let us look at the means!’—and if, on
scrutiny of the means, it was found to come neither under the category Hog,
nor under the category Aries (which means ram), why then the savans went no
farther, but, calling the thinker a fool and branding him a ‘theorist,’ would
never, thenceforward, have any thing to do either with him or with his truths.
“Now, my dear friend,” continues the letter-writer, “it cannot be maintained
that by the crawling system, exclusively adopted, men would arrive at the
maximum amount of truth, even in any long series of ages; for the repression
of imagination was an evil not to be counterbalanced even
by absolute certainty in the snail processes. But their certainty was very far
from absolute. The error of our progenitors was quite analogous with that of
the wiseacre who fancies he must necessarily see an object the more distinctly,
the more closely he holds it to his eyes. They blinded themselves, too, with the
impalpable, titillating Scotch snuff of detail; and thus the boasted facts of the
Hog-ites were by no means always facts—a point of little importance but for
the assumption that they always were. The vital taint, however, in
Baconianism—its most lamentable fount of error—lay in its tendency to throw
power and consideration into the hands of merely perceptive men—of those
inter-Tritonic minnows, the microscopical savans—the diggers and pedlers of
minute facts, for the most part in physical science—facts all of which they
retailed at the same price upon the highway; their value depending, it was
supposed, simply upon the fact of their fact, without reference to their
applicability or inapplicability in the development of those ultimate and only
legitimate facts, called Law.
“Than the persons”—the letter goes on to say—“Than the persons thus
suddenly elevated by the Hog-ian philosophy into a station for which they
were unfitted—thus transferred from the sculleries into the parlors of Science
—from its pantries into its pulpits—than these individuals a more intolerant—
a more intolerable set of bigots and tyrants never existed on the face of the
earth. Their creed, their text and their sermon were, alike, the one word
‘fact’—but, for the most part, even of this one word, they knew not even the
meaning. On those who ventured to disturb their facts with the view of putting
them in order and to use, the disciples of Hog had no mercy whatever. All
attempts at generalization were met at once by the words ‘theoretical,’
‘theory,’ ‘theorist’—all thought, to be brief, was very properly resented as a
personal affront to themselves. Cultivating the natural sciences to the
exclusion of Metaphysics, the Mathematics, and Logic, many of these Baconengendered philosophers—one-idead, one-sided and lame of a leg—were
more wretchedly helpless—more miserably ignorant, in view of all the
comprehensible objects of knowledge, than the veriest unlettered hind who
proves that he knows something at least, in admitting that he knows absolutely
nothing.
“Nor had our forefathers any better right to talk about certainty, when
pursuing, in blind confidence, the à priori path of axioms, or of the Ram. At
innumerable points this path was scarcely as straight as a ram’s-horn. The
simple truth is, that the Aristotelians erected their castles upon a basis far less
reliable than air; for no such things as axioms ever existed or can possibly
exist at all. This they must have been very blind, indeed, not to see, or at least
to suspect; for, even in their own day, many of their long-admitted ‘axioms’
had been abandoned:—‘ex nihilo nihil fit,’ for example, and a ‘thing cannot
act where it is not,’ and ‘there cannot be antipodes,’ and ‘darkness cannot
proceed from light.’ These and numerous similar propositions formerly
accepted, without hesitation, as axioms, or undeniable truths, were, even at the
period of which I speak, seen to be altogether untenable:—how absurd in these
people, then, to persist in relying upon a basis, as immutable, whose mutability
had become so repeatedly manifest!
“But, even through evidence afforded by themselves against themselves, it is
easy to convict these à priori reasoners of the grossest unreason—it is easy to
show the futility—the impalpability of their axioms in general. I have now
lying before me”—it will be observed that we still proceed with the letter—“I
have now lying before me a book printed about a thousand years ago. Pundit
assures me that it is decidedly the cleverest ancient work on its topic, which is
‘Logic.’ The author, who was much esteemed in his day, was one Miller, or
Mill; and we find it recorded of him, as a point of some importance, that he
rode a mill-horse whom he called Jeremy Bentham:—but let us glance at the
volume itself!
“Ah!—‘Ability or inability to conceive,’ says Mr. Mill very properly, ‘is in
no case to be received as a criterion of axiomatic truth.’ Now, that this is a
palpable truism no one in his senses will deny. Not to admit the proposition, is
to insinuate a charge of variability in Truth itself, whose very title is a
synonym of the Steadfast. If ability to conceive be taken as a criterion of
Truth, then a truth to David Hume would very seldom be a truth to Joe; and
ninety-nine hundredths of what is undeniable in Heaven would be
demonstrable falsity upon Earth. The proposition of Mr. Mill, then, is
sustained. I will not grant it to be an axiom; and this merely because I am
showing that no axioms exist; but, with a distinction which could not have
been cavilled at even by Mr. Mill himself, I am ready to grant that, if an
axiomthere be, then the proposition of which we speak has the fullest right to
be considered an axiom—that no more absolute axiom is—and, consequently,
that any subsequent proposition which shall conflict with this one primarily
advanced, must be either a falsity in itself—that is to say no axiom—or, if
admitted axiomatic, must at once neutralize both itself and its predecessor.
“And now, by the logic of their own propounder, let us proceed to test any
one of the axioms propounded. Let us give Mr. Mill the fairest of play. We will
bring the point to no ordinary issue. We will select for investigation no
common-place axiom—no axiom of what, not the less preposterously because
only impliedly, he terms his secondary class—as if a positive truth by
definition could be either more or less positively a truth:—we will select, I
say, no axiom of an unquestionability so questionable as is to be found in
Euclid. We will not talk, for example, about such propositions as that two
straight lines cannot enclose a space, or that the whole is greater than any one
of its parts. We will afford the logician every advantage. We will come at once
to a proposition which he regards as the acme of the unquestionable—as the
quintessence of axiomatic undeniability. Here it is:—‘Contradictions
cannot both be true—that is, cannot cöexist in nature.’ Here Mr. Mill means,
for instance,—and I give the most forcible instance conceivable—that a tree
must be either a tree or not a tree—that it cannot be at the same time a
tree and not a tree:—all which is quite reasonable of itself and will answer
remarkably well as an axiom, until we bring it into collation with an axiom
insisted upon a few pages before—in other words—words which I have
previously employed—until we test it by the logic of its own propounder. ‘A
tree,’ Mr. Mill asserts, ‘must be either a tree or not a tree.’ Very well:—and
now let me ask him, why. To this little query there is but one response:—I defy
any man living to invent a second. The sole answer is this:—‘Because we find
it impossible to conceive that a tree can be any thing else than a tree or not a
tree.’ This, I repeat, is Mr. Mill’s sole answer:—he will not pretend to suggest
another:—and yet, by his own showing, his answer is clearly no answer at all;
for has he not already required us to admit, as an axiom, that ability or
inability to conceive is in no case to be taken as a criterion of axiomatic truth?
Thus all—absolutely all his argumentation is at sea without a rudder. Let it not
be urged that an exception from the general rule is to be made, in cases where
the ‘impossibility to conceive’ is so peculiarly great as when we are called
upon to conceive a tree both a tree and not a tree. Let no attempt, I say, be
made at urging this sotticism; for, in the first place, there are no degrees of
‘impossibility,’ and thus no one impossible conception can be more peculiarly
impossible than another impossible conception:—in the second place, Mr. Mill
himself, no doubt after thorough deliberation, has most distinctly, and most
rationally, excluded all opportunity for exception, by the emphasis of his
proposition, that, in no case, is ability or inability to conceive, to be taken as a
criterion of axiomatic truth:—in the third place, even were exceptions
admissible at all, it remains to be shown how any exception is admissible here.
That a tree can be both a tree and not a tree, is an idea which the angels, or the
devils,may entertain, and which no doubt many an earthly Bedlamite, or
Transcendentalist, does.
“Now I do not quarrel with these ancients,” continues the letter-writer, “so
much on account of the transparent frivolity of their logic—which, to be plain,
was baseless, worthless and fantastic altogether—as on account of their
pompous and infatuate proscription of all other roads to Truth than the two
narrow and crooked paths—the one of creeping and the other of crawling—to
which, in their ignorant perversity, they have dared to confine the Soul—the
Soul which loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable
intuition which are utterly incognizant of ‘path.’
“By the bye, my dear friend, is it not an evidence of the mental slavery
entailed upon those bigoted people by their Hogs and Rams, that in spite of the
eternal prating of their savans about roads to Truth, none of them fell, even by
accident, into what we now so distinctly perceive to be the broadest, the
straightest and most available of all mere roads—the great thoroughfare—the
majestic highway of the Consistent? Is it not wonderful that they should have
failed to deduce from the works of God the vitally momentous consideration
that a perfect consistency can be nothing but an absolute truth? How plain—
how rapid our progress since the late announcement of this proposition! By its
means, investigation has been taken out of the hands of the ground-moles, and
given as a duty, rather than as a task, to the true—to the only true thinkers—to
the generally-educated men of ardent imagination. These latter—our Keplers
—our Laplaces—‘speculate’—‘theorize’—these are the terms—can you not
fancy the shout of scorn with which they would be received by our
progenitors, were it possible for them to be looking over my shoulders as I
write? The Keplers, I repeat, speculate—theorize—and their theories are
merely corrected—reduced—sifted—cleared, little by little, of their chaff of
inconsistency—until at length there stands apparent an
unencumbered Consistency—a consistency which the most stolid admit—
because it is a consistency—to be an absolute and an unquestionable Truth.
“I have often thought, my friend, that it must have puzzled these
dogmaticians of a thousand years ago, to determine, even, by which of their
two boasted roads it is that the cryptographist attains the solution of the more
complicate cyphers—or by which of them Champollion guided mankind to
those important and innumerable truths which, for so many centuries, have
lain entombed amid the phonetical hieroglyphics of Egypt. In especial, would
it not have given these bigots some trouble to determine by which of their two
roads was reached the most momentous and sublime of alltheir truths—the
truth—the fact of gravitation? Newton deduced it from the laws of Kepler.
Kepler admitted that these laws he guessed—these laws whose investigation
disclosed to the greatest of British astronomers that principle, the basis of all
(existing) physical principle, in going behind which we enter at once the
nebulous kingdom of Metaphysics. Yes!—these vital laws Kepler guessed—
that is to say, he imagined them. Had he been asked to point out either
thedeductive or inductive route by which he attained them, his reply might
have been—‘I know nothing about routes—but Ido know the machinery of the
Universe. Here it is. I grasped it with my soul—I reached it through mere dint
ofintuition.’ Alas, poor ignorant old man! Could not any metaphysician have
told him that what he called ‘intuition’ was but the conviction resulting
from deductions or inductions of which the processes were so shadowy as to
have escaped his consciousness, eluded his reason, or bidden defiance to his
capacity of expression? How great a pity it is that some ‘moral philosopher’
had not enlightened him about all this! How it would have comforted him on
his death-bed to know that, instead of having gone intuitively and thus
unbecomingly, he had, in fact, proceeded decorously and legitimately—that is
to say Hog-ishly, or at least Ram-ishly—into the vast halls where lay
gleaming, untended, and hitherto untouched by mortal hand—unseen by
mortal eye—the imperishable and priceless secrets of the Universe!
“Yes, Kepler was essentially a theorist; but this title, now of so much
sanctity, was, in those ancient days, a designation of supreme contempt. It is
only now that men begin to appreciate that divine old man—to sympathize
with the prophetical and poetical rhapsody of his ever-memorable words.
For my part,” continues the unknown correspondent, “I glow with a sacred fire
when I even think of them, and feel that I shall never grow weary of their
repetition:—in concluding this letter, let me have the real pleasure of
transcribing them once again:—‘I care not whether my work be read now or
by posterity. I can afford to wait a century for readers when God himself has
waited six thousand years for an observer. I triumph. I have stolen the golden
secret of the Egyptians. I will indulge my sacred fury.’”
Here end my quotations from this very unaccountable and, perhaps,
somewhat impertinent epistle; and perhaps it would be folly to comment, in
any respect, upon the chimerical, not to say revolutionary, fancies of the writer
—whoever he is—fancies so radically at war with the well-considered and
well-settled opinions of this age. Let us proceed, then, to our legitimate
thesis, The Universe.
This thesis admits a choice between two modes of discussion:—We
may ascend or descend. Beginning at our own point of view—at the Earth on
which we stand—we may pass to the other planets of our system—thence to
the Sun—thence to our system considered collectively—and thence, through
other systems, indefinitely outwards; or, commencing on high at some point as
definite as we can make it or conceive it, we may come down to the habitation
of Man. Usually—that is to say, in ordinary essays on Astronomy—the first of
these two modes is, with certain reservation, adopted:—this for the obvious
reason that astronomical facts, merely, and principles, being the object, that
object is best fulfilled in stepping from the known because proximate,
gradually onward to the point where all certitude becomes lost in the remote.
For my present purpose, however,—that of enabling the mind to take in, as if
from afar and at one glance, a distinct conception of the individual Universe—
it is clear that a descent to small from great—to the outskirts from the centre
(if we could establish a centre)—to the end from the beginning (if we could
fancy a beginning) would be the preferable course, but for the difficulty, if not
impossibility, of presenting, in this course, to the unastronomical, a picture at
all comprehensible in regard to such considerations as are involved in quantity
—that is to say, in number, magnitude and distance.
Now, distinctness—intelligibility, at all points, is a primary feature in my
general design. On important topics it is better to be a good deal prolix than
even a very little obscure. But abstruseness is a quality appertaining to no
subjectper se. All are alike, in facility of comprehension, to him who
approaches them by properly graduated steps. It is merely because a steppingstone, here and there, is heedlessly left unsupplied in our road to the
Differential Calculus, that this latter is not altogether as simple a thing as a
sonnet by Mr. Solomon Seesaw.
By way of admitting, then, no chance for misapprehension, I think it
advisable to proceed as if even the more obvious facts of Astronomy were
unknown to the reader. In combining the two modes of discussion to which I
have referred, I propose to avail myself of the advantages peculiar to each—
and very especially of the iteration in detailwhich will be unavoidable as a
consequence of the plan. Commencing with a descent, I shall reserve for the
return upwards those indispensable considerations of quantity to which
allusion has already been made.
Let us begin, then, at once, with that merest of words, “Infinity.” This, like
“God,” “spirit,” and some other expressions of which the equivalents exist in
all languages, is by no means the expression of an idea—but of an effort at
one. It stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception. Man
needed a term by which to point out thedirection of this effort—the cloud
behind which lay, forever invisible, the object of this attempt. A word, in fine,
was demanded, by means of which one human being might put himself in
relation at once with another human being and with a certain tendency of the
human intellect. Out of this demand arose the word, “Infinity;” which is thus
the representative but of the thought of a thought.
As regards that infinity now considered—the infinity of space—we often
hear it said that “its idea is admitted by the mind—is acquiesced in—is
entertained—on account of the greater difficulty which attends the conception
of a limit.” But this is merely one of those phrases by which even profound
thinkers, time out of mind, have occasionally taken pleasure in
deceiving themselves. The quibble lies concealed in the word “difficulty.”
“The mind,” we are told, “entertains the idea of limitless, through the
greater difficulty which it finds in entertaining that of limited, space.” Now,
were the proposition but fairly put, its absurdity would become transparent at
once. Clearly, there is no meredifficulty in the case. The assertion intended, if
presented according to its intention and without sophistry, would run thus:
—“The mind admits the idea of limitless, through the greater impossibility of
entertaining that of limited, space.”
It must be immediately seen that this is not a question of two statements
between whose respective credibilities—or of two arguments between whose
respective validities—the reason is called upon to decide:—it is a matter of
two conceptions, directly conflicting, and each avowedly impossible, one of
which the intellect is supposed to be capable of entertaining, on account of the
greater impossibility of entertaining the other. The choice is not made between
two difficulties;—it is merely fancied to be made between two impossibilities.
Now of the former, there are degrees—but of the latter, none:—just as our
impertinent letter-writer has already suggested. A task may be more or less
difficult; but it is either possible or not possible:—there are no gradations.
It might be more difficult to overthrow the Andes than an ant-hill; but it can be
no more impossible to annihilate the matter of the one than the matter of the
other. A man may jump ten feet with less difficulty than he can jump twenty,
but the impossibility of his leaping to the moon is not a whit less than that of
his leaping to the dog-star.
Since all this is undeniable: since the choice of the mind is to be made
between impossibilities of conception: since one impossibility cannot be
greater than another: and since, thus, one cannot be preferred to another: the
philosophers who not only maintain, on the grounds mentioned, man’s idea of
infinity but, on account of such supposititious idea,infinity itself—are plainly
engaged in demonstrating one impossible thing to be possible by showing how
it is that some one other thing—is impossible too. This, it will be said, is
nonsense; and perhaps it is:—indeed I think it very capital nonsense—but
forego all claim to it as nonsense of mine.
The readiest mode, however, of displaying the fallacy of the philosophical
argument on this question, is by simply adverting to a fact respecting it which
has been hitherto quite overlooked—the fact that the argument alluded to both
proves and disproves its own proposition. “The mind is impelled,” say the
theologians and others, “to admit a First Cause, by the superior difficulty it
experiences in conceiving cause beyond cause without end.” The quibble, as
before, lies in the word “difficulty”—but here what is it employed to sustain?
A First Cause. And what is a First Cause? An ultimate termination of causes.
And what is an ultimate termination of causes? Finity—the Finite. Thus the
one quibble, in two processes, by God knows how many philosophers, is made
to support now Finity and now Infinity—could it not be brought to support
something besides? As for the quibblers—they, at least, are insupportable. But
—to dismiss them:—what they prove in the one case is the identical nothing
which they demonstrate in the other.
Of course, no one will suppose that I here contend for the absolute
impossibility of that which we attempt to convey in the word “Infinity.” My
purpose is but to show the folly of endeavoring to prove Infinity itself or even
our conception of it, by any such blundering ratiocination as that which is
ordinarily employed.
Nevertheless, as an individual, I may be permitted to say that I
cannot conceive Infinity, and am convinced that no human being can. A mind
not thoroughly self-conscious—not accustomed to the introspective analysis of
its own operations—will, it is true, often deceive itself by supposing that
it has entertained the conception of which we speak. In the effort to entertain
it, we proceed step beyond step—we fancy point still beyond point; and so
long as we continuethe effort, it may be said, in fact, that we are tending to the
formation of the idea designed; while the strength of the impression that we
actually form or have formed it, is in the ratio of the period during which we
keep up the mental endeavor. But it is in the act of discontinuing the endeavor
—of fulfilling (as we think) the idea—of putting the finishing stroke (as we
suppose) to the conception—that we overthrow at once the whole fabric of our
fancy by resting upon some one ultimate and therefore definite point. This
fact, however, we fail to perceive, on account of the absolute coincidence, in
time, between the settling down upon the ultimate point and the act of
cessation in thinking.—In attempting, on the other hand, to frame the idea of
a limited space, we merely converse the processes which involve the
impossibility.
We believe in a God. We may or may not believe in finite or in infinite
space; but our belief, in such cases, is more properly designated as faith, and is
a matter quite distinct from that belief proper—from that intellectual belief—
which presupposes the mental conception.
The fact is, that, upon the enunciation of any one of that class of terms to
which “Infinity” belongs—the class representing thoughts of thought—he who
has a right to say that he thinks at all, feels himself called upon, not to
entertain a conception, but simply to direct his mental vision toward some
given point, in the intellectual firmament, where lies a nebula never to be
resolved. To solve it, indeed, he makes no effort; for with a rapid instinct he
comprehends, not only the impossibility, but, as regards all human purposes,
the inessentiality, of its solution. He perceives that the Deity has
not designed it to be solved. He sees, at once, that it lies out of the brain of
man, and evenhow, if not exactly why, it lies out of it. There are people, I am
aware, who, busying themselves in attempts at the unattainable, acquire very
easily, by dint of the jargon they emit, among those thinkers-that-they-think
with whom darkness and depth are synonymous, a kind of cuttle-fish
reputation for profundity; but the finest quality of Thought is its selfcognizance; and, with some little equivocation, it may be said that no fog of
the mind can well be greater than that which, extending to the very boundaries
of the mental domain, shuts out even these boundaries themselves from
comprehension.
It will now be understood that, in using the phrase, “Infinity of Space,” I
make no call upon the reader to entertain the impossible conception of
an absolute infinity. I refer simply to the “utmost conceivable expanse” of
space—a shadowy and fluctuating domain, now shrinking, now swelling, in
accordance with the vacillating energies of the imagination.
Hitherto, the Universe of stars has always been considered as coincident
with the Universe proper, as I have defined it in the commencement of this
Discourse. It has been always either directly or indirectly assumed—at least
since the dawn of intelligible Astronomy—that, were it possible for us to
attain any given point in space, we should still find, on all sides of us, an
interminable succession of stars. This was the untenable idea of Pascal when
making perhaps the most successful attempt ever made, at periphrasing the
conception for which we struggle in the word “Universe.” “It is a sphere,” he
says, “of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference, nowhere.” But
although this intended definition is, in fact, no definition of the Universe
of stars, we may accept it, with some mental reservation, as a definition
(rigorous enough for all practical purposes) of the Universe proper—that is to
say, of the Universe of space. This latter, then, let us regard as “a sphere of
which the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.” In fact, while we
find it impossible to fancy an end to space, we have no difficulty in picturing
to ourselves any one of an infinity of beginnings.
As our starting-point, then, let us adopt the Godhead. Of this Godhead, in
itself, he alone is not imbecile—he alone is not impious who propounds—
nothing. “Nous ne connaissons rien,” says the Baron de Bielfeld—“Nous ne
connaissons rien de la nature ou de l’essence de Dieu:—pour savoir ce qu’il
est, il faut être Dieu même.”—“We know absolutely nothing of the nature or
essence of God:—in order to comprehend what he is, we should have to be
God ourselves.”
“We should have to be God ourselves!”—With a phrase so startling as this
yet ringing in my ears, I nevertheless venture to demand if this our present
ignorance of the Deity is an ignorance to which the soul
is everlastinglycondemned.
By Him, however—now, at least, the Incomprehensible—by Him—
assuming him as Spirit—that is to say, as not Matter—a distinction which, for
all intelligible purposes, will stand well instead of a definition—by Him, then,
existing as Spirit, let us content ourselves, to-night, with supposing to have
been created, or made out of Nothing, by dint of his Volition—at some point
of Space which we will take as a centre—at some period into which we do not
pretend to inquire, but at all events immensely remote—by Him, then again,
let us suppose to have been created——what? This is a vitally momentous
epoch in our considerations. What is it that we are justified—that alone we are
justified in supposing to have been, primarily and solely, created?
We have attained a point where only Intuition can aid us:—but now let me
recur to the idea which I have already suggested as that alone which we can
properly entertain of intuition. It is but the conviction arising from those
inductions or deductions of which the processes are so shadowy as to escape
our consciousness, elude our reason, or defy our capacity of expression. With
this understanding, I now assert—that an intuition altogether irresistible,
although inexpressible, forces me to the conclusion that what God originally
created—that that Matter which, by dint of his Volition, he first made from his
Spirit, or from Nihility, could have been nothing but Matter in its utmost
conceivable state of——what?—of Simplicity?
This will be found the sole absolute assumption of my Discourse. I use the
word “assumption” in its ordinary sense; yet I maintain that even this my
primary proposition, is very, very far indeed, from being really a
mere assumption. Nothing was ever more certainly—no human conclusion
was ever, in fact, more regularly—more rigorously deduced:—but, alas! the
processes lie out of the human analysis—at all events are beyond the utterance
of the human tongue.
Let us now endeavor to conceive what Matter must be, when, or if, in its
absolute extreme of Simplicity. Here the Reason flies at once to
Imparticularity—to a particle—to one particle—a particle of one kind—
of one character—ofone nature—of one size—of one form—a particle,
therefore, “without form and void”—a particle positively a particle at all
points—a particle absolutely unique, individual, undivided, and not indivisible
only because He who created it, by dint of his Will, can by an infinitely less
energetic exercise of the same Will, as a matter of course, divide it.
Oneness, then, is all that I predicate of the originally created Matter; but I
propose to show that this Oneness is a principle abundantly sufficient to
account for the constitution, the existing phænomena and the plainly inevitable
annihilation of at least the material Universe.
The willing into being the primordial particle, has completed the act, or
more properly the conception, of Creation. We now proceed to the ultimate
purpose for which we are to suppose the Particle created—that is to say, the
ultimate purpose so far as our considerations yet enable us to see it—the
constitution of the Universe from it, the Particle.
This constitution has been effected by forcing the originally and therefore
normally One into the abnormal condition of Many. An action of this character
implies rëaction. A diffusion from Unity, under the conditions, involves a
tendency to return into Unity—a tendency ineradicable until satisfied. But on
these points I will speak more fully hereafter.
The assumption of absolute Unity in the primordial Particle includes that of
infinite divisibility. Let us conceive the Particle, then, to be only not totally
exhausted by diffusion into Space. From the one Particle, as a centre, let us
suppose to be irradiated spherically—in all directions—to immeasurable but
still to definite distances in the previously vacant space—a certain
inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely
minute atoms.
Now, of these atoms, thus diffused, or upon diffusion, what conditions are
we permitted—not to assume, but to infer, from consideration as well of their
source as of the character of the design apparent in their
diffusion? Unity being their source, and difference from Unity the character of
the design manifested in their diffusion, we are warranted in supposing this
character to be at least generally preserved throughout the design, and to form
a portion of the design itself:—that is to say, we shall be warranted in
conceiving continual differences at all points from the uniquity and simplicity
of the origin. But, for these reasons, shall we be justified in imagining the
atoms heterogeneous, dissimilar, unequal, and inequidistant? More explicitly
—are we to consider no two atoms as, at their diffusion, of the same nature, or
of the same form, or of the same size?—and, after fulfilment of their diffusion
into Space, is absolute inequidistance, each from each, to be understood of all
of them? In such arrangement, under such conditions, we most easily and
immediately comprehend the subsequent most feasible carrying out to
completion of any such design as that which I have suggested—the design of
variety out of unity—diversity out of sameness—heterogeneity out of
homogeneity—complexity out of simplicity—in a word, the utmost possible
multiplicity of relation out of the emphatically irrelativeOne. Undoubtedly,
therefore, we should be warranted in assuming all that has been mentioned,
but for the reflection, first, that supererogation is not presumable of any Divine
Act; and, secondly, that the object supposed in view, appears as feasible when
some of the conditions in question are dispensed with, in the beginning, as
when all are understood immediately to exist. I mean to say that some are
involved in the rest, or so instantaneous a consequence of them as to make the
distinction inappreciable. Difference of size, for example, will at once be
brought about through the tendency of one atom to a second, in preference to a
third, on account of particular inequidistance; which is to be comprehended
as particular inequidistances between centres of quantity, in neighboring atoms
of different form—a matter not at all interfering with the generally-equable
distribution of the atoms. Difference of kind, too, is easily conceived to be
merely a result of differences in size and form, taken more or less conjointly:
—in fact, since the Unity of the Particle Proper implies absolute homogeneity,
we cannot imagine the atoms, at their diffusion, differing in kind, without
imagining, at the same time, a special exercise of the Divine Will, at the
emission of each atom, for the purpose of effecting, in each, a change of its
essential nature:—so fantastic an idea is the less to be indulged, as the object
proposed is seen to be thoroughly attainable without such minute and
elaborate interposition. We perceive, therefore, upon the whole, that it would
be supererogatory, and consequently unphilosophical, to predicate of the
atoms, in view of their purposes, any thing more than difference of form at
their dispersion, with particular inequidistance after it—all other differences
arising at once out of these, in the very first processes of mass-constitution:—
We thus establish the Universe on a purely geometrical basis. Of course, it is
by no means necessary to assume absolute difference, even of form,
among all the atoms irradiated—any more than absolute particular
inequidistance of each from each. We are required to conceive merely that
no neighboring atoms are of similar form—no atoms which can ever
approximate, until their inevitable rëunition at the end.
Although the immediate and perpetual tendency of the disunited atoms to
return into their normal Unity, is implied, as I have said, in their abnormal
diffusion; still it is clear that this tendency will be without consequence—a
tendency and no more—until the diffusive energy, in ceasing to be exerted,
shall leave it, the tendency, free to seek its satisfaction. The Divine Act,
however, being considered as determinate, and discontinued on fulfilment of
the diffusion, we understand, at once, a rëaction—in other words,
a satisfiable tendency of the disunited atoms to return into One.
But the diffusive energy being withdrawn, and the rëaction having
commenced in furtherance of the ultimate design—that of the utmost possible
Relation—this design is now in danger of being frustrated, in detail, by reason
of that very tendency to return which is to effect its accomplishment in
general. Multiplicity is the object; but there is nothing to prevent proximate
atoms, from lapsing at once, through the now satisfiable tendency—before the
fulfilment of any ends proposed in multiplicity—into absolute oneness among
themselves:—there is nothing to impede the aggregation of
various unique masses, at various points of space:—in other words, nothing to
interfere with the accumulation of various masses, each absolutely One.
For the effectual and thorough completion of the general design, we thus see
the necessity for a repulsion of limited capacity—a
separative something which, on withdrawal of the diffusive Volition, shall at
the same time allow the approach, and forbid the junction, of the atoms;
suffering them infinitely to approximate, while denying them positive contact;
in a word, having the power—up to a certain epoch—of preventing
their coalition, but no ability to interfere with their coalescence in any
respect or degree. The repulsion, already considered as so peculiarly limited in
other regards, must be understood, let me repeat, as having power to prevent
absolute coalition, only up to a certain epoch. Unless we are to conceive that
the appetite for Unity among the atoms is doomed to be satisfied never;—
unless we are to conceive that what had a beginning is to have no end—a
conception which cannot really be entertained, however much we may talk or
dream of entertaining it—we are forced to conclude that the repulsive
influence imagined, will, finally—under pressure of the Unitendency
collectively applied, but never and in no degree until, on fulfilment of the
Divine purposes, such collective application shall be naturally made—yield to
a force which, at that ultimate epoch, shall be the superior force precisely to
the extent required, and thus permit the universal subsidence into the
inevitable, because original and therefore normal, One.—The conditions here
to be reconciled are difficult indeed:—we cannot even comprehend the
possibility of their conciliation;—nevertheless, the apparent impossibility is
brilliantly suggestive.
That the repulsive something actually exists, we see. Man neither employs,
nor knows, a force sufficient to bring two atoms into contact. This is but the
well-established proposition of the impenetrability of matter. All Experiment
proves—all Philosophy admits it. The design of the repulsion—the necessity
for its existence—I have endeavored to show; but from all attempt at
investigating its nature have religiously abstained; this on account of an
intuitive conviction that the principle at issue is strictly spiritual—lies in a
recess impervious to our present understanding—lies involved in a
consideration of what now—in our human state—is not to be considered—in a
consideration of Spirit in itself. I feel, in a word, that here the God has
interposed, and here only, because here and here only the knot demanded the
interposition of the God.
In fact, while the tendency of the diffused atoms to return into Unity, will be
recognized, at once, as the principle of the Newtonian Gravity, what I have
spoken of as a repulsive influence prescribing limits to the (immediate)
satisfaction of the tendency, will be understood as that which we have been in
the practice of designating now as heat, now as magnetism, now as electricity;
displaying our ignorance of its awful character in the vacillation of the
phraseology with which we endeavor to circumscribe it.
Calling it, merely for the moment, electricity, we know that all experimental
analysis of electricity has given, as an ultimate result, the principle, or seeming
principle, heterogeneity. Only where things differ is electricity apparent; and it
is presumable that they never differ where it is not developed at least, if not
apparent. Now, this result is in the fullest keeping with that which I have
reached unempirically. The design of the repulsive influence I have
maintained to be that of preventing immediate Unity among the diffused
atoms; and these atoms are represented as different each from
each.Difference is their character—their essentiality—just as nodifference was the essentiality of their source. When we say, then, that an
attempt to bring any two of these atoms together would induce an effort, on
the part of the repulsive influence, to prevent the contact, we may as well use
the strictly convertible sentence that an attempt to bring together any two
differences will result in a development of electricity. All existing bodies, of
course, are composed of these atoms in proximate contact, and are therefore to
be considered as mere assemblages of more or fewer differences; and the
resistance made by the repulsive spirit, on bringing together any two such
assemblages, would be in the ratio of the two sums of the differences in each:
—an expression which, when reduced, is equivalent to this:—The amount of
electricity developed on the approximation of two bodies, is proportional to
the difference between the respective sums of the atoms of which the bodies
are composed. That no two bodies are absolutely alike, is a simple corollary
from all that has been here said. Electricity, therefore, existing always,
is developed whenever any bodies, butmanifested only when bodies of
appreciable difference, are brought into approximation.
To electricity—so, for the present, continuing to call it—we may not be
wrong in referring the various physical appearances of light, heat and
magnetism; but far less shall we be liable to err in attributing to this strictly
spiritual principle the more important phænomena of vitality, consciousness
and Thought. On this topic, however, I need pausehere merely to suggest that
these phænomena, whether observed generally or in detail, seem to proceed at
least in the ratio of the heterogeneous.
Discarding now the two equivocal terms, “gravitation” and “electricity,” let
us adopt the more definite expressions, “attraction” and “repulsion.” The
former is the body; the latter the soul: the one is the material; the other the
spiritual, principle of the Universe. No other principles exist. All phænomena
are referable to one, or to the other, or to both combined. So rigorously is this
the case—so thoroughly demonstrable is it that attraction and repulsion are
the soleproperties through which we perceive the Universe—in other words,
by which Matter is manifested to Mind—that, for all merely argumentative
purposes, we are fully justified in assuming that matter exists only as
attraction and repulsion—that attraction and repulsion are matter:—there
being no conceivable case in which we may not employ the term “matter” and
the terms “attraction” and “repulsion,” taken together, as equivalent, and
therefore convertible, expressions in Logic.
I said, just now, that what I have described as the tendency of the diffused
atoms to return into their original unity, would be understood as the principle
of the Newtonian law of gravity: and, in fact, there can be little difficulty in
such an understanding, if we look at the Newtonian gravity in a merely general
view, as a force impelling matter to seek matter; that is to say, when we pay no
attention to the known modus operandi of the Newtonian force. The general
coincidence satisfies us; but, upon looking closely, we see, in detail, much that
appears incoincident, and much in regard to which no coincidence, at least, is
established. For example; the Newtonian gravity, when we think of it in
certain moods, does not seem to be a tendency to oneness at all, but rather a
tendency of all bodies in all directions—a phrase apparently expressive of a
tendency to diffusion. Here, then, is an incoincidence. Again; when we reflect
on the mathematical law governing the Newtonian tendency, we see clearly
that no coincidence has been made good, in respect of the modus operandi, at
least, between gravitation as known to exist and that seemingly simple and
direct tendency which I have assumed.
In fact, I have attained a point at which it will be advisable to strengthen my
position by reversing my processes. So far, we have gone on à priori, from an
abstract consideration of Simplicity, as that quality most likely to have
characterized the original action of God. Let us now see whether the
established facts of the Newtonian Gravitation may not afford us, à posteriori,
some legitimate inductions.
What does the Newtonian law declare?—That all bodies attract each other
with forces proportional to their quantities of matter and inversely proportional
to the squares of their distances. Purposely, I have here given, in the first
place, the vulgar version of the law; and I confess that in this, as in most other
vulgar versions of great truths, we find little of a suggestive character. Let us
now adopt a more philosophical phraseology:—Every atom, of every body,
attracts every other atom, both of its own and of every other body, with a force
which varies inversely as the squares of the distances between the attracting
and attracted atom.—Here, indeed, a flood of suggestion bursts upon the mind.
But let us see distinctly what it was that Newton proved—according to the
grossly irrational definitions of proofprescribed by the metaphysical schools.
He was forced to content himself with showing how thoroughly the motions of
an imaginary Universe, composed of attracting and attracted atoms obedient to
the law he announced, coincide with those of the actually existing Universe so
far as it comes under our observation. This was the amount of
hisdemonstration—that is to say, this was the amount of it, according to the
conventional cant of the “philosophies.” His successes added proof multiplied
by proof—such proof as a sound intellect admits—but the demonstration of
the law itself, persist the metaphysicians, had not been strengthened in any
degree. “Ocular, physical proof,” however, of attraction, here upon Earth, in
accordance with the Newtonian theory, was, at length, much to the satisfaction
of some intellectual grovellers, afforded. This proof arose collaterally and
incidentally (as nearly all important truths have arisen) out of an attempt to
ascertain the mean density of the Earth. In the famous Maskelyne, Cavendish
and Bailly experiments for this purpose, the attraction of the mass of a
mountain was seen, felt, measured, and found to be mathematically consistent
with the immortal theory of the British astronomer.
But in spite of this confirmation of that which needed none—in spite of the
so-called corroboration of the “theory” by the so-called “ocular and physical
proof”—in spite of the character of this corroboration—the ideas which even
really philosophical men cannot help imbibing of gravity—and, especially, the
ideas of it which ordinary men get and contentedly maintain, are seen to have
been derived, for the most part, from a consideration of the principle as they
find it developed—merely in the planet upon which they stand.
Now, to what does so partial a consideration tend—to what species of error
does it give rise? On the Earth we seeand feel, only that gravity impels all
bodies towards the centre of the Earth. No man in the common walks of life
could be made to see or to feel anything else—could be made to perceive that
anything, anywhere, has a perpetual, gravitating tendency in
any other direction than to the centre of the Earth; yet (with an exception
hereafter to be specified) it is a fact that every earthly thing (not to speak now
of every heavenly thing) has a tendency not only to the Earth’s centre but in
every conceivable direction besides.
Now, although the philosophic cannot be said to err with the vulgar in this
matter, they nevertheless permit themselves to be influenced, without knowing
it, by the sentiment of the vulgar idea. “Although the Pagan fables are not
believed,” says Bryant, in his very erudite “Mythology,” “yet we forget
ourselves continually and make inferences from them as from existing
realities.” I mean to assert that the merely sensitive perception of gravity as we
experience it on Earth, beguiles mankind into the fancy
of concentralization or especiality respecting it—has been continually biasing
towards this fancy even the mightiest intellects—perpetually, although
imperceptibly, leading them away from the real characteristics of the principle;
thus preventing them, up to this date, from ever getting a glimpse of that vital
truth which lies in a diametrically opposite direction—behind the
principle’s essential characteristics—those, not of concentralization or
especiality—but of universality and diffusion. This “vital truth” is Unity as
the source of the phænomenon.
Let me now repeat the definition of gravity:—Every atom, of every body,
attracts every other atom, both of its own and of every other body, with a force
which varies inversely as the squares of the distances of the attracting and
attracted atom.
Here let the reader pause with me, for a moment, in contemplation of the
miraculous—of the ineffable—of the altogether unimaginable complexity of
relation involved in the fact that each atom attracts every other atom—
involved merely in this fact of the attraction, without reference to the law or
mode in which the attraction is manifested—involved merely in the fact that
each atom attracts every other atom at all, in a wilderness of atoms so
numerous that those which go to the composition of a cannon-ball, exceed,
probably, in mere point of number, all the stars which go to the constitution of
the Universe.
Had we discovered, simply, that each atom tended to some one favorite
point—to some especially attractive atom—we should still have fallen upon a
discovery which, in itself, would have sufficed to overwhelm the mind:—but
what is it that we are actually called upon to comprehend? That each atom
attracts—sympathizes with the most delicate movements of every other atom,
and with each and with all at the same time, and forever, and according to a
determinate law of which the complexity, even considered by itself solely, is
utterly beyond the grasp of the imagination of man. If I propose to ascertain
the influence of one mote in a sunbeam upon its neighboring mote, I cannot
accomplish my purpose without first counting and weighing all the atoms in
the Universe and defining the precise positions of all at one particular
moment. If I venture to displace, by even the billionth part of an inch, the
microscopical speck of dust which lies now upon the point of my finger, what
is the character of that act upon which I have adventured? I have done a deed
which shakes the Moon in her path, which causes the Sun to be no longer the
Sun, and which alters forever the destiny of the multitudinous myriads of stars
that roll and glow in the majestic presence of their Creator.
These ideas—conceptions such as these—unthoughtlike thoughts—soulreveries rather than conclusions or evenconsiderations of the intellect:—ideas,
I repeat, such as these, are such as we can alone hope profitably to entertain in
any effort at grasping the great principle, Attraction.
But now,—with such ideas—with such a vision of the marvellous
complexity of Attraction fairly in his mind—let any person competent of
thought on such topics as these, set himself to the task of imagining
a principle for the phænomena observed—a condition from which they sprang.
Does not so evident a brotherhood among the atoms point to a common
parentage? Does not a sympathy so omniprevalent, so ineradicable, and so
thoroughly irrespective, suggest a common paternity as its source? Does not
one extreme impel the reason to the other? Does not the infinitude of division
refer to the utterness of individuality? Does not the entireness of the complex
hint at the perfection of the simple? It is not that the atoms, as we see them,
are divided or that they are complex in their relations—but that they are
inconceivably divided and unutterably complex:—it is the extremeness of the
conditions to which I now allude, rather than to the conditions themselves. In a
word, is it not because the atoms were, at some remote epoch of time,
even more than together—is it not because originally, and therefore normally,
they were One—that now, in all circumstances—at all points—in all directions
—by all modes of approach—in all relations and through all conditions—they
struggle back to this absolutely, this irrelatively, this unconditionally one?
Some person may here demand:—“Why—since it is to the One that the
atoms struggle back—do we not find and define Attraction ‘a merely general
tendency to a centre?’—why, in especial, do not your atoms—the atoms which
you describe as having been irradiated from a centre—proceed at once,
rectilinearly, back to the central point of their origin?”
I reply that they do; as will be distinctly shown; but that the cause of their so
doing is quite irrespective of the centreas such. They all tend rectilinearly
towards a centre, because of the sphereicity with which they have been
irradiated into space. Each atom, forming one of a generally uniform globe of
atoms, finds more atoms in the direction of the centre, of course, than in any
other, and in that direction, therefore, is impelled—but is not thus impelled
because the centre is the point of its origin. It is not to any point that the atoms
are allied. It is not any locality, either in the concrete or in the abstract, to
which I suppose them bound. Nothing like location was conceived as their
origin. Their source lies in the principle, Unity. This is their lost
parent. This they seek always—immediately—in all directions—wherever it is
even partially to be found; thus appeasing, in some measure, the ineradicable
tendency, while on the way to its absolute satisfaction in the end. It follows
from all this, that any principle which shall be adequate to account for the law,
or modus operandi, of the attractive force in general, will account for this law
in particular:—that is to say, any principle which will show why the atoms
should tend to their general centre of irradiation with forces inversely
proportional to the squares of the distances, will be admitted as satisfactorily
accounting, at the same time, for the tendency, according to the same law, of
these atoms each to each:—for the tendency to the centre is merely the
tendency each to each, and not any tendency to a centre as such.—Thus it will
be seen, also, that the establishment of my propositions would involve
no necessity of modification in the terms of the Newtonian definition of
Gravity, which declares that each atom attracts each other atom and so forth,
and declares this merely; but (always under the supposition that what I
propose be, in the end, admitted) it seems clear that some error might
occasionally be avoided, in the future processes of Science, were a more
ample phraseology adopted:—for instance:—“Each atom tends to every other
atom &c. with a force &c.: the general result being a tendency of all, with a
similar force, to a general centre.”
The reversal of our processes has thus brought us to an identical result; but,
while in the one process intuition was the starting-point, in the other it was the
goal. In commencing the former journey I could only say that, with an
irresistible intuition, I felt Simplicity to have been the characteristic of the
original action of God:—in ending the latter I can only declare that, with an
irresistible intuition, I perceive Unity to have been the source of the observed
phænomena of the Newtonian gravitation. Thus, according to the schools,
I prove nothing. So be it:—I design but to suggest—and to convince through
the suggestion. I am proudly aware that there exist many of the most profound
and cautiously discriminative human intellects which cannot help being
abundantly content with my—suggestions. To these intellects—as to my own
—there is no mathematical demonstration which could bring the least
additional true proof of the great Truth which I have advanced—the truth of
Original Unity as the source—as the principle of the Universal Phænomena.
For my part, I am not so sure that I speak and see—I am not so sure that my
heart beats and that my soul lives:—of the rising of to-morrow’s sun—a
probability that as yet lies in the Future—I do not pretend to be one thousandth
part as sure—as I am of the irretrievably by-gone Fact that All Things and All
Thoughts of Things, with all their ineffable Multiplicity of Relation, sprang at
once into being from the primordial and irrelative One.
Referring to the Newtonian Gravity, Dr. Nichol, the eloquent author of “The
Architecture of the Heavens,” says:—“In truth we have no reason to suppose
this great Law, as now revealed, to be the ultimate or simplest, and therefore
the universal and all-comprehensive, form of a great Ordinance. The mode in
which its intensity diminishes with the element of distance, has not the aspect
of an ultimate principle; which always assumes the simplicity and selfevidence of those axioms which constitute the basis of Geometry.”
Now, it is quite true that “ultimate principles,” in the common understanding
of the words, always assume the simplicity of geometrical axioms—(as for
“self-evidence,” there is no such thing)—but these principles are
clearly not“ultimate;” in other terms what we are in the habit of calling
principles are no principles, properly speaking—since there can be but
one principle, the Volition of God. We have no right to assume, then, from
what we observe in rules that we choose foolishly to name “principles,”
anything at all in respect to the characteristics of a principle proper. The
“ultimate principles” of which Dr. Nichol speaks as having geometrical
simplicity, may and do have this geometrical turn, as being part and parcel of a
vast geometrical system, and thus a system of simplicity itself—in which,
nevertheless, the truly ultimate principle is, as we know, the consummation of
the complex—that is to say, of the unintelligible—for is it not the Spiritual
Capacity of God?
I quoted Dr. Nichol’s remark, however, not so much to question its
philosophy, as by way of calling attention to the fact that, while all men have
admitted some principle as existing behind the Law of Gravity, no attempt has
been yet made to point out what this principle in particular is:—if we except,
perhaps, occasional fantastic efforts at referring it to Magnetism, or
Mesmerism, or Swedenborgianism, or Transcendentalism, or some other
equally delicious ism of the same species, and invariably patronized by one
and the same species of people. The great mind of Newton, while boldly
grasping the Law itself, shrank from the principle of the Law. The more fluent
and comprehensive at least, if not the more patient and profound, sagacity of
Laplace, had not the courage to attack it. But hesitation on the part of these
two astronomers it is, perhaps, not so very difficult to understand. They, as
well as all the first class of mathematicians, were mathematicians solely:—
their intellect, at least, had a firmly-pronounced mathematico-physical tone.
What lay not distinctly within the domain of Physics, or of Mathematics,
seemed to them either Non-Entity or Shadow. Nevertheless, we may well
wonder that Leibnitz, who was a marked exception to the general rule in these
respects, and whose mental temperament was a singular admixture of the
mathematical with the physico-metaphysical, did not at once investigate and
establish the point at issue. Either Newton or Laplace, seeking a principle and
discovering none physical, would have rested contentedly in the conclusion
that there was absolutely none; but it is almost impossible to fancy, of
Leibnitz, that, having exhausted in his search the physical dominions, he
would not have stepped at once, boldly and hopefully, amid his old familiar
haunts in the kingdom of Metaphysics. Here, indeed, it is clear that
he must have adventured in search of the treasure:—that he did not find it after
all, was, perhaps, because his fairy guide, Imagination, was not sufficiently
well-grown, or well-educated, to direct him aright.
I observed, just now, that, in fact, there had been certain vague attempts at
referring Gravity to some very uncertainisms. These attempts, however,
although considered bold and justly so considered, looked no farther than to
the generality—the merest generality—of the Newtonian Law. Its modus
operandi has never, to my knowledge, been approached in the way of an effort
at explanation. It is, therefore, with no unwarranted fear of being taken for a
madman at the outset, and before I can bring my propositions fairly to the eye
of those who alone are competent to decide upon them, that I here declare
the modus operandi of the Law of Gravity to be an exceedingly simple and
perfectly explicable thing—that is to say, when we make our advances towards
it in just gradations and in the true direction—when we regard it from the
proper point of view.
Whether we reach the idea of absolute Unity as the source of All Things,
from a consideration of Simplicity as the most probable characteristic of the
original action of God;—whether we arrive at it from an inspection of the
universality of relation in the gravitating phænomena;—or whether we attain it
as a result of the mutual corroboration afforded by both processes;—still, the
idea itself, if entertained at all, is entertained in inseparable connection with
another idea—that of the condition of the Universe of stars as
we now perceive it—that is to say, a condition of
immeasurable diffusion through space. Now a connection between these two
ideas—unity and diffusion—cannot be established unless through the
entertainment of a third idea—that of irradiation. Absolute Unity being taken
as a centre, then the existing Universe of stars is the result of irradiation from
that centre.
Now, the laws of irradiation are known. They are part and parcel of
the sphere. They belong to the class ofindisputable geometrical properties. We
say of them, “they are true—they are evident.” To demand why they are true,
would be to demand why the axioms are true upon which their demonstration
is based. Nothing is demonstrable, strictly speaking; but if anything be, then
the properties—the laws in question are demonstrated.
But these laws—what do they declare? Irradiation—how—by what steps
does it proceed outwardly from a centre?
From a luminous centre, Light issues by irradiation; and the quantities of
light received upon any given plane, supposed to be shifting its position so as
to be now nearer the centre and now farther from it, will be diminished in the
same proportion as the squares of the distances of the plane from the luminous
body, are increased; and will be increased in the same proportion as these
squares are diminished.
The expression of the law may be thus generalized:—the number of lightparticles (or, if the phrase be preferred, the number of light-impressions)
received upon the shifting plane, will be inversely proportional with the
squares of the distances of the plane. Generalizing yet again, we may say that
the diffusion—the scattering—the irradiation, in a word—
is directly proportional with the squares of the distances.
For example: at the distance B, from the luminous centre A, a certain
number of particles are so diffused as to occupy the surface B. Then at double
the distance—that is to say at C—they will be so much farther diffused as to
occupy four such surfaces:—at treble the distance, or at D, they will be so
much farther separated as to occupy nine such surfaces:—while, at quadruple
the distance, or at E, they will have become so scattered as to spread
themselves over sixteen such surfaces—and so on forever.
In saying, generally, that the irradiation proceeds in direct proportion with
the squares of the distances, we use the term irradiation to express the degree
of the diffusion as we proceed outwardly from the centre. Conversing the idea,
and employing the word “concentralization” to express the degree of the
drawing together as we come back toward the centre from an outward
position, we may say that concentralization proceeds inversely as the squares
of the distances. In other words, we have reached the conclusion that, on the
hypothesis that matter was originally irradiated from a centre and is now
returning to it, the concentralization, in the return, proceeds exactly as we
know the force of gravitation to proceed.
Now here, if we could be permitted to assume that concentralization exactly
represented the force of the tendency to the centre—that the one was exactly
proportional to the other, and that the two proceeded together—we should
have shown all that is required. The sole difficulty existing, then, is to
establish a direct proportion between “concentralization” and the force of
concentralization; and this is done, of course, if we establish such proportion
between “irradiation” and the force of irradiation.
A very slight inspection of the Heavens assures us that the stars have a
certain general uniformity, equability, or equidistance, of distribution through
that region of space in which, collectively, and in a roughly globular form,
they are situated:—this species of very general, rather than absolute,
equability, being in full keeping with my deduction of inequidistance, within
certain limits, among the originally diffused atoms, as a corollary from the
evident design of infinite complexity of relation out of irrelation. I started, it
will be remembered, with the idea of a generally uniform but
particularly ununiform distribution of the atoms;—an idea, I repeat, which an
inspection of the stars, as they exist, confirms.
But even in the merely general equability of distribution, as regards the
atoms, there appears a difficulty which, no doubt, has already suggested itself
to those among my readers who have borne in mind that I suppose this
equability of distribution effected through irradiation from a centre. The very
first glance at the idea, irradiation, forces us to the entertainment of the
hitherto unseparated and seemingly inseparable idea of agglomeration about a
centre, with dispersion as we recede from it—the idea, in a word,
of inequability of distribution in respect to the matter irradiated.
Now, I have elsewhere observed that it is by just such difficulties as the one
now in question—such roughnesses—such peculiarities—such protuberances
above the plane of the ordinary—that Reason feels her way, if at all, in her
search for the True. By the difficulty—the “peculiarity”—now presented, I
leap at once to the secret—a secret which I might never have attained but for
the peculiarity and the inferences which, in its mere character of peculiarity, it
affords me.
The process of thought, at this point, may be thus roughly sketched:—I say
to myself—“Unity, as I have explained it, is a truth—I feel it. Diffusion is a
truth—I see it. Irradiation, by which alone these two truths are reconciled, is a
consequent truth—I perceive it. Equability of diffusion, first deduced à
priori and then corroborated by the inspection of phænomena, is also a truth—
I fully admit it. So far all is clear around me:—there are no clouds behind
which thesecret—the great secret of the gravitating modus operandi—can
possibly lie hidden;—but this secret lies hereabouts, most assuredly;
and were there but a cloud in view, I should be driven to suspicion of that
cloud.” And now, just as I say this, there actually comes a cloud into view.
This cloud is the seeming impossibility of reconciling my truth,irradiation,
with my truth, equability of diffusion. I say now:—“Behind
this seeming impossibility is to be found what I desire.” I do not say
“real impossibility;” for invincible faith in my truths assures me that it is a
mere difficulty after all—but I go on to say, with unflinching confidence,
that, when this difficulty shall be solved, we shall find, wrapped up in the
process of solution, the key to the secret at which we aim. Moreover—
I feel that we shall discover but onepossible solution of the difficulty; this for
the reason that, were there two, one would be supererogatory—would be
fruitless—would be empty—would contain no key—since no duplicate key
can be needed to any secret of Nature.
And now, let us see:—Our usual notions of irradiation—in fact all our
distinct notions of it—are caught merely from the process as we see it
exemplified in Light. Here there is a continuous outpouring of ray-streams,
and with a force which we have at least no right to suppose varies at all. Now,
in any such irradiation as this—continuous and of unvarying force—the
regions nearer the centre must inevitably be always more crowded with the
irradiated matter than the regions more remote. But I have assumed no such
irradiation as this. I assumed no continuous irradiation; and for the simple
reason that such an assumption would have involved, first, the necessity of
entertaining a conception which I have shown no man can entertain, and
which (as I will more fully explain hereafter) all observation of the firmament
refutes—the conception of the absolute infinity of the Universe of stars—and
would have involved, secondly, the impossibility of understanding a rëaction
—that is, gravitation—as existing now—since, while an act is continued, no
rëaction, of course, can take place. My assumption, then, or rather my
inevitable deduction from just premises—was that of a determinate irradiation
—one finally discontinued.
Let me now describe the sole possible mode in which it is conceivable that
matter could have been diffused through space, so as to fulfil the conditions at
once of irradiation and of generally equable distribution.
For convenience of illustration, let us imagine, in the first place, a hollow
sphere of glass, or of anything else, occupying the space throughout which the
universal matter is to be thus equally diffused, by means of irradiation, from
the absolute, irrelative, unconditional particle, placed in the centre of the
sphere.
Now, a certain exertion of the diffusive power (presumed to be the Divine
Volition)—in other words, a certain force—whose measure is the quantity of
matter—that is to say, the number of atoms—emitted; emits, by irradiation,
this certain number of atoms; forcing them in all directions outwardly from the
centre—their proximity to each other diminishing as they proceed—until,
finally, they are distributed, loosely, over the interior surface of the sphere.
When these atoms have attained this position, or while proceeding to attain
it, a second and inferior exercise of the same force—or a second and inferior
force of the same character—emits, in the same manner—that is to say, by
irradiation as before—a second stratum of atoms which proceeds to deposit
itself upon the first; the number of atoms, in this case as in the former, being
of course the measure of the force which emitted them; in other words the
force being precisely adapted to the purpose it effects—the force and the
number of atoms sent out by the force, being directly proportional.
When this second stratum has reached its destined position—or while
approaching it—a third still inferior exertion of the force, or a third inferior
force of a similar character—the number of atoms emitted being in all cases
the measure of the force—proceeds to deposit a third stratum upon the second:
—and so on, until these concentric strata, growing gradually less and less,
come down at length to the central point; and the diffusive matter,
simultaneously with the diffusive force, is exhausted.
We have now the sphere filled, through means of irradiation, with atoms
equably diffused. The two necessary conditions—those of irradiation and of
equable diffusion—are satisfied; and by the sole process in which the
possibility of their simultaneous satisfaction is conceivable. For this reason, I
confidently expect to find, lurking in the present condition of the atoms as
distributed throughout the sphere, the secret of which I am in search—the allimportant principle of the modus operandi of the Newtonian law. Let us
examine, then, the actual condition of the atoms.
They lie in a series of concentric strata. They are equably diffused
throughout the sphere. They have been irradiated into these states.
The atoms being equably distributed, the greater the superficial extent of any
of these concentric strata, or spheres, the more atoms will lie upon it. In other
words, the number of atoms lying upon the surface of any one of the
concentric spheres, is directly proportional with the extent of that surface.
But, in any series of concentric spheres, the surfaces are directly
proportional with the squares of the distances from the centre.
Therefore the number of atoms in any stratum is directly proportional with
the square of that stratum’s distance from the centre.
But the number of atoms in any stratum is the measure of the force which
emitted that stratum—that is to say, isdirectly proportional with the force.
Therefore the force which irradiated any stratum is directly proportional
with the square of that stratum’s distance from the centre:—or, generally,
The force of the irradiation has been directly proportional with the squares
of the distances.
Now, Rëaction, as far as we know anything of it, is Action conversed.
The general principle of Gravity being, in the first place, understood as the
rëaction of an act—as the expression of a desire on the part of Matter, while
existing in a state of diffusion, to return into the Unity whence it was diffused;
and, in the second place, the mind being called upon to determine
the character of the desire—the manner in which it would, naturally, be
manifested; in other words, being called upon to conceive a probable law,
or modus operandi, for the return; could not well help arriving at the
conclusion that this law of return would be precisely the converse of the law of
departure. That such would be the case, any one, at least, would be abundantly
justified in taking for granted, until such time as some person should suggest
something like a plausible reason why it should not be the case—until such
period as a law of return shall be imagined which the intellect can consider as
preferable.
Matter, then, irradiated into space with a force varying as the squares of the
distances, might, à priori, be supposed to return towards its centre of
irradiation with a force varying inversely as the squares of the distances: and I
have already shown that any principle which will explain why the atoms
should tend, according to any law, to the general centre, must be admitted as
satisfactorily explaining, at the same time, why, according to the same law,
they should tend each to each. For, in fact, the tendency to the general centre is
not to a centre as such, but because of its being a point in tending towards
which each atom tends most directly to its real and essential centre, Unity—
the absolute and final Union of all.
The consideration here involved presents to my own mind no
embarrassment whatever—but this fact does not blind me to the possibility of
its being obscure to those who may have been less in the habit of dealing with
abstractions:—and, upon the whole, it may be as well to look at the matter
from one or two other points of view.
The absolute, irrelative particle primarily created by the Volition of God,
must have been in a condition of positivenormality, or rightfulness—for
wrongfulness implies relation. Right is positive; wrong is negative—is merely
the negation of right; as cold is the negation of heat—darkness of light. That a
thing may be wrong, it is necessary that there be some other thing
in relation to which it is wrong—some condition which it fails to satisfy; some
law which it violates; some being whom it aggrieves. If there be no such
being, law, or condition, in respect to which the thing is wrong—and, still
more especially, if no beings, laws, or conditions exist at all—then the thing
cannot be wrong and consequently must be right. Any deviation from
normality involves a tendency to return into it. A difference from the normal—
from the right—from the just—can be understood as effected only by the
overcoming a difficulty; and if the force which overcomes the difficulty be not
infinitely continued, the ineradicable tendency to return will at length be
permitted to act for its own satisfaction. Upon withdrawal of the force, the
tendency acts. This is the principle of rëaction as the inevitable consequence
of finite action. Employing a phraseology of which the seeming affectation
will be pardoned for its expressiveness, we may say that Rëaction is the return
from the condition of as it is and ought not to be into the condition of as it
was, originally, and therefore ought to be:—and let me add here that
the absoluteforce of Rëaction would no doubt be always found in direct
proportion with the reality—the truth—the absoluteness—of the originality—
if ever it were possible to measure this latter:—and, consequently, the greatest
of all conceivable reactions must be that produced by the tendency which we
now discuss—the tendency to return into the absolutely original—into
the supremely primitive. Gravity, then, must be the strongest of forces—an
idea reached à priori and abundantly confirmed by induction. What use I make
of the idea, will be seen in the sequel.
The atoms, now, having been diffused from their normal condition of Unity,
seek to return to——what? Not to any particular point, certainly; for it is clear
that if, upon the diffusion, the whole Universe of matter had been projected,
collectively, to a distance from the point of irradiation, the atomic tendency to
the general centre of the sphere would not have been disturbed in the least:—
the atoms would not have sought the point in absolute space from which they
were originally impelled. It is merely the condition, and not the point or
locality at which this condition took its rise, that these atoms seek to reestablish;—it is merely that condition which is their normality, that they
desire. “But they seek a centre,” it will be said, “and a centre is a point.” True;
but they seek this point not in its character of point—(for, were the whole
sphere moved from its position, they would seek, equally, the centre; and the
centre then would be anew point)—but because it so happens, on account of
the form in which they collectively exist—(that of the sphere)—that
only through the point in question—the sphere’s centre—they can attain their
true object, Unity. In the direction of the centre each atom perceives more
atoms than in any other direction. Each atom is impelled towards the centre
because along the straight line joining it and the centre and passing on to the
circumference beyond, there lie a greater number of atoms than along any
other straight line—a greater number of objects that seek it, the individual
atom—a greater number of tendencies to Unity—a greater number of
satisfactions for its own tendency to Unity—in a word, because in the
direction of the centre lies the utmost possibility of satisfaction, generally, for
its own individual appetite. To be brief, the condition, Unity, is all that is really
sought; and if the atoms seem to seek the centre of the sphere, it is only
impliedly, through implication—because such centre happens to imply, to
include, or to involve, the only essential centre, Unity. But on account of this
implication or involution, there is no possibility of practically separating the
tendency to Unity in the abstract, from the tendency to the concrete centre.
Thus the tendency of the atoms to the general centre is, to all practical intents
and for all logical purposes, the tendency each to each; and the tendency each
to each is the tendency to the centre; and the one tendency may be
assumed as the other; whatever will apply to the one must be thoroughly
applicable to the other; and, in conclusion, whatever principle will
satisfactorily explain the one, cannot be questioned as an explanation of the
other.
In looking carefully around me for rational objection to what I have
advanced, I am able to discover nothing;—but of that class of objections
usually urged by the doubters for Doubt’s sake, I very readily perceive three;
and proceed to dispose of them in order.
It may be said, first: “The proof that the force of irradiation (in the case
described) is directly proportional to the squares of the distances, depends
upon an unwarranted assumption—that of the number of atoms in each
stratum being the measure of the force with which they are emitted.”
I reply, not only that I am warranted in such assumption, but that I should be
utterly unwarranted in any other. What I assume is, simply, that an effect is the
measure of its cause—that every exercise of the Divine Will will be
proportional to that which demands the exertion—that the means of
Omnipotence, or of Omniscience, will be exactly adapted to its purposes.
Neither can a deficiency nor an excess of cause bring to pass any effect. Had
the force which irradiated any stratum to its position, been either more or less
than was needed for the purpose—that is to say, not directly proportional to
the purpose—then to its position that stratum could not have been irradiated.
Had the force which, with a view to general equability of distribution, emitted
the proper number of atoms for each stratum, been not directly proportional to
the number, then the number would not have been the number demanded for
the equable distribution.
The second supposable objection is somewhat better entitled to an answer.
It is an admitted principle in Dynamics that every body, on receiving an
impulse, or disposition to move, will move onward in a straight line, in the
direction imparted by the impelling force, until deflected, or stopped, by some
other force. How then, it may be asked, is my first or external stratum of atoms
to be understood as discontinuing their movement at the circumference of the
imaginary glass sphere, when no second force, of more than an imaginary
character, appears, to account for the discontinuance?
I reply that the objection, in this case, actually does arise out of “an
unwarranted assumption”—on the part of the objector—the assumption of a
principle, in Dynamics, at an epoch when no “principles,” in anything, exist:
—I use the word “principle,” of course, in the objector’s understanding of the
word.
“In the beginning” we can admit—indeed we can comprehend—but
one First Cause—the truly ultimate Principle—the Volition of God. The
primary act—that of Irradiation from Unity—must have been independent of
all that which the world now calls “principle”—because all that we so
designate is but a consequence of the rëaction of that primary act:—I say
“primary” act; for the creation of the absolute material particle is more
properly to be regarded as a conceptionthan as an “act” in the ordinary
meaning of the term. Thus, we must regard the primary act as an act for the
establishment of what we now call “principles.” But this primary act itself is to
be considered as continuous Volition. The Thought of God is to be understood
as originating the Diffusion—as proceeding with it—as regulating it—and,
finally, as being withdrawn from it upon its completion. Then commences
Rëaction, and through Rëaction, “Principle,” as we employ the word. It will be
advisable, however, to limit the application of this word to the
two immediateresults of the discontinuance of the Divine Volition—that is, to
the two agents, Attraction and Repulsion. Every other Natural agent depends,
either more or less immediately, upon these two, and therefore would be more
conveniently designated as sub-principle.
It may be objected, thirdly, that, in general, the peculiar mode of distribution
which I have suggested for the atoms, is “an hypothesis and nothing more.”
Now, I am aware that the word hypothesis is a ponderous sledge-hammer,
grasped immediately, if not lifted, by all very diminutive thinkers, upon the
first appearance of any proposition wearing, in any particular, the garb of a
theory. But “hypothesis” cannot be wielded here to any good purpose, even by
those who succeed in lifting it—little men or great.
I maintain, first, that only in the mode described is it conceivable that Matter
could have been diffused so as to fulfil at once the conditions of irradiation
and of generally equable distribution. I maintain, secondly, that these
conditions themselves have been imposed upon me, as necessities, in a train of
ratiocination as rigorously logical as that which establishes any demonstration
in Euclid; and I maintain, thirdly, that even if the charge of “hypothesis” were
as fully sustained as it is, in fact, unsustained and untenable, still the validity
and indisputability of my result would not, even in the slightest particular, be
disturbed.
To explain:—The Newtonian Gravity—a law of Nature—a law whose
existence as such no one out of Bedlam questions—a law whose admission as
such enables us to account for nine-tenths of the Universal phænomena—a
law which, merely because it does so enable us to account for these
phænomena, we are perfectly willing, without reference to any other
considerations, to admit, and cannot help admitting, as a law—a law,
nevertheless, of which neither the principle nor the modus operandi of the
principle, has ever yet been traced by the human analysis—a law, in short,
which, neither in its detail nor in its generality, has been found susceptible of
explanation at all—is at length seen to be at every point thoroughly explicable,
provided only we yield our assent to——what? To an hypothesis? Why if an
hypothesis—if the merest hypothesis—if an hypothesis for whose assumption
—as in the case of that pure hypothesis the Newtonian law itself—no shadow
of à priori reason could be assigned—if an hypothesis, even so absolute as all
this implies, would enable us to perceive a principle for the Newtonian law—
would enable us to understand as satisfied, conditions so miraculously—so
ineffably complex and seemingly irreconcileable as those involved in the
relations of which Gravity tells us,—what rational being could so expose his
fatuity as to call even this absolute hypothesis an hypothesis any longer—
unless, indeed, he were to persist in so calling it, with the understanding that
he did so, simply for the sake of consistency in words?
But what is the true state of our present case? What is the fact? Not only that
it is not an hypothesis which we are required to adopt, in order to admit the
principle at issue explained, but that it is a logical conclusion which we are
requested not to adopt if we can avoid it—which we are simply invited to deny
if we can:—a conclusion of so accurate a logicality that to dispute it would be
the effort—to doubt its validity beyond our power:—a conclusion from which
we see no mode of escape, turn as we will; a result which confronts us either
at the end of an inductive journey from the phænomena of the very Law
discussed, or at the close of a deductive career from the most rigorously
simple of all conceivable assumptions—the assumption, in a word, of
Simplicity itself.
And if here, for the mere sake of cavilling, it be urged, that although my
starting-point is, as I assert, the assumption of absolute Simplicity, yet
Simplicity, considered merely in itself, is no axiom; and that only deductions
from axioms are indisputable—it is thus that I reply:—
Every other science than Logic is the science of certain concrete relations.
Arithmetic, for example, is the science of the relations of number—Geometry,
of the relations of form—Mathematics in general, of the relations of quantity
in general—of whatever can be increased or diminished. Logic, however, is
the science of Relation in the abstract—of absolute Relation—of Relation
considered solely in itself. An axiom in any particular science other than Logic
is, thus, merely a proposition announcing certain concrete relations which
seem to be too obvious for dispute—as when we say, for instance, that the
whole is greater than its part:—and, thus again, the principle of
the Logical axiom—in other words, of an axiom in the abstract—
is, simply, obviousness of relation. Now, it is clear, not only that what is
obvious to one mind may not be obvious to another, but that what is obvious
to one mind at one epoch, may be anything but obvious, at another epoch, to
the same mind. It is clear, moreover, that what, to-day, is obvious even to the
majority of mankind, or to the majority of the best intellects of mankind, may
to-morrow be, to either majority, more or less obvious, or in no respect
obvious at all. It is seen, then, that the axiomatic principle itself is susceptible
of variation, and of course that axioms are susceptible of similar change.
Being mutable, the “truths” which grow out of them are necessarily mutable
too; or, in other words, are never to be positively depended upon as truths at
all—since Truth and Immutability are one.
It will now be readily understood that no axiomatic idea—no idea founded
in the fluctuating principle, obviousness of relation—can possibly be so secure
—so reliable a basis for any structure erected by the Reason, as that idea—
(whatever it is, wherever we can find it, or if it be practicable to find it
anywhere)—which is irrelative altogether—which not only presents to the
understanding no obviousness of relation, either greater or less, to be
considered, but subjects the intellect, not in the slightest degree, to the
necessity of even looking at any relation at all. If such an idea be not what we
too heedlessly term “an axiom,” it is at least preferable, as a Logical basis, to
any axiom ever propounded, or to all imaginable axioms combined:—and
such, precisely, is the idea with which my deductive process, so thoroughly
corroborated by induction, commences. My particle proper is but absolute
Irrelation. To sum up what has been here advanced:—As a starting point I
have taken it for granted, simply, that the Beginning had nothing behind it or
before it—that it was a Beginning in fact—that it was a beginning and nothing
different from a beginning—in short that this Beginning was——that which it
was. If this be a “mere assumption” then a “mere assumption” let it be.
To conclude this branch of the subject:—I am fully warranted in announcing
that the Law which we have been in the habit of calling Gravity exists on
account of Matter’s having been irradiated, at its origin, atomically, into a
limited sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative, and
absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it was possible to satisfy,
at the same time, the two conditions, irradiation, and generally-equable
distribution throughout the sphere—that is to say, by a force varying in direct
proportion with the squares of the distances between the irradiated atoms,
respectively, and the Particular centre of Irradiation.
I have already given my reasons for presuming Matter to have been diffused
by a determinate rather than by a continuous or infinitely continued force.
Supposing a continuous force, we should be unable, in the first place, to
comprehend a rëaction at all; and we should be required, in the second place,
to entertain the impossible conception of an infinite extension of Matter. Not
to dwell upon the impossibility of the conception, the infinite extension of
Matter is an idea which, if not positively disproved, is at least not in any
respect warranted by telescopic observation of the stars—a point to be
explained more fully hereafter; and this empirical reason for believing in the
original finity of Matter is unempirically confirmed. For example:—
Admitting, for the moment, the possibility of understanding Space filled with
the irradiated atoms—that is to say, admitting, as well as we can, for
argument’s sake, that the succession of the irradiated atoms had absolutely no
end—then it is abundantly clear that, even when the Volition of God had been
withdrawn from them, and thus the tendency to return into Unity permitted
(abstractly) to be satisfied, this permission would have been nugatory and
invalid—practically valueless and of no effect whatever. No Rëaction could
have taken place; no movement toward Unity could have been made; no Law
of Gravity could have obtained.
To explain:—Grant the abstract tendency of any one atom to any one other
as the inevitable result of diffusion from the normal Unity:—or, what is the
same thing, admit any given atom as proposing to move in any given direction
—it is clear that, since there is an infinity of atoms on all sides of the atom
proposing to move, it never can actually move toward the satisfaction of its
tendency in the direction given, on account of a precisely equal and
counterbalancing tendency in the direction diametrically opposite. In other
words, exactly as many tendencies to Unity are behind the hesitating atom as
before it; for it is a mere sotticism to say that one infinite line is longer or
shorter than another infinite line, or that one infinite number is greater or less
than another number that is infinite. Thus the atom in question must remain
stationary forever. Under the impossible circumstances which we have been
merely endeavoring to conceive for argument’s sake, there could have been no
aggregation of Matter—no stars—no worlds—nothing but a perpetually
atomic and inconsequential Universe. In fact, view it as we will, the whole
idea of unlimited Matter is not only untenable, but impossible and
preposterous.
With the understanding of a sphere of atoms, however, we perceive, at once,
a satisfiable tendency to union. The general result of the tendency each to
each, being a tendency of all to the centre, the general process of
condensation, or approximation, commences immediately, by a common and
simultaneous movement, on withdrawal of the Divine Volition;
the individual approximations, or coalescences—not cöalitions—of atom with
atom, being subject to almost infinite variations of time, degree, and condition,
on account of the excessive multiplicity of relation, arising from the
differences of form assumed as characterizing the atoms at the moment of
their quitting the Particle Proper; as well as from the subsequent particular
inequidistance, each from each.
What I wish to impress upon the reader is the certainty of there arising, at
once, (on withdrawal of the diffusive force, or Divine Volition,) out of the
condition of the atoms as described, at innumerable points throughout the
Universal sphere, innumerable agglomerations, characterized by innumerable
specific differences of form, size, essential nature, and distance each from
each. The development of Repulsion (Electricity) must have commenced, of
course, with the very earliest particular efforts at Unity, and must have
proceeded constantly in the ratio of Coalescence—that is to say, in that of
Condensation, or, again, of Heterogeneity.
Thus the two Principles Proper, Attraction and Repulsion—the Material and
the Spiritual—accompany each other, in the strictest fellowship, forever.
Thus The Body and The Soul walk hand in hand.
If now, in fancy, we select any one of the agglomerations considered as in
their primary stages throughout the Universal sphere, and suppose this
incipient agglomeration to be taking place at that point where the centre of our
Sun exists—or rather where it did exist originally; for the Sun is perpetually
shifting his position—we shall find ourselves met, and borne onward for a
time at least, by the most magnificent of theories—by the Nebular Cosmogony
of Laplace:—although “Cosmogony” is far too comprehensive a term for what
he really discusses—which is the constitution of our solar system alone—of
one among the myriad of similar systems which make up the Universe Proper
—that Universal sphere—that all-inclusive and absolute Kosmos which forms
the subject of my present Discourse.
Confining himself to an obviously limited region—that of our solar system
with its comparatively immediate vicinity—and merely assuming—that is to
say, assuming without any basis whatever, either deductive or inductive—
much of what I have been just endeavoring to place upon a more stable basis
than assumption; assuming, for example, matter as diffused (without
pretending to account for the diffusion) throughout, and somewhat beyond, the
space occupied by our system—diffused in a state of heterogeneous nebulosity
and obedient to that omniprevalent law of Gravity at whose principle he
ventured to make no guess;—assuming all this (which is quite true, although
he had no logical right to its assumption) Laplace has shown, dynamically and
mathematically, that the results in such case necessarily ensuing, are those and
those alone which we find manifested in the actually existing condition of the
system itself.
To explain:—Let us conceive that particular agglomeration of which we
have just spoken—the one at the point designated by our Sun’s centre—to
have so far proceeded that a vast quantity of nebulous matter has here assumed
a roughly globular form; its centre being, of course, coincident with what is
now, or rather was originally, the centre of our Sun; and its periphery
extending out beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most remote of our planets:—
in other words, let us suppose the diameter of this rough sphere to be some
6000 millions of miles. For ages, this mass of matter has been undergoing
condensation, until at length it has become reduced into the bulk we imagine;
having proceeded gradually, of course, from its atomic and imperceptible
state, into what we understand of visible, palpable, or otherwise appreciable
nebulosity.
Now, the condition of this mass implies a rotation about an imaginary axis—
a rotation which, commencing with the absolute incipiency of the aggregation,
has been ever since acquiring velocity. The very first two atoms which met,
approaching each other from points not diametrically opposite, would, in
rushing partially past each other, form anucleus for the rotary movement
described. How this would increase in velocity, is readily seen. The two atoms
are joined by others:—an aggregation is formed. The mass continues to rotate
while condensing. But any atom at the circumference has, of course, a more
rapid motion than one nearer the centre. The outer atom, however, with its
superior velocity, approaches the centre; carrying this superior velocity with it
as it goes. Thus every atom, proceeding inwardly, and finally attaching itself
to the condensed centre, adds something to the original velocity of that centre
—that is to say, increases the rotary movement of the mass.
Let us now suppose this mass so far condensed that it occupies precisely the
space circumscribed by the orbit of Neptune, and that the velocity with which
the surface of the mass moves, in the general rotation, is precisely that velocity
with which Neptune now revolves about the Sun. At this epoch, then, we are
to understand that the constantly increasing centrifugal force, having gotten
the better of the non-increasing centripetal, loosened and separated the exterior
and least condensed stratum, or a few of the exterior and least condensed
strata, at the equator of the sphere, where the tangential velocity
predominated; so that these strata formed about the main body an independent
ring encircling the equatorial regions:—just as the exterior portion thrown off,
by excessive velocity of rotation, from a grindstone, would form a ring about
the grindstone, but for the solidity of the superficial material: were this
caoutchouc, or anything similar in consistency, precisely the phænomenon I
describe would be presented.
The ring thus whirled from the nebulous mass, revolved, of course, as a
separate ring, with just that velocity with which, while the surface of the mass,
it rotated. In the meantime, condensation still proceeding, the interval between
the discharged ring and the main body continued to increase, until the former
was left at a vast distance from the latter.
Now, admitting the ring to have possessed, by some seemingly accidental
arrangement of its heterogeneous materials, a constitution nearly uniform, then
this ring, as such, would never have ceased revolving about its primary; but, as
might have been anticipated, there appears to have been enough irregularity in
the disposition of the materials, to make them cluster about centres of superior
solidity; and thus the annular form was destroyed. No doubt, the band was
soon broken up into several portions, and one of these portions, predominating
in mass, absorbed the others into itself; the whole settling, spherically, into a
planet. That this latter, as a planet, continued the revolutionary movement
which characterized it while a ring, is sufficiently clear; and that it took upon
itself also, an additional movement in its new condition of sphere, is readily
explained. The ring being understood as yet unbroken, we see that its exterior,
while the whole revolves about the parent body, moves more rapidly than its
interior. When the rupture occurred, then, someportion in each fragment must
have been moving with greater velocity than the others. The superior
movement prevailing, must have whirled each fragment round—that is to say,
have caused it to rotate; and the direction of the rotation must, of course, have
been the direction of the revolution whence it arose. All the fragments having
become subject to the rotation described, must, in coalescing, have imparted it
to the one planet constituted by their coalescence.—This planet was Neptune.
Its material continuing to undergo condensation, and the centrifugal force
generated in its rotation getting, at length, the better of the centripetal, as
before in the case of the parent orb, a ring was whirled also from the equatorial
surface of this planet: this ring, having been ununiform in its constitution, was
broken up, and its several fragments, being absorbed by the most massive,
were collectively spherified into a moon. Subsequently, the operation was
repeated, and a second moon was the result. We thus account for the planet
Neptune, with the two satellites which accompany him.
In throwing off a ring from its equator, the Sun re-established that
equilibrium between its centripetal and centrifugal forces which had been
disturbed in the process of condensation; but, as this condensation still
proceeded, the equilibrium was again immediately disturbed, through the
increase of rotation. By the time the mass had so far shrunk that it occupied a
spherical space just that circumscribed by the orbit of Uranus, we are to
understand that the centrifugal force had so far obtained the ascendency that
new relief was needed: a second equatorial band was, consequently, thrown
off, which, proving ununiform, was broken up, as before in the case of
Neptune; the fragments settling into the planet Uranus; the velocity of whose
actual revolution about the Sun indicates, of course, the rotary speed of that
Sun’s equatorial surface at the moment of the separation. Uranus, adopting a
rotation from the collective rotations of the fragments composing it, as
previously explained, now threw off ring after ring; each of which, becoming
broken up, settled into a moon:—three moons, at different epochs, having
been formed, in this manner, by the rupture and general spherification of as
many distinct ununiform rings.
By the time the Sun had shrunk until it occupied a space just that
circumscribed by the orbit of Saturn, the balance, we are to suppose, between
its centripetal and centrifugal forces had again become so far disturbed,
through increase of rotary velocity, the result of condensation, that a third
effort at equilibrium became necessary; and an annular band was therefore
whirled off as twice before; which, on rupture through ununiformity, became
consolidated into the planet Saturn. This latter threw off, in the first place,
seven uniform bands, which, on rupture, were spherified respectively into as
many moons; but, subsequently, it appears to have discharged, at three distinct
but not very distant epochs, three rings whose equability of constitution was,
by apparent accident, so considerable as to present no occasion for their
rupture; thus they continue to revolve as rings. I use the phrase
“apparent accident;” for of accident in the ordinary sense there was, of course,
nothing:—the term is properly applied only to the result of indistinguishable
or not immediately traceable law.
Shrinking still farther, until it occupied just the space circumscribed by the
orbit of Jupiter, the Sun now found need of farther effort to restore the
counterbalance of its two forces, continually disarranged in the still continued
increase of rotation. Jupiter, accordingly, was now thrown off; passing from
the annular to the planetary condition; and, on attaining this latter, threw off in
its turn, at four different epochs, four rings, which finally resolved themselves
into so many moons.
Still shrinking, until its sphere occupied just the space defined by the orbit of
the Asteroids, the Sun now discarded a ring which appears to have
had eight centres of superior solidity, and, on breaking up, to have separated
into eight fragments no one of which so far predominated in mass as to absorb
the others. All therefore, as distinct although comparatively small planets,
proceeded to revolve in orbits whose distances, each from each, may be
considered as in some degree the measure of the force which drove them
asunder:—all the orbits, nevertheless, being so closely coincident as to admit
of our calling them one, in view of the other planetary orbits.
Continuing to shrink, the Sun, on becoming so small as just to fill the orbit
of Mars, now discharged this planet—of course by the process repeatedly
described. Having no moon, however, Mars could have thrown off no ring. In
fact, an epoch had now arrived in the career of the parent body, the centre of
the system. The decrease of its nebulosity, which is the increase of its density,
and which again is the decrease of its condensation, out of which latter arose
the constant disturbance of equilibrium—must, by this period, have attained a
point at which the efforts for restoration would have been more and more
ineffectual just in proportion as they were less frequently needed. Thus the
processes of which we have been speaking would everywhere show signs of
exhaustion—in the planets, first, and secondly, in the original mass. We must
not fall into the error of supposing the decrease of interval observed among the
planets as we approach the Sun, to be in any respect indicative of an increase
of frequency in the periods at which they were discarded. Exactly the converse
is to be understood. The longest interval of time must have occurred between
the discharges of the two interior; the shortest, between those of the two
exterior, planets. The decrease of the interval of space is, nevertheless, the
measure of the density, and thus inversely of the condensation, of the Sun,
throughout the processes detailed.
Having shrunk, however, so far as to fill only the orbit of our Earth, the
parent sphere whirled from itself still one other body—the Earth—in a
condition so nebulous as to admit of this body’s discarding, in its turn, yet
another, which is our Moon;—but here terminated the lunar formations.
Finally, subsiding to the orbits first of Venus and then of Mercury, the Sun
discarded these two interior planets; neither of which has given birth to any
moon.
Thus from his original bulk—or, to speak more accurately, from the
condition in which we first considered him—from a partially spherified
nebular mass, certainly much more than 5,600 millions of miles in diameter—
the great central orb and origin of our solar-planetary-lunar system, has
gradually descended, by condensation, in obedience to the law of Gravity, to a
globe only 882,000 miles in diameter; but it by no means follows, either that
its condensation is yet complete, or that it may not still possess the capacity of
whirling from itself another planet.
I have here given—in outline of course, but still with all the detail necessary
for distinctness—a view of the Nebular Theory as its author himself conceived
it. From whatever point we regard it, we shall find it beautifully true. It is by
far too beautiful, indeed, not to possess Truth as its essentiality—and here I am
very profoundly serious in what I say. In the revolution of the satellites of
Uranus, there does appear something seemingly inconsistent with the
assumptions of Laplace; but that one inconsistency can invalidate a theory
constructed from a million of intricate consistencies, is a fancy fit only for the
fantastic. In prophecying, confidently, that the apparent anomaly to which I
refer, will, sooner or later, be found one of the strongest possible
corroborations of the general hypothesis, I pretend to no especial spirit of
divination. It is a matter which the only difficulty seems not to foresee.
The bodies whirled off in the processes described, would exchange, it has
been seen, the superficial rotation of the orbs whence they originated, for
a revolution of equal velocity about these orbs as distant centres; and the
revolution thus engendered must proceed, so long as the centripetal force, or
that with which the discarded body gravitates towardits parent, is neither
greater nor less than that by which it was discarded; that is, than the
centrifugal, or, far more properly, than the tangential, velocity. From the unity,
however, of the origin of these two forces, we might have expected to find
them as they are found—the one accurately counterbalancing the other. It has
been shown, indeed, that the act of whirling-off is, in every case, merely an act
for the preservation of the counterbalance.
After referring, however, the centripetal force to the omniprevalent law of
Gravity, it has been the fashion with astronomical treatises, to seek beyond the
limits of mere Nature—that is to say, of Secondary Cause—a solution of the
phænomenon of tangential velocity. This latter they attribute directly to
a First Cause—to God. The force which carries a stellar body around its
primary they assert to have originated in an impulse given immediately by the
finger—this is the childish phraseology employed—by the finger of Deity
itself. In this view, the planets, fully formed, are conceived to have been
hurled from the Divine hand, to a position in the vicinity of the suns, with an
impetus mathematically adapted to the masses, or attractive capacities, of the
suns themselves. An idea so grossly unphilosophical, although so supinely
adopted, could have arisen only from the difficulty of otherwise accounting for
the absolutely accurate adaptation, each to each, of two forces so seemingly
independent, one of the other, as are the gravitating and tangential. But it
should be remembered that, for a long time, the coincidence between the
moon’s rotation and her sidereal revolution—two matters seemingly far more
independent than those now considered—was looked upon as positively
miraculous; and there was a strong disposition, even among astronomers, to
attribute the marvel to the direct and continual agency of God—who, in this
case, it was said, had found it necessary to interpose, specially, among his
general laws, a set of subsidiary regulations, for the purpose of forever
concealing from mortal eyes the glories, or perhaps the horrors, of the other
side of the Moon—of that mysterious hemisphere which has always avoided,
and must perpetually avoid, the telescopic scrutiny of mankind. The advance
of Science, however, soon demonstrated—what to the philosophical instinct
needed no demonstration—that the one movement is but a portion—
something more, even, than a consequence—of the other.
For my part, I have no patience with fantasies at once so timorous, so idle,
and so awkward. They belong to the veriest cowardice of thought. That Nature
and the God of Nature are distinct, no thinking being can long doubt. By the
former we imply merely the laws of the latter. But with the very idea of God,
omnipotent, omniscient, we entertain, also, the idea of the infallibility of his
laws. With Him there being neither Past nor Future—with Him all being Now
—do we not insult him in supposing his laws so contrived as not to provide for
every possible contingency?—or, rather, what idea can we have
of any possible contingency, except that it is at once a result and a
manifestation of his laws? He who, divesting himself of prejudice, shall have
the rare courage to think absolutely for himself, cannot fail to arrive, in the
end, at the condensation of laws into Law—cannot fail of reaching the
conclusion that each law of Nature is dependent at all points upon all other
laws, and that all are but consequences of one primary exercise of the Divine
Volition. Such is the principle of the Cosmogony which, with all necessary
deference, I here venture to suggest and to maintain.
In this view, it will be seen that, dismissing as frivolous, and even impious,
the fancy of the tangential force having been imparted to the planets
immediately by “the finger of God,” I consider this force as originating in the
rotation of the stars:—this rotation as brought about by the in-rushing of the
primary atoms, towards their respective centres of aggregation:—this inrushing as the consequence of the law of Gravity:—this law as but the mode in
which is necessarily manifested the tendency of the atoms to return into
imparticularity:—this tendency to return as but the inevitable rëaction of the
first and most sublime of Acts—that act by which a God, self-existing and
alone existing, became all things at once, through dint of his volition, while all
things were thus constituted a portion of God.
The radical assumptions of this Discourse suggest to me, and in fact imply,
certain important modifications of the Nebular Theory as given by Laplace.
The efforts of the repulsive power I have considered as made for the purpose
of preventing contact among the atoms, and thus as made in the ratio of the
approach to contact—that is to say, in the ratio of condensation. In other
words, Electricity, with its involute phænomena, heat, light and magnetism, is
to be understood as proceeding as condensation proceeds, and, of course,
inversely as density proceeds, or the cessation to condense. Thus the Sun, in
the process of its aggregation, must soon, in developing repulsion, have
become excessively heated—perhaps incandescent: and we can perceive how
the operation of discarding its rings must have been materially assisted by the
slight incrustation of its surface consequent on cooling. Any common
experiment shows us how readily a crust of the character suggested, is
separated, through heterogeneity, from the interior mass. But, on every
successive rejection of the crust, the new surface would appear incandescent
as before; and the period at which it would again become so far encrusted as to
be readily loosened and discharged, may well be imagined as exactly
coincident with that at which a new effort would be needed, by the whole
mass, to restore the equilibrium of its two forces, disarranged through
condensation. In other words:—by the time the electric influence (Repulsion)
has prepared the surface for rejection, we are to understand that the gravitating
influence (Attraction) is precisely ready to reject it. Here, then, as
everywhere, the Body and the Soul walk hand in hand.
These ideas are empirically confirmed at all points. Since condensation can
never, in any body, be considered as absolutely at an end, we are warranted in
anticipating that, whenever we have an opportunity of testing the matter, we
shall find indications of resident luminosity in all the stellar bodies—moons
and planets as well as suns. That our Moon is strongly self-luminous, we see at
her every total eclipse, when, if not so, she would disappear. On the dark part
of the satellite, too, during her phases, we often observe flashes like our own
Auroras; and that these latter, with our various other so-called electrical
phænomena, without reference to any more steady radiance, must give our
Earth a certain appearance of luminosity to an inhabitant of the Moon, is quite
evident. In fact, we should regard all the phænomena referred to, as mere
manifestations, in different moods and degrees, of the Earth’s feebly-continued
condensation.
If my views are tenable, we should be prepared to find the newer planets—
that is to say, those nearer the Sun—more luminous than those older and more
remote:—and the extreme brilliancy of Venus (on whose dark portions, during
her phases, the Auroras are frequently visible) does not seem to be altogether
accounted for by her mere proximity to the central orb. She is no doubt vividly
self-luminous, although less so than Mercury: while the luminosity of Neptune
may be comparatively nothing.
Admitting what I have urged, it is clear that, from the moment of the Sun’s
discarding a ring, there must be a continuous diminution both of his heat and
light, on account of the continuous encrustation of his surface; and that a
period would arrive—the period immediately previous to a new discharge—
when a very material decrease of both light and heat, must become apparent.
Now, we know that tokens of such changes are distinctly recognizable. On the
Melville islands—to adduce merely one out of a hundred examples—we find
traces of ultra-tropical vegetation—of plants that never could have flourished
without immensely more light and heat than are at present afforded by our Sun
to any portion of the surface of the Earth. Is such vegetation referable to an
epoch immediately subsequent to the whirling-off of Venus? At this epoch
must have occurred to us our greatest access of solar influence; and, in fact,
this influence must then have attained its maximum:—leaving out of view, of
course, the period when the Earth itself was discarded—the period of its mere
organization.
Again:—we know that there exist non-luminous suns—that is to say, suns
whose existence we determine through the movements of others, but whose
luminosity is not sufficient to impress us. Are these suns invisible merely on
account of the length of time elapsed since their discharge of a planet? And yet
again:—may we not—at least in certain cases—account for the sudden
appearances of suns where none had been previously suspected, by the
hypothesis that, having rolled with encrusted surfaces throughout the few
thousand years of our astronomical history, each of these suns, in whirling off
a new secondary, has at length been enabled to display the glories of its still
incandescent interior?—To the well-ascertained fact of the proportional
increase of heat as we descend into the Earth, I need of course, do nothing
more than refer:—it comes in the strongest possible corroboration of all that I
have said on the topic now at issue.
In speaking, not long ago, of the repulsive or electrical influence, I remarked
that “the important phænomena of vitality, consciousness, and thought,
whether we observe them generally or in detail, seem to proceed at least in the
ratio of the heterogeneous.” I mentioned, too, that I would recur to the
suggestion:—and this is the proper point at which to do so. Looking at the
matter, first, in detail, we perceive that not merely the manifestation of vitality,
but its importance, consequence, and elevation of character, keep pace, very
closely, with the heterogeneity, or complexity, of the animal structure. Looking
at the question, now, in its generality, and referring to the first movements of
the atoms towards mass-constitution, we find that heterogeneousness, brought
about directly through condensation, is proportional with it forever. We thus
reach the proposition that the importance of the development of the terrestrial
vitality proceeds equably with the terrestrial condensation.
Now this is in precise accordance with what we know of the succession of
animals on the Earth. As it has proceeded in its condensation, superior and still
superior races have appeared. Is it impossible that the successive geological
revolutions which have attended, at least, if not immediately caused, these
successive elevations of vitalic character—is it improbable that these
revolutions have themselves been produced by the successive planetary
discharges from the Sun—in other words, by the successive variations in the
solar influence on the Earth? Were this idea tenable, we should not be
unwarranted in the fancy that the discharge of yet a new planet, interior to
Mercury, may give rise to yet a new modification of the terrestrial surface—a
modification from which may spring a race both materially and spiritually
superior to Man. These thoughts impress me with all the force of truth—but I
throw them out, of course, merely in their obvious character of suggestion.
The Nebular Theory of Laplace has lately received far more confirmation
than it needed, at the hands of the philosopher, Compte. These two have thus
together shown—not, to be sure, that Matter at any period actually existed as
described, in a state of nebular diffusion, but that, admitting it so to have
existed throughout the space and much beyond the space now occupied by our
solar system, and to have commenced a movement towards a centre—it must
gradually have assumed the various forms and motions which are now seen, in
that system, to obtain. A demonstration such as this—a dynamical and
mathematical demonstration, as far as demonstration can be—unquestionable
and unquestioned—unless, indeed, by that unprofitable and disreputable tribe,
the professional questioners—the mere madmen who deny the Newtonian law
of Gravity on which the results of the French mathematicians are based—a
demonstration, I say, such as this, would to most intellects be conclusive—and
I confess that it is so to mine—of the validity of the nebular hypothesis upon
which the demonstration depends.
That the demonstration does not prove the hypothesis, according to the
common understanding of the word “proof,” I admit, of course. To show that
certain existing results—that certain established facts—may be, even
mathematically, accounted for by the assumption of a certain hypothesis, is by
no means to establish the hypothesis itself. In other words:—to show that,
certain data being given, a certain existing result might, or even must, have
ensued, will fail to prove that this result did ensue, from the data, until such
time as it shall be also shown that there are, and can be, no other data from
which the result in question might equally have ensued. But, in the case now
discussed, although all must admit the deficiency of what we are in the habit
of terming “proof,” still there are many intellects, and those of the loftiest
order, to which no proof could bring one iota of additional conviction. Without
going into details which might impinge upon the Cloud-Land of Metaphysics,
I may as well here observe that the force of conviction, in cases such as this,
will always, with the right-thinking, be proportional to the amount
of complexity intervening between the hypothesis and the result. To be less
abstract:—The greatness of the complexity found existing among cosmical
conditions, by rendering great in the same proportion the difficulty of
accounting for all these conditions at once, strengthens, also in the same
proportion, our faith in that hypothesis which does, in such manner,
satisfactorily account for them:—and as no complexity can well be conceived
greater than that of the astronomical conditions, so no conviction can be
stronger—to my mind at least—than that with which I am impressed by an
hypothesis that not only reconciles these conditions, with mathematical
accuracy, and reduces them into a consistent and intelligible whole, but is, at
the same time, the sole hypothesis by means of which the human intellect has
been ever enabled to account for them at all.
A most unfounded opinion has become latterly current in gossiping and even
in scientific circles—the opinion that the so-called Nebular Cosmogony has
been overthrown. This fancy has arisen from the report of late observations
made, among what hitherto have been termed the “nebulæ,” through the large
telescope of Cincinnati, and the world-renowned instrument of Lord Rosse.
Certain spots in the firmament which presented, even to the most powerful of
the old telescopes, the appearance of nebulosity, or haze, had been regarded
for a long time as confirming the theory of Laplace. They were looked upon as
stars in that very process of condensation which I have been attempting to
describe. Thus it was supposed that we “had ocular evidence”—an evidence,
by the way, which has always been found very questionable—of the truth of
the hypothesis; and, although certain telescopic improvements, every now and
then, enabled us to perceive that a spot, here and there, which we had been
classing among the nebulæ, was, in fact, but a cluster of stars deriving its
nebular character only from its immensity of distance—still it was thought that
no doubt could exist as to the actual nebulosity of numerous other masses, the
strong-holds of the nebulists, bidding defiance to every effort at segregation.
Of these latter the most interesting was the great “nebulæ” in the constellation
Orion:—but this, with innumerable other mis-called “nebulæ,” when viewed
through the magnificent modern telescopes, has become resolved into a simple
collection of stars. Now this fact has been very generally understood as
conclusive against the Nebular Hypothesis of Laplace; and, on announcement
of the discoveries in question, the most enthusiastic defender and most
eloquent popularizer of the theory, Dr. Nichol, went so far as to “admit the
necessity of abandoning” an idea which had formed the material of his most
praiseworthy book.
Many of my readers will no doubt be inclined to say that the result of these
new investigations has at least a strongtendency to overthrow the hypothesis;
while some of them, more thoughtful, will suggest that, although the theory is
by no means disproved through the segregation of the particular “nebulæ,”
alluded to, still a failure to segregate them, with such telescopes, might well
have been understood as a triumphant corroboration of the theory:—and this
latter class will be surprised, perhaps, to hear me say that even with them I
disagree. If the propositions of this Discourse have been comprehended, it will
be seen that, in my view, a failure to segregate the “nebulæ” would have
tended to the refutation, rather than to the confirmation, of the Nebular
Hypothesis.
Let me explain:—The Newtonian Law of Gravity we may, of course,
assume as demonstrated. This law, it will be remembered, I have referred to
the rëaction of the first Divine Act—to the rëaction of an exercise of the
Divine Volition temporarily overcoming a difficulty. This difficulty is that of
forcing the normal into the abnormal—of impelling that whose originality, and
therefore whose rightful condition, was One, to take upon itself the wrongful
condition of Many. It is only by conceiving this difficulty
as temporarily overcome, that we can comprehend a rëaction. There could
have been no rëaction had the act been infinitely continued. So long as the
act lasted, no rëaction, of course, could commence; in other words,
no gravitation could take place—for we have considered the one as but the
manifestation of the other. But gravitation has taken place; therefore the act of
Creation has ceased: and gravitation has long ago taken place; therefore the act
of Creation has long ago ceased. We can no more expect, then, to observe the
primary processes of Creation; and to these primary processes the condition of
nebulosity has already been explained to belong.
Through what we know of the propagation of light, we have direct proof that
the more remote of the stars have existed, under the forms in which we now
see them, for an inconceivable number of years. So far back at least, then, as
the period when these stars underwent condensation, must have been the
epoch at which the mass-constitutive processes began. That we may conceive
these processes, then, as still going on in the case of certain “nebulæ,” while in
all other cases we find them thoroughly at an end, we are forced into
assumptions for which we have really no basis whatever—we have to thrust
in, again, upon the revolting Reason, the blasphemous idea of special
interposition—we have to suppose that, in the particular instances of these
“nebulæ,” an unerring God found it necessary to introduce certain
supplementary regulations—certain improvements of the general law—certain
retouchings and emendations, in a word, which had the effect of deferring the
completion of these individual stars for centuries of centuries beyond the æra
during which all the other stellar bodies had time, not only to be fully
constituted, but to grow hoary with an unspeakable old age.
Of course, it will be immediately objected that since the light by which we
recognize the nebulæ now, must be merely that which left their surfaces a vast
number of years ago, the processes at present observed, or supposed to be
observed, are, in fact, not processes now actually going on, but the phantoms
of processes completed long in the Past—just as I maintain all these massconstitutive processes must have been.
To this I reply that neither is the now-observed condition of the condensed
stars their actual condition, but a condition completed long in the Past; so that
my argument drawn from the relative condition of the stars and the “nebulæ,”
is in no manner disturbed. Moreover, those who maintain the existence of
nebulæ, do not refer the nebulosity to extreme distance; they declare it a real
and not merely a perspective nebulosity. That we may conceive, indeed, a
nebular mass as visible at all, we must conceive it as very near us in
comparison with the condensed stars brought into view by the modern
telescopes. In maintaining the appearances in question, then, to be really
nebulous, we maintain their comparative vicinity to our point of view. Thus,
their condition, as we see them now, must be referred to an epochfar less
remote than that to which we may refer the now-observed condition of at least
the majority of the stars.—In a word, should Astronomy ever demonstrate a
“nebula,” in the sense at present intended, I should consider the Nebular
Cosmogony—not, indeed, as corroborated by the demonstration—but as
thereby irretrievably overthrown.
By way, however, of rendering unto Cæsar no more than the things that are
Cæsar’s, let me here remark that the assumption of the hypothesis which led
him to so glorious a result, seems to have been suggested to Laplace in great
measure by a misconception—by the very misconception of which we have
just been speaking—by the generally prevalent misunderstanding of the
character of the nebulæ, so mis-named. These he supposed to be, in reality,
what their designation implies. The fact is, this great man had, very properly,
an inferior faith in his own merely perceptivepowers. In respect, therefore, to
the actual existence of nebulæ—an existence so confidently maintained by his
telescopic contemporaries—he depended less upon what he saw than upon
what he heard.
It will be seen that the only valid objections to his theory, are those made to
its hypothesis as such—to what suggested it—not to what it suggests; to its
propositions rather than to its results. His most unwarranted assumption was
that of giving the atoms a movement towards a centre, in the very face of his
evident understanding that these atoms, in unlimited succession, extended
throughout the Universal space. I have already shown that, under such
circumstances, there could have occurred no movement at all; and Laplace,
consequently, assumed one on no more philosophical ground than that
something of the kind was necessary for the establishment of what he intended
to establish.
His original idea seems to have been a compound of the true Epicurean
atoms with the false nebulæ of his contemporaries; and thus his theory
presents us with the singular anomaly of absolute truth deduced, as a
mathematical result, from a hybrid datum of ancient imagination intertangled
with modern inacumen. Laplace’s real strength lay, in fact, in an almost
miraculous mathematical instinct:—on this he relied; and in no instance did it
fail or deceive him:—in the case of the Nebular Cosmogony, it led him,
blindfolded, through a labyrinth of Error, into one of the most luminous and
stupendous temples of Truth.
Let us now fancy, for the moment, that the ring first thrown off by the Sun—
that is to say, the ring whose breaking-up constituted Neptune—did not, in
fact, break up until the throwing-off of the ring out of which Uranus arose;
that this latter ring, again, remained perfect until the discharge of that out of
which sprang Saturn; that this latter, again, remained entire until the discharge
of that from which originated Jupiter—and so on. Let us imagine, in a word,
that no dissolution occurred among the rings until the final rejection of that
which gave birth to Mercury. We thus paint to the eye of the mind a series of
cöexistent concentric circles; and looking as well at them as at the processes
by which, according to Laplace’s hypothesis, they were constructed, we
perceive at once a very singular analogy with the atomic strata and the process
of the original irradiation as I have described it. Is it impossible that, on
measuring the forces, respectively, by which each successive planetary circle
was thrown off—that is to say, on measuring the successive excesses of
rotation over gravitation which occasioned the successive discharges—we
should find the analogy in question more decidedly confirmed? Is it
improbable that we should discover these forces to have varied—as in the
original radiation—proportionally to the squares of the distances?
Our solar system, consisting, in chief, of one sun, with sixteen planets
certainly, and possibly a few more, revolving about it at various distances, and
attended by seventeen moons assuredly, but very probably by several others—
is now to be considered as an example of the innumerable agglomerations
which proceeded to take place throughout the Universal Sphere of atoms on
withdrawal of the Divine Volition. I mean to say that our solar system is to be
understood as affording a generic instance of these agglomerations, or, more
correctly, of the ulterior conditions at which they arrived. If we keep our
attention fixed on the idea of the utmost possible Relation as the Omnipotent
design, and on the precautions taken to accomplish it through difference of
form, among the original atoms, and particular inequidistance, we shall find it
impossible to suppose for a moment that even any two of the incipient
agglomerations reached precisely the same result in the end. We shall rather be
inclined to think that no two stellar bodies in the Universe—whether suns,
planets or moons—are particularly, while all are generally, similar. Still less,
then, can we imagine any twoassemblages of such bodies—any two
“systems”—as having more than a general resemblance. Our telescopes, at this
point, thoroughly confirm our deductions. Taking our own solar system, then,
as merely a loose or general type of all, we have so far proceeded in our
subject as to survey the Universe under the aspect of a spherical space,
throughout which, dispersed with merely general equability, exist a number of
but generally similar systems.
Let us now, expanding our conceptions, look upon each of these systems as
in itself an atom; which in fact it is, when we consider it as but one of the
countless myriads of systems which constitute the Universe. Regarding all,
then, as but colossal atoms, each with the same ineradicable tendency to Unity
which characterizes the actual atoms of which it consists—we enter at once
upon a new order of aggregations. The smaller systems, in the vicinity of a
larger one, would, inevitably, be drawn into still closer vicinity. A thousand
would assemble here; a million there—perhaps here, again, even a billion—
leaving, thus, immeasurable vacancies in space. And if now, it be demanded
why, in the case of these systems—of these merely Titanic atoms—I speak,
simply, of an “assemblage,” and not, as in the case of the actual atoms, of a
more or less consolidated agglomeration:—if it be asked, for instance, why I
do not carry what I suggest to its legitimate conclusion, and describe, at once,
these assemblages of system-atoms as rushing to consolidation in spheres—as
each becoming condensed into one magnificent sun—my reply is that
μελλοντα ταυτα—I am but pausing, for a moment, on the awful threshold
of the Future. For the present, calling these assemblages “clusters,” we see
them in the incipient stages of their consolidation.
Their absolute consolidation is to come.
We have now reached a point from which we behold the Universe as a
spherical space, interspersed, unequably, with clusters. It will be noticed that I
here prefer the adverb “unequably” to the phrase “with a merely general
equability,” employed before. It is evident, in fact, that the equability of
distribution will diminish in the ratio of the agglomerative processes—that is
to say, as the things distributed diminish in number. Thus the increase of inequability—an increase which must continue until, sooner or later, an epoch
will arrive at which the largest agglomeration will absorb all the others—
should be viewed as, simply, a corroborative indication of the tendency to
One.
And here, at length, it seems proper to inquire whether the
ascertained facts of Astronomy confirm the general arrangement which I have
thus, deductively, assigned to the Heavens. Thoroughly, they do. Telescopic
observation, guided by the laws of perspective, enables us to understand that
the perceptible Universe exists as a cluster of clusters, irregularly disposed.
The “clusters” of which this Universal “cluster of clusters” consists, are
merely what we have been in the practice of designating “nebulæ”—and, of
these “nebulæ,” one is of paramount interest to mankind. I allude to the
Galaxy, or Milky Way. This interests us, first and most obviously, on account
of its great superiority in apparent size, not only to any one other cluster in the
firmament, but to all the other clusters taken together. The largest of these
latter occupies a mere point, comparatively, and is distinctly seen only with the
aid of a telescope. The Galaxy sweeps throughout the Heaven and is brilliantly
visible to the naked eye. But it interests man chiefly, although less
immediately, on account of its being his home; the home of the Earth on which
he exists; the home of the Sun about which this Earth revolves; the home of
that “system” of orbs of which the Sun is the centre and primary—the Earth
one of sixteen secondaries, or planets—the Moon one of seventeen tertiaries,
or satellites. The Galaxy, let me repeat, is but one of the clusters which I have
been describing—but one of the mis-called “nebulæ” revealed to us—by the
telescope alone, sometimes—as faint hazy spots in various quarters of the sky.
We have no reason to suppose the Milky Way really more extensive than the
least of these “nebulæ.” Its vast superiority in size is but an apparent
superiority arising from our position in regard to it—that is to say, from our
position in its midst. However strange the assertion may at first appear to those
unversed in Astronomy, still the astronomer himself has no hesitation in
asserting that we are in the midst of that inconceivable host of stars—of suns
—of systems—which constitute the Galaxy. Moreover, not only have we—not
only has our Sun a right to claim the Galaxy as its own especial cluster, but,
with slight reservation, it may be said that all the distinctly visible stars of the
firmament—all the stars Visible to the naked eye—have equally a right to
claim it as their own.
There has been a great deal of misconception in respect to the shape of the
Galaxy; which, in nearly all our astronomical treatises, is said to resemble that
of a capital Y. The cluster in question has, in reality, a certain general—
very general resemblance to the planet Saturn, with its encompassing triple
ring. Instead of the solid orb of that planet, however, we must picture to
ourselves a lenticular star-island, or collection of stars; our Sun lying
excentrically—near the shore of the island—on that side of it which is nearest
the constellation of the Cross and farthest from that of Cassiopeia. The
surrounding ring, where it approaches our position, has in it a
longitudinal gash, which does, in fact, cause the ring, in our vicinity, to
assume, loosely, the appearance of a capital Y.
We must not fall into the error, however, of conceiving the somewhat
indefinite girdle as at all remote, comparatively speaking, from the also
indefinite lenticular cluster which it surrounds; and thus, for mere purpose of
explanation, we may speak of our Sun as actually situated at that point of the
Y where its three component lines unite; and, conceiving this letter to be of a
certain solidity—of a certain thickness, very trivial in comparison with its
length—we may even speak of our position as in the middle of this thickness.
Fancying ourselves thus placed, we shall no longer find difficulty in
accounting for the phænomena presented—which are perspective altogether.
When we look upward or downward—that is to say, when we cast our eyes in
the direction of the letter’s thickness—we look through fewer stars than when
we cast them in the direction of its length, or along either of the three
component lines. Of course, in the former case, the stars appear scattered—in
the latter, crowded.—To reverse this explanation:—An inhabitant of the Earth,
when looking, as we commonly express ourselves, at the Galaxy, is then
beholding it in some of the directions of its length—is looking along the lines
of the Y—but when, looking out into the general Heaven, he turns his
eyes from the Galaxy, he is then surveying it in the direction of the letter’s
thickness; and on this account the stars seem to him scattered; while, in fact,
they are as close together, on an average, as in the mass of the
cluster. Noconsideration could be better adapted to convey an idea of this
cluster’s stupendous extent.
If, with a telescope of high space-penetrating power, we carefully inspect the
firmament, we shall become aware of a belt of clusters—of what we have
hitherto called “nebulæ”—a band, of varying breadth, stretching from horizon
to horizon, at right angles to the general course of the Milky Way. This band is
the ultimate cluster of clusters. This belt isThe Universe. Our Galaxy is but
one, and perhaps one of the most inconsiderable, of the clusters which go to
the constitution of this ultimate, Universal belt or band. The appearance of this
cluster of clusters, to our eyes, as a belt or band, is altogether a perspective
phænomenon of the same character as that which causes us to behold our own
individual and roughly-spherical cluster, the Galaxy, under guise also of a belt,
traversing the Heavens at right angles to the Universal one. The shape of the
all-inclusive cluster is, of course generally, that of each individual cluster
which it includes. Just as the scattered stars which, on looking from the
Galaxy, we see in the general sky, are, in fact, but a portion of that Galaxy
itself, and as closely intermingled with it as any of the telescopic points in
what seems the densest portion of its mass—so are the scattered “nebulæ”
which, on casting our eyes from the Universal belt, we perceive at all points of
the firmament—so, I say, are these scattered “nebulæ” to be understood as
only perspectively scattered, and as part and parcel of the one supreme and
Universal sphere.
No astronomical fallacy is more untenable, and none has been more
pertinaciously adhered to, than that of the absolute illimitation of the Universe
of Stars. The reasons for limitation, as I have already assigned them, à priori,
seem to me unanswerable; but, not to speak of these, observation assures us
that there is, in numerous directions around us, certainly, if not in all, a
positive limit—or, at the very least, affords us no basis whatever for thinking
otherwise. Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the
sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy
—since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which
would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state
of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in
innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible
background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all.
That this may be so, who shall venture to deny? I maintain, simply, that we
have not even the shadow of a reason for believing that it is so.
When speaking of the vulgar propensity to regard all bodies on the Earth as
tending merely to the Earth’s centre, I observed that, “with certain exceptions
to be specified hereafter, every body on the Earth tended not only to the
Earth’s centre, but in every conceivable direction besides.” The “exceptions”
refer to those frequent gaps in the Heavens,where our utmost scrutiny can
detect not only no stellar bodies, but no indications of their existence:—where
yawning chasms, blacker than Erebus, seem to afford us glimpses, through the
boundary walls of the Universe of Stars, into the illimitable Universe of
Vacancy, beyond. Now as any body, existing on the Earth, chances to pass,
either through its own movement or the Earth’s, into a line with any one of
these voids, or cosmical abysses, it clearly is no longer attracted in the
direction of that void, and for the moment, consequently, is “heavier” than at
any period, either after or before. Independently of the consideration of these
voids, however, and looking only at the generally unequable distribution of the
stars, we see that the absolute tendency of bodies on the Earth to the Earth’s
centre, is in a state of perpetual variation.
We comprehend, then, the insulation of our Universe. We perceive the
isolation of that—of all that which we grasp with the senses. We know that
there exists one cluster of clusters—a collection around which, on all sides,
extend the immeasurable wildernesses of a Space to all human
perception untenanted. But because upon the confines of this Universe of Stars
we are compelled to pause, through want of farther evidence from the senses,
is it right to conclude that, in fact, there is no material point beyond that which
we have thus been permitted to attain? Have we, or have we not, an analogical
right to the inference that this perceptible Universe—that this cluster of
clusters—is but one of a series of clusters of clusters, the rest of which are
invisible through distance—through the diffusion of their light being so
excessive, ere it reaches us, as not to produce upon our retinas a lightimpression—or from there being no such emanation as light at all, in these
unspeakably distant worlds—or, lastly, from the mere interval being so vast,
that the electric tidings of their presence in Space, have not yet—through the
lapsing myriads of years—been enabled to traverse that interval?
Have we any right to inferences—have we any ground whatever for visions
such as these? If we have a right to them in any degree, we have a right to
their infinite extension.
The human brain has obviously a leaning to the “Infinite,” and fondles the
phantom of the idea. It seems to long with a passionate fervor for this
impossible conception, with the hope of intellectually believing it when
conceived. What is general among the whole race of Man, of course no
individual of that race can be warranted in considering abnormal; nevertheless,
there may be a class of superior intelligences, to whom the human bias alluded
to may wear all the character of monomania.
My question, however, remains unanswered:—Have we any right to infer—
let us say, rather, to imagine—an interminable succession of the “clusters of
clusters,” or of “Universes” more or less similar?
I reply that the “right,” in a case such as this, depends absolutely upon the
hardihood of that imagination which ventures to claim the right. Let me
declare, only, that, as an individual, I myself feel impelled to the fancy—
without daring to call it more—that there does exist a limitless succession of
Universes, more or less similar to that of which we have cognizance—to that
of which alone we shall ever have cognizance—at the very least until the
return of our own particular Universe into Unity. If such clusters of clusters
exist, however—and they do—it is abundantly clear that, having had no part in
our origin, they have no portion in our laws. They neither attract us, nor we
them. Their material—their spirit is not ours—is not that which obtains in any
part of our Universe. They could not impress our senses or our souls. Among
them and us—considering all, for the moment, collectively—there are no
influences in common. Each exists, apart and independently, in the bosom of
its proper and particular God.
In the conduct of this Discourse, I am aiming less at physical than at
metaphysical order. The clearness with which even material phænomena are
presented to the understanding, depends very little, I have long since learned
to perceive, upon a merely natural, and almost altogether upon a moral,
arrangement. If then I seem to step somewhat too discursively from point to
point of my topic, let me suggest that I do so in the hope of thus the better
keeping unbroken that chain of graduated impression by which alone the
intellect of Man can expect to encompass the grandeurs of which I speak, and,
in their majestic totality, to comprehend them.
So far, our attention has been directed, almost exclusively, to a general and
relative grouping of the stellar bodies in space. Of specification there has been
little; and whatever ideas of quantity have been conveyed—that is to say, of
number, magnitude, and distance—have been conveyed incidentally and by
way of preparation for more definitive conceptions. These latter let us now
attempt to entertain.
Our solar system, as has been already mentioned, consists, in chief, of one
sun and sixteen planets certainly, but in all probability a few others, revolving
around it as a centre, and attended by seventeen moons of which we know,
with possibly several more of which as yet we know nothing. These various
bodies are not true spheres, but oblate spheroids—spheres flattened at the
poles of the imaginary axes about which they rotate:—the flattening being a
consequence of the rotation. Neither is the Sun absolutely the centre of the
system; for this Sun itself, with all the planets, revolves about a perpetually
shifting point of space, which is the system’s general centre of gravity. Neither
are we to consider the paths through which these different spheroids move—
the moons about the planets, the planets about the Sun, or the Sun about the
common centre—as circles in an accurate sense. They are, in fact, ellipses—
one of the foci being the point about which the revolution is made. An ellipse
is a curve, returning into itself, one of whose diameters is longer than the
other. In the longer diameter are two points, equidistant from the middle of the
line, and so situated otherwise that if, from each of them a straight line be
drawn to any one point of the curve, the two lines, taken together, will be
equal to the longer diameter itself. Now let us conceive such an ellipse. At one
of the points mentioned, which are the foci, let us fasten an orange. By an
elastic thread let us connect this orange with a pea; and let us place this latter
on the circumference of the ellipse. Let us now move the pea continuously
around the orange—keeping always on the circumference of the ellipse. The
elastic thread, which, of course, varies in length as we move the pea, will form
what in geometry is called a radius vector. Now, if the orange be understood as
the Sun, and the pea as a planet revolving about it, then the revolution should
be made at such a rate—with a velocity so varying—that theradius vector may
pass over equal areas of space in equal times. The progress of the pea should
be—in other words, the progress of the planet is, of course,—slow in
proportion to its distance from the Sun—swift in proportion to its proximity.
Those planets, moreover, move the more slowly which are the farther from the
Sun; the squares of their periods of revolution having the same proportion to
each other, as have to each other the cubes of their mean distances from the
Sun.
The wonderfully complex laws of revolution here described, however, are
not to be understood as obtaining in our system alone.
They everywhere prevail where Attraction prevails. They control the
Universe. Every shining speck in the firmament is, no doubt, a luminous sun,
resembling our own, at least in its general features, and having in attendance
upon it a greater or less number of planets, greater or less, whose still lingering
luminosity is not sufficient to render them visible to us at so vast a distance,
but which, nevertheless, revolve, moon-attended, about their starry centres, in
obedience to the principles just detailed—in obedience to the three
omniprevalent laws of revolution—the three immortal laws guessed by the
imaginative Kepler, and but subsequently demonstrated and accounted for by
the patient and mathematical Newton. Among a tribe of philosophers who
pride themselves excessively upon matter-of-fact, it is far too fashionable to
sneer at all speculation under the comprehensive sobriquet, “guess-work.” The
point to be considered is, who guesses. In guessing with Plato, we spend our
time to better purpose, now and then, than in hearkening to a demonstration by
Alcmæon.
In many works on Astronomy I find it distinctly stated that the laws of
Kepler are the basis of the great principle, Gravitation. This idea must have
arisen from the fact that the suggestion of these laws by Kepler, and his
proving them à posteriori to have an actual existence, led Newton to account
for them by the hypothesis of Gravitation, and, finally, to demonstrate them à
priori, as necessary consequences of the hypothetical principle. Thus so far
from the laws of Kepler being the basis of Gravity, Gravity is the basis of
these laws—as it is, indeed, of all the laws of the material Universe which are
not referable to Repulsion alone.
The mean distance of the Earth from the Moon—that is to say, from the
heavenly body in our closest vicinity—is 237,000 miles. Mercury, the planet
nearest the Sun, is distant from him 37 millions of miles. Venus, the next,
revolves at a distance of 68 millions:—the Earth, which comes next, at a
distance of 95 millions:—Mars, then, at a distance of 144 millions. Now come
the eight Asteroids (Ceres, Juno, Vesta, Pallas, Astræa, Flora, Iris, and Hebe)
at an average distance of about 250 millions. Then we have Jupiter, distant 490
millions; then Saturn, 900 millions; then Uranus, 19 hundred millions; finally
Neptune, lately discovered, and revolving at a distance, say of 28 hundred
millions. Leaving Neptune out of the account—of which as yet we know little
accurately and which is, possibly, one of a system of Asteroids—it will be
seen that, within certain limits, there exists an order of interval among the
planets. Speaking loosely, we may say that each outer planet is twice as far
from the Sun as is the next inner one. May not the order here mentioned—may
not the law of Bode—be deduced from consideration of the analogy suggested
by me as having place between the solar discharge of rings and the mode of
the atomic irradiation?
The numbers hurriedly mentioned in this summary of distance, it is folly to
attempt comprehending, unless in the light of abstract arithmetical facts. They
are not practically tangible ones. They convey no precise ideas. I have stated
that Neptune, the planet farthest from the Sun, revolves about him at a
distance of 28 hundred millions of miles. So far good:—I have stated a
mathematical fact; and, without comprehending it in the least, we may put it to
use—mathematically. But in mentioning, even, that the Moon revolves about
the Earth at the comparatively trifling distance of 237,000 miles, I entertained
no expectation of giving any one to understand—to know—to feel—how far
from the Earth the Moon actually is. 237,000 miles! There are, perhaps, few of
my readers who have not crossed the Atlantic ocean; yet how many of them
have a distinct idea of even the 3,000 miles intervening between shore and
shore? I doubt, indeed, whether the man lives who can force into his brain the
most remote conception of the interval between one milestone and its
next neighbor upon the turnpike. We are in some measure aided, however, in
our consideration of distance, by combining this consideration with the
kindred one of velocity. Sound passes through 1100 feet of space in a second
of time. Now were it possible for an inhabitant of the Earth to see the flash of
a cannon discharged in the Moon, and to hear the report, he would have to
wait, after perceiving the former, more than 13 entire days and nights before
getting any intimation of the latter.
However feeble be the impression, even thus conveyed, of the Moon’s real
distance from the Earth, it will, nevertheless, effect a good object in enabling
us more clearly to see the futility of attempting to grasp such intervals as that
of the 28 hundred millions of miles between our Sun and Neptune; or even
that of the 95 millions between the Sun and the Earth we inhabit. A cannonball, flying at the greatest velocity with which such a ball has ever been known
to fly, could not traverse the latter interval in less than 20 years; while for the
former it would require 590.
Our Moon’s real diameter is 2160 miles; yet she is comparatively so trifling
an object that it would take nearly 50 such orbs to compose one as great as the
Earth.
The diameter of our own globe is 7912 miles—but from the enunciation of
these numbers what positive idea do we derive?
If we ascend an ordinary mountain and look around us from its summit, we
behold a landscape stretching, say 40 miles, in every direction; forming a
circle 250 miles in circumference; and including an area of 5000 square
miles. The extent of such a prospect, on account of the successiveness with
which its portions necessarily present themselves to view, can be only very
feebly and very partially appreciated:—yet the entire panorama would
comprehend no more than one 40,000th part of the mere surface of our globe.
Were this panorama, then, to be succeeded, after the lapse of an hour, by
another of equal extent; this again by a third, after the lapse of another hour;
this again by a fourth after lapse of another hour—and so on, until the scenery
of the whole Earth were exhausted; and were we to be engaged in examining
these various panoramas for twelve hours of every day; we should
nevertheless, be 9 years and 48 days in completing the general survey.
But if the mere surface of the Earth eludes the grasp of the imagination,
what are we to think of its cubical contents? It embraces a mass of matter
equal in weight to at least 2 sextillions, 200 quintillions of tons. Let us suppose
it in a state of quiescence; and now let us endeavor to conceive a mechanical
force sufficient to set it in motion! Not the strength of all the myriads of beings
whom we may conclude to inhabit the planetary worlds of our system—not
the combined physical strength of all these beings—even admitting all to be
more powerful than man—would avail to stir the ponderous mass a single
inch from its position.
What are we to understand, then, of the force, which under similar
circumstances, would be required to move thelargest of our planets, Jupiter?
This is 86,000 miles in diameter, and would include within its periphery more
than a thousand orbs of the magnitude of our own. Yet this stupendous body is
actually flying around the Sun at the rate of 29,000 miles an hour—that is to
say, with a velocity 40 times greater than that of a cannon-ball! The thought of
such a phænomenon cannot well be said to startle the mind:—it palsies and
appals it. Not unfrequently we task our imagination in picturing the capacities
of an angel. Let us fancy such a being at a distance of some hundred miles
from Jupiter—a close eye-witness of this planet as it speeds on its annual
revolution. Now can we, I demand, fashion for ourselves any conception so
distinct of this ideal being’s spiritual exaltation, as that involved in the
supposition that, even by this immeasurable mass of matter, whirled
immediately before his eyes, with a velocity so unutterable, he—an angel—
angelic though he be—is not at once struck into nothingness and
overwhelmed?
At this point, however, it seems proper to suggest that, in fact, we have been
speaking of comparative trifles. Our Sun, the central and controlling orb of the
system to which Jupiter belongs, is not only greater than Jupiter, but greater by
far than all the planets of the system taken together. This fact is an essential
condition, indeed, of the stability of the system itself. The diameter of Jupiter
has been mentioned:—it is 86,000 miles:—that of the Sun is 882,000 miles.
An inhabitant of the latter, travelling 90 miles a day, would be more than 80
years in going round a great circle of its circumference. It occupies a cubical
space of 681 quadrillions, 472 trillions of miles. The Moon, as has been stated,
revolves about the Earth at a distance of 237,000 miles—in an orbit,
consequently, of nearly a million and a half. Now, were the Sun placed upon
the Earth, centre over centre, the body of the former would extend, in every
direction, not only to the line of the Moon’s orbit, but beyond it, a distance of
200,000 miles.
And here, once again, let me suggest that, in fact, we have still been
speaking of comparative trifles. The distance of the planet Neptune from the
Sun has been stated:—it is 28 hundred millions of miles; the circumference of
its orbit, therefore, is about 17 billions. Let this be borne in mind while we
glance at some one of the brightest stars. Between this and the star
of our system, (the Sun,) there is a gulf of space, to convey any idea of which
we should need the tongue of an archangel. From our system, then, and
from our Sun, or star, the star at which we suppose ourselves glancing is a
thing altogether apart:—still, for the moment, let us imagine it placed upon our
Sun, centre over centre, as we just now imagined this Sun itself placed upon
the Earth. Let us now conceive the particular star we have in mind, extending,
in every direction, beyond the orbit of Mercury—of Venus—of the Earth:—
still on, beyond the orbit of Mars—of Jupiter—of Uranus—until, finally, we
fancy it filling the circle—17 billions of miles in circumference—which is
described by the revolution of Leverrier’s planet. When we have conceived all
this, we shall have entertained no extravagant conception. There is the very
best reason for believing that many of the stars are even far larger than the one
we have imagined. I mean to say that we have the very best empirical basis for
such belief:—and, in looking back at the original, atomic arrangements
for diversity, which have been assumed as a part of the Divine plan in the
constitution of the Universe, we shall be enabled easily to understand, and to
credit, the existence of even far vaster disproportions in stellar size than any to
which I have hitherto alluded. The largest orbs, of course, we must expect to
find rolling through the widest vacancies of Space.
I remarked, just now, that to convey an idea of the interval between our Sun
and any one of the other stars, we should require the eloquence of an
archangel. In so saying, I should not be accused of exaggeration; for, in simple
truth, these are topics on which it is scarcely possible to exaggerate. But let us
bring the matter more distinctly before the eye of the mind.
In the first place, we may get a general, relative conception of the interval
referred to, by comparing it with the inter-planetary spaces. If, for example,
we suppose the Earth, which is, in reality, 95 millions of miles from the Sun,
to be only one foot from that luminary; then Neptune would be 40 feet
distant; and the star Alpha Lyræ, at the very least, 159.
Now I presume that, in the termination of my last sentence, few of my
readers have noticed anything especially objectionable—particularly wrong. I
said that the distance of the Earth from the Sun being taken at one foot, the
distance of Neptune would be 40 feet, and that of Alpha Lyræ, 159. The
proportion between one foot and 159 has appeared, perhaps, to convey a
sufficiently definite impression of the proportion between the two intervals—
that of the Earth from the Sun and that of Alpha Lyræ from the same luminary.
But my account of the matter should, in reality, have run thus:—The distance
of the Earth from the Sun being taken at one foot, the distance of Neptune
would be 40 feet, and that of Alpha Lyræ, 159——miles:—that is to say, I had
assigned to Alpha Lyræ, in my first statement of the case, only the
5280th part of that distance which is the least distance possible at which it can
actually lie.
To proceed:—However distant a mere planet is, yet when we look at it
through a telescope, we see it under a certain form—of a certain appreciable
size. Now I have already hinted at the probable bulk of many of the stars;
nevertheless, when we view any one of them, even through the most powerful
telescope, it is found to present us with no form, and consequently with no
magnitude whatever. We see it as a point and nothing more.
Again;—Let us suppose ourselves walking, at night, on a highway. In a field
on one side of the road, is a line of tall objects, say trees, the figures of which
are distinctly defined against the background of the sky. This line of objects
extends at right angles to the road, and from the road to the horizon. Now, as
we proceed along the road, we see these objects changing their positions,
respectively, in relation to a certain fixed point in that portion of the firmament
which forms the background of the view. Let us suppose this fixed point—
sufficiently fixed for our purpose—to be the rising moon. We become aware,
at once, that while the tree nearest us so far alters its position in respect to the
moon, as to seem flying behind us, the tree in the extreme distance has
scarcely changed at all its relative position with the satellite. We then go on to
perceive that the farther the objects are from us, the less they alter their
positions; and the converse. Then we begin, unwittingly, to estimate the
distances of individual trees by the degrees in which they evince the relative
alteration. Finally, we come to understand how it might be possible to
ascertain the actual distance of any given tree in the line, by using the amount
of relative alteration as a basis in a simple geometrical problem. Now this
relative alteration is what we call “parallax;” and by parallax we calculate the
distances of the heavenly bodies. Applying the principle to the trees in
question, we should, of course, be very much at a loss to comprehend the
distance of that tree, which, however far we proceeded along the road, should
evince no parallax at all. This, in the case described, is a thing impossible; but
impossible only because all distances on our Earth are trivial indeed:—in
comparison with the vast cosmical quantities, we may speak of them as
absolutely nothing.
Now, let us suppose the star Alpha Lyræ directly overhead; and let us
imagine that, instead of standing on the Earth, we stand at one end of a straight
road stretching through Space to a distance equalling the diameter of the
Earth’s orbit—that is to say, to a distance of 190 millions of miles. Having
observed, by means of the most delicate micrometrical instruments, the exact
position of the star, let us now pass along this inconceivable road, until we
reach its other extremity. Now, once again, let us look at the star. It
is precisely where we left it. Our instruments, however delicate, assure us that
its relative position is absolutely—is identically the same as at the
commencement of our unutterable journey. No parallax—none whatever—has
been found.
The fact is, that, in regard to the distance of the fixed stars—of any one of
the myriads of suns glistening on the farther side of that awful chasm which
separates our system from its brothers in the cluster to which it belongs—
astronomical science, until very lately, could speak only with a negative
certainty. Assuming the brightest as the nearest, we could say, even of them,
only that there is a certain incomprehensible distance on the hither side of
which they cannot be:—how far they are beyond it we had in no case been
able to ascertain. We perceived, for example, that Alpha Lyræ cannot be nearer
to us than 19 trillions, 200 billions of miles; but, for all we knew, and indeed
for all we now know, it may be distant from us the square, or the cube, or any
other power of the number mentioned. By dint, however, of wonderfully
minute and cautious observations, continued, with novel instruments, for many
laborious years, Bessel, not long ago deceased, has lately succeeded in
determining the distance of six or seven stars; among others, that of the star
numbered 61 in the constellation of the Swan. The distance in this latter
instance ascertained, is 670,000 times that of the Sun; which last it will be
remembered, is 95 millions of miles. The star 61 Cygni, then, is nearly 64
trillions of miles from us—or more than three times the distance assigned, as
the least possible, for Alpha Lyræ.
In attempting to appreciate this interval by the aid of any considerations
of velocity, as we did in endeavoring to estimate the distance of the moon, we
must leave out of sight, altogether, such nothings as the speed of a cannonball, or of sound. Light, however, according to the latest calculations of
Struve, proceeds at the rate of 167,000 miles in a second. Thought itself
cannot pass through this interval more speedily—if, indeed, thought can
traverse it at all. Yet, in coming from 61 Cygni to us, even at this
inconceivable rate, light occupies more than ten years; and, consequently,
were the star this moment blotted out from the Universe, still, for ten years,
would it continue to sparkle on, undimmed in its paradoxical glory.
Keeping now in mind whatever feeble conception we may have attained of
the interval between our Sun and 61 Cygni, let us remember that this interval,
however unutterably vast, we are permitted to consider as but
the averageinterval among the countless host of stars composing that cluster,
or “nebula,” to which our system, as well as that of 61 Cygni, belongs. I have,
in fact, stated the case with great moderation:—we have excellent reason for
believing 61 Cygni to be one of the nearest stars, and thus for concluding, at
least for the present, that its distance from us is less than the average distance
between star and star in the magnificent cluster of the Milky Way.
And here, once again and finally, it seems proper to suggest that even as yet
we have been speaking of trifles. Ceasing to wonder at the space between star
and star in our own or in any particular cluster, let us rather turn our thoughts
to the intervals between cluster and cluster, in the all comprehensive cluster of
the Universe.
I have already said that light proceeds at the rate of 167,000 miles in a
second—that is, about 10 millions of miles in a minute, or about 600 millions
of miles in an hour:—yet so far removed from us are some of the “nebulæ”
that even light, speeding with this velocity, could not and does not reach us,
from those mysterious regions, in less than 3 millions of years. This
calculation, moreover, is made by the elder Herschell, and in reference merely
to those comparatively proximate clusters within the scope of his own
telescope. There are “nebulæ,” however, which, through the magical tube of
Lord Rosse, are this instant whispering in our ears the secrets of a million of
ages by-gone. In a word, the events which we behold now—at this moment—
in those worlds—are the identical events which interested their inhabitants ten
hundred thousand centuries ago. In intervals—in distances such as this
suggestion forces upon the soul—rather than upon the mind—we find, at
length, a fitting climax to all hitherto frivolous considerations of quantity.
Our fancies thus occupied with the cosmical distances, let us take the
opportunity of referring to the difficulty which we have so often experienced,
while pursuing the beaten path of astronomical reflection, in accounting for
the immeasurable voids alluded to—in comprehending why chasms so totally
unoccupied and therefore apparently so needless, have been made to intervene
between star and star—between cluster and cluster—in understanding, to be
brief, a sufficient reason for the Titanic scale, in respect of mere Space, on
which the Universe is seen to be constructed. A rational cause for the
phænomenon, I maintain that Astronomy has palpably failed to assign:—but
the considerations through which, in this Essay, we have proceeded step by
step, enable us clearly and immediately to perceive that Space and Duration
are one. That the Universe might endure throughout an æra at all
commensurate with the grandeur of its component material portions and with
the high majesty of its spiritual purposes, it was necessary that the original
atomic diffusion be made to so inconceivable an extent as to be only not
infinite. It was required, in a word, that the stars should be gathered into
visibility from invisible nebulosity—proceed from nebulosity to consolidation
—and so grow grey in giving birth and death to unspeakably numerous and
complex variations of vitalic development:—it was required that the stars
should do all this—should have time thoroughly to accomplish all these
Divine purposes—during the period in which all things were effecting their
return into Unity with a velocity accumulating in the inverse proportion of the
squares of the distances at which lay the inevitable End.
Throughout all this we have no difficulty in understanding the absolute
accuracy of the Divine adaptation. The density of the stars, respectively,
proceeds, of course, as their condensation diminishes; condensation and
heterogeneity keep pace with each other; through the latter, which is the index
of the former, we estimate the vitalic and spiritual development. Thus, in the
density of the globes, we have the measure in which their purposes are
fulfilled. As density proceeds—as the divine intentions are accomplished—
as less and still less remains to be accomplished—so—in the same ratio—
should we expect to find an acceleration of the End:—and thus the
philosophical mind will easily comprehend that the Divine designs in
constituting the stars, advance mathematically to their fulfilment:—and more;
it will readily give the advance a mathematical expression; it will decide that
this advance is inversely proportional with the squares of the distances of all
created things from the starting-point and goal of their creation.
Not only is this Divine adaptation, however, mathematically accurate, but
there is that about it which stamps it as divine, in distinction from that which is
merely the work of human constructiveness. I allude to the
complete mutualityof adaptation. For example; in human constructions a
particular cause has a particular effect; a particular intention brings to pass a
particular object; but this is all; we see no reciprocity. The effect does not react upon the cause; the intention does not change relations with the object. In
Divine constructions the object is either design or object as we choose to
regard it—and we may take at any time a cause for an effect, or the converse
—so that we can never absolutely decide which is which.
To give an instance:—In polar climates the human frame, to maintain its
animal heat, requires, for combustion in the capillary system, an abundant
supply of highly azotized food, such as train-oil. But again:—in polar climates
nearly the sole food afforded man is the oil of abundant seals and whales.
Now, whether is oil at hand because imperatively demanded, or the only thing
demanded because the only thing to be obtained? It is impossible to decide.
There is an absolute reciprocity of adaptation.
The pleasure which we derive from any display of human ingenuity is in the
ratio of the approach to this species of reciprocity. In the construction of plot,
for example, in fictitious literature, we should aim at so arranging the incidents
that we shall not be able to determine, of any one of them, whether it depends
from any one other or upholds it. In this sense, of course, perfection of plot is
really, or practically, unattainable—but only because it is a finite intelligence
that constructs. The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.
And now we have reached a point at which the intellect is forced, again, to
struggle against its propensity for analogical inference—against its
monomaniac grasping at the infinite. Moons have been seen revolving about
planets; planets about stars; and the poetical instinct of humanity—its instinct
of the symmetrical, if the symmetry be but a symmetry of surface:—
this instinct, which the Soul, not only of Man but of all created beings, took
up, in the beginning, from the geometrical basis of the Universal irradiation—
impels us to the fancy of an endless extension of this system ofcycles. Closing
our eyes equally to deduction and induction, we insist upon imagining
a revolution of all the orbs of the Galaxy about some gigantic globe which we
take to be the central pivot of the whole. Each cluster in the great cluster of
clusters is imagined, of course, to be similarly supplied and constructed; while,
that the “analogy” may be wanting at no point, we go on to conceive these
clusters themselves, again, as revolving about some still more august sphere;
—this latter, still again, with its encircling clusters, as but one of a yet more
magnificent series of agglomerations, gyratingabout yet another orb central to
them—some orb still more unspeakably sublime—some orb, let us rather say,
of infinite sublimity endlessly multiplied by the infinitely sublime. Such are
the conditions, continued in perpetuity, which the voice of what some people
term “analogy” calls upon the Fancy to depict and the Reason to contemplate,
if possible, without becoming dissatisfied with the picture. Such, in general,
are the interminable gyrations beyond gyration which we have been instructed
by Philosophy to comprehend and to account for, at least in the best manner
we can. Now and then, however, a philosopher proper—one whose phrenzy
takes a very determinate turn—whose genius, to speak more reverentially, has
a strongly-pronounced washerwomanish bias, doing every thing up by the
dozen—enables us to see precisely that point out of sight, at which the
revolutionary processes in question do, and of right ought to, come to an end.
It is hardly worth while, perhaps, even to sneer at the reveries of Fourrier:—
but much has been said, latterly, of the hypothesis of Mädler—that there
exists, in the centre of the Galaxy, a stupendous globe about which all the
systems of the cluster revolve. The period of our own, indeed, has been stated
—117 millions of years.
That our Sun has a motion in space, independently of its rotation, and
revolution about the system’s centre of gravity, has long been suspected. This
motion, granting it to exist, would be manifested perspectively. The stars in
that firmamental region which we were leaving behind us, would, in a very
long series of years, become crowded; those in the opposite quarter, scattered.
Now, by means of astronomical History, we ascertain, cloudily, that some such
phænomena have occurred. On this ground it has been declared that our
system is moving to a point in the heavens diametrically opposite the star Zeta
Herculis:—but this inference is, perhaps, the maximum to which we have any
logical right. Mädler, however, has gone so far as to designate a particular star,
Alcyone in the Pleiades, as being at or about the very spot around which a
general revolution is performed.
Now, since by “analogy” we are led, in the first instance, to these dreams, it
is no more than proper that we should abide by analogy, at least in some
measure, during their development; and that analogy which suggests the
revolution, suggests at the same time a central orb about which it should be
performed:—so far the astronomer was consistent. This central orb, however,
should, dynamically, be greater than all the orbs, taken together, which
surround it. Of these there are about 100 millions. “Why, then,” it was of
course demanded, “do we not see this vast central sun—at least equal in mass
to 100 millions of such suns as ours—why do we not see it—we, especially,
who occupy the mid region of the cluster—the very locality near which, at all
events, must be situated this incomparable star?” The reply was ready—“It
must be non-luminous, as are our planets.” Here, then, to suit a purpose,
analogy is suddenly let fall. “Not so,” it may be said—“we know that non-
luminous suns actually exist.” It is true that we have reason at least for
supposing so; but we have certainly no reason whatever for supposing that the
non-luminous suns in question are encircled by luminous suns, while these
again are surrounded by non-luminous planets:—and it is precisely all this
with which Mädler is called upon to find any thing analogous in the heavens—
for it is precisely all this which he imagines in the case of the Galaxy.
Admitting the thing to be so, we cannot help here picturing to ourselves how
sad a puzzle the why it is so must prove to all à priori philosophers.
But granting, in the very teeth of analogy and of every thing else, the nonluminosity of the vast central orb, we may still inquire how this orb, so
enormous, could fail of being rendered visible by the flood of light thrown
upon it from the 100 millions of glorious suns glaring in all directions about it.
Upon the urging of this question, the idea of an actually solid central sun
appears, in some measure, to have been abandoned; and speculation proceeded
to assert that the systems of the cluster perform their revolutions merely about
an immaterial centre of gravity common to all. Here again then, to suit a
purpose, analogy is let fall. The planets of our system revolve, it is true, about
a common centre of gravity; but they do this in connexion with, and in
consequence of, a material sun whose mass more than counterbalances the rest
of the system.
The mathematical circle is a curve composed of an infinity of straight lines.
But this idea of the circle—an idea which, in view of all ordinary geometry, is
merely the mathematical, as contradistinguished from the practical, idea—is,
in sober fact, the practical conception which alone we have any right to
entertain in regard to the majestic circle with which we have to deal, at least in
fancy, when we suppose our system revolving about a point in the centre of
the Galaxy. Let the most vigorous of human imaginations attempt but to take a
single step towards the comprehension of a sweep so ineffable! It would
scarcely be paradoxical to say that a flash of lightning itself,
travelling forever upon the circumference of this unutterable circle, would
still, forever, be travelling in a straight line. That the path of our Sun in such
an orbit would, to any human perception, deviate in the slightest degree from a
straight line, even in a million of years, is a proposition not to be entertained:
—yet we are required to believe that a curvature has become apparent during
the brief period of our astronomical history—during a mere point—during the
utter nothingness of two or three thousand years.
It may be said that Mädler has really ascertained a curvature in the direction
of our system’s now well-established progress through Space. Admitting, if
necessary, this fact to be in reality such, I maintain that nothing is thereby
shown except the reality of this fact—the fact of a curvature. For
its thorough determination, ages will be required; and, when determined, it
will be found indicative of some binary or other multiple relation between our
Sun and some one or more of the proximate stars. I hazard nothing however,
in predicting, that, after the lapse of many centuries, all efforts at determining
the path of our Sun through Space, will be abandoned as fruitless. This is
easily conceivable when we look at the infinity of perturbation it must
experience, from its perpetually-shifting relations with other orbs, in the
common approach of all to the nucleus of the Galaxy.
But in examining other “nebulæ” than that of the Milky Way—in surveying,
generally, the clusters which overspread the heavens—do we or do we not find
confirmation of Mädler’s hypothesis? We do not. The forms of the clusters are
exceedingly diverse when casually viewed; but on close inspection, through
powerful telescopes, we recognize the sphere, very distinctly, as at least the
proximate form of all:—their constitution, in general, being at variance with
the idea of revolution about a common centre.
“It is difficult,” says Sir John Herschell, “to form any conception of the
dynamical state of such systems. On one hand, without a rotary motion and a
centrifugal force, it is hardly possible not to regard them as in a state
of progressive collapse. On the other, granting such a motion and such a force,
we find it no less difficult to reconcile their forms with the rotation of the
whole system [meaning cluster] around any single axis, without which internal
collision would appear to be inevitable.”
Some remarks lately made about the “nebulæ” by Dr. Nichol, in taking quite
a different view of the cosmical conditions from any taken in this Discourse—
have a very peculiar applicability to the point now at issue. He says:
“When our greatest telescopes are brought to bear upon them, we find that
those which were thought to be irregular, are not so; they approach nearer to a
globe. Here is one that looked oval; but Lord Rosse’s telescope brought it into
a circle…. Now there occurs a very remarkable circumstance in reference to
these comparatively sweeping circular masses of nebulæ. We find they are not
entirely circular, but the reverse; and that all around them, on every side, there
are volumes of stars, stretching out apparently as if they were rushing
towards a great central mass in consequence of the action of some great
power.”
Were I to describe, in my own words, what must necessarily be the existing
condition of each nebula on the hypothesis that all matter is, as I suggest, now
returning to its original Unity, I should simply be going over, nearly verbatim,
the language here employed by Dr. Nichol, without the faintest suspicion of
that stupendous truth which is the key to these nebular phænomena.
And here let me fortify my position still farther, by the voice of a greater
than Mädler—of one, moreover, to whom all the data of Mädler have long
been familiar things, carefully and thoroughly considered. Referring to the
elaborate calculations of Argelander—the very researches which form
Mädler’s basis—Humboldt, whose generalizing powers have never, perhaps
been equalled, has the following observation:
“When we regard the real, proper, or non-perspective motions of the stars,
we find many groups of them moving in opposite directions; and the data as
yet in hand render it not necessary, at least, to conceive that the systems
composing the Milky Way, or the clusters, generally, composing the Universe,
are revolving about any particular centre unknown, whether luminous or nonluminous. It is but Man’s longing for a fundamental First Cause, that
impels both his intellect and his fancy to the adoption of such an hypothesis.”
The phænomenon here alluded to—that of “many groups moving in
opposite directions”—is quite inexplicable by Mädler’s idea; but arises, as a
necessary consequence, from that which forms the basis of this Discourse.
While themerely general direction of each atom—of each moon, planet, star,
or cluster—would, on my hypothesis, be, of course, absolutely rectilinear;
while the general path of all bodies would be a right line leading to the centre
of all; it is clear, nevertheless, that this general rectilinearity would be
compounded of what, with scarcely any exaggeration, we may term an infinity
of particular curves—an infinity of local deviations from rectilinearity—the
result of continuous differences of relative position among the multitudinous
masses, as each proceeded on its own proper journey to the End.
I quoted, just now, from Sir John Herschell, the following words, used in
reference to the clusters:—“On one hand, without a rotary motion and a
centrifugal force, it is hardly possible not to regard them as in a state
of progressive collapse.” The fact is, that, in surveying the “nebulæ” with a
telescope of high power, we shall find it quite impossible, having once
conceived this idea of “collapse,” not to gather, at all points, corroboration of
the idea. A nucleus is always apparent, in the direction of which the stars seem
to be precipitating themselves; nor can these nuclei be mistaken for merely
perspective phænomena:—the clusters are really denser near the centre—
sparser in the regions more remote from it. In a word, we see every thing as
we should see it were a collapse taking place; but, in general, it may be said of
these clusters, that we can fairly entertain, while looking at them, the idea
of orbitual movement about a centre, only by admitting the possible existence,
in the distant domains of space, of dynamical laws with which we are
unacquainted.
On the part of Herschell, however, there is evidently a reluctance to regard
the nebulæ as in “a state of progressive collapse.” But if facts—if even
appearances justify the supposition of their being in this state, why, it may
well be demanded, is he disinclined to admit it? Simply on account of a
prejudice;—merely because the supposition is at war with a preconceived and
utterly baseless notion—that of the endlessness—that of the eternal stability of
the Universe.
If the propositions of this Discourse are tenable, the “state of progressive
collapse” is precisely that state in which alone we are warranted in considering
All Things; and, with due humility, let me here confess that, for my part, I am
at a loss to conceive how any other understanding of the existing condition of
affairs, could ever have made its way into the human brain. “The tendency to
collapse” and “the attraction of gravitation” are convertible phrases. In using
either, we speak of the rëaction of the First Act. Never was necessity less
obvious than that of supposing Matter imbued with an
ineradicable quality forming part of its material nature—a quality, or
instinct, forever inseparable from it, and by dint of which inalienable principle
every atom is perpetually impelled to seek its fellow-atom. Never was
necessity less obvious than that of entertaining this unphilosophical idea.
Going boldly behind the vulgar thought, we have to conceive, metaphysically,
that the gravitating principle appertains to Matter temporarily—only while
diffused—only while existing as Many instead of as One—appertains to it by
virtue of its state of irradiation alone—appertains, in a word, altogether to
its condition, and not in the slightest degree to itself. In this view, when the
irradiation shall have returned into its source—when the rëaction shall be
completed—the gravitating principle will no longer exist. And, in fact,
astronomers, without at any time reaching the idea here suggested, seem to
have been approximating it, in the assertion that “if there were but one body in
the Universe, it would be impossible to understand how the principle, Gravity,
could obtain:”—that is to say, from a consideration of Matter as they find it,
they reach a conclusion at which I deductively arrive. That so pregnant a
suggestion as the one just quoted should have been permitted to remain so
long unfruitful, is, nevertheless, a mystery which I find it difficult to fathom.
It is, perhaps, in no little degree, however, our propensity for the continuous
—for the analogical—in the present case more particularly for the symmetrical
—which has been leading us astray. And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical
is an instinct which may be depended upon with an almost blindfold reliance.
It is the poetical essence of the Universe—of the Universe which, in the
supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now
symmetry and consistency are convertible terms:—thus Poetry and Truth are
one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth—true in the ratio of its
consistency. A perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but an absolute
truth. We may take it for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely err, if
he suffer himself to be guided by his poetical, which I have maintained to be
his truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He must have a care, however,
lest, in pursuing too heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and
motions, he leave out of sight the really essential symmetry of the principles
which determine and control them.
That the stellar bodies would finally be merged in one—that, at last, all
would be drawn into the substance of one stupendous central orb already
existing—is an idea which, for some time past, seems, vaguely and
indeterminately, to have held possession of the fancy of mankind. It is an idea,
in fact, which belongs to the class of the excessively obvious. It springs,
instantly, from a superficial observation of the cyclic and seemingly gyrating,
or vorticialmovements of those individual portions of the Universe which
come most immediately and most closely under our observation. There is not,
perhaps, a human being, of ordinary education and of average reflective
capacity, to whom, at some period, the fancy in question has not occurred, as if
spontaneously, or intuitively, and wearing all the character of a very profound
and very original conception. This conception, however, so commonly
entertained, has never, within my knowledge, arisen out of any abstract
considerations. Being, on the contrary, always suggested, as I say, by the
vorticial movements about centres, a reason for it, also,—a cause for the
ingathering of all the orbs into one, imagined to be already existing, was
naturally sought in the same direction—among these cyclic movements
themselves.
Thus it happened that, on announcement of the gradual and perfectly regular
decrease observed in the orbit of Enck’s comet, at every successive revolution
about our Sun, astronomers were nearly unanimous in the opinion that the
cause in question was found—that a principle was discovered sufficient to
account, physically, for that final, universal agglomeration which, I repeat, the
analogical, symmetrical or poetical instinct of Man had predetermined to
understand as something more than a simple hypothesis.
This cause—this sufficient reason for the final ingathering—was declared to
exist in an exceedingly rare but still material medium pervading space; which
medium, by retarding, in some degree, the progress of the comet, perpetually
weakened its tangential force; thus giving a predominance to the centripetal;
which, of course, drew the comet nearer and nearer at each revolution, and
would eventually precipitate it upon the Sun.
All this was strictly logical—admitting the medium or ether; but this ether
was assumed, most illogically, on the ground that no other mode than the one
spoken of could be discovered, of accounting for the observed decrease in the
orbit of the comet:—as if from the fact that we could discover no other mode
of accounting for it, it followed, in any respect, that no other mode of
accounting for it existed. It is clear that innumerable causes might operate, in
combination, to diminish the orbit, without even a possibility of our ever
becoming acquainted with one of them. In the meantime, it has never been
fairly shown, perhaps, why the retardation occasioned by the skirts of the
Sun’s atmosphere, through which the comet passes at perihelion, is not enough
to account for the phænomenon. That Enck’s comet will be absorbed into the
Sun, is probable; that all the comets of the system will be absorbed, is more
than merely possible; but, in such case, the principle of absorption must be
referred to eccentricity of orbit—to the close approximation to the Sun, of the
comets at their perihelia; and is a principle not affecting, in any degree, the
ponderousspheres, which are to be regarded as the true material constituents of
the Universe.—Touching comets, in general, let me here suggest, in passing,
that we cannot be far wrong in looking upon them as the lightning-flashes of
the cosmical Heaven.
The idea of a retarding ether and, through it, of a final agglomeration of all
things, seemed at one time, however, to be confirmed by the observation of a
positive decrease in the orbit of the solid moon. By reference to eclipses
recorded 2500 years ago, it was found that the velocity of the satellite’s
revolution then was considerably less than it is now; that on the hypothesis
that its motions in its orbit is uniformly in accordance with Kepler’s law, and
was accurately determined then—2500 years ago—it is now in advance of the
position it should occupy, by nearly 9000 miles. The increase of velocity
proved, of course, a diminution of orbit; and astronomers were fast yielding to
a belief in an ether, as the sole mode of accounting for the phænomenon, when
Lagrange came to the rescue. He showed that, owing to the configurations of
the spheroids, the shorter axes of their ellipses are subject to variation in
length; the longer axes being permanent; and that this variation is continuous
and vibratory—so that every orbit is in a state of transition, either from circle
to ellipse, or from ellipse to circle. In the case of the moon, where the shorter
axis is decreasing, the orbit is passing from circle to ellipse and, consequently,
is decreasing too; but, after a long series of ages, the ultimate eccentricity will
be attained; then the shorter axis will proceed to increase, until the orbit
becomes a circle; when the process of shortening will again take place;—and
so on forever. In the case of the Earth, the orbit is passing from ellipse to
circle. The facts thus demonstrated do away, of course, with all necessity for
supposing an ether, and with all apprehension of the system’s instability—on
the ether’s account.
It will be remembered that I have myself assumed what we may term an
ether. I have spoken of a subtle influencewhich we know to be ever in
attendance upon matter, although becoming manifest only through matter’s
heterogeneity. To this influence—without daring to touch it at all in any effort
at explaining its awful nature—I have referred the various phænomena of
electricity, heat, light, magnetism; and more—of vitality, consciousness, and
thought—in a word, of spirituality. It will be seen, at once, then, that the ether
thus conceived is radically distinct from the ether of the astronomers;
inasmuch as theirs is matter and mine not.
With the idea of a material ether, seems, thus, to have departed altogether the
thought of that universal agglomeration so long predetermined by the poetical
fancy of mankind:—an agglomeration in which a sound Philosophy might
have been warranted in putting faith, at least to a certain extent, if for no other
reason than that by this poetical fancy it hadbeen so predetermined. But so far
as Astronomy—so far as mere Physics have yet spoken, the cycles of the
Universe are perpetual—the Universe has no conceivable end. Had an end
been demonstrated, however, from so purely collateral a cause as an ether,
Man’s instinct of the Divine capacity to adapt, would have rebelled against the
demonstration. We should have been forced to regard the Universe with some
such sense of dissatisfaction as we experience in contemplating an
unnecessarily complex work of human art. Creation would have affected us as
an imperfect plot in a romance, where the dénoûment is awkwardly brought
about by interposed incidents external and foreign to the main subject; instead
of springing out of the bosom of the thesis—out of the heart of the ruling idea
—instead of arising as a result of the primary proposition—as inseparable and
inevitable part and parcel of the fundamental conception of the book.
What I mean by the symmetry of mere surface will now be more clearly
understood. It is simply by the blandishment of this symmetry that we have
been beguiled into the general idea of which Mädler’s hypothesis is but a part
—the idea of the vorticial indrawing of the orbs. Dismissing this nakedly
physical conception, the symmetry of principle sees the end of all things
metaphysically involved in the thought of a beginning; seeks and finds in this
origin of all things therudiment of this end; and perceives the impiety of
supposing this end likely to be brought about less simply—less directly—less
obviously—less artistically—than through the rëaction of the originating Act.
Recurring, then, to a previous suggestion, let us understand the systems—let
us understand each star, with its attendant planets—as but a Titanic atom
existing in space with precisely the same inclination for Unity which
characterized, in the beginning, the actual atoms after their irradiation
throughout the Universal sphere. As these original atoms rushed towards each
other in generally straight lines, so let us conceive as at least generally
rectilinear, the paths of the system-atoms towards their respective centres of
aggregation:—and in this direct drawing together of the systems into clusters,
with a similar and simultaneous drawing together of the clusters themselves
while undergoing consolidation, we have at length attained the great Now—
the awful Present—the Existing Condition of the Universe.
Of the still more awful Future a not irrational analogy may guide us in
framing an hypothesis. The equilibrium between the centripetal and
centrifugal forces of each system, being necessarily destroyed upon attainment
of a certain proximity to the nucleus of the cluster to which it belongs, there
must occur, at once, a chaotic or seemingly chaotic precipitation, of the moons
upon the planets, of the planets upon the suns, and of the suns upon the nuclei;
and the general result of this precipitation must be the gathering of the myriad
now-existing stars of the firmament into an almost infinitely less number of
almost infinitely superior spheres. In being immeasurably fewer, the worlds of
that day will be immeasurably greater than our own. Then, indeed, amid
unfathomable abysses, will be glaring unimaginable suns. But all this will be
merely a climacic magnificence foreboding the great End. Of this End the new
genesis described, can be but a very partial postponement. While undergoing
consolidation, the clusters themselves, with a speed prodigiously
accumulative, have been rushing towards their own general centre—and now,
with a thousand-fold electric velocity, commensurate only with their material
grandeur and with the spiritual passion of their appetite for oneness, the
majestic remnants of the tribe of Stars flash, at length, into a common
embrace. The inevitable catastrophe is at hand.
But this catastrophe—what is it? We have seen accomplished the ingathering
of the orbs. Henceforward, are we not to understand one material globe of
globes as constituting and comprehending the Universe? Such a fancy would
be altogether at war with every assumption and consideration of this
Discourse.
I have already alluded to that absolute reciprocity of adaptation which is the
idiosyncrasy of the divine Art—stamping it divine. Up to this point of our
reflections, we have been regarding the electrical influence as a something by
dint of whose repulsion alone Matter is enabled to exist in that state of
diffusion demanded for the fulfilment of its purposes:—so far, in a word, we
have been considering the influence in question as ordained for Matter’s sake
—to subserve the objects of matter. With a perfectly legitimate reciprocity, we
are now permitted to look at Matter, as created solely for the sake of this
influence—solely to serve the objects of this spiritual Ether. Through the aid—
by the means—through the agency of Matter, and by dint of its heterogeneity
—is this Ether manifested—is Spirit individualized. It is merely in the
development of this Ether, through heterogeneity, that particular masses of
Matter become animate—sensitive—and in the ratio of their heterogeneity;—
some reaching a degree of sensitiveness involving what we call Thought and
thus attaining Conscious Intelligence.
In this view, we are enabled to perceive Matter as a Means—not as an End.
Its purposes are thus seen to have been comprehended in its diffusion; and
with the return into Unity these purposes cease. The absolutely consolidated
globe of globes would be objectless:—therefore not for a moment could it
continue to exist. Matter, created for an end, would unquestionably, on
fulfilment of that end, be Matter no longer. Let us endeavor to understand that
it would disappear, and that God would remain all in all.
That every work of Divine conception must cöexist and cöexpire with its
particular design, seems to me especially obvious; and I make no doubt that,
on perceiving the final globe of globes to be objectless, the majority of my
readers will be satisfied with my “therefore it cannot continue to exist.”
Nevertheless, as the startling thought of its instantaneous disappearance is one
which the most powerful intellect cannot be expected readily to entertain on
grounds so decidedly abstract, let us endeavor to look at the idea from some
other and more ordinary point of view:—let us see how thoroughly and
beautifully it is corroborated in an à posteriori consideration of Matter as we
actually find it.
I have before said that “Attraction and Repulsion being undeniably the sole
properties by which Matter is manifested to Mind, we are justified in assuming
that Matter exists only as Attraction and Repulsion—in other words that
Attraction and Repulsion are Matter; there being no conceivable case in which
we may not employ the term Matter and the terms ‘Attraction’ and ‘Repulsion’
taken together, as equivalent, and therefore convertible, expressions in Logic.”
Now the very definition of Attraction implies particularity—the existence of
parts, particles, or atoms; for we define it as the tendency of “each atom &c. to
every other atom” &c. according to a certain law. Of course where there
are noparts—where there is absolute Unity—where the tendency to oneness is
satisfied—there can be no Attraction:—this has been fully shown, and all
Philosophy admits it. When, on fulfilment of its purposes, then, Matter shall
have returned into its original condition of One—a condition which
presupposes the expulsion of the separative ether, whose province and whose
capacity are limited to keeping the atoms apart until that great day when, this
ether being no longer needed, the overwhelming pressure of the finally
collective Attraction shall at length just sufficiently predominateand expel it:
—when, I say, Matter, finally, expelling the Ether, shall have returned into
absolute Unity,—it will then (to speak paradoxically for the moment) be
Matter without Attraction and without Repulsion—in other words, Matter
without Matter—in other words, again, Matter no more. In sinking into Unity,
it will sink at once into that Nothingness which, to all Finite Perception, Unity
must be—into that Material Nihility from which alone we can conceive it to
have been evoked—to have been created by the Volition of God.
I repeat then—Let us endeavor to comprehend that the final globe of globes
will instantaneously disappear, and that God will remain all in all.
But are we here to pause? Not so. On the Universal agglomeration and
dissolution, we can readily conceive that a new and perhaps totally different
series of conditions may ensue—another creation and irradiation, returning
into itself—another action and rëaction of the Divine Will. Guiding our
imaginations by that omniprevalent law of laws, the law of periodicity, are we
not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief—let us say, rather, in
indulging a hope—that the processes we have here ventured to contemplate
will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever; a novel Universe swelling
into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart
Divine?
And now—this Heart Divine—what is it? It is our own.
Let not the merely seeming irreverence of this idea frighten our souls from
that cool exercise of consciousness—from that deep tranquillity of selfinspection—through which alone we can hope to attain the presence of this,
the most sublime of truths, and look it leisurely in the face.
The phænomena on which our conclusions must at this point depend, are
merely spiritual shadows, but not the less thoroughly substantial.
We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed by
dim but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast—very distant in the bygone time, and infinitely awful.
We live out a Youth peculiarly haunted by such dreams; yet never mistaking
them for dreams. As Memories we knowthem. During our Youth the
distinction is too clear to deceive us even for a moment.
So long as this Youth endures, the feeling that we exist, is the most natural
of all feelings. We understand itthoroughly. That there was a period at which
we did not exist—or, that it might so have happened that we never had existed
at all—are the considerations, indeed, which during this youth, we find
difficulty in understanding. Why we should not exist, is, up to the epoch of our
Manhood, of all queries the most unanswerable. Existence—self-existence—
existence from all Time and to all Eternity—seems, up to the epoch of
Manhood, a normal and unquestionable condition:—seems, because it is.
But now comes the period at which a conventional World-Reason awakens
us from the truth of our dream. Doubt, Surprise and Incomprehensibility arrive
at the same moment. They say:—“You live and the time was when you lived
not. You have been created. An Intelligence exists greater than your own; and
it is only through this Intelligence you live at all.” These things we struggle to
comprehend and cannot:—cannot, because these things, being untrue, are thus,
of necessity, incomprehensible.
No thinking being lives who, at some luminous point of his life of thought,
has not felt himself lost amid the surges of futile efforts at understanding, or
believing, that anything exists greater than his own soul. The utter
impossibility of any one’s soul feeling itself inferior to another; the intense,
overwhelming dissatisfaction and rebellion at the thought;—these, with the
omniprevalent aspirations at perfection, are but the spiritual, coincident with
the material, struggles towards the original Unity—are, to my mind at least, a
species of proof far surpassing what Man terms demonstration, that no one
soul is inferior to another—that nothing is, or can be, superior to any one soul
—that each soul is, in part, its own God—its own Creator:—in a word, that
God—the material and spiritual God—now exists solely in the diffused Matter
and Spirit of the Universe; and that the regathering of this diffused Matter and
Spirit will be but the re-constitution of the purely Spiritual and Individual
God.
In this view, and in this view alone, we comprehend the riddles of Divine
Injustice—of Inexorable Fate. In this view alone the existence of Evil becomes
intelligible; but in this view it becomes more—it becomes endurable. Our
souls no longer rebel at a Sorrow which we ourselves have imposed upon
ourselves, in furtherance of our own purposes—with a view—if even with a
futile view—to the extension of our own Joy.
I have spoken of Memories that haunt us during our youth. They sometimes
pursue us even in our Manhood:—assume gradually less and less indefinite
shapes:—now and then speak to us with low voices, saying:
“There was an epoch in the Night of Time, when a still-existent Being
existed—one of an absolutely infinite number of similar Beings that people
the absolutely infinite domains of the absolutely infinite space. It was not and
is not in the power of this Being—any more than it is in your own—to extend,
by actual increase, the joy of his Existence; but just as it is in your power to
expand or to concentrate your pleasures (the absolute amount of happiness
remaining always the same) so did and does a similar capability appertain to
this Divine Being, who thus passes his Eternity in perpetual variation of
Concentrated Self and almost Infinite Self-Diffusion. What you call The
Universe is but his present expansive existence. He now feels his life through
an infinity of imperfect pleasures—the partial and pain-intertangled pleasures
of those inconceivably numerous things which you designate as his creatures,
but which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself. All these
creatures—all—those which you term animate, as well as those to whom you
deny life for no better reason than that you do not behold it in operation—
all these creatures have, in a greater or less degree, a capacity for pleasure and
for pain:—but the general sum of their sensations is precisely that amount of
Happiness which appertains by right to the Divine Being when concentrated
within Himself. These creatures are all, too, more or less conscious
Intelligences; conscious, first, of a proper identity; conscious, secondly and by
faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we
speak—of an identity with God. Of the two classes of consciousness, fancy
that the former will grow weaker, the latter stronger, during the long
succession of ages which must elapse before these myriads of individual
Intelligences become blended—when the bright stars become blended—into
One. Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in
the general consciousness—that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to
feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he
shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind
that all is Life—Life—Life within Life—the less within the greater, and all
within the Spirit Divine.”

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