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(25) COMETS.

If the usual appearance of Nature was sufficiently marvellous to beget all kinds of superstitions in the mind of the untutored savage, it is only natural that the sudden advent of a blazing comet in the sky should affright him, and give rise to all kinds of crude notions about coming disasters. To some extent this is true of the civilised world, especially that part of it which is morbidly religious and dominated by prophecies respecting the Second Coming of Christ. Take the year 1712. Whiston--the mathematical divine, the translator of Josephus--had predicted that the comet of 1712 would appear on Wednesday, the 14th October, at five minutes after five o'clock A.M.; and that the world would be destroyed by fire on the Friday following. His reputation for science was as high as his character for orthodoxy was questionable, and the comet appeared punctually--leading to an inferential fear that the rest of the prediction would be as punctually fulfilled. A number of persons got into boats and barges in the Thames, thinking the water the safest place. South Sea and India stock fell. The captain of a Dutch ship threw all his powder into the river, that the ship might not be endangered. At noon, after the comet appeared, it is said that more than one hundred clergymen were ferried over to Lambeth Palace, to request that proper prayers might be prepared, there being none in the church service appropriate to such an emergency. People believed that the Day of Judgment was at hand, and acted, some on this belief, but more as if some temporary evil was to be expected. Many wrongs were righted, many breaches of morality repaired. There was a great run on the bank; and Sir Gilbert Heathcote, at that time head director, issued orders to all the fire-offices in London, requesting them to keep a good look-out, and have a particular eye on the Bank of England. On the whole, the poor Londoners of that generation appear to have behaved rather foolishly in the moment of imagined doom.

But in this year of grace 1910, when the daily press is full of references to the Miners' Comet and to Halley's Comet, there are semi-superstitious journalists and rabid politicians who are trying to see "signs" in the heavens. It is not a question of providing "copy" during the stress of a General Election, or of supplying notes about what happened when Halley's Comet appeared on previous occasions; the references were so put that the reader could not help getting the impression of a keen desire on the part of the writer to turn the comet into an omen of ill. We laugh at Whiston, but candidly we are not much better when we attempt to make political capital out of a star with a tail. Why not believe in astrology at once?

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