The great number of alterations of stars that we are certain have happened within the last two centuries, and the much greater number that we have reason to suspect to have taken place, are curious features in the history of the heavens, as curious as the slow wearing away of the landmarks of our earth on mountains, on river banks, on ocean shores. If we consider how little attention has formerly been paid this subject, and that most of the observations we have are of a very late date, it would perhaps not appear extraordinary were we to admit the number of alterations that have probably happened to different stars, within our own time, to be a hundred.
William Herschell, born Seventeen Hundred Thirty-eight, in the city of Hanover, was the fourth child in a family of ten. Big families, I am told, usually live in little houses, while little families live in big houses. The Herschels were no exception to the rule.
Isaac Herschel, known to the world as being the father of his son, was a poor man, depending for support upon his meager salary as bandmaster to a regiment of the Hanoverian Guards.
At the garrison school, taught by a retired captain, William was the star scholar. In mathematics he propounded problems that made the worthy captain pooh-pooh and change the subject.
At fourteen, he was playing a hautboy in his father's band and practising on the violin at spare times.
For music he had a veritable passion, and to have a passion for a thing means that you excel in it--excellence is a matter of intensity. One of the players in the band was a Frenchman, and William made an arrangement to give the "parlez vous" lessons on the violin as payment for lessons in French.
This whole brood of Herschel children was musical, and very early in life the young Herschels became self-supporting as singers and players. "It is the only thing they can do," their father said. But his loins were wiser than his head.
In Seventeen Hundred Fifty-five William accompanied his father's band to England, where they went to take part in a demonstration in honor of a Hanoverian, one George the Third, who later was to play a necessary part in a symphony that was to edify the American Colonies. America owes much to George the Third.
Young Herschel had already learned to speak English, just as he had learned French. In England he spent all the money he had for three volumes of "Locke on the Human Understanding."
These books were to remain his lifelong possession and to be passed on, well-thumbed, to his son more than half a century later.
At the time of the breaking out of the Seven Years' War, William Herschel was nineteen. His regiment had been ordered to march in a week. Here was a pivotal point--should he go and fight for the glory of Prussia?
Not he--by the connivance of his mother and sisters, he was secreted on a trading-sloop bound for England. This is what is called desertion; and just how the young man evaded the penalties, since the King of England was also Elector of Hanover, I do not know, but the House of Hanover made no effort toward punishment of the culprit, even when the facts were known.
Musicians of quality were, perhaps, needed in England; and as sheep-stealing is looked upon lightly by priests who love mutton, so do kings forgive infractions if they need the man.
When William Herschel landed at Dover he had in his pocket a single crownpiece, and his luggage consisted of the clothes he wore, and a violin. The violin secured him board and lodgings along the road as he walked to London, just as Oliver Goldsmith paid his way with a similar legal tender.
In London, Herschel's musical skill quickly got him an engagement at one of the theaters. In a few months we hear of his playing solos at Brabandt's aristocratic concerts. Little journeys into "the provinces" were taken by the orchestra to which Herschel belonged. Among other places visited was Bath, and here the troupe was booked for a two-weeks' engagement. At this time Bath was run wide open.
Bath was a rendezvous for the gouty dignitaries of Church and State who had grown swag through sloth and much travel by the gorge route. There were ministers of state, soldiers, admirals-of-the-sea, promoters, preachers, philosophers, players, poets, polite gamblers and buffoons.
They idled, fiddled, danced, gabbled, gadded and gossiped. The "School for Scandal" was written on the spot, with models drawn from life. It wasn't a play--it was a cross-section of Bath Society.
Bath was a clearing-house for the wit, learning and folly of all England--the combined Hot Springs, Coney Island, Saratoga and Old Point Comfort of the Kingdom. The most costly church of its size in America is at Saint Augustine, Florida. The repentant ones patronize it in Lent; the rest of the year it is closed.
At Bath there was the Octagon Chapel, which had the best pipe-organ in England. Herschel played the organ: where he learned how nobody seemed to know--he himself did not know. But playing musical instruments is a little like learning a new language.
A man who speaks three languages can take a day off and learn a fourth almost any time. Somebody has said that there is really only one language, and most of us have only a dialect. Acquire three languages and you perceive that there is a universal basis upon which the various tongues are built.
Herschel could play the hautboy, the violin and the harpsichord. The organ came easy. When he played the organ in the Chapel at Bath, fair ladies forgot the Pump-Room, and the gallants followed them--naturally. Herschel became the rage. He was a handsome fellow, with a pride so supreme that it completed the circle, and people called it humility. He talked but little, and made himself scarce--a point every genius should ponder well.
The disarming of the populace--confiscating canes, umbrellas and parasols--before allowing people to enter an art-gallery is necessary; although it is a peculiar comment on humanity to think people have a tendency to smite, punch, prod and poke beautiful things. The same propensity manifests itself in wishing to fumble a genius. Get your coarse hands on Richard Mansfield if you can! Corral Maude Adams--hardly. To do big things, to create, breaks down tissue awfully, and to mix it with society and still do big things for society is impossible.
At Bath, Herschel was never seen in the Pump-Room, nor on the North Parade. People who saw him paid for the privilege. "In England about this time look out for a shower of genius," the almanackers might have said.
To Bath came two Irishmen, Edmund Burke and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Burke rented rooms of Doctor Nugent, and married the doctor's daughter, and never regretted it. Sheridan also married a Bath girl, but added the right touch of romance by keeping the matter secret, with the intent that if either party wished to back out of the agreement it would be allowed. This was quite Irish-like, since according to English Law a marriage is a marriage until Limbus congeals and is used for a skating-rink.
With the true spirit of chivalry, Sheridan left the questions of publicity or secrecy to his wife: she could have her freedom if she wished. He was a fledgling barrister, with his future in front of him, the child of "strolling players"; she, the beautiful Miss Linlay, was a singer of note. Her father was the leader of the Bath Orchestra, and had a School of Oratory where young people agitated the atmosphere in orotund and tremolo and made the ether vibrate in glee. Doctor Linlay's daughter was his finest pupil, and with her were elucidated all his theories concerning the Sixteen Perspective Laws of Art. She also proved a few points in stirpiculture. She was a most beautiful girl of seventeen when Richard Brinsley Sheridan led her to the altar, or I should say to a Dissenting Pastor's back door by night. She could sing, recite, act, and impersonate in pantomime and Greek gown, the passions of Fear, Hate, Supplication, Horror, Revenge, Jealousy, Rage and Faith.
Romney moved down to Bath just so as to have Miss Linlay and Lady Hamilton for models. He posed Miss Linlay as the Madonna, Beulah, Rena, Ruth, Miriam and Cecilia; and Lady Hamilton for Susannah at the Bath, Alicia and Andromache, and also had her illustrate the Virtues, Graces, Fates and Passions.
When the beautiful Miss Linlay, the pride and pet of Bath, got ready to announce her marriage, she did it by simply changing the inscription beneath a Romney portrait that hung in the anteroom of the artist's studio, marking out the words "Miss Linlay," and writing over it, "Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan."
The Bath porchers who looked after other people's business, having none of their own, burbled and chortled like siphons of soda, and the marvel to all was that such a brilliant girl should thus throw herself away on a sprig of the law. "He acts, too, I believe," said Goldsmith to Doctor Johnson.
And Doctor Johnson said, "Sir, he does nothing else," thus anticipating James McNeil Whistler by more than a hundred years.
But alas for the luckless Linlay, the Delsarte of his day, poor man! he used words not to be found in Johnson's Dictionary, and outdid Cassius in the quarrel-scene to the Brutus of Richard Brinsley.
But very soon things settled down--they always do when mixed with time--and all were happy, or reasonably so, forever after.
Herschel resigned from Brabandt's Orchestra and remained in Bath. He taught music, played the organ, became first violinist for Professor Linlay and later led the orchestra when Linlay was on the road starring the one-night stands and his beautiful daughter.
Things seemed to prosper with the kindly and talented German. He was reserved, intellectual, and was respected by the best. He was making money--not as London brokers might count money, but prosperous for a mere music-teacher.
And so there came a day when he bought out the school of Professor Linlay, and became proprietor and leader of the famous Bath Orchestra.
But the talented Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan was sorely missed--a woman soloist of worth was needed.
Herschel thought and pondered. He tried candidates from London and a few from Paris. Some had voices, but no intellect. A very few had intellect, but were without voice. Some thought they had a voice when what they had was a disease. Other voices he tried and found guilty.
Those who had voice and spirit had tempers like a tornado.
Herschel decided to educate a soloist and assistant. To marry a woman for the sake of educating her was risky business--he knew of men who had tried it--for men have tried it since the time of the Cavemen.
A bright thought came to him! He would go back to Deutschland and get one of his sisters, and bring her over to England to help him do his work--just the very thing!
* * * * * * *
It was a most fortunate stroke for Herschel when he went back home to get one of his sisters to come over into Macedonia and help him. No man ever did a great work unless he was backed up by a good woman. There were five of these Herschel girls--three were married, so they were out of the question, and another was engaged. This left Caroline as first, last and only choice. Caroline was twenty-two and could sing a little.
She had appeared in concerts for her father when a child. But when the father died, the girl was set to work in a dressmaking and millinery shop, to help support the big family. The mother didn't believe that women should be educated--it unfitted them for domesticity, and to speak of a woman as educated was to suggest that she was a poor housekeeper.
In Greece of old, educated women were spoken of as "companions"--and this meant that they were not what you would call respectable. They were the intellectual companions of men. The Greek term of disrespect carried with it a trifle of a suggestion not intended, that is, that women who were not educated--not intellectual--were really not companionable--but let that pass. It is curious how this idea that a woman is only a scullion and a drudge has permeated society until even the women themselves partake of the prejudice against themselves.
Mother Herschel didn't want her daughters to become educated, nor study the science of music nor the science of anything. A goodly grocer of the Dutch School had been picked out as a husband for Caroline, and now if she went away her prospects were ruined--Ach, Mein Gott! or words to that effect. And it was only on William's promise to pay the mother a weekly sum equal to the wages that Caroline received in the dressmaking-shop that she gave consent to her daughter's going. Caroline arrived in England, wearing wooden shoon and hoops that were exceeding Dutch, but without a word of English. In order to be of positive use to her brother, she must acquire English and be able to sing--not only sing well, but remarkably well. In less than a year she was singing solo parts at her brother's concerts, to the great delight of the aristocrats of Bath.
They heard her sing, but they did not take her captive and submerge her in their fashionable follies as they would have liked to do.
The sister and the brother kept close to their own rooms. Caroline was the housekeeper, and took a pride in being able to dispense with all outside help. She was small in figure, petite, face plain but full of animation. All of her spare time she devoted to her music. After the concerts she and her brother would leave the theater, change their clothes and then walk off into the country, getting back as late as one or two o'clock in the morning. On these midnight walks they used to study the stars and talk of the wonderful work of Kepler and Copernicus. There were various requests that Caroline should go to London and sing, but she steadfastly refused to appear on a stage except where her brother led the orchestra. About this time Caroline wrote a letter home, which missive, by the way, is still in existence, in which she says: "William goes to bed early when there are no concerts or rehearsals. He has a bowl of milk on the stand beside him, and he reads Smith's 'Harmonics' and Ferguson's 'Astronomy.' I sit sewing in the next room, and occasionally he will call to me to listen while he reads some passage that most pleases him. So he goes to sleep buried beneath his favorite authors, and his first thought in the morning is how to obtain instruments so we can study the harmonics of the sky." And a way was to open: they were to make their own telescopes--what larks! Brother and sister set to work studying the laws of optics. In a secondhand store they found a small Gregorian reflector which had an aperture of about two inches.
This gave them a little peep into the heavens, but was really only a tantalization.
They set to work making a telescope-tube out of pasteboard. It was about eighteen feet long, and the "board" was made in the genuine pasteboard way--by pasting sheet after sheet of paper together until the substance was as thick and solid as a board.
So this brother and sister worked at all odd hours pasting sheet after sheet of paper--old letters, old books--with occasional strips of cloth to give extra strength. Lenses were bought in London, and at last our precious musical pair, with astronomy for their fad, had the satisfaction of getting a view of Saturn that showed the rings.
It need not be explained that astronomical observations must be made out of doors. Further, the whole telescope must be out of doors so as to get an even temperature. This is a fact that the excellent astronomers of the Mikado of Japan did not know until very recently. It seems they constructed a costly telescope and housed it in a costly observatory-house, with an aperture barely large enough for the big telescope to be pointed out at the heavens. Inside, the astronomer had a comfortable fire, for the season was then Winter and the weather cold. But the wise man could see nothing and the belief was getting abroad that the machine was bewitched, or that their Yankee brothers had lawsonized the buyers, when our own David P. Todd, of Amherst, happened along and informed them that the heat-waves which arose from their warm room caused a perturbation in the atmosphere which made star-gazing impossible. At once they made their house over, with openings so as to insure an even temperature, and Prince Fusiyama Noguchi wrote to Professor Todd, making him a Knight of the Golden Dragon on special order of the heaven-born Mikado.
The Herschels knew enough of the laws of heat and refraction to realize they must have an even temperature, but they forgot that pasteboard was porous.
One night they left their telescope out of doors, and a sudden shower transformed the straight tube into the arc of a circle. All attempts to straighten it were vain, so they took out the lenses and went to work making a tube of copper. In this, brother, sister and genius--which is concentration and perseverance--united to overcome the innate meanness of animate and inanimate things. A failure was not a failure to them--it was an opportunity to meet a difficulty and overcome it.
The partial success of the new telescope aroused the brother and the sister to fresh exertions. The work had been begun as a mere recreation--a rest from the exactions of the public which they diverted and amused with their warblings, concussions and vibrations.
They were still amateur astronomers, and the thought that they would ever be anything else had not come to them. But they wanted to get a better view of the heavens--a view through a Newtonian reflecting-telescope. So they counted up their savings and decided that if they could get some instrument-maker in London to make them a reflecting-telescope six feet long, they would be perfectly willing to pay him fifty pounds for it. This study of the skies was their only form of dissipation, and even if it was a little expensive it enabled them to escape the Pump-Room rabble and flee boredom and introspection. A hunt was taken through London, but no one could be found who would make such an instrument as they wanted for the price they could afford to pay. They found, however, an amateur lens-polisher who offered to sell his tools, materials and instruments for a small sum. After consultation, the brother and sister bought him out. So at the price they expected to pay for a telescope they had a machine-shop on their hands.
The work of grinding and polishing lenses is a most delicate business. Only a person of infinite patience and persistency can succeed at it.
In Allegheny, Pennsylvania, lives John Brashear, who, by his own efforts, assisted by a noble wife, graduated from a rolling-mill and became a maker of telescopes.
Brashear is practically the one telescope lens-maker of America since Alvan Clark resigned. There is no competition in this line--the difficulties are too appalling for the average man. The slightest accident or an unseen flaw, and the work of months or years goes into the dustbin of time, and all must be gone over again.
So when we think of this brother and sister sailing away upon an unknown ocean--working day after day, night after night, week after week, and month after month, discarding scores of specula which they had worked upon many weary hours in order to get the glass that would serve their purpose--we must remove our hats in reverence.
* * * * * * *
God sends great men in groups. From Seventeen Hundred Forty for the next thirty-five years the intellectual sky seemed full of shooting-stars. Watt had watched to a purpose his mother's teakettle; Boston Harbor was transformed into another kind of Hyson dish; Franklin had been busy with kite and key; Gibbon was writing his "Decline and Fall"; Fate was pitting the Pitts against Fox; Hume was challenging worshipers of a Fetish and supplying arguments still bright with use; Voltaire and Rousseau were preparing the way for Madame Guillotine; Horace Walpole was printing marvelous books at his private press at Strawberry Hill; Sheridan was writing autobiographical comedies; David Garrick was mimicking his way to immortality; Gainsborough was working the apotheosis of a hat; Reynolds, Lawrence, Romney, and West, the American, were forming an English School of Art; George Washington and George the Third were linking their names preparatory to sending them down the ages; Boswell was penning undying gossip; Blackstone was writing his "Commentaries" for legal lights unborn; Thomas Paine was getting his name on the blacklist of orthodoxy; Burke, the Irishman, was polishing his brogue so that he might be known as England's greatest orator; the little Corsican was dreaming dreams of conquest; Wellesley was having presentiments of coming difficulties; Goldsmith was giving dinners with bailiffs for servants; Hastings was defending a suit where the chief participants were to die before a verdict was rendered; Captain Cook was giving to this world new lands; while William Herschel and his sister were showing the world still other worlds, till then unknown.
* * * * * * *
When the brother and sister had followed the subject of astronomy as far as Ferguson had followed it, and knew all that he knew, they thought they surely would be content.
Progress depends upon continually being dissatisfied. Now Ferguson aggravated them by his limitations.
In their music they amused, animated and inspired the fashionable idlers.
William gave lessons to his private pupils, led his orchestra, played the organ and harpsichord, and managed to make ends meet, and would have gotten reasonably rich had he not invested his spare cash in lenses, brass tubes, eyepieces, specula and other such trifles, and stood most of the night out on the lawn peering at the sky.
He had been studying stars for seven years before the Bath that he amused awoke to the fact that there was a genius among them. And this genius was not the idolized Beau Nash whose statue adorned the Pump-Room! No, it was the man whose back they saw at the concerts.
During all these years Herschel had worked alone, and he had scarcely ever mentioned the subject of astronomy with any one save his sister.
One night, however, he had moved his telescope into the middle of the street to get away from the shadows of the houses. A doctor who had been out to answer a midnight call stopped at the unusual sight and asked if he might look through the instrument.
Permission was courteously granted. The next day the doctor called on the astronomer to thank him for the privilege of looking through a better telescope than his own. The doctor was Sir William Watson, an amateur astronomer and all-round scientist, and member of the Royal Society of London.
Herschel had held himself high--he had not gossiped of his work with the populace, cheapening his thought by diluting it for cheap people. Watson saw that Herschel, working alone, isolated, had surpassed the schools.
There is a nugget of wisdom in Ibsen's remark, "The strongest man is he who stands alone," and Kipling's paraphrase, "He travels the fastest who travels alone."
The chance acquaintance of Herschel and Watson soon ripened into a very warm friendship.
Herschel amused the neurotics, Watson dosed and blistered them--both for a consideration. Each had a beautiful contempt for the society they served. Watson's father was of the purple, while Herschel's was of the people, but both men belonged to the aristocracy of intellect. Watson introduced Herschel into the select scientific circle of London, where his fine reserve and dignity made their due impress. Herschel's first paper to the Royal Society, presented by Doctor Watson, was on the periodical star in Collo Ceti. The members of the Society, always very jealous and suspicious of outsiders, saw they had a thinker to deal with.
Some one carried the news to Bath--a great astronomer was now among them! About this time Horace Walpole said, "Mr. Herschel will content me if, instead of a million worlds, he can discover me thirteen colonies well inhabited by men and women, and can annex them to the Crown of Great Britain in lieu of those it has lost beyond the Atlantic."
Bath society now took up astronomy as a fad, and fashionable ladies named the planets both backward and forward from a blackboard list set up in the Pump-House by Fanny Burney, the clever one.
Herschel was invited to give popular lectures on the music of the spheres. Herschel's music-parlors were besieged by good people who wanted to make engagements with him to look through his telescope.
One good woman gave the year, month, day, hour and minute of her birth and wanted her fortune told. Poor Herschel declined, saying he knew nothing of astronomy, but could give her lessons in music if desired.
In answer to the law of supply and demand, thus proving the efficacy of prayer, an itinerant astronomer came down from London and set up a five-foot telescope on the Parade and solicited the curious ones at a tuppence a peep. This itinerant interested the populace by telling them a few stories about the stars that were not recorded in Ferguson, and passed out his cards showing where he could be consulted as a fortune-teller during the day. Herschel was once passing by this street astronomer, who was crying his wares, and a sudden impulse coming over him to see how bad the man's lens might be, he stopped to take a peep at Earth's satellite. He handed out the usual tuppence, but the owner of the telescope loftily passed it back saying, "I takes no fee from a fellow-philosopher!"
This story went the rounds, and when it reached London it had been amended thus: Charles Fox was taking a ramble at Bath, ran across William Herschel at work, and mistaking him for an itinerant, the great statesman stopped, peeped through the aperture, and then passing out a tuppence moved along blissfully unaware of his error, for Herschel being a perfect gentleman would not embarrass the great man by refusing his copper.
When Herschel was asked if the story was true he denied the whole fabric, which the knowing ones said was further proof of his gentlemanly instincts--for a true gentleman will always lie under two conditions: first, to save a woman's honor; and second, to save a friend from embarrassment. As a profession, astrology has proved a better investment than astronomy. Astronomy has nothing to offer but abstract truth, and those who love astronomy must do so for truth's sake.
Astronomical discoveries can not be covered by copyright or patent, nor can any new worlds be claimed as private property and financed by stock companies, frenzied or otherwise. Astrology, on the other hand, relates to love-affairs, vital statistics, goldmines, misplaced jewels and lost opportunities.
Yet, in this year of grace, Nineteen Hundred Five, Boston newspapers carry a column devoted to announcements of astrologers, while the Cambridge Astronomical Observatory never gets so much as a mention from one year's end to the other. Besides that, astronomers have to be supported by endowment--mendicancy--while astrologers are paid for their prophecies by the people whose destinies they invent. This shows us how far as a nation we have traveled on the stony road of Science.
Science, forsooth? Oh, yes, of course--science--bang! bang! bang!
* * * * * * *
In the month of March, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-one, Herschel, by the discovery of Uranus, found his place as a fixed star among the world's great astronomers. Years before this, William and Caroline had figured it out that there must be another planet in our system in order to account plausibly for the peculiar ellipses of the others. That is to say, they felt the influence of this seventh planet; its attractive force was realized, but where it was they could not tell. Its discovery by Herschel was quite accidental. He was sweeping the heavens for comets when this star came within his vision. Others had seen it, too, but had classified it as "a vagrant fixed star."
It was the work of Herschel to discover that it was not a fixed star, but had a defined and distinct orbit that could be calculated. To look up at the heavens and pick out a star that could only be seen with a telescope--pick it out of millions and ascertain its movement--seems like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The present method of finding asteroids and comets by means of photography is simple and easy. The plate is exposed in a frame that moves by clockwork with the earth, so as to keep the same field of stars steady on the glass. After two, three or four hours' exposure, the photograph will show the fixed stars, but the planets, asteroids and comets will reveal themselves as a white streak of light, showing plainly where the sitters moved.
Herschel had to watch each particular star in person, whereas the photographic lens will watch a thousand.
How close and persistent an observer a man must be who, watching one star at a time, discovers the one in a million that moves, is apparent. Chance, surely, must also come to his aid and rescue if he succeeds.
Herschel found his moving star, and at first mistook it for a comet. Later, he and Caroline were agreed that it was in very truth their long-looked-for planet. There are no proprietary rights in newly discovered worlds--the reward is in the honor of the discovery, just as the best recompense for a good deed lies in having done it.
The Royal Society was the recording station, as Kiel, Greenwich and Harvard are now. Herschel made haste to get his new world on record through his kind neighbor, Doctor Watson.
The Royal Society gave out the information, and soon various other telescopes corroborated the discovery made by the Bath musician. Herschel christened his new discovery "Georgium Sidus," in honor of the King; but the star belonged as much to Germany and France as to England, and astronomers abroad scouted the idea of peppering the heavens with the names of nobodies.
Several astronomers suggested the name "Herschel," if the discoverer would consent, but this he would not do. Doctor Bode then named the new star "Uranus," and Uranus it is, although perhaps with any other name 't would shine as bright.
Herschel was forty-three years old when he discovered Uranus. He was still a professional musician, and an amateur astronomer.
But it did not require much arguing on the part of Doctor Watson when he presented Herschel's name for membership in the Royal Society for that most respectable body of scholars to at once pass favorably on the nomination. As one member in seconding the motion put it, "Herschel honors us in accepting this membership, quite as much as we do him in granting it."
And so the next paper presented by Herschel to the Royal Society appears on the record signed "William Herschel, F.R.S."
Some time afterwards, it was to appear, "William Herschel, F.R.S., LL.D. (Edinburgh)"; and then "Sir William Herschel, F.R.S., LL.D., D.C.L. (Oxon)."
* * * * * * *
George the Third, in about the year Seventeen Hundred Eighty-two, had invited his distinguished Hanoverian countryman to become an attache of the Court with the title of "Astronomer to the King." The Astronomer-Royal, in charge of the Greenwich Observatory, was one Doctor Maskelyne, a man of much learning, a stickler for the fact, but with a mustard-seed imagination. Being asked his opinion of Herschel he assured the company thus: "Herschel is a great musician--a great musician!" Afterwards Maskelyne explained that the reason Herschel saw more than other astronomers was because he had made himself a better telescope.
One real secret of Herschel's influence seems to have been his fine enthusiasm. He worked with such vim, such animation, that he radiated light on every side. He set others to work, and his love for astronomy as a science created a demand for telescopes, which he himself had to supply. It does not seem that he cared especially for money--all he made he spent for new apparatus. He had a force of about a dozen men making telescopes. He worked with them in blouse and overalls, and not one of his workmen excelled him as a machinist. The King bought several of his telescopes for from one hundred to three hundred pounds each, and presented them to universities and learned societies throughout the world. One fine telescope was presented to the University of Gottingen, and Herschel was sent in person to present it. He was received with the greatest honors, and scientists and musicians vied with one another to do him homage.
In Seventeen Hundred Eighty-two Herschel and his sister gave up their musical work and moved from Bath to quarters provided for them near Windsor Castle. Herschel's salary was then the modest sum of two hundred pounds a year.
Caroline was honored with the title "Assistant to the King's Astronomer" with the stipend of fifty pounds a year. It will thus be seen that the kingly idea of astronomy had not traveled far from what it was when every really respectable court had a retinue of singers, musicians, clowns, dancers, palmists and scientists to amuse the people somewhat ironically called "nobility." King George the Third paid his Cook, Master of the Kennels, Chaplain and Astronomer the same amount. The father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan was "Elocutionist to the King," and was paid a like sum.
When Doctor Watson heard that Herschel was about to leave Bath he wrote, "Never bought King honor so cheap."
It was nominated in the bond that Herschel should act as "Guide to the heavens for the diversification of visitors whenever His Majesty wills it."
But it was also provided that the astronomer should be allowed to carry on the business of making and selling his telescopes.
Herschel's enthusiasm for his beloved science never abated. But often his imagination outran his facts.
Great minds divine the thing first--they see it with their inward eye. Yet there may be danger in this, for in one's anxiety to prove what he first only imagined, small proof suffices. Thus Herschel was for many years sure that the moon had an atmosphere and was inhabited; he thought that he had seen clear through the Milky Way and discovered empty space beyond; he calculated distances, and announced how far Castor was from Pollux; he even made a guess as to how long it took for a gaseous nebula to resolve itself into a planetary system; he believed the sun was a molten mass of fire--a thing that many believed until they saw the incandescent electric lamp--and in various other ways made daring prophecies which science has not only failed to corroborate, but which we now know to be errors.
But the intensity of his nature was both his virtue and his weakness. Men who do nothing and say nothing are never ridiculous. Those who hope much, believe much, and love much, make mistakes.
Constant effort and frequent mistakes are the stepping-stones of genius.
In all, Herschel contributed sixty-seven important papers to the proceedings of the Royal Society, and in one of these, which was written in his eightieth year, he says, "My enthusiasm has occasionally led me astray, and I wish now to correct a statement which I made to you twenty-eight years ago." He then enumerates some particular statement about the height of mountains in the moon, and corrects it. Truth was more to Herschel than consistency. Indeed, the earnestness, purity of purpose, and simplicity of his mind stamp him as one of the world's great men.
At Windsor he built a two-story observatory. In the wintertime every night when the stars could be seen, was sacred. No matter how cold the weather, he stood and watched; while down below, the faithful Caroline sat and recorded the observations that he called down to her.
Caroline was his confidante, adviser, secretary, servant, friend. She had a telescope of her own, and when her brother did not need her services she swept the heavens on her own account for maverick comets. In her work she was eminently successful, and five comets at least are placed to her credit on the honor-roll by right of priority. Her discoveries were duly forwarded by her brother to the Royal Society for record.
Later, the King of Prussia was to honor her with a gold medal, and several learned societies elected her an honorary member. When Herschel reached the discreet age of fifty he married the worthy Mrs. John Pitt, former wife of a London merchant. It is believed that the marriage was arranged by the King in person, out of his great love for both parties. At any rate Miss Burney thought so. Miss Burney was Keeper of the Royal Wardrobe at the same salary that Herschel had been receiving--two hundred pounds a year. She also took charge of the Court Gossip, with various volunteer assistants. "Gold, as well as stars, glitters for astronomers," said little Miss Burney. "Mrs. Pitt is very rich, meek, quiet, rather pretty and quite unobjectionable." But poor Caroline!
It nearly broke her heart. William was her idol--she lived but for him--now she seemed to be replaced. She moved away into a modest cottage of her own, resolved that she would not be an encumbrance to any one. She thought she was going into a decline, and would not live long anyway--she was so pale and slight that Miss Burney said it took two of her to make a shadow.
But we get a glimpse of Caroline's energy when we find her writing home explaining how she had just painted her house, inside and out, with her own hands.
Things are never so bad as they seem. It was not very long before William was sending for Caroline to come and help him out with his mathematical calculations. Later, when a fine boy baby arrived in the Herschel solar system, Caroline forgave all and came to take care of what she called "the Herschel planetoid." She loved this baby as her own, and all the pent-up motherhood in her nature went out to the little "Sir John Herschel," the knighthood having been conferred on him by Caroline before he was a month old.
Mrs. Herschel was beautiful and amiable, and she and Caroline became genuine sisters in spirit. Each had her own work to do; they were not in competition save in their love for the baby. As the boy grew, Caroline took upon herself the task of teaching him astronomy, quite to the amusement of the father and mother. Fanny Burney now comes with a little flung-off nebula to the effect that "Herschel is quite the happiest man in the kingdom." There is a most charming little biography of Caroline Herschel, written by the good wife of Sir John Herschel, wherein some very gentle foibles are laid bare, and where at the same time tribute is paid to a great and beautiful spirit. The idea that Caroline was not going to live long after the marriage of her brother was "greatly exaggerated"--she lived to be ninety-eight, a century lacking two years! Her mind was bright to the last--when ninety she sang at a concert given for the benefit of an old ladies' home. At ninety-six she danced a minuet with the King of Prussia, and requested that worthy not to introduce her as "the woman astronomer, because, you know, I was only the assistant of my brother!" William Herschel died in his eighty-fourth year, with his fame at full, honored, respected, beloved.
Sir John Herschel, his son, was worthy to be called the son of his father. He was an active worker in the field of science--a strong, yet gentle man, with no jealousy nor whim in his nature. "His life was full of the docility of a sage and the innocence of a child."
John Herschel died at Collingwood, May Eleventh, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, and his dust is now resting in Westminster Abbey, close by the grave of England's famous scholar, Sir Isaac Newton.