Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/113

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109
COPERNICUS.

COPERNICUS.
By EDWARD S. HOLDEN, Sc.D., LL.D.,
LIBRARIAN OF THE U. S. MILITARY ACADEMY.

NICOLAUS COPERNICUS was born in Thorn, a town of Prussian Poland, on February 19, 1473. His father, Niklas Koppernigk, was a merchant of Krakau who established himself in Thorn about 1450, and there married Barbara, the daughter of Lucas Watzelrode, a descendant of an old patrician family. The father was chosen alderman in 1465 — a testimony of his worth. He had four children: Barbara, who died abbess of the Cistercians at Culm; Katherina, who married a merchant of Krakau; and two sons, Andreas and Nicolaus.

We know little of the childhood of Nicolaus. In 1483 his father died and he was placed in the care of his uncle, another Lucas Watzelrode, who was called to be bishop of Ermeland in 1489, and with whose career that of Copernicus is closely bound up. The boy was educated in Thorn till his nineteenth year, when he was placed in the University of Krakau. The greatest illustration of its faculty was Albertus Blar de Brudzewo (usually written Brudzewski), professor of astronomy and mathematics. The works of Purbach and of Regiomontanus were expounded in his lectures. In the winter semester of 1491-92 Copernicus was matriculated in the faculty of arts, and devoted himself, so it is recorded, with the greatest diligence and success to mathematical and astronomical studies, becoming, at the same time, familiar with the use of astronomical instruments. In the autumn of 1494 Brudzewski left the university, and it is probable that Copernicus did the same. The humanists of the faculty had suffered a defeat at the hands of the scholastics, and the latter now ruled supreme. At Krakau Copernicus studied the theory of perspective, and applied it in painting. Portraits from his hand are praised by his contemporaries.

In the summer of 1496 the youth went to Italy, and in January, 1497, he was inscribed at the University of Bologna, in the 'Album of the German Nation,' as a student of jurisprudence. From 1484 to 1514 the professor of astronomy at Bologna was Dominicus Maria da Novara. He was an observer, a theorist, as well as a free critic of the received doctrines of Ptolemy, although such of his criticisms as we know are not especially happy, it must be confessed. He determined the obliquity of the ecliptic to be 23° 29' by his own observations, which is in error by 1' 20" only, a small quantity for his time. Coper-