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of antiquity. For instance, in the second book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Sun says to Phaëton,
Adde, qudd assidua rapitur vertigine cælum;
Marcbing secure in my opposing path. This idea of a first mover turning the heavens round in twenty-four hours with an impossible motion, and of the sun, though acted upon by this first motion, yet imperceptibly advancing from west to east by a motion peculiar to itself, and without a cause,
would but embarrass a young beginner.
It is sufficient for him to know that, whether the earth revolves on its own axis and round the sun, or the sun completes his revolution in a year, appearances are nearly the same; and that, in astronomy, we are obliged to judge of things by our eyes, before we examine them as natural philosophers.
He will soon know the cause of the eclipses of the sun and moon, and why they do not occur every night. It will at first appear to him that the moon, being every month in opposition to and in conjunction with the sun, we should have an eclipse of the sun and one of the moon every month. But when he finds that these two luminaries are not in the same plane, and are seldom in the same line with the earth, he will no longer be surprised.
He will easily be made to understand how it is that eclipses have been foretold, by knowing the exact circle in which the apparent motion of the sun and the real motion of the moon are accomplished. He will be told that observers found by experience and calculation the number of times that these two bodies are precisely in the same line with the earth in the space of nineteen years and a few hours, after which they. seem to recommence the same course; so that, making the necessary allowances for the little inequalities that occurred during those nineteen years, the exact day, hour, and minute, of an eclipse of the sun or moon, were foretold. These first elements are soon acquired by a child of clear conceptions.
Not even the precession of the equinoxes will terrify him. It will be enough to tell him, that the sun has constantly appeared to advance in his annual course, one degree in seventy-two years, towards the east ; and this is what Ovid meant to express in the lines just now quoted
Contrarius evebor orbi. Marching secure in my opposing paih. Thus the Ram, which the sun formerly entered at the beginning of spring, is now in the place where the Bull was then. This change which has taken place in the heavens, and the entrance of the sun into other constellations than those which he formerly occupied, were the strongest arguments against the pretended rules of judicial astrology. It does not, however, appear, that this proof was employed before the present century to destroy this universal extravagance, which so long infected all mankind, and is still in great vogue in Persia.
A man born, according to the almanack, when the sun was in the sign of the Lion, was necessarily to be courageous : but, unfortunately, he was in reality born under the sign of the Virgin. So that Gauric and Michael Morin should have changed all the rules of their art.
It is very odd, that all the laws of astrology were contrary to those of astronomy. The wretched charlatans of antiquity and their stupid disciples, who have been so well received and so well payed by all the princes of Europe, talked of nothing but Mars and Venus, stationary and retrograde. Such as had Mars stationary, were always to conquer. Venus stationary, made all lovers happy. Nothing was worse than to be born under Venus retrograde. But the fact is, that these planets have never been either retrograde or stationary, which a very slight knowledge of optics would have sufficed to show.
How then can it have been, that in spite of physics and geometry, the ridiculous chimera of astrology is
entertained even to this day, so that we have seen men distinguished for their general knowledge, and especially profound in history, who have all their lives been infatuated by so despicable an error? But the error was ancient, and that was enough.
The Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Jews, foretold the future; therefore, it may be foretold now. Serpents were charmed and spirits were raised in those days; therefore spirits may be raised and serpents charmed now. It is only necessary to know the precise formula made use of for the purpose. If predictions are at an end, it is the fault, not of the art, but of the artist. Michael Morin and his secret died together. It is thus that alchymists speak of the philosopher's stone: if, say they, we do not now find it, it is because we do not yet know precisely how to seek it; but it is certainly in Solomon's collar-bone. And, with this glorious certainty, more than two hundred families in France and Germany have ruined themselves.
It is not then to be wondered at, that the whole world has been duped by astrology. The wretched argument—" there are false prodigies, therefore there are true ones,” is neither that of a philosopher, nor of a man acquainted with the world.
“ That is false and absurd, therefore it will be believed by the multitude,” is a much truer maxim.
It is still less astonishing that so many men, raised in other things so far above the vulgar; so many princes; so many popes, whom it would have been impossible to mislead in the smallest affair of interest, have been so ridiculously seduced by this astrological nonsense. They were very proud and very ignorant. The stars were for them alone; the rest of the world were a rabble, with whom the stars had nothing to do. They were like the prince who trembled at the sight of a comet, and said gravely to those who did not fear it, “ You
behold it without concern; you are not princes.
The famous German leader Wallenstein was one of those infatuated by this chimera : he called himself a prince, and consequently thought that the zodiac had been made on purpose for him. He never besieged a town, nor fought a battle, until he had held a council with the heavens ; but, as this great man was very ignorant, he placed at the head of this council a rogue of an Italian, named Seni, keeping him a coach and six, and giving him a pension of twenty thousand livres. Seni, however, never foresaw that Wallenstein would be assassinated by order of his most gracious sovereign, and that he himself would return to Italy on foot.
It is quite evident that nothing can be known of the future, otherwise than by conjectures, These conjectures may be so well-founded as to approach certainty. You see a shark swallow a little boy; you may wager a ten thousand to one that he will be devoured; but you cannot be absolutely sure of it, after the adventures of Hercules, Jonas, and Orlando Furioso, who each lived so long in a fish's belly.
It cannot be too often repeated, that Albertus Magnus and Cardinal D'Ailli bóth made the horoscope of Jesus Christ. It would appear that they read in the stars how many devils he would cast out of the bodies of the possessed, and what sort of death he was to die. But it was unfortunate that these learned astrologers foretold all these things so long after they happened.
We shall elsewhere see that in a sect which passes for Christian, it is believed to be impossible for the Supreme Intelligence to see the future otherwise than by supreme conjecture; for, as the future does not exist, it is, say they, a contradiction in terms to talk of seeing at the present time that which is not.
On the Comparison so often made between Atheism and
Idolatry. It seems to me that, in the Dictionnaire Encyclopédique, a more powerful refutation might bave been brought against the Jesuit Richeome's opinion concerning atheists and idolaters—an opinion formerly
maintained by St. Thomas, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Cyprian, and Tertullian--an opinion which Arnobius placed in a strong light when he said to the pagans, “ Do you not blush to reproach us with contempt for your gods? Is it not better to believe in no god, than to impute to them infamous actions ?”opinion long before established by Plutarch, who said, he would rather bave it said that there was no Plutarch, than that there was a Plutarch, inconstant, choleric, and vindictive-an opinion, too, fortified by all the dialectical efforts of Bayle.
Such is the ground of dispute, placed in a very striking point of view by the Jesuit Richeome, and made still more specious by the way in which Bayle sets it off :
“ There are two porters at the door of a house. You ask to speak to the master. He is not at home,
He is at home, answers the other, but is busied in making false money, false contracts, daggers and poisons, to destroy those who have only accomplished his designs. The atheist resembles the former of these porters, the pagan the latter. It is then evident that the pagan offends the Divinity more grievously than the atheist.”
With the permission of Father Richeome, and that of Bayle himself, this is not at all the state of the question. For the first porter to be like the atheist, he must say, not “ My master is not here, but " I have no master; he who you pretend is my master, does not exist. My coinrade is a blockhead to tell you that the gentleman is engaged in mixing poisons, and whetting poniards, to assassinate those who have executed his will. There is no such being in the world.”
Richeome, therefore, has reasoned very ill; and Bayle, in his rather diffuse discourses, has so far forgotten himself as to do Richeome the honour of making a very lame comment upon
Plutarch seems to express himself much better, in declaring that he prefers those who say there is no Plutarch, to those who assert that Plutarch is unfit for