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whole boundless congregation of mankind, with its everlasting varieties, is thus at once subjected to the sentence of every pretender:
And fools rush in, where angels fear to tread.
Nothing is more delightful to the headlong and presumptuous, than thus to sit in judgment on their betters, and pronounce ex cathedrd on those, “whose shoe-latchet they are not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” I remember, after lord George Gordon's riots, eleven persons accused were set down in one indictment for their lives, and given in charge to one jury. But this is a mere shadow, a nothing, compared with the wholesale and indiscriminating judgment of the vulgar phrenologist.
SECTION I. It can scarcely be imputed to me as profane, if I venture to put down a few sceptical doubts on the science of astronomy. All branches of knowledge are to be considered as fair subjects of enquiry: and he that has never doubted, may be said, in the highest and strictest sense of the word, never to have believed.
The first volume that furnished to me the groundwork of the following doubts, was the book commonly known by the name of Guthrie's Geographical Grammar, many parts and passages of which engaged my attention in my own study, in the house of a rural schoolmaster, in the year 1772. I cannot therefore proceed more fairly than by giving here an extract of certain passages in that book, which have relation to the present subject. I know not how far they have been altered in the edition of Guthrie which now lies before me, from the language of the book then in my possession ; but I feel confident that in the main particulars they continue the samea,
· The article Astronomy, in this book, appears to have been written by the well-known James Ferguson.
“In passing rapidly over the heavens with his new telescope, the universe increased under the
eye of Herschel ; 44,000 stars, seen in the space of a few degrees, seemed to indicate that there were seventy-five millions in the heavens. But what are all these, when compared with those that fill the whole expanse, the boundless field of æther?
“The immense distance of the fixed stars from our earth, and from each other, is of all considerations the most proper for raising our ideas of the works of God. Modern discoveries make it
probable that each of these stars is a sun, having planets and comets revolving round it, as our sun has the earth and other planets revolving round him.-A
ray of light, though its motion is so quick as to be commonly thought instantaneous, takes up more time in travelling from the stars to us, than we do in making a West-India voyage. A sound, which, next to light, is considered as the quickest body we are acquainted with, would not arrive to us from thence in 50,000 years. And a cannon-ball, flying at the rate of 480 miles an hour, would not reach us in 700,000 years. « 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.
“What a sublime idea does this suggest to the human imagination, limited as are its powers, of the works of the Creator! Thousands and 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!"
The thought that would immediately occur to a dispassionate man in listening to this statement, would be, What a vast deal am I here called on to believe !
Now the first rule of sound and sober judgment, in encountering any story, is that, in proportion to the magnitude and seemingly incredible nature of the propositions tendered to our belief, should be the strength and impregnable nature of the evidence by which those propositions are supported.
It is not here, as in matters of religion, that we are called upon by authority from on high to believe in mysteries, in things above our reason, or, as it may be, contrary to our reason. No man pretends to a revelation from heaven of the truths of astronomy. They have been brought to light by the faculties of the human mind, exercised upon such facts and circumstances as our industry has set before us.
To persons not initiated in the rudiments of astronomical science, they rest upon the great and high-sounding names of Galileo, Kepler, Halley and Newton. But, though these men are eminently entitled to honour and gratitude from their fellowmortals, they do not stand altogether on the same footing as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, by whose pens has been recorded “
every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
The modest enquirer therefore, without pretending to put himself on an equality with these illustrious men, may be forgiven, when he permits himself to suggest a few doubts, and presumes to examine the grounds upon which he is called upon to believe all that is contained in the above passages.
Now the foundations upon which astronomy, as here delivered, is built, are, first, the evidence of our senses, secondly, the calculations of the mathematician, and, in the third place, moral considerations. These have been denominated respectively, practical astronomy, scientific, and theoretical.
As to the first of these, it is impossible for us on this occasion not to recollect what has so often occurred as to have grown into an every-day observation, of the fallibility of our senses.
It may be doubted however whether this is a just statement. We are not deceived by our senses, but deceived in the inference we make from our sensations. Our sensations respecting what we call the external world, are chiefly those of length, breadth and solidity, hardness and softness, heat and cold, colour, smell, sound and taste. The inference which the generality of mankind make in relation to these