Last Words of Copernicus, The
DESCRIPTION: "Ye golden lamps of heaven, farewell, With all your feeble light. Farewell thou ever changing moon, Pale empress of the light. And thou refulgent orb of day, In brighter flames arrayed...." The singer looks forward to leaving earth for heaven
AUTHOR: Words: Philip Doddridge / Music: Sarah Lancaster (source: Sacred Harp -- which however spells Doddridge's name "Dodderidge")
EARLIEST DATE: 1869 (source: Sacred Harp)
KEYWORDS: religious death
1473-1543 - Life of Mikolaj Kopernigk, whose name was latinized as "Nicolaus Copernicus"
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Morris, #95, "The Last Words of Copernicus" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: According to Julian, p. 305, Philip Doddridge "was b[orn] in London, June 26, 1702. His grandfather was one of the ministers under the commonwealth, who were ejected in 1662. His father was a London oilman. He was offered by the Duchess of Bedford an University training for ordination in the Ch[urch] of England, but declined it. He entered Mr. Jennings's Non-conformist seminary at Kibworth instead." He became a pastor at Kibworth in 1723, and later taught Hebew, Greek, mathematics, Philosophy, and Divinity, eventually being made D.D. by the University of Aberdeen. He died of tuberculosis in Lisbon on October 26, 1751. Job Orton posthumously published his hymns. He wrote many, many hymns -- Julian lists 78, of which he considers eight to be the most popular, although I don't recall ever hearing any of them. This is #66 among the seventy "lesser" hymns.
Neither Morris, nor the Sacred Harp text, nor any other reference I have found, explains why this is called "The Last Words of Copernicus." Copernicus, it is true, was a priest and canon lawyer (see Porter, p. 143), so he probably did look forward to leaving earth (and, perhaps, to getting an explanation from God as to why celestial mechanics was so hard -- contrary to what you may have heard, Copernicus's heliocentric model of the universe did not produce better predictions of celestial mechanics than what went before; it was merely simpler).
Possibly the "last words" are a reference to the preface to Copernicus's master work De Revolutionibus, which outlined the heliocentric model. Ironically for a book by a Catholic, De Revolutionibus was prepared for publication by a Lutheran minister, Andreas Osiander, who (seemingly without telling the dying Copernicus) added a preface that called the heliocentric theory simply a better way to calculate planetary positions, not a reality (Porter, p. 144). And Osiander did not make it clear that he, not Copernicus, had written the preface. This meant that the book was not immediately banned (it wasn't placed on the Index of condemned works until 1616), but it made the book rather pointless, and it did not sell well. Not that Copernicus cared; he was dead! But the preface, although it might be regarded as Copernicus's farewell, certainly wasn't anything like this. And the song never mentions Copernicus in the text. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.7
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes),
- Porter: Roy Porter, consultant editor, The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, second edition (first edition published in six volumes, 1983-1985, as The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists with volumes on Biologists, Chemists, Astronomers, Physicists, Engineers and Inventors, and Mathematicians), Oxford, 1994
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