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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/85

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ASTRONOMY IN AMERICA

ASTRONOMY IN AMERICA.
By RICHARD A. PROCTOR.

DURING my visits to America in 1873-'74 and 1875-'76, I was led from time to time to notice with interest the progress and promise of astronomical science in America. My own special purpose in visiting America on these occasions partly brought these matters to my attention. The circumstance that in a country so much more thinly peopled than Great Britain it should be possible not only to obtain audiences for lectures on such a subject as astronomy, but to obtain more and better and larger audiences, by far than could be obtained during a lecture-season in England for any single scientific subject whatever, appeared to me in itself sufficiently remarkable. At a first view this might have been referred simply to the fact that the Americans are a lecture-loving people, preferring the quick and ready method of learning the more striking facts of a subject from a verbal exposition to close study and application. But I soon perceived that something more than the mere desire for superficial knowledge was in question. The number of persons making close inquiry into the subject was nearly always greater (even in proportion to the much greater audiences) than in England. That still more select section of every audience, the actual workers and observers, I also found to be correspondingly large; while again and again I met with what in England is certainly very unfrequent—cases, namely, in which persons, not engaged professionally in the study or teaching of astronomy, had privately worked so zealously and so ingeniously in astronomical research as to have effected original discoveries of considerable interest.

I do not propose, however, to enter here into an account of these experiences of my own. To do so would indeed be a welcome task to me, as enabling me in some degree to express not only my sense of the interest taken by Americans in science, but also my recognition of the unvarying kindness with which I was personally received. At Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus, Louisville, and Minneapolis, and, in fact, at all the cities and towns which I visited, I received a generous and kindly welcome from the community, accompanied by acts of personal kindness from individuals, which I shall always hold in grateful remembrance. But this would not be the place to attempt the task—in any case no easy one—of expressing my sense of American kindness and hospitality. My present purpose is to indicate simply the remarkable progress made by Americans in astronomical science during the last half-century.

Fifty years ago there were few telescopes and no observatories in