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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/507

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SKETCH OF R. A. PROCTOR.

respecting the solar theory of the corona in 1870 and 1871 was blamed by some and misunderstood by many, who failed to perceive his reason for urging arguments so strongly on a matter seemingly theoretical. That reason was stated by Mr. Proctor in the preface to the first edition of the "Other Worlds," where he expresses his anxiety lest doubt and confusion, prevailing as to a matter really demonstrated, might cause the opportunities presented by the great solar eclipses of 1870 and 1871 to be frittered away. Mr. Proctor's confidence on the one hand and his anxiety on the other were fully justified by the event. Every astronomer now accepts the solar theory of the corona, and few are ignorant how, at the eclipse of 1871, two-thirds of the observers were set by the chief believer in the terrestrial theory to make observations which proved nothing, and which, but for faith in that exploded theory, would never have been thought of.

The controversy respecting the transits of Venus, begun in 1869, and brought to a close quite recently, led to unpleasant relations between Mr. Proctor and the Astronomer Royal. Indeed, it must be admitted that in conducting this controversy after February, 1873, Mr. Proctor exhibited a zeal which at times seemed uncalled for. But some explanation may be found in the fact that, having remained quiescent, at the Astronomer Royal's special request, for a long time, his renewal of the discussion led immediately to the statement that it was now too late for any change of plan. Fortunately, the results of the inquiries of American, Russian, and German astronomers, as well as the nature of the schemes proposed by them, fortified Mr. Proctor's position; and, even while the Astronomer Royal was proclaiming his conviction that no other nation would adopt the same opinions as Mr. Proctor, news reached England that America, Russia, and Germany, were in accord in these matters. It cannot be wondered at that, at the Greenwich Board of Visitation, Prof. Adams proposed, and the Board unanimously voted, the point which Mr. Proctor had urged in 1869, viz., that it was desirable to apply Halley's method (respecting which Airy had said, in December, 1868, that it "failed totally"). In this matter, as in the controversy respecting the sun's corona—the only controversies in which Mr. Proctor has engaged—there was this obvious reason for pressing the discussion, that eclipses and transits will wait for no man. In his main subject of original investigation—the constitution of the heavens—Mr. Proctor has wisely avoided controversy, contenting himself with advancing and advocating his views, collecting evidence, weighing objections, and endeavoring to progress toward the solution of the difficult but interesting problems associated with the subject.