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In no realm of nature is the principle of cause and effect more conspicuous than in astronomy; and we fall into the habit of thinking of its laws as not only being unchangeable in our universe, but necessary to the conception of any universe that might have been substituted in its place. The first inhabitants of the world were compelled to accommodate their acts to the daily and annual alternations of light and darkness and of heat and cold, as much as to the irregular changes of weather, attacks of disease, and the fortune of war. They soon came to regard the influence of the sun, in connection with light and heat, as a cause. This led to a search for other signs in the heavens. If the appearance of a comet was sometimes noted simultaneously with the death of a great ruler, or an eclipse with a scourge of plague, these might well be looked upon as causes in the same sense that the veering or backing of the wind is regarded as a cause of fine or foul weather.
For these reasons we find that the earnest men of all ages have recorded the occurrence of comets, eclipses, new stars, meteor showers, and remarkable conjunctions of the planets, as well as plagues and famines, floods" and droughts, wars and the deaths of great rulers. Sometimes they thought they could trace connections which might lead them to say that a comet presaged famine, or an eclipse war.
Even if these men were sometimes led to evolve laws of cause and effect which now seem to us absurd, let us be tolerant, and gratefully acknowledge that these astrologers, when they suggested such “working hypotheses,” were laying the foundations of observation and deduction. If the ancient Chaldaeans gave to the planetary conjunctions an influence over terrestrial events, let us remember that in our own time people have searched for connection between terrestrial conditions and periods of unusual prevalence of sun spots; while De la Rue, Loewy, and Balfour Stewart' thought they found a connection between sun-spot displays and the planetary positions. Thus we find scientific men, even in our own time, responsible for the belief that storms in the Indian Ocean, the fertility of German vines, famines in India, and high or low Nilefloods in Egypt follow the planetary positions. And, again, the desire to foretell the weather is so laudable that we cannot blame the ancient Greeks for announcing the influence of the moon with as much confidence as it is affirmed in Lord Wolseley's Soldier's Pocket Book. Even if the scientific spirit of observation and deduction (astronomy) has sometimes led to erroneous systems for predicting terrestrial events * Trans. R. S. E., xxiii. 1864, p. 499, On Sun Spots, (astrology), we owe to the old astronomer and astrologer alike the deepest gratitude for their diligence in recording astronomical events. For, out of the scanty records which have survived the destructive acts of fire and flood, of monarchs and mobs, we have found much that has helped to a fuller knowledge of the heavenly motions than was possible without these records. So Hipparchus, about 150 B.C., and Ptolemy a little later, were able to use the observations of Chaldaean astrologers, as well as those of Alexandrian astronomers, and to make some discoveries which have helped the progress of astronomy in all ages. So, also, Mr. Crowell' has examined the marks made on the baked bricks used by the Chaldaeans for recording the eclipses of IoG 2 B.C. and 762 B.c.; and has thereby been enabled, in the last. few years, to correct the lunar tables of Hansen, and to find a more accurate value for the secular acceleration of the moon's longitude and the node of her orbit than any that could be obtained from modern observations made with instruments of the highest precision. So again, Mr. Hind” was enabled to trace back the period during which Halley's comet has been a member of the solar system, and to identify it in the Chinese observations of comets as far back
etc., by B. Stewart. Also Trans. R. S. 1860-70. Also Prof. Ernest Brown, in R. A. S. Monthly Notices, 190o.
Containing record of solar eclipse, 1062 B.c., used lately by Cowell for rendering the lunar theory more accurate than was possible by finest modern observations. (British Museum collection, No. 35908.)
as 12 B.C. Cowell and Cromellin extended the date to 240 B.C. In the same way the comet 1861.i. has been traced back in the Chinese records to 617 A.D." The theoretical views founded on Newton's great law of universal gravitation led to the conclusion that the inclination of the earth's equator to the plane of her orbit (the obliquity of the ecliptic) has been diminishing slowly since prehistoric times; and this fact has been confirmed by Egyptian and Chinese observations on the length of the shadow of a vertical pillar, made thousands of years before the Christian era, in summer and winter. There are other reasons why we must be tolerant of the crude notions of the ancients. The historian, wishing to give credit wherever it may be due, is met by two difficulties. Firstly, only a few records of very ancient astronomy are extant, and the authenticity of many of these is open to doubt. Secondly, it is very difficult to divest ourselves of present knowledge, and to appreciate the originality of thought required to make the first beginnings. With regard to the first point, we are generally dependent upon histories written long after the events. The astronomy of Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians is known to us mainly through the Greek historians, and for infor
* R. S. E. Proc., vol. x., 1880.