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Biography of Nicholas Copernicus


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COPERNICUS, NICHOLAS, an eminent astronomer, was born at Thorn in Prussia, Febuary 19th 1473. He was instructed in the Latin and Greek languages at home; afterwards he was sent to the university at Cracow, where he studied philosophy and mathematics, and took the degree of doctor of medicine. His natural bent, however, was toward mathematics, the study of which he pursued with passion through all its branches.

Having become enamored of the study of astronomy, he projected a journey to Rome, in his enthusiastic admiration of Regiomontanus, who resided there, and was then the most illustrious of astronomers. On his arrival he was kindly received by Regiomontanus, whom he soon rivaled in fame. Here his reputation and the favor of his distinguished friend, led to his being chosen professor of mathematics, which he taught for several years most successfully.

Soon after his return to Prussia, he began, in his 35th year (1507) to apply his fund of observation and mathematical knowledge to correcting the system of astronomy that then prevailed. The result was his great work De Revolutionibus Orbium, which embodied what is known as the "Copernican System."

But though finished at this date, it was twelve years later before he could be persuaded to give his book to the world by his friends, who urged its publication out of regard at once to his fame and the interests of science. Perhaps the strongest motive for his reticence, was the fear of the unpopularity which the work threatened to bring him (for many who had heard of the views it advocated, doubted if they were in harmony with religion), while it is pretty certain that his desire to conciliate the church led him to dedicate his book, when it was published, to Pope Paul III. It is related that the first copy of this labor of his life reached him when he was no longer able to enjoy his triumph. An attack of dysentery, followed by paralysis of the right side, had destroyed his memory and obscured his understanding. In this state he lingered several days. The copy, it is said, just arrived a few hours before he died. It was placed in his hands, and he seemed to know it. He died May 24th, 1543, aged 70.