Darkness at Noon (More or Less)

August 20, 2017

Like other special collections libraries prompted by tomorrow’s solar eclipse to post images from their holdings, we weigh in with examples from, among others, our exhibits “On the Sunny Side” (2013), “Jesuits and the Construction of Knowledge” (2011), and “Looking Up: An Exhibit of Astronomical Books 1500–1800” (2010).

From Kaspar Peucer (1525-1602), Elementa doctrinae de circulis coelestibus et primo motu: Recognita et correcta  (Wittenberg: Excvdebat Johannes Crato, 1558), call number: 807688 noncurrent.

Showing two (out-of-scale) observers, the one on the left witnessing only a partial eclipse — we’ll be in the same boat in Madison, assuming the weather cooperates. Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Jakov Balde (1604-1668), De eclipsi solari anno MDCLIV die XII. Augusti, in Europa: A pluribus spectata tubo optico (Munich: Typis Lucae Straub: Sumptibus Joannis Wagneri bibliopolae), 1662, call number: 992228 noncurrent.

Engraved title page.

John Harris (1667?-1719), The description and use of the globes, and the orrery: To which is prefixed, by way of introduction, a brief account of the solar system (London: Printed for Thomas Wright and Richard Cushee, 1731), call number: 864378 noncurrent.

Figure V showing a solar eclipse.

Andrew Newell (1780?-1808). Darkness at noon, or, The great solar eclipse, of the 16th of June, 1806: Described and represented in every particular containing, also, an general explanation of eclipses and the causes on which they depend, 3rd edition (Boston: Published by D. Carlisle & A. Newell, 1806), call number:  Thordarson Collection T 3067; also LXNN Cutter. Newell explained that “… a total eclipse of the sun is still more remarkable, as such an appearance has not happened at this metropolis [Boston] since the settlement of New England; and probably many ages may pass before the same phenomenon will be repeated.” Or put more poetically, as on the title page:

‘Tis silence all, and universal maze ;
A wond’rous twilight overcasts the skies;
At noon a darkness does usurp the day;
And stars break forth and glitter through the gloom.

In the Cairns Collection of American Women Writers, the account by Mabel Loomis Todd entitled, Corona and Coronet, Being a narrative of the Amherst eclipse expedition to Japan, in Mr. James’s schooner-yacht Coronet, to observe the sun’s total obscuration 8th August, 1896 (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company by The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1898), explained the attraction: “Chasing eclipses, always of interest in itself, whether the eclipse be caught or not, yields great wealth to science when these elusive phenomena are properly overtaken.” The title Corona and Coronet highlighted “that most beautiful and mysterious sight in nature, — the outflashing radiance of the corona.”

Our colleague Susan Barribeau also identified titles in our Little Magazines Collection on the eclipse theme.

And we can’t end without pointing to early editions in the Brownell and Bassett Mark Twain collections of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, in which our hero saved himself from the stake by exploiting an impending eclipse: “Go back and tell the King that at hour I will smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight; I will blot out the sun and he shall never shine again; the fruits of the earth shall rot for lack of light and warmth, and the peoples of the earth shall famish and die, to the last man!”

The beginning of chapter VI for the London edition, which appeared under the title A Yankee in the Court of King Arthur, with illustrations by Dan. Beard (London: Chatto & Windus, 1889).
Cover illustration for the London edition (1889). Call number: Brownell 30.