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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/398

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

then were narrow winding streaks, hardly even roughly regular and by no means such departures from plausibility as to be without the scientific expurgatorial pale. Indeed to a modern reader prepared beforehand for geometric construction they will probably appear no 'canals' at all.

Certainly the price of acceptance was not a large one to pay. But like that of the Sybilline books it increased with putting off. What he offered the public in 1879 was much more dearly to be bought. The lines were straighter, narrower and in every way less natural than they had seemed two years before. They were again refused belief and on seemingly better grounds. In 1881-2 they progressed still more in unaccountability. They had now become regular rule and compass lines as straight, as even and as precise as any draughtsman could wish and quite what astronomic faith did not desire. Having thus donned the character, they nevermore put it off. Their precision grew persistent until finally other men began to admit what on much easier terms they had earlier rejected.

Now this curious evolution in design points to one interesting deduction. It shows that Schiaparelli started with no preconceived idea on the subject. On the contrary it is clear that he shared to begin with the' prevailing hesitancy to accept anything out of the ordinary. Nor did he overcome his reluctance except as by degrees he was compelled, for the canals did not change their characteristics nor could the glimpse he got of them have altered as time went on, except in frequency, so far as the eye itself was concerned. But the brain made different account of the reports as it grew familiar with the messages sent it, and gradually by acquaintance learned to distinguish more particularly what it saw. In other words, the geometrical character of the 'canals' was forced upon him by the things themselves instead of being, as his critics took for granted, foisted on them by him. We have since seen the regularity of the canals so undeniably that we are not now in need of such inferential support to help us to the truth, but too late, as it is, to be of controversial moment the deduction is none the less of some historic force.

The year 1890 brought Schiaparelli's labors to a close; and 1892 ushered in at once a new cycle of the planet's seasons and a fresh set of observers on earth. In 1892 the planet was again favorably placed for observation, much as it had been in 1877, and the chief observers of it were W. H. Pickering at Arequipa, Peru, and Schaeberle and Barnard at the Lick Observatory, California. Just as Dawes had made in some sort a transition between the first period and the second, so these observers furnished the stepping stone from the second period to the third. W. H. Pickering detected in the planet 's dark regions certain yet darker ramifications which he denominated river-systems. Nearly simul-