University Lowbrow Astronomers

Astronomy for Beginners, Map and Twenty Seven Engravings By Francis Fellowes, A. M.
—A Book Review.

by Christopher Sarnecki
Printed in Reflections: August, 2006.

I found this book while trolling the used books at Shakespeare’s ‘On-the-Square’ while in Madison, Wisconsin, during the fall of ’05. ‘On-the-Square’ is any store on the capital square around the capital building. I recommend this venue on market Saturdays anytime in the summer. While you are at it check out the capital building. You will not be disappointed.

This book measures 4 1/2” x 5 1/2” x 3/8” and the cover has the composition of an old brown paper bag, so you can imagine it doesn’t stand out in a rack of used astro books. Upon closer inspection of this text, I noticed it had a handsome binding, with a musty aroma, and the hint of a damp basement. The raised text gave the impression of hand set type and the illustrations looked like the product of hand engravings, although the number of illustration were not as many as was billed on the cover. It seams someone decided to lift some of the pages with a few of the engravings. The price inside the cover indicated 300 and the published date indicated 1836. Well, I had to have this book. I approached the re-seller with some apprehension. Was it $3 bucks, or was it 300 dollars? The clerk indicated it was “as is” and requested a payment of $3.24; which I couldn’t fork over fast enough. Like a robber in the night, I slinked out the door as fast as my feet could carry me. Did I mention before I bought this book, I set it on an upper shelf only to have if fall to the floor breaking the binding in the process. One hundred and seventy years of being passed from one owner to the next, and I had to break the hand stitched binding by dropping the book on an old basement concrete floor. What a cad.

The Preface indicates“This book is designed for beginners. Instead therefore, of beginning in the middle, or at the end, it begins at the beginning; and seeking to avoid an indiscriminate blending of all things, treats of such things, and such only, as are suitable to be set before beginners.” Precious. The book, as it turns out, is an astronomy primer for New England secondary education of its day. In its 90 plus pages, the text is subdivided in to the usual chapters one would expect to find in an astronomy primer. The Heavens, the Sun, the Moon, the planets, fixed stars, divisions of the heavens, constellations, comets, and the history of astronomy. What did you say? The Heavens? That’s right, the Heavens. In Lesson First, we find that in the beginning God created the Heavens and Earth. When have you heard that lately in an astronomy text? And you had better pay attention, because this is the first question at the end of the chapter. Most amateur astronomers would agree the author does get it right on page 11. “It would be of little use to you to study books on Astronomy, unless you go out and look at the Heavens for yourself.”

The engravings are very superb as the pictures attest. There is a fine collection of the ‘gestalt’ (the whole, i.e., the Universe) views, Earth bound landscapes, diagrams, and constellations. Sadly this great tome is no longer in print. If after reading this review you decide you might want to read the full text, you are welcome to borrow it, just leave me a $300 deposit.

(Notice that this picture shows the Solar System only extending out to Uranus or as it appears to be named here “Herschel.” However it does show 4 unlabeled objects between Mars and Jupiter.)

Photo Credits

All images by Chris Sarnecki


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This page originally appeared in Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers (the club newsletter).
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