Sir William Herschel: His Life and Works
by Edward Singleton Holden
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Please see the end of the text for TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


In the following account of the life and works of Sir WILLIAM HERSCHEL, I have been obliged to depend strictly upon data already in print—the Memoir of his sister, his own scientific writings and the memoirs and diaries of his cotemporaries. The review of his published works will, I trust, be of use. It is based upon a careful study of all his papers in the Philosophical Transactions and elsewhere.

A life of HERSCHEL which shall be satisfactory in every particular can only be written after a full examination of the materials which are preserved at the family seat in England; but as two generations have passed since his death, and as no biography yet exists which approaches to completeness, no apology seems to me to be needed for a conscientious attempt to make the best use of the scanty material which we do possess.

This study will, I trust, serve to exhibit so much of his life as belongs to the whole public. His private life belongs to his family, until the time is come to let the world know more of the greatest of practical astronomers and of the inner life of one of its most profound philosophers,—of a great and ardent mind, whose achievements are and will remain the glory of England.



EARLY YEARS; 1738-1772, 1


LIFE IN BATH; 1772-1782, 33











EARLY YEARS; 1738-1772.

Of the great modern philosophers, that one of whom least is known, is WILLIAM HERSCHEL. We may appropriate the words which escaped him when the barren region of the sky near the body of Scorpio was passing slowly through the field of his great reflector, during one of his sweeps, to express our own sense of absence of light and knowledge: Hier ist wahrhaftig ein Loch im Himmel.

HERSCHEL prepared, about the year 1818, a biographical memorandum, which his sister CAROLINA placed among his papers.

This has never been made public. The only thoroughly authentic sources of information in possession of the world, are a letter written by HERSCHEL himself, in answer to a pressing request for a sketch of his life, and the Memoir and Correspondence of CAROLINE HERSCHEL (London, 1876), a precious memorial not only of his life, but of one which otherwise would have remained almost unknown, and one, too, which the world could ill afford to lose. The latter, which has been ably edited by Mrs. MARY CORNWALLIS HERSCHEL,[1] is the only source of knowledge in regard to the early years of the great astronomer, and together with the all too scanty materials to be gained from a diligent search through the biography of the time, affords the data for those personal details of his life, habits, and character, which seem to complete the distinct, though partial conception of him which the student of his philosophical writings acquires.

The letter referred to was published in the Goettingen Magazine of Science and Literature, III., 4, shortly after the name of HERSCHEL had become familiar to every ear through his discovery of Uranus, but while the circumstances of the discovery, and the condition of the amateur who made it, were still entirely unknown.

The editor (LICHTENBERG) says:

"Herr HERSCHEL was good enough to send me, some time since, through Herr MAGELLAN, copies of his Dissertations on Double Stars, on the Parallax of the Fixed Stars, and on a new Micrometer. In the letter which conveyed to him my thanks for his gift, I requested him to note down a few facts in regard to his life, for publication in this magazine, since various accounts, more or less incorrect, had appeared in several journals. In answer, I received a very obliging letter from him and what follows is that portion of it relating to my request, which was sent me with full permission to make it public."

"DATCHET, NEAR WINDSOR, Nov. 15, 1783.

"I was born in Hanover, November, 1738. My father, who was a musician, destined me to the same profession, hence I was instructed betimes in his art. That I might acquire a perfect knowledge of the theory as well as of the practice of music, I was set at an early age to study mathematics in all its branches—algebra, conic sections, infinitesimal analysis, and the rest.

"The insatiable desire for knowledge thus awakened resulted next in a course of languages; I learned French, English, and Latin, and steadfastly resolved henceforth to devote myself wholly to those sciences from the pursuit of which I alone looked for all my future happiness and enjoyment. I have never been either necessitated or disposed to alter this resolve. My father, whose means were limited, and who consequently could not be as liberal to his children as he would have desired, was compelled to dispose of them in one way or another at an early age; consequently in my fifteenth year I enlisted in military service, only remaining in the army, however, until I reached my nineteenth year, when I resigned and went over to England.

"My familiarity with the organ, which I had carefully mastered previously, soon procured for me the position of organist in Yorkshire, which I finally exchanged for a similar situation at Bath in 1766, and while here the peculiar circumstances of my post, as agreeable as it was lucrative, made it possible for me to occupy myself once more with my studies, especially with mathematics. When, in the course of time, I took up astronomy, I determined to accept nothing on faith, but to see with my own eyes everything which others had seen before me. Having already some knowledge of the science of optics, I resolved to manufacture my own telescopes, and after many continuous, determined trials, I finally succeeded in completing a so-called Newtonian instrument, seven feet in length. From this I advanced to one of ten feet, and at last to one of twenty, for I had fully made up my mind to carry on the improvement of my telescopes as far as it could possibly be done. When I had carefully and thoroughly perfected the great instrument in all its parts, I made systematic use of it in my observations of the heavens, first forming a determination never to pass by any, the smallest, portion of them without due investigation. This habit, persisted in, led to the discovery of the new planet (Georgium Sidus). This was by no means the result of chance, but a simple consequence of the position of the planet on that particular evening, since it occupied precisely that spot in the heavens which came in the order of the minute observations that I had previously mapped out for myself. Had I not seen it just when I did, I must inevitably have come upon it soon after, since my telescope was so perfect that I was able to distinguish it from a fixed star in the first minute of observation.

"Now to bring this sketch to a close. As the king had expressed a desire to see my telescope, I took it by his command to Greenwich, where it was compared with the instruments of my excellent friend, Dr. MASKELYNE, not only by himself, but by other experts, who pronounced it as their opinion that my instrument was superior to all the rest. Thereupon the king ordered that the instrument be brought to Windsor, and since it there met with marked approval, his majesty graciously awarded me a yearly pension, that I might be enabled to relinquish my profession of music, and devote my whole time to astronomy and the improvement of the telescope. Gratitude, as well as other considerations specified by me in a paper presented to the Royal Society, of which I am a member, has induced me to call the new planet Georgium Sidus.

"'Georgium Sidus.—jam nunc assuesce vocari.'—(Virgil.)

And I hope it will retain the name."

We know but little of the family of HERSCHEL. The name is undoubtedly Jewish, and is found in Poland, Germany, and England. We learn that the ancestors of the present branch left Moravia about the beginning of the XVIIth century, on account of their change of religion to Protestantism. They became possessors of land in Saxony. HANS HERSCHEL, the great-grandfather of WILLIAM, was a brewer in Pirna (a small town near Dresden). Of the two sons of HANS, one, ABRAHAM (born in 1651, died 1718), was employed in the royal gardens at Dresden, and seems to have been a man of taste and skill in his calling. Of his eldest son, EUSEBIUS, there appears to be little trace in the records of the family. The second son, BENJAMIN, died in infancy; the third, ISAAC, was born in 1707 (Jan. 14), and was thus an orphan at eleven years of age. ISAAC was the father of the great astronomer.

He appears to have early had a passionate fondness for music, and this, added to a distaste for his father's calling, determined his career. He was taught music by an oboe-player in the royal band, and he also learned the violin. At the age of twenty-one he studied music for a year under the Cappelmeister PABRICH, at Potsdam, and in August, 1731, he became oboist in the band of the Guards, at Hanover. In August, 1732, he married ANNA ILSE MORITZEN. She appears to have been a careful and busy wife and mother, possessed of no special faculties which would lead us to attribute to her care any great part of the abilities of her son. She could not herself write the letters which she sent to her husband during his absences with his regiment. It was her firm belief that the separations and some of the sorrows of the family came from too much learning; and while she could not hinder the education of the sons of the family, she prevented their sisters from learning French and dancing. It is but just to say that the useful accomplishments of cooking, sewing, and the care of a household, were thoroughly taught by her to her two daughters. The father, ISAAC, appears to have been of a different mould, and to him, no doubt, the chief intellectual characteristics of the family are due. His position obliged him to be often absent from Hanover, with his regiment, but his hand appears to have been always present, smoothing over difficulties, and encouraging his sons to such learning and improvement as was to be had.

His health was seriously injured by the exposures of the campaigns, and he was left, after the Seven Years' War, with a broken constitution.

After his final return home, in 1760, his daughter gives this record of him—

"Copying music employed every vacant moment, even sometimes throughout half the night. . . . With my brother [DIETRICH]—now a little engaging creature of between four and five years old—he was very much pleased, and [on the first evening of his arrival at home] before he went to rest, the Adempken (a little violin) was taken from the shelf and newly strung, and the daily lessons immediately commenced. . . . I do not recollect that he ever desired any other society than what he had opportunities of enjoying in many of the parties where he was introduced by his profession, though far from being of a morose disposition; he would frequently encourage my mother in keeping up a social intercourse among a few acquaintances, whilst his afternoon hours generally were taken up in giving lessons to some scholars at home, who gladly saved him the troublesome exertion of walking. . . . He also found great pleasure in seeing DIETRICH'S improvement, who, young as he was, and of the most lively temper imaginable, was always ready to receive his lessons, leaving his little companions with the greatest cheerfulness to go to his father, who was so pleased with his performances that he made him play a solo on the Adempken in RAKE'S concert, being placed on a table before a crowded company, for which he was very much applauded and caressed, particularly by an English lady, who put a gold coin in his little pocket.

"It was not long before my father had as many scholars as he could find time to attend. And when they assembled at my father's to make little concerts, I was frequently called to join the second violin in an overture, for my father found pleasure in giving me sometimes a lesson before the instruments were laid by, after practising with DIETRICH, for I never was missing at those hours, sitting in a corner with my knitting and listening all the while."

Here, as in all her writing, CAROLINA is simple, true, direct to awkwardness, and unconsciously pathetic even in joy.

The family of ISAAC and ANNA HERSCHEL consisted of ten children. Six of these lived to adult age. They were:

1. SOPHIA ELIZABETH; born 1733, married GRIESBACH, a musician in the Guard, by whom she had children. Five of her sons were afterwards musicians at the court, in England, where they obtained places through the influence of WILLIAM.

2. HENRY ANTON JACOB; born 1734, November 20.

4. FREDERIC WILLIAM (the astronomer) born 1738, November 15.

6. JOHN ALEXANDER; born 1745, November 13.

8. CAROLINA LUCRETIA; born 1750, March 16.

10. DIETRICH; born 1755, September 13.

Of this family group, the important figures to us are WILLIAM, ALEXANDER, and CAROLINA.

JACOB was organist at the Garrison Church of Hanover in 1753, a member of the Guards' band in 1755, and first violin in the Hanover Court Orchestra in 1759. Afterwards he joined his brother WILLIAM in Bath, but again returned to Hanover. In 1771 he published in Amsterdam his Opus I., a set of six quartettes, and later, in London, he published two symphonies and six trios. He appears to have been a clever musician, and his letters to his younger brother WILLIAM are full of discussion on points of musical composition, etc. He died in 1792.

DIETRICH, the youngest brother, shared in the musical abilities of his family, and when only fifteen years old was so far advanced as to be able to supply his brother JACOB'S place in the Court Orchestra, and to give his lessons to private pupils. There is no one of the family, except the eldest daughter, whom we do not know to have possessed marked ability in music, and this taste descended truly for four generations. In the letters of Chevalier BUNSEN,[2] he describes meeting, in 1847, the eldest granddaughter of WILLIAM HERSCHEL, who, he says, "is a musical genius."

Three members of the family, WILLIAM, ALEXANDER, and CAROLINA, formed a group which was inseparable for many years, and while the progress of the lives of ALEXANDER and CAROLINA was determined by the energy and efforts of WILLIAM, these two lent him an aid without which his career would have been strangely different. It is necessary to understand a little better the early life of all three.

The sons of the HERSCHEL family all attended the garrison school in Hanover until they were about fourteen years old. They were taught the ordinary rudiments of knowledge—to read, to write, to cipher—and a knowledge of French and English was added. WILLIAM especially distinguished himself in his studies, learning French very rapidly, and studying Latin and arithmetic with his master out of hours. The household life seems to have been active, harmonious, and intelligent, especially during the presence of the father, who took a great delight in the rapid progress of all his sons in music, and who encouraged them with his companionship in their studies and in their reading on all intellectual subjects.

From the Memoir of CAROLINA, on which we must depend for our knowledge of this early life, we take the following paragraph:

"My brothers were often introduced as solo performers and assistants in the orchestra of the court, and I remember that I was frequently prevented from going to sleep by the lively criticism on music on coming from a concert, or by conversations on philosophical subjects, which lasted frequently till morning, in which my father was a lively partaker and assistant of my brother WILLIAM, by contriving self-made instruments. . . . Often I would keep myself awake that I might listen to their animating remarks, for it made me so happy to see them so happy. But generally their conversation would branch out on philosophical subjects, when my brother WILLIAM and my father often argued with such warmth that my mother's interference became necessary, when the names LEIBNITZ, NEWTON, and EULER sounded rather too loud for the repose of her little ones, who ought to be in school by seven in the morning. But it seems that on the brothers retiring to their own room, where they shared the same bed, my brother WILLIAM had still a great deal to say; and frequently it happened that when he stopped for an assent or reply, he found his hearer was gone to sleep, and I suppose it was not till then that he bethought himself to do the same.

"The recollection of these happy scenes confirms me in the belief, that had my brother WILLIAM not then been interrupted in his philosophical pursuits, we should have had much earlier proofs of his inventive genius. My father was a great admirer of astronomy, and had some knowledge of that science; for I remember his taking me, on a clear frosty night, into the street, to make me acquainted with several of the most beautiful constellations, after we had been gazing at a comet which was then visible. And I well remember with what delight he used to assist my brother WILLIAM in his various contrivances in the pursuit of his philosophical studies, among which was a neatly turned 4-inch globe, upon which the equator and ecliptic were engraved by my brother."

The mechanical genius was not confined to WILLIAM, for we read that ALEXANDER used often to "sit by us and amuse us and himself by making all sorts of things out of pasteboard, or contriving how to make a twelve-hour cuckoo clock go a week." This ability of ALEXANDER'S was turned later to the best account when he became his brother WILLIAM'S right hand in the manufacture of reflectors, eye-pieces, and stands in England. His abilities were great, and a purpose which might otherwise have been lacking was supplied through the younger brother's ardor in all that he undertook.

His musical talent was remarkable; he played "divinely" on the violoncello. He returned to Hanover in 1816, where he lived in comfortable independence, through the never-failing generosity of his brother, until his death in 1821. A notice of him in a Bristol paper says: "Died, March 15, 1821, at Hanover, ALEXANDER HERSCHEL, Esqr., well known to the public of Bath and Bristol as a performer and elegant musician; and who for forty-seven years was the admiration of the frequenters of concerts and theatres of both those cities as principal violoncello. To the extraordinary merits of Mr. HERSCHEL was united considerable acquirement in the superior branches of mechanics and philosophy, and his affinity to his brother, Sir WILLIAM HERSCHEL, was not less in science than in blood."

We shall learn more of the sister, CAROLINA, as time goes on. Now in these early years she was a silent and persistent child, growing up with a feeling that she was uncared for and neglected, and lavishing all her childish affection, as she did all that of her womanly life, on her brother WILLIAM. Throughout her long life, "my brother" was WILLIAM, "my nephew" his son.

The brothers JACOB and WILLIAM were, with their father, members of the band of the Guards in 1755, when the regiment was ordered to England, and they were absent from Hanover a year.

WILLIAM (then seventeen years old) went as oboist, and out of his scanty pay brought back to Hanover, in 1756, only one memento of his stay—a copy of LOCKE On the Human Understanding.

He appears to have served with the Guard during part of the campaign of 1757. His health was then delicate, and his parents "determined to remove him from the service—a step attended by no small difficulties."[3]

This "removal" was hurriedly and safely effected, so hurriedly that the copy of LOCKE was not put in the parcels sent after him to Hamburg by his mother; "she, dear woman, knew no other wants than good linen and clothing."

Thus, at last, the young WILLIAM HERSCHEL, the son of an oboe-player in the King's Guard, is launched in life for himself, in the year 1757, at the age of nineteen.

All his equipment is the "good linen and clothing," a knowledge of French, Latin, and English, some skill in playing the violin, the organ, and the oboe, and an "uncommon precipitancy" in doing what there is to be done.

A slender outfit truly; but we are not to overlook what he said of himself on another occasion. "I have, nevertheless, several resources in view, and do not despair of succeeding pretty well in the end."

From 1757 to 1760—three years—we know nothing of his life. We can imagine what it was. His previous visit to England had given him a good knowledge of the language, and perhaps a few uninfluential acquaintances. On his return he would naturally seek these out, and, by means of his music, he could gain a livelihood. We first hear of him as charged with the organization of the music of a corps of the militia of Durham, under the auspices of the EARL OF DARLINGTON. "La maniere dont il remplit cette mission, le fit connaitre avantageusement."[4] The nature of the service of these militia corps, which were then forming all over England, is well described in the Autobiography of GIBBON. Every county-gentleman felt constrained to serve his country, and the regimental mess-rooms were filled with men of rank and fashion.

In 1760 we hear of him again. He has attracted the notice of those about him.

"About the year 1760, as MILLER[5] was dining at Pontefract with the officers of the Durham militia, one of them, knowing his love of music, told him they had a young German in their band as a performer on the hautboy, who had only been a few months in England, and yet spoke English almost as well as a native, and who was also an excellent performer on the violin; the officer added that if MILLER would come into another room, this German should entertain him with a solo. The invitation was gladly accepted, and MILLER heard a solo of GIARDINI'S executed in a manner that surprised him. He afterwards took an opportunity of having some private conversation with the young musician, and asked him whether he had engaged himself for any long period to the Durham militia. The answer was, 'Only from month to month.' 'Leave them, then,' said the organist, 'and come and live with me. I am a single man, and think we shall be happy together; and, doubtless, your merit will soon entitle you to a more eligible situation.' The offer was accepted as frankly as it was made, and the reader may imagine with what satisfaction Dr. MILLER must have remembered this act of generous feeling when he hears that this young German was HERSCHEL, the Astronomer. 'My humble mansion,' says MILLER, 'consisted, at that time, but of two rooms. However, poor as I was, my cottage contained a library of well-chosen books; and it must appear singular that a foreigner who had been so short a time in England should understand even the peculiarities of the language so well as to fix upon SWIFT for his favorite author.'

"He took an early opportunity of introducing his new friend at Mr. CROPLEY'S concerts; the first violin was resigned to him; 'and never,' says the organist, 'had I heard the concertos of CORELLI, GEMINIANI, and AVISON, or the overtures of HANDEL performed more chastely, or more according to the original intention of the composers, than by Mr. HERSCHEL. I soon lost my companion; his fame was presently spread abroad; he had the offer of pupils, and was solicited to lead the public concerts both at Wakefield and Halifax. A new organ for the parish church of Halifax was built about this time, and HERSCHEL was one of the seven candidates for the organist's place. They drew lots how they were to perform in succession. HERSCHEL drew the third, the second fell to Dr. WAINWRIGHT of Manchester, whose finger was so rapid that old SNETZLER, the organ-builder, ran about the church exclaiming: 'Te tevel! te tevel! he run over te keys like one cat; he will not give my piphes room for to shpeak.' 'During Mr. WAINWRIGHT'S performance,' says MILLER, 'I was standing in the middle aisle with HERSCHEL. 'What chance have you,' said I, 'to follow this man?' He replied, 'I don't know; I am sure fingers will not do.' On which he ascended the organ loft, and produced from the organ so uncommon a fulness, such a volume of slow, solemn harmony, that I could by no means account for the effect. After this short ex tempore effusion, he finished with the Old Hundredth psalm-tune, which he played better than his opponent.

"'Ay, ay,' cried old SNETZLER, 'tish is very goot, very goot indeet; I vil luf tish man, for he gives my piphes room for to shpeak.' Having afterwards asked Mr. HERSCHEL by what means, in the beginning of his performance, he produced so uncommon an effect, he replied, 'I told you fingers would not do!' and producing two pieces of lead from his waistcoat pocket, 'one of these,' said he, 'I placed on the lowest key of the organ, and the other upon the octave above; thus by accommodating the harmony, I produced the effect of four hands, instead of two.'"[6]

The dates in this extract are not so well defined as might be wished. HERSCHEL had certainly been more than a few months in England at the time of his meeting with Dr. MILLER, which was probably about 1760. The appointment as organist at Halifax was in 1765, and the pupils and public concerts must have filled up the intervening five years. During a part of this time he lived in Leeds, with the family of Mr. BULMAN, whom he afterwards provided with a place as clerk to the Octagon Chapel, in his usual generous manner.

All during his life he was placing some of the less fortunate and energetic members of his family.

We cannot be too grateful to Dr. MILLER, who, seeing his opportunity, used it. Their frank friendship does honor to both. HERSCHEL'S organ-playing, which no doubt had been begun when his brother was the organist of the garrison chapel at Hanover, must have been perfected at this time, and it was through his organ-playing that he was able to leave the needy life in Yorkshire.

He was sure to have emerged sooner or later, but every year spared to him as a struggling musician was a year saved to Astronomy.

During all this period, a constant correspondence was maintained between the family at Hanover and the absent son.

Many of WILLIAM'S letters were written in English, and addressed to his brother JACOB, and treated of such subjects as the Theory of Music, in which he was already far advanced.

His little sister was still faithful to the memory of her dearest brother, and his father, whose health was steadily declining, became painfully eager for his return. In 1764 (April 2), he returned to Hanover on a very brief visit. He was attached to England, he was prospering there, and he had no inclination towards returning to a life in Hanover. His sister says:

"Of the joys and pleasures which all felt at this long-wished-for meeting with my—let me say my dearest—brother, but a small portion could fall to my share; for with my constant attendance at church and school, besides the time I was employed in doing the drudgery of the scullery, it was but seldom I could make one in the group when the family were assembled together.

"In the first week, some of the orchestra were invited to a concert, at which some of my brother WILLIAM'S compositions, overtures, etc., and some of my eldest brother JACOB'S were performed, to the great delight of my dear father, who hoped and expected that they would be turned to some profit by publishing them, but there was no printer who bid high enough.

"Sunday, the 8th, was the—to me—eventful day of my confirmation, and I left home not a little proud and encouraged by my dear brother WILLIAM'S approbation of my appearance in my new gown."

The engagement of HERSCHEL at Halifax did not long continue. In 1766 he obtained an advantageous engagement as oboist at Bath, and soon after the position of organist at the Octagon Chapel was offered to him and accepted. This was a great and important change.

Bath was then, as now, one of the most beautiful cities in England, and the resort of the fashion and rank of the kingdom, who came to take the waters. It is beautifully situated on both sides of the Avon, and has many fine walks and public buildings. The aspect of the city is markedly cheerful and brilliant, owing to the nature of the white stone of which the principal houses are built, and to the exquisite amphitheatre of hills in which they lie.

The society was then gay and polite, and HERSCHEL was at once thrown into a far more intelligent atmosphere than that he had just left in Yorkshire. It was easy to get new books, to see new faces, to hear new things. The Assembly Rooms (built in 1771) were noted for their size and elegance; the theatre was the best out of London.

His position as organist of the fashionable chapel placed him in the current. His charming and engaging manners made him friends. His talents brought him admirers and pupils, and pupils brought him money.[7]

He began in 1766 a life of unceasing activity, which continued. In 1768 he published in London a symphony (in C) for two violins, viola, bass, two oboes, and two horns, and in the same year two military concertos for two oboes, two horns, two trumpets, and two bassoons.[8] He wrote pieces for the harp, glees, "catches," and other songs for the voice. One of these, the Echo Catch, was published and had even considerable vogue.

A competent musical critic writes to me of this work: "The counterpoint is clear and flowing, and is managed with considerable taste and effect. It would be difficult to explain the great cleverness shown in the construction of the Catch without diagrams to illustrate the movements of the parts. It is certainly an ingenious bit of musical writing."

When he left Bath (in 1782), many of these musical writings were lost, in his great haste to take up his new profession. One, specially, his sister remembers to have written out for the printer, "but he could not find a moment to send it off, nor answer the printer's letters." This was a four-part song, "In thee I bear so dear a part." He wrote very many anthems, chants, and psalm-tunes for the excellent cathedral choir of the Octagon Chapel. Unfortunately, most of this music is now not to be found.

A notice of HERSCHEL'S life which appeared in the European Magazine for 1785, January, gives a very lively picture of his life at this time, and it is especially valuable as showing how he appeared to his cotemporaries.

"Although Mr. HERSCHEL loved music to an excess, and made a considerable progress in it, he yet determined with a sort of enthusiasm to devote every moment he could spare from business to the pursuit of knowledge, which he regarded as the sovereign good, and in which he resolved to place all his views of future happiness in life.". . .

"His situation at the Octagon Chapel proved a very profitable one, as he soon fell into all the public business of the concerts, the Rooms, the Theatre, and the oratorios, besides many scholars and private concerts. This great run of business, instead of lessening his propensity to study, increased it, so that many times, after a fatiguing day of fourteen or sixteen hours spent in his vocation, he would retire at night with the greatest avidity to unbend the mind, if it may be so called, with a few propositions in MACLAURIN'S Fluxions, or other books of that sort."

It was in these years that he mastered Italian and made some progress in Greek.

"We may hazard a natural conjecture respecting the course of HERSCHEL'S early studies. Music conducted him to mathematics, or, in other words, impelled him to study SMITH'S Harmonics. Now this ROBERT SMITH was the author of A Complete System of Optics, a masterly work, which, notwithstanding the rapid growth of that branch of the science, is not yet wholly superseded. It seems to us not unlikely that HERSCHEL, studying the Harmonics, conceived a reverence for the author, who was at that time still living, so that from the Philosophy of Music he passed to the Optics, a work on which SMITH'S great reputation chiefly rested; and thus undesignedly prepared himself for the career on which he was shortly about to enter with so much glory."[9]

There is no doubt that this conjecture is a true one. The Optics of Dr. SMITH is one of the very few books quoted by HERSCHEL throughout his writings, and there is every evidence of his complete familiarity with its conclusions and methods; and this familiarity is of the kind which a student acquires with his early text-books. One other work he quotes in the same way, LALANDE'S Astronomy, and this too must have been deeply studied.

During the years 1765-1772, while HERSCHEL was following his profession and his studies at Bath, the family life at Hanover went on in much the same way.

In 1765 his father ISAAC had a stroke of paralysis, which ended his violin-playing forever, and forced him to depend entirely upon pupils and copying of music for a livelihood. He died on March 22, 1767, leaving behind him a good name, and living in the affectionate remembrance of his children and of all who knew him.

CAROLINA had now lost her best friend, and transferred to her brother WILLIAM the affection she had before divided between him and her father.

"My father wished to give me something like a polished education, but my mother was particularly determined that it should be a rough, but at the same time a useful one; and nothing farther she thought was necessary but to send me two or three months to a sempstress to be taught to make household linen. . . . My mother would not consent to my being taught French, and my brother Dietrich was even denied a dancing-master, because she would not permit my learning along with him, though the entrance had been paid for us both; so all my father could do for me was to indulge me (and please himself) sometimes with a short lesson on the violin, when my mother was either in good humor or out of the way. Though I have often felt myself exceedingly at a loss for the want of those few accomplishments of which I was thus, by an erroneous though well-meant opinion of my mother, deprived, I could not help thinking but that she had cause for wishing me not to know more than was necessary for being useful in the family; for it was her certain belief that my brother WILLIAM would have returned to his country, and my eldest brother not have looked so high, if they had had a little less learning.

* * * * *

But sometimes I found it scarcely possible to get through with the work required, and felt very unhappy that no time at all was left for improving myself in music or fancy work, in which I had an opportunity of receiving some instruction from an ingenious young woman whose parents lived in the same house with us. But the time wanted for spending a few hours together could only be obtained by our meeting at daybreak, because by the time of the family's rising at seven, I was obliged to be at my daily business. Though I had neither time nor means for producing anything immediately either for show or use, I was content with keeping samples of all possible patterns in needlework, beads, bugles, horse-hair, etc., for I could not help feeling troubled sometimes about my future destiny; yet I could not bear the idea of being turned into an Abigail or housemaid, and thought that with the above and such like acquirements, with a little notion of music, I might obtain a place as governess in some family where the want of a knowledge of French would be no objection."

A change was soon to come in her life too; her brother WILLIAM wrote to propose that she should join him at Bath—

. . . "to make the trial, if, by his instruction, I might not become a useful singer for his winter concerts and oratorios; he advised my brother JACOB to give me some lessons by way of beginning; but that if, after a trial of two years, we should not find it answer our expectation, he would bring me back again. This at first seemed to be agreeable to all parties, but by the time I had set my heart upon this change in my situation, JACOB began to turn the whole scheme into ridicule, and, of course, he never heard the sound of my voice except in speaking, and yet I was left in the harassing uncertainty whether I was to go or not. I resolved at last to prepare, as far as lay in my power, for both cases, by taking, in the first place, every opportunity, when all were from home, to imitate, with a gag between my teeth, the solo parts of concertos, shake and all, such as I had heard them play on the violin; in consequence I had gained a tolerable execution before I knew how to sing. I next began to knit ruffles, which were intended for my brother WILLIAM, in case I remained at home—else they were to be JACOB'S. For my mother and brother D. I knitted as many cotton stockings as would last two years at least."

In August, 1772, her brother arrived at Hanover, to take her back to England with him. The journey to London was made between August 16th and 26th, and soon after they went together to HERSCHEL'S house, No. 7 New King's Street, Bath.


[1] Wife of Major JOHN HERSCHEL, of the Royal Engineers, grandson of Sir WILLIAM.

[2] Page 127.

[3] Memoir of CAROLINA HERSCHEL, p. 10. Sir GEORGE AIRY, Astronomer Royal, relates in the Academy that this "removal" was a desertion, as he was told by the Duke of Sussex that on the first visit of HERSCHEL to the king, after the discovery of the Georgium Sidus, the pardon of HERSCHEL was handed to him by the king himself, written out in due form.

[4] FETIS; Biographie universelle des musiciens, tome V. (1839) p. 141.

[5] Dr. MILLER, a noted organist, and afterwards historian of Doncaster.

[6] The Doctor; by ROBERT SOUTHEY, edition of 1848, p. 140.

[7] He frequently gave thirty-five and thirty-eight lessons a week to pupils at this time.

[8] According to FETIS. A search for these in London has led me to the belief that FETIS, who is usually very accurate, is here mistaken, and that these writings are by JACOB HERSCHEL.

[9] Foreign Quarterly Review, volume 31.


LIFE IN BATH; 1772-1782.

It was to a busy life in Bath that HERSCHEL took his sister CAROLINA, then twenty-two years old. She was a perfectly untried girl, of very small accomplishments and outwardly with but little to attract. The basis of her character was the possibility of an unchanging devotion to one object; for the best years of her life this object was the happiness and success of her brother WILLIAM, whom she profoundly loved. Her love was headstrong and full of a kind of obstinate pride, which refused to see anything but the view she had adopted. As long as her life continued to be with her dearest brother, all was well with her. She had a noble aim, and her heart was more than full. Later on, this very singleness of character brought her other years of wretchedness. It is necessary to understand the almost spaniel-like allegiance she gave, in order to comprehend the value which her services were to HERSCHEL. She supplied him with an aid which was utterly loyal, entire, and devoted. Her obedience was unquestioning, her reverence amounted almost to adoration. In their relation, he gave everything in the way of incentive and initiative, and she returned her entire effort loyally.

At first her business was to gain a knowledge of the language, and to perfect herself in singing, so that she might become a soloist in the concerts and oratorios which he was constantly giving.

In the beginning it was not easy.

. . . "As the season for the arrival of visitors to the baths does not begin till October, my brother had leisure to try my capacity for becoming a useful singer for his concerts and oratorios, and being very well satisfied with my voice, I had two or three lessons every day, and the hours which were not spent at the harpsichord, were employed in putting me in the way of managing the family. . . . On the second morning, on meeting my brother at breakfast, he began immediately to give me a lesson in English and arithmetic, and showed me the way of booking and keeping accounts of cash received and laid out. . . . By way of relaxation we talked of astronomy and the bright constellations with which I had made acquaintance during the fine nights we spent on the postwagen travelling through Holland.

"My brother ALEXANDER, who had been some time in England, boarded and lodged with his elder brother, and, with myself, occupied the attic. The first floor, which was furnished in the newest and most handsome style, my brother kept for himself. The front room, containing the harpsichord, was always in order to receive his musical friends and scholars at little private concerts or rehearsals. . . . Sundays I received a sum for the weekly expenses, of which my housekeeping book (written in English) showed the amount laid out, and my purse the remaining cash. One of the principal things required was to market, and about six weeks after coming to England I was sent alone among fishwomen, butchers, basket-women, etc., and I brought home whatever in my fright I could pick up. . . . My brother ALEX., who was now returned from his summer engagement, used to watch me at a distance, unknown to me, till he saw me safe on my way home. But all attempts to introduce any order in our little household proved vain, owing to the servant my brother then had. And what still further increased my difficulty was, that my brother's time was entirely taken up with business, so that I only saw him at meals. Breakfast was at seven o'clock or before—much too early for me, who would rather have remained up all night than be obliged to rise at so early an hour. . . .

"The three winter months passed on very heavily. I had to struggle against heimwehe (home sickness) and low spirits, and to answer my sister's melancholy letters on the death of her husband, by which she became a widow with six children. I knew too little English to derive any consolation from the society of those who were about me, so that, dinner-time excepted, I was entirely left to myself."

So the winter passed.

"The time when I could hope to receive a little more of my brother's instruction and attention was now drawing near; for after Easter, Bath becomes very empty, only a few of his scholars, whose families were resident in the neighborhood, remaining. But I was greatly disappointed; for, in consequence of the harassing and fatiguing life he had led during the winter months, he used to retire to bed with a basin of milk or glass of water, and SMITH'S Harmonics and Optics, FERGUSON'S Astronomy, etc., and so went to sleep buried under his favorite authors; and his first thoughts on rising were how to obtain instruments for viewing those objects himself of which he had been reading. There being in one of the shops a two-and-a-half-foot Gregorian telescope to be let, it was for some time taken in requisition, and served not only for viewing the heavens, but for making experiments on its construction. . . . It soon appeared that my brother was not contented with knowing what former observers had seen, for he began to contrive a telescope eighteen or twenty feet long (I believe after HUYGHENS' description). . . . I was much hindered in my musical practice by my help being continually wanted in the execution of the various contrivances, and I had to amuse myself with making the tube of pasteboard for the glasses, which were to arrive from London, for at that time no optician had settled at Bath. But when all was finished, no one besides my brother could get a glimpse of Jupiter or Saturn, for the great length of the tube would not allow it to be kept in a straight line. This difficulty, however, was soon removed by substituting tin tubes. . . . My brother wrote to inquire the price of a reflecting mirror for (I believe) a five or six foot telescope. The answer was, there were none of so large a size, but a person offered to make one at a price much above what my brother thought proper to give. . . . About this time he bought of a Quaker, resident at Bath, who had formerly made attempts at polishing mirrors, all his rubbish of patterns, tools, hones, polishers, unfinished mirrors, etc., but all for small Gregorians, and none above two or three inches diameter.

"But nothing serious could be attempted, for want of time, till the beginning of June, when some of my brother's scholars were leaving Bath; and then, to my sorrow, I saw almost every room turned into a workshop. A cabinet-maker making a tube and stands of all descriptions in a handsomely furnished drawing-room; ALEX. putting up a huge turning machine (which he had brought in the autumn from Bristol, where he used to spend the summer) in a bedroom, for turning patterns, grinding glasses, and turning eye-pieces, etc. At the same time music durst not lie entirely dormant during the summer, and my brother had frequent rehearsals at home, where Miss FARINELLI, an Italian singer, was met by several of the principal performers he had engaged for the winter concerts."

Finally, in 1774, he had made himself a Gregorian telescope,[10] and had begun to view the heavens. He was then thirty-six years old.

The writer in the European Magazine describes this period:

"All this time he continued his astronomical observations, and nothing now seemed wanting to complete his felicity, but sufficient leisure to enjoy his telescopes, to which he was so much attached, that at the theatre he used frequently to run from the harpsichord to look at the stars, during the time between the acts."

In an extract from his Journal No. 1, now at the rooms of the Royal Society, may be seen a copy of his first observation of the Nebula of Orion, on March 4, 1774. This was made with his five-and-a-half-foot Gregorian reflector.

It was at this time (1775), between the acts of the theatre, that he made his first review of the heavens, with a Newtonian telescope, of an aperture of four and a half inches and a magnifying power of 222 times. This telescope was one of the first made by himself. The review consisted of the examination of every star in the sky of the first, second, third, and fourth magnitudes, and of all planets visible. There are no records of these observations now extant, and they are noteworthy only as a preparation for more serious work.

He was carrying out his resolve to see everything for himself. His assiduity may be judged of by the fact that between 1774 and 1781 HERSCHEL had observed a single object—the Nebula of Orion—no less than fourteen times.

The success of his first telescopes incited him to new efforts. His house became a complete atelier, where everything that could tend to excellence in this manufacture was tried and re-tried a hundred different ways. When a difficulty arose, experiments were begun which continued till it was conquered. When a success was gained, it was prosecuted to the utmost.

In 1775 the first seven-foot reflector was made, in 1777 a ten-foot was finished, in 1778 a "very good" ten-foot took its place. It must not be thought that the telescopes mentioned were the only ones completed. On the contrary, they were but the best ones selected out of many.

In 1774 a new house had been engaged, which had "more room for workshops," and whose roof gave space for observing. The grass-plat near it was soon utilized to hold the stand of a twenty-foot telescope, which he had even then projected. His projects were unending, no success was final; his mind was at the height of activity; his whole effort was thrown into every undertaking.

The mirrors for all these telescopes were made by hand. Every portion of the grinding down to rough dimensions, the shaping to something near the correct form, the polishing till the accurately exact curves were obtained, all this must be done by hand. The machines for the purpose were not invented until 1788.[11]

ALEXANDER and WILLIAM worked together at this, but most of the work was done by the latter. The sister's part was to attend in the workshop and lend a hand wherever and whenever it was needed.

. . . "My time was taken up with copying music and practising, besides attendance on my brother when polishing, since by way of keeping him alive I was constantly obliged to feed him by putting the victuals by bits into his mouth. This was once the case when, in order to finish a seven-foot mirror, he had not taken his hands from it for sixteen hours together. In general he was never unemployed at meals, but was always at those times contriving or making drawings of whatever came in his mind. Generally I was obliged to read to him whilst he was at the turning-lathe, or polishing mirrors, Don Quixote, Arabian Nights' Entertainment, the novels of STERNE, FIELDING, etc.; serving tea and supper without interrupting the work with which he was engaged, . . . and sometimes lending a hand. I became, in time, as useful a member of the workshop as a boy might be to his master in the first year of his apprenticeship. . . . But as I was to take a part the next year in the oratorios, I had, for a whole twelvemonth, two lessons per week from Miss FLEMING, the celebrated dancing-mistress, to drill me for a gentlewoman (God knows how she succeeded). So we lived on without interruption. My brother ALEX. was absent from Bath for some months every summer, but when at home he took much pleasure in executing some turning or clockmaker's work for his brother."

News from Hanover put a sudden stop, for a time, to all these labors. The mother wrote, in the utmost distress, to say that DIETRICH had disappeared from his home, it was supposed with the intention of going to India "with a young idler not older than himself." His brother immediately left the lathe at which he was turning an eye-piece in cocoa-nut, and started for Holland, whence he proceeded to Hanover, failing to meet his brother, as he expected. Meanwhile the sister received a letter to say that DIETRICH was "laid up very ill" at an inn in Wapping. ALEXANDER posted to town, removed him to a lodging, and, after a fortnight's nursing, brought him to Bath, where, on his brother WILLIAM'S return, he found him being well cared for by his sister.

About this time another change was made to the house 19 New King Street, which was the last move in Bath. It was here that the Georgium Sidus was discovered.

The music still went on. The oratorios of the Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, and Samson were to be performed under HERSCHEL'S direction, with an orchestra of nearly one hundred pieces. The scores and vocal parts of these CAROLINA copied with her own hands, and the soprani were instructed by her, she being the leading soloist. Along with the music went the astronomy. Not only were new telescopes made, but they were made for immediate use.

The variable star Mira Ceti was observed, and a long series of lunar observations begun.

"In 1779, 1780, and 1781 I measured the heights of about one hundred mountains of the moon, by three different methods.

"Some of these observations are given in Philosophical Transactions, vol. LXX., but most remain uncalculated in my journal till some proper opportunity."[12]

While HERSCHEL was measuring these lunar mountains, in December, 1779, he made by chance an acquaintance of much value to him. Dr. WILLIAM WATSON, a Fellow of the Royal Society, distinguished for his researches in electricity, happened to see him at his telescope, and this led to a visit and an invitation to HERSCHEL to join the Philosophical Society of Bath, then forming. This he gladly did, and it was of use to him in many ways.

He there formed acquaintance with men of his own way of thinking, and he himself became known. Better than all, he learned to measure himself with other men, and by his early papers read to the Society, he gained skill in putting his thoughts before his hearers. This skill he never lost, and the merely literary art of his memoirs would make his papers remarkable without their other merits. He is always clear, and in his early papers especially, he appeals to his particular audience—the Royal Society—in a way which shows that he is conscious of all its weaknesses as well as of its dignity. Later, his tone slightly changed. He became less anxious to win his audience, for he had become an authority. This knowledge lent a quiet strength to his style, but never induced the slightest arrogance of spirit or manner.

The Bath Philosophical Society has left no printed proceedings. HERSCHEL was one of its earliest members, and many papers were communicated to it by his hand. These appear to have been of a very miscellaneous nature. Some of them at least would be of the highest interest to us now.

In the Philosophical Transactions for 1789, p. 220, HERSCHEL tells us that he communicated to that Society "certain mathematical papers" relating to central forces other than the force of gravity, which are or may be concerned in the construction of the sidereal heavens. This early idea was still entertained by HERSCHEL in 1789, and the mathematical papers referred to must be contained in the Minutes of the Society, which on its dissolution were torn from the Minute-book and returned to the writers.

The earliest published writing of HERSCHEL is the answer to the prize question in the "Ladies' Diary" for 1779, proposed by the celebrated LANDEN, namely:

"The length, tension, and weight of a musical string being given, it is required to find how many vibrations it will make in a given time, when a small given weight is fastened to its middle and vibrates with it."

In the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for 1780, are two papers of his. The title of the first is, Astronomical Observations on the Periodical Star in Collo Ceti, by Mr. WILLIAM HERSCHEL, of Bath. This was communicated to the Society by Dr. WILLIAM WATSON, Jr., and was read May 11, 1780, at the same time as the other paper on the mountains of the moon. It is to be noted that HERSCHEL was at this time plain "Mr. WILLIAM HERSCHEL, of Bath." It was only in 1786 that he became "Dr. HERSCHEL," through the Oxford degree of LL.D.

Neither of these two papers is specially remarkable on its purely astronomical side. The problems examined were such as lay open before all, and the treatment of them was such as would naturally be suggested.

The second of these two contained, however, a short description of his Newtonian telescope, and he speaks of it with a just pride: "I believe that for distinctness of vision this instrument is perhaps equal to any that was ever made." He was, at least, certain of having obtained excellence in the making of his instruments.

In his next paper, however, read January 11, 1781, a subject is approached which shows a different kind of thought. It is the first obvious proof of the truth of the statement which he made long afterwards (1811), when he said: "A knowledge of the construction of the heavens has always been the ultimate object of my observations."

The title of this paper was Astronomical Observations on the Rotation of the Planets round their Axes, made with a view to determine whether the Earth's diurnal motion is perfectly equable. Here the question is a difficult and a remote one, and the method adopted for its solution is perfectly suitable in principle. It marks a step onward from mere observations to philosophizing upon their results. In practical astronomy, too, we note an advance. Not only are his results given, but also careful estimates of the errors to be feared in them, and a discussion of the sources of such errors. The same volume of the Philosophical Transactions which contains this paper, also contains another, Account of a Comet, read April 26, 1781. This comet was the major planet Uranus, or, as HERSCHEL named it, Georgium Sidus. He had found it on the night of Tuesday, March 13, 1781. "In examining the small stars in the neighborhood of H Geminorum, I perceived one that appeared visibly larger than the rest; being struck with its uncommon appearance, I compared it to H Geminorum and the small star in the quartile between Auriga and Gemini, and finding it so much larger than either of them, I suspected it to be a comet." The "comet" was observed over all Europe. Its orbit was computed by various astronomers, and its distance from the sun was found to be nineteen times that of our earth. This was no comet, but a new major planet. The discovery of the amateur astronomer of Bath was the most striking since the invention of the telescope. It had absolutely no parallel, for every other major planet had been known from time immemorial.[13]

The effect of the discoveries of GALILEO was felt almost more in the moral than in the scientific world. The mystic number of the planets was broken up by the introduction of four satellites to Jupiter. That Venus emulated the phases of our moon, overthrew superstition and seated the Copernican theory firmly. The discovery of "an innumerable multitude of fixed stars" in the Milky Way confounded the received ideas. This was the great mission of the telescope in GALILEO'S hands.

The epoch of mere astronomical discovery began with the detection of the large satellite of Saturn by HUYGHENS, in 1655. Even then superstition was not dead. HUYGHENS did not search for more moons, because by that discovery he had raised the number of known satellites to six,[14] and because these, with the six planets, made "the perfect number twelve."

From 1671 to 1684 CASSINI discovered four more moons revolving about Saturn. Since 1684 no new body had been added to the solar system. It was thought complete for nearly a century.

In England, the remarkable discoveries of BRADLEY (1727-62) had been in the field of practical astronomy, and his example had set the key-note for further researches. France was just about beginning the brilliant period of her discoveries in mathematical astronomy, and had no observatory devoted to investigations like HERSCHEL'S, with the possible exception of DARQUIER'S and FLAUGERGUES'. The observatories of SCHROETER and VON HAHN, in Germany, were not yet active. The field which HERSCHEL was created to fill was vacant, the whole world over. It was especially so in England. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, under MASKELYNE, a skilful observer, whose work was mostly confined to meridian observations, was no rival to a private observatory like HERSCHEL'S. The private observatories themselves were but small affairs; those of the king, at Kew, of Dr. WILSON, at Glasgow, of Mr. AUBERT, at Loampit Hill, of the Count VON BRUHL, in London, being perhaps the most important. The whole field was open. What was perhaps more remarkable, there was in England, during HERSCHEL'S lifetime, no astronomer, public or private, whose talents, even as an observer, lay in the same direction.

It hardly need be said that as a philosopher in his science, he had then no rival, as he has had none since. His only associates even, were MICHELL and WILSON.[15]

Without depreciating the abilities of the astronomers of England, his cotemporaries, we may fairly say that HERSCHEL stood a great man among a group of small ones.

Let us endeavor to appreciate the change effected in the state of astronomy not only in England but in the whole world, simply by the discovery of Uranus. Suppose, for example, that the last planet in our system had been Saturn. No doubt HERSCHEL would have gone on. In spite of one and another difficulty, he would have made his ten-foot, his twenty-foot telescopes. His forty-foot would never have been built, and the two satellites which he found with it might not have been discovered. Certainly Mimas would not have been. His researches on the construction of the heavens would have been made; those were in his brain, and must have been ultimated. The mass of observations of Saturn, of Jupiter, of Mars, of Venus, would have been made and published. The researches on the sun, on the "invisible rays" of heat, on comets and nebulae—all these might have been made, printed, and read.

But these would have gone into the Philosophical Transactions as the work of an amateur astronomer, "Mr. HERSCHEL, of Bath." They would have been praised, and they would have been doubted. It would have taken a whole generation to have appreciated them. They would have been severely tried, entirely on their merits, and finally they would have stood where they stand to-day—unrivalled. But through what increased labors these successes would have been gained! It is not merely that the patronage of the king, the subsidies for the forty-foot telescope (L4,000), the comparative ease of HERSCHEL'S life would have been lacking. It is more than this. It would have been necessary for him to have created the audience to which he appealed, and to have conquered the most persistent of enemies—indifference.

Certainly, if HERSCHEL'S mind had been other than it was, the discovery of Uranus, which brought him honors from every scientific society in the world, and which gave him authority, might have had a hurtful effect. But, as he was, there was nothing which could have aided his career more than this startling discovery. It was needed for him. It completed the solar system far more by affording a free play to a profoundly philosophical mind, than by occupying the vacant spaces beyond Saturn.

His opportunities would have been profoundly modified, though his personal worth would have been the same.

"The Star that from the zenith darts its beams, Visible though it be to half the earth, Though half a sphere be conscious of its brightness, Is yet of no diviner origin, No purer essence, than the One that burns Like an untended watchfire, on the ridge Of some dark mountain; or than those that seem Humbly to hang, like twinkling winter lamps, Among the branches of the leafless trees."

To show how completely unknown the private astronomer of Bath was at this time, I transcribe a sentence from BODE'S account of the discovery of Uranus.

"In the Gazette Litteraire of June, 1781, this worthy man is called MERSTHEL; in JULIUS' Journal Encyclopedique, HERTSCHEL; in a letter from Mr. MASKELYNE to M. MESSIER, HERTHEL; in another letter of MASKELYNE'S to Herr MAYER, at Mannheim, HERRSCHELL; M. DARQUIER calls him HERMSTEL. What may his name be? He must have been born a German."[16]

This obscurity did not long continue. The news spread quickly from fashionable Bath to London. On the 6th of December, 1781, HERSCHEL was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, to which he was formally "admitted" May 30, 1782. He was forty-three years old.

He also received the Copley medal in 1781 for his "discovery of a new and singular star."[17]

. . . "He was now frequently interrupted by visitors who were introduced by some of his resident scholars, among whom I remember Sir HARRY ENGELFIELD, Dr. BLAGDEN, and Dr. MASKELYNE. With the latter he was engaged in a long conversation, which to me sounded like quarrelling, and the first words my brother said after he was gone were: 'That is a devil of a fellow.'. . .

"I suppose their names were often not known, or were forgotten; for it was not till the year 1782 or 1783 that a memorandum of the names of visitors was thought of.". . . "My brother now applied himself to perfect his mirrors, erecting in his garden a stand for his twenty-foot telescope; many trials were necessary before the required motions for such an unwieldy machine could be contrived. Many attempts were made by way of experiment before an intended thirty-foot telescope could be completed, for which, between whiles (not interrupting the observations with seven, ten, and twenty-foot, and writing papers for both the Royal and Bath Philosophical Societies), gauges, shapes, weight, etc., of the mirror were calculated, and trials of the composition of the metal were made. In short, I saw nothing else and heard nothing else talked of but these things when my brothers were together. ALEX. was always very alert, assisting when anything new was going forward, but he wanted perseverance, and never liked to confine himself at home for many hours together. And so it happened that my brother WILLIAM was obliged to make trial of my abilities in copying for him catalogues, tables, etc., and sometimes whole papers which were lent him for his perusal. Among them was one by Mr. MICHELL and a catalogue of CHRISTIAN MAYER, in Latin, which kept me employed when my brother was at the telescope at night. When I found that a hand was sometimes wanted when any particular measures were to be made with the lamp micrometer, etc., or a fire to be kept up, or a dish of coffee necessary during a long night's watching, I undertook with pleasure what others might have thought a hardship. . . . Since the discovery of the Georgium Sidus [March 13, 1781], I believe few men of learning or consequence left Bath before they had seen and conversed with its discoverer, and thought themselves fortunate in finding him at home on their repeated visits. Sir WILLIAM WATSON was almost an intimate, for hardly a day passed but he had something to communicate from the letters which he received from Sir JOSEPH BANKS, and other members of the Royal Society, from which it appeared that my brother was expected in town to receive the gold medal. The end of November was the most precarious season for absenting himself. But Sir WILLIAM WATSON went with him, and it was arranged so that they set out with the diligence at night, and by that means his absence did not last above three or four days, when my brother returned alone, Sir WILLIAM remaining with his father.

"Now a very busy winter was commencing; for my brother had engaged himself to conduct the oratorios conjointly with RONZINI, and had made himself answerable for the payment of the engaged performers, for his credit ever stood high in the opinion of every one he had to deal with. (He lost considerably by this arrangement.) But, though at times much harassed with business, the mirror for the thirty-foot reflector was never out of his mind, and if a minute could but be spared in going from one scholar to another, or giving one the slip, he called at home to see how the men went on with the furnace, which was built in a room below, even with the garden.

"The mirror was to be cast in a mould of loam, of which an immense quantity was to be pounded in a mortar and sifted through a fine sieve. It was an endless piece of work, and served me for many an hour's exercise; and ALEX. frequently took his turn at it, for we were all eager to do something towards the great undertaking. Even Sir WILLIAM WATSON would sometimes take the pestle from me when he found me in the work-room, where he expected to find his friend, in whose concerns he took so much interest that he felt much disappointed at not being allowed to pay for the metal. But I do not think my brother ever accepted pecuniary assistance from any one of his friends, and on this occasion he declined the offer by saying it was paid for already.

"Among the Bath visitors were many philosophical gentlemen who used to frequent the levees at St. James's, when in town. Colonel WALSH, in particular, informed my brother that from a conversation he had had with His Majesty, it appeared that in the spring he was to come with his seven-foot telescope to the king. Similar reports he received from many others, but they made no great impression nor caused any interruption in his occupation or study, and as soon as the season for the concerts was over, and the mould, etc., in readiness, a day was set apart for casting, and the metal was in the furnace. Unfortunately it began to leak at the moment when ready for pouring, and both my brothers and the caster, with his men, were obliged to run out at opposite doors, for the stone flooring (which ought to have been taken up) flew about in all directions as high as the ceiling. Before the second casting was attempted, everything which could insure success had been attended to, and a very perfect metal was found in the mould.

"But a total stop and derangement now took place, and nearly six or seven months elapsed before my brother could return to the undisturbed enjoyment of his instruments and observations. For one morning in Passion Week, as Sir WILLIAM WATSON was with my brother, talking about the pending journey to town, my eldest nephew arrived to pay us a visit, and brought the confirmation that his uncle was expected with his instrument in town. . . . We had not one night in the week, except Friday, but what was set apart for an oratorio either at Bath or Bristol. Soon after Easter, a new organ being erected in St. James's Church, it was opened with two performances of the 'Messiah;' this again took up some of my brother's time.". . .

In May of 1782 HERSCHEL went to London.

"But when almost double the time had elapsed which my brother could safely be absent from his scholars, ALEX., as well as myself, were much at a loss how to answer their inquiries, for, from the letters we received, we could learn nothing but that he had been introduced to the king and queen, and had permission to come to the concerts at Buckingham House, where the king conversed with him about astronomy."

It was during his absence at this time that the three following letters were written and received:


"I have had an audience of His Majesty this morning, and met with a very gracious reception. I presented him with the drawing of the solar system, and had the honor of explaining it to him and the queen. My telescope is in three weeks' time to go to Richmond, and meanwhile to be put up at Greenwich, where I shall accordingly carry it to-day. So you see, LINA, that you must not think of seeing me in less than a month. I shall write to Miss LEE myself; and other scholars who inquire for me, you may tell that I cannot wait on them till His Majesty shall be pleased to give me leave to return, or rather to dismiss me, for till then I must attend. I will also write to Mr. PALMER to acquaint him with it.

"I am in a great hurry, therefore can write no more at present. Tell ALEXANDER that everything looks very likely as if I were to stay here. The king inquired after him, and after my great speculum. He also gave me leave to come to hear the GRIESBACHS play at the private concert which he has every evening. My having seen the king need not be kept a secret, but about my staying here it will be best not to say anything, but only that I must remain here till His Majesty has observed the planets with my telescope.

"Yesterday I dined with Colonel WALSH, who inquired after you. There were Mr. AUBERT and Dr. MASKELYNE. Dr. MASKELYNE in public declared his obligations to me for having introduced to them the high powers, for Mr. AUBERT has so much succeeded with them that he says he looks down upon 200, 300, or 400 with contempt, and immediately begins with 800. He has used 2,500 very completely, and seen my fine double stars with them. All my papers are printing, with the postscript and all, and are allowed to be very valuable. You see, LINA, I tell you all these things. You know vanity is not my foible, therefore I need not fear your censure. Farewell.

"I am, your affectionate brother,


"Saturday Morning,

"probably May 25, 1782."


"Monday Evening, June 3, 1782.


"I pass my time between Greenwich and London agreeably enough, but am rather at a loss for work that I like. Company is not always pleasing, and I would much rather be polishing a speculum. Last Friday I was at the king's concert to hear GEORGE play. The king spoke to me as soon as he saw me, and kept me in conversation for half an hour. He asked GEORGE to play a solo-concerto on purpose that I might hear him; and GEORGE plays extremely well, is very much improved, and the king likes him very much. These two last nights I have been star-gazing at Greenwich with Dr. MASKELYNE and Mr. AUBERT. We have compared our telescopes together, and mine was found very superior to any of the Royal Observatory. Double stars which they could not see with their instruments I had the pleasure to show them very plainly, and my mechanism is so much approved of that Dr. MASKELYNE has already ordered a model to be taken from mine, and a stand to be made by it to his reflector. He is, however, now so much out of love with his instrument that he begins to doubt whether it deserves a new stand.

"I am introduced to the best company. To-morrow I dine at Lord PALMERSTON'S, next day with Sir JOSEPH BANKS, etc., etc. Among opticians and astronomers nothing now is talked of but what they call my great discoveries. Alas! this shows how far they are behind, when such trifles as I have seen and done are called great. Let me but get at it again! I will make such telescopes, and see such things—that is, I will endeavor to do so."


"July 3, 1782."


"I have been so much employed that you will not wonder at my not writing sooner. The letter you sent me last Monday came very safe to me. As Dr. WATSON has been so good as to acquaint you and ALEXANDER with my situation, I was still more easy in my silence to you. Last night the King, the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, Princess SOPHIA, Princess AUGUSTA, etc., Duke of MONTAGUE, Dr. HEBERDEN, M. DE LUC, etc., etc., saw my telescope, and it was a very fine evening. My instrument gave general satisfaction. The king has very good eyes, and enjoys observations with telescopes exceedingly.

"This evening, as the king and queen are gone to Kew, the princesses were desirous of seeing my telescope, but wanted to know if it was possible to see without going out on the grass, and were much pleased when they heard that my telescope could be carried into any place they liked best to have it. About eight o'clock it was moved into the queen's apartments, and we waited some time in hopes of seeing Jupiter or Saturn. Meanwhile I showed the princesses, and several other ladies who were present, the speculum, the micrometers, the movements of the telescopes, and other things that seemed to excite their curiosity. When the evening appeared to be totally unpromising, I proposed an artificial Saturn as an object, since we could not have the real one. I had beforehand prepared this little piece, as I guessed by the appearance of the weather in the afternoon we should have no stars to look at. This being accepted with great pleasure, I had the lamps lighted up which illuminated the picture of a Saturn (cut out in pasteboard) at the bottom of the garden wall. The effect was fine, and so natural that the best astronomer might have been deceived. Their royal highnesses and other ladies seemed to be much pleased with the artifice.

"I remained in the queen's apartment with the ladies till about half after ten; when in conversation with them I found them extremely well instructed in every subject that was introduced, and they seemed to be most amiable characters. To-morrow evening they hope to have better luck, and nothing will give me greater happiness than to be able to show them some of those beautiful objects with which the heavens are so gloriously ornamented."

CAROLINA'S diary goes on:

"Sir WILLIAM WATSON returned to Bath after a fort-night or three weeks' stay. From him we heard that my brother was invited to Greenwich with the telescope, where he was met by a numerous party of astronomical and learned gentlemen, and trials of his instrument were made. In these letters he complained of being obliged to lead an idle life, having nothing to do but to pass between London and Greenwich. Sir WILLIAM received many letters, which he was so kind as to communicate to us. By these, and from those to ALEXANDER or to me, we learned that the king wished to see the telescope at Windsor. At last a letter, dated July 2, arrived from THERESE, and from this and several succeeding ones we gathered that the king would not suffer my brother to return to his profession again, and by his writing several times for a supply of money we could only suppose that he himself was in uncertainty about the time of his return.

"In the last week of July my brother came home, and immediately prepared for removing to Datchet, where he had taken a house with a garden and grass-plat annexed, quite suitable for the purpose of an observing-place. Sir WILLIAM WATSON spent nearly the whole time at our house, and he was not the only friend who truly grieved at my brother's going from Bath; or feared his having perhaps agreed to no very advantageous offers; their fears were, in fact, not without reason. . . . The prospect of entering again on the toils of teaching, etc., which awaited my brother at home (the months of leisure being now almost gone by), appeared to him an intolerable waste of time, and by way of alternative he chose to be royal astronomer, with a salary of L200 a year. Sir WILLIAM WATSON was the only one to whom the sum was mentioned, and he exclaimed, 'Never bought monarch honor so cheap!' To every other inquirer, my brother's answer was that the king had provided for him."

On the 1st of August, 1782, the family removed to Datchet. The last musical duty was performed on Whit-Sunday, 1782, in St. Margaret's Chapel, Bath, when the anthem for the day was of HERSCHEL'S own composition.

The end of the introductory epoch of his life is reached. Henceforth he lived in his observatory, and from his forty-fourth year onwards he only left it for short periods to go to London to submit his classic memoirs to the Royal Society. Even for these occasions he chose periods of moonlight, when no observations could be made.

He was a private man no longer. Henceforth he belongs to the whole world.


[10] Probably on the model of one of SHORT'S Gregorian telescopes, which were then the best instruments of the kind.

[11] For a description of the main points of HERSCHEL'S processes of making reflectors, which will illustrate his strong mechanical talents, see Encyclopaedia Britannica, eighth edition, article Telescope.

[12] These have never been published, nor is it likely at this day, when our measuring instruments are so greatly improved, that they would be of any material value to science, although of interest as giving the proofs of HERSCHEL'S assiduity and skill. He was always more than the maker of telescopes, for he was never content until they were applied to the problems of astronomy.

[13] ARAGO has implied that if HERSCHEL had directed his telescope to Uranus only eleven days earlier than he did, this discovery would have escaped him, since at that time (March 2, 1781) the planet was at its station, and had no motion relative to the star. This is an entire misconception, since the new planet was detected by its physical appearance, and not by its motion. Does any one suppose that "a new and singular star" like this would have been once viewed and then forgotten?

[14] Four of Jupiter, one of the earth, and one of Saturn.

[15] JOHN MICHELL had been a member of the Royal Society since 1760: he died in 1793. He was a philosophical thinker, as is shown by his memoirs on the distances of the stars, and by his invention of the method for determining the earth's density. It is not certain that he was personally known to HERSCHEL, although his writings were familiar to the latter.

ALEXANDER WILSON was Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow, and is chiefly known to us by his theory of the nature of the solar spots, which was adopted and enlarged by HERSCHEL. He died in 1786; but the families of WILSON and HERSCHEL remained close friends.

[16] Berliner Jahrbuch, 1784, p. 211. In the Connaissance des Tems for 1784 he is called "HOROCHELLE."

[17] At the presentation Sir JOSEPH BANKS, the President of the Royal Society, said: "In the name of the Royal Society I present to you this gold medal, the reward which they have assigned to your successful labors, and I exhort you to continue diligently to cultivate those fields of science which have produced to you a harvest of so much honor. Your attention to the improvement of telescopes has already amply repaid the labor which you have bestowed upon them; but the treasures of the heavens are well known to be inexhaustible. Who can say but your new star, which exceeds Saturn in its distance from the sun, may exceed him as much in magnificence of attendance? Who knows what new rings, new satellites, or what other nameless and numberless phenomena remain behind, waiting to reward future industry and improvement?"



The new house at Datchet, which was occupied from 1782 till 1785, was a source of despair to CAROLINA HERSCHEL, who looked upon its desolate and isolated condition with a housekeeper's eyes. This was nothing to her brother, who gayly consented to live upon "eggs and bacon," now that he was free at last to mind the heavens. The ruinous state of the place had no terrors in his eyes, for was there not a laundry which would serve as a library, a large stable which was just the place for the grinding of mirrors, and a grass-plat for the small twenty-foot reflector?

Here they set to work at astronomy; the brother with the twenty-foot, the sister aiding him, and at odd times sweeping for comets. In the course of her life she discovered no less than eight, and five of these were first seen by her.

* * * * *

In 1787 HERSCHEL wrote his paper "On three Volcanoes in the Moon," which he had observed in April of that year. In this he mentions previous observations of the same sort. I do not remember that the following account of these has ever been put on record in English. Baron VON ZACH writes from London to BODE:[18]

"Probably you have heard also of the volcanoes in the moon, which HERSCHEL has observed. . . . I will give you an account of it as I heard it from his own lips. Dr. LIND, a worthy physician in Windsor, who has made himself known through his two journeys in China, and who is a friend of our HERSCHEL'S, was with his wife one evening on a visit to HERSCHEL in Datchet [1783, May 4]. On this evening there was to be an occultation of a star at the moon's dark limb. This was observed by HERSCHEL and Doctor LIND. Mrs. LIND wished also to see what was occurring, and placed herself at a telescope and watched attentively.

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