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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/134

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130
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
ne troubla sa vie; (ou ne lui connaît même pas de commerce affectueux et intime[1]); ennemi des discours inutiles, il ne rechercha ni les éloges ni le bruit de la gloire; indépendant sans orgueil, content de son sort et content de lui-même, il fut grand sans éclat, et, ne se révélant qu'a petit nombre de disciples choisis, il a accompli une revolution dans la science (sans que, se son vivant, l'Europe en ait rien su).[2]

The system of Copernicus belongs to him alone. It is not the system of Philolaus or of Aristarchus. . . but his own. His name is justly attached to it on account of the care with which he explained its every part, brought out all its phenomena, discovered the causes of these precessional movements which had been known for eighteen hundred years, and explained only by the hypothetical existence of an eighth sphere which made a revolution in 36,000 years around the axis of the ecliptic, while, at the same time, it was constrained to turn daily about the axis of the equator to account for the rising and setting of the stars. It is then Copernicus who really introduced the motion of the earth into astronomy, not merely into academic disputations; it is he who demonstrated how the revolution of the earth about the sun explained the succession of the seasons and the precession of the equinoxes; it is he who showed how simply the retrogradations of the planets are explained by the unequal velocity with which they traverse their concentric orbits about the sun; it is he who put astronomy on new foundations and who opened the way for all later researches. It is to Kepler's enthusiasm over the new truths that we owe the discovery of the true shape of the planetary orbits, and the laws of their motion. The idea of the motion of the earth was unfruitful among the ancients because it was never entertained with seriousness. Its adoption by Copernicus is the beginning of modern astronomy. (Delambre).

The mountain peaks that cluster closely round the Lick Observatory in California are of different heights and were unnamed when the corps of observing astronomers took possession of the newly established station. Names were assigned to them in the order of their heights—Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho and Ptolemy. One of the staff of observers, who greatly distinguished himself during his short career at the observatory, objected to the assignment of the name of Copernicus to the highest peak. Copernicus was, no doubt, a great astronomer, he said, but was he preeminent? Should not the highest peak have been assigned to another? The objection is answered the moment the relation of Copernicus to the whole thought of the world is comprehended. His skill as a mere observer, his power as a mere geometer, is not in question. His place is not to be assigned by narrow criteria


  1. His relations with his uncle and with Giese were both affectionate and intimate; those with the young Rheticus were ideal, considering their ages.
  2. From the year 1514 onwards his name was widely known among the circles of the learned, and his theories were circulated as early as 1530.