In fact, I have attained a point at which it will be advisable to strengthen my position by reversing my processes. So far, we have gone on à priori, from an abstract consideration of Simplicity, as that quality most likely to have characterized the original action of God. Let us now see whether the established facts of the Newtonian Gravitation may not afford us, à posteriori, some legitimate inductions.
What does the Newtonian law declare? – That all bodies attract each other with forces proportional to their quantities of matter and inversely proportional to the squares of their distances. Purposely, I have here given, in the first place, the vulgar version of the law; and I confess that in this, as in most other vulgar versions of great truths, we find little of a suggestive character. Let us now adopt a more philosophical phraseology: – Every atom, of every body, attracts every other atom, both of its own and of every other body, with a force which varies inversely as the squares of the distances between the attracting and attracted atom. – Here, indeed, a flood of suggestion bursts upon the mind.
But let us see distinctly what it was that Newton proved – according to the grossly irrational definitions of proof prescribed by the metaphysical schools. He was forced to content himself with showing how thoroughly the motions of an imaginary Universe, composed of attracting and attracted atoms obedient to the law he announced, coincide with those of the actually existing Universe so far as it comes under our observation. This was the amount of his demonstration – that is to say, this was the amount of it, according to the conventional cant of the ›philosophies.‹ His successes added proof multiplied by proof – such proof as a sound intellect admits – but the demonstration of the law itself, persist the metaphysicians, had not been strengthened in any degree. ›Ocular, physical proof,‹ however, of attraction, here upon Earth, in accordance with the Newtonian theory, was, at length, much to the satisfaction of some intellectual grovellers, afforded. This proof arose collaterally and incidentally (as nearly all important truths have arisen) out of an attempt to ascertain the mean density of the Earth. In the famous Maskelyne, Cavendish and Bailly experiments for this purpose, the attraction of the mass of a mountain was seen, felt, measured, and found to be mathematically consistent with the immortal theory of the British astronomer.
But in spite of this confirmation of that which needed none – in spite of the so-called corroboration of the ›theory‹ by the so-called ›ocular and physical proof‹ – in spite of the character of this corroboration – the ideas which even really philosophical men cannot help imbibing of gravity – and, especially, the ideas of it which ordinary men get and contentedly maintain, are seen to have been derived, for the most part, from a consideration of the principle as they find it developed – merely in the planet upon which they stand.
Now, to what does so partial a consideration tend – to what species of error does it give rise? On the Earth we see and feel, only that gravity impels all bodies towards the centre of the Earth. No man in the common walks of life could be made to see or feel anything else – could be made to perceive that anything, anywhere, has a perpetual, gravitating tendency in any other direction than to the centre of the Earth; yet (with an exception hereafter to be specified) it is a fact that every earthly thing (not to speak now of every heavenly thing) has a tendency not only to the Earth's centre but in every conceivable direction besides.
Now, although the philosophic cannot be said to err with the vulgar in this matter, they nevertheless permit themselves to be influenced, without knowing it, by the sentiment of the vulgar idea. »Although the Pagan fables are not believed,« says Bryant, in his very erudite »Mythology,« »yet we forget ourselves continually and make inferences from them as from existing realities.« I mean to assert that the merely sensitive perception of gravity as we experience it on Earth, beguiles mankind into the fancy of concentralization or especiality respecting it – has been continually biasing towards this fancy even the mightiest intellects – perpetually, although imperceptibly, leading them away from the real characteristics of the principle; thus preventing them, up to this date, from ever getting a glimpse of that vital truth which lies in a diametrically opposite direction – behind the principle's essential characteristics – those, not of concentralization or especiality – but of universality and diffusion. This ›vital truth‹ is Unity as the source of the phænomenon.
Let me now repeat the definition of gravity: – Every atom, of every body, attracts every other atom, both of its own and of every other body, with a force which varies inversely as the squares of the distances of the attracting and attracted atom.
Here let the reader pause with me, for a moment, in contemplation of the miraculous – of the ineffable – of the altogether unimaginable complexity of relation involved in the fact that each atom attracts every other atom – involved merely in this fact of the attraction, without reference to the law or mode in which the attraction is manifested – involved merely in the fact that each atom attracts every other atom at all, in a wilderness of atoms so numerous that those which go to the composition of a cannon-ball, exceed, probably, in mere point of number, all the stars which go to the constitution of the Universe.