Зображення сторінки

planet would be found there ; and, strange to say, the astronomers of our own times discovered, at the beginning of the present century, four small planets,-Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta,-occupying the very place in our system where the anticipated planet ought to have been found. Ceres, the first of these, was discovered by Piazzi, at Palermo, in 1801 ; Pallas, the second of them, by Dr. Olbers, of Bremen, in 1802 ; Juno, the third, by Mr. Harding, in 1804 ; and Vesta, the fourth, by Dr. Olbers, in 1807. After the discovery of the third, Dr. Olbers suggested the idea that they were the fragments of a planet that had been burst in pieces; and, considering that they must all have diverged from one point in the original orbit, and ought to return to the opposite point, he examined these parts of the heavens, and thus discovered the planet Vesta. But though this principle was in the possession of astronomers, nearly forty years elapsed before any other planetary fragment was discovered. At last, in 1845, Mr. Encke, of Driessen, in Prussia, discovered the fragment called Astræa, and in 1847 another, called Hebe. In the same year, our countryman, Mr. Hind, discovered other two, Iris and Flora. In 1848, Mr. Graham, an Irish astronomer, discovered a ninth fragment, called Metis. In 1849, Mr. Gasparis, of Naples, discovered another, which he calls Hygeia ; and within the last two months, the same astronomer has discovered the eleventh fragment, to which he has given the name of Parthenope. * If these eleven small planets are really the remains of a larger one, the size of the original planet must have been considerable. What its size was, would seem to be a problem beyond the grasp of reason. But human genius has been permitted to triumph over greater difficulties. The planet Neptune was discovered before a ray of its light had entered the human eye; and by a law of the solar system just discovered, we can determine the original magnitude of the broken planet long after it has been shivered into fragments; and we might have determined it even after a single fragment had proved its existence. This law we owe to Mr. Daniel Kirkwood, of Pottsville, an humble American, who, like the illustrious Kepler, struggled to find something new among the arithmetical relations of the planetary elements. Between every two adjacent planets there is a point where their attractions are equal. If we call the distance of this point from the sun the radius of a planet's sphere of attraction, then Mr. Kirkwood's law is, that in every planet the square of the length of its year, reckoned in days, varies as the cube of the radius of its sphere of attraction. This law has been verified by more than one American astronomer, and there can be no doubt, as one of them expresses it, that it is at least a physical fact in the mechanism of our system. This law requires the existence of a planet between Mars and Jupiter, and it follows from the law that the broken planet must have been a little larger than Mars, or about 5,000 miles in diameter, and that the length of its day must have been about 57} hours. The Americans regard this law as amounting to a demonstration

* Ceres

.1801, January 1st .Piazzi. Pallas.....

.1802, March 28th ..Olbers. Juno

1804, September 1st ... Harding.

.1807, March 29th .... Olbers.
Astræa .1845, December 8th ...Encke.
.1847, July 1st


.1847, August 13th......Hind.
Flora ......

..1847, October 18th ...Hind. Metis

.1848, April 25th Graham. Hygeia

..1849, April 12th ..Gasparis. Parthenope...... 1850, May 1lth. ..Gasparis.

of the nebular hypothesis of Laplace ; but we venture to say that this opinion will not be adopted by the astronomers of England. Among the more recent discoveries within the bounds of our own system, I cannot omit to mention those of our distinguished countryman Mr. Lassell, of Liverpool. By means of a fine twenty-feet reflector, constructed by himself

, he detected the satellite of Neptune, and more recently an eighth satellite circulating round Saturn,-a discovery which was made on the very same day, by Mr. Bond, Director of the Observatory of Cambridge, in the United States. Mr. Lassell has still more recently, and under a singularly favourable state of the atmosphere, observed the very minute, but extremely black, shadow of the ring of Saturn upon the body of the planet.

In passing from our solar system to the frontier of the sidereal universe around us, we traverse a gulf of inconceivable extent. If we represent the radius of the solar system, or of Neptune's orbit, (which is 2,900 millions of miles,) by a line two miles long, the interval between our system, or the orbit of Neptune, and the nearest fixed star will be greater than the whole circumference of our globe-or equal to a length of 27,600 miles. The parallax of the nearest fixed star being supposed to be one second, its distance from the sun will be nearly 412,370 times the radius of the Earth's orbit, or 13,746 times that of Neptune, which is 30 times as far from the sun as the Earth. And yet to that distant zone has the genius of man traced the Creator's arm working the wonders of His power, and diffusing the gifts of His love—the heat and light of suns—the necessary elements of physical and intellectual life. It is by means of the gigantic telescope of Lord Rosse that we have become acquainted with the form and character of those great assemblages of stars which compose the sidereal universe. Drawings and descriptions of the more remarkable of these nebulæ, as resolved by this noble instrument, were communicated by Dr. Robinson to the last Meeting of the Association; and it is with peculiar satisfaction that I am able to state that many important discoveries have been made by Lord Rosse and his assistant, Mr. Stoney, during the last year. In many of the nebulæ the peculiarities of structure are very remarkable, and, as Lord Rosse observes, seem even to indicate the presence of dynamical laws almost within our grasp.” The spiral arrangement so strongly developed in some of the nebulæ is traceable more or less distinctly in many ;

but more frequently,” to use Lord Rosse's own words, “ there is a nearer approach to a kind of irregular, interrupted, annular disposition of the luminous material, than to the regularity observed in others.” But his Lordship is of opinion that those nebulæ are systems of a very similar nature, seen more or less perfectly, and variously placed with reference to the line of sight. In re-examining the more remarkable of these objects, Lord Rosse intends to view them with the full light of his six-feet speculum, undiminished by the second reflection of the small mirror. By thus adopting what is called the front view, he will doubtless, as he himself expects, discover many new features in those interesting objects. It is to the influence of Lord Rosse's example that we are indebted for the fine reflecting telescope of Mr. Lassell, of which I have already spoken ; and it is to it, also, that we owe another telescope, which, though yet unknown to science, I am bound in this place especially to notice. I allude to the reflector recently constructed by Mr. James Nasmyth, a native of this city, already distinguished by his mechanical inventions, and one of a family well known to us all, and occupying a high place among the artists of Scotland.


A most important fact in photography, is the singular acceleration of the process discovered by M. Niepce, which enables him to take the picture of a landscape illuminated by diffused light, in a single second, or at most in two seconds. By this process he obtained a picture of the sun on albumen, so instantaneously as to confirm the remarkable discovery, previously made by M. Arago, by means of a silver plate, that the rays which proceed from the central parts of the sun's disc, have a higher photogenic action than those which issue from its margin.


From these brief notices of the progress of science, I must now call your attention to two important objects with which the British Association has been occupied since the last meeting. It has been long known, both from theory and in practice, that the imperfect transparency of the earth's atmosphere, and the unequal refraction which arises from differences of temperature, combine to set a limit to the use of high magnifying powers in our telescopes. Hitherto, however, the application of such high powers was checked by the imperfections of the instruments themselves; and it is only since the construction of Lord Roese's telescope that astronomers have found that, in our damp and variable climate, it is only during a few days of the year that telescopes of such magnitude can use successfully the high magnifying powers which they are capable of bearing. Even in a cloudless sky, when the stars are sparkling in the firmament, the astronomer is baffled by influences which are invisible, and while new planets and new satellites are being discovered by instruments comparatively small, the gigantic Polyphemus lies slumbering in his cave, blinded by thermal currents, more irresistible than the firebrand of Ulysses. As the astronomer, however, capnot command a tempest to clear bis atmosphere, nor a thunder-storm to purify it, his only alternative is to remove his telescope to some southern climate where no clouds disturb the serenity of the firmament, and no changes of the temperature distract the emanations of the stars. A fact has been recently mentioned, which entitles us to anticipate great results from such a measure. The Marquis of Ormonde is said to have seen from Mount Etna, with his naked eye, the satellites of Jupiter. If this be true, what discoveries may we not expect, even in Europe, from a large reflector working above the grosser strata of our atmosphere. This noble experiment of sending a large reflector to a southern climate has been but once made in the history of science. Sir John Herschel transported his telescopes and his family to the South of Africa, and during a voluntary exile of four years' duration he enriched astronomy with many splendid discoveries. Such a sacrifice, however, is not likely to be made again ; and we must, therefore, look to the aid of Government for the realisation of a project which every civilised people will applaud, and which, by adding to the conquests of science, will add to the glory of our country. At the Birmingham Meeting of the Association, its attention was called to this subject ; and, being convinced that great advantages would accrue to science from the active use of a large reflecting telescope in the southern hemisphere, they resolved to petition Government for a grant of money for that purpose. The Royal Society readily agreed to second this application ; and, as no request from this Association has ever been refused, whatever Government was in power, we have every reason to expect a favourable answer to a memorial from the pen of Dr. Robinson, which has just been submitted to the Minister. A recent and noble act of liberality to science on the part of the Government justifies this expectation. It is, I believe, not


3 z

yet generally known that Lord John Russell has granted £1,000 a year to the Royal Society for promoting scientific objects.

The Organisation of Science as a National Institution, is an object not limited to individual, or even to English, interests. It concerns the civilised world. While the tongue of the Almighty, as Kepler expresses it, is speaking to us in His word, His finger is writing to us in His works; and to acquire a knowledge of these works is an essential portion of the great duty of man. Truth secular cannot be separated from truth Divine ; and if a priesthood has in all ages been organised to track and exemplify the one, and to maintain, in ages of darkness and corruption, the vestal fire upon the sacred altar, shall not an intellectual priesthood be organised to develop the glorious truths which time and space embosom,—to cast the glance of reason into the dark interior of our globe, teeming with what was once life,—to make the dull eye of man sensitive to the planet which twinkles from afar, as well as to the luminary which shines above,—and to incorporate with our inner life those wonders of the external world which appeal with equal power to the affections and to the reason of immortal natures? If the God of Love is most appropriately worshipped in the Christian temple, the God of Nature may be honoured in the temple of science. Even from its lofty minarets the philosopher may summon the faithful to prayer; and the priest and the sage may exchange altars withont the compromise of faith or of knowledge.

[ocr errors]




It is obvious that, in estimating the merits of any poet, much difficulty would be removed, and a more satisfactory conclusion reached, if we first ascertained, somewhat distinctly, the nature and tendency of true poetry. But this method will be found especially convenient, and is indeed necessary, for the due consideration of one whose peculiar claim to distinction is founded upon the novelty of his style, both of manner and sentiment ;

* Since the ensuing pages were written, the author whose works they freely discuss has passed beyond the influence of all earthly criticism. WILLIAM WORDS. WORTH died at his residence, Mount Kydal, in the county of Westmorland, on the 23d of April last, having recently completed his eightieth year. The present is, perhaps, the most favourable time for a dispassionate and impartial inquiry into the poet's merits, concerning which the most conflicting opinions have been entertained. When the first and severest critic that Mr. Wordsworth encountered, the late Lord Jeffrey, pronounced against the Lyrical Ballads, and The Excursion, the author's friends appealed to a future and more instructed public; as the wider circle of his present admirers point to the increasing honour and applause with which his writings are welcomed. After the lapse of forty years, and the access of much additional evidence, it may be proper to move for a new trial, in order that the former judgment may be either confirmed or reversed, ,-or (what is not uncommon in the court of criticism) modified and amended. Happily, the required accomplishments of a judge in ihese circumstances are limited to a loving acquaintance with the masters of poetry, a competent knowledge of its first principles, and a due appreciation of whatever in art is genuine of its kind, and referable to nature and truth.

--for we shall thus be enabled to judge, in how far that which is original in our author is conformable to the legitimate means and objects of his art. The writings of Mr. Wordsworth form so remarkable a feature in the literature of our times, having been received on their first publication with so much unmerited ridicule, and having gradually advanced, through the reluctant consent of some and the dawning admiration of others, to influence the minds of so large a community of admirers,-that it may be worth while to inquire, whether they have at length received their proper homage, or whether, by the exercise of great native powers in a false direction, and under the guidance of an erroneous judgment, their author has extorted an undue preference. We will own, at the outset, to a persuasion that the latter is nearer to the truth. Fully appreciating, as we do, the taste and genius which have given expression to so many noble sentiments, in language so chaste and felicitous,-and by virtue of which the sonnets of Wordsworth will ever be valued as apples of gold in frames of silver, -we believe his higher efforts to have failed, from the defectiveness of his poetic theory; and that his works generally are characterised by the admixture of certain peculiar beauties (such as simplicity, purity of style, and the frequent choice of natural and unostentatious themes) with certain serious blemishes, pervading the whole system of his poetry, and too often leading him, by an ambitious desire of working some great moral effects, vaguely intimated rather than defined, to overstep the legitimate boundaries of his art.

It should never be forgotten that poetry is one of the fine Arts, and has no just pretensions to the exercise of any influence which the sister Arts do not enjoy ; that is, to the exercise of any influence different in kind, however superior may be its degree. The moralist, it is true, and even the man of science, have each borrowed, for the more attractive display of his own doctrines, those extrinsic charms in which poetry, itself so subtile, is most aptly and becomingly embodied; and, to those casual admirers of poetry with whom the measured cadence and recurring rhyme are its only certain characteristics, it may appear that no science or subject whatever is of necessity excluded as a theme. To such persons it matters little whether they be led through the Paradise of Milton or the Botanic Garden of Darwin ; excepting that they would sooner weary of the inimitable grace and beauty, the picturesque simplicity, and the complex and marvellous harmonies, of the one, than of the Della Cruscan tinsel and jingle, the magniloquence and meager thought, of the other. The reader of cultivated taste and poetic feeling will, nevertheless, easily distinguish between the genuine character of Milton's poem, and the spurious sentiment of Darwin's : he will acknowledge that, while both are highly elaborated in expression and versification, (though with a wide difference of taste,) the art of the one is manifestly inferior to that of the other; as, in lieu of presenting a consistent and harmonious picture, like the reflection in a mirror of polished silver, he has chosen to exhibit, as in a prism, the world in its elemental, rather than its natural, state. While realing the poem of Darwin, he will repeatedly experience a revulsion of feeling—from a sense of something like admiration at the glowing scenery described, to a painful conviction of the meanness of its immediate subject; and, Again, from the interest excited by some curious phenomenon of physics, he will be hurried into a feeling of disappointment at the poetical evasion of its philosophy. This result is surely a sufficient proof of the unnatural effort made for the combination of categorical instruction with poetical art, and of the folly always

« НазадПродовжити »