Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 8. 1776: Year of the Revolution?

The Electric Franklin

February 3, 1776

What, I wonder, goes on in the heads of our parents and educators? How can they imagine that we boys remain placidly unconcerned by current events when this revolution is brewing, this war in which we will have to fight, maybe die?


Dear unborn descendants,

Pity your poor ancestor Temple, not yet sixteen and already supposed to write an essay on the subject of SPACE: IS IT A REAL BEING, OR NOT? As if I knew ... as if I cared at a time when we may be on the verge, as my grandfather predicted, of "the greatest revolution the world has ever seen." A revolution that is already tearing apart my freshly discovered family and tearing me apart, too.

But I have no choice. I have to fill a number of pages with whatever pompous nonsense I can conjure up. The proper way to begin, says the teacher, is to announce the subject and the sources one proposes to use. Here goes:

"Gentlemen, Various have been the Opinions concerning a subject which at present demands our attention, namely whether Space is a Real Being or not. Many great and learned men have disputed this subject, among which are Watts, Clarke, Jackson, Doddridge and many others; some of these Gentlemen have been of a different way of thinking from the Rest, but the greater part of them strongly assert that Space is not a Real Being, but a mere abstract Idea, which opinion seems to me the most Natural."

Are you impressed, descendants? So many words to say so little! And how do I know those imposing names? Because last year, back in my London school, I received as a prize a big book by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), "English theologian and hymn writer" says the front page. Indeed, under the direction of Mr. Elphinston, we sang Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past, a hymn composed by Watts, and it was my favorite one. Needless to say, I never read his book until now.

As to Samuel Clarke (1675-1729), his Being and Attributes of God was the prize that Caldwell had received. He slipped it into my trunk with a note expressing the wish that it would be good for my soul, so much in need of improvement.

Now, Temple, after this magnificent opening you should come up with a thought of your own, preferably a deep-sounding thought. Yes.

"It may not be amiss, before I proceed, to mention where we get the Idea of Space. We get the Idea of Space both by our Sight and touch, which I think is so evident that it would be as needless to prove that Men perceive by their Sight a Distance between two Bodies of Different Colours or between the parts of the Same Body, as that they see Colours themselves."

Oh dear, I'm no good at philosophy. I'm getting lost. I must try another angle.

"If Space is a Substance it must be God: for those who assert its Reality maintain (as they needs must do) that it is Self-existant, infinite & immutable; & it is well known that God is the only Self-existant, Infinite and immutable Being. — Space cannot be God, since mere Space has neither Wisdom nor Power, and every one that acknowledges there is a God allows him to be both Omniscient & Omnipotent."

I don't know what you will think of this rambling, you future people of the nineteenth and maybe twentieth century. I'm sure you'll know all about Space in your day. I don't.