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position of the inexperienced, rather to fear than to hope, from the effects of all thing's new and rarely occurring; and next to the aggravated reasonings and fancies of many of those who have attempted to be eminently wise, but who, upon this, as upon many other occasions, have only outrun the multitude in error and in folly. It is, however, the tails, or atmospherical appendages of the Comets, with their fiery substance, and their prodigious lengths, that have been the special subjects of dismay. The tail of the Comet of 1680 was reckoned at a hundred and twentythree millions of miles in length; and the extreme end of all this “horrid hair, as a poet has called it, might have touched (it has been argued) and mingled itself with the atmosphere of our planet; might have inoculated it with foreign materials; and might, thus altering its composition, and shake' into the element we breathe, the seeds of pestilence and war! But why that odious and undemanded fancy? Why might not the atmosphere of a Comet (supposing it to really touch and mingle with the atmosphere of the Earth), correct and improve it, warm it, and purify it, rather than communicate any thing malignant? For what reason should we think that a Comet comes to poison the Earth, and not rather (if there must be poison) that the Earth should give poison to the Comet; and for what reason, also, should we suppose a Comet to be that contradiction to all the other things of nature, a destroyer more than a restorer; and a production, not by occasion, but by fixed design, malignant and destructive? Thunder and lightning are things assuredly more terrible than Comets, of which latter the motions are so regular, and the appearance is so serenely beautiful; and yet how rarely does even partial mischief follow from the occurrence of thunder and lightning? In truth, all the fears that are any where entertained of Comets are traditionary prejudices, derived from times when the regularity of their laws was neither known nor thought of. The ordinary course of nature, too (as ought to be sufficiently apparent to us), does not occupy herself in preparing great and frightful catastrophes that overwhelm, at once, a world; but all her greater operations are performed with a slowness and tranquillity that neither alarm nor do violence to any thing. The magnetic poles, for example, are continually in progressive change of situation, on the east and west of the poles of the earth alternately; the sea is retiring largely from certain shores, and gaining largely upon others; and even the paths of the earth around the sun, and of the moon around the earth, have alternate changes and restorations of their figures, attained, or sometimes only supposed to be attained during the lapse of immense intervals of time; and which, if they really effect, backward and forward, any considerable changes upon our earth, effect them so slowly, and, as it were, so gently, that, like the changes of place of the fingers of a clock, the changes discover themselves to human sense, not while they are performing, but only after they have been performed. It is said, that in the course of some countless ages, the orbit of the moon, in its revolutions about the earth, varies and re-varies from a figure approaching to an oval or ellipsis, to a figure approaching a true circle; and that the orbit of the earth about the sun has similar periodical variations, by one series receding from, and by another
returning to, its first figure. Now, the variations of the figures of the orbits of the earth and moon, by changing the measure of their respective distances, in the first instance from the sun, and in the second from the earth, ought to vary all our meteorological phenomena (the seasons, heat and cold, and moist and dry, and all the rest); the times and strength of light and dark, and the heights and periods of the tides. But, if these changes, as we must infer, do really happen, their progress is so gradual, that nothing very plainly results to the buman apprehension, at least while the changes are actually effecting; and that, as to the general and permanent economy of nature, so many compensations are established, for the meeting and moderating all evils, we may remark the beautiful coincidence, that it is precisely when the earth is receding from the strongest light and heat of the sun, that the moon is bringing its strongest light and heat to the earth! At this very time that we are now speaking, the orbit of the earth is said to be concluding its period of change from an ellipsis to a circle, thence to change again from a circle to an ellipsis; a movement which should now be reducing the earth, for part of its annual evolution, to its furthest distance from the sun, and lowest share of light and beat; and, at this very time, also, it is equally said, that the orbit of the moon, from being in its progress from a circle to an ellipsis, is making, for a similar part of the moon's evolution, her nearest approach to the earth, with all her light and heat. Newton observed, in one direction, this change in the figure of the orbit of the moon, and thought, that with the progress of time, the derangement must become so great, as to require the immediate intervention of the divine Creator, for restoring the previous condition ; an event which might have been expected to discover itself by some fearful shock of nature. But the French astronomer, Laplace, has shown, that these approaches and recessions, in whatever lengths of periods, are alternate, like the movements of a pendulum, and already provided for in the established order of things.”
“Yet, it is always the fear of evil, and never the hope of good,” said Mrs. Mowbray, “ in which the superstitious indulge, on the appearance of a Comet ?"
“Perhaps, not always," returned Mr. Gubbins. “A Comet, says the poet of the superstitions which con. cern the class,
- ' with fear of change Perplexes monarcbs;'
and it is, perhaps, rather a change of some sort, than a certain change for evil, that is so idly looked for upon these occasions; add to which, that those changes which some think for the worse, are commonly thought by others for the better. It is curious, in the mean time, that the recent astronomical calculations upon a cometary appearance were coeval with certain popular forebodings of great changes, indulged in in different parts of the world. In Ceylon, some Buddhist priests, upon the pretended authority of a letter from heaven, seemed to announce, for the very year of the Comet, the year of the Millennium; while, in England, this latter occurrence is still prophesied of as only two or three years distant. In another channel, the writings of Pastorini, the Italian, have promised the complete restoration of the Romish church in Ireland in the year 1835; while those of Fleming, the Scotch divine, fix upon the year 1837 for that of the total overthrow of the papaty. An error of the press, in a modern edition of Pastorini, which made his year 1835 to be 1825, occasioned some excitement in Ireland in the latter year; as the error, also of the press, in France, as to Laplace's calculation of the Comet’s nearest approach to the earth, produced an agitation in that country, which required the government's aid for its removal; while, as to the pestilence and war,' and 'fear of change,' the ideas of which have been thus connected by the author of the Night Thoughts with the idea of a cometary appearance; I believe that they afford no more than a specimen of the manner in which particular historical circumstances and coincidences can be converted into false foundations for general rules. His allusions seem to be to the era of the fourteenth century, when the Black Plague, like an apparent similar calamity in our own times, ravaged Asia and Europe; when the latter quarter of the globe saw the war of the Helvetic Confederacy, and the change of the Swiss dominion from out of the hands of the ' monarchs' of the house of Austria; and when both of these events were preceded by the appearance of a great Comet—the last a phenomenon which the superstition of the age did not fail to unite, in its imagination, with the revolutions and afflictions that were current!"
“ We shall never let you desist, I believe," said, again, one of the company; “ but I think that when you expressed your opinion, that the use and intention of Comets were those of warming the etherial space throughout, and even to the exterior of the limits of the Solar System; you added, that you had some notion of correspondent arrangements, in other parts of the economy of nature ?" “ It appears to me,” returned Mr. Gubbins, “ that