Sometimes the reader is suddenly ravished with a sonorous sentence, of which, when the noise is past, the meaning does not long remain. When Brutus set his legions to fill a moat, instead of heavy dragging and slow toil, they set about it with huzzas and racing, as if they had been striving at the Olympic games. They hurled impetuous down the huge trees and stones, and, with shouts, forced them into the water; so that the work, expected to continue half the campaign, was, with rapid toil, completed in a few days. Brutus's soldiers fell to the gate with resistless fury; it gave way, at last, with hideous crash.—This great and good man, doing his duty to his country, received a mortal wound, and glorious fell in the cause of Rome; may his memory be ever dear to all lovers of liberty, learning, and humanity! This promise ought ever to embalm his memory.—The queen of nations was torn by no foreign invader.—Rome fell a sacrifice to her own sons, and was ravaged by her unnatural offspring: all the great men of the state, all the good, all the holy, were openly murdered by the wickedest and worst.—Little islands cover the harbour of Brindisi, and form the narrow outlet from the numerous creeks that compose its capacious port.—At the appearance of Brutus and Cassius, a shout of joy rent the heavens from the surrounding multitudes.
Such are the flowers which may be gathered, by every hand, in every part of this garden of eloquence. But having thus freely mentioned our author's faults, it remains that we acknowledge his merit; and confess, that this book is the work of a man of letters, that it is full of events displayed with accuracy, and related with vivacity; and though it is sufficiently defective to crush the vanity of its author, it is sufficiently entertaining to invite readers.
REVIEW OF FOUR LETTERS FROM SIR ISAAC NEWTON TO DR BENTLEY,
Containing some arguments in proof of a Deity .
It will certainly be required, that notice should be taken of a book, however small, written on such a subject, by such an author. Yet I know not whether these letters will be very satisfactory; for they are answers to inquiries not published; and, therefore, though they contain many positions of great importance, are, in some parts, imperfect and obscure, by their reference to Dr. Bentley's letters.
Sir Isaac declares, that what he has done is due to nothing but industry and patient thought; and, indeed, long consideration is so necessary in such abstruse inquiries, that it is always dangerous to publish the productions of great men, which are not known to have been designed for the press, and of which it is uncertain, whether much patience and thought have been bestowed upon them. The principal question of these letters gives occasion to observe, how even the mind of Newton gains ground, gradually, upon darkness.
"As to your first query," says he, "it seems to me, that if the matter of our sun and planets, and all the matter of the universe, were evenly scattered, throughout all the heavens, and every particle had an innate gravity towards all the rest, and the whole space, throughout which this matter was scattered, was but finite, the matter on the outside of this space would, by its gravity, tend towards all the matter on the inside, and, by consequence, fall down into the middle of the whole space, and there compose one great spherical mass. But if the matter was evenly disposed throughout an infinite space, it could never convene into one mass, but some of it would convene into one mass, and some into another, so as to make an infinite number of great masses, scattered, at great distances, from one to another, throughout all that infinite space. And thus might the sun and fixed stars be formed, supposing the matter were of a lucid nature. But how the matter should divide itself into two sorts, and that part of it, which is fit to compose a shining body, should fall down into one mass, and make a sun, and the rest, which is fit to compose an opaque body, should coalesce, not into one great body, like the shining matter, but into many little ones; or, if the sun, at first, were an opaque body, like the planets, or the planets lucid bodies, like the sun, how he alone should be changed into a shining body, whilst all they continue opaque, or all they be changed into opaque ones, whilst he remains unchanged, I do not think more explicable by mere natural causes, but am forced to ascribe it to the counsel and contrivance of a voluntary agent."
The hypothesis of matter evenly disposed through infinite space, seems to labour with such difficulties, as makes it almost a contradictory supposition, or a supposition destructive of itself.
"Matter evenly disposed through infinite space," is either created or eternal; if it was created, it infers a creator; if it was eternal, it had been from eternity "evenly spread through infinite space;" or it had been once coalesced in masses, and, afterwards, been diffused. Whatever state was first must have been from eternity, and what had been from eternity could not be changed, but by a cause beginning to act, as it had never acted before, that is, by the voluntary act of some external power. If matter, infinitely and evenly diffused, was a moment without coalition, it could never coalesce at all by its own power. If matter originally tended to coalesce, it could never be evenly diffused through infinite space. Matter being supposed eternal, there never was a time, when it could be diffused before its conglobation, or conglobated before its diffusion.
This sir Isaac seems, by degrees, to have understood; for he says, in his second letter: "The reason why matter, evenly scattered through a finite space, would convene in the midst, you conceive the same with me; but, that there should be a central particle, so accurately placed in the middle, as to be always equally attracted on all sides, and, thereby, continue without motion, seems to me a supposition fully as hard as to make the sharpest needle stand upright upon its point on a looking-glass. For, if the very mathematical centre of the central particle be not accurately in the very mathematical centre of the attractive power of the whole mass, the particle will not be attracted equally on all sides. And much harder is it to suppose all the particles, in an infinite space, should be so accurately poised, one among another, as to stand still in a perfect equilibrium. For I reckon this as hard as to make not one needle only, but an infinite number of them, (so many as there are particles in an infinite space,) stand accurately poised upon their points. Yet I grant it possible, at least, by a divine power; and, if they were once to be placed, I agree with you, that they would continue in that posture without motion, for ever, unless put into new motion by the same power. When, therefore, I said, that matter evenly spread through all space, would convene, by its gravity, into one or more great masses, I understand it of matter not resting in an accurate poise."
Let not it be thought irreverence to this great name, if I observe, that by "matter evenly spread" through infinite space, he now finds it necessary to mean "matter not evenly spread." Matter not evenly spread will, indeed, convene, but it will convene as soon as it exists. And, in my opinion, this puzzling question about matter, is only, how that could be that never could have been, or what a man thinks on when he thinks on nothing.
Turn matter on all sides, make it eternal, or of late production, finite or infinite, there can be no regular system produced, but by a voluntary and meaning agent. This the great Newton always asserted, and this he asserts in the third letter; but proves, in another manner, in a manner, perhaps, more happy and conclusive.