December 6th, 1860 Frances wrote to Caroline Dent: "I have been enabled in the last fortnight to explain every one of the figures in the Dendera Zodiac and Planisphere, over which I had been puzzling in vain for the last thirty years. . . . I am now quite encouraged by this remarkable proof that my faculties are not injured, on the contrary, though for a much shorter time can I exercise them--two hours and it used to be six, but I am thankful, and have long prayed to do much in a little time."
Frances' copy of the planisphere was given to her by William Hone, and lately mounted for her on calico by a young American friend. She would be sending a tracing of the planisphere to the printer Rivington as a lithograph frontispiece or map for her life's work, Mazzaroth: The Constellations.
Today, September 22, 2017, is autumn equinox. One might think of equinox as one point on a continuum. The three paragraphs here have to do with continuation.
From the autumn equinox, the sun continues its path southward and the daylight hours continue to shrink until the next solstice. Frances Rolleston mentioned the spring equinox a number of times in her letters. She understood the workings of calendars—their history and how to change dates from one system to another—all beyond me.
September 22, 1791 Michael Faraday was born in London. He became a physicist and discovered electro-magnetic induction, thus continuing the many scientific discoveries of the 19th century. Frances was interested in all manner of science, but I do not know how acquainted she was with Faraday's work although, he associated with Humphry Davy, whom Frances knew. Some years earlier, Luigi Galvani had worked with electricity with an interest in benefiting the human body. At one time Frances allowed herself to be "Galvanized" in order to heal her chilblains. This appears to be her only "contact" with electricity.
September 22, 1863 Frances wrote to her niece who was about to be married. Frances mentioned her pleasant recollections of the niece's lively and interesting childhood, and wished this new season of life to be an even happier continuation of the sunny one she remembered with so much pleasure.
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.
On this day 1794, William Whewell, was born. He was to become a philosopher, science historian, writer, poet, and Anglican priest.
In September 1854 an acquaintance brought Frances Rolleston a new book by Whewell, The Plurality of Worlds, an Essay. After reading it, she responded thus:
"The most horrid and detestable book I have seen for many years—it almost made me ill."
And what was so horrid about Whewell's essay? Why, he believed that the solar system consisted entirely of matter—Jupiter water, Saturn cork, Venus bronze, and Mercury silver! And Frances, along with many of her day, believed that these worlds were filled with living beings.
It's hard for us to imagine that only 150 years ago intelligent, educated people believed that life existed on the planets of our solar system. Even the sun was thought to be inhabited. Solar spots were universally admitted to be openings in the luminous stratum, not opaque scoriae floating on its surface. Even Sir William Herschel, who we consider a big name in astronomy, suggested that the light of the sun issues from an outer stratum of self-luminous material, beneath which is a second stratum of clouds designed to protect the solid body of the sun, and its inhabitants, from the intense heat and brilliancy surrounding them.
So Frances is not to be considered ignorant in her horror at Whewell's proposal.
The following quote from Janet Taylor is appropriate at this season when we are remembering the Creator in human form coming to this earth. It comes from her introduction to the sixth edition of her Directions to the Planisphere of the Stars.
The science of Astronomy offers to the reflective mind, a wide field for study and contemplation, and tends much to raise the heart and feelings beyond the scenes of the world to that Almighty Being, who has spangled the heavens with innumerable orbs, each rolling in infinite space, and all maintaining the same beautiful order and harmony of motion as when they first issued forth from the hand of their Creator. . . . The magnificence and extent of the starry regions, increase as improvements in the telescope enable the observer to fathom further into the depths of space, but after all the mind of man has done in this science, her seems still on to rest on the threshold of his part of Creation, for it would almost appear to say to the most advanced of our Astronomers 'so far shalt thou go and no further.'*
This was written in 1863, the same year Frances penned these words:
My view of the grandeur of those heavens declaring the glory of God are almost infinitesimal, and the recent studies on the nebulae, and the late revolution in one of them, seem to lead to infintely sublime speculations.
If you get a clear night, be sure to go outside and look at that magnificence.
* Croucher p. 234
In her collected letters, Frances Rolleston defended women's abilities as scientists. I'm sorry that Janet Taylor's name doesn't appear in Frances' letters, but perhaps Frances did not know the great contribution Janet made to navigation.
They might have been good friends. They shared a love of the starry heavens (Janet drew and published a Planisphere of the Stars), they were both Christians who honored the Creator, and they also lived in the same areas of London, though at different times.
One of Janet's great contributions to the safety of sailing vessels was to adjust ships' compasses to overcome deviations due to the increasing use of iron in ship building. She developed instruments to improve navigation and diligently corrected charts to reflect newfound hazards throughout the world.
This is one biography I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Click on the image to go to the Amazon page.
November 15, 1738 William Herschel was born. Although his accomplishments in astronomy range beyond this, he is most remembered as the discoverer of the planet Uranus.
Frances Rolleston liked to point out, however, that the true discoverer was not William but his sister Caroline. As an artist and writer, Frances was sensitive to the prejudice against women's accomplishments.
"Caroline Herschel discovered the Uranus, Mrs. Somerville has written well on science, but still a woman's name is a great detriment to any work except a novel." (1862)
"Remember Caroline Herschel's discovery of the Uranus, by mapping out the stars of Virgo, and, said her brother, 'one too many,'—she persevered, and he was convinced. Many a lively anecdote have I had of that pair, from her German friends, how she got up at 8 p.m. and made short breakfast, and after that both flanneled up for the midnight happy occupation, and went to bed at morning dawn." (1863)
Here is an article on Herschel that gives more credit to Caroline than we usually hear of.
This is the day, in 1847, that J. R. Hind discovered the seventh asteroid.
Bode's mathematical expression indicated that a planet should exist between Mars and Jupiter, and so around the turn of the century astronomers were racing to find it. They found tiny bits of rock instead. The first asteroid was discovered in January 1801, four total by 1808. The fifth, however, wasn't found until 1845. After Hind's first find in 1847, he went on to discover nine more.
Frances Rolleston kept up with astronomical discoveries—like "aerolites" as asteroids were called. She also noted astronomical disappearances. In 1862 she mentioned in a letter that J. R. Hind had announced that a nebula that he discovered in the constellation Taurus in 1852 was no longer there, and he asked that people with telescopes keep an eye on that part of the sky. It turned out that Hind had found a variable nebula, one that becomes brighter or dimmer depending on changes in its nearby star.
Exciting days of discovery!
In spite of disagreement by some, Frances was adamant that Jesus was born on December 25, which was at winter solstice. (Today it is December 21.) Winter solstice marks the end of longer nights and the beginning of more daylight. For Jesus birth to be at winter solstice is symbolically perfect, for as the Old Testament prophets said,
"In the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone," Isaiah 9:1-2; and
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising," Isaiah 60:1-3.