Book I.

Being, like all introductions to American histories, very learned, sagacious, and nothing at all to the purpose; containing divers profound theories and philosophic speculations, which the idle reader may totally overlook, and begin at the next book.

Chap. I.

In which the Author ventures a Description of the World, from the best Authorities.

The World in which we dwell is a huge, opake, reflecting, inanimate mass, floating in the vast etherial ocean of infinite space. It has the form of an orange, being an oblate spheroid, curiously flattened at opposite parts, for the insertion of two imaginary poles, which are supposed to penetrate and unite at the centre; thus forming an axis on which the mighty orange turns with a regular diurnal revolution.

The transitions of light and darkness, whence proceed the alternations of day and night, are produced by this diurnal revolution, successively presenting the different parts of the earth to the rays of the sun. The latter is, according to the best, that is to say, the latest, accounts, a luminous or fiery body, of a prodigious magnitude, from which this world is driven by a centrifugal or repelling power, and to which it is drawn by a centripetal or attractive force; otherwise termed the attraction of gravitation; the combination, or rather the counteraction of these two opposing impulses producing a circular and annual revolution. Hence result the vicissitudes of the season, viz. spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

I am fully aware, that I expose myself to the caviling of sundry dead philosophers, by adopting the above theory. Some will entrench themselves behind the ancient opinion, that the earth is an extended plain, supported by vast pillars; others, that it rests on the head of a snake, or the back of a huge tortoise; and others, that it is an immense flat pancake, and rests upon whatever it pleases God -- formerly a pious Catholic opinion, and sanctioned by a formidable bull, dispatched from the vatican by a most holy and infallible pontiff. Others will attack my whole theory, by declaring with the Brahmins, that the heavens rest upon the earth, and that the sun and moon swim therein like fishes in the water, moving from east to west by day, and gliding back along the edge of the horizon to their original stations during the night time*.(* Faria y Souza. Mick. Lus. note B, 7.) While others will maintain, with the Pauranicas of India, that it is a vast plain, encircled by seven oceans of milk, nectar and other delicious liquids; that it is studded with seven mountains, and ornamented in the centre by a mountainous rock of burnished gold; and that a great dragon occasionally swallows up the moon, which accounts for the phenomnena of the lunar eclipses*.(Sir W. Jones, Diss. Antiq. Ind. Zod.)

I am confident also, I shall meet with equal opposition to my account of the sun; certain ancient philosophers having affirmed that it is a vast wheel of brilliant fire, *(*Plut. de Plac. Philos. lib.ii, cap.20.) others that it is merely a mirror or sphere of transparent chrystal*; (*Achill. Tat. Isag. cap. 19. Ap. Petav. t. iii, p. 81. Stob. Eclog. Phys. lib.i, p. 56 Plut. de plac. p. p.) and a third class, at the head of whom stand Anaxagoras, having maintained, that it is nothing but a huge ignited rocks or stone, an opinion which the good people of Athens have kindly saved me the trouble of confuting, by turning the philosopher neck and hells out of their city.(Diog. Laert. in Anaxag. l. ii, sec. 8, Plat. Apol. t. i., p. 26. Plut.de superst. t.ii, p. 269. Xenoph. Mem. l. iv, p. 185.) Another set of philosophers, who delight in variety, declare, that certain fiery particles exhale constantly from the earth, which concentrating in a single point of the firmament by day, constitute the sun, but being scattered, and rambling about in the dark at night, collect in various points and form stars. These are regularly burnt out and extinguished, like the lamps in our streets, and require a fresh supply of exhalations for the next occasion.(Aristot. Meteor. l. ii, c.2. Idem. Probl. sec. 15. Stob. Ecl. Phys. l. i, p. 55. Bruck. Hist. Phil. t.i., p. 1154, et alii.)

It is even recorded that at certain remote and obscure periods, in consequence of a great scarcity of fuel, (probably during a severe winter) the sun has been completely burnt out, and not rekindled for a whole month. A most melancholy occurrence, the very idea of which gave vast concern to Heraclitus, the celebrated weeping Philosopher, who was a great stickler for this doctrine. Beside these profound speculations, others may expect me to advocation the opinion of Herschel, that the sun is a most magnificent, habitable abode; the light it furnishes, arising from certain empyreal, luminous or phosphoric clouds, swimming in its transparent atmosphere.*(*Philos. Trans. 1795, p. 72-- idem. 1801, p. 265. -- Nich. Philos. Journ. i. p.13) But to save dispute and altercation with my readers -- who I already perceive, are a captious, discontented crew, and likely to give me a world of trouble -- I now, once for all, wash my hands of all and every of these theories, declining entirely and unequivocally, any investigation of their merits. The subject of the present chapter is merely the Island, on which is built the goodly city of New York, -- a very honest and substantial Island, which I do not expect to find in the sun, or moon; as I am no land speculator, but a plain matter of fact historian. I therefore renounce all lunatic, or solaric excursions, and confine myself to the limits of this terrene or earthly globe; historian --( which heaven and my landlord know is all the credit I possess) to detect and demonstrate the existence of this illustrious island to the conviction of all reasonable people.

Proceeding on this discreet and considerate plan, I rest satisfied with having advanced the most approved and fashionable opinion on the form of this earth and its movements; and I freely submit it to the cavilling of any Philo, dead or alive, who may choose to dispute its correctness. I must here intreat my unlearned readers (in which class I humbly presume to include nine tenths of those who shall power over these instructive pages) not to be discouraged when they encounter a passage above their comprehension; for as I shall admit nothing into my work that is not pertinent and absolutely essential to its well being, so likewise I shall advance no theory or hypothesis, that shall not be elucidated to the comprehension of the dullest intellect. I am not one of those churlish authors, who do so enwrap their works in the mystic fogs of scientific jargon, that a man must be as wise as themselves to understand their writings; on the contrary, my pages, though abounding with sound wisdom and profound erudition, shall be written with such pleasant and urbane perspicuity, that there shall not even be found a country justice, an outward alderman, or a member of congress, provided he can read with tolerable fluency, but shall both understand and profit by my labours. I shall therefore, proceed forthwith to illustrate by experiment, the complexity of motion just ascribed to this our rotary planet.

Professor Von Poddingcoft (or Puddinghead as the name may be rendered into English) was long celebrated in the college of New York, for most profound gravity of deportment, and his talent at going to sleep in the midst of examinations; to the infinite relief of his hopeful students, who thereby worked their way through college with great ease and little study. In the course of one of his lectures, the learned professor, seizing a bucket of water swung it round his head at arms length; the impulse with which he threw the vessel from him, being a centrifugal force, the retention of his arm operating as a centripetal power, and the bucket, which was a substitute for the earth, describing a circular orbit round about the globular head and ruby visage of Professor Von Poddingcoft, which formed no bad representation of the sun. All of these particulars were duly explained to the class of gaping students around him. He apprised them moreover, that the same principle of gravitation, which retained the water in the bucket, restrains the ocean from flying from the earth in its rapid revolutions; and he further informed them that should the motion of the earth be suddenly checked, it would incontinently fall into the sun, through the centripetal force of gravitation; a most ruinous event to this planet, and one which also obscure, though it most probably would not extinguish the solar luminary. An unlucky stripling, one of those vagrant geniuses, who seem sent into the world merely to annoy worthy men of the puddinghead order, desirous of ascertaining the correctness of the experiment, suddenly arrested the arm of the professor, just at the moment that the bucket was in its zenith, which immediately descended with astonishing precision, upon the philosophic head of the instructor of youth. A hollow sound, and a red-hot hiss attended the contact, but the theory was in the amplest manner illustrated, for the unfortunate bucket perished in the conflict, but the blazing countenance of Professor Von Poddingcoft, emerged from admits the waters, glowing fiercer than ever with unutterable indignation -- whereby the students were marvelously edified, and departed considerably wiser than before.

It is a mortifying circumstance, which greatly perplexes many a pains taking philosopher, that nature often refuses to second his most profound and elaborate efforts; so that often after having invented one of the most ingenious and natural theories imaginable, she will have the perverseness to act directly in the teeth of his system, and flatly contradict his most favourite positions. This is a manifest and unmerited grievance, since it throws the censure of the vulgar and unlearned entirely upon the philosopher; whereas the fault is not to be ascribed to his theory, which is unquestionably correct, but to the waywardness of dame nature, who with the proverbial fickleness of her sex, is continually indulging in coquetries and caprices, and seems really to take pleasure in violating all philosophic rules, and jilting the most learned and indefatigable of her adorers. Thus it happened with respect to the foregoing satisfactory explanation of the motion of our planet; it appears that the centrifugal force has long since ceased to operate, while its antagonist remains in undiminished potency: the world therefore, according to the theory as it originally stood, ought in strict propriety to tumble into the sun -- Philosophers were convinced that it would do so, and awaited in anxious impatience, the fulfillment of their prognostications. But the untoward planet, pertinaciously continued her course, not withstanding that she had reason, philosophy, and a whole university of learned professors opposed to her conduct. The philo’s were all at a non plus, and it is apprehended they would never have fairly recovered from the slight and affront which they conceived offered to them by the world, had not a good natured professor kindly officiated as mediator between the parties, and effected a reconciliation.

Finding the world would not accommodate itself to the theory, he wisely determined to accommodate the theory to the world: he therefore informed his brother philosophers, that the circular motion of the earth round the sun was no sooner engendered by the conflicting impulses above described, than it became a regular revolution, independent of the causes which gave it origin -- in short, that madam earth having once taken it into her head to whirl round, like a young lady of spirit in a high dutch waltz, the duivel himself could not stop her. The whole board of professors of the university of Leyden joined in the opinion, being heartily glad of any explanation that would decently extricate them from their embarrassment -- and immediately decreed the penalty of expulsion against all who should presume to question its correctness: the philosophers of all other nations gave an unqualified assent, and ever since that memorable era the world has been left to take her own course, and to revolve around the sun in such orbit as she thinks proper.

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