Flamsteed, John (DNB00)
FLAMSTEED, JOHN (1646–1719), the first astronomer royal, born at Denby, five miles from Derby, 19 Aug. 1646, was the only son of Stephen Flamsteed, a maltster; his mother, Mary, daughter of John Spateman, an ironmonger in Derby, died when he was three years old. He was educated at the free school of Derby, where his father resided. A cold caught in the summer of 1660 while bathing produced a rheumatic affection of the joints, accompanied by other ailments. He became unable to walk to school, and finally left it in May 1662. His self-training now began, and it was directed towards astronomy by the opportune loan of Sacrobosco's ‘De Sphærâ’ In the intervals of prostrating illness he also read Fale's ‘Art of Dialling,’ Stirrup's ‘Complete Diallist,’ Gunter's ‘Sector’ and ‘Canon,’ and Oughtred's ‘Canones Sinuum.’ He observed the partial solar eclipse of 12 Sept. 1662, constructed a rude quadrant, and calculated a table of the sun's altitudes, pursuing his studies, as he said himself, ‘under the discouragement of friends, the want of health, and all other instructors except his better genius.’ Medical treatment, meantime, as varied as it was fruitless, was procured for him by his father. In the spring of 1664 he was sent to one Cromwell, ‘cried up for cures by the nonconformist party;’ in 1665 he travelled to Ireland to be ‘stroked’ by Valentine Greatrakes [q. v.] A detailed account of the journey was found among his papers. He left Derby 16 Aug., borrowed a horse in Dublin, which carried him by easy stages to Cappoquin, and was operated upon 11 Sept., ‘but found not his disease to stir.’ His faith in the supernatural gifts of the ‘ stroker,’ however, survived the disappointment, and he tried again at Worcester in the February following, with the same negative result, ‘though several there were cured.’
His talents gradually brought him into notice. Among his patrons was Imanuel Halton of Wingfield Manor, who lent him the ‘ Rudolphine Tables,’ Riccioli's ‘Almagest,’ and other mathematical books. For his friend, William Litchford, Flamsteed wrote, in August 1666, a paper on the construction and use of the quadrant, and in 1667 explained the causes of, and gave the first rules for, the equation of time in a tract, the publication of which in 1673, with Horrocks's ‘Posthumous Works,’ closed controversy on the subject. His first printed observation was of the solar eclipse of 25 Oct. 1668, which afforded him the discovery ‘that the tables differed very much from the heavens.’ Their rectification formed thenceforth the chief object of his labours.
Some calculations of appulses of the moon to fixed stars, which he forwarded to the Royal Society late in 1669 under the signature ‘In Mathesi a sole fundes’ (an anagram of ‘Johannes Flamsteedius’), were inserted in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (iv. 1099), and procured him a letter of thanks from Oldenburg and a correspondence during five years with John Collins (1625–1683) [q. v.]
About Easter 1670 he ‘made a voyage to see London; visited Mr. Oldenburg and Mr. Collins, and was by the last carried to see the Tower and Sir Jonas Moore’ (master of the ordnance), ‘who presented me with Mr. Townley's micrometer and undertook to procure me glasses for a telescope to fit it.’
On his return from London he made acquaintance with Newton and Barrow at Cambridge, and entered his name at Jesus College. His systematic observations commenced in October 1671, and ‘by the assistance of Mr. Townley's curious mensurator’ they ‘attained to the preciseness of 5″.’ ‘I had no pendulum movement,’ he adds, ‘to measure time with, they being not common in the country at that time. But I took the heights of the stars for finding the true time of my observations by a wood quadrant about eighteen inches radius fixed to the side of my seven-foot telescope, which I found performed well enough for my purpose.’ This was by necessity limited to such determinations as needed no great accuracy in time, such as of the lunar and planetary diameters, and of the elongations of Jupiter's satellites. He soon discovered that the varying dimensions of the moon contradicted all theories of her motion save that of Horrocks, lately communicated to him by Townley, and its superiority was confirmed by an occultation of the Pleiades on 6 Nov. 1671. He accordingly undertook to render it practically available, fitting it for publication in 1673, at the joint request of Newton and Oldenburg, by the addition of numerical elements and a more detailed explanation (HORROCCII Op. Posth. p. 467). An improved edition of these tables was appended to Flamsteed's ‘Doctrine of the Sphere,’ included in Sir Jonas Moore's ‘New System of the Mathematicks’ (vol. i. 1680).
A ‘monitum’ of a favourable opposition of Mars in September 1672 was presented by him both to the Paris Academy of Sciences and to the Royal Society, and he deduced from his own observations of it at Townley in Lancashire a solar parallax ‘not above 10″, corresponding to a distance of, at most, 21,000 terrestrial radii’ (Phil. Trans. viii. 6100). His tract on the real and apparent diameters of the planets, written in 1673, furnished Newton with the data on the subject, employed in the third book of the ‘Principia;’ yet the oblateness of Jupiter's figure was, strange to say, first pointed out to Flamsteed by Cassini.
At Cambridge on 5 June 1674, he took a degree of M.A. per literas regias, designing to take orders and settle in a small living near Derby, which was in the gift of a friend of his father's. He was in London as a guest of Sir Jonas Moore's at the Tower 13 July to 17 Aug., and by his advice compiled a table of the tides for the king's use; and the king and the Duke of York were each supplied with a barometer and thermometer made from his models, besides a copy of his rules for forecasting the weather by their means. Early in 1675 Moore again summoned him from Derby for the purpose of consulting him about the establishment of a private observatory at Chelsea to be placed under his direction.
A certain ‘bold and indigent Frenchman,’ calling himself the Sieur de St. Pierre, proposed at this juncture a scheme for finding the longitude at sea, and through the patronage of the Duchess of Portsmouth obtained a royal commission for its examination. Flamsteed was, by Sir Jonas Moore's interest, nominated a member, and easily showed the Frenchman's plan to be futile without a far more accurate knowledge of the places of the fixed stars, and of the moon's course among them, than was then possessed. Charles II thereupon exclaimed with vehemence that ‘he must have them anew observed, examined, and corrected for the use of his seamen.’ Flamsteed was accordingly appointed ‘astronomical observator’ by a royal warrant dated 4 March 1675, directing him ‘forthwith to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting the art of navigation.’ A site in Greenwich Park was chosen for the new observatory by Sir Christopher Wren, and the building was hastily run up from his design at a cost of 520l., realised by the sale of spoilt gunpowder.
Flamsteed was ordained by Bishop Gunning at Ely House at Easter 1675, and continued to observe at the Tower and afterwards at the queen's house in Greenwich Park, until 10 July 1676, when he removed to the Royal Observatory. He found it destitute of any instrument provided by the government; but Sir Jonas Moore gave him an iron sextant of seven feet radius, with two clocks by Tompion, and he brought from Derby a three-foot quadrant and two telescopes. His salary was 100l. a year, cut down by taxation to 90l., and for this pittance he was expected, not only to reform astronomy, but to instruct two boys from Christ's Hospital. His official assistant was a ‘surly, silly labourer,’ available for moving the sextant; and his large outlay in procuring skilled aid and improved instruments obliged him to take private pupils, numbering, between 1676 and 1709, about 140, many of them of the highest rank. Under these multiplied disadvantages, and in spite of continued ill-health, he achieved amazing results. The whole of the theories and tables of the heavenly bodies then in use were visibly and widely erroneous. Flamsteed undertook the herculean task of revising them single-handed. ‘My chief design,’ he wrote to Dr. Seth Ward on 31 Jan. 1680, ‘is to rectify the places of the fixed stars, and, of them, chiefly those near the ecliptic and in the moon's way’ (Baily, Flamsteed, p. 119). His first observation for the purpose was made on 19 Sept. 1676, and he had executed some twenty thousand by 1689. But they were made in the old way, by measuring intermutual distances, and gave only the relative places of the stars. He had as yet no instrument fit to determine the position of the equinox, but was compelled to take it on trust from Tycho Brahe. A small quadrant, lent to him by the Royal Society, was withdrawn after Sir Jonas Moore's death on 27 Aug. 1679, with which event, he remarks, ‘fell all my hopes of having any allowance of expenses for making such instruments as I still wanted.’ After some fruitless applications to government, he resolved to construct at his own cost a mural quadrant of fifty inches radius, which he himself set up and divided in 1683. With its aid he took the meridional altitudes of a number of stars with an estimated error of half a minute, and formed a rough working catalogue of some of the principal. But the quadrant proved too slight for stability, and the old sextant was after a time again resorted to.
In 1684 Flamsteed was presented by Lord North to the living of Burstow in Surrey, and his circumstances were further improved by his father's death in 1688. With the aid of Abraham Sharp [q. v.] he was thus enabled to undertake the construction of the mural arc with which all his most valuable work was executed. Its completion marked a great advance in the art of mathematical instrument making. The limb, firmly fixed in the meridian, was of 140°, and was divided with hitherto unapproached accuracy; the radius was of seven feet. Observations with it were begun on 12 Sept. 1689. ‘From this moment,’ Baily writes (Flamsteed, p. xxix), ‘everything which Flamsteed did … was available to some useful purpose, his preceding observations being only subsidiary, and dependent on results to be afterwards deduced from some fixed instrument of this kind.’ His first concern was to determine the latitude of the observatory, the obliquity of the ecliptic, and the position of the equinox; and the method employed for this last object, by which he ascertained absolute right ascensions through simultaneous observations of the sun and a star near both equinoxes, was original, and may be called the basis of modern astronomy. He determined in this way in 1690 the right ascensions of forty stars to serve as points of reference for the rest. The construction of a catalogue, more accurate and extensive than any yet existing, was his primary purpose; but he continued, as he advanced with it, to compute the errors and correct the tables of the sun, moon, and planets.
Flamsteed was elected into the Royal Society on 8 Feb. 1677; he sat on the council 1681–4, and again 1698–1700. But some years later he allowed his subscription to drop, and his name was, on 9 Nov. 1709, erased from the list of fellows. In December 1677 Dr. Bernard offered to resign the Savilian professorship of astronomy in his favour; but the project was soon found to be hopeless, owing to Flamsteed's not being a graduate of Oxford.
His observations on the great comet, extending from 22 Dec. 1680 to 15 Feb. 1681, were transmitted to Newton, and turned to account in the ‘Principia.’ He firmly held that they referred to the body already seen in November, which reappeared after passing the sun; while Newton believed that there were two comets, and only acknowledged his error in September 1685. His letter on the subject, however, shows no trace of the ‘magisterial ridicule’ which Flamsteed, in his subsequent ill-humour, declared had been thrown upon his opinion.
In a letter dated 10 Aug. 1691 Newton advised Flamsteed to print at once a preliminary catalogue of a few leading stars. But Flamsteed had large schemes in view which he could not bear to anticipate by partial publication, and importunities irritated without persuading him. Hence he drifted into a position of antagonism to his scientific contemporaries, which his infirmities of temper deplorably aggravated.
He attributed Newton's suggestion to the inimical influence of Halley [q. v.], of whom, in his reply, he spoke in rancorous terms. He never, it would seem, forgave him for indicating, in 1686, a mistake in his tide-tables (Phil. Trans. xvi. 192), and certainly did what he could to frustrate his hopes of the Savilian professorship in 1691. He disliked him besides for his ‘bantering’ manner, and rejected all efforts towards reconciliation.
Newton's resumption of his toil upon the lunar theory brought him into constant intercourse with the astronomer royal. ‘Sir Isaac,’ Flamsteed said afterwards, ‘worked with the ore he had dug.’ ‘If he dug the ore,’ Sir Isaac replied, ‘I made the gold ring’ (Brewster, Memoirs of Newton, ii. 178).
On 1 Sept. 1694 Newton visited the Royal Observatory, and Flamsteed, ‘esteeming him to be an obliged friend,’ explained the progress of his work, and gave him a hundred and fifty observed places of the moon with their tabular errors, for his private use in correcting the theory of her motions. He stipulated, however, that they should be imparted to no one else without his consent. Similar communications were repeated at intervals during sixteen months, not without chafings of spirit on both sides. Flamsteed was often ill, and always overworked; Newton was in consequence frequently kept waiting. There is evidence that he was occasionally kept waiting of set purpose; and his petulant letter of 9 July 1695 is largely excused by Flamsteed's admission that ‘I did not think myself obliged to employ my pains to serve a person that was so inconsiderate as to presume he had a right to that which was only a courtesy. And I therefore went on with my business of the fixed stars, leaving Mr. Newton to examine the lunar observations over again’ (Baily, Flamsteed, p. 63). An offer of a pecuniary recompense for his communications was rejected with justifiable warmth; yet the consequence of their grudging bestowal probably was that Newton desisted in disgust from his efforts to complete the lunar theory (Edleston, Correspondence of Newton and Cotes, p. lxiv).
Flamsteed occasionally visited Newton in Jermyn Street after his appointment as warden of the mint, and found him civil, though less friendly than formerly. He, however, came to Greenwich on 4 Dec. 1698, and took away twelve lunar places.
In January 1694, on tabulating his observations of the pole-star, Flamsteed was surprised to find its polar distance always greater in July than in December. ‘ This is the first time, I am apt to think,’ he wrote, ‘that any real parallax hath been observed in the fixed stars.’ The apparent displacements noted by him were, in fact, caused by the aberration of light, the value of which his observations, discussed by Peters, gave, with a close approach to accuracy, as =20″.676 (Grant, Hist. of Astron. p. 477). He might easily have perceived that they were of a different character from any attributable to annual parallax, as J. J. Cassini at once pointed out (Mém. de l'Ac. des Sciences, 1699, p. 177). Flamsteed's ‘Letter to Dr. Wallis on the Parallax of the Earth's Annual Orb’ was published, turned into Latin, in Wallis's ‘Opera Mathematica’ (iii. 701, 1699). It contained a paragraph, inserted for the purpose of refuting the charge of uncommunicativeness current against him, referring to the lunar data imparted to Newton. Newton obtained the suppression of the statement; but Flamsteed's feelings towards him were thenceforth of unmitigated bitterness.
Newton nevertheless dined at the Royal Observatory on 11 April 1704. The real object of the visit was to ascertain the state of the catalogue, which Flamsteed, ‘to obviate clamour,’ had announced to be sufficiently forward for printing. It was about half finished, and Newton offered to recommend its publication to Prince George of Denmark. The astronomer royal ‘civilly refused’ the proposal. ‘Plainly,’ he added, ‘his design was to get the honour of all my pains to himself.’
Yet the suggested plan was carried out. A committee of the Royal Society, including Newton, Wren, Arbuthnot, and Gregory, was appointed by the prince, and on 23 Jan. 1705 reported in favour of publication. The prince undertook the expense; arrangements were made for printing the catalogue and observations, and articles between Flamsteed, the ‘referees’ (as the members of the committee were called), and the printers were signed on 10 Nov. 1705.
A prolonged wrangle ensued. Each party accused the other of wilfully delaying the press, and a deadlock of many months was no unfrequent result of the contentions. Flamsteed gave free vent to his exasperation. His observations were made with his own instruments, and computed by his paid servants. He understood better than any man living how such a series ought to be presented, and naturally thought it a gross hardship to be placed at the mercy of a committee adverse to all his views.
There were discreditable suspicions on both sides. ‘I fear,’ Flamsteed wrote to Sharp on 28 Nov. 1705, ‘Sir Isaac will still find ways to obstruct the publication of a work which perhaps he thinks may make him appear less. I have some reason to think he thrust himself into my affairs purposely to obstruct them.’ On the other hand, it was resolved at a meeting of the referees on 13 July 1708 ‘that the press shall go on without further delay,’ and ‘that if Mr. Flamsteed do not take care that the proofs be well corrected and go on with dispatch, another corrector be employed.’
By Christmas 1707 the first volume, containing only the observations made with the sextant, 1676–89, was at last printed off, but as to the arrangement of the second there was total disagreement. While it was at its height the prince died, on 28 Oct. 1708, and the publication was suspended. Not ill-pleased, Flamsteed resumed his work with the catalogue. A board of visitors to the observatory, consisting of the president (Newton) and other members of the Royal Society, appointed by a royal order, dated 12 Dec. 1710, was, however, empowered both to superintend the publication and to take cognisance of official misconduct on the part of the astronomer-royal. Flamsteed's indignant protest elicited from Mr. Secretary St. John only the haughty reply that ‘the queen would be obeyed.’
The visitors resumed without Flamsteed's knowledge the suspended printing of his catalogue. Two imperfect copies, comprising about three-fourths of the whole, had been deposited with the referees on 15 March 1706, and 20 March 1708, respectively. The first only was sealed, and Flamsteed raised a needless clamour about Newton's ‘treachery’ in opening it. The truth seems to be that the act complained of under the influence of subsequent wrath was accomplished, with Flamsteed's concurrence, as early as 1708. On 2 March 1711 he was applied to by Arbuthnot to complete the catalogue from his later observations, and at first appeared disposed to temporise; but on learning that Halley was the editor he kept no further terms, writing to Arbuthnot on 29 March ‘that the neglect of me, and the ill-usage I had met with, was a dishonour to the queen and the nation, and would cause just reflections on the authors of it in future times’ (Baily, Flamsteed, p. 227).
In this temper he was summoned, on 26 Oct. 1711, to meet the president and other members of the board at the Royal Society's rooms in Crane Court. Requested to state the condition of his instruments, he declared they were his own, and he would suffer no one to concern himself with them. Whereupon Newton exclaimed, ‘As good have no observatory as no instruments!’ ‘I proceeded from this,’ Flamsteed relates, ‘to tell Sir Isaac (who was fired) that I thought it the business of their society to encourage my labours, and not to make me uneasy for them, and that by their clandestine proceedings I was robbed of the fruits of my labours; that I had expended above 2,000l. in instruments and assistance. At this the impetuous man grew outrageous, and said, “We are, then, robbers of your labours.” I answered, I was sorry they acknowledged themselves to be so. After this, all he said was in a rage. He called me many hard names—puppy was the most innocent of them. I only told him to keep his temper, restrain his passion, and thanked him as often as he gave me ill names’ (ib. p. 228).
We have only Flamsteed's account of this unseemly altercation. It at any rate put the finishing touch to the hostility between him and Newton, and inspired Flamsteed's resolution of printing his observations according to his own plan and at his own expense. His petition to the queen for the suppression of what he termed a ‘surreptitious’ edition of his works was without effect. The ‘Historia Cœlestis’ appeared in 1712, in one folio volume, made up of two books, the first containing the catalogue and sextant observations; the second, observations made with Sharp's mural arc, 1689–1705. But the catalogue was the avowedly imperfect one deposited with the referees in 1708, and completed, without Flamsteed's concurrence, from such of his observations as could be made available. Halley was said to have boasted, in Child's coffee-house, of his pains in correcting its faults. Flamsteed called him a ‘lazy and malicious thief,’ and declared he had by his meddling ‘very effectually spoiled’ the work. The observations were incompletely and inaccurately given, and Halley's preface was undoubtedly an offensive document.
The energy displayed by Flamsteed during the last seven years of his life, in the midst of growing infirmities, was extraordinary. He was afflicted with a painful disease, prostrated by periodical headaches, and crippled with gout. ‘Though I grow daily feebler,’ he wrote in 1713, ‘yet I have strength enough to carry on my business strenuously.’ He observed diligently till within a few days of his death, while prosecuting his purpose of independent publication in spite of numerous difficulties. Newton's refusal to restore 175 sheets of his quadrant observations put him to an expense of 200l. in having them recopied; and he was compelled in 1716 to resort to legal proceedings for the recovery from him of four quarto volumes of ‘Night Notes’ (original entries of observations), entrusted to him for purposes of comparison in 1705. In the second edition of the ‘Principia’ Newton omitted several passages in which he had in 1687 acknowledged his obligations to his former friend.
The enlarged catalogue was hastily printed before the close of 1712, but only a few copies were allowed to be seen in strict confidence. The death of Queen Anne on 1 Aug. 1714, quickly followed by that of Halifax, Newton's patron, brought a turn in Flamsteed's favour. The new lord chamberlain was his friend, and a memorial to the lords of the treasury procured him possession of the three hundred remaining copies (out of four hundred) of the spurious ‘Historia Cœlestis,’ delivered to him by order of Sir Robert Walpole. Sparing only from each ninety-seven sheets of observations with the sextant, he immediately committed them to the flames, ‘as a sacrifice to heavenly truth,’ and ‘that none might remain to show the ingratitude of two of his countrymen who had used him worse than ever the noble Tycho was used in Denmark.’ The extreme scarcity of the edition thus devastated is attested by the following inscription in a copy presented to the Bodleian Library by Sir Robert Walpole in 1725: ‘Exemplar hoc “Historiæ Cœlestis,” quod in thesauraria regia adservabatur, et cum paucis aliis vitaverat ignem et iram Flamsteedianum, Bibliotheca Bodleiana debet honorabili admodum viro Roberto Walpole, Scaccarii Cancellario,’ &c. Its value is enhanced by a letter from Mrs. Flamsteed pasted into it, requesting its removal as an ‘erroneous abridgment of Mr. Flamsteed's works.’
Taken ill on Sunday, 27 Dec. 1719, Flamsteed expired about 9.30 P.M. on the 31st. He remained sensible to the last, but speech failed, and his last wishes remained unuttered. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church of Burstow, but though funds were, by Mrs. Flamsteed's will, appropriated to the purpose, no monument has ever marked his grave (E. Dunkin, Observatory, iv. 234). He married, on 23 Oct. 1692, Margaret, daughter of Mr. Ralph Cooke of London, but had no children. He left about 350l. in ready money, and settled upon his widow 120l. a year in Exchequer and South Sea stock. He made no arrangements for the completion of his great work, of which the first and most of the second volume were printed at his decease. The devotion of his assistant, Joseph Crosthwait, supplied the omission. ‘He has not left me in a capacity to serve him,’ he wrote, ‘notwithstanding he has often told me he would; but this I impute to his not being sensible of his near approach till it was too late; but the love, honour, and esteem I have, and shall always, for his memory and everything that belongs to him, will not permit me to leave Greenwich or London before, I hope, the three volumes are finished’ (Baily, Flamsteed, p. 333). This was accomplished, with Sharp's assistance, in 1725.
Of the three folio volumes constituting the ‘Historia Cœlestis Britannica,’ the first comprised the observations of Gascoigne and Crabtree, 1638–43; those made by Flamsteed at Derby and the Tower, 1668–74, with the sextant observations at Greenwich 1676–89, spared from destruction with the edition of 1712. The second volume contained his observations with the mural arc, 1689–1720. The third opened with a disquisition entitled ‘Prolegomena to the Catalogue,’ on the progress of astronomy from the earliest ages, chiefly valuable for the description, with which it terminated, of the Greenwich instruments and methods; the catalogues of Ptolemy, Ulugh Beigh, Tycho Brahe, the Landgrave of Hesse, and Hevelius followed; finally came the ‘British Catalogue’ of 2,935 stars observed at Greenwich, to which Halley's southern stars were appended. A dedication to George I, by Margaret Flamsteed and James Hodgson (the husband of Flamsteed's niece), was prefixed to the first volume; but Flamsteed's vindication of his conduct was cancelled from the preface, doubtless out of regard to the reputation of Newton and Halley.
The appearance of the ‘Atlas Cœlestis,’ corresponding to the ‘British Catalogue,’ was delayed, owing to difficulties with engravers and lack of funds, until 1729. The figures of the constellations were drawn by Sir James Thornhill. Crosthwait's labours in editing his master's works thus extended over ten years, and involved the sacrifice of his own prospects in life. Yet he never received one farthing. For this signal act of injustice Mrs. Flamsteed was responsible. She showed, nevertheless, an active zeal for her husband's honour, and resisted with spirit and success the outrageous claim made by the government after his death to the possession of his instruments. She died on 29 July 1730, and was buried with him at Burstow.
Flamsteed was in many respects an excellent man—pious and conscientious, patient in suffering, of unimpeachable morality, and rigidly abstemious habits. His wife and servants were devoted to him, living and dead; but his naturally irritable temper, aggravated by disease, could not brook rivalry. He was keenly jealous of his professional reputation. His early reverence for Newton was recorded in the stray note among his observations: ‘I study not for present applause; Mr. Newton's approbation is more to me than the cry of all the ignorant in the world.’ Later he was not ashamed to call him ‘our great pretender,’ and to affect scorn for his ‘speculations about gravity,’ ‘crotchets,’ and ‘conceptions.’ The theory of gravitation he described in 1710 as ‘Kepler's doctrine of magnetical fibres, improved by Sir C. Wren, and prosecuted by Sir I. Newton,’ adding, ‘I think I can lay some claim to a part of it.’ He had certainly, in 1681, spoken of the attraction of the sun as determining the fall towards him of the great comet, but attributed the curve of its path to the resistance of the planetary vortex.
‘Flamsteed,’ Professor De Morgan wrote, ‘was in fact Tycho Brahe with a telescope; there was the same capability of adapting instrumental means, the same sense of the inadequacy of existing tables, the same long-continued perseverance in actual observation’ (Penny Cyclopædia). Nor was he a mere observer piling up data for others to employ, but diligently turned them to account for improving the power of prediction. His solar tables were constructed at the age of twenty-one, published in 1673 with Horrocks's ‘Opera Posthuma,’ and constantly, in subsequent years, amended. The discovery of the importance of the Horroxian lunar theory was due to him; he extended it to include the equations given by Newton in 1702, and he formed thence improved tables published in Lemonnier's ‘Institutions Astronomiques’ in 1746. He remarked the alternately and inversely accelerated and retarded movements of Jupiter and Saturn; determined the elements of the solar rotation, fixing its period at 251/4 days, and formed from diligent observations of sun-spots a theory of the solar constitution similar to that introduced later by Sir William Herschel, viz. ‘that the substance of the sun is terrestrial matter, his light but the liquid menstruum encompassing him’ (Brewster, Newton, ii. 103). He observed Uranus six times as a fixed star, the observation of 13 Dec. 1690 affording the earliest datum for the calculation of its orbit.
Flamsteed's ‘British Catalogue’ is styled by Baily ‘one of the proudest productions of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.’ Its importance is due to its being the first collection of the kind made with the telescope and clock. Its value was necessarily impaired by defective reduction, and Flamsteed's neglect of Newton's advice to note the state of the barometer and thermometer at the time of his observations rendered it hopeless to attempt to educe from them improved results by modern processes of correction. The catalogue showed besides defects attributable to the absence of the author's final revision. Sir William Herschel detected errors so numerous as to suggest the need of an index to the original observations printed in the second volume of the ‘Historia Cœlestis.’ Miss Herschel undertook the task, and showed, by recomputing the place of each star, that Flamsteed had catalogued 111 stars which he had never observed, and observed 560 which he had not catalogued (Phil. Trans. lxxxvii. 293). Her catalogue of these inedited stars was published by order of the Royal Society in 1798; they were by Baily in 1829 arranged in order of right ascension, and identified (all but seventy) by comparison with later catalogues (Memoirs R. Astr. Soc. iv. 129).
Flamsteed's portrait was painted by Gibson in 1712. An engraving by Vertue was prefixed to the ‘Historia Cœlestis,’ and the original was bequeathed by Mrs. Flamsteed to the Royal Society. A replica is preserved in the Bodleian Library. The features are strongly marked, and bear little trace of age or infirmity; the expression is intelligent and sensitive. Flamsteed was described by an old writer as a ‘humorist and of warm passions.’ That he occasionally relished a joke is shown in an anecdote related by him to his friend, Dr. Whiston, concerning the unexpected success with which he once assumed the character of a prophet (Cole, Athenæ Cantabr.; Add. MS. 5869, f. 77; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 285). Peter the Great visited the Royal Observatory, and saw Flamsteed observe several times in February 1698.
Flamsteed's communications to the Royal Society extended from 1670 to 1686 (Phil. Trans. iv–xvi.), and his observations during 1713, ‘abridged and spoiled,’ as he affirmed, were sent to the same collection by Newton (ib. xxix. 285). ‘A Correct Table of the Sun's Declination,’ compiled by him, was inserted in Jones's ‘ Compendium of the Art of Navigation’ (p. 103, 1702), and ‘A Letter concerning Earthquakes,’ in which he had attempted in 1693 to generalise the attendant circumstances of those phenomena, was published at London in 1750.
[The chief source of information regarding Flamsteed is Francis Baily's Account of the Rev. John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal (London, 1835, 4to). The materials for this valuable work were derived largely from a mass of Flamsteed's manuscript books and papers, purchased by the Board of Longitude for 100l. in 1771, which lay in disorder at the Royal Observatory until Baily explored them. The incentive to the search was, however, derived from a collection of Flamsteed's original letters to Sharp, discovered after long years of neglect in a garret in Sharp's house at Little Horton in Yorkshire, and submitted to Baily in 1832. They were exhibited before the British Association in 1833 (Report, p. 462), and are now in the possession of the Rev. R. Harley, F.R.S., who has kindly permitted the present writer to inspect them. The collection includes 124 letters from Flamsteed, 60 from Crosthwait, and 1 from Mrs. Flamsteed, dated 15 Aug. 1720, all addressed to Sharp, whose replies are written in shorthand on the back of each. The first part of Baily's Account contains Flamsteed's History of his own Life and Labours, compiled from original manuscripts in his own handwriting. The narrative is in seven divisions. The first, designated ‘The Self-Inspections of J. F., being an account of himself in the Actions and Studies of his twenty-one first years,’ was partially made known in the life of the author published in the General Dictionary (v. 1737), the materials for which were supplied by James Hodgson. The second division, entitled ‘Historica Narratio Vitæ Meæ, ab anno 1646 ad 1675,’ was composed in November 1707. Of the succeeding four, derived from scattered notices, No. 5 had been published in Hone's Every-day Book (i. 1091); while the seventh division, written February 1717, is the suppressed portion of the Original Preface to the Historia Cœlestis, and brings down the account of his life to 1716. An Appendix contains a variety of illustrative documents, besides Flamsteed's voluminous correspondence with Sharp, Newton, Wren, Halley, Wallis, Arbuthnot, Sir Jonas Moore, and others. The second part comprises the British Catalogue, corrected and enlarged to include 3,310 stars by Baily. An elaborate Introduction is prefixed, and a Supplement, added in 1837, gives Baily's reply to criticisms on the foregoing publication. See also Biog. Brit. arts. ‘Flamsteed,’ iii. 1943 (1750), ‘Halley,’ iv. 2509 (1757), ‘Wallis,’ vi. 4133 (1763); Rigaud's Correspondence of Scientific Men; Whewell's Flamsteed and Newton; Brewster's Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton, vol. ii.; Weld's Hist. R. Society, i. 377; Roger North's Life of Lord Keeper North, p. 286; Edinburgh Review, lxii. 359 (Galloway); Gent. Mag. 1866, i. 239 (Carpenter); Annuaire de l'Observatoire de Bruxelles, 1864, p. 288 (Mailly); Grant's Hist. of Astronomy, p. 467; Whewell's Hist. of the Inductive Sciences, ii. 162; Cunningham's Lives of Eminent Englishmen, iv. 366; Noble's Continuation of Granger, ii. 132; Montucla's Hist. des Mathématiques, iv. 41; Bailly's Hist. de l'Astr. Moderne, ii. 423, 589, 650; Delambre's Hist. de l'Astr. au xviiie Siècle, p. 93; Mädler's Gesch. der Himmelskunde, i. 397, 453; André et Rayet's Astr. Pratique, i. 3; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Acta Eruditorum, 1721, p. 463; Journal R. Society, xvii. 129; Rigaud MSS. in Bodleian, Letter L; MSS. Collegii Corporis Christi, Oxon. Codex ccclxi. (correspondence of Flamsteed with Newton and Wallis in forty original letters, mostly printed in General Dict.); C. H. F. Peters on Flamsteed's Lost Stars, Memoirs American Academy, 1887, pt. iii. Flamsteed's horoscope of the Royal Observatory, 10 Aug. 1675, inscribed ‘Risum teneatis, amici?’ is reproduced in Hone's Every-day Book, i. 1090.]