網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

visages, and probably denounce the discoverer as a babbler who lets out mysteries. But why should such secrets be grudged to the public ? why withheld from this enlightened age? Whatever is worthy to be known, should by all means be brought to the great and general market of the world. Unless we do this, we can neither grow wiser nor happier with time.” These are true, liberal, and noble words.

But it is the first volume which is the greatest and most important of the three. It has recently been translated into English by the Rev. Augustus Clissold, and published in two considerable octavos. It is entitled “Principia; or the First Principles of Natural Things, being New Attempts towards a Philosophical Explanation of the Elementary World.” In this volume an attempt is made to explain the generation of the elements, the creation of matter, and the nature of the occult forces playing within nature. To pronounce an absolute opinion upon such a work would be highly hazardous ; for positive science, at present, affords no sufficient data to test many of its highest reasonings. So far, however, as such tests have been granted, they serve to manifest the fact that among speculative natural philosophers, Swedenborg is second to none. Gærres, an eminent German philosopher, speaking of the “Principia,” remarks :—"It is a production indicative of profound thought in all its parts, and not unworthy of being placed by the side of Newton's mathematical 'Principia of Natural Philosophy.'' We will now adduce a few proofs of the truth of this assertion.

Humboldt, in his “Kosmos,” remarks,“that great and enthusiastic although cautious observer, Sir William Herschel, was the first to sound the depths of heaven, in order to determine the limits and form of the starry system we inhabit.” The discovery of the place of our sun and system in the Milky Way, is certainly due to Herschel, but Swedenborg has a prior claim to the honour. In the “ Principia, written fonr years before Herschel was born, the statement of our sun's position in the heavens was explicitly made, with the method by which the fact was observed. But this is not all. The changes observed in the planetary orbits, seemed at one time to warrant the belief in a final destruction of all things through the falling of creation into chaos. After a while, however, La Grange brought forward his beautiful theory, by which was established the doctrine, that though the solar system is liable to certain mutations in the form and eccentricity of its orbits in very long periods, yet in consequence of a certain relation which prevails in the system, between the masses, orbital axes, and eccentricities, in time all orbits return again to what they originally were, oscillating between very narrow limits. This discovery of a cyclar return, confirmed by the most eninent astronomers, is pronounced by Professor Playfair to be, “next to Newton's discovery of the eliptical orbits of the planets, —without doubt the noblest truth in physical astronomy.” This discovery has also to be claimed for Swedenborg. In his “ Principia,” the fact of this cyclar mutation and return of the planets to order, is repeatedly stated, and with great accuracy and plainness. Want of space alone forbids several quotations in proof. It need only be noted that the

Principia” was published forty-four years before La Grange announced his famous theory: Again, the doctrine of the translatory or progressive motion of the stars along the Milky Way, and their streaming out at the northern end, and in at the southern ; diverging at the northern end in every direction, while at the southern end they converge at every point, -one of the most magnificent truths of modern astronomy,-is clearly set forth in this wonderful work of Swedenborg's, years before the full fact had dawned upon the scientific world. Again, the sublime doctrine of the cosmical arrangement of the stars, or of the clustering of stars into distinct systems, forming starry systems, as planets do solar systems, generally attributed to Kant, Michell, and one or two others, was promulgated by Swedenborg in the “ Principia,” when Kant, the first of the acknowledged propounders of the theory, was a boy of ten years of age. The first enunciation of the nebular hypothesis, is also to be referred to Swedenborg's “Principia.” Indeed La Place, to whom the hypothesis is generally attributed, indirectly owed some of his ideas on the subject to Swedenborg. La Place owned that Buffon was the first that suggested the theory of the origin of the planets and their satellites from the

Now Buffon was acquainted with Swedenborg's “ Principia,” as is evident from the fact that an eminent London bookseller recently sold a copy of the “ Principia” containing Buffon's autograph.() It need only be added, that fifteen years before Buffon published his theory, and seventy-five years before La Place offered his own to the public, Swedenborg had propounded his version of the nebular hypothesis in the “Principia. It is true that La Place and Swedenborg differ on several points, but recent science and experiment have tended to prove that wherein they differ, Swedenborg's theories are the most accurate.

While advancing these high claims for Swedenborg, in astronomical science and theory, it is but right to remove from the public mind an erroneous idea, which, like his titles of Baron and Count, has no foundation in fact. We allude to his common repute as the announcer of the existence of the seventh planet, Uranus, discovered by Herschel in 1781. That he announced the existence of this planet long before its actual discovery, has been stated innumerable times, at home and abroad; and Emerson in his lecture on the Mystic, takes opportunity to be witty in regretting that he did not discover the eighth. The mistake has

2. The bookseller referred to was Mr Bohn, of Henrietta street, Covent Garden.

sun.

arisen from Swedenborg's talking of a seventh planet in “ The Worship and Love of God," a book of his yet to be noticed. Now the belief in the existence of a seventh planet was entertained by most of the astronomers of his day, and even so far back as Kepler, in 1584. Swedenborg, in speaking as he did, only expressed a general idea. Astronomers observing the wide space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, conjectured that some planet must roll between. The after discovery of numerous asteroids between these orbits, gives some show of truth to their conjectures. It was of this supposed planet between Mars and Jupiter, and not of Uranus, (afterwards discovered by Sir William Herschel,) that Swedenborg spoke.

In magnetism, as in astronomy, the“ Principia” is no less rich in original thought and discovery. It was not until the close of the eighteenth century that the position of the magnetic equator was discovered to be different from that of the geographical. After observations confirmed the fact that the mean latitudinal positions of the magnetic poles and equators, are identical with those of the earth’s ecliptic and ecliptical poles. This fact, over which there has been much congratulation, was set forth in the “ Principia ” many years before it was confirmed by actual observation. Again, the fact that the southern magnetic pole has a longer axis fro the centre of the magnetic equator, than the northern, and hence occupies a higher latitudinal position ; and, as a consequence, that the revolution of the north magnetic pole is quicker than that of the southern ; also that the south magnetic pole possesses a greater attractive force than the north, -facts not suspected till the investigations of Hansteen in 1819, and only fully confirmed by observation very recently,—were all proclaimed in the “Principia” nearly a century before positive science had embraced them in her domain. Swedenborg also takes precedence of all other discoverers in the announcement of the identity of the magnetic streams forming the aurora, and those influencing the magnetic needle. So full is the “ Principia ” of truths respecting magnetism, —which the world generally supposes to be a novelty of the present day,—that we could not imagine a greater pleasure or surprise awaiting anyone devoted to the prosecution of magnetic science, than the perusal of this commonly supposed old-fashioned and antiquated Principia” of speculative science.

We will now say a few words on the great chemical truths which the “Principia” revealed. In 1734, not a whisper had been breathed regarding the composite nature of the atmosphere. The earliest date which can be assigned for the practical discovery of the two-fold nature of atmospheric air, is 1772-4, the date of Priestley's celebrated experiments. But we find in the “ Principia,” that Swedenborg sets forth the following facts :-that pure and dry atmospheric air is a compound of two constituents; that these constituents are combined

66

in unequal proportions; that the element greatest in quantity is the extinguisher of combustion ; and lastly, that the element greatest in quantity is a constitnent of water as well as of air. The merest tyro in science will, at a glance, perceive the importance and extent of ground which these propositions cover, and how profound must have been that genius which, in the midst of the deepest scientific darkness, could draw from nature these deep and choice truths. But this was not all. Water as well as air yielded to him the secret of its constitution. In Swedenborg's day, the whole world thought and spoke of water as an element, and even after the composite nature of air was revealed, water maintained its elemental character up to 1783, when the discovery was almost simultaneously made by Watt, Priestley, Cavendish, and Lavoisier, that water, like air, is a result of the conbination of two gases.

Now in the “ Principia," written fifty years before, we are expressly told that pure water is a compound substance, and the particulars and quantities of the two elements in its composition are correctly given. There are many other truths in modern science which the “ Principia" anticipates ; such as the atomic theory, and the identity of electricity and lightning; but we must draw to a close. Enough has been said to show the high merits of the book, and to prove how worthy it is of the study and attention of all true lovers of science.

The publication of the “ Principia” gained for its author great reputation, and his friendship and correspondence were eagerly courted by all the philosophers of his day. In December, 1734, the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg appointed him one of their corresponding members. The Pope honoured the work by placing it in that noble catalogue of books, the Index Expurgatorius, in 1739.

It may be very pertinently asked, how it happens that a work abounding in such important doctrines and theories, should be so little known. The neglect is easily accounted for in the great subsequent fame of its author as a religious visionary. His later reputation effectually out-shone that which he so deservedly won in his younger days; and few, even of his own disciples, until recent times, thought of lifting from the dusty shelves those great books of scientific theory which of themselves established for their author a place among the greatest of men. The “ Principia,” as its translator truly says, “ is a book for the future ;” and taking these words in their full import, it would be hardly possible to pronounce a higher panegyric.

CHAPTER 5.

Doings and Travels.
From 1734 to 1736, Swedenborg remained at home.

In July 1735, his father, the good bishop, died ; and a year after, Swedenborg went abroad, as he states in his diary, " for a sojourn of three or four years, to write and publish a certain book.” During his absence he resigned half of his official salary to his substitutes. His father having left him some money, he was the better able to do so.

He journeyed through Denmark, Hanover, and Holland, and arrived at Rotterdam during the fair. Observing the amusements of the people, mountebanks, shows, etc., he took occasion to moralise thus upon the character and prosperity of the Dutch. “Here at Rotterdam, it has suggested itself to me to inquire why it is that God has blessed a people so barbarous and boorish as the Dutch, with such a fertile and luxuriant soil; that He has preserved them, for so long a course of years, from all misfortune; that He has raised them up in commerce above all other nations; and made their provinces the mart and emporium of the wealth of Europe and the world. On consideration, the first and principal cause of these circumstances appears to be, that Holland is a republic, which form of government is more pleasing to God than an absolute monarchy. In a republic, no veneration or worship is paid to any man, but the highest and lowest think themselves equal to kings and emperors ; as may be seen from the characteristic bearing of every one in Holland. The only one whom they worship is God. And when God alone is worshiped, and men are not adored instead of him, such worship is most acceptable to Him. Then again, in Holland, there is the greatest liberty. None are slaves, but all are as lords and masters under the government of the most high God; and the consequence is, that they do not depress their manliness either by shame or fear, but always preserve a firm and sound mind in a sound body; and with a free spirit, and an erect countenance, commit themselves and their property to God, who alone ought to govern all things. It is not so in absolute monarchies, where men are educated to simulation and dissimulation; where they learn to have one thing concealed in the breast, and to bring forth another upon the tongue; where their minds, by inveterate custom, become so false and counterfeit, that in divine worship itself, their words differ from their thoughts, and they proffer their flattery and deceit to God himself, which certainly must be most displeasing to Him. This seems to be the reason why the Dutch are more prosperous in their undertakings than other nations." Then, with rare discrimination, he adds, “but their worshiping mammon as a Deity, and caring for nothing but

« 上一頁繼續 »