Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/494

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
476
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

To the former class belongs the idea, in its various forms, of a direct lunar influence; and I would begin with that most ubiquitous—and apparently everlasting as well—of all popular absurdities, the table known as "Herschel's Weather Table." How it ever came to be associated with the name of the greatest of English astronomers is a mystery. I once put the question in "Notes and Queries," where the obscurest of literary enigmas are often solved, but to no purpose. Whatever the explanation may be, the table is certainly weighted with Herschel's great authority, and to this day we find it in nearly all the almanacs, and even in some less ephemeral publications, gravely quoted as the embodiment of scientific truth. It is not necessary to take up space with the whole table, as it is only too well known, and can be seen in almost any almanac. It states that if the moon changes, or becomes full, or enters her first or third quarter between noon and two in the afternoon, the "resulting weather" (that is, I presume, the weather during the ensuing week, or until a new change inaugurates a new state of things) will be, in summer, "very rainy," and in winter "snow and rain." If the change of moon takes place between two and four in the afternoon, the resulting weather will be "changeable" in summer (a pretty safe prediction in this climate), and "fair and mild" in winter. And so on for the whole twenty-four hours. Now, it will be observed that the lunar influence assumed here is of an occult nature. There is no pretense of physical agency in the matter. The weather will be such and such, not because the moon's reflection of light is greater or smaller, nor because her radiation of heat is more or less, nor because her position with respect to the earth is nearer or farther away, but simply because she "changes" between certain arbitrary hours. What virtue there can be in the moon's "change" is hard indeed to see. The principle involved must be an astrological one, for in reality the moon is gradually, if imperceptibly, "changing" during every moment of her increase from new to full, and her decrease from full to new again, the quarters being only stages in the process specially marked for the sake of convenience. There is precisely the same degree of visible difference between a three-days'-old moon and a ten-days'-old one as there is between a new moon and a moon in her first quarter; but in the former case (so we are asked to believe) the difference is impotent to rule the weather because it does not coincide with the conventional "change." To look at the matter in another way, it will be noticed that the table provides for a change occurring at any hour in the twenty-four, and, as the moon can not escape the necessity of changing sometimes, it follows that the weather for the year—and not only for the year, but for as long as the sun, earth, and moon retain their relative position and motions—is reducible to a cut-and-dry order; such an order, no doubt, as the compilers of Zadkiel's, Orion's, and the Belfast Almanacs assume. Need the British public be assured that no such convenient orderliness in our