Smith TMS) and the Wealth of Nations (hereafter WN),

Smith
wrote the History of Astronomy circa 1750, prior to his more renowned works. That
the History of Astronomy was one of the few documents Smith authorized to be
published posthumously indicates its significance, where most other of his
writings were burnt. The passage discusses “systems”, which Smith deliberates
in both the Theory of Moral Sentiments (hereafter TMS) and the Wealth of
Nations (hereafter WN), referencing systems of moral philosophy and the
mercantile system, respectively. Perhaps Smith’s purpose in this earlier work
is to outline his intentions in those later publications: to “sooth the
imagination” and create “more coherent” links than there “otherwise … appeared
to 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 TMS
that “the happiness of mankind … seems to have been the original purpose
intended by the Author of nature” (TMS, 166): Smith is fulfilling God’s
intentions.

Just
as the History of Astronomy depicts Isaac Newton’s contribution to systems of natural
philosophy, so too does Smith illuminate those invisible connections through
his device, the invisible hand; it is endemic to man’s natural intuitions. One
is 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 “advance
the 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 bind
together all these disjointed objects” (HA, 45), fulfilling his role as a
philosopher.

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Interestingly,
the invisible hand is first referenced in this History of Astronomy, alluding
to how the superstitious ascribe such natural phenomena as thunder and
lightning to “the invisible hand of Jupiter” (HA). The progress by which this
reappears in Smith’s works may reflect his own efforts at developing systems.
Prior to his publications, a primitive peoples ascribed incomprehensible
phenomena to a deity, “those more irregular events were ascribed to Jupiter’s
favour, or his anger” (HA); yet contrarily Smith “soothed the imagination” by removing
the factor of fear, and turning otherwise invisible connections into
“magnificent spectacles.” Smith, like in the evolution of natural philosophy, added
his own contribution to the evolution of systems of moral philosophy.

The
passage alludes to the “theatre of nature”, implying a degree of pantomime to
its portrayals; this reiterates the prioritisation of tranquillity over
substance, 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 artistic
director of a stoical production, presenting an organized, rational play financed
by God.