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Attraction

( Originally Published 1851 )



The word attraction is employed to denote that power or force by which all kinds of matter, whether of the size of atoms or of worlds, are drawn towards each other. There is, perhaps, no law of nature which produces phenomena so universally and continually presented to our observation, as attraction. If we lift our eyes to the starry heavens, and observe the motion, or, as Milton terms it, the " mystic dance" of these shining orbs, we find it, like an invisible rein, curbing them in their amazing journeys through the trackless ether, and compelling them to deviate from the rectilinear or straightforward course in which they would otherwise run, and wheel in a circular manner round some other body, the centre of their orbits of motion. Or if we turn our attention to the globe we inhabit, we find it drawing down to the earth again the stone which we have thrown into the air, or we see it forming into a globule the little drop of dew which hangs like an appropriate gem upon the delicate leaf of a flower. Or we see two contiguous drops upon the same spray, when brought near to each other, but still situated at a distance sufficient to be discerned by the eye, at last suddenly rush together and become one. Or we can detect its operations in uniting a few simple substances in various pro-portions, and producing the wonders of vegetable organization in infinite variety and never failing symmetry! How sublime, yet how simple; how minute, yet how comprehensive and magnificent is this law!at once exercising a power over the smallest atoms around us, while at the same time it is determining the revolutions of the gigantic and innumerable orbs that roll throughout the universe; a height and a depth, a breadth and a length of existence, which imagination in vain attempts to picture, or reason to calculate.

" That very law which moulds a tear

And bids it trickle from its source,

That law preserves the earth a sphere,

And guides the planets in their course."-ROGERS.

This law is indispensable for the preservation and existence of the present order of things; and it would not be difficult to show, that the suspension of it, even with respect to a single star, would, in course of time, spread disorder and anarchy throughout the universe. But its invariable operation is the certainty of destiny. Without this un-changeableness, philosophy would be only a doctrine of chances; but eclipses for thousands of years to come, for instance (supposing our world were to remain as it is for that period,) can be calculated upon without fear of error, almost to the beat of the stop-watch!

The subject of attraction naturally separates itself into two grand divisions. There is, first, the attraction which is exercised by masses of matter, situated at sensible distances from each other; and, secondly, the attraction existing amongst the atoms constituting these masses, which takes place at in-sensible distances. These two heads are again subdivided, the former into the attractions of gravitation, electricity, and magnetism; and the latter into those of aggregation or cohesion; and chemical attraction or affinity. Many philosophers have supposed, and with some degree of plausibility, that all these varieties depend upon some ultimate power of matter, and may thus be reduced into one; yet as no conclusive argument has been adduced in support of the hypothesis, it is unnecessary to trouble the reader with speculative theories, even allowing that they are probably correct.

By gravitation is meant that power which draws the objects of the universe towards each other. The sublime genius of Newton, it is said, conceived the idea of universal attraction from the simple incident of an apple falling from a tree in his gar-den. May not, he reasoned, tue power which draws this apple to the ground with unerring certainty, be the same as that which regulates the movements of the celestial systems. And so, fol-lowing up this idea, he made a series of discoveries the most brilliant that ever adorned the annals of philosophy. He proved satisfactorily that what we term weight is nothing more than an instance of universal attraction, which decreases in intensity as we recede from the earth in distance. This, of course, suggested the idea that weight must be less on the tops of mountains, and in balloons, than at the sea shore, or on plains, which is the fact. What weighs 1000 lb. at the sea-shore, weighs five lbs. less at the top of mountains of a certain height, as is proved experimentally by a spring balance; and, at the distance of the moon, the w eight or attraction towards the earth of 1000 lbs. is diminished to five ounces. This has been proved by astronomical tests.

Mental Physic.I look to tranquillity of mind and patience, to contribute as much as any thing whatever to the curing diseases. On this principle I account for the circumstance of animals not laboring under illness so long as human beings. Brutes do not think so mach as we, nor vex themselves about futurity; but endure their maladies without reflecting on them, and recover from them by the sole means of temperance and repose: --Surbiere, an eminent French physician.

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