Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/382

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366

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the material world—"nearly out of our store of force." But it were wisdom in us to husband the forces we have, that we may hand down to our successors a thoroughly well-ordered system in all things. And in nothing should we be so careful and scrupulous as in our schemes of education, which affect, in a very direct way, the judgment of the generation which follows us.

Sooner or later there is created in most American colleges what is thereafter known as its astronomical observatory, and in respect to this portion of the college we are frequently called on to lament over some glaring instances of wasted force—force misapplied. One of the forms of these prevalent errors is a mania for "instruments of the largest size," which are not unfrequently bought at large cost, and used perhaps a dozen times a year to allow the senior class, and perchance a few ladies, to view such objects as Jupiter, Saturn, the moon, perhaps a double star, and, more unlikely yet, a nebula. Its kindred error is an immense and vague desire for the multiplication of apparatus, so that one walks amid a labyrinth of chronographs, transits, meridian circles, and equatorials, upon each of which the rust of long inaction lies. We must remember that each of these instruments represents a large outlay of money, and also an expenditure of faith in the giver of them. It is bad enough to allow so much mere capital to lie idle, but it is worse not to return to the benefactor of a college something which may be the sign of a good investment, something which shall encourage him and others to believe that their gifts are doing real, practical educational good. It is here intended to speak only of the college observatory as a means of education, and a distinct difference is made between the ordinary institution of this kind, and the working observatories of such colleges as Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Michigan, and others.

It is taken for granted that the ordinarily-constituted observatory is for the purpose of teaching certain specific things and certain important methods to the average class of college pupils, and it will be the endeavor of this paper to point out a remedy for some of the abuses that undoubtedly exist in this respect.

Most certainly there are but few subjects which have a greater educational value than Astronomy. As a continuation of the most advanced mathematical course, Theoretical Astronomy is of immense importance and of endless extent. The effect of its study upon the mind is of a much higher order, most of us will agree nowadays, whatever Pythagoras might have said, than the study of even the most abstract relations of number and space. It is supplementary to these last-named subjects, which are, so to say, its raw material, which it elaborates into more complex and higher forms. But let us remember, it is the boast of Theoretical Astronomy that it is purely a science of the closet, dependent upon observation only for its data. Its greatest master, Laplace, thus speaks in the "Système du Monde:" "II est très re-