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Title: Myths and Marvels of Astronomy
Author: Proctor, Richard A. (Richard Anthony), 1837-1888
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Myths and Marvels of Astronomy" ***

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  Transcriber's Note

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. A list of corrections
  is found at the end of the text.





  ETC., ETC.



  _Printed by_ BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO

  _At the Ballantyne Press_


The chief charm of Astronomy, with many, does not reside in the wonders
revealed to us by the science, but in the lore and legends connected
with its history, the strange fancies with which in old times it has
been associated, the half-forgotten myths to which it has given birth.
In our own times also, Astronomy has had its myths and fancies, its wild
inventions, and startling paradoxes. My object in the present series of
papers has been to collect together the most interesting of these old
and new Astronomical myths, associating with them, in due proportion,
some of the chief marvels which recent Astronomy has revealed to us. To
the former class belong the subjects of the first four and the last five
essays of the present series, while the remaining essays belong to the
latter category.

Throughout I have endeavoured to avoid technical expressions on the one
hand, and ambiguous phraseology (sometimes resulting from the attempt
to avoid technicality) on the other. I have, in fact, sought to present
my subjects as I should wish to have matters outside the range of my
special branch of study presented for my own reading.




  I. ASTROLOGY                                        1


  III. THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS                   78



  VI. SUNS IN FLAMES                                160

  VII. THE RINGS OF SATURN                          191

  VIII. COMETS AS PORTENTS                          212

  IX. THE LUNAR HOAX                                242


  XI. ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL MYTHS                    299







     Signs and planets, in aspects sextile, quartile, trine, conjoined,
     or opposite; houses of heaven, with their cusps, hours, and
     minutes; Almuten, Almochoden, Anahibazon, Catahibazon; a thousand
     terms of equal sound and significance.--_Guy Mannering._

  ... Come and see! trust thine own eyes.
  A fearful sign stands in the house of life,
  An enemy: a fiend lurks close behind
  The radiance of thy planet--oh! be warned!--COLERIDGE.

Astrology possesses a real interest even in these days. It is true that
no importance attaches now even to the discussion of the considerations
which led to the rejection of judicial astrology. None but the most
ignorant, and therefore superstitious, believe at present in divination
of any sort or kind whatsoever. Divination by the stars holds no higher
position than palmistry, fortune-telling by cards, or the indications of
the future which foolish persons find in dreams, tea-dregs,
salt-spilling, and other absurdities. But there are two reasons which
render the history of astrology interesting. In the first place, faith
in stellar influences was once so widespread that astrological
terminology came to form a part of ordinary language, insomuch that it
is impossible rightly to understand many passages of ancient and
mediæval literature, or rightly to apprehend the force of many allusions
and expressions, unless the significance of astrological teachings to
the men of those times be recognised. In the second place, it is
interesting to examine how the erroneous teachings of astrology were
gradually abandoned, to note the way in which various orders of mind
rejected these false doctrines or struggled to retain them, and to
perceive how, with a large proportion of even the most civilised races,
the superstitions of judicial astrology were long retained, or are
retained even to this very day. The world has still to see some
superstitions destroyed which are as widely received as astrology ever
was, and which will probably retain their influence over many minds long
after the reasoning portion of the community have rejected them.

Even so far back as the time of Eudoxus the pretensions of astrologers
were rejected, as Cicero informs us ('De Div.' ii. 42). And though the
Romans were strangely superstitious in such matters, Cicero reasons with
excellent judgment against the belief in astrology. Gassendi quotes the
argument drawn by Cicero against astrology, from the predictions of the
Chaldæans that Cæsar, Crassus, and Pompey would die 'in a full old age,
in their own houses, in peace and honour,' whose deaths, nevertheless,
were 'violent, immature, and tragical.' Cicero also used an argument
whose full force has only been recognised in modern times. 'What
contagion,' he asked, 'can reach us from the planets, whose distance is
almost infinite?' It is singular that Seneca, who was well acquainted
with the uniform character of the planetary motions, seems to have
entertained no doubt respecting their influence. Tacitus expresses some
doubts, but was on the whole inclined to believe in astrology.
'Certainly,' he says, 'the majority of mankind cannot be weaned from the
opinion that at the birth of each man his future destiny is fixed;
though some things may fall out differently from the predictions, by the
ignorance of those who profess the art; and thus the art is unjustly
blamed, confirmed as it is by noted examples in all ages.'[1]

Probably, the doubt suggested by the different fortunes and characters
of men born at the same time must have occurred to many before Cicero
dwelt upon it. Pliny, who followed Cicero in this, does not employ the
argument quite correctly, for he says that, 'in every hour, in every
part of the world, are born lords and slaves, kings and beggars.' But of
course, according to astrological principles, it would be necessary that
two persons, whose fortunes were to be alike, should be born, not only
in the same hour, but in the same place. The fortunes and character of
Jacob and Esau, however, should manifestly have been similar, which was
certainly not the case, if their history has been correctly handed down
to us. An astrologer of the time of Julius Cæsar, named Publius Nigidius
Figulus, used a singular argument against such reasoning. When an
opponent urged the different fortunes of men born nearly at the same
instant, Nigidius asked him to make two contiguous marks on a potter's
wheel which was revolving rapidly. When the wheel was stopped, the two
marks were found to be far apart. Nigidius is said to have received the
name of Figulus (the potter), in remembrance of the story; but more
probably he was a potter by trade, and an astrologer only during those
leisure hours which he could devote to charlatanry. St. Augustine, who
relates the story (which I borrow from Whewell's 'History of the
Inductive Sciences'), says, justly, that the argument of Nigidius was as
fragile as the ware made on the potter's wheel.

The belief must have been all but universal in those days that at the
birth of any person who was to hold an important place in the world's
history the stars would either be ominously conjoined, or else some
blazing comet or new star would make its appearance. For we know that
some such object having appeared, or some unusual conjunction of planets
having occurred, near enough to the time of Christ's birth to be
associated in men's minds with that event, it came eventually to be
regarded as belonging to his horoscope, and as actually indicating to
the Wise Men of the East (Chaldæan astrologers, doubtless) the future
greatness of the child then born. It is certain that that is what the
story of the Star in the East means as it stands. Theologians differ as
to its interpretation in points of detail. Some think the phenomenon was
meteoric, others that a comet then made its appearance, others that a
new star shone out, and others that the account referred to a
conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, which occurred at about that
time. As a matter of detail it may be mentioned, that none of these
explanations in the slightest degree corresponds with the account, for
neither meteor, nor comet, nor new star, nor conjoined planets, would go
before travellers from the east, to show them their way to any place.
Yet the ancients sometimes regarded comets as guides. Whichever view we
accept, it is abundantly clear that an astrological significance was
attached by the narrator to the event. And not so very long ago, when
astrologers first began to see that their occupation was passing from
them, the Wise Men of the East were appealed to against the enemies of
astrology,[2]--very much as Moses was appealed to against Copernicus
and Galileo, and more recently to protect us against certain
relationships which Darwin, Wallace, and Huxley unkindly indicate for
the human race divine.

Although astronomers now reject altogether the doctrines of judicial
astrology, it is impossible for the true lover of that science to regard
astrology altogether with contempt. Astronomy, indeed, owes much more to
the notions of believers in astrology than is commonly supposed.
Astrology bears the same relation to modern astronomy that alchemy bears
to modern chemistry. As it is probable that nothing but the hope of
gain, literally in this case _auri sacra fames_, would have led to those
laborious researches of the alchemists which first taught men how to
analyse matter into its elementary constituents, and afterwards to
combine these constituents afresh into new forms, so the belief that, by
carefully studying the stars, men might acquire the power of predicting
future events, first directed attention to the movements of the
celestial bodies. Kepler's saying, that astrology, though a fool, was
the daughter of a wise mother,[3] does not by any means present truly
the relationship between astrology and astronomy. Rather we may say that
astrology and alchemy, though foolish mothers, gave birth to those wise
daughters, astronomy and chemistry. Even this way of speaking scarcely
does justice to the astrologers and alchemists of old times. Their views
appear foolish in the light of modern scientific knowledge, but they
were not foolish in relation to what was known when they were
entertained. Modern analysis goes far to demonstrate the immutability,
and, consequently, the non-transmutability of the metals, though it is
by no means so certain as many suppose that the present position of the
metals in the list of _elements_ is really correct. Certainly a chemist
of our day would be thought very unwise who should undertake a series of
researches with the object of discovering a mineral having such
qualities as the alchemists attributed to the philosopher's stone. But
when as yet the facts on which the science of chemistry is based were
unknown, there was nothing unreasonable in supposing that such a mineral
might exist, or the means of compounding it be discovered. Nay, many
arguments from analogy might be urged to show that the supposition was
altogether probable. In like manner, though the known facts of astronomy
oppose themselves irresistibly to any belief in planetary influences
upon the fates of men and nations, yet before those facts were
discovered it was not only not unreasonable, but was in fact, highly
reasonable to believe in such influences, or at least that the sun, and
moon, and stars moved in the heavens in such sort as to indicate what
would happen. If the wise men of old times rejected the belief that 'the
stars in their courses fought' for or against men, they yet could not
very readily abandon the belief that the stars were for signs in the
heavens of what was to befall mankind.

If we consider the reasoning now commonly thought valid in favour of the
doctrine that other orbs besides our earth are inhabited, and compare it
with the reasoning on which judicial astrology was based, we shall not
find much to choose between the two, so far as logical weight is
concerned. Because the only member of the solar system which we can
examine closely is inhabited, astronomers infer a certain degree of
probability for the belief that the other planets of the system are also
inhabited. And because the only sun we know much about is the centre of
a system of planets, astronomers infer that probably the stars, those
other suns which people space, are also the centres of systems; although
no telescope which man can make would show the members of a system like
ours, attending on even the nearest of all the stars. The astrologer had
a similar argument for his belief. The moon, as she circles around the
earth, exerts a manifest influence upon terrestrial matter--the tidal
wave rising and sinking synchronously with the movements of the moon,
and other consequences depending directly or indirectly upon her
revolution around the earth. The sun's influence is still more manifest;
and, though it may have required the genius of a Herschel or of a
Stephenson to perceive that almost every form of terrestrial energy is
derived from the sun, yet it must have been manifest from the very
earliest times that the greater light which rules the day rules the
seasons also, and, in ruling them, provides the annual supplies of
vegetable food, on which the very existence of men and animals depends.
If these two bodies, the sun and moon, are thus potent, must it not be
supposed, reasoned the astronomers of old, that the other celestial
bodies exert corresponding influences? _We_ know, but they did not know,
that the moon rules the tides effectually because she is near to us, and
that the sun is second only to the moon in tidal influence because of
his enormous mass and attractive energy. We know also that his position
as fire, light, and life of the earth and its inhabitants, is due
directly to the tremendous heat with which the whole of his mighty
frame is instinct. Not knowing this, the astronomers of old times had no
sufficient reason for distinguishing the sun and moon from the other
celestial bodies, so far at least as the general question of celestial
influences was concerned.

So far as particulars were concerned, it was not altogether so clear to
them as it is to us, that the influence of the sun must be paramount in
all respects save tidal action, and that of the moon second only to the
sun's in other respects, and superior to his in tidal sway alone. Many
writers on the subject of life in other worlds are prepared to show (as
Brewster attempts to do, for example) that Jupiter and Saturn are far
nobler worlds than the earth, because superior in this or that
circumstance. So the ancient astronomers, in their ignorance of the
actual conditions on which celestial influences depend, found abundant
reasons for regarding the feeble influences exerted by Saturn, Jupiter,
and Mars, as really more potent than those exerted by the sun himself
upon the earth. They reasoned, as Milton afterwards made Raphaël reason,
that 'great or bright infers not excellence,' that Saturn or Jupiter,
though 'in comparison so small, nor glist'ring' to like degree, may yet
'of solid good contain more plenty than the sun.' Supposing the
influence of a celestial body to depend on the magnitude of its sphere,
in the sense of the old astronomy (according to which each planet had
its proper sphere, around the earth as centre), then the influence of
the sun would be judged to be inferior to that of either Saturn,
Jupiter, or Mars; while the influences of Venus and Mercury, though
inferior to the influence of the sun, would still be held superior to
that of the moon. For the ancients measured the spheres of the seven
planets of their system by the periods of the apparent revolution of
those bodies around the celestial dome, and so set the sphere of the
moon innermost, enclosed by the sphere of Mercury, around which in turn
was the sphere of Venus, next the sun's, then, in order, those of Mars,
Jupiter, and Saturn. We can readily understand how they might come to
regard the slow motions of the sphere of Saturn and Jupiter, taking
respectively some thirty and twelve years to complete a revolution, as
indicating power superior to the sun's, whose sphere seemed to revolve
once in a single year. Many other considerations might have been urged,
before the Copernican theory was established, to show that, possibly,
some of the planets exert influences more effective than those of the
sun and moon.

It is, indeed, clear that the first real shock sustained by astrology
came from the arguments of Copernicus. So long as the earth was regarded
as the centre round which all the celestial bodies move, it was hopeless
to attempt to shake men's faith in the influences of the stars. So far
as I know, there is not a single instance of a believer in the old
Ptolemaic system who rejected astrology absolutely. The views of
Bacon--the last of any note who opposed the system of
Copernicus[4]--indicate the extreme limits to which a Ptolemaist could
go in opposition to astrology. It may be worth while to quote Bacon's
opinion in this place, because it indicates at once very accurately the
position held by believers in astrology in his day, and the influence
which the belief in a central fixed earth could not fail to exert on the
minds of even the most philosophical reasoners.

'Astrology,' he begins, 'is so full of superstition that scarce anything
sound can be discovered in it; though we judge it should rather be
purged than absolutely rejected. Yet if any one shall pretend that this
science is founded not in reason and physical contemplations, but in the
direct experience and observation of past ages, and therefore not to be
examined by physical reasons, as the Chaldæans boasted, he may at the
same time bring back divination, auguries, soothsaying, and give in to
all kinds of fables; for these also were said to descend from long
experience. But we receive astrology as a part of physics, without
attributing more to it than reason and the evidence of things allow, and
strip it of its superstition and conceits. Thus we banish that empty
notion about the horary reign of the planets, as if each resumed the
throne thrice in twenty-four hours, so as to leave three hours
supernumerary; and yet this fiction produced the division of the
week,[5] a thing so ancient and so universally received. Thus likewise
we reject as an idle figment the doctrine of horoscopes, and the
distribution of the houses, though these are the darling inventions of
astrology, which have kept revel, as it were, in the heavens. And
lastly, for the calculation of nativities, fortunes, good or bad hours
of business, and the like fatalities, they are mere levities, that have
little in them of certainty and solidity, and may be plainly confuted by
physical reasons. But here we judge it proper to lay down some rules for
the examination of astrological matters, in order to retain what is
useful therein, and reject what is insignificant. Thus, 1. Let the
greater revolutions be retained, but the lesser, of horoscopes and
houses, be rejected--the former being like ordnance which shoot to a
great distance, whilst the other are but like small bows, that do no
execution. 2. The celestial operations affect not all kinds of bodies,
but only the more sensible, as humours, air, and spirits. 3. All the
celestial operations rather extend to masses of things than to
individuals, though they may obliquely reach some individuals also which
are more sensible than the rest, as a pestilent constitution of the air
affects those bodies which are least able to resist it. 4. All the
celestial operations produce not their effects instantaneously, and in a
narrow compass, but exert them in large portions of time and space. Thus
predictions as to the temperature of a year may hold good, but not with
regard to single days. 5. There is no fatal necessity in the stars; and
this the more prudent astrologers have constantly allowed. 6. We will
add one thing more, which, if amended and improved, might make for
astrology--viz. that we are certain the celestial bodies have other
influences besides heat and light, but these influences act not
otherwise than by the foregoing rules, though they lie so deep in
physics as to require a fuller explanation. So that, upon the whole, we
must register as needed,[6] an astrology written in conformity with
these principles, under the name of _Astrologia Sana_.'

He then proceeds to show what this just astrology should comprehend--as,
1, the doctrine of the commixture of rays; 2, the effect of nearest
approaches and farthest removes of planets to and from the point
overhead (the planets, like the sun, having their summer and winter); 3,
the effects of distance, 'with a proper enquiry into what the vigour of
the planets may perform of itself, and what through their nearness to
us; for,' he adds, but unfortunately without assigning any reason for
the statement, 'a planet is more brisk when most remote, but more
communicative when nearest;' 4, the other accidents of the planet's
motions as they pursue

  Their wand'ring course, now high, now low, then hid,
  Progressive, retrograde, or standing still;

5, all that can be discovered of the general nature of the planets and
fixed stars, considered in their own essence and activity; 6, lastly,
let this just astrology, he says, 'contain, from tradition, the
particular natures and alterations of the planets and fixed stars; for'
(here is a reason indeed) 'as these are delivered with general consent,
they are not lightly to be rejected, unless they directly contradict
physical considerations. Of such observations let a just astrology be
formed; and according to these alone should schemes of the heavens be
made and interpreted.'

The astrology thus regarded by Bacon as sane and just did not differ, as
to its primary object, from the false systems which now seem to us so
absurd. 'Let this astrology be used with greater confidence in
prediction,' says Bacon, 'but more cautiously in election, and in both
cases with due moderation. Thus predictions may be made of comets, and
all kinds of meteors, inundations, droughts, heats, frosts, earthquakes,
fiery eruptions, winds, great rains, the seasons of the year, plagues,
epidemic diseases, plenty, famine, wars, seditions, sects,
transmigrations of people, and all commotions, or great innovations of
things, natural and civil. Predictions may possibly be made more
particular, though with less certainty, if, when the general tendencies
of the times are found, a good philosophical or political judgment
applies them to such things as are most liable to accidents of this
kind. For example, from a foreknowledge of the seasons of any year, they
might be apprehended more destructive to olives than grapes, more
hurtful in distempers of the lungs than the liver, more pernicious to
the inhabitants of hills than valleys, and, for want of provisions, to
monks than courtiers, etc. Or if any one, from a knowledge of the
influence which the celestial bodies have upon the spirits of mankind,
should find it would affect the people more than their rulers, learned
and inquisitive men more than the military, etc. For there are
innumerable things of this kind that require not only a general
knowledge gained from the stars which are the agents, but also a
particular one of the passive subjects. Nor are elections to be wholly
rejected, though not so much to be trusted as predictions; for we find
in planting, sowing, and grafting, observations of the moon are not
absolutely trifling, and there are many particulars of this kind. But
elections are more to be curbed by our rules than predictions; and this
must always be remembered, that election only holds in such cases where
the virtue of the heavenly bodies, and the action of the inferior bodies
also, is not transient, as in the examples just mentioned; for the
increases of the moon and planets are not sudden things. But punctuality
of time should here be absolutely rejected. And perhaps there are more
of these instances to be found in civil matters than some would

The method of inquiry suggested by Bacon as proper for determining the
just rules of the astrology he advocated, was, as might be expected,
chiefly inductive. There are, said he, 'but four ways of arriving at
this science, viz.--1, by future experiments; 2, past experiments; 3,
traditions; 4, physical reasons.' But he was not very hopeful as to the
progress of the suggested researches. It is vain, he said, to think at
present of future experiments, because many ages are required to procure
a competent stock of them. As for the past, it is true that past
experiments are within our reach, 'but it is a work of labour and much
time to procure them. Thus astrologers may, if they please, draw from
real history all greater accidents, as inundations, plagues, wars,
seditions, deaths of kings, etc., as also the positions of the celestial
bodies, not according to fictitious horoscopes, but the above-mentioned
rules of their revolutions, or such as they really were at the time,
and, when the event conspires, erect a probable rule of prediction.'
Traditions would require to be carefully sifted, and those thrown out
which manifestly clashed with physical considerations, leaving those in
full force which complied with such considerations. Lastly, the physical
reasons worthiest of being enquired into are those, said Bacon, 'which
search into the universal appetites and passions of matter, and the
simple genuine motions of the heavenly bodies.'

It is evident there was much which, in our time at least, would be
regarded as wild and fanciful in the 'sound and just astrology'
advocated by Bacon. Yet, in passing, it may be noticed that even in our
own time we have seen similar ideas promulgated, not by common
astrologers and fortune-tellers (who, indeed, know nothing about such
matters), but by persons supposed to be well-informed in matters
scientific. In a roundabout way, a new astrology has been suggested,
which is not at all unlike Bacon's 'astrologia sana,' though not based,
as he proposed that astrology should be, on experiment, or tradition, or
physical reasons. It has been suggested, first, that the seasons of our
earth are affected by the condition of the sun in the matter of spots,
and very striking evidence has been collected to show that this must be
the case. For instance, it has been found that years when the sun has
been free from spots have been warmer than the average; and it has also
been found that such years have been cooler than the average: a
double-shotted argument wholly irresistible, especially when it is also
found that when the sun has many spots the weather has sometimes been
exceptionally warm and sometimes exceptionally cold. If this be not
considered sufficient, then note that in one country or continent or
hemisphere the weather, when the sun is most spotted (or least, as the
case may be), may be singularly hot, while in another country,
continent, or hemisphere, the weather may be as singularly cold. So with
wind and calm, rain and drought, and so forth. Always, whether the sun
is very much spotted or quite free from spots, something unusual in the
way of weather must be going on somewhere, demonstrating in the most
significant way the influence of sun-spots or the want of sun-spots on
the weather. It is true that captious minds might say that this method
of reasoning proved too much in many ways, as, for example,
thus--always, whether the sun is very much spotted or quite free from
spots, some remarkable event, as a battle, massacre, domestic tragedy on
a large scale, or the like, may be going on, demonstrating in the most
significant way the influence of sun-spots or the want of sun-spots on
the passions of men--which sounds absurd. But the answer is twofold.
First, such reasoning is captious, and secondly, it is not certain that
sun-spots, or the want of them, may not influence human passions; it may
be worth while to enquire into this possible solar influence as well as
the other, which can be done by crossing the hands of the new
fortune-tellers with a sufficient amount of that precious metal which
astrologers have in all ages dedicated to the sun.

That the new system of divination is not solely solar, but partly
planetary also, is seen when we remember that the sun-spots wax and wane
in periods of time which are manifestly referable to the planetary
motions. Thus, the great solar spot-period lasts about eleven years, the
successive spotless epochs being separated on the average by about that
time; and so nearly does this period agree with the period of the planet
Jupiter's revolution around the sun, that during eight consecutive
spot-periods the spots were most numerous when Jupiter was farthest from
the sun, and it is only by going back to the periods preceding these
eight that we find a time when the reverse happened, the spots being
most numerous when Jupiter was nearest to the sun. So with various other
periods which the ingenuity of Messrs. De la Rue and Balfour Stewart has
detected, and which, under the closest scrutiny, exhibit almost exact
agreement for many successive periods, preceded and followed by almost
exact disagreement. Here, again, the captious may argue that such
alternate agreements and disagreements may be noted in every case where
two periods are not very unequal, whether there be any connection
between them or not; but much more frequently when there is no
connection: and that the only evidence really proving a connection
between planetary motions and the solar spots would be constant
agreement between solar spot periods and particular planetary periods.
But the progress of science, and especially the possible erection of a
new observatory for finding out ('for a consideration') how sun-spots
affect the weather, etc., ought not to be interfered with by captious
reasoners in this objectionable manner. Nor need any other answer be
given them. Seeing, then, that sun-spots manifestly affect the weather
and the seasons, while the planets rule the sun-spots, it is clear that
the planets really rule the seasons. And again, seeing that the planets
rule the seasons, while the seasons largely affect the well-being of men
and nations (to say nothing of animals), it follows that the planets
influence the fates of men and nations (and animals). _Quod erat

Let us return, however, to the more reasonable astrology of the
ancients, and enquire into some of the traditions which Bacon considered
worthy of attention in framing the precepts of a sound and just

It was natural that the astrologers of old should regard the planetary
influences as depending in the main on the position of the celestial
bodies on the sky above the person or place whose fortunes were in
question. Thus two men at the same moment in Rome and in Persia would by
no means have the same horoscope cast for their nativities, so that
their fortunes, according to the principles of judicial astrology, would
be quite different. In fact it might happen that two men, born at the
same instant of time, would have all the principal circumstances of
their lives contrasted--planets riding high in the heavens of one being
below the horizon of the other, and _vice versâ_.

The celestial sphere placed as at the moment of the native's birth was
divided into twelve parts by great circles supposed to pass through the
point overhead, and its opposite, the point vertically beneath the feet.
These twelve divisions were called 'houses.'

Their position is illustrated in the following figure, taken from
Raphaël's Astrology.


  Particular Significations
  _Twelve Celestial Houses_,
  According to various
  Astrological Authors.


  Cusp of the


  Cusp of the
  _Second House_.


  Cusp of the
  _Third House_.


  Cusp of the
  _Fourth House_.



  Cusp of the
  _Fifth House_.


  Cusp of the
  _Sixth House_.


  Cusp of the
  _Seventh House_.



  Cusp of the
  _Eighth House_.


  Cusp of the
  _Ninth House_.


  Cusp of the



  Cusp of the
  _Eleventh House_.


  Cusp of the
  _Twelfth House_.



The first, called the Ascendant House, was the portion rising above the
horizon at the east. It was regarded as the House of Life, the planets
located therein at the moment of birth having most potent influence on
the life and destiny of the native. Such planets were said to rule the
ascendant, being in the ascending house; and it is from this usage that
our familiar expression that such and such an influence is 'in the
ascendant' is derived. The next house was the House of Riches, and was
one-third of the way from the east below the horizon towards the place
of the sun at midnight. The third was the House of Kindred, short
journeys, letters, messages, etc. It was two-thirds of the way towards
the place of the midnight sun. The fourth was the House of Parents, and
was the house which the sun reached at midnight. The fifth was the House
of Children and Women, also of all sorts of amusements, theatres,
banquets, and merry-making. The sixth was the House of Sickness. The
seventh was the House of Love and Marriage. These three houses (the
fifth, sixth, and seventh) followed in order from the fourth, so as to
correspond to the part of the sun's path below the horizon, between his
place at midnight and his place when descending in the west. The
seventh, opposite to the first, was the Descendant. The eighth house was
the first house above the horizon, lying to the west, and was the House
of Death. The ninth house, next to the mid-heaven on the west, was the
House of Religion, science, learning, books, and long voyages. The
tenth, which was in the mid-heaven, or region occupied by the sun at
midday, was the House of Honour, denoting credit, renown, profession or
calling, trade, preferment, etc. The eleventh house, next to the
mid-heaven on the east, was the House of Friends. Lastly, the twelfth
house was the House of Enemies.

The houses were not all of equal potency. The _angular_ houses, which
are the first, the fourth, the seventh, and the tenth--lying east,
north, west, and south--were first in power, whether for good or evil.
The second, fifth, eighth, and eleventh houses were called _succedents_,
as following the angular houses, and next to them in power. The
remaining four houses--viz. the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth
houses--were called _cadents_, and were regarded as weakest in
influence. The houses were regarded as alternately masculine and
feminine: the first, third, fifth, etc., being masculine; while the
second, fourth, sixth, etc., were feminine.

The more particular significations of the various houses are shown in
the accompanying figure from the same book.


  representing at one view the
  various symbolical significations
  of the
  _Twelve Heavenly Houses_;
  according to ancient manuscript
  writers of the twelfth century;
  _and not to be found in Authors_.

  friends, fathers
  of kings, sickness of
  public enemies, wives of
  enemies, death of servants,
  long journeys of children, friends
  of brethren, thoughts of the asker.

  The end of youth, brethren of private
  enemies, fathers and grandsires of
  friends, king's sons, enemies
  of wives, magistery of
  children, private
  enemies of

  churches, fathers
  of private enemies, sons
  of friends, sickness of kings,
  enemies of the religious, trade of
  servants, private enemies of fathers.

  Dead men's goods, castles, treasure hid,
  the fate of the corpse in the grave,
  money of brethren, children
  of private enemies, sickness
  of friends, king's
  enemies, friends
  of servants.

  dice, brethren's
  brethren, father's money,
  sickness of private enemies,
  enemies of friends, death of kings,
  friends of enemies, enemies of servants.

  Vassals, children's money, brethren's
  fathers, father's brethren, enemies'
  enemies, death of friends,
  journeys and religion of
  kings, lay dignities,
  enemies of

  pleas, laws,
  nuptials, death of
  enemies, friends of brethren,
  sons of friends, sisters
  of brethren, death of enemies and
  of great beasts, religion of friends.

  Labour, sorrow, inheritance of the dead,
  money of enemies, brethren of servants,
  sickness of brethren,
  dignity of friends, king's
  friends, enemies
  of religious

  Prophets, prayers, visions, omens, divine
  worship, wife's brethren, fathers of
  servants, children's children,
  sickness of fathers, enemies
  of brethren,
  friends of friends,
  enemies of

  Judges, brethren
  of enemies,
  servants, fathers of enemies,
  children of servants,
  sickness of sons, death of brethren,
  friends of enemies, enemies of friends.

  Knights, esquires, children of enemies,
  sickness of servants, enemies
  and wives of offspring,
  death of fathers, journeys
  of brethren, enemies
  of enemies.

  Envy, sorrow, guile, long hidden wrath,
  money of friends, brethren of kings,
  sickness of wives, servants'
  enemies, death of children,
  trade of brethren,
  a prison.


It will be easily understood how these houses were dealt with in
erecting a scheme of nativity. The position of the planets at the moment
of the native's birth, in the several houses, determined his fortunes
with regard to the various matters associated with these houses. Thus
planets of good influence in the native's ascendant, or first house,
signified generally a prosperous life; but if at the same epoch a planet
of malefic influence was in the seventh house, then the native, though
on the whole prosperous, would be unfortunate in marriage. A good planet
in the tenth house signified good fortune and honour in office or
business, and generally a prosperous career as distinguished from a
happy life; but evil planets in the ninth house would suggest to the
native caution in undertaking long voyages, or entering upon religious
or scientific controversies.

Similar considerations applied to questions relating to horary
astronomy, in which the position of the planets in the various houses at
some epoch guided the astrologer's opinion as to the fortune of that
hour, either in the life of a man or the career of a State. In such
inquiries, however, not only the position of the planets, etc., at the
time had to be considered, but also the original horoscope of the
person, or the special planets and signs associated with particular
States. Thus if Jupiter, the most fortunate of all the planets, was in
the ascendant, or in the House of Honour, at the time of the native's
birth, and at some epoch this planet was ill-aspected or afflicted by
other planets potent for evil in the native's horoscope, then that epoch
would be a threatening one in the native's career.

The sign Gemini was regarded by astrologers as especially associated
with the fortunes of London, and accordingly they tell us that the great
fire of London, the plague, the building of London Bridge, and other
events interesting to London, all occurred when this sign was in the
ascendant, or when special planets were in this sign.[7]

The signs of the zodiac in the various houses were in the first place
to be noted, because not only had these signs special powers in special
houses, but the effects of the planets in particular houses varied
according to the signs in which the planets were situated. If we were to
follow the description given by the astrologers themselves, not much
insight would be thrown upon the meaning of the zodiacal signs. For
instance, astrologers say that Aries is a vernal, dry, fiery, masculine,
cardinal, equinoctial, diurnal, movable, commanding, eastern, choleric,
violent, and quadrupedalian sign. We may, however, infer generally from
their accounts the influences which they assigned to the zodiacal signs.

Aries is the house and joy of Mars, signifies a dry constitution, long
face and neck, thick shoulders, swarthy complexion, and a hasty,
passionate temper. It governs the head and face, and all diseases
relating thereto. It reigns over England, France, Switzerland, Germany,
Denmark, Lesser Poland, Syria, Naples, Capua, Verona, etc. It is a
masculine sign, and is regarded as fortunate.

Taurus gives to the native born under his auspices a stout athletic
frame, broad bull-like forehead, dark curly hair, short neck, and so
forth, and a dull apathetic temper, exceedingly cruel and malicious if
once aroused. It governs the neck and throat, and reigns over Ireland,
Great Poland, part of Russia, Holland, Persia, Asia Minor, the
Archipelago, Mantua, Leipsic, etc. It is a feminine sign, and

Gemini is the house of Mercury. The native of Gemini will have a
sanguine complexion and tall, straight figure, dark eyes quick and
piercing, brown hair, active ways, and will be of exceedingly ingenious
intellect. It governs the arms and shoulders, and rules over the
south-west parts of England, America, Flanders, Lombardy, Sardinia,
Armenia, Lower Egypt, London, Versailles, Brabant, etc. It is a
masculine sign, and fortunate.

Cancer is the house of the Moon and exaltation of Jupiter, and its
native will be of fair but pale complexion, round face, grey or mild
blue eyes, weak voice, the upper part of the body large, slender arms,
small feet, and an effeminate constitution. It governs the breast and
the stomach, and reigns over Scotland, Holland, Zealand, Burgundy,
Africa, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Constantinople, New York, etc. It is a
feminine sign, and unfortunate.

The native born under Leo will be of large body, broad shoulders,
austere countenance, with dark eyes and tawny hair, strong voice, and
leonine character, resolute and ambitious, but generous, free, and
courteous. Leo governs the heart and back, and reigns over Italy,
Bohemia, France, Sicily, Rome, Bristol, Bath, Taunton, Philadelphia,
etc. It is a masculine sign, and fortunate.

Virgo is the joy of Mercury. Its natives are of moderate stature, seldom
handsome, slender but compact, thrifty and ingenious. It governs the
abdomen, and reigns over Turkey both in Europe and Asia, Greece, and
Mesopotamia, Crete, Jerusalem, Paris, Lyons, etc. It is a feminine sign,
and generally unfortunate.

Libra is the house of Venus. The natives of Libra are tall and well
made, elegant in person, round-faced and ruddy, but plain-featured and
'inclined to eruptions that disfigure the face when old; they' (the
natives) 'are of sweet disposition, just and upright in dealing.' It
governs the lumbar regions, and reigns over Austria, Alsace, Savoy,
Portugal, Livonia, India, Ethiopia, Lisbon, Vienna, Frankfort, Antwerp,
Charleston, etc. It is a masculine sign, and fortunate.

Scorpio is, like Aries, the house of Mars, 'and also his joy.' Its
natives are strong, corpulent, and robust, with large bones, 'dark curly
hair and eyes' (presumably the eyes dark only, not curly), middle
stature, dusky complexion, active bodies; they are usually reserved in
speech. It governs the region of the groin, and reigns over Judæa,
Mauritania, Catalonia, Norway, West Silesia, Upper Batavia, Barbary,
Morocco, Valentia, Messina, etc. It is feminine, and unfortunate. (It
would appear likely, by the way, that astrology was a purely masculine

Sagittarius is the house and joy of Jupiter. Its natives are well formed
and tall, ruddy, handsome, and jovial, with fine clear eyes, chestnut
hair, and oval fleshy face. They are 'generally jolly fellows at either
bin or board,' active, intrepid, generous, and obliging. It governs the
legs and thighs,[8] and reigns over Arabia Felix, Spain, Hungary,
Moravia, Liguria, Narbonne, Cologne, Avignon, etc. It is masculine, and
of course fortunate.

Capricorn is the house of Saturn and exaltation of Mars. This sign gives
to its natives a dry constitution and slender make, with a long thin
visage, thin beard (a generally goaty aspect, in fact), dark hair, long
neck, narrow chin, and weak knees. It governs, nevertheless, the knees
and hams, and reigns over India, Macedonia, Thrace and Greece, Mexico,
Saxony, Wilna, Mecklenburgh, Brandenburg, and Oxford. It is feminine,
and unfortunate.

Aquarius also is the house of Saturn. Its natives are robust, steady,
strong, healthy, and of middle stature; delicate complexion, clear but
not pale, sandy hair, hazel eyes, and generally an honest disposition.
It governs the legs and ankles, and reigns over Arabia, Petræa, Tartary,
Russia, Denmark, Lower Sweden, Westphalia, Hamburg, and Bremen. It is
masculine, and fortunate.

Pisces is the house of Jupiter and exaltation of Venus. Its natives are
short, pale, thick-set, and round-shouldered (like fish), its character
phlegmatic and effeminate. It governs the feet and toes, and reigns over
Portugal, Spain, Egypt, Normandy, Galicia, Ratisbon, Calabria, etc. It
is feminine, and therefore, naturally, unfortunate.

Let us next consider the influences assigned to the various planets and

Though we can understand that in old times the planets and stars were
regarded as exercising very potent influences upon the fates of men and
nations,[9] it is by no means easy to understand how astrologers came to
assign to each planet its special influence. That is, it is not easy to
understand how they could have been led to such a result by actual
reasoning, still less by any process of observation.[10] There was a
certain scientific basis for the belief in the possibility of
determining the special influences of the stars; and we should have
expected to find some scientific process adopted for the purpose. Yet,
so far as can be judged, the influences assigned to the planets depended
on entirely fanciful considerations. In some cases we seem almost to see
the line along which the fancies of the old astrologers led them, just
as in some cases we can perceive how mythological superstitions (which
are closely related to astrological ideas) had their origin; though it
is not quite clear whether the planets were first regarded as deities
with special qualities, and these qualities afterwards assigned to the
planetary influences, or whether the planetary influences were first
assigned, and came eventually to be regarded as the qualities of the
deities associated with the several planets.

It is easy, for instance, to understand why astrologers should have
regarded the sun as the emblem of kingly power and dignity, and equally
easy to understand why, to the sun regarded as a deity, corresponding
qualities should have been ascribed; but it is not easy to determine
whether the astrological or the Sabaistic superstitions were the
earlier. And in like manner of the moon and planets. There seems to me
no sufficient evidence in favour of Whewell's opinion, that 'in whatever
manner the sun, moon, and planets came to be identified with gods and
goddesses, the characters ascribed to these gods and goddesses,
regulated the virtues and powers of the stars which bear their names.'
As he himself very justly remarks, 'We do not possess any of the
speculations of the earlier astrologers; and we cannot, therefore, be
certain that the notions which operated in men's minds when the art had
its birth, agreed with the views on which it was afterwards defended.'
He does not say why he infers that, though at later periods supported by
physical analogies, it was originally suggested by mythological beliefs.
Quite as probably mythological beliefs were suggested by astrological
notions. Some of these beliefs, indeed, seem manifestly to have been so
suggested; as the character of the deity Mercury, from the rapid motions
of the planet Mercury, and the difficulty of detecting it; the character
of Mars from the blood-red hue of the planet when close to the horizon,
and so forth.

Let us examine, however, the characteristics ascribed by astrologers to
various planets.

It is unfortunate for astrology that, despite the asserted careful
comparison of events with the planetary positions preceding and
indicating them, nothing was ever observed which seemed to suggest the
possibility that there may be an unknown planet ruling very strongly the
affairs of men. Astrologers tell us now that Uranus is a very potent
planet; yet the old astrologers seem to have got on very well without
him. By the way, one of the moderns, the grave Raphaël, gives a very
singular account of the discovery of Uranus, in a book published sixteen
years before Neptune was discovered by just such a process as Raphaël
imagined in the case of Uranus. He says that Drs. Halley, Bradley, and
others, having frequently observed that Saturn was disturbed in his
motion by some force exerted from beyond his orbit, and being unable to
account for the disturbance on the known principles of gravitation,
pursued their enquiry into the matter, 'till at length the discovery of
this hitherto unknown planet covered their labours with success, and has
enabled us to enlarge our present solar system to nearly double its
bounds.' Of course there is not a word of truth in this; Uranus having
been discovered by accident long after Halley and Bradley were in the
grave. But the account suggests what might have been, and curiously
anticipates the actual manner in which Neptune was discovered.

Astrologers agree in attributing evil effects to Uranus. But the evil he
does is always peculiarly strange, unaccountable, and totally
unexpected. He causes the native born under his influence to be of a
very eccentric and original disposition, romantic, unsettled, addicted
to change, a seeker after novelty; though, if the moon or Mercury have a
good aspect towards Uranus, the native will be profound in the secret
sciences, magnanimous, and lofty of mind. But let all beware of marriage
when Uranus is in the seventh house, or afflicting the moon. And in
general, let the fair sex remember that Uranus is peculiarly hostile to
them, and very evil in love.

Saturn is the Greater Infortune of the old system of astrology, and is
by universal experience acknowledged to be the most potent, evil, and
malignant of all the planets. Those born under him are of dark and pale
complexion, with small, black, leering eyes, thick lips and nostrils,
large ears, thin face, lowering looks, cloudy aspect, and seemingly
melancholy and unhappy; and though they have broad shoulders, they have
but short lips and a thin beard, They are in character austere and
reserved, covetous, laborious, and revengeful; constant in friendship,
and good haters. The most remarkable and certain characteristic of the
Saturnine man is that, as an old author observes 'he will never look
thee in the face.' 'If they have to love any one, these Saturnines,'
says another old author, 'they love most constantly; and if they hate,
they hate to the death.' The persons signified symbolically by Saturn
are grandparents, and other old persons, day labourers, paupers,
beggars, clowns, husbandmen of the meaner sort, and especially
undertakers, sextons, and gravediggers. Chaucer thus presents the chief
effects which Saturn produces in the fortunes of men and nations--Saturn
himself being the speaker:--

          ... quod Saturne
  My cours, that hath so wide for to turne,
  Hath more power than wot any man.
  Min is the drenching in the sea so wan,
  Min is the prison in the derke cote,
  Min is the strangel and hanging by the throte,
  The murmure and the cherles rebelling,
  The groyning, and the prive empoysoning,
  I do vengaunce and pleine correction,
  While I dwell in the signe of the leon;
  Min is the ruine of the high halles,
  The falling of the toures and of the walles
  Upon the minour or the carpenter:
  I slew Sampson in shaking the piler.
  Min ben also the maladies colde,
  The derke tresons, and the castes olde:
  My loking is the fader of pestilence.

Jupiter, on the contrary, though Saturn's next neighbour in the solar
system, produces effects of an entirely contrary kind. He is, in fact,
the most propitious of all the planets, and the native born under his
influence has every reason to be jovial in fact as he is by nature. Such
a native will be tall and fair, handsome and erect, robust, ruddy, and
altogether a good-looking person, whether male or female. The native
will also be religious, or at least a good moral honest man, unless
Jupiter be afflicted by the aspects of Saturn, Mars, or Uranus; in which
case he may still be a jolly fellow, no man's enemy but his own--only he
will probably be his own enemy to a very considerable extent,
squandering his means and ruining his health by gluttony and
intoxication. The persons represented by Jupiter (when he is not
afflicted) are judges, counsellors, church dignitaries, from cardinals
to curates, scholars, chancellors, barristers, and the highest orders of
lawyers, woollendrapers (possibly there may be some astral significance
in the woolsack), and clothiers. When Jupiter is afflicted, however, he
denotes quacks and mountebanks, knaves, cheats, and drunkards. The
influence of the planet on the fortunes is nearly always good.
Astrologers, who to a man reverence dignities, consider Great Britain
fortunate in that the lady whom, with customary effusion, they term 'Our
Most Gracious Queen,' was born when Jupiter was riding high in the
heavens near his culmination, this position promising a most fortunate
and happy career. The time has passed when the fortunes of this country
were likely to be affected by such things; but we may hope, for the
lady's own sake, that this prediction has been fulfilled. Astrologers
assert the same about the Duke of Wellington, assigning midnight, May 1,
1769, as the hour of his birth. There is some doubt both as to the date
and place of the great soldier's birth; but the astrologer finds in the
facts of his life the means of removing all such doubts.[11]

Next in order comes Mars, inferior only in malefic influence to Saturn,
and called by the old astrologers the Lesser Infortune. The native born
under the influence of Mars is usually of fierce countenance, his eyes
sparkling, or sharp and darting, his complexion fiery or yellowish, and
his countenance scarred or furrowed. His hair is reddish or sandy,
unless Mars chances to be in a watery sign, in which case the hair will
be flaxen; or in an earthly sign, in which case the hair will be
chestnut. The Martialist is broad-shouldered, steady, and strong, but
short,[12] and often bony and lean. In character the Martialist is fiery
and choleric, naturally delighting in war and contention, but generous
and magnanimous. This when Mars is well aspected; should the planet be
evil aspected, then will the native be treacherous, thievish,
treasonable, cruel, and wicked. The persons signified by Mars are
generals, soldiers, sailors (if he is in a watery sign), surgeons,
chemists, doctors, armourers, barbers, curriers, smiths, carpenters,
bricklayers, sculptors, cooks, and tailors. When afflicted with Mercury
or the moon, he denotes thieves, hangmen, and 'all cut throat people.'
In fact, except the ploughboy, who belongs to Saturn, all the members of
the old septet, 'tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, apothecary, ploughboy,
thief,' are favourites with Mars. The planet's influence is not quite so
evil as Saturn's, nor are the effects produced by it so long-lasting.
'The influence of Saturn,' says an astrologer, 'may be compared to a
lingering but fatal consumption; that of Mars to a burning fever.' He is
the cause of anger, quarrels, violence, war, and slaughter.

The sun comes next; for it must be remembered that, according to the old
system of astronomy, the sun was a planet. Persons born under the sun as
the planet ruling their ascendant, would be more apt to be aware of the
fact than Saturnine, Jovial, Martial, or any other folk, because the
hour of birth, if remembered, at once determines whether the native is a
solar subject or not. The solar native has generally a round face (like
pictures of the sun in old books of astronomy), with a short chin; his
complexion somewhat sanguine; curling sandy hair, and a white tender
skin. As to character, he is bold and resolute, desirous of praise, of
slow speech and composed judgment; outwardly decorous, but privately not
altogether virtuous. The sun, in fact, according to astrologers, is the
natural significator of respectability; for which I can discover no
reason, unless it be that the sun travelling always in the ecliptic has
no latitude, and so solar folk are allowed none. When the sun is ill
aspected, the native is both proud and mean, tyrannical and sycophantic,
exceedingly unamiable, and generally disliked because of his arrogance
and ignorant pomposity. The persons signified by the sun are emperors,
kings, and titled folk generally, goldsmiths, jewellers, and coiners.
When 'afflicted,' the sun signifies pretenders either to power or
knowledge. The sun's influence is not in itself either good or evil, but
is most powerful for good when he is favourably aspected, and for evil
when he is afflicted by other planets.

Venus, the next in order, bore the same relation to the Greater Fortune
Jupiter which Mars bore to Saturn the Greater Ill-fortune. She was the
Lesser Fortune, and her influence was in nearly all respects benevolent.
The persons born under the influence of this planet are handsome, with
beautiful sparkling hazel or black eyes (but another authority assigns
the subject of Venus, 'a full eye, usually we say goggle-eyed,' by which
we do not usually imply beauty), ruddy lips, the upper lip short, soft
smooth hair, dimples in the cheek and chin, an amorous look and a sweet
voice. One old astrologer puts the matter thus pleasantly:--'The native
of Venus hath,' quoth he, 'a love-dimple in the chin, a lovely mouth,
cherry lips, and a right merry countenance.' In character the native of
Venus is merry 'to a fault,' but of temper engaging, sweet and cheerful,
unless she be ill aspected, when her native is apt to be too fond of
pleasure and amusement. That her influence is good is shown (in the
opinion of Raphaël, writing in 1828) by the character of George IV.,
'our present beloved monarch and most gracious majesty, who was born
just as this benevolent star' was in the ascendant; 'for it is well
known to all Europe what a refined and polished genius, and what
exquisite taste, the King of England possesses, which therefore may be
cited as a most illustrious proof of the celestial science; a proof
likewise which is palpably demonstrable, even to the most casual
observer, since the time of his nativity is taken from the public
journals of the period, and cannot be gainsaid.' 'This illustrious and
regal horoscope is replete with wonderful verifications of planetary
influence, and England cannot but prosper while she is blessed with the
mild and beneficent sway of this potent monarch.' Strengthened in faith
by this convincing proof of the celestial science, we proceed to notice
that Venus is the protectrice of musicians, embroiderers, perfumers,
classic modellers, and all who work in elegant attire or administer to
the luxuries of the great; but when she is afflicted, she represents
'the lower orders of the votaries of voluptuousness.'

Mercury is considered by astrologers 'a cold, dry, melancholy star.' The
Mercurial is neither dark nor fair, but between both, long-faced, with
high forehead and thin sharp nose, 'thin beard (many times none at all),
slender of body, and with small weak eyes;' long slender hands and
fingers are 'especial marks of Mercury,' says Raphaël. In character the
Mercurial is busy and prattling. But when well affected, Mercury gives
his subjects a strong, vigorous, active mind, searching and exhaustive,
a retentive memory, a natural thirst for knowledge.[13] The persons
signified by Mercury are astrologers, philosophers, mathematicians,
politicians, merchants, travellers, teachers, poets, artificers, men of
science, and all ingenious, clever men. When he is ill affected,
however, he represents pettifoggers, cunning vile persons, thieves,
messengers, footmen, and servants, etc.

The moon comes last in planetary sequence, as nearest to the earth. She
is regarded by astrologers as a cold, moist, watery, phlegmatic planet,
variable to an extreme, and, like the sun, partaking of good or evil
according as she is aspected favourably or the reverse. Her natives are
of good stature, fair, and pale, moon-faced, with grey eyes, short arms,
thick hands and feet, smooth, corpulent and phlegmatic body. When she is
in watery signs, the native has freckles on the face, or, says Lilly,
'he or she is blub-cheeked, not a handsome body, but a muddling
creature.' Unless the moon is very well aspected, she ever signifies an
ordinary vulgar person. She signifies sailors (not as Mars does, the
fighting-men of war-ships, but nautical folk generally) and all persons
connected with water or any kind of fluid; also all who are engaged in
inferior and common offices.

We may note, in passing, that to each planet a special metal is
assigned, as also particular colours. Chaucer, in the Chanones Yemannes'
Tale, succinctly describes the distribution of the metals among the

  Sol gold is, and Luna silver we threpe;
  Mars iren, Mercurie silver we clepe:
  Saturnus led, and Jupiter is tin,
  And Venus coper, by my [the Chanones Yemannes'] faderkin.

The colours are thus assigned:--to Saturn, black; to Jupiter, mixed red
and green; to Mars, red; to the sun, yellow or yellow-purple; to Venus,
white or purple; to Mercury, azure blue; to the moon, a colour spotted
with white and other mixed colours.

Again, the planets were supposed to have special influence on the seven
ages of human life. The infant, 'mewling and puking in the nurse's
arms,' was very appropriately dedicated to the moist moon; the whining
schoolboy (did schoolboys whine in the days of good Queen Bess?) was
less appropriately assigned to Mercury, the patron of those who eagerly
seek after knowledge: then very naturally, the lover sighing like
furnace was regarded as the special favourite of Venus. Thus far the
order has been that of the seven planets of the ancient astrology, in
supposed distance. Now, however, we have to pass over the sun, finding
Mars the patron of mid life, appropriately (in this respect) presiding
over the soldier full of strange oaths, and so forth; the 'justice in
fair round belly with good capon lined' is watched over by the
respectable sun; maturer age by Jupiter; and, lastly, old age by Saturn.

Colours were also assigned to the twelve zodiacal signs--to Aries, white
and red; to Taurus, white and lemon; to Gemini, white and red (the same
as Aries); to Cancer, green or russet; to Leo, red or green; to Virgo,
black speckled with blue; to Libra, black, or dark crimson, or tawny
colour; to Scorpio, brown; to Sagittarius, yellow, or a green sanguine
(this is as strange a colour as the _gris rouge_ of Molière's
_L'Avare_); Capricorn, black or russet, or a swarthy brown; to Aquarius,
a sky-coloured blue; to Pisces, white glistening colour (like a fish
just taken out of the water).

The chief fixed stars had various influences assigned to them by
astrologers. These influences were mostly associated with the imaginary
figures of the constellations. Thus the bright star in the head of
Aries, called by some the Ram's Horn, was regarded as dangerous and
evil, denoting bodily hurts. The star Menkar in the Whale's jaw denoted
sickness, disgrace, and ill-fortune, with danger from great beasts.
Betelgeux, the bright star on Orion's right shoulder, denoted martial
honours or wealth; Bellatrix, the star on Orion's left shoulder, denoted
military or civic honours; Rigel, on Orion's left foot, denoted honours;
Sirius and Procyon, the greater and lesser Dog Stars, both implied
wealth and renown. Star clusters seem to have portended loss of sight;
at least we learn that the Pleiades were 'eminent stars,' but denoting
accidents to the sight or blindness, while the cluster Præsepe or the
Beehive in like manner threatened blindness. The cluster in Perseus does
not seem to have been noticed by astrologers. The variable star Algol or
Caput Medusæ, which marks the head of Gorgon, was accounted 'the most
unfortunate, violent, and dangerous star in the heavens.' It is
tolerably clear that the variable character of this star had been
detected long before Montanari (to whom the discovery is commonly
attributed) noticed the phenomenon. The name Algol is only a variation
of Al-ghúl, the monster or demon, and it cannot be doubted that the
demoniac, Gorgonian character assigned to this star was suggested by its
ominous change, as though it were the eye of some fierce monster slowly
winking amid the gloom of space. The two stars called the Aselli, which
lie on either side of the cluster Præsepe, 'are said' (by astrologers)
'to be of a burning nature, and to give great indications of a violent
death, or of violent and severe accidents by fire.' The star called Cor
Hydræ, or the serpent's heart, denotes trouble through women (said I not
rightly that Astrology was a masculine science?); the Lion's heart,
Regulus, implied glory and riches; Deneb, the Lion's tail, misfortune
and disgrace. The southern scale of Libra meant bad fortune, while the
northern was eminently fortunate.

Astrology was divided into three distinct branches--the doctrine of
nativities, horary astrology, and state astrology. The first assigned
the rules for determining the general fortunes of the native, by drawing
up his scheme of nativity or casting his horoscope. It took into account
the positions of the various planets, signs, stars, etc., at the time of
the native's birth; and as the astrologer could calculate the movements
of the planets thereafter, he could find when those planets which were
observed by the horoscope to be most closely associated with the
native's fortunes would be well aspected or the reverse. Thus the
auspicious and unlucky epochs of the native's life could be
predetermined. The astrologer also claimed some degree of power to rule
the planets, not by modifying their movements in any way, but by
indicating in what way the ill effects portended by their positions
could be prevented. The Arabian and Persian astrologers, having less
skill than the followers of Ptolemy, made use of a different method of
determining the fortunes of men, not calculating the positions of the
planets for many years following the birth of the native, but assigning
to every day after his birth a whole year of his life and for every two
hours' motion of the moon one month. Thus the positions of the stars and
planets, twenty-one days after the birth of the native, would indicate
the events corresponding to the time when he would have completed his
twenty-first year. There was another system called the Placidian, in
which the effects of the positions of the planets were judged with sole
reference to the motion of the earth upon her axis. It is satisfactory
to find astrologers in harmony amongst each other as to these various
methods, which one would have supposed likely to give entirely different
results. 'Each of them,' says a modern astrologer, 'is not only correct
and approved by long-tried practice, but may be said to defy the least
contradiction from those who will but take the pains to examine them
(and no one else should deliver an opinion upon the subject). Although
each of the above methods are different, yet they by no means contradict
each other, but each leads to _true results_, and in many instances they
each lead to the foreknowledge of the same event; in which respect they
may be compared to the ascent of a mountain by different paths, where,
although some paths are longer and more difficult than others, they
notwithstanding all lead to the same object.' All which, though
plausible in tone labours under the disadvantage of being untrue.

Ptolemy is careful to point out, in his celebrated work the
'Tetrabiblos,' that, of all events whatsoever which take place after
birth, the most essential is the continuance of life. 'It is useless,'
he says, 'to consider what events might happen to the native in later
years if his life does not extend, for instance, beyond one year. So
that the enquiry into the duration of life takes precedence of all
others.' In order to deal properly with this question, it is necessary
to determine what planet shall be regarded as the Hyleg, Apheta, or Lord
of Life, for the native. Next the Anareta, or Destroyer of Life, must be
ascertained. The Anaretic planets are, by nature, Saturn, Mars, and
Uranus, though the sun, moon, and Mercury may be endowed with the same
fatal influence, if suitably afflicted. The various ways in which the
Hyleg, or Giver of Life, may be afflicted by the Anareta, correspond to
the various modes of death. But astrologers have always been singularly
careful, in casting horoscopes, to avoid definite reference to the
native's death. There are but few cases where the actual day of death is
said to have been assigned. One is related in Clarendon's 'History of
the Rebellion.' He tells us that William Earl of Pembroke died at the
age of fifty, on the day upon which his tutor Sandford had predicted his
decease. Burton, the author of the 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' having cast
his own horoscope, and ascertained that he was to die on January 23,
1639, is said to have committed suicide in order that the accuracy of
his calculations might not be called in question. A similar story is
related of Cardan by Dr. Young (Sidrophel Vapulans), on the authority of
Gassendi, who, however, says only that either Cardan starved himself,
or, being confident in his art, took the predicted day for a fatal one,
and by his fears made it so. Gassendi adds that while Cardan pretended
to describe the fates of his children in his voluminous commentaries, he
all the while never suspected, from the rules of his great art, that his
dearest son would be condemned in the flower of his youth to be beheaded
on a scaffold, by an executioner of justice, for destroying his own wife
by poison.

Horary astrology relates to particular questions, and is a comparatively
easy branch of the science. The art of casting nativities requires many
years of study; but horary astrology 'may be well understood,' says
Lilly, 'in less than a quarter of a year.' 'If a proposition of any
nature,' he adds, 'be made to any individual, about the result of which
he is anxious, and therefore uncertain whether to accede to it or not,
let him but note the hour and minute when it was _first_ made, and erect
a figure of the heavens, and his doubts will be instantly resolved. He
may thus in five minutes learn whether the affair will succeed or not:
and consequently whether it is prudent to accept the offer made or not.
If he examine the sign on the first house of the figure, the planet
therein, or the planet ruling the sign, _will exactly describe the party
making the offer_, both in person and character, and this may at once
convince the enquirer for truth of the reality of the principles of the
science. Moreover, the descending sign, etc., _will describe his own
person and character_--a farther proof of the truth of the science.'

There is one feature of horary astrology which is probably almost as
ancient as any portion of the science, yet which remains even to the
present day, and will probably remain for many years to come. I refer to
the influence which the planets were supposed to exert on the
successive hours of every day--a belief from which the division of time
into weeks of seven days unquestionably had its origin--though we may
concede that the subdivision of the lunar month into four equal parts
was also considered in selecting this convenient measure of time. Every
hour had its planet. Now dividing twenty-four by seven, we get three and
three over; whence, each day containing twenty-four hours, it follows
that in each day the complete series of seven planets was run through
three times, and three planets of the next series were used. The order
of the planets was that of their distances, as indicated above. Saturn
came first, then Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon.
Beginning with Saturn, as ruling the first hour of Saturn's day
(Saturday), we get through the above series three times, and have for
the last three hours of the day, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Thus the
next hour, the first hour of the next day, belongs to the sun--Sunday
follows Saturday. We again run three times through the series, and the
three remaining hours are governed by the sun, Venus, and
Mercury,--giving the moon as the first planet for the next day. Monday
thus follows Sunday. The last three hours of Monday are ruled by the
moon, Saturn, and Jupiter; leaving Mars to govern the next day--Martis
dies, Mardi, Tuesday or Tuisco's day. Proceeding in the same way, we get
Mercury for the next day, Mercurii dies, Mercredi, Wednesday or Woden's
day; Jupiter for the next day, Jovis dies, Jeudi, Thursday or Thor's
day; Venus for the next day, Veneris dies, Vendredi, Friday or Freya's
day; and so we come to Saturday again.[14]

The period of seven days, which had its origin in, and derived its
nomenclature from astrological ideas, shows by its wide prevalence how
widely astrological superstitions were once spread among the nations. As
Whewell remarks (though, for reasons which will readily be understood he
was by no means anxious to dwell upon the true origin of the Sabbatical
week), 'the usage is found over all the East; it existed among the
Arabians, Assyrians, and Egyptians. The same week is found in India,
among the Brahmins; it has there also its days marked by the names of
the heavenly bodies; and it has been ascertained that the same day has,
in that country, the name corresponding with its designation in other
nations.... The period has gone on without interruption or irregularity
from the earliest recorded times to our own days, traversing the extent
of ages and the revolutions of empires; the names of ancient deities,
which were associated with the stars, were replaced by those of the
objects of the worship of our Teutonic ancestors, according to their
views of the correspondence of the two mythologies; and the Quakers, in
rejecting these names of days, have cast aside the most ancient existing
relic of astrological as well as idolatrous superstition.

Not only do the names remain, but some of the observances connected with
the old astrological systems remain even to this day. As ceremonies
derived from Pagan worship are still continued, though modified in form,
and with a different interpretation, in Christian and especially Roman
Catholic observances, so among the Jews and among Christians the rites
and ceremonies of the old Egyptian and Chaldæan astrology are still
continued, though no longer interpreted as of yore. The great Jewish
Lawgiver and those who follow him seem, for example, to have recognised
the value of regular periods of rest (whether really required by man or
become a necessity through long habit), but to have been somewhat in
doubt how best to continue the practice without sanctioning the
superstitions with which it had been connected. At any rate two
different and inconsistent interpretations were given in the earlier and
later codes of law. But whether the Jews accepted the Sabbath because
they believed that an All-powerful Being, having created the world in
six days, required and took rest ('and was refreshed') on the seventh,
as stated in Exodus (xx. 11 and xxxi. 17), or whether they did so in
remembrance of their departure from Egypt, as stated in Deuteronomy (v.
15), there can be no question that among the Egyptians the Sabbath or
Saturn's day was a day of rest because of the malignant nature of the
powerful planet-deity who presided over that day. Nor can it be
seriously doubted that the Jews descended from the old Chaldæans, among
whom (as appears from stone inscriptions recently discovered) the very
word Sabbath was in use for a seventh day of rest connected with
astrological observances, were familiar with the practice even before
their sojourn in Egypt. They had then probably regarded it as a
superstitious practice to be eschewed like those idolatrous observances
which had caused Terah to remove with Abraham and Lot from Ur of the
Chaldees. At any rate, we find no mention of the seventh day of rest as
a religious observance until after the Exodus.[15] It was not their only
religious observance having in reality an astrological origin. Indeed,
if we examine the Jewish sacrificial system as described in Numbers
xxviii. and elsewhere, we shall find throughout a tacit reference to the
motions or influences of the celestial bodies. There was the morning and
evening sacrifice guided by the movements of the sun; the Sabbath
offering, determined by the predominance of Saturn; the offering of the
new moon, depending on the motions of the moon; and lastly, the Paschal
sacrifice, depending on the combined movements of the sun and
moon--made, in fact, during the lunation following the sun's ascending
passage of the equator at the sign of Aries.

Let us return, however, after this somewhat long digression, to
astrological matters.

Horary astrology is manifestly much better fitted than the casting of
nativities for filling the pocket of the astrologer himself; because
only one nativity can be cast, but any number of horary questions can be
asked. It is on account of their skill in horary astrology that the
Zadkiels of our own time have occasionally found their way into the
twelfth house, or House of Enemies. Even Lilly himself, not devoting, it
would seem, five minutes to inquire into the probable success of the
affair, was indicted in 1655 by a half-witted young woman, because he
had given judgment respecting stolen goods, receiving two shillings and
sixpence, contrary to an Act made under and provided by the wise and
virtuous King James, First of England and Sixth of Scotland.

State astrology relates to the destinies of kingdoms, thrones, empires,
and may be regarded as a branch of horary science relating to subjects
(and rulers) of more than ordinary importance.

In former ages all persons likely to occupy an important position in the
history of the world had their horoscopes erected; but in these
degenerate days neither the casting of nativities nor the art of ruling
the planets flourishes as it should do. Our Zadkiels and Raphaëls
publish, indeed, the horoscopes of kings and emperors, princes and
princesses, and so forth; but their fate is as that of Benedict
(according to Beatrice)--men 'wonder they will still be talking, for
nobody marks them.' Even those whose horoscopes have been erected show
no proper respect for the predictions made in their behalf. Thus the
Prince of Wales being born when Sagittarius was in the ascendant should
have been, according to Zadkiel, a tall man, with oval face, ruddy
complexion, somewhat dusky, and so forth; but I understand he has by no
means followed these directions as to his appearance. The sun, being
well aspected, prognosticated honours--a most remarkable and
unlooked-for circumstance, strangely fulfilled by the event; but then
being in Cancer, in sextile with Mars, the Prince of Wales was to be
partial to maritime affairs and attain naval glory, whereas as a
field-marshal he can only win military glory. (I would not be understood
to say that he is not quite as competent to lead our fleets as our
battalions into action.) The House of Wealth was occupied by Jupiter,
aspected by Saturn, which betokened great wealth through inheritance--a
prognostication, says Professor Miller, which is not unlikely to come
true. The House of Marriage was unsettled by the conflicting influences
of Venus, Mars, and Saturn; but the first predominating, the Prince,
after some trouble in his matrimonial speculations, was to marry a
Princess of high birth, and one not undeserving of his kindest and most
affectionate attention, probably in 1862. As to the date, an almanack
informs me that the Prince married a Danish Princess in March 1863,
which looks like a most culpable neglect of the predictions of our
national astrologer. Again, in May 1870, when Saturn was stationary in
the ascending degree, the Prince ought to have been injured by a horse,
and also to have received a blow on the left side of the head, near the
ear; but reprehensibly omitted both these ceremonies. A predisposition
to fever and epileptic attacks was indicated by the condition of the
House of Sickness. The newspapers described, a few years since, a
serious attack of fever; but as most persons have some experience of the
kind, the fulfilment of the prediction can hardly be regarded as very
wonderful. Epileptic attacks, which, as less common, might have saved
the credit of the astrologers, have not visited 'this royal native.' The
position of Saturn in Capricorn betokened loss or disaster in one or
other of the places ruled over by Capricorn--which, as we have seen, are
India, Macedonia, Thrace, Greece, Mexico, Saxony, Wilna, Mecklenburgh,
Brandenburgh, and Oxford. Professor Miller expresses the hope that
Oxford was the place indicated, and the disaster nothing more serious
than some slight scrape with the authorities of Christchurch. But
princes never get into scrapes with college dons. Probably some one or
other of the 'hair-breadth 'scapes' chronicled by the reporters of his
travels in India was the event indicated by the ominous position of
Saturn in Capricorn.

A remarkable list of characteristics were derived by Zadkiel from the
positions of the various planets and signs in the twelve houses of the
'royal native.' Some, of course, were indicated in more ways than one,
which will explain the parenthetical notes in the following alphabetical
table which Professor Miller has been at the pains to draw up from
Zadkiel's predictions. The prince was to be 'acute, affectionate,
amiable, amorous, austere, avaricious, beneficent, benevolent, brave,
brilliant, calculated for government' (a quality which may be understood
two ways), 'candid, careful of his person, careless, compassionate,
courteous (twice over), delighting in eloquence, discreet, envious, fond
of glory, fond of learning, fond of music, fond of poetry, fond of
sports, fond of the arts and sciences, frank, full of expedients,
generous (three times), gracious, honourable, hostile to crime,
impervious, ingenious, inoffensive, joyous, just (twice), laborious,
liberal, lofty, magnanimous, modest, noble, not easy to be understood
(!), parsimonious, pious (twice), profound in opinion, prone to regret
his acts, prudent, rash, religious, reverent, self-confident, sincere,
singular in mode of thinking, strong, temperate, unreserved, unsteady,
valuable in friendship, variable, versatile, violent, volatile, wily,
and worthy.' Zadkiel concludes thus:--'The square of Saturn to the moon
will add to the gloomy side of the picture, and give a tinge of
melancholy at times to the native's character, and also a disposition to
look at the dark side of things, and lead him to despondency; nor will
he be at all of a sanguine character, but cool and calculating, though
occasionally rash. Yet, all things considered, though firm and sometimes
positive in opinion, this royal native, if he live to mount the throne,
will sway the sceptre of these realms in moderation and justice, and be
a pious and benevolent man, and a merciful sovereign.' Fortunately, the
time has long since passed when swaying the sceptre of these realms had
any but a figurative meaning, or when Englishmen who obeyed their
country's laws depended on the mercy of any man, or when even bad
citizens were judged by princes. But we still prefer that princes should
be well-mannered gentlemen, and therefore it is sincerely to be hoped
that Zadkiel's prediction, so far as it relates to piety and
benevolence, may be fulfilled, should this 'royal native' live to mount
the throne. As for mercy, it is a goodly quality even in these days and
in this country; for if the law no longer tolerates cruelty to men, even
on the part of princes, who once had prescribed rights in that
direction, there are still some cruel, nay brutal sports in which 'royal
natives' might sometimes be tempted to take part. Wherefore let us hope
that, even in regard to mercy, the predictions of astrologers respecting
this 'royal native' may be fulfilled.

Passing however, from trivialities, let us consider the lessons which
the history of astrology teaches us respecting the human mind, its
powers and weaknesses. It has been well remarked by Whewell that for
many ages 'mysticism in its various forms was a leading character both
of the common mind and the speculations of the most intelligent and
profound reasoners.' Thus mysticism was the opposite of that habit of
thought which science requires, 'namely, clear ideas, distinctly
employed to connect well-ascertained facts; inasmuch as the ideas in
which it dealt were vague and unstable, and the temper in which they
were contemplated was an urgent and aspiring enthusiasm, which could not
submit to a calm conference with experience upon even terms.' We have
seen what has been the history of one particular form of the mysticism
of ancient and mediæval ages. If we had followed the history of alchemy,
magic, and other forms of mysticism, we should have seen similar
results. True science has gradually dispossessed science falsely so
called, until now none but the weaker minds hold by the tenets formerly
almost universally adopted. In mere numbers, believers in the ancient
superstitions may be by no means insignificant; but they no longer have
any influence. It has become a matter of shame to pay any attention to
what those few say or do who not merely hold but proclaim the ancient
faith in these matters. We can also see why this has been. In old times
enthusiasm usurped the place of reason in these cases; but opinions so
formed and so retained could not maintain their ground in the presence
of reasoning and experience. So soon as intelligent and thoughtful men
perceived that facts were against the supposed mysterious influences of
the stars, the asserted powers of magicians, the pretended knowledge of
alchemists, the false teachings of magic, alchemy, and astrology, were
rejected. The lesson thus learned respecting erroneous doctrines which
were once widely prevalent has its application in our time, when, though
the influence of those teachings has passed away, other doctrines
formerly associated with them still hold their ground. Men in old times,
influenced by erroneous teachings, wasted their time and energies in
idle questionings of the stars, vain efforts to find Arcana of
mysterious power, and to acquire magical authority over the elements. Is
it altogether clear that in these our times men are not hampered,
prevented to some degree from doing all the good they might do in the
short life-time allotted to them, by doctrines of another kind? Is there
in our day no undue sacrifice of present good in idle questionings? is
there no tendency to trust in a vain fetishism to prevent or remove
evils which energy could avert or remedy? The time will come, in my
belief, when the waste of those energies which in these days are devoted
(not merely with the sanction, but the high approval, of some of the
best among us) to idle aims, will be deplored as regretfully--but, alas,
as idly--as the wasted speculations and labours of those whom Whewell
has justly called the most intelligent and profound reasoners of the
'stationary age' of science. The words with which Whewell closes his
chapter on the 'Mysticism of the Middle Ages' have their application to
the mysticism of the nineteenth century:--'Experience collects her
stores in vain, or ceases to collect them, when she can only pour them
into the flimsy folds of the lap of Mysticism, who is, in truth, so much
absorbed in looking for the treasures which are to fall from the skies,
that she heeds little how scantily she obtains, or how loosely she
holds, such riches as she might find beside her.'



During the last few years a new sect has appeared which, though as yet
small in numbers, is full of zeal and fervour. The faith professed by
this sect may be called the religion of the Great Pyramid, the chief
article of their creed being the doctrine that that remarkable edifice
was built for the purpose of revealing--in the fulness of time, now
nearly accomplished--certain noteworthy truths to the human race. The
founder of the pyramid religion is described by one of the present
leaders of the sect as 'the late worthy John Taylor, of Gower Street,
London;' but hitherto the chief prophets of the new faith have been in
this country Professor Smyth, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, and in
France the Abbé Moigno. I propose to examine here some of the facts most
confidently urged by pyramidalists in support of their views.

But it will be well first to indicate briefly the doctrines of the new
faith. They may be thus presented:

The great pyramid was erected, it would seem, under the instructions of
a certain Semitic king, probably no other than Melchizedek. By
supernatural means, the architects were instructed to place the pyramid
in latitude 30° north; to select for its figure that of a square
pyramid, carefully oriented; to employ for their unit of length the
sacred cubit corresponding to the 20,000,000th part of the earth's
polar axis; and to make the side of the square base equal to just so
many of these sacred cubits as there are days and parts of a day in a
year. They were further, by supernatural help, enabled to square the
circle, and symbolised their victory over this problem by making the
pyramid's height bear to the perimeter of the base the ratio which the
radius of a circle bears to the circumference. Moreover, the great
precessional period, in which the earth's axis gyrates like that of some
mighty top around the perpendicular to the ecliptic, was communicated to
the builders with a degree of accuracy far exceeding that of the best
modern determinations, and they were instructed to symbolise that
relation in the dimensions of the pyramid's base. A value of the sun's
distance more accurate by far than modern astronomers have obtained
(even since the recent transit) was imparted to them, and they embodied
that dimension in the height of the pyramid. Other results which modern
science has achieved, but which by merely human means the architects of
the pyramid could not have obtained, were also supernaturally
communicated to them; so that the true mean density of the earth, her
true shape, the configuration of land and water, the mean temperature of
the earth's surface, and so forth, were either symbolised in the great
pyramid's position, or in the shape and dimensions of its exterior and
interior. In the pyramid also were preserved the true, because
supernaturally communicated, standards of length, area, capacity,
weight, density, heat, time, and money. The pyramid also indicated, by
certain features of its interior structure, that when it was built the
holy influences of the Pleiades were exerted from a most effective
position--the meridian, through the points where the ecliptic and
equator intersect. And as the pyramid thus significantly refers to the
past, so also it indicates the future history of the earth, especially
in showing when and where the millennium is to begin. Lastly, the apex
or crowning stone of the pyramid was no other than the antitype of that
stone of stumbling and rock of offence, rejected by builders who knew
not its true use, until it was finally placed as the chief stone of the
corner. Whence naturally, 'whosoever shall fall upon it'--that is, upon
the pyramid religion--'shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall
it will grind him to powder.'

If we examine the relations actually presented by the great pyramid--its
geographical position, dimensions, shape, and internal
structure--without hampering ourselves with the tenets of the new faith
on the one hand, or on the other with any serious anxiety to disprove
them, we shall find much to suggest that the builders of the pyramid
were ingenious mathematicians, who had made some progress in astronomy,
though not so much as they had made in the mastery of mechanical and
scientific difficulties.

The first point to be noticed is the geographical position of the great
pyramid, so far, at least, as this position affects the aspect of the
heavens, viewed from the pyramid as from an observatory. Little
importance, I conceive, can be attached to purely geographical relations
in considering the pyramid's position. Professor Smyth notes that the
pyramid is peculiarly placed with respect to the mouth of the Nile,
standing 'at the southern apex of the Delta-land of Egypt.' This region
being shaped like a fan, the pyramid, set at the part corresponding to
the handle, was, he considers, 'that monument pure and undefiled in its
religion through an idolatrous land, alluded to by Isaiah; the monument
which was both "an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt,
and a pillar at the border thereof," and destined withal to become a
witness in the latter days, and before the consummation of all things,
to the same Lord, and to what He hath purposed upon man kind.' Still
more fanciful are some other notes upon the pyramid's geographical
position: as (i.) that there is more land along the meridian of the
pyramid than on any other all the world round; (ii.) that there is more
land in the latitude of the pyramid than in any other; and (iii.) that
the pyramid territory of Lower Egypt is at the centre of the dry land
habitable by man all the world over.

It does not seem to be noticed by those who call our attention to these
points that such coincidences prove too much. It might be regarded as
not a mere accident that the great pyramid stands at the centre of the
arc of shore-line along which lie the outlets of the Nile; or it might
be regarded as not a mere coincidence that the great pyramid stands at
the central point of all the habitable land-surface of the globe; or,
again, any one of the other relations above mentioned might be regarded
as something more than a mere coincidence. But if, instead of taking
only one or other of these four relations, we take all four of them, or
even any two of them, together, we must regard peculiarities of the
earth's configuration as the result of special design which certainly
have not hitherto been so regarded by geographers. For instance, if it
was by a special design that the pyramid was placed at the centre of the
Nile delta, and also by special design that the pyramid was placed at
the centre of the land-surface of the earth, if these two relations are
each so exactly fulfilled as to render the idea of mere accidental
coincidence inadmissible, then it follows, of necessity, that it is
through no merely accidental coincidence that the centre of the Nile
delta lies at the centre of the land-surface of the earth; in other
words, the shore-line along which lie the mouths of the Nile has been
designedly curved so as to have its centre so placed. And so of the
other relations. The very fact that the four conditions _can_ be
fulfilled simultaneously is evidence that a coincidence of the sort may
result from mere accident.[16] Indeed, the peculiarity of geographical
position which really seems to have been in the thoughts of the pyramid
architects, introduces yet a fifth condition which by accident could be
fulfilled along with the four others.

It would seem that the builders of the pyramid were anxious to place it
in latitude 30°, as closely as their means of observation permitted. Let
us consider what result they achieved, and the evidence thus afforded
respecting their skill and scientific attainments. In our own time, of
course, the astronomer has no difficulty in determining with great
exactness the position of any given latitude-parallel. But at the time
when the great pyramid was built it must have been a matter of very
serious difficulty to determine the position of any required
latitude-parallel with a great degree of exactitude. The most obvious
way of dealing with the difficulty would have been by observing the
length of shadows thrown by upright posts at noon in spring and autumn.
In latitude 30° north, the sun at noon in spring (or, to speak
precisely, on the day of the vernal equinox) is just twice as far from
the horizon as he is from the point vertically overhead; and if a
pointed post were set exactly upright at true noon (supposed to occur at
the moment of the vernal or autumnal equinox), the shadow of the post
would be exactly half as long as a line drawn from the top of the pole
to the end of the shadow. But observations based on this principle would
have presented many difficulties to the architects of the pyramid. The
sun not being a point of light, but a globe, the shadow of a pointed rod
does not end in a well-defined point. The moment of true noon, which is
not the same as ordinary or civil noon, never does agree exactly with
the time of the vernal or autumnal equinox, and may be removed from it
by any interval of time not exceeding twelve hours. And there are many
other circumstances which would lead astronomers, like those who
doubtless presided over the scientific preparations for building the
great pyramid, to prefer a means of determining the latitude depending
on another principle. The stellar heavens would afford practically
unchanging indications for their purpose. The stars being all carried
round the pole of the heavens, as if they were fixed points in the
interior of a hollow revolving sphere, it becomes possible to determine
the position of the pole of the star sphere, even though no bright
conspicuous star actually occupies that point. Any bright star close by
the pole is seen to revolve in a very small circle, whose centre is the
pole itself. Such a star is our present so-called pole-star; and, though
in the days when the great pyramid was built, that star was not near the
pole, another, and probably a brighter star lay near enough to the
pole[17] to serve as a pole-star, and to indicate by its circling motion
the position of the actual pole of the heavens. This was at that time,
and for many subsequent centuries, the leading star of the great
constellation called the Dragon.

The pole of the heavens, we know, varies in position according to the
latitude of the observer. At the north pole it is exactly overhead; at
the equator the poles of the heavens are both on the horizon; and, as
the observer travels from the equator towards the north or south pole of
the earth, the corresponding pole of the heavens rises higher and higher
above the horizon. In latitude 30° north, or one-third of the way from
the equator to the pole, the pole of the heavens is raised one-third of
the way from the horizon to the point vertically overhead; and when this
is the case the observer knows that he is in latitude 30°. The builders
of the great pyramid, with the almost constantly clear skies of Egypt,
may reasonably be supposed to have adopted this means of determining the
true position of that thirtieth parallel on which they appear to have
designed to place the great building they were about to erect.

It so happens that we have the means of forming an opinion on the
question whether they used one method or the other; whether they
employed the sun or the stars to guide them to the geographical position
they required. In fact, were it not for this circumstance, I should not
have thought it worth while to discuss the qualities of either method.
It will presently be seen that the discussion bears importantly on the
opinion we are to form of the skill and attainments of the pyramid
architects. Every celestial object is apparently raised somewhat above
its true position by the refractive power of our atmosphere, being most
raised when nearest the horizon and least when nearest the point
vertically overhead. This effect is, indeed, so marked on bodies close
to the horizon that if the astronomers of the pyramid times had observed
the sun, moon, and stars attentively when so placed, they could not have
failed to discover the peculiarity. Probably, however, though they noted
the time of rising and setting of the celestial bodies, they only made
instrumental observations upon them when these bodies were high in the
heavens. Thus they remained ignorant of the refractive powers of the
air.[18] Now, if they had determined the position of the thirtieth
parallel of latitude by observations of the noonday sun (in spring or
autumn), then since, owing to refraction, they would have judged the sun
to be higher than he really was, it follows that they would have
supposed the latitude of any station from which they observed to be
lower than it really was. For the lower the latitude the higher is the
noonday sun at any given season. Thus, when really in latitude 30° they
would have supposed themselves in a latitude lower than 30°, and would
have travelled a little further north to find the proper place, as they
would have supposed, for erecting the great pyramid. On the other hand,
if they determined the place from observations of the movements of stars
near the pole of the heavens, they would make an error of a precisely
opposite nature. For the higher the latitude the higher is the pole of
the heavens; and refraction, therefore, which apparently raises the pole
of the heavens, gives to a station the appearance of being in a higher
latitude than it really is, so that the observer would consider he was
in latitude 30 north when in reality somewhat south of that latitude. We
have only then to inquire whether the great pyramid was set north or
south of latitude 30°, to ascertain whether the pyramid architects
observed the noonday sun or circumpolar stars to determine their
latitude; always assuming (as we reasonably may) that those architects
did propose to set the pyramid in that particular latitude, and that
they were able to make very accurate observations of the apparent
positions of the celestial bodies, but that they were not acquainted
with the refractive effects of the atmosphere. The answer comes in no
doubtful terms. The centre of the great pyramid's base lies about one
mile and a third _south_ of the thirtieth parallel of latitude; and from
this position the pole of the heavens, as raised by refraction, would
appear to be very near indeed to the required position. In fact, if the
pyramid had been set about half a mile still farther south the pole
would have _seemed_ just right.

Of course, such an explanation as I have here suggested appears
altogether heretical to the pyramidalists. According to them the pyramid
architects knew perfectly well where the true thirtieth parallel lay,
and knew also all that modern science has discovered about refraction;
but set the pyramid south of the true parallel and north of the position
where refraction would just have made the apparent elevation of the pole
correct, simply in order that the pyramid might correspond as nearly as
possible to each of two conditions, whereof both could not be fulfilled
at once. The pyramid would indeed, they say, have been set even more
closely midway between the true and the apparent parallels of 30° north,
but that the Jeezeh hill on which it is set does not afford a rock
foundation any farther north. 'So very close,' says Professor Smyth,
'was the great pyramid placed to the northern brink of its hill, that
the edges of the cliff might have broken off under the terrible
pressure had not the builders banked up there most firmly the immense
mounds of rubbish which came from their work, and which Strabo looked so
particularly for 1800 years ago, but could not find. Here they were,
however, and still are, utilised in enabling the great pyramid to stand
on the very utmost verge of its commanding hill, within the limits of
the _two_ required latitudes, as well as over the centre of the land's
physical and radial formation, and at the same time on the sure and
proverbially wise foundation of rock.'

The next circumstance to be noted in the position of the great pyramid
(as of all the pyramids) is that the sides are carefully oriented. This,
like the approximation to a particular latitude, must be regarded as an
astronomical rather than a geographical relation. The accuracy with
which the orientation has been effected will serve to show how far the
builders had mastered the methods of astronomical observation by which
orientation was to be secured. The problem was not so simple as might be
supposed by those who are not acquainted with the way in which the
cardinal points are correctly determined. By solar observations, or
rather by the observations of shadows cast by vertical shafts before and
after noon, the direction of the meridian, or north and south line, can
theoretically be ascertained. But probably in this case, as in
determining the latitude, the builders took the stars for their guide.
The pole of the heavens would mark the true north; and equally the
pole-star, when below or above the pole, would give the true north, but,
of course, most conveniently when below the pole. Nor is it difficult to
see how the builders would make use of the pole-star for this purpose.
From the middle of the northern side of the intended base they would
bore a slant passage tending always from the position of the pole-star
at its lower meridional passage, that star at each successive return to
that position serving to direct their progress; while its small range,
east and west of the pole, would enable them most accurately to
determine the star's true mid-point below the pole; that is, the true
north. When they had thus obtained a slant tunnel pointing truly to the
meridian, and had carried it down to a point nearly below the middle of
the proposed square base, they could, from the middle of the base, bore
vertically downwards, until by rough calculation they were near the
lower end of the slant tunnel; or both tunnels could be made at the same
time. Then a subterranean chamber would be opened out from the slant
tunnel. The vertical boring, which need not be wider than necessary to
allow a plumb-line to be suspended down it, would enable the architects
to determine the point vertically below the point of suspension. The
slant tunnel would give the direction of the true north, either from
that point or from a point at some known small distance east or west of
that point.[19] Thus, a line from some ascertained point near the mouth
of the vertical boring to the mouth of the slant tunnel would lie due
north and south, and serve as the required guide for the orientation of
the pyramid's base. If this base extended beyond the opening of the
slant tunnel, then, by continuing this tunnelling through the base tiers
of the pyramid, the means would be obtained of correcting the

This, I say, would be the course naturally suggested to astronomical
architects who had determined the latitude in the manner described
above. It may even be described as the only very accurate method
available before the telescope had been invented. So that if the
accuracy of the orientation appears to be greater than could be obtained
by the shadow method, the natural inference, even in the absence of
corroborative evidence, would be that the stellar method, and no other,
had been employed. Now, in 1779, Nouet, by refined observations, found
the error of orientation measured by less than 20 minutes of arc,
corresponding roughly to a displacement of the corners by about 37-1/2
inches from their true position, as supposed to be determined from the
centre; or to a displacement of a southern corner by 53 inches on an
east and west line from a point due south of the corresponding northern
corner. This error, for a base length of 9140 inches, would not be
serious, being only one inch in about five yards (when estimated in the
second way). Yet the result is not quite worthy of the praise given to
it by Professor Smyth. He himself, however, by much more exact
observations, with an excellent altazimuth, reduced the alleged error
from 20 minutes to only 4-1/2, or to 9-40ths of its formerly supposed
value. This made the total displacement of a southern corner from the
true meridian through the corresponding northern corner, almost exactly
one foot, or one inch in about twenty-one yards--a degree of accuracy
rendering it practically certain that some stellar method was used in
orienting the base.

Now there _is_ a slanting tunnel occupying precisely the position of the
tunnel which should, according to this view, have been formed in order
accurately to orient the pyramid's base, assuming that the time of the
building of the pyramid corresponded with one of the epochs when the
star Alpha Draconis was distant 3° 42' from the pole of the heavens. In
other words, there is a slant tunnel directed northwards and upwards
from a point deep down below the middle of the pyramid's base, and
inclined 26° 17' to the horizon, the elevation of Alpha Draconis at its
lower culmination when 3° 42' from the pole. The last epoch when the
star was thus placed was _circiter_ 2160 B.C.; the epoch next before
that was 3440 B.C. Between these two we should have to choose, on the
hypothesis that the slant tunnel was really directed to that star when
the foundations of the pyramid were laid. For the next epoch before the
earlier of the two named was about 28,000 B.C., and the pyramid's date
cannot have been more remote than 4000 B.C.

The slant tunnel, while admirably fulfilling the requirements suggested,
seems altogether unsuited for any other. Its transverse height (that is,
its width in a direction perpendicular to its upper and lower faces) did
not amount to quite four feet; its breadth was not quite three feet and
a half. It was, therefore, not well fitted for an entrance passage to
the subterranean chamber immediately under the apex of the pyramid (with
which chamber it communicates in the manner suggested by the above
theory). It could not have been intended to be used for observing
meridian transits of the stars in order to determine sidereal time; for
close circumpolar stars, by reason of their slow motion, are the least
suited of all for such a purpose. As Professor Smyth says, in arguing
against this suggested use of the star, 'no observer in his senses, in
any existing observatory, when seeking to obtain the time, would observe
the transit of a circumpolar star for anything else than _to get the
direction of the meridian to adjust his instrument by_.' (The italics
are his.) It is precisely such a purpose (the adjustment, however, not
of an instrument, but of the entire structure of the pyramid itself),
that I have suggested for this remarkable passage--this 'cream-white,
stone-lined, long tube,' where it traverses the masonry of the pyramid,
and below that dug through the solid rock to a distance of more than 350

Let us next consider the dimensions of the square base thus carefully
placed in latitude 30° north to the best of the builders' power, with
sides carefully oriented.

It seems highly probable that, whatever special purpose the pyramid was
intended to fulfil, a subordinate idea of the builders would have been
to represent symbolically in the proportions of the building such
mathematical and astronomical relations as they were acquainted with.
From what we know by tradition of the men of the remote time when the
pyramid was built, and what we can infer from the ideas of those who
inherited, however remotely, the modes of thought of the earliest
astronomers and mathematicians, we can well believe that they would look
with superstitious reverence on special figures, proportions, numbers,
and so forth. Apart from this, they may have had a quasi-scientific
desire to make a lasting record of their discoveries, and of the
collected knowledge of their time.

It seems altogether probable, then, that the smaller unit of measurement
used by the builders of the great Pyramid was intended, as Professor
Smyth thinks, to be equal to the 500,000,000th part of the earth's
diameter, determined from their geodetical observations. It was
perfectly within the power of mechanicians and mathematicians so
experienced as they undoubtedly were--the pyramid attests so much--to
measure with considerable accuracy the length of a degree of latitude.
They could not possibly (always setting aside the theory of divine
inspiration) have known anything about the compression of the earth's
globe, and therefore could not have intended, as Professor Smyth
supposes, to have had the 500,000,000th part of the earth's polar axis,
as distinguished from any other, for their unit of length. But if they
made observations in or near latitude 30° north on the supposition that
the earth is a globe, their probable error would exceed the difference
even between the earth's polar and equatorial diameters. Both
differences are largely exceeded by the range of difference among the
estimates of the actual length of the sacred cubit, supposed to have
contained twenty-five of these smaller units. And, again, the length of
the pyramid base-side, on which Smyth bases his own estimate of the
sacred cubit, has been variously estimated, the largest measure being
9168 inches, and the lowest 9110 inches. The fundamental theory of the
pyramidalists, that the sacred cubit was exactly one 20,000,000th part
of the earth's polar diameter, and that the side of the base contained
as many cubits and parts of a cubit as there are days and parts of a day
in the tropical year (or year of seasons), requires that the length of
the side should be 9140 inches, lying between the limits indicated, but
still so widely removed from either that it would appear very unsafe to
base a theory on the supposition that the exact length is or was 9140
inches. If the measures 9168 inches and 9110 inches were inferior, and
several excellent measures made by practised observers ranged around the
length 9140 inches, the case would be different. But the best recent
measures gave respectively 9110 and 9130 inches; and Smyth exclaims
against the unfairness of Sir H. James in taking 9120 as 'therefore the
[probable] true length of the side of the great pyramid when perfect,'
calling this 'a dishonourable shelving of the honourable older observers
with their larger results.' The only other measures, besides these two,
are two by Colonel Howard Vyse and by the French _savants_, giving
respectively 9168 and 9163·44 inches. The pyramidalists consider 9140
inches a fair mean value from these four. The natural inference,
however, is, that the pyramid base is not now in a condition to be
satisfactorily measured; and assuredly no such reliance can be placed
on the mean value 9140 inches that, on the strength of it, we should
believe what otherwise would be utterly incredible, viz. that the
builders of the great pyramid knew 'both the size and shape of the earth
exactly.' 'Humanly, or by human science, finding it out in that age was,
of course, utterly impossible,' says Professor Smyth. But he is so
confident of the average value derived from widely conflicting base
measures as to assume that this value, not being humanly discoverable,
was of necessity 'attributable to God and to His Divine inspiration.' We
may agree, in fine, with Smyth, that the builders of the pyramid knew
the earth to be a globe; that they took for their measure of length the
sacred cubit, which, by their earth measures, they made very fairly
approximate to the 20,000,000th part of the earth's mean diameter; but
there seems no reason whatever for supposing (even if the supposition
were not antecedently of its very nature inadmissible) that they knew
anything about the compression of the earth, or that they had measured a
degree of latitude in their own place with very wonderful accuracy.[20]

But here a very singular coincidence may be noticed, or, rather, is
forced upon our notice by the pyramidalists, who strangely enough
recognise in it fresh evidence of design, while the unbeliever finds in
it proof that coincidences are no sure evidence of design. The side of
the pyramid containing 365-1/4 times the sacred cubit of 25 pyramid
inches, it follows that the diagonal of the base contains 12,912 such
inches, and the two diagonals together contain 25,824 pyramid inches, or
almost exactly as many inches as there are years in the great
precessional period. 'No one whatever amongst men,' says Professor Smyth
after recording various estimates of the precessional period, 'from his
own or school knowledge, knew anything about such a phenomenon, until
Hipparchus, some 1900 years after the great pyramid's foundation, had a
glimpse of the fact; and yet it had been ruling the heavens for ages,
and was recorded in Jeezeh's ancient structure.' To minds not moved to
most energetic forgetfulness by the spirit of faith, it would appear
that when a square base had been decided upon, and its dimensions fixed,
with reference to the earth's diameter and the year, the diagonals of
the square base were determined also; and, if it so chanced that they
corresponded with some other perfectly independent relation, the fact
was not to be credited to the architects. Moreover it is manifest that
the closeness of such a coincidence suggests grave doubts how far other
coincidences can be relied upon as evidence of design. It seems, for
instance, altogether likely that the architects of the pyramid took the
sacred cubit equal to one 20,000,000th part of the earth's diameter for
their chief unit of length, and intentionally assigned to the side of
the pyramid's square base a length of just so many cubits as there are
days in the year; and the closeness of the coincidence between the
measured length and that indicated by this theory strengthens the idea
that this was the builder's purpose. But when we find that an even
closer coincidence immediately presents itself, which manifestly is a
coincidence _only_, the force of the evidence before derived from mere
coincidence is _pro tanto_ shaken. For consider what this new
coincidence really means. Its nature may be thus indicated: Take the
number of days in the year, multiply that number by 50, and increase the
result in the same degree that the diagonal of a square exceeds the
side--then the resulting number represents very approximately the number
of years in the great precessional period. The error, according to the
best modern estimates, is about one 575th part of the true period. This
is, of course, a merely accidental coincidence, for there is no
connection whatever in nature between the earth's period of rotation,
the shape of a square, and the earth's period of gyration. Yet this
merely accidental coincidence is very much closer than the other
supposed to be designed could be proved to be. It is clear, then, that
mere coincidence is a very unsafe evidence of design.

Of course the pyramidalists find a ready reply to such reasoning. They
argue that, in the first place, it may have been by express design that
the period of the earth's rotation was made to bear this particular
relation to the period of gyration in the mighty precessional movement:
which is much as though one should say that by express design the height
of Monte Rosa contains as many feet as there are miles in the 6000th
part of the sun's distance.[21] Then, they urge, the architects were
not bound to have a square base for the pyramid; they might have had an
oblong or a triangular base, and so forth--all which accords very ill
with the enthusiastic language in which the selection of a square base
had on other accounts been applauded.

Next let us consider the height of the pyramid. According to the best
modern measurements, it would seem that the height when (if ever) the
pyramid terminated above in a pointed apex, must have been about 486
feet. And from the comparison of the best estimates of the base side
with the best estimates of the height, it seems very likely indeed that
the intention of the builders was to make the height bear to the
perimeter of the base the same ratio which the radius of a circle bears
to the circumference. Remembering the range of difference in the base
measures it might be supposed that the exactness of the approximation to
this ratio could not be determined very satisfactorily. But as certain
casing stones have been discovered which indicate with considerable
exactness the slope of the original plane-surfaces of the pyramid, the
ratio of the height to the side of the base may be regarded as much more
satisfactorily determined than the actual value of either dimension. Of
course the pyramidalists claim a degree of precision indicating a most
accurate knowledge of the ratio between the diameter and the
circumference of a circle; and the angle of the only casing stone
measured being diversely estimated at 51° 50' and 51° 52-1/4', they
consider 50° 51' 14·3" the true value, and infer that the builders
regarded the ratio as 3·14159 to 1. The real fact is, that the modern
estimates of the dimensions of the casing stones (which, by the way,
ought to agree better if these stones are as well made as stated)
indicate the values 3·1439228 and 3·1396740 for the ratio; and all we
can say is, that the ratio really used lay _probably_ between these
limits, though it may have been outside either. Now the approximation of
either is not remarkably close. It requires no mathematical knowledge at
all to determine the circumference of a circle much more exactly. 'I
thought it very strange,' wrote a circle-squarer once to De Morgan
(_Budget of Paradoxes_, p. 389), 'that so many great scholars in all
ages should have failed in finding the true ratio, and have been
determined to try myself.' 'I have been informed,' proceeds De Morgan,
'that this trial makes the diameter to the circumference as 64 to 201,
giving the ratio equal to 3·1410625 exactly. The result was obtained by
the discoverer in three weeks after he first heard of the existence of
the difficulty. This quadrator has since published a little slip and
entered it at Stationers' Hall. He says he has done it by actual
measurement; and I hear from a private source that he uses a disc of
twelve inches diameter which he rolls upon a straight rail.' The
'rolling is a very creditable one; it is as much below the mark as
Archimedes was above it. Its performer is a joiner who evidently knows
well what he is about when he measures; he is not wrong by 1 in 3000.'
Such skilful mechanicians as the builders of the pyramid could have
obtained a closer approximation still by mere measurement. Besides, as
they were manifestly mathematicians, such an approximation as was
obtained by Archimedes must have been well within their power; and that
approximation lies well within the limits above indicated. Professor
Smyth remarks that the ratio was 'a quantity which men in general, and
all human science too, did not begin to trouble themselves about until
long, long ages, languages, and nations had passed away after the
building of the great pyramid; and after the sealing up, too, of that
grand primeval and prehistoric monument of the patriarchal age of the
earth according to Scripture.' I do not know where the Scripture records
the sealing up of the great pyramid; but it is all but certain that
during the very time when the pyramid was being built astronomical
observations were in progress which, for their interpretation, involved
of necessity a continual reference to the ratio in question. No one who
considers the wonderful accuracy with which, nearly two thousand years
before the Christian era, the Chaldæans had determined the famous cycle
of the Saros, can doubt that they must have observed the heavenly bodies
for several centuries before they could have achieved such a success;
and the study of the motions of the celestial bodies compels 'men to
trouble themselves' about the famous ratio of the circumference to the

We now come upon a new relation (contained in the dimensions of the
pyramid as thus determined) which, by a strange coincidence, causes the
height of the pyramid to appear to symbolise the distance of the sun.
There were 5813 pyramid inches, or 5819 British inches, in the height of
the pyramid according to the relations already indicated. Now, in the
sun's distance, according to an estimate recently adopted and freely
used,[22] there are 91,400,000 miles or 5791 thousand millions of
inches--that is, there are approximately as many thousand millions of
inches in the sun's distance as there are inches in the height of the
pyramid. If we take the relation as exact we should infer for the sun's
distance 5819 thousand millions of inches, or 91,840,000 miles--an
immense improvement on the estimate which for so many years occupied a
place of honour in our books of astronomy. Besides, there is strong
reason for believing that, when the results of recent observations are
worked out, the estimated sun distance will be much nearer this pyramid
value than even to the value 91,400,000 recently adopted. This result,
which one would have thought so damaging to faith in the evidence from
coincidence--nay, quite fatal after the other case in which a close
coincidence had appeared by merest accident--is regarded by the
pyramidalist as a perfect triumph for their faith.

They connect it with another coincidence, viz. that, assuming the height
determined in the way already indicated, then it so happens that the
height bears to half a diagonal of the base the ratio 9 to 10. Seeing
that the perimeter of the base symbolises the annual motion of the earth
round the sun, while the height represents the radius of a circle with
that perimeter, it follows that the height should symbolise the sun's
distance. 'That line, further,' says Professor Smyth (speaking on behalf
of Mr. W. Petrie, the discoverer of this relation), 'must represent'
this radius 'in the proportion of 1 to 1,000,000,000' (or _ten_ raised
to power _nine_), 'because amongst other reasons 10 to 9 is practically
the shape of the great pyramid.' For this building 'has such an angle at
the corners, that for every ten units its structure advances inwards on
the diagonal of the base, it practically rises upwards, or points to
sunshine' (_sic_) 'by _nine_. Nine, too, out of the ten characteristic
parts (viz. five angles and five sides) being the number of those parts
which the sun shines on in such a shaped pyramid, in such a latitude
near the equator, out of a high sky, or, as the Peruvians say, when the
sun sets on the pyramid with all its rays.' The coincidence itself on
which this perverse reasoning rests is a singular one--singular, that
is, as showing how close an accidental coincidence may run. It amounts
to this, that if the number of days in the year be multiplied by 100,
and a circle be drawn with a circumference containing 100 times as many
inches as there are days in the year, the radius of the circle will be
very nearly one 1,000,000,000th part of the sun's distance. Remembering
that the pyramid inch is assumed to be one 500,000,000th part of the
earth's diameter, we shall not be far from the truth in saying that, as
a matter of fact, the earth by her orbital motion traverses each day a
distance equal to two hundred times her own diameter. But, of course,
this relation is altogether accidental. It has no real cause in

Such relations show that mere numerical coincidences, however close,
have little weight as evidence, except where they occur in series. Even
then they require to be very cautiously regarded, seeing that the
history of science records many instances where the apparent law of a
series has been found to be falsified when the theory has been extended.
Of course this reason is not quoted in order to throw doubt on the
supposition that the height of the pyramid was intended to symbolise the
sun's distance. That supposition is simply inadmissible if the
hypothesis, according to which the height was already independently
determined in another way, is admitted. Either hypothesis might be
admitted were we not certain that the sun's distance could not possibly
have been known to the builders of the pyramid; or both hypotheses may
be rejected: but to admit both is out of the question.

Considering the multitude of dimensions of length, surface, capacity,
and position, the great number of shapes, and the variety of material
existing within the pyramid, and considering, further, the enormous
number of relations (presented by modern science) from among which to
choose, can it be wondered at if fresh coincidences are being
continually recognised? If a dimension will not serve in one way, use
can be found for it in another; for instance, if some measure of length
does not correspond closely with any known dimension of the earth or of
the solar system (an unlikely supposition), then it can be understood to
typify an interval of time. If, even after trying all possible changes
of that kind, no coincidence shows itself (which is all but impossible),
then all that is needed to secure a coincidence is that the dimensions
should be manipulated a little.

Let a single instance suffice to show how the pyramidalists (with
perfect honesty of purpose) hunt down a coincidence. The slant tunnel
already described has a transverse height, once no doubt uniform, now
giving various measures from 47·14 pyramid inches to 47·32 inches, so
that the vertical height from the known inclination of the tunnel would
be estimated at somewhere between 52·64 inches and 52·85. Neither
dimension corresponds very obviously with any measured distance in the
earth or solar system. Nor when we try periods, areas, etc., does any
very satisfactory coincidence present itself. But the difficulty is
easily turned into a new proof of design. Putting all the observations
together (says Professor Smyth), 'I deduced 47·24 pyramid inches to be
the transverse height of the entrance passage; and computing from thence
with the observed angle of inclination the vertical height, that came
out 52·76 of the same inches. But the sum of those two heights, or the
height taken up and down, equals 100 inches, which length, as elsewhere
shown, is the general pyramid linear representation of a day of
twenty-four hours. And the mean of the two heights, or the height taken
one way only, and impartially to the middle point between them, equals
fifty inches; which quantity is, therefore, the general pyramid linear
representation of only half a day. In which case, let us ask what the
entrance passage has to do with half rather than a whole day?'

On relations such as these, which, if really intended by the architect,
would imply an utterly fatuous habit of concealing elaborately what he
desired to symbolise, the pyramidalists base their belief that 'a Mighty
Intelligence did both think out the plans for it, and compel unwilling
and ignorant idolators, in a primal age of the world, to work mightily
both for the future glory of the one true God of Revelation, and to
establish lasting prophetic testimony touching a further development,
still to take place, of the absolutely Divine Christian dispensation.'



Few subjects of inquiry have proved more perplexing than the question of
the purpose for which the pyramids of Egypt were built. Even in the
remotest ages of which we have historical record, nothing seems to have
been known certainly on this point. For some reason or other, the
builders of the pyramids concealed the object of these structures, and
this so successfully that not even a tradition has reached us which
purports to have been handed down from the epoch of the pyramids'
construction. We find, indeed, some explanations given by the earliest
historians; but they were professedly only hypothetical, like those
advanced in more recent times. Including ancient and modern theories, we
find a wide range of choice. Some have thought that these buildings were
associated with the religion of the early Egyptians; others have
suggested that they were tombs; others, that they combined the purposes
of tombs and temples, that they were astronomical observatories,
defences against the sands of the Great Desert, granaries like those
made under Joseph's direction, places of resort during excessive
overflows of the Nile; and many other uses have been suggested for them.
But none of these ideas are found on close examination to be tenable as
representing the sole purpose of the pyramids, and few of them have
strong claims to be regarded as presenting even a chief object of these
remarkable structures. The significant and perplexing history of the
three oldest pyramids--the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Shofo, or Suphis,
the pyramid of Chephren, and the pyramid of Mycerinus; and the most
remarkable of all the facts known respecting the pyramids generally,
viz., the circumstance that one pyramid after another was built as
though each had become useless soon after it was finished, are left
entirely unexplained by all the theories above mentioned, save one only,
the tomb theory, and that does not afford by any means a satisfactory
explanation of the circumstances.

I propose to give here a brief account of some of the most suggestive
facts known respecting the pyramids, and, after considering the
difficulties which beset the theories heretofore advanced, to indicate a
theory (new so far as I know) which seems to me to correspond better
with the facts than any heretofore advanced; I suggest it, however,
rather for consideration than because I regard it as very convincingly
supported by the evidence. In fact, to advance any theory at present
with confident assurance of its correctness, would be simply to indicate
a very limited acquaintance with the difficulties surrounding the

Let us first consider a few of the more striking facts recorded by
history or tradition, noting, as we proceed, whatever ideas they may
suggest as to the intended character of these structures.

It is hardly necessary to say, perhaps, that the history of the Great
Pyramid is of paramount importance in this inquiry. Whatever purpose
pyramids were originally intended to subserve, must have been conceived
by the builders of _that_ pyramid. New ideas may have been superadded by
the builders of later pyramids, but it is unlikely that the original
purpose can have been entirely abandoned. Some great purpose there was,
which the rulers of ancient Egypt proposed to fulfil by building very
massive pyramidal structures on a particular plan. It is by inquiring
into the history of the first and most massive of these structures, and
by examining its construction, that we shall have the best chance of
finding out what that great purpose was.

According to Herodotus, the kings who built the pyramids reigned not
more than twenty-eight centuries ago; but there can be little doubt that
Herodotus misunderstood the Egyptian priests from whom he derived his
information, and that the real antiquity of the pyramid-kings was far
greater. He tells us that, according to the Egyptian priests, Cheops 'on
ascending the throne plunged into all manner of wickedness. He closed
the temples, and forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifice, compelling
them instead to labour one and all in his service, viz., in building the
Great Pyramid.' Still following his interpretation of the Egyptian
account, we learn that one hundred thousand men were employed for twenty
years in building the Great Pyramid, and that ten years were occupied in
constructing a causeway by which to convey the stones to the place and
in conveying them there. 'Cheops reigned fifty years; and was succeeded
by his brother Chephren, who imitated the conduct of his predecessor,
built a pyramid--but smaller than his brother's--and reigned fifty-six
years. Thus during one hundred and six years, the temples were shut and
never opened.' Moreover, Herodotus tells us that 'the Egyptians so
detested the memory of these kings, that they do not much like even to
mention their names. Hence they commonly call the pyramids after
Philition, a shepherd who at that time fed his flocks about the place.'
'After Chephren, Mycerinus, son of Cheops, ascended the throne, he
reopened the temples, and allowed the people to resume the practice of
sacrifice. He, too, left a pyramid, but much inferior in size to his
father's. It is built, for half of its height, of the stone of
Ethiopia,' or, as Professor Smyth (whose extracts from Rawlinson's
translation I have here followed) adds 'expensive red granite.' 'After
Mycerinus, Asychis ascended the throne. He built the eastern gateway of
the Temple of Vulcan (Phtha); and, being desirous of eclipsing all his
predecessors on the throne, left as a monument of his reign a pyramid of

This account is so suggestive, as will presently be shown, that it may
be well to inquire whether it can be relied on. Now, although there can
be no doubt that Herodotus misunderstood the Egyptians in some matters,
and in particular as to the chronological order of the dynasties,
placing the pyramid kings far too late, yet in other respects he seems
not only to have understood them correctly, but also to have received a
correct account from them. The order of the kings above named
corresponds with the sequence given by Manetho, and also found in
monumental and hieroglyphic records. Manetho gives the names Suphis I.,
Suphis II., and Mencheres, instead of Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus;
while, according to the modern Egyptologists, Herodotus's Cheops was
Shofo, Shufu, or Koufou; Chephren was Shafre, while he was also called
Nou-Shofo or Noum-Shufu as the brother of Shofo; and Mycerinus was
Menhere or Menkerre. But the identity of these kings is not questioned.
As to the true dates there is much doubt, and it is probable that the
question will long continue open; but the determination of the exact
epochs when the several pyramids were built is not very important in
connection with our present inquiry. We may, on the whole, fairly take
the points quoted above from Herodotus, and proceed to consider the
significance of the narrative, with sufficient confidence that in all
essential respects it is trustworthy.

There are several very strange features in the account.

In the first place, it is manifest that Cheops (to call the first king
by the name most familiar to the general reader) attached great
importance to the building of his pyramid. It has been said, and perhaps
justly, that it would be more interesting to know the plan of the
architect who devised the pyramid than the purpose of the king who built
it. But the two things are closely connected. The architect must have
satisfied the king that some highly important purpose in which the king
himself was interested, would be subserved by the structure. Whether the
king was persuaded to undertake the work as a matter of duty, or only to
advance his own interests, may not be so clear. But that the king was
most thoroughly in earnest about the work is certain. A monarch in those
times would assuredly not have devoted an enormous amount of labour and
material to such a scheme unless he was thoroughly convinced of its
great importance. That the welfare of his people was not considered by
Cheops in building the Great Pyramid is almost equally certain. He
might, indeed, have had a scheme for their good which either he did not
care to explain to them or which they could not understand. But the most
natural inference from the narrative is that his purpose had no
reference whatever to their welfare. For though one could understand his
own subjects hating him while he was all the time working for their
good, it is obvious that his memory would not have been hated if some
important good had eventually been gained from his scheme. Many a
far-seeing ruler has been hated while living on account of the very work
for which his memory has been revered. But the memory of Cheops and his
successors was held in detestation.

May we, however, suppose that, though Cheops had not the welfare of his
own people in his thoughts, his purpose was nevertheless not selfish,
but intended in some way to promote the welfare of the human race? I say
his purpose, because, whoever originated the scheme, Cheops carried it
out; it was by means of his wealth and through his power that the
pyramid was built. This is the view adopted by Professor Piazzi Smyth
and others, in our own time, and first suggested by John Taylor.
'Whereas other writers,' says Smyth, 'have generally esteemed that the
mysterious persons who directed the building of the Great Pyramid (and
to whom the Egyptians, in their traditions, and for ages afterwards,
gave an immoral and even abominable character) must therefore have been
very bad indeed, so that the world at large has always been fond of
standing on, kicking, and insulting that dead lion, whom they really
knew not; he, Mr. John Taylor, seeing how religiously bad the Egyptians
themselves were, was led to conclude, on the contrary, that those _they_
hated (and could never sufficiently abuse) might, perhaps, have been
pre-eminently good; or were, at all events, of _different religious
faith_ from themselves.' 'Combining this with certain unmistakable
historical facts,' Mr. Taylor deduced reasons for believing that the
directors of the building designed to record in its proportions, and in
its interior features, certain important religious and scientific
truths, not for the people then living, but for men who were to come
4000 years or so after.

I have already considered at length (see the preceding Essay) the
evidence on which this strange theory rests. But there are certain
matters connecting it with the above narrative which must here be
noticed. The mention of the shepherd Philition, who fed his flocks about
the place where the Great Pyramid was built, is a singular feature of
Herodotus's narrative. It reads like some strange misinterpretation of
the story related to him by the Egyptian priests. It is obvious that if
the word Philition did not represent a people, but a person, this
person must have been very eminent and distinguished--a shepherd-king,
not a mere shepherd. Rawlinson, in a note on this portion of the
narrative of Herodotus, suggests that Philitis was probably a
shepherd-prince from Palestine, perhaps of Philistine descent, 'but so
powerful and domineering, that it may be traditions of his oppressions
in that earlier age which, mixed up afterwards in the minds of later
Egyptians with the evils inflicted on their country by the subsequent
shepherds of better known dynasties, lent so much fear to their
religious hate of Shepherd times and that name.' Smyth, somewhat
modifying this view, and considering certain remarks of Manetho
respecting an alleged invasion of Egypt by shepherd-kings, 'men of an
ignoble race (from the Egyptian point of view) who had the confidence to
invade our country, and easily subdued it to their power without a
battle,' comes to the conclusion that some Shemite prince, 'a
contemporary of, but rather older than, the Patriarch Abraham,' visited
Egypt at this time, and obtained such influence over the mind of Cheops
as to persuade him to erect the pyramid. According to Smyth, the prince
was no other than Melchizedek, king of Salem, and the influence he
exerted was supernatural. With such developments of the theory we need
not trouble ourselves. It seems tolerably clear that certain
shepherd-chiefs who came to Egypt during Cheops' reign were connected in
some way with the designing of the Great Pyramid. It is clear also that
they were men of a different religion from the Egyptians, and persuaded
Cheops to abandon the religion of his people. Taylor, Smyth, and the
Pyramidalists generally, consider this sufficient to prove that the
pyramid was erected for some purpose connected with religion. 'The
pyramid,' in fine, says Smyth, 'was charged by God's inspired
shepherd-prince, in the beginning of human time, to keep a certain
message secret and inviolable for 4000 years, and it has done so; and in
the next thousand years it was to enunciate that message to all men,
with more than traditional force, more than all the authenticity of
copied manuscripts or reputed history; and that part of the pyramid's
usefulness is now beginning.'

There are many very obvious difficulties surrounding this theory; as,
for example (i.) the absurd waste of power in setting supernatural
machinery at work 4000 years ago with cumbrous devices to record its
object, when the same machinery, much more simply employed now, would
effect the alleged purpose far more thoroughly; (ii.) the enormous
amount of human misery and its attendant hatreds brought about by this
alleged divine scheme; and (iii.) the futility of an arrangement by
which the pyramid was only to subserve its purpose when it had lost that
perfection of shape on which its entire significance depended, according
to the theory itself. But, apart from these, there is a difficulty,
nowhere noticed by Smyth or his followers, which is fatal, I conceive,
to this theory of the pyramid's purpose. The second pyramid, though
slightly inferior to the first in size, and probably far inferior in
quality of masonry, is still a structure of enormous dimensions, which
must have required many years of labour from tens of thousands of
workmen. Now, it seems impossible to explain why Chephren built this
second pyramid, if we adopt Smyth's theory respecting the first pyramid.
For either Chephren knew the purpose for which the Great Pyramid was
built, or he did not know it. If he knew that purpose, and it was that
indicated by Smyth, then he also knew that no second pyramid was wanted.
On that hypothesis, all the labour bestowed on the second pyramid was
wittingly and wilfully wasted. This, of course is incredible. But, on
the other hand, if Chephren did not know what was the purpose for which
the Great Pyramid was built, what reason could Chephren have had for
building a pyramid at all? The only answer to this question seems to be
that Chephren built the second pyramid in hopes of finding out why his
brother had built the first, and this answer is simply absurd. It is
clear enough that whatever purpose Cheops had in building the first
pyramid, Chephren must have had a similar purpose in building the
second; and we require a theory which shall at least explain why the
first pyramid did not subserve for Chephren the purpose which it
subserved or was meant to subserve for Cheops. The same reasoning may be
extended to the third pyramid, to the fourth, and in fine to all the
pyramids, forty or so in number, included under the general designation
of the Pyramids of Ghizeh or Jeezeh. The extension of the principle to
pyramids later than the second is especially important as showing that
the difference of religion insisted on by Smyth has no direct bearing on
the question of the purpose for which the Great Pyramid itself was
constructed. For Mycerinus either never left or else returned to the
religion of the Egyptians. Yet he also built a pyramid, which, though
far inferior in size to the pyramids built by his father and uncle, was
still a massive structure, and relatively more costly even than theirs,
because built of expensive granite. The pyramid built by Asychis, though
smaller still, was remarkable as built of brick; in fact, we are
expressly told that Asychis desired to eclipse all his predecessors in
such labours, and accordingly left this brick pyramid as a monument of
his reign.

We are forced, in fact, to believe that there was some special relation
between the pyramid and its builder, seeing that each one of these kings
wanted a pyramid of his own. This applies to the Great Pyramid quite as
much as to the others, despite the superior excellence of that
structure. Or rather, the argument derives its chief force from the
superiority of the Great Pyramid. If Chephren, no longer perhaps having
the assistance of the shepherd-architects in planning and superintending
the work, was unable to construct a pyramid so perfect and so stately as
his brother's, the very fact that he nevertheless built a pyramid shows
that the Great Pyramid did not fulfil for Chephren the purpose which it
fulfilled for Cheops. But, if Smyth's theory were true, the Great
Pyramid would have fulfilled finally and for all men the purpose for
which it was built. Since this was manifestly not the case, that theory
is, I submit, demonstrably erroneous.

It was probably the consideration of this point, viz. that each king had
a pyramid constructed for himself, which led to the theory that the
pyramids were intended to serve as tombs. This theory was once very
generally entertained. Thus we find Humboldt, in his remarks on American
pyramids, referring to the tomb theory of the Egyptian pyramids as
though it were open to no question. 'When we consider,' he says, 'the
pyramidical monuments of Egypt, of Asia, and of the New Continent, from
the same point of view, we see that, though their form is alike, their
destination was altogether different. The group of pyramids of Ghizeh
and at Sakhara in Egypt; the triangular pyramid of the Queen of the
Scythians, Zarina, which was a stadium high and three in circumference,
and which was decorated with a colossal figure; the fourteen Etruscan
pyramids, which are said to have been enclosed in the labyrinth of the
king Porsenna, at Clusium--were reared to serve as the sepulchres of the
illustrious dead. Nothing is more natural to men than to commemorate the
spot where rest the ashes of those whose memory they cherish whether it
be, as in the infancy of the race, by simple mounds of earth, or, in
later periods, by the towering height of the tumulus. Those of the
Chinese and of Thibet have only a few metres of elevation. Farther to
the west the dimensions increase; the tumulus of the king Alyattes,
father of Croesus, in Lydia, was six stadia, and that of Ninus was
more than ten stadia in diameter. In the north of Europe the sepulchre
of the Scandinavian king Gormus and the queen Daneboda, covered with
mounds of earth, are three hundred metres broad, and more than thirty

But while we have abundant reason for believing that in Egypt, even in
the days of Cheops and Chephren, extreme importance was attached to the
character of the place of burial for distinguished persons, there is
nothing in what is known respecting earlier Egyptian ideas to suggest
the probability that any monarch would have devoted many years of his
subjects' labour, and vast stores of material, to erect a mass of
masonry like the Great Pyramid, solely to receive his own body after
death. Far less have we any reason for supposing that many monarchs in
succession would do this, each having a separate tomb built for him. It
might have been conceivable, had only the Great Pyramid been erected,
that the structure had been raised as a mausoleum for all the kings and
princes of the dynasty. But it seems utterly incredible that such a
building as the Great Pyramid should have been erected for one king's
body only--and that, not in the way described by Humboldt, when he
speaks of men commemorating the spot where rest the remains of those
whose memory they cherish, but at the expense of the king himself whose
body was to be there deposited. Besides, the first pyramid, the one
whose history must be regarded as most significant of the true purpose
of these buildings, was not built by an Egyptian holding in great favour
the special religious ideas of his people, but by one who had adopted
other views and those not belonging, so far as can be seen, to a people
among whom sepulchral rites were held in exceptional regard.

A still stronger objection against the exclusively tombic theory
resides in the fact that this theory gives no account whatever of the
characteristic features of the pyramids themselves. These buildings are
all, without exception, built on special astronomical principles. Their
square bases are so placed as to have two sides lying east and west, and
two lying north and south, or, in other words, so that their four faces
front the four cardinal points. One can imagine no reason why a tomb
should have such a position. It is not, indeed, easy to understand why
any building at all, except an astronomical observatory, should have
such a position. A temple perhaps devoted to sun-worship, and generally
to the worship of the heavenly bodies, might be built in that way. For
it is to be noticed that the peculiar figure and position of the
pyramids would bring about the following relations:--When the sun rose
and set south of the east and west points, or (speaking generally)
between the autumn and the spring equinoxes, the rays of the rising and
setting sun illuminated the southern face of the pyramid; whereas during
the rest of the year, that is, during the six months between the spring
and autumn equinoxes, the rays of the rising and setting sun illuminated
the northern face. Again, all the year round the sun's rays passed from
the eastern to the western face at solar noon. And lastly, during seven
months and a half of each year, namely, for three months and three
quarters before and after midsummer, the noon rays of the sun fell on
all four faces of the pyramid, or, according to a Peruvian expression
(so Smyth avers), the sun shone on the pyramid 'with all his rays.' Such
conditions as these might have been regarded as very suitable for a
temple devoted to sun-worship. Yet the temple theory is as untenable as
the tomb theory. For, in the first place, the pyramid form--as the
pyramids were originally built, with perfectly smooth slant-faces, not
terraced into steps as now through the loss of the casing-stones--was
entirely unsuited for all the ordinary requirements of a temple of
worship. And further, this theory gives no explanation of the fact that
each king built a pyramid, and each king only one. Similar difficulties
oppose the theory that the pyramids were intended to serve as
astronomical observatories. For while their original figure, however
manifestly astronomical in its relations, was quite unsuited for
observatory work, it is manifest that if such had been the purpose of
pyramid-building, so soon as the Great Pyramid had once been built, no
other would be needed. Certainly none of the pyramids built afterwards
could have subserved any astronomical purpose which the first did not
subserve, or have subserved nearly so well as the Great Pyramid those
purposes (and they are but few) which that building may be supposed to
have fulfilled as an astronomical observatory.

Of the other theories mentioned at the beginning of this paper none seem
to merit special notice, except perhaps the theory that the pyramids
were made to receive the royal treasures, and this theory rather because
of the attention it received from Arabian literati, during the ninth and
tenth centuries, than because of any strong reasons which can be
suggested in its favour. 'Emulating,' says Professor Smyth, 'the
enchanted tales of Bagdad,' the court poets of Al Mamoun (son of the
far-famed Haroun al Raschid) 'drew gorgeous pictures of the contents of
the pyramid's interior.... All the treasures of Sheddad Ben Ad the great
Antediluvian king of the earth, with all his medicines and all his
sciences, they declared were there, told over and over again. Others,
though, were positive that the founder-king was no other than Saurid Ibn
Salhouk, a far greater one than the other; and these last gave many more
minute particulars, some of which are at least interesting to us in the
present day, as proving that, amongst the Egypto-Arabians of more than
a thousand years ago, the Jeezeh pyramids, headed by the grand one,
enjoyed a pre-eminence of fame vastly before all the other pyramids of
Egypt put together; and that if any other is alluded to after the Great
Pyramid (which has always been the notable and favourite one, and
chiefly was known then as the East pyramid), it is either the second one
at Jeezeh, under the name of the West pyramid; or the third one,
distinguished as the Coloured pyramid, in allusion to its red granite,
compared with the white limestone casings of the other two (which,
moreover, from their more near, but by no means exact, equality of size,
went frequently under the affectionate designation of "the pair").'

The report of Ibn Abd Alkohm, as to what was to be found in each of
these three pyramids, or rather of what, according to him, was put into
them originally by King Saurid, runs as follows: 'In the Western
pyramid, thirty treasuries filled with store of riches and utensils, and
with signatures made of precious stones, and with instruments of iron
and vessels of earth, and with arms which rust not, and with glass which
might be bended and yet not broken, and with strange spells, and with
several kinds of _alakakirs_ (magical precious stones) single and
double, and with deadly poisons, and with other things besides. He made
also in the East' (the Great Pyramid) 'divers celestial spheres and
stars, and what they severally operate in their aspects, and the
perfumes which are to be used to them, and the books which treat of
these matters. He put also into the coloured pyramid the commentaries of
the priests in chests of black marble, and with every priest a book, in
which the wonders of his profession and of his actions and of his nature
were written, and what was done in his time, and what is and what shall
be from the beginning of time to the end of it.' The rest of this
worthy's report relates to certain treasurers placed within these three
pyramids to guard their contents, and (like all or most of what I have
already quoted) was a work of imagination. Ibn Abd Alkohm, in fact, was
a romancist of the first water.

Perhaps the strongest argument against the theory that the pyramids were
intended as strongholds for the concealment of treasure, resides in the
fact that, search being made, no treasure has been discovered. When the
workmen employed by Caliph Al Mamoun, after encountering manifold
difficulties, at length broke their way into the great ascending passage
leading to the so-called King's Chamber, they found 'a right noble
apartment, thirty-four feet long, seventeen broad, and nineteen high, of
polished red granite throughout, walls, floor, and ceiling, in blocks
squared and true, and put together with such exquisite skill that the
joints are barely discernible to the closest inspection. But where is
the treasure--the silver and the gold, the jewels, medicines, and
arms?--These fanatics look wildly around them, but can see nothing, not
a single _dirhem_ anywhere. They trim their torches, and carry them
again and again to every part of that red-walled, flinty hall, but
without any better success. Nought but pure polished red granite, in
mighty slabs, looks upon them from every side. The room is clean,
garnished too, as it were, and, according to the ideas of its founders,
complete and perfectly ready for its visitors so long expected, so long
delayed. But the gross minds who occupy it now, find it all barren, and
declare that there is nothing whatever for them in the whole extent of
the apartment from one end to another; nothing except an empty stone
chest without a lid.'

It is, however, to be noted that we have no means of learning what had
happened between the time when the pyramid was built and when Caliph Al
Mamoun's workmen broke their way into the King's Chamber. The place
may, after all, have contained treasures of some kind; nor, indeed, is
it incompatible with other theories of the pyramid to suppose that it
was used as a safe receptacle for treasures. It is certain, however,
that this cannot have been the special purpose for which the pyramids
were designed. We should find in such a purpose no explanation whatever
of any of the most stringent difficulties encountered in dealing with
other theories. There could be no reason why strangers from the East
should be at special pains to instruct an Egyptian monarch how to hide
and guard his treasures. Nor, if the Great Pyramid had been intended to
receive the treasures of Cheops, would Chephren have built another for
his own treasures, which must have included those gathered by Cheops.
But, apart from this, how inconceivably vast must a treasure-hoard be
supposed to be, the safe guarding of which would have repaid the
enormous cost of the great Pyramid in labour and material! And then, why
should a mere treasure-house have the characteristics of an astronomical
observatory? Manifestly, if the pyramids were used at all to receive
treasures, it can only have been as an entirely subordinate though
perhaps convenient means of utilising these gigantic structures.

Having thus gone through all the suggested purposes of the pyramids save
two or three which clearly do not possess any claim to serious
consideration, and having found none which appear to give any sufficient
account of the history and principal features of these buildings, we
must either abandon the inquiry or seek for some explanation quite
different from any yet suggested. Let us consider what are the principal
points of which the true theory of the pyramids should give an account.

In the first place, the history of the pyramids shows that the erection
of the first great pyramid was in all probability either suggested to
Cheops by wise men who visited Egypt from the East, or else some
important information conveyed to him by such visitors caused him to
conceive the idea of building the pyramid. In either case we may
suppose, as the history indeed suggests, that these learned men, whoever
they may have been, remained in Egypt to superintend the erection of the
structure. It may be that the architectural work was not under their
supervision; in fact, it seems altogether unlikely that shepherd-rulers
would have much to teach the Egyptians in the matter of architecture.
But the astronomical peculiarities which form so significant a feature
of the Great Pyramid were probably provided for entirely under the
instructions of the shepherd chiefs who had exerted so strange an
influence upon the mind of King Cheops.

Next, it seems clear that self-interest must have been the predominant
reason in the mind of the Egyptian king for undertaking this stupendous
work. It is true that his change of religion implies that some higher
cause influenced him. But a ruler who could inflict such grievous
burdens on his people in carrying out his purpose that for ages
afterwards his name was held in utter detestation, cannot have been
solely or even chiefly influenced by religious motives. It affords an
ample explanation of the behaviour of Cheops, in closing the temples and
forsaking the religion of his country, to suppose that the advantages
which he hoped to secure by building the pyramid depended in some way on
his adopting this course. The visitors from the East may have refused to
give their assistance on any other terms, or may have assured him that
the expected benefit could not be obtained if the pyramid were erected
by idolaters. It is certain, in any case, that they were opposed to
idolatry; and we have thus some means of inferring who they were and
whence they came. We know that one particular branch of one particular
race in the East was characterised by a most marked hatred of idolatry
in all its forms. Terah and his family, or, probably, a sect or division
of the Chaldæan people, went forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into
the land of Canaan--and the reason why they went forth we learn from a
book of considerable historical interest (the book of Judith) to have
been because 'they would not worship the gods of their fathers who were
in the land of the Chaldæans.' The Bible record shows that members of
this branch of the Chaldæan people visited Egypt from time to time. They
were shepherds, too, which accords well with the account of Herodotus
above quoted. We can well understand that persons of this family would
have resisted all endeavours to secure their acquiescence in any scheme
associated with idolatrous rites. Neither promises nor threats would
have had much influence on them. It was a distinguished member of the
family, the patriarch Abraham, who said: 'I have lift up mine hand unto
the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I
will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, and that I will not
take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram
rich.' Vain would all the promises and all the threats of Cheops have
been to men of this spirit. Such men might help him in his plans,
suggested, as the history shows, by teachings of their own, but it must
be on their own conditions, and those conditions would most certainly
include the utter rejection of idolatrous worship by the king in whose
behalf they worked, as well as by all who shared in their labours. It
seems probable that they convinced both Cheops and Chephren, that unless
these kings gave up idolatry, the purpose, whatever it was, which the
pyramid was erected to promote, would not be fulfilled. The mere fact
that the Great Pyramid was built either directly at the suggestion of
these visitors, or because they had persuaded Cheops of the truth of
some important doctrine, shows that they must have gained great
influence over his mind. Rather we may say that he must have been so
convinced of their knowledge and power as to have accepted with
unquestioning confidence all that they told him respecting the
particular subject over which they seemed to possess so perfect a

But having formed the opinion, on grounds sufficiently assured, that the
strangers who visited Egypt and superintended the building of the Great
Pyramid were kinsmen of the patriarch Abraham, it is not very difficult
to decide what was the subject respecting which they had such exact
information. They or their parents had come from the land of the
Chaldæans, and they were doubtless learned in all the wisdom of their
Chaldæan kinsmen. They were masters, in fact, of the astronomy of their
day, a science for which the Chaldæans had shown from the earliest ages
the most remarkable aptitude. What the actual extent of their
astronomical knowledge may have been it would be difficult to say. But
it is certain, from the exact knowledge which later Chaldæans possessed
respecting long astronomical cycles, that astronomical observations must
have been carried on continuously by that people for many hundreds of
years. It is highly probable that the astronomical knowledge of the
Chaldæans in the days of Terah and Abraham was much more accurate than
that possessed by the Greeks even after the time of Hipparchus.[24] We
see indeed, in the accurate astronomical adjustment of the Great
Pyramid, that the architects must have been skilful astronomers and
mathematicians; and I may note here, in passing, how strongly this
circumstance confirms the opinion that the visitors were kinsmen of
Terah and Abraham. All we know from Herodotus and Manetho, all the
evidence from the circumstances connected with the religion of the
pyramid-kings, and the astronomical evidence given by the pyramids
themselves, tends to assure us that members of that particular branch of
the Chaldæan family which went out from Ur of the Chaldees because they
would not worship the gods of the Chaldæans, extended their wanderings
to Egypt, and eventually superintended the erection of the Great Pyramid
so far as astronomical and mathematical relations were concerned.

But not only have we already decided that the pyramids were not intended
solely or chiefly to sub serve the purpose of astronomical
observatories, but it is certain that Cheops would not have been
personally much interested in any astronomical information which these
visitors might be able to communicate. Unless he saw clearly that
something was to be gained from the lore of his visitors, he would not
have undertaken to erect any astronomical buildings at their suggestion,
even if he had cared enough for their knowledge to pay any attention to
them whatever. Most probably the reply Cheops would have made to any
communications respecting mere astronomy, would have run much in the
style of the reply made by the Turkish Cadi, Imaum Ali Zadè to a friend
of Layard's who had apparently bored him about double stars and comets:
'Oh my soul! oh my lamb!' said Ali Zadè, 'seek not after the things
which concern thee not. Thou camest unto us, and we welcomed thee: go in
peace. Of a truth thou hast spoken many words; and there is no harm
done, for the speaker is one and the listener is another. After the
fashion of thy people thou hast wandered from one place to another until
thou art happy and content in none. Listen, oh my son! There is no
wisdom equal unto the belief in God! He created the world, and shall we
liken ourselves unto Him in seeking to penetrate into the mysteries of
His creation? Shall we say, Behold this star spinneth round that star,
and this other star with a tail goeth and cometh in so many years! Let
it go! He from whose hand it came will guide and direct it. But thou
wilt say unto me, Stand aside, oh man, for I am more learned than thou
art, and have seen more things. If thou thinkest that thou art in this
respect better than I am, thou art welcome. I praise God that I seek not
that which I require not. Thou art learned in the things I care not for;
and as for that which thou hast seen, I defile it. Will much knowledge
create thee a double belly, or wilt thou seek paradise with thine eyes?'
Such, omitting the references to the Creator, would probably have been
the reply of Cheops to his visitors, had they only had astronomical
facts to present him with. Or, in the plenitude of his kingly power, he
might have more decisively rejected their teaching by removing their

But the shepherd-astronomers had knowledge more attractive to offer than
a mere series of astronomical discoveries. Their ancestors had

  Watched from the centres of their sleeping flocks
  Those radiant Mercuries, that seemed to move
  Carrying through æther in perpetual round
  Decrees and resolutions of the gods;

and though the visitors of King Cheops had themselves rejected the
Sabaistic polytheism of their kinsmen, they had not rejected the
doctrine that the stars in their courses affect the fortunes of men. We
know that among the Jews, probably the direct descendants of the
shepherd-chiefs who visited Cheops, and certainly close kinsmen of
theirs, and akin to them also in their monotheism, the belief in
astrology was never regarded as a superstition. In fact, we can trace
very clearly in the books relating to this people that they believed
confidently in the influences of the heavenly bodies. Doubtless the
visitors of King Cheops shared the belief of their Chaldæan kinsmen that
astrology is a true science, 'founded' indeed (as Bacon expresses their
views) 'not in reason and physical contemplations, but in the direct
experience and observation of past ages.' Josephus records the Jewish
tradition (though not as a tradition but as a fact) that 'our first
father, Adam, was instructed in astrology by divine inspiration,' and
that Seth so excelled in the science, that, 'foreseeing the Flood and
the destruction of the world thereby, he engraved the fundamental
principles of his art (astrology) in hieroglyphical emblems, for the
benefit of after ages, on two pillars of brick and stone.' He says
farther on that the Patriarch Abraham, 'having learned the art in
Chaldæa, when he journeyed into Egypt taught the Egyptians the sciences
of arithmetic and astrology.' Indeed, the stranger called Philitis by
Herodotus may, for aught that appears, have been Abraham himself; for it
is generally agreed that the word Philitis indicated the race and
country of the visitors, regarded by the Egyptians as of Philistine
descent and arriving from Palestine. However, I am in no way concerned
to show that the shepherd-astronomers who induced Cheops to build the
Great Pyramid were even contemporaries of Abraham and Melchizedek. What
seems sufficiently obvious is all that I care to maintain, namely, that
these shepherd-astronomers were of Chaldæan birth and training, and
therefore astrologers, though, unlike their Chaldæan kinsmen, they
rejected Sabaism or star-worship, and taught the belief in one only

Now, if these visitors were astrologers, who persuaded Cheops, and were
honestly convinced themselves, that they could predict the events of any
man's life by the Chaldæan method of casting nativities, we can readily
understand many circumstances connected with the pyramids which have
hitherto seemed inexplicable. The pyramid built by a king would no
longer be regarded as having reference to his death and burial, but to
his birth and life, though after his death it might receive his body.
Each king would require to have his own nativity-pyramid, built with due
symbolical reference to the special celestial influences affecting his
fortunes. Every portion of the work would have to be carried out under
special conditions, determined according to the mysterious influences
ascribed to the different planets and their varying positions--

        now high, now low, then hid.
  Progressive, retrograde, or standing still.

If the work had been intended only to afford the means of predicting the
king's future, the labour would have been regarded by the monarch as
well bestowed. But astrology involved much more than the mere prediction
of future events. Astrologers claimed the power of ruling the
planets--that is, of course, not of ruling the motions of those bodies,
but of providing against evil influences or strengthening good
influences which they supposed the celestial orbs to exert in particular
aspects. Thus we can understand that while the mere basement layers of
the pyramid would have served for the process of casting the royal
nativity, with due mystic observances, the further progress of building
the pyramid would supply the necessary means and indications for ruling
the planets most potent in their influence upon the royal career.

Remembering the mysterious influence which astrologers ascribed to
special numbers, figures, positions, and so forth, the care with which
the Great Pyramid was so proportioned as to indicate particular
astronomical and mathematical relations is at once explained. The four
sides of the square base were carefully placed with reference to the
cardinal points, precisely like the four sides of the ordinary square
scheme of nativity.[25] The eastern side faced the Ascendant, the
southern faced the Mid-heaven, the western faced the Descendant, and the
northern faced the Imum Coeli. Again, we can understand that the
architects would have made a circuit of the base correspond in length
with the number of days in the year--a relation which, according to
Prof. P. Smyth, is fulfilled in this manner, that the four sides contain
one hundred times as many pyramid inches as there are days in the year.
The pyramid inch, again, is itself mystically connected with
astronomical relations, for its length is equal to the five hundred
millionth part of the earth's diameter, to a degree of exactness
corresponding well with what we might expect Chaldæan astronomers to
attain. Prof. Smyth, indeed, believes that it was exactly equal to that
proportion of the earth's polar diameter--a view which would correspond
with his theory that the architects of the Great Pyramid were assisted
by divine inspiration; but what is certainly known about the sacred
cubit, which contained twenty-five of these inches, corresponds better
with the diameter which the Chaldæan astronomers, if they worked very
carefully, would have deduced from observations made in their own
country, on the supposition which they would naturally have made that
the earth is a perfect globe, not compressed at the poles. It is not
indeed at all certain that the sacred cubit bore any reference to the
earth's dimensions; but this seems tolerably well made out--that the
sacred cubit was about 25 inches in length, and that the circuit of the
pyramid's base contained a hundred inches for every day of the year.
Relations such as these are precisely what we might expect to find in
buildings having an astrological significance. Similarly, it would
correspond well with the mysticism of astrology that the pyramid should
be so proportioned as to make the height be the radius of a circle whose
circumference would equal the circuit of the pyramid's base. Again, that
long slant tunnel, leading downwards from the pyramid's northern face,
would at once find a meaning in this astrological theory. The slant
tunnel pointed to the pole-star of Cheops' time, when due north below
the true pole of the heavens. This circumstance had no observational
utility. It could afford no indication of time, because a pole-star
moves very slowly, and the pole-star of Cheops' day must have been in
view through that tunnel for more than an hour at a time. But, apart
from the mystical significance which an astrologer would attribute to
such a relation, it may be shown that this slant tunnel is precisely
what the astrologer would require in order to get the horoscope

Another consideration remains to be mentioned which, while strengthening
the astrological theory of the pyramids, may bring us even nearer to the
true aim of those who planned and built these structures.

It is known also that the Chaldæans from the earliest times pursued the
study of alchemy in connection with astrology, not hoping to discover
the philosopher's stone by chemical investigations alone, but by
carrying out such investigations under special celestial influence. The
hope of achieving this discovery, by which he would at once have had the
means of acquiring illimitable wealth, would of itself account for the
fact that Cheops expended so much labour and material in the erection of
the Great Pyramid, seeing that, of necessity, success in the search for
the philosopher's stone would be a main feature of his fortunes, and
would therefore be astrologically indicated in his nativity-pyramid, or
perhaps even be secured by following mystical observances proper for
ruling his planets.

The elixir of life may also have been among the objects which the
builders of the pyramids hoped to discover.

It may be noticed, as a somewhat significant circumstance, that, in the
account given by Ibn Abd Alkohm of the contents of the various pyramids,
those assigned to the Great Pyramid relate entirely to astrology and
associated mysteries. It is, of course, clear that Abd Alkohm drew
largely on his imagination. Yet it seems probable that there was also
some basis of tradition for his ideas. And certainly one would suppose
that, as he assigned a treasurer to the East pyramid ('a statue of black
agate, his eyes open and shining, sitting on a throne with a lance'), he
would have credited the building with treasure also, had not some
tradition taught otherwise. But he says that King Saurid placed in the
East pyramid, not treasures, but 'divers celestial spheres and stars,
and what they severally operate in their aspects, and the perfumes which
are to be used to them, and the books which treat of these matters.'[26]

But, after all, it must be admitted that the strongest evidence in
favour of the astrological (and alchemical) theory of the pyramids is to
be found in the circumstance that all other theories seem untenable. The
pyramids were undoubtedly erected for some purpose which was regarded by
their builders as most important. This purpose certainly related to the
personal fortunes of the kingly builders. It was worth an enormous
outlay of money, labour, and material. This purpose was such,
furthermore, that each king required to have his own pyramid. It was in
some way associated with astronomy, for the pyramids are built with most
accurate reference to celestial aspects. It also had its mathematical
and mystical bearings, seeing that the pyramids exhibit mathematical and
symbolical peculiarities not belonging to their essentially structural
requirements. And lastly, the erection of the pyramids was in some way
connected with the arrival of certain learned persons from Palestine,
and presumably of Chaldæan origin. All these circumstances accord well
with the theory I have advanced; while only some of them, and these not
the most characteristic, accord with any of the other theories.
Moreover, no fact known respecting the pyramids or their builders is
inconsistent with the astrological (and alchemical) theory. On the
whole, then, if it cannot be regarded as demonstrated (in its general
bearing, of course, for we cannot expect any theory about the pyramids
to be established in minute details), the astrological theory may fairly
be described as having a greater degree of probability in its favour
than any hitherto advanced.



If it were permitted to men to select a sign whereby they should know
that a message came from the Supreme Being, probably the man of science
would select for the sign the communication of some scientific fact
beyond the knowledge of the day, but admitting of being readily put to
the test. The evidence thus obtained in favour of a revelation would
correspond in some sense to that depending on prophecies; but it would
be more satisfactory to men having that particular mental bent which is
called the scientific. Whether this turn of mind is inherent or the
result of training, it certainly leads men of science to be more
exacting in considering the value of evidence than any men, except
perhaps lawyers. In the case of the student of science, St. Paul's
statement that 'prophecies' 'shall fail' has been fulfilled, whereas it
may be doubted whether evidence from 'knowledge' would in like manner
'vanish away.' On the contrary, it would grow stronger and stronger, as
knowledge from observation, from experiment, and from calculation
continually increased. It can scarcely be said that this has happened
with such quasi-scientific statements as have actually been associated
with revelation. If we regard St. Paul's reference to knowledge as
relating to such statements as these, then nothing could be more
complete than the fulfilment of his own prediction, 'Whether there be
prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease;
whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.' The evidence from
prophecies fails for the exact inquirer, who perceives the doubts which
exist (among the most earnest believers) as to the exact meaning of the
prophetic words, and even in some cases as to whether prophecies have
been long since fulfilled or relate to events still to come. The
evidence from 'tongues' has ceased, and those are dust who are said to
have spoken in strange tongues. The knowledge which was once thought
supernatural has utterly vanished away. But if, in the ages of faith,
some of the results of modern scientific research had been revealed, as
the laws of the solar system, the great principle of the conservation of
energy, or the wave theory of light, or if some of the questions which
still remain for men of science to solve had been answered in those
times, the evidence for the student of science would have been
irresistible. Of course he will be told that even then he would have
hardened his heart; that the inquiry after truth tending naturally to
depravity of mind, he would reject even evidence based on his beloved
laws of probability; that his 'wicked and adulterous generation seeketh
"in vain" after a sign,' and that if he will not accept Moses and the
prophets, neither would he believe though one rose from the dead. Still
the desire of the student of science to base his faith on convincing
evidence (in a matter as important to him as to those who abuse him)
does seem to have something reasonable in it after all. The mental
qualities which cause him to be less easily satisfied than others, came
to him in the same way as his bodily qualities; and even if the result
to which his mental training leads him is as unfortunate as some
suppose, that training is not strictly speaking so heinously sinful that
nothing short of the eternal reprobation meted out to him by earthly
judges can satisfy divine justice. So that it may be thought not a
wholly unpardonable sin to speak of a sign which, had it been accorded,
would have satisfied even the most exacting student of science. Apart,
too, from all question of faith, the mere scientific interest of
divinely inspired communications respecting natural laws and processes
would justify a student of science in regarding them as most desirable
messages from a being of superior wisdom and benevolence. If prophecies
and tongues, why not knowledge, as evidence of a divine mission?

Such thoughts are suggested by the claim of some religious teachers to
the possession of knowledge other than that which they could have gained
by natural means. The claim has usually been quite honest. The teacher
of religion tests the reality of his mission in simple _à priori_
confidence that he has such a mission, and that therefore some one or
other of the tests he applies will afford the required evidence. To one,
says St. Paul, is given the word of wisdom; to another, the word of
knowledge; to another, faith; to another, the gift of healing; to
another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the
discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues: and so
forth. If a man like Mahomet, who believes in his mission to teach,
finds that he cannot satisfactorily work miracles--that mountains will
not be removed at his bidding--then some other evidence satisfies him of
the reality of his mission. Swedenborg, than whom, perhaps, no more
honest man ever lived, said and believed that to him had been granted
the discerning of spirits. 'It is to be observed,' he said, 'that a man
may be instructed by spirits and angels if his interiors be so open as
to enable him to speak and be in company with them, for man in his
essence is a spirit, and is with spirits as to his interiors; so that
he whose interiors are opened by the Lord may converse with them, as
man with man. _This privilege I have enjoyed daily now for twelve

It indicates the fulness of Swedenborg's belief in this privilege that
he did not hesitate to describe what the spirits taught him respecting
matters which belong rather to science than to faith; though it must be
admitted that probably he supposed there was small reason for believing
that his statements could ever be tested by the results of scientific
research. The objects to which his spiritual communications related were
conveniently remote. I do not say this as desiring for one moment to
suggest that he purposely selected those objects, and not others which
might be more readily examined. He certainly believed in the reality of
the communications he described. But possibly there is some law in
things visionary, corresponding to the law of mental operation with
regard to scientific theories; and as the mind theorises freely about a
subject little understood, but cautiously where many facts have been
ascertained, so probably exact knowledge of a subject prevents the
operation of those illusions which are regarded as supernatural
communications. It is in a dim light only that the active imagination
pictures objects which do not really exist; in the clear light of day
they can no longer be imagined. So it is with mental processes.

Probably there is no subject more suitable in this sense for the
visionary than that of life in other worlds. It has always had an
attraction for imaginative minds, simply because it is enwrapped in so
profound a mystery; and there has been little to restrain the fancy,
because so little is certainly known of the physical condition of other
worlds. Recently, indeed, a somewhat sudden and severe check has been
placed on the liveliness of imagination which had enabled men formerly
to picture to themselves the inhabitants of other orbs in space.
Spectroscopic analysis and exact telescopic scrutiny will not permit
some speculations to be entertained which formerly met with favour. Yet
even now there has been but a slight change of scene and time. If men
can no longer imagine inhabitants of one planet because it is too hot,
or of another because it is too cold, of one body because it is too
deeply immersed in vaporous masses, or of another because it has neither
atmosphere nor water, we have only to speculate about the unseen worlds
which circle round those other suns, the stars; or, instead of changing
the region of space where we imagine worlds, we can look backward to the
time when planets now cold and dead were warm with life, or forward to
the distant future when planets now glowing with fiery heat shall have
cooled down to a habitable condition.

Swedenborg's imaginative mind seems to have fully felt the charm of this
interesting subject. It was, indeed, because of the charm which he found
in it, that he was readily persuaded into the belief that knowledge had
been supernaturally communicated to him respecting it. 'Because I had a
desire,' he says, 'to know if there are other earths, and to learn their
nature and the character of their inhabitants, it was granted me by the
Lord to converse and have intercourse with spirits and angels who had
come from other earths, with some for a day, with some for a week, and
with some for months. From them I have received information respecting
the earths from and near which they are, the modes of life, customs and
worship of their inhabitants, besides various other particulars of
interest, all which, having come to my knowledge in this way, I can
describe as things which I have seen and heard.'

It is interesting (psychologically) to notice how the reasoning which
had convinced Swedenborg of the existence of other inhabited worlds is
attributed by him to the spirits. 'It is well known in the other life,'
he says, 'that there are many earths with men upon them; for there (that
is, in the spiritual life) every one who, from a love of truth and
consequent use, desires it, is allowed to converse with the spirits of
other earths, so as to be assured that there is a plurality of worlds,
and be informed that the human race is not confined to one earth only,
but extends to numberless earths.... I have occasionally conversed on
this subject with the spirits of our earth, and the result of our
conversation was that a man of enlarged understanding may conclude from
various considerations that there are many earths with human inhabitants
upon them. For it is an inference of reason that masses so great as the
planets are, some of which exceed this earth in magnitude, are not empty
bodies, created only to be carried in their motion round the sun, and to
shine with their scanty light for the benefit of one earth only; but
that they must have a nobler use. He who believes, as every one ought to
believe, that the Deity created the universe for no other end than the
existence of the human race, and of heaven from it (for the human race
is the seminary of heaven), must also believe that wherever there is an
earth there are human inhabitants. That the planets which are visible to
us, being within the boundary of our solar system, are earths, may
appear from various considerations. They are bodies of earthy matter,
because they reflect the sun's light, and when seen through the
telescope appear, not as stars shining with a flaming lustre, but as
earths, variegated with obscure spots. Like our earth, they are carried
round the sun by a progressive motion, through the path of the Zodiac,
whence they have years and seasons of the year, which are spring,
summer, autumn, and winter; and they rotate upon their axes, which makes
days, and times of the day, as morning, midday, evening, and night. Some
of them also have satellites, which perform their revolutions about
their globes, as the moon does about ours. The planet Saturn, as being
farthest from the sun, has besides an immense luminous ring, which
supplies that earth with much, though reflected, light. How is it
possible for anyone acquainted with these facts, and who thinks from
reason, to assert that such bodies are uninhabited?'

Remembering that this reasoning was urged by the spirits, and that
during twelve years Swedenborg's interiors had been opened in such sort
that he could converse with spirits from other worlds, it is surprising
that he should have heard nothing about Uranus or Neptune, to say
nothing of the zone of asteroids, or again, of planets as yet unknown
which may exist outside the path of Neptune. He definitely commits
himself, it will be observed, to the statement that Saturn is the planet
farthest from the sun. And elsewhere, in stating where in these
spiritual communications the 'idea' of each planet was conceived to be
situated, he leaves no room whatever for Uranus and Neptune, and makes
no mention of other bodies in the solar system than those known in his
day. This cannot have been because the spirits from then unknown planets
did not feel themselves called upon to communicate with the spirit of
one who knew nothing of their home, for he received visitors from worlds
in the starry heavens far beyond human ken. It would almost seem, though
to the faithful Swedenborgian the thought will doubtless appear very
wicked, that the system of Swedenborg gave no place to Uranus and
Neptune, simply because he knew nothing about those planets. Otherwise,
what a noble opportunity there would have been for establishing the
truth of Swedenborgian doctrines by revealing to the world the existence
of planets hitherto unknown. Before the reader pronounces this a task
beneath the dignity of the spirits and angels who taught Swedenborg it
will be well for him to examine the news which they actually imparted.

I may as well premise, however, that it does not seem to me worth while
to enter here at any length into Swedenborg's descriptions of the
inhabitants of other worlds, because what he has to say on this subject
is entirely imaginative. There is a real interest for us in his ideas
respecting the condition of the planets, because those ideas were based
(though unconsciously) upon the science of his day, in which he was no
mean proficient. And even where his mysticism went beyond what his
scientific attainments suggested, a psychological interest attaches to
the workings of his imagination. It is as curious a problem to trace his
ideas to their origin as it sometimes is to account for the various
phases of a fantastic dream, such a dream, for instance, as that which
Armadale, the doctor, and Midwinter, in 'Armadale,' endeavour to connect
with preceding events. But Swedenborg's visions of the behaviour and
appearance of the inhabitants of other earths have little interest,
because it is hopeless to attempt to account for even their leading
features. For instance, what can we make of such a passage as the
following, relating to the spirits who came from Mercury?--'Some of them
are desirous to appear, not like the spirits of other earths as men, but
as crystalline globes. Their desire to appear so, although they do not,
arises from the circumstance that the knowledges of things immaterial
are in the other life represented by crystals.'

Yet some even of these more fanciful visions significantly indicate the
nature of Swedenborg's philosophy. One can recognise his disciples and
his opponents among the inhabitants of various favoured and unhappy
worlds, and one perceives how the wiser and more dignified of his
spiritual visitors are made to advocate his own views, and to deride
those of his adversaries. Some of the teachings thus circuitously
advanced are excellent.

For instance, Swedenborg's description of the inhabitants of Mercury and
their love of abstract knowledge contains an instructive lesson. 'The
spirits of Mercury imagine,' he says, 'that they know so much, that it
is almost impossible to know more. But it has been told them by the
spirits of our earth, that they do not know many things, but few, and
that the things which they know not are comparatively infinite, and in
relation to those they do know are as the waters of the largest ocean to
those of the smallest fountain; and further, that the first advance to
wisdom is to know, acknowledge, and perceive that what we do know,
compared with what we do not know, is so little as hardly to amount to
anything.'[27] So far we may suppose that Swedenborg presents his own
ideas, seeing that he is describing what has been told the Mercurial
spirits by the spirits of our earth, of whom (during these spiritual
conversations) he was one. But he proceeds to describe how angels were
allowed to converse with the Mercurial spirits in order to convince them
of their error. 'I saw another angel,' says he, after describing one
such conversation, 'conversing with them; he appeared at some altitude
to the right; he was from our earth, and he enumerated very many things
of which they were ignorant.... As they had been proud on account of
their knowledges, on hearing this they began to humble themselves. Their
humiliation was represented by the sinking of the company which they
formed, for that company then appeared as a volume or roll, ... as if
hollowed in the middle and raised at the sides.... They were told what
that signified, that is, what they thought in their humiliation, and
that those who appeared elevated at the sides were not as yet in any
humiliation. Then I saw that the volume was separated, and that those
who were not in humiliation were remanded back towards their earth, the
rest remaining.'

Little being known to Swedenborg, as indeed little is known to the
astronomers of our own time, about Mercury, we find little in the
visions relating to that planet which possesses any scientific interest.
He asked the inhabitants who were brought to him in visions about the
sun of the system, and they replied that it looks larger from Mercury
than as seen from other worlds. This of course was no news to
Swedenborg. They explained further, that the inhabitants enjoy a
moderate temperature, without extremes of heat or cold. 'It was given to
me,' proceeds Swedenborg, 'to tell them that it was so provided by the
Lord, that they might not be exposed to excessive heat from their
greater proximity to the sun, since heat does not arise from the sun's
nearness, but from the height and density of the atmosphere, as appears
from the cold on high mountains even in hot climates; also that heat is
varied according to the direct or oblique incidence of the sun's rays,
as is plain from the seasons of winter and summer in every region.' It
is curious to find thus advanced, in a sort of lecture addressed to
visionary Mercurials, a theory which crops up repeatedly in the present
day, because the difficulty which suggests it is dealt with so
unsatisfactorily for the most part in our text-books of science.
Continually we hear of some new paradoxist who propounds as a novel
doctrine the teaching that the atmosphere, and not the sun, is the cause
of heat. The mistake was excusable in Swedenborg's time. In fact it so
chanced that, apart from the obvious fact on which the mistake is
usually based--the continued presence, namely, of snow on the summits of
high mountains even in the torrid zone--it had been shown shortly before
by Newton, that the light fleecy clouds seen sometimes even in the
hottest weather above the wool-pack or cumulus clouds are composed of
minute crystals of ice. Seeing that these tiny crystals can exist under
the direct rays of the sun in hot summer weather, many find it difficult
to understand how those rays can of themselves have any heating power.
Yet in reality the reasoning addressed by Swedenborg to his Mercurial
friends was entirely erroneous. If he could have adventured as far forth
into time as he did into space, and could have attended in the spirit
the lectures of one John Tyndall, a spirit of our earth, he would have
had this matter rightly explained to him. In reality the sun's heat is
as effective directly at the summit of the highest mountain as at the
sea-level. A thermometer exposed to the sun in the former position
indicates indeed a slightly higher temperature than one similarly
exposed to the sun (when at the same altitude) at the sea-level. But the
air does not get warmed to the same degree, simply because, owing to
its rarity and relative dryness, it fails to retain any portion of the
heat which passes through it.

It is interesting to notice how Swedenborg's scientific conceptions of
the result of the (relatively) airless condition of our moon suggested
peculiar fancies respecting the lunar inhabitants. Interesting, I mean,
psychologically: for it is curious to see scientific and fanciful
conceptions thus unconsciously intermingled. Of the conscious
intermingling of such conceptions instances are common enough. The
effects of the moon's airless condition have been often made the subject
of fanciful speculations. The reader will remember how Scheherazade, in
'The Poet at the Breakfast Table,' runs on about the moon. 'Her delight
was unbounded, and her curiosity insatiable. If there were any living
creatures there, what odd things they must be. They couldn't have any
lungs nor any hearts. What a pity! Did they ever die? How could they
expire if they didn't breathe? Burn up? No air to burn in. Tumble into
some of those horrid pits, perhaps, and break all to bits. She wondered
how the young people there liked it, or whether there were any young
people there. Perhaps nobody was young and nobody was old, but they were
like mummies all of them--what an idea!--two mummies making love to each
other! So she went on in a rattling, giddy kind of way, for she was
excited by the strange scene in which she found herself, and quite
astonished the young astronomer with her vivacity.' But Swedenborg's
firm belief that the fancies engendered in his mind were scientific
realities is very different from the conscious play of fancy in the
passage just quoted. It must be remembered that Swedenborg regarded his
visions with as much confidence as though they were revelations made by
means of scientific instruments; nay, with even more confidence, for he
knew that scientific observations may be misunderstood, whereas he was
fully persuaded that his visions were miraculously provided for his
enlightenment, and that therefore he would not be allowed to
misunderstand aught that was thus revealed to him.

'It is well known to spirits and angels,' he says, 'that there are
inhabitants in the moon, and in the moons or satellites which revolve
about Jupiter and Saturn. Even those who have not seen and conversed
with spirits who are from them entertain no doubt of their being
inhabited, for they, too, are earths, and where there is an earth there
is man; man being the end for which every earth exists, and without an
end nothing was made by the Great Creator. Every one who thinks from
reason in any degree enlightened, must see that the human race is the
final cause of creation.'

The moon being inhabited then by human beings, but being very
insufficiently supplied with air, it necessarily follows that these
human beings must be provided in some way with the means of existing in
that rare and tenuous atmosphere. Tremendous powers of inspiration and
expiration would be required to make that air support the life of the
human body. Although Swedenborg could have had no knowledge of the exact
way in which breathing supports life (for Priestley was his junior by
nearly half a century), yet he must clearly have perceived that the
quantity of air inspired has much to do with the vitalising power of the
indraught. No ordinary human lungs could draw in an adequate supply of
air from such an atmosphere as the moon's; but by some great increase of
breathing power it might be possible to live there: at least, in
Swedenborg's time there was no reason for supposing otherwise. Reason,
then, having convinced him that the lunar inhabitants must possess
extraordinary breathing apparatus, and presumably most powerful voices,
imagination presented them to him accordingly. 'Some spirits appeared
overhead,' he says, 'and thence were heard voices like thunder; for
their voices sounded precisely like thunder from the clouds after
lightning. I supposed it was a great multitude of spirits who had the
art of giving voices with such a sound. The more simple spirits who were
with me derided them, which greatly surprised me. But the cause of their
derision was soon discovered, which was, that the spirits who thundered
were not many, but few, and were as little as children, and that on
former occasions they (the thunderers) had terrified them by such
sounds, and yet were unable to do them the least harm. That I might know
their character, some of them descended from on high, where they
thundered; and, what surprised me, one carried another on his back, and
the two thus approached me. Their faces appeared not unhandsome, but
longer than those of other spirits. In stature they were like children
of seven years old, but the frame was more robust, so that they were
like men. It was told me by the angels that they were from the moon. He
who was carried by the other came to me, applying himself to my left
side under the elbow, and thence spoke. He said, that when they utter
their voices they thunder in this way,'--and it seems likely enough that
if there are any living speaking beings in the moon, their voice, could
they visit the earth, would be found to differ very markedly from the
ordinary human voice. 'In the spiritual world their thunderous voices
have their use. For by their thundering the spirits from the moon
terrify spirits who are inclined to injure them, so that the lunar
spirits go in safety where they will. To convince me the sound they make
was of this kind, he (the spirit who was carried by the other) retired,
but not out of sight, and thundered in like manner. They showed,
moreover, that the voice was thundered by being uttered from the abdomen
like an eructation. It was perceived that this arose from the
circumstance that the inhabitants of the moon do not, like the
inhabitants of other earths, speak from the lungs, but from the abdomen,
and thus from air collected there, the reason of which is that the
atmosphere with which the moon is surrounded is not like that of other

In his intercourse with spirits from Jupiter, Swedenborg heard of
animals larger than those that live on the earth. It has been a
favourite idea of many believers in other worlds than ours, that though
in each world the same races of animals exist, they would be differently
proportioned; and there has been much speculation as to the probable
size of men and other animals in worlds much larger or much smaller than
the earth. When as yet ideas about other worlds were crude, the idea
prevailed that giants exist in the larger orbs, and pygmies in the
smaller. Whether this idea had its origin in conceptions as to the
eternal fitness of things or not, does not clearly appear. It seems
certainly at first view natural enough to suppose that the larger beings
would want more room and so inhabit the larger dwelling-places. It was a
pleasing thought that, if we could visit Jupiter or Saturn, we should
find the human inhabitants there

  In bigness to surpass earth's giant sons;

but that if we could visit our moon or Mercury, or whatever smaller
worlds there are, we should find men

  Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
  Throng numberless, like that pygmæan race
  Beyond the Indian mount; or fairy elves,
  Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
  Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,
  Or dreams he sees.

Later the theory was started that the size of beings in various worlds
depends on the amount of light received from the central sun. Thus
Wolfius asserted that the inhabitants of Jupiter are nearly fourteen
feet high, which he proved by comparing the quantity of sunlight which
reaches the Jovians with that which we Terrenes receive. Recently,
however, it has been noted that the larger the planet, the smaller in
all probability must be the inhabitants, if any. For if there are two
planets of the same density but unequal size, gravity must be greater at
the surface of the larger planet, and where gravity is great large
animals are cumbered by their weight. It is easy to see this by
comparing the muscular strength of two men similarly proportioned, but
unequal in height. Suppose one man five feet in height, the other six;
then the cross section of any given muscle will be less for the former
than for the latter in the proportion of twenty-five (five times five)
to thirty-six (six times six). Roughly, the muscular strength of the
bigger man will be half as great again as that of the smaller. But the
weights of the men will be proportioned as 125 (five times five times
five) to 216 (six times six times six), so that the weight of the bigger
man exceeds that of the smaller nearly as seven exceeds four, or by
three-fourths. The taller man exceeds the smaller, then, much more in
weight than he does in strength; he is accordingly less active in
proportion to his size. Within certain limits, of course, size increases
a man's effective as well as his real strength. For instance, our tall
man in the preceding illustration cannot lift his own weight as readily
as the small man can lift his; but he can lift a weight of three hundred
pounds as easily as the small man can lift a weight of two hundred
pounds. When we get beyond certain limits of height, however, we get
absolute weakness as the result of the increase of weight. Swift's
Brobdingnags, for instance, would have been unable to stand upright; for
they were six times as tall as men, and therefore each Brobdingnag
would have weighed 216 times as much as a man, but would have possessed
only thirty-six times the muscular power. Their weight would have been
greater, then, in a sixfold greater degree than their strength, and, so
far as their mere weight was concerned, their condition would have
resembled that of an ordinary man under a load five times exceeding his
own weight. As no man could walk or stand upright under such a load, so
the Brobdingnags would have been powerless to move, despite, or rather
because of, their enormous stature. Applying the general considerations
here enunciated to the question of the probable size of creatures like
ourselves in other planets, we see that men in Jupiter should be much
smaller, men in Mercury much larger, than men on the earth. So also with
other animals.

But Swedenborg's spirit visitors from these planets taught differently.
'The horses of our earth,' he says, 'when seen by the spirits of
Jupiter, appeared to me smaller than usual, though rather robust; which
arose from the idea those spirits had respecting them. They informed me
that among them there are animals similar, though much larger; but that
they are wild, and in the woods, and that when they come in sight they
cause terror though they are harmless; they added that their terror of
them is natural or innate.'[28] On the other hand the inhabitants of
Mercury, who might be thirteen feet high yet as active as our men,
appeared slenderer than Terrene men. 'I was desirous to know,' says
Swedenborg, 'what kind of face and person the people in Mercury have,
compared with those of the people on our earth. There therefore stood
before me a female exactly resembling the women on that earth. Her face
was beautiful, but it was smaller than that of a woman of our earth; she
was more slender, but of equal height; she wore a linen head-dress, not
artfully yet gracefully disposed. A man also was presented. He, too, was
more slender than the men of our earth; he wore a garment of deep blue,
closely fitted to his body without folds or flowing skirts. Such, I
learn, were the personal form and costume of the humans of that earth.
Afterwards there was shown me a species of the oxen and cows, which did
not indeed differ much from those on our earth, except that they were
smaller, and made some approach to the stag and hind species.' We have
seen, too, that the lunar spirits were no larger than children seven
years old.

One passage of Swedenborg's description of Jupiter is curious. 'Although
on that earth,' he says, 'spirits speak with men' (_i.e._ with Jovian
men) 'man in his turn does not speak with spirits, except to say, when
instructed, _that he will do so no more_,'--which we should regard as a
bull if it were not news from the Jovian spirit world. 'Nor is man
allowed to tell anyone that a spirit has spoken to him; if he does so,
he is punished. Those spirits of Jupiter when they were with me, at
first supposed they were with a man of their own earth; but when in my
turn I spoke with them, and thought of publishing what passed between us
and so relating it to others, then, because they were not allowed to
chastise me, they discovered they were with a stranger.'

It has been a favourite idea with those who delight in the argument from
design, that the moons of the remoter planets have been provided for the
express purpose of making up for the small amount of sunlight which
reaches those planets. Jupiter receives only about one twenty-seventh
part of the light which we receive from the sun; but then, has he not
four moons to make his nights glorious? Saturn is yet farther away from
the sun, and receives only the ninetieth part of the light we get from
the sun; but then he has eight moons and his rings, and the nocturnal
glory of his skies must go far to compensate the Saturnians for the
small quantity of sunlight they receive. The Saturnian spirits who
visited Swedenborg were manifestly indoctrinated with these ideas. For
they informed him that the nocturnal light of Saturn is so great that
some Saturnians worship it, calling it the Lord. These wicked spirits
are separated from the rest, and are not tolerated by them. 'The
nocturnal light,' say the spirits, 'comes from the immense ring which at
a distance encircles that earth, and from the moons which are called the
satellites of Saturn.' And again, being questioned further 'concerning
the great ring which appears from our earth to rise above the horizon of
that planet, and to vary its situations, they said that it does not
appear to them as a ring, but only as a snow-white substance in heaven
in various directions.' Unfortunately for our faith in the veracity of
these spirits, it is certain that the moons of Saturn cannot give nearly
so much light as ours, while the rings are much more effective as
darkeners than as illuminators. One can readily calculate the apparent
size of each of the moons as seen from Saturn, and thence show that the
eight discs of the moons together are larger than our moon's disc in
about the proportion of forty-five to eight. So that if they were all
shining as brightly as our full moon and all full at the same time,
their combined light would exceed hers in that degree. But they are not
illuminated as our moon is. They are illuminated by the same remote sun
which illuminates Saturn, while our moon is illuminated by a sun giving
her as much light as we ourselves receive. Our moon then is illuminated
ninety times more brightly than the moons of Saturn, and as her disc is
less than all theirs together, not as one to ninety, but as sixteen to
ninety, it follows that all the Saturnian moons, if full at the same
time, would reflect to Saturn one-sixteenth part of the light which we
receive from the full moon.[29] As regards the rings of Saturn, nothing
can be more certain than that they tend much more to deprive Saturn of
light then to make up by reflection for the small amount of light which
Saturn receives directly from the sun. The part of the ring which lies
between the planet and the sun casts a black shadow upon Saturn, this
shadow sometimes covering an extent of surface many times exceeding the
entire surface of our earth. The shadow thus thrown upon the planet
creeps slowly, first one way, then another, northwards and southwards
over the illuminated hemisphere of the planet (as pictured in the 13th
plate of my treatise on Saturn), requiring for its passage from the
arctic to the antarctic regions and back again to the arctic regions of
the planet, a period nearly equal to that of a generation of terrestrial
men. Nearly thirty of our years the process lasts, during half of which
time the northern hemisphere suffers, and during the other half the
southern. The shadow band, which be it remembered stretches right
athwart the planet from the extreme eastern to the extreme western side
of the illuminated hemisphere, is so broad during the greater part of
the time that in some regions (those corresponding to our temperate
zones) the shadow takes two years in passing, during which time the sun
cannot be seen at all, unless for a few moments through some chinks in
the rings, which are known to be not solid bodies, but made up of
closely crowded small moons. And the slow passage of this fearful
shadow, which advances at the average rate of some twenty miles a day,
but yet hangs for years over the regions athwart which it sweeps, occurs
in the very season when the sun's small direct supply of heat would
require to be most freely compensated by nocturnal light--in the winter
season, namely, of the planet. Moreover, not only during the time of the
shadow's passage, but during the entire winter half of the Saturnian
year, the ring reflects no light during the night time, the sun being on
the other or summer side of the ring's plane.[30] The only nocturnal
effect which would be observable would be the obliteration of the stars
covered by the ring system. It is strange that, this being so, the
spirits from Saturn should have made no mention of the circumstance;
and even more strange that these spirits and others should have asserted
that the moons and rings of Saturn compensate for the small amount of
light directly received from the sun. Most certainly a Swedenborg of our
own time would find the spirits from Saturn more veracious and more
communicative about these matters, though even what _he_ would hear from
the spirits would doubtless appear to sceptics of the twenty-first
century to be no more than he could have inferred from the known facts
of the science of his day.

But Swedenborg was not content merely to receive visits from the
inhabitants of other planets in the solar system. He was visited also by
the spirits of earths in the starry heaven; nay, he was enabled to visit
those earths himself. For man, even while living in the world, 'is a
spirit as to his interiors, the body which he carries about in the world
only serving him for performing functions in this natural or terrestrial
sphere, which is the lowest.' And to certain men it is granted not only
to converse as a spirit with angels and spirits, but to traverse in a
spiritual way the vast distances which separate world from world and
system from system, all the while remaining in the body. Swedenborg was
one of these. 'The interiors of my spirit,' he says, 'are opened by the
Lord, so that while I am in the body I can at the same time be with
angels in heaven, and not only converse with them, but behold the
wonderful things which are there and describe them, that henceforth it
may no more be said, "Who ever came from heaven to assure us it exists
and tell us what is there?" He who is unacquainted with the arcana of
heaven cannot believe that man can see earths so remote, and give any
account of them from sensible experience. But let him know that spaces
and distances, and consequently progressions, existing in the natural
world, in their origin and first causes are changes of the state of the
interiors; that with angels and spirits progressions appear according to
changes of state; and that by changes of state they may be apparently
translated from one place to another, and from one earth to another,
even to earths at the boundaries of the universe; so likewise may man as
to his spirit, his body still remaining in its place. This has been the
case with me.'

Before describing his visits to earths in the starry heavens, Swedenborg
is careful to indicate the probability that such earths exist. 'It is
well known to the learned world,' he says, 'that every star is a sun in
its place, remaining fixed like the sun of our earth.' The proper
motions of the stars had, alas! not been discovered in Swedenborg's day,
nor does he seem to have been aware what a wild chase he was really
entering upon in his spiritual progressions. Conceive the pursuit of
Sirius or Vega as either sun rushed through space with a velocity of
thirty or forty miles in every second of time! To resume, however, the
account which Swedenborg gives of the ideas of the learned world of his
day. 'It is the distance which makes a star appear in a small form;
consequently' (the logical necessity is not manifest, however) 'each
star, like the sun of our system, has around it planets which are
earths; and the reason these are not visible to us is because of their
immense distance and their having no light but from their own star,
which light cannot be reflected so far as to reach us.' 'To what other
end,' proceeds this most convincing reasoning, 'can be so immense a
heaven with such a multitude of stars? For man is the end for which the
universe was created. It has been ascertained by calculation that
supposing there were in the universe a million earths, and on every
earth three hundred millions of men and two hundred generations within
six thousand years, and that to every man or spirit was allotted a space
of three cubic ells, the collective number of men or spirits could not
occupy a space equal to a thousandth part of this earth, thus not more
than that occupied by one of the satellites of Jupiter or Saturn; a
space on the universe almost undiscernible, for a satellite is hardly
visible to the naked eye. What would this be for the Creator of the
universe, to whom the whole universe filled with earths could not be
enough' (for what?), 'seeing that he is infinite.' However, it is not on
this reasoning alone that Swedenborg relies. He tells us, honestly
beyond all doubt, that he knows the truth of what he relates. 'The
information I am about to give,' he says, 'respecting the earths in the
starry heaven is from experimental testimony; from which it will
likewise appear how I was translated thither as to my spirit, the body
remaining in its place.'

His progress in his first star-hunt was to the right, and continued for
about two hours. He found the boundary of our solar system marked first
by a white but thick cloud, next by a fiery smoke ascending from a great
chasm. Here some guards appeared, who stopped some of the company,
because these had not, like Swedenborg and the rest, received permission
to pass. They not only stopped those unfortunates, but tortured them,
conduct for which terrestrial analogues might possibly be discovered.

Having reached another system, he asked the spirits of one of the earths
there how large their sun was and how it appeared. They said it was less
than the sun of our earth, and has a flaming appearance. Our sun, in
fact, is larger than other suns in space, for from that earth starry
heavens are seen, and a star larger than the rest appears, which, say
those spirits, 'was declared from heaven' to be the sun of Swedenborg's
earthly home.

What Swedenborg saw upon that earth has no special interest. The men
there, though haughty, are loved by their respective wives because they,
the men, are good. But their goodness does not appear very manifest from
anything in the narrative. The only man seen by Swedenborg took from his
wife 'the garment which she wore, and threw it over his own shoulders;
loosening the lower part, which flowed down to his feet like a robe
(much as a man of our earth might be expected to loosen the tie-back of
the period, if he borrowed it in like manner) he thus walked about

He next visited an earth circling round a star, which he learned was one
of the smaller sort, not far from the equator. Its greater distance was
plain from the circumstance that Swedenborg was two days in reaching it.
In this earth he very nearly fell into a quarrel with the spirits. For
hearing that they possess remarkable keenness of vision, he 'compared
them with eagles which fly aloft, and enjoy a clear and extensive view
of objects beneath.' At this they were indignant, supposing, poor
spirits, 'that he compared them to eagles as to their rapacity, and
consequently thought them wicked.' He hastened to explain, however, that
he 'did not liken them to eagles as to their rapacity, but as to

Swedenborg's account of a third earth in the star-depths contains a very
pretty idea for temples and churches. The temples in that earth 'are
constructed,' he says, of trees, not cut down, but growing in the place
where they were first planted. On that earth, it seems, there are trees
of an extraordinary size and height; these they set in rows when young,
and arrange in such an order that they may serve when they grow up to
form porticoes and colonnades. In the meanwhile, by cutting and pruning,
they fit and prepare the tender shoots to entwine one with another, and
join together so as to form the groundwork and floor of the temple to be
constructed, and to rise at the sides as walls, and above to bend into
arches to form the roof. In this manner they construct the temple with
admirable art, elevating it high above the ground. They prepare also an
ascent into it, by continuous branches of the trees, extended from the
trunk and firmly connected together. Moreover, they adorn the temple
without and within in various ways, by disposing the foliage into
particular forms; thus they build entire groves. But it was not
permitted me to see the nature of these temples, only I was informed
that the light of their sun is let in by apertures amongst the branches,
and is everywhere transmitted through crystals; whereby the light
falling on the walls is refracted in colours like those of the rainbow,
particularly blue and orange, of which they are fondest. Such is their
architecture, which they prefer to the most magnificent palaces of our

Other earths in the starry heavens were visited by Swedenborg, but the
above will serve sufficiently to illustrate the nature of his
observations. One statement, by the way, was made to him which must have
seemed unlikely ever to be contravened, but which has been shown in our
time to be altogether erroneous. In the fourth star-world he visited, he
was told that that earth, which travels round its sun in 200 days of
fifteen hours each, is one of the least in the universe, being scarcely
500 German miles, say 2000 English miles, in circumference. This would
make its diameter about 640 English miles. But there is not one of the
whole family of planetoids which has a diameter so great as this, and
many of these earths must be less than fifty miles in diameter. Now
Swedenborg remarks that he had his information from the angels, 'who
made a comparison in all these particulars with things of a like nature
on our earth, according to what they saw in me or in my memory. Their
conclusions were formed by angelic ideas, whereby are instantly known
the measure of space and time in a just proportion with respect to space
and time elsewhere. Angelic ideas, which are spiritual, in such
calculations infinitely excel human ideas, which are natural.' He must
therefore have met, unfortunately, with untruthful angels.

The real source of Swedenborg's inspirations will be tolerably
obvious--to all, at least, who are not Swedenborgians. But our account
of his visions would not be complete in a psychological sense without a
brief reference to the personal allusions which the spirits and angels
made during their visits or his wanderings. His distinguished rival,
Christian Wolf, was encountered as a spirit by spirits from Mercury, who
'perceived that what he said did not rise above the sensual things of
the natural man, because in speaking he thought of honour, and was
desirous, as in the world (for in the other world every one is like his
former self), to connect various things into series, and from these
again continually to deduce others, and so form several chains of such,
which they did not see or acknowledge to be true, and which, therefore,
they declared to be chains which neither cohered in themselves nor with
the conclusions, calling them the obscurity of authority;' so they
ceased to question him further, and presently left him. Similarly, a
spirit who in this world had been a 'prelate and a preacher,' and 'very
pathetic, so that he could deeply move his hearers,' got no hearing
among the spirits of a certain earth in the starry heavens; for they
said they could tell 'from the tone of the voice whether a discourse
came from the heart or not;' and as his discourse came not from the
heart, 'he was unable to teach them, whereupon he was silent.'
Convenient thus to have spirits and angels to confirm our impressions of
other men, living or dead.

Apart from the psychological interest attaching to Swedenborg's strange
vision, one cannot but be strongly impressed by the idea pervading them,
that to beings suitably constituted all that takes place in other worlds
might be known. Modern science recognises a truth here; for in that
mysterious ether which occupies all space, messages are at all times
travelling by which the history of every orb is constantly recorded. No
world, however remote or insignificant; no period, however distant--but
has its history thus continually proclaimed in ever widening waves. Nay,
by these waves also (to beings who could read their teachings aright)
the future is constantly indicated. For, as the waves which permeate the
ether could only be situated as they actually are, at any moment,
through past processes, each one of which is consequently indicated by
those ethereal waves, so also there can be but one series of events in
the future, as the sequel of the relations actually indicated by the
ethereal undulations. These, therefore, speak as definitely and
distinctly of the future as of the past. Could we but rid us of the
gross habiliments of flesh, and by some new senses be enabled to feel
each order of ethereal undulations, even of those only which reach our
earth, all knowledge of the past and future would be within our power.
The consciousness of this underlies the fancies of Swedenborg, just as
it underlies the thought of him who sang--

  There's not an orb which thou behold'st
  But in his motion like an angel sings,
  Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim.
  But while this muddy vesture of decay
  Doth grossly close us in, we cannot hear it.



     If any one shall gravely tell me that I have spent my time idly in
     a vain and fruitless inquiry after what I can never become sure of,
     the answer is that at this rate he would put down all natural
     philosophy, as far as it concerns itself in searching into the
     nature of such things. In such noble and sublime studies as these,
     'tis a glory to arrive at probability, and the search itself
     rewards the pains. But there are many degrees of probable, some
     nearer to the truth than others, in the determining of which lies
     the chief exercise of our judgment. And besides the nobleness and
     pleasure of the studies, may we not be so bold as to say that they
     are no small help to the advancement of wisdom and
     morality?--HUYGHENS, _Conjectures concerning the Planetary Worlds_.

The interest with which astronomy is studied by many who care little or
nothing for other sciences is due chiefly to the thoughts which the
celestial bodies suggest respecting life in other worlds than ours.
There is no feeling more deeply seated in the human heart--not the
belief in higher than human powers, not the hope of immortality, not
even the fear of death--than the faith in realms of life where other
conditions are experienced than those we are acquainted with here. It is
not vulgar curiosity or idle fancy that suggests the possibilities of
life in other worlds. It has been the conviction of the profoundest
thinkers, of men of highest imagination. The mystery of the star-depths
has had its charm for the mathematician as well as for the poet; for
the exact observer as for the most fruitful theoriser; nay, for the man
of business as for him whose life is passed in communing with nature. If
we analyse the interest with which the generality of men inquire into
astronomical matters apparently not connected with the question of life
in other worlds, we find in every case that it has been out of this
question alone or chiefly that that interest has sprung. The great
discoveries made during the last few years respecting the sun for
example, might seem remote from the subject of life in other worlds. It
is true that Sir William Herschel thought the sun might be the abode of
living creatures; and Sir John Herschel even suggested the possibility
that the vast streaks of light called the solar willow-leaves, objects
varying from two hundred to a thousand miles in length, might be living
creatures whose intense lustre was the measure of their intense
vitality. But modern discoveries had rendered all such theories
untenable. The sun is presented to us as a mighty furnace, in whose
fires the most stubborn elements are not merely melted but vaporised.
The material of the sun has been analysed, the motions and changes
taking place on his surface examined, the laws of his being determined.
How, it might be asked, is the question of life in other worlds involved
in these researches? The faith of Sir David Brewster in the sun as the
abode of life being dispelled, how could discoveries respecting the sun
interest those who care about the subject of the plurality of worlds?
The answer to these questions is easily found. The real interest which
solar researches have possessed for those who are not astronomers has
resided in the evidence afforded respecting the sun's position as the
fire, light, and life of the system of worlds whereof our world is one.
The mere facts discovered respecting the sun would be regarded as so
much dry detail were they not brought directly into relation with our
earth and its wants, and therefore with the wants of the other earths
which circle round the sun; but when thus dealt with they immediately
excite attention and interest. I do not speak at random in asserting
this, but describe the result of widely ranging observation. I have
addressed hundreds of audiences in Great Britain and America on the
subject of recent solar discoveries, and I have conversed with many
hundreds of persons of various capacity and education, from men almost
uncultured to men of the highest intellectual power; and my invariable
experience has been that solar research derives its chief interest when
viewed in relation to the sun's position as the mighty ruler, the
steadfast sustainer, the beneficent almoner of the system of worlds to
which our earth belongs. It is the same with other astronomical
subjects. Few care for the record of lunar observations, save in
relation to the question whether the moon is or has been the abode of
living creatures. The movements of comets and meteors, and the
discoveries recently made respecting their condition, have no interest
except in relation to the position of these bodies in the economy of
solar systems, or to the possible part which they may at one time have
performed in building up worlds and suns. None save astronomers, and few
only of these, care for researches into the star-depths, except in
connection with the thought that every star is a sun and therefore
probably the light and fire of a system of worlds like those which
circle around our own sun.

It is singular how variously this question of life in other worlds has
been viewed at various stages of astronomical progress. From the time of
Pythagoras, who first, so far as is known, propounded the general theory
of the plurality of worlds, down to our own time, when Brewster and
Chalmers on the one hand, and Whewell on the other, have advocated
rival theories probably to be both set aside for a theory at once
intermediate to and more widely ranging in time and space than either,
the aspect of the subject has constantly varied, as new lights have been
thrown upon it from different directions. It may be interesting briefly
to consider what has been thought in the past on this strangely
attractive question, and then to indicate the view towards which modern
discoveries seem manifestly to point--a view not likely to undergo other
change than that resulting from clearer vision and closer approach. In
other words, I shall endeavour to show that the theory to which we are
now led by all the known facts is correct in general, though, as fresh
knowledge is obtained, it may undergo modification in details. We now
see the subject from the right point of view, though as science
progresses we may come to see it more clearly and definedly.

When men believed the earth to be a flat surface above which the heavens
were arched as a tent or canopy, they were not likely to entertain the
belief in other worlds than ours. During the earlier ages of mankind
ideas such as these prevailed. The earth had been fashioned into its
present form and condition, the heavens had been spread over it, the
sun, and moon, and stars had been set in the heavens for its use and
adornment, and there was no thought of any other world.

But while this was the general belief, there was already a school of
philosophy where another doctrine had been taught. Pythagoras had
adopted the belief of Apollonius Pergæus that the sun is the centre of
the planetary paths, the earth one among the planets--a belief
inseparable from the doctrine of the plurality of worlds. Much argument
has been advanced to show that this belief never was adopted before the
time of Copernicus, and unquestionably it must be admitted that the
theory was not presented in the clear and simple form to which we have
become accustomed. But it is not necessary to weigh the conflicting
arguments for and against the opinion that Pythagoras and others
regarded the earth as not the fixed centre of the universe. The certain
fact that the doctrine of the plurality of worlds was entertained (I do
not say adopted) by them, proves sufficiently that they cannot have
believed the earth to be fixed and central. The idea of other worlds
like our earth is manifestly inconsistent with the belief that the earth
is the central body around which the whole universe revolves.

That this is so is well illustrated by the fate of the unfortunate
Giordano Bruno. He was one of the first disciples of Copernicus, and,
having accepted the doctrine that the earth travels round the sun as one
among his family of planets, was led very naturally to the belief that
the other planets are inhabited. He went farther, and maintained that as
the earth is not the only inhabited world in the solar system, so the
sun is not the only centre of a system of inhabited worlds, but each
star a sun like him, about which many planets revolve. This was one of
the many heresies for which Bruno was burned at the stake. It is easy,
also, to recognise in the doctrine of many worlds as the natural sequel
of the Copernican theory, rather than in the features of this theory
itself, the cause of the hostility with which theologians regarded it,
until, finding it proved, they discovered that it is directly taught in
the books which they interpret for us so variously. The Copernican
theory was not rejected--nay, it was even countenanced--until this
particular consequence of the theory was recognised. But within a few
years from the persecution of Bruno, Galileo was imprisoned, and the
last years of his life made miserable, because it had become clear that
in setting the earth adrift from its position as centre of the
universe, he and his brother Copernicans were sanctioning the belief in
other worlds than ours. Again and again, in the attacks made by
clericals and theologians upon the Copernican theory, this lamentable
consequence was insisted upon. Unconscious that they were advancing the
most damaging argument which could be conceived for the cause they had
at heart, they maintained, honestly but unfortunately, that with the new
theory came the manifest inference that our earth is not the only and by
no means the most important world in the universe--a doctrine manifestly
inconsistent (so they said) with the teachings of the Scriptures.

It was naturally only by a slow progression that men were able to
advance into the domain spread before them by the Copernican theory, and
to recognise the real minuteness of the earth both in space and time.
They more quickly recognised the earth's insignificance in space,
because the new theory absolutely forced this fact upon them. If the
earth, whose globe they knew to be minute compared with her distance
from the sun, is really circling around the sun in a mighty orbit many
millions of miles in diameter, it follows of necessity that the fixed
stars must lie so far away that even the span of the earth's orbit is
reduced to nothing by comparison with the vast depths beyond which lie
even the nearest of those suns. This was Tycho Brahe's famous and
perfectly sound argument against the Copernican theory. 'The stars
remain fixed in apparent position all the time, yet the Copernicans tell
us that the earth from which we view the stars is circling once a year
in an orbit many millions of miles in diameter; how is it that from so
widely ranging a point of view we do not see widely different celestial
scenery? Who can believe that the stars are so remote that by comparison
the span of the earth's path is a mere point?' Tycho's argument was of
course valid.[31] Of two things one. Either the earth does not travel
round the sun, or the stars are much farther away than men had conceived
possible in Tycho's time. His mistake lay in rejecting the correct
conclusion because simply it made the visible universe seem many
millions of times vaster than he had supposed. Yet the universe, even as
thus enlarged, was but a point to the universe visible in our day, which
in turn will dwindle to a point compared with the universe as men will
see it a few centuries hence; while that or the utmost range of space
over which men can ever extend their survey is doubtless as nothing to
the real universe of occupied space.

Such has been the progression of our ideas as to the position of the
earth in space. Forced by the discoveries of Copernicus to regard our
earth as a mere point compared with the distances of the nearest fixed
stars, men gradually learned to recognise those distances which at first
had seemed infinite as in their turn evanescent even by comparison with
that mere point of space over which man is able by instrumental means to
extend his survey.

Though there has been a similar progression in men's ideas as to the
earth's position in time, that progression has not been carried to a
corresponding extent. Men have not been so bold in widening their
conceptions of time as in widening their conceptions of space. It is
here and thus that, in my judgment, the subject of life in other worlds
has been hitherto incorrectly dealt with. Men have given up as utterly
idle the idea that the existence of worlds is to be limited to the
special domain of space to which our earth belongs; but they are content
to retain the conception that the domain of time to which our earth's
history belongs, 'this bank and shoal of time' on which the life of the
earth is cast, is the period to which the existence of other worlds than
ours should be referred.

This, which is to be noticed in nearly all our ordinary treatises on
astronomy, appears as a characteristic peculiarity of works advocating
the theory of the plurality of worlds. Brewster and Dick and Chalmers,
all in fact who have taken that doctrine under their special protection,
reason respecting other worlds as though, if they failed to prove that
other orbs are inhabited _now_, or are at least _now_ supporting life in
some way or other, they failed of their purpose altogether. The idea
does not seem to have occurred to them that there is room and verge
enough in eternity of time not only for activity but for rest. They must
have all the orbs of space busy at once in the one work which they seem
able to conceive as the possible purpose of those bodies--the support of
life. The argument from analogy, which they had found effective in
establishing the general theory of the plurality of worlds, is forgotten
when its application to details would suggest that not _all_ orbs are
_at all times_ either the abode of life or in some way subserving the
purposes of life.

We find, in all the forms of life with which we are acquainted, three
characteristic periods--first the time of preparation for the purposes
of life; next, the time of fitness for those purposes; and thirdly, the
time of decadence tending gradually to death. We see among all objects
which exist in numbers, examples of all these stages existing at the
same time. In every race of living creatures there are the young as yet
unfit for work, the workers, and those past work; in every forest there
are saplings, seed-bearing trees, and trees long past the seed-bearing
period. We know that planets, or rather, speaking more generally, the
orbs which people space, pass through various stages of development,
during some only of which they can reasonably be regarded as the abode
of life or supporting life; yet the eager champion of the theory of many
worlds will have them all in these life-bearing or life-supporting
stages, none in any of the stages of preparation, none in any of the
stages of decrepitude or death.

This has probably had its origin in no small degree from the disfavour
with which in former years the theory of the growth and development of
planets and systems of planets was regarded. Until the evidence became
too strong to be resisted, the doctrine that our earth was once a baby
world, with many millions of years to pass through before it could be
the abode of life, was one which only the professed atheist (so said too
many divines) could for a moment entertain; while the doctrine that not
the earth alone, but the whole of the solar system, had developed from a
condition utterly unlike that through which it is now passing, could
have had its origin only in the suggestions of the Evil One. Both
doctrines were pronounced to be so manifestly opposed to the teachings
of Moses, and not only so, but so manifestly inconsistent with the
belief in a Supreme Being, that--that further argument was unnecessary,
and denunciation only was required. So confident were divines on these
points, that it would not have been very wonderful if some few students
of science had mistaken assertion for proof, and so concluded that the
doctrines towards which science was unmistakably leading them really
were inconsistent with what they had been taught to regard as the Word
of God. Whether multiplied experiences taught men of science to wait
before thus deciding, or however matters fell out, it certainly befell
before very long that the terrible doctrine of cosmical development was
supported by such powerful evidence, astronomical and terrestrial, as to
appear wholly irresistible. Then, not only was the doctrine accepted by
divines, but shown to be manifestly implied in the sacred narrative of
the formation of the earth and heavens, sun, and moon, and stars; while
upon those unfortunate students of science who had not changed front in
good time, and were found still arguing on the mistaken assumption that
the development of our system was not accordant with that ancient
narrative, freshly forged bolts were flung from the Olympus of

So far as the other argument--from the inconsistency of the development
theory with belief in a Supreme Being--was concerned, the student of
science was independent of the interpretations which divines claim the
sole right of assigning to the ancient books. Science has done so much
more than divinity (which in fact has done nothing) to widen our
conceptions of space and time, that she may justly claim full right to
deal with any difficulties arising from such enlargement of our ideas.
With the theological difficulty science would not care to deal at all,
were she not urged to do so by the denunciations of divines; and when,
so urged, she touches that difficulty, she is quickly told that the
difficulty is insuperable, and not long after that it has no existence,
and (on both accounts) that it should have been left alone. But with the
difficulty arising from the widening of our ideas respecting space and
time, science may claim good, almost sole, right to deal. The path to a
solution of the problem is not difficult to find. At a first view, it
does seem to those whose vision had been limited to a contracted field,
that the wide domain of time and space in which processes of development
are found to take place is the universe itself, that to deny the
formation of our earth by a special creative act is to deny the
existence of a Creator, that to regard the beginning of our earth as a
process of development is to assert that development has been in
operation from the beginning of all things. But when we recognise
clearly that vastness and minuteness, prolonged and brief duration, are
merely relative, we perceive that in considering our earth's history we
have to deal only with small parts of space and brief periods of time,
by comparison with all space and all time. Our earth is very large
compared with a tree or an animal, but very small compared with the
solar system, a mere point compared with the system of stars to which
the sun belongs, and absolutely as nothing compared with the universe of
space; and in like manner, while the periods of her growth and
development occupy periods very long-lasting compared with those
required for the growth and development of a tree or an animal, they are
doubtless but brief compared with the eras of the development of our
solar system, a mere instant compared with the eras of the development
of star-systems, and absolutely evanescent compared with eternity. We
have no more reason for rejecting the belief in a Creator because our
earth or the solar system is found to have developed to its present
condition from an embryonic primordial state, than we have had ever
since men first found that animals and trees are developed from the
germ. The region of development is larger, the period of development
lasts longer, but neither the one nor the other is infinite; and being
finite, both one and the other are simply nothing by comparison with
infinity. It is a startling thought, doubtless, that periods of time
compared with which the life of a man, the existence of a nation, nay,
the duration of the human race itself, sink into insignificance, should
themselves in turn be dwarfed into nothingness by comparison with
periods of a still higher order. But the thought is not more startling
than that other thought which we have been compelled to admit--the
thought that the earth on which we live, and the solar system to which
it belongs, though each so vast that all known material objects are as
nothing by comparison, are in turn as nothing compared with the depths
of space separating us from even the nearest among the fixed stars. One
thought, as I have said, we have been compelled to admit, the other has
not as yet been absolutely forced upon us. Though men have long since
given up the idea that the earth and heavens have endured but a few
thousand years, it is still possible to believe that the birth of our
solar system, whether by creative act or by the beginning of processes
of development, belongs to the beginning of all time. But this view
cannot be regarded as even probable. Although it has never been proved
that any definite relation must subsist between time (occupied by
events) and space (occupied by matter), the mind naturally accepts the
belief that such a relation exists. As we find the universe enlarging
under the survey of science, our conceptions of the duration of the
universe enlarge also. When the earth was supposed to be the most
important object in creation, men might reasonably assign to time itself
(regarded as the interval between the beginning of the earth and the
consummation of all things when the earth should perish) a moderate
duration; but it is equally reasonable that, as the insignificance of
the earth's domain in space is recognised, men should recognise also the
presumable insignificance of the earth's existence in time.

In this respect, although we have nothing like the direct evidence
afforded by the measurement of space, we yet have evidence which can
scarcely be called in question. We find in the structure of our earth
the signs of its former condition. We see clearly that it was once
intensely hot! and we know from experimental researches on the cooling
of various earths that many millions of years must have been required by
the earth in cooling down from its former igneous condition. We may
doubt whether Bischoff's researches can be relied upon in details, and
so be unwilling to assign with him a period of 350 millions of years to
a single stage of the process of cooling. But that the entire process
lasted tens of millions and probably hundreds of millions of years
cannot be doubted. Recognising such enormous periods as these in the
development of one of the smallest fruits of the great solar tree of
life, we cannot but admit at least the reasonableness of believing that
the larger fruits (Jupiter, for instance, with 340 times as much matter,
and Saturn with 100 times) must require periods still vaster, probably
many times larger. Indeed, science shows not only that this view is
reasonable, but that no other view is possible. For the mighty root of
the tree of life, the great orb of the sun, containing 340 _thousand_
times as much matter as the earth, yet mightier periods would be needed.
The growth and development of these, the parts of the great system, must
of necessity require much shorter time-intervals than the growth and
development of the system regarded as a whole. The enormous period when
the germs only of the sun and planets existed as yet, when the chaotic
substance of the system had not yet blossomed into worlds, the mighty
period which is to follow the death of the last surviving member of the
system, when the whole scheme will remain as the dead trunk of a tree
remains after the last leaf has fallen, after the last movement of sap
within the trunk--these periods must be infinite compared with those
which measure the duration of even the mightiest separate members of the

But all this has been left unnoticed by those who have argued in support
of the Brewsterian doctrine of a plurality of worlds. They argue as if
it had never been shown that every member of the solar system, as of
all other such systems in space, has to pass through an enormously long
period of preparation before becoming fit to be the abode of life, and
that after being fit for life (for a period very long to our
conceptions, but by comparison with the other exceedingly short) it must
for countless ages remain as an extinct world. Or else they reason as
though it had been proved that the relatively short life-bearing periods
in the existence of the several planets must of necessity synchronise,
instead of all the probabilities lying overwhelmingly the other way.

While this has been (in my judgment) a defect in what may be called the
Brewsterian theory of other worlds, a defect not altogether dissimilar
has characterised the opposite or Whewellite theory. Very useful service
was rendered to astronomy by Whewell's treatise upon, or rather against,
the plurality of worlds, calling attention as it did to the utter
feebleness of the arguments on which men had been content to accept the
belief that other planets and other systems are inhabited. But some
among the most powerfully urged arguments against that belief tacitly
relied on the assumption of a similarity of general condition among the
members of the solar system. For instance, the small mean density of
Jupiter and Saturn had, on the Brewsterian theory, been explained as
probably due to vast hollow spaces in those planets' interiors--an
explanation which (if it could be admitted) would leave us free to
believe that Jupiter and Saturn may be made of the same materials as our
own earth. With this was pleasantly intermixed the conception that the
inhabitant of these planets may have his 'home in subterranean cities
warmed by central fires, or in crystal caves cooled by ocean tides, or
may float with the Nereids upon the deep, or mount upon wings as eagles,
or rise upon the pinions of the dove, that he may flee away and be at
rest,' with much more in the same fanciful vein. We now know that there
can be no cavities more than a few miles below the crust of a planet,
simply because, under the enormous pressures which would exist, the most
solid matter would be perfectly plastic. But while Whewell's general
objection to the theory that Jupiter or Saturn is in the same condition
as our earth thus acquires new force, the particular explanation which
he gave of the planet's small density is open to precisely the same
general objection. For he assumes that, because the planet's mean
density is little greater than that of water, the planet is probably a
world of water and ice with a cindery nucleus, or in fact just such a
world as would be formed if a sufficient quantity of water in the same
condition as the water of our seas were placed at Jupiter's greater
distance from the sun, around a nucleus of earthy or cindery matter
large enough to make the density of the entire planet thus formed equal
to that of Jupiter, or about one-third greater than the density of
water. In this argument there are in reality two assumptions, of
precisely the same nature as those which Whewell set himself to combat.
It is first assumed that some material existing on a large scale in our
earth, and nearly of the same density as Jupiter, must constitute the
chief bulk of that planet, and secondly that the temperature of
Jupiter's globe must be that which a globe of such material would have
if placed where Jupiter is. The possibility that Jupiter may be in an
entirely different stage of planetary life--or, in other words, that the
youth, middle life, and old age of that planet may belong to quite
different eras from the corresponding periods of our earth's life--is
entirely overlooked. Rather, indeed, it may be said that the extreme
probability of this, on any hypothesis respecting the origin of the
solar system, and its absolute certainty on the hypothesis of the
development of that system, are entirely overlooked.

A fair illustration of the erroneous nature of the arguments which have
been used, not only in advocating rival theories respecting the
plurality of worlds, but also in dealing with subordinate points, may be
presented as follows:

Imagine a wide extent of country covered with scattered trees of various
size, and with plants and shrubs, flowers and herbs, down to the
minutest known. Let us suppose a race of tiny creatures to subsist on
one of the fruits of a tree of moderate size, their existence as a race
depending entirely on the existence of the fruit on which they subsist,
while the existence of the individuals of their race lasts but for a few
minutes. Furthermore, let there be no regular fruit season either on
their tree or in their region of vegetable life, but fruits forming,
growing, and decaying all the time.

Let us next conceive these creatures to be possessed of a power of
reasoning respecting themselves, their fruit world, the tree on which it
hangs, and to some degree even respecting such other trees, plants,
flowers, and so forth, as the limited range of their vision might be
supposed to include. It would be a natural thought with them, when first
they began to exercise this power of reasoning, that their fruit home
was the most important object in existence, and themselves the chief and
noblest of living beings. It would also be very natural that they should
suppose the formation of their world to correspond with the beginning of
time, and the formation of their race to have followed the formation of
their world by but a few seconds. They would conclude that a Supreme
Being had fashioned their world and themselves by special creative acts,
and that what they saw outside their fruit world had been also specially
created, doubtless to subserve their wants.

Let us now imagine that gradually, by becoming more closely observant
than they had been, by combining together to make more complete
observations, and above all by preserving the records of observations
made by successive generations, these creatures began to obtain clearer
ideas respecting their world and the surrounding regions of space. They
would find evidence that the fruit on which they lived had not been
formed precisely as they knew it, but had undergone processes of
development. The distressing discovery would be made that this
development could not possibly have taken place in a few seconds, but
must have required many hours, nay, even several of those enormous
periods called by us days.

This, however, would only be the beginning of their troubles. Gradually
the more advanced thinkers and the closest observers would perceive that
not only had their world undergone processes of development, but that
its entire mass had been formed by such processes--that in fact it had
not been created at all, in the sense in which they had understood the
word, but had _grown_. This would be very dreadful to these creatures,
because they would not readily be able to dispossess their minds of the
notion that they were the most important beings in the universe, their
domain of space coextensive with the universe, the duration of their
world coextensive with time.

But passing over the difficulties thus arising, and the persecution and
abuse to which those would be subjected who maintained the dangerous
doctrine that their fruit home had been developed, not created, let us
consider how these creatures would regard the question of other worlds
than their own. At first they would naturally be unwilling to admit the
possibility that other worlds as important as their own could exist. But
if after a time they found reason to believe that their world was only
one of several belonging to a certain tree system, the idea would occur
to them, and would gradually come to be regarded as something more than
probable, that those other fruit worlds, like their own, might be the
abode of living creatures. And probably at first, while as yet the
development of their own world was little understood, they would
conceive the notion that all the fruits, large or small, upon their tree
system were in the same condition as their own, and either inhabited by
similar races or at least in the same full vigour of life-bearing
existence. But so soon as they recognised the law of development of
their own world, and the relation between such development and their own
requirements, they would form a different opinion, if they found that
only during certain stages of their world's existence life could exist
upon it. If, for instance, they perceived that their fruit world must
once have been so bitter and harsh in texture that no creatures in the
least degree like themselves could have lived upon it, and that it was
passing slowly but surely through processes by which it would become one
day dry and shrivelled and unable to support living creatures, they
would be apt, if their reasoning powers were fairly developed, to
inquire whether other fruits which they saw around them on their tree
system were either in the former or in the latter condition. If they
found reason to believe certain fruits were in one or other of these
stages, they would regard such fruits as not yet the abode of life or as
past the life-supporting era. It seems probable even that another idea
would suggest itself to some among their bolder thinkers. Recognising in
their own world in several instances what to their ideas resembled
absolute waste of material or of force, it might appear to them quite
possible that some, perhaps even a large proportion, of the fruits upon
their tree were not only not supporting life at the particular epoch of
observation, but never had supported life and never would--that, through
some cause or other, life would never appear upon such fruits even when
they were excellently fitted for the support of life. They might even
conceive that some among the fruits of their tree had failed or would
fail to come to the full perfection of fruit life.

Looking beyond their own tree--that is, the tree to which their own
fruit world belonged--they would perceive other trees, though their
visual powers might not enable them to know whether such trees bore
fruit, whether they were in other respects like their own, whether those
which seemed larger or smaller were really so, or owed their apparent
largeness to nearness, or their apparent smallness to great distance.
They would be apt perhaps to generalise a little too daringly respecting
these remote tree systems, concluding too confidently that a shrub or a
flower was a tree system like their own, or that a great tree, every
branch of which was far larger than their entire tree system, belonged
to the same order and bore similar fruit. They might mistake, also, in
forgetting the probable fact that as every fruit in their own tree
system had its own period of life, very brief compared with the entire
existence of the fruit, so every tree might have its own fruit-bearing
season. Thus, contemplating a tree which they supposed to be like their
own in its nature, they might say, 'Yonder is a tree system crowded with
fruits, each the abode of many myriads of creatures like ourselves:'
whereas in reality the tree might be utterly unlike their own, might not
yet have reached or might long since have passed the fruit-bearing
stage, might when in that stage bear fruit utterly unlike any they could
even imagine, and each such fruit during its brief life-bearing
condition might be inhabited by living beings utterly unlike any
creatures they could conceive.

Yet again, we can very well imagine that the inhabitants of our fruit
world, though they might daringly overleap the narrow limits of space
and time within which their actual life or the life of their race was
cast, though they might learn to recognise the development of their own
world and of others like it, even from the very blossom, would be
utterly unable to conceive the possibility that the tree itself to which
their world belonged had developed by slow processes of growth from a
time when it was less even than their own relatively minute home.

Still less would it seem credible to them, or even conceivable, that the
whole forest region to which they belonged, containing many orders of
trees differing altogether from their own tree system, besides plants
and shrubs, and flowers and herbs (forms of vegetation of whose use they
could form no just conception whatever), had itself grown; that once the
entire forest domain had been under vast masses of water--the substance
which occasionally visited their world in the form of small drops; that
such changes were but minute local phenomena of a world infinitely
higher in order than their own; that that world in turn was but one of
the least of the worlds forming a yet higher system; and so on _ad
infinitum_. Such ideas would seem to them not merely inconceivable, but
many degrees beyond the widest conceptions of space and time which they
could regard as admissible.

Our position differs only in degree, not in kind, from that of these
imagined creatures, and the reasoning which we perceive (though they
could not) to be just for such creatures is just for us also. It was
perfectly natural that before men recognised the evidences of
development in the structure of our earth they should regard the earth
and all things upon the earth and visible from the earth as formed by
special creative acts precisely as we see them now. But so soon as they
perceived that the earth is undergoing processes of development and has
undergone such processes in the past, it was reasonable, though at
first painful, to conclude that on this point they had been mistaken.
Yet as we recognise the absurdity of the supposition that, because
fruits and trees grow, and were not made in a single instant as we know
them, therefore there is no Supreme Being, so may we justly reject as
absurd the same argument, enlarged in scale, employed to induce the
conclusion that because planets and solar systems have been developed to
their present condition, and were not created in their present form,
therefore there is no Creator, no God. I do not know that the argument
ever has been used in this form; but it has been used to show that those
who believe in the development of worlds and systems must of necessity
be atheists, an even more mischievous conclusion than the other; for
none who had not examined the subject would be likely to adopt the
former conclusion, but many might be willing to believe that a number of
their fellow-men hold obnoxious tenets, without inquiring closely or at
all into the reasoning on which the assertion had been based.

But it is more important to notice how our views respecting other worlds
should be affected by those circumstances in the evidence _we_ have,
which correspond with the features of the evidence on which the imagined
inhabitants of the fruit world would form their opinion. It was natural
that when men first began to reason about themselves and their home they
should reject the idea of other worlds like ours, and perhaps it was
equally natural that when first the idea was entertained that the
planets may be worlds like ours, men should conceive that all those
worlds are in the same condition as ours. But it would be, or rather it
_is_, as unreasonable for men to maintain such an opinion now, when the
laws of planetary development are understood, when the various
dimensions of the planets are known, and when the shortness of the
life-supporting period of a planet's existence compared with the entire
duration of the planet has been clearly recognised, as it would be for
the imagined inhabitants of a small fruit on a tree to suppose that all
the other fruits on the tree, though some manifestly far less advanced
in development and others far more advanced than their own, were the
abode of the same forms of life, though these forms were seen to require
those conditions, and no other, corresponding to the stage of
development through which their own world was passing.

Viewing the universe of suns and worlds in the manner here suggested, we
should adopt a theory of other worlds which would hold a position
intermediate between the Brewsterian and the Whewellite theories. (It is
not on this account that I advocate it, let me remark in passing, but
simply because it accords with the evidence, which is not the case with
the others.) Rejecting on the one hand the theory of the plurality of
worlds in the sense implying that all existing worlds are inhabited, and
on the other hand the theory of but one world, we should accept a theory
which might be entitled the Paucity of Worlds, only that relative not
absolute paucity must be understood. It is absolutely certain that this
theory is the correct one, if we admit two postulates, neither of which
can be reasonably questioned--viz., first, that the life-bearing era of
any world is short compared with the entire duration of that world; and
secondly, that there can have been no cause which set all the worlds in
existence, not simultaneously, which would be amazing enough, but (which
would be infinitely more surprising) in such a way that after passing
each through its time of preparation, longer for the large worlds and
shorter for the small worlds, they all reached at the same time the
life-bearing era. But quite apart from this antecedent probability,
amounting as it does to absolute certainty if these two highly probably
postulates are admitted, we have the actual evidence of the planets we
can examine--that evidence proving incontestably, as I have shown
elsewhere, that such planets as Jupiter and Saturn are still in the
state of preparation, still so intensely hot that no form of life could
possibly exist upon them, and that such bodies as our moon have long
since passed the life-bearing stage, and are to all intents and purposes

But may we not go farther? Recognising in our own world, in many
instances, what to our ideas resembles waste--waste seeds, waste lives,
waste races, waste regions, waste forces--recognising superfluity and
superabundance in all the processes and in all the works of nature,
should it not appear at least possible that some, perhaps even a large
proportion, of the worlds in the multitudinous systems peopling space,
are not only not now supporting life, but never have supported life and
never will? Does this idea differ in kind, however largely to our feeble
conceptions it may seem to differ in degree, from the idea of the
imagined creatures on a fruit, that some or even many fruits excellently
fitted for the support of life might not subserve that purpose? And as
those creatures might conceive (as we _know_) that some fruits, even
many, fail to come to the full perfection of fruit life, may not we
without irreverence conceive (as higher beings than ourselves may
_know_) that a planet or a sun may fail in the making? We cannot say
that in such a case there would be a waste or loss of material, though
we may be unable to conceive how the lost sun or planet could be
utilised. Our imagined insect reasoners would be unable to imagine that
fruits plucked from their tree system were otherwise than wasted, for
they would conceive that their idea of the purpose of fruits was the
only true one; yet they would be altogether mistaken, as we may be in
supposing the main purpose of planetary existence is the support of

In like manner, when we pass in imagination beyond the limits of our
own system, we may learn a useful lesson from the imagined creatures'
reasoning about other tree systems than that to which their world
belonged. Astronomers have been apt to generalise too daringly
respecting remote stars and star systems, as though our solar system
were a true picture of all solar systems, the system of stars to which
our sun belongs a true picture of all star systems. They have been apt
to forget that, as every world in our own system has its period of life,
short by comparison with the entire duration of the world, so each solar
system, each system of such systems, may have its own life-bearing
season, infinitely long according to our conceptions, but very short
indeed compared with the entire duration of which the life-bearing
season would be only a single era.

Lastly, though men may daringly overleap the limits of time and space
within which their lives are cast, though they may learn to recognise
the development of their own world and of others like it even from the
blossom of nebulosity, they seem unable to rise to the conception that
the mighty tree which during remote æons bore those nebulous blossoms
sprang itself from cosmical germs. We are unable to conceive the nature
of such germs; the processes of development affecting them belong to
other orders than any processes we know of, and required periods
compared with which the inconceivable, nay, the inexpressible periods
required for the development of the parts of our universe, are as mere
instants. Yet have we every reason which analogy can afford to believe
that even the development of a whole universe such as ours should be
regarded as but a minute local phenomenon of a universe infinitely
higher in order, that universe in turn but a single member of a system
of such universes, and so on, even _ad infinitum_. To reject the belief
that this is possible is to share the folly of beings such as we have
conceived regarding their tiny world as a fit centre whence to measure
the universe, while yet, from such a stand-point, this little earth on
which we live would be many degrees beyond the limits where for them the
inconceivable would begin. To reject the belief that this is not only
possible, but real, is to regard the few short steps by which man has
advanced towards the unknown as a measurable approach towards limits of
space, towards the beginning and the end of all things. Until it can be
shown that space is bounded by limits beyond which neither matter nor
void exists, that time had a beginning before which it was not and tends
to an end after which it will exist no more, we may confidently accept
the belief that the history of our earth is as evanescent in time as the
earth itself is evanescent in space, and that nothing we can possibly
learn about our earth, or about the system it belongs to, or about
systems of such systems, can either prove or disprove aught respecting
the scheme and mode of government of the universe itself. It is true now
as it was in days of yore, and it will remain true as long as the earth
and those who dwell on it endure, that what men know is nothing, the
unknown infinite.



In November 1876 news arrived of a catastrophe the effects of which must
in all probability have been disastrous, not to a district, or a
country, or a continent, or even a world, but to a whole system of
worlds. The catastrophe happened many years ago--probably at least a
hundred--yet the messenger who brought the news has not been idle on his
way, but has sped along at a rate which would suffice to circle this
earth eight times in the course of a second. That messenger has had,
however, to traverse millions of millions of miles, and only reached our
earth November 1876. The news he brought was that a sun like our own was
in conflagration; and on a closer study of his message something was
learned as to the nature of the conflagration, and a few facts tending
to throw light on the question (somewhat interesting to ourselves)
whether our own sun is likely to undergo a similar mishap at any time.
What would happen if he did, we know already. The sun which has just met
with this disaster--that is, which so suffered a few generations
ago--blazed out for a time with several hundred times its former lustre.
If our sun were to increase as greatly in light and heat, the creatures
on the side of our earth turned towards him at the time would be
destroyed in an instant. Those on the dark or night hemisphere would not
have to wait for their turn till the earth, by rotating, carried them
into view of the destroying sun. In much briefer space the effect of his
new fires would be felt all over the earth's surface. The heavens would
be dissolved and the elements would melt with fervent heat. In fact no
description of such a catastrophe, as affecting the night half of the
earth, could possibly be more effective and poetical than St. Peter's
account of the day of the Lord, coming 'as a thief in the night; in the
which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements
shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are
therein being burned up;' though I imagine the apostle would have been
scarce prepared to admit that the earth was in danger from a solar
conflagration. Indeed, according to another account, the sun was to be
turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before that great and
notable day of the Lord came--a description corresponding well with
solar and lunar eclipses, the most noteworthy 'signs in the heavens,'
but agreeing very ill with the outburst of a great solar conflagration.

Before proceeding to inquire into the singular and significant
circumstances of the recent outburst, it may be found interesting to
examine briefly the records which astronomy has preserved of similar
catastrophes in former years. These may be compared to the records of
accidents on the various railway lines in a country or continent. Those
other suns which we can stars are engines working the mighty mechanism
of planetary systems, as our sun maintains the energies of our own
system; and it is a matter of some interest to us to inquire in how many
cases, among the many suns within the range of vision, destructive
explosions occur. We may take the opportunity, later, to inquire into
the number of cases in which the machinery of solar systems appears to
have broken down.

The first case of a solar conflagration on record is that of the new
star observed by Hipparchus some 2000 years ago. In his time, and indeed
until quite recently, an object of this kind was called a new star, or a
temporary star. But we now know that when a star makes its appearance
where none had before been visible, what has really happened has been
that a star too remote to be seen has become visible through some rapid
increase of splendour. When the new splendour dies out again, it is not
that a star has ceased to exist; but simply that a faint star which had
increased greatly in lustre has resumed its original condition.
Hipparchus's star must have been a remarkable object, for it was visible
in full daylight, whence we may infer that it was many times brighter
than the blazing Dog-star. It is interesting in the history of science,
as having led Hipparchus to draw up a catalogue of stars, the first on
record. Some moderns, being sceptical, rejected this story as a fiction;
but Biot examining Chinese Chronicles[32] relating to the times of
Hipparchus, finds that in 134 B.C. (about nine years before the date of
Hipparchus's catalogue) a new star was recorded as having appeared in
the constellation Scorpio.

The next new star (that is, stellar conflagration) on record is still
more interesting, as there appears some reason for believing that before
long we may see another outburst of the same star. In the years 945,
1264, and 1572, brilliant stars appeared in the region of the heavens
between Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Sir J. Herschel remarks, that, 'from the
imperfect account we have of the places of the two earlier, as compared
with that of the last, which was well determined, as well as from the
tolerably near coincidence of the intervals of their appearance, we may
suspect them, with Goodricke, to be one and the same star, with a period
of 312 or perhaps of 156 years.' The latter period may very reasonably
be rejected, as one can perceive no reason why the intermediate returns
of the star to visibility should have been overlooked, the star having
appeared in a region which never sets. It is to be noted that, the
period from 945 to 1264 being 319 years, and that from 1264 to 1572 only
308 years, the period of this star (if Goodricke is correct in supposing
the three outbursts to have occurred in the same star) would seem to be
diminishing. At any time, then, this star might now blaze out in the
region between Cassiopeia and Cepheus, for more than 304 years have
already passed since its last outburst.

As the appearance of a new star led Hipparchus to undertake the
formation of his famous catalogue, so did the appearance of the star in
Cassiopeia, in 1572, lead the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to construct
a new and enlarged catalogue. (This, be it remembered, was before the
invention of the telescope.) Returning one evening (November 11, 1572,
old style) from his laboratory to his dwelling-house, he found, says Sir
J. Herschel, 'a group of country people gazing at a star, which he was
sure did not exist an hour before. This was the star in question.'

The description of the star and its various changes is more interesting
at the present time, when the true nature of these phenomena is
understood, than it was even in the time when the star was blazing in
the firmament. It will be gathered from that description and from what I
shall have to say farther on about the results of recent observations on
less splendid new stars, that, if this star should reappear in the next
few years, our observers will probably be able to obtain very important
information from it. The message from it will be much fuller and more
distinct than any we have yet received from such stars, though we have
learned quite enough to remain in no sort of doubt as to their general

The star remained visible, we learn, about sixteen months, during which
time it kept its place in the heavens without the least variation. 'It
had all the radiance of the fixed stars, and twinkled like them; and was
in all respects like Sirius, except that it surpassed Sirius in
brightness and magnitude.' It appeared larger than Jupiter, which was at
that time at his brightest, and was scarcely inferior to Venus. _It did
not acquire this lustre gradually_, but shone forth at once of its full
size and brightness, 'as if,' said the chroniclers of the time, 'it had
been of instantaneous creation.' For three weeks it shone with full
splendour, during which time it could be seen at noonday 'by those who
had good eyes, and knew where to look for it.' But before it had been
seen a month, it became visibly smaller, and from the middle of December
1572 till March 1574, when it entirely disappeared, it continually
diminished in magnitude. 'As it decreased in size, it varied in colour:
at first its light was white and extremely bright; it then became
yellowish; afterwards of a ruddy colour like Mars; and finished with a
pale livid white resembling the colour of Saturn.' All the details of
this account should be very carefully noted. It will presently be seen
that they are highly characteristic.

Those who care to look occasionally at the heavens to know whether this
star has returned to view may be interested to learn whereabouts it
should be looked for. The place may be described as close to the back of
the star-gemmed chair in which Cassiopeia is supposed to sit--a little
to the left of the seat of the chair, supposing the chair to be looked
at in its normal position. But as Cassiopeia's chair is always inverted
when the constellation is most conveniently placed for observation, and
indeed as nine-tenths of those who know the constellation suppose the
chair's legs to be the back, and _vice versâ_, it may be useful to
mention that the star was placed somewhat thus with respect to the
straggling W formed by the five chief stars of Cassiopeia. There is a
star not very far from the place here indicated, but rather nearer to
the middle angle of the W. This, however, is not a bright star; and
cannot possibly be mistaken for the expected visitant. (The place of
Tycho's star is indicated in my School Star-Atlas and also in my larger
Library Atlas. The same remark applies to both the new stars in the
Serpent-Bearer, presently to be described.)


In August 1596 the astronomer Fabricius observed a new star in the neck
of the Whale, which also after a time disappeared. It was not noticed
again till the year 1637, when an observer rejoicing in the name of
Phocyllides Holwarda observed it, and, keeping a watch, after it had
vanished, upon the place where it had appeared, saw it again come into
view nine months after its disappearance. Since then it has been known
as a variable star with a period of about 331 days 8 hours. When
brightest this star is of the second magnitude. It indicates a somewhat
singular remissness on the part of the astronomers of former days, that
a star shining so conspicuously for a fortnight, once in each period of
331-1/3 days, should for so many years have remained undetected. It
may, perhaps, be thought that, noting this, I should withdraw the
objection raised above against Sir J. Herschel's idea that the star in
Cassiopeia may return to view once in 156 years, instead of once in 312
years. But there is a great difference between a star which at its
brightest shines only as a second-magnitude star, so that it has twenty
or thirty companions of equal or greater lustre above the horizon along
with it, and a star which surpasses three-fold the splendid Sirius. We
have seen that even in Tycho Brahe's day, when probably the stars were
not nearly so well known by the community at large, the new star in
Cassiopeia had not shone an hour before the country people were gazing
at it with wonder. Besides, Cassiopeia and the Whale are constellations
very different in position. The familiar stars of Cassiopeia are visible
on every clear night, for they never set. The stars of the Whale, at
least of the part to which the wonderful variable star belongs, are
below the horizon during rather more than half the twenty-four hours;
and a new star there would only be noticed, probably (unless of
exceeding splendour), if it chanced to appear during that part of the
year when the Whale is high above the horizon between eventide and
midnight, or in the autumn and early winter.

It is a noteworthy circumstance about the variable star in the Whale,
deservedly called Mira, or The Wonderful, that it does not always return
to the same degree of brightness. Sometimes it has been a very bright
second-magnitude star when at its brightest, at others it has barely
exceeded the third magnitude. Hevelius relates that during the four
years between October 1672 and December 1676, Mira did not show herself
at all! As this star fades out, it changes in colour from white to red.

Towards the end of September 1604, a new star made its appearance in
the constellation Ophiuchus, or the Serpent-Bearer. Its place was near
the heel of the right foot of 'Ophiuchus huge.' Kepler tells us that it
had no hair or tail, and was certainly not a comet. Moreover, like the
other fixed stars, it kept its place unchanged, showing unmistakably
that it belonged to the star-depths, not to nearer regions. 'It was
exactly like one of the stars, except that in the vividness of its
lustre, and the quickness of its sparkling, it exceeded anything that he
had ever seen before. It was every moment changing into some of the
colours of the rainbow, as yellow, orange, purple, and red; though it
was generally white when it was at some distance from the vapours of the
horizon.' In fact, these changes of colour must not be regarded as
indicating aught but the star's superior brightness. Every very bright
star, when close to the horizon, shows these colours, and so much the
more distinctly as the star is the brighter. Sirius, which surpasses the
brightest stars of the northern hemisphere full four times in lustre,
shows these changes of colour so conspicuously that they were regarded
as specially characteristic of this star, insomuch that Homer speaks of
Sirius (not by name, but as the 'star of autumn') shining most
beautifully 'when laved of ocean's wave'--that is, when close to the
horizon. And our own poet, Tennyson, following the older poet, sings how

          the fiery Sirius alters hue,
  And bickers into red and emerald.

The new star was brighter than Sirius, and was about five degrees lower
down, when at its highest above the horizon, than Sirius when _he_
culminates. Five degrees being equal to nearly ten times the apparent
diameter of the moon, it will be seen how much more favourable the
conditions were in the case of Kepler's star for those coloured
scintillations which characterised that orb. Sirius never rises very
high above the horizon. In fact, at his highest (near midnight in
winter, and, of course, near midday in summer) he is about as high above
the horizon as the sun at midday in the first week in February. Kepler's
star's greatest height above the horizon was little more than
three-fourths of this, or equal to about the sun's elevation at midday
on January 13 or 14 in any year.

Like Tycho Brahe's star, Kepler's was brighter even than Jupiter, and
only fell short of Venus in splendour. It preserved its lustre for about
three weeks, after which time it gradually grew fainter and fainter
until some time between October 1605 and February 1606, when it
disappeared. The exact day is unknown, as during that interval the
constellation of the Serpent-Bearer is above the horizon in the day-time
only. But in February 1606, when it again became possible to look for
the new star in the night-time, it had vanished. It probably continued
to glow with sufficient lustre to have remained visible, but for the
veil of light under which the sun concealed it, for about sixteen months
altogether. In fact, it seems very closely to have resembled Tycho's
star, not only in appearance and in the degree of its greatest
brightness, but in the duration of its visibility.

In the year 1670 a new star appeared in the constellation Cygnus,
attaining the third magnitude. It remained visible, but not with this
lustre, for nearly two years. After it had faded almost out of view, it
flickered up again for awhile, but soon after it died out, so as to be
entirely invisible. Whether a powerful telescope would still have shown
it is uncertain, but it seems extremely probable. It may be, indeed,
that this new star in the Swan is the same which has made its appearance
within the last few weeks; but on this point the evidence is uncertain.

On April 20, 1848, Mr. Hind (Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac,
and discoverer of ten new members of the solar system) noticed a new
star of the fifth magnitude in the Serpent-Bearer, but in quite another
part of that large constellation than had been occupied by Kepler's
star. A few weeks later, it rose to the fourth magnitude. But afterwards
its light diminished until it became invisible to ordinary eyesight. It
did not vanish utterly, however. It is still visible with telescopic
power, shining as a star of the eleventh magnitude, that is five
magnitudes below the faintest star discernible with the unaided eye.

This is the first new star which has been kept in view since its
apparent creation. But we are now approaching the time when it was found
that as so-called new stars continue in existence long after they have
disappeared from view, so also they are not in reality new, but were in
existence long before they became visible to the naked eye.

On May 12, 1866, shortly before midnight, Mr. Birmingham, of Tuam,
noticed a star of the second magnitude in the Northern Crown, where
hitherto no star visible to the naked eye had been known. Dr. Schmidt,
of Athens, who had been observing that region of the heavens the same
night, was certain that up to 11 P.M., Athens local time, there was no
star above the fourth magnitude in the place occupied by the new star.
So that, if this negative evidence can be implicitly relied on, the new
star must have sprung at least from the fourth, and probably from a much
lower magnitude, to the second, in less than three hours--eleven o'clock
at Athens corresponding to about nine o'clock by Irish railway time. A
Mr. Barker, of London, Canada, put forward a claim to having seen the
new star as early as May 4--a claim not in the least worth
investigating, so far as the credit of first seeing the new star is
concerned, but exceedingly important in its bearing on the nature of the
outburst affecting the star in Corona. It is unpleasant to have to throw
discredit on any definite assertion of facts; unfortunately, however,
Mr. Barker, when his claim was challenged, laid before Mr. Stone, of the
Greenwich Observatory, such very definite records of observations made
on May 4, 8, 9, and 10, that we have no choice but either to admit these
observations, or to infer that he experienced the delusive effects of a
very singular trick of memory. He mentions in his letter to Mr. Stone
that he had sent full particulars of his observations on those early
dates to Professor Watson, of Ann Arbor University, on May 17; but
(again unfortunately) instead of leaving that letter to tell its own
story in Professor Watson's hands, he asked Professor Watson to return
it to him: so that when Mr. Stone very naturally asked Professor Watson
to furnish a copy of this important letter, Professor Watson had to
reply, 'About a month ago, Mr. Barker applied to me for this letter, and
I returned it to him, as requested, without preserving a copy. I can,
however,' he proceeded, 'state positively that he did not mention any
actual observation earlier than May 14. He said he thought he had
noticed a strange star in the Crown about two weeks before the date of
his first observation--May 14--but not particularly, and that he did not
recognise it until the 14th. He did not give any date, and did not even
seem positive as to identity.... When I returned the letter of May 17, I
made an endorsement across the first page, in regard to its genuineness,
and attached my signature. I regret that I did not preserve a copy of
the letter in question; but if the original is produced, it will appear
that my recollection of its contents is correct.' I think no one can
blame Mr. Stone, if, on the receipt of this letter, he stated that he
had not the 'slightest hesitation' in regarding Mr. Barker's earlier
observations as 'not entitled to the slightest credit.'[33]

It may be fairly taken for granted that the new star leapt very quickly,
if not quite suddenly, to its full splendour. Birmingham, as we have
seen, was the first to notice it, on May 12. On the evening of May 13,
Schmidt of Athens discovered it independently, and a few hours later it
was noticed by a French engineer named Courbebaisse. Afterwards,
Baxendell of Manchester, and others independently saw the star. Schmidt,
examining Argelander's charts of 324,000 stars (charts which I have had
the pleasure of mapping in a single sheet), found that the star was not
a new one, but had been set down by Argelander as between the ninth and
tenth magnitudes. Referring to Argelander's list, we find that the star
had been twice observed--viz., on May 18, 1855, and on March 31, 1856.

Birmingham wrote at once to Mr. Huggins, who, in conjunction with the
late Dr. Miller, had been for some time engaged in observing stars and
other celestial objects with the spectroscope. These two observers at
once directed their telescope armed with spectroscopic adjuncts--the
telespectroscope is the pleasing name of the compound instrument--to the
new-comer. The result was rather startling. It may be well, however,
before describing it, to indicate in a few words the meaning of various
kinds of spectroscopic evidence.

The light of the sun, sifted out by the spectroscope, shows all the
colours but not all the tints of the rainbow. It is spread out into a
large rainbow-tinted streak, but at various places (a few thousand)
along the streak there are missing tints; so that in fact the streak is
crossed by a multitude of dark lines. We know that these lines are due
to the absorptive action of vapours existing in the atmosphere of the
sun, and from the position of the lines we can tell what the vapours
are. Thus, hydrogen by its absorptive action produces four of the bright
lines. The vapour of iron is there, the vapour of sodium, magnesium, and
so on. Again, we know that these same vapours, which, by their
absorptive action, cut off rays of certain tints, emit light of just
those tints. In fact, if the glowing mass of the sun could be suddenly
extinguished, leaving his atmosphere in its present intensely heated
condition, the light of the faint sun which would thus be left us would
give (under spectroscopic scrutiny) those very rays which now seem
wanting. There would be a spectrum of multitudinous bright lines,
instead of a rainbow-tinted spectrum crossed by multitudinous dark
lines. It is, indeed, only by contrast that the dark lines appear dark,
just as it is only by contrast that the solar spots seem dark. Not only
the penumbra but the umbra of a sun-spot, not only the umbra but the
nucleus, not only the nucleus but the deeper black which seems to lie at
the core of the nucleus, shine really with a lustre far exceeding that
of the electric light, though by contrast with the rest of the sun's
surface the penumbra looks dark, the umbra darker still, the nucleus
deep black, and the core of the nucleus jet black. So the dark lines
across the solar spectrum mark where certain rays are relatively faint,
though in reality intensely lustrous. Conceive another change than that
just imagined. Conceive the sun's globe to remain as at present, but the
atmosphere to be excited to many times its present degree of light and
splendour: then would all these dark lines become bright, and the
rainbow-tinted background would be dull or even quite dark by contrast.
This is not a mere fancy. At times, local disturbances take place in the
sun which produce just such a change in certain constituents of the
sun's atmosphere, causing the hydrogen, for example, to glow with so
intense a heat that, instead of its lines appearing dark, they stand out
as bright lines. Occasionally, too, the magnesium in the solar
atmosphere (over certain limited regions only, be it remembered) has
been known to behave in this manner. It was so during the intensely hot
summer of 1872, insomuch that the Italian observer Tacchini, who noticed
the phenomenon, attributed to such local overheating of the sun's
magnesium vapour the remarkable heat from which we then for a time

Now, the stars are suns, and the spectrum of a star is simply a
miniature of the solar spectrum. Of course, there are characteristic
differences. One star has more hydrogen, at least more hydrogen at work
absorbing its rays, and thus has the hydrogen lines more strongly
marked than they are in the solar spectrum. Another star shows the lines
of various metals more conspicuously, indicating that the glowing
vapours of such elements, iron, copper, mercury, tin, and so forth,
either hang more densely in the star's atmosphere than in our sun's, or,
being cooler, absorb their special tints more effectively. But speaking
generally, a stellar spectrum is like the solar spectrum. There is the
rainbow-tinted streak, which implies that the source of light is glowing
solid, liquid, or highly compressed vaporous matter, and athwart the
streak there are the multitudinous dark lines which imply that around
the glowing heart of the star there are envelopes of relatively cool

We can understand, then, the meaning of the evidence obtained from the
new star in the Northern Crown.

In the first place, the new star showed the rainbow-tinted streak
crossed by dark lines, which indicated its sun-like nature. _But,
standing out on that rainbow-tinted streak as on a dark background, were
four exceedingly bright lines--lines so bright, though fine, that
clearly most of the star's light came from the glowing vapours to which
these lines belonged._ Three of the lines belonged to hydrogen, the
fourth was not identified with any known line.

Let us distinguish between what can certainly be concluded from this
remarkable observation, and what can only be inferred with a greater or
less degree of probability.

It is absolutely certain that when Messrs. Huggins and Miller made their
observation (by which time the new star had faded from the second to the
third magnitude), enormous masses of hydrogen around the star were
glowing with a heat far more intense than that of the star itself within
the hydrogen envelope. It is certain that the increase in the star's
light, rendering the star visible which before had been far beyond the
range of ordinary eyesight, was due to the abnormal heat of the
hydrogen surrounding that remote sun.

But it is not so clear whether the intense glow of the hydrogen was
caused by combustion or by intense heat without combustion. The
difference between the two causes of increased light is important;
because on the opinion we form on this point must depend our opinion as
to the probability that our sun may one day experience a similar
catastrophe, and also our opinion as to the state of the sun in the
Northern Crown after the outburst. To illustrate the distinction in
question, let us take two familiar cases of the emission of light. A
burning coal glows with red light, and so does a piece of iron placed in
a coal fire. But the coal and the iron are undergoing very different
processes. The coal is burning, and will presently be consumed; the iron
is not burning (except in the sense that it is burning hot, which means
only that it will make any combustible substance burn which is brought
into contact with it), and it will not be consumed though the coal fire
be maintained around it for days and weeks and months. So with the
hydrogen flames which play at all times over the surface of our own sun.
They are not burning like the hydrogen flames which are used for the
oxy-hydrogen lantern. Were the solar hydrogen so burning, the sun would
quickly be extinguished. They are simply aglow with intensity of heat,
as a mass of red-hot iron is aglow; and, so long as the sun's energies
are maintained, the hydrogen around him will glow in this way without
being consumed. As the new fires of the star in the Crown died out
rapidly, it is possible that in their case there was actual combustion.
On the other hand, it is also possible, and perhaps on the whole more
probable, that the hydrogen surrounding the star was simply set glowing
with increased lustre owing to some cause not as yet ascertained.

Let us see how these two theories have been actually worded by the
students of science themselves who have maintained them.

'The sudden blazing forth of this star,' says Mr. Huggins, 'and then the
rapid fading away of its light, suggest the rather bold speculation that
in consequence of some great internal convulsion, a large volume of
hydrogen and other gases was evolved from it, the hydrogen, by its
combination with some other element,' in other words, by _burning_,
'giving out the light represented by the bright lines, and at the same
time heating to the point of vivid incandescence the solid matter of the
star's surface.' 'As the liberated hydrogen gas became exhausted' (I now
quote not Huggins's own words, but words describing his theory in a book
which he has edited) 'the flame gradually abated, and, with the
consequent cooling, the star's surface became less vivid, and the star
returned to its original condition.'

On the other hand, the German physicists, Meyer and Klein, consider the
sudden development of hydrogen, in quantities sufficient to explain such
an outburst, exceedingly unlikely. They have therefore adopted the
opinion, that the sudden blazing out of the star was occasioned by the
violent precipitation of some mighty mass, perhaps a planet, upon the
globe of that remote sun, 'by which the momentum of the falling mass
would be changed into molecular motion, or in other words into heat and
light.' It might even be supposed, they urge, that the star in the
Crown, by its swift motion, may have come in contact with one of the
star clouds which exist in large numbers in the realms of space. 'Such a
collision would necessarily set the star in a blaze and occasion the
most vehement ignition of its hydrogen.'

Fortunately, our sun is safe for many millions of years to come from
contact from any one of its planets. The reader must not, however, run
away with the idea that the danger consists only in the gradual
contraction of planetary orbits sometimes spoken of. That contraction,
if it is taking place at all, of which we have not a particle of
evidence, would not draw Mercury to the sun's surface for at least ten
million millions of years. The real danger would be in the effects which
the perturbing action of the larger planets might produce on the orbit
of Mercury. That orbit is even now very eccentric, and must at times
become still more so. It might, but for the actual adjustment of the
planetary system, become so eccentric that Mercury could not keep clear
of the sun; and a blow from even small Mercury (only weighing, in fact,
390 millions of millions of millions of tons), with a velocity of some
300 miles per second, would warm our sun considerably. But there is no
risk of this happening in Mercury's case--though the unseen and much
more shifty Vulcan (in which planet I beg to express here my utter
disbelief) might, perchance, work mischief if he really existed.

As for star clouds lying in the sun's course, we may feel equally
confident. The telescope assures us that there are none immediately on
the track, and we know, also, that, swiftly though the sun is carrying
us onwards through space,[34] many millions of years must pass before he
is among the star families towards which he is rushing.

Of the danger from combustion, or from other causes of ignition than
those considered by Meyer and Klein, it still remains to speak. But
first, let us consider what new evidence has been thrown upon the
subject by the observations made on the star which flamed out last

The new star was first seen by Professor Schmidt, who has had the good
fortune of announcing to astronomers more than one remarkable
phenomenon. It was he who discovered in November 1866 that a lunar
crater had disappeared, an announcement quite in accordance with the
facts of the case. We have seen that he was one of the independent
discoverers of the outburst in the Northern Crown. On November 24, at
the early hour of 5.41 in the evening (showing that Schmidt takes time
by the forelock at his observatory), he noticed a star of the third
magnitude in the constellation of the Swan, not far from the tail of
that southward-flying celestial bird. He is quite sure that on November
20, the last preceding clear evening, the star was not there. At
midnight its light was very yellow, and it was somewhat brighter than
the neighbouring star Eta Pegasi, on the Flying Horse's southernmost
knee (if anatomists will excuse my following the ordinary usage which
calls the wrist of the horse's fore-arm the knee). He sent news of the
discovery forthwith to Leverrier, the chief of the Paris observatory;
and the observers there set to work to analyse the light of the
stranger. Unfortunately the star's suddenly acquired brilliancy rapidly
faded. M. Paul Henry estimated the star's brightness on December 2 as
equal only to that of a fifth-magnitude star. Moreover, the colour,
which had been very yellow on November 24, was by this time 'greenish,
almost blue.' On December 2, M. Cornu, observing during a short time
when the star was visible through a break between clouds, found that the
star's spectrum consisted almost entirely of bright lines. On December
5, he was able to determine the position of these lines, though still
much interrupted by clouds. He found three bright lines of hydrogen, the
strong (really double) line of sodium, the (really triple) line of
magnesium, and two other lines. One of these last seemed to agree
exactly in position with a bright line belonging to the corona seen
around the sun during total eclipse.[35]

The star has since faded gradually in lustre until, at present, it is
quite invisible to the naked eye.

We cannot doubt that the catastrophe which befell this star is of the
same general nature as is that which befell the star in the Northern
Crown. It is extremely significant that all the elements which
manifested signs of intense heat in the case of the star in the Swan,
are characteristic of our sun's outer appendages. We know that the
coloured flames seen around the sun during total solar eclipse consist
of glowing hydrogen, and of glowing matter giving a line so near the
sodium line that in the case of a stellar spectrum it would, probably,
not be possible to distinguish one from the other. Into the prominences
there are thrown from time to time masses of glowing sodium, magnesium,
and (in less degree) iron and other metallic vapours. Lastly, in that
glorious appendage, the solar corona, which extends for hundreds of
thousands of miles from the sun's surface, there are enormous quantities
of some element, whose nature is as yet unknown, showing under
spectroscopic analysis the bright line which seems to have appeared in
the spectrum of the flaming sun in the Swan.

This evidence seems to me to suggest that the intense heat which
suddenly affected this star had its origin from without. At the same
time, I cannot agree with Meyer and Klein in considering that the cause
of the heat was either the downfall of a planetary mass on the star, or
the collision of the star with a star-cloudlet, or nebula, traversing
space in one direction while the star swept onwards in another. A planet
could not very well come into final conflict with its sun at one fell
swoop. It would gradually draw nearer and nearer, not by the narrowing
of its path, but by the change of the path's shape. The path would, in
fact, become more and more eccentric; until, at length, at its point of
nearest approach, the planet would graze its primary, exciting an
intense heat where it struck, but escaping actual destruction that time.
The planet would make another circuit, and again graze its sun, at or
near the same part of the planet's path. For several circuits this would
continue, the grazes not becoming more effective each time, but rather
less. The interval between them, however, would grow continually less
and less. At last the time would come when the planet's path would be
reduced to the circular form, its globe touching its sun's all the way
round, and then the planet would very quickly be reduced to vapour, and
partly burned up, its substance being absorbed by its sun. But all the
successive grazes would be indicated to us by accessions in the star's
lustre, the period between each seeming outburst being only a few months
at first, and becoming gradually less and less (during a long course of
years, perhaps even of centuries), until the planet was finally
destroyed. Nothing of this sort has happened in the case of any
so-called new star.

As for the rush of a star through a nebulous mass, that is a theory
which would scarcely be entertained by any one acquainted with the
enormous distances separating the gaseous star-clouds properly called
nebulæ. There may be small clouds of the same sort scattered much more
densely through space; but we have not a particle of evidence that this
actually is the case. All we certainly _know_ about star-cloudlets
suggest that the distances separating them from each other are
comparable with those which separate star from star, in which case the
idea of a star coming into collision with a star-cloudlet, and still
more the idea of this occurring several times in a century, is wild in
the extreme.

On the whole, the theory seems more probable than any of these, that
enormous flights of large meteoric masses travel around those stars
which thus occasionally break forth in conflagration, such flights
travelling on exceedingly eccentric paths, and requiring enormously long
periods to complete each circuit of their vast orbits. In conceiving
this, we are not imagining anything new. Such a meteoric flight would
differ only in degree not kind from meteoric flights which are known to
circle around our own sun. I am not sure, indeed, that it can be
definitely asserted that our sun has no meteoric appendages of the same
nature as those which, if this theory be true, excite to intense
periodic activity the sun round which they circle. We know that comets
and meteors are closely connected, every comet being probably (many
certainly) attended by flights of meteoric masses. The meteors which
produce the celebrated November showers of falling stars follow in the
track of a comet invisible to the naked eye. May we not reasonably
suppose, then, that those glorious comets which have not only been
visible but conspicuous, shining even in the day-time, and brandishing
round tails which, like that of the 'wonder in heaven, the great
dragon,' seemed to 'draw the third part of the stars of heaven,' are
followed by much denser flights of much more massive meteors? Now some
among these giant comets have paths which carry them very close to our
sun. Newton's comet, with its tail a hundred millions of miles in
length, all but grazed the sun's globe. The comet of 1843, whose tail,
says Sir J. Herschel, 'stretched half-way across the sky,' must actually
have grazed the sun, though but lightly, for its nucleus was within
80,000 miles of his surface, and its head was more than 160,000 miles in
diameter. And these are only two among the few comets whose paths are
known. At any time we might be visited by a comet mightier than either,
travelling on an orbit intersecting the sun's surface, followed by
flights of meteoric masses enormous in size and many in number, which,
falling on the sun's globe with the enormous velocity corresponding to
their vast orbital range and their near approach to the sun--a velocity
of some 360 miles per second--would, beyond all doubt, excite his whole
frame, and especially his surface regions, to a degree of heat far
exceeding what he now emits.

We have had evidence of the tremendous heat to which the sun's surface
would be excited by the downfall of a shower of large meteoric masses.
Carrington and Hodgson, on September 1, 1859, observed (independently)
the passage of two intensely bright bodies across a small part of the
sun's surface--the bodies first increasing in brightness, then
diminishing, then fading away. It is generally believed that these were
meteoric masses raised to fierce heat by frictional resistance. Now so
much brighter did they appear, or rather did that part of the sun's
surface appear through which they had rushed, that Carrington supposed
the dark glass screen used to protect the eye had broken, and Hodgson
described the brightness of this part of the sun as such that the part
shone like a brilliant star on the background of the glowing solar
surface. Mark, also, the consequences of the downfall of those two
bodies only. A magnetic disturbance affected the whole frame of the
earth at the very time when the sun had been thus disturbed. Vivid
auroras were seen not only in both hemispheres, but in latitudes where
auroras are very seldom witnessed. 'By degrees,' says Sir J. Herschel,
'accounts began to pour in of great auroras seen not only in these
latitudes, but at Rome, in the West Indies, in the tropics within
eighteen degrees of the equator (where they hardly ever appear); nay,
what is still more striking, in South America and in Australia--where,
at Melbourne, on the night of September 2, the greatest aurora ever seen
there made its appearance. These auroras were accompanied with unusually
great electro-magnetic disturbances in every part of the world. In many
places the telegraph wires struck work. They had too many private
messages of their own to convey. At Washington and Philadelphia, in
America, the electric signal-men received severe electric shocks. At a
station in Norway the telegraphic apparatus was set fire to; and at
Boston, in North America, a flame of fire followed the pen of Bain's
electric telegraph, which writes down the message upon chemically
prepared paper.' Seeing that where the two meteors fell the sun's
surface glowed thus intensely, and that the effect of this accession of
energy upon our earth was thus well marked, can it be doubted that a
comet, bearing in its train a flight of many millions of meteoric
masses, and falling directly upon the sun, would produce an accession of
light and heat whose consequences would be disastrous? When the earth
has passed through the richer portions (not the actual nuclei, be it
remembered) of meteor systems, the meteors visible from even a single
station have been counted by tens of thousands, and it has been computed
that millions must have fallen upon the whole earth. These were meteors
following in the train of very small comets. If a very large comet
followed by no denser a flight of meteors, but each meteoric mass much
larger, fell directly upon the sun, it would not be the outskirts but
the nucleus of the meteoric train which would impinge upon him. They
would number thousands of millions. The velocity of downfall of each
mass would be more than 360 miles per second. And they would continue to
pour in upon him for several days in succession, millions falling every
hour. It seems not improbable that, under this tremendous and
long-continued meteoric hail, his whole surface would be caused to glow
as intensely as that small part whose brilliancy was so surprising in
the observation made by Carrington and Hodgson. In that case, our sun,
seen from some remote star whence ordinarily he is invisible, would
shine out as a new sun, for a few days, while all things living on our
earth, and whatever other members of the solar system are the abode of
life, would inevitably be destroyed.

The reader must not suppose that this idea has been suggested merely in
the attempt to explain outbursts of stars. The following passage from a
paper of considerable scientific interest by Professor Kirkwood, of
Bloomington, Indiana, a well-known American astronomer, shows that the
idea had occurred to him for a very different reason. He speaks here of
a probable connection between the comet of 1843 and the great sun-spot
which appeared in June 1843. I am not sure, however, but that we may
regard the very meteors which seem to have fallen on the sun on
September 1, 1859, as bodies travelling in the track of the comet of
1843--just as the November meteors seen in 1867-8, 9, etc., until 1872,
were bodies certainly following in the track of the telescopic comet of
1866. 'The opinion has been expressed by more than one astronomer,' he
says, speaking of Carrington's observation, 'that this phenomenon was
produced by the fall of meteoric matter upon the sun's surface. Now, the
fact may be worthy of note that the comet of 1843 actually grazed the
sun's atmosphere about three months before the appearance of the great
sun-spot of the same year. Had it approached but little nearer, the
resistance of the atmosphere would probably have brought its entire mass
to the solar surface. Even at its actual distance it must have produced
considerable atmospheric disturbance. But the recent discovery that a
number of comets are associated with meteoric matter, travelling in
nearly the same orbits, suggests the inquiry whether an enormous
meteorite following in the comet's train, and having a somewhat less
perihelion distance, may not have been precipitated upon the sun, thus
producing the great disturbance observed so shortly after the comet's
perihelion passage.'

There are those, myself among the number, who consider the periodicity
of the solar spots, that tide of spots which flows to its maximum and
then ebbs to its minimum in a little more than eleven years, as only
explicable on the theory that a small comet having this period, and
followed by a meteor train, has a path intersecting the sun's surface.
In an article entitled 'The Sun a Bubble,' which appeared in the
'Cornhill Magazine' for October 1874, I remarked that from the observed
phenomena of sun-spots we might be led to suspect the existence of some
as yet undetected comet with a train of exceptionally large meteoric
masses, travelling in a period of about eleven years round the sun, and
having its place of nearest approach to that orb so close to the solar
surface that, when the main flight is passing, the stragglers fall upon
the sun's surface. In this case, we could readily understand that, as
this small comet unquestionably causes our sun to be variable to some
slight degree in brilliancy, in a period of about eleven years, so some
much larger comet circling around Mira, in a period of about 331 days,
may occasion those alternations of brightness which have been described
above. It may be noticed in passing, that it is by no means certain that
the time when the sun is most spotted is the time when he gives out
least light. Though at such times his surface is dark where the spots
are, yet elsewhere it is probably brighter than usual; at any rate, all
the evidence we have tends to show that when the sun is most spotted,
his energies are most active. It is then that the coloured flames leap
to their greatest height and show their greatest brilliancy, then also
that they show the most rapid and remarkable changes of shape.

Supposing there really is, I will not say danger, but a possibility,
that our sun may one day, through the arrival of some very large comet
travelling directly towards him, share the fate of the suns whose
outbursts I have described above, we might be destroyed unawares, or we
might be aware for several weeks of the approach of the destroying
comet. Suppose, for example, the comet, which might arrive from any part
of the heavens, came from out that part of the star-depths which is
occupied by the constellation Taurus--then, if the arrival were so timed
that the comet, which might reach the sun at any time, fell upon him in
May or June, we should know nothing of that comet's approach: for it
would approach in that part of the heavens which was occupied by the
sun, and his splendour would hide as with a veil the destroying enemy.
On the other hand, if the comet, arriving from the same region of the
heavens, so approached as to fall upon the sun in November or December,
we should see it for several weeks. For it would then approach from the
part of the heavens high above the southern horizon at midnight.
Astronomers would be able in a few days after it was discovered to
determine its path and predict its downfall upon the sun, precisely as
Newton calculated the path of _his_ comet and predicted its near
approach to the sun. It would be known for weeks then that the event
which Newton contemplated as likely to cause a tremendous outburst of
solar heat, competent to destroy all life upon the surface of our earth,
was about to take place; and, doubtless, the minds of many students of
science would be exercised during that interval in determining whether
Newton was right or wrong. For my own part, I have very little doubt
that, though the change in the sun's condition in consequence of the
direct downfall upon his surface of a very large comet would be but
temporary, and in that sense slight--for what are a few weeks in the
history of an orb which has already existed during thousands of millions
of years?--yet the effect upon the inhabitants of the earth would be by
no means slight. I do not think, however, that any students of science
would remain, after the catastrophe, to estimate or to record its

Fortunately, all that we have learned hitherto from the stars favours
the belief that, while a catastrophe of this sort may be possible, it is
exceedingly unlikely. We may estimate the probabilities precisely in the
same way that an insurance company estimates the chance of a railway
accident. Such a company considers the number of accidents which occur
among a given number of railway journeys, and from the smallness of the
number of accidents compared with the largeness of the number of
journeys estimates the safety of railway travelling. Our sun is one
among many millions of suns, any one of which (though all but a few
thousands are actually invisible) would become visible to the naked eye,
if exposed to the same conditions as have affected the suns in flames
described in the preceding pages. Seeing, then, that during the last
two thousand years or thereabouts, only a few instances of the kind,
certainly not so many as twenty, have been recorded, while there is
reason to believe that some of these relate to the same star which has
blazed out more than once, we may fairly consider the chance exceedingly
small that during the next two thousand, or even the next twenty
thousand years, our sun will be exposed to a catastrophe of the kind.

We might arrive at this conclusion independently of any considerations
tending to show that our sun belongs to a safe class of system-rulers,
and that all, or nearly all, the great solar catastrophes have occurred
among suns of a particular class. There are, however, several
considerations of the kind which are worth noting.

In the first place, we may dismiss as altogether unlikely the visit of a
comet from the star-depths to our sun, on a course carrying the comet
directly upon the sun's surface. But if, among the comets travelling in
regular attendance upon the sun, there be one whose orbit intersects the
sun's globe, then that comet must several times ere this have struck the
sun, raising him temporarily to a destructive degree of heat. Now, such
a comet must have a period of enormous length, for the races of animals
now existing upon the earth must all have been formed since that comet's
last visit--on the assumption, be it remembered, that the fall of a
large comet upon the sun, or rather the direct passage of the sun
through the meteoric nucleus of a large comet, would excite the sun to
destructive heat. If all living creatures on the earth are to be
destroyed when some comet belonging to the solar system makes its next
return to the sun, that same comet at its last visit must have raised
the sun to an equal, or even greater intensity of heat, so that either
no such races as at present exist had then come into being, or, if any
such existed, they must at that time have been utterly destroyed. We
may fairly believe that all comets of the destructive sort have been
eliminated. Judging from the evidence we have on the subject, the
process of the formation of the solar system was one which involved the
utilisation of cometic and meteoric matter; and it fortunately so
chanced that the comets likely otherwise to have been most
mischievous--those, namely, which crossed the track of planets, and
still more those whose paths intersected the globe of the sun--were
precisely those which would be earliest and most thoroughly used up in
this way.

Secondly, it is noteworthy that all the stars which have blazed out
suddenly, except one, have appeared in a particular region of the
heavens--the zone of the Milky Way (all, too, on one half of that zone).
The single exception is the star in the Northern Crown, and that star
appeared in a region which I have found to be connected with the Milky
Way by a well-marked stream of stars, not a stream of a few stars
scattered here and there, but a stream where thousands of stars are
closely aggregated together, though not quite so closely as to form a
visible extension of the Milky Way. In my map of 324,000 stars this
stream can be quite clearly recognised; but, indeed, the brighter stars
scattered along it form a stream recognisable with the naked eye, and
have long since been regarded by astronomers as such, forming the stars
of the Serpent and the Crown, or a serpentine streak followed by a loop
of stars shaped like a coronet. Now the Milky Way, and the outlying
streams of stars connected with it, seem to form a region of the stellar
universe where fashioning processes are still at work. As Sir W.
Herschel long since pointed out, we can recognise in various parts of
the heavens various stages of development, and chief among the regions
where as yet Nature's work seems incomplete, is the Galactic
zone--especially that half of it where the Milky Way consists of
irregular streams and clouds of stellar light. As there is no reason for
believing that our sun belongs to this part of the galaxy, but on the
contrary good ground for considering that he belongs to the class of
insulated stars, few of which have shown signs of irregular variation,
while none have ever blazed suddenly out with many hundred times their
former lustre, we may fairly infer a very high degree of probability in
favour of the belief that, for many ages still to come, the sun will
continue steadily to discharge his duties as fire, light, and life of
the solar system.



The rings of Saturn, always among the most interesting objects of
astronomical research, have recently been subjected to close scrutiny
under high telescopic powers by Mr. Trouvelot, of the Harvard
Observatory, Cambridge, U.S. The results which he has obtained afford
very significant evidence respecting these strange appendages, and even
throw some degree of light on the subject of cosmical evolution. The
present time, when Saturn is the ruling planet of the night, seems
favourable for giving a brief account of recent speculations respecting
the Saturnian ring-system, especially as the observations of Mr.
Trouvelot appear to remove all doubt as to the true nature of the rings,
if indeed any doubt could reasonably be entertained after the
investigations made by European and American astronomers when the dark
inner ring had but recently been recognised.

It may be well to give a brief account of the progress of observation
from the time when the rings were first discovered.

In passing, I may remark that the failure of Galileo to ascertain the
real shape of these appendages has always seemed to me to afford
striking evidence of the importance of careful reasoning upon all
observations whose actual significance is not at once apparent. If
Galileo had been thus careful to analyse his observations of Saturn, he
could not have failed to ascertain their real meaning. He had seen the
planet apparently attended by two large satellites, one on either side,
'as though supporting the aged Saturn upon his slow course around the
sun.' Night after night he had seen these attendants, always similarly
placed, one on either side of the planet, and at equal distances from
it. Then in 1612 he had again examined the planet, and lo, the
attendants had vanished, 'as though Saturn had been at his old tricks,
and had devoured his children.' But after a while the attendant orbs had
reappeared in their former positions, had seemed slowly to grow larger,
until at length they had presented the appearance of two pairs of mighty
arms encompassing the planet. If Galileo had reasoned upon these changes
of appearance, he could not have failed, as it seems to me, to interpret
their true meaning. The three forms under which the rings had been seen
by him sufficed to indicate the true shape of the appendage. Because
Saturn was seen with two attendants of apparently equal size and always
equi-distant from him, it was certain that there must be some appendage
surrounding him, and extending to that distance from his globe. Because
this appendage disappeared, it was certain that it must be thin and
flat. Because it appeared at another time with a dark space between the
arms and the planet, it was certain that the appendage is separated by a
wide gap from the body of the planet. So that Galileo might have
concluded--not doubtfully, but with assured confidence--that the
appendage is a thin flat ring nowhere attached to the planet, or, as
Huyghens said some forty years later, Saturn '_annulo cingitur tenui,
plano, nusquam cohærente_.' Whether such reasoning would have been
accepted by the contemporaries of Galileo may be doubtful. The
generality of men are not content with reasoning which is logically
sound, but require evidence which they can easily understand. Very
likely Huyghens' proof from direct observation, though in reality not a
whit more complete and far rougher, would have been regarded as the
first true proof of the existence of Saturn's ring, just as Sir W.
Herschel's observation of one star actually moving round another was
regarded as the first true proof of the physical association of certain
stars, a fact which Michell had proved as completely and far more neatly
half a century earlier, by a method, however, which was 'caviare to the

However, as matters chanced, the scientific world was not called upon to
decide between the merits of a discovery made by direct observation and
one effected by means of abstract reasoning. It was not until Saturn had
been examined with much higher telescopic power than Galileo could
employ, that the appendage which had so perplexed the Florentine
astronomer was seen to be a thin flat ring, nowhere touching the planet,
and considerably inclined to the plane in which Saturn travels. We
cannot wonder that the discovery was regarded as a most interesting one.
Astronomers had heretofore had to deal with solid masses, either known
to be spheroidal, like the earth, the sun, the moon, Jupiter, and Venus,
or presumed to be so, like the stars. The comets might be judged to be
vaporous masses of various forms; but even these were supposed to
surround or to attend upon globe-shaped nuclear masses. Here, however,
in the case of Saturn's ring, was a quoit-shaped body travelling around
the sun in continual attendance upon Saturn, whose motions, no matter
how they varied in velocity or direction, were so closely followed by
this strange attendant that the planet remained always centrally poised
within the span of its ring-girdle. To appreciate the interest with
which this strange phenomenon was regarded, we must remember that as yet
the law of gravity had not been recognised. Huyghens discovered the
ring (or rather perceived its nature) in 1659, but it was not till 1666
that Newton first entertained the idea that the moon is retained in its
orbit about the earth by the attractive energy which causes unsupported
bodies to fall earthwards; and he was unable to demonstrate the law of
gravity before 1684. Now, in a general sense, we can readily understand
in these days how a ring around a planet continues to travel along with
the planet despite all changes of velocity or direction of motion. For
the law of gravity teaches that the same causes which tend to change the
direction and velocity of the planet's motion tend in precisely the same
degree to change the direction and velocity of the ring's motion. But
when Huyghens made his discovery it must have appeared a most mysterious
circumstance that a ring and planet should be thus constantly
associated--that during thousands of years no collision should have
occurred whereby the relatively delicate structure of the ring had been

Only six years later a discovery was made by two English observers,
William and Thomas Ball, which enhanced the mystery. Observing the
northern face of the ring, which was at that time turned earthwards,
they perceived a black stripe of considerable breadth dividing the ring
into two concentric portions. The discovery did not attract so much
attention as it deserved, insomuch that when Cassini, ten years later,
announced the discovery of a corresponding dark division on the southern
surface, none recalled the observation made by the brothers Ball.
Cassini expressed the opinion that the ring is really divided into two,
not merely marked by a dark stripe on its southern face. This conclusion
would, of course, have been an assured one, had the previous observation
of a dark division on the northern face been remembered. With the
knowledge which we now possess, indeed, the darkness of the seeming
stripe would be sufficient evidence that there must be a real division
there between the rings; for we know that no mere darkness of the ring's
substance could account for the apparent darkness of the stripe. It has
been well remarked by Professor Tyndall, that if the moon's whole
surface could be covered with black velvet, she would yet appear white
when seen on the dark background of the sky. And it may be doubted
whether a circular strip of black velvet 2000 miles wide, placed where
we see the dark division between the rings, would appear nearly as dark
as that division. Since we could only admit the possibility of some
substance resembling our darker rocks occupying this position (for we
know of nothing to justify the supposition that a substance as dark as
lampblack or black velvet could be there), we are manifestly precluded
from supposing that the dark space is other than a division between two
distinct rings.

Yet Sir W. Herschel, in examining the rings of Saturn with his powerful
telescopes, for a long time favoured the theory that there is no real
division. He called it the 'broad black mark,' and argued that it can
neither indicate the existence of a zone of hills upon the ring, nor of
a vast cavernous groove, for in either case it would present changes of
appearance (according to the ring's changes of position) such as he was
unable to detect. It was not until the year 1790, eleven years after his
observations had commenced, that, perceiving a corresponding broad black
mark upon the ring's southern face, Herschel expressed a 'suspicion'
that the ring is divided into two concentric portions by a circular gap
nearly 2000 miles in width. He expressed at the same time, very
strongly, his belief that this division was the only one in Saturn's

A special interest attached at that time to the question whether the
ring is divided or not, for Laplace had then recently published the
results of his mathematical inquiry into the movements of such a ring as
Saturn's, and, having _proved_ that a single solid ring of such enormous
width could not continue to move around the planet, had expressed the
_opinion_ that Saturn's ring consists in reality of many concentric
rings, each turning, with its own proper rotation rate, around the
central planet. It is singular that Herschel, who, though not versed in
the methods of the higher mathematics, had considerable native power as
a mathematician, was unable to perceive the force of Laplace's
reasoning. Indeed, this is one of those cases where clearness of
perception rather than profundity of mathematical insight was required.
Laplace's equations of motion did not express all the relations
involved, nor was it possible to judge, from the results he deduced, how
far the stability of the Saturnian rings depended on the real structure
of these appendages. One who was well acquainted with mechanical
matters, and sufficiently versed in mathematics to understand how to
estimate generally the forces acting upon the ring-system, could have
perceived as readily the general conditions of the problem as the most
profound mathematician. One may compare the case to the problem of
determining whether the action of the moon in causing the tidal wave
modifies in any manner the earth's motion of rotation. We know that as a
mathematical question this is a very difficult one. The Astronomer
Royal, for example, not long ago dealt with it analytically, and deduced
the conclusion that there is no effect on the earth's rotation,
presently however, discovering by a lucky chance a term in the result
which indicates an effect of that kind. But if we look at the matter in
its mechanical aspect, we perceive at once, without any profound
mathematical research, that the retardation so hard to detect
mathematically must necessarily take place. As Sir E. Beckett says in
his masterly work, _Astronomy without Mathematics_, 'the conclusion is
as evident without mathematics as with them, when once it has been
suggested.' So when we consider the case of a wide flat ring surrounding
a mighty planet like Saturn, we perceive that nothing could possibly
save such a ring from destruction if it were really one solid structure.

To recognise this the more clearly, let us first notice the dimensions
of the planet and rings.

We have in Saturn a globe about 70,000 miles in mean diameter, an
equatorial diameter being about 73,000 miles, the polar diameter 66,000
miles. The attractive force of this mighty mass upon bodies placed on
its surface is equal to about one-fifth more than terrestrial gravity if
the body is near the pole of Saturn, and is almost exactly the same as
terrestrial gravity if the body is at the planet's equator. Its action
on the matter of the ring is, of course, very much less, because of the
increased distance, but still a force is exerted on every part of the
ring which is comparable with the familiar force of terrestrial gravity.
The outer edge of the outer ring lies about 83,500 miles from the
planet's centre, the inner edge of the inner ring (I speak throughout of
the ring-system as known to Sir W. Herschel and Laplace) about 54,500
miles from the centre, the breadth of the system of bright rings being
about 29,000 miles. Between the planet's equator and the inner edge of
the innermost bright ring there intervenes a space of about 20,000
miles. Roughly speaking, it may be said that the attraction of the
planet on the substance of the ring's inner edge is less than gravity at
Saturn's equator (or, which is almost exactly the same thing, is less
than terrestrial gravity) in about the proportion of 9 to 20; or, still
more roughly, the inner edge of Saturn's inner bright ring is drawn
inwards by about half the force of gravity at the earth's surface. The
outer edge is drawn towards Saturn by a force less than terrestrial
gravity in the proportion of about 3 to 16--say roughly that the force
thus exerted by Saturn on the matter of the outer edge of the
ring-system is equivalent to about one-fifth of the force of gravity at
the earth's surface.

It is clear, first, that if the ring-system did not rotate, the forces
thus acting on the material of the rings would immediately break them
into fragments, and, dragging these down to the planet's equator, would
leave them scattered in heaps upon that portion of Saturn's surface. The
ring would in fact be in that case like a mighty arch, each portion of
which would be drawn towards Saturn's centre by its own weight. This
weight would be enormous if Bessel's estimate of the mass of the
ring-system is correct. He made the mass of the ring rather greater than
the mass of the earth--an estimate which I believe to be greatly in
excess of the truth. Probably the rings do not amount in mass to more
than a fourth part of the earth's mass. But even that is enormous, and
subjected as is the material of the rings to forces varying from
one-half to a fifth of terrestrial gravity, the strains and pressures
upon the various parts of the system would exceed thousands of times
those which even the strongest material built up into their shape could
resist. The system would no more be able to resist such strains and
pressures than an arch of iron spanning the Atlantic would be able to
sustain its own weight against the earth's attraction.

It would be necessary then that the ring-system should rotate around the
planet. But it is clear that the proper rate of rotation for the outer
portion would be very different from the rate suited for the inner
portion. In order that the inner portion should travel around Saturn
entirely relieved of its weight, it should complete a revolution in
about seven hours twenty-three minutes. The outer portion, however,
should revolve in about thirteen hours fifty-eight minutes, or nearly
fourteen hours. Thus the inner part should rotate in little more than
half the time required by the outer part. The result would necessarily
be that the ring-system would be affected by tremendous strains, which
it would be quite unable to resist. The existence of the great division
would manifestly go far to diminish the strains. It is easily shown that
the rate of turning where the division is, would be once in about eleven
hours and twenty-five minutes, not differing greatly from the mean
between the rotation-periods for the outside and for the inside edges of
the system. Even then, however, the strains would be hundreds of times
greater than the material of the ring could resist. A mass comparable in
weight to our earth, compelled to rotate in (say) nine hours when it
ought to rotate in eleven or in seven, would be subjected to strains
exceeding many times the resistances which the cohesive power of its
substance could afford. That would be the condition of the inner ring.
And in like manner the outer ring, if it rotated in about twelve hours
and three-quarters, would have its outer portions rotating too fast and
its inner portions too slowly, because their proper periods would be
fourteen hours and eleven hours and a half respectively. Nothing but the
division of the ring into a number of narrow hoops could possibly save
it from destruction through the internal strains and pressures to which
its material would be subjected.

Even this complicated arrangement, however, would not save the
ring-system. If we suppose a fine hoop to turn around a central
attracting body as the rings of Saturn rotate around the planet, it may
be shown that unless the hoop is so weighted that its centre of gravity
is far from the planet, there will be no stability in the resulting
motions; the hoop will before long be made to rotate eccentrically, and
eventually be brought into destructive collision with the central

It was here that Laplace left the problem. Nothing could have been more
unsatisfactory than his result, though it was accepted for nearly half a
century unquestioned. He had shown that a weighted fine hoop may
possibly turn around a central attracting mass without destructive
changes of position, but he had not proved more than the bare
possibility of this, while nothing in the appearance of Saturn's rings
suggests that any such arrangement exists. Again, manifestly a multitude
of narrow hoops, so combined as to form a broad flat system of rings,
would be constantly in collision _inter se_. Besides, each one of them
would be subjected to destructive strains. For though a fine uniform
hoop set rotating at a proper rate around an attracting mass at its
centre would be freed from all strains, the case is very different with
a hoop so weighted as to have its centre of gravity greatly displaced.
Laplace had saved the theoretical stability of the motions of a fine
ring at the expense of the ring's power of resisting the strains to
which it would be exposed. It seems incredible that such a result
(expressed, too, very doubtingly by the distinguished mathematician who
had obtained it) should have been accepted so long almost without
question. There is nothing in nature in the remotest degree resembling
the arrangement imagined by Laplace, which indeed appears on _à priori_
grounds impossible. It was not claimed for it that it removed the
original difficulties of the problem; and it introduced others fully as
serious. So strong, however, is authority in the scientific world that
none ventured to express any doubts except Sir W. Herschel, who simply
denied that the two rings were divided into many, as Laplace's theory
required. As time went on and the signs of many divisions were at times
recognised, it was supposed that Laplace's reasoning had been justified;
and despite the utter impossibility of the arrangement he had suggested,
that arrangement was ordinarily described as probably existing.

At length, however, a discovery was made which caused the whole question
to be reopened.

On November 10, 1850, W. Bond, observing the planet with the telescope
of the Harvard Observatory, perceived within the inner bright ring a
feeble illumination which he was at a loss to understand. On the next
night the faint light was better seen. On the 15th, Tuttle, who was
observing with Bond, suggested the idea that the light within the inner
bright ring was due to a dusky ring inside the system of bright rings.
On November 25, Mr. Dawes in England perceived this dusky ring, and
announced the discovery before the news had reached England that Bond
had already seen the dark ring. The credit of the discovery is usually
shared between Bond and Dawes, though the usual rule in such matters
would assign the discovery to Bond alone. It was found that the dark
ring had already been seen at Rome so far back as 1828, and again by
Galle at Berlin in May 1838. The Roman observations were not
satisfactory. Those by Galle, however, were sufficient to have
established the fact of the ring's existence; indeed, in 1839 Galle
measured the dark ring. But very little attention was attracted to this
interesting discovery, insomuch that when Bond and Dawes announced their
observation of the dark ring in 1850, the news was received by
astronomers with all the interest attaching to the detection of before
unnoted phenomena.

It may be well to notice under what conditions the dark ring was
detected in 1850. In September 1848 the ring had been turned edgewise
towards the sun, and as rather more than seven years are occupied in
the apparent gradual opening out of the ring from that edge view to its
most open appearance (when the outline of the ring-system is an eclipse
whose lesser axis is nearly equal to half the greater), it will be seen
that in November 1850 the rings were but slightly opened. Thus the
recognition of the dark ring within the bright system was made under
unfavourable conditions. For four preceding years--that is, from the
year 1846--the rings had been as little or less opened; and again for
several years preceding 1846, though the rings had been more open, the
planet had been unfavourably placed for observation in northern
latitudes, crossing the meridian at low altitudes. Still, in 1838 and
1839, when the rings were most open, although the planet was never seen
under favourable conditions, the opening of the rings, then nearly at
its greatest, made the recognition of the dark ring possible; and we
have seen that Galle then made the discovery. When Bond rediscovered the
dark ring, everything promised that before long the appendage would be
visible with telescopes far inferior in power to the great Harvard
refractor. Year after year the planet was becoming more favourably
placed for observation, while all the time the rings were opening out.
Accordingly it need not surprise us to learn that in 1853 the dark ring
was seen with a telescope less than three inches and a half in aperture.
Even so early as 1851, Mr. Hartnup, observing the planet with a
telescope eight inches and a half in aperture, found that 'the dark ring
could not be overlooked for an instant.'

But while this increase in the distinctness of the dark ring was to be
expected, from the mere fact that the ring was discovered under
relatively unfavourable conditions, yet the fact that Saturn was thus
found to have an appendage of a remarkable character, perfectly obvious
even with moderate telescopic power, was manifestly most surprising.
The planet had been studied for nearly two centuries with telescopes
exceeding in power those with which the dark ring was now perceived.
Some among these telescopes were not only of great power, but employed
by observers of the utmost skill. The elder Herschel had for a quarter
of a century studied Saturn with his great reflectors eighteen inches in
aperture, and had at times turned on the planet his monstrous (though
not mighty) four-feet mirror. Schröter had examined the dark space
within the inner bright ring for the special purpose of determining
whether the ring-system is really disconnected from the globe. He had
used a mirror nineteen inches in aperture, and he had observed that the
dark space seen on either side of Saturn inside the ring-system not only
appeared dark, but actually darker than the surrounding sky. This was
presumably (though not quite certainly) an effect of contrast only, the
dark space being bounded all round by bright surfaces. If real, the
phenomenon signified that whereas the space outside the ring, where the
satellites of the planet travel, was occupied by some sort of cosmical
dust, the space within the ring-system was, as it were, swept and
garnished, as though all the scattered matter which might otherwise have
occupied that region had been either attracted to the body of the planet
or to the rings.[36] But manifestly the observation was entirely
inconsistent with the supposition that there existed in Schröter's time
a dark or dusky ring within the bright system. Again, the elder Struve
made the most careful measurement of the whole of the ring-system in
1826, when the system was as well placed for observation as in 1856
(or, in other words, as well placed as it can possibly be); but though
he used a telescope nine inches and a half in aperture, and though his
attention was specially attracted to the inner edge of the inner bright
ring (_which seemed to him indistinct_), he did not detect the dark
ring. Yet we have seen that in 1851, under much less favourable
conditions, a less practised observer, using a telescope of less
aperture, found that the dark ring could not be overlooked for an
instant. It is manifest that all these considerations point to the
conclusion that the dark ring is a new formation, or, at the least, that
it has changed notably in condition during the present century.

I have hitherto only considered the appearance of the dusky ring as seen
on either side of the planet's globe within the bright rings. The most
remarkable feature of the appendage remains still to be mentioned--the
fact, namely, that the bright body of the planet can be seen through
this dusky ring. Where the dark ring crosses the planet, it appears as a
rather dark belt, which might readily be mistaken for a belt upon the
planet's surface; for the outline of the planet can be seen through the
ring as through a film of smoke or a crape veil.

Now it is worthy of notice that whereas the dark ring was not detected
outside the planet's body until 1838, nor generally recognised by
astronomers until 1850, the dark belt across the planet, really caused
by the dusky ring, was observed more than a century earlier. In 1715 the
younger Cassini saw it, and perceived that it was not curved enough for
a belt really belonging to the planet. Hadley again observed that the
belt attended the ring as this opened out and closed, or, in other
words, that the dark belt belonged to the ring, not to the body of the
planet. And in many pictures of Saturn's system a dark band is shown
along the inner edge of the inner bright ring where it crosses the body
of the planet. It seems to me that we have here a most important piece
of evidence respecting the rings. It is clear that the inner part of the
inner bright ring has for more than a century and a half (how much more
we do not know) been partially transparent, and it is probable that
within its inner edge there has been all the time a ring of matter; but
this ring has only within the last half-century gathered consistency
enough to be discernible. It is manifest that the existence of the dark
belt shown in the older pictures would have led directly to the
detection of the dark ring, had not this appendage been exceedingly
faint. Thus, while the observation of the dark belt across the planet's
face proves the dusky ring to have existed in some form long before it
was perceived, the same fact only helps to render us certain that the
dark ring has changed notably in condition during the present century.

The discovery of this singular appendage, an object unique in the solar
system, naturally attracted fresh attention to the question of the
stability of the rings. The idea was thrown out by the elder Bond that
the new ring may be fluid, or even that the whole ring-system may be
fluid, and the dark ring simply thinner than the rest. It was thought
possible that the ring-system is of the nature of a vast ocean, whose
waves are steadily advancing upon the planet's globe. The mathematical
investigation of the subject was also resumed by Professor Benjamin
Pierce, of Harvard, and it was satisfactorily demonstrated that the
stability of a system of actual rings of solid matter required so nice
an adjustment of so many narrow rings as to render the system far more
complex than even Laplace had supposed. 'A stable formation can,' he
said, 'be nothing other than a very great number of separate narrow
rigid rings, each revolving with its proper relative velocity.' As was
well remarked by the late Professor Nichol, 'If this arrangement or
anything like it were real, how many new conditions of instability do we
introduce. Observation tells us that the division between such rings
must be extremely narrow, so that the slightest disturbance by external
or internal causes would cause one ring to impinge upon another; and we
should thus have the seed of perpetual catastrophes.' Nor would such a
constitution protect the system against dissolution. 'There is no escape
from the difficulties, therefore, but through the final rejection of the
idea that Saturn's rings are rigid or in any sense a solid formation.'

The idea that the ring-system may be fluid came naturally next under
mathematical scrutiny. Strangely enough, the physical objections to the
theory of fluidity appear to have been entirely overlooked. Before we
could accept such a theory, we must admit the existence of elements
differing entirely from those with which we are familiar. No fluid known
to us could retain the form of the rings of Saturn under the conditions
to which they are exposed. But the mathematical examination of the
subject disposed so thoroughly of the theory that the rings can consist
of continuous fluid masses, that we need not now discuss the physical
objections to the theory.

There remains only the theory that the Saturnian ring-system consists of
discrete masses analogous to the streams of meteors known to exist in
great numbers within the solar system. The masses may be solid or fluid,
may be strewn in relatively vacant space, or may be surrounded by
vaporous envelopes; but that they are discrete, each free to travel on
its own course, seemed as completely demonstrated by Pierce's
calculations as anything not actually admitting of direct observation
could possibly be. The matter was placed beyond dispute by the
independent analysis to which Clerk Maxwell subjected the mathematical
problem. It had been selected in 1855 as the subject for the Adams Prize
Essay at Cambridge, and Clerk Maxwell's essay, which obtained the prize,
showed conclusively that only a system of many small bodies, each free
to travel upon its course under the varying attractions to which it was
subjected by Saturn itself, and by the Saturnian satellites, could
possibly continue to girdle a planet as the rings of Saturn girdle him.

It is clear that all the peculiarities hitherto observed in the
Saturnian ring-system are explicable so soon as we regard that system as
made up of multitudes of small bodies. Varieties of brightness simply
indicate various degrees of condensation of these small satellites. Thus
the outer ring had long been observed to be less bright than the inner.
Of course it did not seem impossible that the outer ring might be made
of different materials; yet there was something bizarre in the
supposition that two rings forming the same system were thus different
in substance. It would not have been at all noteworthy if different
parts of the same ring differed in luminosity--in fact, it was much more
remarkable that each zone of the system seemed uniformly bright all
round. But that one zone should be of one tint, another of an entirely
different tint, was a strange circumstance so long as the only available
interpretation seemed to be that one zone was made (throughout) of one
substance, the other of another. If this was strange when the difference
between the inner and outer bright rings was alone considered, how much
stranger did it seem when the multitudinous divisions in the rings were
taken into account! Why should the ring-system, 30,000 miles in width,
be thus divided into zones of different material? An arrangement so
artificial is quite unlike all that is elsewhere seen among the
subjects of the astronomer's researches. But when the rings are regarded
as made up of multitudes of small bodies, we can quite readily
understand how the nearly circular movements of all of these, at
different rates, should result in the formation of rings of aggregation
and rings of segregation, appearing at the earth's distance as bright
rings and faint rings. The dark ring clearly corresponds in appearance
with a ring of thinly scattered satellites. Indeed, it seems impossible
otherwise to account for the appearance of a dusky belt across the globe
of the planet where the dark ring crosses the disc. If the material of
the dark ring were some partly transparent solid or fluid substance, the
light of the planet received through the dark ring added to the light
reflected by the dark ring itself, would be so nearly equivalent to the
light received from the rest of the planet's disc, that either no dark
belt would be seen, or the darkening would be barely discernible. In
some positions a bright belt would be seen, not a dark one. But a ring
of scattered satellites would cast as its shadow a multitude of black
spots, which would give to the belt in shadow a dark grey aspect. A
considerable proportion of these spots would be hidden by the satellites
forming the dark ring, and in every case where a spot was wholly or
partially hidden by a satellite, the effect (at our distant station
where the separate satellites of the dark ring are not discernible)
would simply be to reduce _pro tanto_ the darkness of the grey belt of
shadow. But certainly more than half the shadows of the satellites would
remain in sight; for the darkness of the ring at the time of its
discovery showed that the satellites were very sparsely strewn. And
these shadows would be sufficient to give to the belt a dusky hue, such
as it presented when first discovered.[37]

The observations which have recently been made by Mr. Trouvelot
indicate changes in the ring-system, and especially in the dark ring,
which place every other theory save that to which we have thus been led
entirely out of the question. It should be noted that Mr. Trouvelot has
employed telescopes of unquestionable excellence and varying in aperture
from six inches to twenty-six inches, the latter aperture being that of
the great telescope of the Washington Observatory (the largest refractor
in the world).

He has noted in the first place that the interior edge of the outer
bright ring, which marks the outer limit of the great division, is
irregular, but whether the irregularity is permanent or not he does not
know. The great division itself is found not to be actually black, but,
as was long since noted by Captain Jacob, of the Madras Observatory, a
very dark brown, as though a few scattered satellites travelled along
this relatively vacant zone of the system. Mr. Trouvelot has further
noticed that the shadow of the planet upon the rings, and especially
upon the outer ring, changes continually in shape, a circumstance which
he attributes to irregularities in the surface of the rings. For my own
part, I should be disposed to attribute these changes in the shape of
the planet's shadow (noted by other observers also) to rapid changes in
the deep cloud-laden atmosphere of the planet. Passing on, however, to
less doubtful observations, we find that the whole system of rings has
presented a clouded and spotted aspect during the last four years. Mr.
Trouvelot specially describes this appearance as observed on the parts
of the ring outside the disc, called by astronomers the _ansæ_ (because
of their resemblance to handles), and it would seem, therefore, that the
spotted and cloudy portions are seen only where the background on which
the rings are projected is black. This circumstance clearly suggests
that the darkness of these parts is due to the background, or, in other
words, that the sky is in reality seen through those parts of the
ring-system, just as the darkness of the slate-coloured interior ring is
attributed, on the satellite theory, to the background of sky visible
through the scattered flight of satellites forming the dark ring. The
matter composing the dark ring has been observed by Mr. Trouvelot to be
gathered in places into compact masses, which prevent the light of the
planet from being seen through those portions of the dark ring where the
matter is thus massed together. It is clear that such peculiarities
could not possibly present themselves in the case of a continuous solid
or fluid ring-system, whereas they would naturally occur in a ring
formed of multitudes of minute bodies travelling freely around the

The point next to be mentioned is still more decisive. When the dark
ring was carefully examined with powerful telescopes during the ten
years following its discovery by Bond, at which time it was most
favourably placed for observation, it was observed that the outline of
the planet could be seen across the entire breadth of the dark ring. All
the observations agreed in this respect. It was, indeed, noticed by
Dawes that outside the planet's disc the dark ring showed varieties of
tint, its inner half being darker than its outer portion. Lassell,
observing the planet under most favourable conditions with his two-feet
mirror at Malta, could not perceive these varieties of tint, which
therefore we may judge to have been either not permanent or very
slightly marked. But, as I have said, all observers agreed that the
outline of the planet could be seen athwart the entire width of the
dark ring. Mr. Trouvelot, however, has found that during the last four
years the planet has not been visible through the whole width of the
dark ring, but only through the inner half of the ring's breadth. It
appears, then, that either the inner portion is getting continually
thinner and thinner--that is, the satellites composing it are becoming
continually more sparsely strewn--or that the outer portion is becoming
more compact, doubtless by receiving stray satellites from the interior
of the inner bright ring.

It is clear that in Saturn's ring-system, if not in the planet itself,
mighty changes are still taking place. It may be that the rings are
being so fashioned under the forces to which they are subjected as to be
on their way to becoming changed into separate satellites, inner members
of that system which at present consists of eight secondary planets.
But, whatever may be the end towards which these changes are tending, we
see processes of evolution taking place which may be regarded as
typifying the more extensive and probably more energetic processes
whereby the solar system itself reached its present condition. I
ventured more than ten years ago, in the preface to my treatise upon the
planet Saturn, to suggest the possibility 'that in the variations
perceptibly proceeding in the Saturnian ring-system a key may one day be
found to the law of development under which the solar system has reached
its present condition.' This suggestion seems to me strikingly confirmed
by the recent discoveries. The planet Saturn and its appendages, always
interesting to astronomers, are found more than ever worthy of close
investigation and scrutiny. We may here, as it were, seize nature in the
act, and trace out the actual progress of developments which at present
are matters rather of theory than of observation.



                                The blazing star,
  Threat'ning the world with famine, plague, and war;
  To princes death; to kingdoms many curses;
  To all estates inevitable losses;
  To herdsmen rot; to ploughmen hapless seasons;
  To sailors storms; to cities civil treasons.

Although comets are no longer regarded with superstitious awe as in old
times, mystery still clings to them. Astronomers can tell what path a
comet is travelling upon, and say whence it has come and whither it will
go, can even in many cases predict the periodic returns of a comet, can
analyse the substance of these strange wanderers, and have recently
discovered a singular bond of relationship between comets and those
other strange visitants from the celestial depths, the shooting stars.
But astronomy has hitherto proved unable to determine the origin of
comets, the part they perform in the economy of the universe, their real
structure, the causes of the marvellous changes of shape which they
undergo as they approach the sun, rush round him, and then retreat. As
Sir John Herschel has remarked: 'No one, hitherto, has been able to
assign any single point in which we should be a bit better or worse off,
materially speaking, if there were no such thing as a comet. Persons,
even thinking persons, have busied themselves with conjectures; such as
that they may serve for fuel for the sun (into which, however, they
never fall), or that they may cause warm summers, which is a mere fancy,
or that they may give rise to epidemics, or potato-blights, and so
forth.' And though, as he justly says, 'this is all wild talking,' yet
it will probably continue until astronomers have been able to master the
problems respecting comets which hitherto have foiled their best
efforts. The unexplained has ever been and will ever be marvellous to
the general mind. Just as unexplored regions of the earth have been
tenanted in imagination by

    anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders,

so do wondrous possibilities exist in the unknown and the ill-understood
phenomena of nature.

In old times, when the appearance and movements of comets were supposed
to be altogether uncontrolled by physical laws, it was natural that
comets should be regarded as signs from heaven, tokens of Divine wrath
towards some, and of the interposition of Divine providence in favour of
others. As Seneca well remarked: 'There is no man so dull, so obtuse, so
turned to earthly things, who does not direct all the powers of his mind
towards things Divine when some novel phenomenon appears in the heavens.
While all follows its usual course up yonder, familiarity robs the
spectacle of its grandeur. For so is man made. However wonderful may be
what he sees day after day, he looks on it with indifference; while
matters of very little importance attract and interest him if they
depart from the accustomed order. The host of heavenly constellations
beneath the vault of heaven, whose beauty they adorn, attract no
attention; but if any unusual appearance be noticed among them, at once
all eyes are turned heavenwards. The sun is only looked on with
interest when he is undergoing eclipse. Men observe the moon only under
like conditions.... So thoroughly is it a part of our nature to admire
the new rather than the great. The same is true of comets. When one of
these fiery bodies of unusual form appears, every one is eager to know
what it means; men forget other objects to inquire about the new
arrival; they know not whether to wonder or to tremble; for many spread
fear on all sides, drawing from the phenomenon most grave prognostics.'

There is no direct reference to comets in the Bible, either in the Old
Testament or the New. It is possible that some of the signs from heaven
recorded in the Bible pages were either comets or meteors, and that even
where in some places an angel or messenger from God is said to have
appeared and delivered a message, what really happened was that some
remarkable phenomenon in the heavens was interpreted in a particular
manner by the priests, and the interpretation afterwards described as
the message of an angel. The image of the 'flaming sword which turned
every way' may have been derived from a comet; but we can form no safe
conclusion about this, any more than we can upon the question whether
the 'horror of great darkness' which fell upon Abraham (Genesis xv. 12)
when the sun was going down, was caused by an eclipse;[38] or whether
the going back of the shadow upon the dial of Ahaz was caused by a mock
sun. The star seen by the wise men from the east may have been a comet,
since the word translated 'star' signifies any bright object seen in the
heavens, and is in fact the same word which Homer, in a passage
frequently referred to, uses to signify either a comet or a meteor. The
way in which it appeared to go before them, when (directed by Herod, be
it noticed) they went to Bethlehem, almost due south of Jerusalem, would
correspond to a meridian culmination low down--for the star had
manifestly not been visible in the earlier evening, since we are told
that they rejoiced when they saw the star again. It was probably a comet
travelling southwards; and, as the wise men had travelled from the east,
it had very likely been first seen in the west as an evening star,
wherefore its course was retrograde--that is, supposing it _was_ a
comet.[39] It may possibly have been an apparition of Halley's comet,
following a course somewhat similar to that which it followed in the
year 1835, when the perihelion passage was made on November 15, and the
comet running southwards disappeared from northern astronomers, though
in January it was '_received_' by Sir J. Herschel, to use his own
expression, 'in the southern hemisphere.' There was an apparition of
Halley's comet in the year 66, or seventy years after the Nativity; and
the period of the comet varies, according to the perturbing influences
affecting the comet's motion, from sixty-nine to eighty years.

Homer does not, to the best of my recollection, refer anywhere directly
to comets. Pope, indeed, who made very free with Homer's references to
the heavenly bodies,[40] introduces a comet--and a red one, too!--into
the simile of the heavenly portent in Book IV.:--

  As the red comet from Saturnius sent
  To fright the nations with a dire portent
  (A fatal sign to armies in the plain,
  Or trembling sailors on the wintry main),
  With sweeping glories glides along in air,
  And shakes the sparkles from its blazing hair:
  Between two armies thus, in open sight,
  Shot the bright goddess in a trail of light.

But Homer says nothing of this comet. If Homer had introduced a comet,
we may be sure it would not have shaken sparkles from its blazing tail.
Homer said simply that 'Pallas rushed from the peaks of heaven, like the
bright star sent by the son of crafty-counselled Kronus (as a sign
either to sailors, or the broad array of the nations), from which many
sparks proceed.' Strangely enough, Pingré and Lalande, the former noted
for his researches into ancient comets, the latter a skilful astronomer,
agree in considering that Homer really referred to a comet, and they
even regard this comet as an apparition of the comet of 1680. They cite
in support of this opinion the portent which followed the prayer of
Anchises, 'Æneid,' Book II. 692, etc.: 'Scarce had the old man ceased
from praying, when a peal of thunder was heard on the left, and a star,
gliding from the heavens amid the darkness, rushed through space
followed by a long train of light; we saw the star,' says Æneas,
'suspended for a moment above the roof, brighten our home with its
fires, then, tracing out a brilliant course, disappear in the forests of
Ida; then a long train of flame illuminated us, and the place around
reeked with the smell of sulphur. Overcome by these startling portents,
my father arose, invoked the gods, and worshipped the holy star.' It is
impossible to recognise here the description of a comet. The noise, the
trail of light, the visible motion, the smell of sulphur, all correspond
with the fall of a meteorite close by; and doubtless Virgil simply
introduced into the narrative the circumstances of some such phenomenon
which had been witnessed in his own time. To base on such a point the
theory that the comet of 1680 was visible at the time of the fall of
Troy, the date of which is unknown, is venturesome in the extreme. True,
the period calculated for the comet of 1680, when Pingré and Lalande
agreed in this unhappy guess, was 575 years; and if we multiply this
period by five we obtain 2875 years, taking 1680 from which leaves 1195
years B.C., near enough to the supposed date of the capture of Troy.
Unfortunately, Encke (the eminent astronomer to whom we owe that
determination of the sun's distance which for nearly half a century held
its place in our books, but has within the last twenty years been
replaced by a distance three millions of miles less) went over afresh
the calculations of the motions of that famous comet, and found that,
instead of 575 years, the most probable period is about 8814 years. The
difference amounts only to 8239 years; but even this small difference
rather impairs the theory of Lalande and Pingré.[41]

Three hundred and seventy-one years before the Christian era, a comet
appeared which Aristotle (who was a boy at the time) has described.
Diodorus Siculus writes thus respecting it: 'In the first year of the
102d Olympiad, Alcisthenes being Archon of Athens, several prodigies
announced the approaching humiliation of the Lacedæmonians; a blazing
torch of extraordinary size, which was compared to a flaming beam, was
seen during several nights.' Guillemin, from whose interesting work on
Comets I have translated the above passage, remarks that this same comet
was regarded by the ancients as having not merely presaged but produced
the earthquakes which caused the towns of Helice and Bura to be
submerged. This was clearly in the thoughts of Seneca when he said of
this comet that as soon as it appeared it brought about the submergence
of Bura and Helice.

In those times, however, comets were not regarded solely as signs of
disaster. As the misfortunes of one nation were commonly held to be of
advantage to other nations, so the same comet might be regarded very
differently by different nations or different rulers. Thus the comet of
the year 344 B.C. was regarded by Timoleon of Corinth as presaging the
success of his expedition against Corinth. 'The gods announced,' said
Diodorus Siculus, 'by a remarkable portent, his success and future
greatness; a blazing torch appeared in the heavens at night, and went
before the fleet of Timoleon until he arrived in Sicily.' The comets of
the years 134 B.C. and 118 B.C. were not regarded as portents of death,
but as signalising, the former the birth, the latter the accession, of
Mithridates. The comet of 43 B.C. was held by some to be the soul of
Julius Cæsar on its way to the abode of the gods. Bodin, a French lawyer
of the sixteenth century, regarded this as the usual significance of
comets. He was, indeed, sufficiently modest to attribute the opinion to
Democritus, but the whole credit of the discovery belonged to himself.
He maintained that comets only indicate approaching misfortunes because
they are the spirits or souls of illustrious men, who for many years
have acted the part of guardian angels, and, being at last ready to die,
celebrate their last triumph by voyaging to the firmament as flaming
stars. 'Naturally,' he says, 'the appearance of a comet is followed by
plague, pestilence, and civil war; for the nations are deprived of the
guidance of their worthy rulers, who, while they were alive, gave all
their efforts to prevent intestine disorders.' Pingré comments justly on
this, saying that 'it must be classed among base and shameful
flatteries, not among philosophic opinions.'

Usually, however, it must be admitted that the ancients, like the men of
the Middle Ages, regarded comets as harbingers of evil. 'A fearful star
is the comet,' says Pliny, 'and not easily appeased, as appeared in the
late civil troubles when Octavius was consul; a second time by the
intestine war of Pompey and Cæsar; and, in our own time, when, Claudius
Cæsar having been poisoned, the empire was left to Domitian, in whose
reign there appeared a blazing comet.' Lucan tells us of the second
event here referred to, that during the war 'the darkest nights were lit
up by unknown stars' (a rather singular way of saying that there were no
dark nights); 'the heavens appeared on fire, flaming torches traversed
in all directions the depths of space; a comet, that fearful star which
overthrows the powers of the earth, showed its horrid hair.' Seneca also
expressed the opinion that some comets portend mischief: 'Some comets,'
he said, 'are very cruel and portend the worst misfortunes; they bring
with them and leave behind them the seeds of blood and slaughter.'

It was held, indeed, by many in those times a subject for reproach that
some were too hard of heart to believe when these signs were sent. It
was a point of religious faith that 'God worketh' these 'signs and
wonders in heaven.' When troubles were about to befall men, 'nation
rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, with great
earthquakes in divers places, and famines, and pestilences, and fearful
sights,' then 'great signs shall there be from heaven.' Says Josephus,
commenting on the obstinacy of the Jews in such matters, 'when they were
at any time premonished from the lips of truth itself, by prodigies and
other premonitory signs of their approaching ruin, they had neither eyes
nor ears nor understanding to make a right use of them, but passed them
over without heeding or so much as thinking of them; as, for example,
what shall we say of the comet in the form of a sword that hung over
Jerusalem for a whole year together?' This was probably the comet
described by Dion Cassius (_Hist. Roman._ lxv. 8) as having been visible
between the months of April and December in the year 69 A.D. This or the
comet of 66 A.D. might have been Halley's comet. The account of Josephus
as to the time during which it was visible would not apply to Halley's,
or, indeed, to any known comet whatever; doubtless he exaggerated. He
says: 'The comet was of the kind called _Xiphias_, because their tail
resembles the blade of a sword,' and this would apply fairly well to
Halley's comet as seen in 1682, 1759, and 1835; though it is to be
remembered that comets vary very much even at successive apparitions,
and it would be quite unsafe to judge from the appearance of a comet
seen eighteen centuries ago that it either was or was not the same as
some comet now known to be periodic.

The comet of 79 A.D. is interesting as having given rise to a happy
retort from Vespasian, whose death the comet was held to portend. Seeing
some of his courtiers whispering about the comet, 'That hairy star,' he
said, 'does not portend evil to me. It menaces rather the king of the
Parthians. He is a hairy man, but I am bald.'

Anna Comnena goes even beyond Josephus. He only rebuked other men for
not believing so strongly as he did himself in the significance of
comets--a rebuke little needed, indeed, if we can judge from what
history tells us of the terrors excited by comets. But the judicious
daughter of Alexius was good enough to approve of the wisdom which
provided these portents. Speaking of a remarkable comet which appeared
before the irruption of the Gauls into the Roman empire, she says: 'This
happened by the usual administration of Providence in such cases; for it
is not fit that so great and strange an alteration of things as was
brought to pass by that irruption of theirs should be without some
previous denunciation and admonishment from heaven.'

Socrates, the historian (b. 6, c. 6), says that when Gainas besieged
Constantinople, 'so great was the danger which hung over the city, that
it was presignified and portended by a huge blazing comet which reached
from heaven to the earth, the like whereof no man had ever seen before.'
And Cedrenus, in his 'Compendium of History,' states that a comet
appeared before the death of Johannes Tzimicas, the emperor of the East,
which foreshadowed not alone his death, but the great calamities which
were to befall the Roman empire by reason of their civil wars. In like
manner, the comet of 451 announced the death of Attila, that of 455 the
death of Valentinian. The death of Merovingius was announced by the
comet of 577, of Chilperic by that of 584, of the Emperor Maurice by
that of 602, of Mahomet by that of 632, of Louis the Debonair by that of
837, and of the Emperor Louis II. by that of 875. Nay, so confidently
did men believe that comets indicated the approaching death of great
men, that they did not believe a very great man _could_ die without a
comet. So they inferred that the death of a very great man indicated the
arrival of a comet; and if the comet chanced not to be visible, so much
the worse--not for the theory, but--for the comet. 'A comet of this
kind,' says Pingré, 'was that of the year 814, presaging the death of
Charlemagne.' So Guillemin quotes Pingré; but he should rather have
said, such was the comet whose arrival was announced by Charlemagne's
death--and in no other way, for it was not seen by mortal man.

The reader who chances to be strong as to his dates may have observed
that some of the dates above mentioned for comets do not accord exactly
with the dates of the events associated with those comets. Thus Louis
the Debonair did not die in 837, but in 840. This, however, is a matter
of very little importance. If some men, after their comet has called for
them, are 'an unconscionable time in dying,' as Charles II. said of
himself, it surely must not be considered the fault of the comet. Louis
himself regarded the comet of 837 as his death-warrant; the astrologers
admitted as much: what more could be desired? The account of the matter
given in a chronicle of the time, by a writer who called himself 'The
Astronomer,' is curious enough: 'During the holy season of Easter, a
phenomenon, ever fatal and of gloomy foreboding, appeared in the
heavens. As soon as the emperor, who paid attention to such phenomena,
received the first announcement of it, he gave himself no rest until he
had called a certain learned man and myself before him. As soon as I
arrived, he anxiously asked me what I thought of such a sign. I asked
time of him, in order to consider the aspect of the stars, and to
discover the truth by their means, promising to acquaint him on the
morrow; but the emperor, persuaded that I wished to gain time, which was
true, in order not to be obliged to announce anything fatal to him, said
to me: "Go on the terrace of the palace, and return at once to tell me
what you have seen, for I did not see this star last evening, and you
did not point it out to me; but I know that it is a comet; tell me what
you think it announces to me." Then, scarcely allowing me time to say a
word, he added: "There is still another thing you keep back: it is that
a change of reign and the death of a prince are announced by this sign."
And as I advanced the testimony of the prophet, who said: "Fear not the
signs of the heavens as the nations fear them," the prince, with his
grand nature and the wisdom which never forsook him, said: "We must only
fear Him who has created both us and this star. But, as this phenomenon
may refer to us, let us acknowledge it as a warning from heaven."'
Accordingly, Louis himself and all his court fasted and prayed, and he
built churches and monasteries. But all was of no avail. In little more
than three years he died; showing, as the historian Raoul Glaber
remarked, that 'these phenomena of the universe are never presented to
man without surely announcing some wonderful and terrible event.' With a
range of three years in advance, and so many kings and princes as there
were about in those days, and are still, it would be rather difficult
for a comet to appear without announcing some such wonderful and
terrible event as a royal death.

The year 1000 A.D. was by all but common consent regarded as the date
assigned for the end of the world. For a thousand years Satan had been
chained, and now he was to be loosened for a while. So that when a comet
made its appearance, and, terrible to relate, continued visible for nine
days, the phenomenon was regarded as something more than a nine days'
wonder. Besides the comet, a very wonderful meteor was seen. 'The
heavens opened, and a kind of flaming torch fell upon the earth, leaving
behind a long track of light like the path of a flash of lightning. Its
brightness was so great that it frightened not only those who were in
the fields, but even those who were in their houses. As this opening in
the sky slowly closed men saw with horror the figure of a dragon, whose
feet were blue, and whose head' [like that of Dickens's dwarf] 'seemed
to grow larger and larger.' A picture of this dreadful meteor
accompanies the account given by the old chronicler. For fear the exact
likeness of the dragon might not be recognised (and, indeed, to see it
one must 'make believe a good deal'), there is placed beside it a
picture of a dragon to correspond, which picture is in turn labelled
'Serpens cum ceruleis pedibus.' It was considered very wicked in the
year 1000 to doubt that the end of all things was at hand. But somehow
the world escaped that time.

In the year 1066 Halley's comet appeared to announce to the Saxons the
approaching conquest of England by William the Norman. A contemporary
poet made a singular remark, which may have some profound poetical
meaning, but certainly seems a little indistinct on the surface. He said
that 'the comet had been more favourable to William than nature had been
to Cæsar; the latter had no hair, but William had received some from the
comet.' This is the only instance, so far as I know, in which a comet
has been regarded as a perruquier. A monk of Malmesbury spoke more to
the purpose, according to then received ideas, in thus apostrophising
the comet: 'Here art thou again, cause of tears to many mothers! It is
long since I saw thee last, but I see thee now more terrible than ever;
thou threatenest my country with complete ruin.'

Halley's comet, with its inconveniently short period of about
seventy-seven years, has repeatedly troubled the nations and been
regarded as a sign sent from Heaven:

  Ten million cubic miles of head,
    Ten billion leagues of tail,

all provided for the sole purpose of warning one petty race of
earth-folks against the evils likely to be brought against them by
another. This comet has appeared twenty-four times since the date of its
first recorded appearance, which some consider to have been 12 B.C., and
others refer to a few years later. It may be interesting to quote here
Babinet's description of the effects ascribed in 1455 to this comet,
often the terror of nations, but the triumph of mathematicians, as the
first whose motions were brought into recognisable obedience to the laws
of gravity.[42]

'The Mussulmans, with Mahomet II. at their head, were besieging
Belgrade, which was defended by Huniade, surnamed the Exterminator of
the Turks. Halley's comet appeared and the two armies were seized with
equal fear. Pope Calixtus III., himself seized by the general terror,
ordered public prayers and timidly anathematised the comet and the
enemies of Christianity. He established the prayer called the noon
_Angelus_, the use of which is continued in all Catholic churches. The
Franciscans (_Frères Mineurs_) brought 40,000 defenders to Belgrade,
besieged by the conqueror of Constantinople, the destroyer of the
Eastern Empire. At last the battle began; it continued two days without
ceasing. A contest of two days caused 40,000 combatants to bite the
dust. The Franciscans, unarmed, crucifix in hand, were in the front
rank, invoking the papal exorcism against the comet, and turning upon
the enemy that heavenly wrath of which none in those times dared doubt.'

The great comet of 1556 has been regarded as the occasion of the Emperor
Charles V.'s abdication of the imperial throne; a circumstance which
seems rendered a little doubtful by the fact that he had already
abdicated when the comet appeared--a mere detail, perhaps, but
suggesting the possibility that cause and effect may have been
interchanged by mistake, and that it was Charles's abdication which
occasioned the appearance of the comet. According to Gemma's account the
comet was conspicuous rather from its great light than from the length
of its tail or the strangeness of its appearance. 'Its head equalled
Jupiter in brightness, and was equal in diameter to nearly half the
apparent diameter of the moon.' It appeared about the end of February,
and in March presented a terrible appearance, according to Ripamonte.
'Terrific indeed,' says Sir J. Herschel, 'it might well have been to the
mind of a prince prepared by the most abject superstition to receive
its appearance as a warning of approaching death, and as specially sent,
whether in anger or in mercy, to detach his thoughts from earthly
things, and fix them on his eternal interests. Such was its effect on
the Emperor Charles V., whose abdication is distinctly ascribed by many
historians to this cause, and whose words on the occasion of his first
beholding it have even been recorded--

  "His ergo indiciis me mea fata vocant"--

the language and the metrical form of which exclamation afford no ground
for disputing its authenticity, when the habits and education of those
times are fairly considered.' It is quite likely that, having already
abdicated the throne, Charles regarded the comet as signalling his
retirement from power--an event which he doubtless considered a great
deal too important to be left without some celestial record. But the
words attributed to him are in all probability apocryphal.

The comet of 1577 was remarkable for the strangeness of its aspect,
which in some respects resembled that of the comet of 1858, called
Donati's. It required only the terror with which such portentous objects
were witnessed in the Middle Ages to transform the various streamers,
curved and straight, extending from such an object, into swords and
spears, and other signs of war and trouble. Doubtless, we owe to the
fears of the Middle Ages the strange pictures claiming to present the
actual aspect of some of the larger comets. Halley's comet did not
escape. It was compared to a straight sword at one visit, to a curved
scimitar in 1456, and even at its last return in 1835 there were some
who recognised in the comet a resemblance to a misty head. Other comets
have been compared to swords of fire, bloody crosses, flaming daggers,
spears, serpents, fiery dragons, fish, and so forth. But in this
respect no comet would seem to have been comparable with that of 1528,
of which Andrew Paré writes as follows: 'This comet was so horrible and
dreadful, and engendered such terror in the minds of men, that they
died, some from fear alone, others from illness engendered by fear. It
was of immense length and blood-red colour; at its head was seen the
figure of a curved arm, holding a large sword in the hand as if
preparing to strike. At the point of this sword were three stars; and on
either side a number of axes, knives, and swords covered with blood,
amongst which were many hideous human faces with bristling beards and

Such peculiarities of shape, and also those affecting the position and
movements of comets, were held to be full of meaning. As Bayle pointed
out in his 'Thoughts about the Comet of 1680,' these fancies are of
great antiquity. Pliny tells us that in his time astrologers claimed to
interpret the meaning of a comet's position and appearance, and that
also of the direction towards which its rays pointed. They could,
moreover, explain the effects produced by the fixed stars whose rays
were conjoined with the comet's. If a comet resembles a flute, then
musicians are aimed at; when comets are in the less dignified parts of
the constellations, they presage evil to immodest persons; if the head
of a comet forms an equilateral triangle or a square with fixed stars,
then it is time for mathematicians and men of science to tremble. When
they are in the sign of the Ram, they portend great wars and widespread
mortality, the abasement of the great and the elevation of the small,
besides fearful droughts in regions over which that sign predominates;
in the Virgin, they imply many grievous ills to the female portion of
the population; in the Scorpion, they portend a plague of reptiles,
especially locusts; in the Fishes, they indicate great troubles from
religious differences, besides war and pestilence. When, like the one
described by Milton, they 'fire the length of Ophiuchus huge,' they show
that there will be much mortality caused by poisoning.

The comet of 1680, which led Bayle to write the treatise to which
reference has just been made, was one well calculated to inspire terror.
Indeed, if the truth were known, that comet probably brought greater
danger to the inhabitants of the earth than any other except the comet
of 1843--the danger not, however, being that derived from possible
collision between the earth and a comet, but that arising from the
possible downfall of a large comet upon the sun, and the consequent
enormous increase of the sun's heat. That, according to Newton, is the
great danger men have to fear from comets; and the comet of 1680 was one
which in that sense was a very dangerous one. There is no reason why a
comet from outer space should not fall straight towards the sun, as at
one time the comet of 1680 was supposed to be doing. All the comfort
that science can give the world on that point is that such a course for
a comet is only one out of many millions of possible courses, all fully
as likely; and that, therefore, the chance of a comet falling upon the
sun is only as one in many millions. Still, the comet of 1680 made a
very fair shot at the sun, and a very slight modification of its course
by Jupiter or Saturn might have brought about the catastrophe which
Newton feared. Whether, if a comet actually fell upon the sun, anything
very dreadful would happen, is not so clear. Newton's ideas respecting
comets were formed in ignorance of many physical facts and laws which in
our day render reasoning upon the subject comparatively easy. Yet, even
in our time, it is not possible to assert confidently that such fears
are idle. During the solar outburst witnessed by Carrington and Hodgson
in September 1859, it is supposed that the sun swallowed a large
meteoric mass; and, as great cornets are probably followed by many such
masses, it seems reasonable to infer that if such a comet fell upon the
sun, his surface being pelted with such exceptionally large masses,
stoned with these mighty meteoric balls, would glow all over (or nearly
so) as brightly as a small spot of that surface glowed upon that
occasion. Now that portion was so bright that Carrington thought 'that
by some chance a ray of light had penetrated a hole in the screen
attached to the object-glass by which the general image is thrown in
shade, for the brilliancy was fully equal to that of direct sunlight.'
Manifestly, if the whole surface of the sun, or any large portion of the
surface, were caused to glow with that exceeding brilliancy, surpassing
ordinary sunlight in the same degree that ordinary sunlight surpassed
the shaded solar image in Carrington's observations, the result would be
disastrous in the extreme for the inhabitants of that half of the earth
which chanced to be in sunlight at the time; and if (as could scarcely
fail to happen) the duration of that abnormal splendour were more than
half a day, then the whole earth would probably be depopulated by the
intense heat. The danger, as I have said, is slight--partly because
there is small chance of a collision between the sun and a comet, partly
because we have no certain reasons for assuming that a collision would
be followed by the heating of the sun for a while to a very high
temperature. Looking around at the suns which people space, and
considering their history, so far as it has been made known to us, for
the last two thousand years, we find small occasion for fear. Those suns
seem to have been for the most part safe from any sudden or rapid
accessions of heat; and if they travel thus safely in their mighty
journeys through space, we may well believe that our sun also is safe.
Nevertheless, there _have_ been catastrophes here and there. Now one sun
and now another has blazed out with a hundred times its usual lustre,
gradually losing its new fires and returning to its customary
brightness; but after what destruction among those peopling its system
of worlds who shall say? Spectroscopic analysis, that powerful help to
the modern astronomical inquirer, has shown in one of these cases that
just such changes had taken place as we might fairly expect would follow
if a mighty comet fell into the sun. If this interpretation be correct,
then we are not wholly safe. Any day might bring us news of a comet
sailing full upon our sun from out the depths of space. Then astronomers
would perhaps have the opportunity of ascertaining the harmlessness of a
collision between the ruler of our system and one of the long-tailed
visitors from the celestial spaces. Or possibly, astronomers and the
earth's inhabitants generally might find out the reverse, though the
knowledge would not avail them much, seeing that the messenger who would
bring it would be the King of Terrors himself.

It was well, perhaps, that Newton's discovery of the law of gravitation,
and the application of this law to the comets of 1680 and 1682 (the
latter our old friend Halley's comet, then properly so called as studied
by him), came in time to aid in removing to some slight degree the old
superstitions respecting comets. For in England many remembered the
comets of the Great Plague and of the Great Fire of London. These comets
came so closely upon the time of the Plague and the Fire respectively,
that it was not wonderful if even the wiser sort were struck by the
coincidence and could scarcely regard it as accidental. It is not easy
for the student of science in our own times, when the movements of
comets are as well understood as those of the most orderly planets, to
place himself in the position of men in the times when no one knew on
what paths comets came, or whither they retreated after they had visited
our sun. Taught as men were, on the one hand, that it was wicked to
question what seemed to be the teaching of the Scriptures, that changes
or new appearances in the heavens were sent to warn mankind of
approaching troubles, and perplexed as they were, on the other, by the
absence of any real knowledge respecting comets and meteors, it was not
so easy as we might imagine from our own way of viewing these matters,
to shake off a superstition which had ruled over men's minds for
thousands of years.

No sect had been free from this superstition. Popes and priests had
taught their followers to pray against the evil influences of comets and
other celestial portents; Luther and Melanchthon had condemned in no
measured terms the rashness and impiety of those who had striven to show
that the heavenly bodies and the earth move in concordance with
law--those 'fools who wish to reverse the entire science of astronomy.'
A long interval had elapsed between the time when the Copernican theory
was struggling for existence--when, but that more serious heresies
engaged men's attention and kept religious folk by the ears, that
astronomical heresy would probably have been quenched in blood--and the
forging by Newton of the final link of the chain of reasoning on which
modern astronomy is based; but in those times the minds of men moved
more slowly than in ours. The masses still held to the old beliefs about
the heavenly bodies. Defoe, indeed, speaking of the terror of men at the
time of the Great Plague, says that they 'were more addicted to
prophecies and astrological conjurations, dreams, and old wives' tales,
than ever they were before or since.' But in reality, it was only
because of the great misery then prevailing that men seemed more
superstitious than usual; for misery brings out the superstitions--the
fetishisms, if we may so speak--which are inherent in many minds, but
concealed from others in prosperous times, out of shame, or perhaps a
worthier feeling. Even in our own times great national calamities would
show that many superstitions exist which had been thought extinct, and
we should see excited among the ill-educated that particular form of
persecution which arises, not from zeal for religion and not from
intolerance, but from the belief that the troubles have been sent
because of unbelief and the fear that unless some expiation be made the
evil will not pass away from the midst of the people. It is at such
times of general affliction that minds of the meaner sort have proved
'zealous even to slaying.'

The influence of strange appearances in the heavens on even thoughtful
and reasoning minds, at such times of universal calamity, is well shown
by Defoe's remarks on the comets of the years 1664 and 1666. 'The old
women,' he says, 'and the phlegmatic, hypochondriacal part of the other
sex, whom I could almost call old women too, remarked that those two
comets passed directly over the city' [though that appearance must have
depended on the position whence these old women, male and female,
observed the comet], 'and that so very near the houses, that it was
plain they imported something peculiar to the city alone; and that the
comet before the Pestilence was of a faint, dull, languid colour, and
its motion very heavy, solemn, and slow; but that the comet before the
Fire was bright and sparkling, or, as others said, flaming, and its
motion swift and furious: and that accordingly one foretold a heavy
judgment, slow but severe, terrible and frightful, as was the Plague;
but the other foretold a stroke, sudden, swift, and fiery, as was the
Conflagration. Nay, so particular some people were, that, as they looked
upon that comet preceding the Fire, they fancied that they not only saw
it pass swiftly and fiercely, and could perceive the motion with their
eye, but even that they heard it; that it made a mighty rushing noise,
fierce and terrible, though at a distance and but just perceivable. I
saw both these stars, and must confess had I had so much the common
notion of such things in my head, that I was apt to look upon them as
the forerunners and warnings of God's judgments, and especially when,
the Plague having followed the first, I yet saw another of the same
kind, I could not but say, God had not yet sufficiently scourged the
city' [London].

The comets of 1680 and 1682, though they did not bring plagues or
conflagrations immediately, yet were not supposed to have been
altogether without influence. The convenient fiction, indeed, that some
comets operate quickly and others slowly, made it very difficult for a
comet to appear to which some evil effects could not be ascribed. If any
one can find a single date, since the records of history have been
carefully kept, which was so fortunately placed that, during no time
following it within five years, no prince, king, emperor, or pope died,
no war was begun, or ended disastrously for one side or the other
engaged in it, no revolution was effected, neither plague nor pestilence
occurred, neither droughts nor floods afflicted any nation, no great
hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic outbursts, or other trouble was
recorded, he will then have shown the bare possibility that a comet
might have appeared which seemed to presage neither abrupt nor
slow-moving calamities. But it is not possible to name such a date, nor
even a date which was not followed within two years at the utmost by a
calamity such as superstition might assign to a comet. And so closely
have such calamities usually followed, that scarce a comet could appear
which might not be regarded as the precursor of very quickly approaching
calamity. Even if a comet had come which seemed to bring no trouble,
nay, if many such comets had come, men would still have overlooked the
absence of any apparent fulfilment of the predicted troubles. Henry IV.
well remarked, when he was told that astrologers predicted his death
because a certain comet had been observed: 'One of these days they will
predict it truly, and people will remember better the single occasion
when the prediction will be fulfilled than the many other occasions when
it has been falsified by the event.'

The troubles connected with the comets of 1680 and 1682 were removed
farther from the dates of the events themselves than usual, at least so
far as the English interpretation of the comets was concerned. 'The
great comet in 1680,' says one, 'followed by a lesser comet in 1682, was
evidently the forerunner of all those remarkable and disastrous events
that ended in the revolution of 1688. It also evidently presaged the
revocation of the edict of Nantes, and the cruel persecution of the
Protestants, by the French king Louis XIV., afterwards followed by those
terrible wars which, with little intermission, continued to ravage the
finest parts of Europe for nearly twenty-four years.'

If in some respects the fears inspired by comets have been reduced by
modern scientific discoveries respecting these bodies, yet in other
respects the very confidence engendered by the exactness of modern
astronomical computations has proved a source of terror. There is
nothing more remarkable, for instance, in the whole history of cometary
superstition, than the panic which spread over France in the year 1773,
in consequence of a rumour that the mathematician Lalande had predicted
the occurrence of a collision between a comet and the earth, and that
disastrous effects would inevitably follow. The foundation of the rumour
was slight enough in all conscience. It had simply been announced that
Lalande would read before the Academy of Sciences a paper entitled
'Reflections on those Comets which can approach the Earth.' That was
absolutely all; yet, from that one fact, not only were vague rumours of
approaching cometic troubles spread abroad, but the statement was
definitely made that on May 20 or 21, 1773, 'a comet would encounter the
earth.'[43] So great was the fear thus excited, that, in order to calm
it, Lalande inserted in the 'Gazette de France' of May 7, 1773, the
following advertisement:--'M. Lalande had not time to read his memoir
upon comets which may approach the earth and cause changes in her
motions; but he would observe that it is impossible to assign the epochs
of such events. The next comet whose return is expected is the one which
should return in eighteen years; but it is not one of those which can
hurt the earth.'

This note had not the slightest effect in restoring peace to the minds
of unscientific Frenchmen. M. Lalande's study was crowded with anxious
persons who came to inquire about his memoir. Certain devout folk, 'as
ignorant as they were imbecile,' says a contemporary journal, begged the
Archbishop of Paris to appoint forty hours' prayer to avert the danger
and prevent the terrible deluge. For this was the particular form most
men agreed that the danger would take. That prelate was on the point,
indeed, of complying with their request, and would have done so, but
that some members of the Academy explained to him that by so doing he
would excite ridicule.

Far more effective, and, to say truth, far better judged, was the irony
of Voltaire, in his deservedly celebrated 'Letter on the Pretended
Comet.' It ran as follows:--

  'Grenoble, May 17, 1773.

'Certain Parisians who are not philosophers, and who, if we are to
believe them, will not have time to become such, have informed me that
the end of the world approaches, and will occur without fail on the 20th
of this present month of May. They expect, that day, a comet, which is
to take our little globe from behind and reduce it to impalpable powder,
according to a certain prediction of the Academy of Sciences which has
not yet been made.

'Nothing is more likely than this event; for James Bernouilli, in his
"Treatise upon the Comet" of 1680, predicted expressly that the famous
comet of 1680 would return with terrible uproar (_fracas_) on May 19,
1719; he assured us that in truth its perruque would signify nothing
mischievous, but that its tail would be an infallible sign of the wrath
of heaven. If James Bernouilli mistook, it is, after all, but a matter
of fifty-four years and three days.

'Now, so small an error as this being regarded by all geometricians as
of little moment in the immensity of ages, it is manifest that nothing
can be more reasonable than to hope (_sic, espérer_) for the end of the
world on the 20th of this present month of May 1773, or in some other
year. If the thing should not come to pass, "omittance is no quittance"
(_ce qui est différé, n'est pas perdu_).

'There is certainly no reason for laughing at M. Trissotin, triple
idiot though he is (_tout Trissotin qu'il est_), when he says to Madame
Philaminte (Molière's "Femmes Savantes," acte iv. scène 3),

'Nous l'avons en dormant, madame, échappé belle;
Un monde près de nous a passé tout du long,
Est chu tout au travers de notre tourbillon;
Et, s'il eût en chemin rencontré notre terre,
Elle eût été brisée en morceaux comme verre.

'A comet coursing along its parabolic orbit may come full tilt against
our earth. But then, what will happen? Either that comet will have a
force equal to that of our earth, or greater, or less. If equal, we
shall do the comet as much harm as it will do us, action and reaction
being equal; if greater, the comet will bear us away with it; if less,
we shall bear away the comet.

'This great event may occur in a thousand ways, and no one can affirm
that our earth and the other planets have not experienced more than one
revolution, through the mischance of encountering a comet on their path.

'The Parisians will not desert their city on the 20th inst.; they will
sing songs, and the play of "The Comet and the World's End" will be
performed at the Opéra Comique.'

The last touch is as fine in its way as Sydney Smith's remark that, if
London were destroyed by an earthquake, the surviving citizens would
celebrate the event by a public dinner among the ruins. Voltaire's
prediction was not fulfilled exactly to the letter, but what actually
happened was even funnier than what his lively imagination had
suggested. It was stated by a Parisian Professor in 1832 (as a reason
why the Academy of Sciences should refute an assertion then rife to the
effect that Biela's comet would encounter the earth that year) that
during the cometic panic of 1773 'there were not wanting people who
knew too well the art of turning to their advantage the alarm inspired
by the approaching comet, and _places in Paradise were sold at a very
high rate_.[44] The announcement of the comet of 1832 may produce
similar effects,' he said, 'unless the authority of the Academy apply a
prompt remedy; and this salutary intervention is at this moment implored
by many benevolent persons.'

In recent years the effects produced on the minds of men by comets have
been less marked than of yore, and appear to have depended a good deal
on circumstances. The comet of the year 1858 (called Donati's), for
example, occasioned no special fears, at least until Napoleon III. made
his famous New-Year's day speech, after which many began to think the
comet had meant mischief. But the comet of 1861, though less
conspicuous, occasioned more serious fears. It was held by many in Italy
to presage a very great misfortune indeed, viz. the restoration of
Francis II. to the throne of the Two Sicilies. Others thought that the
downfall of the temporal power of the Papacy and the death of Pope Pius
IX. were signified. I have not heard that any very serious consequences
were expected to follow the appearance of Coggia's comet in 1874. The
great heat which prevailed during parts of the summer of 1876 was held
by many to be connected in some way with a comet which some very
unskilful telescopist constructed in his imagination out of the glare of
Jupiter in the object-glass of his telescope. Another benighted person,
seeing the Pleiades low down through a fog, turned them into a comet,
about the same time. Possibly the idea was, that since comets are
supposed to cause great heats, great heats may be supposed to indicate a
comet somewhere; and with minds thus prepared, it was not wonderful,
perhaps, that telescopic glare, or an imperfect view of our old friends
the Pleiades, should have been mistaken for a vision of the
heat-producing comet.

It should be a noteworthy circumstance to those who still continue to
look on comets as signs of great catastrophes, that a war more
remarkable in many respects than any which has ever yet been waged
between two great nations--a war swift in its operations and decisive in
its effects--a war in which three armies, each larger than all the
forces commanded by Napoleon I. during the campaign of 1813, were
captured bodily--should have been begun and carried on to its
termination without the appearance of any great comet. The civil war in
America, a still more terrible calamity to that great nation than the
success of Moltke's operations to the French, may be regarded by
believers as presignified by the great comet of 1861. But it so chances
that the war between France and Germany occurred near the middle of one
of the longest intervals recorded in astronomical annals as unmarked by
a single conspicuous comet--the interval between the years 1862 and

If the progress of just ideas respecting comets has been slow, it must
nevertheless be regarded as on the whole satisfactory. When we remember
that it was not a mere idle fancy which had to be opposed, not mere
terrors which had to be calmed, but that the idea of the significance of
changes in the heavens had come to be regarded by mankind as a part of
their religion, it cannot but be thought a hopeful sign that all
reasoning men in our time have abandoned the idea that comets are sent
to warn the inhabitants of this small earth. Obeying in their movements
the same law of gravitation which guides the planets in their courses,
the comets are tracked by the skilful mathematician along those remote
parts of their course where even the telescope fails to keep them in
view. Not only are they no longer regarded as presaging the fortunes of
men on this earth, but men on this earth are able to predict the
fortunes of comets. Not only is it seen that they cannot influence the
fates of the earth or other planets, but we perceive that the earth and
planets by their attractive energies influence, and in no unimportant
degree, the fates of these visitants from outer space. Encouraging,
truly, is the lesson taught us by the success of earnest study and
careful inquiry in determining some at least among the laws which govern
bodies once thought the wildest and most erratic creatures in the whole
of God's universe.



     Then he gave them an account of the famous moon hoax, which came
     out in 1835. It was full of the most barefaced absurdities, yet
     people swallowed it all; and even Arago is said to have treated it
     seriously as a thing that could not well be true, for Mr. Herschel
     would have certainly notified him of these marvellous discoveries.
     The writer of it had not troubled himself to invent probabilities,
     but had borrowed his scenery from the 'Arabian Nights' and his
     lunar inhabitants from 'Peter Wilkins.'--OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES (in
     _The Poet at the Breakfast-Table_).

In one of the earliest numbers of 'Macmillan's Magazine, the late
Professor De Morgan, in an article on Scientific Hoaxing, gave a brief
account of the so-called 'lunar hoax'--an instance of scientific
trickery frequently mentioned, though probably few are familiar with the
real facts. De Morgan himself possessed a copy of the second English
edition of the pamphlet, published in London in 1836. But the original
pamphlet edition, published in America in September 1835, is not easily
to be obtained. The proprietors of the New York 'Sun,' in which the
fictitious narrative first appeared, published an edition of 60,000
copies, and every copy was sold in less than a month. Lately a single
copy of that edition was sold for three dollars seventy-five cents.[45]

The pamphlet is interesting in many respects, and I propose to give
here a brief account of it. But first it may be well to describe briefly
the origin of the hoax.

It is said that after the French revolution of 1830 Nicollet, a French
astronomer of some repute, especially for certain lunar observations of
a very delicate and difficult kind, left France in debt and also in bad
odour with the republican party. According to this story, Arago the
astronomer was especially obnoxious to Nicollet, and it was as much with
the view of revenging himself on his foe as from a wish to raise a
little money that Nicollet wrote the moon-fable. It is said further that
Arago was entrapped, as Nicollet desired, and circulated all over Paris
the wonders related in the pamphlet, until Nicollet wrote to his friend
Bouvard explaining the trick. So runs the story, but the story cannot be
altogether true. Nicollet may have prepared the narrative and partly
written it, but there are passages in the pamphlet as published in
America which no astronomer could have written. Possibly there is some
truth in De Morgan's supposition that the original work was French. This
may have been Nicollet's: and the American edition was probably enlarged
by the translator, who, according to this account, was Richard Alton
Locke,[46] to whom in America the whole credit, or discredit, of the
hoax is commonly attributed. There can be no doubt that either the
French version was much more carefully designed than the American, or
there was no truth in the story that Arago was deceived by the
narrative; for in its present form the story, though clever, could not
for an instant have deceived any one acquainted with the most elementary
laws of optics. The whole story turns on optical rather than on
astronomical considerations; but every astronomer of the least skill is
acquainted with the principles on which the construction of optical
instruments depends. Though the success of the deception recently
practised on M. Chasles by the forger of the Pascal papers has been
regarded as showing how easily mathematicians may be entrapped, yet even
M. Chasles would not have been deceived by bad mathematics; and Arago, a
master of the science of optics, could not but have detected optical
blunders which would be glaring to the average Cambridge undergraduate.

But let us turn to the story itself.

The account opens with a passage unmistakably from an American hand,
though purporting, be it remembered, to be quoted from the 'Supplement
to the Edinburgh Journal of Science.' 'In this unusual addition to our
journal, we have the happiness of making known to the British public,
and thence to the whole civilised world, recent discoveries in astronomy
which will build an imperishable monument to the age in which we live,
and confer upon the present generation of the human race a proud
distinction through all future time. It has been poetically said' [where
and by whom?] 'that the stars of heaven are the hereditary regalia of
man, as the intellectual sovereign of the animal creation. He may now
fold the zodiac around him with a loftier consciousness of his mental
supremacy.' To the American mind enwrapment in the star-jewelled zodiac
may appear as natural as their ordinary oratorical references to the
star-spangled banner; but the idea is essentially transatlantic, and not
even the most poetical European astronomer could have risen to such a
height of imagery.

Passing over several pages of introductory matter, we come to the
description of the method by which a telescope of sufficient magnifying
power to show living creatures in the moon was constructed by Sir John
Herschel. It had occurred, it would seem, to the elder Herschel to
construct an improved series of parabolic and spherical reflectors
'uniting all the meritorious points in the Gregorian and Newtonian
instruments, with the highly interesting achromatic discovery of
Dolland'(_sic_). [This is much as though one should say that a clever
engineer had conceived the idea of constructing an improved series of
railway engines, combining all the meritorious points in stationary and
locomotive engines, with _Isaac_ Watts' highly ingenious discovery of
screw propulsion. For the Gregorian and Newtonian instruments simply
differ in sending the rays received from the great mirror in different
directions, and Dolland's discovery relates to the ordinary forms of
telescopes with large lens, not with large mirror.] However,
accumulating infirmities and eventually death prevented Sir William
Herschel from applying his plan, which 'evinced the most profound
research in optical science, and the most dexterous ingenuity in
mechanical contrivance. But his son, Sir John Herschel, nursed and
cradled in the observatory, and a practical astronomer from his boyhood,
determined upon testing it at whatever cost. Within two years of his
father's death he completed his new apparatus, and adapted it to the old
telescope with nearly perfect success.' A short account of the
observations made with this instrument, now magnifying six thousand
times, follows, in which most of the astronomical statements are very
correctly and justly worded, being, in fact, borrowed from a paper by
Sir W. Herschel on observation of the moon with precisely that power.

But this great improvement upon all former telescopes still left the
observer at a distance of forty miles from the moon; and at that
distance no object less than about twenty yards in diameter could be
distinguished, and even objects of that size 'would appear only as
feeble, shapeless points.' Sir John 'had the satisfaction to know that
if he could leap astride a cannon-ball, and travel upon its wings of
fury for the respectable period of several millions of years, he would
not obtain a more enlarged view of the more distant stars than he could
now possess in a few minutes of time; and that it would require an
ultra-railroad speed of fifty miles an hour for nearly the livelong
year, to secure him a more favourable inspection of the gentle luminary
of the night;' but 'the exciting question whether this "observed" of all
the sons of men, from the days of Eden to those of Edinburgh, be
inhabited by beings, like ourselves, of consciousness and curiosity, was
left to the benevolent index of natural analogy, or to the severe
tradition that the moon is tenanted only by the hoary _solitaire_, whom
the criminal code of the nursery had banished thither for collecting
fuel on the Sabbath-day.'[47] But the time had arrived when the great
discovery was to be made, by which at length the moon could be brought
near enough, by telescopic power, for living creatures on her surface to
be seen if any exist.

The account of the sudden discovery of the new method, during a
conversation between Sir John Herschel and Sir David Brewster, is one of
the most cleverly conceived (though also one of the absurdest) passages
in the pamphlet. 'About three years ago, in the course of a
conversational discussion with Sir David Brewster upon the merits of
some ingenious suggestions by the latter, in his article on Optics in
the "Edinburgh Encyclopædia," p. 644, for improvements in Newtonian
reflectors, Sir John Herschel adverted to the convenient simplicity of
the old astronomical telescopes that were without tubes, and the
object-glass of which, placed upon a high pole, threw the focal image to
a distance of 150 and even 200 feet. Dr. Brewster readily admitted that
a tube was not necessary, provided the focal image were conveyed into a
dark apartment and there properly received by reflectors.... The
conversation then became directed to that all-invincible enemy, the
paucity of light in powerful magnifiers. After a few moments' silent
thought, Sir John diffidently enquired whether it would not be possible
to effect _a transfusion of artificial light through the focal object of
vision_! Sir David, somewhat startled at the originality of the idea,
paused awhile, and then hesitatingly referred to the refrangibility of
rays, and the angle of incidence. Sir John, grown more confident,
adduced the example of the Newtonian reflector, in which the
refrangibility was corrected by the second speculum, and the angle of
incidence restored by the third.'

All this part of the narrative is simply splendid in absurdity.
Hesitating references to refrangibility and the angle of incidence would
have been sheerly idiotic under the supposed circumstances; and in the
Newtonian reflector (which has only two specula or mirrors) there is no
refrangibility to be corrected; apart from which, 'correcting
refrangibility' has no more meaning than 'restoring the angle of

'"And," continued Sir John, "why cannot the illuminating microscope, say
the hydro-oxygen, be applied to render distinct, and, if necessary, even
to magnify, the focal object?" Sir David sprung from his chair' [and
well he might, though not] 'in an ecstasy of conviction, and, leaping
half-way to the ceiling, exclaimed, "Thou art the man!" Each philosopher
anticipated the other in presenting the prompt illustration that if the
rays of the hydro-oxygen microscope, passed through a drop of water
containing the larvæ of a gnat and other objects invisible to the naked
eye, rendered them not only keenly but firmly magnified to dimensions of
many feet; so could the same artificial light, passed through the
faintest focal object of a telescope, both distinctify (to coin a new
word for an extraordinary occasion) and magnify its feeblest component
members. The only apparent desideratum was a recipient for the focal
image which should transfer it, without refranging it, to the surface on
which it was to be viewed under the revivifying light of the microscopic

Singularly enough, the idea here mentioned does not appear to many so
absurd as it is in reality. It is known that the image formed by the
large lens of an ordinary telescope or the large mirror of a reflecting
telescope is a real image; not a merely virtual image like that which is
seen in a looking-glass. It can be received on a sheet of paper or other
white surface just as the image of surrounding objects can be thrown
upon the white table of the camera obscura. It is this real image, in
fact, which we look at in using a telescope of any sort, the portion of
such a telescope nearest to the eye being in reality a microscope for
viewing the image formed by the great lens or mirror, as the case may
be. And it does not seem to some altogether absurd to speak of
illuminating this image by transfused light, or of casting by means of
an illuminating microscope a vastly enlarged picture of this image upon
a screen. But of course the image being simply formed by the passage of
rays (which originally came from the object whose image they form)
through a certain small space, to send _other_ rays (coming from some
other luminous object) through the same small space, is not to improve,
but, so far as any effect is produced at all, to impair, the
distinctness of the image. In fact, if these illuminating rays reached
the eye, they would seriously impair the distinctness of the image.
Their effect may be compared exactly with the effect of rays of light
cast upon the image in a camera obscura; and, to see what the effect of
such rays would be, we need only consider why it is that the camera _is_
made 'obscura,' or dark. The effect of the transfusion of light through
a telescopic image may be easily tried by any one who cares to make the
experiment. He has only to do away with the tube of his telescope
(substituting two or three straight rods to hold the glass in its
place), and then in the blaze of a strong sun to direct the telescope on
some object lying nearly towards the sun. Or if he prefer artificial
light for the experiment, then at night let him direct the telescope so
prepared upon the moon, while a strong electric light is directed upon
the place where the focal image is formed (close in front of the eye).
The experiment will not suggest very sanguine hopes of good result from
the transfusion of artificial light. Yet, to my own knowledge, not a few
who were perfectly well aware that the lunar hoax was not based on
facts, have gravely reasoned that the principle suggested might be
sound, and, in fact, that they could see no reason why astronomers
should not try it, even though it had been first suggested as a joke.

To return, however, to the narrative. 'The co-operative philosophers,
having hit upon their method, determined to test it practically. They
decided that a medium of the purest plate-glass (which it is said they
obtained, by consent, be it observed, from the shop-window of M.
Desanges, the jeweller to his ex-majesty Charles X., in High Street) was
the most eligible they could discover. It answered perfectly with a
telescope which magnified a hundred times, and a microscope of about
thrice that power.' Thus fortified by experiment, and 'fully sanctioned
by the high optical authority of Sir David Brewster, Sir John laid his
plan before the Royal Society, and particularly directed to it the
attention of his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, the ever munificent
patron of science and the arts. It was immediately and enthusiastically
approved by the committee chosen to investigate it, and the chairman,
who was the Royal President' (this continual reference to royalty is
manifestly intended to give a British tone to the narrative),
'subscribed his name for a contribution of £10,000, with a promise that
he would zealously submit the proposed instrument as a fit object for
the patronage of the privy purse. He did so without delay; and his
Majesty, on being informed that the estimated expense was £70,000,
naïvely enquired if the costly instrument would conduce to any
improvement in _navigation_. On being informed that it undoubtly would,
the sailor king promised a _carte blanche_ for any amount which might be

All this is very clever. The 'sailor king' comes in as effectively to
give _vraisemblance_ to the narrative as 'Crabtree's little bronze
Shakspeare that stood over the fireplace,' and the 'postman just come to
the door with a double letter from Northamptonshire.'

Then comes a description of the construction of the object-glass,
twenty-four feet in diameter, 'just six times the size of the elder
Herschel's;' who, by the way, never made a telescope with an
object-glass. The account of Sir John Herschel's journey from England,
and even some details of the construction of the observatory, were based
on facts, indeed, so many persons in America as well as in England were
acquainted with some of these circumstances, that it was essential to
follow the facts as closely as possible. Of course, also, some
explanation had to be given of the circumstance that nothing had before
been heard respecting the gigantic instrument taken out by Sir John
Herschel. 'Whether,' says the story, 'the British Government were
sceptical concerning the promised splendour of the discoveries, or
wished them to be scrupulously veiled until they had accumulated a
full-orbed glory for the nation and reign in which they originated, is a
question which we can only conjecturally solve. But certain it is that
the astronomer's royal patrons enjoined a masonic taciturnity upon him
and his friends until he should have officially communicated the results
of his great experiment.'

It was not till the night of January 10, 1835, that the mighty telescope
was at length directed towards our satellite. The part of the moon
selected was on the eastern part of her disc. 'The whole immense power
of the telescope was applied, and to its focal image about one half of
the power of the microscope. On removing the screen of the latter, the
field of view was covered throughout its entire area with a beautifully
distinct and even vivid representation of _basaltic rock_. Its colour
was a greenish brown; and the width of the columns, as defined by their
interstices on the canvas, was invariably twenty-eight inches. No
fracture whatever appeared in the mass first presented; but in a few
seconds a shelving pile appeared, of five or six columns' width, which
showed their figure to be hexagonal, and their articulations similar to
those of the basaltic formation at Staffa. This precipitous cliff was
profusely covered with a dark red flower, precisely similar, says Dr.
Grant, to the Papaver Rhoeus, or Rose Poppy, of our sublunary
cornfields; and this was the first organic production of nature in a
foreign world ever revealed to the eyes of men.'

It would be wearisome to go through the whole series of observations
thus fabled, and only a few of the more striking features need be
indicated. The discoveries are carefully graduated in interest. Thus we
have seen how, after recognising basaltic formations, the observers
discovered flowers: they next see a lunar forest, whose 'trees were of
one unvaried kind, and unlike any on earth except the largest kind of
yews in the English churchyards.' (There is an American ring in this
sentence, by the way, as there is in one, a few lines farther on, where
the narrator having stated that by mistake the observers had the Sea of
Clouds instead of a more easterly spot in the field of view, proceeds to
say: 'However, the moon was a free country, and we not as yet attached
to any particular province.') Next a lunar ocean is described, 'the
water nearly as blue as that of the deep sea, and breaking in large
white billows upon the strand, while the action of very high tides was
quite manifest upon the face of the cliffs for more than a hundred
miles.' After a description of several valleys, hills, mountains and
forests, we come to the discovery of animal life. An oval valley
surrounded by hills, red as the purest vermilion, is selected as the
scene. 'Small collections of trees, of every imaginable kind, were
scattered about the whole of this luxuriant area; and here our
magnifiers blessed our panting hopes with specimens of conscious
existence. In the shade of the woods we beheld brown quadrupeds having
all the external characteristics of the bison, but more diminutive than
any species of the bos genus in our natural history.' Then herds of
agile creatures like antelopes are described, 'abounding on the
acclivitous glades of the woods.' In the contemplation of these
sprightly animals the narrator becomes quite lively. 'This beautiful
creature,' says he, 'afforded us the most exquisite amusement. The
mimicry of its movements upon our white painted canvas was as faithful
and luminous as that of animals within a few yards of the camera
obscura. Frequently, when attempting to put our fingers upon its beard,
it would suddenly bound away as if conscious of our earthly
impertinence; but then others would appear, whom we could not prevent
nibbling the herbage, say or do to them what we would.'

A strange amphibious creature, of a spherical form, rolling with great
velocity along a pebbly beach, is the next object of interest, but is
presently lost sight of in a strong current setting off from the angle
of an island. After this there are three or four pages descriptive of
various lunar scenes and animals, the latter showing a tendency,
singular considering the circumstances, though very convenient for the
narrator, to become higher and higher in type as the discoveries
proceed, until an animal somewhat of the nature of the missing link is
discovered. It is found in the Endymion (a circular walled plain) in
company with a small kind of reindeer, the elk, the moose, and the
horned bear, and is described as the biped beaver. It 'resembles the
beaver of the earth in every other respect than in its destitution of a
tail, and its invariable habit of walking upon only two feet. It carries
its young in its arms like a human being, and moves with an easy gliding
motion. Its huts are constructed better and higher than those of many
tribes of human savages, and, from the appearance of smoke in nearly all
of them, there is no doubt of its being acquainted with the use of fire.
Still, its head and body differ only in the points stated from that of
the beaver; and it was never seen except on the borders of lakes and
rivers, in which it has been observed to immerse for a period of several

The next step towards the climax brings us to domestic animals, 'good
large sheep, which would not have disgraced the farms of Leicestershire
or the shambles of Leadenhall Market; we fairly laughed at the
recognition of so familiar an acquaintance in so distant a land.
Presently they appeared in great numbers, and, on reducing the lenses,
we found them in flocks over a great part of the valley. I need not say
how desirous we were of finding shepherds to these flocks, and even a
man with blue apron and rolled-up sleeves would have been a welcome
sight to us, if not to the sheep; but they fed in peace, lords of their
own pastures, without either protector or destroyer in human shape.'

In the meantime, discussion had arisen as to the lunar locality where
men, or creatures resembling them, would most likely be found. Herschel
had a theory on the subject--viz., that just where the balancing or
libratory swing of the moon brings into view the greatest extent beyond
the eastern or western parts of that hemisphere which is turned
earthwards in the moon's mean or average position, lunar inhabitants
would probably be found, and nowhere else. This, by the way (speaking
seriously), is a rather curious anticipation of a view long subsequently
advanced by Hansen, and for a time adopted by Sir J. Herschel, that
possibly the remote hemisphere of the moon may be a fit abode for living
creatures, the oceans and atmosphere which are wanting on the nearer
hemisphere having been (on this hypothesis) drawn over to the remoter
because of a displacement of the moon's centre of gravity. I ventured in
one of my first books on astronomy to indicate objections to this
theory, the force of which Sir J. Herschel admitted in a letter
addressed to me on the subject.

Taking, then, an opportunity when the moon had just swung to the extreme
limit of her balancing, or, to use technical terms, when she had
attained her maximum libration in longitude, the observers approached
the level opening to Lake Langrenus, as the narrator calls this fine
walled plain, which, by the way, is fully thirty degrees of lunar
longitude within the average western limit of the moon's visible
hemisphere. 'Here the valley narrows to a mile in width, and displays
scenery on both sides picturesque and romantic beyond the powers of a
prose description. Imagination, borne on the wings of poetry, could
alone gather similes to portray the wild sublimity of this landscape,
where dark behemoth crags stood over the brows of lofty precipices, as
if a rampart in the sky; and forests seemed suspended in mid-air. On the
eastern side there was one soaring crag, crested with trees, which hung
over in a curve like three-fourths of a Gothic arch, and being of a rich
crimson colour, its effect was most strange upon minds unaccustomed to
the association of such grandeur with such beauty. But, whilst gazing
upon them in a perspective of about half a mile, we were thrilled with
astonishment to perceive four successive flocks of large winged
creatures, wholly unlike any kind of birds, descend with a slow even
motion from the cliffs on the western side and alight upon the plain.
They were first noticed by Dr. Herschel, who exclaimed: "Now, gentlemen,
my theories against your proofs, which you have often found a pretty
even bet, we have here something worth looking at. I was confident that
if ever we found beings in human shape it would be in this longitude,
and that they would be provided by their Creator with some extraordinary
powers of locomotion." ... We counted three parties of these creatures,
of twelve, nine, and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood
near the base of the eastern precipices. Certainly they _were_ like
human beings, for their wings had now disappeared, and their attitude in
walking was both erect and dignified.... They averaged four feet in
height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy
copper-coloured hair, lying snugly upon their backs, from the top of the
shoulders to the calves of the legs. The face, which was of a yellowish
flesh colour, was a slight improvement upon that of the large orang
outang, being more open and intelligent in its expression, and having a
much greater expansion of forehead. The mouth, however, was very
prominent, though somewhat relieved by a thick beard upon the lower jaw,
and by lips far more human than those of any species of the simia genus.
In general symmetry of body and limbs they were infinitely superior to
the orang outang; so much so, that, but for their long wings, Lieutenant
Drummond said they would look as well on a parade ground as some of the
old Cockney militia.... These creatures were evidently engaged in
conversation; their gesticulation, more particularly the varied action
of their hands and arms, appeared impassioned and emphatic. We hence
inferred that they were rational beings, and, although not perhaps of so
high an order as others which we discovered the next month on the shores
of the Bay of Rainbows, that they were capable of producing works of art
and contrivance.... They possessed wings of great expansion, similar in
construction to those of the bat, being a semi-transparent membrane
united in curvilinear divisions by means of straight radii, united at
the back by the dorsal integuments. But what astonished us very much
was the circumstance of this membrane being continued from the shoulders
to the legs, united all the way down, though gradually decreasing in
width' (very much as Fuseli depicted the wings of his Satanic Majesty,
though H.S.M. would seem to have the advantage of the lunar Bat-men in
not being influenced by gravity[48]). 'The wings seemed completely under
the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing
in the water spread them instantly to their full width, waved them as
ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed
them again in a compact form. Our further observation of the habits of
these creatures, who were of both sexes, led to results so very
remarkable, that I prefer they should be first laid before the public in
Dr. Herschel's own work, where I have reason to know they are fully and
faithfully stated, however incredulously they may be received.... We
scientifically denominated them the Vespertilio-homo or Bat-man; and
they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures, notwithstanding that
some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial
notions of decorum.' The omitted passages were suppressed in obedience
to Dr. Grant's private injunction. 'These, however, and other prohibited
passages,' were to be presently 'published by Dr. Herschel, with the
certificates of the civil and military authorities of the colony, and of
several Episcopal, Wesleyan, and other ministers, who in the month of
March last were permitted, under stipulation of temporary secrecy, to
visit the observatory, and become eye-witnesses of the wonders which
they were requested to attest. We are confident that his forthcoming
volumes will be at once the most sublime in science, and the most
intense in general interest, that ever issued from the press.'

The actual climax of the narrative, however, is not yet reached. The
inhabitants of Langrenus, though rational, do not belong to the highest
orders of intelligent Lunarians. Herschel, ever ready with theories, had
pointed out that probably the most cultivated races would be found
residing on the slopes of some active volcano, and, in particular, that
the proximity of the flaming mountain Bullialdus (about twenty degrees
south and ten east of the vast crater Tycho, the centre whence extend
those great radiations which give to the moon something of the
appearance of a peeled orange) 'must be so great a local convenience to
dwellers in this valley during the long periodical absence of solar
light, as to render it a place of popular resort for the inhabitants of
all the adjacent regions, more especially as its bulwark of hills
afforded an infallible security against any volcanic eruption that could
occur.' Our observers therefore applied their full power to explore it.
'Rich, indeed, was our reward. The very first object in this valley that
appeared upon our canvas was a magnificent work of art. It was a
temple--a fane of devotion or of science, which, when consecrated to the
Creator, is devotion of the loftiest order, for it exhibits His
attributes purely, free from the masquerade attire and blasphemous
caricature of controversial creeds, and has the seal and signature of
His own hand to sanction its aspirations. It was an equi-angular temple,
built of polished sapphire, or of some resplendent blue stone, which,
like it, displayed a myriad point of golden light twinkling and
scintillating in the sunbeams.... The roof was composed of yellow metal,
and divided into three compartments, which were not triangular planes
inclining to the centre, but subdivided, curved, and separated so as to
present a mass of violently agitated flames rising from a common source
of conflagration, and terminating in wildly waving points. This design
was too manifest and too skilfully executed to be mistaken for a single
moment. Through a few openings in these metallic flames we perceived a
large sphere of a darker kind of metal nearly of a clouded copper
colour, which they enclosed and seemingly raged around, as if
hieroglyphically consuming it.... What did the ingenious builders mean
by the globe surrounded by flames? Did they, by this, record any past
calamity of _their_ world, or predict any future one of _ours_?' (Why,
by the way, should the past theory be assigned to the moon and the
future one to our earth?) 'I by no means despair of ultimately solving
not only these but a thousand other questions which present themselves
respecting the objects in this planet; for not the millionth part of her
surface has yet been explored, and we have been more desirous of
collecting the greatest possible number of new facts than of indulging
in speculative theories, however seductive to the imagination.'

After this we have an account of the behaviour of the Vespertilio-homo
at meals. 'They seemed eminently happy, and even polite; for individuals
would select large and bright specimens of fruit, and throw them
archwise across to some friend who had extracted the nutriment from
those scattered around him.' However, the lunar men are not on the whole
particularly interesting beings according to this account. 'So far as we
could judge, they spent their happy hours in collecting various fruits
in the woods, in eating, flying, bathing, and loitering about the
summits of precipices.' One may say of them what Huxley is reported to
have said of the spirits as described by spiritualists, that no student
of science would care to waste his time inquiring about such a stupid
set of people.

Such are the more interesting and characteristic portions of a
narrative, running in the original to forty or fifty large octavo pages.
In its day the story attracted a good deal of notice, and, even when
every one had learned the trick, many were still interested in a
_brochure_ which was so cleverly conceived and had deceived so many. To
this day the lunar hoax is talked of in America, where originally it had
its chief--or, one may rather say, its only real--success as a hoax. It
reached England too late to deceive any but those who were unacquainted
with Herschel's real doings, and no editors of public journals, I
believe, gave countenance to it at all. In America, on the contrary,
many editors gave the narrative a distinguished place in their columns.
Some indeed expressed doubts, and others followed the safe course of the
'Philadelphia Inquirer,' which informed its readers that 'after an
attentive perusal of the whole story they could decide for themselves;'
adding that, 'whether true or false, the narrative is written with
consummate ability and possesses intense interest.' But others were more
credulous. According to the 'Mercantile Advertiser' the story carried
'intrinsic evidence of being an authentic document.' The 'Albany Daily
Advertiser' had read the article 'with unspeakable emotions of pleasure
and astonishment.' The 'New York Times' announced that 'the writer (Dr.
Andrew Grant) displays the most extensive and accurate knowledge of
astronomy; and the description of Sir John's recently improved
instruments, the principle on which the inestimable improvements were
founded, the account of the wonderful discoveries in the moon, etc., all
are probable and plausible, and have an air of intense verisimilitude.'
The 'New Yorker' considered the discoveries 'of astounding interest,
creating a new era in astronomy and science generally.'[49]

In our time a trick of the kind could hardly be expected to succeed so
well, even if as cleverly devised and as well executed. The facts of
popular astronomy and of general popular science have been more widely
disseminated. America, too, more than any other great nation, has
advanced in the interval. It was about two years after this pamphlet had
appeared, that J. Quincy Adams used the following significant language
in advocating the erection of an astronomical observatory at Washington:
'It is with no feeling of pride as an American that the remark may be
made, that on the comparatively small territorial surface of Europe
there are existing more than 130 of these lighthouses of the skies;
while throughout the whole American hemisphere there is but one.' At
present, some of the finest observatories in the world belong to
American cities, or are attached to American colleges; and much of the
most interesting astronomical work of this country has been achieved by
American observers.

Yet we still hear from time to time of the attempted publication of
hoaxes of greater or less ingenuity. It is singular (and I think
significant) how often these relate to the moon. There would seem to be
some charm about our satellite for the minds of paradoxists and hoaxers
generally. Nor are these tricks invariably detected at once by the
general public, or even by persons of some culture. I remember being
gravely asked (in January 1874) whether an account given in the 'New
York World,' purporting to describe how the moon's frame was gradually
cracking, threatening eventually to fall into several separate
fragments, was in reality based on fact. In the far West, at Lincoln,
Nebraska, a lawyer asked me, not long since, why I had not described the
great discoveries recently made by means of a powerful reflector erected
near Paris. According to the 'Chicago Times,' this powerful instrument
had shown buildings in the moon, and bands of workers could be seen with
it who manifestly were undergoing some kind of penal servitude, for they
were chained together. It was clear, from the presence of these and the
absence of other inhabitants, that the side of the moon turned
earthwards is a dreary and unpleasant place of abode, the real 'happy
hunting grounds' of the moon lying on her remote and unseen hemisphere.

As gauges of general knowledge, scientific hoaxes have their uses, just
as paradoxical works have. No one, certainly no student of science, can
thoroughly understand how little some persons know about science, until
he has observed how much will be believed, if only published with the
apparent authority of a few known names, and announced with a sufficient
parade of technical verbiage; nor is it so easy as might be thought,
even for those who are acquainted with the facts, to disprove either a
hoax or a paradox. Nothing, indeed, can much more thoroughly perplex and
confound a student of science than to be asked to prove, for example,
that the earth is not flat, or the moon not inhabited by creatures like
ourselves; for the circumstance that such a question is asked implies
ignorance so thorough of the very facts on which the proof must be
based, as to render argument all but hopeless from the outset. I have
had a somewhat wide experience of paradoxists, and have noted the
experience of De Morgan and others who, like him, have tried to convince
them of their folly. The conclusion at which I have arrived is, that to
make a rope of sand were an easy task compared with the attempt to
instil the simpler facts of science into paradoxical heads.

I would make some remarks, in conclusion, upon scientific or
quasi-scientific papers not intended to deceive, but yet presenting
imaginary scenes, events, and so forth, described more or less in
accordance with scientific facts. Imaginary journeys to the sun, moon,
planets, and stars; travels over regions on the earth as yet unexplored;
voyages under the sea, through the bowels of the earth, and other such
narratives, may, perhaps, be sometimes usefully written and read, so
long as certain conditions are fulfilled by the narrator. In the first
place, while adopting, to preserve the unities, the tone of one relating
facts which actually occurred, he should not suffer even the simplest
among his readers to lie under the least misapprehension as to the true
nature of the narrative. Again, since of necessity established facts
must in such a narrative appear in company with the results of more or
less probable surmise, the reader should have some means of
distinguishing where fact ends and surmise begins. For example, in a
paper I once wrote, entitled 'A Journey to Saturn,' I was not
sufficiently careful to note that while the appearances described in the
approach towards the planet were in reality based on the observed
appearances as higher and higher telescopic powers are applied to the
planet, others supposed to have been seen by the visitors to Saturn when
actually within his system, were only such as might possibly or probably
be seen, but for which we have no real evidence. In consequence of this
omission, I received several inquiries about these matters. 'Is it
true,' some wrote, 'that the small satellite Hyperion' (scarce
discernible in powerful telescopes, while Titan and Japetus on either
side are large) 'is only one of a ring of small satellites travelling
between the orbits of the larger moons?'--as the same planets travel
between the paths of Mars and Jupiter. Others asked on what grounds it
was said that the voyagers found small moons circling about Titan, the
giant moon of the Saturnian system, as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn
circle around those giant members of the solar system. In each case, I
was reduced to the abject necessity of explaining that there was no
evidence for the alleged state of things, which, however, might
nevertheless exist. Scientific fiction which has to be interpreted in
that way is as bad as a joke that has to be explained. In my 'Journey to
the Sun' I was more successful (it was the earlier essay, however);
insomuch that Professor Young, of Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.), one
of the most skilful solar observers living, assured me that, with
scarcely a single exception, the various phenomena described
corresponded exactly with the ideas he had formed respecting the
probable condition of our luminary.[50]

But I must confess that my own experience has not been, on the whole,
favourable to that kind of popular science writing. It appears to me
that the more thoroughly the writer of such an essay has studied any
particular scientific subject, the less able must he be to write a
fictitious narrative respecting it. Just as those ignorant of any
subject are often the readiest to theorise about it, because least
hampered by exact knowledge, so I think that the careful avoidance of
any exact study of the details of a scientific subject must greatly
facilitate the writing of a fictitious narrative respecting it. But
unfortunately a narrative written under such conditions, however
interesting to the general reader, can scarcely forward the propagation
of scientific knowledge, one of the qualities claimed for fables of the
kind. As an instance in point, I may cite Jules Verne's 'Voyage to the
Moon,' where (apart, of course, from the inherent and intentional
absurdity of the scheme itself), the circumstances which are described
are calculated to give entirely erroneous ideas about the laws of
motion. Nothing could be more amusing, but at the same time nothing more
scientifically absurd, than the story of the dead dog Satellite, which,
flung out of the travelling projectile, becomes a veritable satellite,
moving always beside the voyagers; for, with whatever velocity the dog
had been expelled by them, with that same velocity would he have
retreated continually from their projectile abode, whose own attraction
on the dog would have had no appreciable effect in checking his
departure. Again, the scene when the projectile reaches the neutral
point between the earth and moon, so that there is no longer any gravity
to keep the travellers on the floor of their travelling car, is well
conceived (though, in part, somewhat profane); but in reality the state
of things described as occurring there would have prevailed throughout
the journey. The travellers would no more be drawn earthwards (as
compared with the projectile itself) than we travellers on the earth are
drawn sunwards with reference to the earth. The earth's attracting force
on the projectile and on the travellers would be equal all through the
journey, not solely when the projectile reached the neutral point; and
being equal on both, would not draw them together. It may be argued that
the attractions were equal before the projectile set out on its journey,
and therefore, if the reasoning just given were correct, the travellers
ought not to have had any weight keeping them on the floor of the
projectile before it started, 'which is absurd.' But the pressure upon
the floor of the projectile at rest is caused by the floor being kept
from moving; let it be free to obey gravity, and there will no longer be
any pressure: and throughout the journey to the moon, the projectile,
like the travellers it contains, is obeying the action of gravity.
Unfortunately, those who are able to follow the correct reasoning in
such matters are not those to whom Jules Verne's account would suggest
wrong ideas about matters dynamical; the young learner who _is_ misled
by such narratives is neither able to reason out the matter for himself,
nor to understand the true reasoning respecting it. He is, therefore,
apt to be set quite at sea by stories of the kind, and especially by the
specious reasoning introduced to explain the events described. In fine,
it would seem that such narratives must be valued for their intrinsic
interest, just like other novels or romances, not for the quality
sometimes claimed for them of combining instruction with amusement.



For many years the late Professor De Morgan contributed to the columns
of the 'Athenæum' a series of papers in which he dealt with the strange
treatises in which the earth is flattened, the circle squared, the angle
divided into three, the cube doubled (the famous problem which the
Delphic oracle set astronomers), and the whole of modern astronomy shown
to be a delusion and a snare. He treated these works in a quaint
fashion: not unkindly, for his was a kindly nature; not even earnestly,
though he was thoroughly in earnest; yet in such sort as to rouse the
indignation of the unfortunate paradoxists. He was abused roundly for
what he said, but much more roundly when he declined further
controversy. Paradoxists of the ignorant sort (for it must be remembered
that not all are ignorant) are, indeed, well practised in abuse, and
have long learned to call mathematicians and astronomers cheats and
charlatans. They freely used their vocabulary for the benefit of De
Morgan, whom they denounced as a scurrilous scribbler, a defamatory,
dishonest, abusive, ungentlemanly, and libellous trickster.

He bore this shower of abuse with exceeding patience and good nature. He
had not been wholly unprepared for it, in fact; and, as he had a purpose
in dealing with the paradoxists, he was satisfied to continue that quiet
analysis of their work which so roused their indignation. He found in
them a curious subject of study; and he found an equally curious subject
of study in their disciples. The simpler--not to say more
foolish--paradoxists, whose wonderful discoveries are merely amazing
misapprehensions, were even more interesting to De Morgan than the
craftier sort who make a living, or try to make a living, out of their
pretended theories. Indeed, these last he treated, as they deserved,
with a scathing satire quite different from his humorous and not
ungenial comments on the wonderful theories of the honest paradoxists.

There is one special use to which the study of paradox-literature may be
applied, which--so far as I know--has not hitherto been much attended
to. It may be questioned whether half the strange notions into which
paradoxists fall must not be ascribed to the vagueness of too many of
our scientific treatises. A half-understood explanation, or a carelessly
worded account of some natural phenomenon, leads the paradoxist, whose
nature is compounded of conceit and simplicity, to originate a theory of
his own on the subject. Once such a theory has been devised, it takes
complete possession of the paradoxist's mind. All the facts of which he
thenceforward hears, which bear in the least on his favourite craze,
appear to give evidence in its favour, even though in reality they are
most obviously opposed to it. He learns to look upon himself as an
unappreciated Newton, and to see the bitterest malevolence in those who
venture to question his preposterous notions. He is fortunate if he do
not suffer his theories to withdraw him from his means of earning a
livelihood, or if he do not waste his substance in propounding and
defending them.

One of the favourite subjects for paradox-forming is the accepted theory
of the solar system. Our books on astronomy too often present this
theory in such sort that it seems only a _successor_ of Ptolemy's; and
the impression is conveyed that, like Ptolemy's, it may be one day
superseded by some other theory. This is quite enough for the
paradoxist. If a new theory is to replace the one now accepted, why
should not _he_ be the new Copernicus? He starts upon the road without a
tithe of the knowledge that old Ptolemy possessed, unaware of the
difficulties which Ptolemy met and dealt with--free, therefore, because
of his perfect ignorance, to form theories at which Ptolemy would have
smiled. He has probably heard of the

      centrics and eccentrics scribbled o'er
  Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb,

which disfigured the theories of the ancients; but he is quite
unconscious that every one of those scribblings had a real meaning, each
being intended to account for some observed peculiarity of planetary
motion, which _must_ be accounted for by any theory which is to claim
acceptance. In this happy unconsciousness that there are any
peculiarities requiring explanation, knowing nothing of the strange
paths which the planets are seen to follow on the heavenly vault,

  Their wand'ring course now high, now low, then hid,
  Progressive, retrograde, or standing still,

he placidly puts forward--and presently very vehemently urges--a theory
which accounts for none of these things.

It has often seemed to me that a large part of the mischief--for let it
be remembered that the published errors of the paradoxist are indicative
of much unpublished misapprehension--arises from the undeserved contempt
with which our books of astronomy too often treat the labours of
Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, and others who advocated erroneous theories. If
the simple truth were told, that the theory of Ptolemy was a masterpiece
of ingenuity and that it was worked out by his followers in a way which
merits the highest possible praise, while the theory of Tycho Brahe was
placed in reality on a sounder basis than that of Copernicus, and
accounted as well and as simply for observed appearances, the student
would begin to realise the noble nature of the problem which those great
astronomers dealt with. And again, if stress were laid upon the fact
that Tycho Brahe devoted years upon years of his life to secure such
observations of the planets as might settle the questions at issue, the
student would learn something of the spirit in which the true lover of
science proceeds.

It seems to me, also, that far too little is said about the kind of work
by which Kepler and Newton finally established the accepted theories.
There is a strange charm in the history of those twenty years of
Kepler's life during which he was analysing the observations made by
Tycho Brahe. Surrounded with domestic trials and anxieties, which might
well have claimed his whole attention, tried grievously by ill-health
and bodily anguish, he laboured all those years upon erroneous theories.
The very worst of these had infinitely more evidence in its favour than
the best which the paradoxists have brought forth. There was not one of
those theories which nine out of ten of his scientific contemporaries
would not have accepted ungrudgingly. Yet he wrought these theories one
after another to their own disproof. _Nineteen_ of them he tried and
rejected--the twentieth was the true theory of the solar system. Perhaps
nothing in the whole history of astronomy affords a nobler lesson to the
student of science--unless, indeed, it be the calm philosophy with which
Newton for eighteen years suffered the theory of the universe to remain
in abeyance, because faulty measurements of the earth prevented his
calculations from agreeing with observed facts. But, as Professor
Tyndall has well remarked--and the paradoxist should lay the lesson
well to heart--'Newton's action in this matter was the normal action of
the scientific mind. If it were otherwise--if scientific men were not
accustomed to demand verification, if they were satisfied with the
imperfect while the perfect is attainable--their science, instead of
being, as it is, a fortress of adamant, would be a house of clay, ill
fitted to bear the buffetings of the theologic storms to which it has
been from time to time, and is at present, exposed.'

The fame of Newton has proved to many paradoxists an irresistible
attraction; it has been to these unfortunates as the candle to the
fluttering moth. Circle-squaring, as we shall presently see, has had its
attractions, nor have earth-fixing and earth-flattening been neglected;
but attacking the law of gravitation has been the favourite work of
paradoxists. Newton has been praised as surpassing the whole human race
in genius; mathematicians and astronomers have agreed to laud him as
unequalled; why should not Paradoxus displace him and be praised in like
manner? It would be unfair, perhaps, to say that the paradoxist
consciously argues thus. He doubtless in most instances convinces
himself that he has really detected some flaw in the theory of
gravitation. Yet it is impossible not to recognise, as the real motive
of every paradox-monger, the desire to have that said of him which has
been said of Newton: '_Genus humanum ingenio superavit._'

I remember a curious instance of this which occurred soon after the
appearance of the comet of 1858. It chanced that, while that object was
under discussion, reference was made to the action of a repulsive force
exerted by the sun upon the matter of the comet's tail. On this, some
one addressed a long letter to a Glasgow newspaper, announcing that he
had long ago proved that the sun's attraction alone is insufficient to
account for the planetary motions. His reasoning was amazingly simple.
If the sun's attraction is powerful enough to keep the outer planets in
their course, it must be too powerful for Venus and Mercury close by the
sun; if it only just suffices to keep these in their course, it cannot
possibly be powerful enough to restrain the outer planets. The writer of
this letter said that he had been very badly treated by scientific
bodies. He had announced his discovery to the Royal Astronomical
Society, the Royal Society, the Imperial Academy at Paris, and other
scientific bodies; but they had one and all refused to listen to him. He
had forsaken or neglected his trade for several years in order to give
attention to the new and (as he thought) the true theory of the
universe. He complained in a specially bitter manner of the unfavourable
comments which men of science had made upon his views in private letters
addressed to him in reply to his communications.

There is something melancholy even in what is most ridiculous in cases
of this sort. The simplicity which supposes that considerations so
obvious as those adduced could escape the scrutiny, not of Newton only,
but of all who have followed in the same track during two centuries, is
certainly stupendous; nor can one fail to smile at seeing a difficulty,
such as might naturally suggest itself to a beginner, and such as
half-a-dozen words from an expert would clear up, regarded gravely as a
discovery calculated to make its author famous for all time. Yet, when
one considers the probable consequences of the blunder to the unhappy
enthusiast, and perchance to his family, it is difficult not to feel a
sense of pity, quite apart from that pity allied to contempt which is
excited by his mistake. A few words added to the account of Newton's
theory, which the paradoxist had probably read in some astronomical
treatise, would have prevented all this mischief. Indeed, this
difficulty, which, as we have said, is a natural one, should be dealt
with and removed in any account of the planetary system intended for
beginners. The simple statement that the outer planets move more slowly
than the inner, and so _require_ a smaller force to keep them in their
course, would have sufficed, not, perhaps, altogether to remove the
difficulty, but to show the beginner where the explanation was to be
looked for.

It was in connection with this subject of gravitation that one of the
most well-meaning of the paradoxists--the late Mr. James Reddie--came
under Professor De Morgan's criticism. Mr. Reddie was something more
than well-meaning. He was earnestly desirous of advancing the interests
of science, as well as of defending religion from what he mistakenly
supposed to be the dangerous teachings of the Newtonians. He founded for
these purposes the Victoria Institute, of which society he was the
secretary from the time of its institution until his decease, some years
since; and, probably, many who declined to join that society because of
the Anti-Newtonian proclivities of its secretary, were unaware that to
that secretary the institute owed its existence.

It so chanced that I had myself a good deal of correspondence with Mr.
Reddie (who was, however, personally unknown to me). This correspondence
served to throw quite a new light on the mental habitudes and ways of
thinking of the honest paradoxist. I believe that Professor De Morgan
hardly gave Mr. Reddie credit for the perfect honesty which he really
possessed. It may have been that a clear reasoner like De Morgan could
hardly (despite his wide experience) appreciate the confusion of mind
which is the normal characteristic of the paradoxist. But certainly the
very candid way in which Mr. Reddie admitted, in the correspondence
above named, that he had not known some facts and had misunderstood
others, afforded to my mind the most satisfactory proofs of his

It may be instructive to consider a few of those paradoxes of Mr.
Reddie's which Professor De Morgan found chief occasion to pulverise.

In a letter to the Astronomer-Royal Mr. Reddie announced that he was
about to write 'a paper intended to be hereafter published, elaborating
more minutely and discussing more rigidly than before the glaring
fallacies, dating from the time of Newton, relating to the motion of the
moon.' He proceeded to 'indicate the nature of the issues he intended to
raise.' He had discovered that the moon does not, as a matter of fact,
go round the earth at the rate of 2288 miles an hour, as astronomers
say, but follows an undulatory path round the sun at a rate varying
between 65,000 and 70,000 miles an hour; because, while the moon seems
to go round the earth, the latter is travelling onwards at the rate of
67,500 miles an hour round the sun. Of course he was quite right in his
facts, and quite wrong in his inferences; as the Astronomer-Royal
pointed out in a brief letter, closing with the remark that, 'as a very
closely occupied man,' Mr. Airy could 'not enter further into the
matter.' But further Mr. Reddie persisted in going, though he received
no more letters from Greenwich. His reply to Sir G. Airy contained, in
fact, matter enough for a small pamphlet.

Now here was certainly an amazing fact. A well-known astronomical
relation, which astronomers have over and over again described and
explained, is treated as though it were something which had throughout
all ages escaped attention. It is not here the failure to comprehend the
_rationale_ of a simple explanation which is startling, but the notion
that an obvious fact had been wholly overlooked.

Of like nature was the mistake which brought Mr. Reddie more especially
under Professor De Morgan's notice. It is known that the sun, carrying
with him his family of planets, is speeding swiftly through space--his
velocity being estimated as probably not falling short of 20,000 miles
per hour. It follows, of course, that the real paths of the planets in
space are not closed curves, but spirals of different orders. How, then,
can the theory of Copernicus be right, according to which the planets
circle in closed orbits round the sun? Here was Mr. Reddie's difficulty;
and like the other, it appeared to his mind as a great discovery. He was
no whit concerned by the thought that astronomers ought surely to have
noticed the difficulty before. It did not seem in the least wonderful
that he, lightly reading a book or two of popular astronomy, should
discover that which Laplace, the Herschels, Leverrier, Airy, Adams, and
a host of others, who have given their whole lives to astronomy, had
failed to notice. Accordingly, Mr. Reddie forwarded to the British
Association (in session at Newcastle) a paper controverting the theory
of the sun's motion. The paper was declined with thanks by that bigoted
body 'as opposed to Newtonian astronomy.' 'That paper I published,' says
Mr. Reddie, 'in September 1863, with an appendix, in both thoroughly
exhibiting the illogical reasoning and absurdities involved in the
theory; and with what result? The members of Section A of the British
Association, and Fellows of the Royal Society and of the Royal
Astronomical Society, to whom I sent copies of my paper, were, without
exception, _dumb_.' Professor De Morgan, however, having occasion to
examine Mr. Reddie's publications some time after, was in no sort dumb,
but in very plain and definite terms exhibited their absurdity. After
all, however, the real absurdity consisted, not in the statements which
Mr. Reddie made, nor even in the conclusions which he drew from them,
but in the astounding simplicity which could suppose that astronomers
were unaware of the facts which their own labours had revealed.

In my correspondence with Mr. Reddie I recognised the real source of the
amazing self-complacency displayed by the true paradoxist. The very
insufficiency of the knowledge which a paradoxist possesses of his
subject, affords the measure of his estimate of the care with which
other men have studied that subject. Because the paradoxist is ready to
pronounce an opinion about matters he has not studied, it does not seem
strange to him that Newton and his followers should be equally ready to
discuss subjects they had not inquired into.

Another very remarkable instance was afforded by Mr. Reddie's treatment
of the subject of comets. And here, by the way, I shall quote a remark
made by Sir John Herschel soon after the appearance of the comet of
1861. 'I have received letters,' he said, 'about the comets of the last
few years, enough to make one's hair stand on end at the absurdity of
the theories they propose, and at the ignorance of the commonest laws of
optics, of motion, of heat, and of general physics, they betray in their
writers.' In the present instance, the correspondence showed that the
paradoxist supposed the parabolic paths of some comets to be regarded by
astronomers as analogous to the parabolic paths traversed by
projectiles. He expressed considerable astonishment when I informed him
that, in the first place, projectiles do not travel on truly parabolic
paths; and secondly, that in all respects their motion differs
essentially from that which astronomers ascribe to comets. These last
move more and more quickly until they reach what is called the vertex of
the parabola (the point of such a path which lies nearest to the sun):
projectiles, on the contrary, move more and more slowly as they approach
the corresponding point of their path; and further, the comet first
approaches and then recedes from the centre of attraction--the
projectile first recedes from and then approaches the attracting centre.

The earth-flatteners form a considerable section of the paradoxical
family. They experienced a practical rebuff, a few years since, which
should to some degree have shaken their faith in the present chief of
their order. To do this chief justice, he is probably far less confident
about the flatness of the earth than any of his disciples. Under the
assumed name of Parallax he visited most of the chief towns of England,
propounding what he calls his system of zetetic astronomy. Why he should
call himself Parallax it would be hard to say; unless it be that the
verb from which the word is derived signifies primarily to shift about
or dodge, and secondarily to alter a little, especially for the worse.
His employment of the word zetetic is less doubtful, as he claims for
his system that it alone is founded on the true seeking out of Nature's

The experimental basis of the theory of Parallax is mainly this: Having
betaken himself to a part of the Bedford Canal, where there is an
uninterrupted water-line of about six miles, he tested the water surface
for signs of curvature, and (as he said) found none.

It chanced, unfortunately, that a disciple--Mr. John Hampden, of
Swindon--accepted the narrative of this observation in an unquestioning
spirit; and was so confident that the Bedford Canal has a truly plane
surface, that he wagered five hundred pounds on his opinion, challenging
the believers in the earth's rotundity to repeat the experiment. The
challenge was accepted by Mr. Wallace, the eminent naturalist; and the
result may be anticipated. Three boats were to be moored in a line,
three miles or so between each. Each carried a mast of given length. If,
when the summits of the first and last masts were seen in a line
through a telescope, the summit of the middle mast was not found to be
above the line, then Mr. Hampden was to receive five hundred pounds from
Mr. Wallace. If, on the contrary, the top of the middle mast was found,
as the accepted theory said it should be, to be several feet above the
line joining the tops of the two outer masts, then Mr. Hampden was to
lose the five hundred pounds he had so rashly ventured. Everything was
conducted in accordance with the arrangements agreed upon. The editor of
a well-known sporting paper acted as stakeholder, and unprejudiced
umpires were to decide as to what actually was seen through the
telescope. It need scarcely be said that the accepted theory held its
own, and that Mr. Hampden lost his money. He scarcely bore the loss with
so good a grace as was to have been expected from a philosopher merely
desirous of ascertaining the truth. His wrath was not expended on
Parallax, whom he might have suspected of having led him astray; nor
does he seem to have been angry with himself, as would have seemed
natural. All his anger was reserved for those who still continued to
believe in the earth's rotundity. Whether he believed that the Bedford
water had risen under the middle boat to oblige Mr. Wallace, or how it
came to pass that his own chosen experiment had failed him, does not

The subsequent history of this matter has been unpleasant. It
illustrates, unfortunately but too well, the mischief which may ensue
from the tricks of those who make a trade of paradox--tricks which would
be scarce possible, however, if text-books of science were more
carefully written, and by those only who are really acquainted with the
subject of which they treat.

The book which originally led to Mr. Hampden's misfortunes, and has
misled not a few, ought to have deceived none. I have already mentioned
the statement on which Parallax (whose true name is Rowbotham) rested
his theory. Of course, if that statement had been true--if he had, with
his eye a few inches from the surface of the water of the Bedford Canal,
seen an object close to the surface six miles from him--there manifestly
would have been something wrong in the accepted theory about the earth's
rotundity. So, also, if a writer were to announce a new theory of
gravity, stating as the basis of his theory that a heavy missile which
he had thrown into the air had gone upwards on a serpentine course to
the moon, any one who accepted the statement would be logically bound to
admit at least that the fact described was inconsistent with the
accepted theory. But no one would accept such a statement; and no one
should have accepted Mr. Rowbotham's statement.

His statement was believed, however, and perhaps is still believed by
many. Twenty years ago De Morgan wrote that 'the founder of the zetetic
astronomy gained great praise from provincial newspapers for his
ingenuity in proving that the earth is a flat, surrounded by ice,' with
the north polar ice in the middle. 'Some of the journals rather incline
to this view; but the "Leicester Advertiser" thinks that the statement
"would seem to invalidate some of the most important conclusions of
modern astronomy;" while the "Norfolk Herald" is clear that "there must
be great error on one side or the other." ... The fact is worth noting
that from 1849-1857 arguments on the roundness or flatness of the earth
did itinerate. I have no doubt they did much good, for very few persons
have any distinct idea of the evidence for the rotundity of the earth.
The "Blackburn Standard" and "Preston Guardian" (December 12 and 16,
1849) unite in stating that the lecturer ran away from his second
lecture at Burnley, having been rather too hard pressed, at the end of
his first lecture, to explain why the large hull of a ship disappeared
before the masts. The persons present and waiting for the second
lecture assuaged their disappointment by concluding that the lecturer
had slipped off the ice edge of his flat disc, and that he would not be
seen again till he peeped up on the opposite side.' ... 'The zetetic
system,' proceeds De Morgan, 'still lives in lectures and books; as it
ought to do, for there is no way of teaching a truth comparable to
opposition. The last I heard of it was in lectures at Plymouth, in
October 1864. Since this time a prospectus has been issued of a work
entitled "The Earth not a Globe;" but whether it has been published I do
not know.'

The book was published soon after the above was written, and De Morgan
gives the following quaint account of it: 'August 28, 1865. The zetetic
astronomy has come into my hands. When in 1851 I went to see the Great
Exhibition I heard an organ played by a performer who seemed very
desirous of exhibiting one particular stop. "What do you think of that
stop?" I was asked. "That depends on the name of it," said I "Oh! what
can the name of it have to do with the sound? 'that which we call a
rose,' etc." "The name has everything to do with it: if it be a flute
stop I think it very harsh; but if it be a railway-whistle stop, I think
it very sweet." So as to this book: if it be childish, it is clever; if
it be mannish, it is unusually foolish. The flat earth floating
tremulously on the sea; the sun moving always over the flat, giving day
when near enough, and night when too far off; the self-luminous moon,
with a semi-transparent invisible moon created to give her an eclipse
now and then; the new law of perspective, by which the vanishing of the
hull before the masts, usually thought to prove the earth globular,
really proves it flat;--all these and other things are well fitted to
form exercises for a person who is learning the elements of astronomy.
The manner in which the sun dips into the sea, especially in tropical
climates, upsets the whole. Mungo Park, I think, gives an African
hypothesis which explains phenomena better than this. The sun dips into
the Western ocean, and the people there cut him in pieces, fry him in a
pan, and then join him together again; take him round the under way, and
set him up in the East. I hope this book will be read, and that many
will be puzzled by it; for there are many whose notions of astronomy
deserve no better fate. There is no subject on which there is so little
accurate conception as on that of the motions of the heavenly
bodies.[51] The author, though confident in the extreme, neither
impeaches the honesty of those whose opinion he assails, nor allots them
any future inconvenience: in these points he is worthy to live on a
globe and to rotate in twenty-four hours.'

I chanced to reside near Plymouth when Mr. Rowbotham lectured there in
October 1864. It will readily be understood that, in a town where there
are so many naval men, his lectures were not altogether so successful as
they have sometimes been in small inland towns. Numbers of naval
officers, however, who were thoroughly well assured of the fact that the
earth is a globe, were not able to demolish the crafty arguments of
Parallax publicly, during the discussions which he challenged at the
close of each lecture. He was too skilled in that sort of evasion which
his assumed name (as interpreted by Liddell and Scott) suggests, to be
readily cornered. When an argument was used which he could not easily
meet, or seem to meet, he would say simply: 'Well, sir, you have now had
your fair share of the discussion; let some one else have his turn.' It
was stated in the newspapers that one of his audience was so wrathful
with the lecturer on account of these evasions, that he endeavoured to
strike Parallax with a knobbed stick at the close of the second lecture;
but probably there was no real foundation for the story.

Mr. Rowbotham did a very bold thing, however, at Plymouth. He undertook
to prove, by observations made with a telescope upon the Eddystone
Lighthouse from the Hoe and from the beach, that the surface of the
water is flat. From the beach usually only the lantern can be seen. From
the Hoe the whole of the lighthouse is visible under favourable
conditions. Duly on the morning appointed, Mr. Rowbotham appeared. From
the Hoe a telescope was directed towards the lighthouse, which was well
seen, the morning being calm and still, and tolerably clear. On
descending to the beach it was found that, instead of the whole lantern
being visible as usual, only half could be seen--a circumstance
doubtless due to the fact that the air's refractive power, which usually
diminishes the dip due to the earth's curvature by about one-sixth part,
was less efficient that morning than usual. The effect of the
peculiarity was manifestly unfavourable to Mr. Rowbotham's theory. The
curvature of the earth produced a greater difference than usual between
the appearance of a distant object as seen from a certain high station
and from a certain low station (though still the difference fell short
of that which would be shown if there were no air). But Parallax claimed
the peculiarity observable that morning as an argument in favour of his
flat earth. It is manifest, he said, that there is something wrong about
the accepted theory; for it tells us that so much less of the lighthouse
should be seen from the beach than from the Hoe, whereas less still was
seen. And many of the Plymouth folk went away from the Hoe that morning,
and from the second lecture, in which Parallax triumphantly quoted the
results of the observation, with the feeling which had been expressed
seven years before in the 'Leicester Advertiser,' that 'some of the most
important conclusions of modern astronomy had been seriously
invalidated.' If our books of astronomy, in referring to the effects of
the earth's curvature, had only been careful to point out how surveyors
and sailors and those who build lighthouses take into account the
modifying effects of atmospheric refraction, and how these effects have
long been known to vary with the temperature and pressure of the air,
this mischief would have been avoided. It would not be fair to say of
the persons misled on that occasion by Parallax that they deserved no
better; since the fault is not theirs as readers, but that of careless
or ill-informed writers.

Another experiment conducted by Parallax the same morning was creditable
to his ingenuity. Nothing better, perhaps, was ever devised to deceive
people, apparently by ocular evidence, into the belief that the earth is
flat--nor is there any clearer evidence of the largeness of the earth's
globe compared with our ordinary measures. On the Hoe, some ninety or a
hundred feet above the sea-level, he had a mirror suspended in a
vertical position facing the sea, and invited the bystanders to look in
that mirror at the sea-horizon. To all appearance the line of the
horizon corresponded exactly with the level of the eye-pupils of the
observer. Now, of course, when we look into a mirror whose surface is
exactly vertical, the line of sight to the eye-pupils of our image in
the mirror is exactly horizontal; whereas the line of sight from the
eyes to the image of the sea-horizon is depressed exactly as much as the
line from the eyes to the real sea-horizon. Here, then, seemed to be
proof positive that there is no depression of the sea-horizon; for the
horizontal line to the image of the eye-pupil seemed to coincide exactly
with the line to the image of the sea-horizon. It is not necessary to
suppose here that the mirror was wrongly adjusted, though the slightest
error of adjustment would affect the result either favourably or
unfavourably for Parallax's flat-earth theory. It is a matter of fact
that, if the mirror were perfectly vertical, only very acute vision
could detect the depression of the image of the sea-horizon below the
image of the eye-pupil. The depression can easily be calculated for any
given circumstances. Parallax encouraged observers to note very closely
the position of the eye-pupil in the image, so that most of them
approached the image within about ten inches, or the glass within about
five. Now, in such a case, for a height of one hundred feet above the
sea-level the image of the sea-horizon would be depressed below the
image of the eye-pupil by less than three hundredths of an inch--an
amount which could not be detected by one eye in a hundred. The average
diameter of the pupil itself is one-fifth of an inch, or about seven
times as great as the depression of the sea-horizon in the case
supposed. It would require very close observation and a good eye to
determine whether a horizontal line seen on either side of the head were
on the level of the centres of the eye-pupils, or lower by about
one-seventh of the breadth of either pupil.

The experiment is a pretty one, however, and well worth trying by any
one who lives near to the sea-shore and sea-cliffs. But there is a much
more effective experiment which can be much more easily tried--only it
is open to the disadvantage that it at once demolishes the argument of
our friend Parallax. It occurred to me while I was writing the above
paragraph. Let a very small mirror (it need not be larger than a
sixpence) be so suspended to a small support and so weighted that when
left to itself it hangs with its face perfectly vertical--an arrangement
which any competent optician will easily secure--and let a fine
horizontal line or several horizontal lines be marked on the mirror;
which, by the way, should be a metallic one, as its indications will
then be altogether more trustworthy. This mirror can be put into the
waistcoat pocket and conveniently carried to much greater height than
the mirror used by Parallax. Now, at some considerable height--say five
or six hundred feet above the sea-level, but a hundred or even fifty
will suffice--look into this small mirror while _facing_ the sea. The
true horizon will then be seen to be visibly below the centre of the
eye-pupil--visibly in this case because the horizontal line traced on
the mirror can be made to coincide with the sea-horizon exactly, and
will then be found _not_ to coincide with the centre of the eye-pupil.
Such an instrument could be readily made to show the distance of the
sea-horizon, which at once determines the height of the observer above
the sea-level. For this purpose all that would be necessary would be a
means of placing the eye at some definite distance from the small
mirror, and a fine vertical scale on the mirror to show the exact
depression of the sea-horizon. For balloonists such an instrument would
sometimes be useful, as showing the elevation independently of the
barometer, whenever any portion of the sea-horizon was in view.

The mention of balloon experiences leads me to another delusive argument
of the earth-flatteners.[52] It has been the experience of all
aeronauts that, as the balloon rises, the appearance of the earth is by
no means what would be expected from the familiar teachings in our books
of astronomy. There is a picture in most of these books representing the
effect of ascent above the sea-level in depressing the line of sight to
the horizon, and bringing more and more into view the convexity of the
earth's globe. One would suppose, from the picture, that when an
observer is at a great height the earth would appear to rise under him,
like some great round and well-curved shield whose convexity was towards
him. Instead of this, the aeronaut finds the earth presenting the
appearance of a great hollow basin, or of the concave side of a
well-curved shield. The horizon seems to rise as he rises, while the
earth beneath him sinks lower and lower. A somewhat similar phenomenon
may be noted when, after ascending the landward side of a high cliff, we
come suddenly upon a view of the sea--invariably the sea-horizon is
higher than we expected to find it. _Only_, in this case, the surface of
the sea seems to rise from the beach below towards the distant horizon
convexly not concavely; the reason of which I take to be this, that the
waves, and especially long rollers or uniform large ripples, teach the
eye to form true conceptions of the shape of the sea-surface even when
the eye is deceived as to the position of the sea-horizon. Indeed, I
should much like to know what would be the appearance of the sea from a
balloon when no land was in sight (though I do not particularly wish to
make the observation myself): the convexity discernible, for the reason
just named, would contend strangely with the concavity imagined, for the
reason now to be indicated.

The deception arises from the circumstance that the scene displayed
below and around the balloon is judged by the eye from the experience of
more familiar scenes. The horizon is depressed, but so little that the
eye cannot detect the depression, especially where the boundary of the
horizon is irregular. It is here that the text-book pictures mislead;
for they show the depression as far too great to be overlooked, setting
the observer sometimes about two thousand miles above the sea-level. The
eye, then, judges the horizon to be where it usually is--on the same
level as the observer; but looking downwards, the eye perceives, and at
once appreciates if it does not even exaggerate, the great depth at
which the earth lies below the balloon. The appearance, then, as judged
by the eye, is that of a mighty basin whose edge rises up all round to
the level of the balloon, while its bottom lies two or three miles or
more below the balloon.

The zetetic faithful reason about this matter as though the impressions
of the senses were trustworthy under all conditions, familiar or
otherwise; whereas, in point of fact, we know that the senses often
deceive, even under familiar conditions, and almost always deceive under
conditions, which are not familiar. A person, for example, accustomed to
the mist and haze of our British air, is told by the sense of sight,
when he is travelling where a clearer atmosphere prevails, that a
mountain forty miles from him is a hill a few miles away. On the other
hand, an Italian travelling through the Highlands is impressed with the
belief that all the features of the scenery are much larger (because he
supposes them much more remote) than they really are. A hundred such
instances of deception might easily be cited. The conditions under which
the aeronaut observes the earth are certainly less familiar than those
under which the Briton views the Alps and Apennines, or the Italian
views Ben Lomond or Ben Lawers. It would be rash, therefore, even if no
other evidence were available, to reject the faith that the earth is a
globe because, as seen from a balloon, it looks like a basin. Indeed, to
be strictly logical, the followers of Parallax ought on this account to
adopt the faith that the earth is not flat, but basin-shaped, which
hitherto they have not been ready to do.

We have seen that Parallax describes a certain experiment on the Bedford
Level, which, if made as he states, would have shown certainly that
something was wrong in the accepted system--for a six-mile straight-edge
along water would be as severe a blow to the belief in a round earth, as
a straight line on the sea-surface from Queenstown to New York. Another
curious experiment adorns his little book, which, if it could be
repeated successfully before a dozen trustworthy witnesses, would rather
astonish men of science. Having, he says, by certain
reasoning--altogether erroneous, but that is a detail--convinced himself
that, on the accepted theory, a bullet fired vertically upwards ought to
fall far to the west of the place whence it was fired, he carefully
fixed an air-gun in a vertical position, and fired forty bullets
vertically upwards. All these fell close to the gun--which is not
surprising, though it must have made such an experiment rather
dangerous; but two fell back into the barrel itself--which certainly was
very surprising indeed. One might fairly challenge the most experienced
gunner in the world to achieve one such vertical shot in a thousand
trials; two in forty bordered on the miraculous.

The earth-flatteners I have been speaking of claim, as one of their
objects, the defence of Scripture. But some of the earth-flatteners of
the last generation (or a little farther back) took quite another view
of the matter. For instance, Sir Richard Phillips, a more vehement
earth-flattener than Parallax, was so little interested in defending
the Scriptures, that in 1793 he was sentenced to a year's imprisonment
for selling a book regarded as atheistic. In 1836 he attempted the
conversion of Professor De Morgan, opening the correspondence with the
remark that he had 'an inveterate abhorrence of all the pretended wisdom
of philosophy derived from the monks and doctors of the Middle Ages, and
not less those of higher name who merely sought to make the monkish
philosophy more plausible, or so to disguise it as to mystify the mob of
small thinkers.' He seems himself to have succeeded in mystifying many
of those whom he intended to convert. Admiral Smyth gives the following
account of an interview he had with Phillips: 'This pseudo-mathematical
knight once called upon me at Bedford, without any previous
acquaintance, to discuss "those errors of Newton, which he almost
blushed to name," and which were inserted in the "Principia" to "puzzle
the vulgar." He sneered with sovereign contempt at the "Trinity of
Gravitating Force, Projectile Force, and Void Space," and proved that
all change of place is accounted for by motion.' [Startling hypothesis!]
'He then exemplified the conditions by placing some pieces of paper on a
table, and slapping his hand down close to them, thus making them fly
off, which he termed applying the momentum. All motion, he said, is in
the direction of the forces; and atoms seek the centre by "terrestrial
centripetation"--a property which causes universal pressure; but in what
these attributes of pushing and pulling differ from gravitation and
attraction was not expounded. Many of his "truths" were as mystified as
the conundrums of Rabelais; so nothing was made of the motion.'

A favourite subject of paradoxical ideas has been the moon's motion of
rotation. Strangely enough, De Morgan, who knew more about past
paradoxists than any man of his time, seems not to have heard of the
dispute between Keill and Bentley over this matter in 1690. He says,
'there was a dispute on the subject, in 1748, between James Ferguson and
an anonymous opponent; and I think there have been others;' but the
older and more interesting dispute he does not mention. Bentley, who was
no mathematician, pointed out in a lecture certain reasons for believing
that the moon does not turn on her axis, or has no axis on which she
turns. Keill, then only nineteen years old, pointed out that the
arguments used by Bentley proved that the moon does rotate instead of
showing that she does not. (Twenty years later Keill was appointed
Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. He was the first holder of
that office to teach the Newtonian astronomy.)

In recent times, as most of my readers know, the paradox that the moon
does not rotate has been revived more than once. In 1855 it was
sustained by Mr. Jellinger Symons, one of whose staunchest supporters,
Mr. H. Perigal, had commenced the attack a few years earlier. Of course,
the gist of the argument against the moon's rotation lies in the fact
that the moon always keeps the same face turned towards the earth, or
very nearly so. If she did so exactly, and if her distance from the
earth were constantly the same, then her motion would be exactly the
same as though she were rigidly connected with the earth, and turned
round an axis at the earth. The case may be thus illustrated: Through
the middle of a large orange thrust one short rod vertically, and
another long rod horizontally; thrust the further end of the latter
through a small apple, and now turn the whole affair round the short
vertical rod as an axis. Then the apple will move with respect to the
orange as the moon would move with respect to the earth on the
suppositions just made. No one in this case would say that the apple was
turning round on its axis, since its motion would be one of rotation
round the upright axis through the orange. Therefore, say the opponents
of the moon's rotation, no one should say that the moon turns round on
her axis.

Of course, the answer would be obvious even if the moon's motions were
as supposed. The moon is not connected with the earth as the apple is
with the orange in the illustrative case. If the apple, without rigid
connection with the orange, were carried round the orange so as to move
precisely as if it were so connected, it would unquestionably have to
rotate on its axis, as any one will find who may try the experiment.
Thus for the straight rod thrust through the apple substitute a straight
horizontal bar carrying a small basin of water in which the apple
floats. Sway the bar steadily and slowly round, and it will be found (if
a mark is placed on the apple) that the apple no longer keeps the same
face towards the centre of motion; but that, to cause it to do so, a
slow motion of rotation must be communicated to the apple in the same
direction and at the same rate (neglecting the effects of the friction
of the water against the sides of the basin) as the bar is rotating. In
my 'Treatise on the Moon' I have described and pictured a simple
apparatus by which this experiment may easily be made.

But, of course, such experiments are not essential to the argument by
which the paradox is overthrown. This argument simply is, that the moon
as she travels on her orbit round the sun--the real centre of her
motion--turns every part of her equator in succession towards him once
in a lunar month. At the time of new moon the sun illuminates the face
of the moon turned from us; at the time of full moon he illuminates the
face which has been gradually brought round to him as the moon has
passed through her first two quarters. As she passes onwards to new
moon again, the face we see is gradually turned from him until he
shines full upon the other face. And so on during successive lunations.
This could not happen unless the moon rotated. Again, if we lived on the
moon we should find the heaven of the fixed stars turning round from
east to west once in rather more than twenty-seven days; and unless we
supposed, as we should probably do for a long time, that our small world
was the centre of the universe, and that the stars turned round it, we
should be compelled to admit that it was turning on its own axis from
west to east once in the time just named. There would be no escape. The
mere fact that all the time the stars thus seemed to be turning round
the moon, the earth would not so seem to move, but would lie always in
the same direction, would in no sort help to remove the difficulty.
Lunarian paradoxists would probably argue that she was in some way
rigidly connected with the moon; but even they would never think of
arguing that their world did not turn on its axis, _unless_ they
maintained that it was the centre of the universe. This, I think, they
would very probably do; but as yet terrestrial paradoxists have not, I
believe, maintained this hypothesis. I once asked Mr. Perigal whether
that was the true theory of the universe--the moon central, the earth,
sun, and heavens carried round her. He admitted that his objections to
accepted views were by no means limited to the moon's rotation; and, if
I remember rightly, he said that the idea I had thrown out in jest was
nearer the truth than I thought, or used words to that effect. But as
yet the theory has not been definitely enunciated that the moon is the
boss of the universe.

Comets, as already mentioned, have been the subjects of paradoxes
innumerable; but as yet comets have been so little understood, even by
astronomers, that paradoxes respecting them cannot be so readily dealt
with as those relating to well-established facts. Among thoroughly
paradoxical ideas respecting comets, however, may be mentioned one whose
author is a mathematician of well-deserved repute--Professor Tait's
'Sea-Bird Theory' of Comets' Tails. According to this theory, the rapid
formation of long tails and the rapid changes of their position may be
explained on the same principle that we explain the rapid change of
appearance of a flight of sea-birds, when, from having been in a
position where the eye looks athwart it, the flight assumes a position
where the eye looks at it edgewise. In the former position it is
scarcely visible (when at a distance), in the latter it is seen as a
well-defined streak; and as a very slight change of position of each
bird may often suffice to render an extensive flight thus visible
throughout its entire length, which but a few moments before had been
invisible, so the entire length of a comet's tail may be brought into
view, and apparently be formed in a few hours, through some
comparatively slight displacement of the individual meteorites composing

This paradox--for paradox it unquestionably is--affords a curious
illustration of the influence which mathematical power has on the minds
of men. Every one knows that Professor Tait has potential mathematical
energy competent to dispose, in a very short time, of all the
difficulties involved in his theory; therefore few seem to inquire
whether this potential energy has ever been called into action. It is
singular, too, that other mathematicians of great eminence have been
content to take the theory on trust. Thus Sir W. Thomson, at the meeting
of the British Association at Edinburgh, described the theory as
disposing easily of the difficulties presented by Newton's comet in
1680. Glashier, in his translation of Guillemin's 'Les Comètes,' speaks
of the theory as one not improbably correct, though only to be
established by rigid investigation of the mathematical problems

In reality, not five minutes' inquiry is needed to show any one
acquainted with the history of long-tailed comets that Tait's theory is
quite untenable. Take Newton's comet. It had a tail ninety millions of
miles long, extending directly from the sun as the comet approached him,
and seen, four days later, extending to the same distance, and still
directly from the sun, as the comet receded from him in an entirely
different direction. According to Tait's sea-bird theory, the earth was
at both these epochs in the plane of a sheet of meteorites forming the
tail; but on each occasion the sun also was in the same plane, for the
edge of the sheet of meteorites was seen to be directly in a line with
the sun. The comet's head, of course, was in the same plane; but three
points, not in a straight line, determine a plane. Hence we have, as the
definite result of the sea-bird theory, that the layer or stratum of
meteorites, forming the tail of Newton's comet, lay in the same plane
which contained the sun, the earth, and the comet. But the comet crossed
the ecliptic (the plane in which the earth travels round the sun)
between the epochs named, crossing it at a great angle. When crossing
it, then, the great layer of meteorites was in the plane of the
ecliptic; before crossing it the layer was greatly inclined to that
plane one way, and after crossing it the layer was greatly inclined to
that plane another way. So that we have in no way escaped the difficulty
which the sea-bird theory was intended to remove. If it was a startling
and, indeed, incredible thing that the particles along a comet's tail
should have got round in four days from the first to the second position
of the tail considered above, it is as startling and incredible that a
mighty layer of meteorites should have shifted bodily in the way
required by the sea-bird theory. Nay, there is an element in our result
which is still more startling than any of the difficulties yet
mentioned; and that is, the singular care which the great layer of
meteorites would seem to have shown to keep its plane always passing
through the earth, with which it was in no way connected. Why should
this preference have been shown by the meteor flock for our earth above
all the other members of the solar system?--seeing that the sea-bird
theory _requires_ that this comet, and not Newton's comet alone but all
others having tails, should not only be thus complaisant with respect to
our little earth, but should behave in a totally different way with
respect to every other member of the sun's family.

We can understand that, while several have been found who have applauded
the sea-bird paradox for what it _might_ do in explaining comets' tails,
its advocates have as yet not done much to reconcile it with cometic

The latest astronomical paradox published is perhaps still more
startling. It relates to the planet Venus, and is intended to explain
the appearance presented by this planet when crossing the sun's face,
or, technically, when in transit. At this time she is surrounded by a
ring of light, which appears somewhat brighter than the disc of the sun
itself. Before fully entering on the sun's face, also, the part of
Venus's globe as yet outside the sun's disc is seen to be girt round by
a ring of exceedingly bright light--so bright, indeed, that it has left
its record in photographs where the exposure was only for the small
fraction of a second allowable in the case of so intensely brilliant a
body as the sun. Astronomers have not found it difficult to explain
either peculiarity. It has been proved clearly in other ways that Venus
has an atmosphere like our own, but probably denser. As the sun is
raised into view above the horizon (after he has really passed below
the horizon plane) by the bending power of our air upon his rays, so the
bending power of Venus's air brings the sun into our view round the dark
body of the planet. But the new paradox advances a much bolder theory.
Instead of an atmosphere such as ours, Venus has a glass envelope; and
instead of a surface of earth and water, in some cases covered with
clouds, Venus has a surface shining with metallic lustre.[53]

The author of this theory, Mr. Jos. Brett, startled astronomers by
announcing, a few years ago, that with an ordinary telescope he could
see the light of the sun's corona without the aid of an eclipse, though
astronomers had observed that the delicate light of the corona fades out
of view with the first returning rays of the sun after total eclipse.

The latest paradoxist, misled by the incorrect term 'centrifugal force,'
proposes to 'modify, if not banish,' the old-fashioned astronomy. What
is called centrifugal force is in truth only inertia. In the familiar
instance of a body whirled round by a string, the breaking of the string
no more implies that an active force has pulled away the body, than the
breaking of a rope by which a weight is pulled implies that the weight
has exerted an active resistance. Of course, here again the text-books
are chiefly in fault.

Such are a few among the paradoxes of various orders by which
astronomers, like the students of other sciences, have been from time to
time amused. It is not altogether, as it may seem at first sight, 'a sin
against the twenty-four hours' to consider such matters; for much may be
learned not only from the study of the right road in science, but from
observing where and how men may go astray. I know, indeed, few more
useful exercises for the learner than to examine a few paradoxes, when
leisure serves, and to consider how, if left to his own guidance, he
would confute them.



The expression 'astronomical myth' has recently been used, on the
title-page of a translation from the French, as synonymous with false
systems of astronomy. It is not, however, in that sense that I here use
it. The history of astronomy presents the records of some rather
perplexing observations, not confirmed by later researches, but yet not
easily to be explained away or accounted for. Such observations Humboldt
described as belonging to the myths of an uncritical period; and it is
in that sense that I employ the term 'astronomical myth' in this essay.
I propose briefly to describe and comment on some of the more
interesting of these observations, which, in whatever sense they are to
be interpreted, will be found to afford a useful lesson.

It is hardly necessary, perhaps, to point out that the cases which I
include here I regard as really cases in which astronomers have been
deceived by illusory observations. Other students of astronomy may
differ from me as respects some of these instances. I do not wish to
dogmatise, but simply to describe the facts as I see them, and the
impressions which I draw from them. Those who view the facts differently
will not, I think, have to complain that I have incorrectly described

At the outset, let me point out that some observations which were for a
long time regarded as mythical have proved to be exact. For instance,
when as yet very few telescopes existed, and those very feeble,
Galileo's discovery of moons travelling round Jupiter was rejected as an
illusion for which Satan received the chief share of credit. There is an
amusing and yet in one aspect almost pathetic reference to this in his
account of his earlier observations of Saturn. He had seen the planet
apparently attended on either side by two smaller planets, as if helping
old Saturn along. But on December 4, 1612,[54] turning his telescope on
the planet, he found to his infinite amazement not a trace of the
companion planets could be seen; there in the field of view of his
telescope was the golden-tinted disc of the planet as smoothly rounded
as the disc of Mars or Jupiter. 'What,' he wrote, 'is to be said
concerning so strange a metamorphosis? Are the two lesser stars consumed
after the manner of the solar spots? Have they vanished or suddenly
fled? Has Saturn, perhaps, devoured his children? Or were the
appearances, indeed, illusion or fraud with which the glasses have so
long deceived me as well as many others to whom I have shown them? Now,
perhaps, is the time come to revive the well-nigh withered hopes of
those who, guided by more profound contemplations, have discovered the
fallacy of the new observations, and demonstrated the utter
impossibility of the existence of those things which the telescope
appears to show. I do not know what to say in a case so surprising, so
unlooked for, and so novel. The shortness of the time, the unexpected
nature of the event, the weakness of my understanding, and the fear of
being mistaken, have greatly confounded me.' We now know that these
observations, as well as those made soon after by Hevelius, though
wrongly interpreted, were correct enough. Nay, we know that if either
Galileo or Hevelius had been at the pains to reason out the meaning of
the alternate visibility and disappearance of objects looking like
attendant planets, they must have anticipated the discovery made in 1656
by Huyghens, that Saturn's globe is girdled about by a thin flat ring so
vast that, if a score of globes like our earth were set side by side,
the range of that row of worlds would be less than the span of the
Saturnian ring system.

There is a reference in Galileo's letter to the solar spots; 'Are the
two lesser stars,' he says, 'consumed after the manner of the solar
spots?' When he thus wrote the spots were among the myths or fables of
astronomy, and an explanation was offered, by those who did not reject
them utterly, which has taken its place among forsaken doctrines, those
broken toys of astronomers. It is said that when Scheiner, himself a
Jesuit, communicated to the Provincial of the Jesuits his discovery of
the spots on the sun, the latter, a staunch Aristotelian, cautioned him
not to see these things. 'I have read Aristotle's writings from
beginning to end many times,' he said, 'and I can assure you I have
nowhere found in them anything similar to what you mention' [amazing
circumstances!] 'Go, therefore, my son, tranquillise yourself; be
assured that what you take for spots on the sun are the faults of your
glasses or your eyes.' As the idea was obviously inadmissible that a
celestial body could be marked by spots, the theory was started that the
dark objects apparently seen on the sun's body were in reality small
planets revolving round the sun, and a contest arose for the possession
of these mythical planets. Tardé maintained that they should be called
_Astra Borbonia_, in honour of the royal family of France; but C.
Malapert insisted that they should be called _Sidera Austriaca_.
Meantime the outside world laughed at the spots, and their names, and
the astronomers who were thought to have invented both. 'Fabritius puts
only three spots,' wrote Burton in his 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' 'and
those in the sun; Apelles 15, and those without the sun, floating like
the Cyanean Isles in the Euxine Sea. Tardé the Frenchman hath observed
33, and those neither spots nor clouds as Galileus supposed, but planets
concentric with the sun, and not far from him, with regular motions.
Christopher Schemer' [a significant way of spelling Scheiner's name], 'a
German Suisser Jesuit, divides them _in maculas et faculas_, and will
have them to be fixed _in solis superficie_ and to absolve their
periodical and regular motions in 27 or 28 dayes; holding withall the
rotation of the sun upon his centre, and are all so confident that they
have made schemes and tables of their motions. The Hollander censures
all; and thus they disagree among themselves, old and new,
irreconcilable in their opinions; thus Aristarchus, thus Hipparchus,
thus Ptolomæus, thus Albategnius, etc., with their followers, vary and
determine of these celestial orbs and bodies; and so whilst these men
contend about the sun and moon, like the philosophers in Lucian, it is
to be feared the sun and moon will hide themselves, and be as much
offended as she was with those, and send another message to Jupiter, by
some new-fangled Icaromenippus, to make an end of all these curious
controversies, and scatter them abroad.'

It is well to notice how in this, as in many other instances, the very
circumstance which makes scientific research trustworthy caused the
unscientific to entertain doubt. If men of science were to arrange
beforehand with each other what observations they should publish, how
their accounts should be ended, what theories they would endeavour to
establish, their results would seem far more trustworthy, their theories
far more probable, than according to the method actually adopted.
Science, which should be exact, seems altogether inexact, because one
observer seems to obtain one result, another a different result.
Scientific theories seem unworthy of reliance because scientific men
entertain for a long time rival doctrines. But in another and a worthier
sense than as the words are used in the 'Critic,' when men of science do
agree their agreement is wonderful. It _is_ wonderful, worthy of all
admiration, because before it has been attained errors long entertained
have had to be honestly admitted; because the taunt of inconsistency is
not more pleasant to the student of science than to others, and the man
who having a long time held one doctrine adopts and enforces another
(one perhaps which he had long resisted), is sure to be accused by the
many of inconsistency, the truly scientific nature of his procedure
being only recognised by the few. The agreement of men of science ought
to be regarded also as most significant in another sense. So long as
there is room for refusing to admit an important theory advanced by a
student of science, it is natural that other students of science should
refuse to do so; for in admitting the new theory they are awarding the
palm to a rival. In strict principle, of course, this consideration
ought to have no influence whatever; as a matter of fact, however, men
of science, being always men and not necessarily strengthened by
scientific labours against the faults of humanity, the consideration has
and must always have influence. Therefore, when the fellow-writers and
rivals of Newton or of his followers gave in their adhesion to the
Newtonian theory; when in our own time--but let us leave our own time
alone, in this respect--when, speaking generally, a novel doctrine, or
some new generalisation, or some great and startling discovery, is
admitted by rival students of the branch of astronomy to which it
belongs, the probability is great that the weight of evidence has been
found altogether overwhelming.

Let us now, however, turn to cases in which, while many observations
seem to point to some result, it has appeared that, after all, those
observations must have been illusory.

A striking instance in point is found in the perplexing history of the
supposed satellite of Venus.

On January 25, 1672, the celebrated astronomer, J.D. Cassini saw a
crescent shaped and posited like Venus, but smaller, on the western side
of the planet. More than fourteen years later, he saw a crescent east of
the planet. The object continued visible in the latter case for half an
hour, when the approach of daylight obliterated the planet and this
phantom moon from view. The apparent distance of the moon from Venus was
in both cases small, viz., only one diameter of the planet in the former
case, and only three-fifths of that diameter in the latter.

Next, on October 23, 1740, old style, the optician Short, who had had
considerable experience in observation, saw a small star perfectly
defined but less luminous than Venus, at a distance from the planet
equal to about one-third of the apparent diameter of our moon. This is a
long distance, and would correspond to a distance from Venus certainly
not less than the moon's distance from the earth. Short was aware of the
risk of optical illusion in such matters, and therefore observed Venus
with a second telescope; he also used four eye-pieces of different
magnifying power. He says that Venus was very distinct, the air very
pure, insomuch that he was able to use a power of 240. The seeming moon
had a diameter less than a third of Venus's, and showed the same phase
as the planet. Its disc was exceedingly well defined. He observed it
several times during a period of about one hour.

Still more convincing, to all appearance, is the account of the
observations made by M. Montaigne, as presented to the Academy of
Sciences at Paris by M. Baudouin in 1761. The transit of Venus which was
to take place on June 6 in that year led to some inquiry as to the
satellite supposed to have been seen by Cassini and Short, for of course
a transit would be a favourable occasion for observing the satellite. M.
Montaigne, who had no faith in the existence of such an attendant, was
persuaded to look for it early in 1761. On May 3 he saw a little
crescent moon about twenty minutes of arc (nearly two-thirds the
apparent diameter of our moon) from the planet. He repeated his
observation several times that night, always seeing the small body, but
not quite certain, despite its crescent shape, whether it might not be a
small star. On the next evening, and again on May 7 and 10, he saw the
small companion apparently somewhat farther from Venus and in a
different position. He found that it could be seen when Venus was not in
the field of view. The following remarks were made respecting these
observations in a French work, 'Dictionnaire de Physique,' published in
1789:--'The year 1761 will be celebrated in astronomy in consequence of
the discovery that was made on May 3 of a satellite circulating round
Venus. We owe it to M. Montaigne, member of the Society of Limoges. M.
Baudouin read before the Academy of Sciences at Paris a very interesting
memoir, in which he gave a determination of the revolution and distance
of the satellite. From the calculations of this expert astronomer we
learn that the new star has a diameter about one-fourth that of Venus,
is distant from Venus almost as far as the moon from our earth, has a
period of nine days seven hours' [much too short, by the way, to be
true, expert though M. Baudouin is said to have been], 'and its
ascending node'--but we need not trouble ourselves about its ascending

Three years later Rödkier, at Copenhagen, March 3 and 4, 1764, saw the
satellite of Venus with a refracting telescope 38 feet long, which
should have been effective if longitude has any virtue. He could not see
the satellite with another telescope which he tried. But several of his
friends saw it with the long telescope. Amongst others, Horrebow,
Professor of Astronomy, saw the satellite on March 10 and 11, after
taking several precautions to prevent optical illusion. A few days later
Montbaron, at Auxerre, who had heard nothing of these observations, saw
a satellite, and again on March 28 and 29 it appeared, always in a
different position.

It should be added that Scheuten asserted that during the transit of
1761 Venus was accompanied by a small satellite in her motion across the
sun's face.

So confidently did many believe in this satellite of Venus that
Frederick the Great, who for some reason imagined that he was entitled
to dispose as he pleased of the newly discovered body, proposed to
assign it away to the mathematician D'Alembert, who excused himself from
accepting the questionable honour in the following terms:--

'Your Majesty does me too much honour in wishing to baptize this new
planet with my name. I am neither great enough to become the satellite
of Venus in the heavens, nor well enough (_assez bien portant_) to be so
on the earth, and I am too well content with the small place I occupy in
this lower world to be ambitious of a place in the firmament.'

It is not at all easy to explain how this phantom satellite came to be
seen. Father Hell, of Vienna--the same astronomer whom Sir G. Airy
suspects of falling asleep during the progress of the transit of Venus
in 1769--made some experiments showing how a false image of the planet
might be seen beside the true one, the false image being smaller and
fainter, like the moons seen by Schort (as Hell called Short), Cassini,
and the rest. And more recently Sir David Brewster stated that Wargentin
'had in his possession a good achromatic telescope, which always showed
Venus with such a satellite.' But Hell admitted that the falsehood of
the unreal Venus was easily detected, and Brewster adds to his account
of Wargentin's phantom moon, that 'the deception was discovered by
turning the telescope about its axis.' As Admiral Smyth well remarks, to
endeavour to explain away in this manner the observations made by
Cassini and Short 'must be a mere pleasantry, for it is impossible such
accurate observers could have been deceived by so gross a neglect.'
Smyth, by the way, was a believer in the moon of Venus. 'The contested
satellite is perhaps extremely minute,' he says, 'while some parts of
its body may be less capable of reflecting light than others; and when
the splendour of its primary and our inconvenient station for watching
it are considered, it must be conceded that, however slight the hope may
be, search ought not to be relinquished.'

Setting aside Scheuten's asserted recognition of a dark body near Venus
during the transit of 1761, Venus has always appeared without any
attendant when in transit. As no one else claimed to have seen what
Scheuten saw in 1761, though the transit was observed by hundreds, of
whom many used far finer telescopes than he, we must consider that he
allowed his imagination to deceive him. During the transit of 1769, and
again on December 8-9, 1874, Venus certainly had no companion during her

What, then, was it that Cassini, Short, Montaigne, and the rest supposed
they saw? The idea has been thrown out by Mr. Webb that mirage caused
the illusion. But he appears to have overlooked the fact that though an
image of Venus formed by mirage would be fainter than the planet, it
would not be smaller. It might, according to the circumstances, be above
Venus or below, or even somewhat towards either side, and it might be
either a direct or an inverted image, but it could not possibly be a
diminished image.

Single observations like Cassini's or Short's might be explained as
subjective phenomena, but this explanation will not avail in the case of
the Copenhagen observations.

I reject, as every student of astronomy will reject, the idea of wilful
deception. Occasionally an observer may pretend to see what he has not
seen, though I believe this very seldom happens. But even if Cassini and
the rest had been notoriously untrustworthy persons instead of being
some of them distinguished for the care and accuracy with which their
observations were made and recorded, these occasional views of a phantom
satellite are by no means such observations as they would have invented.
No distinction was to be gained by observations which could not be
confirmed by astronomers possessing more powerful telescopes. Cassini,
for example, knew well that nothing but his well-earned reputation could
have saved him from suspicion or ridicule when he announced that he had
seen Venus attended by a satellite.

It seems to me probable that the false satellite was an optical illusion
brought about in a different way from those referred to by Hell and
Brewster, though among the various circumstances which in an imperfect
instrument might cause such a result I do not undertake to make a
selection. It is certain that Venus's satellite has vanished with the
improvement of telescopes, while it is equally certain that even with
the best modern instruments illusions occasionally appear which deceive
even the scientific elect. Three years have passed since I heard the
eminent observer Otto Struve, of Pulkowa, give an elaborate account of a
companion to the star Procyon, describing the apparent brightness,
distance, and motions of this companion body, for the edification of the
Astronomer-Royal and many other observers. I had visited but a few
months before the Observatory at Washington, where, with a much more
powerful telescope, that companion to Procyon had been systematically
but fruitlessly sought for, and I entertained a very strong opinion,
notwithstanding the circumstantial nature of Struve's account and his
confidence (shared in unquestioningly by the observers present), that he
had been in some way deceived. But I could not then see, nor has any one
yet explained, how this could be. The fact, however, that he had been
deceived is now undoubted. Subsequent research has shown that the
Pulkowa telescope, though a very fine instrument, possesses the
undesirable quality of making a companion orb for all first-class stars
in the position where O. Struve and his assistant Lindenau saw the
supposed companion of Procyon.

I may as well point out, however, that theories so wild have recently
been broached respecting Venus, that far more interesting explanations
of the enigma than this optical one may be looked for presently. It has
been gravely suggested by Mr. Jos. Brett, the artist, that Venus has a
surface of metallic brilliancy, with a vitreous atmosphere,--which can
only be understood to signify a glass case. This stupendous theory has
had its origin in an observation of considerable interest which
astronomers (it is perhaps hardly necessary to say) explain somewhat
differently. When Venus has made her entry in part upon the sun's face
at the beginning of transit, there is seen all round the portion of her
disc which still remains outside the sun an arc of light so brilliant
that it records its photographic trace during the instantaneous exposure
required in solar photography. It is mathematically demonstrable that
this arc of light is precisely what _should_ be seen if Venus has an
atmosphere like our earth's. But mathematical demonstration is not
sufficient (or perhaps we may say it is too much) for some minds.
Therefore, to simplify matters, Venus has been provided with a mirror
surface and a glass case. (See preceding essay, on Astronomical
Paradoxes, for further details.)

The enigma next to be considered is of a more doubtful character than
the myth relating to the satellite of Venus. Astronomers are pretty well
agreed that Venus has no moon, but many, including some deservedly
eminent, retain full belief in the story of the planet Vulcan.

More than seventeen years ago the astronomical world was startled by the
announcement that a new planet had been discovered, under circumstances
unlike any which had heretofore attended the discovery of fresh members
of the solar system. At that time astronomers had already become
accustomed to the discovery, year after year, of several asteroids,
which are in reality planets, though small ones. In fact, no less than
fifty-six of these bodies were then known, whereof fifty-one had been
discovered during the years 1847-1858 inclusive, not one of these years
having passed without the detection of an asteroid. But all these
planets belonged to one family, and as there was every reason to believe
that thousands more travel in the same region of the solar system, the
detection of a few more among the number had no longer any special
interest for astronomers. The discovery of the first known member of the
family had indeed been full of interest, and had worthily inaugurated
the present century, on the first day of which it was made. For it had
been effected in pursuance of a set scheme, and astronomers had almost
given up all hopes of success in that scheme when Piazzi announced his
detection of little Ceres. Again the discovery of the next few members
of the family had been interesting as revealing the existence of a new
order of bodies in the solar system. No one had suspected the
possibility that besides the large bodies which travel round the sun,
either singly or attended by subordinate families of moons, there might
be a ring of many planets. This was what the discovery of Ceres, Pallas,
Juno, and Vesta seemed to suggest, unless--still stranger thought--these
were but fragments of a mighty planet which had been shattered in
long-past ages by some tremendous explosion. Since then, however, this
startling theory has been (itself) exploded. Year after year new members
of the ring of multitudinous planets are discovered, and that, not as
was recently predicted, in numbers gradually decreasing, but so rapidly
that more have been discovered during the last ten years than during the
preceding twenty.

The discovery of the giant planet Uranus, an orb exceeding our earth
twelve and a half times in mass and seventy-four times in volume, was a
matter of much greater importance, so far as the dignity of the
planetary system was concerned, for it is known that the whole ring of
asteroids together does not equal one-tenth part of the earth in mass,
while Uranus exceeds many times in volume the entire family of
terrestrial planets--Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars. The detection
of Uranus, unlike that of Ceres, was effected by accident. Sir W.
Herschel was looking for double stars of a particular kind in the
constellation Gemini when by good fortune the stranger was observed.

The interest with which astronomers received the announcement of the
discovery of Uranus, though great, was not to be compared with that with
which they deservedly welcomed the discovery of Neptune, a larger and
more massive planet, revolving at a distance one-half greater even than
the mighty space which separates Uranus from the sun, a space so great
that by comparison with it the range of 184,000,000 of miles, which
forms the diameter of our earth's orbit, seems quite insignificant. It
was not, however, the vastness of Neptune's mass or volume, or the awful
remoteness of the path along which he pursues his gloomy course, which
attracted the interest of astronomers, but the strangeness of the
circumstances under which the planet had been detected. His influence
had been felt for many years before astronomers thought of looking for
him, and even when the idea had occurred to one or two, it was
considered, and that, too, by an astronomer as deservedly eminent as Sir
G. Airy, too chimerical to be reasonably entertained. All the world now
knows how Leverrier, the greatest living master of physical astronomy,
and Adams, then scarce known outside Cambridge, both conceived the idea
of finding the planet, not by the simple method of looking for it with a
telescope, but by the mathematical analysis of the planet's disturbing
influence upon known members of the solar system. All know, too, that
these mathematicians succeeded in their calculations, and that the
planet was found in the very region and close to the very point
indicated first by Adams, and later, but independently, and (fortunately
for him more publicly) by Leverrier.

None of these instances of the discovery of members of the solar system
resembled in method or details the discovery announced early in the year
1859. It was not amid the star-depths and in the darkness of night that
the new planet was looked for, but in broad day, and on the face of the
sun himself. It was not on the outskirts of the solar system that the
planet was supposed to be travelling, but within the orbit of Mercury,
hitherto regarded as of all planets the nearest to the sun. It was not
hoped that any calculation of the perturbations of other planets would
show the place of the stranger, though certain changes in the orbit of
Mercury seemed clearly enough to indicate the stranger's existence.

Early in 1860 Leverrier had announced that the position of Mercury's
path was not precisely in agreement with calculations based on the
adopted estimates of the masses of those planets which chiefly disturb
the motions of Mercury. The part of the path where Mercury is nearest to
the sun, and where, therefore, he travels fastest, had slightly shifted
from its calculated place. This part of the path was expected to move,
but it had moved more than was expected; and of course Mercury having
his region of swiftest motion somewhat differently placed than was
anticipated, himself moved somewhat differently.

Leverrier found that to explain this feature of Mercury's motion either
the mass of Venus must be regarded as one-tenth greater than had been
supposed, or some unknown cause must be regarded as affecting the motion
of Mercury. A planet as large as Mercury, about midway between Mercury
and the sun, would account for the observed disturbance; but Leverrier
rejected the belief that such a planet exists, simply because he could
not 'believe that it would be invisible during total eclipses of the
sun.' 'All difficulties disappear,' he added, 'if we admit, in place of
a single planet, small bodies circulating between Mercury and the sun.'
Considering their existence as not at all improbable, he advised
astronomers to watch for them.

It was on January 2, 1860, that Leverrier thus wrote. On December 22,
1859, a letter had been addressed by a M. Lescarbault of Orgères to
Leverrier, through M. Vallée, hon. inspector-general of roads and
bridges, announcing that on March 26, 1859, about four in the afternoon,
Lescarbault had seen a round black spot on the face of the sun, and had
watched it as it passed across like a planet in transit--not with the
slow motion of an ordinary sun-spot. The actual time during which the
round spot was visible was one hour, seventeen minutes, nine seconds,
the rate of motion being such that, had the spot crossed the middle of
the sun's disc, at the same rate, the transit would have lasted more
than four hours. The spot thus merely skirted the sun's disc, being at
no time more than about one forty-sixth part of the sun's apparent
diameter from the edge of the sun. Lescarbault expressed his conviction
that on a future day, a black spot, perfectly round and very small, will
be seen passing over the sun, and 'this point will very probably be the
planet whose path I observed on March 26, 1859.' 'I am persuaded,' he
added, 'that this body is the planet, or one of the planets, whose
existence in the vicinity of the sun M. Leverrier had made known a few
months ago' (referring to the preliminary announcement of results which
Leverrier published afterwards more definitely).

Leverrier, when the news of Lescarbault's observation first reached him,
was surprised that the observation should not have been announced
earlier. He did not consider the delay sufficiently justified by
Lescarbault's statement that he wished to see the spot again. He
therefore set out for Orgères, accompanied by M. Vallée. 'The
predominant feeling in Leverrier's mind,' says Abbé Moigno, 'was the
wish to unmask an attempt to impose upon him, as the person more likely
than any other astronomer to listen to the allegation that his prophecy
had been fulfilled.'

'One should have seen M. Lescarbault,' says Moigno, 'so small, so
simple, so modest, and so timid, in order to understand the emotion with
which he was seized, when Leverrier, from his great height, and with
that blunt intonation which he can command, thus addressed him: "It is
then you, sir, who pretend to have observed the intra-mercurial planet,
and who have committed the grave offence of keeping your observation
secret for nine months. I warn you that I have come here with the
intention of doing justice to your pretensions, and of demonstrating
either that you have been dishonest or deceived. Tell me, then,
unequivocally, what you have seen."' This singular address did not bring
the interview, as one might have expected, to an abrupt end. The lamb,
as the Abbé calls the doctor, trembling, stammered out an account of
what he had seen. He explained how he had timed the passage of the black
spot. 'Where is your chronometer?' asked Leverrier. 'It is this watch,
the faithful companion of my professional journeys.' 'What! with that
old watch, showing only minutes, dare you talk of estimating seconds. My
suspicions are already too well confirmed.' 'Pardon me, I have a
pendulum which beats seconds.' 'Show it me.' The doctor brings down a
silk thread to which an ivory ball is attached. Fixing the upper end to
a nail, he draws the ball a little from the vertical, counts the number
of oscillations, and shows that his pendulum beats seconds; he explains
also how his profession, requiring him to feel pulses and count
pulsations, he has no difficulty in mentally keeping record of
successive seconds.

Having been shown the telescope with which the observation was made, the
record of the observation (on a piece of paper covered with grease and
laudanum, and doing service as a marker in the 'Connaissance des Temps,'
or French Nautical Almanac), Leverrier presently inquired if Lescarbault
had attempted to deduce the planet's distance from the sun from the
period of its transit. The doctor admitted that he had attempted this,
but, being no mathematician, had failed to achieve success with the
problem. He showed the rough draughts of his futile attempts at
calculation on a board in his workshop, 'for,' said he naïvely, 'I am a
joiner as well as an astronomer.'

The interview satisfied Leverrier that a new planet, travelling within
the orbit of Mercury, had really been discovered. 'With a grace and
dignity full of kindness,' says a contemporary narrative of these
events,[55] 'he congratulated Lescarbault on the important discovery
which he had made.' Anxious to obtain some mark of respect for the
discoverer of Vulcan, Leverrier made inquiry concerning his private
character, and learned from the village curé, the juge de paix, and
other functionaries, that he was a skilful physician and a worthy man.
With such high recommendations, M. Leverrier requested from M. Rouland,
the Minister of Public Instruction, the decoration of the Legion of
Honour for M. Lescarbault. The Minister, in a brief but interesting
statement of his claim, communicated this request to the Emperor, who,
by a decree dated January 25, conferred upon the village astronomer the
honours so justly due to him. His professional brethren in Paris were
equally solicitous to testify their regard; and MM. Felix Roubaud,
Legrande, and Caffe, as delegates of the scientific press, proposed to
the medical body, and to the scientific world in Paris, to invite
Lescarbault to a banquet in the Hôtel du Louvre on January 18.

The announcement of the supposed discovery caused astronomers to
re-examine records of former observations of black spots moving across
the sun. Several such records existed, but they had gradually come to be
regarded as of no real importance. Wolff of Zurich published a list of
no fewer than twenty such observations made since 1762. Carrington added
many other cases. Comparing together three of these observations, Wolff
found that they would be satisfied by a planet having a period of
revolution of 19 days, agreeing fairly with the period of rather more
than 19-1/3 days inferred by Leverrier for Lescarbault's planet. But
the entire set of observations of black spots require that there should
be at least three new planets travelling between Mercury and the sun.
Many observers also set themselves the task of searching for Vulcan, as
the supposed new planet was called. They have continued fruitlessly to
observe the sun for this purpose until the present time.

While the excitement over Lescarbault's discovery was at its height,
another observer impugned not only the discovery but the honesty of the

M. Liais, a French astronomer of considerable skill, formerly of the
Paris Observatory, but at the time of Lescarbault's achievement in the
service of the Brazilian Government, published a paper, 'Sur la Nouvelle
Planète annoncée par M. Lescarbault,' in which he endeavoured to
establish the four following points:--

First, the observation of Lescarbault was never made.

Secondly, Leverrier was mistaken in considering that a planet such as
Vulcan might have escaped detection when off the sun's face.

Thirdly, that Vulcan would certainly have been seen during total solar
eclipses, if the planet had a real objective existence.

Fourthly, M. Leverrier's reasons for believing that the planet exists
are based on the supposition that astronomical observations are more
precise than they really are.

Probably, Liais's objections would have had more weight with Leverrier
had the fourth point been omitted. It was rash in a former subordinate
to impugn the verdict of the chief of the Paris Observatory on a matter
belonging to that special department of astronomy which an observatory
chief might be expected to understand thoroughly. It is thought daring
in the extreme for one outside the circles of official astronomy (as
Newton in Flamstead's time, Sir W. Herschel in Maskelyne's, and Sir J.
Herschel in the present century), to advance or maintain an opinion
adverse to that of some official chief, but for a subordinate (even
though no longer so), to be guilty of such rash procedure 'is most
tolerable and not to be endured,' as a typical official has said.
Accordingly, very little attention was paid by Leverrier to Liais's

Yet, in some respects, what M. Liais had to say was very much to the

At the very time when Lescarbault was watching the black spot on the
sun's face, Liais was examining the sun with a telescope of much greater
magnifying power, and saw no such spot. His attention was specially
directed to the edge of the sun (where Lescarbault saw the spot) because
he was engaged in determining the decrease of the sun's brightness near
the edge. Moreover, he was examining the very part of the sun's edge
where Lescarbault saw the planet enter, at a time when it must have been
twelve minutes in time upon the face of the sun, and well within the
margin of the solar disc. The negative evidence here is strong; though
it must always be remembered that negative evidence requires to be
overwhelmingly strong before it can be admitted as effective against
positive evidence. It seems at a first view utterly impossible that
Liais, examining with a more powerful telescope the region where
Lescarbault saw the spot, could have failed to see it had it been there;
but experience shows that it is not impossible for an observer engaged
in examining phenomena of one class to overlook a phenomenon of another
class, even when glaringly obvious. All we can say is that Liais was not
likely to have overlooked Lescarbault's planet had it been there; and we
must combine this probability against Vulcan's existence with arguments
derived from other considerations. There is also the possibility of an
error in time. As the writer in the 'North British Review' remarks,
'twelve minutes is so short a time that it is just possible that the
planet may not have entered upon the sun during the time that Liais
observed it.'

The second and third arguments are stronger. In fact, I do not see how
they can be resisted.

It is, in the first place, clear from Lescarbault's account that Vulcan
must have a considerable diameter--certainly if Vulcan's diameter in
miles were only half the diameter of Mercury, it would have been all but
impossible for Lescarbault with his small telescope to see Vulcan at
all, whereas he saw the black spot very distinctly. Say Vulcan has half
the diameter of Mercury, and let us compare the brightness of these two
planets when at their greatest apparent distances from the sun, that is,
when each looks like a half-moon. The distance of Mercury exceeds the
estimated distance of Vulcan from the sun as 27 exceeds 10, so that
Vulcan is more strongly illuminated in the proportion of 27 times 27 to
10 times 10, or 729 to 100--say at least 7 to 1. But having a diameter
but half as large the disc of Vulcan could be but about a fourth of
Mercury's at the same distance from us (and they would be at about the
same distance from us when seen as half-moons). Hence Vulcan would be
brighter than Mercury in the proportion of 7 to 4. Of course being so
near the sun he would not be so easily seen; and we could never expect
to see him at all, perhaps, with the naked eye--though even this is not
certain. But Mercury, when at the same apparent distance from the sun,
and giving less light than at his greatest seeming distance, is quite
easily seen in the telescope. Much more easily, then, should Vulcan be
seen, if a telescope were rightly directed at such a time, or when
Vulcan was anywhere near his greatest seeming distance from the sun. Now
it is true astronomers do not know precisely when or where to look for
him. But he passes from his greatest distance on one side of the sun to
his greatest distance on the other in less than ten days, according to
the computed period, and certainly (that is, if the planet exists) in a
very short time. The astronomer has then only to examine day after day a
region of small extent on either side of the sun, for ten or twelve days
in succession (an hour's observation each day would suffice), to be sure
of seeing Vulcan. Yet many astronomers have made such search many times
over, without seeing any trace of the planet. During total solar
eclipses, again, the planet has been repeatedly looked for
unsuccessfully--though it should at such a time be a very conspicuous
object, when favourably placed, and could scarcely fail of being very
distinctly seen wherever placed.

The fourth argument of Lescarbault's is not so effective, and in fact he
gets beyond his depth in dealing with it. But it is to be noticed that a
considerable portion of the discrepancy between Mercury's observed and
calculated motions has long since been accounted for by the changed
estimate of the earth's mass as compared with the sun's, resulting from
the new determination of the sun's distance. However, the arguments
depending on this consideration would not be suited to these pages.

There was one feature in Liais's paper which was a little unfortunate.
He questioned Lescarbault's honesty. He said 'Lescarbault contradicts
himself in having first asserted that he saw the planet enter upon the
sun's disc, and having afterwards admitted to Leverrier that it had been
on the disc some seconds before he saw it, and that he had merely
inferred the time of its entry from the rate of its motion afterwards.
If this one assertion be fabricated, the whole may be so.' 'He considers
these arguments to be strengthened,' says the 'North British Review,'
'by the assertion which, as we have seen, perplexed Leverrier himself,
that if M. Lescarbault had actually seen a planet on the sun, he could
not have kept it secret for nine months.'

This charge of dishonesty, unfortunate in itself, had the unfortunate
effect of preventing Lescarbault or the Abbé Moigno from replying. The
latter simply remarked that the accusation was of such a nature as to
dispense him from any obligation to refute it. This was an error of
judgment, I cannot but think, if an effective reply was really

The Remarks with which the North British Reviewer closes his account may
be repeated now, so far as they relate to the force of the negative
evidence, with tenfold effect. 'Since the first notice of the discovery
in the beginning of January 1860 the sun has been anxiously observed by
astronomers; and the limited area around him in which the planet _must
be_, if he is not upon the sun, has doubtless been explored with equal
care by telescopes of high power, and processes by which the sun's
direct light has been excluded from the tube of the telescope as well as
the eye of the observer, and yet no planet has been found. This fact
would entitle us to conclude that no such planet exists if its existence
had been merely conjectured, or if it had been deduced from any of the
laws of planetary distance, or even if Leverrier or Adams had announced
it as the probable result of planetary perturbations. If the finest
telescopes cannot rediscover a planet which with the small power used by
Lescarbault has a visible disc, within so limited an area of which the
sun is the centre, or rather within a narrow belt of that circle, we
should unhesitatingly declare that no such planet exists. But the
question assumes a very different aspect when it involves moral
considerations. If,' proceeds the Reviewer, writing in August 1860,
'after the severe scrutiny which the sun and its vicinity will undergo
before and after and during his total eclipse in July, no planet shall
be seen; and if no round black spot distinctly separable from the usual
solar spots shall be seen on the solar spots' (_sic_, presumably solar
disc was intended), 'we will not dare to say that it does not exist. We
cannot doubt the honesty of M. Lescarbault, and we can hardly believe
that he was mistaken. No solar spot, no floating scoria, could maintain
in its passage over the sun a circular and uniform shape, and we are
confident that no other hypothesis but that of an intra-mercurial planet
can explain the phenomena seen and measured by M. Lescarbault, a man of
high character, possessing excellent instruments, and in every way
competent to use them well, and to describe clearly and correctly the
results of his observations. Time, however, tries facts as well as
speculations. The phenomena observed by the French astronomer may never
be again seen, and the disturbance of Mercury which rendered it probable
may be otherwise explained. Should this be the case, we must refer the
round spot on the sun to some of those illusions of the eye or of the
brain which have sometimes disturbed the tranquillity of science.'

The evidence which has accumulated against Vulcan in the interval since
this was written is not negative only, but partly positive, as the
following instance, which I take from my own narrative at the time in a
weekly journal, serves to show:--After more than sixteen years of
fruitless watching, astronomers learned last August (1876) that in the
month of April Vulcan had been seen on the sun's disc in China. On April
4, it appeared, Herr Weber, an observer of considerable skill, stationed
at Pecheli, had seen a small round spot on the sun, looking very much as
a small planet might be expected to look. A few hours later he turned
his telescope upon the sun, and lo! the spot had vanished, precisely as
though the planet had passed away after the manner of planets in
transit. He forwarded the news of his observation to Europe. The
astronomer Wolff, well known for his sun-spot studies, carefully
calculated the interval which had passed since Lescarbault saw Vulcan on
March 26, 1859, and to his intense satisfaction was enabled to announce
that this interval contained the calculated period of the planet an
exact number of times. Leverrier at Paris received the announcement
still more joyfully; while the Abbé Moigno, who gave Vulcan its name,
and has always staunchly believed in the planet's existence,
congratulated Lescarbault warmly upon this new view of the shamefaced
Vulcan. Not one of those who already believed in the planet had the
least doubt as to the reality of Weber's observations, and of these only
Lescarbault himself received the news without pleasure. He, it seems,
has never forgiven the Germans for destroying his observatory and
library during the invasion of France in 1870, and apparently would
prefer that his planet should never be seen again rather than that a
German astronomer should have seen it. But the joy of the rest and
Lescarbault's sorrow were alike premature. It was found that the spot
seen by Weber had not only been observed at the Madrid observatory,
where careful watch is kept upon the sun, but had been photographed at
Greenwich; and when the description of its appearance, as seen in a
powerful telescope at one station, and its picture as photographed by a
fine telescope at the other, came to be examined, it was proved
unmistakably that the spot was an ordinary sun-spot (not even quite
round), which had after a few hours disappeared, as even larger
sun-spots have been known to do in even a shorter time.

It is clear that had not Weber's spot been fortunately seen at Madrid
and photographed at Greenwich, his observation would have been added to
the list of recorded apparitions of Vulcan in transit, for it fitted in
perfectly with the theory of Vulcan's real existence. I think, indeed,
for my own part, that the good fortune was Weber's. Had it so chanced
that thick weather in Madrid and at Greenwich had destroyed the evidence
actually obtained to show that what Weber described he really saw,
although it was not what he thought, some of the more suspicious would
have questioned whether, in the euphonious language of the North British
Reviewer, 'the round spot on the sun' was not due 'to one of those
illusions of the eye or of the brain which have sometimes disturbed the
tranquillity of science.' Of course no one acquainted with M. Weber's
antecedents would imagine for a moment that he had invented the
observation, even though the objective reality of his spot had not been
established. But if a person who is entirely unknown, states that he has
seen Vulcan, there is antecedently some degree of probability in favour
of the belief that the observation is as much a myth as the planet
itself. Some observations of Vulcan have certainly been invented. I have
received several letters purporting to describe observations of bodies
in transit over the sun's face, either the rate of transit, the size of
the body, or the path along which it was said to move, being utterly
inconsistent with the theory that it was an intra-mercurial planet,
while yet (herein is the suspicious circumstance of such narratives) the
epoch of transit accorded in the most remarkable manner with the period
assigned to Vulcan. A paradoxist in America (of Louisville, Kentucky)
who had invented a theory of the weather, in which the planets, by their
influence on the sun, were supposed to produce all weather-changes, the
nearer planets being the most effective, found his theory wanted Vulcan
very much. Accordingly, he saw Vulcan crossing the sun's face in
September, which, being half a year from March, is a month wherein,
according to Lescarbault's observation, Vulcan may be seen in transit,
and by a strange coincidence the interval between our paradoxist's
observation and Lescarbault's exactly contained a certain number of
times the period calculated by Leverrier for Vulcan. This was a noble
achievement on the part of our paradoxist. At one stroke it established
his theory of the weather, and promised to ensure him text-book
immortality as one of the observers of Vulcan. But, unfortunately, a
student of science residing in St. Louis, after leaving the Louisville
paradoxist full time to parade his discovery, heartlessly pointed out
that an exact number of revolutions of Vulcan after Lescarbault's March
observation, must of necessity have brought the planet on that side of
the sun on which the earth lies in March, so that to see Vulcan so
placed on the sun's face in September was to see Vulcan through the sun,
a very remarkable achievement indeed. The paradoxist was abashed, the
reader perhaps imagines. Not in the least. The planet's period must have
been wrongly calculated by Leverrier--that was all: the real period was
less than half as long as Leverrier had supposed; and instead of having
gone a certain number of times round since Lescarbault had seen it,
Vulcan had gone twice as many times round and half once round again. The
circumstance that if Vulcan's period had been thus short, the time of
crossing the sun's face would have been much less than, according to
Lescarbault's account, it actually was, had not occurred to the
Louisville weather-prophet.[56]

Leverrier's faith in Vulcan, however, has remained unshaken. He has used
all the observations of spots which, like Weber's, have been seen only
for a short time. At least he has used all which have not, like
Weber's, been proved to be only transient sun-spots. Selecting those
which fit in well with Lescarbault's observation, he has pointed out how
remarkable it is that they show this accord. The possibility that some
of them might be explicable as Weber's proved to be, and that some even
may have been explicable as completely, but less satisfactorily, in
another way, seems to have been thought scarcely worth considering.
Using the imperfect materials available, but with exquisite skill--as a
Phidias might model an exquisite figure of materials that would
presently crumble into dust--Leverrier came to the conclusion that
Vulcan would cross the sun's disc on or about March 22, 1876. 'He,
therefore,' said Sir G. Airy, addressing the Astronomical Society,
'circulated a despatch among his friends, asking them carefully to
observe the sun on March 22.' Sir G. Airy, humouring his honoured
friend, sent telegrams to India, Australia, and New Zealand, requesting
that observations might be made every two hours or oftener. Leverrier
himself wrote to Santiago de Chili and other places, so that, including
American and European observations, the sun could be watched all through
the twenty-four hours on March 21, 22, and 23. 'Without saying
positively that he believed or disbelieved in the existence of the
planet,' proceeds the report, 'Sir G. Airy thought, since M. Leverrier
was so confident, that the opportunity ought not to be neglected by
anybody who professed to take an interest in the progress of planetary

It is perhaps unnecessary to add that observations were made as
requested. Many photographs of the sun also were taken during the hours
when Vulcan, if he exists at all, might be expected to cross the sun's
face. But the 'planet of romance,' as Abbé Moigno has called Vulcan,
failed to appear, and the opinion I had expressed last October
('English Mechanic and World of Science,' for October 27, 1876, p. 160),
that Vulcan might perhaps better be called the 'planet of fiction' was
_pro tanto_ confirmed. Nevertheless, I would not be understood to mean
by the word 'fiction' aught savouring of fraud so far as Lescarbault is
concerned--I prefer the North Briton's view of Lescarbault's spot, that
so to speak, it was

  ... the blot upon his brain,
  That _would_ show itself without.

I have left small space to treat of other fancied discoveries among the
orbs of heaven. Yet there are some which are not only interesting but
instructive, as showing how even the most careful observers may be led
astray. In this respect the mistakes into which observers of great and
well deserved eminence have fallen are specially worthy of attention.
With the description of three such mistakes, made by no less an
astronomer than Sir W. Herschel, I shall bring this paper to a close.

When Sir W. Herschel examined the planet Uranus with his most powerful
telescope he saw the planet to all appearance girt about by two rings at
right angles to one another. The illusion was so complete that Herschel
for several years remained in the belief that the rings were real. They
were, however, mere optical illusions, due to the imperfect defining
qualities of the telescope with which he observed the planet. Later he
wrote that 'the observations which tend to ascertain' (indicate?) 'the
existence of rings not being satisfactorily supported, it will be proper
that surmises of them should either be given up, as ill-founded, or at
least reserved till superior instruments can be provided.'

Sir W. Herschel was more completely misled by the false Uranian
satellites. He had seen, as he supposed, no less than six of these
bodies. As only two of these had been seen again, while two more were
discovered by Lassell, the inference was that Uranus has eight
satellites in all. These for a long time flourished in our text-books of
astronomy; and many writers, confident in the care and skill of Sir W.
Herschel, were unable for a long time to believe that he had been
deceived. Thus Admiral Smyth, in his 'Celestial Cycle,' wrote of those
who doubted the extra satellites:--'They must have but a meagre notion
of Sir W. Herschel's powerful means, his skill in their application, and
his method of deliberate procedure. So far from doubting there being six
satellites' (this was before Lassell had discovered the other two) 'it
is highly probable that there are still more.' Whewell, also, in his
'Bridgewater Treatise,' says, 'that though it no longer appears probable
that Uranus has a ring like Saturn, he has at least five satellites
which are visible to us, and we believe that the astronomer will hardly
deny that he' (Uranus, not the astronomer), 'may possibly have thousands
of smaller ones circulating about him.' But in this case Sir W.
Herschel, anxiously though he endeavoured to guard against the
possibility of error, was certainly mistaken. Uranus may, for anything
that is known to the contrary, have many small satellites circulating
about him, but he certainly has not four satellites (besides those
known) which could have been seen by Sir W. Herschel with the telescope
he employed. For the neighbourhood of the planet has been carefully
examined with telescopes of much greater power by observers who with
those telescopes have seen objects far fainter than the satellites
supposed to have been seen by the elder Herschel.

The third of the Herschelian myths was the lunar volcano in eruption,
which he supposed he had seen in progress in that part of the moon which
was not at the time illuminated by the sun's rays. He saw a bright
star-like point of light, which corresponded in position with the crater
of the lunar mountain Aristarchus. He inferred that a volcano was in
active eruption because the brightness of the point of light varied from
time to time, and also because he did not remember to have seen it
before under the same conditions. There is no doubt something very
remarkable in the way in which this part of the moon's surface shines
when not illumined by the sun. If it were always bright we should
conclude at once that the earth-light shining upon it rendered it
visible. For it must be remembered that the part of the moon which looks
dark (or seems wanting to the full disc) is illuminated by our earth,
shining in the sky of the moon as a disc thirteen times as large as that
of the moon we see, and with the same proportion of its disc sunlit as
is dark in the moon's disc. Thus when the moon is nearly new our earth
is shining in the lunar skies as a nearly full moon thirteen times as
large as ours. The light of this noble moon must illumine the moon's
surface much more brightly than a terrestrial landscape is illumined by
the full moon, and if any parts of her surface are very white they will
shine out from the surface around, just as the snow-covered peak of a
mountain shines out upon a moonlit night from among the darker hills and
dales and rocks and forests of the landscape. But Herschel considered
that the occasional brightness of the crater Aristarchus could not be
thus explained. The spot had been seen before the time of Herschel's
observations by Cassini and others. It has been seen since by Captain
Kater, Francis Baily, and many others. Dr. Maskelyne tells us that in
March 1794 it was seen by the naked eye by two persons.

Baily thus describes the appearance presented by this lunar crater on
December 22, 1835: 'Directed telescope to the moon, and pointing it to
the dark part in the vicinity of Aristarchus, soon saw the outline of
that mountain very distinctly, formed like an irregular nebula. Nearly
in the centre was a light resembling that of a star of the ninth or
tenth magnitude. It appeared by glimpses, but at times was brilliant,
and visible for several seconds together.'

There can be little doubt, however, that the apparent brightness of this
lunar crater, or rather of its summit, is due to some peculiar quality
in the surface, which may perhaps be covered by some crystalline or
vitreous matter poured out in the far distant time when the crater was
an active one. Prof. Shaler, who examined the crater when it was
illuminated only by earthshine, with the fine 15-inch telescope of the
Harvard Observatory (Cambridge U.S.), says that he has been able to
recognise nearly all the craters over 15 miles in diameter in the dark
part. 'There are several degrees of brightness,' he says, 'observable in
the different objects which shine out by the earth-light. This fact
probably explains the greater part of the perplexing statements
concerning the illumination of certain craters. It certainly accounts
for the volcanic activity which has so often been supposed to be
manifested by Aristarchus. Under the illumination by the earth-light
this is by far the brightest object on the dark part of the moon's face,
and is visible much longer and with poorer glasses than any other object

Here my record of astronomical myths must be brought to a close. It will
be noticed that in every instance either the illusion has affected the
actual observations of eminent and skilful astronomers, or has caused
such astronomers to put faith for a while in illusory observations. Had
I cared to include the mistakes which have been made by or have misled
observers of less experience, I could have filled many sheets for each
page of the present article. But it has seemed to me more instructive
to show how error may affect the observations even of the most careful
and deservedly eminent astronomers, how even the most cautious may be
for a time misled by the mistakes of inferior observers, especially when
the fact supposed to have been observed accords with preconceived



Although the strange figures which astronomers still allow to straggle
over their star maps no longer have any real scientific interest, they
still possess a certain charm, not only for the student of astronomy,
but for many who care little or nothing about astronomy as a science.
When I was giving a course of twelve lectures in Boston, America, a
person of considerable culture said to me, 'I wish you would lecture
about the constellations; I care little about the sun and moon and the
planets, and not much more about comets; but I have always felt great
interest in the Bears and Lions, the Chained and Chaired Ladies, King
Cepheus and the Rescuer Perseus, Orion, Ophiuchus, Hercules, and the
rest of the mythical and fanciful beings with which the old astronomers
peopled the heavens. I say with Carlyle, "Why does not some one teach me
the constellations, and make me at home in the starry heavens, which are
always overhead, and which I don't half know to this day."' We may
notice, too, that the poets by almost unanimous consent have recognised
the poetical aspect of the constellations, while they have found little
to say about subjects which belong especially to astronomy as a science.
Milton has indeed made an Archangel reason (not unskilfully for Milton's
day) about the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems, while Tennyson makes
frequent reference to astronomical theories. 'There sinks the nebulous
star we call the Sun, if that hypothesis of theirs be sound,' said Ida;
but she said no more, save 'let us down and rest,' as though the subject
were wearisome to her. Again, in the Palace of Art the soul of the poet
having built herself that 'great house so royal, rich, and wide,'

  ... when all the deep unsounded skies
    Shuddered with silent stars, she clomb,
  And as with optic glasses her keen eyes
    Pierced through the mystic dome,
  Regions of lucid matter taking forms,
    Brushes of fire, hazy gleams,
  Clusters and beds of worlds and beelike swarms
    Of suns, and starry streams:
  She saw the snowy poles of moonless Mars,
    That marvellous round of milky light
  Below Orion, and those double stars
    Whereof the one more bright
    Is circled by the other.

But the poet's soul so wearied of these astronomical researches that the
beautiful lines I have quoted disappeared (more's the pity) from the
second and all later editions. Such exceptions, indeed, prove the rule.
Poets have been chary in referring to astronomical researches and
results, full though these have been of unspeakable poetry; while from
the days of Homer to those of Tennyson, the constellations which
'garland the heavens' have always been favourite subjects of poetic

It is not my present purpose, however, to discuss the poetic aspect of
the constellations. I propose to inquire how these singular figures
first found their way to the heavens, and, so far as facts are available
for the purpose, to determine the history and antiquity of some of the
more celebrated constellations.

Long before astronomy had any existence as a science men watched the
stars with wonder and reverence. Those orbs, seemingly countless--which
bespangle the dark robe of night--have a charm and beauty of their own
apart from the significance with which the science of astronomy has
invested them. The least fanciful mind is led to recognise on the
celestial concave the emblems of terrestrial objects, pictured with more
or less distinctness among the mysterious star-groupings. We can imagine
that long before the importance of the study of the stars was
recognised, men had begun to associate with certain star-groups the
names of familiar objects animate or inanimate. The flocks and herds
which the earliest observers of the heavens tended would suggest names
for certain sets of stars, and thus the Bull, the Ram, the Kids, would
appear in the heavens. Other groups would remind those early observers
of the animals from whom they had to guard their flocks, or of the
animals to whose vigilance they trusted for protection, and thus the
Bear, the Lion, and the Dogs would find their place among the stars. The
figures of men and horses, and of birds and fishes, would naturally
enough be recognised, nor would either the implements of husbandry, or
the weapons by which the huntsman secured his prey, remain unrepresented
among the star-groupings. And lastly, the altar on which the
first-fruits of harvest and vintage were presented, or the flesh of
lambs and goats consumed, would be figured among the innumerable
combinations which a fanciful eye can recognise among the orbs of

In thus suggesting that the first observers of the heavens were
shepherds, huntsmen, and husbandmen, I am not advancing a theory on the
difficult questions connected with the origin of exact astronomy. The
first observations of the heavens were of necessity made by men who
depended for their subsistence on a familiarity with the progress and
vicissitudes of the seasons, and doubtless preceded by many ages the
study of astronomy as a science. And yet the observations made by those
early shepherds and hunters, unscientific though they must have been in
themselves, are full of interest to the student of modern exact
astronomy. The assertion may seem strange at first sight, but is
nevertheless strictly true, that if we could but learn with certainty
the names assigned to certain star-groups, before astronomy had any real
existence, we could deduce lessons of extreme importance from the rough
observations which suggested those old names. In these days, when
observations of such marvellous exactness are daily and nightly made,
when instruments capable of revealing the actual constitution of the
stars are employed, and observers are so numerous, it may seem strange
to attach any interest to the question whether half-savage races
recognised in such and such a star-group the likeness of a bear, or in
another group the semblance of a ship. But though we could learn more,
of course, from exacter observations, yet even such rough and imperfect
records would have their value. If we could be certain that in long-past
ages a star-group really resembled some known object, we should have in
the present resemblance of that group to the same object evidence of the
general constancy of stellar lustre, or if no resemblance could be
recognised we should have reason to doubt whether other suns (and
therefore our own sun) may not be liable to great changes.

The subject of the constellation-figures as first known is interesting
in other ways. For instance, it is full of interest to the antiquarian
(and most of us are to some degree antiquarians) as relating to the
most ancient of all human sciences. The same mental quality which causes
us to look with interest on the buildings raised in long-past ages, or
on the implements and weapons of antiquity, renders the thought
impressive that the stars which we see were gazed on perhaps not less
wonderingly in the very infancy of the human race. It is, again, a
subject full of interest to the chronologist to inquire in what era of
the world's history exact astronomy began, the moon was assigned her
twenty-eight zodiacal mansions, the sun his twelve zodiacal signs. It is
well known, indeed, that Newton himself did not disdain to study the
questions thus suggested; and the speculations of the ingenious Dupuis
found favour with the great mathematician Laplace.

Unfortunately, the evidence is not sufficiently exact to be very
trustworthy. In considering, for instance, the chronological inquiries
of Newton, one cannot but feel that the reliance placed by him on the
statements made by different writers is not justified by the nature of
those statements, which were for the most part vague in the extreme. We
owe many of them to poets who, knowing little of astronomy, mixed up the
phenomena of their own time with those which they found recorded in the
writings of astronomers. Some of the statements left by ancient writers
are indeed ludicrously incongruous; insomuch that Grotius not unjustly
said of the account of the constellations given by the poet Aratus, that
it could be assigned to no fixed epoch and to no fixed place. However,
this would not be the place to discuss details such as are involved in
exact inquiries. I have indicated some of these in an appendix to my
treatise on 'Saturn,' and others in the preface to my 'Gnomonic Star
Atlas'; but for the most part they do not admit very readily of familiar
description. Let us turn to less technical considerations, which
fortunately are in this case fully as much to the point as exact
inquiries, seeing that there is no real foundation for such inquiries in
any of the available evidence.

The first obvious feature of the old constellations is one which somehow
has not received the attention it deserves. It is as instructive as any
of those which have been made the subject of profound research.

There is a great space in the heavens over which none of the old
constellations extend, except the River Eridanus as now pictured, but we
do not know where this winding stream of stars was supposed by the old
observers to come to an end. This great space surrounds the southern
pole of the heavens, and thus shows that the first observers of the
stars were not acquainted with the constellations which can be seen only
from places far south of Chaldæa, Persia, Egypt, India, China, and
indeed of all the regions to which the invention of astronomy has been
assigned. Whatever the first astronomers were, however profound their
knowledge of astronomy may have been (as some imagine), they had
certainly not travelled far enough towards the south to know the
constellations around the southern pole. If they had been as well
acquainted with geography as some assert, if even any astronomer had
travelled as far south as the equator, we should certainly have had
pictured in the old star charts some constellations in that region of
the heavens wherein modern astronomers have placed the Octant, the Bird
of Paradise, the Sword-fish, the Flying-fish, Toucan, the Net, and other
uncelestial objects.

In passing I may note that this fact disposes most completely of a
theory lately advanced that the constellations were invented in the
southern hemisphere, and that thus is to be explained the ancient
tradition that the sun and stars have changed their courses. For though
all the northern constellations would have been more or less visible
from parts of the southern hemisphere near the equator, it is absurd to
suppose that a southern observer would leave untenanted a full fourth of
the heavens round the southern or visible pole, while carefully filling
up the space around the northern or unseen pole with incomplete
constellations whose northern unknown portions would include that pole.
Supposing it for a moment to be true, as a modern advocate of the
southern theory remarks, that 'one of the race migrating from one side
to the other of the equator would take his position from the sun, and
fancy he was facing the same way when he looked at it at noon, and so
would think the motion of the stars to have altered instead of his
having turned round,' the theory that astronomy was brought to us from
south of the equator cannot possibly be admitted in presence of that
enormous vacant region around the southern pole. I think, however, that,
apart from this, a race so profoundly ignorant as to suppose any such
thing, to imagine they were looking north when in reality they were
looking south, can hardly be regarded as the first founders of the
science of astronomy.

The great gap I have spoken of has long been recognised. But one
remarkable feature in its position has not, to the best of my
remembrance, been considered--the vacant space is eccentric with regard
to the southern pole of the heavens. The old constellations, the Altar,
the Centaur, and the ship Argo, extend within twenty degrees of the
pole, while the Southern Fish and the great sea-monster Cetus, which are
the southernmost constellations on the other side, do not reach within
some sixty degrees of the pole.

Of course, in saying that this peculiarity has not been considered, I am
not suggesting that it has not been noticed, or that its cause is in any
way doubtful or unknown. We know that the earth, besides whirling once a
day on its axis, and rushing on its mighty orbit around the sun
(spanning some 184,000,000 of miles) reels like a gigantic top, with a
motion so slow that 25,868 years are required for a single circuit of
the swaying axis around an imaginary line upright to the plane in which
the earth travels. And we know that in consequence of this reeling
motion the points of the heavens opposite the earth's poles necessarily
change. So that the southern pole, now eccentrically placed amid the
region where there were no constellations in old times, was once
differently situated. But the circumstance which seems to have been
overlooked is this, that by calculating backwards to the time when the
southern pole was in the centre of that vacant region, we have a much
better chance of finding the date (let us rather say the century) when
the older constellations were formed, than by any other process. We may
be sure not to be led very far astray; for we are not guided by one
constellation but by several, whereas all the other indications which
have been followed depend on the supposed ancient position of single
constellations. And then most of the other indications are such as might
very well have belonged to periods following long after the invention of
the constellations themselves. An astronomer might have ascertained, for
instance, that the sun in spring was in some particular part of the Ram
or of the Fishes, and later a poet like Aratus might describe that
relation (erroneously for his own epoch) as characteristic of one or
other constellation; but who is to assure us that the astronomer who
noted the relation correctly may not have made his observation many
hundreds of years after those constellations were invented? Whereas,
there was one period, and only one period, when the most southernmost of
the old constellations could have marked the limits of the region of sky
visible from some northern region. Thus, too, may we form some idea of
the latitude in which the first observers lived. For in high latitudes
the southernmost of the old constellations would not have been visible
at all, and in latitudes much lower than a certain latitude, presently
to be noted, these constellations would have ridden high above the
southern horizon, other star-groups showing below them which were not
included among the old constellations.

I have before me as I write a picture of the southern heavens, drawn by
myself, in which this vacant space--eccentric in position but circular
in shape--is shown. The centre lies close by the Lesser Magellanic
cloud--between the stars Kappa Toucani and Eta Hydri of our modern maps,
but much nearer to the last named. Near this spot, then, we may be sure,
lay the southern pole of the star-sphere when the old constellations, or
at least the southern ones, were invented. (If there had been
astronomers in the southern hemisphere Eta Hydri would certainly have
been their pole-star.)

Now it is a matter of no difficulty whatever to determine the epoch when
the southern pole of the heavens was thus placed.[57] Between 2100 and
2200 years before the Christian era the southern constellations had the
position described, the invisible southern pole lying at the centre of
the vacant space of the star-sphere--or rather of the space free from
constellations. It is noteworthy that for other reasons this period, or
rather a definite epoch within it, is indicated as that to which must be
referred the beginning of exact astronomy. Amongst others must be
mentioned this--that in the year 2170 B.C. _quam proximè_, the Pleiades
rose to their highest above the horizon at noon (or technically made
their noon culmination), at the spring equinox. We can readily
understand that to minds possessed with full faith in the influence of
the stars on the earth, this fact would have great significance. The
changes which are brought about at that season of the year, in reality,
of course, because of the gradual increase in the effect of the sun's
rays as he rises higher and higher above the celestial equator, would be
attributed, in part at least, to the remarkable star-cluster coming then
close by the sun on the heavens, though unseen. Thus we can readily
understand the reference in Job to the 'sweet influences of the
Pleiades.' Again at that same time, 2170 B.C. when the sun and the
Pleiades opened the year (with commencing spring) together, the star
Alpha of the Dragon, which was the pole-star of the period, had that
precise position with respect to the true pole of the heavens which is
indicated by the slope of the long passage extending downwards aslant
from the northern face of the Great Pyramid; that is to say, when due
north below the pole (or at what is technically called its sub-polar
meridional passage) the pole-star of the period shone directly down that
long passage, and I doubt not could be seen not only when it came to
that position during the night, but also when it came there during the

But some other singular relations are to be noted in connection with the
particular epoch I have indicated.

It is tolerably clear that in imagining figures of certain objects in
the heavens, the early observers would not be apt to picture these
objects in unusual positions. A group of stars may form a figure so
closely resembling that of a familiar object that even a wrong position
would not prevent the resemblance from being noticed, as for instance
the 'Chair,' the 'Plough,' and so forth. But such cases are not
numerous; indeed, to say the truth, one must 'make believe a good deal'
to see resemblance between the star-groups and _most_ of the
constellation-figures, even under the most favourable conditions. When
there is no very close resemblance, as is the case with all the large
constellations, position must have counted for something in determining
the association between a star-group and a known object.

Now the constellations north of the equator assume so many and such
various positions that this special consideration does not apply very
forcibly to them. But those south of the equator are only seen above the
southern horizon, and change little in position during their progress
from east to west of the south point. The lower down they are the less
they change in position. And the very lowest--such as those were, for
instance, which I have been considering in determining the position of
the southern pole--are only fully visible when due south. They must,
then, in all probability, have stood upright or in their natural
position when so placed, for if they were not rightly placed then they
only were so when below the horizon and consequently invisible.

Let us, then, inquire what was the position of the southernmost
constellations when fully seen above the southern horizon at midnight.

The Centaur stood then as he does now, upright; only--whereas now in
Egypt, Chaldæa, India, Persia, and China, only the upper portions of his
figure rise above the horizon, he then stood, the noblest save Orion of
all the constellations, with his feet (marked by the bright Alpha and
Beta still belonging to the constellation, and by the stars of the
Southern Cross which have been taken from it) upon the horizon itself.
In latitude twenty degrees or so north he may still be seen thus placed
when due south.

The Centaur was represented in old times as placing an offering upon the
altar, which was pictured, says Manilius, as bearing a fire of incense
represented by stars. This to a student of our modern charts seems
altogether perplexing. The Centaur carries the wolf on the end of his
spear; but instead of placing the wolf (not a very acceptable meat
offering, one would suppose) upon the altar, he is directing this animal
towards the base of the altar, whose top is downwards, the flames
represented there tending (naturally) downwards also. It is quite
certain the ancient observers did not imagine anything of this sort. As
I have said, Aratus tells us the celestial Centaur was placing an
offering _upon_ the altar, which was therefore upright, and Manilius
describes the altar as

  Ferens thuris, stellis imitantibus, ignem,

so that the fire was where it should be, on the top of an upright altar,
where also on the sky itself were stars looking like the smoke from
incense fires. Now that was precisely the appearance presented by the
stars forming the constellation at the time I have indicated, some 2170
years B.C. Setting the altar upright above the southern horizon (that
is, inverting the absurd picture at present given of it) we see it just
where it should be placed to receive the Centaur's offering. A most
remarkable portion of the Milky Way is then seen to be directly above
the altar in such a way as to form a very good imitation of smoke
ascending from it. This part of the Milky Way is described by Sir J.
Herschel, who studied it carefully during his stay at the Cape of Good
Hope, as forming a complicated system of interlaced streaks and masses
which covers the tail of Scorpio (extending from the altar which lies
immediately south of the Scorpion's Tail). The Milky Way divides, in
fact, just above the altar as the constellation was seen 4000 years ago
above the southern horizon, one branch being that just described, the
other (like another stream of smoke) 'passing,' says Herschel, 'over
the stars Iota of the Altar, Theta and Iota of the Scorpion, etc., to
Gamma of the Archer, where it suddenly collects into a vivid oval mass,
so very rich in stars that a very moderate calculation makes their
number exceed 100,000.' Nothing could accord better with the
descriptions of Aratus and Manilius.

But there is another constellation which shows in a more marked way than
either the Centaur or the Altar that the date when the constellations
were invented must have been near that which I have named. Both Ara and
Centaurus look now in suitable latitudes (about twenty degrees north) as
they looked in higher latitudes (about forty degrees north) 4000 years
ago. For, the reeling motion of our earth has changed the place of the
celestial pole in such a way as only to depress these constellations
southwards without much changing their _position_; they are nearly
upright when due south now as they were 4000 years ago, only lower down.
But the great ship Argo has suffered a much more serious displacement.
One cannot now see this ship _like_ a ship at any time or from any place
on the earth's surface. If we travel south till the whole constellation
comes into visibility above the southern horizon at the proper season
(January and February for the midnight hours) the keel of the ship is
aslant, the stern being high above the waist (the fore part is wanting).
If we travel still further south, we can indeed reach places where the
course of the ship is so widened, and the changes of position so
increased, that she appears along part of her journey on an even keel,
but then she is high above the horizon. Now 4000 years ago she stood on
the horizon itself at her southern culmination, with level keel and
upright mast.

In passing I may note that for my own part I imagine that this great
ship represented the Ark, its fore part being originally the portion of
the Centaur now forming the horse, so that the Centaur was represented
as a man (not as a man-horse) offering a gift on the Altar. Thus in this
group of constellations I recognise the Ark, and Noah going up from the
Ark towards the altar 'which he builded unto the Lord; and took of every
clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the
altar.' I consider further that the constellation-figures of the Ship,
the Man with an offering, and the Altar, painted or sculptured in some
ancient astrological temple, came at a later time to be understood as
picturing a certain series of events, interpreted and expanded by a
poetical writer into a complete narrative. Without venturing to insist
on so heterodox a notion, I may remark as an odd coincidence that
probably such a picture or sculpture would have shown the smoke
ascending from the Altar which I have already described, and in this
smoke there would be shown the bow of Sagittarius; which, interpreted
and expanded in the way I have mentioned, might have accounted for the
'bow set in the clouds, for a token of a covenant.' It is noteworthy
that all the remaining constellations forming the southern limit of the
old star-domes or charts, were watery ones--the Southern Fish, over
which Aquarius is pouring a quite unnecessary stream of water, the Great
Sea Monster towards which in turn flow the streams of the River
Eridanus. The equator, too, was then occupied along a great part of its
length by the great sea serpent Hydra, which reared its head above the
equator, very probably indicated then by a water horizon, for nearly all
the signs below it were then watery. At any rate, as the length of Hydra
then lay horizontally above the Ship, whose masts reached it, we may
well believe that this part of the picture of the heavens showed a
sea-horizon and a ship, the great sea serpent lying along the horizon.
On the back of Hydra is the Raven, which again may be supposed by those
who accept the theory mentioned above to have suggested the raven which
went forth to and fro from the ark. He is close enough to the rigging of
Argo to make an easy journey of it. The dove, however, must not be
confounded with the modern constellation Columba, though this is placed
(suitably enough) near the Ark. We must suppose the idea of the dove was
suggested by a bird pictured in the rigging of the celestial ship. The
sequence in which the constellations came above the horizon as the year
went round corresponded very satisfactorily with the theory, fanciful
though this seem to some. First Aquarius pouring streams of water, the
three fishes (Pisces and Piscis australis), and the great sea monster
Cetus, showing how the waters prevailed over the highest hills, then the
Ark sailing on the waters, a little later the Raven (Corvus), the man
descending from the ark and offering a gift on the Altar, and last the
Bow set amid the clouds.

The theory just described may not meet with much favour. But wilder
theories of the story of the deluge have been adopted and advocated with
considerable confidence. One of the wildest, I fear, is the
Astronomer-Royal's, that the deluge was simply a great rising of the
Nile; and Sir G. Airy is so confident respecting this that he says, 'I
cannot entertain the smallest doubt that the flood of Noah was a flood
of the Nile;' precisely as he might say, 'I cannot entertain the
smallest doubt that the earth moves round the sun.' On one point we can
entertain very little doubt indeed. If it ever rained before the flood,
which seems probable, and if the sun ever shone on falling rain, which
again seems likely, nothing short of a miracle could have prevented the
rainbow from making its appearance before the flood. The wildest theory
that can be invented to explain the story of the deluge cannot be
wilder than the supposition that the rays of sunlight shining on falling
raindrops could have ever failed to show the prismatic colours. The
theory I have suggested above, without going so far as strongly to
advocate it, far less insist upon it, is free at any rate from objection
on this particular score, which cannot be said of the ordinary theory. I
am not yet able, however, to say that 'I cannot entertain the smallest
doubt' about my theory.

We may feel tolerably sure that the period when the old southern
constellations were formed must have been between 2400 and 2000 years
before the present era, a period, by the way, including the date usually
assigned to the deluge,--which, however, must really occupy our
attention no further. In fact, let us leave the watery constellations
lying below the equator of those remote times and seek at once the
highest heavens above them.

Here, at the northern pole of these days, we find the great Dragon,
which in any astrological temple of the time must have formed the
highest or crowning constellation, surrounding the very key-stone of the
dome. He has fallen away from that proud position since. In fact, even
4000 years ago he only held to the pole, so to speak, by his tail, and
we have to travel back 2000 years or so to find the pole situate in a
portion of the length of the Dragon which can be regarded as central.
One might almost, if fancifully disposed, recognise the gradual
displacement of the Dragon from his old place of honour, in certain
traditions of the downfall of the great Dragon whose 'tail drew the
third part of the stars of heaven.'

The central position of the Dragon, for even when the pole-star had
drawn near to the Dragon's tail the constellation was still central,
will remind the classical reader of Homer's description of the Shield of

  The scaly horror of a dragon, coil'd
  Full in the central field, unspeakable,
  With eyes oblique retorted, that ascant
  Shot gleaming fire. (_Elton's translation._)

I say Homer's description, for I cannot understand how any one who
compares together the description of the Shield of Achilles in the Iliad
and that of the Shield of Hercules in the fragmentary form in which we
have it, can doubt for a moment that both descriptions came from the
same hand. (The theory that Hesiod composed the latter poem can scarcely
be entertained by any scholar.) As I long since pointed out in my essay
'A New Theory of Achilles' Shield' ('Light Science,' first series), no
poet so inferior as actually to borrow Homer's words in part of the
description of the Shield of Hercules could have written the other parts
not found in the Shield of Achilles. 'I cannot for my own part entertain
the slightest doubt'--that is to say, I think it altogether
probable--that Homer composed the lines supposed to describe the Shield
of Hercules long before he introduced the description, pruned and
strengthened, into that particular part of the Iliad where it served his
purpose best. And I have as little doubt that the original description,
of which we only get fragments in either poem, related to something far
more important than a shield. The constellations are not suitable
adornments for the shield of fighting man, even though he was under the
special care of a celestial mother and had armour made for him by a
celestial smith. Yet we learn that Achilles' shield displayed--

  The starry lights that heav'n's high convex crown'd
  The Pleiads, Hyads, and the northern beam,
  And great Orion's more refulgent beam,--
  To which, around the cycle of the sky,
  The bear revolving, points his golden eye,--
  Still shines exalted.

And so forth. The Shield of Hercules displayed at its centre the polar
constellation the Dragon. We read also that--

  There was the knight of fair-hair'd Danae born,

Orion is not specially mentioned, but Orion, Lepus, and the Dogs seem
referred to:--

                                  Men of chase
  Were taking the fleet hares; two keen-toothed dogs
  Bounded beside.

Homer would find no difficulty in pluralising the mighty Hunter and the
hare into huntsmen and hares when utilising a description originally
referring to the constellation.

I conceive that the original description related to one of those zodiac
temples whose remains are still found in Egypt, though the Egyptian
temples of this kind were probably only copies of more ancient Chaldæan
temples. We know from Assyrian sculptures that representations of the
constellations (and especially the zodiacal constellations) were common
among the Babylonians; and, as I point out in the essay above referred
to, 'it seems probable that in a country where Sabæanism or star-worship
was the prevailing form of religion, yet more imposing proportions would
be given to zodiac temples than in Egypt.' My theory, then, respecting
the two famous 'Shields' is that Homer in his eastern travels visited
imposing temples devoted to astronomical observation and star-worship,
and that nearly every line in both descriptions is borrowed from a poem
in which he described a temple of this sort, its domed zodiac, and those
illustrations of the labours of different seasons and of military or
judicial procedures which the astrological proclivities of
star-worshippers led them to associate with the different
constellations. For the arguments on which this theory is based I have
not here space. They are dealt with in the essay from which I have

One point only I need touch upon here, besides those I have mentioned
already. It may be objected that the description of a zodiac temple has
nothing to connect it with the subject of the Iliad. This is certainly
true; but no one who is familiar with Homer's manner can doubt that he
would work in, if he saw the opportunity, a poem on some subject outside
that of the Iliad, so modifying the language that the description would
correspond with the subject in hand. There are many passages, though
none of such length, in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, which seem thus
to have been brought into the poem; and other passages not exactly of
this kind yet show that Homer was not insensible to the advantage of
occasionally using memory instead of invention.

Any one who considers attentively the aspect of the constellation Draco
in the heavens, will perceive that the drawing of the head in the maps
is not correct; the head is no longer pictured as it must have been
conceived by those who first formed the constellation. The two bright
stars Beta and Gamma are now placed on a head in profile. Formerly they
marked the two eyes. I would not lay stress on the description of the
Dragon in the Shield of Hercules, 'with eyes oblique retorted, that
askant shot gleaming fire;' for all readers may not be prepared to
accept my opinion that that description related to the constellation
Draco. But the description of the constellation itself by Aratus
suffices to show that the two bright stars I have named marked the eyes
of the imagined monster--in fact, Aratus's account singularly resembles
that given in the Shield of Hercules. 'Swol'n is his neck,' says Aratus
of the Dragon--

          ... Eyes charg'd with sparkling fire
  His crested head illume. As if in ire,
  To Helice he turns his foaming jaw,
  And darts his tongue, barb'd with a blazing star.

And the dragon's head with sparkling eyes can be recognised to this day,
so soon as this change is made in its configuration, whereas no one can
recognise the remotest resemblance to a dragon's head in profile. The
star barbing the Dragon's tongue would be Xi of the Dragon according to
Aratus's account, for so only would the eyes be turned towards Helice
the Bear. But when Aratus wrote, the practice of separating the
constellations from each other had been adopted; in fact, he derived his
knowledge of them chiefly from Eudoxus, the astronomer and
mathematician, who certainly would not have allowed the constellations
to be intermixed. In the beginning, there are reasons for believing it
was different, and if a group of stars resembled any known object it
would be called after that object, even though some of the stars
necessary to make up the figure belonged already to some other figure.
This being remembered, we can have no difficulty in retorting the
Dragon's head more naturally--not to the star Xi of the Dragon, but to
the star Iota of Hercules. The four stars are situated thus,
[Illustration] the larger ones representing the eyes; and so far as the
head is concerned it is a matter of indifference whether the lower or
the upper small star be taken to represent the tongue. But, as any one
will see who looks at these stars when the Dragon is best placed for
ordinary (non-telescopic) observation, the attitude of the animal is far
more natural when the star Iota of Hercules marks the tongue, for then
the creature is situated like a winged serpent hovering above the
horizon and looking downwards, whereas when the star Xi marks the
tongue, the hovering Dragon is looking upwards and is in an unnaturally
constrained position. (I would not, indeed, claim to understand
perfectly all the ways of dragons; still it may be assumed that a dragon
hovering above the horizon would rather look downwards in a natural
position than upwards in an awkward one.)

The star Iota of Hercules marks the heel of this giant, called the
Kneeler (Engonasin) from time immemorial. He must have been an important
figure on the old zodiac temples, and not improbably his presence there
as one of the largest and highest of the human figures may have caused a
zodiac-dome to be named after Hercules. The Dome of Hercules would come
near enough to the title, 'The Shield of Hercules,' borne by the
fragmentary poem dealt with above. The foot of the kneeling man was
represented on the head of the dragon, the dragon having hold of the
heel. And here, again, some imagine that a sculptured representation of
these imagined figures in the heavens may have been interpreted and
expanded into the narrative of a contest between the man and the old
serpent the dragon, Ophiuchus the serpent-bearer being supposed to
typify the eventual defeat of the dragon. This fancy might be followed
out like that relating to the deluge; but the present place would be
unsuitable for further inquiries in that particular direction.

Some interest attaches to the constellation Ophiuchus, to my mind, in
the evidence it affords respecting the way in which the constellations
were at first intermixed. I have mentioned one instance in which, as I
think, the later astronomers separated two constellations which had once
been conjoined. Many others can be recognised when we compare the actual
star-groups with the constellation-figures as at present depicted. No
one can recognise the poop of a ship in the group of stars now assigned
to the stern of Argo, but if we include the stars of the Greater Dog,
and others close by, a well-shaped poop can be clearly seen. The head
of the Lion of our maps is as the head of a dog, so far as stars are
concerned; but if stars from the Crab on one side and from Virgo on the
other be included in the figure, and especially Berenice's hair to form
the tuft of the lion's tail, a very fine lion with waving mane can be
discerned, with a slight effort of the imagination. So with Bootes the
herdsman. He was of old 'a fine figure of a man,' waving aloft his arms,
and, as his name implies, shouting lustily at the retreating bear. Now,
and from some time certainly preceding that of Eudoxus, one arm has been
lopped off to fashion the northern crown, and the herdsman holds his
club as close to his side as a soldier holds his shouldered musket. The
constellation of the Great Bear, once I conceive the only bear (though
the lesser bear is a very old constellation), has suffered wofully.
Originally it must have been a much larger bear, the stars now forming
the tail marking part of the outline of the back; but first some folks
who were unacquainted with the nature of bears turned the three stars
(the horses of the plough) into a long tail, abstracting from the animal
all the corresponding portion of his body, and then modern astronomers
finding a great vacant space where formerly the bear's large frame
extended, incontinently formed the stars of this space into a new
constellation, the Hunting Dogs. No one can recognise a bear in the
constellation as at present shaped, but any one who looks attentively at
the part of the skies occupied by the constellation will recognise
(always 'making believe a good deal') a monstrous bear, with the proper
small head of creatures of the bear family, and with exceedingly
well-developed plantigrade feet. Of course this figure cannot at all
times be recognised with equal facility; but before midnight during the
last four or five months in the year, the bear occupies positions
favouring his recognition, being either upright on his feet, or as if
descending a slope, or squatting on his great haunches. As a long-tailed
animal the creature is more like one of those wooden toy-monkeys which
used to be made for children, and may be now, in which the sliding
motion of a ringed rod carried the monkey over the top of a stick. The
little bear has I think been borrowed from the dragon, which was
certainly a winged monster originally.

Now the astronomers who separated from each other, and in so doing
spoiled the old constellation-figures, seem to have despaired of freeing
Ophiuchus from his entanglements. The Serpent is twined around his body,
the Scorpion is clawing at one leg. The constellation makers have _per
fas et nefas_ separated Scorpio from the Serpent Holder, spoiling both
figures. But the Serpent has been too much for them, insomuch that they
have been reduced to the abject necessity of leaving one part of the
Serpent on one side of the region they allow to Ophiuchus, and the other
part of the Serpent to the other.

A group of constellations whose origin and meaning are little understood
remains to be mentioned. Close by the Dragon is King Cepheus, beside him
his wife Cassiopeia (the Seated Lady), near whom is Andromeda the
Chained Lady. The Sea Monster Cetus is not far away, though not near
enough to threaten her safety, the Ram and Triangle being between the
monster's head and her feet, the Fishes intervening between the body of
the monster and her fair form. Close at hand is Perseus, the Rescuer,
with a sword (looking very much like a reaping-hook in all the old
pictures) in his right hand, and bearing in his left the head of Medusa.
The general way of accounting for the figures thus associated has been
by supposing that, having a certain tradition about Cepheus and his
family, men imagined in the heavens the pictorial representation of the
events of the tradition. I have long believed that the actual order in
this and other cases was the reverse of this, that men imagined certain
figures in the heavens, pictured these figures in their astronomical
temples or observatories, and made stories to fit the pictures
afterwards, probably many generations afterwards. Be this as it may, we
can at present give no satisfactory explanation of the group of

Wilford gives an account, in his 'Asiatic Researches,' of a conversation
with a pundit or astronomer respecting the names of the Indian
constellations. 'Asking him,' he says, 'to show me in the heavens the
constellation Antarmada, he immediately pointed to Andromeda, though I
had not given him any information about it beforehand. He afterwards
brought me a very rare and curious work in Sanscrit, which contained a
chapter devoted to _Upanachatras_, or extra-zodiacal constellations,
with drawings of _Capuja_ (Cepheus) and of _Casyapi_ (Cassiopeia) seated
and holding a lotus-flower in her hand, of Antarmada charmed with the
Fish beside her, and last of _Paraseia_ (Perseus), who, according to the
explanation of the book, held the head of a monster which he had slain
in combat; blood was dropping from it, and for hair it had snakes.' Some
have inferred from the circumstance that the Indian charts thus showed
the Cassiopeian set of constellations, that the origin of these figures
is to be sought in India. But probably both the Indian and the Greek
constellation-figures were derived from a much older source.

The zodiacal twelve are in some respects the most important and
interesting of all the ancient constellations. If we could determine the
origin of these figures, their exact configuration as at first devised,
and the precise influences assigned to them in the old astrological
systems, we should have obtained important evidence as to the origin of
astronomy itself. Not indeed that the twelve signs of the zodiac were
formed at the beginning or even in the early infancy of astronomy. It
seems abundantly clear that the division of the zodiac (which includes
the moon's track as well as the sun's) had reference originally to the
moon's motions. She circuits the star-sphere in about twenty-seven days
and a third, while the lunation or interval from new moon to new moon
is, as we all know, about twenty-nine days and a half in length. It
would appear that the earliest astronomers, who were of course
astrologers also, of all nations--the Indian, Egyptian, Chinese,
Persian, and Chaldæan astronomers--adopted twenty-eight days (probably
as a rough mean between the two periods just named) for their chief
lunar period, and divided the moon's track round the ecliptic into
twenty-eight portions or mansions. How they managed about the fractions
of days outstanding--whether the common lunation was considered or the
moon's motion round the star-sphere--is not known. The very
circumstance, however, that they were for a long time content with their
twenty-eight lunar mansions shows that they did not seek great precision
at first. Doubtless they employed some rough system of 'leap-months' by
which, as occasion required, the progress of the month was reconciled
with the progress of the moon, just as by our leap-years the progress of
the year is reconciled with the progress of the sun or seasons.

The use of the twenty-eight-day period naturally suggested the division
of time into weeks of seven days each. The ordinary lunar month is
divided in a very obvious manner into four equal parts by the lunar
aspects. Every one can recognise roughly the time of full moon and the
times of half moon before and after full, while the time of new moon is
recognised from these two last epochs. Thus the four quarters of the
month, or roughly the four weeks of the month, would be the first
time-measure thought of;--after the day, which is the necessary
foundation of all time measures. The nearest approach which can be made
to a quarter-month in days is the week of seven days; and although some
little awkwardness arose from the fact that four weeks differ
appreciably from a lunar month, this would not long prevent the adoption
of the week as a measure of time. In fact, just as our years begin on
different days of the week without causing any inconvenience, so the
ancient months might be made to begin with different week-days. All that
would be necessary to make the week measure fairly well the quarters of
the month, would be to start each month on the proper or nearest
week-day. To inform people about this, some ceremony could be appointed
for the day of the new moon, and some signal employed to indicate the
time when this ceremony was to take place. This--the natural and obvious
course--we find was the means actually adopted, the festival of the new
moon and the blowing of trumpets in the new moon being an essential part
of the arrangements adopted by nations who used the week as a chief
measure of time. The seven days were not affected by the new moons so
far as the nomenclature of these days, or special duties connected with
any one of them, might be concerned.

Originally the idea may have been to have festivals and sacrifices at
the time of new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter; but
this arrangement would naturally (and did, as we know, actually) give
way before long to a new moon festival regulating the month and
seventh-day festivals, each class of festival having its appropriate
sacrifices and duties. This, I say, was the natural course. Its adoption
_may_ have been aided by the recognition of the fact that the seven
planets of the old system of astronomy might conveniently be taken to
rule the days and the hours in the way described in the essay on
astrology. That that nomenclature and that system of association between
the planets and the hours, days, and weeks of time-measurement was
eventually adopted, is certain; but whether the convenience and apparent
mystical fitness of this arrangement led to the use of weekly festivals
in conjunction with monthly ones, or whether those weekly festivals were
first adopted in the way described above, or whether (which seems
altogether more likely) both sets of considerations led to the
arrangement, we cannot certainly tell. The arrangement was in every way
a natural one; and one may say, considering all the circumstances, that
it was almost an inevitable one.

There was, however, another possible arrangement, viz., the division of
time into ten-day periods, three to each month, with corresponding new
moon festivals. But as the arrival of the moon at the _thirds_ of her
progress are not at all so well marked as her arrival at the quarters,
and as there is no connection between the number ten and the planets,
this arrangement was far less likely to be adopted than the other.
Accordingly we find that only one or two nations adopted it. Six sets of
five days would be practically the same arrangement; five sets of six
for each month would scarcely be thought of, as with that division the
use of simple direct observations of the moon for time measurement,
which was the real aim of all such divisions, would not be convenient or
indeed even possible for the generality of persons. Few could tell
easily when the moon is two-fifths or four-fifths full, whereas every
one can tell when she is half-full or quite full (the requisite for
weekly measurement); and it would be possible to guess pretty nearly
when she is one-third or two-thirds full, the requisite for the
tridecennial division.

My object in the above discussion of the origin of the week (as
distinguished from the origin of the Sabbath, which I considered in the
essay on astrology), has been to show that the use of the twelve
zodiacal signs was in every case preceded by the use of the twenty-eight
lunar mansions. It has been supposed that those nations in whose
astronomy the twenty-eight mansions still appear, adopted one system,
while the use of the twelve signs implies that another system had been
adopted. Thus the following passage occurs in Mr. Blake's version of
Flammarion's 'History of the Heavens:'--'the Chinese have twenty-eight
constellations, though the word _sion_ does not mean a group of stars,
but simply a mansion or hotel. In the Coptic and ancient Egyptian the
word for constellations has the same meaning. They also have
twenty-eight, and the same number is found among the Arabians, Persians,
and Indians. Among the Chaldæans or Accadians we find no sign of the
number twenty-eight. The ecliptic, or "yoke of the sky," with them, as
we see in the newly-discovered tablet, was divided into twelve
divisions, as now, and the only connection that can be imagined between
this and the twenty-eight is the opinion of M. Biot, who thinks that the
Chinese had originally only twenty-four mansions, four more being added
by Chenkung, 1100 B.C., and that they corresponded with the twenty-four
stars, twelve to the north and twelve to the south, that marked the
twelve signs of the zodiac amongst the Chaldæans. But under this
supposition the twenty-eight has no reference to the moon, whereas we
have every reason to believe it has.' The last observation is
undoubtedly correct--the twenty-eight mansions have been mansions of the
moon from the beginning. But in this very circumstance, as also in the
very tablets referred to in the preceding passage, we find all the
evidence needed to show that originally the Chaldæans divided the
zodiac into twenty-eight parts. For we find from the tablets that, like
the other nations who had twenty-eight zodiacal mansions, the Chaldæans
used a seven-day period, derived from the moon's motions, every seventh
day being called _sabbatu_, and held as a day of rest. We may safely
infer that the Chaldæan astronomers, advancing beyond those of other
nations, recognised the necessity of dividing the zodiac with reference
to the sun's motions instead of the moon's. They therefore discarded the
twenty-eight lunar mansions, and adopted instead twelve solar signs;
this number twelve, like the number twenty-eight itself, being selected
merely as the most convenient approximation to the number of parts into
which the zodiac was naturally divided by another period. Thus the
twenty-eighth part of the zodiac corresponds roughly with the moon's
daily motion, and the twelfth part of the zodiac corresponds roughly
with the moon's monthly motion; and both the numbers twenty-eight and
twelve admit of being subdivided, while twenty-nine (a nearer approach
than twenty-eight to the number of days in a lunation) and thirteen
(almost as near an approach as twelve to the number of months in a year)
do not.

It seems to me highly probable that the date to which all inquiries into
the origin of the constellations and the zodiacal signs seems to
point--viz. 2170 B.C.--was the date at which the Chaldæan astronomers
definitely adopted the new system, the lunisolar instead of lunar
division of the zodiac and of time. One of the objects which the
architects of the Great Pyramid (not the king who built it) may have had
was not improbably this--the erection of a building indicating the epoch
when the new system was entered upon, and defining in its proportions,
its interior passages, and other features, fundamental elements of the
new system. The great difficulty, an overwhelming difficulty it has
always seemed to me, in accepting the belief that the year 2170 B.C.
defined the beginning of exact astronomy, has been this, that several of
the circumstances insisted upon as determining that date imply a
considerable knowledge of astronomy. Thus astronomers must have made
great progress in their science before they could select as a day for
counting from, the epoch when the slow reeling motion of the earth (the
so-called precessional motion) brought the Pleiades centrally south, at
noon, at the time of the vernal equinox. The construction of the Great
Pyramid, again, in all its astronomical features, implies considerable
proficiency in astronomical observation. Thus the year 2170 B.C. may
very well be regarded as defining the introduction of a new system of
astronomy, but certainly not the beginning of astronomy itself. Of
course we may cut the knot of this difficulty, as Prof. Smyth and Abbé
Moigno do, by saying that astronomy began 2170 B.C., the first
astronomers being instructed supernaturally, so that the astronomical
Minerva came into full-grown being. But I apprehend that argument
against such a belief is as unnecessary as it would certainly be

And now let us consider how this theory accords with the result to which
we were led by the position of the great vacant space around the
southern pole. So far as the date is concerned, we have already seen
that the epoch 2170 B.C. accords excellently with the evidence of the
vacant space. But this evidence, as I mentioned at the outset,
establishes more than the date; it indicates the latitude of the place
where the most ancient of Ptolemy's forty-eight constellations were
first definitely adopted by astronomers. If we assume that at this place
the southernmost constellations were just fully seen when due south, we
find for the latitude about thirty-eight degrees north. (The student of
astronomy who may care to test my results may be reminded here that it
is not enough to show that every star of a constellation would when due
south be above the horizon of the place--what is wanted is, that the
whole constellation when towards the south should be visible at a single
view. However, the whole constellation may not have included all the
stars now belonging to it.) The station of the astronomers who founded
the new system can scarcely have been more than a degree or two north of
this latitude. On the other side, we may go a little further, for by so
doing we only raise the constellations somewhat higher above the
southern horizon, to which there is less objection than to a change
thrusting part of the constellations below the horizon. Still it may be
doubted whether the place where the constellations were first formed was
less than 32 or 33 degrees north of the equator. The Great Pyramid, as
we know, is about 30 degrees north of the equator; but we also know that
its architects travelled southwards to find a suitable place for it. One
of their objects may well have been to obtain a fuller view of the
star-sphere south of their constellations. I think from 35 to 39 degrees
north would be about the most probable limits, and from 32 to 41 degrees
north the certain limits of the station of the first founders of solar
zodiacal astronomy.

What their actual station may have been is not so easily established.
Some think the region lay between the sources of the Oxus (Amoor) and
Indus, others that the station of these astronomers was not very far
from Mount Ararat--a view to which I was led long ago by other
considerations discussed in the first appendix to my treatise on 'Saturn
and its System.'

At the epoch indicated, the first constellation of the zodiac was not,
as now, the Fishes, nor, as when a fresh departure was made by
Hipparchus, the Ram, but the Bull, a trace of which is found in Virgil's

  Candidus auratis aperit cum cornibus annum Taurus.

The Bull then was the spring sign, the Pleiades and ruddy Aldebaran
joining their rays with the sun's at the time of the vernal equinox. The
midsummer sign was the Lion (the bright Cor Leonis nearly marking the
sun's highest place). The autumn sign was the Scorpion, the ruddy
Antares and the stars clustering in the head of the Scorpion joining
their rays with the sun's at the time of the autumnal equinox. And
lastly the winter sign was the Water Bearer, the bright Fomalhaut
conjoining his rays with the sun's at midwinter. It is noteworthy that
all these four constellations really present some resemblance to the
objects after which they are named. The Scorpion is in the best drawing,
but the Bull's head is well marked, and, as already mentioned, a leaping
lion can be recognised. The streams of stars from the Urn of Aquarius
and the Urn itself are much better defined than the Urn Bearer.

I have not left myself much space to speak of the finest of all the
constellations, the glorious Orion--the Giant in his might, as he was
called of old. In this noble asterism the figure of a giant ascending a
slope can be readily discerned when the constellation is due south. At
the time to which I have referred the constellation Orion was
considerably below the equator, and instead of standing nearly upright
when due south high above the horizon, as now in our northern latitudes,
he rose upright above the south-eastern horizon. The resemblance to a
giant figure must then have been even more striking than it is at
present (except in high northern latitudes, where Orion, when due south,
is just fully above the horizon). The giant Orion has long been
identified with Nimrod; and those who recognise the antitypes of the Ark
in Argo, of the old dragon in Draco, and of the first and second Adams
in the kneeling Hercules defeated by the serpent and the upright
Ophiuchus triumphant over the serpent, may, if they so please, find in
the giant Orion, the Two Dogs, the Hare, and the Bull (whom Orion is
more directly dealing with), the representations of Nimrod, that mighty
hunter before the Lord, his hunting dogs, and the animals he hunted.
Pegasus, formerly called the Horse, was regarded in very ancient times
as the Steed of Nimrod.

In modern astronomy the constellations no longer have the importance
which once attached to them. They afford convenient means for naming the
stars, though I think many observers would prefer the less attractive
but more business-like methods adopted by Piazzi and others, according
to which a star rejoices in no more striking title than 'Piazzi XIIIh.
273,' or 'Struve, 2819.' They still serve, however, to teach beginners
the stars, and probably many years will pass before even exact astronomy
dismisses them altogether to the limbo of discarded symbolisms. It is,
indeed, somewhat singular that astronomers find it easier to introduce
new absurdities among the constellations than to get rid of these old
ones. The new and utterly absurd figures introduced by Bode still remain
in many charts despite such inconvenient names as _Honores Frederici_,
_Globum Ærostaticum_ and _Machina Pneumatica_; and I have very little
doubt that a new constellation, if it only had a specially inconvenient
title, would be accepted. But when Francis Baily tried to simplify the
heavens by removing many of Bode's absurd constellations, he was abused
by many as violently as though he had proposed the rejection of the
Newtonian system. I myself tried a small measure of reform in the three
first editions of my 'Library Atlas,' but have found it desirable to
return to the old nomenclature in the fourth.



_Edinburgh and London_


[1] These reflections were suggested to Tacitus by the conduct of
Thrasyllus (chief astrologer of the Emperor Tiberius), when his skill
was tested by his imperial employer after a manner characteristic of
that agreeable monarch. The story runs thus (I follow Whewell's
version): 'Those who were brought to Tiberius on any important matter,
were admitted to an interview in an apartment situated on a lofty cliff
in the island of Capreæ. They reached this place by a narrow path,
accompanied by a single freedman of great bodily strength; and on their
return, if the emperor had conceived any doubts of their
trustworthiness, a single blow buried the secret and its victim in the
ocean below. After Thrasyllus had, in this retreat, stated the results
of his art as they concerned the emperor, Tiberius asked him whether he
had calculated how long he himself had to live. The astrologer examined
the aspect of the stars, and while he did this showed hesitation, alarm,
increasing terror, and at last declared that "The present hour was for
him critical, perhaps fatal." Tiberius embraced him, and told him "he
was right in supposing he had been in danger, but that he should escape
it," and made him henceforward his confidential counsellor.' It is
evident, assuming the story to be true (as seems sufficiently probable),
that the emperor was no match for the charlatan in craft. It was a
natural thought on the former's part to test the skill of his astrologer
by laying for him a trap such as the story indicates--a thought so
natural, indeed, that it probably occurred to Thrasyllus himself long
before Tiberius put the plan into practice. Even if Thrasyllus had not
been already on the watch for such a trick, he would have been but a
poor trickster himself if he had not detected it the moment it was
attempted, or failed to see the sole safe course which was left open to
him. Probably, with a man of the temper of Tiberius, such a
counter-trick as Galeotti's in _Quentin Durward_ would have been unsafe.

[2] The belief in the influence of the stars and the planets on the
fortunes of the new-born child was still rife when Shakespeare made
Glendower boast:

              At my nativity
  The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes
  Of burning cressets; know, that at my birth
  The frame and huge foundation of the earth
  Shook like a coward.

And Shakespeare showed himself dangerously tainted with freethought in
assigning (even to the fiery Hotspur) the reply:

              So it would have done
  At the same season, if your mother's cat
  Had kittened, though yourself had ne'er been born.

In a similar vein Butler, in _Hudibras_ ridiculed the folly of those who
believe in horoscopes and nativities:

  As if the planet's first aspect
  The tender infant did infect
  In soul and body, and instil
  All future good and future ill;
  Which in their dark fatalities lurking,
  At destined periods fall a-working,
  And break out, like the hidden seeds
  Of long diseases, into deeds,
  In friendships, enmities, and strife.
  And all th' emergencies of life.

[3] Preface to the _Rudolphine Tables_.

[4] It is commonly stated that Bacon opposed the Copernican theory
because he disliked Gilbert, who had advocated it. 'Bacon,' says one of
his editors, 'was too jealous of Gilbert to entertain one moment any
doctrine that he advanced.' But, apart from the incredible littleness of
mind which this explanation imputes to Bacon, it would also have been an
incredible piece of folly on Bacon's part to advocate an inferior theory
while a rival was left to support a better theory. Bacon saw clearly
enough that men were on their way to the discovery of the true theory,
and, so far as in him lay, he indicated how they should proceed in order
most readily to reach the truth. It must, then, have been from
conviction, not out of mere contradiction, that Bacon declared himself
in favour of the Ptolemaic system. In fact, he speaks of the diurnal
motion of the earth as 'an opinion which we can demonstrate to be most
false;' doubtless having in his thoughts some such arguments as misled
Tycho Brahe.

[5] To Bacon's theological contemporaries this must have seemed a
dreadful heresy, and possibly in our own days the assertion would be
judged scarcely less harshly, seeing that the observance of the
(so-called) Sabbath depends directly upon the belief in quite another
origin of the week. Yet there can be little question that the week
really had its origin in astrological formulæ.

[6] In Bohn's edition the word 'defective' is here used, entirely
changing the meaning of the sentence. Bacon registers an _Astrologia
Sana_ amongst the things needed for the advancement of learning, whereas
he is made to say that such an astrology must be registered as

[7] The astrologers were exceedingly ingenious in showing that their art
had given warning of the great plague and fire of London. Thus, the star
which marks the Bull's northern horn--and which is described by Ptolemy
as like Mars--was, they say, exactly in that part of the sign Gemini
which is the ascendant of London, in 1666. Lilly, however, for whom they
claim the credit of predicting the year of this calamity, laid no claim
himself to that achievement; nay, specially denied that he knew when the
fire was to happen. The story is rather curious. In 1651 Lilly had
published his _Monarchy or no Monarchy_, which contained a number of
curious hieroglyphics. Amongst these were two (see frontispiece) which
appeared to portend plague and fire respectively. The hieroglyphic of
the plague represents three dead bodies wrapped in death-clothes, and
for these bodies two coffins lie ready and two graves are being dug;
whence it was to be inferred that the number of deaths would exceed the
supply of coffins and graves. The hieroglyphic of the fire represents
several persons, gentlefolk on one side and commonfolk on the other,
emptying water vessels on a furious fire into which two children are
falling headlong. The occurrence of the plague in 1665 attracted no
special notice to Lilly's supposed prediction of that event, though
probably many talked of the coincidence as remarkable. But when in 1666
the great fire occurred, the House of Commons summoned Lilly to attend
the committee appointed to enquire into the cause of the fire. 'At two
of the clock on Friday, the 25th of October 1666,' he attended in the
Speaker's chamber, 'to answer such questions as should then and there be
asked him.' Sir Robert Brooke spoke to this effect: 'Mr. Lilly, this
committee thought fit to summon you to appear before them this day, to
know if you can say anything as to the cause of the late fire, or
whether there might be any design therein. You are called the rather
hither, because in a book of yours long since printed, you hinted some
such thing by one of your hieroglyphics.' Unto which he replied: 'May it
please your honours, after the beheading of the late king, considering
that in the three subsequent years the Parliament acted nothing which
concerned the settlement of the nation's peace, and seeing the
generality of the people dissatisfied, the citizens of London
discontented, and the soldiery prone to mutiny, I was desirous,
according to the best knowledge God had given me, to make enquiry by the
art I studied, what might, from that time, happen unto the Parliament
and nation in general. At last, having satisfied myself as well as I
could, and perfected my judgment therein, I thought it most convenient
to signify my intentions and conceptions thereof in forms, shapes,
types, hieroglyphics, etc., without any commentary, that so my judgment
might be concealed from the vulgar, and made manifest only unto the
wise; I herein imitating the examples of many wise philosophers who had
done the like. Having found, sir, that the great city of London should
be sadly afflicted with a great plague, and not long after with an
exorbitant fire, I framed these two hieroglyphics, as represented in the
book, which in effect have proved very true.' 'Did you foresee the
year?' said one. 'I did not,' said Lilly; 'nor was desirous; of that I
made no scrutiny. Now, sir, whether there was any design of burning the
city, or any employed to that purpose, I must deal ingenuously with you,
that since the fire I have taken much pains in the search thereof, but
cannot or could not give myself the least satisfaction therein. I
conclude that it was the finger of God only; but what instruments He
used thereunto I am ignorant.'

[8] Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek were evidently not well
taught in astrology. 'Shall we set about some revels?' says the latter.
'What shall we do else?' says Toby; 'were we not born under Taurus?'
'Taurus, that's sides and heart,' says sapient Andrew. 'No, sir,'
responds Toby, 'it's legs and thighs. Let me see thee caper.'

[9] 'This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick
in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we make guilty of
our disasters the sun, moon, and stars: as if we were villains on
necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treacherous by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers,
by inforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are, evil,
by a divine thrusting on.'--SHAKESPEARE (_King Lear_).

[10] There are few things more remarkable, or to reasoning minds more
inexplicable, than the readiness with which men undertook in old times,
and even now undertake, to interpret omens and assign prophetic
significance to casual events. One can understand that foolish persons
should believe in omens, and act upon the ideas suggested by their
superstitions. The difficulty is to comprehend how these superstitions
came into existence. For instance, who first conceived the idea that a
particular line in the palm of the hand is the line of life; and what
can possibly have suggested so absurd a notion? To whom did the thought
first present itself that the pips on playing-cards are significant of
future events; and why did he think so? How did the 'grounds' of a
teacup come to acquire that deep significance which they now possess for
Mrs. Gamp and Betsy Prig? If the believers in these absurdities be asked
_why_ they believe, they answer readily enough either that they
themselves or their friends have known remarkable fulfilments of the
ominous indications of cards or tea-dregs, which must of necessity be
the case where millions of forecasts are daily made by these instructive
methods. But the persons who first invented those means of divination
can have had no such reasons. They must have possessed imaginations of
singular liveliness and not wanting in ingenuity. It is a pity that we
know so little of them.

[11] Wellington lived too long for the astrologers, his death within the
year having unfortunately been predicted by them many times during the
last fifteen years of his life. Some astrologers were more cautious,
however. I have before me his horoscope, carefully calculated, _secundum
artem_, by Raphaël in 1828, with results 'sufficiently evincing the
surprising verity and singular accuracy of astrological calculations,
when founded on the correct time of birth, and mathematically
calculated. I have chosen,' he proceeds, 'the nativity of this
illustrious native, in preference to others, as the subject is now
living, and, consequently, all possibility of making up any fictitious
horoscope is at once set aside; thus affording me a most powerful shield
against the insidious representations of the envious and ignorant
traducer of my sublime science.' By some strange oversight, however,
Raphaël omits to mention anything respecting the future fortunes of
Wellington, showing only how wonderfully Wellington's past career had
corresponded with his horoscope.

[12] 'I have still observed,' says an old author, 'that your right
Martialist doth seldom exceed in height, or be at the most above a yard
or a yard and a half in height' (which is surely stint measure). 'It
hath been always thus,' said that right Martialist Sir Geoffrey Hudson
to Julian Peveril; 'and in the history of all ages, the clean tight
dapper little fellow hath proved an overmatch for his burly antagonist.
I need only instance, out of Holy Writ, the celebrated downfall of
Goliath and of another lubbard, who had more fingers in his hand, and
more inches to his stature, than ought to belong to an honest man, and
who was slain by a nephew of good King David; and of many others whom I
do not remember; nevertheless, they were all Philistines of gigantic
stature. In the classics, also, you have Tydeus, and other tight compact
heroes, whose diminutive bodies were the abode of large minds.'

[13] It is likely that Swedenborg in his youth studied astrology, for in
his visions the Mercurial folk have this desire of knowledge as their
distinguishing characteristic.

[14] It is singular that, when there is this perfectly simple
explanation of the origin of the nomenclature of the days of the week,
an explanation given by ancient historians and generally received,
Whewell should have stated that 'various accounts are given, all the
methods proceeding upon certain arbitrary arithmetical processes
connected in some way with astrological views.' Speaking of the
arrangement of the planets in the order of their supposed distances, and
of the order in which the planets appear in the days of the week, he
says, 'It would be difficult to determine with certainty why the former
order was adopted, and how and why the latter was derived from it.' But,
in reality, there is no difficulty about either point. The former
arrangement corresponded precisely with the periodic times of the seven
planets of the old Egyptian system (unquestionably far more ancient than
the system adopted by the Greeks), while the latter springs directly
from the former. Assign to the hours of the day, successively, the seven
planets in the former order, continuing the sequence without
interruption day after day, and in the course of seven days each one of
the planets will have ruled the first hour of a day, in the
order,--Saturn, the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus.
What arbitrary arithmetical process there is in this it would be
difficult to conceive. Arithmetic does not rule the method at all. Nor
has any other method ever been suggested; though this method has been
presented in several ways, some arithmetical and some geometrical. We
need then have no difficulty in understanding what seems so perplexing
to Whewell, the universality, namely, of the notions 'which have
produced this result,' for the notions were not fantastic, but such as
naturally sprang from the ideas on which astrology itself depends.

[15] The following remarks by the Astronomer-Royal on this subject seem
to me just, in the main. They accord with what I had said earlier in my
essay on Saturn and the Sabbath of the Jews ('Our Place among
Infinities,' 11th essay). 'The importance which Moses attached to it
[the hebdomadal rest] is evident; and, with all reverence, I recognise
to the utmost degree the justice of his views. No direction was given
for religious ceremonial' (he seems to have overlooked Numbers xxviii.
9, and cognate passages), 'but it was probably seen that the health
given to the mind by a rest from ordinary cares, and by the opportunity
of meditation, could not fail to have a most beneficial religious
effect. But, to give sanction to this precept, the authority of at least
a myth was requisite. I believe it was simply for this reason that the
myth of the six days of creation was preserved. It is expressly cited in
the first delivery of the commandments, as the solemn authority (Exodus
xxxi. 17) for the command. It is remarkable that at the second mention
of the commandment (Deuteronomy v.) no reference is made to the
creation; perhaps, after the complete establishment of Jehovistic ideas
in the minds of the Israelites, they had nearly lost the recollection of
the Elohistic account, and it was not thought desirable to refer to it'
(Airy, 'On the Early Hebrew Scriptures,' p. 17). It must be regarded as
a singular instance of the persistency of myths, if this view be
correct, that a myth which had become obsolete for the Jews between the
time of Moses and that of the writer (whoever he may have been) who
produced the so-called Mosaic book of Deuteronomy, should thereafter
have been revived, and have come to be regarded by the Jews themselves
and by Christians as the Word of God.

[16] Of course it may be argued that nothing in the world is the result
of _mere_ accident, and some may assert that even matters which are
commonly regarded as entirely casual have been specially designed. It
would not be easy to draw the precise line dividing events which all men
would regard as to all intents and purposes accidental from those which
some men would regard as results of special providence. But common sense
draws a sufficient distinction, at least for our present purpose.

[17] This star, called _Thuban_ from the Arabian _al-Thúban_, the
Dragon, is now not very bright, being rated at barely above the fourth
magnitude, but it was formerly the brightest star of the constellation,
as its name indicates. Bayer also assigned to it the first letter of the
Greek alphabet; though this is not absolutely decisive evidence that so
late as his day it retained its superiority over the second magnitude
stars to which Bayer assigned the second and third Greek letters. In the
year 2790 B.C., or thereabouts, the star was at its nearest to the true
north pole of the heavens, the diameter of the little circle in which it
then moved being considerably less than one-fourth the apparent diameter
of the moon. At that time the star must have seemed to all ordinary
observation an absolutely fixed centre, round which all the other stars
revolved. At the time when the pyramid was built this star was about
sixty times farther removed from the true pole, revolving in a circle
whose apparent diameter was about seven times as great as the moon's.
Yet it would still be regarded as a very useful pole-star, especially as
there are very few conspicuous stars in the neighbourhood.

[18] Even that skilful astronomer Hipparchus, who may be justly called
the father of observational astronomy, overlooked this peculiarity,
which Ptolemy would seem to have been the first to recognise.

[19] It would only be by a lucky accident, of course, that the direction
of the slant tunnel's axis and that of the vertical from the selected
central point would lie in the same vertical plane. The object of the
tunnelling would, in fact, be to determine how far apart the vertical
planes through these points lay, and the odds would be great against the
result proving to be zero.

[20] It may, perhaps, occur to the reader to inquire what diameter of
the earth, supposed to be a perfect sphere, would be derived from a
degree of latitude measured with absolute accuracy near latitude 30°. A
degree of latitude measured in polar regions would indicate a diameter
greater even than the equatorial; one measured in equatorial regions
would indicate a diameter less even than the polar. Near latitude 30°
the measurement of a degree of latitude would indicate a diameter very
nearly equal to the true polar diameter of the earth. In fact, if it
could be proved that the builders of the pyramid used for their unit of
length an exact subdivision of the polar diameter, the inference would
be that, while the coincidence itself was merely accidental, their
measurement of a degree of latitude in their own country had been
singularly accurate. By an approximate calculation I find that, taking
the earth's compression at 1-300, the diameter of the earth, estimated
from the accurate measurement of a degree of latitude in the
neighbourhood of the great pyramid, would have made the sacred
cubit--taken at one 20,000,000th of the diameter--equal to 24·98 British
inches; a closer approximation than Professor Smyth's to the estimated
mean probable value of the sacred cubit.

[21] It is, however, almost impossible to mark any limits to what may be
regarded as evidence of design by a coincidence-hunter. I quote the
following from the late Professor De Morgan's _Budget of Paradoxes_.
Having mentioned that 7 occurs less frequently than any other digit in
the number expressing the ratio of circumference to diameter of a
circle, he proceeds: 'A correspondent of my friend Piazzi Smyth notices
that 3 is the number of most frequency, and that 3-1/7 is the nearest
approximation to it in simple digits. Professor Smyth, whose work on
Egypt is paradox of a very high order, backed by a great quantity of
useful labour, the results of which will be made available by those who
do not receive the paradoxes, is inclined to see confirmation for some
of his theory in these phenomena.' In passing, I may mention as the most
singular of these accidental digit relations which I have yet noticed,
that in the first 110 digits of the square root of 2, the number 7
occurs more than twice as often as either 5 or 9, which each occur eight
times, 1 and 2 occurring each nine times, and 7 occurring no less than
eighteen times.

[22] I have substituted this value in the article 'Astronomy,' of the
_British Encyclopædia_, for the estimate formerly used, viz. 95,233,055
miles. But there is good reason for believing that the actual distance
is nearly 92,000,000 miles.

[23] It may be matched by other coincidences as remarkable and as little
the result of the operation of any natural law. For instance, the
following strange relation, introducing the dimensions of the sun
himself, nowhere, so far as I have yet seen, introduced among pyramid
relations, even by pyramidalists: 'If the plane of the ecliptic were a
true surface, and the sun were to commence rolling along that surface
towards the part of the earth's orbit where she is at her mean distance,
while the earth commenced rolling upon the sun (round one of his great
circles), each globe turning round in the same time,--then, by the time
the earth had rolled its way once round the sun, the sun would have
almost exactly reached the earth's orbit. This is only another way of
saying that the sun's diameter exceeds the earth's in almost exactly the
same degree that the sun's distance exceeds the sun's diameter.'

[24] It has been remarked that, though Hipparchus had the enormous
advantage of being able to compare his own observations with those
recorded by the Chaldæans, he estimated the length of the year less
correctly than the Chaldæans. It has been thought by some that the
Chaldæans were acquainted with the true system of the universe, but I do
not know that there are sufficient grounds for this supposition.
Diodorus Siculus and Apollonius Myndius mention, however, that they were
able to predict the return of comets, and this implies that their
observations had been continued for many centuries with great care and

[25] The language of the modern Zadkiels and Raphaëls, though
meaningless and absurd in itself, yet, as assuredly derived from the
astrology of the oldest times, may here be quoted. (It certainly was not
invented to give support to the theory I am at present advocating.) Thus
runs the jargon of the tribe: 'In order to illustrate plainly to the
reader what astrologers mean by the "houses of heaven," it is proper for
him to bear in mind the four cardinal points. The eastern, facing the
rising sun, has at its centre the first grand angle or first house,
termed the Horoscope or ascendant. The northern, opposite the region
where the sun is at midnight, or the _cusp_ of the lower heaven or
nadir, is the Imum Coeli, and has at its centre the fourth house. The
western, facing the setting sun, has at its centre the third grand angle
or seventh house or descendant. And lastly, the southern, facing the
noonday sun, has at its centre the astrologer's tenth house, or
Mid-heaven, the most powerful angle or house of honour.' 'And although,'
proceeds the modern astrologer, 'we cannot in the ethereal blue discern
these lines or terminating divisions, both reason and experience assure
us that they certainly exist; therefore the astrologer has certain
grounds for the choice of his four angular houses' (out of twelve in
all) 'which, resembling the palpable demonstration they afford, are in
the astral science esteemed the most powerful of the whole. '--Raphaël's
_Manual of Astrology_.

[26] Arabian writers give the following account of Egyptian progress in
astrology and the mystical arts: Nacrawasch, the progenitor of Misraim,
was the first Egyptian prince, and the first of the magicians who
excelled in astrology and enchantment. Retiring into Egypt with his
family of eighty persons, he built Essous, the most ancient city of
Egypt, and commenced the first dynasty of Misraimitish princes, who
excelled as cabalists, diviners, and in the mystic arts generally. The
most celebrated of the race were Naerasch, who first represented by
images the twelve signs of the zodiac; Gharnak, who openly described the
arts before kept secret; Hersall, who first worshipped idols; Sehlouk,
who worshipped the sun; Saurid (King Saurid of Ibn Abd Alkohm's
account), who erected the first pyramids and invented the magic mirror;
and Pharaoh, the last king of the dynasty, whose name was afterwards
taken as a kingly title, as Cæsar later became a general imperial title.

[27] It is noteworthy how Swedenborg here anticipates a saying of
Laplace, the greatest mathematician the world has known, save Newton
alone. Newton's remark that he seemed but as a child who had gathered a
few shells on the shores of ocean, is well known. Laplace's words, '_Ce
que nous connaissons est peu de chose; ce que nous ignorons est
immense_,' were not, as is commonly stated, his last. De Morgan gives
the following account of Laplace's last moments, on the authority of
Laplace's friend and pupil, the well-known mathematician Poisson: 'After
the publication (in 1825) of the fifth volume of the Mécanique Céleste,
Laplace became gradually weaker, and with it musing and abstracted. He
thought much on the great problems of existence, and often muttered to
himself, "_Qu'est-ce que c'est que tout cela!_" After many alternations
he appeared at last so permanently prostrated that his family applied to
his favourite pupil, M. Poisson, to try to get a word from him. Poisson
paid a visit, and after a few words of salutation, said, "J'ai une bonne
nouvelle à vous annoncer: on a reçu au Bureau des Longitudes une lettre
d'Allemagne annonçant que M. Bessel a vérifié par l'observation vos
découvertes théoriques sur les satellites de Jupiter." Laplace opened
his eyes and answered with deep gravity. "_L'homme ne poursuit que des
chimères._" He never spoke again. His death took place March 5, 1827.'

[28] The reason assigned by Swedenborg is fanciful enough. 'In the
spiritual sense,' he says, 'a horse signifies the intellectual principle
formed from scientifics, and as they are afraid of cultivating the
intellectual faculties by worldly sciences, from this comes an influx of
fear. They care nothing for scientifics which are of human erudition.'

[29] Similar reasoning applies to the moons of Jupiter, and it so
chances that the result in their case comes out exactly the same as in
the case of Saturn; all the Jovian moons, if full together, would
reflect only the sixteenth part of the light which we receive from the
full moon. It is strange that scientific men of considerable
mathematical power have used the argument from design apparently
supplied by the satellites, without being at the pains to test its
validity by the simple mathematical calculations necessary to determine
the quantity of light which these bodies can reflect to the planets
round which they travel. Brewster and Whewell, though they took opposite
sides in the controversy about other inhabited worlds, agreed in this.
Brewster, of course, holding the theory that all the planets are
inhabited, very naturally accepted the argument from design in this
case. Whewell, in opposing that theory, did not dwell at all upon the
subjects of the satellites. But in his 'Bridgewater Treatise on
Astronomy and General Physics,' he says, 'Taking only the ascertained
cases of Venus, the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, we conceive that a
person of common understanding will be strongly impressed with the
persuasion that the satellites are placed in the system with a view to
compensate for the diminished light of the sun at greater distances.
Mars is an exception; some persons might conjecture from this case that
the arrangement itself, like other useful arrangements, has been brought
about by some wider law which we have not yet detected. But whether or
not we entertain such a guess (it can be nothing more), we see in other
parts of creation so many examples of apparent exceptions to rules,
which are afterwards found to be capable of explanation, or to be
provided for by particular contrivances, that no one familiar with such
contemplations will, by one anomaly, be driven from the persuasion that
the end which the arrangements of the satellites seem suited to answer
is really one of the ends of their creation.'

[30] The reader who cares enough about such subjects to take the
necessary trouble, can easily make a little model of Saturn and his ring
system, which will very prettily illustrate the effect of the rings both
in reflecting light to the planet's darkened hemisphere and in cutting
off light from the planet's illuminated hemisphere. Take a ball, say an
ordinary hand-ball, and pierce it through the centre with a fine
knitting-needle. Cut out a flat ring of card, proportioned to the ball
as the ring system of Saturn to his ball. (If the ball is two inches in
diameter, strike out on a sheet of cardboard two concentric circles, one
of them with a radius of a little more than an inch and a half, the
other with a radius of about two inches and three-eights, and cut out
the ring between these two circles.) Thrust the knitting-needle through
this ring in such a way that the ball shall lie in the middle of the
ring, as the globe of Saturn hangs (without knitting-needle connections)
in the middle of his ring system. Thrust another knitting-needle
centrally through the ball square to the plane of the ring, and use this
second needle, which we may call the polar one, as a handle. Now take
the ball and ring into sunlight, or the light of a lamp or candle,
holding them so that the shadow of the ring is as thin as possible. This
represents the position of the shadow at the time of Saturnian spring or
autumn. Cause the shadow slowly to shift until it surrounds the part of
the ball through which the polar needle passes on one side. This will
represent the position of the shadow at the time of midwinter for the
hemisphere corresponding to that side of the ball. Notice that while the
shadow is traversing this half of the ball, the side of the ring which
lies towards that half is in shadow, so that a fly or other small insect
on that half of the ball would see the darkened side of the ring. A
Saturnian correspondingly placed would get no reflected sunlight from
the ring system. Move the ball and ring so that the shadow slowly
returns to its first position. You will then have illustrated the
changes taking place during one half of a Saturnian year. Continue the
motion so that the shadow passes to the other half of the ball, and
finally surrounds the other point through which the polar needle passes.
The polar point which the shadow before surrounded will now be seen to
be in the light, and this half of the ball will illustrate the
hemisphere of Saturn where it is midsummer. It will also be seen that
the side of the ring towards this half of the ball is now in the light,
so that a small insect on this half of the ball would see the bright
side of the ring. A Saturnian correspondingly placed would get reflected
sunlight from the ring system _both by day and by night_. Moving the
ball and ring so that the shadow returns to its first position, an
entire Saturnian year will have been illustrated. These changes can be
still better shown with a Saturnian orrery (see plate viii. of my
Saturn), which can be very easily constructed.

[31] Not 'of course' because Tycho used it, for, like other able
students of science, he made mistakes from time to time. Thus he argued
that the earth cannot rotate on her axis, because if she did bodies
raised above her surface would be left behind--an argument which even
the mechanical knowledge of his own time should have sufficed to
invalidate, though it is still used from time to time by paradoxers of
our own day.

[32] Chinese chronicles contain other references to new stars. The
annals of Ma-touan-lin, which contain the official records of remarkable
appearances in the heavens, include some phenomena which manifestly
belong to this class. Thus they record that in the year 173 a star
appeared between the stars which mark the hind feet of the Centaur. This
star remained visible from December in that year until July in the next
(about the same time as Tycho Brahe's and Kepler's new stars, presently
to be described). Another star, assigned by these annals to the year
1011, seems to be the same as a star referred to by Hepidannus as
appearing A.D. 1012. It was of extraordinary brilliancy, and remained
visible in the southern part of the heavens during three months. The
annals of Ma-touan-lin assign to it a position low down in Sagittarius.

[33] Still a circumstance must be mentioned which tends to show that the
star may have been visible a few hours earlier than Dr. Schmidt
supposed. Mr. M. Walter, surgeon of the 4th regiment, then stationed in
North India, wrote (oddly enough, on May 12, 1867, the first anniversary
of Mr. Birmingham's discovery) as follows to Mr. Stone:--'I am certain
that this same conflagration was distinctly perceptible here at least
six hours earlier. My knowledge of the fact came about in this wise. The
night of the 12th of May last year was exceedingly sultry, and about
eight o'clock on that evening I got up from the tea-table and rushed
into my garden to seek a cooler atmosphere. As my door opens towards the
east, the first object that met my view was the Northern Crown. My
attention was at once arrested by the sight of a strange star outside
the crown' (that is, outside the circlet of stars forming the diadem,
not outside the constellation itself). The new star 'was then certainly
quite as bright--I rather thought more so--as its neighbour Alphecca,'
the chief gem of the crown. 'I was so much struck with its appearance,
that I exclaimed to those indoors, "Why, here is a new comet!'" He made
a diagram of the constellation, showing the place of the new star
correctly. Unfortunately, Mr. Walter does not state why he is so
confident, a year after the event, that it was on the 12th of May, and
not on the 13th, that he noticed the new star. If he fixed the date only
by the star's appearance as a second-magnitude star, his letter proves
nothing; for we know that on the 13th it was still shining as brightly
as Alphecca, though on the 14th it was perceptibly fainter.

[34] The velocity of three or four miles per second inferred by the
elder Struve must now be regarded (as I long since pointed out would
prove to be the case) as very far short of the real velocity of our
system's motion through stellar space.

[35] M. Cornu's observations are full of interest, and he deserves
considerable credit for his energy in availing himself of the few
favourable opportunities he had for making them. But he goes beyond his
province in adding to his account of them some remarks, intended
apparently as a reflection on Mr. Huggins's speculations respecting the
star in the Northern Crown. '_I_,' says M. Cornu, 'will not try to form
any hypothesis about the cause of the outburst. To do so would be
unscientific, and such speculations, though interesting, cumber science
wofully.' This is sheer nonsense, and comes very ill from an observer
whose successes in science have been due entirely to the employment of
methods of observation which would have had no existence had others been
as unready to think out the meaning of observed facts as he appears to
be himself.

[36] The same peculiarity has been noticed since the discovery of the
dark ring, the space within that ring being observed by Coolidge and G.
Bond at Harvard in 1856 to be apparently darker than the surrounding

[37] I cannot understand why Mr. Webb, in his interesting little work,
_Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes_, says that the satellite
theory of the rings certainly seems insufficient to account for the
phenomena of the dark ring. It seems, on the contrary, manifest that the
dark ring can scarcely be explained in any other way. The observations
recently made are altogether inexplicable on any other theory.

[38] A gentleman, whose acquaintance I made in returning from America
last spring, assured me that he had found demonstrative evidence showing
that a total eclipse of the moon then occurred; for he could prove that
Abraham's vision occurred at the time of full moon, so that it could not
otherwise have been dark when the sun went down (v. 17). But the horror
of great darkness occurred when the sun was going down, and total
eclipses of the moon do not behave that way--at least, in our time.

[39] It is not easy to understand what else it could have been. The
notion that a conjunction of three planets, which took place shortly
before the time of Christ's birth, gave rise to the tradition of the
star in the east, though propounded by a former president of the
Astronomical Society, could hardly be entertained by an astronomer,
unless he entirely rejected Matthew's account, which the author of this
theory, being a clergyman, can scarcely have done.

[40] As, for instance, when he makes Homer say of the moon that

  Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
  And stars unnumbered gild the glowing pole.

It is difficult, indeed, to understand how so thorough an astronomer as
the late Admiral Smyth could have called the passage in which these
lines occur one of the finest bursts of poetry in our language, except
on the principle cleverly cited by Waller when Charles II. upbraided him
for the warmth of his panegyric on Cromwell, that 'poets succeed better
with fiction than with truth.' Macaulay, though not an astronomer,
speaks more justly of the passage in saying that this single passage
contains more inaccuracies than can be found in all Wordsworth's

[41] It may be necessary to throw in here a few words of explanation,
lest the non-astronomical reader should run away with the idea that the
so-called exact science is a very inexact science indeed, so far as
comets are concerned. The comet of 1680 was one of those which travel on
a very eccentric orbit. Coming, indeed, from out depths many times more
remote than the path even of the remotest planet, Neptune, this comet
approached nearer to the sun than any which astronomers have ever seen,
except only the comet of 1843. When at its nearest its nucleus was only
a sixth part of the sun's diameter from his surface. Thus the part of
the comet's orbit along which astronomers traced its motion was only a
small part at one end of an enormously long oval, and very slight errors
of observation were sufficient to produce very large errors in the
determination of the nature of the comet's orbit. Encke admitted that
the period might, so far as the comparatively imperfect observations
made in 1680 were concerned, be any whatever, from 805 years to many
millions of years, or even to infinity--that is, the comet might have a
path not re-entering into itself, but carrying the comet for ever away
from the sun after its one visit to our system.

[42] For a portion of the passages which I have quoted in this essay I
am indebted to Guillemin's 'Treatise on Comets,' a useful contribution
to the literature of the subject, though somewhat inadequate so far as
exposition is concerned.

[43] Something very similar happened only a few years ago, so that we
cannot afford to laugh too freely at the terrors of France in 1773. It
was reported during the winter of 1871-1872, that Plantamour, the Swiss
astronomer, had predicted the earth's destruction by a comet on August
12, 1872. Yet there was no other foundation for this rumour than the
fact that Plantamour, in a lecture upon comets and meteors, had stated
that the meteors seen on August 10, 11, and 12 are bodies following in
the track of a comet whose orbit passes very near to the earth's. It was
very certainly known to astronomers that there could be no present
danger of a collision with this comet, for the comet has a period of at
least 150 years, and had last passed close to the earth's orbit (not to
the earth herself, be it understood) in 1862. But it was useless to
point this out. Many people insisted on believing that on August 12,
1872, the earth would come into collision, possibly disastrous, with a
mighty comet, which Plantamour was said to have detected and to have
shown by a profound calculation to be rushing directly upon our
unfortunate earth.

[44] A rather amusing mistake was made by the stenographers of a New
York paper in reporting the above sentence, which I happened to quote in
a lecture upon Comets and Meteors. Instead of Paradise they wrote Paris.
Those acquainted with Pitman's system of short-hand, the one most
commonly employed by reporters, will easily understand how the mistake
was made, the marks made to represent the consonants p, r, d, and s
differing little from those made to represent the consonants p, r, and s
(the 'd' or 't' sound is represented, or may be represented, by simply
shortening the length of the sign for the preceding consonant). The
mistake led naturally to my remarking in my next lecture that I had not
before known how thoroughly synonymous the words are in America, though
I had heard it said that 'Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.'

[45] On the occasion of my first visit to America, in 1873, I for the
first time succeeded in obtaining a copy of this curious pamphlet. It
had been mentioned to me (by Emerson, I think) as an amusing piece of
trickery played off by a scientific man on his brethren; and Dr. Wendell
Holmes, who was present, remarked that he had a copy in his possession.
This he was good enough to lend me. Soon after, a valued friend in New
York presented me with a copy.

[46] This Locke must not be confounded with Richard Lock, the
circle-squarer and general paradoxist, who flourished a century earlier.

[47] The nurses' tale is, that the man was sent to the moon by Moses for
gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and they refer to the cheerful story in
Numbers xv. 32-36. According to German nurses the day was not the
Sabbath, but Sunday. Their tale runs as follows: 'Ages ago there went
one Sunday an old man into the woods to hew sticks. He cut a faggot and
slung it on a stout staff, cast it over his shoulder, and began to
trudge home with his burthen. On his way he met a handsome man in Sunday
suit, walking towards the church. The man stopped, and asked the
faggot-bearer; "Do you know that this is Sunday on earth, when all must
rest from their labours?" "Sunday on earth or Monday in heaven, it's all
one to me?" laughed the wood-cutter. "Then bear your bundle for ever!"
answered the stranger. "And as you value not Sunday on earth, yours
shall be a perpetual Moon-day in heaven; you shall stand for eternity in
the moon, a warning to all Sabbath-breakers." Thereupon the stranger
vanished; and the man was caught up with his staff and faggot into the
moon, where he stands yet.' According to some narrators the stranger was
Christ; but whether from German laxity in such matters or for some other
reason, no text is quoted in evidence, as by the more orthodox British
nurses. Luke vi. 1-5 might serve.

[48] Milton's opinion may be quoted against me here; and as received
ideas respecting angels, good and bad, the fall of man, and many other
such matters, are due quite as much to Milton as to any other authority,
his opinion must not be lightly disregarded. But though, when Milton's
Satan 'meets a vast vacuity' where his wings are of no further service
to him,

              'All unawares
  Flutt'ring his pennons vain, plumb down he drops
  Ten thousand fathoms deep, and to this hour
  Down had been falling, had not by ill chance
  The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud,
  Instinct with fire and nitre, hurried him
  As many miles aloft,'

yet this was written nearly a quarter of a century before Newton had
established the law of gravity. Moreover, there is no evidence to show
in what direction Satan fell; 'above is below and below above,' says
Richter, 'to one stripped of gravitating body;' and whether Satan was
under the influence of gravity or not, he would be practically exempt
from its action when in the midst of that 'dark, illimitable ocean' of

              'Without bound,
  Without dimensions, where length, breadth, and height,
  And time and place are lost.'

His lighting 'on Niphates' top,' and overleaping the gate of Paradise,
may be used as arguments either way. On the whole, I must (according to
my present lights) claim for Satan a freedom from all scientific
restraints. This freedom is exemplified by his showing all the kingdoms
of the world from an exceeding high mountain, thus affording the first
practical demonstration of the flat-earth theory, the maintenance of
which led to poor Mr. Hampden's incarceration.

[49] The _Sun_ itself claimed to have established the veracity of the
account in a manner strongly recalling a well-known argument used by
orthodox believers in the Bible account of the cosmogony. Either, say
these, Moses discovered how the world was made, or the facts were
revealed to him by some one who had made the discovery: but Moses could
not have made the discovery, knowing nothing of the higher departments
of science; therefore, the account came from the only Being who could
rationally be supposed to know anything about the beginning of the
world. 'Either,' said the _New York Sun_, speaking of a mathematical
problem discussed in the article, 'that problem was predicated by us or
some other person, who has thereby made the greatest of all modern
discoveries in mathematical astronomy. We did not make it, for we know
nothing of mathematics whatever; therefore, it was made by the only
person to whom it can rationally be ascribed, namely Herschel the
astronomer, its only avowed and undeniable author.' In reality,
notwithstanding this convincing argument, the problem was stolen by
Locke from a paper by Olbers, shortly before published, and gave the
method followed by Beer and Mädler throughout their selenographical
researches in 1833-37.

[50] I had at the same time the good fortune to satisfy in equal degree,
though quite unexpectedly, an English student of the sun, who at that
time bore me no great good-will. Something in the article chanced to
suggest that it came from another, presumably a rival, hand; while an
essay which appeared about the same time (the spring of 1872) was
commonly but erroneously attributed to me. Accordingly, a leading
article in _Nature_ was devoted to the annihilation of the writer
supposed to be myself, and to the lavish and quite undeserved laudation
of the article I had written, which was selected as typifying all the
good qualities which an article of the kind should possess. Those
acquainted with the facts were not a little amused by the mistake.

[51] The Astronomer-Royal once told me that he had found that few
persons have a clear conception of the fact that the stars rise and set.
Still fewer know how the stars move, which stars rise and set, which are
always above the horizon, which move on large circles, which on small
ones; though a few hours' observation on half-a-dozen nights in the year
(such observations being continuous, but made only at hourly intervals)
would show dearly how the stars move. It is odd to find even some who
write about astronomy making mistakes on matters so elementary. For
instance, in a primer of astronomy recently published, it is stated that
the stars which pass overhead in London rise and set on a slant--the
real fact being that _those_ stars never rise or set at all, never
coming within some two dozen moon-breadths of the horizon.

[52] In passing let me note that, of course, I am not discussing the
arguments of paradoxists with the remotest idea of disproving them. They
are not, in reality, worth the trouble. But they show where the general
reader of astronomical text-books, and other such works, is likely to go
astray, and thus conveniently indicate matters whose explanation may be
useful or interesting.

[53] Sterne anticipated this paradoxist in (jestingly) attributing
glassiness to an inferior planet. He made the inhabitants, however, not
the air, glassy. 'The intense heat of the country,' he says, speaking of
the planet Mercury, 'must, I think, long ago have vitrified the bodies
of the inhabitants to suit them for the climate; so that all the
tenements of their souls may be nothing else, for aught the soundest
philosophy can show to the contrary, but one fine transparent body of
clear glass; so that till the inhabitant grows old and tolerably
wrinkled, whereby the rays of light become monstrously refracted, or
return reflected from the surface, etc., his soul might as well play the
fool out o' doors as in her own house.'

[54] It will be seen from Table X. of my treatise on Saturn that the
ring disappeared on December 12, remaining invisible (because turning
its dark side earthwards) till the spring of 1613. But on December 4,
the ring must have been quite invisible in a telescope so feeble as
Galileo's. The ring then would have been little more than a fine line of
light as seen with one of our powerful modern telescopes.

[55] _North British Review_ for August 1860.

[56] He had, indeed, at an earlier stage, shown a marvellous ignorance
of astronomy by the remark, which doubtless appeared to him a safe one,
that when he saw a planet on the sun in September he supposed it was
Mercury; a September transit of Mercury being as impossible as an
eclipse of the sun during the moon's third quarter.

[57] It is, by the way, somewhat amusing to find Baron Humboldt
referring a question of this sort to the great mathematician Gauss, and
describing the problem as though it involved the most profound
calculations. Ten minutes should suffice to deal with any problem of the

  Transcriber's Note

  The following typographical errors were corrected.

  Page          Error       Correction

  4             Julias      Julius

  35            genuis      genius

  36            artficers   artificers

  37            signfies    signifies

  footnote 14   preplexing  perplexing

  45            Chaldean    Chaldæan

  46            Chaldeans   Chaldæans

  225           peruquier   perruquier

  237           peruque     perruque

  281           Northfolk   Norfolk

  350           ascant      askant

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