Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/268

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
256
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SKETCH OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS.

MODERN astronomy may be said to have begun with Copernicus. Previous to his time the received theories of the structure and motions of the universe were incorrect, inconsistent, and incomprehensible, and did not explain the inexact observations that were referred to them. He gave to science a correct theory, in which exact observations have found clear and consistent explanations.

Nicolaus Kopernik was born in Thorn, now in Prussia, but at that time a part of Poland, February 18, 1473, and died May 24, 1543. The accounts vary concerning the station of his family. According to the one which seems best established, his father was a native of Cracow, the son of a man in good position there, and had settled as a wholesale trader in Thorn; his mother, Barbel von Wasselrode, was a sister of a Bishop of Ermeland. His earlier instruction, given him in the school at Thorn, included Greek and Latin letters. He then went, under the patronage of his uncle Lukas, who afterward became bishop, to the University of Cracow, where he applied himself to philosophy and medicine, but more ardently than to either of these branches, under the inspiration of the lessons of Albert Brudzewki, to mathematics and astronomy, in which he made himself familiar with the use of the instruments. He also, in his intervals of leisure, practiced in painting, with considerable success. When twenty-three years of age he proceeded to the University of Bologna, where he attended the lectures of Dominico Maria Novarra in astronomy, and formed a personal friendship with him; and then to Padua, where he studied mathematics and astronomy, and obtained the degree of Doctor of Medicine. In 1499 and 1500 he was in Rome, the associate of the astronomer Regiomontanus, and lecturing on the science to a numerous class. He then returned to his native land, where his reputation for learning and his gentle bearing gained him a cordial welcome. He became a priest, and, under the patronage of his episcopal uncle, a canon of Frauenburg, on the banks of the Vistula. Here, from 1503, he spent the remainder of his life, dividing his time between the duties of his profession, works of charity, and the study of astronomy. He visited the poor and sick, gave them medical attention, and relieved their wants at his own expense; devised a hydraulic system for the distribution of water through the city, remains of which are still to be seen; and composed a treatise on the coinage of money, which was preserved in the archives of the Diet of Grodno. The house which he occupied at Allenstein still stands there, or did