Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/May 1876/Caroline Lucretia Herschel II
WHATEVER may be thought of the intellectual differences between men and women, the broad mental contrast between Caroline Herschel and her brother Sir William Herschel is undeniable. Intellectual activity and a love of knowledge for its own sake influenced his boyhood, characterized his manhood, and dominated his whole life. He became an eminent astronomer because his passion for physical inquiry, directed toward the constitution of the universe, mastered every other sentiment of his nature. But the mind of Caroline Herschel was of another mould. She learned various things, from a desire to please her friends and to earn her living; but there is no evidence that she ever studied anything from a love of knowledge. Her whole life was inspired by purely personal feelings. In a former article we saw how submissively she delved for the family throughout her youth, and left them full of concern about their daily comforts. It was an all-absorbing love for her brother which led her to study astronomy, and at his death her devotion to science ended. Some people, perhaps, will admire her less on this account; yet, while it diminishes her claims as a philosopher, it certainly increases her claims as a woman. The tendency of women to act from intense personal motives is a fact of vital moment to the community, because the very existence of the family depends upon it; and it is difficult to imagine any future phase of society, of which the family is a factor, where engrossing personal fueling will not continue to be a supreme womanly trait.
Resuming our history, we find that on the 1st of August, 1782, the Herschels with their instruments and furniture arrived at Datchet, and took possession of a large and neglected old house, with garden and grounds overgrown with weeds. Having no female servant, Miss Herschel was shown the shops by the gardener's wife, and her practical sense was at once shocked at the prices of everything, from coal to butcher's meat. But her brother was not disturbed by such considerations. He had stables where he could grind mirrors, a roomy laundry for a library, a large grass-plot for his instruments, and "he gayly assured her that they could live on eggs and bacon, which would cost nothing to speak of, now they were really in the country." After a couple of months the younger brother went back to Bath to resume his occupations in music; and it was this separation which awakened Caroline to a consciousness of what she was doing in giving up the prospect of becoming independent in the musical profession. But she reconciled herself to the situation by the thought that her brother William could not do without her, and that she had not spirit enough to throw herself upon the public without his protection. Soon after Alexander's departure, William had to go away for a week or ten days, and she was left alone. She thus describes her feelings in entering upon her new work:
The summer months of 1783 were spent in getting the large twenty-foot ready for the next winter. After some account of her brother's many and incessant occupations, she says he also threw away some trouble in the effort to teach her to remeasure double stars with the micrometers used in former measurements, and a small twenty-foot was given her for the purpose. She had also to use a borrowed transit-instrument to find their places, but after many failures it was seen that the instrument was as much in fault as herself. She thus continues her account of her experiences:
Her account of the years 1784 and 1785 is varied by reminiscences of the trouble her brother had in trying to live and pursue his astronomical observations on 200 a year. The book contains many incidental allusions to royal patronage that are not flattering; but, notwithstanding the silence of her diary upon so many matters of real consequence, she always chronicles the attentions bestowed upon her brother and herself by kings and nobles. Most of her brother's time was spent in making and selling telescopes for other observers, instead of finishing a thirty or forty foot instrument for his own use, upon which his heart was set. The king ordered many seven-foot and four ten-foot telescopes, one of which was to be sent as a present to the observatory at Göttingen. Meantime, through the influence of Sir Joseph Banks, £2,000 had been granted to Herschel, to enable him to make an instrument for himself. After living in Datchet four years, they moved to Slough, in April, 1786, and it was here that Herschel put up his famous telescope, and fixed his residence for the rest of his life.
In July of this year he went to Germany to deliver the ten-foot telescope from the king, leaving Caroline in charge of matters at home. The stand for the forty-foot telescope was finished, and he left a smith at work on the tube. The mirror was also pretty far advanced. During this absence of her brother Miss Herschel discovered her first comet. Her diary and letters belonging to this period are very interesting Her brother left on the 3d, and on that day she cleaned and put the polishing-room in order, made the gardener clear the work-yard, and mend the fences. "5th.—Spent the morning in needle-work . . . . " "6th.—Put the philosophical letters in order, and the collection of each year in a separate corner . . . ." "12th.—Put paper in press for a register . . . ." "18th.—Spent the day in ruling paper for the register, except that at breakfast I cut out ruffles for shirts . . . ." "29th.—I paid the smith . . . ."
It was on the 1st of August that she first saw the comet. We give her diary at this time in full:
In the letter to Dr. Blagden she says:
After describing the object and its position, she concludes:
Dr. Blagden replied on August 5th that no one but herself had yet seen the comet, but that he had spread the news of her discovery in England, France, and Germany. August 7th Mr. Aubert wrote to her that lie did not find the comet till the 5th on account of cloudy weather. He says:
We give place to the friendly expressions of these gentlemen, and others that will follow, to show that Miss Herschel was not hindered in her scientific career by the jealousy or antagonism of male rivals, of which ambitious women complain so much in these degenerate days. She continues the diary of her labors:
Miss Herschel says it is impossible for her to give an account of all that passed around her in the following two years, for they were spent in a perfect chaos of business.
But in 1788, after he was fifty years old, her brother married a wealthy widow, of about the same age as Miss Herschel. It is said by the editor that the wife was very amiable and gentle, and that the jointure she brought enabled her husband to pursue his scientific career without anxiety about expenses. But this was evidently not so. We must infer from the statements of Miss Herschel that this wealth, like royal patronage, was not applied to relieve Sir William from drudgery; for, to the end of her brother's life, she complains that, instead of pursuing original investigations, he had to spend an enormous amount of time and labor making and selling telescopes; and that the fatigue and exhaustion from polishing mirrors told seriously upon his health. In 1805, more than a dozen years after his marriage, we hear of his finishing an instrument for the King of Spain, and at about the same time another for the Prince of Canino. She further says that he was miserably stinted for room for his instruments, and continually bemoans the embarrassments and hinderances which defeated his plans of study, and asserts that, during the last years of his life, his spirits were depressed and his temper soured by these circumstances.
In her diary, all that Miss Herschel says of her brother's marriage is this:
When, in after-years, she was preparing the materials for her biography, which were to be sent to Sir John Herschel, the son of this new sister-in-law, she destroyed all her diary and records for the ten years immediately succeeding her brothers marriage. Her biographer and relative alludes to her experiences at this time in the following language:
In reference to Herschel's marriage, a writer in the London Examiner says, "It is impossible to regret or censure the step which gave existence to his yet more remarkable son;" but this is a singular and tardy justification. In marrying, he did what it was highly probable he would do; and, remembering this, he should not have allowed his sister to live so entirely for him. It is not to be supposed, however, that he foresaw the unpleasant consequences that fell upon her. When the temptation to marry came, he no doubt stupidly fancied that in enriching his own life by this new relation he should add to her happiness by bringing her a sister; but, if he had studied the ways of men and women as he studied the heavens, he might have saved himself from such a delusion.
The work she did during the next ten years affords abundant evidence of the heroism with which Miss Herschel met her fate. Besides discovering seven more comets, she prepared "A Catalogue of 860 Stars observed by Flamsteed, but not included in the British Catalogue," and "A General Index of Reference to Every Observation of Every Star in the above-mentioned British Catalogue," both of which works were published by the Royal Society in 1798. She also spent much time upon another work which was not finished for many years. It was "The Reduction and Arrangement in the Form of a Catalogue, in Zones, of all the Star-Clusters and Nebulæ observed by Sir W. Herschel in his Sweeps." For this she received the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828, and it was pronounced by Sir David Brewster "a work of immense labor."
Some account of her discoveries was found in a packet wrapped in coarse paper, and labeled "This is what I call the bills and receipts of my comets." The separate parcels of this bundle were marked "First Comet," "Second Comet," etc. She announced the discovery of her second comet to Dr. Maskelyne, the royal astronomer, in the following letter, with a postscript by her brother:
|"Dear sir, your most obliged, humble servant,|
|"Slough, December 22, 1788."|
Her brother announced her discovery to Sir J. Banks and Sir H. Englefield, and from these gentlemen she received the most cordial congratulations. Two years later, on January 7, 1790, the third comet was discovered, and on the 17th of April, the same year, when her brother was absent, she announced her fourth comet to Sir Joseph Banks in the following words:
Then follows an account of the comet. The letter, written on the day previous, to Mr. Aubert, we give entire:
From all these gentlemen her labors and discoveries received the most cordial recognition. In his reply, Sir J. Banks said: "I shall take care to make our astronomical friends acquainted with the obligations they are under to your diligence." Mr. Aubert closes his letter with the assurance of the pleasure he felt at her success, and with the offer of any instrument she might wish to use; while Dr. Maskelyne addressed her as his "worthy sister in astronomy."
The fifth comet was discovered December 15, 1791, and all that she says about it is, "My brother wrote an account of it to Sir J. Banks, Dr. Maskelyne, and several other gentlemen." The sixth, found October 8th, is briefly recognized; and the seventh, discovered November 7, 1795, is known as Encke's comet, because he determined its periodicity. It was discovered by four different observers before its identity was recognized. Miss Herschel was its second discoverer in order of time. Her eighth and last comet was discovered August 8. 1797.
We learn from her diary that in October of this year her home with her brother at Slough was broken up, and she went to live in solitude in lodgings, and this mode of life she continued for twenty-five years, till her brother's death, when she left England to join her relations in Hanover. Why she left her brother's house she does not explain, nor is it necessary. In referring to her departure she only says: "My telescopes on the roof, to which I was to have occasional access, as also the room with the sweeping and observing apparatus, remained in their former order, where I most days spent some hours in preparing work to go on with at my lodgings." In a letter to Dr. Maskelyne, written in September, 1798, she says that, during the past year, she has not thought herself "well or in spirits enough to venture from home." She spent her first lonely winter in getting ready for the press some of her own astronomical work.
The account of her life from 1798 until her brother's death, in 1822, occupies about fifty pages of the volume, and consists mostly of extracts from her diary. It is not a record of discoveries or personal triumphs, but of unceasing labor for her brother, knowing no respite in sickness or in health, by night or by day, in winter or in summer, amid hardships and discouragements that never daunted her affectionate nature. During her first year in lodgings, she complains of being harassed by the loss of time in going backward and forward, and by not having immediate access to books and papers; and these troubles, with varying features, pursued her to the end of her brother's life. The first three or four years she changed her lodgings often, but in 1801 she settled in Upton, where she remained till 1810, at which time she took possession of a cottage in Slough, belonging to her brother, and, although mention is made in her diary of moving again in 1814, yet she continued to live in Slough.
Notwithstanding all her prudence about paining relations, the multiplied repetition in her diary of such entries as the following is painfully suggestive:
It is pleasant to find, however, that the asperities of this period of her life were so much softened by time and distance that in 1829, when living in Hanover, she was able to write to her sister-in-law, confidentially as to "a dear sister, for as such I now know you."
The diary closes in 1822, with an account of her brother's death, and her departure from England. We quote the following characteristic passage relating to this period. She had come as usual to spend the morning with her brother:
Her brother William died on the 25th of August, and in the following October she settled in Hanover with her brother Dietrich.
When her brother died she was herself in feeble health, and expected soon to follow him to the grave, and it suited her feelings to go back to Hanover to die. Besides, she says:
Her brother William, however, left her a legacy of 100 a year, and during the rest of her life her chief study was how to spend this sum without making herself ridiculous.
As was to be expected, after fifty years' absence she found Hanover changed in everything, and little to her taste, and she was also grievously disappointed in the generation of relatives with whom she lived, and of whom she says:
In speaking of her return to Hanover, her biographer writes thus:
We have no space to give to this part of her life, although it occupies more than half of the volume, to which we must refer our readers. It is made up chiefly of her correspondence, and her letters, from their unconscious self-portraiture, are quite as interesting as her "Diary" or her "Recollections." It is full of interest also on account of the details it gives concerning the life of Sir William Herschel, of whom no reliable biography has yet appeared.
She died peacefully in 1848, and her funeral was held in the same garrison-church where she was christened and confirmed. According to a request made to her favorite niece, a lock of her brother's hair, and an almost obliterated almanac, that had been used by her father, were placed with her in her coffin. The same niece, in a letter written at this time to her cousin, Sir John Herschel, says: