WE have been repeatedly struck by the comparative (it might have been said, more than comparative) ignorance which prevails, even among educated people, as to the nomenclature and position of the stars. There are many who would be grievously scandalised at the idea of not being able to call trees or flowers by their right names, but who seem very little concerned by having to admit a similar incompetency as to the beautiful luminaries of the skies. They would be indignant at the supposition that they did not know an oak from an ash, or could possibly mistake a cowslip for a primrose; but they have no hesitation to confess that they do not know the difference between the two dogs that have been for so many ages keeping guard in the heavens; and if possibly the preeminent brilliancy of Sirius, or the magnificent configuration of Orion, may have awakened enough of curiosity to ascertain what they are called, they would still be at an utter loss to discriminate between Capella and Arcturus, or to say in what constellation or at what time they are to look for the Pleiades, whose existence they can hardly ignore. It is not easy to account for such a degree of uninstructed heedlessness. One reason possibly may be, that the knowledge of natural objects which makes its way by such gentle and imperceptible approaches into the minds of intelligent children is acquired by day rather than by night, and that their rambles with parents and nurses in sunshine hours familiarise them insensibly with many things of which they would remain ignorant if they were visible only during their hours of rest. But, however we may try to explain it, so it is, that what was termed in a previous generation the “diffusion of useful knowledge,” seems not to have included a popular acquaintance with the sky, and that the maps which were published under that title and to promote that object have been much more serviceable to the express student of astronomy than to educated society in general. Whether such a state of ignorance or insouciance may be equally prevalent in other countries we never had an opportunity of ascertaining; but there can be no doubt of it among ourselves, and as little question can be made that it is a discredit to the professed intellectual progess of the age.
Easy Star Lessons.
By Richard A. Proctor. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1881.)
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