The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Cloud-Land in Folk-Lore and in Science


[A Lecture delivered before the Philosophical Institute of Edinburgh, Dec. 6th, 1887, by the Hon. Ralph Abercromby.]

THE last time I had the honour of addressing an audience in this hall it was for the purpose of explaining modern developments of cloud-knowledge from a meteorological point of view. To-night, I propose to cast a glance backwards, so as to bring to your notice the manner in which people in ancient times have looked at clouds, and the extraordinary influence which the imagery they saw in cloud-forms had on their mental development.

Two important facts connected with cloud-forms will greatly simplify our task. In the first place, cloud-forms are essentially the same all over the world, as I shall show you incidentally during this lecture; and, in the second place, though no two clouds are ever the same, any more than two faces, still, all varieties of combinations are essentially reducible to six or seven fundamental structures.

I think the best way will be to show you successively seven of the fundamental structures of clouds, chiefly by means of photographs taken by myself in various parts of the world. Then, when you see the cloud on the screen, you will readily realise how the forms have suggested ideas to savages, and how these ideas have grown into mythology. I will next remark on the survivals of that attitude of mind which are. still current in the names that are used by rustics to denote certain forms of cloud, and then give the modern explanation of the origin of each type of cloud-structure.

Finally we will consider the difference in the attitude of mind induced by ancient and modern thought, and show the great superiority of what we may call the scientific spirit to the frame of mind that is influenced by poetry and by art.

Hairy Structure.

We will begin with that hairy or fibrous structure which is universally known as "cirrus," This is a form of cloud which unfortunately it is almost impossible to photograph. The picture[1] now on the screen is a rather heavy wisp of cirrus taken near London, in which you see the fibrous structure of the end of the cloud. The picture was taken at sunset, so that the cloud appears dark against a bright background.

The next example is from a beautiful drawing by Mr. C. Ley, the great authority on clouds, where you see two typical examples of the commonest forms of cirrus. The upper wisps have often been called "cirrus claws," from a fancied analogy to the claws of a bird, while the lower mass, where a patch of cloud is drawn out into hairs, looks something like a flattened centipede.

Now a glance at these pictures will explain at once how in an early stage of civilisation people saw hairy monsters in the sky, and there is no doubt that many mythological stories have grown out of or been suggested by hairy cirrus.

There are numerous survivals of this attitude of mind in present use; "mares'-tails" (Fig. 1, see next page), or the long wisps of cirrus which often precede or accompany wind, are familiar to you all. So also is "goat's hair," to which we shall refer again, though here it will suffice to mention that one of the monsters of Greek mythology was called "Chimaera," or the she-goat.

Other less known forms of cirrus are known as "sea-grass," "cats' tails," and cocks'-plumes." The last two are of great importance as they are the almost invariable precursors of tropical hurricanes.

The history of the word cirrus, which is now applied to hairy clouds, affords an extraordinary illustration of the persistency of the same ideas in men's minds in different ages. Cirrus was first used about fifty years ago by Mr. Luke Howard, a Quaker, to whom any name connected with heathen mythology was specially distasteful. Still, when looking about for a word for this cloud structure, he selected the

Fig. 1.—Mares' Tails: a form of Cirrus. From a Photograph by Osti of Upsala.

Latin word cirrus or a curl of hair, little knowing that he was reproducing exactly the same idea as suggested the Chimæra and other mythological monsters.

Another form of cirrus takes rather the form of long lines than of hairy wisps.

The example now before you is from the tropics, and here we see a line of cirrus over the top of a fine rocky cumulus, while in this picture yon see cirrus-stripes taken near Dover, which do not converge because they are not seen end on.

The lines when long enough always appear to converge in perspective towards some two points on the horizon exactly opposite to each other; and numerous curious names have been given to this appearance of the clouds. In England and Sweden the converging stripes are called "Noah's ark," and several weather prognostics depend on whether the ark turns its head to the wind, and whether the windows are open or shut. What phase of cloud represents the windows I cannot say, for I have never heard the expression myself applied to an actual cloud, but it may have reference to the cross-barred or striated structure which cirrus-stripes so often exhibit.

In Rhineland a similar form of cirrus is called the "sea ship," or "Mary's ship," and in all cases the converging stripes appear to have suggested the timbers of a ship tapering towards the bow and stern.

"We shall show presently the modern explanation of the origin of cirrus; that of cirrus-stripes, and reason why they sometimes lie across the wind, and why they at other times turn their head to the wind is far too complicated for a popular lecture. Suffice it say that we do not now see fanciful forms in cirrus-stripes, but rather the product of threads of vapour being condensed and drawn out by currents of air 20,000 feet above the earth; and that we can often get useful information respecting coming weather by noting the direction and motion of these thin lines of hairy cloud.

Fleecy Structure.

There is another type of structure to which it is impossible to give a better epithet than fleecy. We often see a lovely, bright cloud high in the heavens that looks exactly like a sheep's fleece, and totally unlike any other cloud-form. It is found all over the world. The picture you now see was taken at Folkestone, while this heavier form of the same cloud is from the "Doldrums" in the North Atlantic, and this beautiful specimen (Fig. 2, see next page) is from near the Falkland Islands.

I cannot give you any mythological or folk-lore story which refers exactly to this kind of cloud, but I have no doubt that some of the imagery of the Greek legends has been taken from this source. At the present time, however, nearly every country uses the word fleecy, or some term derived from a sheep to denote this structure. We often call it "wool-pack," the Germans dub these cloudlets "schafschen," while the Italians talk of "El ciel pecorello," all of which contain the same idea of something fleecy.

In another allied form we get a flock of cloudlets without a characteristic fleecy look, and then there is the familiar appearance of what is called "mackerel-sky" or "mackerel-scales," and also the less well-known forms, "the salmon" and "the hake." I am sorry that I cannot show a photograph or even a good drawing of these clouds (as they are not common), and their forms are not easy to delineate.

Fig. 2.—Fleecy Cloud, near Falkland Islands.

To those who know this kind of sky it is, however, easy to see how the forms have suggested the idea of fishes to people who dealt much in fish.

The explanation of the origin of fleecy clouds has not yet been altogether discovered. There is, however, no doubt that they are formed somehow by the action of two currents of air, moving either at different speeds, or in different directions one above the other, on a thin sheet of cloud that lies between them. Sand is often blown into ridges transverse to the wind like waves of the sea, and we can reproduce the structure of fleecy clouds in an extraordinary manner by making the water in a bucket which contains a little very fine sand oscillate to and fro. We cannot, however, suppose that air oscillates this way backwards and forwards, though one current may easily flow over another in pufifs or gusts. We also often see rising mist dragging along a mountain side assume a very fleecy appearance, apparently owing to the effect of little eddies caused by friction along the ground. Here is a very good example of a rising drifting mist taken by myself in the Himalayas from an altitude of nearly ten thousand feet. You see that the lowest and thinnest part of the mist is decidedly fleecy in structure.

But whatever uncertainty there may be as to some of the conditions under which fleecy clouds are developed, whenever we do see them we do not think about flocks of sheep, or of who shepherds the herd, but of the upper currents of the atmosphere, and of their varying speed and direction, and of what circulation of the atmosphere will produce the woolly structure.

Flat Structure.

I shall pass by with barest notice the flat thin layers or sheets of cloud that are so often found in fine weather, and which are technically known as stratus-clouds. Here is a typical example from London (Fig. 3), and another one nearly from the Antipodes, at Ohinemotu in New Zealand.

Fig. 3.— Flat Cloud, usually known as Stratus. Taken in London.

There is so little distinctive about this cloud-form that it scarcely appears in folk-lore, though I believe that in Lancashire these flat sheets of condensed vapour are still called "the blanket of the sun." We will therefore pass on to the most striking and important.

Rocky Structure.

In this form the summit of the cloud is always more or less rocky or lumpy, but the varieties are innumerable. Meteorologists call the whole class—cumulus.

Sometimes, as in this illustration from the Brazilian coast, you see small detached clouds, each with its own rocky top above a flat base; while in this beautiful picture of Rio Janeiro you see a mountainous mass of cloud rising out of the gloom below it. The third example I have put on the screen is a rocky cloud in London, simply to show that the form of cloud there is essentially the same as in South America. There is no doubt that some mythical caves and mountains have their origin in rocky clouds, but it is always difficult to separate these legends from the purely folk-lore story of human incident. Sometimes these threatening masses of rainy cloud are associated with low hairy cloud, something like the form of cirrus we have called "goat's-hair." Here is a typical illustration from a thunderstorm in Borneo (Fig. 4), where you see the cloud on the top of the picture

Fig. 4.— Mountainous Cumulus, drawn out into a sort of "Goat's hair" above, over a thunderstorm in Borneo.

combed out, as it were, into a hairy mass in front of the heavy cloud bank below.

I have no doubt that the old Norse idea of Thor's chariot being drawn by goats had its origin in this phase of cloud building. Here is an exact quotation from the story of Kungni in Theodwolf 's haustlong, as given by Mr. Vigfuson.

"Theodwolf's Haustlong.

"The story of Rungni.—Next I see how the terror of the giants (Thor) visited the cave-dweller, Rungni, at Rockgarth, in a ring of flame. The son of earth drove to the battle, and the moon's path (heaven) thundered beneath him. The whole ether was on fire about him, and the flat outstretched ground below him was beaten with the hail. Yea, the earth was rent asunder as the goats drew the chariot-god on to his tryst with Rungni."

So that where man in the myth-making and poetic epoch of development speaks of Thor's chariot being drawn by goats the more prosaic man of modern times notes the combing out of a cloud in front of rocky looking masses, popularly known as "goats'-hair," as a sign of impending rain.

Unfortunately we cannot explain this curious appearance, but it is certain that it is due to the condensation of vapour under certain conditions that we do not know at present.

In another form of rocky structure, the cloud takes the form of a number of small heads, usually all in a line.

Here is a beautiful slide, from a sketch by Mr. Ley, of a type which so frequently precedes thunderstorms that they are called "thunderheads" in many parts of the country.

There is no doubt that the hundred-headed monsters, and three-headed dogs, which play so large a part in all mythologies, have their mental origin in this form of rocky cloud. The idea of a cloud-form, like heads, is perpetually cropping up.

We have already mentioned one cloud-name that contains the idea of a head; but we often see on the west coast a small detached, lumpy, patch of cloud, usually above a heavy gust, which fishermen call the "wind-gall," or "wind-dog." When the sun suits, and a little; fragment of rainbow forms at the side of the cloud, the whole is called a "boar's head." I have no doubt that the little bit of shiny bow on the side of the knobby cloud has suggested the idea of a boar's tusk.

In mythology and folk-lore all these phases of rocky structure are naturally combined and confused, for they all occur together during thunderstorms. The rocky cavernous masses of cloud, the small heads of condensed vapour, and the hairy structure in front of ominous gloom, are all combined in folk's minds, till cloudland is peopled with hairy monsters and many-headed dragons.

Here is an extract from some Chinese historical records nearly three hundred years ago:—

"A.D. 1605. A couple of dragons fought at Whampoa and tore up a large tree, and demolished several tens of houses.

"A.D. 1608, 4th moon. A gyrating dragon was seen over the decorated summit of a pagoda; all around were clouds and fog, the tail only of the dragon was visible; in the space of eating a meal it went away, leaving the marks of its claws on the pagoda."

These manifestly refer to the long narrow funnel, or tail-shaped cloud, which constitutes the spout of a tornado or whirlwind.

Even in our own time the idea of monsters embracing the heavens and fighting with the sun strikes many minds. The following extract is from a charming book by a London barrister published about ten years ago.[2] At page 46 we find the following;—

"October 4th, 1880. Wind E.S.E. At midday in long. 25° 1' W. lat. 10° 32' N.; distance made this day 152 miles. During the day the wind came round till it was quite aft. The glass fell rather suddenly—more than a tenth in a hw hours. In the evening there was a wild appearance of the sky, slight squalls of wind and rain, and signs of worse weather coming; then followed a magnificent sunset, ominous of a storm, and a calm for a while.

"So threatening was the appearance of the heavens to windward that all hands stayed on deck to see what was coming. Right aft we perceived an inky mass of cloud rising from the horizon. It had huge rugged black streaks diverging from it in all directions like the claws or arms of some great monster crab or polypus. Bigger and bigger the threatening mass swelled, and the evil-looking arms stretched half round the horizon to the zenith, as if the monster was about to enclose the whole world in its grasp—a wonderful and awful appearance. Our sails flapped as we rolled in the calm; we lowered the mainsail, made all snug, and awaited. First, constant and vivid sheet and forked lightning of a blue colour came out of the cloud, and then down burst the squall on us, and such a squall. The cloud had enveloped all the sky, had blotted out all the stars; never have I experienced so complete a darkness on the seas. The wind blew with great fury; and we could not turn our faces to the stinging rain, so smartly it struck. "We scudded on before the heavy gusts."

The modern explanation of rocky cloud is very simple. Under certain circumstances air seems to rise in columns, when it is chilled, both by its own expansion and by its projection into the colder regions of the atmosphere. At some height a temperature will be reached when the vapour in the air is condensed. This level gives the line of the flat base of the cloud, while the rocky summits are formed by the air rushing up like the steam out of the funnel of a locomotive. Rocky clouds are in fact the visible capital of an invisible column of air.

The form and details depend on circumstances. On a fine day evaporation produces a beautiful, quiet, and peaceable looking cloud, while the rolling eddies in front of a thunderstorm produce wild-looking masses of extraordinary shape, whose terrifying effect is enhanced by their inky look and by the ominous calm which precede an impending storm.

Here is a diagram to show the general idea of the origin of rocky cloud where the dotted lines below indicate the position of the rising air column under the rocky cloud.

Sometimes a column of rising air gets attenuated into a thread, and when this condenses we get a hairy or fibrous cloud. This I have endeavoured to show in the upper part of the diagram.

There are numerous forms of hairy structure which we cannot at present explain, but they are all unquestionably only forms of condensed vapour drawn out into threads and fibres, as vfe so often see dust blown out by the wind, or possibly by some electrical action between the particles of ice or water-dust.

Pendulous, or Festooned Structure.

In another very marked type of structure the under surface of a cloud is festooned downwards, as in the diagram now before you (Fig. 5), which is from a sketch by Mr. Clouston of Orkney. Up there they call this the "pocky," i.e. the pocket-cloud; while in Lancashire these somewhat globular masses are known as "rain-balls." This is because this cloud is almost the invariable precursor of a heavy shower.

Fig. 5.—The Udders of the Cows of Indra Festooned Clouds.

The poets who wrote the Vedic hymns talk of the udders of the cows of Indra, which drop richness on the earth; and to show how persistently the same idea is suggested by the same formg Mr. C. Ley has proposed the technical name of mammato-cumulus for this shape of cloud.

The modern explanation of festooned clouds assumes that the ascentional column of air which forms flat-based cumulus suddenly fails, and that then the cloud begins to fall downwards.

Flat Lumpy Structure.

Lastly there is a cloud structure, intermediate between flat cloud and rocky cloud, which is known to meteorologists as strato-cumulus. Here is an example from the English Channel, and two beautiful examples from near Teneriffe.

It is evident that the form is not very distinctive, but you see in one of the last two pictures (Fig. 6) a striking appearance, which has apparently impressed men's minds in all countries. When the sun shines through the chinks of this kind of cloud we see a sheaf of diverging rays radiating from him. This is when he is above the horizon, but in finer climates than our own we sometimes see a beautiful fan

Fig. 6.—The Ropes of Maui. Rays of light diverging from the sun behind a cloud. Near Teneriffe.

of pink rays streaming up from below the horizon just after sunset or before sunrise. These last are technically known as crepuscular or twilight rays.

In this country the first of these kinds of rays, when the sun is above the horizon, is universally known as "the sun drawing water." In Yorkshire, I believe, they call this appearance "the ship," from a fancied resemblance to the shrouds and rigging of a ship; and when looking at these rays I have heard a sailor say that "the sun was setting up his back-stays."

In Denmark they talk of "Locke drawing water," which is a distinct survival of some attribute of that strange god Locke in the Eddas, who is alternately the betrayer and saviour of his brother Asas.

Both forms of rays are very common in Ceylon, where they are known as "Buddha's rays"; while in the Harvey Islands, between Fiji and Tahiti, they are called "the ropes of Maui."

The following beautiful story of Maui, the great hero of the Paciiic, is a typical specimen of a folk-lore story, where some of the imagery has been suggested by appearances in the sky.

The Legend of Maui.

Maui was the great hero of the Pacific, and had already not only discovered the secret of fire for the use of mortals, but had elevated the sky above the earth: the sun, however, had a trick of setting every now and then, so that it was impossible to get through any work, even an oven of food could not be prepared and cooked before the sun had set; nor could an incantation to the gods be chaunted through, ere the world was overtaken by darkness.

Now Ra, or the Sun, is a living creature and divine; in form resembling a man, and possessed of fearful energy. His golden locks are displayed morning and evening to mankind. But Tatanga advised her son not to have anything to do with Ra; as many had at different times endeavoured to regulate his movements, and had all signally failed. But the redoubtable Maui was not to be discouraged, and resolved to capture the sun god Ra.

Maui now plaited six great ropes of strong cocoa-nut fibre, each of four strands, and of a great length. He started off with his ropes to the distant aperture through which the sun climbs up from Avaiki, or the land of ghosts, into the heavens, and there laid a slip-noose for him. Further on in the Sun's path a second trap was laid; in fact all the six ropes were placed at distant intervals along the accustomed route of Ra.

Very early in the morning the unsuspecting Sun clambered up from Avaiki to perform his usual journey through the heavens. Maui was lying in wait near the first noose and exultingly pulled it; but it slipped down the Sun's body and only caught his feet. Maui ran forward to look after the second noose, but that likewise slipped, though luckily it closed round the Sun's knees; the third caught him round the hips; the fourth round the waist; the fifth under the arms. Still the Sun went tearing on his path, scarcely heeding the contrivances of Maui, but happily for Maui's designs the sixth and last of the nooses caught the Sun round the neck. Ra, or the Sun, now terribly frightened, struggled hard for his liberty, but to no purpose. For Maui pulled the rope so tight as almost to strangle the Sun, and then fastened the end of his rope to a point of rock.

Ra, now nearly dead, confessed himself to be vanquished; and, fearing for his life, gladly agreed to the demand of Maui that he should be in future a little more reasonable and deliberate in his movements through the heavens so as to enable the inhabitants of this world to get through their employments with ease.

The Sun god Ra was now allowed to proceed on his way; but Maui wisely declined to take off these ropes, wishing to keep Ra in constant fear. These ropes may still be seen hanging from the Sun at dawn and when he descends into the ocean at night. By the assistance of the ropes he is gently let down into Avaiki, and in the morning raised up out of the shades; while the islanders still say when they see rays of light diverging from the Sun, " Tena te taura a Maui! " "Behold the ropes of Maui. "

Such is the pretty story as given by Mr. W. W. Gill, in his Myths and Songs of the South Pacific, and it would be impossible to find a simpler instance of a nature folk-lore story, or tale to account for the origin of the aspects of nature. Here we have the story in a simple form, but Sir George Grey gives a variant of the same from New Zealand in which all trace of nature origin is lost.

What we have to note here is that a climate where rays form nearly every day is very different from that of Scotland, where the appearance is uncommon. I wish I could have developed here in more detail the relation of mythology to climate.

The modern explanation of diverging rays is very simple. They are simply parallel rays of light, streaming through chinks between the clouds, but appearing to converge from the effect of perspective. When the sun is high, the rays appear bright against the dark undersurface of the clouds, which are in shadow; but when the sun is below the horizon the rays are pink and the surrounding sky green.

Fog and Mist.

These need not detain us long, as they are too formless to attract men's minds.

There is however a very pretty Bengalese tale to explain the origin of mist, which is such a typical example of a folk-lore story in which nature has furnished none of the imagery that I will now read it to you.

The origin of mist is grounded on the following story.

One fine summer's morning Matsaganda, the daughter of Whebur Raja, was tripping along the bank of a beautiful silvery lake, clear as crystal. As she sped along she admired the brightness of the scenery, and the flitting of the beautiful plumaged waterfowl, scarcely disturbed by her fairy feet. She was charmed with the mellow tints of the morning dawn, and the light murmurs of the southern breeze. Approaching day smiled in brightness, and happiness dwelt around. As she was listlessly musing on these beauties, suddenly there appeared before her a man of large and majestic appearance, and richly clad. Taking her tapering hand in his, he thus spoke: "I am Monassi Muni, lady; thy loveliness has bound me your slave; my heart is gone and with it happiness, unless you smile on me." The fair Matsaganda blushed and brightened at these words; she hesitated to reply, she was indeed silent. Muni waited in impatient ecstacy; at last he took her in his arms; when breaking silence, she thus replied: "If thou be a god, darken this sequestered spot of my father's kingdom." Muni created mist.

People nowadays only look on fog or mist as the product of the condensation of vapour in a calm atmosphere, and have no need to go into the supernatural for the cause of so simple a phenomenon.

We have now finished our review of all the structures in cloudland which concern us this evening; we have seen the likeness to terrestrial objects that many nations have found in the sky; we have sketched briefly the modern explanations of these same cloud-forms; and we will now conclude with a few remarks on the difference in the attitude of mind induced by the ancient personification of every natural phenomenon, and the modern way of looking at the same thing.

We may notice that nature stories are of two kinds. The forms of clouds or appearances in the sky have furnished the imagery or suggested a simile in the first kind; while the latter are simply tales of human incident to account for a natural phenomenon on which the form of the cloud has had no influence.

The legend of Maui, and all the fanciful cloud-names we have just described, are examples of the first kind of tale, while the story of Matsaganda is a typical specimen of the latter variety.

The images that people see in the sky depend on their attitude of mind and on any exciting ideas that may be prevailing at the time. For instance, before the siege of Jerusalem chariot-wheels were seen in the sky. These of course were halos, which sometimes form very curious and complex circles near the sun.

When the Turks were driven from the gates of Vienna there was observed in the sky a crescent reversed, with a sword through the centre. This was evidently the fragment of the halo whose centre is directly over the observer, which was only bright enough to show just above the sun, with a so-called "sun-pillar" or streak of white light shooting upwards from the sun through the halo. The outside of the halo would be downwards, and therefore look like a crescent reversed; while the bright stripe of light would suggest a sword to fighting-men.

Similarly the night before Culloden, King George, with two courtiers, observed from Windsor battlements a cloud resembling a thistle upside down, with the dim shadowy outline of a Scotchman, with targe and claymore, falling backwards.

And now coming nearer the present time, to the 22nd of September last, the St. Stephen's Review of London published the illustration I now show on the screen, together with the following letter:—

"Dear Sir,—I venture to enclose a rough sketch from nature of an extraordinary appearance presented in the clouds this day—September 16, 1887—between twelve and one o'clock, and to my mind it seemed like the British lion suppressing the uncrowned Irish harp. The harp vanished, and in its place came a clearly defined head of a man with a beard under the paw of the lion, and behind was a crowned female head. This wonderful appearance was clearly defined in white clouds on grey ... Yours faithfully,

E. M. Hutton.

Sept. 16, 1887. Luchie, North Berwick."

What kind of sky this would be I really cannot say, but it would have been very interesting to have seen a photograph of the cloud-forms. Most probably the sky was a shifting form of flat heavy striated sky, while the recent Jubilee and prevailing excitement about the Irish question suggested the similes to the observer's mind.

Here is a curious photograph of a cloud-form taken by myself near Teneriffe, and reproduced most accurately by Mr. J. D. Cooper in Fig. 7. When taking it I cannot say I was looking much at the

Fig. 7.—Clouds in the form of a one-eyed flying figure. From Teneriffe.

shape, but was waiting with my hand on the shutter-trigger to give an instantaneous exposure to the plate when the sun was sufficiently behind the cloud; but everybody who has seen the picture says at once,—What a singular appearance of a flying figure! The ball of the sun, just showing through the cloud, is the eye of the face which is seen in profile; while some of the cloud to the right may be taken either for wings or hair, according to fancy. Has not some similar imagery suggested the idea of a one-eyed Thor, and of many other one-eyed mythological characters?

But now let us turn to the disastrous influence, which the attitude of mind that personifies everything, has on human conduct and human development. So long as cloudland was peopled with terrible beings and horrible monsters it necessarily followed that man was afraid of the creatures of his own imagination.

If a man believes there is a being up in the clouds who throws thunderbolts about, it is but natural that he should be afraid of that being, just as he would be of some one stronger than himself who was throwing stones in ordinary life.

These ideas would be intensified by familiarity with the productions of poets and painters. The poet deals in heroics, and the essence of his art is to embody and personify the manifestations of nature. The painter lives by inspiring awe and exaggerating mental emotions. If he paints a thunderbolt-throwing man, the hero must be colossal and above the strength of ordinary mortals; while if he paints a storm at sea the waves must be mountainous, the sky must be more ominous than was ever seen in nature, and the men's faces must show terror.

Aristophanes parodies the poetic attitude of mind in the following passage from his play called "The Clouds":

"Strepsiades. For this reason, then, they introduced into their verses 'the dreadful impetuosity of the lightning-whirling clouds,' and 'the locks of the hundred-headed Typho,' and 'the hard-blowing tempests,' and then 'aerial moist crooked-clawed birds floating in the air.' "

And again:

"Chorus. Eternal clouds I let us raise into open sight our dewy clear-bright existence from the deep-sounding sea, our father, up to the crests of the wooded hills, whence we look down over the sacred land, nourishing its fruits, and over the rippling of the divine rivers."

Now this is all poetic and very pretty, but the attitude of mind is bad, for this way of looking at things will never brace man up to conquering or utilizing the manifestations of nature.

Let us therefore turn to modern science and see what attitude of mind is engendered by recent research.

Meteorologists now consider that all cloud-forms are the product of the condensation of vapour-laden air under a very limited number of ways, and that the fundamental cloud-structures which we have just exhibited represent the result of these different conditions.

The varieties of cloud-form and the mixture of structures are of course infinite, but still the delicate fibrous or hairy clouds, the lovely white fleeces on the blue sky, the mountainous rocky masses, and the curious drooping festoons of cloud, are all only the products of condensation under different circumstances.

The result of all modern research leads to the general conception that we live below a sea of air mixed with watery vapour; and that the earth has a coating of that physical manifestation which is called electricity. This atmosphere is in a state of perpetual eddying, and occasionally some of this vaporous air is driven up into such cold high regions that the water is condensed, and the resulting cloud torn and rolled between conflicting currents. Sometimes the electrical coating is so disturbed that equilibrium can only be attained by the disruptive discharge of lightning.

Meteorologists have classified the different kinds of atmospheric eddies; the names of cylones and anti-cyclones will be familiar to you all; and it is found that every different kind of eddy has a different cloud- structure associated with itself.

The motive power for all this is of course the general circulation of the atmosphere, which may either develope great cyclones; small thunderstorms which do not affect the barometer; or that peculiar long roll-like formation associated with what are called "line-thunder-storms."[3]

Socrates and some other of the Greek philosophers seem to have had a suspicion that thunderstorms were of an eddying nature, but they arrived at this conclusion rather by guesswork than by observation. We know it for certain now, as the result of laborious observation on the surface and high-level winds which surround a thunderstorm. For instance, Aristophanes, in the play we have before quoted, introduces the following dialogue:—

"Strepsiades. Tell me, who is it that thunders? This makes me tremble.

Socrates. These—the clouds—as they roll thunder.

Strepsiades. In what way, you all-daring man?

Socrates. When they are full of water, and are compelled to be borne along, being necessarily precipitated when full of rain, then they fall heavily upon each other, and burst, and clap.

Strepsiades. Who is it that compels them to be borne along? Is it not Jupiter?

Socrates. By no means, but ætherial vortex.

Strepsiades. It had escaped my notice that Jupiter did not exist, and that vortex now reigned in his stead. But you have taught me nothing, as yet, concerning the clap and the thunder."

But poetry and art were too strong in ancient Athens for such advanced ideas. Socrates was poisoned, and the artists reigned supreme for 1500 years.

Then our present knowledge of cloud-form and structure can be utilised to purposes of which the poets and painters never dreamt. Viñez has shown how the lie of the stripes of hairy cloud called "cocks'-tails " show the position of the dreaded vortex of a hurricane; and with this knowledge a sailor can not only save his ship from danger, but sometimes even utilise the cyclone to help him on his course. Mr. C. Ley has shown how the lie of similar cloud stripes indicate the approach of an ordinary British gale.

When we see a waterspout in the distance we do not think of a dragon and his tail, like the Chinese, but consider how to get out of its path or to break it up by firing guns. The whirlwind on the western prairies takes the specially intense form known as a tornado, and there the ingenuity of the American nation is exercised in the construction of tornado-proof houses.

But the research that has led to these important discoveries has incidentally involved a process which powerfully alters the attitude of mind induced by the personifying stage of mental development.

All research involves measurement. When a meteorologist sees an ominous mass of thundery cloud, he not only notes the direction in which the different layers are moving so as to gain some conception of the kind of vertical eddy that is associated with the storm, but he does more than this. He measures the height and thickness of the clouds, tries to calculate the electric potential necessary for lightning, records the depth and weight of water precipitated by the storm, and thereby learns that there are several distinct kinds of whirling air that produce thunderstorms.

Contrast, therefore, ancient and modern thought. Our ancestors saw in a thunderstorm the conflict between a many-headed, hairy monster, with the sun, or with a being of superhuman strength and attributes, throwing lightning and thunderbolts about. Such an attitude of mind can only induce terror.

Now, when we see a thunderstorm we might observe a wind coming from the W. overhead, while we were oppressed by a stuffy S.E. breeze; and note a squall from the S.W. with a velocity of sixty miles an hour just as the rain commenced. Then we might measure the height of the lower base of the clouds and find it not more than five thousand feet above the earth, while the rocky summits rise no less than fifteen thousand feet above the ground, and the rain-gauge might show that water to the depth of three inches fell out of these ten thousand feet of cloud.

Fear and terror are unknown and almost inconceivable to a man who looks at nature from this point of view.

But the moral effect of weighing and measuring is so great I should like to give you another illustration.

Poets are fond of describing big waves; they talk about mounting on them up to the heavens and then descending to the depths. Painters draw waves of impossible height and steepness, and the influence of both the artist and the poet is to exaggerate any natural fear at first seeing a big wave.

But if you stand on a ship's deck with a couple of chronographs to measure the length and speed of the waves, you find that an exceptionally big wave is only four hundred feet long from crest to crest, and travelling at a rate of thirty- six miles an hour; while your aneroid shows that the height from trough to crest is only forty feet. Then, if you are mathematically inclined, you can calculate like our distinguished countryman the late Professor Rankine that the curve of wave shape is what is called a trochoid; that unless the crest breaks, a ship can ride safely over the highest sea.

Under such circumstances any idea of fear vanishes and the knowledge thus obtained can be utilized in designing ships that may laugh at waves.

So that while the ancient frame of mind which personifies everything leads to vague terrors and diverts the intellect into the path of poetry and art, the modern frame of mind destroys all nervous fear of supernatural beings—the bogies and bugbears of our own imagination — and braces our minds up to conquer, to avoid,. or to utilize nature.

Modern science is not merely a catalogue of facts, but the means of building up that attitude of mind which raises man to a higher level instead of prostrating him before the creatures of his own imagination.

  1. This and many other allusions to illustrations refer to pictures shown at the lecture, and not to examples given in this printed paper.
  2. From Knight's Cruize of the Falcon, pp. 46-47.
  3. Full details of these processes are given in the Author's book, Weather, International Scientific Series, No. 59.