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process of condensation which I have been attempting
to describe. Thus it was supposed that we " had oc
ular evidence " an evidence, by the way, which has
always been found very questionable of the truth of



the hypothesis; and, although certain telescopic im
provements, every now and then, enabled us to per
ceive that a spot, here and there, which we had been
classing among the nebulae, 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 numer
ous other masses, the strongholds of the nebulists, bid
ding defiance to every effort at segregation. Of these
latter the most interesting was the great " nebula " in
the constellation Orion; but this, with innumerable
other miscalled " nebulas," 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 announce
ment of the discoveries in question, the most enthusi
astic defender and most eloquent popularizer of the
theory, Dr. Nichol, went so far as to " admit the ne
cessity of abandoning" an idea which had formed the
material of his most praiseworthy book. 1

Many of my readers will no doubt be inclined to say
that the result of these new investigations has at least

1 Views of the Architecture of the Heavens. A letter, purporting to be from
Dr. Nichol to a friend in America, went the rounds of our newspapers about
two years ago, I think, admitting the " necessity " to which I refer. In a
subsequent lecture, however, Dr. N. appears in some manner to have gotten
the better of the necessity and does not quite renounce the theory, although
he seems to wish that he could sneer at it as " a purely hypothetical one."
What else was the law of gravity before the Maskelyne experiments ? and
who questioned the law of gravity even then ?



a strong tendency 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 " nebulae " alluded to,
still a failure to segregate them, with such telescopes,
might well have been understood as a triumphant cor-
roboration 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 " nebulae " 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 reaction of
the first Divine Act to the reaction 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 reaction. There could have
been no reaction had the act been infinitely continued.
So long as the act lasted, no reaction, 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 Cre
ation ; 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 " nebulae," 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 re
volting reason the blasphemous idea of special inter
position; we have to suppose that, in the particular
instances of these " nebulae," an unerring God found it
necessary to introduce certain supplementary regula
tions, certain improvements of the general law, certain
re-touchings and emendations, in a word, which had
the effect of deferring the completion of these individ
ual stars for centuries of centuries beyond the area
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 nebulae now must
be merely that which left their surfaces a vast number
of years ago, the processes at present observed, or sup
posed to be observed, are, in fact, not processes now
actually going on, but the phantoms of processes com
pleted long in the past, just as I maintain all these
mass-constitutive processes must have been.

To this I reply that neither is the now-observed con
dition 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 " nebulae " is in no manner disturbed.
Moreover, those who maintain the existence of neb
ulae 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 nebu
lous, we maintain their comparative vicinity to our
own point of view. Thus, their condition, as we see
them now, must be referred to an epoch far 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

By way, however, of rendering unto Caesar no more
than the things that are Caesar'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 nebulae, so mis-named. These
he supposed to be, in reality, what their designation
implies. The fact is, this great man had, very prop
erly, an inferior faith in his own merely perceptive
powers. In respect, therefore, to the actual existence
of nebulae, 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 prop
ositions rather than to its results. His most unwar
ranted assumption was that of giving the atoms a
movement toward 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 philo
sophical ground than that something of the kind was
necessary for the establishment of what he intended to

His original idea seems to have been a compound of
the true Epicurean atoms with the false nebulae 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. Lap
lace's real strength lay, in fact, in an almost miracu
lous 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 dissolu
tion 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 co-existent concen
tric 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 singu
lar 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 ex
cesses of rotation over gravitation which occasioned
the successive discharges, we should find the analogy
in question more decidedly confirmed ? Is it improb
able that we should discover these forces to have varied
as, in the original radiation, proportionably 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 par
ticular inequidistance, we shall find it impossible to
suppose for a moment that even any two of the incipi
ent 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 gen
erally, similar. Still less, then, can we imagine any
two assemblages of such bodies, any two " systems,"
as having more than a general resemblance. z Our
telescopes at this point thoroughly confirm our deduc
tions. 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, dis
persed 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 count
less myriads of systems which constitute the universe.
Regarding all, then, as but colossal atoms, each with

1 It is not impossible that some unlooked-for optical improvement may dis
close to us, among innumerable varieties of systems, a luminous sun, encircled
by luminous and non-luminous rings, within and without, and between which
revolve luminous and non-luminous planets, attended by moons having moons,
and even these latter again having moons.



the same ineradicable tendency to unity which charac
terizes the actual atoms of which it consists, we enter
at once upon a new order of aggregations. The small
er systems, in the vicinity of a larger one, would in
evitably be drawn into still closer vicinity. A thou
sand would assemble here ; a million there, perhaps
here, again, even a billion, leaving thus immeasur
able 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 consolida
tion in spheres, as each becoming condensed into one
magnificent sun, my reply is that jjiekhovra ravra : 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, un-
equably, 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 deduc
tively assigned to the heavens. Thoroughly, they do.
Telescopic observation, guided by the laws of perspec
tive, enables us to understand that the perceptible uni
verse 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 " nebulae," and of these
" nebulae," 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

VOL. X. 18.


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 satel
lites. The Galaxy, let me repeat, is but one of the
clusters which I have been describing, but one of the
mis-called " nebulae " revealed to us, by the telescope
alone, sometimes, as faint hazy spots in various quar
ters of the sky. We have no reason to suppose the
Milky Way really more extensive than the least of
these " nebulae." 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 him
self 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 special 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 re
spect 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 eccentrically, near the shore of
the island, on that side of it which is nearest the con
stellation of the Cross and farthest from that of Cas
siopeia. 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 con
ceiving the somewhat indefinite girdle as at all remote,
comparatively speaking, from the also indefinite len
ticular 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 phenomena presented,
which are perspective altogether. When we look up
ward 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 direc
tions 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 latter'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. No consideration could be
better adapted to convey an idea of this cluster's stu
pendous 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 " nebulae," a band of varying breadth stretch
ing 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 is the universe.
Our Galaxy is but one, and perhaps one of the most
inconsiderable, of the clusters which go to the con
stitution 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 phenomenon
of the same character as that which causes us to be
hold 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, gener
ally, 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 inter
mingled with it as any of the telescopic points in what
seems the densest portion of its mass, so are the scat
tered " nebulae " which, on casting our eyes from the
universal belt, we perceive at all points of the firma
ment; so, I say, are these scattered " nebulae " to be
understood as only perspectively scattered, and as
part and parcel of the one supreme and universal

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,
a priorit seem to me unanswerable ; but, not to speak
of these, observation assures us that there is, in num
erous 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 scru
tiny can detect not only no stellar bodies, but no indica
tions 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. Indepen
dently of the consideration of these voids, however, and
looking only at the generally unequable distribution of

^age 209.



the stars, we see that the absolute tendency of bodies
on the earth to the earth's centre is in a state of per
petual variation.

We comprehend, then, the insulation of our uni
verse. 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 be
cause upon the confines of this universe of stars we
are compelled to pause, through want of further evi
dence 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 dif
fusion of their light being so excessive, ere it reaches
us, as not to produce upon our retinas a light-impres
sion, 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

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