Abbildungen der Seite

calculation proved nicely accurate; and thus the Europeans became established at the head of the Astronomical Board, from which they were dismissed only a few years since. The instruments constructed under the direction of Verbiest, for the imperial observatory at Peking, have been described by Le Compte. They consisted of an armillary sphere, an equinoctial sphere, a celestial globe, an azimuth horizon, and a quadrant and sextant.*

The simple fact that a people so vain and self-sufficient as the Chinese should have adopted the science of foreigners, and raised the professors of that science to considerable dignities—that they should have deviated, on a point of such consequence, from their established prejudices and maxims—sufficiently proves that they had little science of their own. It is true that Confucius recorded thirty-six eclipses of the sun, the greater number of which have been verified by the calculations of European astronomers; but, as has been very truly observed, the recording an eclipse may prove the authenticity of historical annals, while at the same time it proves nothing as to the existence of astronomical science. As far as related to the mere observation of the sky, the Chinese have from the earliest periods been very particular and assiduous.' The remark of Du Halde, that “ all these observations are not

* The work, in one hundred Chinese volumes, composed and translated by Matthew Ricci and other missionaries, by desire of Kâng-hy, is a remarkable production. It is executed in the best style of native books, and, being now very scarce and expensive, cannot be procured under sixty or eighty Spanish dollars, which is quite a fancy price for a Chinese work. It treats of spherical trigonometry, geometry, astronomy, and music, and contains also tables of logarithms, which were merely turned into native figures, and not calculated by the missionaries. The diagrams in geometry are accurately and neatly cut, and the whole is a very respectable specimen of printing, worthy of the emperor's patronage. The title means in English, “The profound sources of numbers-by imperial authority.”

a little serviceable in ascertaining their chronology," is very true; but they by no means prove (what he appears sometimes desirous to establish) that the Chinese were astronomers. *

We read indeed, in their history, that the blunders of some of their pretended philosophers were ingeniously turned into an occasion of flattering the sovereign. In the time of Soong, a predicted eclipse having failed of accomplishment, they congratulated the emperor that the heavens had dispensed with this omen of ill-luck in his favour. The very superstition argues an ignorance of the real causes of eclipses; but, on this point, it is possible that the government saw the advantage of wielding the mysteries of astronomy and astrology as an engine of power over the ignorance of the people. It has therefore made a monopoly of the subject, and declared it death .to publish a counterfeit or imitation of the Imperial Almanac. The extravagancies of the populace during the obscuration caused by an eclipse are countenanced by the government. Though the emperor either does or ought to know better, he and his court go through sundry ceremonies on those occasions; and he affects sometimes to consider the eclipse as a warning to him for something wrong in the administration.

But the most alarming prodigy of all is a comet, and this superstition they have had in common with many other nations. According to their shape and appearance, comets are called by the Chinese broom stars, hairy stars, and tail stars, and they are said to point the tail towards the region of whose ruin they are the presage. One of these appeared in May, 1820, and was observed by Mr. Reeves at Macao, on the 5th of that month, in the body of Centaur; its position being such as to be cut by two * Phil. Trans. 1823. On the Chinese year.

straight lines, one of them drawn through a and B, or the foot and easternmost arm of the Cross, and produced N.E., the other through e and B, or the western foot of Centaur. After the first observation it became more visible by degrees, and then slowly disappeared towards the north-east. The Chinese affect to draw presages from the appearances of comets, and here they bring into play their foolish theory of the five colours.* If the appearance be red, particular consequences are to follow ; if dark, they expect the overthrow of regular government, and the success of rebellions, &c.

A comparison between the ancient systems of Chinese and of Hindoo astronomy is rendered somewhat perplexing by the fact, that, while there are some points of resemblance, there are others in which they essentially differ : both of them have twenty-eight lunar mansions, and a cycle of sixty years; but a careful observation detects some important distinctions; the Hindoo cycle is a cycle of Jupiter, while that of the Chinese is a solar cycle; and the twenty-eight constellations of the Hindoos are nearly all of them equal divisions of the great circle, consisting of about 13° each, while the Chinese constellations are extremely unequal, varying from 30° to less than 1°. The author's father, in conjunction with Sir William Jones and MM. Colebrooke and Bentley, proved that the Hindoo astronomy did not go farther than the calculations of eclipses and some other phenomena, with the rules and tables for performing the same. Besides their lunar zodiac of twenty-eight mansions, the Hindoos (unlike the Chinese) have the solar, including twelve signs perfectly identical with ours, and demonstrating in that respect a common origin. As we know from Herodotus that the Egyptians had a week of seven days, so it is remarkable that the

* See p. 225.

Hindoos had anciently the same, the planetary names being given to the days exactly in the same order as among us in Europe, but Friday being the first. The Chinese reckon five planets, to the exclusion of the sun and moon; but they give the name of one of their twentyeight lunar mansions successively to each day of the year in a perpetual rotation, without regard to the moon's changes; so that the same four out of the twenty-eight invariably fall on our Sundays, and constitute, as it were, perpetual Sunday letters. A native Chinese first remarked this odd fact to the author, and on examination it proved perfectly correct.

The Hindoos divide the ecliptic into 360 degrees ; and, being the reputed inventors of decimal arithmetic, the singularity has been remarked of their using sexagesimal fractions in astronomy. It seems probable (as already observed) that the Chinese borrowed this division of the great circle from the Arabians. One coincidence with the Hindoos may be noticed. Sir William Jones remarks that, in their nuptial ceremonies, they had a constellation of three stars, called abhijit, for some astrological purpose: the Chinese ancient book of songs associates three stars with marriage, in this line of an epithalamium“ The three stars shine on the gate.” The astronomical works of the Hindoos, like those of the ancient Chinese, make no mention of observations, nor even of an instrument. According to the conclusions of Delambre, the Hindoo knowledge of astronomy was greatly inferior to that of the Greeks ; and it has been argued by Laplace, in opposition to the previous opinion of Bailly, that the Indian astronomy is not of the highest antiquity, but must have been imperfectly borrowed from the Greeks.

There can be no doubt of the instruments, mentioned by Du Halde as found by the Jesuits on their first entrance into China, having been constructed by Arabians. De Pauw supposes that they were made at Balk in Baccriana, and passed into China during the Mongol government. The writer of this, however, observed in an old Chinese encyclopædia that the height of the North Pole was stated as being 36° above the horizon; and it appears from Du Halde that the instruments in question were also calculated for 36o. Now, as the elevation of the pole at any particular place is exactly the latitude of that place, it seems reasonable to conclude that those instruments were constructed when the Chinese observatory was south of Peking, and probably in Honân, a province in which the capital once stood. They would at least be useless in the north. The observation of Du Halde, that “the uses of the instruments were written in Chinese characters, with the names of the twenty-eight constellations," is no evidence against their construction by the Arabians, though it is against their transportation from Balk. The guns which were cast for the Chinese by the Romish priests were all inscribed with the characters of the country; and the ungrateful vanity of that people has invariably led them, after oorrowing anything from Europeans, to conceal the debt as much as possible. When Mr. Pearson made them his invaluable present of the vaccine inoculation, it was accompanied by a small pamphlet in Chinese (written by Sir George Staunton), containing some necessary directions for the use of the virus, and stating the discovery to have been English. An edition of this was very soon after published, in which not one word was retained as to its origin, nor any trace by which it could be known that the discovery of vaccination was otherwise than Chinese.

Their civil year is lunar, consisting of twelve months of twenty-nine and thirty days alternately, with the

« ZurückWeiter »