Page images

regret to say that it has since been burnt down, after having weathered a century. How fortunate that my ancestor's papers were rescued and placed in my hands! Here he dwelt till his fiftieth birth-day, when he was transfixed with three bayonets, as he brought up the retreat on Bunker Hill; and as the steel entered his gallant breast, he struck so fierce a blow at one of his eager slayers, that he severed his arm at the elbow.

His descendants have scattered far and wide over the country, and over the world. Three of them are now in Texas; one is in Oregon ; one is a captain in the Russian service; another is seeking his fortune in India ; beside many more, too numerous to mention. Six flourishing new towns in the West, to say nothing of a new species of patent rifles, and eight steam-boats several of which however have lately burst their boilers have derived their names from our illustrious house. Of all our race, my relative the Bridgadier, and my humble self alone excepted, none have remained quietly at home. One description will apply to all the members of the family. We are very little men, with black eyes, sunken cheeks, and a dark yellowish complexion ; for, to say the truth, we have inherited none of my ancestor's good looks; yet so tough and impassive that neither can labor fatigue us, nor cold, heat, rain or snow have any effect on us. Should I decide to publish a family history, it would present to the world an edifying picture of Yankee enterprise.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

How the heart travels with its anxious load!
Like pilgrim journeying from day to day,
Hoping to find some kind though strange abode,

Where Weariness its toils aside may lay,
While welcomes Peace with smiles the wanderer from his way.

When Death has gathered to his silent home
The voices of our Life, the friends so dear,
Through what a wilderness condemned to roam,

We struggle on, 'mid many a bitter lear,
Nor heed the passing mockery, ever near.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

It will appear perhaps like great presumption for any person who may not have attained a name among those devoted to the study of the natural sciences, to venture to call in question any of the conclusions that satisfied the minds of such men as NEWTON and LAPLACE in their investigation of the laws of planetary motion : but it has long appeared to the writer of this article, that the generally received theory which supposes the revolution of the planets around the sun or centre of our solar system to be the result of a nicely-adjusted and counteracting repulsion and attraction; or of centrifugal and centripetal forces so perfectly balanced as to convert a movement at right angles into a uniform circular or elliptical revolution; can have but little to sustain it except theory or assumption alone. This theory appears to the writer to involve so obvious a fallacy, that he cannot account for its reception except upon the supposition that it is regarded in the light of a plausible speculation, having no practical bearing upon the study of astronomy, and as not being relied upon for aid in solving any problem or question connected with the ascertained truths of that science.

The theory as propounded is understood to teach, that if a smaller



body be thrown off with great force from a larger one, as the moon from the earth, or the earth from the sun, or if a small body should be projected in a straight line across the orbit of a large one, and near enough to become attracted by it, that the smaller body, which otherwise would move forward in a straight line forever, and at a uniform rate of motion, is by the law of gravitation or attraction drawn toward the larger body, and compelled to revolve forever around it in a fixed orbit, without being drawn to it by the continued operation of the power of gravity, acting upon the supposed continued operation of the projectile force; which forces are thus mutually neutralized by the production of a compound or circular movement.

This I understand to be the theory; and it is one that involves, in my belief, two remarkable fallacies. The first is, that the centrifugal or projectile force first communicated to a body in space beyond the sphere of attraction of any other body, would propel the projected body forward forever at an undiminished rate of movement. This supposes the original impulse or power once given, to act forever by a natural law; and to make an inert mass of matter, once put in motion, actually to possess the power of continuing the motion forever. How a power that is thus communicated or superadded, and has no necessary connexion with the existence of matter, should thus change its nature, and impart to it the power of motion without change or diminution ; and without being counteracted by the gravitation of the body itself toward its own centre, even if there were no external resistance from the atmosphere, or from the ethereal Auid that is supposed to fill the regions of space, remains to be explained ; and would seem, in connexion with the known fact of the inherent gravitation of matter toward its own centre, and its consequent tendency to fixedness, to be most unphilosophical.

The second fallacy would seem to consist in the supposition, that the action of the centripetal power, or law of attraction in the larger body, would be sufficient to change the direction of the body moving in a straight line and draw it toward the larger body, so as to cause the smaller body to revolve around the larger at a fixed distance, and with. out ever being drawn to it. The natural and obvious inference would be, that if a large body could thus, by the power of attraction, change the course of a small body from a straight line, so as to make it revolve around the larger one, that the orbit of its revolution would steadily and rapidly lessen, until in the course of a very few revolutions it would be drawn to the larger one. That this would be the result seems inevita. ble, if the power of the larger body were sufficient to change the direction of a body moving in a straight line, into an inclination toward the larger one, sufficient to cause it to revolve around the last; for if the centripetal power of the earth, for instance, could change the course of the moon, if moving in a straight line from it, into an elliptical move. ment around it, the attraction of the larger body upon the curve line would unquestionably be greater than it was upon the straight line ; and would continue to increase in the same proportion in which it first acted upon it, and with an augmented power from the diminished resistance, until the motion of the smaller body would be absolutely overcome, by being drawn to the larger one. It would seem to be evident,

therefore, that if the centripetal power could thus control the centrifugal force from the first, that the power of centrifugal resistance would be gradually diminished until destroyed.

The theory in question almost supposes the absurdity, that the centripetal power of the larger body would cease to act effectively, after it had so far overcome the centrifugal force of the smaller one, as to change the direction of motion from a straight line from itself, into a curve line around itself; which appears about as philosophical as it would be to suppose, that a power applied to the removal of a weight would act more efficiently at a distance from the weight than near to it; that the load-stone would not attract the steel more strongly in its immediate proximity than when removed farther from it; or that a stone in falling to the earth would not descend the more rapidly the nearer it came to the earth's surface.

If then the received doctrine of the laws of planetary motion be unsound, it may be asked, what better theory can be offered ? To this it may be replied, that the difficulty of suggesting any sufficient or even probable solution of one of the greatest and most wonderful of all the mysteries by which we are surrounded, is no sufficient reason why an unsound doctrine should not be abandoned. If error is not to be rejected until the truth can be satisfactorily made known, the venerable theory that the substance of the moon consists of green cheese, would have a strong claim upon our respect, until it can be ascertained definitively what its substance does in reality consist of. In explanation of the mysterious cause of planetary motion, however, we have a theory which we regard as a most plausible one; an which we will venture to propose as being far more philosophical than that in question. We would ascribe it to the direct and continually-exerted agency of an overruling and special Providence, as affording the only reasonable, or even probable satisfactory explanation, of the wondrously rapid and precise movements of those astonishing masses of matter which are wheeling their silent courses around us with the rapidity of lightning, and with a regularity and precision apparently unchangeable

and eternal. It would seem to be self-evident, that nothing short of a direct exertion of that power which we are accustomed to ascribe to Omnipotence alone, could put immense masses of inert matter like the planets in motion, and continue the impulse first communicated to them from age to age, without change or diminution.

The theory in question, however, is usually connected with the supposition, that by the operation of purely natural causes, such for instance as immense collections of explosive gases, large masses of matter like Jupiter, the earth, and the other planets, have been projected from the substance of the sun ; and that the centrifugal force thus given to them, has been so far overcome by the attractive power of the sun, as to cause the bodies thus thrown off to move around the sun in a circle, without ever being drawn back to him. That such immense masses of matter as Jupiter and Saturn could, by any inherent power in the matter composing the substance of the sun, thus be thrown off from it to distances requiring, as in the case of the last named planet, a period of twenty-nine years and upward to complete a revolution around it,


would seem to be among the wildest dreams of an Arabian Nights' imagination.

Insufficient and incredible as this theory is, as an attempt to account for the revolutions of the planets around a common centre like the sun, it fails utterly to afford the shadow of a reason or explanation of the rotary motion of all the planets, and their satellites around their own

The sun itself has this rotary movement, and revolves around its axes in common with the planets; and certainly neither centrifugal nor centripetal power can upon any possible supposition have either originated or continued this motion of the sun. If we can suppose a period ever to have been, when the sun existed alone in the centre of what we now call the solar system, and before any of the attendant planets were called into existence, it would by the law of gravitation have self-balanced on its centre hung' without motion or revolution ; and removed, as it apparently is, beyond the reach of any sensible influence from the fixed stars, what unexplained law of matter gave it a uniform and regular motion around its own axis ? For the law of gravitation under such circumstances would destroy rather than produce motion.

If we adopt the theory of Lucretius, and imagine that we remove the necessity of a “First Great Cause' in the creation by resolving matter into its original principles, and create atoms enough with our imaginations to form when condensed such a body as the sun - it being difficult according to the Lucretian theory to account for the existence of such a body as the sun now is, without an Omnipotent agency, but not difficult to account for the production of floating matter enough in the form of atoms to make the sun, without any agency whatever even then, the accumulation of these atoms into one mass, in consequence of the accidental formation of a nucleous, the result of an adherence between a few of them, it seems to be evident enough that the process of condensation could never produce a rotary motion in the mass when formed, nor while it was in the process of formation. The original cause of motion in the heavenly bodies, and in the earth, I hold then to be unexplained and unexplainable by any of the known laws of matter, and that it can only be rationally accounted for upon the supposition of the Divine and continued agency of an overruling Providence.

When we speak of planetary motion, we refer to that most wonderful and mysterious, fixed, harmonious, rapid, and compound movement, that is exhibited to our astonished observation as a governing principle in all the bodies that belong to the system, of which our earth is a member of but secondary importance; having the immense body of the sun in the centre revolving around its own axis, with eleven primary planets revolving around the sun, and having a rotary motion at the same time round their own axes, accompanied by eighteen known satel. lites or moons, also turning upon their own axes, and revolving around four of the primary planets, while these pursue their revolution around the great common centre ; and all of these bodies performing the revolutions on their own axes, and around the primary planets, and these last again around the sun, with a precision both as to time and distance

« PreviousContinue »