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the formation of the earth was contemporaneous with that of the rest of the planets; but they show that creation is the work of Him with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years.'


THE infinite varieties of motion in the heavens, and on the earth, obey a few laws, so universal in their application, that they regulate the curve traced by an atom which seems to be the sport of the winds, with as much certainty as the orbits of the planets. These laws, on which the order of nature depends, remained unknown till the sixteenth century, when Galileo, by investigating the circumstances of falling bodies, laid the foundation of the science of mechanics, which Newton, by the discovery of gravitation, afterwards extended from the earth to the farthest limits of our system.

This original property of matter, by means of which we ascertain the past and anticipate the future, is the link which connects our planet with remote worlds, and enables us to determine distances, and estimate magnitudes, that might seem to be placed beyond the reach of human faculties. To discern and deduce from ordinary and apparently trivial occurrences the universal laws of nature, as Galileo and Newton have done, is a mark of the highest intellectual power.

Simple as the law of gravitation is, its application to the motions of the bodies of the solar system is a problem of great difficulty, but so important and interesting, that the solution of it has engaged the attention and exercised the talents of the most distinguished mathematicians; among whom La Place holds a distinguished place by the brilliancy of his discoveries, as well as from having been the first to trace the influence of this property of matter from the elliptical motions of the planets, to its most remote effects on their mutual perturbations. Such was the object contemplated by him in his splendid work on the Mechanism of the Heavens; a work


which may be considered as a great problem of dynamics, wherein it is required to deduce all the phenomena of the solar system from the abstract laws of motion, and to confirm the truth of those laws, by comparing theory with observation.

Tables of the motions of the planets, by which their places may be determined at any instant for thousands of years, are computed from the analytical formulæ of La Place. In a research so profound and complicated, the most abstruse analysis is required, the higher branches of mathematical science are employed from the first, and approximations are made to the most intricate series. Easier methods, and more convergent series, may probably be discovered in process of time, which will supersede those now in use; but the work of La Place, regarded as embodying the results of not only his own researches, but those of so many of his illustrious predecessors and contemporaries, must ever remain, as he himself expressed it to the writer of these pages, a monument to the genius of the age in which it appeared.

Although physical astronomy is now the most perfect of sciences, a wide range is still left for the industry of future astronomers. The whole system of comets is a subject involved in mystery; they obey, indeed, the general law of gravitation, but many generations must be swept from the earth before their paths can be traced through the regions of space, or the periods of their return can be determined. A new and extensive field of investigation has lately been opened in the discovery of thousands of double stars, or, to speak more strictly, of systems of double stars, since many of them revolve round centres in various and long periods. Who can venture to predict when their theories shall be known, or what laws may be revealed by the knowledge of their motions ?-but, perhaps, Veniet tempus, in quo ista quæ nunc latent, in lucem dies extrahat et longioris ævi diligentia: ad inquisitionem tantorum ætas una non sufficit. Veniet tempus, quo posteri nostri tam aperta nos nescisse mirentur.

It must, however, be acknowledged that many circumstances seem to be placed beyond our reach. The planets are so remote, that observation discloses but little of their structure; and although their similarity to the earth, in the appearance of their surfaces, and in their annual and diurnal revolutions producing the vicissitudes of

seasons, and of day and night, may lead us to fancy that they are peopled with inhabitants like ourselves; yet, were it even permitted to form an analogy from the single instance of the earth, the only one known to us, certain it is that the physical nature of the inhabitants of the planets, if such there be, must differ essentially from ours, to enable them to endure every gradation of temperature, from the intensity of heat in Mercury, to the extreme cold that probably reigns in Uranus. Of the use of Comets in the economy of nature it is impossible to form an idea; still less of the Nebula, or cloudy appearances that are scattered through the immensity of space; but instead of being surprised that much is unknown, we have reason to be astonished that the successful daring of man has developed so much.

In the following pages it is not intended to limit the account of the Mécanique Céleste to a detail of results, but rather to endeavour to explain the methods by which these results are deduced from one general equation of the motion of matter. To accomplish this, without having recourse to the higher branches of mathematics, is impossible; many subjects, indeed, admit of geometrical demonstration; but as the object of this work is rather to give the spirit of La Place's method than to pursue a regular system of demonstration, it would be a deviation from the unity of his plan to adopt it in the present case.

Diagrams are not employed in La Place's works, being unneces sary to those versed in analysis; some, however, will be occasionally introduced for the convenience of the reader.




1. THE activity of matter seems to be a law of the universe, as we know of no particle that is at rest. Were a body absolutely at rest, we could not prove it to be so, because there are no fixed points to which it could be referred; consequently, if only one particle of matter were in existence, it would be impossible to ascertain whether it were at rest or in motion. Thus, being totally ignorant of absolute motion, relative motion alone forms the subject of investigation: a body is, therefore, said to be in motion, when it changes its position with regard to other bodies which are assumed to be at rest.

2. The cause of motion is unknown, force being only a name given to a certain set of phenomena preceding the motion of a body, known by the experience of its effects alone. Even after experience, we cannot prove that the same consequents will invariably follow certain antecedents; we only believe that they will, and experience tends to confirm this belief.

3. No idea of force can be formed independent of matter; all the forces of which we have any experience are exerted by matter; as gravity, muscular force, electricity, chemical attractions and repulsions, &c. &c., in all which cases, one portion of matter acts upon another.

4. When bodies in a state of motion or rest are not acted upon by matter under any of these circumstances, we know by experience that they will remain in that state: hence a body will continue to move uniformly in the direction of the force which caused its motion, unless in some of the cases enumerated, in which we have ascertained by experience that a change of motion will take place, then a force is said to act.

5. Force is proportional to the differential of the velocity, divided

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