Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/248

This page has been validated.



By Professor SOLON I. BAILEY,


NATURE, when in her sublimest moods, is seldom seen without fear and danger. The tornado furnishes an exhibition full of weird beauty and scientific interest; yet man, in his haste to reach a place of safety, has little time for their contemplation. In the total eclipse of the sun, however, nature provides one spectacle, unsurpassed in grandeur, which may be observed in perfect safety. There was a time, indeed, when the chief emotion caused by an eclipse was fear, that superstitious dread of impending evil, which the presence of the unknown causes. This has now passed away, with the increase of knowledge. Perhaps no better illustration of the changed thought of the world in regard to natural phenomena could be found than a comparison of the following extracts. The first is from the early English chroniclers; William of Malmesbury, writing of the eclipse of March 20, 1140, says:

At the ninth hour of the fourth day of the week, there was an eclipse throughout England as I have heard. With us, indeed, and with all our neighbors, the obscuration of the sun also was so remarkable that persons sitting at table, for it was Lent, at first feared that chaos was come again; afterwards, learning the cause, they went out and beheld the stars around the sun. It was thought and said by many not untruly that the king would not continue a year in the government.

The 'New York Herald' of January 2, 1889, announced the eclipse of the previous day with the following headlines: "The Sun Knocked Out. After about two minutes it comes up smiling. Viewing the Eclipse. Clear skies almost universal along the belt of totality. Fine photographs taken." etc., etc.

Scientific study is now the chief attraction of an eclipse, although its spectacular beauty is appreciated as never before. Many natural phenomena, which otherwise would attract the systematic attention of scientists, fail to do this in consequence of the irregularity with which they occur. An eclipse of the sun, however, can be computed many years in advance, so that careful plans can be made for its observance. Even here grave trouble is caused by the uncertainties of meteorological science. It is a striking and somewhat discouraging fact that, while one can compute with reasonable accuracy the place and time of an eclipse a hundred years in advance, he cannot safely predict a single