Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/February 1888/The Moon and the Weather

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to him; for wages in Great Britain, as before stated, are fully 100 per cent higher at the present time than they were in 1809.

The impression probably prevails very generally in all countries that the capitalist classes are continually getting richer and richer, while the masses remain poor, or become poorer. But in Great Britian, where alone of all countries the material (i. e., through long-continued and systematized returns of incomes and estates [probate] for taxa- tion) exists for scientific inquiry, the results of investigation demon- strate that this is not the case.

In the case of estates, the number subjected to legacy and succes- sion duties within the last fifty years has increased in a ratio double that of population, but the average amount of property per estate has not sensibly augmented. If, therefore, wealth among the capitalist classes has greatly increased, as it has, there are more owners of it than ever before; or, in other words, wealth, to a certain extent, is more diffused than it was. Of the whole number of estates that were assessed for probate duty in Great Britain in 1836, 77*5 per cent were for estates representing property under £1,000 ($5,000).

In the matter of national income, a study of its increase and appor- tionment among the different classes in Great Britain has led to the following conclusions: Since 1843, when the income-tax figures begin, the increase in taxable income is believed to have been £755,000,000. Of this amount, the iiicome from the capitalist classes increased about 100 per cent, or from £190,000,000 to £400,000,000. But, at the same time, the number of the capitalist classes increased so largely that the average amount of capital possessed among them per head increased only 15 per cent, although the increase in capital itself was in excess of 150 per cent. In the case of the "upper" and "middle" classes, the income from their "working" increased from £154,000,000 to £320,000,000, or about 100 per cent; while, in the case of the masses (i. e., the manual-labor classes), which have increased in population only 30 per cent since 1843, the increase of their incomes has gone up from £171,000,000 to £550,000,000, or over 200 per cent. Between 1877 and 1886 the number of assessments in Great Britain for incomes between £150 ($750) and £1,000 ($5,000) increased 19-26 per cent, while the number of assessments for incomes of £1,000 and upward decreased 2-4 per cent.* What has happened to all that large class

  • The following table shows how wealth is distributed in the different classes of m-

comc-tax payers in Great Britain under Schedule D, which comprises incomes from profits on trades and employments:

"In 1877 the number of assessments of incomes from £150 to £500 was 285,754, and in 1886 it was S-i7,031, showing an increase of 21*4 per cent; of incomes between £500 and £1,000, the numbers were, in 1877, 32,085, and in 1886, 32,033, no increase at all; of incomes between £1,000 and £5,000, the numbers were, in 1877, 19,726, and in 1886, 19,250, a decrease of 24 per cent; and of the incomes over £5,000, the numbers were, in 1877, 3,122, and in 1886, 3,048, a decrease of 2-3 per cent. It results that from these figures the increase of the income-tax during times of depression and during ordinary whose annual income does not reach the taxable limit (£150) is suffi- ciently indicated by the fact that while population increases pauperism diminishes.

Thus, in the United Kingdom, during the last fifty years, the gen- eral result of all industrial and societary movement, according to Mr. Giffen, has been that "the rich have become more numerous, but not richer individually; the 'poor ' are, to some smaller extent, fewer; and those who remain ' poor ' are, individually, twice as well off on the average as they were fifty years ago. The poor have thus had almost all the benefit of the great material advance of the last fifty years."

The following further citations from the record of the recent eco- nomic experiences of Great Britain are also strongly confirmatory of the above conclusions:

The amount of life insurance in the United Kingdom exceeds that of any other country; and the record here is a very rapid increase in the number of policies issued, but a large decrease in the average amount of the policies; the meaning of which clearly is that a larger number of people are not only continually becoming provident, but able to insure themselves for small amounts.

The changes in the relations of crime and of educational facilities during the last fifty years of the history of the British people, which have occurred and are still in progress, are in the highest degree en- couraging. In 1839 the number of criminal offenders committed for trial was 54,000; in England, alone, 24,000. Now the corresponding figures (1886) were. United Kingdom, 19,446; England, 13,974. In 1840 one person for every 500 of the population of the British Islands was a convict; in 1885 the proportion was as one to every 4,100.

As late as 1842 there was no national school system in England, and there were towns with populations in excess of 100,000 in which there was not a single public day-school and not a single medical charity. In 1886 the number of attendants upon schools in the United Kingdom was reported at 5,250,000. In the same year the number in attendance upon schools, for the support of which grants of money are made by Parliament (and which correspond to the public schools of the United States) was 3,915,315, an increase over the preceding year of 85,335. The amount of such Parliamentary grants for 1886 was £3,945,576 ($19,728,830).

The change which has taken place in the relations of the Govern- ment of Great Britain to the national life of its people is also very re- markable. Thus at the commencement of the present century the British Government annually appropriated and spent about one third

times, during the times which we have been goin^:^ through and which have not been times of great prosperity, there has been a most satisfactory increase in the incomes below £500, while no similar increase is seen in the incomes between £500 and £1,000, and upward."—Mr. Goschen, On the Distribution of Wealth;' lioyal Statistical Society of England, 1SS7. of the national income ; now it expends annually about one twelfth. But for this greatly diminished expenditure the masses of the people now receive an immensely greater return than ever before ; in the shape of increased postal and educational facilities, safer navigation, greater expenditures for the maintenance of the public health and pub- lic security, greater effort for preventing abuses of labor, etc.

The general conclusion from all these facts, as Mr. Giffen has ex- pressed it, is that what "has happened to the working- classes in Great Britain during the last fifty years, is not so much what may properly be called an improvement, as a revolution of the most remarkable de- scription." And this progress for the better has not been restricted to Great Britain, but has been simultaneously participated in to a greater or less extent by most, if not all, other countries claiming to be civil- ized. So far as similar investigations have been instituted in the United States, the results are even more favorable than in Great Britain. If they have not been equally favorable in other than these two coun- tries, we have a right to infer that it has been, because the people of the former have not only started in their career of progress from a lower level of civilization and race basis than the latter, but have had more of disadvantages — natural and artificial — than the people of either Great Britain or the United States. The average earnings per head of the people of countries founded by the Anglo-Saxon race are confessedly larger than those of all other countries.*

But some may say ; this is all very interesting and not to be dis- puted. But how does it help us to understand better and solve the industrial and social problems of to-day, when the cry of discontent on the part of the masses is certainly louder, and the inequality of condition, want, and suffering is claimed to be greater than ever be- fore ? In this way.

The record of progress in Great Britain above described is in- disputably a record that has been made under circumstances that, if not wholly discouraging, were certainly unfavorable. It is the record of a country densely populated and of limited area, with the owner- ship, or free use of land, restricted to the comparatively few ; with (until recent years) the largest national debt known in history ; with a heavy burden of taxation apportioned on consumption rather than on accumulated property, and the reduction of which, a participation in constant wars and enormous military and naval expenditures has always obstructed or prevented ; with a burden of pauperism at the outset, and, indeed, for the first half of the period under

  • A recent Britisb authority (Sir Richard Temple) mates the highest average earnings

per head in any country at the present time to be in Australia, namely, £41 4s. Next in order, he places the United Kingdom, with an average per-capita earning capacity of £35 4s. ; then the United States, with an average capacity of £27 4s. ; and next, Canada, with an average of £26 18s. For ihe Continent of Europe the average is estimated at £18 Is. consideration, which almost threatened the whole fabric of society; and, finally, with a long-continued indisposition on the part of the governing classes to make any concessions looking to the betterment of the masses, except under the pressure of influences which they had little or no share in creating. And yet, without any "violent specifics," or radical societary changes, and apart from any force of statute law, except so far as statute law has been an instrumentality for making previously-existing changes in public sentiment effective; but rather through the steady working of economic laws under continually increasing industrial and commercial freedom, the working masses of Great Britain, "in place of being a dependent class, without future and without hope, have come into a position from which they may reasonably expect to advance to any degree of comfort and civilization."

Now, with humanity occupying a higher vantage ground in every respect than ever before; with a remarkable increase in recent years in its knowledge and control of the forces of Nature — the direct and constant outcome of which is to increase the abundance of all useful and desirable commodities in a greater degree than the world has ever before experienced, and to mitigate the asperities and diminish the hours of toil — is it reasonable to expect that further progress in this direction is to be arrested? Is the present generation to be less successful in solving the difficult social problems that confront it than were a former generation in solving like problems which for their time were more difficult and embarrassing? If the answer is in the negative, then there is certainly small basis for pessimistic views respecting the effect of the recent industrial and social transitions in the future.

But, in view of these conclusions, what are the reasons for the almost universal discontent of labor?

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THE persistent survival of weather-lore in these days of intellectual emancipation is not at all remarkable when we consider the extent to which the vulgar sayings embody real truths. A few years ago Messrs. Abercromby and Marriott embarked on an extremely interesting inquiry with a view to determine, by actual comparison, how far the popular proverbs express relations, or sequences, which the results of meteorological science show to be real. The investigation proved that something like a hundred of the more popular sayings are, under ordinary conditions, trustworthy. Such being the case, we need not be surprised that simple country folk prefer familiar couplets to all the "isobars," "cyclones," and "synchronous charts," in the world. If "hills clear, raiu near," means the same as "the presence of a wedge-shaped area of high pressure, accompanied by great atmospheric visibility, is likely to be followed by the advance of a disturbance with rain and southerly winds," which for all practical purposes it does, the preference is justified on the mere ground of breath economy. The thirty-one words demanded by science stand no chance against four.

But it is unfortunate that, along with the limited number of folk-sayings founded on truth, there has survived, a very large number founded on the grossest error. These latter have borrowed credence and respect from the proved credibility of the others, and apparently they are all destined to sink or swim together. Hammer as we will at certain favorite proverbs which we know to be based upon error, it is all in vain. The reverence for tradition is too much for us. And of all the superstitions, pure and simple, which defy our attempts at destruction, the most invulnerable are those ascribing certain effects to the influence of the moon. Few of the counties in England, Scotland, and Ireland but have their own peculiar observances referring to the supposed lunar influence upon diseases, destiny, etc. To merely enumerate these would require a small volume. Any who may care to see some specimens should consult a curious collection (but far from an exhaustive one) published last year by the Rev. Timothy Harley, under the title "Moon Lore." And of equal vitality with the other moon-myths is the idea of lunar influence upon the weather. There is this important difference, however, that while the attribution* of supernatural powers to the moon is palpably and admittedly absurd, the idea of her influence on the weather is not founded on anything physically impossible, and has the sanction of striking analogy in the accepted doctrine of the tides. How much importance was attached to the inquiry, regarded as a true scientific investigation, in the earlier half of the century, and up even to very recent years, may be seen by consulting a meteorological bibliography. The constant succession of papers in English, French, and German, by accredited scientific men, and contributed to respectable scientific societies and periodicals, dealing with the lunar weather theory in all its aspects, shows this to have been long considered one of the most important problems of meteorology.

The doctrine of the survival of the fittest would not seem to be applicable to the case of wise saws. The criterion of fitness we may take to be the reliableness of the saw, and, as we have just seen, they survive without the slightest reference to that characteristic. Nevertheless, one is loath to believe that formulated nonsense can have found credence for ages unless there is a larger admixture of truth in it than is readily apparent by the light of our present knowledge. Popular error has been described as the perception of half the truth, or of one side of a truth. "Were this invariably so, it would afford a profitable employment to dissect popular errors with a view to discovering the half-truth, since we might be able to find its complement somewhere, and materially enrich the world. But that is not the sense I intend to convey. Nearly all weather sayings are of the nature of predic- tions. They describe a certain appearance of phenomenon, and then go on to say what other appearance or phenomenon may be expected to follow it. We have here a sequence of events; the ground of the saying (if it has any ground at all) is the invariability of the sequence. Now it is difficult to imagine such sequences being invented without any reference to the observed fact, and it is still more difficult to imagine them obtaining currency—not local currency merely, but some- times universal currency—unless a certain number of observed in- stances have borne them out. Of course, by the laws of chances any sequence within the range of probability is bound to happen some- times, but a sequence of weather phenomena is liable to variation in so many different directions that the purely chance happenings of any specified sequence are not numerous relatively to the blanks. I am disposed to assume, therefore, that all weather proverbs of this nature are founded upon one observed instance; and that, although many are only based upon the accidental recurrence of the sequence (and are consequently worthless), many also are the expression of a real, demonstrable sequence of sufficiently frequent occurrence to afford ground for the rough approximation which suffices to constitute a popular weather law.

But it does not follow that because we assume the fact of an appar- ent connection between two phenomena, and predict from the mani- festation of the one the approaching manifestation of the other, the connection must necessarily be of the nature of cause and effect, nor yet of the nature of successive effects of the same cause. There is such a thing as the coincidence of phenomena. The coincidence may be purely fortuitous, or it may be the result of the operation of higher laws of which we as yet have no knowledge.

We may now proceed to the more immediate subject of this article. It is not my intention to attempt to give an exhaustive collection of lunar proverbs. Such collections are curious, but they are not particu- lafly useful. Nor do I aspire to propound any new theory of lunar influence on the weather. What I do propose is to discuss a few of the best known, and therefore most important, of the popular weather notions in which the moon is concerned, with the view of showing the necessity for discrimination in their acceptance; the ultra-scientific man who pooh-poohs everything that has moon in it being really as wide of the mark as the poor victim of superstition who puts double faith in things on the same ground. In arranging my remarks it will be convenient to deal successively with (1) lunar notions that are ut- terly absurd; and (2) those that are explicable by the aid of physical principles, and are therefore rational and useful in practice. To the former class belongs the idea, in its various forms, of a direct lunar influence; and I would begin with that most ubiquitous—and apparently everlasting as well—of all popular absurdities, the table known as "Herschel's Weather Table." How it ever came to be associated with the name of the greatest of English astronomers is a mystery. I once put the question in "Notes and Queries," where the obscurest of literary enigmas are often solved, but to no purpose. Whatever the explanation may be, the table is certainly weighted with Herschel's great authority, and to this day we find it in nearly all the almanacs, and even in some less ephemeral publications, gravely quoted as the embodiment of scientific truth. It is not necessary to take up space with the whole table, as it is only too well known, and can be seen in almost any almanac. It states that if the moon changes, or becomes full, or enters her first or third quarter between noon and two in the afternoon, the "resulting weather" (that is, I presume, the weather during the ensuing week, or until a new change inaugurates a new state of things) will be, in summer, "very rainy," and in winter "snow and rain." If the change of moon takes place between two and four in the afternoon, the resulting weather will be "changeable" in summer (a pretty safe prediction in this climate), and "fair and mild" in winter. And so on for the whole twenty-four hours. Kow, it will be observed that the lunar influence assumed here is of an occult nature. There is no pretense of physical agency in the matter. The weather will be such and such, not because the moon's reflection of light is greater or smaller, nor because her radiation of heat is more or less, nor because her position with respect to the earth is nearer or farther away, but simply because she "changes" between certain ar- bitrary hours. What virtue there can be in the moon's "change" is hard indeed to see. The principle involved must be an astrological one, for in reality the moon is gradually, if imperceptibly, "chang- ing" during every moment of her increase from new to full, and her decrease from full to new again, the quarters being only stages in the process specially marked for the sake of convenience. There is pre- cisely the same degree of visible difference between a three-days'-old moon and a ten-days'-old one as there is between a new moon and a moon in her first quarter; but in the former case (so we are asked to believe) the difference is impotent to rule the weather because it does not coincide with the conventional "change." To look at the matter in another way, it will be noticed that the table provides for a change occurring at any hour in the twenty-four, and, as the moon can not escape the necessity of changing sometimes, it follows that the weather for the year—and not only for the year, but for as long as the sun, earth, and moon retain their relative position and motions—is reduci- ble to a cut-and-dry order; such an order, no doubt, as the compilers of Zadkiel's, Orion's, and the Belfast Almanacs assume. Need the British public be assured that no such convenient orderliness in our weather phenomena exists? And, finally, the "changes" of the moon are not exclusively confined to England, nor to any one country. The new moon waxes into the full moon simultaneously all the world over. Moreover, the "change" takes place simultaneously all the world over. Consequently, when the change occurs between 12 and 2 p. m., it means that the weather will be "very rainy" in every part of the earth where summer is, while "snow" must prevail wherever the con- ditions are such as to make rain impossible; and what becomes of those local variations which are the experiences of everybody who has traveled twenty miles upon the terrestrial globe? Predictions founded upon this preposterous weather table are not one whit more worthy of serious attention than those contained in Zadkiel's Almanac; but, while the latter are admittedly addressed only to the grossly ignorant and credulous, the table unfortunately retains its character of respecta- bility unimpaired.

As an example of elaborate nonsense, I know of nothing better than a table "showing the probabilities of a change of weather at or after each of the moon's situations throughout an entire revolution in her orbit," which received the honor of recognition and approval in a cyclopaedia of not very ancient date. The table names the moon's ten

  • ' situations "(conjunction, opposition, first quarter, third quarter, peri-

gee, apogee, ascending equinox, descending equinox, northern lunis- tice, and southern lunistice), and opposite each gives the"chances that the weather will change " with the most exquisite exactitude. Thus, there are six chances to one that a change will take place about new moon, but only five to two in favor of a change about the full. At the time of the northern lunistice the chances are eleven to four, at the southern three to one (note the minute difference). Unlike Herschel's table, this one has reference to a lunar "influence" which depends for its intensity, as any physical influence necessarily would do, upon the nearness or distance of its source, and also upon the position of that source relative to the sun, which may be regarded as the seat of an opposing or antagonistic influence. This is all quite rational, and is well calculated to impress the un- scientific mind, while the exquisite precision with which the proba- bilities are stated, greatly enhances the effect. But what is the out- come of it? Taking the ten specified points in each lunation, and calling a lunation, roughly, thirty days, and then averaging the "prob- abilities," we discover that this table, which looks for all the world as if it might be the condensed result of years of observation and much laborious calculation, merely expresses (or, more properly speaking, conceals) the simple fact, that in every three days there are about three chances to one that the weather will undergo a change!—which, so far as this country is concerned, is only too true.

"If Christmas comes during a waxing moon we shall have a very good year; and the nearer to the new moon the better. But if, during the waning moon, a hard year; and the nearer the end of the moon, so much the worse." This saying is typical of a good many others. The fact that a festival is invariably selected, points to a purely su- perstitious origin, for we have no physical grounds for supposing a festival-day to determine the weather conditions which are to follow any more than an ordinary day. Unlike the tables we have been dis- cussing, there is not even the semblance of scientific authority here. The chief agent is not physical, but religious. The moon is always either waxing or waning; it is her nature so to do. But that of itself signifies nothing; it is when Christmas happens upon a waxing or waning period that we have the critical combination.

Southey, in one of his letters, writes: "Poor Littledale has this day explained the cause of our late rains, which have prevailed for the last six weeks, by a theory which will probably be as new to you as it is to me. ' I have observed,' he says, * that when the moon is turned upward, we have fine weather after it; but if it is turned down, then we have a wet season: and the reason, I think, is, that when it is turned down it holds no water, like a basin, you know, and then down it all comes.' " Southey found, upon inquiry, that this was a common notion in the lake district. George Eliot, as Mr. Ilarley points out, has a reference to the same fancy in "Adam Bede." If Jamieson's "Scottish Dictionary" is to be trusted, the same belief is exactly reversed in Scotland. Jamieson states that it is considered as an almost infallible presage of bad weather if the moon "lies sair on her back." Of the two forms of the saying, the English one is infi- nitely to be preferred, for it embodies rather a pretty idea, while the Scotch one is simply nonsensical. The moon might "lie sair on her back" were it she herself that was "bad," but scarcely on account of an approaching disturbance of the weather. To explain the condi- tions under which the crescent moon is tilted forward or backward, would require little short of a treatise on the lunar, and terrestrial mo- tions, a digression for which we have no space; but it is suflBciently obvious that to attribute an influence to the "attitude" of the visible moon is open to the fatal objection that, like the "change," it is not a sudden but a gradual phenomenon, which ought to exercise its influ- ence through all the stages of its progress, instead of only when a weather-wise person happens to notice it.

One of the most curious, and certainly one of the most widespread, of all weather beliefs is that of the "Saturday moon." The notion is that when the new moon falls on a Saturday it is invariably followed by a period of wet and unsettled weather. The currency of this belief is remarkably wide. Not only is it found (more or less modified) in the folk-lore of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but it is held also by sea- men of all nationalities. A traveler relates that he once heard it re- ferred to by a Chinese pilot. And more than this, in 1848, a Dr. Fors- ter announced to the Royal Astronomical Society, as the result of an examination of weather registers kept by his grandfather, his father, and himself, extending over nearly eighty years, that nineteen times out of twenty a new moon on Saturday was followed by twenty days of rain and wind. It is not many weather sayings that enjoy the sup- porting testimony of a sober scientific investigation, and that circum- stance, together with the general acceptance in which the saying is held, entitles it to special consideration.

Could we reduce the occurence of a Saturday moon to any form of periodicity—that is to say, were the accident of the new moon falling on a Saturday to recur at regular intervals—we should have some ground for at least provisionally admitting the truth of the rule, since we know that many weather phenomena are roughly periodical (though the periodicity is often completely masked by the disturbing operation of local influences), and it might so happen that this weather period co- incided with that of the Saturday mor n. The "cold snaps" in May» for example, recur periodically; and a cause for the phenomenon has been found in the passage of dense meteor flights between the sun and the earth, the meteors intercepting a portion of his heat. But the Saturday moon is not exactly periodical. In 1881 not a single new moon fell on a Saturday. In 1883 there were three conjunctions so distinguished. This year there are two. "What sort of weather period can we imagine guilty of such eccentricities? Of course, had the adage referred to a particular Saturday moon it would have been different. The new moon falls on the same day again after a lapse of about nine- teen years (a circumstance that gave rise to the Metonic cycle), and the rule would then have meant that a period of wet and windy weather oc- curred at a certain season every nineteen years—a notion in striking accordance with a favorite cycle of the cycle hunters. No such in- terpretation is possible, however, and we are obliged to include this much-respected saying in the category of idle superstitions.

We come now to the more edifying class of lunar weather notions—those that have a real physical basis. And it may not be out of place to repeat here that the writers who so emphatically and unre- servedly denounce the moon and weather idea a vulgar superstition overstep the limits of scientific truth. So far as any influence of the kind we have been considering is concerned, they are quite right. The moon exerts no influence upon our atmosphere strong enough, by com- parison with the other influences at work, to produce a marked cor- respondence between the lunar and atmospheric phenomena. Of that we are certain. Let us, therefore, belabor the false doctrine upon which the preceding and many similar notions are founded with all our might. But because the moon certainly is not a dominant factor in our weather, it does not follow that we are justified in denying to it an influence of any kind. And the results of sundry investigations have been such as to render it prudent to regard the existence of some phys- ical connection between the two as at least an open question.