Christiaan Huygens

What a wonderful and amazing Scheme have we here of the magnificent Vastness of the Universe!
How must our wonder and admiration be encreased when we consider the prodigious distance and multitude of the Stars?

Christiaan Huygens (14 April 16298 July 1695) was a Dutch astronomer.


  • Since 'tis certain that Earth and Jupiter have their Water and Clouds, there is no reason why the other Planets should be without them. I can't say that they are exactly of the same nature with our Water; but that they should be liquid their use requires, as their beauty does that they be clear. This Water of ours, in Jupiter or Saturn, would be frozen up instantly by reason of the vast distance of the Sun. Every Planet therefore must have its own Waters of such a temper not liable to Frost.
  • What a wonderful and amazing Scheme have we here of the magnificent Vastness of the Universe! So many Suns, so many Earths, and every one of them stock’d with so many Herbs, Trees and Animals, and adorn’d with so many Seas and Mountains! And how must our wonder and admiration be encreased when we consider the prodigious distance and multitude of the Stars?
  • One finds in this subject a kind of demonstration which does not carry with it so high a degree of certainty as that employed in geometry; and which differs distinctly from the method employed by geometers in that they prove their propositions by well-established and incontrovertible principles, while here principles are tested by inferences which are derivable from them. The nature of the subject permits of no other treatment. It is possible, however, in this way to establish a probability which is little short of certainty. This is the case when the consequences of the assumed principles are in perfect accord with the observed phenomena, and especially when these verifications are numerous; but above all when one employs the hypothesis to predict new phenomena and finds his expectations realized.
    • Christiaan Huygens (1690) Treatise on Light - preface, Translated by Michael R. Matthews, Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy. 1989. p. 126
  • I believe that we do not know anything for certain, but everything probably.
    • Christiaan Huygens, in a letter to Pierre Perrault, 'Sur la préface de M. Perrault de son traité de l'Origine des fontaines' [1763], Oeuvres Complètes de Christiaan Huygens (1897), Vol. 7, 298. Quoted in Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, ed. Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 163
  • I esteem his [Newton's] understanding and subtlety highly, but I consider that they have been put to ill use in the greater part of this work, where the author studies things of little use or when he builds on the improbable principle of attraction.
    • Christiaan Huygens, writing five years after the appearance of Newton's Principia, as quoted in A. R. Manwell, Mathematics Before Newton (Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 56 – «He [Huygens] said, indeed, that the idea of universal attraction [gravitation] 'appears to me absurd'.»
  • I do not mind at all that [Newton] is not a Cartesian provided he does not offer us suppositions like that of attraction.
    • Christiaan Huygens, letter to Fatio de Duillier (11 July 1687), quoted in René Dugas, Mechanics in the seventeenth century (1958), p. 440
  • I had not thought of this regular decrease of gravity, namely that it is as the inverse square of the distance; this is a new and highly remarkable property of gravity.
    • Christiaan Huygens (1691), quoted in Popular Astronomy, Vol. 56 (1948), pp. 189–190.


  • The world is my country, to promote science is my religion.
    • The earliest found citation is in K.O. Meinsma, Spinoza en zijn kring. Historisch-kritische studiën over Hollandsche vrijgeesten (Martinus Nijhoff, 's-Gravenhage, 1896). This influential study was translated in French and German, but not in English. In the original Dutch context it seems as though this is not a quote from Huygens, but a characterisation by the author (Meinsma) of what 'could haven been' Huygens' devise.
    • In Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (Episode 6) from 1980 it is phrased The world is my country, science my religion.
    • Also in The Making of Modern Europe, 1648-1780 (1985) by Geoffrey Treasure, p. 474, it is declared that this was Huygens' "motto" — but this seems very similar to the much more famous and long attested declaration of Thomas Paine in Rights of Man (1791): "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good" which has long been paraphrased "The world is my country, and to do good is my religion."

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Last modified on 9 April 2014, at 20:29