Page images
PDF
EPUB

ditions necessary to the multiform manifestations of the mind.

People having the idea that every thing is valuable for some secondary object; this object to which an imaginary value is attached varies in the minds of different persons, according to their own particular conformation of mind and to their education. In many, the aggrandizement of property being the prevailing passion, scarcely any thing is considered useful, except that which contributes to public or private wealth. In others, the degree in which any science or art can contribute to common convenience, or abridge labour, becomes the measure of their estimation of it. Judging of others by themselves, people have supposed that the sciences have always been cultivated for such secondary reasons, and that in the early stages of society, they arose out of the numerous artificial wants which advancing civilization was contally producing. But though it has generally been the case with the multitude who have followed up the discoveries of the ingenious, that availing themselves of the intellect of their superiors, they have erected a trade on their inventions, or have converted them to purposes of social improvement; yet many of

those philosophers, to whom society has been indebted for the most important improvements in the sciences, have cultivated them originally for the sole pleasure which the pursuit itself afforded. There have been in all ages, persons who have taken delight in observing and comparing natural facts, and for whose philosophic minds the infinite variety exhibited by all natural objects, and the investigation of the respective causes of different phaenomena, are of themselves sufficient to engage them in the pursuit of science, and the knowledge obtained thereby an adequate reward for their labours.

In the earliest ages, as far back as history enables us to trace the operation of the human intellect, we find mankind interested about meteorological phaenomena. A circumstance by no means astonishing, when we consider the vast importance of this science to the shepherd and agriculturist, and the interest the study of it engaged, as a means of enabling men by anticipating the event of terrible atmospheric commotions, to provide in some measure against their effects. The beauty, also, of many atmosperic phaenomena, and the interesting variety of scenery which they produce for the spectator; together with the natural curiosity excited

about their causes, which man is organized to feel, have contributed probably in a great measure to interest people in this science.

Meteorology considered as a subject of amusement seems to have some advantages over many other pursuits; inasmuch as it may be studied and will afford interest in places unfavourable to the cultivation of other sciences. The botanist, who delights in the diversification of nature exhibited in the endless variety of the forms and colours of flowers; or the naturalist, who finds amusement in contemplating the habits of animals, and the adaptation of the structure of each to its mode of life, cannot indulge their inclination except in habitable countries, or where vegetation and life abound. But on the barren mountain's rugged vortex, in the uniform gloom of the desert, or on the trackless surface of the ocean, we may view the interesting electrical operations which are going on above, manifested in the formation and changes of the clouds, which bear water in huge masses from place to place, or throw it down in torrents on the earth and waters; occasionally creating whirlwinds and water spouts; or producing the brilliant phaenomena of meteors and of lightning; and constantly ornamenting the sky with

the picturesque imagery of coloured clouds and golden haze. The atmosphere and its phaenomena are every where, and thunder rolls, and rainbows glitter in all conceivable situations, and we may view them whether it may be our lot to dwell in the frozen countries of polar ice, in the mild climates of the temperate zone, or in the parched regions which lay more immediately under the path of the sun.

Among the ancient nations of oriental shepherds, the cultivation of this science must have been particularly useful; chemistry and many other sciences which are necessary to the promotion of a more cultivated condition of society, for the improvement of the arts, and manufactures of civil life, were of less utility among tribes, whose chief employment consisted in watching their flocks, and procuring the fruit and other vegetable productions on which they subsisted.

Constantly abroad in a serene atmosphere, and endowed with strong faculties for observation and analogy, the eastern tribes of old, in Egypt and Syria, observed accurately the phaenomena of the heavens, and collected, compared, and recorded, facts that laid the foundation of astronomy and meteorology, which the Grecian

and Roman philosophers continued to cultivate, and which have been brought nearer to perfection in later times.

Meteorology, regarded as a science distinct from astronomy and astrology, appears to have been first systimatically treated of by Aristotle, who seems by his works to have been constantly employed in observing and comparing natural objects. He described with accuracy many atmospheric phaenomena, and employed himself in investigating their causes. He assigned the cause of the rainbow, and of the halo, and appears to have given a more minute detail of the various appearances of clouds, rain, hail, snow, dew, meteors, and other phaenomena which occur in our air than any preceding or cotemporary writer. Shortly after him Theophrastus, who had been his pupil, collected all the popular prognosticks of the weather, under four heads; 1, Пegionμarav υετων; 2, Περι σηματων ἄνεμων ; 3, Περι σηματων χειμώνων, and 4, Περι σημάτων ἐυδίων : these prognosticks Aratus soon embodied in his Diosemea, which was a sort of appendix to his astronomical poem the Phaenomena, which was translated into Latin verse by Cicero, by Germanicus, and by Festus Avienus. We find meteorological observations interspersed in the writings of the

« PreviousContinue »