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popular. We will take the Almanacs of 1678 (the year the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, in the reign of Charles II.) – of 1771 (the eleventh year of the reign of George III.) — and those of 1829, which have just been published.
The most famous' Astrologer' of the seventeenth century was William Lilly: He began to print his Ephemeris in 1644, during the greatest heat of the civil wars. He uses many hard words and much Latin in his predictions; and constantly invokes the Divine assistance to deduce a judgment of things to come, from what he calls rational and experimental grounds of art.' The year 1677 had been distinguished by the appearance of a comet; and of course this is a fruitful subject with Lilly, whose business was to fill the minds of men with superstitious fears. He says, • all comets signifie wars, terrors, and strange events in the world. The venerable Bede, more than eight hundred years before him, had affirmed that comets' portend change of kingdoins, or pestilence, or wars, or tempests, or droughts.' Lilly explains the prophetic character of these bodies very curiously: 'the spirits, well knowing what accidents shall come to pass, do form a star or comet, and give it what figure or shape they please, and cause its motion through the air, that people might behold it, and thence draw a signification of its events. What is called the murrain was very common in those days, when the diseases of cattle as well as men were imperfectly understood; and, therefore, a comet, or blazing star, appearing in the sign Taurus, 'portenis,' according to this crafty astrologer, mortality to the greater sort of caitle, as horses, oxer, cows, &c.
But the comet has not only to answer for this mischief, but it also portends, prodigious shipwracks, damage in fisheries, monstrous floods, and destruction of fruit by caterpillars and other vermine,' — evils which the most superstitious of men have now pretty well agreed to refer to their natural causes. Comets, according to Lilly, also produce' very hard and nipping weather, frosty, dark, cloudy, much snow and wind, strange or unusual hail and tempest.' This is absurd enough; but it is not more absurd than an assertion that Saturn, the planet which, with the exception of Uranus, is the most distant from the Sun, should produce storms and tempests in January 1829, by its influence on that luminary. The following passage occurs in the first page of Moore's Almanac, for 1829.
Saturn a direful ray
From Cancer's lofty mount
And clouds on that account
And storms and tempests soon shall rise.'
• Just at beginning Saturn's cloudy eye
Causeth a very dark and cloudy skie.' The modern falsehood is only different from being clothed in inore lofty language.
The natural causes of Eclipses are now pretty generally known; and even the most ignorant of mankind, in civilized countries, have ceased to consider that they either produce or are prophetic of evil. The certainty with which their exact time can be calculated, is a beautiful exemplification of the truth of the great principles of the science of astronomy. In this work for 1828, the folly of any superstition arising out of eclipses was exhibited. Almanacs, even to our own day, attempt to keep up the popular delusion upon such subjects; and the following parallel instances will show the little variation in the cheat :
John Lord's Almanac and Prognosticator, John Partridge's Merlinus Liberatus, an for 1678.
Almanac for 1829. "The fourth eclipse of the moon on Oc- October, 1829. The late visible eclipse toher, the 19th
This threateneth grea of the Moon, which happened in the latter and rich men with loss of goods, or decay of part of the sign Pisces, may be considered substance, likewise death and diseases among to relate to Portugal and Spain, betokencattel, beasts and sheep, and such as chew ing iusurrections, troubles, and discords, the cud; also dearness of corn and seed sown amongst the common people, with mutinies upon the earth; this will or may chiefly be- amongst the soldiers, &c.' long to Ireland, Russia, Polonia the Great, and such others as are under Taurus.'
Our ancestors had a great many ridiculous notions about the possibility of prognosticating the future condition of the weather, from the state of the atmosphere on certain festival days. The festival of the Circumcision (January 1) was thus supposed to afford an evidence of the weather to be expected in the coming year. For St. Vincent's day (Jan. 22) there is an ancient admonition to note down whether the sun shine. The Conversion of St. Paul (January 25) was considered throughout Europe as particularly ominous, not only of future weather, but of coming events; and there were somé Latin rhymes of the middle ages to this effect, which the English prognosticators thus rendered:
• If St. Paul's day be faire and cleare,
Then wars shall trouble the realm full oft.' Candlemas day (February 2) supplied another of these irrational inferences from the weather of one day to that of a distant period :
• If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
A few of these notions are still prevalent in remote districts. Mrs. Grant, in her account of the superstitions of the Highlands, says, that if the days between the 11th and 14th of February are particularly stormy, the prognostic for the weather of the coming year is most favorable. In many parts of Germany there is a belief that if St. Urban's day (May 25) be fair and calm, there will be a good vintage. The prognostications connected with St. Swithin's day (July 15) have kept the firmest hold upon the popu. lar mind. A continuance of rainy weather generally takes place about this period; but the belief that if it rain on that day the rain will continue for forty days, is as absurd as any of the other prejudices we have mentioned. Ben Johnson laughs at the notion in one of his plays,* where a character, looking into his penny almanac (almanacs were sold at a penny then, as they are to this day at Hamburgh), says, 'O here, St. Swithin's, the 15th day, variable weather, for the most part rain, good !--- for the most part rain ? why, it should rain forty days after, more or less; it was a rule held afore I was able to hold the plough, and yet here are two days no rain ; ha! it makes me muse.'
We have mentioned these silly notions of former times, to observe how very nearly they have become eradicated by the real knowledge produced by a wider diffusion of education. But it is not so with the weather prophecies of the almanacs. They still continue to be printed, as in the days of Lilly; and are still believed by hundreds and thousands of credulous farmers and country people, who have their hay and corn too often spoiled through their reliance on these false predictions. That they contain as little novelty as wisdom, may be seen from the follwing extracts for the illonth of JUNE:
1829. 5 Winds and rain at A close air, with drisling showers. Fair Intervals
of fair the beginning of and clear, but soon it lowers.
weather. the month. 10 Winds and rain a- And now, my frionds, you may again ex- A moist atmosphere,
·bout this time. pect winds, thunder, and showers of rain. attended with rain 15 Some thunder about But now again it seems the air is moderate, and thunder in this time.
serene, and clear. Sultry and hot some many places. 20 Blustering storms of days together. But then comes some windy
wind and rain. weather. But at this time the case is plain, Fair & hot; charm23 Some storms of rain we shall have pleasant showers of rain. But ing weather for and good weather the air clears up and is fair ugain.
forwarding vege30 intervened.
According to these several prophecies of 1678, 1771, and 1829,
rain and thunder invariably take place from the 10th to the 20th of June. It is perfectly impossible that these predictions can be any thing but mere guesses; often, of course, very false guesses, - and guesses certainly not applicable, if they even approached the truth, to all parts of the kingdom, -- for it may rain in a mountainous country, and be fine in the neighbouring
* • Every Man out of his Humor,' Act I, Scene 1.
plain, on the same day. We know from scientific observation, that in the month of June the atmosphere is at its highest point of dryness, and that the average number of days on which rain falls is lower than the average of any other month of the year. With these established facts to contradict the prophecy, it is predicted by Moore's Aimanac, that from the 10th to the 20th of June in the year 1829, the atınosphere will be moist, with rain and thunder in many places. If any farmer believe this nonsense, it is highly probable that from the 10th to the 20th of June he may lose some days of actual fine weather, in the dread of the rain which the almanac predicts, and thus his hay will remain on the ground, instead of being safely in the rick; and, further, that when he hopes for the fine weather which the same almanac ensures, from the 24th to the end of the month, he may experience a heavy rain, and be driven on to the periodical rains of the middle of July, with no consolation for his losses but the conviction that it is better to trust to common sense and experience, than to false predictions, expressly manufactured to impose upon the ignorant.
The 'Astrological Predictions of Mundane Affairs,' with which the most popular of our almanacs are still illuminated, are not more distinguished for veracity than their predictions of the weather. We do not suppose that many persons seriously believe in these absurdities; yet when they are perused by many thousands, as they still are, it is impossible that the mind should be able wholly to resist the influence of the deception; and in proportion as such thoughts find a place in the mind, will sound knowledge and a pure love of truth be shut out. As a matter of curious interest, we shall again give a specimen from the almanacs before us of the little variation which has prevailed for one hundred and fifty years in the language of imposture:
Andrews' News from the Moore's Almanac, 1771, Moore's Almanac, 1829, Stars, 1678, July.
July. Sudden fears possess some
There is some bustle in the In this month there are no places — Jupiter turns retro- world about this time, and less than five conjunctions, grade, and Mars comes to where armies are blows must three of which happen in the conjunction with Saturn at be expected. Jove affronts ascendant of Rome, the very the month's end. Weighty both the Sun and Mercury, focus of papal powers, and matters under consideration and some sly contrivance a fourth on the very verge of in some parts of Europe. Fly- brought to light. I hope no that sign. Here is a concateing reports from beyond sea. holy plot. Some good news nation of circumstances; the Those places under Gemini from abroad about this time ; effects of which may be exagain concerned. The influ- and some ships despaired of pected to produce serious ence both of Saturn and Mars likely to come home safe. events in the Catholic church they are perhaps now se
– perhaps the death of his of, to their detriment or dis
It cannot fail to be perceived, that the tone of these predictions is not in the slightest degree altered by the progress of knowledge. The prophecy for 1829 would read just as consistently in the Almanac of 1678; and that of 1771 would be just as reasonable and true, if transposed to 1829. Indeed we have observed, in our inquiries into this subject, that the very slightest changes fit the predictions of a past year for revival, in some future attempt at delusion. It is really wonderful, that such a clumsy imposture should so long have held a place amongst a thinking people. Several gross improprieties, however, have within the last year been removed from the old almanacs; and it is observable, that their attempts at delusion are very much softened. It is to be desired, that all astrological predictions should be removed from these productions ; and they may then fairly be considered as amongst the most useful works of reference. We earnestly desire to see them become instruments of good, instead of continuing vehicles of evil.
The divisions of time are either natural or artificial. The natural divisions are the day, the lunar month, and the year. The artificial divisions are the week, hour, minute, and second The is divided into 12 parts by the revolutions of the inoon, with a remainder of about 11 days. How comes the day to be divided into 24 parts, called hours, rather than into any other number? and how happens it, that the hour is subdivided into 60 minutes, and the minute into 60 seconds? Having occasion for smaller portions of time than a day, this natural unit of duration was divided by man as nature had divided the year, by the revolutions of the moon ; that is, the day properly so called, or the interval from sunrise to sunset, was divided into 12 parts, and the night into 12 parts ; and as the month, or 12th part of the year, contained 60 such parts, namely, 30 days and 30 nights, so the hour, or 12th part of the day, was divided into 60 parts,
called minutes, and the minute subdivided in a sinilar manner into 60 seconds. But the hour was formerly, among the Greeks, a 12th part of the interval from sunrise to sunset, and thus, instead of being a fixed and definite period, was of different lengths at different seasons. Indeed the hour, considered as the 24th part of the apparent entire revolution of the sun, would not be exactly the same through the year, since the days themselves, which are measured by the return of the sun to the same meridian, are unequal. They increase for a certain period from a few seconds to half a minute, and then decrease in a similar manner; so that we are obliged to strike a balance, or take an average of all the days in the year, and divide this average into 24 parts, in order to give to the hour a definite, fixed length. A good clock that goes uniformly, and is so regulated as to agree exactly with the sun at the beginning and end of the year, would indicate hours and minutes of a uniform length, according to the above method of taking an average
But an accurate clock so adjusted, would differ from the sun in the course of the year about 16 minutes, or a little more than a quarter of an hour, being sometimes faster by this quantity, and sometimes slower. It would agree with the sun four times in the course of the year, namely,