The Dauntless Astronomy
A Short Address
“Many shall investigate, and knowledge shall increase.”
June 4th, 1894
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Truth is great and must prevail, so that all who are taught, led, or persuaded to contend for the impossible, must sooner or later knuckle down to the possible, tha inevitable, and the true. Man’s
nature, since the fall, is so constituted that imposture has more hold on his intellectual faculties than truth ; and that which is false can attain much more ready and universal acceptance than th it which is true.
It has been thus with modern astronomy, which is considered by all the educated and learned, to be such a certain, settled and intellectual science, that they are disgusted with the least hint that this boasted science is founded on a scanty and baseless foundation; but the truth will out, and if any man wishes to be wise, even in the things of this world, he must be willing to commence fool, that he may be wise. Prince Bismarck said, “I have always endeavoured to learn new things, and when I have had, as a consequence, to correct an earlier opinion, I have done it at once, and I am very proud to have done so. A Portsmouth tradesman, said, when spoken to on the subject of astronomy, “I am quite satisfied about it, and if I am wrong, I have no desire to be put right.” An American writer says, “ The man who does not care to learn if his decision is right or wrong, is not half a man.” This is a lamentable state of mind on any matter, but on the subject ot astronomy is very inconsiderate.
Suppose Dr. Cousins, for instance, were to tell you that your heart was the breathing apparatus of your system, and the lungs, the organ that propelled the blood through your veins, you would think he was a long way from being a Portsmith physician; and rightly too, for no medical man could understand the human frame if his knowledge of physiology held such a baseless theory. It is precisely the same with the science of astronomy; no astronomer can be correct with the science, unless he understands fully the relative and active positions of the sun and the earth; the sun being the anima mundia, the soul and heart of the universe. It matters not how many lines, angles, pretty wheels, and cat sticks they may draw, nor how wonderfully they may seem to magnify, calculate and exaggerate the distances and magnitudes of the heavenly bodies; if they reckon on a revolving earth, and simply a staring sun, all is wrong. They make their boasted knowledge the mere tool of astonishing, not the natural or sublime science of astronomy.
Much will be the surprise to most readers to learn that all modern measurements of the heavenly bodies, is based upon the results of experiments, that really mean the peculiar position, and toss up a halfpenny. Mr. Richard Proctor – the great modern astronomer, tells us, “Anyone can tell how many times its own diameter the sun is removed from us. Take a circular disc an inch in diameter, and halfpenny for instance, and see how far it must be placed to exactly hid the sun, the distance will be found to be rather more than 107 inches, so that the sun like the halfpenny which hides his face, must be rather more than 107 its own diameter from us; so that the supposed distance of 95,000,000 miles rests, probatum est, upon the peculiar position of one halfpenny. Whatever the halfpenny should happen to reveal, that decides and regulates the magnitudes, distances and calculations of all the rest of the heavenly bodies, ad infinitum, to the world’s end. For he says, “We are constituted as to seek after knowledge; and knowledge about the celestial orbs is interesting to us, quite apart from the use of such knowledge in navigation and surveying.
It is easy to show that the determination of the sun’s distance is a matter full of interest, for on our estimate of the sun’s distance, depend our ideas as to the scale, not only of the solar system, but the whole visible universe. The size of the sun, its neaps, and therefore its might, the scale of those wonderful operations which we know to be taking place upon, within, and around the sun, all these revelations, as well as our estimate of the earth’s relations and importance in the solar system, depend absolutely and directly on the estimate we form of the sun’s distance. Such being the case, this being in point of fact the cardinal problem of dimensional astronomy, it cannot but be thought that, great as were the trouble and expense – sometimes reaching a quarter of a million of money – of the expeditions sent out to observe the transit of Venus of 1874, they were devoted to an altogether worthy cause.