Page:Edinburgh Review Volume 158.djvu/321

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306 Prowe's Life of Copernicus. Oct.

been delivered over to the contemplation of man ; and that the perplexing appearances presented by the heavenly bodies were no will-o'-the-wisp deceptions, but faithful indications of real facts, needing only to be sincerely expounded by simple, straightforward reasoning, apart from the crooked ways of prejudice.

With the germs at least of these thoughts in his mind, he left Cracow, as it would seem, in the autumn of the year 1494. He found his native town in a ferment of political excitement. The arrival of John Albert, the new Polish king, to receive the homage of his Prussian subjects, gave occasion to agitated debates and anxious negotiations, in which the nearest relatives of Copernicus were deeply engaged. Privileges had to be secured, jealousies appeased, the accumulated mutual distrust of years obliterated. That is to say, all this was desired, something of it was attempted, a very little accomplished. A modus vivendi was, however, arranged. The oath was taken, the king departed, and Thorn had leisure to reflect on another event highly disturbing to the equanimity of a mercantile community. Strange news had recently penetrated to the Baltic. It was said that a bold Genoese navigator had reached the Indies sailing west, and an uneasy apprehension as to the consequences began to gain ground among the thriving members of the Hansa. What if the ancient trade-routes came ere long to be deserted for the broad ocean-track leading to anew world? Could it reasonably be expected that the demand for dried fish and timber, for tar, ashes, and hemp from Northern seas and shores, would retain its briskness in Iberian markets flooded with the produce of an Eldorado, a land of Ophir, and an Araby the Blest in one? Many an earnest discussion on these and similar topics doubtless met the ears of Copernicus ; but very different must have been the meditations inspired to him by the intelligence of the marvellous voyage. The world was widened — to the imagination — indefinitely ; possibilities became more immediate, enterprise more hopeful. In the heavens, as well as on the earth, adventure might be attempted. The vast regions of space, navigated only by the shining craft of the skies, might prove not inaccessible to arduous thoughts, and the system of the sun and planets might, in its turn, find a Columbus.

An interval of two years broke the sequence of the young astronomer's academical studies. There is some reason to believe that he was waiting for an appointment secured somewhat more tardily than had been hopefully expected. In September, 1495, a vacancy occurred in the chapter of the diocese