[Apologies for being away for a few days. Work, life, blah. Anyway move on from the square brackets, nothing to see here. We have history to uncover!]
On this day in 4977 b.c. the universe was created, according to the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler. Yes,
I know that all of you with even the tiniest modicum of scientific knowledge are saying “That’s not right!” and those of you who are a bit less confident of your grey matter are a little more “That’s not right, is it?”. Worry not, my dear readers. Johannes was wrong, but that doesn’t make him a bad scientist, just one who studied the evidence to hand and got it wrong because he didn’t have the right evidence. Or something. He was not like the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, who read the bible and created his own chronology of when the world began – around nightfall, October 23rd, 4004 b.c. – by adding up ages and deciding that Jesus was born in 4 b.c. because Dionysus Exiguus (the founder of the Anno Domini system) had got the date of Jesus’s birth wrong. To be fair to Ussher, Exiguus had probably got it wrong, if one can get something that may or may not have happened wrong … Anyway! Kepler studied with Tycho Brahe who was an eminent Danish astronomer. Upon Brahe’s death, Kepler inherited his work on the orbit of Mars. Kepler had also studied the work of Nicolaus Copernicus (sun centre of the solar system, planet ordering, etc) and went on to study Galileo Galilei had been up to as well, especially Galileo’s invention of a big old telescope that had seen mountains and craters on the moon, discovered some of the bigger moons around Jupiter and the phases of Venus.
Kepler and Galileo became pen pals and Kepler built his own telescope with a little help from his mate. The cool thing that Kepler went on to introduce to the world of science was the three laws of planetary motion (orbits are ellipsis and not circles; planets speed up as they approach the sun in their orbit and slow down a bit as
they go away from it; using maths to figure out how far away from the sun a planet is by figuring out the length of its orbit. This was all ground-breaking stuff at the time and a few years later it helped Issac Newton when he got hit on the head by an apple and discovered gravity.
In short, Kepler was a proper scientist, not a religious nut job; he was wrong for the right reasons. That said, it’s a bit shameful when one considers how wrong he was, then again if one is going to be wrong, maybe it’s best to be heroically and totally wrong than just a little bit outside the correct parameters. The fact that scientists now think the universe is about 13.7 billion years old puts dear Johannes in the super-heroically, so wrong you’re not even on outskirts of right, in fact right is so far away that … etc. But Johannes didn’t know about the Big Bang and this lot do. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll discover stuff that will make Stephen Hawking and all the other Mekon-brained geniuses who are currently giving it large, pause to think. I do hope it’s time travel. That would be utterly aces and skill.
Today was the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft.
If you haven’t heard of her, shame on you. If you have, you will know that she was the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy and the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.
Mary Wollstonecraft was a remarkable woman. Born into a time when the education of women was all about “finishing” them and making them ready for marriage, there was no account taken of what would happen to ladies who fell upon hard times – as happened to Mary when her drunken and irresponsible husband spent the family into penury – and had no skills to fall back on to support themselves. Mary worked as governess when young and wrote her first book, on the subject of education, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, at this time. Tired of the constraints of life as a teacher of children of the rich, Mary decided that she would earn her living by writing and left England to journey to Paris. Here she was caught up in the aftermath of the French Revolution and “The Terror”, fell in love, became pregnant and gave birth to her first child, Fanny. The chap she was involved with did not want to marry, which was fine with her as she was anti-marriage, but …
Like many a feminist, Wollstonecraft was not perfect when it came to matters of the heart. She was fixated on her lover, Gilbert Imlay, she pursued him and twice attempted suicide through misery at his abandonment of her and probably because she was suffering from post-natal depression as well. She had a horror of excessive sensibility (to really get what sensibility is, read Sense and Sensibility by the very lovely Ms Jane Austen), but was pretty much in the grip of it over the end of her affair with Imlay and the way she saw her life ahead. Luckily she met William Godwin and although their life together was brief, they found a lot of happiness together. Both were radical and independent (when she fell pregnant with Mary, they married, despite both being against the institution, but lived in separate neighbouring houses, rather like Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter), and determined to live a life that challenged society’s norms and expectations. Unfortunately, their brief period of happiness ended eleven days after the birth of their daughter, when Wollstonecraft died of a post-natal infection.
She was bourgeois, she did not have the courage of all her convictions, but she was a shining light, a beacon that called out to later feminists. She was brave, she didn’t fear losing her reputation and was determined to be successful in her own right. She wasn’t perfect, but damn, she was a fine woman and a pretty nice writer too. Happy birthday Mary, you are the great-great-grandmama of the feminist movement and pretty cool for an eighteenth century broad.