Smithwrote the History of Astronomy circa 1750, prior to his more renowned works. Thatthe History of Astronomy was one of the few documents Smith authorized to bepublished posthumously indicates its significance, where most other of hiswritings were burnt. The passage discusses “systems”, which Smith deliberatesin both the Theory of Moral Sentiments (hereafter TMS) and the Wealth ofNations (hereafter WN), referencing systems of moral philosophy and themercantile system, respectively. Perhaps Smith’s purpose in this earlier workis to outline his intentions in those later publications: to “sooth theimagination” and create “more coherent” links than there “otherwise … appearedto be.
” This coalesces with Smith’s conception of tranquillity, that which “contents”us: it is the key component of true happiness. To that end, Smith notes in TMSthat “the happiness of mankind … seems to have been the original purposeintended by the Author of nature” (TMS, 166): Smith is fulfilling God’sintentions. Justas the History of Astronomy depicts Isaac Newton’s contribution to systems of naturalphilosophy, so too does Smith illuminate those invisible connections throughhis device, the invisible hand; it is endemic to man’s natural intuitions.
Oneis born with “the desire of persuading” (TMS, 336), to “truck and barter” (WN,25), and to elevate one’s conditions. These passions lead people to “advancethe interest of the society” (TMS, 184-185): the progress of opulence. In TMS,this connection is denoted by the wealthy who “are led by an invisible hand …and … without intending it … advance the interest of the society” (TMS,184-185). Thus, Smith has himself represented the “invisible chains which bindtogether all these disjointed objects” (HA, 45), fulfilling his role as aphilosopher. Interestingly,the invisible hand is first referenced in this History of Astronomy, alludingto how the superstitious ascribe such natural phenomena as thunder andlightning to “the invisible hand of Jupiter” (HA).
The progress by which thisreappears in Smith’s works may reflect his own efforts at developing systems.Prior to his publications, a primitive peoples ascribed incomprehensiblephenomena to a deity, “those more irregular events were ascribed to Jupiter’sfavour, or his anger” (HA); yet contrarily Smith “soothed the imagination” by removingthe factor of fear, and turning otherwise invisible connections into”magnificent spectacles.” Smith, like in the evolution of natural philosophy, addedhis own contribution to the evolution of systems of moral philosophy. Thepassage alludes to the “theatre of nature”, implying a degree of pantomime toits portrayals; this reiterates the prioritisation of tranquillity oversubstance, such that Smith notes we should not examine “systems of nature” by”their absurdity or probability” but their success in “smoothing the passage of the imagination.” In attempting to turn the”theatre of nature” into a “magnificent spectacle”, Smith became the artisticdirector of a stoical production, presenting an organized, rational play financedby God.