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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/352

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342
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

sidereal day is a little more than 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds, and the average length of the lunar day is a little less than 24 hours and 49 minutes. The lunar day finds expression in the tides and is of moment to maritime folk, hut the sidereal is known only to astronomers.

Next in the series of our natural time units is the month, or the rhythmic period of the moon regarded as a luminary. By our savage ancestors, who credited the moon with powers of great importance to themselves, much use was made of this unit, hut as progress in knowledge has shown that the influence of the satellite had been vastly overrated, less and less attention has been paid to the returning crescent, and it is only in ecclesiastic calendars that the chronology of civilization now recognizes the natural month. Its shadow survives, without the substance, in the calendar month; and the week possibly represents an early attempt to subdivide it.

In passing to our third natural unit, the year, we again encounter solar influence, and find the rhythm of the earth's orbit echoed and reechoed in innumerable physical and vital vibrations. As the attitude of the earth's axis inclines one hemisphere toward the sun for part of the year and the other hemisphere for the remainder, the whole complex drama of climate is annually enacted, and the sequence of man's activities is made to assume an annual rhythm. The year is second only to the clay as a terrestrial unit of duration; and as the day is man's standard for the minute division of time, so the year is his standard for larger divisions, and the decade, the century and the millenium are its multiples.

But the rhythms of day and night, of summer and winter, are not the only tides in the affairs of men. At birth we are small, weak and dependent, we grow larger and stronger, we become mature and independent, and then by reproducing our kind we complete the cycle, which begins again with our children. The cycle of human life is the generation, a time unit of somewhat indefinite length and varying in phase from family to family, but holding a place, nevertheless, in human chronology.

Still less definite is the rhythm of hereditary rulership, progressing from vigor through luxury to degeneracy, and closing its cycle in usurpation; yet it makes an epoch in the life of a nation or empire, and so the dynasty is one "of the units of the historian.

The generation and the dynasty are of waning importance in human chronology, and they can claim no connection with the problem of geologic time; but here again I have turned aside for a moment in order to illustrate a principle of classification. The daily rhythm of waking and sleeping, of activity and rest, does not originate with man, but is imposed on him by the rhythm of light and darkness, and that