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Zetetic Astronomy, by 'Parallax' (pseud. Samuel Birley Rowbotham), [1881], at


ASTRONOMERS have indulged in imagination to such a degree that the moon is now considered to be a solid, opaque spherical world, having mountains, valleys, lakes, or seas, volcanic craters, and other conditions analogous to the surface of the earth. So far has this fancy been carried that the whole visible disc has been mapped out, and special names given to its various peculiarities, as though they had been carefully observed, and actually measured by a party of terrestrial ordnance surveyors. All this has been done in direct opposition to the fact that whoever, for the first time, and without previous bias of mind, looks at the moon's surface through a powerful telescope, is puzzled to say what it is really like, or how to compare it with anything known to him. The comparison which may be made will depend upon the state of mind of the observer. It is well known that persons looking at the rough bark of a tree, or at the irregular lines or veins in certain kinds of marble and stone, or gazing at the red embers in a dull fire will, according to the degree of activity of the imagination, be able to see many different forms, even the outlines of animals and of human faces. It is in this way that persons may fancy that the moon's surface is broken up into hills and valleys, and other conditions such as are found on earth. But that anything really similar to the

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surface of our own world is anywhere visible upon the moon is altogether fallacious. This is admitted by some of those who have written on the subject, as the following quotations will show:--

"Some persons when they look into a telescope for the first time having heard that mountains are to be seen, and discovering nothing but these (previously described) unmeaning figures, break off in disappointment, and have their faith in these things rather diminished than increased. I would advise, therefore, before the student takes even his first view of the moon through a telescope, to form as clear an idea as he can how mountains, and valleys, and caverns, situated at such a distance ought to look, and by what marks they may be recognised. Let him seize, if possible, the most favourable periods (about the time of the first quarter), and previously learn from drawings and explanations how to interpret everything he sees." 1

"Whenever we exhibit celestial objects to inexperienced observers, it is usual to precede the view with good drawings of the objects, accompanied by an explanation of what each appearance exhibited in the telescope indicates. The novice is told that mountains and valleys can be seen in the moon by the aid of the telescope; but on looking he sees a confused mass of light and shade, and nothing which looks to him like either mountains or valleys. Had his attention been previously directed to a plain drawing of the moon, and each particular appearance interpreted to him, he would then have looked through the telescope with intelligence and satisfaction." 2

"It is fresh in our remembrance that when showing a friend the moon at an advanced phase, 'Is this the moon?' he said,

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[paragraph continues] 'why I see nothing but clouds and bubbles!'--a very graphic description of a first view by an uneducated eye. None of the wonderful beauties of the landscape scenery that are so striking to the beholder, can either be recognised or appreciated under such circumstances. It is only after a careful training of the eye, that the peculiarities of the full moon can be truly apprehended." 1

Thus it is admitted by those who teach, that the moon is a spherical world, having hills and dales like the earth, that such things can only be seen in imagination.

"Nothing but unmeaning figures" are really visible, and "the students break off in disappointment, and have their faith in such things rather diminished than increased, until they previously learn from drawings and explanations how to interpret everything seen."

But who first made the drawings? Who first interpreted the "unmeaning figures" and the "confused mass of light and shade?" Who first declared them to indicate mountains and valleys, and ventured to make drawings, and give explanations and interpretations for the purpose of biassing the minds, and fixing or guiding the imaginations of subsequent observers? Whoever they were, they, at least, had "given the reins to fancy," and afterwards took upon themselves to dogmatise and teach their bold, crude, and unwarranted imaginings to succeeding investigators. And this is the kind of "evidence and reasoning" which is obtruded in our seats of learning, and spread out in the numerous works which are published for the "edification" of society.


335:1 "Mechanism of the Heavens," by Dr. Olmsted, LL.D., Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy in Yale College, United States.

335:2 Mitchell's "Orbs of Heaven," p. 232.

336:1 "The Moon," by W. R. Birt, F.R.A.S., in the "Leisure Hour" for July, 1871, p. 439.

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