Beneficent Effects of the Earth's Sphericity

— It occurred to me suddenly this morning, that I had never been appropriately thankful for the sphericity of the earth. In truth, I had never given the subject any considerable thought. Enough that the earth was a sphere ! Now, however, I began all at once to imagine how different our human lot and condition might be, were the planet, as some have dreamed, nothing but a square flat surface. In that case, it is evident that only a very small proportion of us who inhabit it could possibly be accommodated near the centre, — if I may be allowed to express myself thus ungeometrically. By far the greater number would necessarily find ourselves at long distances from it, while not a few would have to seek quarters along the edges, or be tucked away in some one of the four corners. And this difficulty would be not lessened, but rather quadrupled, if the earth were a cube, instead of only one side of a cube. In either event, the world would have the disadvantages of an ordinary rectangular concert-room, in which the principal part of the audience must perforce take up with poorer seats than they see some of their fellow-auditors enjoying. Human nature remaining as it is, it is plain enough what jealousy and strife such inequalities would occasion. How would you feel, most meek and amiable of readers, to be rooted for life in some outlying district, some edge or corner of the world ?

All such unhappy complications, it will be at once perceived, are forever obviated by the simple fact of the planet’s rotundity; for there is no spot upon its surface but is just as near the centre as is every other spot. Indeed, every spot is the centre ; not of the globe itself, to be sure, but of its superficial area. Not a soul of all earth’s millions but has the nadir plumb beneath his feet, and the zenith directly above his head ; not one but is at the fixed point, the true axis, about which the sphere’s circumference is described. There is no village, no hamlet, no lonely hut, but the horizon stretches around it in a perfect ring. Straight to that village, hamlet, or hut all the radii run. To recur to our former comparison, the practical, equalizing effect of this is like what would result if a concert-room were circular, with the performers at the centre, and the listeners in a single annular row about them, every chair just as near the stage as every other.

This view of the matter I do not remember ever to have seen so much as hinted at, and I am therefore inclined to believe the foregoing observations strictly original; but, like many other discoveries, this of mine will doubtless seem simple and easy enough as soon as it is once pointed out. Moreover, there can be no question that the fact itself has all along unconsciously yet strongly affected the opinions and feelings of the entire human family. Who ever saw a man, no matter how uneducated, that did not appear to realize, as if by instinct, that his own standing-place was the true centre of all things ? I, for one, never did ; and I have often been profoundly impressed with this universal consciousness of personal centrality, particularly when I have been traveling. The train halts for a minute at some rural station, with half a dozen scattered houses in sight, while as many rustics stand about the “ depot ” gazing into the car windows. These lookers-on always appear to be commiserating the sad condition of us travelers. They are at home ; they feel it. The rest of us are pilgrims and strangers. Poor souls ! we have perhaps never before heard of Huckleberryville. Our abiding places, if indeed we have any, must be far off in foreign parts. We are here at the focus of the world for a minute only ; then, like the Wandering Jew, off we must hurry again toward the outer rim. Happy citizens of Huckleberryville ! did they but know it, the citizens of Boston and New York cherish precisely the same feelings. They, too, are at the hub. As for Huckleberryville, it is a town up country somewhere, not far from the “ jumping-off place,” they believe.

Now, if all these self-satisfied people were under a delusion, it would be pitiful to think of; but as we have seen, they have abundant reason for their self-gratulations. And to me, I must acknowledge, it is extremely consoling to find one of my most natural and indestructible convictions put thus upon an assured mathematical basis. My notion might have proved a mere superstition, a piece of ignorant conceit; but no ! it is demonstrable, irrefutable fact. Henceforth, then, I give over attempting to appear unconscious of my exalted destiny and privilege. If I am at the centre of the universe, why not recognize the fact, and carry myself accordingly ?