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. 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.