Category Archives: Natural Science

Item of the Day: General Observations on the Philosophy of Medicine (1809)

Full Title: General Observations on the Philosophy of Medicine; with some Anticipations of its Future State, Arising Out of a Comparison of its Progress with that of the Sciences in General. By Joseph William Gullifer, Esq. Edinburgh: Printed by James Ballantyne and Co. for the Author, 1809.


WHEN the Statesman sits down to study the profound views of the science of legislation, and the Physician to investigate the various results arising from the complicated structure of the human body, the object which both propose to themselves, at the commencement of their labours, bears a manifest relation to the same end. viz. the bettering the condition of the human species. The errors for the practical Statesman, however, and the policy by which he is governed, are soon discovered, and soon pointed out, by the discerning eye of an enlightened public; but the Physician is able to veil his errors, and conceal the imperfections of his art, under the specious appearance of knowledge. This concealment of ignorance, on the part of the Physician, could not long pass unregarded, if there were any convincing test whereby to judge either of the depth or of the soundness of those principles whereupon he proceeds.



That we are very far from the knowledge of first principles in medicine, has been often allowed; and that no department of science can be expected to go on in any state of progressive improvement, until some data, some elements, are furnished to conduct the inquirer, is likewise a fact that cannot be denied. It is from the want of some materials of this kind, that the medical student finds himself so much at a loss; –he studies, and he may still continue to do so; collecting ideas ad infinitum, without reaping any real or solid advantage; –he cannot even indulge the fond hope, or the alluring prospect, of benefiting posterity by his labours; –he discovers, amdist the immense mass of materials presented to his view, such a multiplicity of heterogeneous opinions, as bewilder the attention, and distract the memory, and which he can refer to no general head whatever; –he finds himself entangled in the mazes of an unintellibible phraseology, that claims no title to use, much less to distinction, but that which the venerable sanction of time always secures to monuments of antiquity.


Various as the divisions of mental inquiry are found to be, and difficult as it is to pursue them with precision, from the vagueness of language itself, yet in no circle of knowledge is this inconvenience more sensibly felt than in medicine. How various are the terms which Physicians daily employ, without annexing any correct or distinct idea to them? I feel persuaded, from the prodigious improvement that chemistry has lately undergone, partly owing to the philosophical nomenclature introduced by the French, and partly to the scientific arrangement observed in classing the differnt parts of its’ system, that, if a path somewhat similar to this, that is, a plan conducted upon principles nearly allied to it, were once opened, and steadily pursued, we should then gain a very important desideratum to guide the studes of medical men. When speaking upon the soruces of minunderstanding and fallacy arising from the abmiguity of language, it ought not to be forgotten, as the Abbe de Condillac has well remarked, that we think only through the medium of words; and that the first step towards the attainment of a philosophical system, is the acquirement of an accurate language for the ideas we express. It is not, however, the language of medicine itself that is so exceptionalbe–the doctrinal parts of it are no less so. Whilst the doctrines of Sympathy, of Spasm, of Irritability, follow each other with such a rapid succession at one time, and are found to approach and to receed from each other like the oscillations of a pendulum at another, what prospective advantages can the science of medicine be expected to hold out? That which is so fluctuating, so eccentric in its orbit, so totally void of any solid foundation for its support, which is made to appear as the standard of perfection to-day, and becomes obsolete on the morrow, may please for a while the speculative theoretician, but can never prove useful to the patient inquirer after the sublime operations of nature.



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Filed under 1800's, Culture, Medicine, Natural Science, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Philosophy of Natural History (1790)

Full Title: The Philosophy of Natural History. By Willieam Smellie, Member of the Antiquarian and Royal Societies of Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Printed for the Heirs of Charles Elliot; and C. Elliot and T. Kay, T. Cadell, and G. G. J. & J. Robinson, London, MDCCXC.


Of the Docility of Animals.

OF all animals capable of culture, man is the most ductile. By instruction, imitation, and habit, his mind may be moulded into any form. It may be exalted by science and art to a degree of knowledge, if which the vulgar and uninformed have not the most distant conception. The reverse is melancholy. When the human mind is left to its own operations, and deprived of almost every opportunity of social information, it sinks so low, that it is nearly rivaled by the most sagacious brutes. The natural superiority of man over the other animals, as formerly remarked is a necessary result of the great number of instincts with which is mind is endowed. These instincts are gradually unfolded, and produce, after a mature age, reason, abstraction, invention, science. To confirm this truth, it would be fruitless to have recourse to metaphysical arguments, which generally mislead and bewilder human reason. A diligent attention to the actual operations of Nature is sufficient to convince any mind that is not warped and deceived by popular prejudice, the fetters of authorities, as they are called, whether ancient or modern, or by the vanity of supporting preconceived opinions and favourite theories. Let any man reflect on the progress of children from birth to manhood. At first, their instincts are limited to obscure sensations, and to the performance of a few corporeal actions, to which they are prompted, or rather compelled, by certain stimulating impulses unnecessary to be mentioned. In a few months, their sensations are perceived to be more distinct, their bodily actions are better directed, new instincts are unfolded, and they assume a greater appearance of rationality and of mental capacity. When still farther advanced, and after they have acquired some use of language, ans some knowlege of natural objects, they beginto reason; but their reasonings are feeble, and often prposterous. In this manner they uniformly proceed in improvement till they are actuated by the last instinct, at or near the age of puberty. After this period, they reason with some degree of perpicuity and justness. But, though their whole instincts are now unfolded and in action, every power of their minds requires, previous to its utmost exertions, to be agitated and polished by an examination of a thousand natural and artificial objects, by the experience and observations of those with whom they associate, by public or private instruction, by studying the writings of their predecessors and contemporaries, and by their own reflections, till they arrive at the age of thirty-five. Previous to that period, much learning may have been acquired, much genius may have been exerted; but,  before that time of life, judgment, abstraction, and the reasoning faculty, are not fully matured. This progress is the genuine operation of Nature, and the gradual source of human sagacity and mental powers. The same progress is to be observed in the powers of the body. It arrives, indeed, sooner at perfection than the mind. But, if the progress of the mind greatly preceded that of the body, what a miserable and aukward [sic] figure would human beings, at an early period of their existence, exhibit? Active and vigourous minds, stimulated to command what the organs of their bodies were unable to obey, would produce peevishness, anger, regret, and every distressing passion.

The bodies of men, though not so ductile as their minds, are capable, when properly managed by early culture, of wonderful exertions. Men, accustomed to live in polished societies, have little or no idea of the activity, the courage, the patience and the persevering industry of savages, when simply occupied in hunting wild animals for food for themselves and their families. The hunger, the fatique, the hardships, which they not only endure, but despise with fortitude, would amaze and terrify the imagination of any civilized Euopean. . . .


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Filed under 1790's, Natural Science, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Reason

Item of the Day: Plinie’s Naturall Historie (1601)

Full Title:

The Historie of the World. Commonly called, the Naturall Historie of C. PLINIUS SECUNDUS. Translated into English by Philemon Holland Doctor of Physicke. Printed in London by Adam Islip, 1601.

Excerpt from the Eighth Booke, Chap. XVI. “Of Lions.”

The Lions are then in their kind most strong and courageous, when the haire of their main or coller is so long, that it covereth both necke and shoulders. and this commeth to them at a certaine age, namely, to those that are engendered by Lions indeed. For such as have Pards to their sires, never have this ornament, no more than the Lionesse. These Lionesses are very letcherous, and this is the very cause that the Lions are so fell and cruell. This, Affricke knoweth best, and seeth most: and especially in time of a great drought, when for want of water, a number of wild beasts resort by troups to those few rivers that be there, and meet together. And hereupon it is, that so many strange shaped beasts, of a mixt and mungrell kind are there bred, whiles the males either perforce, or for pleasure, leape and cover the females of all sorts. From hence it is also, that the Greekes have this common proverbe, That Affricke evermore bringeth forth some new and strange thing or other. The Lion knoweth by sent and smell of the Pard, when the Lionesse his mate hath plaied false, and suffered her selfe to be covered by him: and presently with all his might and maine runneth upon her for to chastise and punish her. And therefore when the Lionesse hath done a fault that way, shee either goeth to a river, and washeth away the strong and ranke savour of the Pard, or els keepeth aloofe, and followeth the Lion farre off, that hee may not catch the said smell. I see it is a common received opinion, that the Lionesse bringeth forth young but once in her lie, for that her whelpes in her kinling; teare her belly with their nailes, and make themselves roume that way. Aristotle writeth otherwise, a man whom I cannot name, but with great honour and reverence, and whome in the historie and report of these matters I meane for the most part to follow. And in very truth king Alexander the great, of an ardent desire that he had to know the natures of all living creatures, gave this charge to Aristotle, a man singular and accomplished in all kind of science and learning, to search into this matter, and to set the same downe in writing: and to this effect commanded certaine thousands of men, one or other, throughout all the tract, as well of Asia as Greece, to give their attendance, & obey him: to wit, all Hunters, Faulconers, Fowlers, and Fishers, that lived by those professions. Item, all Forresters, Park-keepers, and Wariners: all such as had the keeping of heards and flockes of cattell: of bee-hives, fish-pooles, stewes, and ponds: as also those that kept up foule, tame or wild, in mew, those that fed poultrie in barton or coupe: to the end that he should be ignorant of nothing in this behalfe, but be advertised by them, according to his commission, of all things in the world. By his conference with them, he collected so much, as thereof he compiled those excellent bookes de Annimalibus, i. of Living creatures, to the number of almost fiftie. Which being couched by me in a narrow roume, and breefe Summarie, which the addition also of some things els which he never knew, I beseech the readers to take in good worth: and for the discoverie and knowledge of all Natures workes, which that most noble & famous king that ever was desired so earnestly to know, to make a short start abroad with mee, and in a breefe discourse by mine owne paines and diligence digested, to see all. To return now unto our former matter. That great Philosopher Aristotle therfore reporteth, that the Lionesse at her first litter bringeth forth five whelpes, and every yeare after, fewer by one: and when she commeth to bring but one alone, she giveth over, and becommeth barren. Her whelpes at the first are without shape, like small gobbets of flesh, no bigger than weasels. When they are sixe months old, they can hardly go; and for the two first, they stirre not a whit. Lions there be also in Europe (onely betweene the rivers Achelous and Nestus) and these verily be farre stronger than those of Affricke or Syria. Moreover, of Lions there be two kinds: the one short, well trussed and compact, with more crisp and curled maines, but these are timerous and but cowards to them that have long and plaine haire; for thsoe passe not for any wounds whatsoever. The Lions lift up a legge when they pisse, as dogges doe: and over and besides that, they have a strong and stinking breath, their very bodie also smelleth ranke. Seldome they drinke, and eat but each other day: and if at any time they feed till they be full, they will abstaine from meat three daies after. In their feeding, whatsoever they can swallow without chawing, down it goes whole: and if they find their gorge and stomack too full, and not able indeed to receive according to their greedie appetite, they thrust their pawes downe their throats and with their crooked clees fetch out some of it againe, to the end they should not be heavie and slow upon their fulnesse, if haply they be put to find their feet and flie. Mine author Aristotle saith moreover, that they live verie long: and he prooveth it by this argument, That many of them are found toothles for very age. Polybius who accompanied [Scipio] Æmylianus in his voyage of Affrick, reporteth of them, That when they be grown aged, they will prey upon a man: the reason is, because their strength will not hold out to pursue in chase other wild beasts. Then, they come about the cities and good towns of Affrick, lying in await for their prey, if any folk come abroad: & for that cause, he saith, that whiles he was with Scipio he saw some of them crucified & hanged up, to the end that upon the sight of them, other Lions should take example by them, and be skared from doing the like mischiefe. The Lion alone of all wild beasts is gentle to those that humble themselves unto him, and will not touch any such upon their submission, but spareth what creature soever lieth prostrate before him. As fell and furious as hee is otherwhiles, yet he dischargeth his rage upon men, before that he setteth upon women, and never preyeth upon babes unlesse it be for extreame hunger. They are verily persuaded in Libya, that they have a certaine understanding, when any man doth pray or entreat them for any thing. I have hard it reported for a truth, by a captive woman of Getulia (which being fled was brought home againe to her master) That shee had pacified the violent furie of many Lions within the woods and forrests, by faire language and gentle speech; and namely, that for to escape their rage, she hath been so hardie as to say, shee was a sillie woman, a banished fugitive, a sickely, feeble, and weake creature, an humble suiter and lowly supplicant unto him the noblest of all other living creatures, the soveraigne and commaunder of all the rest, and that shee was too base and not worthie that his glorious majestie should prey upon her. Many and divers opinions are currant, according to the sundrie occurrences that have hapned, or the inventions that mens wits have devised. As touching this matter, namely, that savage beasts are dulced and appeased by good words and faire speech: as also that fell serpents may bee trained and fetched out of their holes by charmes, yea and by certaine conjurations and menaces restrained and dept under for a punishment: but whether it be true or no, I see it is not yet by any man set downe and determined. To come againe to our Lions: the signe of their intent and disposition, is their taile; like as in horses, their ears: for these two marks and tokens, certainly hath Nature given to the most couragious beasts of all others, to know their affections by: for when the Lion stirreth not his taile, hee is in a good mood, gentle, mild, pleasantly disposed, and as if hee were willing to be plaied withall; but in that fit he is seldome seene: for lightly hee is alwaies angrie. At the first, when hee entreth into his choller, hee beateth the ground with his taile: when hee groweth into greater heats, he flappeth and jerketh his sides and flanks withall, as it were to quicken himselfe, and stirre up his angry humor. His maine strength lieth in his breast: hee maketh not a wound (whether it be by lash of taile, scratch of claw, or print of tooth) but the bloud that followeth, is black.

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Filed under 1600's, Explorations, Geography, Greek/Roman Translations, Hard Science, History, Natural Science, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Silva: Or, a Discourse of Forest-Trees

Full Title: Silva: Or, a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty’s Dominions: as it was delivered in the Royal Society on the 15th Day of October, 1662, upon Occasion of Certain Quaeries Propounded to that Illustrious Assembly, by the Honourable the Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy. Together with An Historical Account of the Sacredness and Use of Standing Groves. By John Evelyn . . . with notes by A. Hunter. York: Printed by A. Ward for J. Dodsley, Pall-Mall; T. Cadell, in the Strand; J. Robson, New-Bond-Street; and T. Durham, Charing-Cross, London; W. Creech and J. Balfour, Edinburgh, 1776.


1. Since there is nothing which seems more fatally to threaten a weakening, if not a dissolution, of the strength of this famous and flourishing nation, than the sensible and notorious decay of her wooden walls, when, either through time, negligence, or other accident, the present navy shall be worn out and impaired; it has been a very worthy and seasonable advertisement in the honourable the principal Officers and Commissioners, what they have lateley suggested to this illustrious Society for the timely prevention and redress of the intolerable defect. For it has not been the late increase of shipping alone, the multiplciation of glass-works, iron-furnaces, and the like, from whence this impolitic diminution of our timber has proceeded; but from the disproportionate spreading of tillage, caused through the prodigious havac made by such as lately professing themselves against root and branch (either to be reimbursed their holy purchases, or for some other sordid respect) were tempted not only to fell and cut down, but utterly extirpate, demolish, and raze, as it were, all those many goodly woods and forests, which our more prudent ancestors left standing for the ornament and service of their country. And this devastation is now become so epidemical, that unless some favourable expedient offer itself, and a way be seriously and speedily resolved upon for a future store, one of the most glorious and considerable bulwarks of this nation will, within a short time, be totally wanting to it.

 2. To attain now a spontaneous supply of these decayed materials (which is the vulgar and natural way ) would cost (besides the inclosure) some entire ages repose of the plow, though bread indeed require our first care: therfore the most expeditious and obvious method would doubtless be one of these two ways, sowing and planting. But, first, it will be requisite to agree upon the species; as what trees are likely to be of greatest use, and the fittest to be cultivated; and then, to consider the manner how it may be best effected. Truly, the waste and destruction of our woods has been so universal, that I conceive nothing less than an universal plantation of all the sorts of trees will supply, and well encounter the defect; and therfore I shall here adventure to speak something in gerneral of them all; though I cheifly insist upon the propagation of such as seem to be the most wanting and serviceable to the end proposed.

3. And first, by Trees here, I consider principally for the Genus generalissimum, such lignous and woody plants as are hard of substance, procere of stature; that are thick and solid, and stiffly adhere to the ground on which they stand. These we shall divide into the greater and more ceduous, fruticant and shrubby; feras and wild; or more civilized and domestic; and such as are sative and hortensial subalternate to the others; but of which I give only a touch, distributing the rest into these two classes, the dry and the aquatic; both of them applicable to the same civil uses of building, utensils, ornament, and fuel; for to dip into their medicinal virtues is none of my province, though I sometimes glance at them with due submission, and in few instances. . . .


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Filed under 1660's, 1770's, Great Britain, Natural Science, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Timber

Item of the Day: A Voyage to California by Mons. Chappe D’Auteroche (1778)

Full Title:  A VOYAGE to CALIFORNIA, to Observe the Transit of Venus. By Mons. Chappe D’Auteroche. With an Historical Description of the Author’s Route Through Mexico, and the Natural History of that Province.  Also, a VOYAGE to Newfoundland and Sallee, to make experiments on Mr. LeRoy’s Time Keepers. By Monsieur De Cassini.  London: Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, In the Poultry, MDCCLXXVIII.

 I set out from Paris September 18, 1768, for Havre de Grace, where I was to embark.  I was attended by a servant, and by three other persons, who had engaged to go along with me to California, and to share the labours and dangers of so long a voyage.  Mr. Pauly, the King’s Engineer and Geographer, from whose talents I expected great assistance, was to second me in my astronomical and geographical operations:  Mr. Noel, a pupil of the Academy of Painting, was intended for our draughtsman, to take draughts of sea coasts, plants, animals, and whatever we might meet with that was curious:  Lastly, Mr. Dubois, a watchmaker, was intrusted with the care of preserving my instruments, and repairing the little mischiefs they too often sustain in such long voyages.

Whoever considers that prodigious extent of a passage of several thousand leagues, such as I was going to undertake; and reflects that one unlucky moment, the least intervening cloud, might in one day defeat all our hopes, and render fruitless so much toil and expence, will not wonder at my taking these precautions, to draw other advantages from this voyage: that in case we should be so unfortunate as to fail in our main purpose, we might in some measure make amends to the learned world for this loss.  Astronomy, geography, physic, and natural history, were the objects I proposed.  If the apparatus and materials requisite for that purpose were both cumbersome and costly, I was fully repaid by the pleasing hopes of improving my voyage to more purposes than one.

I arrived at havre de Grace on the 21st of September, and found the ship Le Nouveau Mercure, commanded by Captain Le Clerc, ready to sail for Cadiz.  I embarked the 27th with my company and instruments, and we set sail the next day.  We had a very rough passage; a hard gale that we met with north of Cape Finisterre, left the sea very tempestuous for near a week after.  The winds were almost always contrary, so that we were one and twenty days going from Havre to Cadiz, which is commonly done in half the time.

We arrived at Cadiz October 17.  The Spanish fleet which was to convey us to Vera Cruz, had already been in the road a whole month, and seemed ready to sail.  This gave me joy at first, little knowing how distant that departure was, which to me seemed so near; still less did I foresee the difficulties I was to encounter, joined with the tediousness of a delay, which a thousand times made me despair of getting in time to California.

The very moment I landed, I hastened to wait on the governor of Cadiz, the intendant of the navy, and the Marquis de Tilly, general of the fleet. These gentlemen received me with the greatest civility.  Mr. de Tilly having signified to me the orders of his court, by which he was enjoined to take me on board this fleet, with only a watchmaker and a draughtsman, I was in the utmost astonishment to find that no mention was made of Mr. Pauly, my second.  I represented to M. de Tilly that this omission, falling just upon the very man I could least spare, must be merely owing to a mistake:  he was very sensible it was so, and assured me that on his part I should meet with no difficulty in the affair.  But unfortunately, the embarking of the passengers was not wholly in his power; it principally concerned the Marquis de Real Theforo, president of the Contractation, and to him we were to apply.  Then it was that I met with fresh obstacles.

In the orders of the court, communicated by the intendant to the president of the contraction, no mention was made but of me.  the latter consequently, far from allowing Mr. Pauly to attend me, would make out no order but for myself alone, and only one instrument.

. . .

This fresh order from court soon changed the face of affairs.  At last I saw the wished-for moment that had so long deluded my hopes.  A vessel with only twelve hands, was fitted out in a trice.  I was still more expeditious in removing my instruments that were on board the Commodore ship.  The frailty of the vessel I was going to venture in, and on which account some people endeavoured to intimidate me, was in my eyes but one merit the more. Judging of her swiftness by her lightness, I preferred her to the finest ship of the line.  At length we set sail, and at that instant I felt a transport of joy, which was not to be equalled till I landed in California.

I shall not trouble the reader with the journal of our passage from Cadiz to Vera Cruz, as it offers nothing but what is common to all long voyages.  Every kind of weather, calms, storms, winds, sometimes fair, sometimes contrary; such is in few words the history of most voyages; and as to ours, we may add, a continual tossing of our little nut-shell, which was so very light as to be the sport of the smallest wave.

I spent the whole time of our voyage in making physical and astronomical experiments and observations; such as, comparing the height of the different thermometers, some plunged into the sea at different depths, others in open air; I ascertained the declination and inclination of the magnetic needle in different latitudes; lastly, I made several observations relative to the distance of the moon from the stars.  I will not conceal the difficulties I met with when I endeavoured to make use of the megameter for these observations.  I tried several times to use this instrument, and never could succeed but once, when the ship was quite steady; at that time, I got the moon full in the lens, which I never could when the sea was in motion.  Perhaps this was for want of practice; however, I was obliged to have recourse to the octant, which I employed with much more ease and success.  I attempted in vain to observe Jupiter’s satellites with the new telescope proposed to the academy by Abbe Rochon.  Indeed the field of this telescope was rather too small; I saw Jupiter plain enough, but could not see the satellites.

All these trials suggested to me that it will be a hard matter to succeed in inventing instruments of easy use at sea, if they rest upon nothing more than the hand of the observer.  One remark more I shall make on the determination of longitudes by distances of the moon from the stars.  The tedious calculations which this method requires, with the accuracy and attention requisite in the observation itself, make it doubtful to me whether it will ever be fit for the use of trading vessels.  It must be confessed, it requires no small degree of resolution, even in persons best acquainted with these studies, to add to the fatigues of the sea, those of a nice observation, and of the tedious calculations consequent upon it.  This convinces me that the use of time-keepers, from its extreme ease, will be found to be of more general service in the navy; it requires no instruments but what seamen are accustomed to; no nicety is wanted in the observation; lastly the calculation is short and easy; a most important advantage this, in many cases, and particularly at sea.

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Filed under 1770's, California, Natural Science, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Travel

Item of the Day: Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles.

Full Title: Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s principles, and made easy to those who have not studied mathematics. To which are added, a plain method of finding the distances of all the planets from the sun, by the transit of Venus over the sun’s disc, in the year 1761. An account of Mr. Horrox’s observation of the transit of Venus in the year 1639: and, of the distances of all the planets from the sun, ad deduced from observations of the transit of Venus in the year 1761. Seventh edition. By James Ferguson. London: Printed for W. Strahan, J. Rivington and sons, T. Longman, B. Law, G. Robinson, T. Cadell, J. Johnson, J. Bew, J. Murray, R. Baldwin, T. Evans, W. Lowndes, and C. Bent, 1785.

Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles.


Of astronomy in general.

1. Of all the sciences cultivated by mankind, Astronomy is acknowledged to be, and undoubtedly is, the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful. For, by knowledge derived from this science, not only the bulk of the earth is discovered, the situation and extent of the countries and kingdoms upon it is ascertained, trade and commerce carried on to the remotest parts of the world, and the various products of several countries distributed for the health, comfort, and conveniency of its inhabitants; but our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted above the low contracted prejudices of the vulgar, and our understandings clearly convinced, and affected with the conviction of the existence, wisdom, power, goodness, immutability, and superintendency of the SUPREME BEING ! So that without an hyperbole,

“An undevout Astronomer is mad.”

2. From this branch of knowledge we also learn by what means or laws the Almighty carries on, and continues the wonderful harmony, order, and connexion observable throughout the planetary system; and are led by very powerful arguments to form this pleasing deduction, that minds capable of such deep researches, not only derive their origin from that adorable Being, but are also incited to aspire after a more perfect knowledge of his nature, and a stricter conformity to his will. . . .

8. It is no ways probable that the Almighty, who always acts with infinite wisdom, and does nothing in vain, should create so many glorious Suns, fit for so many important purposes, and place them at such distances from one another, without proper objects near enough to be benefited by their influences. Whoever imagines they were created only to give a faint glimmering light to the inhabitants of this Globe, must have a very superficial knowledge of Astronomy, and a mean opinion of the Divine Wisdom: since, by an infinitely less exertion of creating power, the Deity could have given our Earth much more light by one single additional Moon.

9. Instead then of one Sun and one World only in the Universe, as the unskilful in Astonomy imagine, that Science discovers to us such an inconceivable number of Suns, Systems, and Worlds, dispersed through boundless Space, that if our Sun, with all the Planets; Moons, and Comets, belonging to it, were annihilated, they would be no more missed, by an eye that could take in the whole Creation, than a grain of sand from the sea-shore. The space they possess being comparatively so small, that it would scarce be a sensible blank in the Universe, although Saturn, the outermost of our planets, revolves the Sun in an Orbit of 4884 millions of miles in circumference, and some of our Comets make excursions upwards of ten thousand millions of miles beyond Saturn’s Orbit; and yet, at that amazing distance, they are incomparably nearer to the Sun than to any of the Stars; as is evident from their keeping clear of the attractive power of all the Stars, and returning periodically by virtue of the Sun’s attraction.

10. From what we know of our own System, it may be reasonably concluded that all the rest are with equal wisdom contrived, situated, and provided with accommodations for rational inhabitants. Let us therefore take a survey of the System to which we belong; the only one accessible to us; and from thence we shall be the better enabled to judge of the nature and end of the others Systems of the Universe. For although there is almost an infinite variety in the parts of the Creation, which we have opportunities of examining, yet there is a general analogy running through and connecting all the parts into one scheme, one design, one whole! . . .

15. What an august, what an amazing conception, if human imagination can conceive it, does this give the works of the Creator! Thousands of thousands of Suns, multiplied without end, and ranged all around us, at immense distances from each other, attended by ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, all in rapid motion, yet calm, regular, and harmonious, invariably keeping the paths prescribed them; and these worlds peopled with myriads of intelligent beings, formed for endless progression in perfection and felicity!

16. If so much power, wisdom, goodness, and magnificence is displayed in the material Creation, which is the least considerable part of the Universe, how great, how wise, how good must HE be, who made and governs the Whole!

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Filed under 1780's, Natural Science, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Gentleman’s Magazine (1752)

Full Title: The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle. Volume XXII. For the Year M.DCC.LII. By Sylvanus Urban, Gent. London: Printed for Edward Cave, at St. John’s Gate.

For December, 1752.
New Method of extracting lightening from the clouds, by B. Franklin

Philadelphia, Oct. 19. 1752.

As frequent mention is made in the newspapers from Europe, of the success of the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, etc, it may be agreeable to inform the curious that the same experiment has succeeded in Philadelphia, tho’ made in a different and more easy manner, which is as follows:

Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which being properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air, like those made of paper; but this being of silk is fitter to bear the wind and wet of a thunder gust without tearing. To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood. To the end of the twine, next the hand, is to be ty’d a silk ribbon, and where the silk and twine join, a key may be fastened. This kite is to be raised when a thunder gust appears to be coming on, and the person who holds the string must stand within a door, or window, or under some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet; and care must be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or window. As soon as any of the thunder clouds come over the kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an approaching finger. And when the rain has wet the kite and twine, so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle. At this key the phial may be charged; and from electric fire thus obtained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experiments be performed, which are usually done by the help of a rubbed glass globe or tube; and thereby the sameness of the electric matter with that of lightning compleatly demonstrated.


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Filed under 1750's, Culture, Journal, Natural Science, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: The Possibility of Reaching the North Pole Asserted. (1818)

Full Title: The Possibility of Approaching the North Pole Asserted. By the Hon. D. Barrington. A New Edition. With an Appendix, containing Papers on the Same Subject, and on a Northwest Passage. By Colonel Beaufoy, Illustrated with a Map of the North Pole, According to the Latest Discoveries. New-York: Published by James Eastburn & Co., 1818.

[First printed in 1775 and 1776 as “Probability of Reaching the North Pole Discussed,” this edition of Daines Barrington’s work includes the appendix by physicist Mark Beaufoy.]


The following Tracts, relative to the possibility of near approaches to the Pole of our own hemisphere, as likewise of a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in any Northern direction, were first published in 1775 and 1776.I now think it right again to print them, because they contain many well attested facts with regard to reaching high Northern Latitudes, which are not to be found elsewhere, and have a tendency to promote geographical discoveries. I am very ready to admit, indeed, that the purposes of commerce can never be answered by the great uncertainty of a constant passage (even when such a communication is discovered) in seas which are so frequently obstructed by the ice packing in vast fields. I find likewise, that since the Resolution and Endeavor returned from their last voyage, many conceive a North East or North West Passage to be impracticable, because our ships, in two successive years, were not able to penetrate beyond 71°, by impediments of ice. Besides, however, the ice packing in particular situations varies often in different years, both these attempts were made in the month of August, which I flatter myself to have proved, is the very season of the year when the ice, breaking up on the coast, is floating in every direction, and consequently often packs in masses of immense extent.

These vast fields of ice, indeed, often are dispersed; but who hath, or indeed should have, the fortitude of waiting for this accident, whilst he is already in a high Northern Latitude, and the winter is fast approaching? If the ice, however, should thus pack in April or May, (which I conceive it would not, as little must be left to float from the preceding summer,) yet as the warm weather is then increasing from day to day, the navigator would wait with some degree of patience till his ship may be released from this temporary obstruction. The situation of the discoverer, under these circumstances, may be compared to a traveler passing over a large tract of sea sand, when the tide is flowing or ebbing. In the first instance he spurs his horse, because the sea may be expected at his heels; in the latter he proceeds with great composure, as every instant he loses in point of time the sea is farther removed. . . .

Perhaps, whilst discoveries by sea are thus dwelt upon, encouragement should be given to travelers by land, for procuring better information with regard to the central parts of Asia, Africa, and America. In short, let us endeavour to know as much as we may of our globe; nor should this be considered as a vain and trifling curiosity, though no benefits to commerce may result from these inquiries.

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Filed under 1810's, Natural Science, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel

Item of the Day: Lunardi’s Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England (1784)

Full Title: Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England, in a Series of Letters to his Guardian, Chevalier Gherdo Compagni, written under the Impressions of the Various Events that affected the Undertaking. By Vincent Lunardi, Esq. London: Printed for the Author, 1784.

[In London with the Neapolitan Ambassador to the English court, the eighteenth-century “astronaut” Vincent Lunardi made the first ascent in England by hydrogen balloon on September 15, 1784. The twenty-two year old Lunardi, along with by his dog, cat and a pigeon, took flight from the Honourable Artillery Company’s Grounds at Moorfield. He landed at North Mimms in Hertfordshire to release his apparently frightened cat, and then took off again and touched down for a second time at Stondon in Hertfordshire. In this work published in 1784, the young balloonist chronicles, in a series of letters, his experience and impressions of this twenty-four mile flight.]

At five minutes after two, the last gun was fired, the cords divided, and the Balloon rose, the company returning my signals of adieu with the most unfeigned acclamations and applauses. The effect was, that of a miracle, on the multitudes of which surrounded the place; and they passed with incredulity and menace, into the most extravagant expressions of approbation and joy.At the height of twenty yards, the Balloon was a little depressed by the wind, which had a fine effect; it held me over the ground for a few seconds, and seemed to pause majestically before its departure.

On discharging a part of the ballast, it ascended to the height of two hundred yards. As a multitude lay before me of a hundred and fifty thousand people, who had not seen my ascent from the ground, I had recourse to every stratagem to let them know I was in the gallery, and they literally rent the air with their acclamations and applause. In these stratagems I devoted my flag, worked my oars, one of which was immediately broken, and fell from me. A pidgeon [sic] too escaped, which with a dog, and a cat, were the only companions of my excursion.

When the thermometer had fallen from 68° to 61° I perceived a great difference in the temperature of the air. I became very cold, and found it necessary to take a few glasses of wine. I likewise eat the leg of a chicken, but my bread and other provisions had been rendered useless, by being mixed with the sand, which I carried as ballast.

When the thermometer was at fifty, the effect of the atmosphere, and the combination of circumstances around, produced a calm delight, which is inexpressible, and which no situation on earth could give. The stillness, extent, and magnificence of the scene, rendered it highly awful. My horizon seemed a perfect circle; the terminating line several hundred miles in circumference. This I conjectured from the view of London; the extreme points of which, formed an angle of only a few degrees. It was so reduced on the great scale before me, that I can find no simile to convey an idea of it. I could distinguish Saint Paul’s, and other churches, from the houses. I saw the streets as lines, all animated with beings, whom I knew to be men and women, but which I should otherwise have had a difficulty in describing. It was an enormous beehive, but the industry was suspended. All the moving mass seemed to have no object but myself, and the transition from suspicion, and perhaps contempt of the preceding hour, to the affectionate transport, admiration and glory of the present moment, was not without its effect on my mind. I recollected puns* on my name, and was glad to find myself calm. I had soared from the apprehensions and anxieties of the Artillery Ground, and felt as if I had left behind me all the cares and passions that molest mankind. . . .

*In some of the papers, witticisms appeared on the affinity of Lunatic & Lunardi.

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Filed under 1780's, Natural Science, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel

Item of the Day: Mrs. Grant’s Description of the Breaking up of the Ice on Hudson’s River (1809)

Full Title: Memoirs of an American lady: with sketches of manners and scenery in America, as they existed previous to the revolution. New-York: Printed for Samuel Campbell by D. and G. Bruce, 1809.

[From Chapter LXI, Mrs. Grant’s wonderful and nostalgic “Description of the Breaking up of the Ice on Hudson’s River”]

Soon after this I witnessed, for the last time, the sublime spectacle of the ice breaking up on the river; an object that fills and elevates the mind with ideas of power, and grandeur, and, indeed, magnificence; before which all the triumphs of human art sink into contemptuous insignificance. This noble object of animated greatness, for such it seemed, I never missed: its approach being announced, like a loud and long peal of thunder, the whole population of Albany were down at the river side in a moment; and if it happened, as was often the case, in the morning, there could not be a more grotesque assemblage. No one who had a nightcap on waited to put it off; as for waiting for one’s cloak, or gloves, it was a thing out of the question; you caught the thing next you, that could wrap round you, and run. In the way you saw every door left open, and pails, baskets, &c without number, set down in the street. It was a perfect saturnalia. People never dreamt of being obeyed by their slaves, till the ice was past. The houses were left quite empty; the meanest slave, the youngest child, all were to be found on the shore. Such as could walk, ran; and they that could not, were carried by those whose duty it would have been to stay and attend them. When arrived at the show place, unlike the audience collected to witness any spectacle of human invention, the multitude with their eyes all bent one way, stood immovable, and silent as death, till the tumult ceased, and the mighty commotion was passed by; then every one tried to give vent to the vast conceptions with which his mind had been distended. Every child, and every negro, was sure to say, “Is not this like the day of judgment?” and what they said every one else thought. Now to describe this is impossible; but I mean to account, in some degree, for it. The ice, which had been all winter very thick, instead of diminishing, as might be expected in spring, still increased, as the sun-shine came, and the days lengthened. Much snow fell in February: which, melted by the heat of the sun, was stagnant, for a day, on the surface of the ice; and then by the night frosts, which were still severe, was added, as a new accession to the thickness of it, above the former surface. This was so often repeated, that in some years the ice gained two feet in thickness, after the heat of the sun became such, as one would have expected should have entirely dissolved it. So conscious were the natives of the safety this accumulation of ice afforded, that the sledges continued to drive on the ice, when the trees were budding, and every thing looked like spring; nay, when there was so much melted on the surface that the horses were knee deep in water, while traveling on it; and portentous cracks, on every side, announced the approaching rupture. This could scarce have been produced by the mere influence of the sun, till midsummer. It was the swelling of the waters under the ice, increased by rivulets, enlarged by melted snows, that produced this catastrophe; for such the awful concussion made it appear. The prelude to the general bursting of this mighty mass, was a fracture, lengthways, in the middle of the stream, produced by the effort of the imprisoned waters, now increased too much to be contained within their wonted bounds. Conceive a solid mass, from six to eight feet thick, bursting for many miles in one continued rupture, produced by a force inconceivably great, and, in a manner, inexpressibly sudden. Thunder is no adequate image of this awful explosion, which roused all the sleepers, within reach of the sound, as completely as the final convulsion of nature, and the solemn peal of the awakening trumpet, might be supposed to do. The stream in summer was confined by a pebbly strand, overhung with high and steep banks, crowned with lofty trees, which were considered as a sacred barrier against the encroachments of this annual visitation. Never dryads dwelt in more security than those of the clad elms, that extended their ample branches over this mighty stream. Their tangled nets laid bare by the impetuous torrents, formed caverns ever fresh and fragrant; where most the most delicate plants flourished, unvisited by scorching suns, or snipping blasts; and nothing could be more singular than the variety of plants and birds that were sheltered in these intricate safe recesses. But when the bursting of the crystal surface set loose the many waters that had rushed down, swollen with the annual tribute of dissolving snow, the islands and low lands were flooded in an instant; and the lofty banks, from which you were wont to overlook the steam, were now entirely filled by impetuous torrent, bearing down, with incredible and tumultuous rage, immense shoals of ice; which, breaking every instant by the concussion of others, jammed together in some places, in others erecting themselves in gigantic heights for an instant in the air, and seemed to combat with their fellow giants crowding on in all directions, and falling together with an inconceivable crash, formed a terrible moving picture, animated and various beyond conception; for it was not only the cerulean ice, whose broken edges combating with the stream, refracted light into a thousand rainbows, that charmed your attention, lofty pines, large pieces of the bank torn off by the ice with all their early green and tender foliage, were drove on like traveling islands, amid this battle of breakers, for such it seemed. I am absurdly attempting to paint a scene, under which the powers of language sink. Suffice it, that this year its solemnity was increased by an unusual quantity of snow, which the last hard winter had accumulated, and the dissolution of which now threatened an inundation. . . .

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Filed under 1800's, Natural Science, Posted by Caroline Fuchs