Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society (16 february 1884)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
This article is a report of the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society published in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle on 16 february 1884.
The report is about the lecture "Earth and Its Movements" held by Major-General A. W. Drayson and attended by Arthur Conan Doyle on 12 february 1884 at the Penny-street Lecture Hall (Portsmouth) where he was part of the speakers.
Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society
The sixth ordinary meeting of this Society was held at the Penny-street Lecture Hall, Portsmouth, on Tuesday evening. The President (Major-General A. W. Drayson, R.A., F.R.A.S.) occupied the chair, and among the other gentlemen present were General Playfair, C.B., R.E., General J. W. Cox, C.B., General W. Ramsay, General C. L. Nugent, General C. T. Catty, Surgeon-General J. Lamprey, P.M.O., Rev. W. Bell, Rev. W. J. Staynes, Colonel Hall, Colonel Muskett, Major F. S. Terry, Captain T. M. Ritchie, R.A., Captain Sutton, Fleet-Surgeon G. Kell, R.N., Dr. C. F. Edwards, Dr. W. H. Axford, Dr. C. C. Claremont, Dr. A. Conan Doyle, Dr. Walter J. Sykes, Dr. B. Guillemard, Dr. P. H. Gardner, Messrs. M. Ollis, R.N., H. C. Hurry, G. Ollis, J. E. Blakeney, J. Hay, W. Weston, T. Newell, J. A. Wilson, R.N., E. Byrne, W. Wales, E. G. Cleeve, G. A. Cook, R.N., Dental-Surgeon W. H. Kirton, A. Howell, R. Gorringe, R.N., W. Milln, R.N., A. G. Haydon, C. W. Bevis, H. Hagley, F. L. Jones, H. Murrell, W. R. McCallum, R. Constantine, H. A. Sutton, C. F. Burton, M. Somers Gardner, C. Foran, E. Elton, F. Brine, J. Lapthorae, G. F. Bell, Dr. J. Ward Cousins (Hon. Sec.), &c. In the unavoidable absence of Dr. D. Nicholson, who was to have read a paper, the PRESIDENT delivered a very interesting lecture, entitled
"OUR EARTH AND ITS MOVEMENTS."
In commencing, he said that he had chosen a scientific subject in order to keep up the reputation of the Society as a scientific as well as a literary organisation. He touched upon the size of the earth, as compared with other planets in the system to which it belongs, and explained its theoretical division into hemispheres. Dealing with this latter point he introduced the question of the centre of the earth's gravity. They found that North America, together with Europe and Asia, lies to the north of the equator, while to the south lie about one-third of Africa, a portion of South America, and the Australian continent. Were a balance to be struck between the land in the northern and southern hemispheres, it would be seen that the former largely preponderates in mass. If they considered the relative weights of water and land — and especially of land consisting of masses of granite, such as is frequently to be met with in the northern hemisphere — it was evident that the centre of gravity of the earth must be north of the equator. That being so they might expect eccentric movements in the revolutions of the sphere, for it was a well-known fact that where the centre of gravity in a rotating body was not coincident with the centre of that body eccentric movements were the result. In regard to the earth it was found that the eastern and western hemispheres differed considerably as to the mass of land contained in them. After making many calculations with a view to discovering where the centre of gravity was actually situate he had come to the conclusion that it lies on a meridian about 15 degrees east of Greenwich, and which passes through the centre of Africa. The lecturer then proceeded to explain the earth's revolution on its axis and its revolution round the sun, showing the cause of the seasons and their changes. Alluding to the popular fallacy that the sun is overhead at mid-day, he said that as a matter or fact the sun is never immediately overhead in England. Having shown that the alternations of climate on the earth's surface are entirety due to the inclination of the plane of the earth's orbit, the lecturer said that the planet Venus, "our next-door neighbour," must experience remarkable alternations of climate, owing to the peculiar inclination of its orbit. Such alternations of continued extreme heat and extreme cold must there take place as would render life, as we comprehend it, altogether impossible. There was a third movement of the earth not popularly understood, although it had been recognised by astronomers for a great number of years. It was said to have been known to Hippachus, who lived about 140 B.C., and to Pythagoras, who lived about 500 B.C., and it was even claimed to have been known to the Hindoos many thousands of years before that. He referred to what had been termed the conical movement of the earth's axis, namely, a gradual circular sweep of the upper part of the axis in a measure independent of the lower part. This movement proceeded at the rate of about 50 seconds per year, or one degree in 72 years, so that it was computed it would take about 23,000 years to make the complete circle. The lecturer here stated that hitherto it had been supposed that the pole of the heavens traced a circle round the pole of the ecliptic as a centre, but as the pole of the ecliptic and the polo of the heavens do not maintain a uniform distance, such cannot be the case. The centre of the circle traced by the pole of the heavens appears to be a point six degrees from the pole of the ecliptic, and this fact would cause in about 13,000 years a difference of 12 degrees in the extent of the tropics and of the Arctic Circle. Were this theory accepted it would be seen that large portions of land at present lying in the temperate zones would, at a certain period of these conical revolutions, have been included in the Arctic Circle and the tropics. Assuming that the earth had, thousands of years ago, passed through such a period, when, as at present in the planet Venus, tremendous climatic alternations must have taken place, many geological facts were easily explained. Traces of the work of glaciers in the removal of immense rocks were to be found in England, the only explanation of which was afforded by the theory he now put forward. This view was borne out by many eminent geologists. In conclusion, the lecturer said that although it was frequently asserted that there was nothing new in astronomy, he hoped he had shown them that there still was something new. (Applause.) The lecture, which was illustrated with numerous diagrams and models, was listened to with earnest attention throughout.
Mr. HURRY opened the discussion on the lecture, and expressed the interest which they all felt in the subject. He proposed a cordial vote of thanks to the President. (Applause.) — Dr. AXPORD, in seconding the motion, said there were very few scientists in Portsmouth who could afford the time necessary for the study of the delightful science of astronomy. — The Rev. W. J. STAYNES supported the vote, and suggested that as portions of the earth were receiving much more heat at present from the sun than they did some 4000 years ago, this being a result of the conical movement of the axis, it might be that many races now deficient in intellectual power were then fully up to the mark, for powerful intellects were most frequently found in temperate climates. With regard to the knowledge of astronomy claimed for the ancient Hindoos, he thought it strange, if these claims could be substantiated, that so much absurdity as regarded astronomical matters was contained in their religious writings. — DR. C. C. CLAREMONT and Dr. CONAN DOYLE supported the motion, and mentioned, in regard to Mr. Staynes's suggestion, that in Homer's "Iliad" mention was made of the olive and the vine growing in ancient Greece, so that time temperature of the country then could not have been very different from what it is now. — Dr. J. WARD COUSINS alluded to the pleasure they had experienced in listening to such a practical astronomer as their President, and defended the ancient and doubtless pre-historic observers of the heavens, whose intelligent labours were too apt to be ignored. There were but few students of astronomy even in the present day, and, if he excluded the members of their Society, he thought they would find only a very small number of astronomical observers in South Hants.
The vote of thanks was carried with acclamation, and the PRESIDENT, in response, said that no mere length of time would ever have sufficed to move immense boulders from one part of the country to another, as had evidently been done in pre-historic times, and that such removal could only be accounted for by the theory of tremendous alternations of climate between summer and winter. — The meeting then terminated.