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attach no definite meaning whatever to the
words in which we express our knowledge?
An ignorant schoolboy might just as well
assert that he knows the gender of the
different classes of words in Latin, because he
can repeat the "Propria quœ maribus."

It is possible that some one may not yet be
convinced of the confusion which exists in
most men's minds, and probably in his own,
about large numbers. He may argue, "How
can you say that I am not able to distinguish
between ninety-six millions of miles and eight
millions, when I know that the first is twelve
times as great as the second? and when I am
perfectly certain that I know what 'twelve'
means?" No one doubts it; but that is not
the point. The question is, do you know
what either of these distances means,
separately? If either of them answers to a
distinct idea in your mind, of course you
understand it perfectly, and, therefore, the
other also. But if neither of them does so,
your ideas of them cannot but be extremely
vague and confused. Of what use, for
instance, would it be to tell you that the sun
is nearly a thousand times as large as Jupiter,
if you did not know how large Jupiter is?

"But," the objector may answer, "how can
you ever hope to obtain clear ideas of the
sun's distance from the earth? It is quite
impossible that a finite being should be able
to say, 'Ninety-six millions of miles begin here
and end there,' just as he would point out
twenty miles of country from the top of
a hill." This is quite true. Still there are
ways in which we may learn to grasp, in
some degree at least, the immense distances
that separate us from other worlds and suns;
and, though we are certainly not able to give
astronomical figures their real meaning, yet
we may extract from them a meaning which
shall approximate, in some degree, to the truth.

Our first notions of distance must be gained
by using our own eyes, and tiring our own
legs. All the maps, and pictures, and plans
in the world, explained in the most lucid
manner, could never succeed in giving a
man who had been shut up in a dark room
all his life, any notion of a mile. He must
walk over one and see it for himself: and it
is thus that we have all learned to understand
what is meant by "ten or twelve miles."

For longer distances, our method is somewhat
different. "We measure them by time.
Our ancestors, in London, could have hardly
had any other notion about the distances of
York and Edinburgh but that it was a long
way to each of them. "We, on the other hand,
even if we have not been to these places, have
clearer ideas about the matter. We have a
vivid conception of two or three hours' railway
travelling, and we know how many hours
it is to York and Edinburgh. The notion is
certainly a different one from that which we
entertain concerning shorter distances, but
still it is a notion, and it is a definite notion.

Imagine a railway from here to the sun.
How many hours is the sun from us? Why,
if we were to send a baby in an express
train, going incessantly at a hundred miles an
hour, without making any stoppages, the baby
would grow to be a boythe boy would grow
to be a manthe man would grow old and
diewithout seeing the sun, for it is distant
more than a hundred years from us.

But what is this, compared to Neptune's

Had Adam and Eve started by our railway
at the Creation, to go from Neptune to the
sun, at the rate of fifty miles an hour, they
would not have got there yet; for Neptune
is more than six thousand years from the
centre of our system.

But we are getting into too large numbers
again: we must have some swifter servant
than a railway to measure Space for us. Light
will answer our purposefor light travels
from the sun to the earth in eight minutes.
Eight minutes, then, counting by light, are
equivalent to a hundred years of railway
express speed! It would take light about
four hours to go from the sun to Neptune.
Let us try what this new measurer can do for
us among the stars. We shall find that the
nearest fixed star is three years off, counting
by light, and that there are even some stars
which it is reasonable to suppose to be more
than two thousand years distant!

Vague numbers haunt us again, and we
can hardly hope to obtain any idea,
however slight, of distances greater than these;
yet, step by step, we have passed from a mile
of our own footing, to the enormous chasm
which separates our sun from many of its
neighbours. We can only gain a faint
conception of these things, it is true; but even
that is better than nonebetter than a
confused notion of huge and incomprehensible
numbers, which, however accurate they may
be even in their tens and units, is only a
cloak for our complete ignorance of that in
which they pretend to instruct us. Our
American friend only knows how to designate
them, by calling them "an everlasting
long chalk."


"Do you know, with any certainty, in what
language Adam declared his love to Eve?"
inquired I, one day, from a philologist of
my acquaintance. I put my question with
so much earnestness, that he answered, quite
seriously, "Yes, to be sure; he made his
declaration of love in precisely the same
language as that in which she accepted him."

A profound answer! The only pity is,
that I was not much wiser for it. But it
is altogether a pitya very great pitythat
we know so little about the love-makings
before the Flood. If anybody could meet
with a love-story of that date, it would have
more freshness and novelty in it than can be