Tycho Brahe: a picture of scientific life and work in the sixteenth century

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.


The author died in 1926, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

 

TYCHO BRAHE

 

A PICTURE OF

SCIENTIFIC LIFE AND WORK IN THE

SIXTEENTH CENTURY

 

BY

J. L. E. DREYER, PH.D., F.R.A.S.

DIRECTOR OF THE ARMAGH OBSERVATORY

 

EDINBURGH
ADAM AND CHARLES BLACK
1890

TO

 

RALPH COPELAND,

Ph.D., F.R.S.E., &c.,

ASTRONOMER ROYAL FOR SCOTLAND,

 

This Book is Dedicated

BY HIS FRIEND

THE AUTHOR.

PREFACE.

Astronomers are so frequently obliged to recur to observations made during former ages for the purpose of supporting the results of the observations of the present day, that there is a special inducement for them to study the historical development of their science. Much labour has accordingly been spent on the study of the history of astronomy, and in particular the progress of the science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has of late years formed the subject of many important monographs. The life of Copernicus has been written in considerable detail by Prowe, Hipler, and others. Of Kepler's numerous works we owe a complete edition to the patient industry and profound learning of the late Dr. Frisch of Stuttgart, while the life of Galileo, and particularly his persecution and trial, have called forth quite a library of books and essays. In the present volume I have attempted to add another link to the chain of works illustrating the birth of modern astronomy, by reviewing the life and work of Tycho Brahe, the reformer of observational astronomy.

Although not a few monographs have been published from time to time to elucidate various phases in the career of Tycho Brahe, while several popular accounts of his life (by Helfrecht, Brewster, &c.) have appeared, the only scientific biography hitherto published is that of Gassendi. This writer obtained valuable materials from some of Tycho Brahe's pupils, and from the Danish savant Worm, but he chiefly derived his information from a close scrutiny of Tycho's own writings, never failing to make use of any particulars of a biographical nature which might be recorded in passing by Tycho. In studying Tycho's works, I have repeatedly come across small historical notes in places where nobody would look for such, only to find that Gassendi had already noticed them. In 1745 a biography was published in a Danish journal (Bang's Samlinger, vol. ii.), the contents of which are chiefly taken from Gassendi, but which also contains a few documents of interest. Of far greater importance is a collection of letters, royal decrees, and other documents, published in 1746 by the Danish historian Langebek in the Danske Magazin, vol. ii., which still remains the principal source for Tycho's life. A German translation of this and the memoir in Bang's Samlinger was published in 1756 by Mengel, a bookseller in Copenhagen, who wrote under the high-flown pseudonym Philander von der Wei- stritz; and as his book has naturally become more generally known than the Danish originals, I have, when quoting these, added references to Weistritz's book. During the present century several Danish historians have brought to light many details bearing on Tycho's life which will be referred to in this volume; and in 1871 a Danish author, F. R. Friis, published a popular biography in which were given various hitherto unpublished particulars, especially of Tycho's beneficiary grants and other endowments. The same writer has also published a number of letters exchanged between Tycho and his relations, and various contemporary astronomers. Of great scientific interest is the correspondence between Tycho and Magini, published and commented by Professor Favaro of Bologna with the care and learning by which the writings of this author are always distinguished. Some other letters from the last years of Tycho's life have recently been published by Professor Burckhardt of Basle. Lastly, we must mention the meteorological diary kept at Uraniborg, which is of great historical value as affording many interesting glimpses of Tycho Brahe's home life. It was published in 1876 by the Royal Danish Society of Science.

Among other publications of importance for the study of Tycho Brahe's life and activity must be mentioned the biography of Kepler, by Frisch, in the last volume of Kepler's Opera Omnia, and several papers by Professor Rudolph Wolf of Zürich on Landgrave Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel, and his astronomers Rothmann and Bürgi. Though only indirectly bearing on Tycho (of whose merits Professor Wolf on every occasion speaks somewhat slightingly), these valuable papers throw much light on the state of science at the end of the sixteenth century, and will often be found quoted in the following pages.

Having for many years felt specially interested in Tycho Brahe, it appeared to me that it would be a useful undertaking to apply the considerable biographical materials scattered in many different places to the preparation of a biography which should not only narrate the various incidents in the life of the great astronomer in some detail, but also describe his relations with contemporary men of science, and review his scientific labours in their connection with those of previous astronomers. The historical works of Montucla, Bailly, Delambre, and Wolf have indeed treated of the astronomical researches of Tycho Brahe, but as the plans of these valuable works were different from that adopted by me, I believe the scientific part of the present volume will not be found superfluous, particularly as it is founded on an independent study of Tycho's bulky works. To these I have given full references for every subject, so that any reader may find further particulars for himself without a laborious search. Many details, especially as to the historical sequence of Tycho's researches, have been taken from his original MS. observations in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, which I was enabled to examine during two visits to Copenhagen in 1888 and 1889. On the same occasions I also studied three astrological MSS. of Tycho's, of which an account will be found in Chapter VI. It may possibly be thought by some readers that I have devoted too much space to the consideration of the astrological fancies of the Middle Ages. But my object throughout has been to give a faithful picture of the science of the sixteenth century, and for this purpose it is impossible to gloss over or shut our eyes to the errors of the time, just as it would be absurd, when writing the scientific history of other periods, to keep silence as-to the phlogistic theory of combustion, the emission theory of light, or the idea of the sun as having a solid nucleus. If the study of the history of science is to teach us anything, we must make ourselves acquainted with the by-paths and blind alleys into which our forefathers strayed in their search for truth, as well as with the tracks by which they advanced science to the position in which our own time finds it.

With the exception of the astronomical manuscripts in the Royal Library at Copenhagen (for facilities in using which I was indebted to Dr. Bruun, chief librarian), I have not made use of any unpublished materials; but the scanty harvest reaped by modern searchers makes it extremely unlikely that anything of importance remains to be found among unpublished sources. I believe, however, that certain periods of Tycho Brahe's life in this volume will be found to appear in a light somewhat different from that in which previous writers have seen it. Especially it seems difficult to deny that Tycho's exile was almost entirely due to himself, and that there was no absolute necessity for his leaving Hveen, even though he had lost most of his endowments. As an amusing instance of the manner in which many incidents have been misunderstood by those who consider Tycho a martyr of science, we may mention that the trouble into which the minister of Hveen got with his superiors and with his parishioners (for his unwarranted interference with the Church ritual), has been described as a riot or fight, instigated by a wicked statesman, in which Tycho's shepherd or steward (pastor!) was injured.

I should scarcely have been able to write this book far from great libraries if I had not for many years taken every opportunity of acquiring books or pamphlets bearing in any way on the subject, or of making excerpts from such as could not be purchased. I have, however, been under great obligations to the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, who most kindly allowed me to consult the literary treasures on the star of 1572 in the Crawford Library of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Hereby I have been enabled to examine even some writings on the new star which were unknown to Tycho Brahe.

That I have adopted the Latin form of the astronomer's name, by which he is universally known, instead of his real baptismal name of Tyge, scarcely requires an apology. It would indeed only be affectation to speak of Schwarzerd or Koppernigk instead of Melanchthon or Copernicus. The portrait of Tycho Brahe in this volume (about which see p. 264) has already appeared in Woodburytype in the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, vol. vi., and in woodcut in Nature, vol. xv. Most of the other illustrations are taken from Tycho's own works. For photographs, from which the illustrations in Chapter XI. were made, I am indebted to Professor Safarik of Prague, who has also kindly communicated various particulars about Tycho's life in Bohemia.

J. L. E. DREYER.

The Observatory, Armagh,
September 1890.

CONTENTS.

 
 

CHAPTER I.

THE REVIVAL OF ASTRONOMY IN EUROPE.

PAGE
Revival of science in Germany—Purbach—Greek astronomy studied—Regiomontanus—Ephemerides—Walther—Apianus—Copernicus—New system of the world proposed—State of astronomy in the sixteenth century
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
1
 

CHAPTER II.

TYCHO BRAHE'S YOUTH.

Family—Childhood—At Copenhagen University—Becomes interested in astronomy—Sent to Leipzig—Commences to take observations—Returns home Stay at Wittenberg—at Rostock—At Augsburg—Construction of a large quadrant—Resides at Heridsvad—Chemical studies
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
10
 

CHAPTER III.

THE NEW STAR OF 1572.

First appearance—Tycho's observations—His book on the star—His calendar for 1573—Other observations of the star—Measurements—Moment of first appearance—Opinion as to nature of star—Alleged earlier appearances of new stars—Its supposed significance
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
38
 

CHAPTER IV.

TYCHO'S ORATION ON ASTROLOGY AND HIS TRAVELS IN 1575.

Tycho's wife and children—Oration on astrology—Travels in Germany—Landgrave Wilhelm IV.—King Frederick II.—Island of Hveen granted to Tycho—Pension
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70

CHAPTER V.

THE ISLAND OF HVEEN AND TYCHO BRAHE'S OBSERVATORIES AND OTHER BUILDINGS HIS ENDOWMENTS.

Description of Hveen—Local traditions—Uraniborg—Instruments—Stjerneborg Observatory—Grant of Kullagaard manor—Prebend of Roskilde—Nordfjord estate in Norway
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
88
 

CHAPTER VI.

TYCHO'S LIFE AT HVEEN UNTIL THE DEATH OF KING FREDERICK II.

Home life—Printing press—Tenants at Hveen—Students and assistants—Flemlöse—Wittich—Elias Olsen—Longomontanus—Chemical researches—Correspondence—Visitors—Relations with the King—Horoscopes of Princes—Tycho's opinion of judicial astrology—Death of the King
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114
 

CHAPTER VII.

TYCHO'S BOOK ON THE COMET OF 1577, AND HIS SYSTEM OF THE WORLD.

Comet of 1577—Six other comets—Tycho's book on comet of 1577—Comets celestial objects—Tychonic system of the world—System of Copernicus yet incomplete—Reymers (Ursus) and his system
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158
 

CHAPTER VIII.

FURTHER WORK ON THE STAR OF 1572.

Tycho's larger book on the star—Its great distance—Dimensions of the universe—Nature of star—Its astrological effect
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
186
 

CHAPTER IX.

THE LAST YEARS AT HVEEN, 1588-1597.

New Government—New grant to Tycho—House at Copenhagen—Sophia Brahe—Visit of James VI.—Visit of Rothmann—Correspondence with the Landgrave and Magini—Visit of the young King—Tycho's quarrel with a tenant—Neglects to repair chapel of his prebend—Quarrel with Gellius—Volume of Epistles—Accession of King Christian IV.—Tycho deprived of Norwegian fief—Valkendorf—Pension stopped—Tycho leaves Hveen—Troubles about clergyman at Hveen
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
198

CHAPTER X.

TYCHO'S LIFE FROM HIS LEAVING HVEEN UNTIL HIS ARRIVAL AT PRAGUE.

Tycho at Copenhagen—Departs for Rostock—Letter to the King—Lends money to the Dukes of Mecklenburg—The King's reply—Tycho at Wandsbeck—Vain attempts to reconcile the King—Publishes description of instruments—Star catalogue—Calumnies of Reymers—Invitation from the Emperor—Tycho winters at Wittenberg
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
239
 

CHAPTER XI.

TYCHO BRAHE IN BOHEMIA—HIS DEATH.

Rudolph II.—Tycho's salary—Castle of Benatky—Financial difficulties—Work resumed—Kepler's youth—His arrival at Benatky and quarrel with Tycho—Reconciliation—Tycho settles at Prague—His assistants—Solar and lunar theory—Tycho's death and funeral
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
277
 

CHAPTER XII.

TYCHO BRAHE'S SCIENTIFIC ACHIEVEMENTS.

Zodiacal and equatorial armillæ—Meridian quadrant—Altazimuth quadrant—Time determinations—Sextants for distance measures—Subdivision of arcs—Nonius—Transversal divisions—Improved pinnules—Theory of sun's motion—Refraction—Lunar theory—Discovery of lunar inequalities—Kepler and the annual equation—Motion of planets—Positions of fixed stars—Absolute longitude—Star catalogue—Precession—Trepidation disproved—Accuracy of observations—Alleged error of Tycho's meridian—Trigonometrical formulæ
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
315
 

 

APPENDIX.

Fate of Tycho's instruments—His family in Bohemia—Publication of his books—Tycho's manuscript observations—Hveen after Tycho's time
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365

NOTES.

Specimen of Tycho's early observations with the cross-staff—List of Tycho Brahe's pupils and assistants—Tycho's opinion about astrological forecasts—Kepler's account of Tycho Brahe's last illness—Comparison of Tycho Brahe's positions of standard stars with modern results—On the alleged error of Tycho's meridian line—Huet's account of the state of Hveen in 1652—Catalogue of the volumes of manuscript observations of Tycho Brahe in the Royal Library, Copenhagen—Bibliographical Summary
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
381
 

 

PLATES.

Portrait of Tycho Brahe
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Mural Quadrant
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101
Castle of Benatky
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282
Ferdinand I.'s Villa
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298
Tycho's Tombstone
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311

(The above by S. B. Bolas & Co., London.)

 

 

ERRATA.

Page 54, last line, for "Locus in Sagit.," read "Locus ʘ in Sagit."

" 66, Footnote 2, line 7 from end, add: That Hardeck speaks of the comet of 1264, although he gives the year 1260, may be seen from his references to Pope Clement IV. (1265-1268) and the battle of Benevent (1266). According to Pingré, several writers have been confused with regard to the year of this comet.

" 127, line 2, for "Coll," read "Crol."