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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 impos
sible conception, with the hope of intellectually believ
ing 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 ; neverthe
less, 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 imag
ination which ventures to claim the right. Let me
declare, only, that, as an individual, I myself feel im
pelled to 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 cog
nizance, 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 metaphysical order. The clearness with
which even material phenomena 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 grad
uated 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 ex
clusively, 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 con
veyed, that is to say, of number, magnitude, and dis
tance, have been conveyed incidentally and by way of
preparation for more definite conceptions. These lat
ter let us now attempt to entertain.



Our solar system, as has been already mentioned,
consists, in chief, of one sun and sixteen planets cer
tainly, 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 flat
tened 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 dif
ferent spheroids move, the moons about the planets,
the planets about the sun, or the sun about the com
mon 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 long diam
eter 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 al
ways 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 veloc
ity so varying, that the radius 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 hi 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 pre
vail where attraction prevails. They control the uni
verse. 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 demon
strated and accounted for by the patient and mathe
matical 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 harkening to a demonstration by

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 a posteriori to have an
actual existence, led Newton to account for them by
the hypothesis of gravitation, and, finally, to demon
strate them a 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



The mean distance of the earth from the moon, that
is to say, from the heavenly body in our closest vicin
ity, is 237,000 miles. Mercury, the planet nearest the
sun, is distant from him 37,000,000 miles. Venus, the
next, revolves at a distance of 68,000,000 ; the Earth,
which comes next, at a distance of 95,000,000 ; Mars,
then, at a distance of 144,000,000. Now come the
eight asteroids (Ceres, Juno, Vesta, Pallas, Astraea,
Flora, Iris, and Hebe) at an average distance of about
250,000,000. Then we have Jupiter, distant 490,-
000,000; then Saturn, 900,000,000; then Uranus,
1,900,000,000; finally, Neptune, lately discovered,
and revolving at a distance, say, of 2,800,000,000.
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 cer
tain 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, un
less 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 dis
tance of 2,800,000,000 of miles. So far good: I
have stated a mathematical fact, and, without com
prehending 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 3000
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 be
tween one mile-stone and its next neighbor upon the
turnpike. We are in some measure aided, however,
in our consideration of distance by combining this con
sideration with the kindred one of velocity. Sound
passes through noo 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 per
ceiving the former, more than thirteen entire days and
nights before getting any intimation of the latter.

However feeble be the impression, even thus con
veyed, 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 2,800,000,000 of miles
between our sun and Neptune; or even that of the
95,000,000 between the sun and the earth we in
habit. A cannon-ball, 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
twenty years; while for the former it would require

Our moon's real diameter is 2160 miles; yet she is
comparatively so trifling an object that it would take
nearly fifty such orbs to compose one as great as the

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, forty 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,oooth 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 an 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 nine years and forty-eight 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 two sextillions, two hundred quiti*
tillions 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 sys
tem, 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 the largest of our planets, Jupiter ? This is
86,000 miles in diameter, and would include within its
periphery more than a thousand orbs of the magni
tude 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 forty times greater
than that of a cannon-ball! The thought of such a
phenomenon cannot well be said to startle the mind ;
it palsies and appalls 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 hun
dred 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 concep
tion 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 ninety miles a day,
would be more than eighty years in going round a
great circle of its circumference. It occupies a cubi
cal space of 68 1 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, conse
quently, 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 circum
ference 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 con
vey 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 mo
ment, 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 par
ticular star we have in mind, extending in every direc
tion 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,
seventeen 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 dispropor
tions 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 con
ception of the interval referred to by comparing it with
the inter-planetary spaces. If, for example, we sup
pose 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 forty feet distant, and the star
Alpha Lyrse, at the very least, one hundred and fifty-



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
forty feet, and that of Alpha Lyrae one hundred and
fifty-nine. The proportion between one foot and one
hundred and fifty-nine has appeared, perhaps, to con
vey a sufficiently definite impression of the proportion
between the two intervals, that of the earth from the
sun, and that of Alpha Lyrae 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 forty feet, and that of Alpha Lyrae one hundred and
fifty-nine miles; that is to say, I had assigned to
Alpha Lyrae, in my first statement of the case, only the
528oth 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 hi respect to the
moon as to seem flying behind us, the tree in the
extreme distance has scarcely changed at all its rela
tive 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 in
dividual 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 dis
tance 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 dis
tances of the heavenly bodies. Applying the principle
to the trees in question, we should, of course, be very
~. 293


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 Lyrse directly
overhead; and let us imagine that, instead of stand
ing 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 one hundred and ninety millions of miles.
Having observed, by means of the most delicate micro-
metrical instruments, the exact position of the star, let
us now pass along this inconceivable road until we
reach the 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 rela
tive 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 ascer
tain. We perceived, for example, that Alpha Lyrae
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 num
bered 6 1 in the constellation of the Swan. The dis
tance in this latter instance ascertained is 670,000
times that of the sun, which last, it will be remem
bered, 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 Lyrae.

In attempting to appreciate this interval by the aid
of any considerations of velocity, as we did in endeav
oring to estimate the distance of the moon, we must
leave out of sight, altogether, such nothings as the
speed of a cannon-ball 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 com
ing from 6 1 Cygni to us, even at this inconceivable
rate, light occupies more than ten years; and, conse
quently, 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
6 1 Cygni, let us remember that this interval, however
unutterably vast, we are permitted to consider as but
the average interval among the countless hosts 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 mag
nificent cluster of the Milky Way.

And here, once again and finally, it seems proper to

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