Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/840

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weeks, months, and years are fixed invariably for us by the calendar; the rising and setting of the great lights, the phases of the moon, and even eclipses are in a certain way in everybody's hands, and the whole general movement of the stars is simplified for us. Ships arrive at their destination without having deviated from their route, and that by means of celestial observations so rapidly taken that the passenger hardly remarks them. All these operations, now become so simple, and of which the common man is unaware because they are made apart from him, were formerly the charge of every one. Before there were clocks to keep the hour and show it continuously, every person had to determine it every time he wanted to know it. Instead of taking the time of year from the almanac, he had to read it in the sky, the changes of which he was obliged to follow. In journeys, whether across inhabited countries or on the sea, only a few of the company could give an account of the road they had passed over or could decide upon that which should be followed. None of the professional services now placed in the hands of a few specialists existed then; every man, on the contrary, at every moment, had to be his own astronomer.

If necessity no longer provokes continuous astronomical studies and observations, and the astronomer has no reward but the pure pleasure that science gives, how comes it that astronomy, more than any other science, has created so many adepts? We will attempt to explain it. Astronomy, beyond every other science, offers phenomena which, while they are within the domain of the highest researches of philosophy, can both arrest the attention of persons having some scientific ideas and excite the curiosity of little-instructed observers. Chemistry, in its investigation of the constituent elements of the universe; physiology, in its delicate researches in the secrets of animal life; the transcendent logic of geometry enthusiastic over a formula that deters those who are not initiated—pass the comprehension of the vulgar. But the glories of the rising and setting sun, the serene majesty of the moon when it crosses the celestial vault, the mild luster of Venus, the splendor of the firmament on a cloudless night, the appearance of a comet with its long tail floating in the skies like a resplendent banner, are spectacles that can charm both the philosopher and the peasant, the mathematician who measures worlds and traces their routes, and the shepherd who sees only their figures. Further, if the object of all science is to enlarge and purify thought, to fill the mind with noble contemplations and give it a calm quiet, astronomy, from this point of view, is superior to all other sciences. No other science includes in itself so manifestly the abstractions that form the basis of our intelligence and so grand ideas of time, space, number, motion, and force.