William Herschel and his work/Chapter 11

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



So long as Herschers house was conducted by his sister Caroline, it could scarcely be called an English home. To all intents and purposes it was a German household, ruled by a German mistress, and conducted according to German ways. When he married the widow of a London merchant, Mrs. Pitt, his sister, who had been for some time kept unusually busy with papers and calculations, wrote, as she was withdrawing from this household management, "It may easily be supposed that I must have been fully employed (besides minding the heavens) to prepare everything as well as I could against the time I was to give up the place of a housekeeper, which was the eighth of May, 1788." She continued to mind the heavens; but she had a good deal also to do with the earth.

Of the lady to whom Herschel was married, of himself, and of his sister we have excellent word-pictures, drawn by Miss Burney and her father. Caroline, who for fourteen years had devoted her life to her brother's studies, and who continued to show the same devotion for sixty more, though resigning the post of housekeeper, remained to help him in his pursuits and to watch over his health. Reading the brief entries in her diary, we cannot help concluding that in many respects she was the real, but not the nominal head of that centre of activity and discovery. When Dr. Burney called on Herschel in 1798, ten years after his marriage with Mrs. Pitt, to consult him about his great poem on astronomy and astronomers, he was surprised to find Mrs. Herschel, and not her sister-in-law Caroline, at the head of the table, while a merry little son of six, afterwards Sir John Herschel, amused him and the rest of the company. Dr. Bumey did not know that his friend William Herschel was married. Even in 1817, another visitor. Dr. Niemeyer, was equally ignorant. These are proofs of the gentle, retiring nature of the wife, to which Herschel's friends bear witness, and of the overshadowing celebrity to which his sister had attained. From all quarters we learn that it was as pleasant a home as it was a famous observatory.

Miss Burney, the famous authoress of Evelina, who accepted the post of assistant wardrobe keeper to the Queen in Windsor Castle at £200 a year, when she might have earned ten times that amount by her pen, and retained her independence besides, may possibly have had a fellow-feeling with Herschel, who was condemned, as she was, to bear heavy burdens from the etiquette of a court. Her picture of him is every way delightful; his wife comes in for a briefer notice and for less praise. At a tea-party and concert in Windsor she met them both, five months after their marriage. "Two young ladies were to perform," she says, "in a little concert. Dr. Herschel was there, and accompanied them very sweetly on the violin; his new-married wife was with him, and his sister. His wife seems good-natured; she was rich, too! and astronomers are as able as other men to discern that gold can glitter as well as stars."[1] There is a falling-off here from the enthusiasm of former days: a great falling-off.

Two years previous Miss Burney described Herschel, or her first impressions of him, in much more glowing terms. "In the evening Mr. Herschel came to tea. I had once seen that very extraordinary man at Mrs. De Luc's, but was happy to see him again, for he has not more fame to awaken curiosity than sense and modesty to gratify it. He is perfectly unassuming, yet openly happy, and happy in the success of those studies which would render a mind less excellently formed presumptuous and arrogant.

"The King has not a happier subject than this man, who owes it wholly to His Majesty that he is not wretched; for such was his eagerness to quit all other pursuits to follow astronomy solely, that he was in danger of ruin, when his talents and great and uncommon genius attracted the King's patronage. He has now not only his pension, which gives him the felicity of devoting all his time to his darling study, but he is indulged in license from the King to make a telescope according to his new ideas and discoveries, that is, to have no cost spared in its construction, and is wholly to be paid for by His Majesty.

"This seems to have made him happier even than the pension, as it enables him to put in execution all his wonderful projects, from which his expectations of future discoveries are so sanguine as to make his present existence a state of almost perfect enjoyment.

"He seems a man without a wish that has its object in the terrestrial globe. At night Mr. Herschel, by the King's command, came to exhibit to His Majesty and the Royal Family the new comet lately discovered by his sister, Miss Herschel; and while I was playing at piquet with Mrs. Schwellenberg, the Princess Augusta came into the room, and asked her if she chose to go into the garden and look at it. She declined the offer, and the Princess then made it to me. I was glad to accept it for all sorts of reasons. We found him at his telescope. The comet was very small, and had nothing grand or striking in its appearance; but it is the first lady's comet, and I was very desirous to see it. Mr. Herschel then shewed me some of his new discovered universes, with all the good humour with which he would have taken the same trouble for a brother or a sister astronomer; there is no possibility of admiring his genius more than his gentleness."

Of these four paragraphs the first and the last show undisguised, genuine admiration of this hero of the stars by a heroine of the pen, "for all sorts of reasons."[2] It was the queen of literature crowning the king and high priest of the stars with the laurel wreath of a world's homage. Perhaps it was more than this, different though the ages of the king and queen were. But the second of the four paragraphs is of a different nature. It hints at dangers and difficulties, which do not square with Caroline Herschel's Memoirs. They may be explained by Miss Burney's knowledge of the talk and whispers among the King's equerries at Windsor Castle. That a man should be "wretched" and "in danger of ruin," who had established himself at Bath and was making a large income there[3] points to something more serious than she could realise or wished to repeat. Probably the equerries knew about it, and, without revealing secrets, gave her an indistinct idea that something was or had been seriously wrong.

At the very end of 1786, Miss Burney is still in raptures: "This morning my dear father carried me to Dr. Herschel. That great and very extraordinary man received us almost with open arms. He is very fond of my father, who is one of the council of the Royal Society this year, as well as himself." The fondness and the friendship must have been commonplace, when, twelve years later. Dr. Burney did not know that Dr. Herschel had been married for ten years, and was the father of a son six years of age. But the young lady's admiration knows no abatement. Nine months after, it rises to, "Dr. Herschel is a delightful man; so unassuming with his great knowledge, so willing to dispense it to the ignorant, and so cheerful and easy in his general manners that, were he no genius, it would be impossible not to remark him as a pleasing and sensible man." Miss Burney's picture is not over-coloured, according to the evidence of other eye-witnesses. She was then thirty-four years of age, and seven years after married a French emigrant, without fortune and without prospects. Enthusiasm such as she showed for William Herschel, and pardonably showed, may have been akin to a warmer feeling; but his marriage for money, partly at least, somewhat cooled her raptures, or her hopes.

Dr. Burney has also presented the world with word-pictures of himself and Herschel, which are full of life and amusement. As time went on, he was fired with the ambition of distinguishing himself in poetry as well as music. He believed he had wing-power sufficient to soar to heights of poetry as high as Newton or Herschel reached in prose. He proposed in fact to write a Newtoniad and a Herscheliad for the enlightenment of future ages. He made no secret of his purpose; his daughters encouraged him to undertake the work; Herschel was consulted, was flattered, was persuaded or cajoled. The King, the Queen, the Princesses heard of the great work; the Court, of course, whatever some people of sense may have thought or said, echoed the wishes and praises of their superiors, and the poet proceeded, amidst applause, to complete his Poetical History of Astronomy. It was the age of didactic poems. Darwin's Botanic Garden had been a success, and parts of it were so written that they deserved and won the applause of intelligent readers. Probably Dr. Burney imagined that astronomy, which was then filling the world with wonder, was an equally good field for a great poem. He certainly believed that it was a book he was competent to write: but, while he was convinced of his ability to ascend to the heights of Parnassus, he had doubts of his knowledge of the science. To solve these doubts an interview with Herschel was necessary. The story then proceeds, September 28, 1798.

"I drove through Slough in order to ask at Dr. Herschel's door when my visit would be least inconvenient to him—that night or next morning. The good soul was at dinner, but came to the door himself to press me to alight immediately, and partake of his family repast: and this he did so heartily that I could not resist. . . . I expected (not knowing that Herschel was married) only to have found Miss Herschel; but there was a very old lady, the mother, I believe, of Mrs. Herschel, who was at the head of the table herself, and a Scots lady (a Miss Wilson, daughter of Dr. Wilson of Glasgow, an eminent astronomer). Miss Herschel, and a little boy. They rejoiced at the accident, which had brought me there, and hoped I would send my carriage away and take a bed with them.

"We soon grew acquainted—I mean the ladies and I—and before dinner was over we seemed old friends just met after a long absence. Mrs. Herschel is sensible, good-humoured, unpretending, and well-bred; Miss Herschel all shyness and virgin modesty; the Scots lady sensible and harmless; and the little boy entertaining, promising, and comical. Herschel, you know, and everybody knows, is one of the most pleasing and well-bred natural characters of the present age, as well as the greatest astronomer."

"The shyness and virgin modesty" of little Miss Herschel, at the youthful age of forty-eight, are overdone in this word-picture by Dr. Burney. Could we have got her views of their visitor's flattery and folly, they would perhaps have been an amusing addition to the fund of drollery and acidity, with which her recollections are pleasantly flavoured. And they would have been to the point. When Dr. Burney made Herschel aware of his purpose in calling, the latter insisted on the trunk being unpacked, the poem produced, and the reading finished then and there. What the poet knew would be the work of a week or a month, if the book had been finished, the astronomer hoped to get out of the road as speedily as he would an ordinary observation on a starry night. He found himself buttonholed to instalments that spread over many months, and seem to have grown very captivating, though he must have soon seen that, if his was the sword of fame, Burney considered his tongue as the more important trumpet, that would blow that fame abroad to all time. But the situation was full of surprises. "He made a discovery to me," Dr. Burney goes on to say, "which had I known it sooner, would have overset me, and prevented my reading any part of my work. He said that he had almost always had an aversion to poetry, which he regarded as the arrangement of fine words, without any useful meaning or adherence to truth; but that when truth and science were united to these fine words, he liked poetry very well." This is rather an odd confession to come from a man whose sister tells us, "He composed glees, catches, etc., for such voices as he could secure, as it was not easy to find a singer to take the place of Miss Linley."[4] However, Dr. Burney managed to persuade him that in his didactic poem fine words were united to science and truth. The astronomer called on the poet in town, lived in his house, and gave audience to his verses: "Herschel was so humble as to confess that I knew more of the history of astronomy than he did, and had surprised him with the mass of information I had got together. . . . He thanked me for the entertainment and instruction I had given him. 'Can anything be grander?' and all this before he knows a word of what I have said of himself—all his discoveries, as you may remember, being kept back for the twelfth and last book."

After an interval of seven months and more, a long story follows of Herschel's patience and good humour under repeated doses of poetry, conceit, and undue self-importance from Dr. Burney. The latter's letter to his daughter, then Madame D'Arblay, is dated, "Slough, Monday morning, July 22, 1799, in bed at Dr. Herschel's, half-past five, where I can neither sleep nor lie idle," and runs thus: "I believe I told you on Friday that I was going to finish the perusal of my astronomical verses to the great astronomer on Saturday." Burney had already read to him the Newtoniad, and other pieces. He was now come to the Herscheliad, about twenty years too soon, for the astronomer had not reached the height of his fame in 1799. "After tea Herschel proposed that we two should retire into a quiet room in order to resume the perusal of my work, in which no progress has been made since last December. The evening was finished very cheerfully; and we went to our bowers not much out of humour with each other or the world." Much more follows, revealing the self-complacency and conceit of the man, along with the modesty and retiring nature of Herschel. There were only two men on the terrace or in the Castle concert-room that evening, the King and Dr. Burney; and the important subject talked of was Dr. Burney's poem.

Herschel's friendship with Dr. Wilson,[5] the Professor of Astronomy in Glasgow University, was probably the reason of repeated visits paid by him to Scotland. Of the first of these visits no notice is taken by his sister, a somewhat singular omission. It was paid in the summer of 1792. The second known visit was made eighteen years after, is briefly referred to by his sister, and is confounded by his biographers with that of 1792. It took place in 1810. A third visit, obscurely hinted at by his sister, took place the following year. In a paper read to the Royal Society in 1812, he mentions an observation of the comet of 1811 made by him at Glasgow, and records another which he made at Alnwick on his way south, some weeks later. That Glasgow may have been to Herschel a place of summer pilgrimage more frequently than on these three visits seems not improbable. His friendship with the Wilsons and their families, like that with Dr. Watson, was close and long continued, the friendship of worthy men, holding each other in the highest esteem. As he visited Dr. Watson at Bath and Dawlish, so he appears to have visited the Wilsons at Glasgow. At any rate we know that he "was generally from home" in summer.

When Herschel was in Scotland in the summer of 1792, he was accompanied by a Russian friend. General Komarzewsky. So intimate were the two that the General "used to say to Herschel, Why does not he (meaning King George iii.) make you Duke of Slough? "Probably his sister thought the same, but the pardonable flattery created a bond between them, which she does not seem ever to have forgotten. On reaching Glasgow, Herschel found a pleasant surprise awaiting him and his friend, as new as it was unexpected. Both of them were to be honoured with the freedom of the city. Glasgow was then a town, where salmon-fishers dried their nets on that busy centre of trade, the Broomielaw, and was inhabited by not more than a tenth of its present population; but its magistrates were far-seeing men, who crowned their city with honour when they formally entered on their Burgess Boll the name of William Herschel. Their Council Records contain the following:[6]

"Glasgow, 19th June 1792.

"The said day Dr. William Herschel, Astronomer, and General Homarseuski are unanimously admitted honorary Burgesses and Guild Brethren of this City."

An Edinburgh newspaper[7] recorded the homage thus paid to science by the merchant city of the west, but the Edinburgh Town Council, neither then nor subsequently, followed the example so honourably set by Glasgow.

Another visit paid by Herschel was to Paris at the commencement of the shortlived peace of Amiens in 1801. From the brief notes preserved in his sister's Memoirs it appears that, on July 13, "my brother, Mrs. H., my nephew John, and Miss Baldwin left Slough to go to Paris." The next entry is, "Aug. 25th.—All returned with my nephew dangerously ill. Going daily for some hours to work at the Observatory, and to receive visitors and letters, had not hastened my recovery, for it required no less than seven months before I could be without the attendance of Dr. Pope." During these weeks of holiday in France, Herschel had opportunities of renewing or strengthening the friendly feelings with which the astronomers of that country, during an age of great hostility between the two nations, regarded the labours of their English brethren. They had shown their esteem for him in particular by choosing him as a member of the Institute, one of the highest honours that could be bestowed on a man of science. But his visit was made more remarkable by an interview with Napoleon Buonaparte, who was then First Consul, and afterwards Emperor. Twelve years later he gave an account of it to Thomas Campbell, the poet, who met him at Brighton, and thus records the story:[8]

"I was anxious to get from him as many particulars as I could about his interview with Buonaparte. The latter, it was reported, had astonished him by his astronomical knowledge.

"'No,' he said; 'the First Consul did surprise me by his quickness and versatility on all subjects; but in science he seemed to know little more than any well-educated gentleman, and of astronomy much less for instance than our own King. His general air,' he said, 'was something like affecting to know more than he did know'. He was high and tried to be great with Herschel, I suppose, without success; and 'I remarked,' said the astronomer, 'his hypocrisy in concluding the conversation on astronomy by observing how all these glorious views gave proofs of an Almighty Wisdom.' I asked him if he thought the system of Laplace to be quite certain, with regard to the total security of the planetary system from the effects of gravitation losing its present balance? He said, No; he thought by no means that the universe was secured from the chance of sudden losses of parts."

It is unfortunate that no other record exists of the estimate formed of Napoleon by Herschel. Campbell may have imported into the astronomer's words turns of thought which he never meant to convey, and a man is sometimes more free of speech in conversation than he would be in print. An interviewer, as modern journalism has proved, may, even without knowing it, give an unhappy twist to a man's words and thoughts. Assuming, however, that the poet's report is strictly correct, and remembering that the great bitterness of Herschel's life sprang from a French victory, unforgettable by him or his relations, his words must be received with a discount unavoidable in the circumstances. Both poet and astronomer show their feelings, perhaps, by the use of the long obsolete title "First Consul" instead of the better known "Emperor," and it ought never to have been said that Napoleon, a trained and experienced officer of artillery, a member of the mathematical section of the Institute of France, and the founder of the Egyptian Institute, knew little more of science than any well-educated gentleman. To compare his knowledge of astronomy with that of George III. is unfair. If Herschel meant nothing more than what the King learned from him and Mainburg and Bevis during half a century, of the ways and methods of observing, it may be perfectly true, and yet may have been such as Napoleon, with his natural quickness and his knowledge of mathematics, could have picked up in an hour or two. But a comparison of the two men—one doing little more than signing his name, the other leading mighty armies, fighting terrible battles, and ruling almost a whole continent—seems exceedingly absurd, from an intellectual point of view. Nor should it be forgotten that Napoleon, by taking the learned men of France to Egypt with him, entertaining them at his table on shipboard, and protecting them in their researches, laid the foundation of a new science, which has filled mankind with wonder—the languages and records of the ancient worlds of Egypt and Assyria. To say that he affected to know more than he did know was, if true, a justifiable pretence in a man ruling over many nations, and absorbed in multitudinous details. But to charge him with hypocrisy for expressing his views on Almighty Wisdom is not creditable to either poet or astronomer. If Herschel conversed with him by means of an interpreter, the latter may have done, and possibly would do, injustice to the Emperor, perhaps to the astronomer also. But it is not likely that Napoleon, who wrote to Laplace about his great works, and was on intimate terms with the greatest minds of France, would descend to parade knowledge he did not possess, or indulge in a hypocrisy that was altogether out of place. Even his biographer writes, "The impression left upon Campbell's mind by this conversation appears to have been a little too strong."

Far more pleasant is the view given by Campbell of the astronomer himself. "I spent all Sunday with him and his family," he says. "His simplicity, his kindness, his anecdotes, his readiness to explain—and make perfectly perspicuous too—his own sublime conceptions of the universe are indescribably charming. He is seventy-six, but fresh and stout; and there he sat, nearest the door, at his friend's house, alternately smiling at a joke, or contentedly sitting without share or notice in the conversation. Any train of conversation he follows implicitly; anything you ask he labours with a sort of boyish earnestness to explain—a great, simple, good old man." The impression made on Campbell's mind is summed up in these words: "I really and unfeignedly felt as if I had been conversing with a supernatural intelligence. . . . After leaving Herschel I felt elevated and overcome; and have in writing to you made only this memorandum of some of the most interesting moments of my life."

A German writer, who paid a visit to Herschel at Slough a few years afterwards, has left an equally pleasant picture of the astronomer-sage.

"While we were standing by this machine (the great telescope), which we more admired than comprehended, its master appeared, a cheerful old man, aged eighty-one. How unassumingly did he make his communications! How lightly did he ascend the steps to the gallery! With what calm pleasure did he seem to enjoy the success of his efforts in life! All accounts from his native country appeared to please him, although the German language had become somewhat less familiar to his ear. After a short conversation, we took our leave, charged with friendly greetings to all beyond the sea, who might still remember him.

"Herschel is unmarried, but his sister Caroline resides with him, not only as a superintendent of his household, and support of his old age, but also as a partaker of his studies. She has been his constant assistant in his labours, and has made some discoveries herself, among which were five comets in the years 1786, 1791, a dissertation on which she laid before the Royal Society. Both of them enjoy the love and esteem of all that approach them.

"Herschel's earthly labour is now, I presume, at an end, and the time cannot be far distant when we shall be able to say of him,

'Candidus consuetum miratur limen Olympi,
Sub pedibusque,—nubes et sidera videt.'"

In terms of his appointment as King's Astronomer, Herschel was bound to receive visitors sent from Windsor Castle, and to explain to them his instruments, as well as to act the part of showman of the heavens. Probably this dangling at the heels of titled nothings brought him money from the sale of telescopes, but it was a tax on his time and strength, which his sister saw and dreaded from the first. "I know how wretched and feverish one feels after two or three nights' waking," Caroline writes of her own all-night vigils. With a woman's quickness for those she loves, she sometimes managed to shield her brother, wearied, like her, with an all-night sitting, from these thoughtless callers. "In my way into the garden," she writes, as far back as 1797, "I was met and detained by Lord S. and another gentleman, who came to see my brother and his telescopes. By way of preventing too long an interruption, I told the gentlemen that I had just found a comet, and wanted to settle its place. I pointed it out to them, and after having seen it they took their leave." But she could not always thus act the part of guardian angel. On October 4, 1806, "two parties from the Castle came to see the comet," observed two days before, "and during the whole month my brother had not an evening to himself. . . . It has ever been my opinion that on the 14th of October his nerves received a shock of which he never got the better afterwards; for on that day (in particular) he had hardly dismissed his troop of men," assisting him in the laborious work of polishing the 40-feet mirror, "when visitors assembled, and from the time it was dark till past midnight he was on the grass-plot surrounded by between fifty and sixty persons, without having had time for putting on proper clothing, or for the least nourishment passing his lips. Among the company, I remember, were the Duke of Sussex, Prince Galitzin, Lord Damley, a number of officers. Admiral Boston, and some ladies." The picture is outlined with a clearness nothing but strong feeling could inspire; the strain was manifestly too great, and it was tearing down his enfeebled frame. For sixteen years the battle continued; the phases of it are recorded by his biographer, and little remains but to trace in her words, how year after year saw his strength declining and the flame of life dying out. At the same time it is difficult to understand how Herschel and his wife allowed this process of painful decay to go forward unchecked. He did not require thus to die in harness actually by inches. Both of them were wealthy;[9] and though he had resigned office, it is not probable that his pension would have been withdrawn. But the story of fading strength is told in words that cannot be explained away.

"When all hopes for the return of vigour and strength necessary for resuming the unfinished task of polishing the great mirror was gone, all cheerfulness and spirits had also forsaken him, and his temper was changed from the sweetest almost to a pettish one; and for that reason I was obliged to refrain from troubling him with any questions, though ever so necessary, for fear of irritating or fatiguing him." Want of room, the refusal of funds to meet expenses, the great telescope "nearly fallen into decay almost in all its parts," "every nerve of the dear man unstrung by over-exertion," may well send a thrill of sympathetic sorrow through every reader of the story. Neither Brighton nor Bath, nor summer visits to Edinburgh or Glasgow could restore the lost tone: "A farther attempt at leaving the work complete became impossible." How sorrowful the entries for more than a twelvemonth after! " My brother not well," "his life despaired of," "permitted to see him, but only for two or three minutes"! And in this time of distress the worthless Dietrich is causing them no end of trouble by his conduct. Let it be said on his behalf that his daughter, Mrs. Knipping, atoned in future years, to some extent at least, for her father's shortcomings. She was the faithful and trusted attendant of her aunt Caroline during the last years of her long life. As years roll on, the record remains equally mournful: "His strength is now (1815), and has for the last two or three years not been equal to the labour required for polishing 40-feet mirrors"; at a Royal "fête at Frogmore" (1817) "I was obliged to go home with my brother," who "found himself too feeble to remain in company." But feebleness and ill-health gave no remission from a showman's duty: "The Archduke Michael of Russia, with a numerous attendance, came to see Jupiter," etc. (1818). Princesses, archdukes, lords and ladies came to see many objects in the 10-ft. and other telescopes (1819), unaware that the sage-astronomer, whom they were treating as a showman, was hastening to the grave. His sister "with much concern saw that he had exerted himself too much above his strength."

"A small slip of yellow paper" traced by a tremulously feeble hand, indicating the appearance of "a great comet with a long tail," was among the last communications from Herschel to his sister. She kept it as a relic of a lamp of life that once burned brightly, and was then flickering in the socket. For three years it continued to flicker, till the end came, on August 25, 1822. A noble light of humanity and science then set for ever on this earthly scene.

The writings of Herschel may be said to be contained in that wonderful repository of science and observation. The Transactions of the Royal Society. He contributed sometimes one, sometimes two or three or four papers in a year between 1780 and 1818, except in the years 1813 and 1816. Few scientific writers were so active with their pen. Everard Home, in a different sphere of research, surpassed him in the number of his contributions; but two thousand quarto passes—to say nothing of valuable and instructive diagrams—filled with Wonderful discoveries, rare or useful observations, noble theories, and lofty imaginings formed a life-work of unusual merit. They were written in a language that became familiar to him in a foreign country only after he passed his twentieth year. Titles and text are not unfrequently somewhat prolix, but what was a peculiarity of the age cannot be attributed as a fault to Herschel His sister, to whom the world is indebted for the form in which not a few of these papers appeared, carefully preserved seventy-two of her brother's in five volumes, which she transferred to his son's keeping in 1830. Only sixty-nine papers were laid before the Royal Society and one before the Royal Astronomical. What the other contents of her bundle were she has not informed us.

In the writings of Herschel and his sister there is a singular silence on the affairs of another world than this material universe, in whose vast surroundings we spend our brief earthly life. However, it is not an unbroken silence. His sister repeatedly refers to a future state, and to a home she longed for, a meeting-place with those she loved and worked with on earth. She left England less than two months after her brother William's death, "parted with her little property," and "thought at that time she should not live a twelvemonth." She lived for twenty-six years after, "alone" and disappointed. During that long period she gave expression to hopes which may be justly regarded as echoes of sentiments expressed by her brother. Unquestionably her mind was a mirror that truly reflected his. It is evident also from his conversation with Thomas Campbell that he entertained a horror of hypocrisy, which may have imposed silence on him when he would otherwise have spoken out. Once, in a philosophical paper, he did speak out on a future state of rewards and punishments. Had the matter not lain very near his heart, he would scarcely have written as he did. The subject of the paper was the Constitution of the Sun. Referring to the views of certain writers on the place of punishment for the wicked, he says—

"The sun, viewed in this light, appears to be nothing else than a very eminent, large, and lucid planet, evidently the first, or in strictness of speaking, the only primary one of our system; all others being truly secondary to it. Its similarity to the other globes of the solar system with regard to its solidity, its atmosphere, and its diversified surface; the rotation upon its axis, and the fall of heavy bodies, leads us on to suppose that it is most probably inhabited, like the rest of the planets, by beings whose organs are adapted to the peculiar circumstances of that vast globe.

"Whatever fanciful poets might say, in making the sun the abode of blessed spirits, or angry moralists devise, in pointing it out as a fit place for the punishment of the wicked, it does not appear that they had any other foundation for their assertions than mere opinion and vague surmise; but now I think myself authorized, upon astronomical principles, to propose the sun as an inhabitable world, and am persuaded that the foregoing observations, with the conclusions I have drawn from them, are fully sufficient to answer every objection that may be made against it."

A man who filled the world with his renown as Herschel did, and who charmed all who happened to meet him as we know he charmed Miss Burney, Thomas Campbell, and Niemeyer, could not have been expected to leave this life without worthy commemoration from a poet's pen. Dr. Burney's Herscheliad was never published; Campbell preserved silence except in poetic prose, written while the astronomer was still living; and no one seems to have addressed himself to what was almost a duty of the age, except a writer, who hailed from Teversal Rectory, and was unable to force Uranus with its proper quantity into a line of poetry.[10]

"Herschel, alas, great astronomic sage,
Has sunk in death, yet full of honoured age,
Through widest space the heavenly orbs he viewed.
The comet's track, and stars unnumbered shewed;
Ouranus first he saw, with all its train,
And fires volcanic found in Luna's plain."

The Herscheliad could scarcely have contained poorer or more unworthy lines.

Far more worthy of record is the eulogium passed by Arago: " We may confidently assert, relative to the little house and garden of Slough, that it is the spot of all the world where the greatest number of discoveries have been made. The name of that village will never perish: science will transmit it religiously to our latest posterity."

  1. October 3, 1788.
  2. Miss Burney tells the story of love's progress in her novel of Evelina, written some time before: "How rapid was then my Evelina's progress through those regions of fancy and passion, whither her new guide conducted her! She saw Lord Orville at a ball—and he was the most amiabl of men! She met him again at another—and he had every virtue under heaven!" (Evelina, ii. 149).
  3. Memoirs, p. 321, "Was called from his lucrative employment at Bath."
  4. Was the song referred to on p. 321 of the Memoirs, "In thee I bear so dear a part," his own? It "was going to be published by desire."
  5. Alexander Wilson was Professor of Astronomy from 1760 to 1784; his son Patrick from 1784 to 1799.
  6. I am indebted for this extract to the kindness of Sir James Marwick, the Town Clerk of Glasgow.
    There appears to be some doubt about the spelling of the Russian name in the Council Record.
  7. Edinburgh Courant, June 28, 1792.
  8. Beattie's Life of Campbell, ii. 234, 235, 239.
  9. His personal effects are set down in his will at £6000, and he left £25,000 more in 3 per cent. Reduced Annuities to his son, besides other large legacies.
  10. Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xcii. (1822).