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P R E F A C E.
At a time when the sciences are generally cultivated, and a love of literature and knowledge has pervaded every rank and order of society, an easy and familiar account of the most interesting parts of Astronomy, will, it is presumed, be found an acceptable performance. Many, who are not sufficiently acquainted with the Mathematics, to read, with satisfaction, the works of Newton, and other eminent writers upon this subject, are yet very desirous of obtaining such an idea of it, as will enable them to comprehend the leading principles upon which it is founded, and to partake of those pleasures, which enquiries into Nature, and the investigation of some of her most sublime operations, must necessarily afford to every ingenuous and inquis e mind.
To this class of readers, the following Letters are particularly addressed. They were at first designed for ti.e private use of an individual, without any immediate view to publication ; but as nothing of the kind, sufficiently clear and explicit to answer the purpose of general information, had hitherto appeared in our language, the author was induced to make them public, in hopes of their affording some information to those, whose
situations in life, or confined education, may have prevented them from applying to a subject, which has commonly been thought of so abstruse and difficult a nature, as to be utterly unattainable without a previous knowledge of inany
other branches of science.
The principal object in view, throughout the whole performance, has been to avoid, as much as possible, all complicated mathematical principles and calculations, and to elucidate the most striking particulars, in as popular and easy a manner as the nature of the subject would admit. For this purpose, such parts of the science only have been chosen, as seemed most likely to excite the curiosity and attention of the uninformed reader; and to give him a taste for those studies and pursuits, which, besides the practical advantages they afford in some of the most important concerns of life, are of the greatest utility in forming and directing the mind, and in inculcating those liberal and enlarged ideas, which exalt and dignify the human character.
In a performance of this kind, which, from the nature of the undertaking, must be unavoidably deficient in many particulars, it is not to be expected that a scrupulous exactness has been always observed, or that every illustration of a subject is strictly mathematical. Such a minute attention would have been incompatible with the plan of the work, and extremely difficult to have been observed, if not altogether impossible. The chief design was to give a general idea of the operations
and phænomena of nature, independently of ab- • struse reasoning or laborious calculations; and though, by this means, the knowledge obtained by the reader must, in some instances, be necessarily superficial, yet it may serve to give him proper ideas of the subject, and to correct those notions which the prejudices of education, or the apparent view of things, might suggest.
It may also be observed, that as the work is designed chiefly for the purpose of popular instruction, the author has not scrupled to make a free use of the labours of preceding writers, whenever he found any particular subject illustrated in a manner suitable to his design: and if he has not always acknowledged his obligations, it is because such alterations were commonly made as rendered it impossible, without a show of exactness which would have appeared affected and pedantic. The new matter introduced in every part of the performance, where it was most wanted, and the pains that have been taken to arrange and methodize the whole, are, it is hoped, sufficient to obviate every objection which may be made on this account.
The frequent allusions to the Poets, and the various quotations interspersed throughout the work, are intended as an agreeable relief to minds unaccustomed to the regular deduction of facts by mathematical reasoning, and to enliven those parts where a simple detail of particulars must, from its necessary length, become languid. Poetical descriptions, though they may not be
strictly conformable to the rigid principles of the science they are meant to elucidate, generally leave a stronger impression on the mind, and are far more captivating than simple unadorned language. From a persuasion of this kind, the author has sometimes expatiated on subjects with a warmth of expression, that may perhaps seem too florid for a philosophical performance; but which alone could delineate those elevated ideas, that must necessarily arise in the contemplation of some of the grandest scenes in nature, and the most stupendous works of creation.