William Herschel and his work/Chapter 3

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER III

 

IN ENGLAND

From the brief and guarded indications given by his sister Caroline, then a child of seven, sitting on the outer doorstep and watching all that took place with the wondering eyes of childhood; from her picture of the mourning mother, and the parcel which she carried containing her son's accoutrements; from her view of the disguised brother stealing past, and from the prohibition even to mention his name, it is plain that William Herschel was smuggled out of Hanover in the summer of 1757. What we might call the conscription was then in full force in town and country to supply the beaten army of Cumberland with recruits. But Herschel was a soldier, and was running away from the colours. He was of a weakly constitution, growing rapidly, and unfit for the hardships of a soldier's life. So his mother said and, perhaps, also thought. For three months both Hanover and England had been expecting something to happen in the war with France. The Duke of Cumberland, of Culloden fame, found it necessary to go abroad to "take command of the army of observation." But so ill was he liked in England that, though "the drum was beat, none would list." The soldiers under his command in Hanover, and a motley crew they seem to have been, appear to have viewed his ability as cynically as it was viewed in England. "We hear," Horace Walpole writes, "that the French have recalled their green troops, which had advanced for show, and have sent their oldest regiments against the Duke." Twelve days later, he says: "This is not the sole uneasiness at Kensington; they know the proximity of the French to the Duke, and think that by this time there may have been an action: the suspense is not pleasant." Five weeks later came the news, " We are in a piteous way! The French have passed the Weser, and a courier brought word yesterday that the Duke was marching towards them; and within five miles: by this time his fate is decided." A few days more, and tidings came that "the French attacked the Duke for three days together, and at last defeated him: I find it is called at Kensington an encounter of fourteen squadrons." It took place at Hastenbeck near Hameln, on the Weser, the scene of the Pied Piper's exploit. Whether an encounter or a battle, it was fatal to the reputation of the Duke, and the English officers he had with him; and it was fatal to Hanover, which from first to last paid more than two millions sterling to the victors. Above all, it was fatal to William Herschel's soldiering; for years also it was fatal to his prospects in life, and to his peace of mind as well as his sister's; but, at last, it was the beginning of his endless fame. We can almost sympathise with a deserter from such a general, especially when he fled to his own King for protection, not to the enemies of his country.

An anxious and far from sensible mother took steps to save her delicate son. The French were about twenty miles to the south of the town; the roads were so bad that even a King's coach, sixty years later, drawn by eight horses, could not make a longer stage than five miles; an invading army would move more slowly. The north road towards the sea was clear of the enemy: and the German outposts extended no farther than the palace at Herrenhausen, about a mile and a half from the town. William Herschel passed these without molestation, journeyed along the Bremen road, and at last found his way to Hamburg, to which his trunk was sent after him. In the following year he appears to have crossed the sea to England. Obscurity then covers the fugitive's wanderings for nearly ten years. Five or six pages of sorrowful details are torn out of his sister's journal at this point; and the way of the wanderer is lost in darkness. More is told by her of the eldest brother's comings and goings, of his rude and ungenerous treatment of her, than of the brother whom she worshipped. We could have taken less of Jacob, and more of William,—"the best and dearest of brothers,"—as the circumstances manifestly required.

After the lapse of seventy years Caroline Herschel felt as keenly as she did at first the unpleasantness of her brother's flight from Hanover. On his return as a King's messenger in 1786, bearing a King's present to the University of Göttingen, the editor of the Göttingen Magazine of Science and Literature got from him some particulars of his early life, which it would have been better if he had not furnished. "In my fifteenth year," he wrote, "I enlisted in military service, only remaining in the army, however, until I reached my nineteenth year, when I resigned, and went over to England."[1] Herschel's friends did not know how to gloss over this unhappy passage in his life. What they said in England was as wide of the reality as what he unfortunately said of himself—"Unable, however, long to endure the drudgery of such a situation, and conscious of superior proficiency in his art, he determined on quitting the regiment," and arrived in England in the end of 1757. This is not a barefaced statement of untruth, like the resignation of his position in the band.[2] But the mother's foolishness was singularly overruled for good.

Of William Herschel's wanderings after escaping from the beaten army of Cumberland the pages that are torn out of his sister's journal would probably have given information, but it is not till two years have passed that we again hear of him. He was then in England, along with his eldest brother, Jacob. On Jacob's return home in the end of 1759, William remained behind, studying apparently the theory of music. Many of his letters to Jacob on that subject were written in English, a proof apparently that his mind was made up not to seek his fortunes elsewhere. For five years he again almost disappears from view, till he is seen on a short visit to his Hanover home in the spring of 1764, to the joy of his family, especially of his father, then an invalid, and of his young sister, Caroline. In the interval his musical ability obtained for him in his adopted country the post of bandmaster to a regiment, stationed in one of the northern counties, said to have been the Durham Militia. The Earl of Darlington is said to have selected him "to superintend and instruct a military band then forming by that nobleman in the county of Durham. After this engagement ended, he spent several years in Leeds, Pontefract, Doncaster, etc." That he had been a soldier, officers and men would soon discover from his language and bearing. But he was, and seems to have remained, a mystery for years. In 1764 he was residing in Leeds, and went from that town on a visit to his relations in Hanover. Towards the end of 1765 he became organist of a church in Halifax, where he applied himself to the study of Latin, Italian, and mathematics. Music he continued to cultivate as his profession in life during these years of wilderness wandering.

Southey, in one of his stories from Doncaster,[3] represents Herschel, the astronomer, to have been, in 1760, "only a few months in England, and yet" able to speak "English as well as a native." Miller, the organist of Doncaster, who lived in a two-roomed cottage, but had a collection of classical English works, became acquainted with him through an officer of the Durham Militia, found that his engagement with that regiment was "only from month to month," and urged him to leave them, and take up his abode in the "but and a ben," which he did. Swift is alone mentioned as the English author Herschel preferred to read, which, though it be consistent with the list of favourite authors given by his sister, is not altogether satisfactory evidence of the authenticity of Southey's story. But, be that as it may. Miller was thus entitled to be called his "earliest acquaintance" in England, and certainly his best friend, if it be true that he encouraged Herschel to apply for the organist's place in Halifax. But Miss Herschel in 1822 speaks of "Mr. Bulman from Leeds, the grandson of my brother's earliest acquaintance in this country,"[4] and tells us that in 1764 he paid them in Hanover a fortnight's visit from "Leeds in Yorkshire (where he must be left for some time)." The organist's place at Halifax does not date from 1760, but from 1765. The inconsistencies between Southey's story and Caroline Herschel's are too serious to allow us to accept his version of the means by which the organist's place at Halifax was gained in or about 1760 as true of "Herschel the astronomer." It is known that his brother Jacob was in England for two years about 1759.

While resident in Halifax, Herschel appears to have paid a visit to Italy, the ancient land of poetry and astronomy. Our authority for this is Niemeyer, Chancellor of the University of Halle, who visited Herschel at Slough shortly before his death, and seems to have received the details of the journey from his own lips. When he reached Genoa on his way home, he found himself short of money to meet expenses. He had gone to Italy to "improve himself in his profession of music"; and he put his improvement to use "by an original kind of concert he gave in that town, in which he played on the harp and on two horns fastened on his shoulders at the same time." He procured the money he needed, and, had he not been proud of his youthful success as a musician, would not have told the story, fifty years after, to his learned and distinguished visitor, as either he or his sister Caroline must have done. Her Memoirs contain no information on this tour and concert. Her brother William seems to have at that time fallen entirely out of her life, and to have left her, without education, to become a household drudge and the slave of her brother Jacob. But she cherished a spirit which, amid much that was extremely depressing, scorned to be the one or the other.

In the following year, 1766, William removed to Bath, where he became a teacher of music and organist of the Octagon Chapel. For five or six years after, obscurity again settles on his life and adventures. All that Caroline records is that Jacob joined his brother at Bath, and showed the same flightiness of disposition which the family had previously seen in his character. To speak of William as well known in the society for which Bath was then famous, or among the learned men and physicians by whom the town was frequented, is to people the darkness with visions of what we think should have been, but was not. He was little known there or elsewhere, till he took the world by storm; but at that period events were taking place in Bath which helped materially to lift the curtain of darkness off his life in 1772. He was then thirty-four years of age.

The musical director of Bath in those days was Linley, whose daughter Elizabeth, "at the age of twelve years, was brought forward publicly at the Rooms, where she so charmed the company by her taste and execution" as a singer, that she at once received the name of the Siren. Two years later she got a more attractive name, and was called the Angel. Her début took place in the very year Herschel came to Bath. Before she was seventeen she had turned the heads of all the young men by her beauty and accomplishments. Offer after offer was made for her hand, but the preference was given by her father, for reasons not creditable to him, to a suitor very much older than she was, but immensely wealthy. With difficulty the girl was persuaded to agree to the match. She withdrew from all public engagements, and nothing was talked of in Bath but the approaching wedding. While the town was in this state of expectation, William Herschel, seeing that great prizes were in prospect for attractive singers, bethought himself of his sister Caroline, then two or three years older than Miss Linley. He proposed that she should join him at Bath, after receiving lessons from their eldest brother, Jacob, in the hope that she "might become a useful singer for his winter concerts and oratorios." Should the experiment not succeed, he promised to bring her back to Hanover at the end of two years. Evidently Jacob—he is described as "brilliant"—had been a failure in Bath. A bully, such as he was, could not help feeling that it was a reflection on him to suggest she might succeed where he had failed. Without ever hearing the girl sing, he "turned the whole scheme into ridicule," but she resented his conduct "by taking every opportunity when all were from home to imitate, with a gag between my teeth, the solo parts of concertos, shake and all, such as I had heard them play on the violin; in consequence I had gained a tolerable execution before I knew how to sing." The cruelty or stupidity of the eldest brother had no effect on William, except to deepen his determination to make this experiment.

Meanwhile, strange things were happening at Bath. Miss Linley's admirer threw up his engagement, and, as compensation, paid her father a thousand pounds for the loss of her services at concerts. It was an eminently discreditable business all round. But the young lady did not want admirers. especially in a family which migrated to Bath in 1771. Two of its members were Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his elder brother, Charles, both of them as poor as their itinerant father, but as foolishly proud, though with better reason. The girl preferred Richard, and in that showed her good sense. But she was said to be so thorough a flirt, that she was at the same time giving Charles to understand he was the favoured suitor.[5] At last, knowing that her father's consent to a marriage with Richard would be refused, she eloped with him to France, and was placed by him in a convent. Brought back by her father, she was married to Sheridan on April 13, 1773. While this comedy was proceeding at Bath, Herschel made a brief run across to Hanover in April 1772, and returned for his sister in August. He was able to settle a small annuity on his mother in compensation for the loss Caroline's removal would entail on the household. She felt herself to be her mother's slave, to be bought and sold. After a journey of ten days, they reached London on the 26th of August, where, "when the shops were lighted up, they went to see all that was to be seen, of which she only remembered the opticians' shops, for she did not think they looked at any other." She came to England to be a public singer, she begins her work by a few lessons on optical instruments in the shop windows of London. Herschel had by that time evidently entered on the race for fame. His sister was twenty-two years of age.

Fourteen years after, when she had become a celebrity in all the observatories of Europe, at the Royal Society, and in the palace at Windsor, she is thus described by a young woman, who was then as famous for her pen as Caroline became for her comet-finder. "She is very little," the authoress of Evelina writes, "very gentle, very modest, and very ingenuous; and her manners are those of a person unhackneyed and unawed by the world, yet desirous to meet and to return its smiles. I love not the philosophy that braves it. This brother and sister seem gratified with its favour, at the same time that their own pursuit is all-sufficient to them without it." "I inquired of Miss Herschel if she was still comet-hunting, or content now with the moon? The brother answered that he had the charge of the moon, but he left to his sister to sweep the heavens for comets."[6] Was this famous little lady above thinking of the small things which delight the fancy of less remarkable women? In her case, would the answer to the prophet's question. Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? have been Yes! Far from it. When she made her first public appearance as a singer" her brother presented her with ten guineas for her dress," and she tells us herself that her "choice could not have been a bad one," as the proprietor of the Bath theatre pronounced her "to be an ornament to the stage! "All the same, intercourse with fashionable young ladies in London did not give her a high opinion of them or their attainments, "she thought them very little better than idiots."

About three years after his daughter's marriage, Linley withdrew from Bath. His place was supplied by William Herschel, who, to quote Niemeyer's words, "led the band at the theatre, conducted oratorios, and instructed some able pupils in that city." At that time "the Bath orchestra and its pump-room performances were the theme of general commendation in England," and to maintain the same standard of excellence, especially after the Misses Linley's retirement, entailed heavy and unremitting labour on the new director. Whether Herschel entertained the idea or not that he might succeed with his sister Caroline as Linley had succeeded with his two daughters may be open to doubt, but it is unquestionable that he had it in his power to make the trial, and that he did bring her out as a public singer. The gains of success were large and tempting. Miss Linley, now Mrs. Sheridan, was offered a seven years' engagement in London at a thousand a year for twelve nights' singing, and as much more for a benefit. Success held out such dazzling prospects, that the certainty of failure could alone have prevented Herschel from persevering in his attempt to train his sister as a professional singer. And he did not persevere. The lot of Caroline Herschel was not destined to be that of a public singer; it was to be the lot of a woman of science at a time when few of her sex could aspire to that honourable rank. Had William Herschel succeeded in turning out his sister as a public singer, or in placing her on the throne vacated by Miss Linley, would his race for bread not have become a race for riches instead of a race for fame? She herself had hopes of becoming a prima donna in the music world. Her friends cherished the same hope. But neither for her nor for her brother William did the race for fame lead along that road. For her brother Jacob, her detestation, it might possibly have so led. Dr. Burney, the author of a General History of Music and other works, was also of that opinion. William Herschel to him was the "greatest astronomer" of the age, while of Jacob he writes: "Herschel, master of the King's band at Hanover, and brother of the great astronomer, is an excellent instrumental composer in a more serious and simple style than the present."[7] Other women are mentioned by Dr. Burney among the singers of fame in those days, but Miss Herschel gets no such honourable mention in the annals of music.

For some years following her arrival in England the lives of the two Herschels are so intermingled that the history of Caroline is to a large extent the history of William also. They were both running the same course, and the one was holding out a helping hand to the other in the same race, the race for bread and the race for fame. Flighty, uncertain, bullying Jacob sunk out of their life in October 1787; but another brother, more to Caroline's mind, had entered it, and continued to diffuse a pleasant savour in the household at Bath, Alexander,[8] about five years older than his sister. He was of great assistance both as a violinist and a mechanician. Alexander was not of the same cheery, hopeful nature as William. On the contrary, he went amongst them by the name of Dick Doleful, and when he fell into the dismals, as he seems frequently to have done, William and Caroline had the pleasure of laughing him out of them into good humour. The house[9] was managed by the family of Mr. Bulman, William Herschels "earliest acquaintance in this country," with whom he lodged in Leeds, and for whom he procured the situation of clerk to the Octagon Chapel. They occupied the parlour floor. "Alexander, who had been some time in England, boarded and lodged with his elder brother, and with myself," Caroline says, "occupied the attic. The first floor, which was furnished in the newest and most handsome style, my brother kept for himself. The front room, containing the harpsichord, was always in order to receive his musical friends and scholars at little private concerts or rehearsals." A household so constituted,with a manager in charge "who had failed in business" in Leeds, and a strong-minded young woman who had known the thrift and drudgery of a poor German home in Hanover, had not in it the elements of stability. In six weeks, apparently, Caroline had to take the reins of household management into her own hands. No details are given; but, while still unable to speak English with comfort to herself, she was put in charge of the house accounts, and attended to the marketing, with her brother Alexander on guard behind to see that she found her way to market and home again in safety. The first time she ventured into a clamorous crowd of sellers, she brought back whatever in her fright she could pick up. But her battles with servants and her horror of waste were greater trials to temper than buying from market-people. These were troubles which worried her through life, though a reader may smile at the recital of Cinderella's sufferings. Of the poverty in her childhood's Hanover home, she wrote when she was seventy-seven years of age, and had gone "back again to the place where," she says, "I first drew breath, and where the first twenty-two years of my life (from my eighth year on) had been sacrificed to the service of my family under the utmost self-privation without the least prospect or hope of future reward." Even then her trouble with servants never left her: "I may perhaps be spared a long confinement before I leave this world, else such a thing as a trusty servant is, I believe, hardly to be met with in this city of Hanover, which, along with the people in it, are so altered since the French occupation and the return of the military with their extravagant and dissipated notions, imbibed when in Spain and England, with their great pensions, which they draw from the latter country, that it is quite a new world, peopled with new beings, to what I left it in 1772."

This young housekeeper and singer found herself in a world of astronomical talk, for which she had no liking, when she left her humble home in Hanover with her brother William. For six days and nights they travelled in the open and inconvenient postwagen of those times to the seacoast at Hellevoetsluis, where they were to take ship for England. So clear were the nights that William pointed out to his sister the stars and constellations of the northern sky. Arrived at Bath, she was launched on the study of music and the practice of singing, but during the long nights of winter William, evidently to divert her mind from the depressing home-sickness which weighed it down, gave her lessons in astronomy, or amused her with dreams that in a few years became waking realities. He was running a hard race for daily bread, for the thirty-five or thirty-eight lessons a week which he gave to music pupils might be counted work enough for an ordinary man, without reference to his duties as organist and manager of concerts. But he had also entered the arena of science in the race for lasting fame. A holiday from teaching meant for him increased work in the astronomical studies which were now absorbing his time and thoughts. "It soon appeared," his sister writes, "that he was not contented with knowing what former observers had seen, for he began to contrive a telescope eighteen or twenty feet long (I believe after Huyghens' description)." Her help was continually wanted in executing the various contrivances required. Although the lenses were ordered from London, she had to make the pasteboard tube they were fitted into, and when the telescope was turned on Jupiter or Saturn, she had to keep the paper tube straight till her brother got a peep through it. We need not be surprised to read her complaint that her music lessons were much hindered by astronomy, housekeeping, and indifferent servants. She was realising an old truth. Her brother and she imagined that service to two or three or even to four masters was possible. They were finding out that they could really serve only one. And slowly but surely William Herschel and his sister were drifting into the service of the one master, not the fleeting fame of a singer but the lasting fame of a discoverer. But those days of singing were never forgotten. In the last year of her life, when visited by the Crown Prince of Hanover, his wife and child, she sang to them a composition of her brother William's, "Suppose we sing a Catch." The gulf between 1780 and 1847 was at once beautifully bridged by the little old lady of ninety-seven!

Dollond had shown in the Philosophical Transactions for 1758 how the colours, that rendered a refracting telescope useless as a means of discovery, might be obviated. He pointed out to his countrymen how flint glass and crown glass corrected each other's defect, and might be used, as they had never been used before, to search into the depths of heaven. It was a marvellous discovery; but thought in those days was perhaps slower of action than it is now, for a seed of truth, laden with immense possibilities, lay dying in the ground for sixty years, till Fraunhofer of Munich applied it to construct the great refractor of Dorpat. But it was reflecting telescopes of the Newtonian and Gregorian pattern, not refractors such as Dollond's, to which the enthusiast of Bath finally turned his attention.What Gregory and Newton had proposed or executed on a small scale, Herschel proceeded to build with his own hands on a vastly larger, after finding that the cost of even a small telescope would be above the price he "considered it proper to give." It was not a case, as might be supposed, of the narrow insularity of our countrymen thus to neglect a great discovery by following out a more cumbersome English method. Gregory, Newton, Dollond all belonged to this country. It was also the adopted home of Herschel, but he preferredthe toilsome telescopes of the two former to the simpler and now possible instrument of the latter. "At Bath in my leisure hours," he says, "by way of amusement, I made for myself several 2-feet, 5-feet, 7-feet, 10-feet, and 20-feet Newtonian telescopes; besides others of the Gregorian form of 8 inches, 12 inches, 18 inches, 2 feet, 3 feet, 5 feet, and 10 feet focal length. My way was ... to have many mirrors of each sort cast; and to finish them all as well as I could; then to select by trial the best of them, which I preserved; the rest were put by to be repolished. In this manner I made not less than 200, 7-feet; 150, 10-feet; and about 80, 20-feet mirrors, not to mention those of the Gregorian form, or of the construction of Dr. Smith's reflecting microscope, of which I also made a great number. . . . The number of stands I invented for these telescopes it would not be easy to assign."[10] The story he tells of this magnificent "amusement," if less racy than his sister's, is far more wonderful. Could these mirrors have been sold at the prices then ruling the market, a large fortune would have rewarded the maker, as it ultimately did.

In June 1773 the new departure of Herschel commenced. Some of his pupils had left Bath; concerts, oratorios, and the theatre were at an end for five or six months. "To my sorrow," his sister writes, "I saw almost every room turned into a workshop." A cabinetmaker was making a tube and stands of all kinds in the drawing-room; her brother Alexander was "turning patterns, grinding glasses, and turning eye-pieces" in a bedroom; and while this manufactory was in its busiest whirl, William Herschel was besides composing glees, catches, anthems for winter consumption in the public rooms and the chapel, or holding rehearsals frequently at home. Alexander had to leave his turning-lathe for these rehearsals, and the seldom enthusiastic sister writes of him, "his solos on the violoncello were divine." It was work without intermission. Even at meal-times William was generally employed "contriving or making drawings of whatever came in his mind." Tea and supper were served without interrupting the work he had on hand. While he was at the turning-lathe or polishing mirrors for telescopes, Caroline read to him Don Quixote, the Arabian Nights, a novel of Sterne or Fielding. In course of time she became as useful a member of the household as a boy might be to his master in the first year of his apprenticeship. Still more "to drill me for a gentlewoman (God knows how she succeeded) two lessons per week for a whole twelvemonth from Miss Fleming, the celebrated dancing-mistress," were deemed indispensable. The drollery of the thing! "As I was to take part the next year in the oratorios!" nothing is wanting to complete the fun but "two lessons per week" at so much a lesson! The old lady who wrote this story of work and drollery—both of them perhaps detested by her when she was still a fraulein fresh from her poor Hanover home—may have laid the colours a little too thickly on the picture of work, earnest, all-absorbing work, and absurd fun, which she left to posterity. We may well be gratified she has, for if she escaped from the sneers of bullying Jacob, she certainly fell into the hands of exacting William. The difference was that she detested the former, worshipped the latter, and made a great name for herself as well as helped to make a greater for him.

She entertained the idea that her power as a singer would have assured her a respectable, if not a handsome income, had her voice been cultivated, as it was not. Others of the family, reading her Memoirs, appear to have shared her sentiments. It is very doubtful. Her brother William—"best and dearest of brothers"—must have thought otherwise, when he allowed her music lessons to be hindered by marketing, incompetent servants, and other trifles.

The story told by Herschel himself of his struggles in Bath and afterwards, if less racy, is certainly more wonderful. Encouragement he seems to have had from no one, not even from Caroline, who submitted, not without grumbling, to his whims or caprice.

He was pursuing his studies with a devotion which, to one who reads the papers he afterwards wrote, calls to mind the devotion of the patriarch in pursuit of his mistress's love. "In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes." Most literally true was this as a picture of the astronomer's labours at Bath. "The tube of my seven-feet telescope is covered with ice" is his journal entry one autumn night. A month later he writes, "It freezes very hard, and the stars are very tremulous." Two months later, in midwinter, we read, "Not only my breath freezes upon the side of the tube, but more than once have I found my feet fastened to the ground, when I have looked long at the same star." On removing to Windsor, there was no falling away in his devotion to this imperious mistress. "At four o'clock in the morning," he writes on New Year's Day 1783, "my ink was frozen in the room; and, about five o'clock, a twenty-feet speculum, in the tube, went off with a crack, and broke into two pieces. On looking at Fahrenheit's thermometer, I found it to stand at 11°." And, in the height of summer that year, "the telescope ran with water all the night," that is, "the condensing moisture on the tube has been running down in streams." "The small speculum, which sometimes gathers moisture, was never affected in the 7-feet tube, but was a little so in the 20-feet. The large eyeglasses and object-glasses of the finders required wiping very often." Such were some of the discomforts cheerfully undergone by this votary of science in pursuit of truth.[11]

Amid labours so continuous and so heavy it cannot occasion surprise that Caroline sometimes found relief in a fit of grumbling. When her brother was polishing a mirror, "by way of keeping him alive, she was constantly obliged to feed him by putting the victuals by bits into his mouth. This was once the case when, in order to finish a seven-foot mirror, he had not taken his hands from it for sixteen hours together."[12] The delicate lad, who, by his mother's address, escaped soldiering in 1757, had grown into a powerful athlete in 1772. This sometimes happens. Four years later he tried to improve on Newton's telescope by almost doubling the light let fall on the mirror at the bottom of the tube. He then experimented with a ten-feet reflector, but failed. He repeated the attempt with a twenty-feet in 1784, but again was disappointed: "it was too hastily laid aside." He succeeded shortly after, and found "it to be a very convenient and pleasant as well as useful way of observing": it inverts the north and south, but not the preceding and following."[13] He called it the Front-view, meaning that he tilted the mirror a little at the bottom, and, dispensing with Newton's plane mirror at the object end, secured all the light he could.

At that epoch in the world's history there was a singular upheaval of human thought and effort. In the years between 1760 and 1785 the world may be said to have witnessed more surprising changes than any it experienced since the revival of letters and the discovery of America. James Cook, aided by Joseph Banks and other men like himself, discovered new lands or new worlds of great extent and beauty in the bosom of the ocean; William Herschel, as the famous astronomer Lalande expressed it, "displayed a new heaven to earth," and discovered seventy-five millions of sunny stars. James Watt had solved the problem of converting the unruly giant of Steam into an obedient slave of man—the beginning of endless improvements in the bettering of man's lot. Gibbon had begun his Decline and Fall, Robertson was writing his Histories, and Hume was stirring the whole world of thought by the boldness and novelty of his ideas. Even in the political sphere that period was a seedtime fruitful of changes. The new world had changed hands. The Anglo-Saxon race and language had triumphed; the future of North America at least was assured. So was the future of India to the same hardy stock. Voltaire and his fellow-workers were paving the way for the violent upheaval that soon came in Europe. Everywhere men were sowing the seeds of a harvest of progress and blessing, mixed and disfigured with many a root of bitterness. But among the purest and freest from vice of all the harvests reaped from the seedbed then tilled and sown, was that of William Herschel in his laborious study of the stars. It left no bitter weed behind it to poison or deface the riches of its harvest.

Herschel was prospering in worldly circumstances amid this stress of effort and thought. He had learned also what a great poet expressed in words some years after: "The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in relation with beauty and truth."[14] His intensity required more room for its exercise. He was realising, he was putting into practical form Laplace's idea of a philosopher as one "who, uniting to a fertile imagination a rigid severity in investigation and observation, is at once tormented by the desire of ascertaining the cause of the phenomena, and by the fear of deceiving himself in that which he assigns."[15] Accordingly, he first "moved to a larger house, which had a garden behind it, and open space down to the river." It should be a place of pilgrimage to astronomers, for there discoveries were made, and also what were thought to be famous discoveries, but were not, and there the mirror for a great telescope was finished. Alone, without encouragement from the outside world of science, plunged in the depths of triflers' gay idleness, and sometimes subjected to the sharp tongue of his sister Caroline, this unwearied worker toiled on to his goal. He was determined to see what others had not seen, to know what others had not discovered.And he succeeded in reaching that goal. When his sister expected him to cheer her lonely life by lesson or talk, he was so absorbed in work that he withdrew to his bedroom to study some favourite author, and fell asleep in the midst of his books. One of the favourite works she mentions was the Astronomy of James Ferguson, published in 1756, the work of a self-taught Scottish peasant, whose proudest boast, had he lived to see the result, would have been that he did as much as any man, perhaps more, to start William Herschel on the path which led to results undreamed of in the history of science. And the book that Herschel thus fell asleep over was published anew by a famous man of science after Herschel's death, and was enriched with the multitudinous observations of the great astronomer. Master and pupil were embalmed together in that edition of the Astronomy, which can still bear comparison with any books of the kind that have been published, without coming out second best.

But the time of revealing William Herschel to the world as a practical astronomer of the first rank was now at hand. That he was little known in Bath and its neighbourhood we might gather from the silence observed regarding him by Hannah More, whose sisters kept a girls' school in Bristol, where she also resided. She was a lover of astronomy, and in 1762 made the "acquaintance of Ferguson, the popular astronomer, then engaged at Bristol in giving public lectures—an acquaintance which soon ripened into friendship."[16] But the girl who, as a woman of thirty-four, knew and recorded her impressions of Miss Linley, finds no place in either her Bristol or her London gossip for the far greater name of William Herschel, who conducted oratorios even at Bristol, was a favourite at Court, and was famous throughout Europe. Truly it may be said to Herschel what the passing traveller said to Archytas,

"Nec quidquam tibi prodest Aërias tentasse domos animoque rotundum Percurrisae polum morituro."

Still, there can be no doubt that his discoveries became the talk of London and the world. Perhaps, also, many a British patriot, in indignant condemnation of the folly and tyranny which alienated the United States of America from the parent stock, was echoing the words of Horace Walpole, "Mr. Herschel will content me if he can discover thirteen provinces," among his twenty millions of worlds, "well inhabited by men and women, and protected by the law of nations, and can annex them to the crown of Great Britain, in lieu of those it has lost beyond the Atlantic." [17]

  1. Quoted in Holden's Life and Works of William Herschel p. 4.
  2. Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xcii. (1822).
  3. The Doctor, ii. 261, from Miller's Doncaster (1804), p. 162.
  4. Memoirs, pp. 137, 326.
  5. "Mrs. Sheridan is with us," Hannah More writes to her sister at Bristol in 1778, "and her husband comes down on evenings. I find I have mistaken this lady; she is unaffected and sensible; converses and reads extremely well, and writes prettily." Mrs. Sheridan was nine or ten years younger than Hannah More.
  6. (Fanny Barney) Madame D'Arblay, Letters, etc., iii 442.
  7. History, iv. 603.
  8. Born November 13, 1745.
  9. No. 7 New King Street.
  10. Phil. Trans., 1795, pp. 347-48
  11. Phil. Trans., 1803, pp. 215-19.
  12. Lalande told the some story in 1783. See Arago.
  13. Phil. Trans. for 1786, p. 499.
  14. Keats, Life, i. 92.
  15. System of the World, ii. 310.
  16. Life, etc., i. 16.
  17. Letters, vi. 258. On Herschel's life in England, and especially in Bath, see Appendix.