Eclipse Quotations - Part IV

Compiled by David Le Conte

Blue Bar

This collection of quotations concentrates on solar eclipses, but a few referring to lunar eclipses are included. Some are from literary sources, while others are predictions and records. I have avoided scientific reports, preferring to include descriptive accounts. The quotations are in chronological order. Dates are generally in the Julian Calendar until 1582, and in the Gregorian Calendar thereafter. Some links are provided to maps of historic eclipses by Fred Espenak, Goddard Space Flight Center.

The compiler is grateful to those organisations which have given permission to use copyright material for this web page. The compiler grants general permission to use the page for educational purposes, subject to appropriate credit being given. However, users should note that reproduction of some material may require specific copyright clearance.

Additional quotations and comments on this page are welcome, and should be sent to: David Le Conte.

Last updated 6 December 1998, when there were almost 200 quotations. Further quotations, which have been referenced but not quoted, will be added if and when copyright clearance is received.

Because of the volume of material, "Eclipses Quotations" is organized into four web pages:

Eclipse Quotations - Part I

Eclipse Quotations - Part II

Eclipse Quotations - Part III

Eclipse Quotations - Part IV

"The observations were tolerably successful. although the full beauty of the corona was not seen at Christiania, owing to the prevalence of thin clouds during the totality. The prominences were clearly visible, especially a large hooked protruberance. This remarkable stream of hydrogen gas, rendered incandescent while passing through the heated photosphere of the Sun, attracted the attention of nearly all the observers at the different stations. I succeeded in noting accurately the mean solar times of the beginning of the eclipse, and of the beginning and end of totality. As at Christiania the total darkness lasted only a few seconds more than 2-1/2 minutes, I could only examine in a hurried manner the various phenomena visible in the telescope. So absorbed was I during this short interval that when the limb of the Sun reappeared I could scarcely realize the fact that 2-1/2 minutes had elapsed since the commencement of totality. These were truly exciting moments, and although I had hastily witnessed most of the phenomena, I felt somewhat disappointed that more had not been accomplished. Few can imagine how much I longed for another minute, for what I had witnessed seemed very much like a dream.

As a spectacle, those who were not encumbered with telescopic work had the best of it. Several persons in different positions were requested to note the effects of the darkness on the landscape, plants, and animals. I kept my eye devotedly fixed to the eye-piece of the telescope during nearly the whole time of totality. I only removed it in order to obtain a few seconds‘ glance at the marvellous transformation around me, for the landscape had lost all its natural aspect, being tinted with various shades of colour over the intermixture of land and water. Some of my friends described the appearance, as the darkness gradually crept onwards, as truly awful."

Refers to the total solar eclipse of 28 July 1851, as seen from within the northern edge of the path of totality, in Scandinavia.
From: Edwin Dunkin, Autobiography, unpublished.
Compiled by Peter Hingley, Royal Astronomical Society.

"The approach of the total eclipse of July 28, 1851, produced in me a strong desire to witness so rare and striking a phenomenon. Not that I had much hope of being able to add anything of scientific importance to the accounts of the many experienced astronomer who were preparing to observe it; for I was not unaware of the difficulty which one not much accustomed to astronomical observation would have in preserving the requisite coolness and command of the attention amid circumstances so novel, where the points of interest are so numerous, and the time allowed for observation is so short. Certainly my experience has now shewn that I did not exaggerate these difficulties; but I have at least the satisfaction of having formed a far more vivid idea of the phenomenon than I could have obtained from any description; and I think that if I should ever have another opportunity of observing a total eclipse, I should be prepared to give a much better account of it that I can of the present.

. . . As the crescent became very narrow, it seemed to be in a state of violent agitation, and at last, just before totality, it broke up into several parts. These, however, were not like the "beads" described by Mr Baily, but were quite irregular, being evidently occasioned by the inequalities on the Moon's limb. As the totality approached, the gloom rapidly increased; still enough light remained up to the moment of total obscuration to render the change which then took place very marked and startling. For a few moments I felt somewhat confused . . .

The appearance of the corona, shining with a cold unearthly light, made an impression on my mind which can never be effaced, and an involuntary feeling of loneliness and disquietude came upon me. . . . A party of haymakers, who had been laughing and chatting merrily at their work during the early part of the eclipse, were now seated on the ground, in a group near the telescope, watching what was taking place with the greatest interest, and preserving a profound silence. . . .

A crow was the only animal near me; it seemed quite bewildered, croaking and flying backwards and forwards near the ground in an uncertain manner.

. . . As the shadow increased the change in the appearance of the country was most curious. The light became pale; our shadows were sharply cut, as by moonlight, but the light was more yellow. A deep gray twilight seemed to come on. Perhaps two minutes before the totality a dark, thick shade appeared over the west and north-west mountains, which drew nearer, till, when the eclipse became total, it entirely surrounded us, though it was paler or less dense towards the east. But on the instant that we were in complete shade, a bright orange streak of light appeared on the horizon to the north-west, spreading west and south."

Refers to a total solar eclipse on 28 July 1851.
From: John Couch Adams, On the a total Eclipse of the Sun, 28 July 1851, as seen at Frederiksvaern, Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol xxi (1852).
The last two paragraphs are the observations by a Mr Liveing, quoted by Adams. In a footnote, Adams quotes from a letter written on August 9, 1851: "While the Sun is totally covered by the Moon, the latter appears surrounded by a luminous ring, with rays proceeding from it, something in the manner of the glory which is placed by painters round the heads of saints."
(John Couch Adams had earlier calculated the position of an unknown planet beyond Uranus, which was discovered in 1846 and named Neptune.)

"The screen of the glass was hurriedly removed, and in the brief instant of doing so I found, to my surprise, that all the phenomena were distinctly visible to the unassisted eye.

A corona light flashed out at the instant of totality. It extended farthest from the sun, in lines drawn from the centre through the solar clouds, but was nowhere traceable more than 15' or 16' beyond the lunar disk. There were no radial streamers, or bundles of rays, but only a uniformly diminishing, and slightly orange-tinted light, whose brightness and extent were apparently influenced by the mist-film, as the color of the clouds also may have been. Beyond the corona light, the color of the sky was of a grayish-black.

It was a far more imposing sight without than with the telescope, and long has been my experience in the investigation of celestial phenomena, and calm and unimpassioned, at such times, as mytemperament has become, the sublime majesty of the scene thrilled me with excitement and humble reverence.

Nor was it less effective upon others. Two citizens of Olmos stood within a few feet of me, watching in silence, and with anxious countenances, the rapid and fearful decrease of light. They were totally ignorant that any sudden effect would follow the total obscuration of the sun. At that instant, one exclaimed, in terror--"La Gloria!" and both, I believe, fell to their knees in awe. They appreciated the resemblance of the corona to the halos with which the old masters have encircled their ideals of the heads of our Savior and the Madonna, and devoutly regardedthis as a manifestation of the divine presence.

Though Mr. Raymond found a candle necessary to enable him to read satisfactorily the seconds-dial of the chronometer, and the vernier-scale of the barometer, the darkness during totality could not have been very great, for my sketches were completed without the aid of artificial light.

For some minutes previous, all work in the valley below us had ceased, and even the strains of martial music, which the Governor of Olmos employed to cheer laborers digging for water, two or three miles from town, were no longer audible. Superstition is still dominant here, and we hear the solemn toll of the church bell, whose sounds were intended to drive evil spirits from its vicinity.

Neither at Olmos nor Piura, did any enceinte woman leave her room during the eclipse, whilst some from curiosity, but more through fear, were in the streets, yet not daring to look upon the sun, lest malady befall them. The somber green light gave them the appearance of corpses, and they apprehended that a plague might be visited upon them. Afterwards, the muleteers told us that their animals stopped eating, and huddled together in evident alarm."

Lieut. J M Gillis An Account of the Total Eclipse of the Sun on September 7, 1858, as Observed Near Olmos, Peru in Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, vol. 11, April 1859, Smithsonian Institution.

"At the commencement of the obscuration, the sky was overcast, with heavy masses of cloud in the east, and there was much reason to fear that the celestial phenomenon would not be at all apparent hereabouts. But a brisk gale of wind having scattered the clouds, shortly before six o‘clock the sun became visible to the eager gaze of thousands, and again astronomical prediction was verified. The black shadow had eaten its way a considerable distance into the surface of the bright orb, and slowly but steadily the darkness appeared to extend itself over that dazzling surface. What a scrutiny the great change was attracting from all quarters of the earth! What an array of telescopes were eagerly searching the blue vault above during those precious moments!"

Refers to a solar eclipse of 18 July 1860, at Upper Fort Garry, Manitoba (outside the path of totality).
From: William Coldwell and William Buckingham, Nor'Wester.
Reprinted, with permission, from Chasing the Shadow, copyright 1994 by Joel K Harris and Richard L Talcott, by permission of Kalmbach Publishing Co.

"I had never before witnessed so great an obscuration of the sun as that presented by this eclipse many minutes even before the totality occurred, and I was particularly struck by the change of colour in the sky, which had been gradually losing its azure blue and assuming an indigo tint, while at the same time I remarked that the surrounding landscape was becoming tinged with a bronze hue, which to my mind suggested the idea that the light of the sun near the periphery is not only less intense than, but possibly different in quality from, that of the centre. . . . Another phenomenon could not fail to attract attention. When the sun‘s visible disk was reduced to a very narrow crescent, the shadows of all near objects became extremely black and sharply defined, whilst the lights, by contrast, assumed a peculiarly vivid intensity the aspect of nature strongly recalling to mind the effects produced by the illumination of the electric light. Several minutes before totality, the whole contour of the brown-looking lunar disk could be distinctly seen in the heavens.

Only a few brief seconds, unfortunately, could be spared from the telescope after totality had actually commenced; but when I had once turned my eyes on the moon encircled by the glorious corona, then on the novel and grand spectacle presented by the surrounding landscape, and had taken a hurried look at the wonderful appearance of the heavens, so unlike anything I had ever before witnessed, I was so completely enthralled, that I had to exercise the utmost self-control to tear myself away from a scene at once so impressive and magnificent, and it was with a feeling of regret that I turned aside to resume my self-imposed duties. I well remember that I wished I had not encumbered myself with apparatus, and I mentally registered a vow, that, if a future opportunity ever presented itself for my observing a total eclipse, I would give up all idea of making astronomical observations, and devote myself to that full enjoyment of the spectacle whch can only be obtained by a mere gazer.

Although, possibly, not more than twenty seconds were devoted to observations with the unassisted eye, the phenomena remain strongly impressed on my memory, and at the time of writing this account, sixteen months after the event, I have it now pictured before me mentally, as vividly as if it had just occurred. The darkness was not nearly so great as I had been led to expect from the accounts which I had read of former total eclipses; and although I had a lantern at hand, I did not require it, either to make my drawings or for reading the divisions of the micrometer quadrant on the eyepiece. The illumination was markedly distinct from that which occurs in nature on any other occasion, and certainly was greater than on the brightest moonlight night; and yet, at the time, the light appeared to me less than what I remembered of bright moonlight. It was only by subsequent trials, in endeavouring to make out details of the drawings which I had made of the phenomena, and to distinguish between colours under various circumstances of moonlight and twilight, that I was able to form a proper appreciation of the amount of light; and the best account I can give of it is, that it most resembles that degree of illumination which exists in a clear sky soon after sunset, when after having made out a first-magnitude star, other stars of less brilliancy can be discerned one after another. The light was good enough and sufficiently polychromatic to enable me to distinguish the colours of near objects; but those in the distance appeared to be illumined by the most unearthly hues.

Immediately surrounding the corona, the sky had an indigo tint, which extended to within about thirty or twenty-five degrees of the horizon, while lower down it appeared to me to be modified by a tinge of sepia. It became red as it approached the horizon, close to which, and just above the mountains, it was of a brilliant orange. The mountains appeared, by contrast, of an intensely dark yet brilliant blue. I saw two stars to the east of the sun, which by the aid of Mr Hind‘s diagram I have since identified as Jupiter and Venus; but I had not time to search for more, or, most probably, I should have seen others. . . .

The effect of totality upon the bystanders was most remarkable. until the beginning of totality, the murmur of the conversation of many tongues had filled the air; but then in a moment every voice was hushed, and the stillness was so sudden as to be perfectly startling; then the ear caught the sound of the village bells, which had been tolling unheeded during the eclipse, and this circumstance added much to the solemn grandeur of the occasion."

Refers to a total solar eclipse of 18 July 1860.
From: Warren De La Rue, On the Total Solar Eclipse of July 18th, 1860, observed at Rivabellosa, near Miranda de Ebro, in Spain, Philosophical Transactions, 52, 1862, p 333, Royal Society.

"But at the moment of totality, all became silent and dumb. Neither a cry nor a rustling, nor even a whisper (was heard), but everywhere there was anxiety and consternation. To everyone the two minutes of the eclipse were like two hours. I do not exaggerate or imagine any of these details. Several people whom I questioned after the eclipse regarding the duration of totality replied that it had lasted for two hours."

Refers to a total solar eclipse in Sudan of 18 July 1860.
From: M Bey, Comptes Rendus.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 385.

"From the first second of contact I watched with all the attention I could command for any change in the effect on the landscape and sky.

The sky might then be described as dull, not particularly dark, with small light clouds passing rapidly across, the general tone being inclined to violet-grey. No change took place till within a few seconds of totality, when the light was very sensibly lessened.

At the first moment of totality, sudden darkness came on; dark purple clouds appeared on the horizon, with streaks of bright orange between them. The distant town of Jerez, from white, became a dark rich blue.

The corona was radiating, and not perfectly circular, and varied as totality progressed; it was never symmetrical, and much too vague to enable me to describe by a line, excepting where a curved opening on the left-hand lower limb of the moon occurred, as shown in the drawing. The colour of the corona was warm white, and I could perceive nothing approaching a defined edge to the bright light immediately around the moon; it simply became less bright as the distance increased from the moon, though the contrast of the dark moon with the brightest part of the corona might induce a less practised observer to call it a ring of light. The drawing I send with this was painted immediately after, and is truest in colour and general effect as anything I ever did."

Refers to a total solar eclipse in Spain of 2 December 1870.
From: Paul Jacob Naftel (official artist for the eclipse expedition, led by the Reverend J S Perry).
Quoted in Paul Jacob Naftel by Furniss and Booth.

"The Star of Night [the Moon], by its comparative proximity and the rapidly recurring spectacle of its various phases, was with the Sun one of the first to attract the attention of the dwellers on Earth. But the Sun is tiring to the eyes, and the brightness of its light forced the observers to turn aside their prying glances.

Fair Pheobe [the Moon], more humane in this respect, allows herself to be observed in her modest gracefulness: she is gentle to the eye and unambitious, and yet she sometimes permits herself to eclipse her brother, the radiant Apollo [the Sun], without ever being eclipsed by him."

Jules Verne (1828-1905) From Earth to Moon

""I think I have it," said Good, exultingly; "ask them to give us a moment to think." I did so, and the chiefs withdrew. As soon as they were gone, Good went to the little box in which his medicines were, unlocked it, and took out a note book, in the front of which was an almanac. "Now, look here, you fellows, isn't to-morrow the fourth of June?" We had kept a careful note of the days, so were able to answer that it was. "Very good; then here we have it '4 June, total eclipse of the sun commences at 11.15 Greenwich time, visible in these islands, Africa, etc.' There's a sign for you. Tell them that you will darken the sun to-morrow."

The idea was a splendid one; indeed, the only fear about it was a fear lest Good's almanac might be incorrect. If we made a false prophecy on such a subject, our prestige would be gone forever, and so would Ignosi's chance of the throne of the Kukuanas.

"Suppose the almanac is wrong?" suggested Sir Henry to Good, who was busily employed in working out something on the fly-leaf of the book.

"I don't see any reason to suppose anything of the sort," was his answer. "Eclipses always come up to time; at least, that is my experience of them, and it especially states that it will be visible in Africa. I have worked out the reckonings as well as I can without knowing our exact position; and I make out that the eclipse should begin here about one o'clock to-morrow, and last till half-past two. For half an hour or more there should be total darkness."

"Well," said Sir Henry, "I suppose we had better risk it."

I acquiesced, though doubtfully, for eclipses are queer cattle to deal with, and sent Umbopa to summon the chiefs back. Presently they came, and I addressed them thus:

"Great men of the Kukuanas, and thou, Infadoos, listen. We are not fond of showing our powers, since to do so is to interfere with the course of nature, and plunge the world into fear and confusion; but as this matter is a great one, and as we are angered against the king because of the slaughter we have seen, and because of the act of the Isanusi Gagool, who would have put our friend Ignosi to death, we have determined to do so, and to give such a sign as all men may see. Come thither," and I led them to the door of the hut and pointed to the fiery ball of the rising sun; "what see ye there?"

"We see the rising sun," answered the spokesman of the party.

"It is so. Now tell me, can any mortal man put out that sun, so that night comes down on the land at midday?"

The chief laughed a little. "No, my lord, that no man can do. The sun is stronger than man who looks on him."

"Ye say so. Yet I tell you that this day, one hour after midday, will we put out that sun for a space of an hour, and darkness shall cover the earth, and it shall be for a sign that we are indeed men of honor, and that Ignosi is indeed king of the Kukuanas. If we do this thing will it satisfy ye?"

"Yea, my lords," answered the old chief with a smile, which was reflected on the faces of his companions; "if ye do this thing we will be satisfied indeed."

"It shall be done: we three, Incubu the Elephant, Bougwan the clear-eyed, and Macumazahn, who watches in the night, have said it, and it shall be done. Dost thou hear, Infadoos?"

"I hear, my lord, but it is a wonderful thing that ye promise, to put out the sun, the father of all things, who shines forever."

"Yet shall we do it, Infadoos."

"It is well, my lords. To-day, a little after midday, will Twala send for my lords to witness the girls dance, and one hour after the dance begins shall the girl whom Twala thinks the fairest be killed by Scragga, the king's son, as a sacrifice to the silent stone ones, who sit and keep watch by the mountains yonder," and he pointed to the three strange looking peaks where Solomon's Road was supposed to end. "Then let my lords darken the sun, and save the maiden's life and the people will indeed believe."

"Ay," said the old chief, still smiling a little, "the people will believe, indeed."

"Two miles from Loo," went on Infadoos, "there is a hill curved like the new moon, a stronghold, where my regiment, and three other regiments which these men command, are stationed. This morning we will make a plan whereby other regiments, two or three, may be moved there also. Then, if my lords can indeed. darken the sun, in the darkness I will take my lords by the hand and lead them out of Loo to this place, where they shall be safe, and thence can we make war upon Twala, the king."

"It is good," said I. "Now leave us to sleep awhile and make ready our magic."

. . .

"I hope it will come off," said Sir Henry, doubtfully. "False prophets often find themselves in painful positions."

"If it does not, it will soon be up with us," I answered, mournfully; "for so sure as we are living men, some of those chiefs will tell the whole story to the king, and then there will be another sort of eclipse, and one that we shall not like."

. . .

"Now's your time," whispered Sir Henry to me; "what are you waiting for?"

"I am waiting for the eclipse," I answered; "I have had my eye on the sun for the last half-hour, and I never saw it look healthier."

"Well, you must risk it now or the girl will be killed. Twala is losing patience."

Recognizing the force of the argument, having cast one more despairing look at the bright face of the sun, for never did the most ardent astronomer with a theory to prove await a celestial event with such anxiety, I stepped, with all the dignity I could command, between the prostrate girl and the advancing spear of Scragga.

. . .

"Stop!" I shouted, boldly, though at the moment my heart was in my boots. "Stop! we, the white men from the stars, say that it shall not be. Come but one pace nearer and we will put out the sun and plunge the land in darkness. Ye shall taste of our magic."

My threat produced an effect; the men halted, and Scragga stood still before us, his spear lifted.

"Hear him! hear him!" piped Gagool; "hear the liar who says he will put out the sun like a lamp. Let him do it and the girl shall be spared. Yes, let him do it, or die with the girl, he and those with him."

I glanced up at the sun, and, to my intense joy and relief, saw that we had made no mistake. On the edge of its brilliant surface was a faint rim of shadow.

I lifted my hand solemnly towards the sky, an example which Sir Henry and Good followed, and quoted a line or two of the "Ingoldsby Legends" at it in the most impressive tones I could command: Sir Henry followed suit with a verse out of the Old Testament, while Good addressed the king of day in a volume of the most classical bad language that he could think of.

Slowly the dark rim crept on over the blazing surface, and as it did so I heard a deep gasp of fear rise from the multitude around.

"Look, O king! Look, Gagool! Look, chiefs and people and women, and see if the white men from the stars keep their word, or if they be but empty liars !

"The sun grows dark before your eyes; soon there will be night - ay, night in the noon-time. Ye have asked for a sign; it is given to ye. Grow dark, O sun! withdraw thy light, thou bright one; bring the proud heart to the dust, and eat up the world with shadows."

A groan of terror rose from the on lookers. Some stood petrified with fear, others threw themselves upon their knees and cried out. As for the king, he sat still and turned pale beneath his dusky skin. Only Gagool kept her courage.

"It will pass," she cried; "I have seen the like before; no man can put out the sun; lose not heart; sit still - the shadow will pass."

. . .

Meanwhile the dark ring crept on. Strange and unholy shadows encroached upon the sunlight, an ominous quiet filled the place, the birds chirped out frightened notes and then were still; only the cocks began to crow.

On, yet on, crept the ring of darkness; it was now more than half over the reddening orb. The air grew thick and dusky. On, yet on, till we could scarcely see the fierce faces of the group before us. No sound now rose from the spectators, and Good stopped swearing.

"The sun is dying - the wizards have killed the sun," yelled out the boy Scragga at last. "We shall all die in the dark,"

. . .

For an hour or more we journeyed on, till at length the eclipse began to pass, and that edge of the sun which had disappeared the first became again visible. In another five minutes there was sufficient light to see our whereabouts . . ."

From: H Rider Haggard, King Soloman's Mines (1886).

See Exploratorium: Eclipse Expeditions, 1887. Preliminary Report of Prof. David P Todd, Astronomer in Charge of the [American] Expedition to observe a total solar eclipse in Japan in 1887.

"I knew that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the twenty-first of June, A.D. 528 o.s., and began at three minutes after twelve noon. I knew also that no total eclipse of the sun was due in what to me was the present year - i.e., 1879.

. . . I said to myself that my eclipse would be sure to save me, and make me the greatest man in the kingdom besides;

. . . I waited two or three moments: then looked up; he was standing there petrified. With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky. I followed their eyes; as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning! The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man! The rim of black spread slowly into the sun‘s disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless. I knew that this gaze would be turned upon me, next. When it was, I was ready. I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck, with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun. It was a noble effect.

. . . "Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!"

My fortune was made. I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn't stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question. So I asked time to consider. The king said -

"How long - ah, how long, good sir? Be merciful; look, it groweth darker, moment by moment. Prithee how long?"

"Not long. Half an hour - maybe an hour."

There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn‘t shorten up any, for I couldn‘t remember how long a total eclipse lasts.

. . . It grew darker and darker and blacker and blacker, while I struggled with those awkward sixth-century clothes. It got to be pitch dark, at last, and the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars come out and twinkle in the sky. At last the eclipse was total, and I was very glad of it, but everybody else was in misery; which was quite natural. I said:

"The king, by his silence still stands to the terms." Then I lifted up my hands - stood just so a moment - then I said, with the most awful solemnity: "Let the enchantment dissolve and pass harmless away!"

There was no response, for a moment, in that deep darkness and that graveyard hush. But when the silver rim of the sun pushed itself out a moment or two later, the assemblage broke loose with a vast shout and came pouring down like a deluge to smother me with blessings and gratitude;"

From: Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889).
There was no total eclipse of the Sun in England in AD 528.

"If, during the progress of a total [solar] eclipse, the gradually diminishing crescent of the sun is watched, nothing remarkable is seen until very near the moment of its total disappearance. But, as the last ray of sunlight vanishes, a scene of unexampled beauty, grandeur, and impressiveness breaks upon the view. The globe of the moon, black as ink, is seen as if it were hanging in mid-air, surrounded by a crown of soft, silvery light, like that which the old painters used to depict around the heads of saints. Besides this ”corona•, tongues of rose-coloured flame of the most fantastic forms shoot out from various points around the edge of the lunar disk. Of these two appearances, the corona was noticed at least as far back as the time of Kepler; indeed, it was not possible for a total eclipse to happen without the spectators seeing it. But it is only within a century that the attention of astronomers has been directed to the rose-coloured flames, although an observation of them was recorded in the Philosophical Transactions nearly two centuries ago. They are known by the several names of "flames," "prominences," and "protruberances.""

Simon Newcomb Popular Astronomy 1890

See Exploratorium: Eclipse Expeditions, 1890. Albert Bergman, On Board the Pensacola - The Eclipse Expedition to the West Coast of Africa in A Man Before the Mast, 1890.

See Exploratorium: Eclipse Expeditions, 1896. 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, 9th August, 1896. A particularly evocative account, by Mabel Loomis Todd. Published in 1898.

". . . the semi-darkness, for there was no real blackness, came on suddenly, and during totality, computed to last 1m 28s., everything terrestrial took on a cold iron hue, altogether different from the gloom of evening. The distant town and more distant mountains were almost blotted out from view, whilst in the heavens above round the moon‘s black disk, as if by the touch of a magician‘s wand, there flashed out the corona in grandeur of form and of pearly whiteness. Mercury, too, in close proximity, shone with the brilliance of a miniature sun, and enveloping the whole was a halo of soft white light; a spectacle whose unique beauty words fail utterly to describe."

Refers to a total solar eclipse at Navalmoral, Spain, of 28 May 1900.
From: T Weir, a member of the British Astronomical Association eclipse expedition.

Reprinted, with permission, from Chasing the Shadow, copyright 1994 by Joel K Harris and Richard L Talcott, by permission of Kalmbach Publishing Co.

Two further quotable reports of this eclipse appear at Exploratorium: Eclipse Expeditions, 1900. Both are from the Report of the expeditions organized by the British Astronomical Association to observe the total solar eclipse of 1900, May 28. See the reports by E W Johnson "Elche" (Spain) in Chapter VII, and by E Walter Maunder, "Algiers" (Spain) in Chapter VIII.

See Exploratorium: Eclipse Expeditions, 1901. Report by Dr A A Nijland, Total Eclipse of the Sun, May 18, 1901. From reports on the Dutch Expedition to Karang Sago, Sumatra, published by the Eclipse Committee of the Royal Academy, Amsterdam, March 1903.

"At a Lunar Eclipse
Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon's meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I like such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven's high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such a stellar gauge of earthly show,
nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?"

Thomas Hardy At a Lunar Eclipse (1903)

"I was so enthralled with this celestial shadow tearing across the world that I almost forgot everything else. Hurriedly, I looked above my head. The sky was dark blue, flecked with mother of pearl clouds, wonderfully luminous. I turned east, and there in the clear sky, between patches of bright cloud was a black disc entirely surrounded by living flames. I did not notice Baily‘s Beads, neither did I see the corona. I had not eyes for anything save those leaping, glowing flames. It seemed hardly more than a second or two that they were visible, for the Moon slipped by, and a tiny slit of Sun appeared; instantly it was broad daylight once more. The eclipse was over. Down the hillside we scrambled, our thoughts and minds full of the great sight we had seen. it was not till we saw the morning papers that we learned how disappointed thousands of people had been."

Refers to a total solar eclipse near Clitheroe, England of 29 June 1927.
Dorothy Sabin.
Quoted in Astronomy Now, Vol 2, No 2, and in UK Solar Eclipses from Year 1 by Williams.

"My experience of the 1927 eclipse was unsatisfactory, and it was my own fault. I was just 14 years old.

I was able to join a party of school children selected for their interest in astronomy and in eclipses, by answering questons set by the newspaper The News Chronicle. We went from London by train on the day before, were taken in as guests by the parents of boys of a school in southport, and entertained by the City Council for high tea on the day before. Then all went to the seashore on the day of the eclipse. My recollection is that the Sun rose partially eclipsed and totality was early in the morning, but I could be wrong. On the shore (extensive sands, I think), there was a party of professional astronomers with a large camera, near to our party. Visibility was fair, but not perfect.

I was quite a keen photographer and thought I could get a photo by making a box camera with a long-focus lens which I had. I took a lot of trouble to make the box and fit the lens, which of course had a cap. On the night before the eclipse I found a suitably dark place and fixed at the back of the camera a piece of Kodak Cut Film. I supposed that with an exposure of about 15 seconds, during totality, I might catch the chromosphere (and corona?) without too much movement of the Sun. (I was wrong - the movement would have spoiled the picture.) When the film was developed, there was no image.

So I had been distracted from seeing the eclipse by this silly idea of trying to get a photo, and I have no memory of the eclipsed Sun, nor of the dark sky. I don't know what the birds did.

My advice to photographers would be - don't bother. Just enjoy the eclipse with full attention, hoping that later, photographs might be bought."

Alfred Nicholls, Oxford, 6 January 1998. Mr Nicholls is a retired physics teacher.
The eclipse of 29 June 1927 was the last total solar eclipse to be seen from the mainland of Britain. The eclipse started at 4.30 am, and totality lasted only 24 seconds.

The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun by Hergé, (1949), contains yet another fictitious account of prisoners being saved by a solar eclipse.

The Sun-Eating Dragon, And Other Ways to Think About an Eclipse by Noel Wanner, contains an evocative account of a recent total solar eclipse, seen from the hills of Washington state, USA, by Annie Dilard: Total Eclipse in Teaching a Stone to Talk.

An interpretaion of dreams about eclipses appears in Understanding Dreams, Collins Gem, Published by Harper Collins, Glasgow, 1993.

Finally, for the most unpoetic description of a total solar eclipse, see Liz Rigbey's novel, Total Eclipse, published by Orion Books Ltd, London, 1995.


David Sang, Association for Science Education
Gareth Coleman, Guernsey
Peter Hingley, Royal Astronomical Society

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