Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

N the whole range of human science, no subject is calculated to excite such sublime ideas as astronomy; and to its study, therefore, the greatest minds have been directed both in an

cient and modern times. Ancient, however, as y are the investigations into the relations of the

heavenly bodies, a correct idea of the planetary system was scarcely known before the sixteenth century of the Christian era. The theory generally received on that subject by the Chaldeans, Egyptians, Greeks, and other ancient nations, and which continued predominant till a comparatively recent period, described the earth as the centre of all the bodies occupying space, while the Moon, Venus, Mercury, the Sun, the other planets, and the stars, revolved around it on a succession of

No. 169.

solid spheres, at different distances, and at different rates of speed, so as to produce the appearances which are daily and nightly presented to our eyes in the heavens. Six centuries before the commencement of our era, Anaximander, Pythagoras, and other Grecian philosophers, had conceived some faint notion of a more correct system; but when they ventured to suggest that the sun was a fixed body, and that the earth was only one of a set of planets moving round it, they experienced so much persecution on account of the inconsistency of their doctrines with the religious ideas of the people, that they failed to establish their theory on a permanent basis. When learning and the arts revived in Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, some attention was paid in the universities to astronomy; but the system taught was no better than that which Aristotle, Ptolemy, and other ancient astronomers had sanctioned, and which represented the sun and planets as moving round the earth. The time at length arrived for the revival of the correct notions entertained by Anaximander and Pythagoras.

COPERNICUS. NICOLAS COPERNICUS, the modern to whom the honour of reviving that doctrine is due, was born, February 19, 1473, at Thorn, on the Vistula-a place now included in the dominions of the king of Prussia. The father of Copernicus was a native of Westphalia, a part of Germany : he had chanced to settle at Thorn, as a surgeon, about ten years before the birth of his son. Young Copernicus was educated for the profession of medicine at the university of Cracow; but his favourite studies were mathematics, perspective, astronomy, and painting. At an early age, inspired by an eager wish to distinguish himself in astronomy, he proceeded to Italy, and studied that science at the university of Bologna. It is supposed that a discovery of his teacher Dominic Maria, respecting the changes of the axis of the earth, was what first awakened his mind to the errors of the planetary system then taught. From Bologna he proceeded to Rome, where for some time he taught mathematics with great success-pursuing all the while, as far as circumstances would permit, his astronomical observations.

When he afterwards returned to his native country, his maternal uncle, the bishop of Ermeland, appointed him a canon in the cathedral of Frauenburg, and at the same time he was nominated by the inhabitants of his native town to be archdeacon in one of their churches. He then resolved to devote his life to three objects—the performance of his clerical duties, gratuitous medical attendance on the poor, and the pursuit of his favourite studies. His residence was established in one of the houses belonging to the canons of Frauenburg, on the brow of a height near the cathedral, where astronomical observations

« ForrigeFortsæt »