Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

LETTER XVI. On Sir Isaac Newton's Opticks.

THE Philosophers of the last Age found out a new Universe; and a Circumstance which made its Discovery more difficult, was, that no one had so much as suspected its Existence. The most Sage and Judicious were of Opinion, that 'twas a frantic Rashness to dare so much as to imagine that it was possible to guess the Laws by which the celestial Bodies move, and the manner how Light acts. Galileo by his astronomical Discoveries, Kepler by his Calculation, Des Cartes (at least in his Dioptricks) and Sir Isaac Newton in all his Works, severally saw the Mechanism of the Springs of the World. The Geometricians have subjected Infinity to the Laws of Calculation. The Circulation of the Blood in Animals, and of the Sap in Vegetables, have chang'd the Face of Nature with regard to us. A new kind of Existence has been given to Bodies in the Air-Pump. By the Assistance of Telescopes Bodies have been brought nearer to one another. Finally, the several Discoveries which Sir Isaac Newton has made on Light, are equal to the boldest Things which the Curiosity of Man could expect, after so many philosophical Novelties.

Till Antonio de Dominis,* the Rainbow was consider'd as an inexplicable Miracle. This Philosopher guess'd that it was a necessary Effect of the Sun and Rain. Des Cartes gain'd immortal Fame, by his mathematical Explication of this so natural a Phænomenon. He calculated the Reflexions and Refractions of Light in Drops of Rain; and his Sagacity on this Occasion was at that Time look'd upon as next to divine.

But what would he have said had it been prov'd to him that he was mistaken in the Nature of Light; that he had not the least Reason to maintain that 'tis a globular Body: That 'tis false to assert, that this Matter spreading it self through the whole, waits only to be projected forward by the Sun, in

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