Friday, November 17, 2006

Item of the Day: Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles.

Full Title: Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s principles, and made easy to those who have not studied mathematics. To which are added, a plain method of finding the distances of all the planets from the sun, by the transit of Venus over the sun’s disc, in the year 1761. An account of Mr. Horrox’s observation of the transit of Venus in the year 1639: and, of the distances of all the planets from the sun, ad deduced from observations of the transit of Venus in the year 1761. Seventh edition. By James Ferguson. London: Printed for W. Strahan, J. Rivington and sons, T. Longman, B. Law, G. Robinson, T. Cadell, J. Johnson, J. Bew, J. Murray, R. Baldwin, T. Evans, W. Lowndes, and C. Bent, 1785.

Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles.


Of astronomy in general.

1. Of all the sciences cultivated by mankind, Astronomy is acknowledged to be, and undoubtedly is, the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful. For, by knowledge derived from this science, not only the bulk of the earth is discovered, the situation and extent of the countries and kingdoms upon it is ascertained, trade and commerce carried on to the remotest parts of the world, and the various products of several countries distributed for the health, comfort, and conveniency of its inhabitants; but our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted above the low contracted prejudices of the vulgar, and our understandings clearly convinced, and affected with the conviction of the existence, wisdom, power, goodness, immutability, and superintendency of the SUPREME BEING ! So that without an hyperbole,

"An undevout Astronomer is mad.”

2. From this branch of knowledge we also learn by what means or laws the Almighty carries on, and continues the wonderful harmony, order, and connexion observable throughout the planetary system; and are led by very powerful arguments to form this pleasing deduction, that minds capable of such deep researches, not only derive their origin from that adorable Being, but are also incited to aspire after a more perfect knowledge of his nature, and a stricter conformity to his will. . . .

8. It is no ways probable that the Almighty, who always acts with infinite wisdom, and does nothing in vain, should create so many glorious Suns, fit for so many important purposes, and place them at such distances from one another, without proper objects near enough to be benefited by their influences. Whoever imagines they were created only to give a faint glimmering light to the inhabitants of this Globe, must have a very superficial knowledge of Astronomy, and a mean opinion of the Divine Wisdom: since, by an infinitely less exertion of creating power, the Deity could have given our Earth much more light by one single additional Moon.

9. Instead then of one Sun and one World only in the Universe, as the unskilful in Astonomy imagine, that Science discovers to us such an inconceivable number of Suns, Systems, and Worlds, dispersed through boundless Space, that if our Sun, with all the Planets; Moons, and Comets, belonging to it, were annihilated, they would be no more missed, by an eye that could take in the whole Creation, than a grain of sand from the sea-shore. The space they possess being comparatively so small, that it would scarce be a sensible blank in the Universe, although Saturn, the outermost of our planets, revolves the Sun in an Orbit of 4884 millions of miles in circumference, and some of our Comets make excursions upwards of ten thousand millions of miles beyond Saturn’s Orbit; and yet, at that amazing distance, they are incomparably nearer to the Sun than to any of the Stars; as is evident from their keeping clear of the attractive power of all the Stars, and returning periodically by virtue of the Sun’s attraction.

10. From what we know of our own System, it may be reasonably concluded that all the rest are with equal wisdom contrived, situated, and provided with accommodations for rational inhabitants. Let us therefore take a survey of the System to which we belong; the only one accessible to us; and from thence we shall be the better enabled to judge of the nature and end of the others Systems of the Universe. For although there is almost an infinite variety in the parts of the Creation, which we have opportunities of examining, yet there is a general analogy running through and connecting all the parts into one scheme, one design, one whole! . . .

15. What an august, what an amazing conception, if human imagination can conceive it, does this give the works of the Creator! Thousands of thousands of Suns, multiplied without end, and ranged all around us, at immense distances from each other, attended by ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, all in rapid motion, yet calm, regular, and harmonious, invariably keeping the paths prescribed them; and these worlds peopled with myriads of intelligent beings, formed for endless progression in perfection and felicity!

16. If so much power, wisdom, goodness, and magnificence is displayed in the material Creation, which is the least considerable part of the Universe, how great, how wise, how good must HE be, who made and governs the Whole!

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