Eclipse Apathy

The following letter to the editor was published in Sky and Telescope for November 1991, on pages 453 and 454:

Eclipse Apathy

The July solar eclipse reminded me of a remarkable passage from the autobiography of William Lyon Phelps, who taught English at Yale from 1896 to 1933. Astronomy was one of his enthusiasms, and in his Autobiography with Letters (Oxford University Press, 1938) he describes his trip to Canada to see the solar eclipse of 1932 and then continues:

Through illness I had missed the eclipse of 1925; it was a terrible disappointment; and yet there are educated people who care nothing for eclipses. Some otherwise intelligent friends of mine left New York the day before that eclipse, when they could easily have waited. And another friend told me that as he and his brother (a Harvard graduate) were in exactly the right position to see it, his brother, one minute before the eclipse, said, "Well, this is my regular time for going to the bathroom," and went indoors. Hundreds of busy men travel six thousand miles on the mere chance of seeing what this university graduate thought quite unimportant.

John Lavagnino
Dept. of English and American Literature
Brandeis University
Waltham, Mass. 02254

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