Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/311

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
§ 197]
249
Continental Analysis and English Observation

gravitation beyond the point at which it was left in the Principia.

In other departments of astronomy, however, important progress was made both during and after Newton's lifetime, and by a curious inversion, while Newton's ideas were developed chiefly by French mathematicians, the Observatory of Paris, at which Picard and others had done such admirable work (chapter viii., §§ 160–2), produced little of real importance for nearly a century afterwards, and a large part of the best observing work of the 18th century was done by Newton's countrymen. It will be convenient to separate these two departments of astronomical work, and to deal in the next chapter with the development of the theory of gravitation.

197. The first of the great English observers was Newton's contemporary John Flamsteed, who was born near Derby in 1646 and died at Greenwich in 1720.[1] Unfortunately the character of his work was such that, marked as it was by no brilliant discoveries, it is difficult to present it in an attractive form or to give any adequate idea of its real extent and importance. He was one of those laborious and careful investigators, the results of whose work are invaluable as material for subsequent research, but are not striking in themselves.

He made some astronomical observations while quite a boy, and wrote several papers, of a technical character, on astronomical subjects, which attracted some attention. In 1675 he was appointed a member of a Committee to report on a method for finding the longitude at sea which had been offered to the Government by a certain Frenchman of the name of St. Pierre. The Committee, acting largely on Flamsteed's advice, reported unfavourably on the method in question, and memorialised Charles II. in favour of founding a national observatory, in order that better knowledge of the celestial bodies might lead to a satisfactory method of finding the longitude, a problem which the rapid increase of English shipping rendered of great practical importance. The King having agreed, Flamsteed was in the same year appointed to the new

  1. December 31st, 1719, according to the unreformed calendar (O.S.) then in use in England.