Throughout history, humanity has looked to understand the Universe and our place within it, and the Whipple holds many volumes of work on time, space, matter and energy. Another strength of the collections is the great and varied 19th century material, including many books written for a ‘popular’ audience and for the education of children and adults. Charles Blunt’s The beauty of the heavens: a pictorial display of the astronomical phenomena of the universe reflects both of these aspects (STORE CR 0:45).

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The Fixed Stars

In the mid-19th century, Charles Blunt, a lecturer on astronomy and natural philosophy, saw the need for a series of ‘accurate yet popular’ plates illustrating the known Universe. First published in 1840, the Whipple has the ‘new edition’ of 1842.

The text of Blunt’s book is presented as ‘A Familiar Lecture on Astronomy’. Lectures were often used to communicate knowledge in an easy to follow format and Blunt explains his intentions in the Introduction (pp. v-vi): this was to be read aloud by a parent, teacher or other adult to a gathered audience. The family didn’t even have to leave the home to learn about the Universe and to enjoy and understand the beauty of the heavens. The lecture, which avoided technical language and focused on simple explanations, was even neatly divided into 2 sections so it could be spread out over more than one session if desired.

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Leo

Most striking are the 104 plates accompanying this lecture, made from Blunt’s own drawings, paintings and observations. These covered the Sun, Moon, Earth and planetary system, eclipses, comets, asteroids, the milky way, nebulae, clouds, constellations and phenomena, such as rainbows and the Aurora Borealis, all in colourful illustrations.

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Clare

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