Imatges de pÓgina
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at the close of his “ Principia,” have found it quite as obscure as the Apocalypse itself. Metaphysicians and divines may not unaptly be compared to that class of gladiators who were compelled to fight with a bandage over their eyes. · But when Newton applied himself with his eyes open to mathematical researches, his views extended to the limits of the 'world.

He invented what is called the calculation of infinitesimals; he discovered and demonstrated a new principle which produces motion in all nature. Before him men were unacquainted with the nature of light. False or confused notions were universally entertained concerning it. He said, Let light be known, and it

He was the inventor of reflecting telescopes. The first was made by his own hands; and he has clearly shown why the power or reach of the common telescope cannot be increased. It was in relation to his new telescope, that a German jesuit mistook Newton for a journeyman optician; he calls him "an artisan of the name of Newton." Posterity has well avenged him. He was however treated with more injustice still in France: he was considered as an unsuccessful and mistaken experimentalist; and because Mariotte made use of bad prisms, the discoveries of Newton were rejected.

He was admired by his countrymen as soon as ever his writings and experiments were known. He was not well known in France until after the expiration of forty years. By way of compensation however for this long period of ignorance, we had the tubular matter and the ramified matter of Descartes, and the little flimsy vortices of the reverend father Malebranche, and the system of M. Privat de Molière—who how: ever, it must be admitted, was not quite equal to Poquelin de Molière.

Of all the persons who have lived in society with cardinal de Polignac, although upon the most slender footing, there is not a man who has not heard him say, that Newton was á peripatetic; and that his colorific rays, and more particularly his attraction, savoured

strongly of atheism. Cardinal de Polignac united to all the advantages he had 'received from nature, very impressive and commanding eloquence, and he made Latin verses with a facility and a success that were astonishing; but he knew nothing of philosophy beyond that of Descartes, and he retained by heart his reasonings just as we are in the habit of retaining dates. He had not become a geometrician, and he was not born a philosopher; he was a competent judge of Cicero's Orations against Catiline or of Virgil's Æneid, but not of Newton and Locke.

When we reflect that Newton, Locke, Clarke, and Leibnitz, would have been persecuted in France, imprisoned at Rome, and burnt at Lisbon, what are we to think of human reason? Happily, she was by this time born in England. In the time of queen Mary, an active and bitter persecution had been carried on respecting the manner of pronouncing Greek; and the persecutors were the party that happened to be mistaken. Those who enjoined penance upon Galileo were more mistaken still. Every inquisitor ought to be overwhelmed by a feeling of shame in the deepest recesses of his soul at the very sight of one of the spheres of Copernicus. Yet if Newton had been born in Portugal, and any dominican had discovered a heresy in his inverse ratio of the squares of the distances, he would without hesitation have been clothed in a ' san-benito,' and burnt as a sacrifice acceptable to God at an 'auto-da-fé.'*

It has frequently been asked, how it happens that those who by their profession are bound to obtain knowledge and show indulgence, have so frequently been, on the contrary, ignorant and unrelenting. They have been ignorant, because they had long studied; and they have been cruel, because they perceived that their ill-chosen studies were objects of contempt to the truly discerning and wise. The inquisitors who had

• This is as true in fact, as piquant in description; and al though san-benitos and autos-da-fé are out of fashion, the disposition to persecute and run down abstract truths is nearly as strong as ever.-T.

the hardihood to condemn the system of Copernicus, not merely as heretical, but as absurd, had certainly nothing to apprehend from that system. The earth, as well as the other planets, could move round the sun without their sustaining any loss of revenues or of honour. A dogma is always secure enough when it is assailed only by philosophers. All the academies in the world will produce no change in the creed of the common people. What then is the foundation of that rage which has so often exasperated an Anitus against a Socrates ? It is, that Anitus in the bottom of his heart says-Socratés despises me.

When young, I entertained the idea that Newton had made his fortune by his extreme merit. I imagined that the court and city of London had promoted him, as it were by acclamation, to be grand master of the Mint. Nothing was ever less true. Isaac Newton had a very lovely niece, who happened to please the lord high treasurer Halifax. His calculation of infinitesimals, and his discovery of gravitation, would have been of no service to him without his handsome niece.

SECTION III. Of the reformed Chronology of Newton, which reduces

the Age of the World five hundred years. I have still to speak of another work, more within the comprehension of mankind in general, but which at the same time is distinguished by that creative mind which Sir Isaac Newton carrried with him into all his researches. This is a perfectly new chronology; for in everything that he undertook he appears to have been destined to change the ideas which had been adopted by other men. Accustomed as he was to reduce chaos to order, he endeavoured to shed at least some light on the chaos of ancient fable and history, and to fix a chronology before exceedingly doubtful. It is incontestable, that no family, city, or nation ever existed, that was not desirous of placing its origin as far back in antiquity as possible. The earliest histo

rians, moreover, are the most careless with respect to dates. Books being infinitely less common than at present, and consequently incalculably less exposed to criticism and detection, mankind were deceived by authors almost with impunity; and as facts have evidently been fabricated, it can scarcely be doubted that dates have likewise been so. On a general view, Sir Isaac Newton considered the world five hundred years younger than chronologists supposed. He founds this conclusion on the usual course of nature, and also upon astronomical observations.

By the course of nature is here meant the average number of years allowed to the successive generations of mankind. The Egyptians were the first who adopted this uncertain method of computation, when they were desirous of recording the early events of their history. They reckoned three hundred and forty-one generations from Menes to Sethon; and as they had no fixed dates, they considered three generations as equivalent to a hundred years. Accordingly, from the reign of Menes to that of Sethon, they reckoned eleven thousand three hundred and forty years. The Greeks, before they adopted the system of the Olympiads, fol. lowed the same method as the Egyptians, and extended farther the duration of generations, carrying each to the length of forty years. In this point, however, both Egyptians and Greeks were mistaken in their calculation. It is perfectly true that, according to the usual course of nature, three generations would extend to about a hundred and twenty years; but it is very far indeed from being true, that three reigns would comprise that number of years. It is perfectly evident in general, that men live a much longer time than kings reign. Accordingly, a man desirous of writing the history of any country, but who had no access to correct dates, who knew however that there were nine kings who had reigned over it, would commit one of the grossest of errors in computing these nine reigns as extending to three hundred years. Every generation is about thirty years, every reign is about twenty, one with another, or, according to the common expression, on the average. Take, for example, the thirty kings of England, from Williamn the Conqueror to George I. and we shall find they reigned, on the whole, six hundred and forty-eight years; which amount, divided by thirty, will give to each individual reign twenty-one years and a half. Sixty-three kings of France reigned each, upon the average, about twenty years. Such is the ordinary course of nature. The ancients therefore were mistaken in equalizing the duration of three reigns to that of three generations; they allowed too long an average duration to a reign; and their allow: ance therefore must be proportionally reduced.

Astronomical observations seem to furnish our philosopher with more powerful and decisive support. He appears strongest when contending on his own territory. We know that the earth, besides its annual movement, which carries it round the sun from west to east in the space of a year, has a farther and singular revolution, rather suspected than ascertained until very modern times. Its poles have a very slow retrograde motion from east to west, the consequence of which is, that every day their position does not correspond precisely to the same point of the heavens as it did the day before. This difference, which is imperceptible in a single year, becomes very distinguishable and striking in time; and at the end of seventy-two years, the difference is found to amount to a degree, that is, the three hundred and sixtieth part of the whole circle of the heavens. : Thus, after seventy-two years, the colure of the vernal equinox, which previously to the commencement of that period passed through one fixed star, corresponds to another fixed star one degree distant from the former. Hence it arises that the sun, instead of being in that part of the heavens where the ram was in the time of Hipparchus, is found to correspond now to that part of them in which the fishes are placed; and that the twins are now where the bull was then. All the signs have changed place; but notwithstanding this change, we still use the same language as the ancients in speaking of them. We say, the sun is in the ram in spring, accommodating our

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