The Universe by Addison

To us who dwell on its surface, the earth is by far the most extensive orb that our eyes can any where 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 800,000 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 beams, 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. Immense and inconceivable indeed it is, since a ball shot from a loaded cannon, and flying with unabated rapidity, must travel at this impetuous rate almost 700,000 years, before it could reach the nearest of these twinkling luminaries.

While beholding this vast expanse I 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 dimunitive, 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!

Addison