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ART. VIII.—1. A Cycle of Celestial Objects for the use of Naval,
Military, and Private Astronomers, Observed, Reduced, and Discussed. By CAPTAIN WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, R.N., K.S.F., D.C.L., &c. 2 vols.
2 vols. 8vo. London, 1844. 2. Thoughts on some Important Points relating to the History of
the World. By J. P. NICHOL, LL.D., Professor of Astronomy in the University of Glasgow. 1 vol. 8vo. Edinburgh, 1846.
IF in former days, and in heathen lands, ignorance was the mother of devotion, she has, in modern times and among civilized nations, become her bitterest and most implacable foe. When the ministers of religion were the sole depositaries of knowledge, the sovereignty of their God was unchallenged, whether he was a saint, a hero, or a reptile. Science and imposture had combined their powers to deceive and enslave the people. Piety sought its reward in secular distinction and animal enjoyment, and when the twin lusts of pleasure and of power had lost their hold over the mind, the terrors of guilt and the dread of punishment bound their victims with a still more galling chain. The light of truth, however, religious and physical, gradually broke in upon the domain of priestcraft. The crypts of the juggler were laid open—the lying oracles ceased to respond—the deinon shrine smoked no more—and ignorance lost for ever her monopoly of devotion.
When society had passed this neutral point, this node of her ascending orbit, the God of Nature began to be recognised in his works, and visions of immutable truth, enlightening the mind by their wisdom, and overpowering the imagination by their brightness, replaced the meteor knowledge which had dazzled and misled mankind. When the eye of reason first saw the earth which we inhabit suspended, as a hall, in “ midway air,” and pursuing its appointed path as the arbiter of times and seasons, that reason must have acknowledged the mighty potentate that “ weighed the earth in a balance, and held the waters in the hollow of his hand.” When the moon took her place as the satellite of the earth—the lamp to enlighten its darkness, and the magnet to regulate its tides—the wisdom and beneficence of its author must have been felt as well as recognised. When this mighty globe, to which the sun, moon, and stars seemed to, be subservient—the heritage of empire, the playground of conquerors, and the seat of all human glory—when this globe shrunk into one of the smallest and least important of the planets which
form the family of the sun, the pride of philosophy waned at the disclosure, and proud man learned for the first time that there might be races of men, as there were worlds of matter, more glorious than his own, more lofty in their intelligence, and more divine in their deeds and their affections. But when the telescope exhibited to him, in the vast expanse of the universe, new suns and new systems of worlds, infinite in number and variety, and sustaining, doubtless, in their bright abodes, myriads of living beings-new regions of suffering and of glory-new spheres for the display of divine power, and the diffusion of divine beneficence—human reason trembled at the display of a boundless universe, and bowed in mute admiration of its grandeur.
With views of creation thus unlimited in its extent, and infinite in its objects, and with manifestations of power and wisdom which scepticism durst not challenge nor reason impugn, we might have expected to find a race of philosophers ever worshipping the Great Spirit, devoutly ministering in his temple, and followed by a devoted band of disciples, panting after a knowledge of such stupendous mysteries, and sacrificing wealth and pleasure for its attainment. Nor would the expectation have been unreasonable, that knowledge so divine and inaccessible would have shed its infľuence over the moral nature of its possessors, instilling lessons of humility and piety, mortifying intellectual pride, and preparing the mind for the reception of other manifestations of the divine will, and of other truths which, though presented to us in a different phase, are not only worthy of our regard, but appeal to the highest and most enduring interests of man.
Such knowledge wafts the mind above,
of Him who formed the whole;
A glory circling round the soul. Such, however, have not been the results of astronomical discovery. In no department of the world's wisdom has the Creator been less known and honoured, than in that which treats of the very heavens in which he dwells. The names of heathen deities, associated with vice and error, have been given to the noblest works of the one living God,* and in the depths of a boundless
* In speaking of the nomenclature of the constellations, Captain Smith justly remarks, that “the recent consecrations of flattery, such as Scutum Sobieskii, Honores Frederici, Taurus Poniatowski, Cor Caroli, Robur Caroli, Sceptrum Brandenburgicum, Harpa Georgii, and the like, together with every political, national, and worldly
universe, and amid the glories of bright and revolving worlds, the “undevout astronomer" has sought and found but the bubble reputation. The tendency of knowledge acquired in the pursuit of fame, to foster intellectual pride, and overshadow sacred truth, is nowhere more conspicuously displayed than in the history of that science in which it was least likely to occur. In the survey of regions far above his own, man regards himself as at least an auxiliary to his Maker. When he discovers, he bears himself as if he had created. When he analyzes, he flatters himself that he has combined. When he unravels nature's magic, he mistakes himself for the conjuror. When knowledge, on the contrary, is dissociated from fame, and when it rests chiefly on the testimony of others, it takes its seat more readily in the affections, and being founded on faith more than on reason, it enters into a readier combination with those sacred truths which disclaim philosophy either as their judge or their interpreter. Hence we can understand why the great deductions of science, especially those of the sidereal heavens, exercise so little influence over the minds of those who are most deeply conversant with them, and why the cultivators of science are, generally speaking, the least pious of the intellectual community. But, though the pride of philosophy thus stands in fatal antagonism to religious sentiment, science is, nevertheless, the handmaid of religion. The conqueror who subjugates barbarous nations, and the legislator who civilizes them, are rarely actuated by a love of suffering humanity or of social order. The tools of a nobler workman, they but gratify their thirst of fame and power, and their names stand associated with triumphs which they are not permitted to appreciate or enjoy. Thus does the pride and vanity of man seek its gratification even in the performance of the noblest deeds, and the discovery of the grandest truths; and while, in the page of history, we ponder over the record of achievements like these, we are compelled to admire the deed, while we pity the hero or the sage who does it.
But, from whatever motives, and by whatever means truth is obtained, whether by the proud astronomer from the remotest verge of space, or by the sceptical geologist from the depths of our own planet, it yields a noble tribute to the pious and contemplative soul. Here it is the work of omnipotence, which,
interesting allusion should be at once swept away.” The same observation is equally applicable to the nomenclature of the planets. Uranus was long known by the appropriate name of Herschel, its discoverer, and the names of Piazzi, Olbers, and Harding, might have replaced those of Ceres, Pallas, and Juno; while Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho, Newton, and Le Verrier might have received the honour of giving their names to the other planets.
though we cannot fathom, we adore—there it is a monument of wisdom, of which we comprehend the object and the design. Above us and beyond us, it is a display of power which conters benefits upon our race-around us and near us, it is the dispensation of individual blessings which we daily enjoy, or of admonitions or of chastisements which we daily disregard. In whatever phase it is presented to us, it is truth divine; and whether our emotions be those of astonishment and admiration, of love or of fear, it is worthy of our deepest study—the doing of the Lord, and marvellous in our eyes.
While the moral influence of science over the mind of the philosopher is enfeebled by intellectual pride, its power over other minds is greatly reduced by an imperfect reliance on its facts and deductions. The testimony upon which we receive ordinary truths is not adequate to the establishment of those which are strange and startling; and if they stand opposed to early prejudice, or to the evidence of sense, they are not admitted like other truths of which we have the evidence of demonstration.
They are portions, indeed, of our knowledge, but not articles of our creed, and though we may regard them as possible, or even rank them among probabilities, they neither guide the judgment, nor rouse the affections, nor regulate the conduct. How few men really believe that they sojourn on a whirling globe, and that each day and year of life is measured by its revolutions, regulating the labour and the repose of every race of being. How few believe that the great luminary of the firmament, whose restless activity they daily witness, is an immoveable star, controlling, by its solid mass, the primary planets which compose our system, and forming the gnomon of the great dial which measures the thread of life, the tenure of empires, and the great cycles of the world's change. How few believe that each of the millions of stars—those atoms of light which the telescope can scarcely descry--are the centres of planetary systems that may equal, if not surpass our own ? And how very few believe that the solid pavement of the globe upon which they nightly slumber, is an elastic crust, imprisoning fires and forces which have often burst forth in tremendous energy, and are at this very instant struggling to escape,—now finding their way in volcanic fires—now heaving and shaking the earth-now upraising islands and continents, and gathering strength for that final outburst which is to usher in the new heavens and the new earth,“ wherein dwelleth righteousness." Were these great physical truths objects of faith as well as deductions of reason, we should lead a better life than we do, and make a quicker preparation for its close. No man willingly sleeps on the precipice's brink. Few can stand unappalled with a thunderbolt overhead, and fewer still are un
VOL. VI. NO, XI.
moved when the earthquake is shattering their neighbour's household gods and desolating their shrine. If it be want of faith in religious truth which keeps us under the bondage of sin, it is want of faith in physical truth which keeps us from seeing the mighty arm that is ever revealing itself around us,-from standing in awe amid its wondrous manifestations,—from living sober and godly lives, and thus qualifying ourselves for the citizenship of a better kingdom.
If there be any soundness in these views, the education of the people—the instruction of the whole population—in physical truth, becomes the duty of a Christian State. Education, however, is not knowledge, nor is knowledge wisdom. It is but the instrument by which knowledge and wisdom are acquired, and like all other instruments, it may be employed for purposes that are mischievous or useless. There are many truths which it is not profitable to know, and of which it is better to be ignorant. There are many which are appropriate to one sphere of life, and not to another, but there are some which deeply concern every responsible being, and in making him a wiser, make him a happier and a better man. We do not allude to the doctrines of revelation, about which there is no question, but to those grand truths of the natural world which indicate the power and wisdom, and shew forth the glory of the Creator. The cardinal truths of Astronomy and Geology, have pre-eminently this character, and along with others of high importance, ought to form the substance of the earliest lessons that are committed to the memory of the young. Received as facts to be believed, and not as truths to be previously demonstrated or even explained, they demand little exercise of the mind, and will take their place in its capacious storehouse, the germs of present piety, and the seed of the tree of knowledge.
It is in vain, however, to expect that such views will receive any attention in the present age, when nations are ruled only by the principles of a worldly policy, and no higher objects contemplated in the education of the community than to maintain social order, to promote agriculture and commerce, and to exalt, by naval and military triumphs, the falsely called glory of the nation. A Government must be wise itself before it can make others wise; and senators must fear God before they can make man fear him. When birth and not wisdom is called to high counsels,—when eloquence overbears knowledge, and the idolatry of wealth and power replaces godly fear, we must remain the subjects of a distracted and unblessed empire, imbibing the wisdom of the serpent, and smitten by the poison of its sting.
In the two interesting works which we have placed at the head of this article, the general reader will find a body of phy