Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Southern Sky
By Matthew Fontaine Maury (18061873)
[Born in Spottsylvania Co., Va., 1806. Died at Lexington, Va., 1873. The Physical Geography of the Sea. 1855.Revised Edition. 1860.]
PRESENTLY the stars begin to peep out, timidly at first, as if to see whether the elements here below had ceased their strife, and if the scene on earth be such as they, from bright spheres aloft, may shed their sweet influences upon. Sirius, or that blazing world nu Argus, may be the first watcher to send down a feeble ray; then follow another and another, all smiling meekly; but presently, in the short twilight of the latitude, the bright leaders of the starry host blaze forth in all their glory, and the sky is decked and spangled with superb brilliants. In the twinkling of an eye, and faster than the admiring gazer can tell, the stars seem to leap out from their hiding-places. By invisible hands, and in quick succession, the constellations are hung out; but first of all, and with dazzling glory, in the azure depths of space appears the Great Southern Cross. That shining symbol lends a holy grandeur to the scene, making it still more impressive. Alone in the night-watch, after the sea-breeze has sunk to rest, I have stood on the deck under those beautiful skies, gazing, admiring, rapt. I have seen there, above the horizon at once, and shining with a splendor unknown to these latitudes, every star of the first magnitudesave only sixthat is contained in the catalogue of the 100 principal fixed stars of astronomers. There lies the city on the sea-shore, wrapped in sleep. The sky looks solid, like a vault of steel set with diamonds. The stillness below is in harmony with the silence above, and one almost fears to speak, lest the harsh sound of the human voice, reverberating through those vaulted chambers of the south, should wake up echo, and drown the music that fills the soul .
Orion is there, just about to march down into the sea; but Canopus and Sirius, with Castor and his twin brother, and Procyon, nu Argus, and Regulusthese are high up in their course; they look down with great splendor, smiling peacefully as they precede the Southern Cross on its western way. And yonder, farther still, away to the south, float the Magellanic clouds, and the Coal Sacksthose mysterious, dark spots in the sky, which seem as though it had been rent, and these were holes in the azure robe of night, looking out into the starless, empty, black abyss beyond. One who has never watched the southern sky in the stillness of the night, after the sea breeze with its turmoil is done, can have no idea of its grandeur, beauty, and loveliness.