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To us who dwell on its surface, the earth is by far the most extensive orb that our eyes can anywhere behold; but, to a spectator placed on one of the planets, it looks no larger than a spot. To beings who dwell at still greater distances, it entirely disappears. That which we call alternately the morning and the evening star, as in the one part of the orbit she rides foremost in the procession of night, in the other ushers in and anticipates the dawn, is a planetary world, which, with the five others that so wonderfully vary their mystic dance, are in themselves dark bodies, and shine only by reflection ; have fields, and seas, and skies of their own ; are furnished with all accommodations for animal subsistence, and are supposed to be the abodes of intellectual life. All these, together with our earthly habitation, are dependent on the sun, receive their light from his rays, and derive their comfort from his benign agency. The sun, which seems to us to perform its daily stages through the sky, is, in this respect, fixed and immovable ; it is the great axle about which the globe we inhabit, and other more spacious orbs, wheel their stated courses. The sun, though apparently smaller than the dial it illuminates, is immensely larger than this whole earth, on which so many lofty mountains rise, and such vast oceans roll. A line extending from side to side through the centre of that resplendent orb, would measure more than 882,000 miles : a girdle formed to go round its circumference would require a length of millions.
Are we startled at these reports of philosophers ? Are we ready to cry out in a transport of surprise, “ How mighty is the Being who kindled such a prodigious fire, and keeps alive from age to age such an enormous mass of flame !" Let us attend our philosophic guides, and we shall be brought acquainted with speculations more enlarged and more inflaming. The sun, with all its attendant planets, is but a very little part of the grand machine of the universe ; every star, though in appearance no bigger than the diamond that glitters upon a lady's ring, is really a vast globe like the sun in size and in glory; no less spacious, no less luminous, than the radiant source of the day: so that every star is not barely a world, but the centre of a magnificent system ; has a retinue of worlds irradiated by its ims, and revolving round its attractive influence—all which are lost to our sight. That the stars appear like so many diminutive points, is owing to their immense and inconceivable distance. So immense and inconceivable is the distance, that we could hardly express it in figures.
While beholding this vast expanse 1 learn my own extreme meanness, I would also discover the abject littleness of all terrestrial things. What is the earth, with all her ostentatious scenes, compared with this astonishingly grand furniture of the skies? What, but a dim speck hardly perceptible in the map of the universe ? It is observed by a very judicious writer, that if the sun himself, which enlightens this part of the creation, were extinguished, and all the host of planetary worlds which move about him were annihilated, they would not be missed by an eye that can take in the whole compass of nature any more than a grain of sand upon the sea-shore. The bulk of which they consist, and the space which they occupy, are so exceedingly little in comparison of the whole, that their loss would leave scarce a blank in the immensity of God's works. If, then, not our globe only, but this whole system, be so very diminutive, what is a kingdom or a country? What are a few lordships, or the so much-admired patrimonies of those who are styled wealthy? When I measure them with my own little pittance, they swell into proud and bloated dimensions; but when I take the universe for my standard, how scanty is their size, how contemptible their figure ; they shrink into pompous nothings !
THE SPIDER AND THE BEE.—(DEAN SWIFT.)
UPON the highest corner of a large window there dwelt arcertain spider, swollen up to the first magnitude by the destruction of infinite numbers of flies whose spoils lay scattered before the gates of his palace, like human bones before the cave of some giant. The avenues of his castle were guarded with turnpikes and palisades, all after the modern way of fortification. After you had passed several courts you came to the centre, where you might behold the constable himself in his own lodgings, which had windows fronting to each avenue, and ports to sally out on all occasions of prey or defence. In this mansion he had for some time dwelt in peace and plenty, without danger to his person by swallows from above, or to his palace by brooms from below, when it was the pleasure of fortune to conduct thither a wandering bee, to whose curiosity a broken pane in the glass had discovered itself; and in he went; where, expatiating awhile, he at last happened to alight upon one of the outward walls of the spider's citadel, which, yielding to the unequal weight, sunk down to the very foundation. Thrice he endeavoured to force his passage, and thrice the centre shook. The spider within feeling the terrible convulsion, supposed at first that nature was approaching to her final dissolution, or else that Beelzebub with all his legions was come to revenge the death of many thousands of his subjects, 2 whom his enemy had slain and devoured. However, he at length valiantly resolved to issue forth and meet his fate. Meanwhile the bee had acquitted himself of his toils; and, posted securely at some distance, was employed in cleansing his wings, and disengaging them from the rugged remnants of the cobweb. By this time the spider was adventured out, when, beholding the chasms, the ruins and dilapidations of his fortress, he was very near at his wits' end, he stormed and swore like a madman, and
1 Written to illustrate the superiority of the ancient over modern learning; the Bee representing the ancients; the Spider, the moderns.
2 Beelzebub in the Hebrew signifies lord of flies.