Front Page Titles (by Subject) 286.: NICHOL'S VIEWS OF THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE HEAVENS EXAMINER, 6 AUG., 1837, P. 49 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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286.: NICHOL’S VIEWS OF THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE HEAVENS EXAMINER, 6 AUG., 1837, P. 49 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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NICHOL’S VIEWS OF THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE HEAVENS
John Pringle Nichol (1804-59) was a friend of Mill’s who helped him in the preparation of his Logic (see CW, Vol. VII, pp. lvii-lxiii, 954-1110). Originally a clergyman, who lost his faith and became a teacher, writer, and newspaper editor, Nichol was appointed Regius Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow in 1836. Mill’s review, in the “Literary Examiner,” is headed “Views of the Architecture of the Heavens. In a Series of Letters toa Lady. By J.P. Nichol, LL.D., F.R.S.E., Professor of Practical Astronomy in the University of Glasgow. Tait, Edinburgh; Simpkin and Marshall, London. [1837.]” It is identified in his bibliography as “A notice of Nichol’s Architecture of the Heavens, in the Examiner for 6th August 1837”
(MacMinn, p. 49).
professor nichol is well known in Scotland as one of the most popular of all living lecturers on natural science, and especially on the subject of his present publication—Practical Astronomy. He is less generally, but still extensively, known as one of Scotland’s best political writers; one of her most active and efficient champions of liberal opinions; a political economist of the first rank, as well as an accomplished mathematician; and one who has carried into physical science a sounder philosophy than most mathematicians. At present he comes before us as a popular expositor of a most captivating science, in one of its branches which has still all the attractions of novelty, and which has never yet been treated in a popular manner. Mr. Nichol is the first who has made accessible to the general reader the brilliant discoveries and speculations of the two Herschels on the fixed stars;1 with all the extraordinary views as to the extent, constitution, and history of the visible creation, which those discoveries and speculations have opened. The perspicuity and eloquent fervour of these letters will sustain Mr. Nichol’s reputation as a popular instructor. We regret that, on a subject all whose parts are so intimately interwoven, quotation is almost impossible. We select the following as one of the most quotable passages, and one which well exemplifies Mr. Nichol’s style of illustration:
Call up to your mind an Indian of that old America, when civilisation had not yet disturbed the sombre twilight of its forests; suppose him of a tribe whose wanderings had been confined far within the interior of a range of primeval pines,—how natural for his untutored thought to conceive the wood of his nativity infinite, or that space is all occupied with trees! His eye had never lighted upon one external object,—the forms of his infancy were the forms to which his manhood had been alone accustomed; trees had always environed him, and hemmed in his prospect; so that, on being informed by an instructed traveller of the existence of free and wide savannahs, he must have seemed to hear of something unintelligible and against nature, and have gazed with that very incredulity which fills our minds at the idea of the great firmament being limited like a forest—of our infinite being comprehended within form. But lo!—in his stray wanderings—at a time when his gods smiled upon him—the Indian arrives at a mountain, whose summit reaches beyond the heights of the gigantic pines. He attempts it, overcomes its precipices, and sees—a new world! The forest of his dwelling is mighty, and stretches far; but America is mightier, and numbers of forests, equal to his, luxuriate upon its plains. Where is our mountain, do you ask,—where the height which can pierce these skies? Indeed it is seldom found. Men wander through centuries, in ancient ignorance, without reaching or scaling an elevation capable of showing them beyond it; but in propitious hour, and after long preparation, genius and industry descry it, and straightway the scales fall from our sight. It was the telescope which, in this case, carried us into outer regions, and revealed their contents—hitherto unseen by human eye; and most splendid is the perspective. Divided from our firmament and each other by measureless intervals, numerous firmaments, glorious as ours, float through immensity, doubtless forming one stupendous system, bound together by fine relationships. These remarkable masses are located so deep in space, that to inferior telescopes they seem like faint streaks or spots of milky light upon the blue of the sky; but the instruments which had just been summoned into being resolve their mystery, and disclose their myriads of stars. One of these objects, perhaps the most brilliant in the heavens, is represented in Plate I: it is in the constellation Hercules. After all, how easy the belief to its indwellers, that a mass thus surpassingly gorgeous is infinite. What wonder, although the inhabitant of a planet revolving around one of its central suns, should have mistaken his own magnificent heavens for the universe, and needed the distant and dim vision of our firmament, appearing to his telescopes as a starry speck, to remove the veil from his mind, and give him juster notions of the majesty of creation!
These are truths which, although startling at first, are found so much in harmony with the scheme of nature, that we are soon chiefly astonished that they never occurred to us before: and I can conceive circumstances in which the Indian, after the foregoing revelation had been made to him, would not fail to descry among the internal aspects of his forest, not only distinct intimations of its limitude, but also of its peculiar shape, and even approximate dimensions. Think of the appearances, which would be mainly remarked by an observant man, as characteristic of his position, were the forest infinite or very extensive. In his immediate vicinity the surrounding trees would be well defined, and of the largest proportions; behind these he would see another range, smaller, but also well defined, and so on through many gradations of size and distinctness, until individual trees could no longer be distinguished, and the view would terminate in an unnamed and vague appearance, which I may be permitted to call a diffused woodiness. But if this peculiar background were not seen in every direction, the light of the sky appearing through the trees in different places, the conclusion would be just and manifest, that the forest had not the characteristics of one stretching out indefinitely or even equally on all sides, that in some directions its edges were nearer than in others, or that it was merely a group or stripe of trees having boundaries, and of a particular and ascertainable shape. With these fresh lights turn again to the heavens, asking what is the case with them? If we were in the interior of an infinite and regular stratum, appearances would necessarily be nearly similar all around us—the aspect of the sky on one side would be almost its picture on every other side. The same, or nearly the same number of visible bodies would, as in the infinite forest, be found everywhere; and there would come from behind in all directions, through those recesses in which no single star could be descried, something of the same amount of whitish or milky illumination, arising from the combined effulgence of luminaries individually unseen. But this does not accord with actual phenomena, which rather agree with the second form of our illustration. It is only when we look towards the Milky Way, that these bodies seem to retire indefinitely, and finally to be lost in a diffused starriness; and in all other places the intervals between the luminaries are nearly quite dark, as if there we were closer on the edges of our bed of stars, and therefore saw through it into the external and obscure vacancies of space. The opinion is thus forced on us anew, that we are in the midst of a mere group or cluster of stars, and moreover, that it is a group of peculiar configuration, narrow, but greatly elongated in the line of the Milky Way.
[1 ]John Frederick William Herschel (whose Preliminary Discourse was reviewed by Mill in No. 94) and his father William (1738-1822), born in Hanover, whose astronomical researches at Bath with his sister Caroline Lucretia (1750-1848) led to his appointment as Astronomer Royal in 1782. Nichol refers to the Herschels throughout Views of the Architecture of the Heavens, and especially in Letter IV, pp. 63-114.