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have preceded planets in the order of creation; and that the earth was at first a star, and continued so till rendered opake by having its bright surface encrusted with grosser and untransparent matter, and drawn into the vortex of the solar system; and Leibnitz adopted his conjecture. Whiston conceived it to have been originally a comet, the rude materials of which constituted the chaos of the earth; and Buffon, to have consisted of a comet and a portion of the sun's exterior limb or edge carried off by such comet, in consequence of its having given the sun an oblique stroke in the course of its orbit: the chaos of the earth being thus formed by the vapoury substance of the impinging comet uniting with a portion of the sun's igneous mass; and in this manner he endeavoured to account for the production of every other planet of the solar system.
But of all this class of speculations (for, assuredly, they deserve no higher character), the most splendid and comprehensive is that which was first embraced by Sir William Herschel, and was perhaps an improvement on a prior hypothesis of M. Buffon; but which, so precarious is the life of a philosophical hypothesis, he himself discarded, not many years afterwards, for something newer. It supposes the existence of an immense mass of opake but igneous matter, seated in the centre of universal nature; that the sun and every other star were originally portions of this common substance; that it is volcanic in its structure, and subject to eruptions of inconceivable force and violence; that the sun and every other luminary of every other system were thrown forth from it at different times, by the operation of such projectile powers; and that these, possessing in a
great degree the qualities of the parent body, threw forth afterwards at different times, by means of similar volcanoes, portions of their own substance, each of which, by the common laws of projectiles, assumed an orbicular motion, constituted a distinct planet, and became the chaos of a rising world.* Hence, according to this daring hypothesis, the existing universe has acquired its birth; hence new systems of worlds are perpetually rising into being, and new planets are added to systems already created: the hypothesis, however, is by no means generally received.
But worlds and systems of worlds are not only perpetually creating, they are also perpetually diminishing and disappearing. It is an extraordinary fact, that within the period of the last century, not less than thirteen stars in different constellations, none of them below the sixth magnitude, seem totally to have perished: forty to have changed their magnitude by becoming either much larger or much smaller; and ten new stars to have supplied the place of those that are lost. Some of these changes may perhaps be accounted for by supposing a proper motion in the solar or sidereal systems, by which the relative positions of several of the heavenly bodies have varied. But this explanation, though it may apply to several of the cases, will by no means apply to all of them; in many instances it is unquestionable that the stars themselves, the supposed habitations of other kinds or orders of intelligent beings, together with the different planets
* Phil. Trans. vol. lxxxiv.
+ See Herschel's Observations compared with Flamsteed's, Phil. Trans. vol. lxxiii. art. 17.
by which it is probable they were surrounded, and to which they may have given light and fructifying seasons, as the sun gives light and fruitfulness to the earth, have utterly vanished, and the spots which they occupied in the heavens have become blanks. What has thus befallen other systems will assuredly befall our own; of the time and the manner we know nothing, but the fact is scarcely controvertible; it is foretold by revelation, it is inscribed in the heavens, it is felt throughout the earth. Such is the awful and daily text; what, then, ought to be the comment ?
ON THE ELEMENTARY AND CONSTITUENT
OUR study for the present lecture is the first or simplest principles of bodies, so far as we have hitherto been able to obtain any degree of knowledge upon this recondite enquiry, and the means by which they are combined or separated from each other, so as to produce different kinds and orders of sensible objects.
A very slight contemplation of nature is sufficient to show us that matter under every visible form and modification, when regarded in its general mass, is perpetually changing; alternately living, dying, and reviving; decomposing into elements that elude our pursuit; and recombining into new shapes and energies and modes of existence. The purest and most compact metals become tarnished or converted into a calx or oxyde on its surface, and the most durable and crystallised rocks crumble into granules; and the matter constituting these oxydes and granules, by an additional series of operations, is still farther decomposed, till every vestige of their late character is lost, and the elementary principles of which they consisted are appropriated to other purposes, and spring to view under other forms and faculties. The same process takes place in the organised world. The germ becomes a seed, the seed a sapling, the sapling a tree; the embryo becomes an infant, the infant a youth, the youth a
man: and having thus ascended the scale of maturity, both, in like manner, begin the downward path to decay; and, so far as relates to the visible materials of which they consist, both at length moulder into one common elementary mass, and furnish fresh fuel for fresh generations of animal or vegetable existence; so that all is in motion, all is striving to burst the bonds of its present state; not an atom seems idle; and the frugal economy of nature makes one set of materials answer the purpose of many, and moulds it into every diversified figure of being and beauty and happiness.
It has hence been said, that matter is necessarily corruptible, and is perpetually changing from its intrinsic nature, and that the physical and moral evils of life are mainly attributable to this perverse and incorrigible propensity. Such was the doctrine of many of the most eminent schools of ancient philosophy, both of Greece and Asia, and such continues to be the doctrine of various schools of the present day; a doctrine which has not unfrequently been considered as of the utmost importance, and as forming the best defence of the benevolence of the Supreme Architect; who, we are told, notwithstanding all the pains and calamities, the tumults and disorders of nature, has made the most of matter that it would admit of, and has tempered it not only with a positive predominancy of good over evil, but with as much and as real good as could possibly be infused into it.
To argue thus is to revive the theory of pure Platonism, and to suppose the existence of matter as an independent and eternal principle. "God," says the sublime but mistaken founder of this school,