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A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume I by De Morgan

Huyghens had been preceded by Fontenelle


There

was a discussion on the subject some years ago, which began with

The plurality of worlds: an Essay. London, 1853, 8vo. [By Dr. Wm. Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge]. A dialogue on the plurality of worlds, being a supplement to the Essay on that subject. [First found in the second edition, 1854; removed to the end in subsequent editions, and separate copies issued.][174]

A work of skeptical character, insisting on analogies which prohibit the positive conclusion that the planets, stars, etc., are what we should call _inhabited_ worlds. It produced {102} several works and a large amount of controversy in reviews. The last predecessor of whom I know was

Plurality of Worlds.... By Alexander Maxwell. Second Edition. London, 1820, 8vo.

This work is directed against the plurality by an author who does not admit modern astronomy. It was occasioned by Dr. Chalmers's[175] celebrated discourses on religion in connection with astronomy. The notes contain many citations on the gravity controversy, from authors now very little read: and this is its present value. I find no mention of Maxwell, not even in Watt.[176] He communicated with mankind without the medium of a publisher; and, from Vieta till now, this method has always been favorable to loss of books.

A correspondent informs

me that Alex. Maxwell, who wrote on the plurality of worlds, in 1820, was a law-bookseller and publisher (probably his own publisher) in Bell Yard. He had peculiar notions, which he was fond of discussing with his customers. He was a bit of a Swedenborgian.

INHABITED PLANETS IN FICTION.

There is a class of hypothetical creations which do not belong to my subject, because they are _acknowledged_ to be fictions, as those of Lucian,[177] Rabelais,[178] Swift, Francis {103} Godwin,[179] Voltaire, etc. All who have more positive notions as to either the composition or organization of other worlds, than the reasonable conclusion that our Architect must be quite able to construct millions of other buildings on millions of other plans, ought to rank with the writers just mentioned, in all but self-knowledge. Of every one of their systems I say, as the Irish Bishop said of Gulliver's book,--I don't believe half of it. Huyghens had been preceded by Fontenelle,[180] who attracted more attention. Huyghens is very fanciful and very positive; but he gives a true account of his method. "But since there's no hopes of a Mercury to carry us such a journey, we shall e'en be contented with what's in our power: we shall suppose ourselves there...." And yet he says, "We have proved that they live in societies, have hands and feet...." Kircher[181] had gone to the stars before him, but would not find any life in them, either animal or vegetable.

The question of the inhabitants of a particular planet is one which has truth on one side or the other: either there are some inhabitants, or there are none. Fortunately, it is of no consequence which is true. But there are many cases where the balance is equally one of truth and falsehood, in which the choice is a matter of importance. My work selects, for the most part, sins against demonstration: but the world is full of questions of fact or opinion, in which a struggling minority will become a majority, or else will {104} be gradually annihilated: and each of the cases subdivides into results of good, and results of evil. What is to be done?


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