A NEW epoch in astronomy begins with the work of William Herschel, the Hanoverian, whom England made hers by adoption. He was a man with a positive genius for sidereal discovery. At first a mere amateur in astronomy, he snatched time from his duties as music-teacher to grind him a telescopic mirror, and began gazing at the stars. Not content with his first telescope, he made another and another, and he had such genius for the work that he soon possessed a better instrument than was ever made before. His patience in grinding the curved reflective surface was monumental.

Ever since Leonardo da Vinci first recognized the true character of fossils, there had been here and there a man who realized that the earth's rocky crust is one gigantic mausoleum. Here and there a dilettante had filled his cabinets with relics from this monster crypt; here and there a philosopher had pondered over them—questioning whether perchance they had once been alive, or whether they were not mere abortive souvenirs of that time when the fertile matrix of the earth was supposed to have


One might naturally suppose that the science of the earth which lies at man's feet would at least have kept pace with the science of the distant stars. But perhaps the very obviousness of the phenomena delayed the study of the crust of the earth. It is the unattainable that allures and mystifies and enchants the developing mind. The proverbial child spurns its toys and cries for the moon.

THE eighteenth-century philosopher made great strides in his studies of the physical properties of matter and the application of these properties in mechanics, as the steam-engine, the balloon, the optic telegraph, the spinning-jenny, the cotton-gin, the chronometer, the perfected compass, the Leyden jar, the lightning-rod, and a host of minor inventions testify. In a speculative way he had thought out more or less tenable conceptions as to the ultimate nature of matter, as witness the theories of Leibnitz and Boscovich and Davy, to which we may recur.


The full importance of Young's studies of light might perhaps have gained earlier recognition had it not chanced that, at the time when they were made, the attention of the philosophic world was turned with the fixity and fascination of a hypnotic stare upon another field, which for a time brooked no rival. How could the old, familiar phenomenon, light, interest any one when the new agent, galvanism, was in view? As well ask one to fix attention on a star while a meteorite blazes across the sky.

As we have seen, it was in 1831 that Faraday opened up the field of magneto-electricity. Reversing the experiments of his predecessors, who had found that electric currents may generate magnetism, he showed that magnets have power under certain circumstances to generate electricity; he proved, indeed, the interconvertibility of electricity and magnetism. Then he showed that all bodies are more or less subject to the influence of magnetism, and that even light may be affected by magnetism as to its phenomena of polarization.

"Whatever difficulties we may have in forming a consistent idea of the constitution of the ether, there can be no doubt that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are not empty, but are occupied by a material substance or body which is certainly the largest and probably the most uniform body of which we have any knowledge."



THE SUCCESSORS OF NEWTON IN ASTRONOMY [1] (p. 10). An Account of Several Extraordinary Meteors or Lights in the Sky, by Dr. Edmund Halley. Phil. Trans. of Royal Society of London, vol. XXIX, pp. 159-162. Read before the Royal Society in the autumn of 1714. [2] (p. 13). Phil. Trans. of Royal Society of London for 1748, vol. XLV., pp. 8, 9. From A Letter to the Right Honorable George, Earl of Macclesfield, concerning an Apparent Motion observed in some of the Fixed Stars, by James Bradley, D.D., Astronomer Royal and F.R.S.


Syndicate content