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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 con
ceive ' 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 * impos
sibility,' 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 ex
ception 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 transcendental-
ist does.

" Now, I do not quarrel with these ancients," con
tinues 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 proscrip
tion 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 by, my dear friend, is it not an evidence of
the mental slavery entailed upon those bigoted people
by their Hogs and their Rams that, in spite of the eter
nal prating of their savants 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 thor
oughfare, the majestic highway of the Consistent ? Is



it not wonderful that they should have failed to de
duce from the works of God the vitally momentous
consideration that a perfect consistency can be noth
ing but an absolute truth ? How plain, how rapid our
progress since the late announcement of this proposi
tion! 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 and unencumbered con
sistency a consistency which the most stolid admit,
because it is a consistency, to be an absolute and un
questionable 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 complicated ciphers; 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 sub
lime of all their truths the truth, the fact, of gravita
tion ? 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 the deductive or inductive route by which he
attained them, his reply might have been, * I know
nothing about routes, but I do know the machinery of
the universe. Here it is. I grasped it with my soul ;
I reached it by mere dint of intuition.' Alas, poor
ignorant old man ! Could not any metaphysician have
told him that what he called * intuition ' was but the
conviction resulting from deductions and 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 en
lightened him about all this ! How it would have com
forted 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 hith
erto 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 rhap
sody 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 I 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 unaccount
able and, perhaps, somewhat impertinent epistle ; and
perhaps it would be folly to comment, hi 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, in
definitely outward; 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 astronomi
cal 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
distant conception of the individual universe, it is
clear that a descent to small from great, to the out
skirts 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 com
prehensible in regard to such considerations as are



involved in quantity, that is to say, in number, magni
tude, and distance.

Now, distinctness, intelligibility, at all points, is
a primary feature in my general design. On impor
tant topics it is better to be a good deal prolix than
even a very little obscure. But abstruseness is a
quality appertaining to no subject perse, All are
alike, in facility of comprehension, to him who ap
proaches them by properly graduated steps. It is
merely because a stepping-stone, here and there, is
heedlessly left unsupplied in our road to 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 misappre
hension, 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 hi detail which will be unavoidable as a
consequence of the plan. Commencing with a de
scent, I shall reserve for the return upward those
indispensable considerations of quantity to which allu
sion 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 the direction of this effort,
the cloud behind which lay, forever invisible, the ob
ject of this attempt. A word, in fine, was demanded,
by means of which one human being might put him
self 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 ad
mitted 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 de
ceiving themselves. The quibble lies concealed in the
word " difficulty." " The mind," we are told, " en
tertains 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 more difficulty 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 ques
tion of two statements between whose respective credi
bilities, 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 al
ready 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 im
possible 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 im
possibility 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 concep
tion; 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 fal
lacy 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 ar
gument alluded to both proves and disproves its own
proposition. " The mind is impelled," say the theo
logians 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 em
ployed to sustain ? A First Cause. And what is a
First Cause ? An ultimate termination of causes.
And what is an ultimate termination of causes ? Fin-
ity the finite. Thus the one quibble, in two pro
cesses, 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
quibbles, 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 blun
dering ratiocination as that which is ordinarily em

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 continue the 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 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

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 pur
poses, 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
even how, 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 think-
ers-that-they-think, with whom darkness and depth
are synonymous, a kind of cuttlefish reputation for
profundity; but the finest quality of thought is its


self -cognizance ; 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 do
main, now shrinking, now swelling, in accordance with
the vacillating energies of the imagination.

Hitherto, the universe of stars has always been con
sidered 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 as
sumed, at least since the dawn of intelligible astron
omy, that, were it possible for us to attain any given
point in space, we should still find, on all sides of us,
an ^terminable succession of stars. This was the un
tenable idea of Pascal when making perhaps the most
successful attempt ever made at periphrasing the con
ception for which we struggle in the word " universe."
" It is a sphere," he says, " of which the centre is
everywhere, the circumference nowhere." But al
though 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 every
where, 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 God
head. Of this Godhead, in itself, he alone is not im
becile, 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 Pessence de Dieu : pour savoir ce qu'il est, il f aut
tre Dieu meme." " We know absolutely nothing
of the nature or essence of God : in order to compre
hend 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 everlastingly condemned.

By Him, however, now, at least, the Incomprehen
sible ; 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 vi
tally 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 pro
cesses 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 intui
tion altogether irresistible, although inexpressible,
forces me to the conclusion that what God originally
created, that that matter which, by dint of His voli
tion, He first made from His Spirit or from nihility,
could have been nothing but matter in its utmost con
ceivable 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

Let us now endeavor to conceive what matter must
be when, or if, hi 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, of one nature, of one size, of one form, a
particle, therefore, " without form and void," a par
ticle positively a particle at all points, a particle abso
lutely 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 one
ness is a principle abundantly sufficient to account
for the constitution, the existing phenomena, and the
plainly inevitable annihilation of at least the material

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 considera
tions 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 abnor
mal condition of many. An action of this character
implies reaction. 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 par
ticle, as a centre, let us suppose to be irradiated spheri
cally, in all directions, to immeasurable but still
definite distances in the previously vacant space, a
certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of un
imaginably 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 diffu
sion ? Unity being their source, and difference from
unity the character of the design manifested in their
diffusion, we are warranted in supposing this charac
ter 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 con
tinual 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 expli
citly, are we to consider no two atoms as, at their dif
fusion, of the same nature, or of the same form, or of

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