Today in 1822 Sir William Herschel passed to his reward. He is most remembered for his discovery of the planet Uranus—although Frances Rolleston felt the credit was due to his sister Caroline. See my earlier blog discoverer-of-the-planet-uranus.html.
We think of Herschel as a great astronomer (and he was), but it surprises us to learn how little was known about the solar system 150 years ago. The sun was even thought to be inhabited. Solar spots were admitted to be openings in the luminous stratum, not opaque scoriae floating on its surface.
Sir William Herschel’s study of sunspots led him to suggest that the light of the sun issues from an outer stratum of self-luminous material, beneath which is a second stratum of clouds of inferior brightness, designed to protect the solid body of the sun, and its inhabitants, from the intense heat and brilliancy surrounding them.
We may be amused at how little was known in Herschel's day of the visible world, but some day others may amuse themselves at our ignorance. And what about the unseen world?
Some of the above is found in the chapter "Astronomy" in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.
This day of the 2017 total solar eclipse may be a good day to write of a total lunar eclipse significant to Frances Rolleston.
Witnesses of the total lunar eclipse of October 13, 1837 reported that the part of the moon in the shadow was invisible, while the part in the penumbra was bright enough to overpower the stars, and that during the total phase, the moon was unusually colorless and faint—a cold gray through which every feature of the moon's surface was distinct.
But it was not the appearance of this phenomena that was significant to Frances. She had returned to Yorkshire, scene of three years of her childhood after her mother's death, and the place where her younger sister had died. She had stayed away for forty years, and upon her return was overcome with grief for all those family and friends who had passed on in the meanwhile. She struggled with regret for not returning sooner, and yet felt the Lord had kept her at her post all those years in the south of England. At last, in a letter dated October 23, 1837, she told the outcome of this mental struggle:
The day I dined at West Ella was that of the eclipse; there was something awful in the force with which a voice within seemed to ask all day, "Which governs the world, thou or I?" and I replied as often, "Thou, Lord." Again the voice seemed to say, "Which shall govern the world?" and again I was enabled to say, "Thou, Lord!" and this not once nor twice, but continually, all day, and coming home in that solemn, gloomy hour of the eclipse. The voice that questioned seemed quite independent of myself, as the reply seemed mine. That eclipse of the moon is never to be forgotten by me, type of the shade cast over the Church when earth and the things of earth hide from her the light of the Sun of Righteousness.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4, 1792. Some might argue that he was the greatest among English Romantic poets. His work influenced generations of poets and continues to do so.
Frances Rolleston had a high opinion of Shelley's work, even though during his life time his progressive views hindered his acceptance. She mentioned him several times in her letters.
In 1859 Frances was working on metrical translations of poetical passages of the Bible. It may have been in connection to her work on Canticles (The Song of Solomon) that she wrote:
I am puzzled what to call my metre, it is more like Shelley than any other, in the dialogues of his "Prometheus Unbound," still it is in the cadence of the Hebrew, and nearer to its measure than any other I can trace. The irregular measure I tried disgusted me: this has fascinated me at once—it is Hebraistic.
Poetry has gone through many style changes, and sometimes it seems as though style doesn't matter at all. Meters, measures, cadences—who cares about that? But in Frances' day, poetry was serious business—not just in the thoughts contained in the words, but also in form and musical aspect. Shelley was innovative—radical, some said—yet he did not discard the principles which contributed to the enduring admiration of his poetry.