Title: William Whiston - fig.9 for A New Theory of the Earth (London, 5th edn., 1737)
Original Format: photograph: negative
Description: Whiston’s representation of the solar system, including a prominent comet. Newton and Edmond Halley had worked hard to demonstrate that comets were predictable, periodic bodies which therefore could not be used to prognosticate divine interventions in the natural order. Yet they also suggested that comets deposited aethers to revitalize a spiritually depleted Earth. Whiston liked this mixture of close geometrical analysis with divine mechanism, and extended the discussion. He argued that comets had been responsible for key moments in the Earth’s natural and biblical history - for instance, it was a great comet that had caused the Deluge. He even equated comets with Hell: as they moved in their highly eccentric orbits, they alternated between the “Darkness of Torment” and the “ungodly Smoak of Fire.” For Whiston, comets thus became “the place of Punishment for wicked Men after the general Resurrection.”
Collection: Rare Books
Caltech Archives ID: RB-WW1737-9
Copyright: The Caltech Archives has not determined the copyright status of this image.