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write such a work,—a work which should combine, with a luminous exposition of the leading truths of the science, some account of the interesting historical facts with which it is said the records of astronomical discovery abound. Having, moreover, heard much of the grand discoveries which, within the last fifty years, have been made among the fixed stars, you expressed a strong desire to learn more respecting these sublime researches. Finally, you desired to see the argument for the existence and natural attributes of the Deity, as furnished by astronomy, more fully and clearly exbibited, than is done in any work which you have hitherto perused. In the preparation of the proposed treatise, you urged me to supply, either in the text or in notes, every elementary principle which would be essential to a perfect understanding of the work; for although, while at school, you had paid some attention to geometry and natural philosophy, yet so much time had since elapsed, that your memory required to be refreshed on the most simple principles of these elementary studies, and you preferred that I should consider you as altogether unacquainted with them.
Although, to satisfy a mind, so cultivated and inquisitive as yours, may require a greater variety of powers and attainments than I possess, yet, as you were pleased to urge me to the trial, I have resolved to make the attempt, and will see how far I may be able to lead you into the interior of this beautiful temple, without obliging you to force your way through the “jargon of the schools."
Astronomy, however, is a very difficult or a comparatively easy study, according to the view we take of it. The investigation of the great laws which govern the motions of the heavenly bodies has commanded the highest efforts of the human mind; but profound truths, which it required the mightiest efforts of the intellect to disclose, are often, when once discovered, simple in their complexion, and may be expressed in very simple terms. Thus, the creation of that element, on whose mysterious agency depend all the forms of beauty and loveliness, is enunciated in these few monosyllables, “And God said, let there be light, and there was light;" and the doctrine of universal gravitation, which is the key that unlocks the mysteries of the universe, is simply this,—that every portion of matter in the universe tends towards every other. The three great laws of motion, also, are, when stated, so plain, that they seem hardly to assert any thing but what we knew before. That all bodies, if at rest, will continue so, as is declared by the first law of motion, until some force moves them; or, if in motion, will continue so, until some force stops them, appears so much a matter of course, that we can at first hardly see any good reason why it should be dignified with the title of the first great law of motion ; and yet it contains a truth which it required profound sagacity to discover and expound.
It is, therefore, a pleasing consideration to those who have not either the leisure or the ability to follow the astronomer through the intricate and laborious processes, which conducted him to his great discoveries, that they may fully avail themselves of the results of this vast toil, and easily understand truths which it required ages of the severest labor to unfold. The descriptive parts of astronomy, or what may be called the natural history of the heavens, is still more easily understood than the laws of the celestial motions. The revelations of the telescope, and the wonders it has disclosed in the sun, in the moon, in the planets, and especially in the fixed stars, are facts not difficult to be understood, although they may affect the mind with astonishment.
The great practical purpose of astronomy to the world is, enabling us safely to navigate the ocean. There are indeed many other benefits which it confers on man; but this is the most important. If, however, you ask, what advantages the study of astronomy promises, as a branch of education, I answer, that few subjects promise to the mind so much profit and entertainment. It is agreed by writers on the human mind, that the intellectual powers are enlarged and strengthened by the habitual contemplation of great objects, while they are contracted and weakened by being constantly employed upon little or trifling subjects. The former elevate, the latter depress, the mind, to their own level. Now, everything in astronomy is great. The magnitudes, distances, and motions, of the heavenly bodies; the amplitude of the firmament itself; and the magnificence of the orbs with which it is lighted, supply exhaustless materials for contemplation, and stimulate the mind to its noblest efforts. The emotion felt by the astronomer is not that sudden excitement or ecstasy, which wears out life, but it is a continued glow of exalted feeling, which gives the sensation of breathing in a purer atmosphere than others enjoy. We should at first imagine, that a study which calls
upon its votaries for the severest efforts of the human intellect, which demands the undivided toil of years, and which robs the night of its accustomed hours of repose, would abridge the period of life; but it is a singular fact, that distinguished astronomers, as a class, have been remarkable for longevity. I know not how to account for this fact, unless we suppose that the study of astronomy itself has something inherent in it, which sustains its votaries by a peculiar aliment.
It is the privilege of the student of this department of Nature, that his cabinet is already collected, and is ever before him ; and he is exempted from the toil of collecting his materials of study and illustration, by traversing land and sea, or by penetrating into the depths of the earth. Nor are they in their nature frail and perishable. No sooner is the veil of clouds removed, that occasionally conceals the firmament by night, than his specimens are displayed to view, bright and changeless. The renewed pleasure which he feels, at every new survey of the constellations, grows into an affection for objects which have so often ministered to his happiness. His imagination aids him in giving them a personification, like that which the ancients gave to the constellations; (as is evident from the names which they have transmitted to us ;) and he walks abroad, beneath the evening canopy, with the conscious satisfaction and delight of being in the presence of old friends. This emotion becomes stronger when he wanders far from home. Other objects of his attachment desert him; the face of society changes; the earth presents new features; but the same sun illumines the day, the same moon adorns the night, and the same bright stars still attend him.
When, moreover, the student of the heavens can command the aid of telescopes, of higher and higher powers, new acquaintances are made every evening. The sight of each new member of the starry train, that the telescope successively reveals to him, inspires a peculiar emotion of pleasure; and he at length finds himself, whenever he sweeps his telescope over the firmament, greeted by smiles, unperceived and unknown to his fellow-mortals. The same personification is given to these objects as to the constellations, and he seems to himself, at times, when he has penetrated into the remotest depths of ether, to enjoy the high prerogative of holding converse with the celestials.
It is no small encouragement, to one who wishes to acquire a knowledge of the heavens, that the subject is embarrassed with far less that is technical than most other branches of natural history. Having first learned a few definitions, and the principal circles into which, for convenience, the sphere is divided, and receiving the great laws of astronomy on the authority of the eminent persons who have investigated them, you will find few hard terms, or technical distinctions, to repel or perplex you; and you will, I hope, find that nothing but an intelligent mind and fixed attention are requisite for perusing the Letters which I propose to address
I shall indeed be greatly disappointed, if the perusal does not inspire you with some portion of that pleasure, which I have described as enjoyed by the astronomer himself.
The dignity of the study of the heavenly bodies, and its suitableness to the most refined and cultivated mind, has been recognised in all ages. Virgil celebrates it in the beautiful strains with which I have headed this Letter, and similar sentiments have ever been cherished by the greatest minds.
As, in the course of these Letters, I propose to trace an outline of the history of astronomy, from the earliest ages to the present time, you may think this the most suitable place for introducing it; but the successive discoveries in the science cannot be fully understood and appreciated, until after an acquaintance has been formed with the science itself. We must therefore reserve the details of this subject for a future opportunity; but it may be stated, here, that astronomy was cultivated the earliest of all the sciences; that great attention was paid to it by several very ancient nations, as the Egyptians and Chaldeans, and the people of India and China, before it took its rise in Greece. More than six hundred years before the Christian era, however, it began to be studied in this latter country. Thales and Pythagoras were particularly distinguished for their devotion to this science; and the celebrated school of Alexandria, in Egypt, which took its rise about three hundred years before the Christian era, and flourished for several hundred years, numbered among its disciples a succession of eminent astronomers, among whom were Hipparchus, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy. The last of these composed a great work on astronomy, called the · Almagest,' in which is transmitted to us an account of all that was known of the science by the Alexandrian school. The · Almagest' was the principal text-book in astronomy, for many centuries afterwards, and comparatively few improvements were made until the
age of Copernicus. Copernicus was born at Thorn, in Prussia, in 1473. Previous to his time, the doctrine was held, that the earth is at rest in the centre of the universe, and that the sun, moon, and stars, revolve about it, every day, from east to west; in short, that