|To return to his lecture tours, in 1901 he made his most successful trip to the States, giving 45 lectures in 11 weeks. He travelled out on the White Star liner SS Cymric in October and in a hectic first round completed 24 lectures in 29 days. He travelled throughout the mid-west and the eastern states visiting Chicago, Boston, where he was once again a house guest of Lowell, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Washington and of course New York.
It was on one of his earlier trips that he mentions his regret at contributing to the demise of the buffalo in North America. His many hours of nocturnal observations at Birr and Dunsink taught him the necessity of wrapping up warm, so he purchased a buffalo coat complete with cap and gaiters. He must have been the envy of his colleagues.
He gave many lectures at venues arranged by the Gilchrist Trust, an educational organisation which took him all over the country, particularly the North of England, especially Yorkshire and Lancashire, where he estimated he had lectured in 200 towns and villages. He once wrote after lecturing to a capacity crowd of 500 in Chipping Norton that he had managed to get 1/8 of the town’s population out to listen to him. Quite an achievement ! All his lectures were sell-outs, but his audiences loved some better than others, a particular favourite was Krakatoa, The Mighty Volcano. You will remember that it was in 1883 that this volcano caused such devastation, so the event was still fresh in people’s minds during the late 1880’s and 90’s.
In 1907 whilst on holiday in Devon he had cause to write this short note to his son following a request he had received from a local chaplain :
If you want free tickets for your friends to hear a lecture of mine, now is their chance. Let them hurry up and commit bigamy, or arson, or any really good felony short of actual murder and they will have a free ticket, indeed a compulsory ticket forthwith. I shall have both clergymen and lawyers in my audience. On Friday I lecture to the convicts at His Majesty’s Prison on Dartmoor !
His lectures generally covered only scientific topics, but he would often be asked what his religious views were, particularly with regard to the Creation. It seems that Ball believed only what could be proven by science. Occasionally he would be drawn on the subject and one day was asked if he thought the New Jerusalem was perhaps on the far side of the moon. Oh no he said, (I think tongue in cheek) it is much more likely to be on the far side of Mars.
He often quoted his “Theory of Grandmothers”.
At his lectures he would ask the audience to think of their ancestors, in particular their grandmothers. You will find that you had 2 plus 4 great grandmothers, 8 great great grandmothers and so on, back into the mists of time. When you finally arrive at the Garden of Eden, you have x great great great grandmothers. Eve was one of them, where were the others !! What his audiences reaction to this was, is not recorded.
On a more serious note, although he was a regular churchgoer throughout his life, in unpublished correspondence with Sir Oliver Lodge, the physicist and first principal of Birmingham University, also a BMI president in 1904,he confesses a lack of religious faith, which he even concealed from his wife apparently he just could not reconcile the vastness of the universe, evolution and his own scientific theories of creation with a spiritual God and Christian teaching. This troubled him deeply and even his son chose not to reveal it in his biography.
Robert Ball was not one to publicly court controversy. He always gave a clear and convincing story to his audience, who went away assured that what he had told them was in agreement with current scientific thought and practice. In private however and with his fellow scientists, he knew there was much conflict and he would take sides with one party or another, but never allow his public to hear the opposing view.
Remember they couldn’t go home and hear something different on the radio or TV.
In later life, he delved into politics and at one time was even considering life as an MP. He was a Unionist, and he had very strong views about Home Rule, which he strongly opposed.
Of the 13 popular books that Ball wrote, two were still in print in the 1940s.
Here is a list of them :-
|STORY OF THE HEAVENS
THE EARTH'S BEGINNING
CAUSE OF AN ICE AGE
STORY OF THE SUN
IN STARRY REALMS
ATLAS OF ASTRONOMY
POPULAR GUIDE TO THE HEAVENS
PRIMER OF ASTRONOMY
TIME AND TIDE
IN THE HIGH HEAVENS