Thomas Wright (September 22, 1711–February 25, 1786) grew up with a passion for learning and a speech impediment that made the rural English schoolroom a gauntlet. When he set abouthimself at home, his father declared the boy mad for his mathematical passions and burned all the books his mother had bought him. Undeterred, Thomas found a mathematics tutor in a local astronomer, took free science classes at a local parish, then apprenticed himself to a London instrument-maker, falling deeper and deeper in love with astronomy and the . By nineteen, he had established a mathematics and navigation. He would go on to build an observatory, describe the spiral shape of the Milky Way for the first time, and declare himself “an enemy to the taking of anything for granted, merely because a person of reputed judgment has been heard to say it is so,” and become the first person to suggest that there are galaxies other than our own, nearly two centuries before Hubble .
In 1750, Wright self-published his visionary and verbosely titled book( ). He was aesthetic sensibility — he commissioned “the best masters” to illustrate his theories in thirty-some scrumptious plates populated by comets, planets, and other celestial splendors observed and conjectured.
Only 118 copies of the book were printed, all for Wright’s patrons and private subscribers. (A delight to think that a long-ago astronomer sustained his work.) One eventually reached Immanuel Kant, who was especially captivated by Wright’s explanation of why the Milky Way appears to us the way it does — an optical effect owing to our particular position within the plane of the galaxy — and by the notion of multiple galaxies.
Kant seized upon these ideas and developed them in a book he published anonymously five. He drew on Wright’s theories to conceive of his famous “island universes,” which influenced generations of astronomers through Hubble and his epoch-making observational proof. As Kant’s authorship was discovered, his celebrity subsumed these theories, attributed to him. Wright and his book fell into obscurity until a polymathic
French scientist married to an American woman and living in Philadelphia rediscovered itand published it at his own expense. He dedicated the book to “the American people,” feeling that they were in dire need of a reminder that “knowledge is power” and that “in our republic, as power is confided to the care of the people, they must be correct they musty may avoid vital errors.