A VOYAGE IN SPACE
failure from truth is only a detail. The great thing was to realize this wonderful fact for the first time—that the "fixed stars" were moving: and I think Halley might have been even more proud than in the case of his comet that the discovery was made by an Englishman.
It might have been a Rooshian,
Or a French, or Turk, or Prooshian.
Mr. W. S. Gilbert has chaffed us about our pride in being Englishmen; but there are some things in which we may justly feel a national pride, and surely one of them is that an Englishman (and I am glad to add an Oxford man, writing from Oxford) first set the "fixed" stars in motion. A great many important consequences have followed from this discovery of Halley's. In the first place we find that the movements of the stars afford us a much better test than their brightness for judging whether they are near us or far away. If they are very far away their movements will appear very slow: it is because even the nearest star is so far away that no one noticed any movement in them until Halley discovered it. They are really moving very quickly, but owing to the distance they seem to creep ever so slowly. Do you know Tennyson's beautiful verses about the Eagle?—
He clasps the crag with crooked hands,
Close to the Sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls,
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.