Referring to the Newtonian Gravity, Dr. Nichol, the eloquent author of »The Architecture of the Heavens,« says: – »In truth we have no reason to suppose this great Law, as now revealed, to be the ultimate or simplest, and therefore the universal and all-comprehensive, form of a great Ordinance. The mode in which its intensity diminishes with the element of distance, has not the aspect of an ultimate principle; which always assumes the simplicity and self-evidence of those axioms which constitute the basis of Geometry.«
Now, it is quite true that ›ultimate principles,‹ in the common understanding of the words, always assume the simplicity of geometrical axioms – (as for ›self-evidence,‹ there is no such thing) – but these principles are clearly not ›ultimate;‹ in other terms what we are in the habit of calling principles are no principles, properly speaking – since there can be but one principle, the Volition of God. We have no right to assume, then, from what we observe in rules that we choose foolishly to name ›principles,‹ anything at all in respect to the characteristics of a principle proper. The ›ultimate principles‹ of which Dr. Nichol speaks as having geometrical simplicity, may and do have this geometrical turn, as being part and parcel of a vast geometrical system, and thus a system of simplicity itself – in which, nevertheless, the truly ultimate principle is, as we know, the consummation of the complex – that is to say, of the unintelligible – for is it not the Spiritual Capacity of God?
I quoted Dr. Nichol's remark, however, not so much to question its philosophy, as by way of calling attention to the fact that, while all men have admitted some principle as existing behind the Law of Gravity, no attempt has been yet made to point out what this principle in particular is: – if we except, perhaps, occasional fantastic efforts at referring it to Magnetism, or Mesmerism, or Swedenborgianism, or Transcendentalism, or some other equally delicious ism of the same species, and invariably patronized by one and the same species of people. The great mind of Newton, while boldly grasping the Law itself, shrank from the principle of the Law. The more fluent and comprehensive at least, if not the more patient and profound, sagacity of Laplace, had not the courage to attack it. But hesitation on the part of these two astronomers it is, perhaps, not so very difficult to understand. They, as well as all the first class of mathematicians, were mathematicians solely: – their intellect, at least, had a firmly-pronounced mathematico-physical tone. What lay not distinctly within the domain of Physics, or of Mathematics, seemed to them either Non-Entity or Shadow. Nevertheless, we may well wonder that Leibnitz, who was a marked exception to the general rule in these respects, and whose mental temperament was a singular admixture of the mathematical with the physicometaphysical, did not at once investigate and establish the point at issue. Either Newton or Laplace, seeking a principle and discovering none physical, would have rested contentedly in the conclusion that there was absolutely none; but it is almost impossible to fancy, of Leibniz, that, having exhausted in his search the physical dominions, he would not have stepped at once, boldly and hopefully, amid his old familiar haunts in the kingdom of Metaphysics. Here, indeed, it is clear that he must have adventured in search of the treasure: – that he did not find it after all, was, perhaps, because his fairy guide, Imagination, was not sufficiently well-grown, or welleducated, to direct him aright.
I observed, just now, that, in fact, there had been certain vague attempts at referring Gravity to some very uncertain isms. These attempts, however, although considered bold and justly so considered, looked no farther than to the generality – the merest generality – of the Newtonian Law. Its modus operandi has never, to my knowledge, been approached in the way of an effort at explanation. It is, therefore, with no unwarranted fear of being taken for a madman at the outset, and before I can bring my propositions fairly to the eye of those who alone are competent to decide upon them, that I here declare the modus operandi of the Law of Gravity to be an exceedingly simple and perfectly explicable thing – that is to say, when we make our advances towards it in just gradations and in the true direction – when we regard it from the proper point of view.