Page:The Pathfinder of the Seas.djvu/77

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47
HIS ASTRONOMICAL WORK

through the transit instrument of a star across the meridian is the height of astronomical sublimity. At the dead hour of the night, when the world is hushed in sleep and all is still; when there is not a sound to be heard save the dead beat escapement of the clock, counting with hollow voice the footsteps of time in his ceaseless round, I turn to the Ephemeris and find there, by calculation made years ago, that when that clock tells a certain hour, a star which I never saw will be in the field of the telescope for a moment, flit through, and then disappear. The instrument is set;—I look; the star, mute with eloquence that gathers sublimity from the silence of the night, comes smiling and dancing into the field, and at the instant predicted even to the fraction of a second it makes its transit and is gone! With emotions too deep for the organs of speech, the heart swells out with unutterable anthems; we then see that there is harmony in the heavens above; and though we cannot hear, we feel the 'music of the spheres'"[1]

Maury's first volume of astronomical observations, the first indeed to be issued from an American observatory, appeared in 1846. Though this was pioneer work, it was important enough to cause one of the most distinguished astronomers of Europe to conclude that it had placed the American observatory in the front rank with the oldest and best institutions of the kind in Europe. In the appendix to this volume, Maury gives very generous credit and praise to his helpers, among whom were at this time the distinguished mathematicians Hubbard, Keith, and Coffin; but he adds that he considers himself

  1. From "The National Observatory" read by Maury before the Virginia Historical Society. It was copied from The Historical Register in the Southern Literary Messenger of May, 1849.