Historical Reprints Science Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
Catalog # SKU1400
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.50 lbs
Author Name Robert Chambers


Vestiges of the
Natural History of Creation

Robert Chambers

My sincere desire in the composition of the book was to give the true view of the history of nature, with as little disturbance as possible to existing beliefs, whether philosophical or religious. I have made little reference to any doctrines of the latter kind which may be thought inconsistent with mine, because to do so would have been to enter upon questions for the settlement of which our knowledge is not yet ripe.


It is familiar knowledge that the earth which we inhabit is a globe of somewhat less than 8000 miles in diameter, being one of a series of eleven which revolve at different distances around the sun, and some of which have satellites in like manner revolving around them. The sun, planets, and satellites, with the less intelligible orbs termed comets, are comprehensively called the solar system, and if we take as the uttermost bounds of this system the orbit of Uranus (though the comets actually have a wider range), we shall find that it occupies a portion of space not less than three thousand six hundred millions of miles in extent. The mind fails to form an exact notion of a portion of space so immense; but some faint idea of it may be obtained from the fact, that, if the swiftest race-horse ever known had begun to traverse it, at full speed, at the time of the birth of Moses, he would only as yet have accomplished half his journey.

It has long been concluded amongst astronomers, that the stars, though they only appear to our eyes as brilliant points, are all to be considered as suns, representing so many solar systems, each bearing a general resemblance to our own. The stars have a brilliancy and apparent magnitude which we may safely presume to be in proportion to their actual size and the distance at which they are placed from us. Attempts have been made to ascertain the distance of some of the stars by calculations founded on parallax, it being previously understood that, if a parallax of so much as one second, or the 3600th of a degree, could be ascertained in any one instance, the distance might be assumed in that instance as not less than 19,200 millions of miles!

In the case of the most brilliant star, Sirius, even this minute parallax could not be found; from which of course it was to be inferred that the distance of that star is something beyond the vast distance which has been stated. In some others, on which the experiment has been tried, no sensible parallax could be detected; from which the same inference was to be made in their case. But a sensible parallax of about one second has been ascertained in the case of the double star, a a , of the constellation of the Centaur, and one of the third of that amount for the double star, 61 Cygni; which gave reason to presume that the distance of the former might be about twenty thousand millions of miles, and the latter of much greater amount. If we suppose that similar intervals exist between all the stars, we shall readily see that the space occupied by even the comparatively small number visible to the naked eye, must be vast beyond all powers of conception.

The number visible to the eye is about three thousand; but when a telescope of small power is directed to the heavens, a great number more come into view, and the number is ever increased in proportion to the increased power of the instrument. In one place, where they are more thickly sown than elsewhere, Sir William Herschel reckoned that fifty thousand passed over a field of view two degrees in breadth in a single hour. It was first surmised by the ancient philosopher, Democritus, that the faintly white zone which spans the sky under the name of the Milky Way, might be only a dense collection of stars too remote to be distinguished.

This conjecture has been verified by the instruments of modern astronomers, and some speculations of a most remarkable kind have been formed in connexion with it. By the joint labours of the two Herschels, the sky has been "gauged" in all directions by the telescope, so as to ascertain the conditions of different parts with respect to the frequency of the stars. The result has been a conviction that, as the planets are parts of solar systems, so are solar systems parts of what may be called astral systems - that is, systems composed of a multitude of stars, bearing a certain relation to each other. The astral system to which we belong, is conceived to be of an oblong, flattish form, with a space wholly or comparatively vacant in the centre, while the extremity in one direction parts into two.

The stars are most thickly sown in the outer parts of this vast ring, and these constitute the Milky Way. Our sun is believed to be placed in the southern portion of the ring, near its inner edge, so that we are presented with many more stars, and see the Milky Way much more clearly, in that direction, than towards the north, in which line our eye has to traverse the vacant central space. Nor is this all. Sir William Herschel, so early as 1783, detected a motion in our solar system with respect to the stars, and announced that it was tending towards the star, in the constellation Hercules.

This has been generally verified by recent and more exact calculations, which fix on a point in Hercules, near the star 143 of the 17th hour, according to Piozzi's catalogue, as that towards which our sun is proceeding. It is, therefore, receding from the inner edge of the ring. Motions of this kind, through such vast regions of space, must be long in producing any change sensible to the inhabitants of our planet, and it is not easy to grasp their general character; but grounds have nevertheless been found for supposing that not only our sun, but the other suns of the system pursue a wavy course round the ring from west to east, crossing and recrossing the middle of the annular circle. "Some stars will depart more, others less, from either side of the circumference of equilibrium, according to the places in which they are situated, and according to the direction and the velocity with which they are put in motion. Our sun is probably one of those which depart furthest from it, and descend furthest into the empty space within the ring." According to this view, a time may come when we shall be much more in the thick of the stars of our astral system than we are now, and have of course much more brilliant nocturnal skies; but it may be countless ages before the eyes which are to see this added resplendence shall exist.

The evidence of the existence of other astral systems besides our own is much more decided than might be expected, when we consider that the nearest of them must needs be placed at a mighty interval beyond our own. The elder Herschel, directing his wonderful tube towards the sides of our system, where stars are planted most rarely, and raising the powers of the instrument to the required pitch, was enabled with awe-struck mind to see suspended in the vast empyrean astral systems, or, as he called them, firmaments, resembling our own. Like light cloudlets to a certain power of the telescope, they resolved themselves, under a greater power, into stars, though these generally seemed no larger than the finest particles of diamond dust. The general forms of these systems are various; but one at least has been detected as bearing a striking resemblance to the supposed form of our own.

The distances are also various, as proved by the different degrees of telescopic power necessary to bring them into view. The farthest observed by the astronomer were estimated by him as thirty-five thousand times more remote than Sirius, supposing its distance to be about twenty thousand millions of miles. It would thus appear, that not only does gravitation keep our earth in its place in the solar system, and the solar system in its place in our astral system, but it also may be presumed to have the mightier duty of preserving a local arrangement between that astral system and an immensity of others, through which the imagination is left to wander on and on without limit or stay, save that which is given by its inability to grasp the unbounded.

310+ pages - 5 x 8 inches SoftCover


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