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FIVE COMETS

THERE has been so much disappointment
about comets of late years, that the public
had ceased to put faith in them.  Some
that had been formally invited to visit us,
have failed to keep their engagements;
others have presented themselves with such
muddled heads, dirty complexions, and
ill-arranged hair, that they might as well
have stopped away.  Our fathers had filled
us with wonder by their descriptions of the
famous comet of eighteen hundred and
eleven, which remained in the sky for weeks
and months, with a tail whose length it is
impossible to exaggerate. They, and our
mothers (young people then) took evening
walks, night after night, only to gaze at the
comet, and nothing else.

Successive disappointments seemed to
portend that such an astronomical treat
was to be denied to our day and generation,
till an Italian astronomer lately discovered
a luminous speck in the firmament; which
kept creeping on, slowly but surely; and,
at length, Donati's comet has restored the
reputation of the grand cometary family.  It
has afforded a magnificent spectacle.
Moreover, in one important respect it will
rival, if it do not surpass, its splendid
predecessor of the year eighteen hundred
and eleven: the quality of its wine will be
first-rate, even amongst first-rate vintages.
Ordinary comet wine will be better than the
extraordinary wines of chilly, watery years.

Blessed be the comet! He has taken Jean
Raisin's bitterest enemythat foul parasite
Tucker's O├»dium —by the beard, and
given him such a roasting, that the persecuted
Jean has recovered his strength. May he
retain it for many a long year! But, if
we inquire into cause and effect, we are
a little puzzled to arrive at a conclusion.
Whether the promise of a good vintage
which promise has been repeated, and kept,
ever since the winter's ice was melted
attracted the comet to come and smile
approval; or, whether the comet, still on its
distant travels, had yet sufficient virtue and
power to favour the budding and the leafing
of the vine; to ward off the evil influence of la
lune rousse, the red moon; that mischievous
moon which shines between the moons of Easter
and Pentecost; whether the comet's
intention of approaching our sun helped
to expand the blossom, and set the fruit,
and preserve it from rime-frost, hail, and
hurricane, till the comet should actually
approach to complete the ripening process;
whether the comet, or  the excellent vintage,
were the coming event which cast its shadow
before, is a knotty point, for the solution of
which I must refer to Francis Moore.

Yet it may be as well to listen to what
authorities have to say on the subject;
especially those who hold that comets are
powerless for good or evil, as far as we
dwellers on earth are concerned.

What is a comet?  Nobody knows exactly.
Great hopes were entertained of the revelations
to be made by Halley's comet on its return in
eighteen hundred and thirty-five; but we are
not much wiser than we were before.  The
points to be settled still remain in the condition
of an unsolved problem.  Arago had written
that there exist comets without any nucleus,
others whose nucleus is perhaps transparent,
and, thirdly, comets, brighter than the planets,
whose nucleus is probably solid  and opaque.
Since that time no discovery has been made
to prove that Arago is in error.  But we must
also recognise two different classes of comets.
One consists of short-period comets, visible
only with the telescope and confined within
the solar system, such as Encke's comet,
whose elliptic orbit extends from Jupiter to
Mercury (its perihelion), and whose period
is something like three years and a-half,
and such as Biela's comet, whose period
is six years and three-quarters.  These
comets, consisting of very rarified nebulous
matter, do not contain any sort of solid kernel
or body.  These little, well-behaved, regular
comets appear to be quite of a different
order to the grand comets whose orbits
have defied exact calculation, and who
mark and epoch in our chronicles when
they display their enormous tails above
the horizon.

These extraordinary cometssome of which
have periods of several thousand years
travel, in their lengthened course, far below
the limits of our solar system. Their destiny
would appear to be to serve to connect our
sun with one or several of those innumerable
suns which blaze in the firmament, and which
are seen by our eyes merely as modest stars.

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