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!l»' 



^TNISCENCES 
ASXaONQMER 



iM NEWCOMB 




Cornell University 
Library 



The original of tiiis bool< is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31 92401 2299958 



Cornell University Library 
QB 36.N53A3 



The reminiscences of an astronomer, 




3 1924 012 299 958 



THE REMINISCENCES OF AN 
ASTRONOMER 






ym{rK k/i^^u/<a^ 



THE EEMmiSCENCES 

OF 

AN ASTRONOMER 



BY 



SIMON NEWCOMB 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY 

€1)1 Uiatveine fjltects, CamitriDp 
1903 



tS 



COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY SIMON NEWCOMB 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

Published October, igos 



PEEFACE 

The earlier chapters of this collection are so much 
in the nature of an autobiography that the author 
has long shrunk from the idea of allowing them 
to see the light during his lifetime. His repug- 
nance has been overcome by very warm expres- 
sions on the subject uttered by valued friends 
to whom they were shown, and by a desire that 
some at least who knew him in youth should be 
able to read what he has written. 

The author trusts that neither critic nor reader 
will object because he has, in some cases, strayed 
outside the limits of his purely personal experi- 
ence, in order to give a more complete view of a 
situation, or to bring out matters that might be 
of historic interest. If some of the chapters are 
scrappy, it is because he has tried to collect those 
experiences which have afforded him most food for 
thought, have been most influential in shaping his 
views, or are recalled with most pleasure. 



CONTENTS 
I 

The Wokld of Cold and Darekess 

Ancestiy. — Squire Thomas Prince. — Paxentage. — Early Educa- 
tion. — Books read 1 

n 

Dr. Foshay 

A Long Journey on Foot. — A Wonderful Doctor. — The Botanic 
System of Medicine. — Phrenology. — A Launch into the World. 
— A Disillusion. — Life in Maryland. — Acquaintance with Pro- 
fessor Henry. — Bemoval to Cambridge 23 

m 

The World op Sweetness and Light 

The American Astronomical Ephemeris. — The Men who made it. 
— Harvard in the Middle of the Century. — A Librarian of the 
Time. — Professor Peirce. — Dr. Gould, the"AstronomioalJour- 
nal," and the Dudley Observatory. — W. P. G. Bartlett. — John 
D. Bunkle and the " Mathematical Monthly." — A Mathemati- 
cal Politician. — A Trip to Manitoba and a Voyage up the Sas- 
katchewan. — A Wonderful Star 62 

IV 

Life and Work at an Observatory 

A Professor, United States Navy. — The Naval Observatory in 
1861. — Captain Gilliss and his Plans. — Admiral Davis. — A 
New Instrument and a New Departure. — Astronomical Activ- 
ity. — The Question of Observatory Administration. — Visit 
from the Emperor of Brazil. — Admiral John Rodgers. — 
Efforts to improve the Work of the Observatory 97 



viii CONTENTS 

V 

Gbeat Telescopes and their Wobk 

Curious Origin of the Great Washington Telescope. — Congress is 
induced to act. — A Case of Astronomical Fallibility. — The 
Discovery of the Satellites of Mars. — The Great Telescope of 
the Puliova Observatory. — Alvan Clark and his Sons. — A 
Sad Astronomical Accident 128 

VI 

The Transits of Venus 

Old Transits of Venus. — An Astronomical Expedition in the 18th 
Century. — Father Hell and his Observations. — A Suspected 
Forger vindicated. — The American Commission on the Tran- 
sit of Venus. — The Photographic Method to be applied. — 
Garfield and the Appropriation Committee. — Weather Uncer- 
tainties. — Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope. — The Transit 
of 1882. — Out Failure to publish our Observations 151 

vn 

The Lick Observatory 

James Lick and his Ideas. — Mr. D. O. Mills. — Flans for the Lick 
Observatory. — Edward E. Barnard. — Professor Holden. — 
Wonderful Success of the Observatory 182 

vin 

The Author's Scientific Work 

The Orbits of the Asteroids. — The Problems of Mathematical 
Astronomy. — The Motion of the Moon and its Perplexing 
Inequalities. — A Visit to the Paris Observatory to search for 
Forgotten Observations. — Wonderful Success in finding Them. 
— The Paris Commune. — The History of the Moon's Motion 
carried back a Century. — The Harvard Observatory. — The 
"Nautical Almanac" Office and its Work. — Mr. George W. 
Hill and his Work. — A Wonderful Algebraist. — The Meridian 
Conference of 1884, and the Question of Universal Time. — 
Tables of the Planets completed. — The Astronomical Con- 
stants. — Work unfinished 195 



CONTENTS ix 

IX 

Scientific Washington 

Fiof essoT Henry and the Smithsonian Institution. — Alamni Asso- 
ciations. — The Scientific Club. — General Sherman. — Mr. Hugh 
McCulloch. — A Forgotten Scientist. — The National Academy 
of Sciences. — The Geological Survey of the Territories. — The 
Government Forestry System. — Professor O. C. Marsh. — Sci- 
entific Humbugs. — Life on the Plains 234 

X 

Scientific England 

My First Trip to Europe. — Mr. Thomas Hughes. — Mr. John 
Stuart Mill. — Mr. Gladstone and the Koyal Society Dinner. 

— Other Eminent Englishmen. — Professors Cayley and Adams. 

— Professor Airy and the Greenwich Observatory. — A Visit 
to Edinburgh 271 

XI 

Men and Things in EmtOPE 

A Voyage to Gibraltar with Professor Tyndall. — The Great For- 
tress. — " Whispering Boanerges." — A Winter Voyage in the 
Mediterranean. — Malta and Messina. — Advantage of not un- 
derstanding a Language. — German Astronomers. — The Pul- 
kova Observatory. — A Meeting which might have been Em- 
barrassing. — From Germany to Paris at the Close of the War. 

— Experiences at Paris during the Commune. — The Greatest 
Astronomer of France. — The Paris Observatory 302 

XII 

The Old and the New Washington 

Washington during the Civil War. — Secretary Stanton. — The 
Kaid of General Early. — A Presidential Levee in 1864. — The 
Fall of Kichmond. — The Assassination of President Lincoln. 

— Negro Traits and Education. — Senator Sumner. — An Am- 
bitious Academy. — President Garfield and his Assassination. — 
Cooling the White House during his Illness. — The Shepherd 
K^gime in Washington 334 



X CONTENTS 

XIII 

Miscellanea 

The Great Star-Catalogue Case. — Professor Peters and the Alma- 
gest of Ptolemy. — Scientific Cranks. — The Degrees of the 
French Universities. — A Virginia Country School. — Political 
Economy and Education. — Exact Science in America before 
the Johns Hopkins University. — Professor Ely and Economics. 
— Spiritualism and Psychic Research. — The Georgia Magnetic 
Girl 372 



THE REMINISCENCES OF AN 
ASTRONOMER 



THE REMINISCENCES OF AN 
ASTRONOMER 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 

I DATE my birth into the world of sweetness and 
light on one frosty morning in January, 1857, when 
I took my seat between two well-known mathema- 
ticians, before a blazing fire in the office of the 
" Nautical Almanac " at Cambridge, Mass. I had 
come on from Washington, armed with letters from 
Professor Henry and Mr. HUgard, to seek a trial as 
an astronomical computer. The men beside me 
were Professor Joseph Winlock, the superintend- 
ent, and Mr. John D. Eunkle, the senior assistant 
in the office. I talked of my unsuccessful attempt 
to master the " Mecanique Celeste " of Laplace 
without other preparation than that afforded by 
the most meagre text-books of elementary mathe- 
matics of that period. Runkle spoke of the trans- 
lator as " the Captain." So familiar a designation 
of the great Bowditch — LL. D. and member of 
the Royal Societies of London, Edinburgh, and 
Dublin — quite shocked me. 

I was then in my twenty-second year, but it was 
the first time I had ever seen any one who was 



2 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

familiar with the " Mecanique Celeste." I looked 
"with awe upon the assistants who filed in and out 
as upon men who had all the mysteries of gravita- 
tion and the celestial motions at their fingers' ends. 
I should not have been surprised to learn that 
even the Hibernian who fed the fire had imbibed 
so much of the spirit of the place as to admire the 
genius of Laplace and Lagrange. My own rank 
was scarcely up to that of a tyro ; but I was a few 
weeks later employed on trial as computer at a 
salary of thirty dollars a month. 

How could an incident so simple and an employ- 
ment so humble be in itself an epoch in one's life 
— an entrance into a new world ? To answer this 
question some account of my early life is necessary. 
The interest now taken in questions of heredity 
and in the study of the growing mind of the child 
may excuse a word about my ancestry and early 
training. 

Though born in Nova Scotia, I am of almost 
pure New England descent. The first Simon 
Newcomb, from whom I am of the sixth genera- 
tion, was born in Massachusetts or Maine about 
1666, and died at Lebanon, Conn., in 1745. His 
descendants had a fancy for naming their eldest 
sons after him, and but for the chance of my 
father being a younger son, I should have been 
the sixth Simon in unbroken lineal descent.* 

Among my paternal ancestors none, so far as I 

1 The actual sixth was my late excellent and esteemed cousin, 
Judge Simon Bolivar Newcomb, of New Mexico. 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 3 

know, with the exception of Elder Brewster, were 
what we should now call educated men. Nor, 
did any other of them acquire great wealth, hold 
a high official position, or do anything to make 
his name live in history. On my mother's side are 
found New England clergymen and an English 
nonconformist preacher, named Prince, who is said 
to have studied at Oxford towards the end of the 
seventeenth century, but did not take a degree. 
I do not know of any college graduate in the 
list. 

Until I was four years old I lived in the house of 
my paternal grandfather, about two miles from the 
pretty little village of Wallace, at the mouth of 
the river of that name. He was, I believe, a stone- 
cutter by trade and owner of a quarry which has 
since become important ; but tradition credits him 
with unusual learning and with having at some 
time taught school. 

My maternal grandfather was " Squire " Thomas 
Prince, a native of Maine, who had moved to 
Moncton, N. B., early in life, and lived there the 
rest of his days. He was an upright magistrate, 
a Puritan in principle, and a pillar of the Baptist 
Church, highly respected throughout the province. 
He came from a long-lived family, and one so pro- 
lific that it is said most of the Princes of New 
England are descended from it. I have heard a 
story of him which may illustrate the freedom of 
the time in matters of legal proceedings before a 
magistrate's court. At that time a party in a suit 



4 THE EEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

could not be a witness. In the terse language of 
the common people, " no man could swear money 
into his own pocket." The plaintiff in the case 
advised the magistrate in advance that he had no 
legal proof of the debt, but that defendant freely 
acknowledged it in private conversation. 

" Well," said the magistrate, " bring him in here 
and get him to talk about it while I am absent." 

The time came. 

"If you had n't sued me I would have paid you," 
said the defendant. 

On the moment the magistrate stepped from 
behind a door with the remark, — 

" I think you will pay him now, whether or no." 

My father was the most rational and the most 
dispassionate of men. The conduct of his life was 
guided by a philosophy based on Combe's " Con- 
stitution of Man," and I used to feel that the law 
of the land was a potent instrument in shaping his 
paternal affections. His method of seeking a wife 
was so far unique that it may not be devoid of 
interest, even at this date. From careful study 
he had learned that the age at which a man 
should marry was twenty-five. A healthy and 
well-endowed offspring should be one of the main 
objects in view in entering the marriage state, and 
this required a mentally gifted wife. She must be 
of different temperament from his own and an eco- 
nomical housekeeper. So when he found the age 
of twenty-five approaching, he began to look about. 
There was no one in Wallace who satisfied the 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 5 

requirements. He therefore set out afoot to dis- 
cover his ideal. In those days and regions the 
professional tramp and mendicant were unknown, 
and every farmhouse dispensed its hospitality with 
an Arcadian simplicity little known in our times. 
Wherever he stopped overnight he made a critical 
investigation of the housekeeping, perhaps rising 
before the family for this purpose. He searched 
in vain until his road carried him out of the pro- 
vince. One young woman spoiled any possible 
chance she might have had by a lack of economy 
in the making of bread. She was asked what she 
did with an unnecessarily large remnant of dough 
which she left sticking to the sides of the pan. 
She replied that she fed it to the horses. Her case 
received no further consideration. 

The search had extended nearly a hundred miles 
when, early one evening, he reached what was then 
the small village of Moncton. He was attracted 
by the strains of music from a church, went into 
it, and found a religious meeting in progress. His 
eye was at once arrested by the face and head of 
a young woman playing on a melodeon, who was 
leading the singing. He sat in such a position 
that he could carefuUy scan her face and move- 
ments. As he continued this study the conviction 
grew upon him that here was the object of his 
search. That such should have occurred before 
there was any opportunity to inspect the dough- 
pan may lead the reader to conclusions of his own. 
He inquired her name — Emily Prince. He culti- 



6 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTKONOMER 

vated her acquaintance, paid his addresses, and 
was accepted. He was fond of astronomy, and 
during the months of his engagement one of his 
favorite occupations was to take her out of an 
evening and show her the constellations. It is 
even said that, among the daydreams in which they 
indulged, one was that their firsthorn might be an 
astronomer. Probably this was only a passing 
fancy, as I heard nothing of it during my child- 
hood. The marriage was in all respects a happy 
one, so far as congeniality of nature and mutual 
regard could go. Although the wife died at the 
early age of thirty-seven, the husband never ceased 
to cherish her memory, and, so far as I am aware, 
never again thought of marrying. 

My mother was the most profoundly and sin- 
cerely religious woman with whom I was ever in- 
timately acquainted, and my father always enter- 
tained and expressed the highest admiration for 
her mental gifts, to which he attributed whatever 
talents his children might have possessed. The 
unfitness of her environment to her constitution 
is the saddest memory of my childhood. More- 1 
do not trust myself to say to the public, nor will 
the reader expect more of me. 

My father followed, during most of his life, the 
precarious occupation of a country school teacher. 
It was then, as it still is in many thinly settled 
parts of the country, an almost nomadic profession, 
a teacher seldom remaining more than one or two 
years in the same place. Thus it happened that, 



THE WORLD OP COLD AND DARKNESS 7 

during the first fifteen years of my Kfe, movings 
were frequent. My father tried his fortune in a 
number of places, both in Nova Scotia and Prince 
Edward Island. Our lot was made harder by the 
fact that his ideas of education did not coincide 
with those prevalent in the communities where he 
taught. He was a disciple and admirer of William 
Cobbett, and though he did not run so far counter 
to the ideas of his patrons as to teach Cobbett's 
grammar at school, he always recommended it to 
me as the one by which alone I could learn to 
write good English. The learning of anything, 
especially of arithmetic and grammar, by the glib 
repetition of rules was a system that he held in 
contempt. With the public, ability to recite the 
rules of such subjects as those went farther than 
any actual demonstration of the power to cipher 
correctly or write grammatically. 

So far as the economic condition of society and 
the general mode of living and thinking were con- 
cerned, I might claim to have lived in the time of 
the American Revolution. A railway was some- 
thing read or heard about with wonder ; a steamer 
had never ploughed the waters of Wallace Bay. 
Nearly everything necessary for the daily life of 
the people had to be made on the spot, and even at 
home. The work of the men and boys was " from 
sun to sun," — I might almost say from daylight 
to darkness, — as they tilled the groimd, mended 
the fences, or cut lumber, wood, and stone for ex- 
port to more favored cHmes. The spinning wheel 



8 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

and the loom were almost a necessary part of the 
furniture of any well-ordered house ; the excep- 
tions were among people rich enough to buy their 
own clothes, or so poor and miserable that they 
had to wear the cast-ofE rags of their more fortu- 
nate neighbors. The women and girls sheared the 
sheep, carded the wool, spun the yarn, wove the 
homespun cloth, and made the clothes. In the 
haying season they amused themselves by join- 
ing in the raking of hay, in which they had to 
be particularly active if rain was threatened ; but 
any man would have lost caste who allowed wife 
or daughter to engage in heavy work outside the 
house. 

The contrast between the social conditions and 
those which surround even the poorest classes at 
the present day have had a profound influence upon 
my views of economic subjects. The conception 
which the masses of the present time have of how 
their ancestors lived in the early years of the cen- 
tury are so vague and shadowy as not to influence 
their conduct at the present time. 

What we now call school training, the pursuit 
of fixed studies at stated hours under the constant 
guidance of a teacher, I could scarcely be said to 
have enjoyed; For the most part, when I attended 
my father's school at all, I came and went with 
entire freedom, and this for causes which, as we 
shall see, he had reasons for deeming good- 
It would seem that I was rather precocious. I 
was taught the alphabet by my aunts before I was 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 9 

four years old, and I was reading the Bible in class 
and beginning geography when I was six. 

One curious feature of my reading I do not re- 
member to have seen noticed in the case of chil- 
dren. The printed words, for the most part, 
brought no well-defined images to my mind ; none 
at least that were retained in their connection. I 
remember one instance of this. We were at Be- 
deque, Prince Edward Island. During the absence 
of my father, the school was kept for a time by Mr. 
Bacon. The class in reading had that chapter in 
the New Testament in which the treason of Judas 
is described. It was then examined on the subject. 
To the question what Judas did, no one could re- 
turn an answer until it came my turn. I had a 
vague impression of some one hanging himself, and 
so I said quite at random that he hanged himseK. 
It was with a quahn of conscience that I went to 
the head of the class. 

Arithmetic was commenced at the age of five, 
my father drawing me to school day by day on a 
little sled during the winter. Just what progress 
I made at that time I do not recall. Long years 
afterward, my father, at my request, wrote me a 
letter describing my early education, extracts from 
which I shall ask permission to reproduce, instead 
of attempting to treat the matter myself. The 
letter, covering twelve closely written foolscap 
pages, was probably dashed off at a sitting with- 
out supposing any eye but my own would ever 
see it : — 



10 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

June 8th, '58. 

I will now proceed to write, according to your request, 
about your early life. 

While in your fifth year, your mother spoke several 
times of the propriety of teaching you the first rudi- 
ments of book-learning ; but I insisted that you should 
not be taught the first letter until you became five.^ I 
think, though, that at about four, or four and a half I 
taught you to count, as far, perhaps, as 100. 

When a little over four and a half, one evening, as 
I came home from school, you ran to me, and asked, 
"Father, is not 4 and 4 and 4 and 4, 16? " "Yes, how 
did you find it out?" You showed me the counterpane 
which was napped. The spot of four rows each way 
was the one you had counted up. After this, for a week 
or two, you spent a considerable number of hours every 
day, making calculations in addition and multiplication. 
The rows of naps being crossed and complexed in vari- 
ous ways, your greatest delight was to clear them out, 
find how many small ones were equal to one large one, 
and such like. After a space of two or three weeks we 
became afraid you would calculate yourseK " out of your 
head," and laid away the counterpane. 

Winter came, and passed along, and your birthday 
came; on that day, having a light hand-sled prepared, 
I fixed you on it, and away we went a mile and a half 
to school. 

According to my belief in educational matters "that 
the slate should be put into the child's hands as soon as 
the book is," you of course had your slate, and com- 
menced making figures and letters the first day. 

In all cases, after you had read and spelled a lesson, 
and made some figures, and worked a sum, suppose one 

^ He had evidently forgotten the home instruction from my 
aunts, received more thau a year previous to the date he mentions. 



THE WOKLD OF COLD AND DAKKNESS 11 

hour's study, I sent you out, telling you to run about 
and play a "good spell." To the best of my judgment 
you studied, during the five months that this school 
lasted, nearly four hours a day, two being at figures. 

During the year that I taught at Bedeque, you stud- 
ied about five hours a day in school; and I used to ex- 
ercise you about an hour a day besides, either morning 
or evening. This would make six hours per day, nearly 
or quite two and a half hours of that time at numbers 
either at your slate or mentally. When my school ended 
here, you were six and a half years of age, and pretty 
well through the arithmetic. You had studied, I think, 
all the rules preceding including the cube root. . . . 

I had frequently heard, during my boyhood, of 
a supposed mental breakdown about this period, 
and had asked my father for a description of it in 
the letter from which I am quoting. On this sub- 
ject the letter continues : — 

You had lost all relish for reading, study, play, or 
talk. Sat most of the day flat on the floor or hearth. 
When sent of an errand, you would half the time forget 
what you went for. I have seen you come back from 
Cale Schurman's crying,^ and after asking you several 
times. you would make out to answer, you had not been 
all the way over because you forgot what you went for. 
You would frequently jump up from the corner, and ask 
some peculiar question. I remember three you asked 
me. 

^ The grandfather of President Schurman of Cornell University. 
I retain a dreamy impression of two half-grown or nearly grown 
boys, perhaps between fourteen and eighteen years of age, one of 
whom became, I believe, the father of the president. 



12 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

1st. Father, does form mean shape? Yes. Has 
everything some shape ? Yes. Can it be possible for 
anything to be made that would not have any shape? 
I answered no; and then showed you several things, ex- 
plaining that they all had some shape or form. You 
now brightened up like a lawyer who had led on a witness 
with easy questions to a certain point, and who had cau- 
tiously reserved a thunderbolt question, to floor the wit- 
ness at a proper time ; proceeded with, " Well, then, how 
could the world be without form when God made it? " 

3d. Does Cale Schurman's big ram know that he has 
such big crooked horns on him? Does he know it him- 
self, I mean? Does he know himself that he has such 
horns on him? 

You were taken down suddenly I think about two or 
three days from the first symptoms until you were fairly 
in the corner. Your rise was also rapid, I think about a 
week (or perhaps two weeks) from your first at recovery, 
until you seemed to show nothing unusual. From the 
time you were taken down until you commenced recovery 
was about a month. 

We returned to Prince Edward Island, and after a 
few weeks I began to examine you in figures, and found 
you had forgotten nearly all you had ever learned. 

While at New London I got an old work on Astron- 
omy; you were wonderfully taken with it, and read it 
with avidity. While here you read considerable in 
"Goldsmith's History of England." We lived two 
years in New London ; I think you attended school 
nearly one year there. I usually asked you questions 
on the road going to school, in the morning, upon the 
history you had read, or something you had studied the 
day previous. While there, you made a dozen or two of 



THE WOKLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 13 

the folks raise a terrible laugh. I one evening lectured 
on astronomy at home ; the house was pretty well filled, 
I suppose about twenty were present. You were not 
quite ten years old and small at that. Almost as soon 
as I was done you said: "Father, I think you were 
wrong in one thing." Such a roar of laughter almost 
shook the house. 

You were an uncommon child for truth, I never 
knew you to deviate from it in one single instance, 
either in infancy or youth. 

From your infancy you showed great physical courage 
in going along the woods or in places in the dark among 
cattle, and I am surprised at what you say about your 
fears of a stove-pipe and trees. 

Perhaps I should have said "mental" instead of phy- 
sical courage, for in one respect you were uncommonly 
deficient in that sort of courage necessary to perform 
bodily labor. Until nine or ten years of age you made 
a most pitiful attempt at any sort of bodily or rather 
"handy " work. 

An extraordinary peculiarity in you was never to leap 
past a word you could not make out. I certainly never 
gave you any particular instructions about this, or the 
fact itself would not at the time have appeared so strange 
to me. I will name one case. After a return to Wal- 
lace (you were eleven) I, one day, on going from home 
for an hour or so, gave you a borrowed newspaper, tell- 
ing you there was a fine piece; to read it, and tell me 
its contents when I returned. On my return you were 
near the house chopping wood. " Well, Simon, did you 
read the piece? " "No, sir." "Why not? " "I came 
to a word I did not know." This word was just about 
four lines from the commencement. 

At thirteen you read Phrenology. I now often im- 



14 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

pressed upon you the necessity of bodily labor ; that you 
might attain a strong and healthy physical system, so 
as to be able to stand long hours of study when you 
came to manhood, for it was evident to me that you 
would not labor with the hands for a business. On this 
account, as much as on account of poverty, I hired you 
out for a large portion of the three years that we lived 
at Clements. 

At fifteen you studied Euclid, and were enraptured 
with it. It is a little singular that all this time you 
never showed any self-esteem; or spoke of getting into 
employment at some future day, among the learned. 
The pleasure of intellectual exercise in demonstrating 
or analyzing a geometrical problem, or solving an alge- 
braic equation, seemed to be your only object. No 
Junior, Seignour or Sophomore class, with annual hon- 
ors, was ever, I suppose, presented to your mind. 

Your almost intuitive knowledge of geography, navi- 
gation, and nautical matters in general caused me to 
think most ardently of writing to the Admiral at Hali- 
fax, to know if he would give you a place among the 
midshipmen of the navy; but my hope of seeing you 
a leading lawyer, and finally a judge on the bench, 
together with the possibility that your mother would 
not consent, and the possibility that you would not wish 
to go, deterred me: although I think I commenced a 
letter. 

Among the books which profoundly influenced 
my mode of life and thought during the period 
embraced in the foregoing extracts were Fowler's 
" Phrenology " and Combe's " Constitution of 
Man." It may appear strange to the reader if a 
system so completely exploded as that of phreno- 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 15 

logy should have any value as a mental discipline. 
Its real value consisted, not in what it taught about 
the position of the " organs," but in presenting a 
study of human nature which, if not scientific in 
form, was truly so in spirit. I acquired the habit 
of looking on the characters and capabihties of 
men as the result of their organism. A hot and 
impulsive temper was checked by the reflection that 
it was beneath the dignity of human nature to al- 
low a rush of blood to the organs of " combative- 
ness " and " destructiveness " to upset one's mental 
equilibrium. 

That I have gotten along in Kfe almost without 
making (so far as I am aware) a personal enemy 
may be attributed to this early discipline, which 
led me into the habit of dealing vrith antagonism 
and personal opposition as I would deal with any 
physical opposition — evade it, avoid it, or over- 
come it. It goes without saying, however, that no 
discipline of this sort will avail to keep the pas- 
sions of a youth always in check, and my own 
were no exception. When about fifteen I once 
made a great scandal by taking out my knife in 
prayer meeting and assaulting a young man who, 
while I was kneeUng down during the prayer, stood 
above me and squeezed my neck. He escaped with 
a couple of severe though not serious cuts in his 
hand. He announced his intention of thrashing 
me when we should meet again; so for several 
days thereafter I tried, so far as possible, in go- 
ing afield to keep a pitchfork within reach, deter- 



16 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

mined that if he tried the job and I failed to kill 
him, it would be because I was unable to do so. 
Fortunately for both of us he never made the 
attempt. 

I read Combe's " Constitution of Man " when 
between ten and twelve years of age. Though 
based on the ideas of phrenology and not, I be- 
lieve, of high repute as a system of philosophy, 
it was as good a moral tonic as I can imagine to 
be placed in the hands of a youth, however falla- 
cious may have been its general doctrines. So far 
as I can recall, it taught that all individual and 
social ills were due to men's disregard of the laws 
of Nature, which were classified as physical and 
moral. Obey the laws of health and we and our 
posterity will all reach the age of one hundred 
years. Obey the moral law and social evils will 
disappear. Its reading was accompanied by some 
qualms of conscience, arising from the non-accord- 
ance of many of its tenets with those of the '' Cate- 
chism" and the "New England Primer." The 
combination of the two, however, led to the opti- 
mistic feeling that all wrongs would be righted, 
every act of injustice punished, and truth and 
righteousness eventually triumph through the regu- 
lar processes of Nature and Society. I have been 
led to abandon this doctrine only by much experi- 
ence, some of which will be found in the following 
pages. 

In the direction of mathematical and physical 
science and reading generally, I may add some- 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 17 

thing to what I have quoted from my father. My 
grandfather Simon had a small collection of books 
in the family. Among those purely literary were 
several volumes of " The Spectator " and " Eoder- 
ick Random." Of the former I read a good deal. 
The latter was a story which a boy who had scarcely 
read any other would naturally follow with inter- 
est. Two circumstances connected with the read- 
ing, one negative and the other positive, I recall. 
Looking into the book after attaining years of 
maturity, I found it to contain many incidents of 
a character that would not be admitted into a mod- 
ern work. Yet I read it through without ever 
noticing or retaining any impression of the indeli- 
cate side of the story. The other impression was 
a feeling of horror that a man fighting a duel and 
finding himself, as he supposed, mortally wounded 
by his opponent, should occupy his mind with 
avenging his own death instead of making his 
peace with Heaven. 

Three mathematical books were in the collec- 
tion, Hammond's Algebra, Simpsoii's Euclid, and 
Moore's Navigator, the latter the predecessor of 
Bowditch. The first was a miserable book, and I 
think its methods, which were crude in the ex- 
treme, though not incorrect, were rather more 
harmful than beneficial. The queer diagrams in 
Euclid had in my early years so Uttle attraction 
for me that my curiosity never led me to examine 
its text. I at length did so in consequence of a 
passage in the algebra which referred to the 47th 



18 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

proposition of the First Book. It occurred to me 
to look into the book and see what this was. It 
was the first conception of mathematical proof 
that I had ever met with. I saw that the demon- 
stration referred to a previous proposition, went 
hack to that, and so on to the beginning. A new 
world of thought seemed to be opened. That prin- 
ciples so profound should be reached by methods 
so simple was astonishing. I was so enraptured 
that I explained to my brother Thomas while walk- 
ing out of doors one day how the Pythagorean 
proposition, as it is now called, could be proved 
from first principles, drawing the necessary dia- 
grams with a pencil on a piece of wood. I thought 
that even cattle might understand geometry could 
they only be communicated with and made to pay 
attention to it. 

Some one at school had a copy of Mrs. Marcet's 
" Conversations on Natural Philosophy." With this 
book I was equally enraptured. Meagre and even 
erroneous though it was, it presented in a pleasing 
manner the first principles of physical science. I 
used to steal into the schoolhouse after hours to 
read a copy of the book, which belonged to one 
of the scholars, and hteraUy devoured it in a few 
evenings. 

My first undertaking in the way of scientific ex- 
periment was in the field of economics and psycho- 
logy. When about fourteen I spent the winter in 
the house of an old farmer named Jefferson. He 
and his wife were a very kindly couple and took 



THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS 19 

much interest in me. He was fond of his pipe, 
as most old farmers are. I questioned -whether 
anything else would not do just as well as tobacco 
to smoke, and whether he was not wasting his 
money by buying that article when a cheap substi- 
tute could be found. So one day I took his pipe, 
removed the remains of the tobacco ashes, and 
stuffed the pipe with tea leaves that had been 
steeped, and which in color and general appearance 
looked much like tobacco. I took care to be around 
when he should again smoke. He lit the pipe as 
usual and smoked it with, seemingly, as much sat- 
isfaction as ever, only essaying the remark, " This 
tobacco tastes like tea." My conscience pricked 
me, but I could say nothing. 

My father bought a copy of Lardner's " Popular 
Lectures on Science and Art." In this I first read 
of electricity. I recall an incident growing out of 
it. In Lardner's description of a Leyden jar, water 
is the only internal conductor. The wonders of 
the newly invented telegraph were then explained 
to the people in out of the way places by traveUng 
lecturers. One of these came to Clements, where 
we then Kved, with a lot of apparatus, amongst 
which was what I recognized as a Leyden jar. It 
was coated with tin-foil on the outside, but I did 
not see the inner coating, or anything which could 
serve as the necessary conductor. So with great 
diffidence I asked the lecturer while he was arran- 
ging his things, if he was not going to put water 
into the jar. 



20 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

" No, my lad," was his reply, " I put lightning 
into it." 

I wondered how the " lightning " was going to 
be conveyed to the interior surface of the glass 
without any conductor, such as water, but was too 
much abashed to ask the question. 

Moore's " Navigator " taught not only a very 
crude sort of trigonometry, but a good deal about 
the warship of his time. To a boy living on the 
seacoast, who naturally thought a ship of war one 
of the greatest works of man, the book was of much 
interest. 

Notwithstanding the intellectual pleasure which 
I have described, my boyhood was on the whole 
one of sadness. Occasionally my love of books 
brought a word of commendation from some visi- 
tor, perhaps a Methodist minister, who patted me 
on the head with a word of praise. Otherwise it 
caused only exclamations of wonder which were 
distasteful. 

" You would n't believe what larnin' that boy 
has got. He has more larnin' than all the people 
around here put together," I heard one farmer say 
to another, looking at me, in my own view of the 
case, as if I were some monster misshapen in the 
womb. Instead of feeling that my bookish taste 
was something to be valued, I looked upon myself 
as a lusus naturae whom Nature had cruelly formed 
to sufEer from an abnormal constitution, and la- 
mented that somehow I never could be like other 
boys. 



THE WORLD OP COLD AND DARKNESS 21 

The maladroitness described by my father, of 
which I was fully conscious, added to the feeUng 
of my unfitness for the world around me. The 
sMll required on a farm was above my reach, 
where efficiency in driving oxen was one of the 
most valued of accomplishments. I keenly felt 
my inability to acquire even respectable mediocrity 
in this branch of the agricultural profession. It 
was mortifying to watch the dexterous motions of 
the whip and listen to the torrent of imperatives 
with which a young farmer would set a team of 
these stolid animals in motion after they had 
failed to respond to my gentle requests, though 
conveyed in the best of ox language. 

I had indeed gradually formed, from reading, a 
vague conception of a different kind of world, — 
a world of Hght, — where dwelt men who wrote 
books and people who knew the men who wrote 
books, — where Hved boys who went to college and 
devoted themselves to learning, instead of driving 
oxen. I longed much to get into this world, but 
no possibility of doing so presented itself. I had 
no idea that it would be imbued with sympathy 
for a boy outside of it who wanted to learn. True, 
I had once read in some story, perhaps fictitious, 
how a nobleman had found a boy reading Newton's 
"Principia," and not only expressed his pleased 
surprise at the performance, but actually got the 
boy educated. But there was no nobleman in 
sight of the backwoods of Nova Scotia. I read in 
the autobiography of Franklin how he had made 



22 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

his way in life. But he was surrounded with op- 
portunities from which I was cut off. It does seem 
a Kttle singular that, well known as my tastes were 
to those around me, we never met a soul to say, 
" That boy ought to be educated." So far as I 
know, my father's idea of making me a lawyer met 
with nothing but ridicule from the neighbors. Did 
not a lawyer have to know Latin and have money 
to pursue his studies? In my own daydreams I 
was a farmer driving his own team ; in my mother's 
a preacher, though she had regretfully to admit 
that I might never be good enough for this pro- 
fession. 



n 

DOCTOR FOSHAY 

In the summer of 1851, when I had passed the 
age of sixteen, we Uved in a little school district a 
mile or two from the town of Yarmouth, N. S. 
Late in the summer we had a visit from a maternal 
uncle and aunt. As I had not seen Moncton since 
I was six years old, and as I wanted very much to 
visit my grandfather Prince once more, it was ar- 
ranged that I should accompany them on their 
return home. An additional reason for this was 
that my mother's health had quite failed; there 
was no prospect of my doing anything where I was, 
and it was hoped that something might turn up at 
Moncton. There was but one difficulty ; the vis- 
itors had driven to St. John in their own little car- 
riage, which would hold only two people ; so they 
could not take me back. I must therefore find my 
own way from St. John to Moncton. 

We crossed the Bay of Fundy in a Uttle sailing 
vessel. Among the passengers was an English 
ship captain who had just been wrecked off the 
coast of Newfoundland, and had the saved rem- 
nant of his crew with him. On the morning of 
our departure the weather was stormy, so that our 



24 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

vessel did not put to sea — a precaution for which 
the captain passenger expressed great contempt. 
He did not understand how a vessel should delay 
going to sea on account of a little storm. 

The walk of one hundred miles from St. John 
to Moncton was for me, at that time, a much less 
formidable undertaking than it would appear in 
our times and latitude. A thirty-mile tramp was 
a bagatelle, and houses of entertainment — farm- 
houses where a traveler could rest or eat for a few 
pennies — were scattered along the road. But 
there was one great difficulty at the start. My in- 
structions had been to follow the telegraph wires. 
I soon found that the Une of telegraph came into 
the town from one direction, passed through it, and 
then left, not in the opposite direction, but perhaps 
at right angles to it. In which direction was the 
line to be followed? It was difficult to make 
known what I wanted. " Why, my boy, you can't 
walk to Moncton," was one answer. In a shop the 
clerks thought I wanted to ride on the telegraph, 
and, with much chuckling, directed me to the tele- 
graph office where the man in charge would send 
me on. I tried in one direction which I thought 
could not be right, then I started ofE in the oppo- 
site one; but it soon became evident that that 
branch led up the river to Frederickton. So I 
had to retrace my steps and take the original line, 
which proved to be the right one. 

The very first night I found that my grand- 
father's name was one to conjure with. I passed it 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 2$ 

with a hearty old farmer -who, on learning who I 
was, entertained me with tales of Mr. Prince. The 
quality which most impressed the host was his enor- 
mous physical strength. He was rather below the 
usual stature and, as I remember him, very slightly 
built. Yet he could shoulder a barrel of flour and 
lift a hogshead of molasses on its end, feats of 
strength which only the most powerful men in the 
region were equal to. 

On reaching my destination, I was not many days 
in learning that my grandfather was a believer in 
the maxims of " Poor Richard's Almanac," and dis- 
approved of the aimless way in which I had been 
bred. He began to suggest the desirableness of 
my learning to do something to make a living. I 
thought of certain mechanical tastes which had 
moved me in former years to whittle and to make 
a reel on which to wind yarn, and to mend things 
generally. So I replied that I thought the trade of 
a carpenter was the one I could most easily learn. 
He approved of the idea, and expressed the inten- 
tion of finding a carpenter who would want my 
services ; but before he did so, I was started in a 
new and entirely different direction. 

On her last visit to her birthplace, my mother 
brought back glowing reports of a wonderful phy- 
sician who lived near Moncton and effected cures 
of the sick who had been given up by other doctors. 
I need hardly remark that physicians of wonderful 
proficiency — Diomeds of the medical profession, 
before whose shafts all forms of disease had to fall 



26 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

— were then very generally supposed to be realities. 
The point which specially commended Dr. Foshay 
to us was that he practiced the botanic system of 
medicine, which threw mineral and all other poi- 
sons out of the materia medica and depended upon 
the healing powers of plants alone. People had 
seen so much of the evil effects of calomel, this 
being the favorite alterative of the profession, that 
they were quite ready to accept the new system. 
Among the remarkable cures which had given Dr. 
Foshay his great reputation was one of a young 
man with dyspepsia. He was reduced to a shadow, 
and the regular doctors had given him up as incur- 
able. The new doctor took him to his home. The 
patient was addicted to two practices, both of which 
had been condemned by his former medical advis- 
ers. One was that of eating fat pork, which he 
would do at any hour of the day or night. The 
new doctor allowed him to eat all he wanted. An- 
other was getting up in the night and practicing an 
ablution of the stomach by a method too heroic to 
be described in anything but a medical treatise.^ He 
was now allowed to practice it to his heart's content. 
The outcome of the whole proceeding was that he 
was well in a few months, and, when I saw him, 
was as lusty a youth as one could desire to meet. 

* I may remark, for the benefit of any medical reader, that it 
involved the use of two pails, one full of water, the other empty. 
When he got through the ablution, one pail was empty, and the 
other full. My authority for the actuality of this remarkable pro- 
ceeding was some inmate of the house at the time, and I give cre- 
dence to the story because it was not one likely to be invented. 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 27 

Before Mr. Prince could see a carpenter, he was 
taken ill. I was intensely interested to learn that 
his physician was the great doctor I had heard of, 
who lived in the village of Salisbury, fifteen miles 
on the road to St. John, 

One of my aunts had an impression that the 
doctor wanted a pupil or assistant of some kind, 
and suggested that a possible opening might here 
be offered me. She promised to present me to the 
doctor on his next visit, after she had broached the 
subject to him. 

The time for which I waited impatiently at length 
arrived. Never before had I met so charming a 
man. He was decidedly what we should now call 
magnetic. There was an intellectual flavor in his 
talk which was quite new to me. What fascinated 
me most of all was his speaking of the difficulties 
he encountered in supplying himself with sufficient 
" reading matter." He said it as if mental food 
was as much a necessity as his daily bread. He 
was evidently a denizen of that world of Kght 
which I had so long wished to see. He said that 
my aunt was quite right in her impression, and our 
interview terminated in the following Hberal pro- 
position on his part : — 

S. N. to Uve with the doctor, rendering him all 
the assistance in his power in preparing medicines, 
attending to business, and doing generally whatever 
might be required of him in the way of help. 

The doctor, on his part, to supply S. N.'s bodily 
needs in food and clothing, and teach him medical 



28 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

botany and the botanic system of medicine. The 
contract to terminate Avhen the other party should 
attain the age of twenty-one. 

After mentioning the teaching clause, he cor- 
rected himself a moment, and added : " At least 
all I know about it." 

AU he knows about it ! What more could heart 
desire or brain hold ? 

The brilliancy of the offer was dimmed by only 
a single consideration ; I had never felt the slight- 
est taste for studying medicine or caring for the 
sick. That my attainments in the line could ever 
equal those of my preceptor seemed a result too 
hopeless to expect. But, after all, something must 
be done, and this was better than being a car- 
penter. 

Before entering upon the new arrangement, a 
ratification was required on both sides. The doc- 
tor had to make the necessary household arrange- 
ments, and secure the consent of his wife. I had 
to ask the approval of my father, which I did by 
letter. Like General Grant and many great men, 
he was a man of exceptional sagacity in matters 
outside the range of his daily concerns. He threw 
much cold water on the scheme, but consented to 
my accepting the arrangement temporarily, as there 
was nothing better to be done. 

I awaited the doctor's next visit with glowing 
anticipation. In due course of time I stepped with 
him into his gig for the long drive, expecting 
nothing less on the journey than a complete out- 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 29 

line of the botanic system of medicine and a pro- 
gramme of my future studies. But scarcely had 
we started when a chilling process commenced. 
The man erstwhile so efEusive was silent, cold, im- 
passive, — a marble statue of his former self. I 
scarcely got three sentences out of him during the 
journey, and these were of the most commonplace 
kind. Could it be the same man ? 

There was something almost frightful in being 
alongside a man who knew so much. When we 
reached our destination the horse had to be put 
away in the stable. I jumped up to the haymow 
to throw down the provender. It was a very pe- 
culiar feeling to do so under the eye of a man 
who, as he watched me, knew every muscle that I 
was setting in operation. 

A new chill came on when we entered the house 
and I was presented to its mistress. 

" So you 're the boy that 's come to work for 
the doctor, are you ? " 

" I have come to study with him, ma'am," was 
my interior reply, but I was too diffident to say 
it aloud. Naturally the remark made me very 
uncomfortable. The doctor did not correct her, 
and evidently must have told her something differ- 
ent from what he told me. Her tone was even 
more depressing than her words ; it breathed a 
coldness, not to say harshness, to which I had not 
been accustomed in a woman. There was nothing 
in her appearance to lessen the unpleasant impres- 
i^on. Small in stature, with florid complexion, 



30 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

wide cheek bones that gave her face a triangular 
form, she had the eye and look of a well-trained 
vixen. 

As if fate were determined to see how rapid my 
downfall should be before the close of the day, it 
continued to pursue me. I was left alone for a few • 
minutes. A child some four years old entered and 
made a very critical inspection of my person. The 
result was clearly unfavorable, for she soon asked 
me to go away. Finding me indisposed to obey 
the order, she proceeded to the use of force and 
tried to expel me with a few strong pushes. When 
I had had enough of this, I stepped aside as she 
was making a push. She fell to the floor, then 
picked herself up and ran off crying, " Mamma." 
The latter soon appeared with added ire infused 
into her countenance. 

" What did you hit the child for ? " 

" I did n't hit her. What should I want to 
strike a child like that for ? " 

"But she says you hit her and knocked her 
down." 

" I did n't, though — she was trying to push me 
and fell and hurt herself." 

A long piercing look of doubt and incredulity 
followed. 

"Strange, very strange. I never knew that 
child to teU a lie, and she says you struck her." 

It was a new experience — the first time I had 
ever known my word to be questioned. 

During the day one thought dominated all 



DOCTOR FOSHAT 31 

others : -where are those treasures of Hterature 
which, rich though they are, fail to satisfy their 
owner's voracious intellectual appetite ? As houses 
were then built, the living and sleeping rooms 
were all on one main floor. Here they comprised 
a kitchen, dining room, medicine room, a little 
parlor, and two small sleeping rooms, one for the 
doctor and one for myself. Before many hours 
I had managed to see the interior of every one 
except the doctor's bedroom, and there was not 
a sign of a book imless such common ones as a 
dictionary or a Bible. What could it all mean ? 

Next day the darkuess was illuminated, at least 
temporarily, by a ray of light. The doctor had 
been absent most of the day before on a visit to 
some distant patient. Now he came to me and 
told me he wanted to show me how to make bilious 
powders. Several trays of dried herbs had been 
drying under the" kitchen stove until their leaves 
were quite brittle. He took these and I followed 
him to the narrow stairway, which we slowly as- 
cended, he going ahead. As I mounted I looked 
for a solution of the difficulty. Here upstairs must 
be where the doctor kept his books. At each step 
I peered eagerly ahead until my head was on a 
level with the floor. Rafters and a window at 
the other end had successively come into view and 
now the whole interior was visible. Nothing was 
there but a loft, at the further end of which was a 
bed for the housemaid. The floor was strewn with 
dried plants. Nothing else was visible. The dis- 



32 THE EEMimSCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

illusion seemed complete. My heart sank within 
me. 

On one side of the stairway at a level with the 
floor was screwed a large coffee mill. The doctor 
spread a sheet of paper out on the floor on the 
other side, and laid a fine sieve upon it. Then he 
showed me how to grind the dry and brittle leaves 
in the coffee mill, put them into the sieve, and sift 
them on the paper. This work had a scientific 
and professional look which infused a ghmmer of 
light into the Cimmerian darkness. The bilious 
powders were made of the leaves of four plants 
familiarly known as spearmint, sunflower, smart- 
weed, and yarrow. In his practice a heaping tea- 
spoonful of the pulverized leaves was stirred in a 
cup of warm water and the grosser parts were 
allowed to settle, while the patient took the finer 
parts with the infusion. This was one of Dr. 
Foshay's staple remedies. Another was a pill of 
which the principal active ingredient was aloesi 
The art of making these pills seemed yet more 
scientific than the other, and I was much pleased 
to find how soon I could master it. Beside these 
a number of minor remedies were kept in the 
medicine room. Among them were tinctures of 
lobeUa, myrrh, and capsicum. There was also a 
pill box containing a substance which, from its 
narcotic odor, I correctly inferred to be opium. 
This drug being prohibited by the Botanic School 
I could not but feel that Dr. Foshay's orthodoxy 
was painfully open to question. 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 33 

Determined to fathom the mystery in which the 
doctor's plans for my improvement were involved, 
I announced my readiness to commence the study 
of the botanic system. He disappeared in the 
direction of his bedroom, and soon returned with 
— could my eyes believe it ? — a big book. It 
was one which, at the time of its publication, some 
thirty or forty years before, was well known to the 
profession, — Miner and Tally on the " Fevers of 
the Connecticut Valley." He explained bringing 
me this book. 

"Before beginning the regular study of the 
botanic system, you must understand something of 
the old system. You can do so by reading this 
book." 

A duller book I never read. There was every 
sort of detail about different forms of fever, which 
needed different treatment; yet calomel and, I 
think, opium were its main prescriptions. In due 
time I got through it and reported to my pre- 
ceptor. 

" Well, what do you think of the. book ? " 

" It praises calomel and opium too much. But 
I infer from reading it that there are so many 
kinds of fever and other diseases that an immense 
amount of study will be required to distinguish 
and treat them." 

" Oh, you will find that all these minute distinc- 
tions are not necessary when we treat the sick on- 
the botanic system." 

" What is the next thing for me ? Can I not 



34 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

now go on with the study of the botanic sys- 
tem?" 

" You are not quite ready for it yet. You must 
first understand something about phrenology. 
One great difference between us and doctors of 
the old school is that they take no account of 
difference of temperament, but treat the lymphatic 
and bilious in the same way. But we treat accord- 
ing to the temperament of the patient and must 
therefore be expert in distinguishing tempera- 
ments." 

" But I studied phrenology long ago and think 
I understand it quite well." 

He was evidently surprised at this statement, 
but after a little consideration said it was very 
necessary to be expert in the subject, and thought 
I had better learn it more thoroughly. He re- 
turned to his bedroom and brought a copy of 
Fowler's " Phrenology," the very book so familiar 
to me. I had to go over it again, and did so very 
carefully, paying special attention to the study of 
the four temperaments, — nervous, bilious, lym- 
phatic, and sanguine. 

Before many days I again reported progress. 
The doctor seemed a little impatient, but asked me 
some questions about the position of the organs 
and other matters pertaining to the subject, which 
I answered promptly and correctly by putting my 
fingers on them on my own head. But though 
satisfied with the answers, it was easy to see that 
he was not satisfied with me. He had, on one or 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 35 

two previous occasions, intimated that I was not 
■wise and prudent in worldly matters. Now he 
expressed himself more plainly. 

" This world is all a humbug, and the biggest 
humbug is the best man. That 's the Yankee doc- 
trine, and that 's the reason the Yankees get along 
so well. You have no organ of secretiveness. 
You have a window in your breast that every one 
can look into and see what you are thinking about. 
You must shut that window up, like I do. No one 
can teU from my talk or looks what I am thinking 
about." 

It may seem incredible to the reader that I mar- 
veled much at the hidden meaning of this allegor- 
ical speech, and never for one moment supposed 
it to mean : " I, Dr. Foshay, with my botanic sys- 
tem of medicine, am the biggest humbug in these 
parts, and if you are going to succeed with me 
you must be another." But I had already recog- 
nized the truth of his last sentence. Probably 
neither of us had heard of Talleyrand, but from 
this time I saw that his hearty laugh and Hvely 
talk were those of a manikin. 

His demeanor toward me now became one of 
complete gravity, formality, and silence. He was 
always kindly, but never said an unnecessary word, 
and avoided all reference to reading or study. 
The mystery which enveloped him became deeper 
month after month. In his presence I felt a cer- 
tain awe which prevented my asking any questions 
as to his intentions toward me. 



36 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

It must, of course, be a matter of lifelong re- 
gret that two years so important in one's edu- 
cation should have been passed in such a way, 
— stiU, they were not wholly misspent. From 
a teacher named Monroe,^ who then Hved near 
Salisbury, I borrowed Draper's Chemistry, little 
thinking that I would one day count the author 
among my friends. A book peddler going his 
rounds offered a collection of miscellaneous books 
at auction. I bought, among others, a Latin and 
a Greek grammar, and assiduously commenced their 
study. With the first I was as successful as could 
be expected under the circumstances, but failed 
with the Greek, owing to the unfamiliarity of the 
alphabet, which seemed to be an obstacle to mem- 
ory of the words and forms. 

But perhaps the greatest event of my stay was 
the advent of a botanic druggist of Boston, who 
passed through the region with a large wagonload 
of medicines and some books. He was a pleasant, 
elderly gentleman, and seemed much interested on 
learning that I was a student of the botanic system. 
He had a botanic medical college in or near Bos- 
ton, and strongly urged me to go thither as soon 
as I could get ready to complete my studies. From 
him the doctor, wUling to do me a favor, bought 
some books, among them the " Eclectic Medical 
Dispensary," published in Cincinnati. Of this 

1 Rev. Alexander H. Monroe, who, I have understood, afterward 
lived in Montreal. I have often wished to find a trace of him, hut 
do not know whether he is still living. 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 37 

book the doctor spoke approvingly, as founded on 
the true system which he himself practiced, and 
though I never saw him read it, he was very ready 
to accept the knowledge which I derived from it. 
The result was quite an enlargement of his materia 
medica, both in the direction of native plants and 
medicines purchased from his druggist. 

On one occasion this advance came near having 
serious consequences. I had compounded some 
pills containing a minute quantity of elaterium. 
The doctor gave them to a neighboring youth af- 
fected with a slight indisposition in which some 
such remedy was indicated. The directions were 
very explicit, — one pill every hour until the de- 
sired efEect was produced. 

" Pshaw," said the patient's brother, " there 's 
nothin' but weeds in them pills, and a dozen of 
them won't hurt you." 

The idea of taking weed pills one at a time 
seemed too ridiculous, and so the whole number 
were swallowed at a dose. The result was, hap- 
pily, not fatal, though impressive enough to greatly 
increase the respect of the young man's family for 
our medicines. 

The intellectual life was not wholly wanting in 
the village. A lodge of a temperance organization, 
having its headquarters in Maine, was formed at a 
neighboring village. It was modeled somewhat 
after the fashion of the Sons of Temperance. The 
presiding ofBcer, with a high sounding title, was my 
mother's cousin, Tommy Nixon. He was the most 



38 THE EEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

popular young man of the neighborhood. The rudi- 
ments of a classical education gained at a repu- 
table academy in SackviUe had not detracted from 
his qualities as a healthy, rollicking young farmer. 
The lodge had an imposing ritual of which I well 
remember one feature. At stated intervals a pass- 
word which admitted a member of any one lodge to 
a meeting of any other was received from the central 
authority — in Maine, I beUeve. It was never to 
be pronounced except to secure admission, and was 
communicated to the members by being written on 
a piece of paper in letters so large that all could 
read. After being held up to view for a few mo- 
ments, the paper was held in the flame of a candle 
with these words: "This paper containing our 
secret password I commit to the devouring element 
in token that it no longer exists save in the minds 
of the faithful brethren." The fine sonorous voice 
of the speaker and his manly front, seen in the 
lurid light of the burning paper, made the whole 
scene very impressive. 

There was also a society for the discussion of 
scientific questions, of which the founder and 
leading spirit was a youth named Isaac Steves, 
who was beginning the study of medicine. The 
president was a " Worthy Archon." Our discus- 
sions strayed into the field of physiological mys- 
teries, and got us into such bad odor with Mrs. 
Foshay and, perhaps, other ladies of the commu- 
nity, that the meetings were abandoned. 

A soil like that of the Provinces at this time was 



DOCTOR FOSHAT 39 

fertile in odd characters including, possibly, here 
and there, a " heart pregnant with celestial fire." 
One case quite out of the common line was that 
of two or three brothers employed in a sawmill 
somewhere up the river Petticodiac. According to 
common report they had invented a new language 
in order to enable them to talk together without 
their companions knowing what they were saying. 
I knew one of them well and, after some time, ven- 
tured to inquire about this supposed tongue. He 
was quite ready to explain it. The words were 
constructed out of English by the very simple pro- 
cess of reversing the syllables or the spelling. 
Everything was pronounced backward. Those who 
heard it, and knew the key, had no difficulty in 
construing the words ; to those who did not, the 
words were quite foreign. 

The family of the neighborhood in which I was 
most intimate was that of a Scotch farmer named 
Parkin. Father, mother, and children were very 
attractive, both socially and intellectually, and in 
later years I wondered whether any of them were 
still living. Fifty years later I had one of the 
greatest and most agreeable surprises of my life 
in suddenly meeting the little boy of the fam- 
ily in the person of Dr. George R. Parkin, the 
well-known promoter of imperial federation in Aus- 
tralia and the agent in arranging for the Ehodes 
scholarships at Oxford which are assigned to 
America. 

My duties were of the most varied character. I 



40 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTKONOMER 

composed a Kttle couplet designating my profes- 
sions as those of 

Physician, apothecary, chemist, and druggist, 
Girl about house and boy in the bam. 

I cared for the horse, cut wood for the fire, 
searched field and forest for medicinal herbs, or- 
dered other medicines from a druggist ^ in St. John, 
kept the doctor's accounts, made his pills, and mixed 
his powders. This left little time for reading and 
study, and such exercises were still farther limited 
by the necessity of pursuing them out of sight of 
the housewife. 

As time passed on, the consciousness that I was 
wasting my growing years increased. I long cher- 
ished a vague hope that the doctor could and would 
do something to promote my growth into a physi- 
cian, especially by taking me out to see his patients. 
This was the recognized method of commencing 
the study of medicine. But he never proposed 
such a course to me, and never told me how he ex- 
pected me to become a physician. Every month 
showed my prospects in a less hopeful light. I 
had rushed into my position in blind confidence in 
the man, and without any appreciation of the re- 
quirements of a medical practitioner. But these 
requirements now presented themselves to my mind 
with constantly increasing force. Foremost among 
them was a knowledge of anatomy, and how could 
that be acquired except at a medical school ? It 

* Our druggist was Mr. S. L. Tilley, afterward Sir Leonard Til- 
ley, the well-known Canadian Minister of Finance. 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 41 

was every day more evident that if I continued in 
my position I should reach my majority without 
being trained for any life but that of a quack. 

While in this state of perplexity, an event hap- 
pened which suggested a way out. One day the 
neighborhood was stirred by the news that Tommy 
Nixon had run away — left his home without the 
consent of his parents, and sailed for the gold 
fields of Australia. I was struck by the absence 
of any word of reprobation for his act. The young 
men at least seemed to admire the enterprising 
spirit he had displayed. A few weeks after his 
departure a letter which he wrote from London, 
detailing his adventures in the great metropolis, 
was read in my presence to a circle of admiring 
friends with expressions of wonder and surprise. 
This little circumstance made it clear to me that 
the easiest way out of my difficulty was to cut the 
Gordian knot, run away from Dr. Foshay, and join 
my father in New England. 

No doubt the uppermost question in the mind 
of the reader will be : Why did you wait so long 
without having a clear understanding with the doc- 
tor? Why not ask him to his face how he ex- 
pected you to remain with him when he had failed 
in his pledges, and demand that he should either 
keep them or let you go ? 

One answer, perhaps the first, must be lack of 
moral courage to face him with such a demand. I 
have already spoken of the mystery which seemed 
to enshroud his personality, and of the fascination 



42 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

which, through it, he seemed to exercise over me. 
But behind this was the conviction that he could 
not do anything for me were he ever so well dis- 
posed. That he was himseU uneducated in many 
essentials of his profession had gradually become 
plain enough ; but what he knew or possibly might 
know remained a mystery. I had heard occasional 
allusions, perhaps from Mrs. Foshay rather than 
from himself, to an institution supposed to be in 
Maine, where he had studied medicine, but its 
name and exact location were never mentioned. 
Altogether, i£ I told him of my intention, it could 
not possibly do any good, and he might be able to 
prevent my carrying it out, or in some other way 
to do much harm. And so I kept silent. 

Tuesday, September 13, 1853, was the day on 
which I fixed for the execution of my plan. The 
day previous I was so abstracted as to excite re- 
marks both from Mrs. Foshay and her girl help, 
the latter more than once declaring me crazy when 
I made some queer blunder. The fact is I was 
oppressed by the feeling that the step about to be 
taken was the most momentous of my life. I 
packed a few books and clothes, including some 
mementoes of my mother, and took the box to the 
stage and post-office in the evening, to be for- 
warded to an assumed name in St. John the next 
afternoon. This box I never saw again ; it was 
probably stopped by Foshay before being dis- 
patched. My plan was to start early in the morn- 
ing, walk as far as I could during the day, and, in 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 43 

the evening, take the mail stage when it should 
overtake me. This course was necessitated by the 
fact that the little money that I had in my pocket 
was insufficient to pay my way to Boston, even 
when traveling in the cheapest way. 

I thought it only right that the doctor should be 
made acquainted with my proceeding and my rea- 
son for taking it, so I indited a short letter, which 
I tried to reproduce from memory ten years later 
with the following result : — 

Deae Doctok, — I write this to let you know of 
the step I am about to take. When I came to live with 
you, it was agreed that you should make a physician of 
me. This agreement you have never shown the slightest 
intention of fulfilling since the first month I was with 
you. You have never taken me to see a patient, you 
have never given me any instruction or advice whatever. 
Beside this, you must know that your wife treats me in 
a manner that is no longer bearable. 

I therefore consider the agreement annulled from 
your failure to fulfill your part of it, and I am going off 
to make my own way in the world. When you read 
this, I shall be far away, and it is not likely that we 
shall ever meet again. 

If my memory serves me right, the doctor was 
absent on a visit to some distant patient on the 
night in question, and I did not think it likely that 
he would return until at least noon on the follow- 
ing day. By this time my box would have been 
safely ofE in the stage, and I would be far out of 
reach. To delay his receiving the letter as much 
as possible, I did not leave it about the house, but 



44 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

put it in the window of a shop across the way, 
which served the neighbors as a little branch post- 
office. 

But he must have returned sooner than I ex- 
pected, for, to my great regret, I never again saw 
or heard of the box, which contained, not only the 
entire outfit for my journey, but all the books of 
my childhood which I had, as well as the little 
mementoes of my mother. The postmaster who 
took charge of the goods was a Mr. Pitman. 
When I again passed through SaHsbury, as I did 
ten years later, he had moved away, no one could 
tell me exactly where. 

I was on the road before daybreak, and walked 
till late at night, occasionally stopping to bathe 
my feet in a brook, or to rest for a few minutes in 
the shadow of a tree. The possibihty of my being 
pursued by the doctor was ever present to my mind, 
and led me to keep a sharp lookout for coming 
vehicles. Toward sunset a horse and buggy ap- 
peared, coming over a hill, and very soon the re- 
semblance of vehicle and driver to the turnout of 
the doctor became so striking that I concealed 
myself in the shrubbery by the wayside until the 
sound of the wheels told me he was well past. 
The probabiUty that my pursuer was in front of 
me was an added source of discomfort which led 
me to avoid the road and walk in the woods wher- 
ever the former was not visible to some distance 
ahead. But I neither saw nor heard anything 
more of the supposed pursuer, though, from what 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 45 

I afterward learned, there can be little doubt that 
it was actually Foshay himself. 

The advent of darkness soon relieved me of the 
threatened danger, but added new causes of soHci- 
tude. The evening advanced, and the lights in 
the windows of the houses were becoming fewer 
and fewer, and yet the stage had not appeared. I 
slackened my pace, and made many stops, begin- 
ning to doubt whether I might not as well give up 
the stage and look for an inn. It was, I think, 
after ten o'clock when the rattling of wheels an- 
nounced its approach. It was on a descending 
grade, and passed me like a meteor, in the dark- 
ness, quite heedless of my calls and gesticulations. 
Fortunately a house was in sight where I was hos- 
pitably entertained, and I was very soon sound 
asleep, as became one who had walked fifty miles 
or more since daylight. 

Thus ended a day to which I have always looked 
back as the most memorable of my life. I felt 
its importance at the time. As I walked and 
walked, the question in my mind was, what am I 
doing and whither am I going? Am I doing 
right or wrong ? Am I going forward to success 
in life, or to failure and degradation? Vainly, 
vainly, I tried to peer into the thick darkness of 
the future. No definite idea of what success might 
mean could find a place in my mind. I had some- 
times indulged in daydreams, but these come not 
to a mind occupied as mine on that day. And if 
they had, and if fancy had been allowed its wildest 



46 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

flight in portraying a future, it is safe to say that 
the figure of an honorary academician of France, 
seated in the chair of Newton and Franklin in the 
palace of the Institute, would not have been found 
in the picture. 

As years passed away I have formed the habit 
of looking back upon that former self as upon an- 
other person, the remembrance of whose emotions 
has been a solace in adversity and added zest to the 
enjoyment of prosperity. If depressed by trial, I 
think how light woxild this have appeared to that 
boy had a sight of the future been opened up to 
him. When, in the haUs of learning, I have gone 
through the ceremonies which made me a citizen of 
yet another commonwealth in the world of letters, 
my thoughts have gone back to that day ; and I 
have wished that the inexorable law of Nature could 
then have been suspended, if only for one moment, 
to show the scene that Providence held in reserve. 

Next morning I was on my way betimes, having 
stiU more than thirty miles before me. And the 
miles seemed much longer than they did the day 
before, for my feet were sore and my limbs stiflE. 
Quite welcome, therefore, was a lift oflEered by a 
young farmer, who, driving a cart, overtook me 
early in the forenoon. He was very sociable, and 
we soon got into an interesting conversation. 

I knew that Dr. Foshay hailed from somewhere 
in this region, where his father still hved, so I 
asked my companion whether he knew a family of 
that name. He knew them quite well. 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 47 

" Do you know anything of one of the sons who 
is a doctor ? " 

" Yes indeed ; I know all about him, but he ain't 
no doctor. He tried to set up for one in Salisbury, 
but the people there must a' found him out before 
this, and I don't know where he is now." 

" But I thought he studied medicine in Frederic- 
ton or Maine or somewhere on the border." 

" Oh, he went off to the States and pretended to 
study, but he never did it. I tell you he ain't no 
more a doctor nor I am. He ain't smart enough 
to be a doctor." 

I fell into a fit of musing long enough to hear, 
in my mind's ear, with startling distinctness, the 
words of two years before : " This world is all a 
humbug, and the biggest humbug is the best man. 
. . . You have a window in your breast and you 
must close that window before you can succeed in 
life." Now I grasped their full meaning. 

Ten years later I went through the province by 
rail on my wedding journey. At Dorchester, the 
next village beyond Moncton, I was shown a place 
where insolvent debtors were kept " on the limits." 

" By stopping there," said my informant, " you 
can see Dr. Foshay." 

I suggested the question whether it was worth 
while to break ova journey for the sake of seeing 
him. The reply of my informant deterred me. 

" It can hardly be worth while to do so. He wiU 
be a painful object to see, — a bloated sot, drink- 
ing himself to death as fast as he can." 



48 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

The next I heard of him was that he had suc- 
ceeded. 

I reached St. John on the evening that a great 
celebration of the commencement of work on the 
first railway in the province was in progress. When 
things are undecided, small matters turn the scale. 
The choice of my day for starting out on my ad- 
venturous journey was partly fixed by the desire to 
reach St. John and see something of the celebra- 
tion. Darkness came on when I was yet a mile 
or two from the city ; then the first rocket I had 
ever beheld rose before me in the sky. Two of 
what seemed like unfortunate incidents at the time 
were most fortunate. Subsequent and disappoint- 
ing experience showed that had I succeeded in 
getting the ride I wished in the stage, the resulting 
depletion of my purse would have been almost fatal 
to my reaching my journey's end. Arriving at the 
city, I naturally found all the hotels filled. At 
length a kindly landlady said that, although she 
had no bed to give me, I was quite welcome to lie 
on a soft carpeted floor, in the midst of people who 
could not find any other sleeping place. No charge 
was made for this accommodation. My hope of 
finding something to do which woidd enable me to 
earn a little money in St. John over and above the 
cost of a bed and a daily loaf of bread was disap- 
pointed. The efforts of the next week are so 
painful to recall that I will not harrow the feelings 
of the reader by describing them. Suffice it to say 
that the adventure was wound up by an interview at 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 49 

Calais, a town on the Maine border, a few miles 
from Eastport, with the captain of a small sailing 
vessel, hardly more than a boat. He was bound 
for Salem. I asked him the price of a passage. 

" How much money have you?" he repUed. 

I told him ; whether it was one or two dollars I 
do not recall. 

" I will take you for that if you will help us on 
the voyage." 

The offer was gladly accepted. The little craft 
was about as near the opposite of a clipper ship as 
one can imagine, never intended to run in any but 
fair winds, and even with that her progress was 
very slow. There was a constant succession of 
west winds, and the result was that we were about 
three weeks reaching Salem. Here I met my father, 
who, after the death of my mother, had come to 
seek his fortune in the " States." He had reached 
the conclusion, on what grounds I do not know, 
that the eastern part of Maryland was a most de- 
sirable region, both in the character of its people 
and in the advantages which it offered us. The 
result was that, at the beginning of 1854, I found 
myself teacher of a country school at a place called 
Massey's Cross Eoads in Kent County. After 
teaching here one year, I got a somewhat better 
school at the pleasant little village of Sudlersville, 
a few miles away. 

Of my abilities as a manager and teacher of 
youth the reader can judge. Suffice it to say 
that, looking back at those two years, I am deeply 



50 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

impressed with the good nature of the people in 
tolerating me at aU. 

My most pleasant recollection is that of two of 
my best pupils of Sudlersville, nearly my own age. 
One was Arthur E. Sudler, for whose special benefit 
some chemical apparatus was obtained from Phila- 
delphia. He afterwards studied medicine at the 
University of Pennsylvania and delighted me by 
writing that what I had taught him placed him 
among the best in his class in chemistry. The 
other was B. S. Elliott, who afterward became an 
engineer or surveyor. 

One of my most vivid recollections at Massey's 
relates to a subject which by no means forms a 
part of one's intellectual development, and yet is 
at the bottom of aU human progress, that of diges- 
tion. The staple food of the inhabitants of a 
Southern farming region was much heartier than 
any to which I had been accustomed. " Pork and 
pone " were the staples, the latter being a rather 
coarse cake with little or no seasoning, baked from 
cornmeal. This was varied by a compound called 
" shortcake," a mixture of flour and lard, rapidly 
baked in a pan, and eaten hot. Though not dis- 
tasteful, I thought it as villainous a compound as 
a civilized man would put into his stomach. 

Quite near my school lived a young bachelor 
farmer who might be designated as William Bowler, 
Esq., though he was better known as BiUy Bowler. 
He had been educated partly at Delaware College, 
Newark, and was therefore an interesting young 



DOCTOR FOSHAT 51 

man to know. In describing his experiences at 
the college, he once informed me that they were 
all very pleasant except in a single point ; that was 
the miserably poor food that the students got to 
eat. He could not, he declared, get along without 
good eating. This naturally suggested that my 
friend was something of a gourmand. Great, there- 
fore, was my delight when, a few weeks later, he 
expressed a desire to have me board with him. I 
accepted the offer as soon as possible. Much to 
my disappointment, shortcake was on the table at 
the first meal and again at the second. It proved 
to be the principal dish twice, and I am not sure 
but three times a day. The other staple was fried 
meat. On the whole this was worse than pork and 
pone, which, if not toothsome, was at least whole- 
some. As the days grew into weeks, I wondered 
what Delaware College could give its students to 
eat. To increase the perplexity, there were plenty 
of chickens in the yard and vegetables in the gar- 
den. I asked the cook if she could not boil some 
vegetables and bring them on the table. 

" Mas'er Bowler don't like wegetable." 

Then I found that the chickens were being con- 
sumed in the kitchen and asked for one. 

" Mas'er Bowler don't like chicken," was the 
reply, with an added intimation that the chickens 
belonged to the denizens of the kitchen. 

The mystery was now so dark and deep that I 
determined to fathom it. I drew Mr. Bowler into 
conversation once more about Delaware College, 



52 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

and asked him what the students had to eat when 
there. 

He had evidently forgotten his former remark 
and described what seemed to me a fairly well pro- 
vided students' table. Now I came down on him 
with my crusher. 

" You told me once that the table was miserably 
poor, so that you could hardly stand it. What fault 
had you to find with it ? " 

He reflected a moment, apparently recalling his 
impression, then replied : " Oh, they had no short- 
cake there ! " 

In 1854 I availed myself of my summer vacation 
to pay my first visit to the national capital, little 
dreaming that it would ever be my home. I went 
as far as the gate of the observatory, and looked 
wistfully in, but feared to enter, as I did not know 
what the rules might be regarding visitors. I 
speculated upon the possible object of a queer red 
sandstone building, which seemed so different from 
anything else, and heard for the first time of the 
Smithsonian Institution. 

On the very beginning of my work at Massey's 
the improvement in my position was so remarkable 
that I felt my rash step of a few months before 
fully justified. I wrote in triumph to my favorite 
aunt, Rebecca Prince, that leaving Dr. Foshay was 
the best thing I had ever done. I was no longer 
" that boy," but a respectable young man with a 
handle to my name. 

Just what object I should pursue in life was still 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 53 

doubtful ; the avenues of the preferment I would 
have Hked seemed to be closed through my not 
being a college graduate. I had no one to advise 
me as to the subjects I should pursue or the books 
I should study. On such books as I could get, I 
passed every spare hour. My father sent me Cob- 
bett's English Grammar, •which I found amusing 
and interesting, especially the criticisms upon the 
grammar found here and there in royal addresses 
to ParKament and other state papers. On the 
•whole I am not sure but that the book justified my 
father's good opinion, although I cannot but think 
that it was rather hypercritical. I had been taught 
the rudiments of French in Wallace when quite a 
chUd by a Mr. Oldright, of whose methods and 
pronunciation my memory gives me a most favor- 
able impression. I now got Cobbett's French 
Grammar, probably a much less commendable book 
than his EngUsh one. I had never yet fathomed 
the mysteries of analytic geometry or the calculus, 
and so got Da-vies' books on those subjects. That 
on the calculus was perhaps the worst that could 
be put into the hands of a person situated as I 
was. Two volumes of Bezout's Mathematics, in 
French, about a century old, were, I think, rather 
better. Say's Political Economy was the first book 
I read on that subject, and it was quite a delight 
to see hiunan affairs treated by scientific methods. 
I finally reached the conclusion that mathematics 
was the study I was best fitted to follow, though 
I did not clearly see in what way I should turn 



54 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the subject to account. I knew that Newton's 
" Principia" was a celebrated book, so I got a copy 
of the English translation. The path through it 
was rather thorny, but I at least caught the spirit 
here and there. No teacher at the present time 
would think of using it as a text-book, yet as a 
mental discipHne, and for the purpose of enabUng 
one to form a mental image of the subject, its 
methods at least are excellent. I got a copy of 
the "American Journal of Science," hoping it 
might enlighten me, but was frightened by its 
big words, and found nothing that I could under- 
stand. 

During the year at Sudlersville I made several 
efforts which, though they were insignificant so 
far as immediate results were concerned, were in 
some respects of importance for my future work. 
With no knowledge of algebra except what was 
derived from the meagre text-books I could pick 
up, — not having heard even the name of Abel, or 
knowing what view of the subject was taken by 
professional mathematicians, — I made my first at- 
tempt at a scientific article, " A New Demonstra- 
tion of the Binomial Theorem." This I sent to 
Professor Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian In- 
stitution, to see if he deemed it suitable for publi- 
cation. He promptly replied in the negative, but 
offered to submit it to a professional mathemati- 
cian for an opinion of its merits. I gladly accepted 
this proposal, which was just what I wanted. In 
due course a copy of the report was sent me. One 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 55 

part of the work was praised for its elegance, but 
a lack of completeness and rigor was pointed out. 
It was accompanied by a pleasant note from Pro- 
fessor Henry remarking that, while not so favor- 
able as I might have expected, it was sufficiently 
so to encourage me in persevering. 

The other effort to which I refer was of quite 
a different character. A copy of the " National 
Intelhgencer," intended for some subscriber who 
had left Sudlersville, came to the post-office for 
several months, and, there being no claimant, I 
frequently had an opportunity to read it. One of 
its features was frequent letters from volunteer 
writers on scientific subjects. Among these was a 
long letter from one G. W. Eveleth, the object of 
which was to refute the accepted theory of the 
universe, especially the view of Copernicus. For 
aught I knew Mr. Eveleth held as high a position 
as any one else in the world of science and letters, 
so I read his article carefully. It was evidently 
wholly fallacious, yet so plausible that I feared the 
belief of the world in the doctrine of Copernicus 
might suffer a severe shock, and hastened to the 
rescue by writing a letter over my own name, 
pointing out the fallacies. This was published 
in the "National Intelligencer" — if my memory 
serves me right — in 1855. My full name, printed 
in large capitals, in a newspaper, at the bottom of 
a letter, filled me with a sense of my temerity in 
appearing so prominently in print, as if I were in- 
truding into company where I might not be wanted. 



56 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

My letter had two most unexpected and gratify- 
ing results. One was a presentation of a copy of 
Lee's " Tables and Formulae," which came to me 
a few days later through the mail with the compli- 
ments of Colonel Abert. Not long afterward came 
a letter from Professor J. Lawrence Smith, after- 
ward a member of the National Academy of Sci- 
ences, transmitting a copy of a pamphlet by him 
on the theory that meteorites were masses thrown 
up from the volcanoes of the moon, and asking my 
opinion on the subject. 

I had not yet gotten into the world of light. 
But I felt as one who, standing outside, could 
knock against the wall and hear an answering 
knock from within. 

The beginning of 1856 found me teaching in 
the family of a planter named Bryan, residing in 
Prince George County, Md., some fifteen or twenty 
miles from Washington. This opened up new op- 
portunities. I could ride into Washington when- 
ever I wished, leave my horse at a livery stable, 
and see whatever sights the city offered. The 
Smithsonian Library was one of the greatest attrac- 
tions. Sometime in May, 1856, I got permission 
from the attendant in charge to climb into the 
gallery and see the mathematical books. Here I 
was delighted to find the greatest treasure that my 
imagination had ever pictured, — a work that I 
had thought of almost as belonging to fairyland. 
And here it was right before my eyes' — four 
enormous volumes, — " Mecanique Celeste, by the 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 57 

Marquis de Laplace, Peer of France ; translated 
by Nathaniel Bowditch, LL. D., Member of the 
Royal Societies of London, Edinburg, and Dublin." 
I inquired as to the possibility of my borrowing the 
first volume, and was told that this could be done 
only by special authority of Professor Henry. I 
soon got the necessary authority through Mr. 
Rhees, the chief clerk, whose kindness in the 
matter deeply impressed me, signed a promise to 
return it within one month, and carried it in 
triumph to my little schoolhouse. I dipped into 
it here and there, but at every step was met by 
formulae and methods quite beyond the power of 
one who knew so little of mathematics. In due 
time I brought the book back as promised. 

Up to this time I think I had never looked 
upon a real hve professor ; certainly not upon one 
of eminence in the scientific world. I wondered 
whether there was any possibility of my making 
the acquaintance of so great a man as Professor 
Henry. Some time previous a Kttle incident had 
occurred which caused me some uneasiness on the 
subject. I had started out very early on a visit to 
Washington, or possibly I had stayed there all 
night. At any rate, I reached the Smithsonian 
Building quite early, opened the main door, 
stepped cautiously into the vestibule, and looked 
around. Here I was met by a short, stout, and 
exceedingly grufE sort of a man, who looked upon 
my entrance with evident displeasure. He said 
scarcely a word, but motioned me out of the door, 



58 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMEK 

and showed me a paper or something in the entrance 
which intimated that the Institution would be open 
at nine o'clock. It was some three minutes before 
that hour, so I was an intruder. The man looked 
so respectable and so commanding in his appear- 
ance that I wondered if he could be Professor 
Henry, yet sincerely hoped he was not. I after- 
ward found that he was only " Old Peake," the jan- 
itor.^ When I found the real Professor Henry he 
received me with characteristic urbanity, told me 
something of his own studies, and suggested that 
I might find something to do in the Coast Survey, 
but took no further steps at that time. 

The question whether I was fitted for any such 
employment now became of great interest. The 
principal question was whether one must know 
celestial mechanics in order to secure such a posi- 
tion, so, after leaving Professor Henry, I made my 
way to the Coast Survey office, and was shown to 
the chief clerk, as the authority for the informa- 
tion. I modestly asked him whether a knowledge 
of physical astronomy was necessary to a position 
in that office. Instead of frankly telling me that 
he did not know what physical astronomy was, he 
answered in the affirmative. So I left with the 
impression that I must master the " M^canique 
Celeste " or some similar treatise before finding any 
opening there. 

1 Feake, notwithstanding his official title, would seem to have 
been more than an ordinary janitor, as he was the author of a 
Guide to the Smithsonian Institution. 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 59 

I could not, of course, be satisfied with a single 
visit to such a man, and so called several times 
during the year. One thing I wondered about 
was whether he would remember me when he again 
saw me. On one occasion I presented him with a 
plan for improving the Cavendish method of deter- 
mining the density of the earth, which he took 
very kindly. I subsequently learned that he was 
much interested in this problem. On another occa- 
sion he gave me a letter to Mr. J. E. Hilgard, 
assistant in charge of the Coast Survey office. My 
reception by the latter was as delightful as that by 
Professor Henry. I found from my first interview 
with him that the denizens of the world of light 
were up to the most sanguine conceptions I ever 
could have formed. 

At this time, or probably some time before, I 
bought a copy of the " American Ephemeris " for 
1858, and amused myself by computing on a slate 
the occultations visible at San Francisco during the 
first few months of the year. At this time I had 
learned nothing definite from Mr. Hilgard as to 
employment in his office. But about December, 
1856, I received a note from him stating that he 
had been talking about me to Professor Winlock, 
superintendent of the "Nautical Almanac," and 
that I might possibly get employment on that 
work. When I saw him again I told him that I 
had not yet acquired such a knowledge of physical 
astronomy as would be necessary for the calcula- 
tions in question ; but he assured me that this was 



60 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

no drawback, as formulae for all the computations 
would be supplied me. I was far from satisfied 
at the prospect of doing nothing more than mak- 
ing routine calculations with formulae prepared by 
others ; indeed, it was almost a disappointment to 
find that I was considered qualified for such a place. 
I could only console myself by the reflection that 
the ease of the work would not hinder me from 
working my way up. Shortly afterward I under- 
stood that it was at least worth while to present 
myself at Cambridge, and so started out on a jour- 
ney thither about the last day of the year 1856. 

At that time even a railroad journey was quite 
difEerent from what it is now. The cars were drawn 
through Baltimore by horses. At Havre de Grace 
the train had to stop and the passengers were taken 
across the river in a ferryboat to another train. 
At Philadelphia the city had to be traversed by 
transfer coaches. Looking around for this convey- 
ance, I met a man who said he had it. He shoved 
me into it and drove off. I remarked with suspi- 
cion that no other coaches were accompanying us. 
After a pretty long drive the speed of the horses 
gradually began to slacken. At length it came to 
a complete stop in front of a large building, and I 
got out. But it was only a freight station, locked 
up and dark throughout. The driver mumbled 
something about his fare, then rolled back on his 
seat, seemingly dead drunk. The nearest sign of 
life was at a tavern a block or two away. There 
I found that I was only a short distance from the 



DOCTOR FOSHAY 61 

station of departure, and reached my train barely 
in time. 

Landing in New York at the first glimmer of 
dawn, near the end of the line of passengers I 
was momentarily alarmed to see a man pick up 
what seemed to be a leather purse from right be- 
tween my feet. It was brown and, so far as I 
could see, just like my own. I immediately felt 
the breast pocket of my coat and found that my 
own was quite safe. The man who picked up the 
purse inquired in the politest tone possible H it was 
mine, to which I replied in the negative. He re- 
treated a short distance and then a bystander came 
up and chided me in a whisper for my folly in not 
claiming the purse. The only reply he got was, 
" Oh, I 'm up to all your tricks." On a repetition 
of this assurance the pair sneaked away. 

Arriving at Cambridge, I sought out Professor 
Winlock and was informed that no immediate em- 
ployment was open at his office. It would be neces- 
sary for him to get authority from Washington. 
After this was obtained some hope might be held 
out, so I appeared in the office from time to time 
as a visitor, my first visit being that described in 
the opening chapter. 



m 

THE WORLD OP SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 

The term " Nautical Almanac " is an unfortunate 
misnomer for what is, properly speaking, the " As- 
tronomical Ephemeris." It is quite a large vol- 
ume, from which the world draws all its knowledge 
of times and seasons, the motions of the heavenly 
bodies, the past and future positions of the stars 
and planets, eclipses, and celestial phenomena gen- 
erally which admit of prediction. It is the basis 
on which the family almanac is to rest. It also 
contains the special data needed to enable the as- 
tronomer and navigator to determine their position 
on land or sea. The first British publication of 
the sort, prepared by Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, 
a century ago, was intended especially for the use 
of navigators ; hence the familiar appellation, which 
I call unfortunate because it leads to the impression 
that the work is simply an enlargement and im- 
provement of the household almanac. 

The leading nations publish ephemerides of this 
sort. The introductions and explanations are, of 
course, in the languages of the respective countries ; 
but the contents of the volume are now so much 
alike that the duplication of work involved in pre- 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 63 

paring them seems quite unnecessary. Yet national 
pride and emulation will probably continue it for 
some time to come. 

The first appropriation for an American ephem- 
eris and nautical almanac was made by Congress in 
1849. Lieutenant Charles Henry Davis, as a leader 
and moving spirit in securing the appropriation, 
was naturally made the first superintendent of the 
work. At that time astronomical science in our 
country was so far from being reduced to a system 
that it seemed necessary to have the work prepared 
at some seat of learning. So, instead of founding 
the office in Washington, it was established at 
Cambridge, the seat of Harvard University, where 
it could have the benefit of the technical knowledge 
of experts, and especially of Professor Benjamin 
Peirce, who was recognized as the leading mathe- 
matician of America, Here it remained until 1866, 
when conditions had so far changed that the office 
was removed to Washington, where it has since 
remained. 

To this work I was especially attracted because 
its preparation seemed to me to embody the high- 
est intellectual power to which man had ever 
attained. The matter used to present itself to my 
mind somewhat in this way : Supply any man with 
the fundamental data of astronomy, the times at 
which stars and planets cross the meridian of a 
place, and other matters of this kind. He is in- 
formed that each of these bodies whose observations 
he is to use is attracted by all the others with a 



64 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

force which varies as the inverse square of their 
distance apart. From these data he is to weigh 
the bodies, predict their motion in all future time, 
compute their orbits, determine what changes of 
form and position these orbits will undergo through 
thousands of ages, and make maps showing ex- 
actly over what cities and towns on the surface of 
the earth an ecUpse of the sun will pass fifty 
years hence, or over what regions it did pass 
thousands of years ago. A more hopeless problem 
than this could not be presented to the ordinary 
human intellect. There are tens of thousands of 
men who could be successful in all the ordinary 
walks of life, hundreds who could wield empires, 
thousands who could gain wealth, for one who 
could take up this astronomical problem with any 
hope of success. The men who have done it are 
therefore in intellect the select few of the human 
race, — an aristocracy ranking above aU others in 
the scale of being. The astronomical ephemeris is 
the last practical outcome of their productive genius. 
On the question whether the world generally 
reasoned in this way, I do not remember having 
any distinct idea. This was certainly not because 
I was indifferent to the question, but because it 
never strongly presented itself to my mind. Prom 
my point of view it would not have been an impor- 
tant one, because I had already formed the convic- 
tion that one should choose that sphere in life to 
which he was most strongly attracted, or for which 
his faculties best fitted him. 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 65 

A few months previous to my advent Commander 
Davis had been detached from the superintendency 
and ordered to command the sloop St. Mary's. He 
was succeeded by Professor Joseph Winlock, who 
afterward succeeded George P. Bond as director of 
the Harvard Observatory. Most companionable in 
the society of his friends, Winlock was as silent 
as General Grant with the ordinary run of men. 
Withal, he had a way of putting his words into 
exact official form. The following anecdote of 
him used to be current. While he was attached to 
the Naval Academy, he was introduced one even- 
ing at a reception to a visiting lady. He looked 
at the lady for a decorous length of time, and she 
looked at him ; then they parted without saying 
a word. His introducer watched the scene, and 
asked him, " Why did you not talk to that lady ? " 

" I had no statement to make to her," was the 
reply. 

Dr. Gould told me this story was founded on 
fact, but when, after Winlock's death, it was put 
off on me with some alterations, I felt less sure. 

The following I believe to be authentic. It oc- 
curred several years later. Hilgard, in charge of 
the Coast Survey office, was struck by the official 
terseness of the communications he occasionally 
received from Winlock, and resolved to be his rival. 
They were expecting additions to their families 
about the same time, and had doubtless spoken of 
the subject. When Hilgard's arrived, he addressed 
a communication to Winlock in these terms : — 



66 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

" Mine 's a boy. What 's yours ? " 
In due course of time the following letter was 
received in reply : — 

Deae Hilgaed: — 

Boy. 

Yours, etc., J. Winlock. 

When some time afterward I spoke to Winlock 
on the subject, and told him what Hilgard's motive 
was, he replied, " It was not fair in Hilgard to try 
and take me unawares in that way. Had I known 
what he was driving at, I might have made my 
letter still shorter." I did not ask him how he 
would have done it. It is of interest that the 
" boy " afterward became one of the assistant sec- 
retaries of the Smithsonian Institution. 

One of the most remarkable features of the his- 
tory of the "Nautical Almanac" is the number of 
its early assistants who have gained prominence or 
distinction in the various walks of life. It would 
be difficult to find so modest a public work to ex- 
ceed it in this respect. 

John D. Eunkle, who lived till 1902, was, as I 
have said, the senior and leading assistant in the 
office. He afterward became a professor in the In- 
stitute of Technology, and succeeded Rogers as its 
president. In 1876 he started the school of man- 
ual training, which has since been one of the great 
features of the Institute. He afterward resigned 
the presidency, but remained its principal professor 
of mathematics. He was the editor and founder 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 67 

of the " Mathematical Monthly," of which I shall 
presently have more to say. 

The most wonderful genius in the office, and the 
one who would have been the most interesting sub- 
ject of study to a psychologist, was Truman Henry 
Safford. In early childhood he had excited atten- 
tion by his precocity as what is now sometimes 
called a " Hghtning calculator." A committee of 
the American Academy of Arts and Science was 
appointed to examine him. It very justly and 
wisely reported that his arithmetical powers were 
not in themselves equal to those of some others on 
record, especially Zerah Colburn, but that they 
seemed to be the outcome of a remarkable develop- 
ment of the reasoning power. When nine years 
old, he computed almanacs, and some of his work 
at this age is still preserved in the Harvard Univer- 
sity Library. He graduated at Harvard in 1854, and 
was soon afterward taken into the Nautical Alma- 
nac Office, while he also worked from time to time 
at the Cambridge observatory. It was found, how- 
ever, that the power of continuous work was no 
greater in him than in others, nor did he succeed 
in doing more than others in the course of a year. 

The mental process by which certain gifted 
arithmetical computers reach almost in an instant 
the results of the most compHcated calculations is 
a psychological problem of great interest, which 
has never been investigated. No more promising 
subject for the investigation could ever have been 
found than Safford, and I greatly regret having 



68 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

lost all opportunities to solve the problem. What 
was of interest in Safford's case was the connection 
of this faculty with other remarkable mental powers 
of an analogous but yet different kind. He had 
a remarkable faculty for acquiring, using, and read- 
ing languages, and would have been an accom- 
plished linguist had he turned his attention in that 
direction. He was a walking bibliography of as- 
tronomy, which one had only to consult in order 
to learn in a moment what great astronomers of 
recent times had written on almost any subject, 
where their work was published, and on what shelf 
of the Harvard Library the book could be found. 
But the faculty most closely connected with cal- 
culation was a quickness and apprehension of 
vision, of which the following is an example : — 

About 1876 he visited the Naval Observatory in 
Washington for the first time in his hfe. We 
wanted a certain catalogue of stars and went 
together into the library. The required catalogue 
was on one of a tier of shelves containing al- 
together a hundred, or perhaps several hundred 
volumes. " I do not know whether we have the 
book," said I, " but if we have, it is on one of 
these shelves." I began to go through the slow 
process of glancing at the books one by one until 
my eyes should strike the right title. He stood 
back six or eight feet and took in all the shelves 
seemingly at one glance, then stepped forward and 
said, " Here it is." I might have supposed this 
an accident, but that he subsequently did practi- 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 69 

cally the same thing in my of&ce, selecting in a 
moment a book we wanted to see, after throwing 
a rapid glance over shelves containing perhaps a 
hundred volumes. 

An example of his apprehension and memory 
for numbers was narrated by Mr. Alvan Clark. 
When the latter had completed one of his great 
telescopes for the University of Chicago, Safford 
had been named as director, and accompanied the 
three members of the firm to the city when they 
carried the object glass thither. On leaving the 
train all four took their seats in a hotel omnibus, 
Safford near the door. Then they found that they 
had forgotten to give their baggage checks to the 
expressman ; so the other three men passed their 
checks to Safford, who added his own and handed 
all four to the conductor of the omnibus. 

When it was time for the baggage to come to 
the hotel, there was such a crowd of new arrivals 
that the attendants could not find it. The hotel 
clerk remarked on inquiry, " If I only knew the 
numbers of your checks, I would have no difficulty 
in tracing your trunks." Safford at once told off 
the four numbers, which he had read as he was 
passing the checks to the conductor. 

The great fire practically put an end to the 
activity of the Chicago Observatory and forced its 
director to pursue his work in other fields. That 
he failed to attain that commanding position due 
to his genius is to be ascribed to a cause preva- 
lent among us during all the middle part of the 



70 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

century ; perhaps that from which most brilliant 
intellects fail to reach eminence : lack of the power 
of continuous work necessary to bring important 
researches to a completion. 

Another great intellect of the office was Chaun- 
cey Wright. If Wright had systematically applied 
his powers, he might have preceded or supplanted 
Herbert Spencer as the great exponent of the 
theory of evolution. He had graduated at Har- 
vard in 1853, and was a profound student of 
philosophy from that time forward, though I am 
not aware that he was a writer. When in 1858 
Sir WiUiam Hamilton's "Lectures on Metaphy- 
sics " appeared, he took to them with avidity. In 
1859 appeared Darwin's " Origin of Species," and 
a series of meetings was held by the American 
Academy, the special order of which was the dis- 
cussion of this book. Wright and myself, not yet 
members, were invited to be present. To judge of 
the interest it is only necessary to remark that 
Agassiz and Gray were the two leading disputants, 
the first taking ground against Darwin, the other 
in his favor. Wright was a Darwinist from the 
very beginning, explaining the theory in private 
conversation from a master's point of view, and soon 
writing upon it in the " North American Review " 
and in other publications. Of one of his articles 
Darwin has been quoted as saying that it was 
the best exposition of his theory that had then 
appeared. After his untimely death in 1875, 
Wright's papers were collected and published under 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 71 

the title of " Philosophical Discussions." ^ Their 
style is clear-cut and faultless in logical form, yet 
requiring such close attention to every word as to 
be less attractive to the general reader of to-day 
than that of Spencer. In a more leisurely age, 
when men wanted to think profoundly as they 
went along in a book, and had Uttle to disturb 
the current of their thoughts, it would have com- 
manded wide attention among thinking men. 

A singular pecuUarity which I have sometimes 
noticed among men of intelligence is that those 
who are best informed on the subject may be most 
reckless as regards the laws of health. Wright 
did all of his office work in two or three months 
of the year. During those months he worked at 
his computations far into the hours of the morn-' 
ing, stimulating his strength with cigars, and drop- 
ping his work only to take it up when he had had 
the necessary sleep. A strong constitution might 
stand this for a few years, as his did. But the 
ultimate result hardly needs to be told. 

Besides the volume I have mentioned, Wright's 
letters were collected and printed after his death 
by the subscription of his friends. In these his 
philosophic views are from time to time brought 
out in a light, easy way, much more charming than 
the style of his elaborate discussions. It was in 
one of his letters that I first found the apothegm, 
" Men are born either Platonists or Aristotelians," 
a happy drawing of the line which separates the 
> Henry Holt & Co. : New York, 1877. 



72 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

hard-headed scientific thinker of to-day from the 
thinkers of all other classes. 

William Ferrell, a much older man than myself, 
entered the office ahout the same time as I did. 
He published papers on the motions of fluids on 
the earth's surface in the " Mathematical Monthly," 
and became one of the great authorities on dynamic 
meteorology, including the mathematical theory of 
winds and tides. He was, I beheve, the first to 
publish a correct theory of the retardation pro- 
duced in the rotation of the earth by the action of 
the tides, and the consequent slow lengthening of 
the day. 

" James Edward Oliver .might have been one of 
the great mathematicians of his time had he not 
been absolutely wanting in the power of continu- 
ous work. It was scarcely possible to get even 
his year's office work out of him. Yet when I 
once wrote him a question on certain mathematical 
forms which arise in the theory of " least squares," 
he replied in a letter which, with some develop- 
ments and change of form, would have made a 
worthy memoir in any mathematical journal. As 
a matter of fact, the same thoughts did appear 
some years after, in an elaborate paper by Profes- 
sor J. W. L. Grlaisher, of England, published by 
the Eoyal Astronomical Society. 

OHver, who afterward became professor of higher 
mathematics at Cornell University, was noted for 
what I think should be considered _tiie valuable 
quality of absent-mindedness. It was said of him 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 73 

that -he was once ■walking on the seashore with a 
small but valuable gold watch loose in his pocket. 
While deep in thought he started a kind of distrac- 
tion by picking up flat stones and skipping them 
on the water. Taking his watch from his pocket 
he skipped it as a stone. When I became well ac- 
quainted with him I took the liberty of asking him 
as to the correctness of this story. He could not 
positively say whether it was true or not. The 
facts were simply that he had the watch, that he 
had walked on the seashore, had skipped stones, 
missed the watch at some subsequent time, and 
never saw it again. 

More definite was an observation made on his 
movements one afternoon by a looker-out from a 
window of the Nautical Almanac Office. Across 
the way the road was bounded by no fence, simply 
passing along the side of an open field. As Oliver, 
got near the office, his chin on his breast, deep in 
thought, he was seen gradually to deviate from the 
sidewalk, and direct his steps along the field. He 
continued on this erratic course until he ran almost 
against the fence at the other end. This awoke 
him from his reverie, and he started up, looked 
around, and made his way back to the road. 

I have spoken only of the men who were employed 
at the office at the time I entered. Previous to 
my time were several who left to accept profes- 
sorships in various parts of the country. Among 
them were Professors Van Vleck, of Middletown, 
and Hedrick and Kerr, of North Carolina. Not 



74 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

desiring to leave upon the mind of the reader the 
impression that all of whom I have not spoken re- 
mained in ohscurity, I will remark that Mr. Isaac 
Bradford rose to the position of mayor of the city 
of Cambridge, and that fugitive pieces in prose 
and poetry by Mr. E. J. Loomis were collected in a 
volume.* 

The discipline of the pubhc service was less rigid 
in the office at that time than at any government 
institution I ever heard of. In theory there was an 
understanding that each assistant was " expected " 
to be in the office five hours a day. The hours 
might be selected by himself, and they generally 
extended from nine until two, the latter being at 
that time the college and family dinner hour. As 
a matter of fact, however, the work was done pretty 
much where and when the assistant chose, all that 
was really necessary being to have it done on time. 

It will be seen that the excellent opportunities 
offered by this system were well improved by those 
who enjoyed them — improved in a way that I 
fear would not be possible in any other surround- 
ings. I took advantage of them by enrolling my- 
self as a student of mathematics in the Lawrence 
Scientific School. On this occasion I well remem- 
ber my pleasant reception by Charles "W- Ehot, 
tutor in mathematics, and E. N. Horsf ord, professor 
of chemistry, and, I beUeve, dean of the school- 
As a newcomer into the world of light, it was 
pleasant to feel the spirit with which they welcomed 

1 Wayside Sketches, by E. J. Loomis. Roberts : Boston. 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 75 

me. The departments of chemistry and engineer- 
ing were about the only ones which, at that time, 
had any distinct organization. As a student of 
mathematics it could hardly be said that anything 
was required of me either in the way of attendance 
on lectures or examinations until I came up for the 
degree of Bachelor of Science. I was supposed, 
however, to pursue my studies under the direction 
of Professor Peirce. 

So sKght a connection with the university does 
not warrant me in assuming an authoritative posi- 
tion as an observer of its men or its workings. 
Yet there are many features associated with it which 
I have not seen in print, which have probably dis- 
appeared with the progress of the age, and to 
which, therefore, allusion may be made. One, as 
it presents itself to my memory, is the great variety 
and picturesqueness of character which the univer- 
sity then presented. I would like to know whether 
the changes in men which one fancies he sees dur- 
ing his passage from youth to age are real, or only 
relative to his point of view. If my impressions 
are correct, our educational planing mill cuts down 
all the knots of genius, and reduces the best of the 
men who go through it to much the same standard. 
Does not the Harvard professor of to-day always 
dine in a dress coat ? Is he not free from every 
eccentricity? Do the students ever call him 
" Benny " or " Tobie " ? Is any " Old Soph " ^ now 

^ Evangelinus Apostolides Sophocles, a native Greek and a learned 
professor of the literature of his country. 



76 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

ambulant on the college green? Is not the ad- 
ministration of the library a combination of Hberal- 
ity and correctness ? Is such a Ubrarian as John 
Langdon Sibley possible ? 

Mr. Sibley, under a rough exterior, was one of 
the best-hearted and most admirable of men, with 
whom I ultimately formed an intimate friendship. 
But our first acquaintance was of a very unfavor- 
able kind. It came about in this way : not many 
days after being taken into the Nautical Ahnanac 
Ofi&ce I wanted a book from the university Ubrary, 
and asked a not over-bright old gentleman in the 
office what formalities were necessary in order to 
borrow it. 

" Just go over and tell them you want it for the 
Nautical Almanac." 

" But they don't know me at the library, and 
surely will not give a book to any stray caller 
because he says he wants it for the Nautical 
Almanac." 

" You have only to say ' Nautical Almanac ' and 
you will get the book." 

I argued the matter as stoutly as courtesy ad- 
mitted, but at length, concluding that I was new to 
the rules and regulations of the place, accepted the 
supposedly superior knowledge of my informer and 
went over to the hbrary with a due measm-e of 
assurance. The first attendant whom I addressed 
referred me to the assistant hbrarian, and he again 
to the librarian. After these formaHties, conducted 
with impressive gravity, my assurance wilted when 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 77 

I was ushered into the august presence of the 
chief Hbrarian. 

As the mental picture of the ensuing scene has 
shaped itself through more than forty years it shows 
a personage of imposing presence, gigantic features, 
and forbidding countenance, standing on a dais 
behind a desk, expounding the law governing the 
borrowing of books from the hbrary of Harvard 
College to an abashed youth standing before him, 
I left without the book, but with a valuable addition 
to my knowledge of hbrary management. We both 
remembered this interview, and exchanged impres- 
sions about it long years after. 

" I thought you the most crusty and disobliging 
old man I had ever seen." 

" And I thought you the most presumptuous 
youth that had ever appeared in the library." 

One of Mr. Sibley's professional doctrines was 
that at least one copy of everything printed was 
worth preserving. I strove to refute him, but long 
failed. Half in derision, I offered the library the 
stub of my wash-book. Instead of throwing it 
into the wastebasket he kept it, with the remark 
that the wash-book of a nineteenth century student 
would at some future time be of interest to the an- 
tiquarian. In due time I received a finely engraved 
acknowledgment of the gift. But I forced him 
from his position at last. He had to admit that 
copies of the theatre posters need not all be pre- 
served. It would suffice to keep a few specimens. 

Prof essor Peirce was much more than a mathema- 



78 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

tician. Like many men of the time, he was a warm 
lover and a cordial hater. It could not always be 
guessed which side of a disputed question he would 
take ; but one might be fairly sure that he would 
be at one extreme or the other. As a speaker and 
lecturer he was very pleasing, neither impressive 
nor eloquent, and yet interesting from his earnest- 
ness and vivacity. For this reason it is said that 
he was once chosen to enforce the views of the 
university professors at a town meetiog, where 
some subject of interest to them was coming up 
for discussion. Several of the professors attended 
the meeting, and Peirce made his speech. Then a 
townsman rose and took the opposite side, express- 
ing the hope that the meeting would not allow it- 
self to be dictated to by these nabobs of Harvard 
College. When he sat down, Peirce remained in 
placid silence, making no reply. When the meet- 
ing broke up, some one asked Peirce why he had 
not replied to the man. 

" Why ! did you not hear what he called us ? He 
said we were nabobs ! I so enjoyed sitting up 
there and seeing all that crowd look up to me as 
a nabob that I could not say one word against the 
fellow." 

The first of the leading astronomers whose ac- 
quaintance I made was Dr. Benjamin Apthorp 
Gould. Knowing his eminence, I was quite sur- 
prised by his youthful vivacity. His history, had 
I time to recount it, might be made to serve well 
the purpose of a grave lesson upon the conditions 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 79 

required, even by the educated public, of a scien- 
tific investigator, capable of doing the highest and 
best work in his branch. The soul of generosity 
and the pink of honor, ever ready to lend a hand 
to a struggling youth whom he found deserving of 
help, enthusiastically devoted to his favorite science, 
pursuing it in the most exalted spirit, animated by 
not a single mean motive, it might have been sup- 
posed that all the facilities the world could offer 
would have been open to him in his career. If 
such was not the case to the extent one might have 
wished, I do not mean to intimate that his life can 
be regarded as a failure. In whatever respect the 
results may have fallen off from his high ideal, it 
is more to be regretted on the score of science than 
on his own. 

Scorning pretense and charlatanry of all kinds, 
believing that only the best were to be encouraged, 
he was far from being a man of the people. Only 
a select few enjoyed his favor, but these few well 
deserved it. That no others would have deserved 
it I should be far from intimating. The undis- 
guised way in which he expressed his sentiments 
for any one, no matter how influential, who did 
not come up to the high standard he set, was not 
adapted to secure the favor even of the most edu- 
cated community. Of worldly wisdom in this mat- 
ter he seemed, at least in his early days, to know 
nothing. 

He graduated at Harvard in 1845, in one of 
the very distinguished classes. Being fond of as- 



80 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

tronomy, he was struck with the backward condi- 
tion of that science in our country. He resolved 
to devote his Ufe to bmlding up the science in 
America. He went to Germany, then the only 
country in which astronomy was pursued in its 
most advanced form, studied under Gauss and 
Argelander, and took his degree at Gottingen in 
1848. Soon after his return he founded the " As- 
tronomical Journal," and also took a position as 
Chief of the Longitude Department in the Coast 
Survey. 

The great misfortune of his life, and temporarily 
at least, a severe blow to American astronomy, 
were associated with his directorship of the Dud- 
ley Observatory at Albany. This institution was 
foimded by the munificence of a wealthy widow of 
Albany. The men to whom she intrusted the 
administration of her gift were among the most 
prominent and highly respected citizens of the 
place. The trustees went wisely to work. They 
began by forming an advisory scientific council, 
consisting of Bache, Henry, and Peirce. Under 
the direction of this council the observatory was 
built and equipped with instruments. When ready 
for active work in 1857, Gould moved thither and 
took personal charge. Very soon rumors of dissen- 
sion were heard. The afEair gradually grew into a 
contest between the director and the trustees, ex- 
ceeding in bitterness any I have ever known in the 
world of learning or even of politics. It doubtless 
had its origin in very small beginnings. The pohcy 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 81 

of the director recognized no end but scientific effi- 
ciency. The trustees, as the responsible adminis- 
trators of the trust, felt that they had certain rights 
in the matter, especially that of introducing visitors 
to inspect the institution and look through the 
telescope. How fatal the granting of such cour- 
tesies is to continuous work with an instrument 
only astronomers know ; and one of the most em- 
barrassing difficulties the director of such an institu- 
tion meets with is to effect a prudent compromise 
between the scientific efficiency of his institution 
and the wishes of the public. But Gould knew no 
such word as compromise. It was humiliating to 
one in the position of a trustee to send some visitor 
with a permit to see the observatory, and have the 
visitor return with the report that he had not been 
received with the most distinguished courtesy, and, 
perhaps, had not seen the director at all, but had 
only been informed by an assistant of the rules of 
the place and the impossibility of securing admis- 
sion. 

This spark was enough to kindle a fire. When 
the fire gathered strength, the director, instead of 
yielding, called on the scientific council for aid. It 
is quite Hkely that, had these wise and prudent men 
been consulted at each step, and their advice been 
followed, he would have emphasized his protest 
by resigning. But before they were called in, 
the affair had gone so far that, believing the di- 
rector to be technically right in the ground he 
had taken and the work he had done, the coimcil 



82 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

felt bound to defend him. The result was a war 
in which the shots were pamphlets containing 
charges, defenses, and rejoinders. The animosity 
excited may be shown by the fact that the attacks 
were not confined to Gould and his administration, 
but extended to every institution with which he and 
the president of the council were supposed to be 
connected. Bache's administration of the Coast 
Survey was held up to scorn and ridicule. It was 
supposed that Gould, as a Cambridge astronomer, 
was, as a matter of course, connected with the 
Nautical Ahnanac Office, and paid a high salary. 
This being assumed, the office was included in the 
scope of attack, and with such success that the 
item for its support for the year 1859, on motion 
of Mr. Dawes, was stricken out of the naval bill. 
How far the fire spread may be judged by the 
fact that a whole edition of the "Astronomical 
Journal," supposed to have some mention of the 
afEair in the same cover, was duly sent ofB from 
the observatory, but never reached its destination 
through the mails. Gould knew nothing of this 
fact until, some weeks later, I expressed my sur- 
prise to him at not receiving No. 121. How or 
by whom it was intercepted, I do not know that he 
ever serioxisly attempted to inquire. The outcome 
of the matter was that the trustees asserted their 
right by taking forcible possession of the obser- 
vatory. 

During my first year at Cambridge I made the 
acquaintance of a senior in the college whose un- 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 83 

timely death seven years later I have never ceased 
to deplore. This was William P. G. Bartlett, son 
of a highly esteemed Boston physician, Dr. George 
Bartlett. The latter was a brother of Sidney Bart- 
lett, long the leader of the Boston bar. Bartlett 
was my junior in years, but his nature and the sur- 
rounding circumstances were such that he exercised 
a powerful influence upon me. His virile and ag^ 
gressive honesty could not be exceeded. His mathe- 
matical abilities were of a high order, and he had no 
ambition except to become a mathematician. Had 
he entered public life at Washington, and any one 
had told me that he was guilty of a dishonest act, 
I should have replied, " You might as well tell me 
that he picked up the Capitol last night and car- 
ried it off on his back." The fact that one could 
say so much of any man, I have always looked upon 
as illustrating one of the greatest advantages of 
having a youth go through college. The really 
important results I should look for are not culture 
or training alone, but include the acquaintance of 
a body of men, many of whom are to take leading 
positions in the world, of a completeness and inti- 
macy that can never be acquired under other cir- 
cumstances. The student sees his fellow students 
through and through as he can never see through 
a man in future years. 

It was, and I suppose stiU is, the custom for the 
members of a graduating class at Harvard to add 
to their class biographies a motto expressing their 
aspirations or views of life. Bartlett's was, " I love 



84 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

mathematics and hate humbug." What the latter 
clause would have led to in his case, had he gone 
out into the world, one can hardly guess. 

" I have had a long talk with my Uncle Sidney," 
he said to me one day. " He wants me to study 
law, maintaining that the wealth one can thereby ac- 
quire, and the prominence he may assume, will give 
him a higher position in society and public esteem 
than mere learning ever can. But I told him that 
if I could stand high in the esteem of twenty such 
men as Cayley, Sylvester, and Peirce, I cared no- 
thing to be prominent in the eyes of the rest of 
the world." Such an expression from an eminent 
member of the Boston bar, himself a Harvard 
graduate, was the first striking evidence I met with 
that my views of the exalted nature of astronomical 
investigation were not shared by society at large. 
One of the greatest advantages I enjoyed through 
Bartlett was an intimate acquaintance with a cul- 
tured and refined Boston family. 

In 1858 Mr. Runkle founded the " Mathemati- 
cal Monthly," having secured, in advance, the co- 
operation of the leading professors of the subject 
in the country. The journal was continued, under 
many difficulties, for three years. As a vehicle for 
publishing researches in advanced mathematics, it 
could not be of a high order, owing to the neces- 
sity of a subscription hst. Its design was therefore 
to interest students and professors in the subject, 
and thus prepare the way for the future growth 
of mathematical study among us. Its principal 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 85 

feature was the offer of prize problems to students 
as well as prizes for essays on mathematical sub- 
jects. The first to win a prize for an essay was 
George W- HiU, a graduate of Rutgers just out of 
college, who presented a memoir in which the hand 
of the future master was evident throughout. 

In the general conduct of the journal Bartlett 
and myself, though not ostensibly associate editors, 
were at least assistants. Simple though the affair 
was, some of our experiences were of an interest- 
ing and, perhaps, instructive nature. 

Soon after the first number appeared, a con- 
tribution was offered by a professor in a distant 
State. An important part of the article was found 
to be copied bodily from Walton's " Problems in 
Mechanics," an EngUsh book which, it might be 
supposed, was not much known in this country. 
Kunkle did not want to run the risk of injuring 
his subscription list by offending one occupying an 
influential position if he could help it with honor 
to the journal. Of course it was not a question 
of publishing the paper, but only of letting the 
author know why he did not do so, — " letting him 
down easy." 

Bartlett's advice was characteristic. " Just write 
to the fellow that we don't publish stolen articles. 
That 's all you need say." 

I suggested that we might inflict on him aU 
necessary humiliation by letting him know in the 
gentlest manner possible that we saw the fraud. 
Of course Runkle preferred this coittse, and wrote 



86 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

him, calling his attention to a similarity between 
his treatment of the subject and that of Walton, 
which materially detracted from the novelty of 
the former. I think it was suggested that he get 
the book, if possible, and assure himself on the 
subject. 

A vigorous answer came by return of mail. He 
was a possessor of Walton's book, knew all about 
the similar treatment of the subject by Walton, and 
did not see that that should be any bar to the 
publication of the article. I think it was he who 
wound up his letter with the statement that, while 
he admitted the right of the editor to publish what 
he pleased, he, the writer, was too busy to spend 
his time in writing rejected articles. 

An eminent would-be contributor was a promi- 
nent Pennsylvania poHtician, who had read a long 
and elaborate article, before some teachers' asso- 
ciation, on an arithmetical problem about oxen eat- 
ing grass, the power to solve which was taken as 
the highest mark of mathematical ability, among 
school teachers during the first half of the century. 
The association referred the paper to the editor of 
the " Mathematical Monthly," by whom it was, I 
believe, consigned to the wastebasket. The result 
was a good deal of correspondence, such a pro- 
ceeding being rather humiliating to a man of emi- 
nence who had addressed so distinguished an assem- 
bly. The outcome of the matter was that the 
paper, which was much more in the nature of a 
legal document than of a mathematical investiga- 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 87 

tion, was greatly reduced in length by its author, 
and then still further shorn by the editor, until it 
would fill only two or three pages of the journal ; 
thus reduced, it was published. 

The time was not yet ripe for the growth of 
mathematical science among us, and any develop- 
ment that might have taken place in that direction 
was rudely stopped by the civil war. Perhaps 
this may account for the curious fact that, so far 
as I have ever remarked, none of the student con- 
tributors to the journal. Hill excepted, has made 
himself known as a mathematical investigator. 
Not only the state of mathematical learning, but 
the conditions of success at that time in a mathe- 
matical text-book, are strikingly illustrated by one 
of our experiences. 

One of the leading pubUshing houses of edu- 
cational text-books in the country issued a very 
complete and advanced series, from the pen of 
a former teacher of the subject. They were be- 
ing extensively introduced, and were sent to the 
" Mathematical Monthly " for review. They were 
distinguished by quite apt illustrations, well fitted, 
perhaps, to start the poorly equipped student in 
the lower branches of the work, but the advanced 
works, at least, were simply ridiculous. A notice 
appeared in which the character of the books was 
pointed out. The evidence of the worthlessness of 
the entire series was so strong that the publishers 
had it entirely rewritten by more competent au- 
thors. Now came the oddest part of the whole 



88 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

affair. The new series was issued under the name 
of the same author as the old one, just as if the 
acknowledgment of his total failure did not detract 
from the value of his name as an author. 

In 1860 a total echpse of the sun was visible in 
British America. The shadow of the moon, start- 
ing from near Vancouver's Island, crossed the 
continent in a northeast direction, passed through 
the central part of the Hudson Bay region, crossed 
Hudson Bay itself and Greenland, then inclining 
southward, swept over the Atlantic to Spain. As 
this was the first eclipse of the kind which had re- 
cently been visible, much interest was taken in its 
observation. On the part of the Nautical Alma- 
nac OflEice, I computed the path of the shadow and 
the times of crossing certain points in it. The re- 
sults were laid down on a map which was pubhshed 
by the office. One party, fitted out in connection 
with the American Association for the Advance- 
ment of Science, was sent to Greenland. Admiral 
Davis desired to send another, on behalf of his own 
office, into the central regions of the continent. As 
members of this party Mr. Ferrel and myself were 
chosen. At the request of Professor Agassiz one 
of the assistants in the Museum of Comparative 
Zoology, Mr. Samuel H. Scudder, accompanied us. 
More than twenty years later Mr. Scudder pub- 
hshed a httle book describing some of our adven- 
tures, which was illustrated with sketches showing 
the experiences of a party in the wild West at that 
time. 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 89 

Our course lay from St. Paul across Minnesota 
to the Red River of the North, thence north to 
Fort Garry near the southern end of Lake Winni- 
peg, then over the lake and some distance up 
the Saskatchewan River. At St. Paul we paid our 
respects to Governor Ramsey, afterward Senator 
from Minnesota and Secretary of War. We were 
much surprised at the extraordinary deference paid 
by the community to a Mr. Burbank, a leading 
citizen of the town, and owner of the stages which 
we had to engage for our journey across the 
country. He seemed to be a man whom every one 
was afraid to offend. Even the local newspapers 
were careful what they printed about matters in 
which he was interested. 

The two or three days which we passed in get- 
ting things ready to start were rather duU. The 
morning after our arrival I saw, during a morning 
walk, on a hill just outside the town, a large new 
building, on which the word " Athenaeum " was 
conspicuously shown. The Boston Athenaeum 
had a very fine library ; is it not possible that this 
may have a beginning of something of the same 
sort ? Animated by this hope, I went up the hill 
and entered the building, which seemed to be 
entirely vacant. The first words that met my 
eyes were '^ Bar Room " painted over a door. It 
was simply a theatre, and I left it much disap- 
pointed. 

Here we were joined by a young Methodist 
clergyman, — Edward Eggleston, — and the four 



90 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

of US, with our instruments and appKances, set out 
on our journey of five days over the plains. On 
the first day we followed partly the Hue of a pro- 
jected railway, of which the embankments had 
been completed, but on which work had, for some 
reason, been stopped to await a more prosperous 
season. Here was our first experience of towns on 
paper. From the tone in which the drivers talked 
of the places where we were to stop over night one 
might have supposed that villages, i£ not cities, 
were plentiful along our track. One example of 
a town at that time wiU be enough. The princi- 
pal place on oiu: route, judging from the talk, was 
Breckenridge. We would reach it at the end of 
the fourth day, where we anticipated a pleasant 
change after camping out ia our tent for three 
nights. It was after dark before we arrived, and 
we looked eagerly for signs of the town we were 
approaching. 

The team at length stopped in front of an ob- 
ject which, on careful examination in the darkness, 
appeared to be the most primitive structure imagi- 
nable. It had no foundations, and if it had a wall 
at all, it was not more than two or three feet in 
height. Imagine the roof taken ofE a house forty 
feet long and twenty feet wide and laid down on 
the ground, and you have the hotel and only build- 
ing, imless perhaps a stable, in Breckenridge at 
that time. The entrance was at one end. Going 
in, a chimney was seen in the middle of the build- 
ing. The floor was Uttle more than the bare 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 91 

ground. On each side of the door, by the flicker- 
ing Kght of a fire, we saw what looked Hke two 
immense boxes. A second glance showed that 
these boxes seemed to be filled with human heads 
and legs. They were, in fact, the beds of the in- 
habitants of Breckenridge. Beds for the arriving 
travelers, if they existed at aU, which I do not 
distinctly remember, were in the back of the house. 
I think the other members of the party occupied 
that portion. I simply spread my blanket out on 
the hearth in front of the fire, wrapped up, and 
slept as soundly as if the bed was the softest of 
a regal palace. 

At Fort Garry we were received by Governor 
McTavish, with whom Captain Davis had had some 
correspondence on the subject of our expedition, 
and who gave us letters to the " factors " of the 
Hudson Bay Company scattered along our route. 
We found that the rest of our journey would have 
to be made in a birch bark canoe. One of the 
finest craft of this class was loaned us by the gov- 
ernor. It had been, at some former time, the spe- 
cial yacht of himselE or some visiting notable. It 
was manned by eight half-breeds, men whose phy- 
sical endurance I have never seen equaled. 

It took three or four days to get everything 
ready, and this interval was, of course, utilized by 
Scudder in making his collections. He let the 
fishermen of the region know that he wanted spe- 
cimens of every kind of fish that could be found 
in the lake. A very small reward stirred them into 



92 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

activity, and, in due time, the fish were brought to 
the naturalist, — but lo ! all nicely dressed and fit 
for cooking. They were much surprised when told 
that all their pains in dressing their catch had 
spoiled it for the purposes of the visiting natural- 
ist, who wanted everything just as it was taken 
from the water. 

Slow indeed was progress through the lake. A 
canoe can be paddled only in almost smooth water, 
and we were frequently stormbound on some des- 
olate island or point of land for two or three days 
at a time. When, after many adventures, some of 
which looked like hairbreadth escapes, we reached 
the Saskatchewan Eiver, the eclipse was only three 
or four days ahead, and it became doubtful whether 
we should reach our station in time for the obser- 
vation. It was to come off on the morning of July 
18, and, by dint of paddUng for twenty-four hovas 
at a stretch, our men brought us to the place on 
the evening before. 

Now a new difficulty occurred. In the wet sea- 
son the Saskatchewan inundates the low flat region 
through which it flows, much like the Nile. The 
country was practically under water. We found 
the most elevated spot we could, took out our 
instruments, mounted them on boxes or anything 
else in the shallow puddles of water, and slept in 
the canoe. Next morning the weather was hope- 
lessly cloudy. We saw the darkness of the ecUpse 
and nothing more. 

Astronomers are greatly disappointed when, hav- 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 93 

ing traveled halfway around the world to see an 
eclipse, clouds prevent a sight of it ; and yet a 
sense of relief accompanies the disappointment. 
You are not responsible for the mishap ; perhaps 
something would have broken down when you were 
making your observations, so that they would have 
failed in the best of weather ; but now you are re- 
lieved from all responsibility. It was much easier 
to go back and tell of the clouds than it would 
have been to say that the telescope got disarranged 
at the critical moment so that the observations 
failed. 

On our return across Minnesota we had an ex- 
perience which I have always remembered as illus- 
trative of the fallacy of all human testimony about 
ghosts, rappings, and other phenomena of that 
character. We spent two nights and a day at Fort 
Snelling. Some of the officers were greatly sur- 
prised by a celestial phenomenon of a very ex- 
traordinary character which had been observed for 
several nights past. A star had been seen, night 
after night, rising in the east as usual, and starting 
on its course toward the south. But instead of 
continuing that course across the meridian, as stars 
invariably had done from the remotest antiquity, it 
took a turn toward the north, sunk toward the 
horizon, and finally set near the north point of the 
horizon. Of course an explanation was wanted. 

My assurance that there must be some mistake 
in the observation could not be accepted, because 
this erratic course of the heavenly body had been 



94 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

seen by all of them so plainly that no doubt could 
exist on the subject. The men who saw it were 
not of the ordinary untrained kind, but graduates 
of West Point, who, if any one, ought to be free 
from optical deceptions. I was confidently invited 
to look out that night and see for myself. We all 
watched with the greatest interest. 

In due time the planet Mars was seen in the east 
making its way toward the south. " There it is ! " 
was the exclamation. 

" Yes, there it is," said I. " Now that planet 
is going to keep right on its course toward the 
south." 

" No, it is not," said they ; " you will see it turn 
around and go down towards the north." 

Hour after hour passed, and as the planet went 
on its regular cotu-se, the other watchers began to 
get a little nervous. It showed no signs of deviat- 
ing from its course. We went out from time to 
time to look at the sky. 

" There it is," said one of the observers at length, 
pointing to Capella, which was now just rising a 
little to the east of north ; " there is the star set- 

ting." 

" No, it is n't," said I; " there is the star we have 
been looking at, now quite inconspicuous near the 
meridian, and that star which you think is setting 
is really rising and will soon be higher up." 

A very little additional watching showed that no 
deviation of the general laws of Nature had occurred, 
but that the observers of previous nights had 



THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT 95 

jumped at the conclusion that two objects, widely 
apart in the heavens, were the same. 

I passed more than four years in such life, sur- 
roundings, and activities as I have described. In 
1858 I received the degree of D. S. from the Law- 
rence Scientific School, and thereafter remained on 
the rolls of the university as a resident graduate. 
Life in the new atmosphere was in such pleasant 
and striking contrast to that of my former world 
that I intensely enjoyed it. I had no very well 
marked object in view beyond continuing studies 
and researches in mathematical astronomy. Not 
long after my arrival in Cambridge some one, in 
speaking of Professor Peirce, remarked to me that 
he had a European reputation as a mathematician. 
It seemed to me that this was one of the most 
exalted positions that a man could attain, and I 
intensely longed for it. Yet there was no hurry. 
Eeputation would come to him who deserved it by 
his works ; works of the first class were the result 
of careful thought and study, and not of hurry. 
A suggestion had been made to me looking toward 
a professorship in some Western college, but after 
due consideration, I declined to consider the mat- 
ter. Yet the necessity of being on the alert for 
some opening must have seemed quite strong, be- 
cause in 1860 I became a serious candidate for 
the professorship of physics in the newly founded 
Washington University at St. Louis. I was invited 
to visit the university, and did so on my way to 
observe the ecUpse of 1860. My competitor was 



96 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

lieutenant J. M. Schofield of the United States 
Army, then an instructor at West Point. It ■will 
not surprise the reader to know that the man -who 
was afterward to command the army of the United 
States received the preference, so I patiently waited 
more than another year. 



IV 

LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 

In August, 1861, while I was passing my vacation 
on Cape Ann, I received a letter from Dr. Gould, 
then in Washington, informing me that a vacancy 
was to be filled in the corps of professors of mathe- 
matics attached to the Naval Observatory, and sug- 
gesting that I might like the place. I was at first 
indisposed to consider the proposition. Cambridge 
was to me the focus of the science and learning of 
our country. I feared that, so far as the world of 
learning was concerned, I should be burying myself 
by moving to Washington. The drudgery of night 
work at the observatory would also interfere with 
carrying on any regular investigation. But, on 
second thought, having nothing in view at the 
time, and the position being one from which I could 
escape should it prove uncongenial, I decided to 
try, and indited the following letter : — 

Nautical Almanac Office, 
Cambridge, Mass., August 22, 1861. 

SiK, — I have the honor to apply to you for my ap- 
pointment to the office of Professor of Mathematics in 
the United States Navy. 

I would respectfully refer you to Commander Charles 



98 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Henry Davis, U. S. N., Professor Benjamin Peirce, of 
Harvard University, Dr. Benjamin A. Gould, of Cam- 
bridge, and Professor Joseph Henry, Secretary of the 
Smithsonian Institution, for any information respecting 
me which will enable you to judge of the propriety of 
my appointment. 

With high respect, 

Your obedient servant, 

Simon Newcomb, 

Assistant, Nautical Ahnanac. 
Hon. Gideon "Welij!8, 

Secretary of the Navy, 

Washington, D. C. 

I also wrote to Captain Davis, who was then on 
duty in the Navy Department, telling him what I 
had done, but made no further effort. Great was 
my surprise when, a month later, I found in the 
post-office, without the slightest premonition, a very 
large official envelope, containing my commission 
duly signed by Abraham Lincoln, President of the 
United States. The confidence in the valor, abili- 
ties, etc., of the appointee, expressed in the com- 
mission, was very assuring. Accompanying it was 
a letter from the Secretary of the Navy direct- 
ing me to report to the Bureau of Ordnance and 
Hydrography, in Washington, for such duty as it 
might assign me. I arrived on October 6, and im- 
mediately called on Professor J. S. Hubbard, who 
was the leading astronomer of the observatory. 
On the day following I reported as directed, and 
was sent to Captain GiUiss, the recently appoiated 
Superintendent of the Naval Observatory, before 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 99 

whom I stood with much trepidation. In reply to 
his questions I had to confess my entire inexpe- 
rience in ohservatory work or the making of astro- 
nomical ohservations. A coast survey observer had 
once let me look through his transit instrument 
and try to observe the passage of a star. On the 
ecHpse expedition mentioned in the last chapter I 
had used a sextant. This was about all the expe- 
rience in practical astronomy which I could claim. 
In fact I had never been inside of an observatory, 
except on two or three occasions at Cambridge as a 
visitor. The captain reassured me by saying that 
no great experience was expected of a newcomer, 
and told me that I should go to work on the transit 
instrument under Professor Yarnall, to whose care 
I was then confided. 

As the existence of a corps of professors of 
mathematics is pecuKar to our navy, as well as an 
apparent, perhaps a real, anomaly, some account of 
it may be of interest. Early in the century — one 
hardly knows when the practice began — the Sec- 
retary of the Navy, in virtue of his general powers, 
used to appoint men as professors of mathematics 
in the navy, to go to sea and teach the midship- 
men the art of navigation. In 1844, when work 
at the observatory was about to begin, no provision 
for astronomers was made by Congress. The most 
convenient way of supplying this want was to have 
the Secretary appoint professors of mathematics, 
and send them to the observatory on duty. 

A few years later the Naval Academy was 



100 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

founded at Annapolis, and a similar course was 
pursued to provide it with a corps of instructors. 
Up to this time the professors had no form of ap- 
pointment except a warrant from the Secretary of 
the Navy. Early in the history of the academy the 
midshipmen burned a professor in effigy. They 
were brought before a court-martial on the charge 
of disrespect to a superior officer, but pleaded that 
the professor, not holding a commission, was not 
their superior officer, and on this plea were ac- 
quitted. Congress thereupon took the matter up, 
provided that the number of professors should not 
exceed twelve, and that they should be commis- 
sioned by the President by and with the advice and 
consent of the Senate. This raised their rank to 
that of a commissioned corps in the navy. They 
were to perform such duty as the Secretary of the 
Navy might direct, and were, for the most part, 
divided between the Naval Academy and the Ob- 
servatory. 

During the civil war some complaint was made 
that the midshipmen coming from the academy 
were not well trained ia the duties of a seagoing 
officer ; and it was supposed that this was due to 
too much of their time being given to scientific 
studies. This was attributed to the professors, with 
the result that nearly all those attached to the 
academy were detached during the four years fol- 
lowing the close of the civil war and ordered else- 
where, mostly to the observatory. Their places 
were taken by Kne officers who, in the intervals 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 101 

between their turns of sea duty, were made heads 
of departments and teachers of the midshipmen in 
nearly every branch. 

This state of things led to the enactment of a 
law (in 1869, I think), " that hereafter no vacancy 
in the grade of professors of mathematics in the 
navy shall be filled." 

In 1873 this provision was annulled by a law, 
again providing for a corps of twelve professors, 
three of whom should have the relative rank of 
captain, four of commander, and the remainder of 
lieutenant-commander or lieutenant. 

Up to 1878 the Secretary of the Navy was placed 
under no restrictions as to his choice of a professor. 
He could appoint any citizen whom he supposed to 
possess the necessary qualifications. Then it was 
enacted that, before appointment, a candidate should 
pass a medical and a professional examination. 

I have said that the main cause of hesitation 
in making my application arose from my aversion 
to very late night work. It soon became evident 
that there was less ground than I had supposed for 
apprehension on this point. There was a free and 
easy way of carrying on work which was surprising 
to one who had supposed it aU arranged on strict 
plans, and done according to rule and discipline. 
Professor Yarnall, whose assistant I was, was an ex- 
tremely pleasant gentleman to be associated with. 
Although one of the most industrious workers at 
the observatory, there was nothing of the martinet 
about him. He showed me how to handle the in- 



102 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

strument and record my observations. There was 
a Nautical Almanac and a Catalogue of Stars. Out 
of these each of us could select what he thought 
best to observe. 

The custom was that one of us should come 
on every clear evening, make observations as long 
as he chose, and then go home. The transit in- 
strument was at one end of the building and the 
mural circle, in charge of Professor Hubbard, at 
the other. He was weak in health, and unable to 
do much continuous work of any kind, especially 
the hard work of observing. He and I arranged 
to observe on the same nights ; but I soon found 
that there was no concerted plan between the two 
sets of observers. The instruments were old-fash- 
ioned ones, of which mine could determine only the 
right ascension of a star and his only its decHna- 
tion ; hence to completely determine the position of 
a celestial body, observations must be made on the 
same object with both instruments. But I soon 
found that there was no concert of action of this 
kind. Hubbard, on the mural circle, had his plan 
of work ; Yarnall and myseK, on the transit, had 
ours. When either Hubbard or myself got tired, 
we could " vote it cloudy " and go out for a plate 
of oysters at a neighboring restaurant. 

In justice to Captain GiUiss it must be said that 
he was not in any way responsible for this lack of 
system. It grew out of the origin and history of the 
establishment and the inaction of Congress. The 
desirableness of our having a national observatory 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 103 

of the same rank as those of other countries was 
pointed out from time to time by eminent states- 
men from the first quarter of the century. John 
Quincy Adams had, both -while he filled the presi- 
dential office and afterward, made active efEorts in 
this direction ; but there were grave doubts whether 
Congress had any constitutional authority to erect 
such an institution, and the project got mixed up 
with parties and pohtics. So strong was the feel- 
ing on the subject that, when the Coast Survey was 
organized, it was expressly provided that it should 
not establish an astronomical observatory. 

The outcome of the matter was that, in 1842, 
when Congress at length decided that we should 
have our national observatory, it was not called 
such, but was designated as a " house " to serve as 
a depot for charts and instruments for the navy. 
But every one knew that an observatory was meant. 
GiUiss was charged with its erection, and paid a 
visit to Europe to consult with astronomers there on 
its design, and to order the necessary instruments. 
When he got through with this work and reported it 
as completed he was relieved, and Lieutenant Mat- 
thew F. Maury was appointed superintendent of the 
new institution. 

Maury, although (as he wrote a few years later) 
quite without experience in the use of astronomical 
instruments, went at his work with great energy 
and efficiency, so that, for two or three years, the 
institution bade fair to take a high place in science. 
Then he branched off into what was, from a prac- 



104 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

tical standpoint, the vastly more important work 
of studying the winds and currents of the ocean. 
The epoch-making character of his investigations 
in this line, and their importance to navigation 
when ships depended on sails for their motive 
power, were soon acknowledged by aU maritime 
nations, and the fame which he acquired in pur- 
suing them added greatly to the standing of the 
institution at which the work was done, though in 
reaHty an astronomical outfit was in no way neces- 
sary to it. The new work was so absorbing that 
he seemed to have lost interest in the astronom- 
ical side of the establishment, which he left to his 
assistants. The results were that on this side 
things fell into the condition I have described, and 
stayed there until Maury resigned his commission 
and cast his fortunes with the Confederacy. Then 
GilHss took charge and had to see what could be 
done under the circumstances. 

It soon became evident to him that no system 
of work of the first order of importance could be 
initiated until the instrumental equipment was 
greatly improved. The clocks, perfection in which 
is almost at the bottom of good work, were quite 
unfit for use. The astronomical clock with which 
Yarnall and I made our observations kept worse 
time than a high-class pocket watch does to-day. 
The instruments were antiquated and defective in 
several particulars. Before real work could be 
commenced new ones must be procured. But the 
civil war was in progress, and the times were not 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 105 

favorable to immediately securing them. That the 
work of the observatory was kept up was due to 
a feeling of pride on the part of our authorities 
in continuing it without interruption through the 
conflict. The personnel was as insufficient as the 
instruments. On it devolved not only the making 
of the astronomical observations, but the issue of 
charts and chronometers to the temporarily im- 
mense navy. In fact the observatory was still a 
depot of charts for the naval service, and contin- 
ued to be such until the Hydrographic Office was 
estabUshed in 1866. 

In 1863 Gilliss obtained authority to have the 
most pressing wants supplied by the construction of 
a great transit circle by Pistor and Martins in Ber- 
Kn. He had a comprehensive plan of work vdth 
this instrument when it should arrive, but deferred 
putting any such plan in operation until its actual 
reception. 

Somehow the work of editing, explaining, and 
preparing for the press the new series of observa- 
tions made by Yarnall and myself with our old 
transit instrument devolved on me. To do this 
in the most satisfactory way, it was necessary to 
make a careful study of the methods and system at 
the leading observatories of other countries in the 
Une we were pursuing, especially Greenwich. Here 
I was struck by the superiority of their system to 
ours. Everything was there done on an exact and 
uniform plan, and one which seemed to me better 
adapted to get the best results than ours was. For 



106 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the non-astronomical reader it may be remarked 
that after an astronomer has made and recorded 
his observations, a large amount of calculation is 
necessary to obtain the result to which they lead. 
Making such calculations is called " reducing " the 
observations. Now in the previous history of the 
observatory, the astronomers fell into the habit of 
every one not only making his observations in his 
own way, but reducing them for himself. Thus 
it happened that YarnaU had been making and 
reducing his observations in his own way, and I, 
on alternate nights, had been making and redu- 
cing mine in my way, which was modeled after the 
Greenwich fashion, and therefore quite difEerent 
from his. Now I suddenly found myself face to 
face with the problem of putting these two hetero- 
geneous things together so as to make them look 
like a homogeneous whole. I was extremely mor- 
tified to see how poor a showing would be made in 
the eyes of foreign astronomers. But I could do 
nothing more than to describe the work and meth- 
ods in such a way as to keep in the background 
the want of system that characterized them. 

Notwithstanding all these drawbacks of the pre- 
sent, the prospect of future success seemed bril- 
liant. GiUiss had the unlimited confidence of the 
Secretary of the Navy, had a family very popular 
in Washington society, was enthusiastically de- 
voted to building up the work of the observatory, 
and was drawing around him the best young men 
that could be found to do that work. He made it 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 107 

a point that his relations with his scientific subor- 
dinates should be not only official, but of the most 
friendly social character. AU were constantly in- 
vited to his charming family circle. It was from 
the occasional talks thus arising that I learned the 
details of his plan of work with the coming instru- 
ment. 

In 1862 GiUiss had the working force increased 
by the appointment of four " aides," as they were 
then called, — a number that was afterwards re- 
duced to three. This was the beginning of the 
corps of three assistant astronomers, which is still 
maintained. It will be of interest to know that 
the first aide was Asaph Hall ; but before his ap- 
pointment was made, an impediment, which for a 
time looked serious, had to be overcome. GiUiss 
desired that the aide should hold a good social and 
family position. The salary being only $1000, 
this required that he should not be married. Hall 
being married, with a growing family, his appoint- 
ment was long objected to, and it was only through 
much persuasion on the part of Hubbard and my- 
self that GiUiss was at length induced to withdraw 
his objections. Among other early appointees 
were William Harkness and John A. Eastman, 
whose subsequent careers in connection with the 
observatory are weU known. 

The death of Professor Hubbard in 1863 led to 
my taking his place, in charge of the mural circle, 
early in September of that year. This gave me 
an opportunity of attempting a little improvement 



108 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

in the arrangements. I soon became conscious of 
the fact, which no one had previously taken much 
account of, that upon the plan of each man re- 
ducing his own observations, not only was there 
an entire lack of homogeneity in the work, but the 
more work one did at night the more he had to 
do by day. It was with some trepidation that I 
presented the case to GiUiss, who speedily saw that 
work done with the instruments should be regarded 
as that of the observatory, and reduced on a uni- 
form plan, instead of being considered as the pro- 
perty of the individual who happened to make it. 
Thus was introduced the first step toward a proper 
official system. 

In February, 1865, the observatory sustained 
the greatest loss it had ever sufEered, in the sudden 
death of its superintendent. What it would have 
grown to had he lived it is useless to guess, but 
there is Httle doubt that its history would have 
been quite different from what it is. 

Soon afterward Admiral Davis left his position 
as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation to take the 
subordinate one of Superintendent of the Observa- 
tory. This step was very gratifying to me. Davis 
had not only a great interest in scientific work, 
especially astronomy, but a genuine admiration of 
scientific men which I have never seen exceeded, 
accompanied with a corresponding love of associa- 
tion with them and their work. 

In October, 1865, occurred what was, in my eyes, 
the greatest event in the history of the observatory. 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 109 

The new transit circle arrived from Berlin in its 
boxes. Now for the first time in its history, the ob- 
servatory would have a meridian instrument worthy 
of it, and would, it was hoped, be able to do the 
finest work in at least one branch of astronomy. 
To my great delight, Davis placed me in charge of 
it. The last three months of the year were taken 
up with mounting it in position and making those 
investigations of its peculiarities which are neces- 
sary before an instrument of the kind is put into 
regular use. On the 1st day of January, 1866, 
this was all done, and we were ready to begin 
operations. An opportunity thus arose of seeing 
what we could do in the way of a regular and 
well-planned piece of work. In the greater clear- 
ness of our sky, and the more southern latitude of 
our observatory, we had two great advantages over 
Greenwich. Looking back at his first two or three 
years of work at the observatory, Maury wrote to 
a friend, " We have beaten Greenwich hollow." 
It may be that I felt like trying to do the same 
thing over again. At any rate, I mapped out a 
plan of work the execution of which would require 
four years. 

It was a piece of what, in astronomy, is called 
" fundamental work," in which results are to be 
obtained independent of any previously obtained 
by other observers. It had become evident to me 
from our own observations, as well as from a study 
of those made at European observatories, that an 
error in the right ascension of stars, so that stars 



110 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

in opposite quarters of the heavens would not 
agree, might very possibly have crept into nearly all 
the modern observations at Greenwich, Paris, and 
Washington. The determination of this error was 
no easy matter. It was necessary that, whenever 
possible, observations should be continued through 
the greater part of the twenty-four hours. One 
observer must be at work with comparative steadi- 
ness from nine o'clock in the morning until mid- 
night or even dawn of the morning following. 
This requirement was, however, less exacting than 
might appear when stated. One half the nights 
would, as a general rule, be cloudy, and an observer 
was not expected to work on Sunday. Hence no 
one of the four observers would probably have to 
do such a day's work as this more than thirty or 
forty times in a year. 

AU this was hard work enough in itself, but 
conditions existed which made it yet harder. No 
houses were then provided for astronomers, and the 
observatory itself was situated in one of the most 
unhealthy parts of the city. On two sides it was 
bounded by the Potomac, then pregnant with ma- 
laria, and on the other two, for nearly half a mile, 
was found little but frame buildings filled with 
quartermaster's stores, with here and there a few 
negro huts. Most of the observers lived a mile or 
more from the observatory ; during most of the 
time I was two miles away. It was not considered 
safe to take even an hour's sleep at the observa- 
tory. The result was that, if it happened to clear 



LIFE AND WOBK AT AN OBSERVATORY 111 

off after a cloudy evening, I frequently arose from 
my bed at any hour of the night or morning and 
walked two miles to the observatory to make some 
observation included in the programme. 

This was certainly a new departure from the free 
and easy way in which we had been proceeding, and 
it was one which might be unwelcome to any but 
a zealous astronomer. As I should get the Hon's 
share of credit for its results, whether I wanted to 
or not, my interest in the work was natural. But 
it was unreasonable to expect my assistants, one or 
two of whom had been raised to the rank of pro- 
fessor, to feel the same interest, and it is very cred- 
itable to their zeal that we pursued it for some 
time as well as we did. If there was any serious 
dissatisfaction with the duty, I was not informed 
of that fact. 

During the second year of this work Admiral Da- 
vis was detached and ordered to sea. The question 
of a successor interested many besides ourselves. 
Secretary Welles considered the question what pol- 
icy should be pursued in the appointment. Profes- 
sor Henry took part in the matter by writing the 
secretary a letter, in which he urged the appoiat- 
ment of an astronomer as head of the institution. 
His position prevented his supporting any particu- 
lar candidate ; so he submitted a list of four names, 
any one of which would be satisfactory. These 
were : Professor William Chauvenet, Dr. B. A. 
Gould, Professor J. H. C. Coffin, U. S. N., and Mr. 
James Ferguson. The latter held a civil position 



112 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

at the observatory, under the title of " assistant 
astronomer," and was at the time the longest in 
service of any of its force. 

A different view was urged upon the secretary 
in terms substantially these : " Professors so able 
as those of the observatory require no one to di- 
rect their work. All that the observatory really 
needs is an administrative head who shall preserve 
order, look after its business generally, and see that 
everything goes smoothly." Such a head the navy 
can easily supply. 

The secretary allowed it to be given out that he 
would be glad to hear from the professors upon the 
subject. I thereupon went to him and expressed 
my preference for Professor Coffin. He asked me, 
" How would it do to have a purely administrative 
head?" 

I replied that we might get along for a time if 
he did not interfere with our work. 

"No," said the secretary, "he shall not inter- 
fere. That shall be understood." 

As I left him there was, to my inexperienced 
mind, something very odd in this function, or ab- 
sence of function, of the head of an establishment; 
but of course T had to bow to superior wisdom and 
could say nothing. 

The policy of Commodore (afterward Rear-Ad- 
miral) Sands, the incoming superintendent, toward 
the professors was liberal in the last degree. Each 
was to receive due credit for what he did, and was 
in every way stimulated to do his best at any piece 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 113 

of scientific work he might undertake with the ap- 
proval of the superintendent. Whether he wanted 
to observe an eclipse, determine the longitude of a 
town or interior station, or undertake some abstruse 
investigation, every facility for doing it and every 
encouragement to go on with it was granted him. 

Under this poHcy the observatory soon reached 
the zenith of its fame and popularity. Whenever 
a total eclipse of the sun was visible in an acces- 
sible region parties were sent out to observe it. In 
1869 three professors, I being one, were sent to 
Des Moines, Iowa, to observe the solar eclipse which 
passed across the country in June of that year. As 
a part of this work, I prepared and the observatory 
issued a detailed set of instructions to observers in 
towns at each edge of the shadow-path to note the 
short duration of totality. The object was to deter- 
mine the exact point to which the shadow extended. 
At this same eclipse Professor Harkness shared with 
Professor Young of Princeton the honor of discov- 
ering the brightest line in the spectrum of the sun's 
corona. The year following parties were sent to 
the Mediterranean to observe an eclipse which oc- 
curred in December, 1870. I went to Gibraltar, 
although the observation of the ecHpse was to me 
only a minor object. Some incidents connected 
with this European trip will be described in a sub- 
sequent chapter. 

The reports of the ecKpse parties not only de- 
scribed the scientific observations in great detail, 
but also the travels and experiences, and were some- 



114 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

times marked by a piquancy not common in official 
documents. These reports, others pertaining to 
longitude, and investigations of various kinds were 
published in full and distributed with great liberal- 
ity. All this activity grew out of the stimulating 
power and careful attention to business of the head 
of the observatory and the abihty of the young 
professors of his staff. It was very pleasant to the 
latter to wear the brilliant uniform of their rank, 
enjoy the protection of the Navy Department, and 
be looked upon, one and all, as able official astro- 
nomers. The voice of one of our scientific men who 
returned from a visit abroad declaring that one of 
our eclipse reports was the laughing-stock of Europe 
was drowned in the general applause. 

In the latter part of 1869 I had carried forward 
the work with the transit circle as far as it could 
be profitably pursued under existing conditions. 
On working up my observations, the error which I 
had suspected in the adopted positions of the stars 
was proved to be real. But the discovery of this 
error was due more to the system of observation, 
especially the pursuit of the latter through the day 
and night, than it was to any excellence of the 
instrument. The latter proved to have serious de- 
fects which were exaggerated by the unstable char- 
acter of the clayey soil of the hiU on which the ob- 
servatory was situated. Other defects also existed, 
which seemed to preclude the likelihood that the 
future work of the instrument would be of a high 
class. I had also found that very difficult mathe- 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 115 

matical investigations were urgently needed to un- 
ravel one of the greatest mysteries of astronomy, 
that of the moon's motion. This was a much more 
important work than making observations, and I 
wished to try my hand at it. So in the autumn I 
made a formal appUcation to the Secretary of the 
Navy to be transferred from the observatory to the 
Nautical Almanac Office for the purpose of enga- 
ging in researches on the motion of the moon. On 
handing this application to the superintendent he 
suggested that the work in question might just as 
well be done at the observatory. I replied that 
I thought that the business of the observatory was 
to make and reduce astronomical observations with 
its instruments, and that the making of investi- 
gations of the kind I had in view had always been 
considered to belong to the Nautical Almanac Of- 
fice. He repHed that he deemed it equally appro- 
priate for the observatory to undertake it. As my 
objection was founded altogether on a principle 
which he refused to accept, and as by doing the 
work at the observatory I should have ready access 
to its Hbrary, I consented to the arrangement he 
proposed. Accordingly, in forwarding my applica- 
tion, he asked that my order should be so worded 
as not to detach me from the observatory, but to 
add the duty I asked for to that which I was 
already performing. 

So far as I was personally concerned, this change 
was fortunate rather than otherwise. As things 
go in Washington, the man who does his work in 



116 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

a fine pubKc building can gain consideration for 
it much more readily than if he does it in a hired 
office like that which the " Nautical Almanac " then 
occupied. My continued presence on the observa- 
tory staff led to my taking part in two of the great 
movements of the next ten years, the construction 
and inauguration of the great telescope and the 
observations of the transit of Venus. But for the 
time being my connection with the regular work of 
the observatory ceased. 

On the retirement of Admiral Sands in 1874, 
Admiral Davis returned to the observatory, and 
continued in charge until his death in February, 
1877. The principal event of this second admin- 
istration was the dispatch of parties to observe the 
transit of Venus. Of this I shall speak in fuU in 
a subsequent chapter. 

One incident, although of no public importance, 
was of some interest at the time. This was a visit 
of the only emperor who, I believe, had ever set 
foot on our shores, — Dom Pedro of Brazil. He 
had chosen the occasion of our Centennial for a 
visit to this country, and excited great interest 
during his stay, not only by throwing off all im- 
perial reserve during his travels, but by the curi- 
osity and vigor with which he went from place to 
place examining and studying everything he could 
find, and by the singular extent of his knowledge 
on almost every subject of a scientific or technical 
character. A Philadelphia engineer with whom he 
talked was quoted as saying that his knowledge of 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 117 

engineering was not merely of the ordinary kind 
to be expected in an intelligent man, but extended 
to the minutest details and latest improvements in 
the building of bridges, which was the specialty of 
the engineer in question. 

Almost as soon as he arrived in Washington I 
received the following letter by a messenger from 
the Arlington Hotel : — 

Mb.: 

En arrivant a Washington j'ai tout-de-suite songe a 
votre observatoire, on vous avez acquis tant de droit a 
I'estime de tout ceux qui achevent la science. Je m'y 
rendrai done aujourd'hui a 7 heures du soir, et je compte 
vous y trouver, surtout pour vous remercier de votre 
beau m^moire que j'ai re§u peu avant mon depart de 
mon pays, et que je n'ai pas pu, par consequent, appre- 
cier autant que je I'aurais voulu. En me plaisant de 
I'espoir de vous connaitre personnellement je vous prie de 
me compter parmi vos affectionnes. 

D. Pedro d'Alcantaba. 

7 Mai, 1876. 

Like other notes which I subsequently received 
from him, it was in his own autograph throughout : 
if he brought any secretary with him on his travels 
I never heard of it. 

The letter placed me in an embarrassing posi- 
tion, because its being addressed to me was in con- 
travention of all official propriety. Of course I 
lost no time in calling on him and trying to explain 
the situation. I told him that Admiral Davis, 
whom he well knew from his being in command 
of the BraziUan station a few years before, was 



118 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the head of the observatory, and hinted as plainly 
as I could that a notification of the coming of such 
a visitor as he should be sent to the head of the 
institution. But he refused to take the hint, and 
indicated that he expected me to arrange the whole 
matter for him. This I did by going to the obser- 
vatory and frankly explaining the matter to Admi- 
ral Davis. Happily the latter was not a stickler 
for official forms, and was cast in too large a mould 
to take ofEense where none was intended. At his 
invitation I acted as one of the receiving party. 
The carriage drove up at the appointed hour, and 
its occupant was welcomed by the admiral at the 
door with courtly dignity. The visitor had no 
time to spend in preliminaries ; he wished to look 
through the estabhshment immediately. 

The first object to meet his view was a large 
marble-cased clock which, thirty years before, had 
acquired some celebrity from being supposed to 
embody the first attempt to apply electricity to 
the recording of astronomical observations. It was 
said to have cost a large sum, paid partly as a re- 
ward to its inventor. Its only drawbacks were 
that it would not keep time and had never, so far 
as I am aware, served any purpose but that of an 
ornament. The first surprise came when the visitor 
got down on his hands and knees in front of the 
clock, reached his hands under it, and proceeded 
to examine its supports. We all wondered what 
it could mean. When he arose, it was explained. 
He did not see how a clock supported in this way 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 119 

could keep the exact time necessary in the work of 
an astronomer. So we had to tell him that the 
clock was not used for this purpose, and that he 
must wait until we visited the observing rooms to 
see our clocks properly supported. 

The only evidence of the imperial will came out 
when he reached the great telescope. The moon, 
near first quarter, was then shining, but the night 
was more than half cloudy, and there was no hope 
of obtaining more than a chance glimpse at it 
through the clouds. But he wished to see the 
moon through the telescope. I replied that the 
sky was now covered, and it was very doubtful 
whether we should get a view of the moon. But 
he required that the telescope should be at once 
pointed at it. This was done, and at that moment 
a clear space appeared between the clouds. I re- 
marked upon the fact, but he seemed to take it as 
a matter of course that the cloud would get out of 
the way when he wanted to look. 

I made some remark about the " vernier " of one 
of the circles on the telescope. 

" Why do you call it a vernier ? " said he. *' Its 
proper term is a nonius, because Nonius was its in- 
ventor and Vernier took the idea from him." 

In this the national spirit showed itself. Nonius, 
a Portuguese, had invented something on a similar 
principle and yet essentially different from the 
modern vernier, invented by a Frenchman of that 
name. 

Accompanying the party was a little girl, ten or 



120 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

twelve years old, who, though an interested spec- 
tator, modestly kept in the background and said 
nothing. On her arrival home, however, she broke 
her silence by running upstairs with the exclama- 
tion, — 

" Oh, Mamma, he 's the funniest emperor you 
ever did see ! " 

My connection with the observatory ceased Sep- 
tember 15, 1877, when I was placed in charge of 
the Nautical Ahnanac Office. It may not, how- 
ever, be out of place to summarize the measures 
which have since been taken both by the Navy 
Department and by eminent officers of the service 
to place the work of the institution on a sound 
basis. One great difficulty in doing this arises 
from the fact that neither Congress nor the Navy 
Department has ever stated the object which the 
government had in view in erecting the observa- 
tory, or assigned to it any well-defined pubHc 
functions. The superintendent and his stafE have 
therefore been left to solve the question what to 
do from time to time as best they could. 

In the spring of 1877 Kear- Admiral John Rodg- 
ers became the superintendent of the observatory. 
As a cool and determined fighter during the civil 
war he was scarcely second even to Farragut, and 
he was at the same time one of the ablest offi- 
cers and most estimable men that our navy ever 
included in its ranks. " I would rather be John 
Rodgers dead than any other man I know living," 
was said by one of the observatory assistants after 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY 121 

his death. Not many months after his accession 
he began to consider the question whether the wide 
liberty which had been allowed the professors in 
choosing their work was adapted to attain success. 
The Navy Department also desired to obtain some 
expressions of opinion on the subject. The result 
was a discussion and an of&cial paper, not emanat- 
ing from the admiral, however, in which the duty 
of the head of the observatory was defined in the 
following terms : — 

" The superintendent of the observatory should 
be a Une officer of the navy, of high rank, who 
should attend to the business affairs of the institu- 
tion, thus leaving the professors leisure for their 
proper work." 

Although he did not entirely commit himself to 
this view, he was under the impression that to get 
the best work out of the professors their hearts 
must be in it ; and this would not be the case if 
any serious restraint was placed upon them as to 
the work they should undertake. 

After Rodgers's death Vice- Admiral Rowan was 
appointed superintendent. About this time it would 
seem that the department was again disposed to 
inquire into the results of the liberal policy here- 
tofore pursued. Commander (since Rear-Admiral) 
William T. Sampson was ordered to the observa- 
tory, not as its head, but as assistant to the super- 
intendent. He was one of the most proficient men 
in practical physics that the navy has ever produced. 
I beheve that one reason for choosing so able and 



122 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

energetic an officer for the place was to see if any 
improvement could be made on the system. As I 
was absent at the Cape of Good Hope to observe 
the transit of Venus during the most eventful oc- 
casion of his administration, I have very little 
personal knowledge of it. It seems, however, that 
newspaper attacks were made on him, in which he 
was charged with taking possession of all the in- 
struments of the observatory but two, and placing 
them in charge of naval officers who were not pro- 
ficient in astronomical science. In reply he wrote 
an elaborate defense of his action to the " New 
York Herald, " which appeared in the number for 
February 13, 1883. The following extract is all 
that need find a place in the present connection. 

When I came here on duty a little more than a year 
since, I found these instruments disused. The transit 
instrument had not been used since 1878, and then only 
at intervals for several years previous ; the mural circle 
had not been used since 1877 ; the prime vertical had 
not been used since 1867. These instruments had been 
shamefully neglected and much injured thereby. . . . 
The small equatorial and comet seeker were in the same 
disgraceful condition, and were unfit for any real work. 

Admiral Franklin was made superintendent some- 
time in 1883, I believe, and issued an order pro- 
viding that the work of the observatory should be 
planned by a board consisting of the superin- 
tendent, the senior line officer, and the senior pro- 
fessor. Professors or officers in charge of instru- 
ments were required to prepare a programme for 



LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATOKY 123 

their proposed work each year in advance, which 
programme would be examined by the board. Of 
the work of this board or its proceedings, no clear 
knowledge can be gleaned from the published re- 
ports, nor do I know how long it continued. 

In 1885 Secretary Whitney referred to the Na- 
tional Academy of Sciences the question of the 
advisability of proceeding promptly with the erec- 
tion of a new naval observatory upon the site pur- 
chased in 1880. The report of the academy was 
in the affirmative, but it was added that the obser- 
vatory should be erected and named as a national 
one, and placed under civilian administration. The 
year following Congress made the preUminary 
appropriation for the commencement of the new 
building, but no notice was taken of the recom- 
mendation of the academy. 

In 1891 the new buildings were approaching 
completion, and Secretary Tracy entered upon the 
question of the proper administration of the obser- 
vatory. He discussed the subject quite fully in 
his annual report for that year, stating his con- 
clusion in the following terms : — 

I therefore recommend the adoption of legislation 
which shall instruct the President to appoint, at a suf- 
ficient salary, without restriction, from persons either 
within or outside the naval service, the ablest and most 
accomplished astronomer who can be found for the posi- 
tion of superintendent. 

At the following session of Congress Sena- 
tor Hale introduced an amendment to the naval 



124 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

appropriation bill, providing for the expenses of a 
commission to be appointed by the Secretary of the 
Navy, to consider and report upon the organization 
of the observatory. The House non-concurred in 
this amendment, and it was dropped from the bill. 

At the same session, all the leading astronomers 
of the country united in a petition to Congress, 
asking that the recommendation of the Secretary 
of the Navy should be carried into effect. After 
a very patient hearing of arguments on the subject 
by Professor Boss and others, the House Naval 
Committee reported unanimously against the mea- 
sure, claiming that the navy had plenty of officers 
able to administer the observatory in a satisfactory 
way, and that there was therefore no necessity for 
a civilian head. 

Two years later. Senator MorriU ofEered an 
amendment to the legislative appropriation bill, pro- 
viding that the superintendent of the observatory 
should be selected from civil life, and be learned in 
the science of astronomy. He supported his amend- 
ment by letters from a number of leading astro- 
nomers of the country in reply to questions which 
he had addressed to them. 

This amendment, after being approved by the 
Senate Naval Committee, was referred by the Com- 
mittee on Appropriations to the Secretary of the 
Navy. He recommended a modification of the 
measure so as to provide for the appointment of a 
" Director of Astronomy," to have charge of the 
astronomical work of the observatory, which should, 



LIFE AND WOKK AT AN OBSERVATORY 125 

however, remain under a naval officer as superin- 
tendent. This arrangement was severely criticised 
in the House by Mr. Thomas B. Eeed, of Maine, 
and the whole measure was defeated in conference. 

In 1892, when the new observatory was being 
occupied, the superintendent promulgated regula- 
tions for its work. These set forth in great detail 
what the observatory should do. Its work was 
divided into nine departments, each with its chief, 
besides which there was a chief astronomical assist- 
ant and a chief nautical assistant to the superin- 
tendent, making eleven chiefs in all. The duties 
of each chief were comprehensively described. As 
the entire scientific force of the observatory num- 
bered some ten or twelve naval officers, professors, 
and assistant astronomers, with six computers, it 
may be feared that some of the nine departments 
were short-handed. 

In September, 1894, new regulations were estab- 
lished by the Secretary of the Navy, which provided 
for an " Astronomical Director," who was to " have 
charge of and to be responsible for the direction, 
scope, character, and preparation for publication of 
all work purely astronomical, which is performed at 
the Naval Observatory." As there was no law for 
this office, it was filled first by the detail of Pro- 
fessor Harkness, who served until his retirement in 
1899, then by the detail of Professor Brown, who 
served until March, 1901. 

In 1899 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a 
Board of Visitors to the observatory, comprising 



126 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Senator Chandler, of New Hampshire, Hon. A. G. 
Dayton, House of Representatives, and Professors 
Pickering, Comstock, and Hale. This board, " in 
order to obviate a criticism that the astronomical 
work of the observatory has not been prosecuted 
with that vigor and continuity of purpose which 
should be shown in a national observatory," re- 
commended that the Astronomical Director and 
the Director of the Nautical Almanac should be 
civil officers, with sufficient salaries. A bill to this 
effect was introduced into each House of Congress 
at the next session, and referred to the respective 
naval committees, but never reported. 

In 1901 Congress, in an amendment to the 
naval appropriation bill, provided a permanent 
Board of Visitors to the observatory, in whom 
were vested full powers to report upon its condition 
and expenditures, and to prescribe its plan of work. 
It was also provided in the same law that the super- 
intendent of the observatory should, until further 
legislation by Congress, be a line officer of the 
navy of a rank not below that of captain. In the 
first annual report of this board is the following 
clause : — 

" We wish to record our deliberate and unani- 
mous judgment that the law should be changed so 
as to provide that the official head of the observa- 
tory — perhaps styled simply the Director — should 
be an eminent astronomer appointed by the Presi- 
dent by and with the consent of the Senate." 

Although the board still has a legal existence, 



LIFE AND WOKK AT AN OBSERVATORY 127 

Congress, in 1902, practically suspended its func- 
tions by declining to make any appropriation for 
its expenses. Moreover, since the detachment of 
Professor Brown, Astronomical Director, no one 
has been appointed to fill the vacancy thus aris- 
ing. At the time of the present writing, there- 
fore, the entire responsibility for planning and 
directing the work of the observatory is officially 
vested in the naval superintendent, as it was at 
the old observatory. 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 

One hardly knows where, in the history of science, 
to look for an important movement that had its 
effective start in so pure and simple an accident as 
that which led to the building of the great Wash- 
ington telescope, and went on to the discovery of 
the sateUites of Mars. Very difEerent might have 
been a chapter of astronomical history, but for the 
accident of Mr. Cyrus Field, of Atlantic cable fame, 
having a small dinner party at the Arlington Hotel, 
Washington, in the winter of 1870. Among the 
guests were Senators Hamhn and Casserly, Mr. J. 
E. Hilgard of the Coast Survey, and a young son 
of Mr. Field, who had spent the day in seeing the 
sights of Washington. Being called upon for a 
recital of his experiences, the youth described his 
visit to the observatory, and expressed his surprise 
at finding no large telescope. The only instrument 
they could show him was much smaller and more 
antiquated than that of Mr. Rutherfurd in New 
York. 

The guests listened to this statement with incre- 
duUty, and applied to Mr. Hilgard to know whether 
the visitor was not mistaken, through a failure to 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 129 

find the great telescope of the ohservatory. Mr. 
Hilgard replied that the statement was quite cor- 
rect, the observatory having been equipped at a 
time when the construction of great refracting tele- 
scopes had not been commenced, and even their 
possibility was doubted. 

" This ought not to be," said one of the sen- 
ators. " Why is it so ? " 

Mr. Hilgard mentioned the reluctance of Con- 
gress to appropriate money for a telescope. 

" It must be done," replied the senator. " You 
have the case properly represented to Congress, 
and we will see that an appropriation goes through 
the Senate at least." 

It chanced that this suggestion had an official 
basis which was not known to the guests. Al- 
though Mr. Alvan Clark had already risen into 
prominence as a maker of telescopes, his genius 
in this direction had not been recognized outside 
of a Hmited scientific circle. The civil war had 
commenced just as he had completed the largest 
refracting telescope ever made, and the excitement 
of the contest, as well as the absorbing character of 
the questions growing out of the reconstruction 
of the Union, did not leave our public men much 
time to think about the making of telescopes. 
Mr. Clark had, however, been engaged by Cap- 
tain GiUiss only a year or two after the latter had 
taken charge of the observatory, to come to Wash- 
ington, inspect our instruments, and regrind their 
glasses. The result of his work was so striking 



130 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

to the observers using the instruments before and 
after his work on them, that no doubt of his abihty 
could be felt. Accordingly, in preparing items for 
the annual reports of the observatory for the years 
1868 and 1869, I submitted one to the superin- 
tendent setting forth the great deficiency of the 
observatory in respect to the power of its telescope, 
and the ability of Mr. Clark to make good that de- 
ficiency. These were embodied in the reports. It 
was recommended that authority be given to order 
a telescope of the largest size from Mr. Clark. 

It happened, however, that Secretary Welles had 
announced in his annual reports as his policy that he 
would recommend no estimates for the enlargement 
and improvement of public works in his depart- 
ment, but would leave all matters of this kind to 
be acted on by Congress as the latter might deem 
best. As the telescope was thrown out of the 
regular estimates by this rule, this subject had 
failed to be considered by Congress. 

Now, however, the fact of the recommendation 
appearing in the annual report, furnished a basis 
of action. Mr. Hilgard did not lose a day in set- 
ting the ball in motion. 

He called upon me immediately, and I told him 
of the recommendations in the last two reports of 
the superintendent of the observatory. Together 
we went to see Admiral Sands, who of course took 
the warmest interest in the movement, and ear- 
nestly promoted it on the official side. Mr. Hilgard 
telegraphed immediately to some leading men of 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 131 

science, -who authorized their signatures to a peti- 
tion. In this paper attention was called to the 
wants of the observatory, as set forth by the super- 
intendent, and to the eminent ability of the cele- 
brated firm of the Clarks to supply them. The 
petition was printed and put into the hands of 
Senator Hamlin for presentation to the Senate 
only three or four days after the dinner party. 
The appropriation measure was formally consid- 
ered by the Committee on Naval AfEairs and that 
on Appropriations, and was adopted in the Senate 
as an amendment to the naval appropriation bill 
without opposition. The question then was to get 
the amendment concurred in by the House of Re- 
presentatives. The session was near its close, and 
there was no time to do much work. 

Several members of the House Committee on 
Appropriations were consulted, and the general 
feeling seemed to be favorable to the amendment. 
Great, therefore, was our surprise to find the com- 
mittee recommending that the amendment be not 
concurred in. To prevent a possible misapprehen- 
sion, I may remark that the present system of non- 
concurring in all amendments to an appropriation 
bill, in order to bring the whole subject into con- 
ference, had not then been introduced, so that this 
action showed a real opposition to the movement. 
One of the most curious features of the case is that 
the leader in the opposition was said to be Mr. 
Washburn, the chairman of the committee, who, 
not many years later, foimded the Washburn Ob- 



132 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

servatory of the University of Wisconsin. There 
is, I believe, no doubt that his munificence in this 
direction arose from what he learned about astron- 
omy and telescopes in the present case. 

It happened, most fortunately, that the joint 
committee of conference included Drake of the 
Senate and Niblack of the House, both earnestly 
in favor of the measure. The committee recom- 
mended concurrence, and the clause authorizing 
the construction became a law. The price was 
limited to $50,000, and a sum of $10,000 was 
appropriated for the first payment. 

No sooner were the Clarhs consulted than diffi- 
culties were found which, for a time, threatened to 
complicate matters, and perhaps delay the con- 
struction. In the first place, our currency was 
then still on a paper basis. Gold was at a pre- 
mium of some ten or fifteen per cent., and the 
Clarks were unwilling to take the contract on any 
but a gold basis. This, of course, the Government 
could not do. But the difficulty was obviated 
through the action of a second one, which equally 
threatened delay. Mr. L. J. McCormick, of reap- 
ing-machine fame, had conceived the idea of get- 
ting the largest telescope that could be made. He 
had commenced negotiations with the firm of Al- 
van Clark & Sons before we had moved, and entered 
into a contract while the appropriation was stiU 
pending in Congress. If the making of one great 
telescope was a tedious job, requiring many years 
for its completion, how could two be made ? 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 133 

I was charged -with the duty of negotiating the 
government contract with the Clarks. I found 
that the fact of Mr. McCormick's contract being 
on a gold basis made them wilKng to accept one 
from the Government on a currency basis ; still 
they considered that Mr. McCormick had the right 
of way in the matter of construction, and refused 
to give precedence to our instrument. On mature 
consideration, however, the firm reached the conclu- 
sion that two instruments could be made almost 
simultaneously, and Mr. McCormick very gener- 
ously waived any right he might have had to pre- 
cedence in the matter. 

The question how large an instrument they 
would undertake was, of course, one of the first to 
arise. Progress in the size of telescopes had to be 
made step by step, because it could never be fore- 
seen how soon the limit might be met ; and if an 
attempt were made to exceed it, the result would 
be not only failure for the instrument, but loss of 
labor and money by the constructors. The largest 
refracting telescope which the Clarks had yet con- 
structed was one for the University of Mississippi, 
which, on the outbreak of the civil war, had come 
into the possession of the Astronomical Society of 
Chicago. This would have been the last step, 
beyond which the firm would not have been will- 
ing to go to any great extent, had it not happened 
that, at this very time, a great telescope had been 
mounted in England. This was made by Thomas 
Cooke & Sons of York, for Mr. R. S. Newall of 



134 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Gateshead on Tyne, England. The Clarks could 
not, of course, allow themselves to be surpassed or 
even equalled by a foreign constructor ; yet they 
were averse to going much beyond the Cooke 
telescope in size. Twenty-six inches aperture was 
the largest they would undertake. I contended as 
strongly as I could for a larger telescope than Mr. 
McCormick's, but they would agree to nothing of 
the sort, — the supposed right of that gentleman 
to an instrument of equal size being guarded as 
completely as if he had been a party to the nego- 
tiations. So the contract was duly made for a 
telescope of twenty-six inches clear aperture. 

At that time Cooke and Clark were the only two 
men who had ever succeeded in making refracting 
telescopes of the largest size. But in order to ex- 
ercise their skill, an art equally rare and difficult 
had to be perfected, that of the glassmaker. Or- 
dinary glass, even ordinary optical glass, would not 
answer the purpose at all. The two disks, one of 
crown glass and the other of flint, must be not 
only of perfect transparency, but absolutely homo- 
geneous through and through, to avoid inequality 
of refraction, and thus cause all rays passing 
through them to meet in the same focus. It was 
only about the beginning of the century that flint 
disks of more than two or three inches diameter 
could be made. Even after that, the art was sup- 
posed to be a secret in the hands of a Swiss named 
Guinand, and his family. Looking over the field, 
the Clarks concluded that the only firm that could 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 133 

be relied on to furnish the glass was that of Chance 
& Co., of Birmingham, England. So, as soon as 
the contracts were completed, one of the Clark firm 
visited England and arranged with Chance & Co. 
to supply the glass for the two telescopes. The 
firm failed in a number of trials, but by repeated 
efforts finally reached success at the end of a year. 
The glasses were received in December, 1871, and 
tested in the following month. A year and a half 
more was required to get the object glasses into 
perfect shape ; then, in the spring or summer of 
1873, I visited Cambridge for the purpose of test- 
ing the glasses. They were mounted in the yard 
of the Clark establishment in a temporary tube, so 
arranged that the glass could be directed to any 
part of the heavens. 

I have had few duties which interested me more 
than this. The astronomer, in pursuing his work, 
is not often filled with those emotions which the 
layman feels when he hears of the wonderful power 
of the telescope. Not to say anything so harsh as 
that " familiarity breeds contempt," we must admit 
that when an operation of any sort becomes a 
matter of daily business, the sentiments associated 
with it necessarily become dulled. Now, however, 
I was filled with the consciousness that I was look- 
ing at the stars through the most powerful tele- 
scope that had ever been pointed at the heavens, 
and wondered what mysteries might be unfolded. 
The night was of the finest, and I remember, sweep- 
ing at random, I ran upon what seemed to be a 



136 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

little cluster of stars, so small and faint that it 
could scarcely have been seen in a smaller instru- 
ment, yet so distant that the individual stars eluded 
even the power of this instrument. What cluster 
it might have been it was impossible to determine, 
because the telescope had not the circles and other 
appliances necessary for fixing the exact location 
of an object. I could not help the vain longing 
which one must sometimes feel under such circum- 
stances, to know what beings might live on planets 
belonging to what, from an earthly point of view, 
seemed to be a little colony on the border of crea- 
tion itself. 

In his report dated October 9, 1873, Admiral 
Sands reported the telescope as "nearly completed." 
The volume of Washington observations showed 
that the first serious observations made with it, 
those on the satellites of Neptune, were commenced 
on November 10 of the same year. Thus, scarcely 
more than a month elapsed from the time that the 
telescope was reported still incomplete in the shop 
of its makers until it was in regular nightly use. 

Associated with the early history of the instru- 
ment is a chapter of astronomical history which may 
not only instruct and amuse the public, but relieve 
the embarrassment of some astronomer of a future 
generation who, reading the published records, will 
wonder what became of an important discovery. 
If the faith of the public in the absolute certainty 
of all astronomical investigation is thereby impaired, 
what I have to say will be in the interest of truth ; 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 137 

and I have no fear that our science will not stand 
the shock of the revelation. Of our leading as- 
tronomical observers of the present day — of such 
men as Burnham and Barnard — it may be safely 
said that when they see a thing it is there. But 
this cannot always be said of every eminent ob- 
server, and here is a most striking example of this 
fact. 

When the telescope was approaching completion 
I wrote to the head of one of the greatest European 
observatories, possessing one of the best telescopes 
of the time, that the first thing I should attempt 
with the telescope would be the discovery of the 
companion of Procyon. This first magnitude star, 
which may be well seen in the winter evenings 
above Orion, had been found to move in an exceed- 
ingly small orbit, one too small to be detected ex- 
cept through the most refined observations of mod- 
ern precision. The same thing had been found 
in the case of Sirius, and had been traced to the 
action of a minute companion revolving around it, 
which was discovered by the Clarks a dozen years 
before. There could be no doubt that the motion 
of Procyon was due to the same cause, but no one 
had ever seen the planet that produced it, though 
its direction from the star at any time could be 
estimated. 

Now, it happened that my European friend, as 
was very natural, had frequently looked for this 
object without seeing it. Whether my letter set 
him to looking again, or whether he did not re- 



138 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMEK 

ceive it until a later day, I do not know. What is 
certain is that, in the course of the summer, he 
pubHshed the discovery of the long^looked-f or com- 
panion, supplemented by an excellent series of ob- 
servations upon it, made iu March and April. 

Of course I was a little disappointed that the 
honor of first findiog this object did not belong 
to our own telescope. Still I was naturally very 
curious to see it. So, on the very first night on 
which the telescope could be used, I sat up until 
midnight to take a look at Procyon, not doubting 
that, with the greater power of our telescope, it 
would be seen at the first glance. To my great 
concern, nothing of the sort was visible. But the 
night was far from good, the air being somewhat 
thick with moisture, which gave objects seen through 
it a blurred appearance ; so I had to await a better 
night and more favorable conditions. Better nights 
came and passed, and still not a trace of the object 
could be seen. Supposing that the light of the 
bright star might be too dazzling, I cut it off with 
a piece of green glass in the focus. Still no com- 
panion showed itself. Could it be that our instru- 
ment, in a more favorable location, would fail to 
show what had been seen with one so much smaller ? 
This question I could not answer, but wrote to my 
European friend of my unavailing attempts. 

He replied expressing his perplexity and surprise 
at the occurrence, which was all the greater that 
the object had again been seen and measured in 
April, 1874. A fine-looking series of observations 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 139 

was published, similar to those of the preceding 
year. What made the matter all the more certain 
was that there was a change in the direction of 
the object which corresponded very closely to the 
motion as it had been predicted by Auwers. The 
latter published a revision of his work, based on 
the new observations. 

A year later, the parties that had been ob- 
serving the transit of Venus returned home. The 
head of one of them. Professor C. H. P. Peters of 
Clinton, stopped a day or two at Washington. It 
happened that a letter from my European friend 
arrived at the same time. I found that Peters was 
somewhat skeptical as to the reaUty of the object. 
Sitting before the fire in my room at the observa- 
tory, I read to him and some others extracts from 
the letter, which cited much new evidence to show 
the reality of the discovery. Not only had several 
of his own observers seen the object, but it had 
been seen and measured on several different nights 
by a certain Professor Blank, with a telescope only 
ten or twelve inches aperture. 

" What," said Peters, " has Blank seen it ? " 

" Yes, so the letter says." 

« Then it is n't there ! " 

And it really was not there. The maker of the 
discovery took it all back, and explained how he 
had been deceived. He found that the telescope 
through which the observations were made seemed 
to show a little companion of the same sort along- 
side of every very bright star. Everything was 



140 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

explained by this discovery. Even the seeming 
motion of the imaginary star during the twelve 
months was accounted for by the fact that in 1873 
Procyon was much nearer the horizon when the ob- 
servations were made than it was the year following.^ 

There is a sequel to the history, which may cause 
its revision by some astronomer not many years 
hence. When the great telescope was mounted at 
the Lick Observatory, it is understood that Burn- 
ham and Barnard, whose eyes are of the keenest, 
looked in vain for the companion of Procyon. Yet, 
in 1895, it was found with the same instrument by 
Schaeberle, and has since been observed with the 
great Yerkes telescope, as well as by the observers 
at Mount Hamilton, so that the reality of the dis- 
covery is beyond a doubt. The explanation of the 
failure of Burnham and Barnard to see it is very 
simple : the object moves in an eccentric orbit, so 
that it is nearer the planet at some points of its 
orbit than at others. It was therefore lost in the 
rays of the bright star during the years 1887-94. 
Is it possible that it could have been far enough 
away to be visible in 1873-74 ? I need scarcely 
add that this question must be answered in the 
negative, yet it may be worthy of consideration, 
when the exact orbit of the body is worked out 
twenty or thirty years hence. 

In my work with the telescope I had a more 

1 In justice to Mr. filank, I must say that there seems to have been 
some misunderstanding as to his observations. What he had really 
seen and observed was a star long well known, much more distant 
from Procyon than the companion in question. 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 141 

definite end in view than merely the possession of a 
great instrument. The work of reconstructing the 
tables of the planets, which I had long before 
mapped out as the greatest one in which I should en- 
gage, required as exact a knowledge as could be ob- 
tained of the masses of aU the planets. In the case 
of Uranus and Neptune, the two outer planets, this 
knowledge could best be obtained by observations 
on their sateUites. To the latter my attention was 
therefore directed. In the case of Neptune, which 
has only one satelHte yet revealed to human vision, 
and that one so close to the planet that the obser- 
vations are necessarily affected by some uncertainty, 
it was very desirable that a more distant one should 
be found if it existed. I therefore during the sum- 
mer and autumn of 1874 made most careful search 
under the most favorable conditions. But no sec- 
ond satellite was found. I was not surprised to 
learn that the observers with the great Lick tele- 
scope were equally unsuccessful. My observations 
with the instrument during two years were worked 
up and pubhshed, and I turned the instrument over 
to Professor Hall in 1875. 

The discovery of the sateUites of Mars was made 
two years later, in August, 1877. As no state- 
ment that I took any interest in the discovery has 
ever been made in any official publication, I ven- 
ture, with the discoverer's permission, to mention 
the part that I took in verifying it. 

One morning Professor Hall confidentially showed 
me his first observations of an object near Mars, 



142 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

and asked me what I thought of them. I remarked, 
" Why, that looks very much like a satellite." 

Yet he seemed very incredulous on the subject ; 
so incredulous that I feared he might make no fur- 
ther attempt to see the object. I afterward learned, 
however, that this was entirely a misapprehension 
on my part. He had been making a careful search 
for some time, and had no intention of abandoning 
it until the matter was cleared up one way or the 
other. 

The possibility of the object being an asteroid 
suggested itself. I volunteered to test this ques- 
tion by looking at the ephemerides of all the small 
planets in the neighborhood of Mars. A very little 
searching disproved the possibihty of the object 
belonging to this class. One such object was in 
the neighborhood, but its motion was incompatible 
with the measures. 

Then I remarked that, if the object were really 
a satelhte, the measures already made upon it, and 
the approximately known mass of the planet, would 
enable the motion of the satellite to be determined 
for a day or two. Thus I foimd that on that night 
the satellite would be hidden in the early evening 
by the planet, but would emerge after midnight. 
I therefore suggested to Professor Hall that, if it 
was not seen in the early evening, he should wait 
until after midnight. The result was in accord- 
ance with the prediction, — the satellite was not 
visible in the early evening, but came out after 
midnight. No further doubt was possible, and the 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 143 

discovery was published. The labor of searching 
and observing was so exhausting that Professor 
HaU let me compute the preliminary orbit of the 
satellites from his early observations. 

My calcidations and suggestions lost an impor- 
tance they might otherwise have claimed, for the 
reason that several clear nights followed. Had 
cloudy weather intervened, a knowledge of when 
to look for the object might have greatly facilitated 
its recognition. 

It is stiQ an open question, perhaps, whether a 
great refracting telescope will last unimpaired for 
an indefinite length of time. I am not aware that 
the twin instruments of Harvard and Pulkowa, 
mounted in 1843, have suffered from age, nor am 
I aware that any of Alvan Clark's instruments are 
less perfect to-day than when they left the hands 
of their makers. But not long after the discovery 
of the satellites of Mars, doubts began to spread 
in some quarters as to whether the great Washing- 
ton telescope had not suffered deterioration. These 
doubts were strengthened in the following way : 
When hundreds of curious objects were being dis- 
covered in the heavens here and there, observers 
with small instruments naturally sought to find 
them. The result was several discoveries belong- 
ing to the same class as that of the satellite of 
Procyon. They were found with very insignificant 
instruments, but could not be seen in the large 
ones. Professor Hall published a letter in a Eu- 
ropean journal, remarking upon the curious fact 



144 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

that several objects were being discovered witb very 
small instruments, which were invisible in the Wash- 
ington telescope. This met the eye of Professor 
Wolf, a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, as well 
as astronomer at the Paris Observatory. In a pub- 
lic lecture, which he delivered shortly afterward, 
he lamented the fact that the deterioration of the 
Washington telescope had gone so far as that, and 
quoted Professor Hall as his authority. 

The success of the Washington telescope excited 
such interest the world over as to give a new im- 
petus to the construction of such instruments. Its 
glass showed not the shghtest drawbacks from its 
great size. It had been feared that, after a cer- 
tain hmit, the shght bending of the glass under its 
own weight would be injurious to its performance. 
Nothing of the kind being seen, the C larks were 
quite ready to undertake much larger instruments. 
A 30-inch telescope for the Pulkova Observatory 
in Bussia, the 36-inch telescope of the Lick Obser- 
vatory in California, and, finally, the 40-inch of the 
Yerkes Observatory in Chicago, were the outcome 
of the movement. 

Of most interest to us in the present connec- 
tion is the history of the 30-inch telescope of the 
Pulkova Observatory, the object glass of which 
was made by Alvan Clark & Sons. It was, I think, 
sometime in 1878 that I received a letter from 
Otto Struve,^ director of the Pulkova Observatory, 

^ Otto Struve was a brother of the very popular Rnssian minis- 
ter to Washington during the years 1882-92. He retired from the 



GREAT TELESCOPES AST) THEIR WORK 145 

stating that he was arranging with his government 
for a grant of money to build one of the largest 
refracting telescopes. In answering him I called 
his attention to the ability of Alvan Clark & Sons 
to make at least the object glass, the most deUcate 
and difficult part of the instrument. The result 
was that, after fruitless negotiations with European 
artists, Struve himself came to America in the sum- 
mer of 1879 to see what the American firm could 
do. He first went to Washington and carefully ex- 
amined the telescope there. Then he proceeded to 
Cambridge and visited the workshop of the Clarks. 
He expressed some surprise at its modest dimen- 
sions and fittings generally, but was so well pleased 
with what he saw that he decided to award them 
the contract for making the object glass. He was 
the guest of the Pickerings at the Cambridge Ob- 
servatory, and invited me thither from where I was 
summering on the coast of Massachusetts to assist 
in negotiating the contract. 

He requested that, for simpHcity in conference, 
the preliminary terms should be made with but a 
single member of the firm to talk with. George B. 
Clark, the eldest member, was sent up to represent 
the firm. I was asked to take part in the negotia- 
tions as a mutual friend of both parties, and sug- 
gested the main conditions of the contract. A 

direction of the Pulkowa Observatory about 1894. The official his- 
tory of his negotiations and other proceedings for the construction 
of the telescope will be found in a work published in 1889 in honor 
of the jubilee of the observatory. 



146 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

summary of these will be found in the pubhcation 
to which I have already referred. 

There was one provision the outcome of which 
was characteristic of Alvan Clark & Sons. Struve, 
in testing some object glasses which they had con- 
structed and placed in their temporary tube, found 
so great physical exertion necessary in pointing so 
rough an instrument at any heavenly body with 
sufficient exactness, that he could not form a satis- 
factory opinion of the object glass. As he was to 
come over again when the glass was done, in order 
to test it preliminary to acceptance, he was deter- 
mined that no such difficulty should arise. He 
therefore made a special provision that flOOO extra, 
to be repaid by him, should be expended in mak- 
ing a rough equatorial mounting in which he could 
test the instrument. George Clark demurred to 
this, on the ground that such a mounting as was 
necessary for this purpose could not possibly cost 
so much money. But Struve persistently main- 
tained that one to cost $1000 should be made. 
The other party had to consent, but failed to carry 
out this provision. The tube was, indeed, made 
large enough to test not only Struve's glass but the 
larger one of the Lick Observatory, which, though 
not yet commenced, was expected to be ready not 
long afterward. Yet, notwithstanding this increase 
of size, I think the extra cost turned out to be 
much less than $1000, and the mounting was so 
rough that when Struve came over in 1883 to test 
the glass, he suffered much physical inconvenience 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 147 

and met, if my memory serves me aright, -with a 
slight accident, in his efforts to use the rough in- 
strument. 

In points like this I do not believe that another 
such business firm as that of the Clarks ever ex- 
isted in this country or any other. Here is an 
example. Shortly before the time of Struve's visit, 
I had arranged with them for the construction of 
a refined and comphcated piece of apparatus to 
measure the velocity of light. As this apparatus 
was quite new in nearly all its details, it was impos- 
sible to estimate in advance what it might cost ; so, 
of course, they desired that payment for it should 
be arranged on actual cost after the work was 
done. I assured them that the government would 
not enter into a contract on such terms. There 
must be some maximum or fixed price. This they 
fixed at $2500. I then arranged with them that 
this should be taken as a maximum and that, if it 
was found to cost less, they should accept actual 
cost. The contract was arranged on this basis. 
There were several extras, including two most deli- 
cate reflecting mirrors which would look flat to the 
eye, but were surfaces of a sphere of perhaps four 
miles diameter. The entire cost of the apparatus, 
as figured up by them after it was done, with these 
additions, was less than $1500, or about foriy per 
cent, below the contract limit. 

No set of men were ever so averse to advertising 
themselves. If anybody, in any part of the world, 
wanted them to make a telescope, he must write to 



148 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

them to know the price, etc. They could never 
be induced to prepare anything in the form of a 
price catalogue of the instruments they were pre- 
pared to furnish. The history of their early efEorts 
and the indifference of our scientific public to their 
skill forms a mortifying chapter in our history of 
the middle of the century. When Mr. Clark had 
finished his first telescope, a small one of four 
inches aperture, which was, I have no reason to 
doubt, the best that human art could make, he 
took it to the Cambridge Observatory to be tested 
by one of the astronomers. The latter called his 
attention to a little tail which the glass showed as 
an appendage of a star, and which was, of course, 
non-existent. It was attributed to a defect in the 
glass, which was therefore considered a failure. 
Mr. Clark was quite sure that the tail was not 
shown when he had previously used the glass, but 
he could not account for it at the time. He after- 
wards traced it to the warm air collecting in the 
upper part of the tube and producing an irregular 
refraction of the light. When this cause was 
corrected the defect disappeared. But he got no 
further encouragement at home to pursue his work. 
The first recognition of his genius came from Eng- 
land, the agent being Kev. W. R. Dawes, an en- 
thusiastic observer of double stars, who was greatly 
interested in having the best of telescopes. Mr. 
Clark wrote him a letter describing a number of 
objects which he had seen with telescopes of his 
own make. From this description Mr. Dawes saw 



GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK 149 

that the instruments must be of great excellence, 
and the outcome of the matter was that he ordered 
one or more telescopes from the American maker. 
Not until then were the abihties of the latter recog- 
nized in his own country. 

I have often speculated as to what the result 
might have been had Mr. Clark been a more enter- 
prising man. If, when he first found himself able 
to make a large telescope, he had come to Wash- 
ington, got permission to mount his instrument in 
the grounds of the capitol, showed it to members 
of Congress, and asked for legislation to promote 
this new industry, and, when he got it, advertised 
himself and his work in every way he could, would 
the firm which he founded have been so little known 
after the death of its members, as it now unhappily 
is ? This is, perhaps, a rather academic question, 
yet not an unprofitable one to consider. 

In recent years the firm was engaged only to 
make object glasses of telescopes, because the only 
mountings they could be induced to make were 
too rude to satisfy astronomers. The palm in this 
branch of the work went to the firm of Warner & 
Swasey, whose mounting of the great Yerkes tele- 
scope of the University of Chicago is the last word 
of art in this direction. 

During the period when the reputation of the 
Cambridge family was at its zenith, I was slow to 
beheve that any other artist could come up to their 
standard. My impression was strengthened by a 
curious circumstance. During a visit to the Stras- 



150 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

burg Observatory in 1883 I was given permission 
to look through its great telescope, which was 
made by a renowned German artist. I was sur- 
prised to find the object glass affected by so serious 
a defect that it could not be expected to do any 
work of the first class. One could only wonder 
that European art was so backward. But, several 
years afterward, the astronomers discovered that, 
in putting the glasses together after being cleaned, 
somebody had placed one of them in the wrong 
position, the surface which should have been turned 
toward the star being now turned toward the ob- 
server. When the glass was simply turned over so 
as to have the right face outward, the defect dis- 
appeared. 



VI 

THE TRANSITS OF VEinJS 

It was long supposed that transits of Venus over 
the sun's disk afforded the only accurate method 
of determining the distance of the sun, one of 
the fundamental data of astronomy. Unfortu- 
nately, these phenomena are of the rarest. They 
come in pairs, with an interval of eight years be- 
tween the transits of a pair. A pair occurred in 
1761 and 1769, and again in 1874 and 1882. 
Now the whole of the twentieth century wiU pass 
without another recurrence of the phenomenon. 
Not until the years 2004 and 2012 will our poster- 
ity have the opportunity of witnessing it. 

Much interesting history is associated with the 
adventures of the astronomers who took part in 
the expeditions to observe the transits of 1761 and 
1769. In the almost chronic warfare which used 
to rage between Prance and England during that 
period, neither side was willing to regard as neu- 
tral even a scientific expedition sent out by the 
other. The French sent one of their astronomers, 
Le Gentil, to observe the transit at Pondicherry in 
the East Indies. As he was nearing his station, 
the presence of the enemy prevented him from mak- 
ing port, and he was still at sea on the day of the 



152 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

transit. When he at length landed, he detennined 
to remain until the transit of 1769, and observe 
that. We must not suppose, however, that he 
was guilty of the eccentricity of doing this with no 
other object in view than that of making the 
observation. He found the field open for profit- 
able mercantile enterprise, as weU as interesting 
for scientific observations and inquiries. The eight 
long years passed away, and the morning of June 
4, 1769, found him in readiness for his work. 
The season had been exceptionally fine. On the 
morning of the transit the sun shone in a cloud- 
less sky, as it had done for several days previous. 
But, alas for all human hopes ! Just before Venus 
reached the sun, the clouds gathered, and a storm 
burst upon the place. It lasted until the transit 
was over, and then cleared away again as if with 
the express object of showing the unfortunate as- 
tronomer how helpless he was in the hands of the 
elements. 

The Eoyal Society of England procured a grant 
of £800 from King George 11. for expeditions to 
observe the transit of 1761.^ With this grant the 
Society sent the Rev. Nevil Maskelyne to the island 
of St. Helena, and, receiving another grant, it was 

' For the incidents connected with the English observations of 
this transit, the author is indebted to Vice-Admiral W. H. Smyth's 
curions and rare book, Speculum Hartwellianum, London, 1860. It 
and other works of the same author may be described as queer 
and interesting jumbles of astronomical and other information, 
thrown into an interesting form ; and, in the case of the present 
work, spread through a finely illustrated quarto volume of nearly 
five hundred pages. 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 163 

used to dispatch Messrs. Mason and Dixon (those 
of our celebrated " line ") to Bencoolen. The 
admiralty also supplied a ship for conveying the 
observers to their respective destinations. Maske- 
lyne, however, would not avail himself of this con- 
veyance, but made his voyage on a private vessel. 
Cloudy weather prevented his observations of the 
transit, but this did not prevent his expedition from 
leaving for posterity an interesting statement of 
the necessaries of an astronomer of that time. His 
itemized account of personal expenses was as fol- 
lows : — 

One year's board at St. Helena . . £109 10s. Od. 

Liqaors at 5s. per day . 

Washing at 9d. per day 

Other expenses .... 

Liquors on board ship for six months 

£291 16s. 3d. 

Seven hundred dollars was the total cost of 
liquors during the eighteen months of his absence- 
Admiral Smyth concludes that Maskelyne " was not 
quite what is now ycleped a teetotaler." He was 
subsequently Astronomer Royal of England for 
nearly half a century, but his pubHshed observa- 
tions give no indication of the cost of the drinks 
necessary to their production. 

Mason and Dixon's expedition met with a mis- 
hap at the start. They had only got fairly into 
the English Channel when their ship fell in with a 
French frigate of superior force. An action ensued 
in which the English crew lost eleven killed and 



91 


5 





13 


13 


9 


27 


7 


6 


50 









154 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

thirty-eight wounded. The Frenchman was driven 
off, but the victorious vessel had to return to Plym- 
outh for repairs. This kind of a scientific expedi- 
tion was more than the astronomers had bargained 
for, and they wrote from Plymouth to the Royal 
Society, describing their misfortune and resign- 
ing their mission. But the Council of the Society 
speedily let them know that they were unmoved by 
the misfortunes of their scientific missionaries, and 
pointed out to them in caustic terms that, hav- 
ing solemnly undertaken the expedition, and re- 
ceived money on accoimt of it, their failure to 
proceed on the voyage would be a reproach to the 
nation in general, and to the Royal Society in par- 
ticular. It would also bring an indelible scandal 
upon their character, and probably end in their 
utter ruin. They were assured that if they per^ 
sisted in the refusal, they would be treated with 
the most inflexible resentment, aild prosecuted 
with the utmost severity of the law. 

Under such threats the unfortunate men could 
do nothing but accept the situation and sail again 
after their frigate had been refitted. When they 
got as far as the Cape of Good Hope, it was found 
very doubtful whether they would reach their des- 
tination in time for the transit ; so, to make sure 
of some result from their mission, they made their 
observations at the Cape. 

One of the interesting scraps of history con- 
nected with the transit of 1769 concerns the ob- 
servations of Father Maximilian Hell, S. J., the 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 155 

leading astronomer of Vienna. He observed the 
transit at Wardhus, a point near the northern 
extremity of Norway, where the sun did not set at 
the season of the transit. Owing to the peculiar 
circumstances under which the transit was observed, 
— the ingress of the planet occurring two or three 
hours before the sun approached the northern hori- 
zon, and the end of the transit about as long 
afterward, — this station was the most favorable 
one on the globe. Hell, with two or three com- 
panions, one of them named Sajnovics, went on his 
mission to this isolated place under the auspices of 
the king of Denmark. The day was cloudless and 
the observations were made with entire success. 
He returned to Copenhagen, where he passed sev- 
eral months in preparing for the press a complete 
account of his expedition and the astronomical 
observations made at the station. 

Astronomers were impatient to have the results 
for the distance of the sun worked out as soon as 
possible. Owing to the importance of Hell's ob- 
servations, they were eagerly looked for. But he 
at first refused to make them known, on the groimd 
that, having been made under the auspices of the 
king of Denmark, they ought not to be made 
known in advance of their official publication by 
the Danish Academy of Sciences. This reason, 
however, did not commend itself to the impatient 
astronomers; and suspicions were aroused that 
something besides official formalities was behind 
the delay. It was hinted that Hell was waiting 



156 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

for the observations made at other stations in order 
that he might so manipulate his own that they 
■would fit in with those made elsewhere. Reports 
were even circulated that he had not seen the tran- 
sit at all, owing to cloudy weather, and that he 
was manufacturing observations in Copenhagen. 
The book was, however, sent to the printer quite 
promptly, and the insinuations against its author 
remained a mere suspicion for more than sixty 
years. Then, about 1833, a little booh was pub- 
Ushed on the subject by Littrow, Director of the 
Vienna Observatory, which excited much attention. 
Father Hell's original journal had been conveyed 
to Vienna on his return, and was still on deposit 
at the Austrian National Observatory. Littrow 
examined it and found, as he supposed, that the 
suspicions of alterations in observations were well 
founded ; more especially that the originals of the 
all-important figures which recorded the critical 
moment of " contact " had been scraped out of the 
paper, and new ones inserted in their places. The 
same was said to be the case with many other im- 
portant observations in the journal, and the conclu- 
sion to which his seemingly careful examination led 
was that no rehance could be placed on the genu- 
ineness of Hell's work. The doubts thus raised 
were not dispelled until another half-century had 
elapsed. 

In 1883 I paid a visit to Vienna for the purpose 
of examining the great telescope which had just 
been mounted in the observatory there by Grubb, 



THE TRANSITS OP VENUS 157 

of Dublin. The weather was so unfavorable that 
it was necessary to remain two weeks, waiting for 
an opportunity to see the stars. One evening I 
visited the theatre to see Edwin Booth, in his cele- 
brated tour over the Continent, play King Lear 
to the applauding Viennese. But evening amuse- 
ments cannot be utilized to kill time during the 
day. Among the tasks I had projected was that 
of rediscussing all the observations made on the 
transits of Venus which had occurred in 1761 and 
1769, by the light of modern science. As I have 
already remarked, Hell's observations were among 
the most important made, if they were only gen- 
uine. So, during my almost daily visits to the 
observatory, I asked permission of Director Weiss 
to study Hell's manuscript. 

At first the task of discovering anything which 
would lead to a positive decision on one side or 
the other seemed hopeless. To a cursory glance, 
the descriptions given by littrow seemed to cover 
the ground so completely that no future student 
could turn his doubt into certainty. But when 
one looks leisurely at an interesting object, day 
after day, he continually sees more and more. 
Thus it was in the present case. One of the first 
things to strike me as curious was that many of 
the alleged alterations had been made before the 
ink got dry. When the writer made a mistake, 
he had rubbed it out with his finger, and made a 
new entry. 

The all-important point was a certain suspicious 



158 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

record -which Littrow affirmed had been scraped 
out so that the new insertion could be made. 
As I studied these doubtful figures, day by day, 
light continually increased. Evidently the heav- 
ily written figures, which were legible, had been 
written over some other figures which were con- 
cealed beneath them, and were, of course, com- 
pletely illegible, though portions of them pro- 
truded here and there outside of the heavy figures. 
Then I began to doubt whether the paper had 
been scraped at all. To settle the question, I found 
a darkened room, into which the sun's rays could 
be admitted through an opening in the shutter, 
and held the paper in the sunlight in such a way 
that the only light which fell on it barely grazed 
the surface of the paper. Examining the sheet 
with a magnifying glass, I was able to see the 
original texture of the surface with all its hills 
and hoUows. A single glance sufficed to show 
conclusively that no eraser had ever passed over 
the surface, which had remained untouched. 

The true state of the case seemed to me almost 
beyond doubt. It frequently happened that the ink 
did not run freely from the pen, so that the words 
had sometimes to be written over again. When 
Hell first wrote down the little figures on which, 
as he might well suppose, future generations would 
have to base a very important astronomical ele- 
ment, he saw that they were not written with a dis- 
tinctness corresponding to their importance. So 
he wrote them over again with the hand, and in the 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 159 

spirit of a man who was determined to leave no 
doubt on the subject, little weening that the act 
would give rise to a doubt which would endure for 
a century. 

This, although the most important case of sup- 
posed alteration, was by no means the only one. 
Yet, to my eyes, all the seeming corrections in 
the journal were of the most innocent and com- 
monplace kind, — such as any one may make in 
writing. 

Then I began to compare the manuscript, page 
after page, with Littrow's priuted description. It 
struck me as very curious that where the manu- 
script had been merely retouched with ink which 
was obviously the same as that used in the original 
writing, but looked a little darker than the origi- 
nal, Littrow described the ink as of a different 
color. In contrast with this, there was an impor- 
tant interlineation, which was evidently made with 
a different kind of ink, one that had almost a blue 
tinge by comparison ; but in the description he 
makes no mention of this plain difference. I 
thought this so curious that I wrote in my notes as 
follows : — 

" That Littrow, in arraying his proofs of Hell's 
forgery, should have failed to dweU upon the ob- 
vious difference between this ink and that with 
which the alterations were made leads me to sus- 
pect a defect in his sense of color." 

Then it occurred to me to inquire whether, per- 
haps, such could have been the case. So I asked 



160 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Director Weiss whether anything was known as to 
the normal character of Littrow's power of distin- 
guishing colors. His answer was prompt and de- 
cisive. " Oh, yes, Littrow was color bUnd to red. 
He could not distinguish between the color of Al- 
debaran and that of the whitest star." No further 
research was necessary. For half a century the 
astronomical world had based an impression on 
the innocent but mistaken evidence of a color-blind 
man respecting the tints of ink in a manuscript. 

About the middle of the nineteenth century other 
methods of measuring the sun's distance began to 
be developed which, it was quite possible, mighf 
prove as good as the observation in question. But 
the relative value of these methods and of transits 
of Venus was a subject on which little light could 
be thrown ; and the rarity of the latter phenomena 
naturally excited universal interest, both among 
the astronomers and among the pubhc. For the 
purpose in question it was necessary to send expe- 
ditions to different and distant parts of the globe, 
because the result had to depend upon the times of 
the phases, as seen from widely separated stations. 

In 1869 the question what stations should be oc- 
cupied and what observations should be made was 
becoming the subject of discussion in Europe, and 
especially in England. But our country was still 
silent on the subject. The result of continued 
silence was not hard to foresee. Congress would, at 
the last moment, make a munificent appropriation 
for sending out parties to observe the transit. The 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 161 

plans and instruments would be made in a hurry, 
and the parties packed off without any well-consid- 
ered ideas of what they were to do ; and the whole 
thing would end in failure so far as results of any 
great scientific value were concerned. 

I commenced the discussion by a little paper on 
the subject in the " American Journal of Science, " 
but there was no one to follow it up. So, at the 
spring meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, 
in 1870, I introduced a resolution for the appoint- 
ment of a committee to consider the subject and 
report upon the observations which should be made. 
This resolution was adopted, and a few days aftei^ 
ward Professor Henry invited me to call at his 
office in the evening to discuss with himself and 
Professor Peirce, then superintendent of the Coast 
Survey, the composition of the committee. 

At the conference I began by suggesting Pro- 
fessor Peirce himself for chairman. Naturally this 
met with no opposition ; then I waited for the 
others to go on. But they seemed determined to 
throw the whole onus of the matter on me. This 
was the more embarrassing, because I beheve that, 
in parliamentary law and custom, the mover of 
a resolution of this sort has a prescribed right to 
be chairman of the committee which he proposes 
shall be appointed. If not chairman, it would seem 
that he ought at any rate to be a member. But 
I was determined not to suggest myself in any 
way, so I went on and suggested Admiral Davis. 
This nomination was, of course, accepted without 



162 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

hesitation. Then I remarked that the statutes of 
the academy permitted of persons who were not 
members being invited to serve on a committee, 
and as the Naval Observatory would naturally take 
a leading part in such observations as were to be 
made, I suggested that its superintendent, Ad- 
miral Sands, should be invited to serve as a mem- 
ber of the committee. " There," said Peirce, " we 
now have three names. Committees of three are 
always the most efficient. Why go farther ? " 

I suggested that the committee should have on 
it some one practiced in astronomical observation, 
but he deemed this entirely unnecessary, and so 
the committee of three was formed. I did not deem 
it advisable to make any opposition at the time, be- 
cause it was easy to foresee what the result would 
be. 

During the summer nothing was heard of the 
committee, and in the autumn I made my first trip 
to Europe. On my return, in May, 1871, I found 
that the committee had never even held a meeting, 
and that it had been enlarged by the addition of a 
number of astronomers, among them myself. But, 
before it went seriously to work, it was superseded 
by another organization, to be described presently. 

At that time astronomical photography was in 
its infancy. Enough had been done by Eutherfurd 
to show that it might be made a valuable adjunct 
to astronomical investigation. Might we not then 
photograph Venus on the sun's disk, and by mea- 
surements of the plates obtain the desired result, 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 163 

perhaps better than it could be obtained by any 
hind of eye observation ? This question had al- 
ready suggested itself to Professor Winlock, who, 
at the Cambridge Observatory, had designed an 
instrument for taking the photographs. It con- 
sisted of a fixed horizontal telescope, into which 
the rays of the sun were to be thrown by a re- 
flector. This kind of an instrument had its origin 
in France, but it was first practically applied to 
photographing the sun in this country. As what- 
ever observations were to be made would have to 
be done at governmental expense, an appropriation 
of two thousand dollars was obtained from Congress 
for the expense of some preliminary instruments 
and investigations. 

Admiral Sands, superintendent of the observa- 
tory, now took an active part in the official prepa- 
rations. It was suggested to him, on the part of 
the academy committee, that it would be well to 
join hands with other organizations, so as to have 
the whole affair carried on with unity and harmony. 
To this he assented. The result was a provision 
that these and all other preparations for observing 
the transit of Venus should be made under the 
direction of a commission to be composed of the 
superintendent of the Naval Observatory, the super- 
intendent of the United States Coast Survey, the 
president of the National Academy of Sciences, and 
two professors of mathematics attached to the Na- 
val Observatory. Under this provision the commis- 
sion was constituted as follows : Commodore B. F. 



164 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Sands, U. S. N., Professor Benjamin Peirce, Pro- 
fessor Joseph Henry, Professor Simon Newcomb, 
Professor William Harkness. 

The academy committee now surrendered its func- 
tions to the commission, and the preparations were 
left entirely in the hands of the latter. 

So far as scientific operations were concerned, 
the views of the commission were harmonious 
through the whole of their deliberations. It was 
agreed from the beginning that the photographic 
method offered the greatest promise of success. 
But how, with what sort of instruments, and on 
what plan, must the photographs be taken ? Euro- 
peans had already begun to consider this question, 
and for the most part had decided on using pho- 
tographic telescopes having no distinctive feature 
specially designed for the transit. In fact, one 
might almost say that the usual observations with 
the eye were to be made on the photograph instead 
of on the actual sun. The American commission- 
ers were of opinion that this would lead to no- 
thing but failure, and that some new system must 
be devised. 

The result was a series of experiments and trials 
with Professor Winlock's instrument at the Cam- 
bridge Observatory. The outcome of the matter 
was the adoption of his plan, with three most im- 
portant additions, which I shall mention, because 
they may possibly yet be adopted with success in 
other branches of exact astronomy if this telescope 
is used, as it seems likely it may be. 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 166 

The first feature was that the photographic tel- 
escope should be mounted exactly in the meridian, 
and that its direction should be tested by having 
the transit instrument mounted in front of it, in 
the same line "with it. In this way the axis of the 
telescope was a horizontal north and south Hue. 

The next feature was that, immediately in front 
of the photographic plate, in fact as nearly in con- 
tact with it as possible without touching it, a plumb 
line of which the thread was a very fine silver wire 
should be suspended, the bob of which passed down 
below, and was immersed in a vessel of water to pre- 
vent vibration. In this way the direction of the 
north and south line on the plate admitted of be- 
ing calculated with the greatest exactness, and the 
plumb fine being photographed across the disk of 
the sun, the position angle could be measured with 
the same precision that any other measure could be 
made. 

The third feature was that the distance betweeii 
the photographic plate and the object glass of the 
telescope should be measured by a long iron rod 
which was kept in position above the line of sight 
of the telescope itselE. This afforded the means 
of determining to what angle a given measure on 
the plate would correspond. The whole arrange- 
ment would enable the position of the centre of 
Venus with respect to the centre of the sun to be 
determined by purely geometric methods. One 
reason for relying entirely on this was that the 
diameter of the sun, as photographed, would be 



166 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

greater the greater the intensity of the photo- 
graphic impression, so that no rehance could he 
placed upon its uniformity. 

Ours were the only parties whose photographic 
apparatus was fitted up in this way. The French 
used a similar system, but without the essentials of 
the plumb line and the measurement of the length 
of the telescope. The English and Germans used 
ordinary telescopes for the purpose. 

One of the earliest works of the commission was 
the preparation and publication of several papers, 
which were pubHshed under the general title, " Pa- 
pers relating to the Transit of Venus in 1874." 
The first of these papers was a discussion of our 
proposed plan of photographing, in which the dif- 
ficulties of the problem, and the best way of sur- 
mounting them, were set forth. The next, called 
Part II., related to the circumstances of the transit, 
and was therefore entirely technical. Part III. re- 
lated to the corrections of Hansen's table of the 
moon, and was published as a paper relating to the 
transit of Venus, because these corrections were 
essential in determining the longitudes of the sta- 
tions by observations of the moon. 

In England the preparations were left mostly 
in the hands of Professor Airy, Astronomer Royal, 
and, I believe. Captain Tupman, who at least took 
a leading part in the observations and their sub- 
sequent reduction. In France, Germany, and Rus- 
sia, commissions were appointed to take charge of 
the work and plan the observations. 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 167 

As cooperation among the parties from different 
countries would be generally helpful, I accepted an 
invitation to attend a meeting of the German com- 
mission, to be held at Hanover in August, 1873. 
Hansen was president of the commission, while 
Auwers was its executive officer. One of my main 
objects was to point out the impossibiHty of ob- 
taining any valuable result by the system of pho- 
tographing which had been proposed, but I was 
informed, in reply, that the preparations had ad- 
vanced too far to admit of starting on a new plan 
and putting it in operation. 

From the beginning of our preparations it began 
to be a question of getting from Congress the large 
appropriations necessary for sending out the expe- 
ditions and fitting them up with instruments. The 
sum of $50,000 was wanted for instruments and 
outfit. Hon. James A. Garfield was then chairman 
of the committee on appropriations. His principles 
and methods of arranging appropriations for the 
government were, in some features, so different 
from those generally in vogue that it will be of 
interest to describe them. 

First of all, Garfield was rigidly economical in 
grants of money. This characteristic of a chair- 
man of a committee on appropriations was almost a 
necessary one. But he possessed it in a different 
way from any other chairman before or since. The 
method of the " watch dogs of the treasury " who 
sometimes held this position was to grant most 
of the objects asked for, but to cut down the esti- 



168 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

mated amounts by one fourth or one third. This 
was a very easy method, and one well fitted to im- 
press the pubhc, but it was one that the executive 
officers of the government found no difficulty in 
evading, by the very simple process of increasing 
their estimate so as to allow for the prospective 
reduction.^ 

Garfield compared this system to ordering cloth 
for a coat, but economizing by reducing the quan- 
tity put into it. If a new proposition came before 
him, the question was whether it was advisable 
for the government to entertain it at all. He had 
to be thoroughly convinced before this would be 
done. If the question was decided favorably all 
the funds necessary for the project were voted. 

When the proposition for the transit of Venus 
came before him, he proceeded in a manner which I 
never heard of the chairman of an appropriation 
committee adopting before or since. Instead of 
caUing upon those who made the proposition to 
appear formally before the committee, he asked 
me to dinner with his family, where we could talk 
the matter over. One other guest was present, 
Judge Black of Pennsylvania. He was a dyed-in- 

' " The War Department got ahead of us in the matter of fur- 
niture," said an officer of the Navy Department to me long after- 
wards, when the furniture for the new department building was 
being obtained. " They knew enough to ask for a third more than 
they wanted ; we reduced our estimate to the lowest point. Both 
estimates were reduced one third by the Appropriations Committee. 
The result is that they have all the f ornitoie they want, while we 
are greatly pinched." 



THE TRANSITS OP VENUS 169 

the-wool Democrat, wielding as caustic a pen as 
was ever dipped into ink, but was, withal, a firm 
personal friend and admirer of Garfield. As may 
readily be supposed, the transit of Venus did not 
occupy much time at the table. I should not have 
been an enthusiastic advocate of the case against 
opposition, in any case, because my hopes of 
measuring the sun's distance satisfactorily by that 
method were not at all sanguine. My main inter- 
est lay in the fact that, apart from this, the transit 
would afford valuable astronomical data for the 
life work which I had mainly in view. So the 
main basis of my argument was that other nations 
were going to send out parties ; that we should 
undoubtedly do the same, and that they must be 
equipped and organized in the best way. 

It appears that Judge Black was an absent- 
minded man, as any man engaged in thought on 
very great subjects, whether of science, jurispru- 
dence, or politics, has the right to be. Garfield 
asked him whether it was true that, on one occa- 
sion, when preparing an argument, and walking 
up and down the room, his hat chanced to drop on 
the floor at one end of the room, and was per- 
sistently used as a cuspidor untU the argument was 
completed. Mr. Black neither affirmed nor denied 
the story, but told another which he said was true. 
While on his circuit as judge he had, on one 
occasion, tried a case of theft in which the prin- 
cipal evidence against the accused was the find- 
ing of the stolen article in his possession. He 



170 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

charged the jury that this fact -^as prima facie evi- 
dence that the man was actually the thief. When 
through his business and about to leave for home, 
he went into a jeweler's shop to purchase some 
little trinket for his wife. The jeweler showed 
him a number of Kttle articles, but finding none 
to suit him, he stepped into his carriage and drove 
off. In the course of the day he called on a street 
urchin to water his horse. Reaching into his 
pocket for a reward, the first thing he got hold of 
was a diamond ring which must have been taken 
from the shop of the jeweller when he left that 
morning. " I wondered," said the judge, " how I 
should have come out had I been tried under my 
own law." 

The outcome of the matter was that the appro- 
priations were duly made ; first, in 1872, f 50,000 
for instruments, then, the year foUowing, $100,000 
for the expeditions. In 1874, f 25,000 more was 
appropriated to complete the work and return the 
parties to their homes. 

The date of the great event was December 8-9, 
1874. To have the parties thoroughly drilled in 
their work, they were brought together at Wash- 
ington in the preceding spring for practice and 
rehearsal. In order that the observations to be 
made by the eye should not be wholly new, an ap- 
paratus representing the transit was mounted on 
the top of Winder's building, near the War Depart- 
ment, about two thirds of a mile from the observa- 
tory. When this was observed through the tele- 



THE TRANSITS OP VENUS 171 

scope from the roof of the observatory, an artificial 
black Venus was seen impinging upon an artificial 
sun, and entering upon its disk in the same way 
that the actual Venus would be seen. This was 
observed over and over until, as was supposed, the 
observers had gotten into good practice. 

In order to insure the full understanding of 
the photographic apparatus, the instruments were 
mounted and the parties practiced setting them up 
and going through the processes of photograph- 
ing the sun. To carry out this arrangement with 
success, it was advisable to have an expert in astro- 
nomical photography to take charge of the work. 
Dr. Henry Draper of New York was invited for 
this purpose, and gave his services to the commis- 
sion for several weeks. 

This transit was not visible in the United States. 
It did not begin until after the sun had set in San 
Francisco, and it was over before the rising sun 
next morning had reached western Europe. All 
the parties had therefore to be sent to the other 
side of the globe. Three northern stations were 
occupied, — in China, Japan, and Siberia ; and five 
southern ones, at various points on the islands of 
the Pacific and Indian oceans. This unequal divi- 
sion was suggested by the fact that the chances 
of fair weather were much less in the southern 
hemisphere than in the northern. 

The southern parties were taken to their desti- 
nations in the U^ S. S. Swatara, Captain Ralph 
Chandler, U. S. N., commanding. In astronomical 



172 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

observations all work is at the mercy of the ele- 
ments. Clear weather was, of course, a necessity 
to success at any station. In the present case the 
weather was on the whole unpropitious. While 
there was not a complete failure at any one station, 
the number or value of the observations was more 
or less impaired at all. Where the sij was nearly 
cloudless, the air was thick and hazy. This was 
especially the case at Nagasaki and Pekin, where 
from meteorological observations which the com- 
mission had collected through our consuls, the best 
of weather was confidently expected. What made 
this result more tantalizing was that the very pains 
we had taken to collect the data proved, by chance, 
to have made the choice worse. For some time 
it was deliberated whether the Japanese station 
should be in Nagasaki or Yokohama. Consulta- 
tion with the best authorities and a study of the 
records showed that, while Yokohama was a favor- 
able spot, thie chances were somewhat better at 
Nagasaki. So to Nagasaki the party was sent. 
But when the transit came, while the sky was of 
the best at Yokohama, it was far from being so at 
Nagasaki. 

Something of the same sort occurred at the 
most stormy of all the southern stations, that at 
Kerguelen Island. The British expeditions had, 
in the beginning, selected a station on this island 
known as Christmas Harbor. We learned that a 
firm of New London, Conn., had a whaling station 
on the island. It was therefore applied to to know 



THE TRANSITS OP VENUS 173 

what the weather chances were at various points 
in the island. Information was obtained from 
their men, and it was thus found that Molloy Point, 
bad though the weather there was, afforded better 
chances than Christmas Harbor ; so it was chosen. 
But this was not all ; the British parties, either in 
consequence of the information we had acquired, 
or through what was learned from the voyage of 
the Challenger, estabUshed their principal station 
near ours. But it happened that the day at Christ- 
mas Harbor was excellent, while the observations 
were greatly interfered with by passing clouds at 
Molloy Point. 

After the return of the parties sent out by the 
various nations, it did not take long for the astro- 
nomers to find that the result was disappointing, 
so far, at least, as the determination of the sun's 
distance was concerned. It became quite clear 
that this important element could be better mea- 
sured by determining the velocity of light and the 
time which it took to reach us from the sun than 
it could by any transit of Venus. It was there- 
fore a question whether parties should be sent out 
to observe the transit of 1882. On this subject 
the astronomers of the country at large were con- 
sulted. As might have been expected, there was 
a large majority in favor of the proposition. The 
negative voices were only two in number, those of 
Pickering and myself. I took the ground that we 
should make ample provisions for observing it at 
various stations in our own country, where it would 



174 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

now be visible, but that, in view of the certain 
failure to get a valuable result for the distance of 
the sun by this method, it was not worth while for 
us to send parties to distant parts of the world. 
I supposed the committee on appropriations might 
make careful inquiry into the subject before mak- 
ing the appropriation, but a representation of the 
case was aU they asked for, and f 10,000 was voted 
for improving the instruments and $75,000 for 
sending out parties. 

Expeditions being thus decided upon, I volun- 
teered to take charge of that to the Cape of Good 
Hope. The scientific personnel of my party com- 
prised an officer of the army engineers, one of the 
navy, and a photographer. The former were Lieu- 
tenant Thomas L. Casey, Jr., Corps of Engineers, 
U. S. A., and Lieutenant J. H. L. Holcombe, 
U. S. N. We took a Cunard steamer for Liver- 
pool about the middle of September, 1882, and 
transported oiu: instruments by rail to Southamp- 
ton, there to have them put on the Cape steamship. 
At Liverpool I was guilty of a remissness which 
might have caused much trouble. Our apparatus 
and suppHes, in a large number of boxes, were all 
gathered and piled in one place. I sent one of my 
assistants to the point to see that it was so collected 
that there should be no possibility of mistake in 
getting it into the freight car designed to carry it 
to Southampton, but did not require him to stay 
there and see that aU was put on board. When the 
cases reached Southampton it was found that one 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 175 

was missing. It was one of the heaviest of the 
lot, containing the cast-iron pier on which the 
photoheliograph was to be mounted. While it 
was possible to replace this by something else, such 
a course would have been inconvenient and per- 
haps prejudicial. The steamer was about to sail, 
but would touch at Plymouth next day. Only one 
resource was possible. I telegraphed the mistake 
to Liverpool and asked that the missing box be 
sent immediately by express to Plymouth. We had 
the satisfaction of seeing it come on board "with the 
mail just as the steamer was about to set sail. 

We touched first at Madeira, and then at Ascen- 
sion Island, the latter during the night. One of 
the odd things in nomenclature is that this island, a 
British naval station, was not called such officially, 
but was a " tender to Her Majesty's ship Flora," 
I believe. It had become astronomically famous a 
few years before by Gill's observations of the posi- 
tion of Mars to determine the solar parallax. 

We touched six hours at St. Helena, enough to 
see the place, but scarcely enough to make a visit 
to the residence of Napoleon, even had we desired 
to see it. The little town is beautifully situated, 
and the rocks around are very imposing. My most 
vivid recollection is, however, of running down 
from the top of a rock some six hundred or eight 
hundred feet high, by a steep flight of steps, with- 
out stopping, or rather of the consequences of this 
imprudent gymnastic performance. I could scarcely 
move for the next three days. 



176 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Cape Town was then suffering from an epi- 
demic of smallpox, mostly confined to the Malay 
population, but causing some disagreeable results 
to travelers. Our Une of ships did not terminate 
their voyage at the Cape, but proceeded thence to 
other African ports east of the Cape. Here a 
rigid quarantine had been established, and it was 
necessary that the ships touching at the Cape of 
Good Hope should have had no communication 
with the shore. Thus it happened that we found, 
lying in the harbor, the ship of our line which 
had preceded us, waiting to get supphes from 
us, in order that it might proceed on its voyage. 
Looking at a row-boat after we had cast anchor, 
we were deUghted to see two faces which I well 
knew : those of David Gill, astronomer of the Cape 
Observatory, and Dr. W. L. Elkin, now director 
of the Yale Observatory. The latter had gone to 
the Cape as a volunteer observer with GUI, their 
work being directed mostly to parallaxes of stars 
too far south to be well observed in our latitude. 
Our friends were not, however, even allowed to 
approach the ship, for fear of the smallpox, the 
idea appearing to be that the latter might be com- 
municated by a sort of electric conduction, if the 
boat and the ship were allowed to come into con- 
tact, so we had to be put ashore without their aid. 

We selected as our station the little town of 
Wellington, some forty nules northeast of Cape 
Town. The weather chances were excellent any- 
where, but here they were even better than at the 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 177 

Cape. The most interesting feature of the place 
was what we might call an American young ladies' 
school. The Dutch inhabitants of South Africa 
are imbued with admiration of our institutions, 
and one of their dreams is said to be a United 
States of South Africa modeled after our own re- 
public. Desiring to give their daughters the best 
education possible, they secured the services of 
Miss Ferguson, a well-known New England teacher, 
to found a school on the American model. We 
established our station in the grounds of this 
school. 

The sky on the day of the transit was simply per- 
fect. Notwithstanding the intensity of the sun's 
rays, the atmosphere was so steady that I have 
never seen the sun to better advantage. So all 
our observations were successful. 

On our departure we left two iron pillars, on 
which our apparatus for photographing the sun was 
mounted, firmly imbedded in the ground, as we had 
used them. Whether they will remain there until 
the transit of 2004, 1 do not know, but cannot help 
entertaining a sentimental wish that, when the time 
of that transit arrives, the phenomenon will be ob- 
served from the same station, and the pillars be 
found in such a condition that they can again be 
used. 

All the governments, except our own, which ob- 
served the two transits of Venus on a large scale 
long ago completed the work of reduction, and 
published the observations in full. On our own 



178 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

part we have published a preliminary discussion of 
some observations of the transit of 1874. Of that 
of 1882 nothing has, I believe, been published ex- 
cept some brief statements of results of the photo- 
graphs, which appeared in an annual report of the 
Naval Observatory. Having need in my tables of the 
planets of the best value of the solar parallax that 
could be obtained by every method, I worked up all 
the observations of contacts made by the parties of 
every country, but, of course, did not pubhsh our 
own observations. Up to the present time, twenty- 
eight years after the first of the transits, and twenty 
years after the second, our observations have never 
been of&ciaUy published except to the extent I have 
stated. The importance of the matter may be 
judged by the fact that the government expended 
$375,000 on these observations, not counting the 
salaries of its officers engaged in the work, or the 
cost of sailing a naval ship. As I was a mem- 
ber of the commission charged with the work, and 
must therefore bear my fuU share of the responsi- 
bility for this failure, I think it proper to state 
briefly how it happened, hoping thereby to enforce 
the urgent need of a better organization of some 
of our scientific work. 

The work of reducing such observations, editing 
and preparing them for the press, involved much 
computation to be done by assistants, and I, being 
secretary of the commission, was charged with the 
execution of this part of the work. The appropri- 
ations made by Congress for the observations were 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 179 

considered available for the reduction also. There 
was a small balance left over, and I estimated that 
$3000 more would suffice to complete the work. 
This was obtained from Congress in the winter of 
1875. 

About the end of 1876 I was surprised to re- 
ceive from the Treasury Department a notification 
that the appropriation for the transit of Venus was 
almost exhausted, when according to my accounts, 
more than $3000 still remained. On inquiry it was 
found that the sum appropriated about two years 
before had never been placed to the credit of the 
transit of Venus commission, having been, in fact, 
inserted in a different appropriation bill from that 
which contained the former grant. 

I, as secretary of the commission, made an appli- 
cation to the Treasury Department to have the sum, 
late though it was, placed to our credit. But the 
money had been expended and nothing could be 
now done in the matter.^ The computers had there- 
fore to be discharged and the work stopped until 
a new appropriation could be obtained from Con- 
gress. 

During the session of 1876-77, $5000 was there- 
fore asked for for the reduction of the observations. 
It was refused by the House committee on appro- 
priations. I explained the matter to Mr. Juhus H. 

1 As this result wonld not be possible under our present system, 
which was introduced by the first Cleveland administration, I might 
remark that it resulted from a practice on the part of the Treasury 
of lumping appropriations on its books in order to simplify the keep- 
ing of the accounts. 



180 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

Seelye, formerly president of Amherst College, who 
was serving a term in Congress. He took much 
interest in the subject, and moved the insertion of 
the item when the appropriation bill came up be- 
fore the House. Mr. Atkins, chairman of the ap- 
propriations committee, opposed the motion, main- 
taining that the Navy Department had under its 
orders plenty of officers who could do the work, so 
there was no need of employing the help of com- 
puters. But the House took a different view, and 
inserted the item over the heads of the appropria- 
tions committee. 

Now difficulties incident to the divided responsi- 
bUity of the commission were met with. During 
the interim between the death of Admiral Davis, in 
February, 1877, and the coming of Admiral John 
Eodgers as his successor, a legal question arose as 
to the power of the commission over its members. 
The work had to stop until it was settled, and I 
had to discharge my computers a second time. 
After it was again started I discovered that I 
did not have complete control of the funds appro- 
priated for reducing the observations. The result 
was that the computers had to be discharged and 
the work stopped for the third time. This occurred 
not long before I started out to observe the transit 
in 1882. For me the third hair was the one that 
broke the camel's back. I turned the papers and 
work over to Professor Harkness, by whom the 
subject was continued until he was made astro- 
nomical director of the Naval Observatory in 1894. 



THE TRANSITS OF VENUS 181 

I do not know that the commission was ever for- 
mally dissolved. Practically, however, its functions 
may be said to have terminated in the year 1886, 
when a provision of law was enacted by which all 
its property was turned over to the Secretary of the 
Navy. 

What the present condition of the work may be, 
and how much of it is ready for the press, I cannot 
say. My impression is that it is in that condition 
known in household language as " all done but 
finishing." Whether it will ever appear is a ques- 
tion for the future. All the men who took part in 
it or who understood its details are either dead 
or on the retired list, and it is difficult for one not 
familiar with it from the beginning to carry it to 
completion. 



vn 

THE LICK OBSEEVATOBY 

In the wonderful development of astronomical re- 
search in our country during the past twenty years, 
no feature is more remarkable than the rise on an 
isolated mountain in California of an institution 
which, within that brief period, has become one 
of the foremost observatories of the world. As 
everything connected with the early history of such 
an institution must be of interest, it may not be 
amiss if I devote a few pages to it. 

In 1874 the announcement reached the public 
eye that James Lick, an eccentric and wealthy Cal- 
ifornian, had given his entire fortune to a board of 
trustees to be used for certain public purposes, one 
of which was the procuring of the greatest and 
most powerful telescope that had ever been made. 
There was nothing in the previous history of the 
donor that could explain his interest in a great tel- 
escope. I am sure he had never looked through a 
telescope in his life, and that if he had, and had 
been acquainted with the difficulties of an observa- 
tion with it, it is quite likely the Lick Observatory 
would never have existed. From his point of view, 
as, indeed, from that of the public very generally, 



THE LICK OBSERVATORY 183 

the question of telescopic vision is merely one of 
magnifying power. By making an instrument large 
and powerful enough we may hope even to discover 
rational beings on other planets. 

The president of the first board of trustees was 
Mr. D. 0. Mills, the well-known capitalist, who had 
been president of the Bank of California. Mr. 
Mills visited Washington in the summer or autumn 
of 1874, and conferred with the astronomers there, 
among others myself, on the question of the pro- 
posed telescope. I do not think that an observa- 
tory properly so called was, at first, in Mr, Lick's 
mind ; all he wanted was an immense telescope. 

The question was complicated by the result of 
some correspondence between Mr. Lick and the 
firm of Alvan Clark & Sons. The latter had been 
approached to know the cost of constructing the 
desired telescope. Without making any exact esti- 
mate, or deciding upon the size of the greatest 
telescope that could be constructed, they named a 
very large smn, |200,000 I believe, as the amount 
that could be put into the largest telescope it was 
possible to make. Mr. Lick deemed this estimate 
exorbitant, and refused to have anything more to 
do with the firm. The question now was whether 
any one else besides the Clarks could make what 
was wanted. 

I suggested to Mr. Mills that this question was 
a difficult one to answer, as no European maker 
was known to rival the Clarks in skill in the desired 
direction. It was impossible to learn what could 



184 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

be done in Europe except by a personal visit to the 
great optical workshops and a few observatories 
where great telescopes had been mounted. 

I also suggested that a director of the new estab- 
lishment should be chosen in advance of beginning 
active work, so that everything should be done under 
his supervision. As such director I suggested that 
very hkely Professor Holden, then my assistant on 
the great equatorial, might be well qualified. At 
least I could not, at the moment, name any one I 
thought would be decidedly preferable to him. 
I suggested another man as possibly available, but 
remarked that he had been unfortunate. " I don't 
want to have anything to do with unfortunate 
men," was the reply. The necessity of choosing 
a director was not, however, evident, but commu- 
nication was opened with Professor Holden as well 
as myself to an extent that I did not become 
aware of until long afterward. 

The outcome of Mr. MiUs's visit was that in 
December, 1874, I was invited to visit the Euro- 
pean workshops as an agent of the Lick trustees, 
with a view of determining whether there was any 
chance of getting the telescope made abroad. The 
most difficult and delicate question arose in the 
beginning ; shall the telescope be a reflector or a 
refractor? The largest and most powerful one 
that could be made would be, undoubtedly, a re- 
flector. And yet reflecting telescopes had not, 
as a rule, been successful in permanent practi- 
cal work. The world's work in astronomy was 



THE LICK OBSEKVATORY 185 

done mainly with refracting telescopes. This was 
not due to any inherent superiority in the latter, 
but to the mechanical difficulties incident to so 
supporting the great mirror of a reflecting tele- 
scope that it should retain its figure in all posi- 
tions. Assuming that the choice must fall upon a 
refractor, unless proper guarantees for one of the 
other kind should be offered, one of my first visits 
was to the glass firm of Chance & Co. in Birming- 
ham, who had cast the glass disks for the Wash- 
ington telescope. This firm and Feil of Paris were 
the only two successful makers of great optical 
disks in the world. Chance & Co. offered the best 
guarantees, while Feil had more enthusiasm than 
capital, although his skill was of the highest. An- 
other Paris firm was quite willing to undertake the 
completion of the telescope, but it was also evi- 
dent that its price was suggested by the supposed 
liberality of an eccentric California millionaire. I 
returned their first proposal with the assurance that 
it would be useless to submit it. A second was 
still too high to offer any inducement over the 
American firm. Besides, there was no guarantee 
of the skill necessary to success. 

In Germany the case was still worse. The most 
renowned firm there, the successors of Praunho- 
fer, were not anxious to undertake such a contract. 
The outcome of the matter was that Howard Grubb, 
of Dubhn, was the only man abroad with whom 
negotiations could be opened with any chance of 
success. He was evidently a genius who meant 



186 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

business. Yet he had not produced a work which 
would justify unhmited confidence in his abiUty to 
meet Mr. Lick's requirements. The great Vienna 
telescope which he afterward constructed was then 
only being projected. 

Not long after my return with this not very en- 
couraging report, Mr. Lick suddenly revoked his 
gift, through some dissatisfaction with the proceed- 
ings of his trustees, and appointed a new board to 
carry out his plans. This introduced legal compli- 
cations, which were soon settled by a friendly suit 
on the part of the old trustees, asking authority 
to transfer their trust. The president of the new 
board was Mr. Richard S. Floyd, a member of the 
well-known Virginia family of that name, and a 
graduate, or at least a former cadet, of the United 
States Naval Academy. I received a visit from him 
on his first trip to the East in his of&cial capacity, 
early in 1876, I believe. Some correspondence 
with Mr. Lick's home representative ensued, of 
which the most interesting feature was the donor's 
idea of a telescope. He did not see why so elabo- 
rate and expensive a mounting as that proposed 
was necessary, and thought that the object glass 
might be mounted on the simplest kind of a pole 
or tower which would admit of its having the re- 
quisite motions in connection with the eyepiece. 
Whether I succeeded in convincing him of the 
impracticabiKty of his scheme, I do not know, as 
he died before the matter was settled. 

This left the trustees at liberty to bmld and 



THE LICK OBSEEVATOKY 187 

organize the institution as they deemed best. It 
was speedily determined that the object glass should 
be shaped by the Clarks, who should also be re- 
sponsible for getting the rough disks. This proved 
to be a very difficult task. Chance & Co. were 
unwiUing to undertake the work and Feil had 
gone out of business, leaving the manufacture in 
the hands of his son. The latter also failed, and 
the father had to return. Ultimately the establish- 
ment was purchased by Mantois, whose success was 
remarkable. He soon showed himseH able to make 
disks not only of much larger size than had ever 
before been produced, but of a purity and transpa- 
rency which none before him had ever approached. 
He died in 1899 or 1900, and it is to be hoped 
that his successor tstU prove to be his equal. 
' The original plan of Mr. Lick had been to found 
the observatory on the borders of Lake Tahoe, but 
he grew dissatisfied with this site and, shortly be- 
fore his death, made provisional arrangements for 
placing it on Mount Hamilton. In 1879 prepara- 
tions had so far advanced that it became necessary 
to decide whether this was really a suitable loca- 
tion. I had grave doubts on the subject. A 
mountain side is liable to be heated by the rays of 
the sun during the day, and a current of warm air 
which would be fatal to the delicacy of astronomi- 
cal vision is Uable to rise up the sides and envel- 
ope the top of the mountain. I had even been 
informed that, on a summer evening, a piece of 
paper let loose on the mountain top would be 



188 THE EEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMEK 

carried up into the air by the current. But, after 
all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and 
Holden united with me in advising that an expe- 
rienced astronomer with a telescope should be 
stationed for a few weeks on the mountain in 
order to determine, by actual trial, what the condi- 
tions of seeing were. The one best man for this 
duty was S. W. Burnham of Chicago, who had 
already attained a high position in the astronomi- 
cal world by the remarkable skill shown in his 
observations of double stars. So, in August, 1879, 
huts were built on the mountain, and Burnham 
was transported thither with his telescope. I fol- 
lowed personally in September. 

We passed three nights on the mountain with 
Captain Floyd, studying the skies by night and 
prospecting around in the daytime to see whether 
the mountain top or some point in the neighboring 
plateau offered the best location for the observa- 
tory. So far as the atmospheric conditions were 
concerned, the results were beyond our most san- 
guine expectations. What the astronomer wants 
is not merely a transparent atmosphere, but one of 
such steadiness that the image of a star, as seen 
in a telescope, may not be disturbed by movements 
of the air which are invisible to the naked eye. 

Burnham found that there were forty-two first- 
class nights during his stay, and only seven which 
would be classed as low as medium. In the East 
the number of nights which he would call first- 
class are but few in a year, and even the medium 



THE LICK OBSEEVATORY 189 

night is by no means to be counted on. No fur- 
ther doubt could remain that the top of the moun- 
tain was one of the finest locations in the world 
for an astronomical observatory, and it was defi- 
nitely selected without further delay. 

Sometime after my return Mr. Floyd sent me a 
topographical sketch of the mountain, with a re- 
quest to prepare preliminary plans for, the obser- 
vatory. As I had always looked on Professor 
Holden as probably the coming director, I took 
him into consultation, and the plans were made 
under our joint direction in my office. The posi- 
tion and general arrangement of the buildings re- 
main, so far as I am aware, much as then planned ; 
the principal change being the omission of a long 
colonnade extending over the whole length of the 
main front in order to secure an artistic and im- 
posing aspect from the direction of San Jose. 

In the summer of 1885, as I was in New York 
in order to sail next day to Europe, I was surprised 
by a visit from Judge Hagar, a prominent citizen 
of San Francisco, a member of the Board of Re- 
gents of the University of California, and an active 
politician, who soon afterward became collector of 
the port, to consult me on the question of choos- 
ing Professor Holden as president of the univer- 
sity. This was not to interfere with his becoming 
director of the Lick Observatory whenever that 
institution should be organized, but was simply a 
temporary arrangement to bridge over a difficulty. 

In the autumn of 1887 I received an invitation 



190 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

from Mr. Floyd to go -with him to Cleveland, in 
order to inspect the telescope, which was now nearly 
ready for delivery. It was mounted in the year 
following, and then Holden stepped from the presi- 
dency of the university into the directorship of 
the observatory. 

The institution made its mark almost from the 
beginning. I know of no example in the world 
in which young men, most of whom were begin- 
ners, attained such success as did those whom 
Holden collected around him. The names of Bar- 
nard, Campbell, and Schaeberle immediately became 
well known in astronomy, owing to the excellence 
of their work. Burnham was, of course, no be- 
ginner, being already well known, nor was Keeler, 
who was also on the staff. 

In a few years commenced the epoch-making 
work of Campbell, in the most refined and difficult 
problem of observational astronomy, — that of the 
measurement of the motion of stars to or from 
us. Through the appUcation of photography and 
minute attention to details, this work of the Lick 
Observatory almost immediately gained a position 
of preeminence, which it maintains to the present 
time. If any rival is to appear, it will probably 
be the Yerkes Observatory. The friendly com- 
petition which we are likely to see between these 
two establishments affords an excellent example of 
the spirit of the astronomy of the future. Not- 
withstanding their rivalry, each has done and will 
do all it can to promote the work of the other. 



THE LICK OBSERVATORY 191 

The smiles of fortune have been bestowed even 
upon efEorts that seemed most unpromising. After 
work was well organized, Mr. Crossley, of Eng- 
land, presented the observatory with a reflecting 
telescope of large size, but which had never gained 
a commanding reputation. No member of the stafE 
at first seemed ambitious to get hold of such an 
instrument, but, in time, Keeler gave it a trial in 
photographing nebulae. Then it was found that a 
new field lay open. The newly acquired reflector 
proved far superior to other instruments for this 
purpose, the photographic plates showing countless 
nebulae in every part of the sky, which the human 
eye was incapable of discerning in the most power- 
ful of telescopes. 

In 1892, only four years after the mounting of 
the telescope, came the surprising announcement 
that the work of Galileo on Jupiter had been con- 
tinued by the discovery of a fifth satellite to that 
planet. This is the most difficult object in the 
solar system, only one or two observers besides 
Barnard having commanded the means of seeing 
it. The incident of my first acquaintance with the 
discoverer is not flattering to my pride, but may be 
worth recalling. 

In 1877 I was president of the American As- 
sociation for the Advancement of Science at the 
meeting held in Nashvflle. There I was told of a 
young man a little over twenty years of age, a 
photographer by profession, who was interested in 
astronomy, and who desired to see me. I was, of 



192 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

course, very glad to make his acquaintance. I 
found that with his scanty earnings he had man- 
aged either to purchase or to get together the 
materials for making a small telescope. He was 
desirous of doing something with it that might be 
useful in astronomy, and wished to know what sug- 
gestions I could make in that hne. I did not for a 
moment suppose that there was a reasonable prob- 
ability of the young man doing anything better 
than amuse himself. At the same time, feeling it 
a duty to encourage him, I suggested that there 
was only one thing open to an astronomical ob- 
server situated as he was, and that was the dis- 
covery of comets. I had never even looked for a 
comet myself, and knew Uttle about the methods 
of exploring the heavens for one, except what had 
been told me by H. P. Tuttle. But I gave him 
the best directions I could, and we parted. It is 
now rather humihating that I did not inquire more 
thoroughly into the case. It would have taken 
more prescience than I was gifted with to expect 
that I should live to see the bashful youth awarded 
the gold medal of the Koyal Astronomical Society 
for his work. 

The term of Holden's administration extended 
through some ten years. To me its most singular 
feature was the constantly growing unpopularity 
of the director. I call it singular because, if we 
confine ourselves to the record, it would be difficult 
to assign any obvious reason for it. One fact is 
indisputable, and that is the wonderful success of 



THE LICK OBSERVATOEY 193 

the director in selecting young men who were to 
make the institution famous by their abilities and 
industry. If the highest problem of administra- 
tion is to select the right men, the new director 
certainly mastered it. So far as Hberty of research 
and publication went, the administration had the 
appearance of being liberal in the extreme. Doubt- 
less there was another side to the question. No- 
thing happens spontaneously, and the singular phe- 
nomenon of one who had done aU this becoming 
a much hated man must have an adequate cause. 
I have several times, from pure curiosity, inquired 
about the matter of well-informed men. On one 
occasion an instance of maladroitness was cited in 
reply. 

" True," said I, " it was not exactly the thing 
to do, but, after all, that is an exceedingly small 
matter." 

" Yes," was the answer, " that was a small thing, 
but put a thousand small things like that together, 
and you have a big thing." 

A powerful factor in the case may have been his 
proceeding, within a year of his appointment, to 
file an astounding claim for the sum of $12,000 on 
account of services rendered to the observatory in 
the capacity of general adviser before his appoint- 
ment as director. These services extended from 
the beginning of preparations in 1874 up to the 
completion of the work. The trustees in replying 
to the claim maintained that I had been their prin- 
cipal adviser in preparing the plans. However true 



194 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

tliis may have been, it was quite evident, from 
Holden's statement, that they had been consulting 
him on a much larger scale than I had been aware 
of. This, however, was none of my concern. I 
ventured to express the opinion that the movement 
was made merely to place on record a statement of 
the director's services ; and that no serious inten- 
tion of forcing the matter to a legal decision was 
entertained. This surmise proved to be correct, as 
nothing more was heard of the claim. 

Much has been said of the effect of the com- 
parative isolation of such a community, which is 
apt to be provocative of internal dissension. But 
this cause has not operated in the case of Holden's 
successors. Keeler became the second director in 
1897, and administered his office with, so far as I 
know, universal satisfaction till his lamented death 
in 1900. It would not be a gross overstatement 
to say that his successor was named by the prac- 
tically unanimous voice of a number of the leading 
astronomers of the world who were consulted on 
the subject, and who cannot but be pleased to see 
how completely their advice has been justified by 
the result of Campbell's administration. 



VIII 

THE author's SOIBNTIFIO WORK 

Perhaps an apology is due to the reader for my 
venturing to devote a chapter to my own efforts 
in the scientific Kne. If so, I scarcely know what 
apology to make, unless it is that one naturally 
feels interested in matters relating to his own work, 
and hopes to share that interest with his readers, 
and that it is easier for one to write such an ac- 
count for himself than for any one else to do it for 
him. 

Having determined to devote my life to the pro- 
secution of exact astronomy, the first important 
problem which I took up, while at Cambridge, was 
that of the zone of minor planets, frequently called 
asteroids, revolving between the orbits of Mars and 
Jupiter. It was formerly supposed that these small 
bodies might be fragments of a large planet which 
had been shattered by a collision or explosion. If 
such were the case, the orbits would, for a time 
at least, all pass through the point at which the 
explosion occurred. When only three or four were 
known, it was supposed that they did pass nearly 
through the same point. When this was found 
not to be the case, the theory of an explosion was 
in no way weakened, because, owing to the gradual 



196 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

changes in the form and position of the orbits, pro- 
duced by the attraction of the larger planets, these 
orbits would aU move away from the point of inter- 
section, and, in the course of thousands of years, be 
so mixed up that no connection could be seen be- 
tween them. This result was that nothing could 
be said upon the subject except that, if the catas- 
trophe ever did occur, it must have been many thou- 
sand years ago. The fact did not in any way mih- 
tate against the theory because, in view of the age 
of the universe, the explosion might as well have 
occurred hundreds of thousands or even milUons 
of years ago as yesterday. To settle the question, 
general formulae must be found by which the posi- 
tions of these orbits could be determined at any 
time in the past, even hundreds of thousands of 
years back. The general methods of doing this 
were known, but no one had apphed them to the 
especial case of these little planets. Here, then, 
was an opportunity of tracing back the changes in 
these orbits through thousands of centuries in order 
to find whether, at a certain epoch in the past, so 
great a cataclysm had occurred as the explosion of 
a world. Were such the case, it would be possible 
almost to set the day of the occurrence. How great 
a feat would it be to bring such an event at such a 
time to light ! 

I soon found that the problem, in the form in 
which it had been attacked by previous mathe- 
maticians, involved no serious difficulty. At the 
Springfield meeting of the American Association 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 197 

for the Advancement of Science, in 1859, I read 
a paper explaining the method, and showed by a 
curve on the blackboard the changes in the orbit 
of one of the asteroids for a period, I think, of 
several hundred thousand years, — " beyond the 
memory of the oldest inhabitants " — said one 
of the local newspapers. A month later it was 
extended to three other asteroids, and the result 
published in the " Astronomical Journal." In the 
following spring, 1860, the final results of the 
completed work were communicated to the Amer- 
ican Academy of Arts and Sciences in a paper 
" On the Secular Variations and Mutual Eelations 
of the Orbits of the Asteroids." The question of 
the possible variations in the orbits and the various 
relations amongst them were here fully discussed. 
One conclusion was that, so far as our present 
theory could show, the orbits had never passed 
through any common point of intersection. 

The whole trend of thought and research since 
that time has been toward the conclusion that no 
such cataclysm as that looked for ever occurred, 
and that the group of small planets has been com- 
posed of separate bodies since the solar system came 
into existence. It was, of course, a great disap- 
pointment not to discover the cataclysm, but next 
best to finding a thing is showing that it is not 
there. This, it may be remarked, was the first of 
my papers to attract especial notice in foreign sci- 
entific journals, though I had already published 
several short notes on various subjects in the " As- 
tronomical Journal." 



198 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

At this point I may say something of the prob- 
lems of mathematical astronomy in the middle of 
the last century. It is well known that we shall at 
least come very near the truth when we say that the 
planets revolve around the sun, and the satellites 
around their primaries according to the law of gravi- 
tation. We may regard aU these bodies as projected 
into space, and thus moving according to laws simi- 
lar to that which governs the motion of a stone 
thrown from the hand. If two bodies alone were 
concerned, say the sun and a planet, the orbit of the 
lesser around the greater would be an ellipse, which 
would never change its form, size, or position. 
That the orbits of the planets and asteroids do 
change, and that they are not exact eUipses, is due 
to their attraction upon each other. The question 
is, do these mutual attractions completely explain 
all the motions down to the last degree of refine- 
ment ? Does any world move otherwise than as it 
is attracted by other worlds ? 

Two different lines of research must be brought 
to bear on the question thus presented. We must 
first know by the most exact and refined observa- 
tions that the astronomer can make exactly how a 
heavenly body does move. Its position, or, as we 
cannot directly measure distance, its direction from 
us, must be determined as precisely as possible from 
time to time. Its course has been mapped out for 
it in advance by tables which are published in the 
" Astronomical Ephemeris," and we may express its 
position by its deviation from these tables. Then 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 199 

comes in the mathematical problem how it ought 
to move under the attraction of all other heavenly 
bodies that can influence its motion. The results 
must then be compared, in order to see to what con- 
clusion we may be led. 

This mathematical side of the question is of a 
complexity beyond the powers of ordinary concep- 
tion. I well remember that when, familiar only 
with equations of algebra, I first looked into a book 
on mechanics, I was struck by the complexity of the 
formulae. But this was nothing to what one finds 
when he looks into a work on celestial mechanics, 
where a single formula may fiU a whole chapter. 
The great difficulty arises from the fact that the 
constant action upon a planet exerted at every mo- 
ment of time through days and years by another 
planet affects its motion in all subsequent time. 
The action of Jupiter upon our earth this morning 
changes its motion forever, just as a touch upon a 
ball thrown by a pitcher will change the direction 
of the ball through its whole flight. 

The wondrous perfection of mathematical re- 
search is shown by the fact that we can now add 
up, as it were, all these momentary effects through 
years and centuries, with a view of determining the 
combined result at any one moment. It is true 
that this can be done only in an imperfect way, 
and at the expense of enormous labor ; but, by 
putting more and more work into it, investigating 
deeper and deeper, taking into account smaller and 
smaller terms of our formulae, and searching for the 



200 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

minutest effects, we may gradually approach, though 
we may never reach, absolute exactness. Here we 
see the first difficulty in reaching a definite conclu- 
sion. One cannot be quite sure that a deviation 
is not due to some imperfection in mathematical 
method until he and his fellows have exhausted the 
subject so thoroughly as to show that no error is 
possible. This is hard indeed to do. 

Taking up the question on the observational side, 
a source of difficulty and confusion at once presented 
itself. The motions of a heavenly body from day to 
day and year to year are mapped out by comparative 
observations on it and on the stars. The question 
of the exact positions of the stars thus comes in. 
In determining these positions with the highest de- 
gree of precision, a great variety of data have to 
be used. The astronomer cannot reach a result by 
a single step, nor by a hundred steps. He is like a 
sculptor chiseling all the time, trying to get nearer 
and nearer the ideal form of his statue, and finding 
that with every new feature he chisels out, a defect 
is brought to Kght in other features. The astron- 
omer, when he aims at the highest mathematical 
precision in his results, finds Nature warring with 
him at every step, just as i£ she wanted to make his 
task as difficult as possible. She alters his personal 
equation when he gets tired, makes him see a small 
star differently from a bright one, gives his instru- 
ment minute twists with heat and cold, sends cur- 
rents of warm or cold air over his locality, which 
refract the rays of light, asks him to keep the tern- 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 201 

perature in which he works the same as that out- 
side, in order to avoid refraction when the air enters 
his observing room, and still will not let him do it, 
because the walls and everything inside the room, 
being warmed up during the day, make the air 
warmer than it is outside. With all these obstacles 
which she throws in his way he must simply fight 
the best he can, exerting untiring industry to elimi- 
nate their effects by repeated observations under a 
variety of conditions. 

A necessary conclusion from all this is that the 
work of all observing astronomers, so far as it could 
be used, must be combined into a single whole. But 
here again difficulties are met at every step. There 
has been, in times past, little or no concert of action 
among astronomers at different observatories. The 
astronomers of each nation, perhaps of each obser- 
vatory, to a large extent, have gone to work in their 
own way, using discordant data, perhaps not always 
rigidly consistent, even in the data used in a single 
establishment. How combine all the astronomical 
observations, found scattered through hundreds of 
volumes, into a homogeneous whole ? 

What is the value of such an attempt? Cer- 
tainly if we measure value by the actual expen- 
diture of nations and institutions upon the work, 
it must be very great. Every civilized nation ex- 
pends a large annual sum on a national observatory, 
while a still greater number of such institutions are 
supported at corporate expense. Considering that 
the highest value can be derived from their labors 



202 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

only by such a combination as I have described, we 
may say the result is worth an important fraction 
of what all the observatories of the world have cost 
during the past century. 

Such was, in a general way, the great problem of 
exact astronomy forty or fifty years ago. Its solu- 
tion required extended cooperation, and I do not 
wish to give the impression that I at once attacked 
it, or even considered it as a whole. I could only 
determine to do my part in carrying forward the 
work associated with it. 

Perhaps the most interesting and important 
branch of the problem concerned the motion of 
the moon. This had been, ever since the founda- 
tion of the Greenwich Observatory, in 1670, a 
specialty of that institution. It is a curious fact, 
however, that while that observatory suppUed all 
the observations of the moon, the investigations 
based upon these observations were made almost 
entirely by foreigners, who also constructed the 
tables by which the moon's motion was mapped 
out in advance. The most perfect tables made 
were those of Hansen, the greatest master of 
mathematical astronomy during the middle of the 
century, whose tables of the moon were published 
by the British government in 1857. They were 
based on a few of the Greenwich observations from 
1750 to 1850. The period began with 1750, be- 
cause that was the earUest at which observations 
of any exactness were made. Only a few observa- 
tions were used, because Hansen, with the limited 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 203 

computing force at his command, — only a single as- 
sistant, I believe, — was not able to utilize a great 
number of the observations. The rapid motion of 
the moon, a circuit being completed in less than 
a month, made numerous observations necessary, 
while the very large deviations in the motion pro- 
duced by the attraction of the sun made the prob- 
lem of the mathematical theory of that motion the 
most complicated in astronomy. Thus it happened 
that, when I commenced work at the Naval Ob- 
servatory in 1861, the question whether the moon 
exactly followed the course laid out for her by 
Hansen's tables was becoming of great importance. 

The same question arose in the case of the plan- 
ets. So from a survey of the whole field, I made 
observations of the sun, moon, and planets my spe- 
cialty at the observatory. If the astronomical 
reader has before him the volume of observations 
for 1861, he will, by looking at pages 366-440, be 
able to infer with nearly astronomical precision the 
date when I reported for duty. 

For a year or two our observations showed that 
the moon seemed to be falling a Httle behind her 
predicted motion. But this soon ceased, and she 
gradually forged ahead in a much more remarkable 
way. In five or six years it was evident that this 
was becoming permanent ; she was a little farther 
ahead every year. What could it mean ? To con- 
sider this question, I may add a word to what I 
have already said on the subject. 

In comparing the observed and predicted motion 



204 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

of the moon, mathematicians and astronomers, be- 
ginning with Laplace, have been perplexed by 
what are called " inequalities of long period." 
For a number of years, perhaps haK a century, the 
moon would seem to be running ahead, and then 
she would gradually relax her speed and fall 
behind. Laplace suggested possible causes, but 
could not prove them. Hansen, it was supposed, 
had straightened out the tangle by showing that 
the action of Venus produced a singing of this 
sort in the moon ; for one hundred and thirty years 
she would be running ahead and then for one hun- 
dred and thirty years more faUing back again, like 
a pendulum. Two motions of this sort were com- 
bined together. They were claimed to explain the 
whole difficulty. The moon, having followed Han- 
sen's theory for one hundred years, would not be 
likely to deviate from it. Now, it was deviating. 
What could it mean ? 

Taking it for granted, on Hansen's authority, 
that his tables represented the motions of the moon 
perfectly since 1750, was there no possibility of 
learning anything from observations before that 
date ? As I have already said, the pubUshed ob- 
servations with the usual instruments were not of 
that refined character which would decide a ques- 
tion like this. But there is another class of obser- 
vations which might possibly be available for the 
purpose. 

Millions of stars, visible with large telescopes, 
are scattered over the heavens ; tens of thousands 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 205 

are bright enough to be seen with small instru- 
ments, and several thousand are visible to any 
ordinary eye. The moon, in her monthly course 
around the heavens, often passes over a star, and 
of course hides it from view during the time re- 
quired for the passage. The great majority of 
stars are so small that their light is obscured by 
the efEulgence of the moon as the latter approaches 
them. But quite frequently the star passed over 
is so bright that the exact moment when the moon 
reaches it can be observed with the utmost preci- 
sion. The star then disappears from view in an 
instant, as if its light were suddenly and abso- 
lutely extinguished. This is called an occultation. 
If the moment at which the disappearance takes 
place is observed, we know that at that instant the 
apparent angle between the centre of the moon 
and the star is equal to the moon's semi-diameter. 
By the aid of a number of such observations, the 
path of the moon in the heavens, and the time at 
which she arrives at each point of the path, can be 
determined. In order that the determination may 
be of sufficient scientific precision, the time of the 
occultation must be known within one or two sec- 
onds ; otherwise, we shall be in doubt how much 
of the discrepancy may be due to the error of the 
observation, and how much to the error of the 
tables. 

Occultations of some bright stars, such as Aldeb- 
aran and Antares, can be observed by the naked 
eye ; and yet more easily can those of the planets be 



206 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

seen. It is therefore a curious historic fact that 
there is no certain record of an actual observation 
of this sort having been made until after the com- 
mencement of the seventeenth century. Even then 
the observations were of Uttle or no use, because 
astronomers could not determine their time with 
sufficient precision. It was not till after the mid- 
dle of the century, when the telescope had been 
made part of astronomical instruments for finding 
the altitude of a heavenly body, and after the pen- 
dulum clock had been invented by Huyghens, that 
the time of an occultation could be fixed with the 
required exactness. Thus it happens that from 
1640 to 1670 somewhat coarse observations of the 
kind are available, and after the latter epoch those 
made by the French astronomers become almost 
equal to the modern ones in precision. 

The question that occurred to me was : Is it not 
possible that such observations were made by as- 
tronomers long before 1750 ? Searching the pub- 
lished memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences 
and the Philosophica;l Transactions, I found that a 
few such observations were actually made between 
1660 and 1700. I computed and reduced a few 
of them, finding with surprise that Hansen's tables 
were evidently much in error at that time. But 
neither the cause, amount, or nature of the error 
could be well determined without more observa- 
tions than these. Was it not possible that these 
astronomers had made more than they pubUshed ? 
The hope that material of this sort existed was 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 207 

encouraged by the discovery at the Pulkowa Ob- 
servatory of an old manuscript by the French as- 
tronomer Delisle, containing some observations of 
this kind. I therefore planned a thorough search 
of the old records in Europe to see what could be 
learned. 

The execution of this plan was facilitated by 
the occurrence, in December, 1870, of an eclipse 
of the sun in Spain and along the Mediterranean. 
A number of parties were going out from this 
country to observe it, two of which were fitted out 
at the Naval Observatory. I was placed in charge 
of one of these, consisting, practically, of myself. 
The results of my observation would be of impor- 
tance in the question of the moon's motion, but, 
although the eclipse was ostensibly the main ob- 
ject, the proposed search of the records was what 
I really had most in view. In Paris was to be 
found the most promising mine ; but the Franco- 
Prussian war was then going on, and I had to wait 
for its termination. Then I made a visit to Paris, 
which will be described in a later chapter. 

At the observatory the old records I wished to 
consult were placed at my disposal, with f uU Kberty 
not only to copy, but to publish anything of value 
I could find in them. The mine proved rich be- 
yond the most sanguine expectation. After a lit- 
tle prospecting, I found that the very observations 
I wanted had been made in great numbers by the 
Paris astronomers, both at the observatory and at 
other points in the city. 



208 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

And how, the reader may ask, did it happen that 
these observations were not published by the astron- 
omers who made them ? Why should they have 
lain unused and forgotten for two hundred years ? 
The answer to these questions is made plain enough 
by an examination of the records. The astrono- 
mers had no idea of the possible usefulness and 
value of what they were recording. So far as we 
can infer from their work, they made the observa- 
tions merely because an occultation was an interest- 
ing thing to see ; and they were men of sufficient 
scientific experience and training to have acquired 
the excellent habit of noting the time at which a 
phenomenon was observed. But they were gener- 
ally satisfied with simply putting down the clock 
time. How they could have expected their succes- 
sors to make any use of such a record, or whether 
they had any expectations on the subject, we cannot 
say with confidence. It will be readily understood 
that no clocks of the present time (much less those 
of two hundred years ago) run with such precision 
that the moment read from the clock is exact within 
one or two seconds. The modern astronomer does 
not pretend to keep his clock correct within less 
than a minute ; he determines by observation how 
far it is wrong, on each date of observation, and 
adds so much to the time given by the clock, or 
subtracts it, as the case may be, in order to get the 
correct moment of true time. In the case of the 
French astronomers, the clock would frequently be 
fifteen minutes or more in error, for the reason that 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WOEK 209 

they used apparent time, instead of mean time as 
■we do. Thus when, as was often the case, the only 
record found was that, at a certain hour, minute, 
and second, by a certain clock, une Stoile se cache 
par la lune, a number of very difficult problems 
were presented to the astronomer who was to make 
use of the observations two centuries afterward. 
First of all, he must find out what the error of the 
clock was at the designated hour, minute, and sec- 
ond ; and for this purpose he must reduce the 
observations made by the observer in order to de- 
termine the error. But it was very clear that the 
observer did not expect any successor to take this 
trouble, and therefore did not supply him with any 
facilities for so doing. He did not even describe 
the particular instrument with which the observa- 
tions were made, but only wrote down certain fig- 
ures and symbols, of a more or less hieroglyphic 
character. It needed much comparison and exam- 
ination to find out what sort of an instrument was 
used, how the observations were made, and how they 
should be utilized for the required purpose. 

Generally the star which the moon hid was men- 
tioned, but not in all cases. If it was not, the 
identification of the star was a puzzling problem. 
The only way to proceed was to calculate the ap- 
parent position of the centre of the moon as seen 
by an observer at the Paris Observatory, at the par- 
ticular hour and minute of the observation. A 
star map was then taken ; the points of a pair of 
dividers were separated by the length of the moon's 



210 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

radius, as it would appear on the scale of the map ; 
one point of the dividers was put into the position 
of the moon's centre on the map, and with the other 
a circle was drawn. This circle represented the 
outline of the moon, as it appeared to the observer 
at the Paris Observatory, at the hour and minute 
in question, on a certain day in the seventeenth 
century. The star should be found very near the 
circumference of the circle, and in nearly all cases 
a star was there. 

Of course all this could not be done on the spot. 
What had to be done was to find the observations, 
study their relations and the method of making 
them, and copy everything that seemed necessary 
for working them up. This took some six weeks, 
but the material I carried away proved the great- 
est find I ever made. Three or four years were 
spent in making all the calculations I have de- 
scribed. Then it was found that seventy-five years 
were added, at a single step, to the period during 
which the history of the moon's motion could be 
written. Previously this history was supposed to 
commence with the observations of Bradley, at 
Greenwich, about 1750 ; now it was extended back 
to 1675, and with a less degree of accuracy thirty 
years farther still. Hansen's tables were found to 
deviate from the truth, in 1675 and subsequent 
years, to a surprising extent ; but the cause of the 
deviation is not entirely unfolded even now. 

During the time I was doing this work, Paris 
was under the reign of the Commune and besieged 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 211 

by the national forces. The studies had to be 
made mthin hearing of the besieging guns; and 
I could sometimes go to a window and see flashes 
of artillery from one of the fortifications to the 
south. Nearly every day I took a walk through 
the town, occasionally as far as the Arc. As my 
observations during these walks have no scientific 
value, I shall postpone an account of what I saw 
to another chapter. 

One curious result of this work is that the longi- 
tude of the moon may now be said to be known 
with greater accuracy through the last quarter of 
the seventeenth century than during the ninety 
years from 1750 to 1840. The reason is that, for 
this more modern period, no effective comparison 
has been made between observations and Hansen's 
tables. 

Just as this work was approaching completion I 
was called upon to decide a question which would 
materially influence all my future activity. The 
lamented death of Professor Winlock in 1875 left 
vacant the directorship of the Harvard Observa- 
tory. A month or two later I was quite taken by 
surprise to receive a letter from President Eliot 
tendering me this position. I thus had to choose 
between two courses. One led immediately to a 
professorship in Harvard University, with all the 
distinction and worldly advantages associated with 
it, including complete freedom of action, an inde- 
pendent position, and the opportunity of doing 



212 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

such work as I deemed best with the limited re- 
sources at the disposal of the observatory. On the 
other hand was a position to which the official 
world attached no importance, and which brought 
with it no worldly advantages whatever. 

I first consulted Mr. Secretary Eobeson on the 
matter. The force with which he expressed him- 
self took me quite by surprise. " By all means 
accept the place ; don't remain in the government 
service a day longer than you have to. A scien- 
tific man here has no future before him, and the 
quicker he can get away the better." Then he 
began to descant on our miserable " politics " 
which brought about such a state of things. 

Such words, coming from a sagacious head of a 
department who, one might suppose, would have 
been sorry to part with a coadjutor of sufficient 
importance to be needed by Harvard University, 
seemed to me very suggestive. And yet I finally 
declined the place, perhaps unwisely for myself, 
though no one who knows what the Cambridge 
Observatory has become under Professor Pickering 
can feel that Harvard has any cause to regret my 
decision. An apology for it on my own behalf 
will seem more appropriate. 

On the Cambridge side it must be remembered 
that the Harvard Observatory was then almost no- 
thing compared with what it is now. It was poor in 
means, meagre in instrumental outfit, and wanting 
in working assistants ; I think the latter did not 
number more than three or four, with perhaps a few 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 213 

other temporary employees. There seemed little 
prospect of doing much. 

On the Washington side was the fact that I was 
bound to Washington by family ties, and that, if 
Harvard needed my services, surely the government 
needed them much more. True, this argument 
was, for the time, annulled by the energetic assur- 
ance of Secretary Robeson, showing that the gov- 
ernment felt no want of any one in its service able 
to command a university professorship. But I 
was stiU pervaded by the optimism of youth in 
everything that concerned the future of our gov- 
ernment, and did not believe that, with the growth 
of intelligence in our country, an absence of touch 
between the scientific and literary classes on the 
one side, and " politics " on the other, could con- 
tinue. In addition to this was the general feeling 
by which I have been actuated from youth — that 
one ought to choose that line of activity for which 
Nature had best fitted him, trusting that the oper- 
ation of moral causes would, in the end, right 
every wrong, rather than look out for place and 
preferment. I felt that the conduct of govern- 
ment astronomy was that line of activity for which 
I was best fitted, and that, in the absence of strong 
reason to the contrary, it had better not be 
changed. In addition to these general considera- 
tions was the special point that, in the course of a 
couple of years, the directorship of the Nautical 
Almanac would become vacant, and here would 
be an unequaled opportunity for carrying on the 



214 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

■work in mathematical astronomy I had most at 
heart. Yet, could I have foreseen that the want of 
touch which I have already referred to would not 
be cured, that I should be unable to complete the 
work I had mapped out before my retirement, or 
to secure active public interest in its continuance, 
my decision would perhaps have been different. 

On September 15, 1877, I took charge of the 
Nautical Almanac Office. The change was one of 
the happiest of my hfe. I was now in a position 
of recognized responsibility, where my recommen- 
dations met with the respect due to that responsi- 
bility, where I could make plans with the assur- 
ance of being able to carry them out, and where 
the coimtless annoyances of being looked upon 
as an important factor in work where there was 
no chance of my being such would no longer exist. 
Practically I had complete control of the work 
of the oflB.ce, and was thus, metaphorically speak- 
ing, able to work with untied hands. It may seem 
almost puerile to say this to men of business ex- 
perience, but there is a current notion, spread 
among all classes, that because the Naval Obser- 
vatory has able and learned professors, therefore 
they must be able to do good and satisfactory 
work, which may be worth correcting. 

I found my new office in a rather dilapidated old 
dwelling-house, about half a mile or less from the 
observatory, in one of those doubtful regions on 
the border hne between a slum and the lowest 
order of respectabihty. If I remember aright, the 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 215 

only occupants of the place were the superintend- 
ent, my old friend Mr. Loomis, senior assistant, 
who looked after current business, a proof-reader 
and a messenger. All the computers, including 
even one copyist, did their work at their homes. 

A couple of changes had to be made in the 
interest of efficiency. The view taken of one of 
these may not only interest the reader, but give 
him an idea of what people used to think of gov- 
ernment service before the era of civil service 
reform. The proof-reader was excellent in every 
respect except that of ability to perform his duty. 
He occupied a high position, I believe, in the 
Grand Army of the Eepublic, and thus wielded a 
good deal of influence. When his case was ap- 
pealed to the Secretary of the Navy, apellant was 
referred to me. I stated the trouble to counsel, 
— he did not appear to see figures, or be able to 
distinguish whether they were right or wrong, and 
therefore was useless as a proof-reader. 

" It is not his fault," was the reply ; " he nearly 
lost his eyesight in the civil war, and it is hard 
for him to see at aU." In the view of counsel 
that explanation ought to have settled the case in 
his favor. It did not, however, but " influence " 
had no difficulty in making itself more successful 
in another field. 

Among my first steps was that of getting a new 
office in the top of the Corcoran Bmlding, then 
just completed. It was large and roomy enough 
to allow quite a number of assistants around me. 



216 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Much of the work was then, as now, done by 
the piece, or annual job, the computers on it very 
generally working at their homes. This offers 
many advantages for such work ; the government is 
not burdened with an officer who must be paid his 
regular monthly salary whether he supplies his 
work or not, and whom it is unpleasant and difficult 
to get rid of in case of sickness or breakdown of 
any sort. The work is paid for when furnished, 
and the main trouble of administration saved. It 
is only necessary to have a brief report from time 
to time, showing that the work is actually going 
on. 

I began with a carefid examination of the rela- 
tion of prices to work, making an estimate of the 
time probably necessary to do each job. Among 
the performers of the annual work were several 
able and eminent professors at various universities 
and schools. I found that they were being paid 
at pretty high professional prices. I recall with 
great satisfaction that I was able to reduce the 
prices and, step by step, concentrate all the work 
in Washington, vyithout detriment to the pleasant 
relations I sustained with these rnen, some of them 
old and intimate friends. These economies went 
on increasing year by year, and every dollar that 
was saved went into the work of making the tables 
necessary for the future use of the Ephemeris. 

The programme of work which I mapped out, 
involved, as one branch of it, a discussion of all 
the observations of value on the positions of the 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 217 

sun, moon, and planets, and incidentally, on the 
bright fixed stars, made at the leading observa- 
tories of the world since 1750. One might almost 
say it involved repeating, in a space of ten or fif- 
teen years, an important part of the world's work 
in astronomy for more than a century past. Of 
course, this was impossible to carry out in all its 
completeness. In most cases what I was obliged 
practically to confine myself to was a correction of 
the reductions already made and published. Still, 
the job was one with which I do not think any 
astronomical one ever before attempted by a single 
person could compare in extent. The number of 
meridian observations on the sun, Mercury, Venus, 
and Mars alone numbered 62,030. They were 
made at the observatories of Greenwich, Paris, 
Konigsberg, Pulkowa, Cape of Good Hope, — but 
I need not go over the entire list, which numbers 
thirteen. 

The other branches of the work were such as I 
have already described, — the computation of the 
formulae for the perturbation of the various planets 
by each other. As I am writing for the general 
reader, I need not go into any further technical 
description of this work than I have already done. 
Something about my assistants may, however, be 
of interest. They were too numerous to be all re- 
called individually. In fact, when the work was at 
its height, the office was, in the number of its sci- 
entific employees, nearly on an equality with the 
three or four greatest observatories of the world. 



218 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

One o£ my experiences has affected my judgment 
on the general morale of the educated young men of 
our country. In not a single case did I ever have an 
assistant who tried to shirk his duty to the govern- 
ment, nor do I think there was more than a single 
case in which one tried to contest my judgment of 
his own merits, or those of his work. I adopted 
the principle that promotion should be by merit 
rather than by seniority, and my decisions on that 
matter were always accepted without complaint. 
I recall two men who voluntarily resigned when 
they found that, through failure of health or 
strength, they were unable to properly go on with 
their work. In frankness I must admit that there 
was one case in which I had a very disagreeable 
contest in getting rid of a learned gentleman whose 
practical powers were so far inferior to his theoret- 
ical knowledge that he was almost useless in the 
office. He made the fiercest and most determined 
fight in which I was ever engaged, but I must, in 
justice to aU concerned, say that his defect was not 
in will to do his work but in the requisite power. 
Officially I was not without fault, because, in the 
press of matters requiring my attention, I had en- 
trusted too much to him, and did not discover his 
deficiencies until some mischief had been done. 

Perhaps the most eminent and interesting man 
associated with me during this period was Mr. 
George W. HUl, who wiU easily rank as the great- 
est master of mathematical astronomy during the 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 219 

last quarter of the nineteenth century. The only 
defect of his make-up of which I have reason 
to complain is the lack of the teaching faculty. 
Had this been developed in him, I could have 
learned very much from him that would have 
been to my advantage. In saying this I have one 
especial point in mind. In beginning my studies 
in celestial mechanics, I lacked the guidance of 
some one conversant with the subject on its prac- 
tical side. Two systems of computing planetary 
perturbations had been used, one by Leverrier, 
while the other was invented by Hansen. The 
former method was, in principle, of great simpli- 
city, while the latter seemed to be very complex 
and even clumsy. I naturally supposed that the 
man who computed the direction of the planet 
Neptune before its existence was known, must be a 
master of the whole subject, and followed the lines 
he indicated. I gradually discovered the contrary, 
and introduced modified methods, but did not en- 
tirely break away from the old trammels. Hill had 
never been bound by them, and used Hansen's 
method from the beginning. Had he given me 
a few demonstrations of its advantages, I should 
have been saved a great deal of time and labor. 

The part assigned to HiU was about the most 
difficult in the whole work, — the theory of Jupiter 
and Saturn. Owing to the great mass of these 
" giant planets," the inequalities of their motion, 
especially in the case of Saturn, affected by the 
attraction of Jupiter, is greater than in the case 



220 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

of the other planets. Leverrier failed to attain the 
necessary exactness in his investigation of their 
motion. HiU had done some work on the sub- 
ject at his home in Nyack Turnpike before I took 
charge of the office. He now moved to Washing- 
ton, and seriously began the complicated numeri- 
cal calculations which his task involved. I urged 
that he should accept the assistance of less skilled 
computers ; but he declined it from a desire to do 
the entire work himself. Computers to make the 
dupKcate computations necessary to guard against 
accidental numerical errors on his part were all 
that he required. He labored almost incessantly 
for about ten years, when he handed in the man- 
uscript of what now forms Volume IV. of the 
" Astronomical Papers." 

A pleasant incident occurred in 1884, when the 
office was honored by a visit from Professor John 
C. Adams of England, the man who, independently 
of Leverrier, had computed the place of Neptune, 
but failed to receive the hon's share of the honor 
because it happened to be the computations of the 
Frenchman and not his which led immediately to 
the discovery of the planet. It was of the great- 
est interest to me to bring two such congenial spir- 
its as Adams and HiU together. 

It would be difficult to find a more impressive 
example than that afforded by Hill's career, of the 
difficulty of getting the public to form and act upon 
sane judgments in such cases as his. The world 
has the highest admiration for astronomical research. 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 221 

and in this sentiment our countrymen are foremost. 
They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to 
promote it. They pay good salaries to professors 
who chance to get a certain official position where 
they may do good work. And here was per- 
haps the greatest living master in the highest and 
most difficult field of astronomy, winning world- 
wide recognition for his country in the science, and 
receiving the salary of a department clerk. I 
never wrestled harder with a superior than I did 
with Hon. R. W. Thompson, Secretary of the 
Navy, ahout 1880, to induce him to raise Mr. 
Hill's salary from $1200 to $1400. It goes 
without saying that Hill took even less interest 
in the matter than I did. He did not work for 
pay, but for the love of science- His little farm at 
Nyack Turnpike sufficed for his home, and supplied 
his necessities so long as he lived there, and aU he 
asked in Washington was the means of going on 
with his work. The deplorable feature of the situ- 
ation is, that this devotion to his science, instead 
of commanding due recognition on the public and 
official side, rather tended to create an iuadequate 
impression of the importance of what he was doing. 
That I could not secure for him at least the high- 
est official consideration is among the regretful 
memories of my official life. 

Although, so far as the amount of labor is con- 
cerned, Mr. Hill's work upon Jupiter and Saturn 
is the most massive he ever undertook, his really 
great scientific merit consists in the development 



222 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

of a radically new method of computing the in- 
equaUties of the moon's motion, which is now 
being developed and applied by Professor E. W- 
Brown. His most marked intellectual character- 
istic is the eminently practical character of his 
researches. He does not aim so much at elegant 
mathematical formulae, as to determine with the 
greatest precision the actual quantities of which 
mathematical astronomy stands in need. In this 
direction he has left every investigator of recent or 
present time far in the rear. 

After the computations on Jupiter and Saturn 
were made, it was necessary to correct their orbits 
and make tables of their motions. This work I 
left entirely in Mr. Hill's hands, the only require- 
ment being that the masses of the planets and other 
data which he adopted should be uniform with 
those I used in the rest of the work. His tables 
were practically completed in manuscript at the 
beginning of 1892. When they were through, 
doubtless feeling, as well he might, that he had 
done his whole duty to science and the govern- 
ment, Mr. HiU resigned his office and returned to 
his home. During the summer he paid a visit 
to Europe, and visiting the Cambridge University, 
was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws, 
along with a distinguished company, headed by the 
Duke of Edinburgh. One of the pleasant things 
to recall was that, during the fifteen years of our 
connection, there was never the slightest dissension 
or friction between us. 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 223 

I may add that the computations which he made 
on the theory of Jupiter and Saturn are all pre- 
served complete and in perfect form at the Nauti- 
cal Almanac Office, so that, in case any question 
should arise respecting them in future generations, 
the point can be cleared up by an inspection. 

In 1874, three years before I left the observa- 
tory, I was informed by Dr. Henry Draper that he 
had a mechanical assistant who showed great fond- 
ness for and proficiency in some work in mathe- 
matical astronomy. I asked to see what he was 
doing, and received a collection of papers of a re- 
markable kind. They consisted mainly of some of 
the complicated developments of celestial mechan- 
ics. In returning them I wrote to Draper that, 
when I was ready to begin my work on the planet- 
ary theories, I must have his man, — could he pos- 
sibly be spared ? But he came to me before the 
time, while I was carrying on some investigations 
with aid afforded by the Smithsonian Institution. 
Of course, when I took charge of the Nautical 
Almanac Office, he was speedily given employment 
on its work. His name was John Meier, a Swiss 
by birth, evidently from the peasant class, but who 
had nevertheless been a pupil of Professor Ru- 
dolph Wolf at Zurich. Emigrating to this country, 
he was, during the civil war, an engineer's mate 
or something of that grade in the navy. He was 
the most perfect example of a mathematical ma- 
chine that I ever had at command. Of original 



224 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

power, — the facility of developing new methods 
and discovering new problems, he had not a par- 
ticle. Happily for his peace of mind, he was to- 
tally devoid of worldly ambition. I had only to 
prepare the fundamental data for him, explain what 
was wanted, write down the matters he was to start 
with, and he ground out day after day the most 
complicated algebraic and trigonometrical compu- 
tations with untiring diligence and almost unerring 
accuracy. 

But a dark side of the picture showed itself 
very suddenly and unexpectedly in a few years. 
For the most selfish reasons, if for no others, I 
desired that his peace of mind should be undis- 
turbed. The result was that I was from time to 
time appealed to as an arbitrator of family dissen- 
sions, in which it was impossible to say which side 
was right and which wrong. Then, as a prophy- 
lactic against malaria, his wife administered doses 
of whiskey. The rest of the history need not be 
told. It illustrates the maxim that "blood will 
tell," which I fear is as true in scientific work as in 
any other field of human activity. 

A man of totally difBerent blood, the best in fact, 
entered the office shortly before Meier broke down. 
This was Mr. Cleveland Keith, son of Professor 
Eeuel Keith, who was one of the professors at the 
observatory when it was started. His patience 
and ability led to his gradually taking the place 
of a foreman in supervising the work pertaining 
to the reduction of the observations, and the con- 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 225 

struction of the tables of the planets. Without 
his help, I fear I should never have brought the 
tables to a conclusion. He died in 1896, just as 
the final results of the work were being put to- 
gether. 

High among the troublesome problems with 
which I had to deal while in charge of the Nau- 
tical Almanac, was that of universal time. All 
but the youngest of my readers will remember the 
period when every railway had its own meridian, 
by the time of which its trains were run, which had 
to be changed here and there in the case of the 
great trunk lines, and which seldom agreed with 
the local time of a place. In the Pennsylvania 
station at Pittsburg were three different times ; 
one that of Philadelphia, one of some point far- 
ther west, and the third the local Pittsburg time. 
The traveler was constantly hable to miss a train, 
a connection, or an engagement by the doubt and 
confusion thus arising. 

This was remedied in 1883 by the adoption of 
our present system of standard times of four dif- 
ferent meridians, the introduction of which was 
one of the great reforms of our generation. When 
this change was made, I was in favor of using Wash- 
ington time as the standard, instead of going across 
the ocean to Greenwich for a meridian. But those 
who were pressing the measure wanted to have a 
system for the whole world, and for this purpose 
the meridian of Greenwich was the natural one. 



226 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Practically our purpose was served as well by the 
Greenwich meridian as it would have been by that 
of Washington. 

The year following this change an international 
meridian conference was held at Washington, on 
the invitation of our government, to agree upon a 
single prime meridian to be adopted by the whole 
world in measuring longitudes and indicating time. 

Of course the meridian of Greenwich was the 
only one that would answer the purpose. This had 
already been adopted by several leading maritime 
nations, including ourselves as well as Great Brit- 
ain. It was merely a question of getting the others 
to fall into line. No conference was really neces- 
sary for this purpose, because the dissentients caused 
much more inconvenience to themselves than to any 
one else by their divergent practice. The French 
held out against the adoption of the Greenwich 
meridian, and proposed one passing through Behr- 
ing Strait. I was not a member of the confer- 
ence, but was invited to submit my views, which I 
did orally. I ventured to point out to the French- 
men that the meridian of Greenwich also belonged 
to France, passing near Havre and intersecting 
their country from north to south. It was there- 
fore as much a French as an EngUsh meridian, and 
could be adopted without any sacrifice of national 
position. But they were not convinced, and will 
probably hold out until England adopts the metric 
system, on which occasion it is said that they will 
be prepared to adopt the Greenwich meridian. 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 227 

One proceeding of the conference illustrates a 
general characteristic of reformers. Almost with- 
out debate, certainly without adequate considera- 
tion, the conference adopted a recommendation that 
astronomers and navigators should change their 
system of reckoning time. Both these classes have, 
from time immemorial, begun the day at noon, be- 
cause this system was most natural and convenient, 
when the question was not that of a measure of 
time for daily Hfe, but simply to indicate with 
mathematical precision the moment of an event. 
Navigators had begun the day at noon, because the 
observations of the sun, on which the latitude of a 
ship depends, are necessarily made at noon, and 
the run of the ship is worked up immediately after- 
ward. The proposed change would have produced 
unending confusion in astronomical nomenclature, 
owing to the difficulty of knowing in all cases which 
system of time was used in any given treatise or 
record of observations. I therefore felt compelled, 
in the general iaterest of science and public con- 
venience, to oppose the project with all my power, 
suggesting that, if the new system must be put 
into operation, we should wait until the beginning 
of a new century. 

" I hope you will succeed in having its adoption 
postponed until 1900," wrote Airy to me, "and 
when 1900 comes, I hope you will further succeed 
in having it again postponed until the year 2000." 

The German official astronomers, and indeed 
most of the official ones everywhere, opposed the 



228 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

change, but the efforts on the other side were 
vigorously continued. The British Admiralty was 
strongly urged to introduce the change into the 
Nautical Almanac, and the question of doing this 
was warmly discussed in various scientific journals. 

One result of this movement was that, in 1886, 
Eear-Admiral George H. Belknap, superintendent 
of the Naval Observatory, and myself were di- 
rected to report on the question. I drew up a very 
elaborate report, discussing the subject especially 
in its relations to navigation, pointing out in the 
strongest terms I could the danger of placing in 
the hands of navigators an almanac in which the 
numbers were given in a form so different from 
that to which they were accustomed. If they 
chanced to forget the change, the results of their 
computations might be out to any extent, to the 
great danger and confusion of their reckoning, 
while not a soUtary advantage would be gained by 
it. 

There is some reason to suppose that this docu- 
ment found its way to the British Admiralty, but 
I never heard a word further on the subject ex- 
cept that it ceased to be discussed in London. A 
few years later some unavailing efforts were made 
to revive the discussion, but the twentieth century 
is started without this confusing change being 
introduced into the astronomical ephemerides and 
nautical almanacs of the world, and navigators are 
still at liberty to practice the system they find most 
convenient. 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 229 

In 1894 I had succeeded in bringing so much of 
the work as pertained to the reduction of the ob- 
servations and the determination of the elements 
of the planets to a conclusion. So far as the larger 
planets were concerned, it only remained to con- 
struct the necessary tables, which, however, would 
be a work of several years. 

With the year 1896 came what was perhaps the 
most important event in my whole plan. I have 
already remarked upon the confusion which per- 
vaded the whole system of exact astronomy, arising 
from the diversity of the fundamental data made 
use of by the astronomers of foreign countries and 
various institutions in their work. It was, I think, 
rather exceptional that any astronomical result was 
based on entirely homogeneous and consistent data. 
To remedy this state of things and start the exact 
astronomy of the twentieth century on one basis 
for the whole world, was one of the objects which 
I had mapped out from the beginning. Dr. A. 
M. W. Downing, superintendent of the British 
Nautical Almanac, was struck by the same consid- 
eration and animated by the same motive. He had 
especially in view to avoid the duplication of work 
which arose from the same computations being 
made in difEerent countries for the same result, 
whereby much unnecessary labor was expended. 
The field of astronomy is so vast, and the quantity 
of work urgently required to be done so far beyond 
the power of any one nation, that a combination 
to avoid all such waste was extremely desirable. 



230 THE [REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

When, in 1895, my preliminary results were pub- 
lished, . he took the initiative in a project for 
putting the idea into effect, by proposing an in- 
ternational conference of the directors of the four 
leading ephemerides, to agree upon a uniform system 
of data for aU computations pertaining to the fixed 
stars. This conference was held in Paris in May, 
1896. After several days of discussion, it resolved 
that, beginning with 1901, a certain set of con- 
stants should be used in all the ephemerides, sub- 
stantially the same as those I had worked out, but 
without certain ulterior, though practically unim- 
portant, modifications which I had applied for the 
sake of symmetry. My determination of the posi- 
tions and motions of the bright fixed stars, which 
I had not yet completed, was adopted in advance 
for the same purpose, I agreeing to complete it if 
possible in time for use in 1901. I also agreed to 
make a new determination of the constant of pre- 
cession, that which I had used in my previous work 
not being quite satisfactory. All this by no means 
filled the field of exact astronomy, yet what was 
left outside of it was of comparatively little im- 
portance for the special object in view. 

More than a year after the conference I was taken 
quite by surprise by a vigorous attack on its work 
and conclusions on the part of Professor Lewis 
Boss, director of the Dudley Observatory, warmly 
seconded by Mr. S. C. Chandler of Cambridge, the 
editor of the " Astronomical Journal." The main 
grounds of attack were two in number. The time 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 231 

was not ripe for concluding upon a system of pei> 
manent astronomical standards. Besides this, the 
astronomers of the country should have been con- 
sulted before a decision was reached. 

Ultimately the attack led to a result which 
may appear curious to the future astronomer. He 
will find the foreign ephemerides using uniform 
data worked out in the office of the "American 
Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac " at Washington 
for the years beginning with 1901. He will find 
that these same data, after being partially adopted 
in the ephemeris for 1900, were thrown out in 1901, 
and the antiquated ones reintroduced in the main 
body of the ephemeris. The new ones appear 
simply in an appendix. 

As, under the operation of law, I should be re- 
tired from active service in the March following the 
conference, it became a serious question whether I 
should be able to finish the work that had been 
mapped out, as well as the planetary tables. Mr. 
Secretary Herbert, on his own motion so far as I 
know, sent for me to inquire into the subject. The 
result of the conference was a movement on his 
part to secure an appropriation somewhat less than 
the highest salary of a professor, to compensate me 
for the completion of the work after my retire- 
ment. The House Committee on Appropriations, 
ever mindful of economy in any new item, reduced 
the amount to a clerical salary. The committee of 
conference compromised on a mean between the 
two. It happened that the work on the stars was 



232 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

not specified in the law, — only the tables of the 
planets. In consequence I had no legal right to 
go on with the former, although the ephemerides of 
Europe were waiting for the results. After much 
trouble an arrangement was effected under which 
the computers on the work were not to be prohib- 
ited from consulting me in its prosecution. 

Astronomical work is never really done and fin- 
ished. The questions growing out of the agree- 
ment or non-agreement of the tables with observa- 
tions stiU remain to be studied, and require an im- 
mense amount of computation. In what country 
and by whom these computations will be made no 
one can now teU. The work which I most regretted 
to leave unfinished was that on the motion of the 
moon. As I have already said, this work is com- 
plete to 1750. The computations for carrying it on 
from 1750 to the present time were perhaps three 
fourths done when I had to lay them aside. In 
1902, when the Carnegie Institution was organ- 
ized, it made a grant for supplying me with the 
computing assistance and other facilities necessary 
for the work, and the Secretary of the Navy 
allowed me the use of the old computations. Un- 
der such auspices the work was recommenced in 
March, 1903. 

So far as I can recall, I never asked anything from 
the government which would in any way promote 
my personal interests. The only exception, if such 
it is, is that during the civil war I joined with 
other professors in asking that we be put on the 



THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK 233 

same' footing with other staff corps of the navy as 
regarded pay and rank. So far as my views were 
concerned, the rank was merely a pro forma mat- 
ter, as I never could see any sound reason for a 
man pursuing astronomical duties caring to have 
nailitary rank. 

In conducting my office also, the utmost economy 
was always studied. The increase in the annual 
appropriations for which I asked was so small that, 
when I left the office in 1877, they were just 
about the same as they were back in the fifties, 
when it was first established. The necessary funds 
were saved by economical administration. All 
this was done with a feeling that, after my retire- 
ment, the satisfaction with which one could look 
back on such a policy would be enhanced by a 
feeliag on the part of the representatives of the 
public that the work I had done must be worthy 
of having some pains taken to secure its continu- 
ance in the same spirit. 

I do not beheve that the men who conduct our 
own government are a whit behind the foremost of 
other countries in the desire to promote science. 
If after my retirement no special measures were 
deemed necessary to secure the continuance of the 
work in which I had been engaged, I prefer to at- 
tribute it to adventitious circumstances rather than 
to any undervaluation of scientific research by our 
authorities. 



IX 

SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 

It is sometimes said that no man, in passing away, 
leaves a place which cannot be equally well filled 
by another. This is doubtless true in all ordinary 
cases. But scientific research, and scientific affairs 
generally at the national capital, form an exception 
to many of the rules drawn from experience in 
other fields. 

Professor Joseph Henry, first secretary of the 
Smithsonian Institution, was a man of whom it may 
be said, without any reflection on men of our gen- 
eration, that he held a place which has never been 
filled. I do not mean his official place, but his 
position as the recognized leader and exponent of 
scientific interests at the national capital. A world- 
wide reputation as a scientific investigator, exalted 
character and inspiring presence, broad views of 
men and things, the love and esteem of all, com- 
bined to make him the ma^ to whom all who knew 
him looked for counsel and guidance in matters 
affecting the interests of science. Whether any one 
could since have assumed this position, I will not 
venture to say ; but the fact seems to be that no 
one has been at the same time able and willing to 
assume it. 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 235 

On coming to Washington I soon became very- 
intimate with Professor Henry, and I do not think 
there was any one here to whom he set forth his 
personal wishes and convictions respecting the pol- 
icy of the Smithsonian Institution and its relations 
to the government more freely than he did to me. 
As every point connected with the history and policy 
of this establishment is of world-wide interest, and 
as Professor Henry used to put some things in a 
different light from that shed upon the subject by ^ 
current publications, I shall mention a few points 
that might otherwise be overlooked. 

It has always seemed to me that a deep mystery 
enshrouded the act of Smithson in devising his for- 
tune as he did. That an Englishman, whose con- 
nections and associations were entirely with the 
intellectual classes, — who had never, so far as is 
known, a single American connection, or the slight- 
est inclination toward democracy, — should, in the 
intellectual condition of our country during the 
early years 6i the century, have chosen its govern- 
ment as his trustee-for the foundation of a scientific 
institution, does of itself seem singular enough. 
What seems yet more singular is that no instruc- 
tions whatever were given in his will or found in 
his papers beyond the comprehensive one " to found 
an institution at Washington to be called the Smith- 
sonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of 
knowledge among men." No plan of the institu- 
tion, no scrap of paper which might assist in the 
interpretation of the mandate, was ever discovered. 



236 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Not a word respecting his intention was ever known 
to have been uttered. Only a single remark was 
ever recorded which indicated that he had anything 
unusual in view. He did at one time say, "My 
name shall live in the memory of men when the 
titles of the Northumberlands and the Percys are 
extinct and forgotten." 

One result of this failure to indicate a plan for 
the institution was that, when the government re- 
ceived the money, Congress was at a loss what to 
dp with it. Some ten years were spent in discuss- 
ing schemes of various kinds, among them that of 
declining the gift altogether. Then it was decided 
that the institution should be governed by a Board 
of Regents, who should elect a secretary as their 
executive officer and the administrator of the in- 
stitution. The latter was to include a library, a 
museum, and a gallery of art. The plans for the 
fine structure, so well known to every visitor to 
the capital, were prepared, the building was started, 
the regents organized, and Professor Henry made 
secretary. 

We might almost say that Henry was opposed 
to every special function assigned to the institu- 
tion by the organic law. He did not agree with 
me as to any mystery surrounding the intentions 
of the founder. To him they were perfectly clear. 
Smithson was a scientific investigator ; and the in- 
crease and diffusion of knowledge among men 
could be best promoted on the lines that he de- 
sired, by scientific investigation and the pubHca- 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 237 

tion of scientific researches. For this purpose a 
great building was not necessary, and he regretted 
all the money spent on it. The library, museum, 
and gallery of art would be of only local advan- 
tage, whereas " diffusion among men " implied all 
men, whether they could visit Washington or not. 
It was clearly the business of the government to 
supply purely local facilities for study and research, 
and the endowment of Smithson should not be used 
for such a purpose. 

His opposition to the building tinged the whole 
course of his thought, I doubt whether he was 
ever called upon by founders of institutions of any 
sort for counsel without his warning them to be- 
ware of spending their money in bricks and mortar. 
The building being already started before he took 
charge, and the three other objects being sanc- 
tioned by law, he was, of course, hampered in 
carrying out his views. But he did his utmost to 
reduce to a minimum the amount of the fund that 
should be devoted to the objects specified. 

This policy brought on the most animated con- 
test in the history of the institution. It was essen- 
tial that his most influential assistants should share 
his views or at least not thwart them. This, he 
found, was not the case. The hbrarian, Mr. C. C. 
Jewett, an able and accomplished man in the line 
of his profession, was desirous of collecting one of 
the finest scientific libraries. A contest arose, to 
which Professor Henry put an end by the bold 
course of removing the librarian from of&ce. Mr. 



238 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Jewett denied his power to do this, and the question 
came before the board of regents. The majority 
of these voted that the secretary had the power 
to remove his assistants. Among the minority was 
Rufus Choate, who was so strongly opposed to the 
action that he emphasized his protest against it by 
resigning from the board. 

A question of legal interpretation came in to 
make the situation yet more difficult. The regents 
had resolved that, after the completion of the 
building, one half the income should be devoted 
to those objects which Professor Henry considered 
most appropriate. Meanwhile there was no hmit 
to the amount that might be appropriated to these 
objects, but Mr. Jewett and other heads of de- 
partments wished to apply the rule from the begin- 
ning. Henry refused to do so, and looked with 
entire satisfaction on the slowness of completion of 
what was, in his eyes, an undesirable building. 

It must be admitted that there was one point 
which Professor Henry either failed to appreci- 
ate, or perhaps thought unworthy of consideration. 
This is, the strong hold on the minds of men which 
an institution is able to secure through the agency 
of an imposing building. Saying nothing of the 
artistic and educational value of a beautiful piece 
of architecture, it would seem that such a structure 
has a pecuKar power of impressing the minds of 
men with the importance of the object to which 
it is devoted, or of the work going on within it. 
Had Professor Henry been allowed to perform all 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 239 

the functions of the Smithsonian Institution in a 
moderate-sized hired house, as he felt himself abun- 
dantly able to do, I have very serious doubts whether 
it would have acquired its present celebrity and 
gained its present high place in the estimation of 
the pubhc. 

In the winter of 1865 the institution suffered an 
irreparable loss by a conflagration which destroyed 
the central portion of the building. At that time 
the gallery of art had been confined to a collection 
of portraits of Indians by Stanley. This collection 
was entirely destroyed. The library, being at one 
end, remained intact. The lecture room, where 
courses of scientific lectures had been delivered by 
eminent men of science, was also destroyed. This 
event gave Professor Henry an opportunity of tak- 
ing a long step in the direction he desired. He 
induced Congress to take the Smithsonian hbrary 
on deposit as a part of its own, and thus relieve 
the institution of the cost of supporting this branch. 
The Corcoran Art Gallery had been founded in the 
mean time, and relieved the institution of all neces- 
sity for supporting a gallery of art. He would 
gladly have seen the National Museum made a 
separate institution, and the Smithsonian building 
purchased by the government for its use, but he 
found no chance of carrying this out. 

After the death of Professor Henry the Institu- 
tion grew rapidly into a position in which it might 
almost claim to be a scientific department of the 
government. The National Museum, remaining 



240 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

under its administration, was greatly enlarged, and 
one of its ramifications was extended into the Na- 
tional Zoological Park. The studies of Indian 
ethnology, begun by Major J. W. Powell, grew 
into the Bureau of Ethnology. The Astrophysi- 
cal Observatory was estabhshed, in which Professor 
Langley has continued his epoch-making work on 
the sun's radiant heat with his wonderful bolometer, 
an instrument of his own invention. 

Before he was appointed to succeed Professor 
Henry, Professor Baird was serving as United 
States Fish Commissioner, and continued to fill this 
office, without other salary than that paid by the 
Smithsonian Institution. The economic importance 
of the work done and still carried on by this com- 
mission is too well known to need a statement. 
About the time of Baird's death, the work of the 
commission was separated from that of the Institu- 
tion by providing a salary for the commissioner. 

We have here a great extension of the idea of 
an institution for scientific pubHcations and research. 
I recall once suggesting to Professor Baird the 
question whether the utilization of the institution 
founded by Smithson for carrying on and promot- 
ing such government work as that of the National 
Museum was really the right thing to do. He re- 
plied, " It is not a case of using the Smithsonian 
fund for government work, but of the government 
making appropriations for the work of the Smith- 
sonian Institution." Between the two sides of the 
question thus presented, — one emphasizing the 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 241 

honor done to Smithson by expanding the insti- 
tution which bears his name, and the other aiming 
solely at the best administration of the fund which 
we hold in trust for him, — I do not pretend to 
decide. 

On the academic side of social life in Washing- 
ton, the numerous associations of alumni of colleges 
and universities hold a prominent place. One of 
the earliest of these was that of Yale, which has 
held an annual banquet every year, at least since 
1877, when I first became a member. Its member- 
ship at this time included Mr. W. M. Evarts, then 
Secretary of State, Chief Justice Waite, Senator 
Dawes, and a number of other men prominent in 
political life. The most attractive speaker was Mr. 
Evarts, and the fact that his views of education 
were somewhat conservative added much to the 
interest of his speeches. He generally had some- 
thing to say in favor of the system of a prescribed 
curriculum in liberal education, which was then 
considered as quite antiquated. When President 
Dwight, shortly after his accession to office, visited 
the capital to explain the modernizing of the Yale 
educational system, he told the alumni that the 
college now offered ninety-five courses to under- 
graduates. Evarts congratulated the coming stu- 
dents on sitting at a banquet table where they had 
their choice of ninety-five courses of intellectual 
aliment. 

Perhaps the strongest testimonial of the interest 



242 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

attached to these reunions was unconsciously given 
by President Hayes. He had received an honorary 
degree from Yale, and I chanced to be on the com- 
mittee which called to invite him to the next ban- 
quet. He pleaded, as I suppose Presidents always 
do, the multiphcity of his engagements, but finally 
said, — 

" Well, gentlemen, I will come, but it must be 
on two well-understood conditions. In the first 
place, I must not be called to my feet. You must 
not expect a speech of me. The second condition 
is, I must be allowed to leave punctually at ten 
o'clock." 

" We regret your conditions, Mr. President," was 
the reply, "but must, of course, accede to them, if 
you insist." 

He came to the banquet, he made a speech, — a 
very good, and not a very short one, — and he re- 
mained, an interested hearer, until nearly two o'clock 
in the morning. 

In recent years I cannot avoid a feeling that 
a change has come over the spirit of such associa- 
tions. One might gather the impression that the 
apothegm of Sir WiUiam Hamilton needed a sKght 
amendment. 

On earth is nothing great but Man, 
In Man is nothing great but Mind. 

Strike out the last word, and insert "Muscle." 
The reader wiU please not misinterpret this remark. 
I admire the physically perfect man, loving every- 
thing out of doors, and animated by the spirit that 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 243 

takes him through polar snows and over mountain 
tops. But I do not feel that mere muscular prac- 
tice during a few years of college life really fosters 
this spirit. 

Among the former institutions of Washington 
of which the memory is worth preserving, was the 
Scientific Club. This was one of those small groups, 
more common in other cities than in Washington, 
of men interested in some field of thought, who 
meet at brief intervals at one another's houses, per- 
haps listen to a paper, and wind up with a supper. 
When or how the Washington Club originated, I 
do not know, but it was probably sometime during 
the fifties. Its membership seems to have been 
rather ill defined, for, although I have always 
been regarded as a member, and am mentioned in 
McCuUoch's book as such,^ I do not think I ever 
received any formal notice of election. The club 
was not exclusively scientific, but included in its 
list the leading men who were supposed to be inter- 
ested in scientific matters, and whose company was 
pleasant to the others. Mr. McCuUoch himself. 
General Sherman, and Chief Justice Chase are ex- 
amples of the members of the club who were of 
this class. 

It was at the club meetings that I made the ac- 
quaintance of General Sherman. His strong char- 
acteristics were as clearly seen at these evening 

1 Men and Measures of Half a Century, by Hugh McCulloch. 
New York : Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1889. 



244 THE KEMINISCENCES OF ATT ASTRONOMER 

gatherings as in a military campaign. His restless- 
ness was such that he found it hard to sit still, 
especially in his own house, two minutes at a time. 
His terse sentences, leaving no douht in the mind 
of the hearer as to what he meant, always had the 
same snap. One of his military letters is worth 
reviving. When he was carrying on his campaign 
in Georgia against Hood, the latter was anxious 
that the war should damage general commercial 
interests as Httle as possible ; so he sent General 
Sherman a letter setting forth the terms and condi- 
tions on which he, Hood, would refrain from burn- 
ing the cotton in his line of march, but leave it be- 
hind, — at as great length and with as much detail 
as if it were a treaty of peace between two nations. 
Sherman's reply was couched in a single sentence : 
" I hope you will burn all the cotton you can, for 
all you don't burn I wUl." When he introduced 
two people, he did not simply mention their names, 
but told who each one was. In introducing the 
adjutant-general to another officer who had just 
come into Washington, he added, " You know his 
signature." 

Mr. McCuUoch, who succeeded Mr. Chase as 
Secretary of the Treasury, was my beau id^al of an 
administrator. In his personal make-up, he was as 
completely the opposite of General Sherman as a 
man well could be. Dehberate, impassive, heavy 
of bmld, slow in physical movement, he would have 
been supposed, at first sight, a man who would take 
life easy, and concern himself as little as possible 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 245 

about public affairs. But, after all, there is a qual- 
ity in the head of a great department which is quite 
distinct from sprightliness, and that is wisdom. 
This he possessed in the highest degree. The im- 
press which he made on our fiscal system was not 
the product of what looked like energetic personal 
action, but of a careful study of the prevailing con- 
ditions of public opinion, and of the means at his 
disposal for keeping the movement of things in the 
right direction. His pohcy was what is sometimes 
claimed, and correctly, I believe, to embody the 
highest administrative wisdom : that of doing no- 
thing himself that he could get others to do for 
him. In this way aU his energies could be devoted 
to his proper work, that of getting the best men in 
office, and of devising measures from time to time 
calculated to carry the government along the lines 
which he judged to be best for the public interests. 

The name of another attendant at the meetings 
of the club has from time to time excited interest 
because of its connection with a fundamental prin- 
ciple of evolutionary astronomy. This principle, 
which looks paradoxical enough, is that up to a 
certain stage, as a star loses heat by radiation into 
space, its temperature becomes higher. It is now 
known as Lane's Law. Some curiosity as to its 
origin, as well as the personality of its author, has 
sometimes been expressed. As the story has never 
been printed, I ask leave to tell it. 

Among the attendants at the meetings of the 
Scientific Club was an odd-looking and odd-man- 



246 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

nered Kttle man, rather intellectual in appearance, 
■who listened attentively to what others said, but 
who, so far as I noticed, never said a word himself. 
Up to the time of which I am speaking, I did not 
even know his name, as there was nothing but his 
oddity to excite any interest in him. 

One evening about the year 1867, the club met, 
as it not infrequently did, at the home of Mr. Mc- 
Culloch. After the meeting Mr. W. B. Taylor, 
afterward connected with the Smithsonian Institu- 
tion in an editorial capacity, accompanied by the 
little man, set out to walk to his home, which I be- 
heve was somewhere near the Smithsonian grounds. 
At any rate, I joined them in their walk, which 
led through these grounds. A few days previous 
there had appeared in the " Reader," an English 
weekly periodical having a scientific character, an 
article describing a new theory of the sun. The 
view maintained was that the sun was not a molten 
hquid, as had generally been supposed up to that 
time, but a mass of incandescent gas, perhaps con- 
densed at its outer surface, so as to form a sort of 
immense bubble. I had never before heard of the 
theory, but it was so plausible that there could be 
no difficulty in accepting it. So, as we wended our 
way through the Smithsonian grounds, I explained 
the theory to my companions in that ex cathedra 
style which one is apt to assume in setting forth a 
new idea to people who know little or nothing of 
the subject. My talk was mainly designed for Mr. 
Taylor, because I did not suppose the Httle man 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 247 

would take any interest in it. I was, therefore, 
much astonished when, at a certain point, he chal- 
lenged, in quite a decisive tone, the correctness of 
one of my propositions. In a rather more modest 
way, I tried to maintain my ground, but was quite 
silenced by the Httle man informing us that he had 
investigated the whole subject, and found so and 
so — different from what I had been laying down. 

I immediately stepped down from the pontifical 
chair, and asked the Kttle man to occupy it and 
teU us more about the matter, which he did. 
Whether the theorem to which I have alluded was 
included in his statement, I do not recall. If it 
was not, he told me about it subsequently, and 
spoke of a paper he had pubHshed, or was about 
to publish, in the " American Journal of Science." 
I find that this paper appeared in Volume L. in 
1870. 

Naturally I cultivated the acquaintance of such 
a man. His name was J. Homer Lane. He was 
quite alone in the world, haAang neither family nor 
near relative, so far as any one knew. He had for- 
merly been an examiner or something similar in the 
Patent Office, but under the system which prevailed 
in those days, a man with no more political influ- 
ence than he had was very Hable to lose his posi- 
tion, as he actually did. He lived in a good deal 
such a habitation and surroundings as men like 
Johnson and Goldsmith lived in in their time. If 
his home was not exactly a garret, it came as near 
it as a lodging of the present day ever does. 



248 THE EEMLNISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

After the paper in question appeared, I called 
Mr. Lane's attention to the fact that I did not find 
any statement of the theorem which he had men- 
tioned to me to be contained in it. He admitted 
that it was contained in it only impHedly, and pro- 
ceded to give me a very brief and simple demon- 
stration. 

So the matter stood, until the centennial year, 
1876, when Sir William Thomson paid a visit to 
this country. I passed a very pleasant evening 
with him at the Smithsonian Institution, engaged 
in a discussion, some points of which he afterwards 
mentioned in an address to the British Association. 
Among other matters, I mentioned this law, ori- 
ginating with Mr. J. Homer Lane. He did not 
think it could be well founded, and when I at- 
tempted to reproduce Mr. Lane's verbal demonstra- 
tion, I found myself unable to do so. I told him 
I felt quite sure about the matter, and would write 
to him on the subject. When I again met Mr. 
Lane, I told him of my difficulty, and asked him 
to repeat the demonstration. He did so at once, 
and I sent it off to Sir William. The latter imme- 
diately accepted the result, and published a paper 
on the subject, in which the theorem was made 
pubUc for the first time. 

It is very singular that a man of such acuteness 
never achieved anything else of significance. He 
was at my station on one occasion when a total 
ecKpse of the sun was to be observed, and made a 
report on what he saw. At th^ same time he called 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 249 

my attention to a slight source of error with which 
photographs of the transit of Venus might be af- 
fected. The idea was a very ingenious one, and 
was published in due course. 

Altogether, the picture of his Hfe and death re- 
mains in my memory as a sad one, the brightest 
gleam being the fact that he was elected a member 
of the National Academy of Sciences, which must 
have been to him a very grateful recognition of his 
work on the part of his scientific associates. When 
he died, his funeral was attended only by a few of 
his feUow members of the academy. Altogether, 
I feel it eminently appropriate that his name should 
be perpetuated by the theorem of which I have 
spoken. 

If the National Academy of Sciences has not 
proved as influential a body as such an academy 
should, it has still taken such a place in science, 
and rendered services of such importance to the 
government, that the circumstances connected with 
its origin are of permanent historic interest. As 
the writer was not a charter member, he cannot 
claim to have been " in at the birth," though he 
became, from time to time, a repository of desultory 
information on the subject. There is abundant 
internal and circumstantial evidence that Dr. B. A. 
Gould, although his name has, so far as I am aware, 
never been mentioned in this connection, was a 
leading spirit in the first organization. On the 
other hand, curiously enough, Professor Henry was 



250 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

not. I was quite satisfied that Bache took an active 
part, but Henry assured me that he could not be- 
lieve this, because he was so intimate with Bache 
that, had the latter known anything of the matter, 
he would surely have consulted him. Some recent 
light is thrown on the subject by letters of Rear- 
Admiral Charles H. Davis, found in his " Life," as 
published by his son. Everything was carried on 
in the greatest secrecy, until the bill chartering the 
body was introduced by Senator Henry Wilson of 
Massachusetts. Fifty charter members were named, 
and this number was fixed as the perma^ent limit 
to the membership. The list did not include either 
George P. Bond, director of the Harvard Observa- 
tory, perhaps the foremost American astronomer of 
the time in charge of an observatory, nor Dr. John 
W. Draper. Yet the total membership in the sec- 
tion of astronomy and kindred sciences was very 
large. A story to which I give credence was that 
the original list, as handed to Senator Wilson, did 
not include the name of William B. Rogers, who 
was then founding the Institute of Technology. 
The senator made it a condition that room for 
Rogers should be found, and his wish was acceded 
to. It is of interest that the man thus added to 
the academy by a senator afterward became its 
president, and proved as able and popular a pre- 
siding officer as it ever had. 

The governmental importance of the academy 
arose from the fact that its charter made it the 
scientific adviser of the government, by providing 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 251 

that it should " investigate, examine, experiment, 
and report upon any subject of science or art " 
whenever called upon by any department of the 
government. In this respect it was intended to 
perform the same valuable functions for the gov- 
ernment that are expected of the national scientific 
academies or societies of foreign countries. 

The academy was empowered to make its own 
constitution. That first adopted was sufficiently 
rigid and complex. Following the example of 
European bodies of the same sort, it was divided 
into two classes, one of mathematical and physi- 
cal, the other of natural science. Each of these 
classes was divided into sections. A very elaborate 
system of procedure for the choice of new members 
was provided. Any member absent from four con- 
secutive stated meetings of the academy had his 
name stricken from the roU unless he communicated 
a vaHd reason for his absence. Notwithstanding 
this requirement, the academy had no funds to de- 
fray the traveling expenses of members, nor did 
the government ever appropriate money for this 
purpose. 

For seven years it became increasingly doubtful 
whether the organization would not be abandoned. 
Several of the most eminent members took no in- 
terest whatever in the academy, — did not attend 
the meetings, but did tender their resignations, 
which, however, were not accepted. This went on 
at such a rate that, in 1870, to avoid a threatened 
dissolution, a radical change was made in the con- 



252 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

stitution. Congress was asked to remove the re- 
striction upon the number of members, which it 
promptly did. Classes and sections were entirely 
abandoned. The members formed but a single 
body. The method of election was simplified, — 
too much simplified, in fact. 

The election of new members is, perhaps, the 
most difficult and delicate function of such an or- 
ganization. It is one which cannot be performed to 
public satisfaction, nor without making many mis- 
takes ; and the avoidance of the latter is vastly more 
difficult when the members are so widely separated 
and have little opportunity to discuss in advance 
the merits of the men from whom a selection is 
to be made. An ideal selection cannot be made 
until after a man is dead, so that his work can be 
summed up ; but I think it may fairly be said that, 
on the whole, the selections have been as good as 
could be expected under the conditions. 

Notwithstanding the indifference of the govern- 
ment to the possible benefits that the academy 
might render it, it has — in addition to numerous 
reports on minor subjects — made two of capital 
importance to the public welfare. One of these 
was the planning of the United States Geological 
Survey, the other the organization of a forestry 
system for the United States. 

During the years 1870-77, besides several tem- 
porary surveys or expeditions which had from time 
to time been conducted under the auspices of the 
government, there were growing up two permanent 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 263 

surveys of the territories. One of these was the 
Geographical Survey of territories west of the 
100th meridian, under the Chief of Engineers of 
the Army; the other was the Geological Survey 
of the territories under the Interior Department, 
of which the chief was Professor F. V. Hayden. 

The methods adopted by the two chiefs to gain 
the approval of the public and the favoring smiles 
of Congress were certainly very difEerent. Wheel- 
er's efforts were made altogether by ofl&cial methods 
and through official channels. Hayden considered 
it his duty to give the public every possible oppor- 
tunity to see what he was doing and to judge his 
work. His efEorts were chronicled at length in 
the pubKc prints. His summers were spent in the 
field, and his winters were devoted to working up 
results and making every effort to secure influence. 
An attractive personality and extreme readiness to 
show every visitor all that there was to be seen in 
his collections, facihtated his success. One day a 
friend introduced a number of children with an ex- 
pression of doubt as to the little visitors being wel- 
come. " Oh, I always like to have the children 
come here," he replied, " they influence their par- 
ents." He was so successful in his efforts that his 
organization grew apace, and soon developed into 
the Geological Survey of the Territories. 

Ostensibly the objects of the two organizations 
were different. One had miHtary requirements 
mainly in view, especially the mapping of routes. 
Hayden's survey was mainly in the interests of 



254 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

geology. Practically, however, the two covered 
the same field in all points. The military survey 
extended its scope by including everything neces- 
sary for a complete geographical and geological 
atlas. The geological survey was necessarily a 
complete topographical and geological survey from 
the beginning. Between 1870 and 1877, both 
were engaged in making an atlas of Colorado, on 
the maps of which were given the same topo- 
graphical features and the same lines of communi- 
cation. Parties of the two surveys mounted their 
theodohtes on the same mountains, and triangulated 
the same regions. The Hayden survey published 
a complete atlas of Colorado, probably more finely 
gotten up than any atlas of a State in the Union, 
while the Wheeler survey was vigorously engaged 
in issuing maps of the same territory. No effort 
to prevent this dupKcation of work by making an 
arrangement between the two organizations led to 
any result. Neither had any official knowledge of 
the work of the other. Unofficially, the one was 
dissatisfied with the political methods of the other, 
and claimed that the maps which it produced were 
not fit for nulitary purposes. Hayden retorted 
with unofficial reflections on the geological expert- 
ness of the engineers, and maintained that their 
work was not of the best. He got up by far the 
best maps ; Wheeler, in the interests of economy, 
was willing to sacrifice artistic appearance to eco- 
nomy of production. We thus had the curious 
spectacle of the government supporting two inde- 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 265 

pendent surveys of the same region. Various 
compromises were attempted, but they all came to 
nothing. The state of things was clear enough to 
Congress, but the repugnance of our national legis- 
lature to the adoption of decisive measures of any 
sort for the settlement of a disputed administrative 
question prevented any effective action. Infant 
bureaus may quarrel with each other and eat up 
the paternal substance, but the parent cannot make 
up his mind to starve them outright, or even to 
chastise them into a spirit of conciliation. Un- 
able to decide between them. Congress for some 
years pursued the policy of supporting both sur- 
veys. 

The credit for introducing a measure which 
would certainly lead to unification is due to Mr. 
A. S. Hewitt, of New York, then a member of the 
Committee on Appropriations. He proposed to 
refer the whole subject to the National Academy 
of Sciences. His committee accepted his view, and 
a clause was inserted in the Sundry Civil Bill of 
June 30, 1878, requiring the academy at its next 
meeting to take the matter into consideration and 
report to Congress " as soon thereafter as may be 
practicable, a plan for surveying and mapping the 
territory of the United States on such general 
system as wUl, in their judgment, secure the best 
results at the least possible cost." 

Several of the older and more conservative mem- 
bers of the academy objected that this question 
was not one of science or art, with which alone the 



256 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

academy was competent to deal, but was a purely 
administrative question which Congress should 
settle for itself. They feared that the academy 
would be drawn into the arena of political discus- 
sion to an extent detrimental to its future and wel- 
fare and usefulness. Whether the exception was 
or was not well taken, it was felt that the academy, 
the creature of Congress, could not join issue with 
the latter as to its functions, nor should an oppor- 
tunity of rendering a great service to the govern- 
ment be lost for such a reason as this. 

The plan reported by the academy was radical 
and comprehensive. It proposed to abolish all the 
existing surveys of the territories except those 
which, being temporary, were completing their 
work, and to substitute for them a single organiza- 
tion which would include the surveys of the public 
lands in its scope. The interior work of the Coast 
and Geodetic Survey was included in the plan, it 
being proposed to transfer this bureau to the Inte- 
rior Department, with its functions so extended as 
to include the entire work of triangulation. 

When the proposition came up in Congress at 
the following session, it was vigorously fought 
by the Chief of Engineers of the army, and by 
the General Land OfB.ce, of which the surveying 
functions were practically abolished. The Land 
Office carried its point, and was eliminated from 
the scheme. General Humphreys, the Chief of 
Engineers, was a member of the academy, but re- 
signed on the ground that he could not properly 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 267 

remain a member while contesting the recommend- 
ations of the body. But the academy refused to 
accept the resignation, on the very proper ground 
that no obKgation was imposed on the members to 
support the views of the academy, besides which, 
the work of the latter in the whole matter was ter- 
minated when its report was presented to Congress. 

Although this was true of the academy, it was 
not true of the individual members who had taken 
part in constructing the scheme. They were natu- 
rally desirous of seeing the plan made a success, 
and, in the face of such vigorous opposition, this 
required constant attention. A dexterous move- 
ment was that of getting the measure transferred 
from one appropriation bill to another when it 
passed over to the Senate. The measure at length 
became a law, and thus was estabhshed the Geo- 
logical Survey of the United States, which was to 
be governed by a Director, appointed by the Presi- 
dent, by and with the advice and consent of the 
Senate. 

Then, on March 4, 1879, an important question 
arose. The right man must be placed at the head 
of the new bureau. Who is he ? At first there 
seemed to be but one voice on the subject. Pro- 
fessor Hayden had taken the greatest pains to make 
known the work of his survey, not only to Congress, 
but to every scientific society, small and great, the 
world over. Many of these had bestowed their ap- 
probation upon it by electing its director to honor- 
ary membership. It has been said, I do not know 



268 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTEONOMER 

how truly, that the number of these testimonials 
exceeded that received by any other scientific man 
in America. If this were so, they would have to be 
counted, not weighed. It was, therefore, not sur- 
prising that two thirds of the members of Congress 
were said to have sent a recommendation to the 
President for the appointment of so able and suc- 
cessfid a man to the new position. The powerful 
backing of so respectable a citizen as Hon. J. D. 
Cox, formerly Secretary of the Interior, was also 
heartily proffered. To these forces were added 
that of a certain number of geologists, though few 
or none of them were leaders in the science. Had 
it not been for a private intimation conveyed to 
Secretary Schurz that the scientific men interested 
might have something to say on the subject, Hay- 
den might have been appointed at the very moment 
the biU was signed by the President. 

Notwithstanding all of Hayden's merits as the 
energetic head of a survey, the leaders in the move- 
ment considered that Mr. Clarence King was the 
better qualified for the duties of the new position. 
It is not unhkely that a preference for a different 
method of influencing Congress than that which I 
have described, was one of the reasons in favor of 
Mr. King. He was a man of charming personaUty 
and great literary ability. Some one said of him 
that he could make a more interesting story out of 
what he saw during a ride in a street car than 
most men could with the best material at their dis- 
posal. His " Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevadas ' ' 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 259 

was as interesting an account of Western explora- 
tion as has ever been pubKshed. I understand it 
was suppressed by the author because some of the 
characters described in it were much hurt by find- 
ing themselves painted in the book. 

Hopeless though the contest might have seemed, 
an effort was made by three or four of the men 
most interested to secure Mr. King's appointment. 
If I wanted to show the fallacy of the common im- 
pression that scientific men are not fitted for prac- 
tical politics, I could not do it better than by giving 
the internal history of the movement. This I shall 
attempt only in the briefest way. The movers in 
the matter divided up the work, did what they 
could in the daytime, and met at night at Worm- 
ley's Hotel to compare notes, ascertain the effect 
of every shot, and decide where the next one should 
be fired. As aU the parties concerned in the matter 
have now passed off the stage, I shall venture to 
mention one of these shots. One eminent geolo- 
gist, whose support was known to be available, had 
not been called in, because an impression had been 
formed that President Hayes would not be willing 
to consider favorably what he might say. After 
the matter had been discussed at one or two meet- 
ings, one of the party proposed to sound the Pre- 
sident on the subject at his next interview. So, 
when the occasion arose, he gently introduced the 
name of the gentleman. 

" What view does he take ? " inquired the Presi- 
dent. 



260 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

" I think he will be favorable to Mr. King," was 
the reply ; " but would you give great weight to 
his opinion ? " 

" I would give great weight to it, very great 
weight, indeed," was the reply. 

This expression was too decided in its tone to 
leave any doubt, and the geologist in question was 
on his way to Washington as soon as electricity 
could teU him that he was wanted. When the time 
finally came for a decision, the President asked Sec- 
retary Schurz for his opinion. Both agreed that 
King was the man, and he was duly appointed. 

The new administration was eminently success- 
ful. But King was not fond of administrative 
work, and resigned the position at the end of a 
year or so. He was succeeded by John W. Powell, 
under whom the survey grew with a rapidity which 
no one had anticipated. As originally organized, 
the survey was one of the territories only, but the 
question whether it should not be extended to the 
States as well, and prepare a topographical atlas of 
the whole country, was soon mooted, and decided 
by Congress in the affirmative. For this extension, 
however, the original organizers of the survey were 
in no way responsible. It was the act of Congress, 
pure and simple. 

If the success of an organization is to be mea- 
sured by the pubUc support which it has com- 
manded, by the extension of its work and influence, 
and by the gradual dying out of all opposition, it 
must be admitted that the plan of the academy 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 261 

was a brilliant success. It is true that a serious 
crisis had once to be met. While Mr. Cleveland 
was governor of New York, his experience with the 
survey of that State had led him to distrust the 
methods on which the surveys of the United States 
were being conducted. This distrust seems to have 
pervaded the various heads of the departments un- 
der his administration, and led to serious charges 
against the conduct of both the Coast and Geolo- 
gical surveys. An unfavorable report upon the 
administration of the former was made by a com- 
mittee especially appointed by the Secretary of the 
Treasury, and led to the resignation of its superin- 
tendent. But, in the case of the Geological Sur- 
vey, the attacks were mostly conducted by the 
newspapers. At length. Director Powell asked per- 
mission of Secretary Lamar to write him a letter in 
reply. His answers were so sweeping, and so con- 
clusive on every point, that nothing more was heard 
of the criticisms. 

The second great work of the academy for the 
government was that of devising a forestry system 
for the United States. The immediate occasion 
for action in this direction was stated by Secretary 
Hoke Smith to be the " inadequacy and confusion 
of existing laws relating to the pubHc timber lands 
and consequent absence of an intelHgent policy in 
their administration, resulting in such conditions 
as may, if not speedily stopped, prevent the proper 
development of a large part of our country." 

Even more than in the case of the Geological 



262 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Survey might this work seem to be one of admin- 
istration rather than of science. But granting 
that such was the case, the academy commanded 
great advantages in taking up the subject. The 
commission which it formed devoted more than a 
year to the study, not only of the conditions in our 
own country, but of the various policies adopted 
by foreign countries, especially Germany, and their 
results. As in the case of the Geological Survey, 
a radically new and very complete system of for- 
estry administration was proposed. Interests hav- 
ing other objects than the public good were as 
completely ignored as they had been before. 

The soundness of the conclusions reached by 
the Academy Commission were challenged by men 
wielding great political power in their respective 
States. For a time it was feared that the academy 
would suffer rather than gain in pubHc opinion by 
the report it had made. But the moral force be- 
hind it was such that, in the long run, some of 
the severest critics saw their error, and a plan was 
adopted which, though differing in many details 
from that proposed, was, in the main, based on the 
conclusion of the commission. The Interior De- 
partment, the Geological Survey, and the Depart- 
ment of Agriculture all have their part in the 
work. 

Notwithstanding these signal demonstrations of 
the valuable service which the academy may ren- 
der to the government, the latter has done nothing 
for it. , The immediate influence of the leading 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 263 

scientific men in public affairs has perhaps been 
diminished as much in one direction as it has been 
increased in another by the official character of the 
organization. The very fact that the members of 
the academy belong to a body which is, officially, 
the scientific adviser of the government, prevents 
them from coming forward to exercise that indi- 
vidual influence which they might exercise were 
no such body in existence. 

The academy has not even a place of meeting, 
nor is a repository for its property and records 
provided for it. Although it holds in trust large 
sums which have been bequeathed from time to 
time by its members for promoting scientific inves- 
tigation, and is, in this way, rendering an impor- 
tant service to the progress of knowledge, it has 
practically no income of its own except the con- 
tributions of its own members, nearly all of whom 
are in the position described by the elder Agassiz, 
of having " no time to make money." 

Among the men who have filled the office of presi- 
dent of the academy, Professor 0. C. Marsh was per- 
haps the one whose activity covered the widest field. 
Though long well known in scientific circles, he 
first came into public prominence by his exposure 
of the frauds practiced by contractors in furnish- 
ing supplies for the Indians. This business had 
fallen into the hands of a small ring of contractors 
known as the " Indian ring," who knew the ropes 
so well that they could bid below any competitor 
and yet manage things so as to gain a handsome 



264 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

profit out of the contracts. In the course of his 
explorations Marsh took pains to investigate the 
whole matter, and published his conclusions first 
in the New York " Tribune," and then more fully 
in pamphlet form, taking care to have public atten- 
tion called to the subject so widely that the author- 
ities would have to notice it. In doing so, Mr. 
Delano, Secretary of the Interior, spoke of them as 
charges made by " a Mr. Marsh." This method 
of designating such a man was made effective use 
of by Mr. Delano's opponents in the case. 

Although the investigation which followed did 
not elicit all the facts, it had the result of calling 
the attention of succeeding Secretaries of the In- 
terior to the necessity of keeping the best outlook 
on the administration of Indian affairs. What I 
believe to have been the final downfall of the ring 
was not brought about until Cleveland's first ad- 
ministration. Then it happened in this way. Mr. 
Lamar, the Secretary of the Interior, was sharply 
on the lookout for frauds of every kind. As 
usual, the lowest bid for a certain kind of blanket 
had been accepted, and the Secretary was deter- 
mined to see whether the articles furnished actually 
corresponded with the requirements of the con- 
tract. It chanced that he had as his appointment 
clerk Mr. J. J. S. Hassler, a former manufacturer 
of woolen goods. Mr. Hassler was put on the 
board to inspect the supplies, and found that the 
blankets, although to all ordinary appearance of the 
kind and quality required, were really of a much 



SCIENTIFIC "WASHINGTON 265 

inferior and cheaper material. The result was the 
enforced failure of the contractor, and, I believe, 
the end of the Indian ring. 

Marsh's explorations in search of fossil remains 
of the animals which once roamed over the west- 
ern parts of our continent were attended by adven- 
tures of great interest, which he long had the 
intention of collecting and publishing in book 
form. Unfortunately, he never did it, nor, so far 
as I am aware, has any connected narrative of his 
adventures ever appeared in print. This is more 
to be regretted, because they belong to a state of 
things which is rapidly passing away, leaving few 
records of that lifeHke sort which make the most 
impressive picture. 

His guide during his early explorations was a 
character who has since become celebrated in 
America and Europe by the vivid representations 
of the "Wild West " with which he has amused and 
instructed the dwellers on two continents. Marsh 
was on his way to explore the region in the Rocky 
Mountains where he was to find the fossils which 
have since made his work most celebrated. The 
guide was burning with curiosity as to the object 
of the expedition. One night over the campfire he 
drew his chief into a conversation on the subject. 
The latter told him that there was once a time 
when the Rocky Mountains did not exist, and that 
part of the continent was a level plain. In the 
course of long ages mountains rose, and animals 
ran over them. Then the mountains split open ; 



266 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the animals died and left their bones in the clefts. 
The object of his expedition was now to search 
for some of these bones. 

The bones were duly discovered, and it was not 
many years thereafter before the Wild West Ex- 
hibition was seen in the principal Eastern cities. 
When it visited New Haven, its conductor natu- 
rally renewed the acquaintance of his former patron 
and supporter. 

" Do you remember, professor," said he, " our 
talk as we were going on your expedition to the 
Rockies, — how you told me about the mountains 
rising up and being split open and the bones of 
animals being lost in there, and how you were 
going to get them ? " 

" Oh, yes," said the other, " I remember it very 
well." 

" Well, professor, do you know, when you told 
me aU that I r'aUy thought you was puttin' up a 
job on me." 

The result was a friendship between the two 
men, which continued during Marsh's whole life. 
When the one felt that he ought no longer to 
spend all the money he earned, he consulted Marsh 
on the subject of " salting it down," and doubtless 
got good advice. 

As an exposer of humbugs Marsh took a pro- 
minent place. One of these related to the so-caUed 
"Cardiff Giant." Sometime in 1869 the news- 
papers announced the discovery in northern New 
York, near the Canadian border, of an extraordi- 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 267 

nary fossil man, or colossal statue, people were not 
sure which, eight or ten feet high. It was found 
several feet below the ground while digging a well. 
Men of some scientific repute, including even one 
so eminent as Professor James Hall, had endorsed 
the genuineness of the find, and, on the strength 
of this, it was taken around to show the pubKc. 
In the course of a journey through New York 
State, Marsh happened to pass through the town 
where the object was on exhibition. His train 
stopped forty minutes for dinner, which would give 
him time to drive to the place and back, and leave 
a margin of about fifteen minutes for an examina- 
tion of the statue. Hardly more than a glance was 
necessary to show its fraudulent character. Inside 
the ears the marks of a chisel were still plainly vis- 
ible, showing that the statue had been newly cut. 
One of the most curious features was that the stone 
had not been large enough to make the complete 
statue, so that the surface was, in one place, still 
in the rough. The object had been found in wet 
ground. Its material was sulphate of lime, the 
slight solubility of which would have been sufficient 
to make it dissolve entirely away in the course of 
centuries. The absence of any degradation showed 
that the thing was comparatively new. On the 
strength of this. Marsh promptly denounced the 
affair as a humbug. Only a feeble defense was 
made for it, and, a year or two later, the whole 
story came out. It had been designed and exe- 
cuted somewhere in the Northwest, transported to 



268 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the place where discovered, and buried, to be after- 
ward dug up and reported as a prehistoric wonder. 
Only a few years ago the writer had an opportu- 
nity of seeing with what wonderful ease intelligent 
men can be imposed upon by these artificial antiqui- 
ties. The would-be exhibitor of a fossil woman, 
found I know not where, appeared in Washington. 
He had not discovered the fossil himself, but had 
purchased it for some such sum as f 100, on the 
assurance of its genuine character. He seems, how- 
ever, to have had some misgivings on the subject, 
and, being an honest fellow, invited some Washing- 
ton scientific men to examine it in advance of a 
pubhc exhibition. The first feature to strike the 
critical observer was that the arms of the fossil 
were crossed over the breast in the most approved 
undertaker's fashion, showing that if the woman 
had ever existed, she had devoted her dying mo- 
ments to arranging a pose for the approval of pos- 
terity. Little more than a glance was necessary to 
show that the fossil was simply baked clay. Yet 
the Hmbs were hard and stiff. One of the specta- 
tors therefore asked permission of the owner to 
bore with an auger into the leg and see what was 
inside. A few moments' work showed that the 
bone of the leg was a bar of iron, around which 
clay had been moulded and baked. I must do the 
crestfallen owner the justice to say that his anxiety 
to convince the spectators of his own good faith in 
the matter far exceeded his regret at the pecuniary 
loss which he had suffered. 



SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON 269 

Another amusing experience that Marsh had 
"with a would-he fossil arose out of the discovery 
here and there in Connecticut of the fossil foot- 
prints of birds. Shortly after a find of this kind 
had been announced, a farmer drove his wagon up 
in front of the Peabody Museum, called on the 
professor, and told him he had dug up something 
curious on his farm, and he "wished the professor 
would tell him what it was. He thought it looked 
like the footprints of a bird in a stone, but he was 
not quite sure. 

Marsh went out and looked at the stone. A 
single glance was enough. 

" Oh, I see what they are. They are the foot- 
prints of the domestic turkey. And the oddest 
part of it is, they are all made "with the right 
foot." 

The simple-minded countryman, in making the 
prints with the turkey's foot, had overlooked the 
difEerence between the right and left foot, and the 
consequent necessity of having the tracks which 
pertained to the two feet alternate. 

Washington is naturally a centre of information 
on all subjects relating to the aboriginal tribes 
of America and to hfe on the plains generally. 
Besides the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Eth- 
nology has been an active factor in this line. An 
o£&cial report cannot properly illustrate life in aU 
its aspects, and therefore should be supplemented 
by the experiences of leading explorers. This is all 



270 THE KEMINISCENCES OP AN ASTKONOMBK 

the more necessary if, as seems to be the case, the 
peculiar characteristics of the life in question are 
being replaced by those more appropriate to civili- 
zation. Yet the researches of the bureau in ques- 
tion are not carried on in any narrow spirit, and 
will supply the future student of humanity with 
valuable pictures of the most heroic of all races, 
and yet doomed, apparently, to ultimate extinction. 
I do not think I ever saw a more impressive human 
figure and face than those of Chief Joseph as he 
stood tall, erect, and impassive, at a President's 
reception in the winter of 1903. He was attired 
in all the brilliancy of his official costume ; but not 
a muscle of his strongly marked face betrayed the 
sentiments with which he must have gazed on the 
shining uniforms passing before him. 



X 

SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 

My first trip to Europe, mentioned in the last 
chapter, was made with my wife, when the old- 
est transatlantic Hne was still the fashionahle one. 
The passenger on a Cunarder felt himself amply 
compensated for poor attendance, coarse food, and 
bad coffee by learning from the officers on the 
promenade deck how far the ships of their line 
were superior to all others in strength of hull, abil- 
ity of captain, and discipline of crew. Things have 
changed on both sides since then. Although the 
Cunard line has completed its half century without 
having lost a passenger, other lines are also care- 
fully navigated, and the Cunard passenger, so far 
as I know, fares as well as any other. Captain 
McMickan was as perfect a type of the old-fash- 
ioned captain of the best class as I ever saw. His 
face looked as if the gentlest zephyr that had ever 
fanned it was an Atlantic hurricane, and yet 
beamed with Hibernian good humor and friendliness. 
He read prayers so well on Sunday that a passenger 
assured him he was born to be a bishop. One day 
a ship of the North German Lloyd line was seen 
in the offing slowly gaining on us. A passenger 
called the captain's attention to the fact that we 



272 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

were being left behind. " Oh, they 're very lightly 
built, them German ships ; built to carry German 
dolls and such like cargo." 

In London one of the first men we met was 
Thomas Hughes, of Eugby fame, who made us 
feel how worthy he was of the love and esteem 
bestowed upon him by Americans. He was able 
to make our visit pleasant in more ways than one. 
Among the men I wanted to see was Mr. John 
Stuart Mill, to whom I was attracted not only by 
his fame as a philosopher and the interest with 
which I had read his books, but also because he 
was the author of an excellent pamphlet on the 
Union side during our civil war. 

On my expressing a desire to make Mr. MiU's 
acquaintance, Mr. Hughes immediately offered to 
give me a note of introduction. Mill Hved at 
Blackheath, which, though in an easterly direction 
down the Thames, is one of the prettiest suburbs 
of the great metropolis. His dwelling was a very 
modest one, entered through a passage of trelHs- 
work in a little garden. He was by no means the 
grave and distinguished-looking man I had expected 
to see. He was small in stature and rather spare, 
and did not seem to have markedly intellectual 
features. The cordiality of his greeting was more 
than I could have expected ; and he was much 
pleased to know that his work in moulding English 
sentiment in our favor at the commencement of 
the civil war was so well remembered and so highly 
appreciated across the Atlantic. 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 273 

As a philosopher, it must be conceded that Mr. 
Mill Hved at an unfortunate time. While his 
vigor and independence of thought led him to 
break loose from the trammels of the traditional 
philosophy, modern scientific generalization had 
not yet reached a stage favorable to his becoming 
a leader in developing the new philosophy. Still, 
whatever may be the merits of his philosophic 
theories, I believe that up to a quite recent time 
no work on scientific method appeared worthy to 
displace his " System of Logic." 

A feature of London life that must strongly im- 
press the scientific student from our country is the 
closeness of touch, socially as well as officially, be- 
tween the Hterary and scientific classes on the one 
side and the governing classes on the other. Mr. 
Hughes invited us to make an evening call with 
him at the house of a cabinet minister, — I think 
it was Mr. Goschen, — where we should find a 
number of persons worth seeing. Among those 
gathered in this casual way were Mr. Gladstone, 
Dean Stanley, and our General Burnside, then 
grown quite gray. I had never before met Gen- 
eral Burnside, but his published portraits were so 
characteristic that the man could scarcely have 
been mistaken. The only change was in the color 
of his beard. Then and later I found that a 
pleasant feature of these informal " at homes," so 
universal in London, is that one meets so many 
people he wants to see, and so few he does not 
want to see. 



274 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Congress had made a very liberal appropriation 
for observations of the solar eclipse, — the mak- 
ing of which was one object of my visit, — to be 
expended under the direction of Professor Peirce, 
superintendent of the Coast Survey. Peirce went 
over in person to take charge of the arrangements. 
He arrived in London with several members of his 
party a few days before we did, and about the 
same time came an independent party of my fellow 
astronomers from the Naval Observatory, consist- 
ing of Professors Hall, Harkness, and Eastman. 
The invasion of their country by such an army of 
American astronomers quite stirred up our English 
colleagues, who sorrowfully contrasted the liberality 
of our government with the parsimony of their own, 
which had, they said, declined to make any pro- 
vision for the observations of the echpse. Con- 
sidering that it was visible on their own side of the 
Atlantic, they thought their government might 
take a lesson from ours. Of course we could not 
help them directly; and yet I suspect that our 
coming, or at least the coming of Peirce, really 
did help them a great deal. At any rate, it was a 
curious coincidence that no sooner did the Ameri- 
can invasion occur than it was semi-of&cially dis- 
covered that no application of which her Majesty's 
government could take cognizance had been made 
by the scientific authorities for a grant of money 
with which to make preparations for observing the 
eclipse. That the scientific authorities were not 
long in catching so broad a hint as this goes with- 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 275 

out saying. A Kttle more of the story came out a 
few days later in a very unexpected way. 

In scientific England, the great social event of 
the year is the annual banquet of the Royal Society, 
held on St. Andrew's day, the date of the annual 
meeting of the society, and of the award of its 
medals for distinguished work in science. At the 
banquet the scientific outlook is discussed not only 
by members of the society, but by men high in 
political and social life. The medalists are toasted, 
if they are present ; and their praises are sung, if, 
as is apt to be the case with foreigners, they are 
absent. First in rank is the Copley medal, founded 
by Sir Godfrey Copley, a contemporary of Newton. 
This medal has been awarded annually since 1731, 
and is now considered the highest honor that sci- 
entific England has to bestow. The recipient is 
selected with entire impartiality as to country, not 
for any special work published during the year, but 
in view of the general merit of all that he has 
done. Five times in its history the medal has 
crossed the Atlantic. It was awarded to Franklin 
in 1753, Agassiz in 1861, Dana in 1877, and J. 
WiUard Gibbs in 1902. The long time that elapsed 
between the first and the second of these awards 
affords an illustration of the backwardness of scien- 
tific research in America during the greater part 
of the first century of our independence. The 
year of my visit the medal was awarded to Mr. 
Joule, the English physicist, for his work on the 
relation of heat and energy. 



276 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

I was a guest at the banquet, which was the 
most brilliant function I had witnessed up to that 
time. The leaders ia English science and learning 
sat around the table. Her Majesty's government 
was represented by Mr. Gladstone, the Premier, 
and Mr. Lowe, afterward Viscount Sherbrooke, 
Chancellor of the Exchequer. Both replied to 
toasts. Mr. Lowe as a speaker was perhaps a little 
dull, but not so Mr. Gladstone. There was a charm 
about the way in which his talk seemed to display 
the inner man. It could not be said that he had 
either the dry humor of Mr. Evarts or the wit of 
Mr. Depew ; but these qualities were well replaced 
by the vivacity of his manner and the intellectu- 
aUty of his face. He looked as i£ he had some- 
thing interesting he wanted to teU you; and he 
proceeded to tell it in a very felicitous way as re- 
garded both manner and language, but without 
anything that savored of eloquence. He was like 
Carl Schurz in talking as if he wanted to inform 
you, and not because he wanted you to see what a 
fine speaker he was. With this he impressed one 
as having a perfect command of his subject in all 
its bearings. 

I did not for a moment suppose that the Premier 
of England could have taken any personal interest 
in the matter of the eclipse. Great, therefore, was 
my surprise when, in speaking of the relations of 
the government to science, he began to talk about 
the coming event. I quote a passage from memory, 
after twenty-seven years : " I had the pleasure of 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 277 

a visit, a few days since, from a very distinguished 
American professor. Professor Peirce of Harvard. 
In the course of the interview, the learned gentle- 
man expressed his regret that her Majesty's gov- 
ernment had declined to take any measures to 
promote observations of the coming eclipse of the 
sun by British astronomers. I replied that I was 
not aware that the government had declined to 
take such measures. Indeed, I went further, and 
assured him that any application from our astron- 
omers for aid in making these observations would 
receive respectful consideration." I felt that there 
might be room for some suspicion that this visit of 
Professor Peirce was a not unimportant factor in 
the changed position of affairs as regarded British 
observations of the eclipse. 

Not only the scene I have described, but subse- 
quent experience, has impressed me with the high 
appreciation in which the best scientific work is 
held by the leading countries of Europe, especially 
England and France, as if the prosecution were 
something of national importance which men of 
the highest rank thought it an honor to take part 
in. The Marquis of Salisbury, in an interval be- 
tween two terms of service as Premier of England, 
presided over the British Association for the Ad- 
vancement of Science, and delivered an address 
showing a wide and careful study of the general- 
izations of modern science. 

In France, also, one great glory of the nation is 
felt to be the works of its scientific and learned 



278 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

men of the past and present. Membership of one 
of the five academies of the Institute of France 
is counted among the highest honors to which a 
Frenchman can aspire. Most remarkable, too, is 
the extent to which other considerations than that 
of merit are set aside in selecting candidates for 
this honor. Quite recently a man was elected a 
member of the Academy of Sciences who was 
without either university or of&cial position, and 
earned a modest subsistence as a collaborator of 
the " Eevue des Deux Mondes." But he had 
found time to make investigations in mathemati- 
cal astronomy of such merit that he was con- 
sidered to have fairly earned this distinction, and 
the modesty of his social position did not lie in 
his way. 

At the time of this visit Lister was an eminent 
member of the medical profession, but had not, so 
far as I am aware, been recognized as one who was 
to render incalculable service to suffering humanity. 
From a professional point of view there are no two 
walks in life having fewer points of contact than 
those of the surgeon and the astronomer. It is 
therefore a remarkable example of the closeness of 
touch among eminent Englishmen in every walk 
of life, that, in subsequent visits, I was repeatedly 
thrown into contact with one who may fairly be 
recommended as among the greatest benefactors of 
the human race that the nineteenth century has 
given us. This was partly, but not wholly, due to 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 279 

his being, for several years, the president of the 
Royal Society. I would wiUingly say much more, 
but I am unable to write authoritatively upon the 
life and work of such a man, and must leave gossip 
to the daily press. 

For the visiting astronomer at London scarcely 
a place in London has more attractions than the 
modest little observatory and dwelling house on 
Upper Tulse HiU, in which Sir William Huggins 
has done so much to develop the spectroscopy of 
the fixed stars. The owner of this charming place 
was a pioneer in the application of the spectroscope 
to the analysis of the light of the heavenly bodies, 
and after nearly forty years of work in this field, 
is still pursuing his researches. The charm of sen- 
timent is added to the cold atmosphere of science 
by the collaboration of Lady Huggins. Almost 
at the beginning of his work Mr. Huggins, analyz- 
ing the light of the great nebula of Orion, showed 
that it must proceed from a mass of gas, and not 
from solid matter, thus making the greatest step 
possible in our knowledge of these objects. He 
was also the first to make actual measures of the 
motions of bright stars to or from our system by 
observing the wave length of the rays of hght 
which they absorbed. Quite recently an illustrated 
account of his observatory and its work has ap- 
peared in a splendid folio volume, in which the 
rigor of science is tempered with a gentle infusion 
of art which tempts even the non-scientific reader 
to linger over its pages. 



280 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

In England, the career of Professor Cayley af- 
fords an example of the spirit that impels a scien- 
tific worker of the highest class, and of the extent 
to which an enlightened community may honor 
him for what he is doing. One of the creators of 
modern mathematics, he never had any ambition 
beyond the prosecution of his favorite science. I 
first met him at a dinner of the Astronomical 
Society Club. As the guests were taking off their 
wraps and assembling in the anteroom, I noticed, 
with some surprise, that one whom I supposed to 
be an attendant was talking with them on easy 
terms. A moment later the supposed attendant 
was introduced as Professor Cayley. His garb set 
off the seeming haggardness of his keen features 
so effectively that I thought him either broken 
down in health or just recovering from some pro- 
tracted illness. The unspoken words on my lips 
were, " Why, Professor Cayley, what has happened 
to you ? " Being now in the confessional, I must 
own that I did not, at the moment, recognise the 
marked intellectuality of a very striking face. As 
a representation of a mathematician in the throes 
of thought, I know nothing to equal his portrait 
by Dickenson, which now hangs in the hall of 
Trinity College, Cambridge, and is reproduced in 
the sixth volume of Cayley's collected works. His 
life was that of a man moved to investigation by 
an uncontrollable impulse ; the only sort of man 
whose work is destined to be imperishable. Until 
forty years of age he was by profession a convey- 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 281 

ancer. His ability was such that he might have 
gained a fortune by practicing the highest branch 
of English law, if his energies had not been di- 
verted in another direction. The spirit in which 
he pursued his work may be judged from an anec- 
dote related by his friend and co-worker, Sylves- 
ter, who, in speaking of Cayley's even and placid 
temper, told me that he had never seen him ruffled 
but once. Entering his office one morning, intent 
on some new mathematical thought which he was 
discussing with Sylvester, he opened the letter-box 
in his door and found a bundle of papers relating 
to a law case which he was asked to take up. 
The interruption was too much. He flung the pa- 
pers on the table with remarks more forcible than 
complimentary concerning the person who had 
distracted his attention at such an inopportune 
moment. In 1863 he was made a professor at 
Cambridge, where, no longer troubled with the 
intricacies of land tenure, he pubHshed one inves- 
tigation after another with ceaseless activity, to the 
end of his Ufe. 

Among my most interesting callers was Professor 
John C. Adams, of whom I have spoken as sharing 
with Leverrier the honor of having computed the 
position of the planet Neptune before its existence 
was otherwise known. The work of the two men 
was prosecuted at almost the same time, but adopt- 
ing the principle that priority of publication should 
be the sole basis of credit, Arago had declared that 
no other name than that of Leverrier should even 



282 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

be mentioned in connection with the work. If re- 
pute was correct, Leverrier was not distinguished 
for those amiable qualities that commonly mark 
the man of science and learning. His attitude 
toward Adams had always been hostile. Under 
these conditions chance afforded the latter a splen- 
did opportunity of showing his superiority to all 
personal feeling. He was president of the Royal 
Astronomical Society when its annual medal was 
awarded to his French rival for his work in con- 
structing new tables of the sun and planets. It 
thus became his duty to deUver the address setting 
forth the reasons for the award. He did this with 
a warmth of praise foir Leverrier's works which 
could not have been exceeded had the two men 
been bosom friends. 

Adams's intellect was one of the keenest I ever 
knew. The most difficult problems of mathemati- 
cal astronomy and the most recondite principles 
that underlie the theory of the celestial motions 
were to him but child's play. His works place him 
among the first mathematical astronomers of the 
age, and yet they do not seem to do his ability 
entire justice. Indeed, for fifteen years previous 
to the time of my visit his pubHshed writings had 
been rather meagre. But I believe he was justly 
credited with an elaborate witticism to the follow- 
ing effect : " In view of the fact that the only 
human being ever known to have been killed by a 
meteorite was a monk, we may concede that after 
four hundred years the Pope's bull against the 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 283 

comet has been justified by the discovery that 
comets are made up of meteorites." 

Those readers who know on what imperfect data 
men's impressions are sometimes founded will not 
be surprised to learn of my impression that an 
Englishman's politics could be inferred from his 
mental and social make-up. If all men are born 
either AristoteUans or Platonists, then it may be 
supposed that all Enghshmen are born Conserva- 
tives or Liberals. 

The utterances of English journalists of the Con- 
servative party about American affairs during and 
after our civil war had not impressed me with the 
idea that one so unfortunate as to be born in that 
party would either take much interest in meeting 
an American or be capable of taking an apprecia- 
tive view of scientific progress. So confident was 
I of my theory that I remarked to a friend with 
whom I had become somewhat intimate, that no 
one who knew Mr. Adams could have much doubt 
that he was a Liberal in politics. 

An embarrassed smile spread over the friend's 
features. " You would not make that conclusion 
knovm to Mr. Adams, I hope," said he. 

" But is he not a Liberal ? " 

" He is not only a Conservative, but declares 
himself ' a Tory of the Tories.' " 

I afterward found that he fully justified his own 
description. At the university, he was one of the 
leading opponents of those measures which freed 
the academic degrees from religious tests. He was 



284 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

said to have been among those who objected to 
Sylvester, a Jew, receiving a degree. 

I had decided to observe the eclipse at Gibraltar. 
In order that my results, if I obtained any, might 
be utilized in the best way, it was necessary that 
the longitude of the station should be determined 
by telegraph. This had never been done for Gib- 
raltar. How great the error of the supposed lon- 
gitude might have been may be inferred from the 
fact that a few years later, Captain F. Green of 
the United States Navy found the longitude of 
Lisbon on the Admiralty charts to be two miles in 
error. The first arrangements I had to make in 
England were directed to this end. Considering 
the relation of the world's great fortress to British 
maritime supremacy, it does seem as if there were 
something presumptuous in the coolness with which 
I went among the authorities to make arrangements 
for the enterprise. Nevertheless, the authorities 
permitted the work, with a cordiality which was of 
itself quite sufficient to remove any such impression, 
had it been entertained. The astronomers did, in- 
deed, profess to feel it humiliating that the longi- 
tude of such a place as Gibraltar should have to be 
.determined from Greenwich by an American. They 
did not say " by a foreigner," because they always 
protested against Americans looking upon them- 
selves as such. StiU, it would not be an English 
enterprise if an American carried it out. I suspect, 
however, that my proceedings were not looked upon 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 285 

•with entire dissatisfaction even by the astronomers. 
They might prove as good a stimulant to their gov- 
ernment in showing a little more enterprise in that 
direction as the arrival of our eclipse party did. 

The longitude work naturally took me to the 
Eoyal Observatory which has made the little town 
of Greenwich so famous. It is situated some eight 
miles east from Charing Cross, on a hill in Green- 
wich Park, with a pleasant outlook toward the 
Thames. From my youth up I had been working 
with its observations, and there was no institution 
in the world which I had approached, or could ap- 
proach, with the interest I felt in ascending the 
little hill on which it is situated. When the Calabria 
was once free from her wharf in New York harbor, 
and on her way down the Narrows, the foremost 
thought was, " Off for Europe ; we shall see Green- 
wich ! " The day of my arrival in London I had 
written to Professor Airy, and received an answer 
the same evening, inviting us to visit the observa- 
tory and spend an afternoon with him a day or 
two later. 

I was shown around the observatory by an assist- 
ant, while my wife was entertained by Mrs. Airy 
and the daughters inside the dwelhng. The fam- 
ily dined as soon as the day's work was over, about 
the middle of the afternoon. After the meal, we 
sat over a blazing fire and discussed our impres- 
sions of London. 

" What place in London interested you most ? " 
said Airy to my wife. 



286 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

" The first place I went to see was Cavendish 
Square." 

" What was there in Cavendish Square to inter- 
est you ? " 

" When I was a little girl, my mother once 
gave me, as a birthday present, a small volume of 
poems. The first verse in the book was : — 

" ' Little Ann and her mother were walking one day 
Through London's wide city so fair ; 
And business obliged them to go by the way 
That led them through Cavendish Square.' " 

To our astonishment the Astronomer Royal at 
once took up the thread : — 

" 'And as they passed by the great house of a lord, 
A beautiful chariot there came, 
To take some most elegant ladies abroad, 
Who straightway got into the same,' " 

and went on to the end. I do not know which 
of the two was more surprised : Airy, to find an 
American woman who was interested in his favor- 
ite ballad, or she to find that he could repeat it 
by heart. The incident was the commencement of 
a family friendship which has outlived both the 
heads of the Airy family. 

We may look back on Airy as the most com- 
manding figure in the astronomy of our time. He 
owes this position not only to his early works in 
mathematical astronomy, but also to his ability as 
an organizer. Before his time the working force 
of an observatory generally consisted of individual 
observers, each of whom worked to a greater or 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 287 

less extent in his own way. It is true that or- 
ganization was not unknown in such institutions. 
Nominally, at least, the assistants in a national ob- 
servatory were supposed to follow the instructions 
of a directing head. This was especially the case 
at Greenwich. StiU, great dependence was placed 
upon the judgment and ability of the observer 
himself, who was generally expected to be a man 
well trained in his specialty, and able to carry on 
good work without much help. From Airy's point 
of view, it was seen that a large part of the work 
necessary to the attainment of the traditional end 
of the Royal Observatory was of a kind that al- 
most any bright schoolboy coidd learn to do in a 
few weeks, and that in most of the remaining part 
plodding industry, properly directed, was more im- 
portant than scientific training. He could himself 
work out all the mathematical formulae and write 
all the instructions required to keep a small army 
of observers and computers employed, and could 
then train in his methods a few able lieutenants, 
who would see that all the details were properly 
executed. Under these lieutenants was a grade 
comprising men of sufficient technical education to 
enable them to learn how to point the telescope, 
record a transit, and perform the other technical 
operations necessary in an astronomical observa- 
tion. A third grade was that of computers : in- 
genious youth, quick at figures, ready to work for 
a compensation which an American laborer would 
despise, yet weU enough schooled to make simple 



288 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMEE 

calculations. Under the new system they needed 
to understand only the four rules of arithmetic ; 
indeed, so far as possible Airy arranged his calcu- 
lations in such a way that subtraction and division 
were rarely required. His boys had little more to 
do than add and multiply. Thus, so far as the 
doing of work was concerned, he introduced the 
same sort of improvement that our times have 
witnessed in great manufacturing establishments, 
where labor is so organized that unskilled men 
bring about results that formerly demanded a high 
grade of technical abUity. He introduced produc- 
tion on a large scale into astronomy. 

At the time of my visit, it was much the fashion 
among astronomers elsewhere to speak sUghtingly 
of the Greenwich system. The objections to it 
were, in substance, the same that have been made 
to the minute subdivision of labor. The intellect 
of the individual was stunted for the benefit of the 
work. The astronomer became a mere operative. 
Yet it must be admitted that the astronomical work 
done at Greenwich during the sixty years since 
Airy introduced his system has a value and an im- 
portance in its specialty that none done elsewhere 
can exceed. All future conclusions as to the laws 
of motion of the heavenly bodies must depend 
largely upon it. 

The organization of his little army necessarily 
involved a corresponding change in the instruments 
they were to use. Before his time the trained as- 
tronomer worked with instruments of very delicate 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 289 

construction, so that skill in handling them was 
one of the requisites of an observer. Airy made 
them in the likeness of heavy machinery, which 
could suffer no injury from a blow of the head of 
a careless observer. Strong and simple, they rarely 
got out of order. It is said that an assistant who 
showed a visiting astronomer the transit circle some- 
times hit it a good slap to show how soHd it was ; 
but this was not done on the present occasion. 
The little army had its weekly marching orders and 
made daily reports of progress to its commander, 
who was thus enabled to control the minutest de- 
tail of every movement. 

In the course of the evening Airy gave me a 
lesson in method, which was equally instructive and 
entertaining. In order to determine the longitude 
of Gibraltar, it was necessary that time signals 
should be sent by telegraph from the Royal Obser- 
vatory. Our conversation naturally led us into a 
discussion of the general subject of such operations. 
I told him of the difficulties we had experienced 
in determining a telegraphic longitude, — that of 
the Harvard Observatory from Washington, for 
example, — because it was only after a great deal 
of talking and arranging on the evening of the 
observation that the various telegraph stations be- 
tween the two points could have their connections 
successfully made at the same moment. At the 
appointed hour the Washington operator would be 
talking with the others, to know if they were ready, 
and so a general discussion about the arrangements 



290 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

might go on for half an hour before the connec- 
tions were all reported good. If we had such 
trouble in a land line, how should we get a con- 
nection from London to the Gibraltar cable through 
lines in constant use ? 

" But," said Airy, " I never allow an operator 
who can speak with the instruments to take part 
in determining a telegraphic longitude." 

" Then how can you get the connections all 
made from one end of the line to the other, at the 
same moment, if your operators cannot talk to one 
another ? " 

"Nothing is simpler. I fix in advance a mo- 
ment, say eight o'clock Greenwich mean time, at 
which signals are to commence. Every intermedi- 
ate office through which the signals are to pass is 
instructed to have its wires connected in both di- 
rections exactly at the given hour, and to leave 
them so connected for ten minutes, without asking 
any further instructions. At the end of the line 
the instruments must be prepared at the appointed 
hour to receive the signals. All I have to do here 
is to place my clock in the circuit and send on 
the signals for ten minutes, commencing at eight 
o'clock. They are recorded at the other end of 
the line without further trouble." 

" But have you never met with a failure to un- 
derstand the instructions ? " 

" No ; they are too simple to be mistaken, once 
it is understood that no one has anything to do 
but make his connections at the designated mo- 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 291 

ment, ■without asking whether any one else is 
ready." 

Airy was noted not less for his ability as an 
organizer than for his methodical habits. The 
care with which he preserved every record led Sir 
WiUiam Rowan Hamilton to say that when Airy 
wiped his pen on a blotter, he fancied him as al- 
ways taking a press copy of the mark. His ma- 
chinery seemed to work perfectly, whether it was 
constructed of flesh or of brass. He could pre- 
pare instructions for the most complicated piece of 
work with such effective provision against every 
accident and such completeness in every detail that 
the work would go on for years without further 
serious attention from him. The instruments 
which he designed half a century ago are mostly 
in use to this day, with scarcely an alteration. 

Yet there is some reason to fear that Airy car- 
ried method a little too far to get the best results. 
Of late years his system has been greatly changed, 
even at Greenwich. It was always questionable 
whether so rigid a military routine could accom- 
plish the best that was possible in astronomy ; and 
Airy himself, during his later years, modified his 
plan by trying to secure trained scientific men as 
his assistants, giving them liberty to combine in- 
dependent research, on their own account, with 
the work of the establishment. His successor has 
gone farther in the same direction, and is now 
gathering around him a corps of young university 
men, from whose ability much may be expected. 



292 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

Observations with the spectroscope have been pur- 
sued, and the observatory has taken a prominent 
part in the international work of making a photo- 
graphic map of the heavens. Of special impor- 
tance are the regidar discussions of photographs of 
the sun, taken in order to determine the law of 
the variation of the spots. The advantage of the 
regular system which has been followed for more 
than fifty years is seen in the meteorological obser- 
vations ; these disprove some theories of the rela- 
tion between the sun and the weather, in a way 
that no other set of meteorological records has 
done. While delicate determinations of the high- 
est precision, such as those made at Polkova, are 
not yet undertaken to any great extent, a regular 
even if slow improvement is going on in the gen- 
eral character of the observations and researches, 
which must bear fruit in due time. 

One of the curious facts we learned at Green- 
wich was that astronomy was still supposed to be 
astrology by many in England. That a belief in 
astrology should survive was perhaps not remark- 
able, though I do not remember to have seen any 
evidence of it in this country. But applications 
received at the Eoyal Observatory, from time to 
time, showed a widespread belief among the masses 
that one of the functions of the astronomer royal 
was the casting of horoscopes. 

We went to Edinburgh. Our first visit was to 
the observatory, then under the direction of Pro- 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 293 

fessor C. Piazzi Smyth, who was also an Egyptolo- 
gist of repute, having made careful measurements 
of the Pyramids, and brought out some new facts 
regarding their construction. He was thus led to 
the conclusion that they bore marks of having been 
built by a people of more advanced civilization 
than was generally supposed, — so advanced, in- 
deed, that we had not yet caught up to them in 
scientific investigation. These views were set forth 
with great fullness in his work on " The Antiquity 
of Intellectual Man," as well as in other volumes 
describing his researches. He maintained that the 
builders of the Pyramids knew the distance of the 
sun rather better than we did, and that the height 
of the Great Pyramid had been so arranged that if 
it was multiplied by a thousand millions we should 
get this distance more exactly than we could mea- 
sure it in these degenerate days. With him, to be- 
lieve in the Pyramid was to believe this, and a great 
deal more about the civilization which it proved. 
So, when he asked me whether I believed in the 
Pyramid, I told him that I did not think I would 
depend wholly upon the Pyramid for the distance 
of the sun to be used in astronomy, but should 
want its indications at least confirmed by modern 
researches. The hint was sufficient, and I was not 
further pressed for views on this subject. 

He introduced us to Lady Hamilton, widow of 
the celebrated philosopher, who still held court at 
Edinburgh. The daughter of the family was in 
repute as a metaphysician. This was interesting, 



294 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

because I had never before heard of a female 
metaphysician, although there were several cases of 
female mathematicians recorded in history. First 
among them was Donna Maria Agnesi, who wrote 
one of the best eighteenth-century books on the 
calculus, and had a special dispensation from the 
Pope to teach mathematics at Bologna. We were 
therefore very glad to accept an invitation from 
Lady Hamilton to spend an evening with a few 
of her friends. Her rooms were fairly filled with 
books, the legacy of one of whom it was said that 
" scarcely a thought has come down to us through 
the ages which he has not mastered and made his 
own." 

The few guests were mostly university people 
and philosophers. The most interesting of them 
was Professor Blackie, the Grecian scholar, who 
was the Uveliest little man of sixty I ever saw; 
amusing us by singing German songs, and dancing 
about the room Kke a sprightly child among its 
playmates. I talked with Miss Hamilton about 
Mill, whose " Examination of Sir William Hamilton's 
Philosophy " was still fresh in men's minds. Of 
course she did not beheve in this book, and said 
that Mill could not understand her father's philoso- 
phy. With all her intellect, she was a fine healthy- 
looking young lady, and it was a sad surprise, a 
few years later, to hear of her death. Madame 
Sophie Kovalevsky afterward appeared on the stage 
as the first female mathematician of our time, but 
it may be feared that the woman philosopher died 
with Miss Hamilton. 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 295 

A large party of English astronomers were go- 
ing to Algeria to observe the eclipse. The govern- 
ment had fitted up a naval transport for their use, 
and as I was arranging for a passage on a ship of 
the Peninsular and Oriental Line we received an in- 
vitation to become the guests of the English party. 
Among those on board were Professor Tyndall ; Mr. 
Huggins, the spectroscopist ; Sir Erastus Ommaney, 
a retired English admiral, and a fellow of the Eoyal 
Society ; Father Perry, S. J., a well-known astron- 
omer ; and Lieutenant Wharton, who afterward be- 
came hydrographer to the Admiralty. 

The sprightliest man on board was Professor 
Tyndall. He made up for the absence of moun- 
tains by climbing to every part of the ship he could 
reach. One day he. climbed the shrouds to the 
maintop, and stood surveying the scene as i£ look- 
ing out from the top of the Matterhorn. A sailor 
followed him, and drew a chalk-line around his 
feet. I assume the reader knows what this means ; 
if he does not, he can learn by straying into the 
sailors' quarters the first time he is on board an 
ocean steamer. But the professor absolutely re- 
fused to take the hint. 

We had a rather rough passage, from which 
Father Perry was the greatest sufferer. One day 
he heard a laugh from the only lady on board, who 
was in the adjoiaing stateroom. " Who can laugh 
at such a time as this ! " he exclaimed. He made 
a vow that he would never go on the ocean again, 
even if the sun and moon fought for a month. But 



296 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the VOWS of a seasick passenger are forgotten sooner 
than any others I know of ; and it was only f om- 
years later that Father Perry made a voyage to 
Kerguelen Island, in the stormiest ocean on the 
globe, to observe a transit of Venus. 

Off the coast of Spain, the leading chains of the 
rudder got loose, during a gale in the middle of 
the night, and the steering apparatus had to be 
disconnected in order to tighten them. The ship 
veered round into the trough of the sea, and rolled 
so heavily that a table, twenty or thirty feet long, 
in the saloon, broke from its fastenings, and began 
to dance around the cabin with such a racket that 
some of the passengers feared for the safety of the 
ship. 

Just how much of a storm there was I cannot 
say, believing that it is never worth while for a 
passenger to leave his berth, if there is any danger 
of a ship foundering in a gale. But in Professor 
Tyndall's opinion we had a narrow escape. On ar- 
riving at Gibraltar, he wrote a glowing account of 
the storm to the London Times, in which he de- 
scribed the feelings of a philosopher while standing 
on the stern of a rolling ship in an ocean storm, 
without quite knowing whether she was going to 
sink or swim. The letter was anonymous, which 
gave Admiral Ommaney an excellent opportunity 
to write as caustic a reply as he chose, undear the 
signature of " A Naval Officer." He said that 
sailor was fortunate who could arrange with the 
clerk of the weather never to have a worse storm 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 297 

in crossing the Bay of Biscay than the one we had 
experienced. 

We touched at Cadiz, and anchored for a few 
hours, but did not go ashore. The Brooklyn, an 
American man-of-war, was in the harbor, but there 
was no opportunity to communicate with her, though 
I knew a friend of mine was on board. 

Gibraltar is the greatest babel in the world, or, 
at least, the greatest I know. I wrote home : " The 
principal languages spoken at this hotel are Eng^ 
lish, Spanish, Moorish, French, Italian, German, 
and Danish. I do not know what languages they 
speak at the other hotels." Moorish and Spanish 
are the local tongues, and of course English is the 
official one ; but the traders and commercial travel- 
ers speak nearly every language one ever heard. 

I hired a Moor — who bore some title which in- 
dicated that he was a descendant of the Caliphs, 
and by which he had to be addressed — to do 
chores and act as general assistant. One of the 
first things I did, the morning after my arrival, was 
to choose a convenient point on one of the stone 
parapets for " taking the sun," in order to test the 
running of my chronometer. I had some suspicion 
as to the result, but was willing to be amused. A 
sentinel speedily informed me that no sights were 
allowed to be taken on the fortification. I told 
him I was taking sights on the sun, not on the 
fortification. But he was inexorable ; the rule was 
that no sights of any sort could be taken without 
a permit. I soon learned from Mr. Sprague, the 



298 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

American consul, who the proper officer was to 
issue the permit, which I was assured would be 
granted without the sKghtest difficulty. 

The consul presented me to the military gov- 
ernor of the place. General Sir Fenwick Williams 
of Kars. I did not know till long afterward that 
he was born very near where I was. He was a 
man whom it was very interesting to meet. His 
heroic defense of the town whose name was added 
to his own as a part of his title was still fresh in 
men's minds. It had won him the order of the 
Bath in England, the Grand Cross of the Legion 
of Honor and a sword from Napoleon HI., and the 
usual number of lesser distinctions. The military 
governor, the sole authority and viceroy of the 
Queen in the fortress, is treated with the deference 
due to an exalted personage ; but this deference so 
sti-engthens the dignity of the position that the 
holder may be frank and hearty at his own plea- 
sure, without danger of impairing it. Certainly, 
we found Sir Fenwick a most genial and charm- 
ing gentleman. The Alabama claims were then 
in their acute stage, and he expressed the earnest 
hope that the two nations would not proceed to 
cutting each other's throats over them. 

There was no need of troubling the governor with 
such a detail as that of a permit to take sights ; but 
the consul ventured to relate my experience of the 
morning. He took the information in a way which 
showed that England, in making him a general, 
had lost a good diplomatist. Instead of treating 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 299 

the matter seriously, which would have impHed 
that we did not fuUy understand the situation, he 
professed to be greatly amused, and said it reminded 
him of the case of an old lady in " Punch" who 
had to pass a surveyor in the street, behind a theo- 
dolite. " Please, sir, don't shoot till I get past," 
she begged. 

Before leaving England, I had made very elabo- 
ate arrangements, both with the Astronomer Royal 
and with the telegraph companies, to determine 
the longitude of Gibraltar by telegraphic signals. 
The most difificult part of the operation was the 
transfer of the signals from the end of the land 
line into the cable, which had to be done by hand, 
because the cable companies were not wilHng to 
trust to an automatic action of any sort between 
the land line and the cable. It was therefore 
necessary to show the operator at the point of 
junction how signals were to be transmitted. This 
required a journey to Port Curno, at the very end 
of the Land's End, several miles beyond the termi- 
nus of the railway. It was the most old-time place 
I ever saw; one might have imagined himself 
thrown back into the days of the Lancasters. The 
thatched inn had a hard stone floor, with a layer 
of loose sand scattered over it as a carpet in the 
bedroom. My linguistic qualities were put to a 
severe test in talking with the landlady. But the 
cable operators were pleasing and intelligent yoxmg 
gentlemen, and I had no difficulty in making them 
understand how the work was to be done. 



300 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

The manager of the cable was Sir James Ander- 
son, who had formerly commanded a Cunard steam- 
ship from Boston, and was weU known to the Har- 
vard professors, with whom he was a favorite. I 
had met him, or at least seen him, at a meeting 
of the American Academy ten years before, where 
he was introduced by one of his Harvard friends. 
After commanding the ship that laid the first Atlan- 
tic cable, he was made manager of the cable line 
from England to Gibraltar. He gave me a letter 
to the head operator at Gibraltar, the celebrated 
de Sauty. 

I say " the celebrated," but may it not be that 
this appellation can only suggest the vanity of all 
human greatness ? It just occurs to me that many 
of the present generation may not even have heard 
of the — 

Whispering Boanerges, son of silent thunder, 
Holding talk with nations, 

immortalized by Holmes in one of his humorously 
scientific poems. During the two short weeks that 
the first Atlantic cable transmitted its signals, his 
fame spread over the land, for the moment obscur- 
ing by its brilliancy that of Thomson, Field, and 
all others who had taken part in designing and lay- 
ing the cable. On the breaking down of the cable 
he lapsed into his former obscurity. I asked him 
if he had ever seen Holmes's production. He re- 
plied that he had received a copy of " The Atlantic 
Monthly " containing it from the poet himself, ac- 
companied by a note saying that he might find in 



SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND 301 

it something of interest. He had been overwhehned 
with invitations to continue his journey from New- 
foundland to the United States and lecture on the 
cable, but was sensible enough to decline them. 

The rest of the story of the telegraphic longi- 
tude is short. The first news which de Sauty had 
to give me was that the cable was broken, — just 
where, he did not know, and would not be able 
soon to discover. After the break was located, 
an unknoAvn period would be required to raise the 
cable, find the place, and repair the breach. The 
weather, on the day of the eclipse, was more than 
half cloudy, so that I did not succeed in making 
observations of such value as would justify my 
waiting indefinitely for the repair of the cable, and 
the project of determining the longitude had to be 
abandoned. 



XI 

MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 

We went from Gibraltar to Berlin in January 
by way of Italy. The Mediterranean is a charm- 
ing sea in summer, but in winter is a good deal 
like the Atlantic. The cause of the blueness of its 
water is not completely settled ; but its sharing this 
color with Lake Geneva, which is tinged with de- 
tritus from the shore, might lead one to ascribe it 
to substances held in solution. The color is notice- 
able even in the harbor of Malta, to which we had 
a pleasant though not very smooth passage of five 
days. 

Here was our first experience of an Italian town 
of a generation ago. I had no sooner started to 
take a walk than a so-called guide, who spoke what 
he thought was English, got on my track, and in- 
sisted on showing me everything. If I started to- 
ward a shop, he ran in before me, invited me in, 
asked what I would like to buy, and told the shop- 
man to show the gentleman something. I could 
not get rid of him till I returned to the hotel, and 
then he had the audacity to want a fee for his 
services. I do not think he got it. Everything 
of interest was easily seen, and we only stopped 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 303 

to take the first Italian steamer to Messina. We 
touched at Syracuse and Catania, but did not land. 

^tna, from the sea, is one of the grandest sights 
I ever saw. Its snow-covered cone seems to rise 
on all sides out of the sea or the plain, and to 
penetrate the blue sky. In this it gives an impres- 
sion like that of the Weisshorn seen from Eanda, 
but gains by its isolation. 

At Messina, of course, our steamer was visited by 
a commission naire, who asked me in good English 
whether I wanted a hotel. I told him that I had 
already decided upon a hotel, and therefore did 
not need his services. But it turned out that he 
belonged to the very hotel I was going to, and was 
withal an American, a native-born Yankee, in fact, 
and so obviously honest that I placed myself unre- 
servedly in his hands, — something which I never 
did with one of his profession before or since. 
He said the first thing was to get our baggage 
through the custom-house, which he could do with- 
out any trouble, at the cost of a franc. He was 
as good as his word. The Italian custom-house 
was marked by primitive rigor, and baggage was 
commonly subjected to a very thorough search. 
But my man was evidently well known and fully 
trusted. I was asked to raise the Ud of one trunk, 
which I did ; the official looked at it, with his hands 
in his pockets, gave a nod,. and the affair was over. 
My Yankee friend collected one franc for that part 
of the business. He told us all about the place, 
changed our money so as to take advantage of the 



304 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

premium on gold, and altogether looked out for 
our interests in a way to do honor to his tribe. I 
thought there might be some curious story of the 
way in which a New Englander of such qualities 
could have dropped into such a place, but it will 
have to be left to imagination. 

We reached the Bay of Naples in the morning 
twilight, after making an unsuccessful attempt to 
locate ScyUa and Charybdis. If they ever existed, 
they must have disappeared. Vesuvius was now 
and then lighting up the clouds with its intermit- 
tent flame. But we had passed a most uncomfort- 
able night, and the morning was wet and chilly. 
A view requires something more than the objective 
to make it appreciated, and the efEect of a rough 
voyage and bad weather was such as to deprive of 
all its beauty what is considered one of the finest 
views in the world. Moreover, the experience made 
me so ill-natured that I was determined that the 
custom-house officer at the landing should have no 
fee from me. The only article that could have 
been subject to duty was on top of everything in 
the trunk, except a single covering of some loose 
garment, so that only a touch was necessary to find 
it. When it came to the examination, the officer 
threw the top till contemptuously aside, and devoted 
himself to a thorough search of the bottom. The 
only imusual object he stumbled upon was a spy- 
glass inclosed in a shield of morocco. Perhaps a 
gesture and a remark on my part aroused his sus- 
picions. He opened the glass, tried to take it to 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 305 

pieces, inspected it inside and out, and was so dis- 
gusted with his failure to find anything contraband 
in it that he returned everything to the trunk, and 
let us off. 

It is commonly and quite justly supposed that 
the more familiar the traveler is with the language 
of the place he visits, the better he will get along. 
It is a common experience to find that even when 
you can pronounce the language, you cannot un- 
derstand what is said. But there are exceptions to 
all rules, and circumstances now and then occur 
in which one thus afflicted has an advantage over 
the native. You can talk to him, while he cannot 
talk to you. There was an amusing case of this 
kind at Munich. The only train that would take 
us to Berlin before nightfall of the same day 
left at eight o'clock in the morning, by a certain 
route. There was at Munich what we call a union 
station. I stopped at the first ticket-office where 
I saw the word "Berlin " on the glass, asked for a 
ticket good in the train that was going to leave at 
eight o'clock the next morning for Berlin, and took 
what the seller gave me. He was a stupid-looking 
fellow, so when I got to my hotel I showed the 
ticket to a friend. " That is not the ticket that 
you want at all," said he ; " it will take you by a 
circuitous route in a train that does not leave until 
after nine, and you will not reach Berlin until long 
after dark." I went directly back to the station 
and showed my ticket to the agent. 

"I — asked — you — for — a — ticket — good 



306 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

— in — the — train — which — leaves — at — 
eight — o' — clock. This — ticket — is — not 

— good — in — that — train. Sie — hahen — 
mich — betriigen. I — want — you — to — take 

— the — ticket — back — and — return — me — 
the — money. What — you — say — can — I — 
not — understand." 

He expostulated, gesticulated, and fumed, but I 
kept up the bombardment until he had to sur- 
render. He motioned to me to step round into the 
office, where he took the ticket and returned the 
money. I mention the matter because taking back 
a ticket is said to. be quite unusual on a German 
railway. 

At Berlin, the leading astronomers then, as now, 
were Forster, director of the observatory, and Au- 
wers, permanent secretary of the Academy of Sci- 
ences. I was especially interested in the latter, as 
we had started in life nearly at the same time, and 
had done much work on similar lines. It was sev- 
eral days before I made his acquaintance, as I did 
not know that the rule on the Continent is that the 
visitor must make the first call, or at least make it 
known by direct communication that he would be 
pleased to see the resident ; otherwise it is pre- 
sumed that he does not wish to see callers. This 
is certainly the more logical system, but it is not so 
agreeable to the visiting stranger as ours is. The 
art of making the latter feel at home is not brought 
to such perfection on the Continent as in England ; 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 307 

perhaps the French understand it less than any 
other people. But none can be pleasanter than 
the Germans, when you once make their acquaint- 
ance ; and we shall always remember with pleasure 
the winter we passed in Berlin. 

To-day, Auwers stands at the head of German 
astronomy. In him is seen the highest type of the 
scientific investigator of our time, one perhaps bet- 
ter developed in Germany than in any other coimtry. 
The work of men of this type is marked by minute 
and careful research, untiring industry in the accu- 
mulation of facts, caution in propounding new the- 
ories or explanations, and, above all, the absence of 
effort to gain recognition by being the first to make 
a discovery. When men are ambitious to figure 
as Newtons of some great principle, there is a con- 
stant temptation to publish unverified speculations 
which are likely rather to impede than to promote 
the advance of knowledge. The result of Auwers's 
conscientiousness is that, notwithstanding his em- 
inence in his science, there are few astronomers of 
note whose works are less fitted for popular expo- 
sition than his. His specialty has been the treat- 
ment of all questions concerning the positions and 
motions of the stars. This work has required ac- 
curate observations of position, with elaborate and 
careful investigations of a kind that ofEer no fea- 
ture to attract public attention, and only in excep- 
tional cases lead to conclusions that would interest 
the general reader. He considers no work as ready 
for publication until it is completed in every detail. 



308 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

The old astronomical observations of which I 
was in quest might well have been made by other 
astronomers than those of Paris, so while awaiting 
the end of the war I tried to make a thorough 
search of the writings of the mediaeval astronomers 
in the Royal Library. If one knew exactly what 
books he wanted, and had plenty of time at his 
disposal, he would find no difficulty in consulting 
them in any of the great Continental libraries. 
But at the time of my visit, notwithstanding the 
cordiality with which all the officials, from Pro- 
fessor Lepsius down, were disposed to second my 
efforts, the process of getting any required book 
was very elaborate. Although one could obtain a 
book on the same day he ordered it, if he went in 
good time, it was advisable to leave the order the 
day before, if possible. When, as in the present 
case, one book only suggests another, this a third, 
and so on, in an endless chain, the carrying on of 
an extended research is very tedious. 

One feature of the library strongly impressed 
me with the comparatively backward state of 
mathematical science in our own country. As is 
usual in the great European libraries, those books 
which are most consulted are placed in the general 
reading-room, where any one can have access to 
them, at any moment. It was surprising to see 
amongst these books a set of Crelle's " Journal of 
Mathematics," and to find it well worn by constant 
use. At that time, so far as I could learn, there 
were not more than two or three sets of the Journal 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 309 

in the United States ; and these were almost unused. 
Even the Library of Congress did not contain a set. 
There has been a great change since that time, — 
a change in which the Johns Hopkins University- 
took the lead, by inviting Sylvester to this country, 
and starting a mathematical school of the highest 
grade. Other universities followed its example to 
such an extent that, to-day, an American student 
need not leave his own country to hear a master in 
any branch of mathematics. 

I believe it was Dr. B. A. Gould who called the 
Pulkova Observatory the astronomical capital of the 
world. This institution was founded in 1839 by 
the Emperor Nicholas, on the initiative of his great- 
est astronomer. It is situated some twelve miles 
south of St. Petersburg, not far from the railway 
between that city and BerKn, and gets its name 
from a peasant village in the neighborhood. From 
its foundation it has taken the lead in exact mea- 
surements relating to the motion of the earth and 
the positions of the principal stars. An important 
part of its equipment is an astronomical library, 
which is perhaps the most complete in existence. 
This, added to all its other attractions, induced me 
to pay a visit to Pulkova. Otto Struve, the director, 
had been kind enough to send me a message, ex- 
pressing the hope that I would pay him a visit, and 
giving directions about telegraphing in advance, 
so as to insure the dehvery of the dispatch. The 
time from Berlin to St. Petersburg is about forty- 



310 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

eight hours, the only through train leaving and 
arriving in the evening. On the morning of the 
day that the train was due I sent the dispatch. 
Early in the afternoon, as the train was stopping 
at a way station, I saw an official running hastily 
from one car to another, looking into each with 
some concern. When he came to my door, he 
asked if I had sent a telegram to Estafetta. I 
told him I had. He then informed me that Esta- 
fetta had not received it. But the ti-ain was al- 
ready beginning to move, so there was no further 
chance to get information. The comical part of 
the matter was that " Estafetta " merely means a 
post or postman, and that the directions, as Struve 
had given them, were to have the dispatch sent by 
postman from the station to Pulkova. 

It was late in the evening when the train reached 
Zarsko-Selo, the railway station for Pulkova, 
which is about five miles away. The station-mas- 
ter told me that no carriage from Pulkova was 
waiting for me, which tended to confirm the fear 
that the dispatch had not been received. After 
making known my plight, I took a seat in the sta- 
tion and awaited the course of events, in some 
doubt what to do. Only a few minutes had elapsed 
when a good-looking peasant, well wrapped in a fur 
overcoat, with a whip in his hand, looked in at the 
door, and pronounced very distinctly the words, 
" Observatorio Pulkova." Ah ! this is Struve's 
driver at last, thought I, and I followed the man 
to the door. But when I looked at the conveyance, 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 311 

doubt once more supervened. It was scarcely more 
than a sledge, and was drawn by a single horse, evi- 
dently more familiar with hard work than good 
feeding. This did not seem exactly the vehicle 
that the great Bussian observatory would send out 
to meet a visitor ; yet it was a far country, and I 
was not acquainted with its customs. 

The way in which my doubt was dispelled shows 
that there is one subject besides love on which dif- 
ference of language is no bar to the communica- 
tion of ideas. This is the desire of the uncivilized 
man for a little coin of the realm. In South Af- 
rica, Zulu chiefs, who do not know one other word 
of English, can say " shiUing " with unmistakable 
distinctness. My Russian driver did not know 
even this little English word, but he knew enough 
of the universal language. When we had made a 
good start on the snow-covered prairie, he stopped 
his horse for a moment, looked round at me inquir- 
ingly, raised his hand, and stretched out two fin- 
gers so that I could see them against the starlit sky. 

I nodded assent. 

Then he drew his overcoat tightly around him 
with a gesture of shivering from the cold, beat his 
hands upon his breast as if to warm it, and again 
looked inquiringly at me. 

I nodded again. 

The bargain was complete. He was to have two 
rubles for the drive, and a little something to warm 
up his shivering breast. So he could not be 
Struve's man. 



312 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

There is no welcome warmer than a Russian one, 
and none in any country warmer than that which 
the visiting astronomer receives at an observa- 
tory. Great is the contrast between the winter 
sky of a clear moonless night and the interior of a 
dining-room, forty feet square, with a big blazing 
fire at one end and a table loaded with eatables in 
the middle. The fact that the visitor had never 
before met one of his hosts detracted nothing from 
the warmth of his reception. 

The organizer of the observatory, and its first di- 
rector, was Wilhelm Struve, father of the one who 
received me, and equally great as man and astrono- 
mer. Like many other good Russians, he was the 
father of a large family. One of his sons was for 
ten years the Russian minister at Washington, and 
as popular a diplomatist as ever lived among us. 
The instruments which Struve designed sixty years 
ago stiU do as fine work as any in the world ; but 
one may suspect this to be due more to the astro- 
nomers who handle them than to the instruments 
themselves. 

The air is remarkably clear ; the entrance to St. 
Petersburg, ten or twelve miles north, is distinctly 
visible, and Struve told me that during the Cri- 
mean war he could see, through the great telescope, 
the men on the decks of the British ships besieging 
Kronstadt, thirty miles away. 

One drawback from which the astronomers sufEer 
is the isolation of the place. The village at the 
foot of the little hill is inhabited only by peasants, 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 313 

and the astronomers and employees have nearly all 
to be housed in the observatory buildings. There 
is no society but their own nearer than the capital. 
At the time of my visit the scientific staff was 
almost entirely German or Swedish, by birth or lan- 
guage. In the state, two opposing parties are the 
Russian, which desires the ascendency of the native 
Muscovites, and the German, which appreciates the 
fact that the best and most valuable of the Tsar's 
subjects are of German or other foreign descent. 
During the past twenty years the Russian party 
has gradually got the upper hand ; and the result 
of this ascendency at Pulkova will be looked for 
with much solicitude by astronomers everywhere. 

Once a year the lonely life of the astronomers is 
enlivened by a grand feast — that of the Russian 
New Year. One object of the great dining-room 
which I have mentioned, the largest room, I be- 
heve, in the whole establishment, was to make this 
feast possible. My visit took place early in March, 
so that I did not see the celebration ; but from 
what I have heard, the little colony does what it 
can to make up for a year of ennui. Every twenty- 
five years it celebrates a jubilee ; the second came 
off in 1889. 

There is much to interest the visitor in a Rus- 
sian peasant village, and that of Pulkova has fea- 
tures some of which I have never seen described. 
Above the door of each log hut is the name of the 
occupant, and below the name is a rude picture of 
a bucket, hook, or some other piece of apparatus 



314 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

used in extinguishing fire. Inside, the furniture 
is certainly meagre enough, yet one could not see 
why the occupants should be otherwise than com- 
fortable. I know of no good reason why igno- 
rance should imply unhappiness ; altogether, there 
is some good room for believing that the less civil- 
ized races can enjoy themselves, in their own way, 
about as well as we can. What impressed me as 
the one serious hardship of the peasantry was their 
hours of labor. Just how many hours of the 
twenty-four these beings find for sleep was not 
clear to the visitor ; they seemed to be at work all 
day, and at midnight many of them had to start 
on their way to St. Petersburg with a cartload for 
the market. A church ornamented with tinsel is 
a feature of every Russian village ; so also are the 
priests. The only two I saw were sitting on a 
fence, wearing garments that did not give evidence 
of having known water since they were made. 
One great drawback to the growth of manufac- 
tures in Russia is the number of feast days, on 
which the native operators must one and all aban- 
don their work, regardless of consequences. 

The astronomical observations made at Pulkova 
are not published annually, as are those made at 
most of the other national observatories; but a 
volume relating to one subject is issued whenever 
the work is done. When I was there, the volumes 
containing the earlier meridian observations were 
in press. Struve and his chief assistant. Dr. 
Wagner, used to pore nightly over the proof sheets, 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 315 

bestowing on every word and detail a minute at- 
tention which less patient astronomers would have 
found extremely irksome. 

Dr. Wagner was a son-in-law of Hansen, the 
astronomer of the little ducal observatory at Gotha, 
as was also our Bayard Taylor. My first meeting 
with Hansen, which occurred after my return to 
Berlin, was accompanied with some trepidation. 
Modest as was the public position that he held, he 
may now fairly be considered the greatest master 
of celestial mechanics since Laplace. In what 
order Leverrier, Delaunay, Adams, and HiU should 
follow him, it is not necessary to decide. To many 
readers it will seem singular to place any name 
ahead of that of the master who pointed out the 
position of Neptune before a human eye had ever 
recognized it. But this achievement, great as it 
was, was more remarkable for its boldness and 
brilliancy than for its inherent difiiculty. If the 
work had to be done over again to-day, there are a 
number of young men who would be as successful 
as Leverrier; but there are none who would at- 
tempt to reinvent the methods of Hansen, or even 
to improve radically upon them. Their main fea- 
ture is the devising of new and refined methods of 
computing the variations in the motions of a planet 
produced by the attraction of all the other planets. 
As Laplace left this subject, the general character 
of these variations could be determined without 
difficulty, but the computations could not be made 
with mathematical exactness. Hansen's methods 



316 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

led to results so precise that, if they were fuUy 
carried out, it is doubtful whether any deviation 
between the predicted and the observed motions of 
a planet could be detected by the most refined 
observation. 

At the time of my visit Mrs. Wagner was suffer- 
ing from a severe illness, of which the crisis passed 
while I was at Pulkova, and left her, as was sup- 
posed, on the road to recovery. I was, of course, 
very desirous of meeting so famous a man as Han- 
sen. He was expected to preside at a session of the 
German commission on the transit of Venus, which 
was to be held in Berlin about the time of my re- 
turn thither from Pulkova. The opportunity was 
therefore open of bringing a message of good news 
from his daughter. Apart from this, the prospect 
of the meeting might have been embarrassing. The 
fact is that I was at odds with him on a scientific 
question, and he was a man who did not take a 
charitable view of those who differed from him in 
opinion. 

He was the author of a theory, current thirty or 
forty years ago, that the farther side of the moon is 
composed of denser materials than the side turned 
toward us. As a result of this, the centre of grav- 
ity of the moon was supposed to be farther from us 
than the actual centre of her globe. It followed 
that, although neither atmosphere nor water existed 
on our side of the moon, the other side might have 
both. Here was a very tempting field into which 
astronomical speculators stepped, to clothe the in- 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 317 

visible hemisphere of the moon with a beautiful ter- 
restrial landscape, and people it as densely as they 
pleased with beings like ourselves. If these beings 
should ever attempt to explore the other half of 
their own globe, they would find themselves ascend- 
ing to a height completely above the limits of their 
atmosphere. Hansen himself never countenanced 
such speculations as these, but confined his claims 
to the simple facts he supposed proven. 

In 1868 I had published a little paper showing 
what I thought a fatal defect, a vicious circle in 
fact, in Hansen's reasoning on this subject. Not 
long before my visit, Delaunay had made this paper 
the basis of a communication to the French Acad- 
emy of Sciences, in which he not only indorsed my 
views, but sought to show the extreme improbabil- 
ity of Hansen's theory on other grounds. 

When I first reached Germany, on my way from 
Italy, I noticed copies of a blue pamphlet lying on 
the tables of the astronomers. Apparently, the pa- 
per had been plentifully distributed ; but it was not 
until I reached BerHn that I found it was Hansen's 
defense against my strictures, — a defense in which 
mathematics were not unmixed with scathing sar- 
casm at the expense of both Delaunay and myself. 
The case brought to mind a warm discussion be- 
tween Hansen and Encke, in the pages of a scien- 
tific journal, some fifteen years before. At the time 
it had seemed intensely comical to see two enraged 
combatants — for so I amused myself by fancying 
them — hurling algebraic formulae, of frightful 



318 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

complexity, at each other's heads. I did not then 
dream that I should live to be an object of the same 
sort of attack, and that from Hansen himself. 

To be revised, pulled to pieces, or superseded, 
as science advances, is the common fate of most 
astronomical work, even the best. It does not 
follow that it has been done in vain ; if good, it 
forms a foundation on which others will build. 
But not every great investigator can look on with 
philosophic calm when he sees his work thus 
treated, and Hansen was among the last who could. 

Under these circumstances, it was a serious ques- 
tion what sort of reception Hansen would accord 
to a reviser of his conclusions who should venture 
to approach him. I determined to assume an atti- 
tude that would show no consciousness of offense, 
and was quite successful. Our meeting was not 
attended by any explosion ; I gave him the plea- 
sant message with which I was charged from his 
daughter, and, a few days later, sat by his side at 
a dinner of the German commission on the coming 
transit of Venus. 

As Hansen was Germany's greatest master in 
mathematical astronomy, so was the venerable 
Argelander in the observational side of the science. 
He was of the same age as the newly crowned 
Emperor, and the two were playmates at the time 
Germany was being overrun by the armies of Na^ 
poleon. He was held in love and respect by the 
entire generation of young astronomers, both Ger- 
mans and foreigners, many of whom were proud to 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 319 

have had him as their preceptor. Among these 
was Dr. B. A. Gould, who frequently related a 
story of the astronomer's wit. When with him as 
a student, Gould was beardless, but had a good 
head of hair. Eeturning some years later, he had 
become bald, but had made up for it by having a 
full, long beard. He entered Argelander's study 
unannounced. At first the astronomer did not 
recognize him. 

" Do you not know me, Herr Professor ? " 

The astronomer looked more closely. " Mine 
Gott ! It is Gould mit his hair struck through ! " 

Argelander was more than any one else the 
founder of that branch of his science which treats 
of variable stars. His methods have been followed 
by his successors to the present time. It was his 
policy to make the best use he could of the instru- 
ments at his disposal, rather than to invent new 
ones that might prove of doubtful utihty. The 
results of his work seem to justify this policy. 

We passed the last month of the winter in Ber- 
lin waiting for the war to close, so that we could 
visit Paris. Poor France had at length to suc- 
cumb, and in the latter part of March, we took 
almost the first train that passed the Unes. 

Delaunay was then director of the Paris Observa- 
tory, having succeeded Leverrier when the emperor 
petulantly removed the latter from his position. I 
had for some time kept up an occasional corre- 
spondence with Delaunay, and while in England, 
the autumn before, had forwarded a message to 



320 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

him, through the Prussian lines, by the good 
offices of the London legation and Mr. Washburn. 
He was therefore quite prepared for our arrival. 
The evacuation of a country by a hostile army is 
rather a slow process, so that the German troops 
were met everywhere on the road, even in France. 
They had left Paris just before we arrived ; but 
the French national army was not there, the Com- 
munists having taken possession of the city as fast 
as the Germans withdrew. As we passed out of 
the station, the first object to strike our eyes was 
a flaming poster addressed to " Citoyens," and 
containing one of the manifestoes which the Com- 
munist government was continually issuing. 

Of course we made an early call on Mr. Wash- 
burn. His career in Paris was one of the triumphs 
of diplomacy ; he had cared for the interests of 
German subjects in Paris in such a way as to earn 
the warm recognition both of the emperor and of 
Bismarck, and at the same time had kept on such 
good terms with the French as to be not less 
esteemed by them. He was surprised that we had 
chosen such a time to visit Paris ; but I told him 
the situation, the necessity of my early return 
home, and my desire to make a careful search in 
the records of the Paris Observatory for observa- 
tions made two centuries ago. He advised us to 
take up our quarters as near to the observatory as 
convenient, in order that we might not have to 
pass through the portions of the city which were 
likely to be the scenes of disturbance. 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 321 

We were received at the observatory with a 
warmth of welcome that might be expected to ac- 
company the greeting of the first foreign visitor, 
after a siege of six months. Yet a tinge of sad- 
ness in the meeting was unavoidable. Delaunay 
immediately began lamenting the condition of his 
poor ruined country, despoiled of two of its pro- 
vinces by a foreign foe, condemned to pay an enor- 
mous subsidy in addition, and now the scene of an 
internal conflict the end of which no one could 
foresee. 

While I was mousing among the old records of 
the Paris Observatory, the city was under the reign 
of the Commune and besieged by the national 
forces. The studies had to be made within hear- 
ing of the besieging guns ; and I could sometimes 
go to a window and see flashes of artillery from 
one of the fortifications to the south. Nearly every 
day I took a walk through the town, occasionally 
as far as the Arc de Triomphe. The story of the 
Commune has been so often written that I cannot 
hope to add anything to it, so far as the main 
course of events is concerned. Looking back on 
a sojourn at so interesting a period, one cannot 
but feel that a golden opportunity to make obser- 
vations of historic value was lost. The fact is, 
however, that I was prevented from making such 
observations not only by my complete absorption 
in my work, but by the consideration that, being 
in what might be described as a semi-official capa- 
city, I did not want to get into any difficulty that 



322 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

would have compromised the position of an official 
visitor. I should not deem what we saw worthy of 
special mention, were it not that it materially modi- 
fies the impressions commonly given by writers on 
the history of the Commune. What an historian 
says may be quite true, so far as it goes, and yet 
may be so far from the whole truth as to give the 
reader an incorrect impression of the actual course 
of events. The violence and disease which prevail 
in the most civilized country in the world may be 
described in such terms as to give the impression 
of a barbarous community. The murder of the 
Archbishop of Paris and of the hostages show how 
desperate were the men who had seized power, yet 
the acts of these men constitute but a small part of 
the history of Paris during that critical period. 

What one writes at the time is free from the 
suspicion that may attach to statements not re- 
corded till many years after the events to which 
they relate. The following extract from a letter 
which I wrote to a friend, the day after my arrival, 
may therefore be taken to show how things actu- 
ally looked to a spectator : — 

Deae Charlie, — Here we are, on this slumbering 
volcano. Perhaps you will hear of the burst-up long 
before you get this. We have seen historic objects 
which fall not to the lot of every generation, the bar- 
ricades of the Paris streets. As we were walking out 
this morning, the pavement along one side of the street 
was torn up for some distance, and used to build a tem- 
porary fort. Said fort would be quite strong against 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 323 

musketry or the bayonet ; but with heavy shot against 
it, I should think it would be far worse than nothing, 
for the flying stones would kill more than the balls. 

The streets are placarded at every turn with all sorts 
of inflammatory appeals, and general orders of the Co- 
mite Central or of the Commune. One of the first 
things I saw last night was a large placard beginning 
" Citoyens ! " Among the orders is one forbidding any 
one from placarding any orders of the Versailles gov- 
ernment under the severest penalties; and another 
threatening with instant dismissal any official who shall 
recognize any order issuing from the said government. 

I must do all hands the justice to say that they are 
all very well behaved. There is nothing like a mob 
anywhere, so far as I can find. I consulted my map 
this morning, right alongside the barricade and in full 
view of the builders, without being molested, and wife 
and I walked through the insurrectionary districts with- 
out being troubled or seeing the slightest symptoms of 
disturbance. The stores are all open, and every one seems 
to be buying and selling as usual. In all the cafes I 
have seen, the habitues seem to be drinking their wine 
just as coolly as if they had nothing unusual on their 
minds. 

From this date to that of our departure I saw 
nothing suggestive of violence within the limited 
range of my daily walks, which were mostly within 
the region including the Arc de Triomphe, the 
HStel de Ville, and the observatory ; the latter be- 
ing about half a mile south of the Luxembourg. 
The nearest approach to a mob that I ever noticed 
was a drill of young recruits of the National Guard, 
or a crowd in the court of the Louvre being ha- 



324 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

rangued by an orator. With due allowance for the 
excitability of the French nature, the crowd was 
comparatively as peaceable as that which we may 
see surrounding a gospel wagon in one of our own 
cities. A drill-ground for the recruits happened 
to be selected opposite our first lodgings, beside 
the gates of the Luxembourg. This was so dis- 
agreeable that we were glad to accept an invitation 
from Delaunay to be his guests at the observatory, 
during the remainder of our stay. We had not 
been there long before the spacious yard of the 
observatory was also used as a drill-ground ; and 
yet later, two or three men were given billets de 
logement upon the observatory ; but I should not 
have known of the latter occurrence, had not Delau- 
nay told me. I believe he bought the men off, 
much as one pays an organ-grinder to move on. 
In one of our walks we entered the barricade around 
the Hotel de ViUe, and were beginning to make a 
close examination of a mitrailleuse, when a soldier 
(beg his pardon, un citoyen membre de la Garde 
Nationale) warned us away from the weapon. The 
densest crowd of Communists was along the Eue 
de Rivoli and in the region of the Colonne Ven- 
dome, where some of the principal barricades were 
being erected. But even here, not only were the 
stores open as usual, but the military were doing 
their work in the midst of piles of trinkets exposed 
for sale on the pavement by the shopwomen. The 
order to destroy the Column was issued before we 
left, but not executed untU later. I have no rea- 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 325 

son to suppose that the shopwomen were any more 
concerned while the Column was being undermined 
than they were before. To complete the picture, 
not a policeman did we see in Paris ; in fact, I was 
told that one of the first acts of the Commune had 
been to drive the police away, so that not one 
dared to show himself. 

An interesting feature of the sad spectacle was 
the stream of proclamations poured forth by the 
Communist authorities. They comprised not only 
decrees, but sensational stories of victories over the 
Versailles troops, denunciations of the Versailles 
government, and even elaborate legal arguments, 
including a not intemperate discussion of the ethi- 
cal question whether citizens who were not adher- 
ents of the Commune should be entitled to the 
right of suffrage. The conclusion was that they 
should not. The lack of humor on the part of the 
authorities was shown by their commencing one of 
a rapid succession of battle stories with the words, 
" Citoyens ! Vous avez soif de la verite ! " The 
most amusing decree I noticed ran thus : — 

'* Article I. All conscription is abolished. 

" Article II. No troops shall hereafter be allowed 
in Paris, except the National Guard. ; 

" Article III. Every citizen is a member of the 
National Guard." 

We were in daily expectation and hope of the 
capture of the city, little imagining by what scenes 
it would be accompanied. It did not seem to my 
unmilitary eye that two or three batteries of artil- 



326 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

lery could have any trouble in demolishing all the 
defenses, since a wall of paving-stones, four or five 
feet high, could hardly resist solid shot, or prove 
anything but a source of destruction to those be- 
hind it if attacked by artillery. But the capture 
was not so easy a matter as I had supposed. 

We took leave of our friend and host on May 5, 
three weeks before the final catastrophe, of which 
he wrote me a graphic description. As the barri- 
cades were stormed by MacMahon, the Communist 
line of retreat was through the region of the obser- 
vatory. The walls of the building and of the yard 
were so massive that the place was occupied as a 
fort by the retreating forces, so that the situation 
of the few non-combatants who remained was ex- 
tremely critical. They were exposed to the fire 
of their friends, the national troops, from without, 
while enraged men were threatening their hves 
within. So hot was the fusillade that, going into 
the great dome after the battle, the astronomer 
could imagine all the constellations of the sky de- 
picted by the bullet-holes. When retreat became 
inevitable, the Communists tried to set the building 
on fire, but did not succeed. Then, in their des- 
peration, arrangements were made for blowing it 
up ; but the most violent man among them was 
killed by a providential bullet, as he was on the 
point of doing his work. The remainder fled, the 
place was speedily occupied by the national troops, 
and the observatory with its precious contents was 
saved. 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 327 

The Academy of Sciences had met regularly 
through the entire Prussian siege. The legal quo- 
rum heing three, this did not imply a large attend- 
ance. The reason humorously assigned for this 
number was that, on opening a session, the presid- 
ing officer must say, Messieurs, la stance est ou- 
verte, and he cannot say Messieurs unless there 
are at least two to address. At the time of my 
visit a score of members were in the city. Among 
them were Elie de Beaumont, the geologist ; Milne- 
Edwards, the zoologist ; and Chevreid, the chemist. 
I was surprised to learn that the latter was in his 
eighty-fifth year ; he seemed a man of seventy or 
less, mentally and physically. Yet we little thought 
that he would be the longest-Hved man of equal 
eminence that our age has known. When he died, 
in 1889, he was nearly one hundred and three years 
old. Born in 1786, he had lived through the whole 
French Revolution, and was seven years old at the 
time of the Terror. His scientific activity, from 
beginning to end, extended over some eighty years. 
When I saw him, he was still very indignant at a 
bombardment of the Jardin des Plantes by the 
German besiegers. He had made a formal state- 
ment of this outrage to the Academy of Sciences, 
in order that posterity might know what kind of 
men were besieging Paris. I suggested that the 
shells might have fallen in the place by accident ; 
but he maintained that it was not the case, and that 
the bombardment was intentional. 

The most execrated man in the scientific circle 



328 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTEONOMER 

at this time was Leverrier. He had left Paris he- 
fore the Prussian siege hegan, and had not returned. 
Delaunay assured me that this was a wise precau- 
tion on his part ; for had he ventured into the city 
he would have been mobbed, or the Communists 
would have killed him as soon as caught. Just why 
the mob should have been so incensed against one 
whose life was spent in the serenest fields of astro- 
nomical science was not fully explained. The fact 
that he had been a senator, and was politically ob- 
noxious, was looked on as an all-sufficient indict- 
ment. Even members of the Academy could not 
suppress their detestation of him. Their language 
seemed not to have words that would fully express 
their sense of his despicable meanness, not to say 
turpitude. 

Four years later I was again in Paris, and at- 
tended a meeting of the Academy of Sciences. 
In the course of the session a rustle of attention 
spread over the room, as all eyes were turned upon 
a member who was entering rather late. Looking 
toward the door, I saw a man of sixty, a decided 
blond, with light chestnut hair turning gray, slen- 
der form, shaven face, rather pale and thin, but 
very attractive, and extremely intellectual features. 
As he passed to his seat hands were stretched out 
on all sides to greet him, and not until he sat down 
did the bustle caused by his entrance subside. He 
was evidently a notable. 

" Who is that ? " I said to my neighbor. 

" Leverrier." 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 329 

Delaunay was one of the most kindly and at- 
tractive men I ever met. We spent our evenings 
walking in the grounds of the observatory, discuss- 
ing French science in all its aspects. His investi- 
gation of the moon's motion is one of the most 
extraordinary pieces of mathematical work ever 
turned out by a single person. It fills two quarto 
volumes, and the reader who attempts to go 
through any part of the calculations will wonder 
how one man could do the work in a lifetime. His 
habit was to commence early in the morning, and 
work with but little interruption until noon. He 
never worked in the evening, and generally retired 
at nine. I felt some qualms of conscience at the 
frequency with which I kept him up till nearly ten. 
I found it hopeless to expect that he would ever 
visit America, because he assured me that he did 
not dare to venture on the ocean. The only voy- 
age he had ever made was across the Channel, to 
receive the gold medal of the Eoyal Astronomi- 
cal Society for his work. Two of his relatives — 
his father and, I believe, his brother — had been 
drowned, and this fact gave him a horror of the 
water. He seemed to feel somewhat like the 
cUents of the astrologists, who, having been told 
from what agencies they were to die, took every 
precaution to avoid them. I remember, as a boy, 
reading a history of astrology, in which a great 
many cases of this sort were described ; the peculiar- 
ity being that the very measures which the victim 
took to avoid the decree of fate became the engines 



330 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

that executed it. The death of Delaunay was not 
exactly a case of this kind, yet it could not but bring 
it to mind. He was at Cherbourg in the autumn of 
1872. As he was walking on the beach with a 
relative, a couple of boatmen invited them to take a 
sail. Through what inducement Delaunay was led 
to forget his fears will never be known. All we 
know is that he and his friend entered the boat, 
that it was struck by a sudden squall when at some 
distance from the land, and that the whole party 
were drowned. 

There was no opposition to the reappointment of 
Leverrier to his old place. In fact, at the time of 
my visit, Delaunay said that President Thiers was 
on terms of intimate friendship with the former 
director, and he thought it not at all unUkely that 
the latter would succeed in being restored. He 
kept the position with general approval till his 
death in 1877. 

The only occasion on which I met Leverrier was 
after the incident I have mentioned, in the Acad- 
emy of Sciences. I had been told that he was 
incensed against me on account of an unfortunate 
remark I had made in speaking of his work which 
led to the discovery of Neptune. I had heard this 
in Germany as well as in France, yet the matter 
was so insignificant that I could hardly conceive of 
a man of philosophic mind taking any notice of it. 
I determined to meet him, as I had met Hansen, 
with entire unconsciousness of offense. So I called 
on him at the observatory, and was received with 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 331 

courtesy, but no particular warmth. I suggested 
to him that now, as he had nearly completed his 
work on the tables of the planets, the question of 
the moon's motion would be the next object worthy 
of his attention. He replied that it was too large 
a subject for him to take up. 

To Leverrier belongs the credit of having been 
the real organizer of the Paris Observatory. His 
work there was not dissimilar to that of Airy at 
Greenwich ; but he had a much more difficult task 
before him, and was less fitted to grapple with 
it. When founded by Louis XIV. the estabHsh- 
ment was simply a place where astronomers of the 
Academy of Sciences could go to make their ob- 
servations. There was no titular director, every 
man working on his own account and in his own 
way. Cassini, an Italian by birth, was the best 
known of the astronomers, and, in consequence, 
posterity has very generally supposed he was the 
director. That he failed to secure that honor was 
not from any want of astuteness. It is related that 
the monarch once visited the observatory to see a 
newly discovered comet through the telescope. He 
inquired in what direction the comet was going to 
move. This was a question it was impossible to an- 
swer at the moment, because both observations and 
computations would be necessary before the orbit 
coidd be worked out. But Cassini reflected that 
the king would not look at the comet again, and 
would very soon forget what was told him ; so he 
described its future path in the heavens quite at 



332 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

random, with entire confidence that any deviation 
of the actual motion from his prediction would 
never be noted by his royal patron. 

One of the results of this lack of organization 
has been that the Paris Observatory does not hold 
an historic rank correspondent to the magnificence 
of the establishment. The go-as-you-please system 
works no better in a national observatory than it 
would in a business institution. Up to the end of 
the last century, the observations made there were 
too irregular to be of any special importance. To 
remedy this state of things, Arago was appointed 
director early in the present century ; but he was 
more eminent in experimental physics than in as- 
tronomy, and had no great astronomical problem 
to solve. The result was that while he did much 
to promote the reputation of the observatory in 
the direction of physical investigation, he did not 
organize any well-planned system of regular astro- 
nomical work. 

When Leverrier succeeded Arago, in 1853, he 
had an extremely difi&cult problem before him. By 
a custom extending through two centuries, each 
astronomer was to a large extent the master of his 
own work. Leverrier undertook to change aU this 
in a twinkling, and, if reports are true, without 
much regard to the feehngs of the astronomers. 
Those who refused to fall into line either resigned 
or were driven away, and their places were filled 
with men willing to work under the direction of 
their chief. Yet his methods were not up to the 



MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE 333 

times ; and the work of the Paris Observatory, so 
far as observations of precision go, falls markedly 
behind that of Greenwich and Pulkova. 

In recent times the institution has been marked 
by an energy and a progressiveness that go far to 
atone for its former deficiencies. The successors 
of Leverrier have known where to draw the Hne 
between routine, on the one side, and initiative on 
the part of the assistants, on the other. Probably 
no other observatory in the world has so many able 
and well-trained young men, who work partly on 
their own account, and partly in a regular routine. 
In the direction of physical astronomy the observa- 
tory is especially active, and it may be expected in 
the future to justify its historic reputation. 



xn 

THE OUD AKD THE NEW WASHINGTON 

A FEW features of Washington as it appeared dur- 
ing the civil war are indelibly fixed in my memory. 
An endless train of army wagons ploughed its 
streets with their heavy wheels. Almost the entire 
southwestern region, between the War Department 
and the Potomac, extending west on the river to 
the neighborhood of the observatory, was occupied 
by the Quartermaster's and Subsistence Depart- 
ments for storehouses. Among these the astrono- 
mers had to walk by day and night, in going to and 
from their work. After a rain, especially during 
winter and spring, some of the streets were much 
like shallow canals. Under the attrition of the 
iron-bound wheels the water and clay were ground 
into mud, which was at first almost hquid. It grew 
thicker as it dried up, imtil perhaps another rain- 
storm reduced it once more to a liquid condition. 
In trying first one street and then another to see 
which offered the fewest obstacles to his passage, 
the wayfarer was reminded of the assurance given 
by a bright boy to a traveler who wanted to know 
the best road to a certain place : " Whichever road 
you take, before you get halfway there you 'U wish 
you had taken t' other." By night swarms of rats, 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 335 

of a size proportional to their ample food supply, 
disputed the right of way with the pedestrian. 

Across the Potomac, Arlington Heights were 
whitened by the tents of soldiers, from which the 
discharges of artillery or the sound of the fife and 
drum became so familiar that the dweller almost 
ceased to notice it. The city was defended by a row 
of earthworks, generally not far inside the boundary 
line of the District of Columbia, say five or six miles 
from the central portions of the city. One of the 
circumstances connected with their plans strikingly 
illustrates the exactness which the science or art of 
military engineering had reached. Of course the 
erection of fortifications was one of the first tasks 
to be undertaken by the War Department. Plans 
showing the proposed location and arrangements of 
the several forts were drawn up by aboard of army 
engineers, at whose head, then or afterward, stood 
General John G. Barnard. When the plans were 
complete, it was thought advisable to test them by 
calling in the advice of Professor D. H. Mahan of 
the Military Academy at West Point. He came to 
Washington, made a careful study of the maps and 
plans, and was then driven around the region of the 
lines to be defended to supplement his knowledge 
by personal inspection. Then he laid down his ideas 
as to the location of the forts. There were but two 
variations from the plans proposed by the Board of 
Engineers, and these were not of fundamental im- 
portance. 

Willard's Hotel, then the only considerable one 



336 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

in the neighborhood of the executive offices, was a 
sort of headquarters for arriving army officers, as 
well as for the thousands of civilians who had busi- 
ness with the government, and for gossip generally. 
Inside its crowded entrance one could hear every 
sort of story, of victory or disaster, generally the 
latter, though very little truth was ever to be 
gleaned. 

The newsboy flourished. He was a bright fellow 
too, and may have developed into a man of business, 
a reporter, or even an editor. "Another great bat- 
tle ! " was his constant cry. But the purchaser of 
his paper would commonly read of nothing but a 
skirmish or some fresh account of a battle fought 
several days before — perhaps not even this. On 
one occasion an officer in uniform, finding nothing 
in his paper to justify the cry, turned upon the boy 
with the remark, — 

" Look here, boy, I don't see any battle here." 

" No," was the reply, " nor you won't see one as 
long as you hang around Washington. If you 
want to see a battle you must go to the front." 

The officer thought it unprofitable to continue 
the conversation, and beat a retreat amid the smiles 
of the bystanders. This story, I may remark, is 
quite authentic, which is more than one can say of 
the report that a stick thrown by a boy at a dog 
in front of WHlard's Hotel struck twelve brigadier 
generals during its flight. 

The presiding genius of the whole was Mr. Edwin 
M. Stanton, Secretary of War. Before the actual 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 337 

outbreak of the conflict he had been, I believe, at 
least a Democrat, and, perhaps, to a certain extent, 
a Southern sympathizer so far as the slavery ques- 
tion was concerned. But when it came to blows, 
he espoused the side of the Union, and after being 
made Secretary of War he conducted military oper- 
ations with a tireless energy, which made him seem 
the impersonation of the god of war. Ordinarily 
his character seemed almost savage when he was 
dealing with military matters. He had no mercy 
on inefficiency or lukewarmness. But his sympa- 
thetic attention, when a case called for it, is strik- 
ingly shown in the following letter, of which I 
became possessed by mere accident. At the begin- 
ning of the war Mr. Charles EUet, an eminent engi- 
neer, then resident near Washington, tendered his 
services to the government, and equipped a fleet of 
small river steamers on the Mississippi under the War 
Department. In the battle of June 6, 1862, he re- 
ceived a wound from which he died some two weeks 
later. His widow sold or leased his house on George- 
town Heights, and I boarded in it shortly afterward. 
Amongst some loose rubbish and old papers lying 
around in one of the rooms I picked up the letter 
which follows. 

Wab Department, 
Washington City, D. C, June 9, 1862. 

Dear Madam, — I understand from Mr. EUet's dis- 
patch to you that as he will be unfit for duty for some 
time it will be agreeable to him for you to visit him, tra- 
veling slowly so as not to expose your own health. 

With this view I will afford you every facility within 



338 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the control of the Department, by way of Pittsburg and 
Cincinnati to Cairo, where he will probably meet you. 
Yours truly, 

Edwin M. Stanton, 

Secretary of War. 

The interesting feature of this letter is that it 
is entirely in the writer's autograph, and bears no 
mark of having been press copied. I infer that it 
was written out of office hours, after all the clerks 
had left the Department, perhaps late at night, 
while the secretary was taking advantage of the 
stillness of the hour to examine papers and plans. 

Only once did I come into personal contact with 
Mr. Stanton. A portrait of Ferdinand R. Hassler, 
first superintendent of the Coast Survey, had been 
painted about 1840 by Captain Williams of the 
Corps of Engineers, U. S. A., a son-in-law of Mr. 
G. W. P. Custis, and therefore a brother-in-law of 
General Lee. The picture at the Arlington house 
was given to Mrs. Colonel Abert, who loaned it to 
Mr. Custis. When the civil war began she verbally 
donated it to my wife, who was Mr. Hassler's grand- 
daughter, and was therefore considered the most 
appropriate depositary of it, asking her to get it if 
she could. But before she got actual possession 
of it, the Arlington house was occupied by our 
troops and Mr. Stanton ordered the picture to be 
presented to Professor Agassiz for the National 
Academy of Sciences. On hearing of this, I ven- 
tured to mention the matter to Mr. Stanton, with 
a brief statement of our claims upon the picture. 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 339 

" Sir," said he, " that picture was found In the 
house of a rebel in arms [General Eobert E. Lee], 
and was justly a prize of war. I therefore made 
what I considered the most appropriate disposition 
of it, by presenting it to the National Academy of 
Sciences." 

The expression " house of a rebel in arms " was 
uttered with such emphasis that I almost felt like 
one under suspicion of relations with the enemy 
in pretending to claim the object in question. It 
was clearly useless to pursue the matter any fur- 
ther at that time. Some years later, when the 
laws were no longer silent, the National Academy 
decided that whoever might be the legal owner 
of the picture, the Academy could have no claim 
upon it, and therefore suffered it to pass into the 
possession of the only claimant. 

Among the notable episodes of the civil war was 
the so-called raid of the Confederate general. Early, 
in July, 1864. He had entered Maryland and de- 
feated General Lew Wallace. This left nothing 
but the well-designed earthworks around Washing- 
ton between his army and our capital. Some have 
thought that, had he immediately made a rapid 
dash, the city might have fallen into his hands. 

All in the service of the War and Navy depart- 
ments who were supposed capable of rendering 
efficient help, were ordered out to take part in the 
defense of the city, among them the younger pro- 
fessors of the observatory. By order of Captain 
Gilliss I became a member of a naval brigade, 



340 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

organized in the most hurried manner by Admiral 
Goldsborough, and including in it several officers 
of high and low rank. The rank and file was 
formed of the workmen in the Navy Yard, most 
of whom were said to have seen military service of 
one kind or another. The brigade formed at the 
Navy Yard about the middle of the afternoon, and 
was ordered to march out to Fort Lincoln, a strong 
earthwork built on a prominent hill, half a mile 
southwest of the station now known as Rives. 
The Reform School of the District of Columbia 
now stands on the site of the fort. The position 
certainly looked very strong. On the right the 
fort was flanked by a deep intrenchment running 
along the brow of the hill, and the whole line 
would include in the sweep of its fire the region 
which an army would have to cross in order to 
enter the city. The naval brigade occupied the 
trench, while the army force, which seemed very 
small in numbers, manned the front. 

I was not assigned to any particular duty, and 
simply walked round the place in readiness to act 
whenever called upon. I supposed the first thing 
to be done was to have the men in the trench 
go through some sort of drill, in order to assure 
their directing the most efEective fire on the en- 
emy should he appear. The trench was perhaps 
six feet deep ; along its bottom ran a little ledge 
on which the men had to step in order to deliver 
their fire, stepping back into the lower depth to 
load again. Along the edge was a sort of rail 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 341 

fence, the bottom rail of which rested on the 
ground. In order to fire on an enemy coming 
up the hill, it would be necessary to rest the weapon 
on this bottom rail. It was quite evident to me 
that a man not above the usual height, standing 
on the ledge, would have to stand on tiptoe in 
order to get the muzzle of his gun properly directed 
down the slope. If he were at all flurried he would 
be likely to fire over the head of the enemy. I 
called attention to this state of things, but did not 
seem to make any impression on the officers, who 
replied that the men had seen service and knew 
what to do. 

We bivouacked that night, and remained all the 
next day and the night following awaiting the 
attack of the enemy, who was supposed to be ap- 
proaching Fort Stevens on the Seventh Street road. 
At the critical moment. General H. G. Wright 
arrived from Fort Monroe with his army corps. 
He and General A. McD. McCook both took their 
stations at Fort Lincoln, which it was supposed 
would be the point of attack. A quarter or half 
a mile down the hill was the mansion of the Eives 
family, which a passenger on the Baltimore and 
Ohio Eailway can readily see at the station of that 
name. A squad of men was detailed to go to this 
house and destroy it, in case the enemy should 
appear. The attack was expected at daybreak, but 
General Early, doubtless hearing of the arrival of re- 
inforcements, abandoned any project he might have 
entertained and had beat a retreat the day before. 



342 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Whether the supposition that he could have taken 
the city with great celerity has any foundation, I 
cannot say ; I should certainly greatly doubt it, 
remembering the large loss of life generally suffered 
during the civil war by troops trying to storm in- 
trenchments or defenses of any sort, even with 
greatly superior force. 

I was surprised to find how quickly one could 
acquire the stolidity of the soldier. During the 
march from the Navy Yard to. the fort I felt ex- 
tremely depressed, as one can well imagine, in view 
of the suddenness with which I had to take leave 
of my family and the uncertainty of the situation, 
as well as its extreme gravity. But this depression 
wore off the next day, and I do not think I ever had 
a sounder night's sleep in my life than when I lay 
down on the grass, with only a blanket between 
myself and the sky, with the expectation of being 
awakened by the rattle of musketry at daybreak. 

I remember well how kindly we were treated by 
the army. The acquaintance of Generals Wright 
and McCook, made under such circumstances, was 
productive of a feeling which has never worn off. 
It has always been a matter of sorrow to me that 
the Washington of to-day does not show a more 
lively consciousness of what it owes to these men. 

One of the entertainments of Washington dur- 
ing the early years of the civil war was offered 
by President Lincoln's pubhc receptions. We used 
to go there simply to see the people and the cos- 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 343 

tmnes, the latter being of a variety which I do not 
think was ever known on such occasions before or 
since. Well-dressed and refined ladies and gentle- 
men, men in their working clothes, women arrayed 
in costumes fanciful in cut and brilliant in color, 
mixed together in a way that suggested a con- 
vention of the human race. Just where the oddly 
dressed people came from, or what notion took 
them at this particular time to don an attire like 
that of a fancy-dress ball, no one seemed to know. 
Among the never-to-be-forgotten scenes was that 
following the news of the fall of Richmond. If I 
described it from memory, a question would per- 
haps arise in the reader's mind as to how much 
fancy might have added to the picture in the 
course of nearly forty years. I shall therefore 
quote a letter written to Chauncey Wright imme- 
diately afterwards, of which I preserved a press 
copy. 

Observatory, April 7, 1865. 

Deab Weight, — Yours of the 5th just received. I 
heartily reciprocate your congratulations on the fall of 
Richmond and the prospective disappearance of the 
S. C. alias C. S. 

You ought to have been here Monday. The obser- 
vatory is half a mile to a mile from the thickly settled 
part of the city. At 11 A. M. we were put upon the qui 
vive by an unprecedented commotion in the city. From 
the barracks near us rose a continuous stream of cheers, 
and in the city was a hubbub such as we had never be- 
fore heard. We thought it must be Petersburg or Rich- 
mond, but hardly dared to hope which. Miss Gilliss 



344 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

sent us word that it was really Richmond. I went 
down to the city. All the bedlams in creation broken 
loose could not have made such a scene. The stores 
were half closed, the clerks given a holiday, the streets 
crowded, every other man drunk, and drums were beat- 
ing and men shouting and flags waving in every direc- 
tion. I never felt prouder of my country than then, as 
I compared our present position with our position in the 
numerous dark days of the contest, and was almost 
ashamed to think that I had ever said that any act of the 
government was not the best possible. 

Not many days after this outburst, the city was 
pervaded by an equally intense and yet deeper feel- 
ing of an opposite kind. Probably no event in its 
history caused such a wave of sadness and sym- 
pathy as the assassination of President Lincoln, 
especially during the few days while bands of men 
were scouring the country in search of the assassin. 
One could not walk the streets vdthout seeing evi- 
dence of this at every turn. The sHghtest bustle, 
perhaps even the running away of a dog, caused a 
tremor. 

I paid one short visit to the military court which 
was trying the conspirators. The court itself was 
listening with silence and gravity to the reading of 
the testimony taken on the day previous. General 
Wallace produced on the spectators an impression 
a little different from the other members, by exhib- 
iting an artistic propensity, which subsequently 
took a different direction in " Ben Hur." The most 
impressive sight was that of the conspirators, all 
heavily manacled ; even Mrs. Surratt, who kept her 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 345 

irons partly concealed in the folds of her gown. 
Payne, the would-he assassin of Seward, was a 
powerful-looking man, with a face that showed him 
ready for anything ; but the other two conspirators 
were such simple-minded, mild-looking youths, that 
it seemed hardly possible they could have been ac- 
tive agents in such a crime, or capable of any pro- 
ceeding requiring physical or mental force. 

The impression which I gained at the time from 
the evidence and all the circumstances, was that the 
purpose of the original plot was not the assassina- 
tion of the President, but his abduction and trans- 
portation to Richmond or some other point within 
the Confederate lines. While Booth himself may 
have meditated assassination from the beginning, 
it does not seem likely that he made this purpose 
known to his fellows until they were ready to act. 
Then Payne alone had the courage to attempt the 
execution of the programme. 

Two facts show that a military court, sitting 
under such circumstances, must not be expected to 
reach exactly the verdict that a jury would after 
the public excitement had died away. Among the 
prisoners was the man whose business it was to 
assist in arranging the scenery on the stage of the 
theatre where the assassination occurred. The only 
evidence against him was that he had not taken 
advantage of his opportunity to arrest Booth as 
the latter was leaving, and for this he was sen- 
tenced to twenty years penal servitude. He was 
pardoned out before a great while. 



346 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

The other circumstance was the arrest of Sur- 
ratt, who was supposed to stand next to Booth in 
the conspiracy, hut who escaped from the country 
and was not discovered until a year or so later, 
when he was found to have enlisted in the papal 
guards at Eome. He was brought home and tried 
twice. On the first trial, notwithstanding the ad- 
verse rulings and charge of the judge, only a mi- 
nority of the jury were convinced of his guilt. On 
the second trial he was, I think, acquitted. 

One aftermath of the civil war was the influx 
of crowds of the newly freed slaves to Washington, 
in search of food and shelter. With a little train- 
ing they made fair servants if only their pilfering 
propensities could be restrained. But religious 
fervor did not ensure obedience to the eighth com- 
mandment. "The good Lord ain't goin' to be 
hard on a poor darky just for takin' a chicken 
now and then," said a wench to a preacher who 
had asked her how she could reconcile her reh- 
gion with her indifference as to the ownership of 
poultry. 

In the seventies I had an eight-year-old boy as 
help in my family. He had that beauty of face 
very common in young negroes who have an ad- 
mixture of white blood, added to which were eyes 
of such depth and clearness that, but for his color, 
he would have made a first-class angel for a medi- 
aeval painter. 

One evening my Kttle daughters had a chil- 
dren's party, and Zeke was placed as attendant in 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 347 

charge of the room in which the little company 
met. Here he was for some time left alone. Next 
morning a gold pen was missing from its case in a 
drawer. Suspicion rested on Zeke as the only per- 
son who could possibly have taken it, but there was 
no positive proof. I thought so small and inno- 
cent-looking a boy could be easily cowed into con- 
fessing his guilt ; so next morning I said to him 
very solemnly, — 

" Zeke, come upstairs with me." 

He obeyed with alacrity, following me up to the 
room. 

" Zeke, come into this room." 

He did so. 

"Now, Zeke," I said sternly, "look here and see 
what I do." 

I opened the drawer, took out the empty case, 
opened it, and showed it to him. 

" Zeke, look into my eyes ! " 

He neither blinked nor showed the slightest 
abashment or hesitation as his soft eyes looked 
steadily into mine with all the innocence of an 
angel. 

"Zeke, where is the pen out of that case?" 

" Missr Newcomb," he said quietly, " I don't 
know nothin' about it." 

I repeated the question, looking into his face as 
sternly as I could. As he repeated the answer with 
the innocence of childhood, " Deed, Missr Newcomb, 
I don't know what was in it," I felt almost like a 
brute in pressing him with such severity. Threats 



348 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

■were of no avail, and I had to give the matter up 
as a failure. 

On coming home in the afternoon, the first news 
■was that the pen had been found by Zeke's mother 
hidden in one corner of her room at home, where 
the httle thief had taken it. She, being an honest 
woman, and suspecting where it had come from, 
had brought it back. 

There was a vigorous movement, having its 
origin in New England, for the education of the 
freedmen. This movement was animated by the 
most philanthropic views. Here were several mil- 
lions of blacks of all ages, suddenly made citizens, 
or eKgible to citizenship, and yet savage so far as 
any education was concerned. A small army of 
teachers, many, perhaps most of them, young wo- 
men, were sent south to organize schools for the 
blacks. It may be feared that there was little 
adaptation of the teaching to the circumstances of 
the case. But one method of instruction widely 
adopted was, so far as I can learn, quite unique. 
It was the " loud method " of teaching reading 
and spelling. The whole school spelled in unison. 
The passer-by on the street would hear in chorus 
from the inside of the building, "b-e-e-a-d — 
BREAD ! " all at the top of the voice of the speak- 
ers. Schools in which this method was adopted 
were known as " loud schools." 

A queer result of this movement once fell under 
my notice. I called at a friend's house in George- 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 349 

town. In the course of the conversation, it came 
out that the sable youngster who opened the door 
for me filled the double office of scullion to the 
household and tutor in Latin to the Uttle boy of 
the family. 

Probably the Senate of the United States never 
had a member more conscientious in the discharge 
of his duties than Charles Sumner. He went little 
into society outside the circles of the diplomatic 
corps, with which his position as chairman of the 
Foreign Affairs Committee placed him in intimate 
relations. My acquaintance with him arose from 
the accident of his living for some time almost 
opposite me. I was making a study of some his- 
toric subject, pertaining to the feeHng in South 
Carolina before the civil war, and called at his 
rooms to see if he would favor me with the loan 
of a book, which I was sure he possessed. He re- 
ceived me so pleasantly that I was, for some time, 
an occasional visitor. He kept bachelor quarters 
on a second floor, lived quite alone, and was acces- 
sible to all comers without the sHghtest ceremony. 

One day, while I was talking with him, shortly 
after the surrender of Lee, a young man in the 
garb of a soldier, evidently fresh from the field, 
was shown into the room by the housemaid, un- 
announced, as usual. Very naturally, he was timid 
and diffident in approaching so great a man, and 
the latter showed no disposition to say anything 
that would reassure him. He ventured to tell the 



350 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

senator that he had come to see if he could recom- 
mend him for some pubKc employment. I shall 
never forget the tone of the reply. 

" But / do not know y(m" The poor fellow 
was completely dumfounded, and tried to make 
some excuses, but the only reply he got was, " I 
cannot do it ; I do not know you at aU." The 
visitor had nothing to do but turn round and 
leave. 

At the time I felt some sympathy with the poor 
feUow. He had probably come, thinking that the 
great philanthropist was quite ready to become a 
friend to a Union soldier without much inquiry 
into his personality and antecedents, and now he 
met with a stinging rebuff. But it must be con- 
fessed that subsequent experience has diminished 
my sympathy for him, and probably it would be 
better for the country i£ the innovation were intro- 
duced of having every senator of the United States 
dispose of such callers in the same way. 

Foreign men of letters, with whom Sumner's 
acquaintance was very wide, were always among his 
most valued guests. A story is told of Thackeray's 
visit to Washington, which I distrust only for the 
reason that my ideas of Sumner's make-up do not 
assign him the special kind of humor which the story 
brings out. He was, however, quoted as saying, 
" Thackeray is one of the most perfect gentlemen 
I ever knew. I had a striking illustration of that 
this morning. We went out for a walk together 
and, thoughtlessly, I took him through Lafayette 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 351 

Square. Shortly after we entered it, I realized 
with alarm that we were going directly toward the 
Jackson statue. It was too late to retrace our 
steps, and I wondered what Thackeray would say 
when he saw the object. But he passed straight 
by without seeming to see it at all, and did not say 
one word about it." 

Sumner was the one man in the Senate whose 
seat was scarcely ever vacant during a session. He 
gave the closest attention to every subject as it 
arose. One instance of this is quite in the line of 
the present book. About 1867, an association was 
organized in Washington under the name of the 
" American Union Academy of Literature, Science, 
and Art." Its projectors were known to few, or 
none, but themselves. A number of prominent 
citizens in various walks of life had been asked to 
join it, and several consented without knowing 
much about the association. It soon became evi- 
dent that the academy was desirous of securing as 
much publicity as possible through the newspapers 
and elsewhere. It was reported that the Secretary 
of the Treasury had asked its opinion on some 
instrument or appliance connected with the work 
of his department. Congress was applied to for 
an act of incorporation, recognizing it as a scien- 
tific adviser of the government by providing that 
it should report on subjects submitted to it by the 
governmental departments, the intent evidently 
being that it shoidd supplant the National Acad- 
emy of Sciences. 



352 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

The application to Congress satisfied the two 
requirements most essential to favorable considera- 
tion. These are that several respectable citizens 
"want something done, and that there is no one 
to come forward and say that he does not want 
it done. Such being the case, the act passed the 
House of Representatives without opposition, came 
to the Senate, and was referred to the appropriate 
committee, that on education, I beUeve. It was 
favorably reported from the committee and placed 
on its passage. Up to this point no objection 
seems to have been made to it in any quarter. 
Now, it was challenged by Mr. Sumner. 

The ground taken by the Massachusetts sena- 
tor was comprehensive and simple, though possibly 
somewhat novel. It was, in substance, that an 
academy of literature, science, and art, national in 
its character, and incorporated by special act of 
Congress, ought to be composed of men eminent 
in the branches to which the academy related. He 
thought a body of men consisting very largely of 
local lawyers, with scarcely a man of prominence 
in either of the three branches to which the acad- 
emy was devoted, was not the one that should 
receive such sanction from the national legisla- 
ture. 

Mr. J. W. Patterson, of New Hampshire, was 
the principal advocate of the measure. He claimed 
that the proposed incorporators were not all un- 
scientific men, and cited as a single example the 
name of 0. M. Poe, which appeared among them. 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 353 

This man, he said, was a very distinguished meteor- 
ologist. 

This example was rather unfortunate. The fact 
is, the name in question was that of a well-known 
officer of engineers in the army, then on duty at 
Washington, who had been iuvited to join the 
academy, and had consented out of good nature 
without, it seems, much if any inquiry. It hap- 
pened that Senator Patterson had, some time dur- 
ing the winter, made the acquaintance of a West 
Indian meteorologist named Poey, who chanced to 
be spending some time in Washington, and got 
him mixed up with the officer of engineers. The 
senator also intimated that the gentleman from 
Massachusetts had been approached on the subject 
and was acting under the influence of others. This 
suggestion Mr. Sumner repelled, stating that no 
one had spoken to him on the subject, that he 
knew nothing of it until he saw the bill before 
them, which seemed to him to be objectionable for 
the very reasons set forth. On his motion the bill 
was laid on the table, and thus disposed of for 
good. The academy held meetings for some time 
after this failure, but soon disappeared from view, 
and was never again heard of. 

In the year 1862, a fine-looking young general 
from the West became a boarder in the house 
where I lived, and sat opposite me at table. His 
name was James A. Garfield. I believe he had 
come to Washington as a member of the court in 



354 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AK ASTRONOMER 

the case of General Fitz John Porter. He left 
after a short time and had, I supposed, quite for- 
gotten me. But, after his election to Congress, he 
one evening visited the observatory, stepped into 
my room, and recalled our former acquaintance. 

I soon found him to be a man of classical cul- 
ture, refined tastes, and unsurpassed eloquence, — 
altogether, one of the most attractive of men. On 
one occasion he told me one of his experiences in 
the State legislature of Ohio, of which he was a 
member before the civil war. A biU was before 
the House enacting certain provisions respecting a 
depository. He moved, as an amendment, to strike 
out the word " depository " and insert " deposi- 
tary." Supposing the amendment to be merely 
one of spelling, there was a general laugh over the 
house, with a cry of " Here comes the schoolmas- 
ter ! " But he insisted on his point, and sent for a 
copy of Webster's Dictionary in order that the two 
words might be compared. When the definitions 
were read, the importance of right spelling became 
evident, and the laughing stopped. 

It has always seemed to me that a rank injus- 
tice was done to Garfield on the occasion of the 
Credit Mobilier scandal of 1873, which came near 
costing him his position in public life. The evi- 
dence was of so indefinite and flimsy a nature that 
the credence given to the conclusion from it can 
only illustrate how little a subject or a document is 
exposed to searching analysis outside the precincts 
of a law court. When he was nominated for the 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 356 

presidency this scandal was naturally raked up 
and much made of it. I was so strongly impressed 
with the injustice as to write for a New York 
newspaper, anonymously of course, a careful analy- 
sis of the evidence, with a demonstration of its 
total weakness. Whether the article was widely 
circulated, or whether Garfield ever heard of it, I 
do not know ; but it was amusing, a few days after 
it appeared, to see a paragraph in an opposition 
paper claiming that its contemporary had gone to 
the trouble of hiring a lawyer to defend Garfield. 

No man better qualified as a legislator ever oc- 
cupied a seat in Congress. A man cast in the 
largest mould, and incapable of a petty sentiment, 
his grasp of public affairs was rarely equaled, and 
his insight into the effects of legislation was of the 
deepest. But on what the author of the Autocrat 
calls the arithmetical side, — in the power of judg- 
ing particular men and not general principles ; in 
deciding who were the good men and who were 
not, he fell short of the ideal suggested by his leg- 
islative career. The brief months during which 
he administered the highest of offices were stormy 
enough, perhaps stormier than any president be- 
fore him had ever experienced, and they would 
probably have been outdone by the years following, 
had he lived. But I believe that, had he remained 
in the Senate, his name would have gone into his- 
tory among those of the greatest of legislators. 

Sixteen years after the death of Lincoln public 
feeling was again moved to its depth by the assas- 



356 THE EEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

sination of Garfield. The cry seemed to pass from 
mouth to mouth through the streets faster than a 
messenger could carry the news, " The President 
has been shot." It chanced to reach me just as I 
was entering my office. I at once summoned my 
messenger and directed him to go over to the 
White House, and see if anything unusual had 
happened, but gave him no intimation of my fears. 
He promptly returned with the confirmation of the 
report. The following are extracts from my jour- 
nal at the time : — 

" July 2, Saturday : At 9.20 this morning President 
Garfield was shot by a miserable fellow named Guiteau, 
as he was passing through the Baltimore and Potomac 
E. R. station to leave Washington. One ball went 
through the upper arm, making a flesh wound, the other 
entered the right side on the back and cannot be found ; 
supposed to have lodged in the liver. In the course of 
the day President rapidly weakened, and supposed to be 
dying from hemorrhage." 

" Sunday morning : President stiU living and rallied 
during the day. Small chance of recovery. At night 
alarming symptoms of inflammation were exhibited, and 
at midnight his case seemed almost hopeless." 

"Monday: President slightly better this morning, 
improving throughout the day." 

" July 6. This p. m. sought an interview with Dr. 
Woodward at the White House, to talk of an apparatus 
for locating the ball by its action in retarding a rapidly 
revolving el. magnet. I hardly think the plan more than 
theoretically practical, owing to the minuteness of the 
action." 

" The President still improving, but great dangers are 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 357 

yet to come, and nothing has been found of the ball, 
which is supposed to have stayed in the liver because, 
were it anywhere else, symptoms of irritation by its pre- 
sence would have been shown." 

"July 9. This is Saturday evening. Met Major 
Powell at the Cosmos Club, who told me that they would 
like to have me look at the air-cooling projects at the 
White House. Published statement that the physicians 
desired some way to cool the air of the President's room 
had brought a crowd of projects and machines of all 
kinds. Among other things, a Mr. Dorsey had got from 
New York an air compressor such as is used in the Vir- 
ginia mines for transferring power, and was erecting 
machinery enough for a steamship at the east end of the 
house in order to run it." 

Dr. Woodward was a surgeon of the army, who 
had been on duty at Washington since the civU 
war, in charge of the Army Medical Museum. 
Among his varied works here, that in micro-pho- 
tography, in which he was a pioneer, gave him a 
wide reputation. His high standing led to his 
being selected as one of the President's physicians. 
To him I wrote a note, offering to be of any use I 
could in the matter of cooling the air of the Pre- 
sident's chamber. He promptly replied with a re- 
quest to visit the place, and see what was being 
done and what suggestions I could make. Mr. 
Dorsey's engine at the east end was dispensed 
with after a long discussion, owing to the noise 
it would make and the amount of work necessary 
to its final installation and operation. 

Among the problems with which the surgeons 



358 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

had to wrestle was that of locating the ball. The 
question occurred to me whether it was not pos- 
sible to do so by the influence produced by the 
action of a metaUic conductor in retarding the 
motion of a rapidly revolving magnet, but the 
effect would be so small, and the apparatus to be 
made so delicate, that I was very doubtful about 
the matter. If there was any one able to take hold 
of the project successfully, I knew it would be 
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the tele- 
phone. When I approached him on the subject, 
he suggested that the idea of locating the ball had 
also occurred to him, and that he thought the best 
apparatus for the purpose was a telephonic one 
which had been recently developed by Mr. Hughes. 
As there could be no doubt of the superiority of 
his project, I dropped mine, and he went forward 
with his. In a few days an opportunity was given 
him for actually trying it. The result, though 
rather doubtful, seemed to be that the ball was 
located where the surgeons supposed it to be. 
When the autopsy showed that their judgment had 
been at fault, Mr. Bell admitted his error to Dr. 
Woodward, adding some suggestion as to its cause. 
"Expectant attention," was Woodward's reply. 

I found in the basement of the house an appa- 
ratus which had been brought over by a Mr. Jen- 
nings from Baltimore, which was designed to cool 
the air of dairies or apartments. It consisted of 
an iron box, two or three feet square, and some 
five feet long. In this box were suspended cloths, 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 359 

kept cool and damp by the water from melting ice 
contained in a compartment on top of the box. 
The air was driven through the box by a blower, 
and cooled by contact with the wet cloths. But 
no effect was being produced on the temperature 
of the room. 

One conversant with physics will see one fatal 
defect in this appliance. The cold of the ice, if I 
may use so unscientific an expression, went pretty 
much to waste. The air was in contact, not with 
the ice, as it should have been, but with ice-water, 
which had already absorbed the latent heat of 
melting. 

Evidently the air should be passed over the un- 
melted ice. The question was how much ice would 
be required to produce the necessary cooling ? To 
settle this, I instituted an experiment. A block of 
ice was placed in an adjoining room in a current 
of air with such an arrangement that, as it melted, 
the water would trickle into a vessel below. After 
a certain number of minutes the melted water was 
measured, then a simple computation led to a know- 
ledge of how much heat was absorbed from the air 
per minute by a square foot of the surface of the 
ice. From this it was easy to calculate from the 
known thermal capacity of air, and the quantity of 
the latter necessary per minute, how many feet of 
cooling surface must be exposed. I was quite sur- 
prised at the result. A case of ice nearly as long 
as an ordinary room, and large enough for men 
to walk about in it, must be provided. This was 



360 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

speedily done, supports were erected for the blocks 
of ice, the case was placed at the end of Mr. Jen- 
nings's box, and everything gotten in readiness for 
directing the air current through the receptacle, 
and into the room through tubes which had already 
been prepared. 

It happened that Mr. Jennings's box was on the 
line along which the air was being conducted, and 
I was going to get it out of the way. The owner 
implored that it should be allowed to remain, sug- 
gesting that the air might just as well as not con- 
tinue tg pass through it. The surroundings were 
those in which one may be excused for not being 
harsh. Such an outpouring of sympathy on the 
part of the public had never been seen in Washing- 
ton since the assassination of Lincoln. Those in 
charge were overwhelmed with every sort of con- 
trivance for relieving the sufferings of the illustri- 
ous patient. Such disinterested efforts in behalf 
of a public and patriotic object had never been 
seen. Mr. Jennings had gone to the trouble and 
expense of bringing his apparatus all the way 
from Baltimore to Washington in order to do what 
in him lay toward the end for which all were 
striving. To leave his box in place could not do 
the slightest harm, and would be a gratification 
to him. So I let it stand, and the air continued 
to pass through it on its way to the ice chest- 
While these arrangements were in progress 
three officers of engineers of the navy reported 
under orders at the White House, to do what they 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 361 

could toward the cooling of the air. They were 
Messrs. William L. Baillie, Eichard Inch, and 
W. S. Moore. All four of us cooperated in the 
work in a most friendly way, and when we got 
through we made our reports to the Navy Depart- 
ment. A few weeks later these reports were 
printed in a pamphlet, partly to correct a wrong 
impression about the Jennings cold-boS. Regular 
statements had appeared in the local evening paper 
that the air was being cooled by this useless con- 
trivance. Their significance first came out several 
months later, on the occasion of an exhibition of 
mechanical or industrial implements at Boston. 
Among these was Mr. Jennings's cold-box, which 
was exhibited as the instrument that had cooled 
the air of President Garfield's chamber. 

More light yet was thrown on the case when the 
question of rewarding those who had taken part in 
treating the President, or alleviating his sufferings 
in any way, came before Congress. Mr. Jennings 
was, I believe, among the claimants. Congress 
found the task of making the proper awards to 
each individual to be quite beyond its power at 
the time, so a lump sum was appropriated, to be 
divided by the Treasury Department according to 
its findings in each particular case. Before the 
work of making the awards was completed, I left 
on the expedition to the Cape of Good Hope to 
observe the transit of Venus, and never learned 
what had been done with the claims of Mr. Jen- 
nings. It might naturally be supposed that when 



362 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

an official report to the Navy Department showed 
that he had no claims whatever except those of a 
patriotic citizen who had done his best, which was 
just nothing at all, to promote the common end, 
the claim would have received Httle attention. Pos- 
sibly this may have been the case. But I do not 
know what the outcome of the matter was. 

Shortly after the death of the President, I had a 
visit from an inventor who had patented a method 
of cooHng the air of a room by ice. He claimed 
that our work at the Executive Mansion was an 
infringement on his patent. I replied that I could 
not see how any infringement was possible, because 
we had gone to work in the most natural way, 
without consulting any previous process whatever, 
or even knowing of the existence of a patent. 
Surely the operation of passing air over ice to 
cool it could not be patentable. 

He invited me to read over the statement of his 
claims. I found that although this process was 
not patented in terms, it was practically patented 
by claiming about every possible way in which ice 
coidd be arranged for cooling purposes. Placing 
the ice on supports was one of his claims ; this we 
had undoubtedly done, because otherwise the pro- 
cess could not have been carried out. In a word, 
the impression I got was that the only sure way 
of avoiding an infringement would have been to 
blindfold the men who put the ice in the box, and 
ask them to throw it in peUmell. Every method 
of using judgment in arranging the blocks of ice 
he had patented. 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 363 

I had to acknowledge that his claim of infringe- 
ment might have some foundation, and inquired 
what he proposed to do in the case. He replied 
that he did not wish to do more than have his 
priority recognized in the matter. I replied that 
I had no objection to his doing this in any way he 
could, and he took his leave. Nothing more, so 
far as I am aware, was done in his case. But I 
was much impressed by this as by other examples 
I have had of the same kind, of the loose way in 
which our Patent Ofl&ce sometimes grants patents. 

I do not think the history of any modern muni- 
cipality can show an episode more extraordinary 
or, taken in connection with its results, more in- 
structive than what is known as the " Shepherd 
regime " in Washington. What is especially in- 
teresting about it is the opposite views that can be 
taken of the same facts. As to the latter there 
is no dispute. Yet, from one point of view, Shep- 
herd made one of the most disastrous failures on 
record in attempting to carry out great works, 
while, from another point of view, he is the author 
of the beautiful Washington of to-day, and entitled 
to a public statue in recognition of his services. 
As I was a resident of the city and Kved in my 
own house, I was greatly interested in the proposed 
improvements, especially of the particular street on 
which I lived. I was also an eye-witness to so 
much of the whole history as the public was cog- 
nizant of. The essential facts of the case, from 



364 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

the two opposing points of view, are exceedingly 
simple. 

One fact is the discreditable condition of the 
streets of Washington during and after the civil 
war. The care of these was left entirely to the 
local municipaUty. Congress, so far as I know, 
gave no aid except by paying its share of street 
improvements in front of the public buildings. It 
was quite out of the power of the residents, who 
had but few men of wealth among them, to make 
the city what it ought to be. Congress showed 
no disposition to come to the help of the citizens 
in this task. 

In 1871, however, some public-spirited citizens 
took the matter in hand and succeeded in having 
a new government estabHshed, which was modeled 
after that of the territories of the United States. 
There was a governor, a legislature, and a board 
of public works. The latter was charged with the 
improvements of the streets, and the governor was 
ex officio its president. The first governor was 
Henry D. Cooke, the banker, and Mr. Shepherd 
was vice-president of the board of pubHc works 
and its leading member. Mr. Cooke resigned after 
a short term, and Mr. Shepherd was promoted to 
his place. He was a plumber and gas-fitter by 
trade, and managed the leading business in his 
line in Washington. Through the two or three 
years of his administration the city directory still 
contained the entry — 

Shepherd, Alex. R. & Co., plumbers and gas-fitters, 
910 Pa. Ave. N. W. 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 365 

In recent years he had added to his plumbing busi- 
ness that of erecting houses for sale. He had 
had no experience in the conduct of pubUc busi- 
ness, and, of course, was neither an engineer nor a 
financier. But such was the energy of his char- 
acter and his personal influence, that he soon be- 
came practically the whole government, which he 
ran in his own way, as if it were simply his own 
business enlarged. Of the conditions which the 
law imposes on contracts, of the numerous and 
complicated problems of engineering involved in 
the drainage and street systems of a great city, of 
the precautions to be taken in preparing plans for 
so immense a work, and of the legal restraints 
under which it should be conducted, he had no spe- 
cial knowledge. But he had in the highest degree 
a quality which will bear different designations ac- 
cording to the point of view. His opponents would 
call it unparalleled recklessness; his supporters, 
boldness and enterprise. 

Such were the preliminaries. Three years later 
the results of his efforts were made known by an 
investigating committee of Congress, with Senator 
Allison, a political friend, at its head. It was found 
that with authority to expend $6,000,000 in the 
improvement of the streets, there was an actual or 
supposed expenditure of more than f 18,000,000, 
and a crowd of additional claims which no man 
could estimate, based on the work of more than 
one thousand principal contractors and an unknown 
number of purchasers and sub-contractors. Chaos 



366 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

reigned supreme. Some streets were still torn up 
and impassable ; others completely paved, but done 
so badly that the pavements were beginning to rot 
almost before being pressed by a carriage. A debt 
had been incurred which it was impossible for the 
local municipaUty to carry and which was still pil- 
ing up. 

For all this Congress was responsible, and man- 
fully shouldered its responsibility. Mr. Shepherd 
was legislated out of office as an act of extreme 
necessity, by the organization of a government at 
the head of which were three commissioners. The 
feeling on the subject may be inferred from the 
result when President Grant, who had given Shep- 
herd his powerful support all through, nominated 
him as one of the three commissioners. The Sen- 
ate rejected the nomination, with only some half 
dozen favorable votes. 

The three commissioners took up the work and 
carried it on in a conservative way. Congress 
came to the help of the mimicipaUty by bearing 
one half the taxation of the District, on the very 
sound basis that, as it owned about one half of the 
property, it should pay one half the taxes. 

The spirit of the time is illustrated by two lit- 
tle episodes. The reservation on which the public 
library founded by Mr. Carnegie is now built, was 
then occupied by the Northern Liberties Market, one 
of the three principal markets of the city. Being 
a pubHc reservation, it had no right to remain there 
except during the pleasure of the authorities. Due 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 367 

notice was given to the marketmen to remove the 
structures. The owners were dilatory in doing so, 
and probably could not see why they should be 
removed when the ground was not wanted for any 
other purpose, and before they had time to find a 
new location. It was understood that, if an at- 
tempt was made to remove the buildings, the mar- 
ketmen would apply to the courts for an injunc- 
tion. To prevent this, an arrangement was made 
by which the destruction of the buildings was to 
commence at dinner-time. At the same time, ac- 
cording to current report, it was specially arranged 
that all the judges to whom an application could be 
made should be invited out to dinner. However 
this may have been, a large body of men appeared 
upon the scene in the course of the evening and 
spent the night in destroying the buildings. With 
such energy was the work carried on that one 
marketman was killed and another either wounded 
or seriously injured in trying to save their wares 
from destruction. The indignation against Shep- 
herd was such that his life ^as threatened, and it 
was even said that a body-guard of soldiers had to 
be supplied by the War Department for his pro- 
tection. 

The other event was as comical as this was tragic. 
It occurred while the investigating committee of 
Congress was at its work. The principal actors in 
the case were Mr. Harrington, secretary of the local 
government and one of Mr. Shepherd's assistants, 
the chief of pohce, and a burglar. Harrington 



368 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

produced an anonymous letter, warning him that 
an attempt would be made in the course of a cer- 
tain night to purloin from the safe in which they 
were kept, certain government papers, which the 
prosecutors of the case against Shepherd were 
anxious to get hold of. He showed this letter to 
the chief of police, who was disposed to make 
light of the matter. But on Harrington's urgent 
insistence the two men kept watch about the pre- 
mises on the night in question. They were in the 
room adjoining that in which the records were 
kept, and through which the robber would have 
to pass. In due time the latter appeared, passed 
through the room and proceeded to break into the 
safe. The chief wanted to arrest him immedi- 
ately, but Harrington asked him to wait, in order 
that they might see what the man was after, and 
especially what he did with the books. So they 
left and took their stations outside the door. The 
burglar left the building with the books in a 
satchel, and, stepping outside, was confronted by 
the two men. 

I believe every burglar of whom history or fic- 
tion has kept any record, whether before or after 
this eventful night, when he broke open a safe and, 
emerging with his booty, found himself confronted 
by a policeman, took to his heels. Not so this bur- 
glar. He walked up to the two men, and with the 
utmost unconcern asked if they could tell him where 
Mr. Columbus Alexander Uved. Mr. Alexander, it 
should be said, was the head man in the prosecu- 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 369 

tion. The desired information being conveyed to 
the burglar, he went on his way to Mr. Alexander's 
house, followed by the two agents of the law. Ar- 
riving there, he rang the beU. 

In the ordinary course of events, Mr. Alexander 
or some member of his family would have come to 
the door and been informed that the caller had a 
bundle for him. A man just awakened from a 
sound sleep and coming downstairs rubbing his 
eyes, would not be likely to ask any questions of 
such a messenger, but would accept the bundle and 
lock the door again. Then what a mess the prose- 
cution would have been in ! Its principal promoter 
detected in collusion with a burglar in order to get 
possession of the documents necessary to carry on 
his case ! 

It happened, however, that Mr. Alexander and 
the members of his household aU slept the sleep of 
the just and did not hear the bell. The patience of 
the policeman was exhausted and the burglar was 
arrested and lodged in jail, where he was kept for 
several months. Public curiosity to hear the bur- 
glar's story was brought to a high pitch, but never 
gratified. Before the case came to trial the prisoner 
was released on straw bail and never again found. 
I do not think the bottom facts, especially those 
connected with the anonymous letter, were ever 
brought to light. So every one was left to form 
his own theory of what has since been known as 
the " Safe Burglary Conspiracy." 

What seems at present the fashionable way of 



370 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMEK 

looking at the facts is this : Shepherd was the man 
who planned the beautiful Washington of to-day, 
and who carried out his project with unexampled 
energy until he was stopped through the clamor of 
citizens who did not want to see things go ahead so 
fast. Other people took the work up, but they only 
carried out Shepherd's ideas. The latter, therefore, 
should have all the credit due to the founder of the 
new Washington. 

The story has always seemed to me most inter- 
esting as an example of the way in which pubHc 
judgment of men and things is likely to be influ- 
enced. Public sentiment during the thirty years 
which have since elapsed has undergone such a 
revolution in favor of Shepherd that a very likely 
outcome will be a monument to commemorate his 
work. But it is worth while to notice the mental 
processes by which the public now reaches this con- 
clusion. It is the famiUar and ordinarily correct 
method of putting this and that together. 

This is one of the most beautiful cities in the 
United States, of which Americans generally are 
proud when they pay it a visit. 

That is the recollection of the man who com- 
menced the work of transforming an unsightly, 
straggling, primitive town into the present Wash- 
ington, and was condemned for what he did. 

These two considerations form the basis of the 
conclusion, all intermediate details dropping out of 
sight and memory. The reckless maladministra- 
tion of the epoch, making it absolutely necessary 



THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON 371 

to introduce a new system, has no place in the 
picture. 

There is also a moral to the story, which is more 
instructive than pleasant. The actors in the case 
no doubt believed that i£ they set about their work 
in a conservative and law-abiding way, spending 
only as much money as could be raised, Congress 
would never come to their help. So they deter- 
mined to force the game, by creating a situation 
which would speedily lead to the correct solution of 
the problem. I do not think any observant person 
will contest the proposition that had Shepherd gone 
about his work and carried it to a successful con- 
clusion in a peaceable and law-abiding way, — had 
he done nothing to excite public attention except 
wisely and successfully to administer a great public 
work, — his name would now have been as little 
remembered in connection with what he did as 
we remember those of Ketchem, Phelps, and the 
other men who repaired the wreck he left and made 
the city what it is to-day. 

In my mind one question dominates all others 
growing out of the case : What will be the moral 
effect on our children of holding up for their imi- 
tation such methods as I have described ? 



xm 

MISCELLANEA 

If the "Great Star^Catalogue Case" is not sur- 
rounded with such mystery as would entitle it to 
a place among causes cUebres, it may well be so 
classed on account of the novelty of the questions 
at issue. It afEords an instructive example of the 
possibility of cases in which strict justice cannot 
be done through the established forms of legal pro- 
cedure. It is also of scientific interest because, 
although the question was a novel one to come 
before a court, it belongs to a class which every 
leader in scientific investigation must constantly 
encounter in meting out due credit to his assistants. 
The plaintiff, Christian H. F. Peters, was a Dane 
by birth, and graduated at the University of Berlin 
in 1836. During the earher years of his manhood 
he was engaged in the trigonometrical survey of 
the kingdom of Naples, where, for a time, he had 
charge of an observatory or some other astro- 
nomical station. It is said that, Kke many other 
able European youth of the period, he was impli- 
cated in the revolution of 1848, and had to flee the 
kingdom in consequence. Five years later, he 
came to the United States. Here his first patron 



MISCELLANEA 373 

was Dr. B. A. Gould, who procured for him first a 
position on the Coast Survey, and then one as his 
assistant at the Dudley Observatory in Albany. 
He was soon afterward appointed professor of 
astronomy and director of the Litchfield Obser- 
vatory at Hamilton College, where he spent the 
remaining thirty years of his Hfe. He was a man 
of great learning, not only in subjects pertaining 
to astronomy, but in ancient and modern lan- 
guages. The means at his disposal were naturally 
of the slenderest kind ; but he was the discoverer 
of some forty asteroids, and devoted himself to 
various astronomical works and researches with 
great ability. 

Of his personality it may be said that it was ex- 
tremely agreeable so long as no important difEer- 
ences arose. What it would be in such a case can 
be judged by what follows. Those traits of char- 
acter which in men like him may be smoothed 
down to a greater or less extent by marital disci- 
pline were, in the absence of any such agency, 
maintained in all their strength to his latest years. 

The defendant, Charles A. Borst, was a gradu- 
ate of the coUege and had been a favorite pupil of 
Peters. He was a man of extraordinary energy 
and working capacity, ready to take hold in a busi- 
ness-like way of any problem presented to him, but 
not an adept at making problems for himself. His 
power of assimilating learning was unusually de- 
veloped ; and this, combined with orderly business 
habits, made him a most effective and valuable 



374 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

assistant. The terms of his employment were of 
the first importance in the case. Mr. Litchfield 
of New York was the patron of the observatory ; 
he had given the trustees of Hamilton College a 
capital for its support, which suf&ced to pay the 
small salary of the director and some current ex- 
penses, and he also, when the latter needed an as- 
sistant, made provision for his employment. It 
appears that, in the case of Borst, Peters fre- 
quently paid his salary for considerable periods at 
a time, which sums were afterward reimbursed to 
him by Mr. Litchfield. 

I shall endeavor to state the most essential facts 
involved as they appear from a combination of the 
sometimes widely different claims of the two par- 
ties, with the hope of showing fairly what they 
were, but without expecting to satisfy a partisan 
of either side. Where an important difference of 
statement is irreconcilable, I shall point it out. 

In his observations of asteroids Peters was con- 
tinually obliged to search through the pages of 
astronomical literature to find whether the stars he 
was using in observation had ever been catalogued. 
He long thought that it would be a good piece of 
work to search aU the astronomical journals and 
miscellaneous collections of observations with a 
view of making a complete catalogue of the posi- 
tions of the thousands of stars which they con- 
tained, and pubHshing it in a single volume for the 
use of astronomers situated as he was. The work 
of doing this was little more than one of routine 



MISCELLANEA 375 

search and calculation, -which any well-trained 
youth could take up ; but it was naturally quite 
without the power of Peters to carry it through 
with his own hand. He had employed at least one 
former assistant on the work, Professor John G. 
Porter, but very little progress was made. Now, 
however, he had a man with the persistence and 
working capacity necessary to carry out the plan. 

There was an irreconcilable difference between 
the two parties as to the terms on which Borst 
went to work. According to the latter, Peters 
suggested to him the credit which a young man 
would gain as one of the motives for taking up the 
job. But plaintiff denied that he had done any- 
thing more than order him to do it. He did not, 
however, make it clear why an assistant at the 
Litchfield Observatory should be officially ordered 
to do a piece of work for the use of astronomy 
generally, and having no special connection with 
the Litchfield Observatory. 

However this may be, Borst went vigorously to 
work, repeating all the calculations which had been 
made by Peters and former assistants, with a view 
of detecting errors, and took the work home with 
him in order that his sisters might make a great 
mass of supplementary calculations which, though 
not involved in the original plan, would be very 
conducive to the usefulness of the result. One or 
two of these bright young ladies worked for about 
a year at the job. How far Peters was privy to 
what they did was not clear ; according to his 



376 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

claim he did not authorize their employment to do 
anything but copy the catalogue. 

By the joint efforts of the assistant and his two 
sisters, working mostly or entirely at their own 
home, the work was brought substantially to a con- 
clusion about the beginning of 1888. Borst then 
reported the completion to his chief and submitted 
a proposed title-page, which represented that the 
work was performed by Charles A. Borst under 
the direction of Christian H. F. Peters, Professor 
of Astronomy, etc. According to Borst's account, 
Peters tore up the paper, opened the stove door, 
put the fragments into the fire, and then turned 
on the assistant with the simple order, " Bring me 
the catalogue ! " 

This was refused, and a suit in replevin was im- 
mediately instituted by Peters. The ablest counsel 
were engaged on both sides. That of the plaintiff 
was Mr. Elihu Root, of New York, afterward Secre- 
tary of War, one of the leading members of the 
New York bar, and well known as an active mem- 
ber of the reform branch of the Republican party 
of that city. For the defendant was the law firm 
of an ex-senator of the United States, the Messrs. 
Kernan of Utica. 

I think the taking of evidence and the hearing 
of arguments occupied more than a week. One 
claim of the defendant would, if accepted, have 
brought the suit to a speedy end. Peters was an 
employee of the corporation of Hamilton College, 
and by the terms of his appointment all his work 



MISCELLANEA 377 

at the Litchfield Observatory belonged to that in- 
stitution. Borst was summoned into the case as 
an official employee of the Litchfield Observatory. 
Therefore the corporation of the college was the 
only authority which had power to bring the suit. 
But this point was disposed of by a decision of 
the judge that it was not reasonable, in view of 
the low salary received by the plaintiff, to deprive 
him of the right to the creations of his own talent. 
He did not, however, apply this principle of legal 
interpretation to the case of the defendant, and not 
only found for the plaintiff, but awarded damages 
based on the supposed value of the work, includ- 
ing, if I understand the case aright, the value of 
the work done by the young ladies. It would seem, 
however, that in officially perfecting the details of 
his decision he left it a little indefinite as to what 
papers the plaintiff was entitled to, it being very 
difficult to describe in detail papers many of which 
he had never seen. Altogether it may be feared 
that the decision treated the catalogue much as the 
infant was treated by the decision of Solomon. 

However this might be, the decision completely 
denied any right of the defendant in the work. 
This feature of it I thought very unjust, and pub- 
lished in a Utica paper a review of the case in terms 
not quite so judicial as I ought to have chosen. I 
should have thought such a criticism quite a breach 
of propriety, and therefore would never have ven- 
tured upon it but for an eminent example then fresh 
in my mind. 



378 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Shortly after the Supreme Court of the United 
States uttered its celebrated decision upholding the 
constitutionality of the Legal Tender Act, I hap- 
pened to be conversing at an afternoon reception 
with one of the judges, Gray, who had sustained 
the decision. Mr. George Bancroft, the historian, 
stepped up, and quite surprised me by expressing 
to the judge in quite vigorous language his strong 
dissent from the decision. He soon afterward pub- 
lished a pamphlet reviewing it adversely. I supposed 
that what Mr. Bancroft might do with a decision of 
the Supreme Court of the United States, a humbler 
individual might be allowed to do with the decision 
of a local New York judge. 

The defense appealed the case to a higher court 
of three judges, where the finding of the low^r 
court was sustained by a majority of two to one. 
It was then carried to the Court of Appeals, the 
highest in the State. Here the decision was set 
aside on what seemed to me the common sense 
ground that the court had ignored the rights of 
the defendant in the case, who certainly had some, 
and it must therefore be remanded for a new trial. 

Meantime Peters had died ; and it is painful to 
think that his death may have been accelerated 
by the annoyances growing out of the suit. One 
morning, in the summer of 1890, he was found 
dead on the steps of his little dwelling, having ap- 
parently fallen in a fit of apoplexy or heart failure 
as he was on his way to the observatory the night 
before. His heirs had no possible object in push- 



MISCELLANEA 379 

ing the suit ; probably his entire little fortune was 
absorbed in the attendant expenses. 

When the difference with Borst was first heard of 
it was, I think, proposed to Peters by several of his 
friends, including myself, that the matter should be 
submitted to an arbitration of astronomers. But 
he would Hsten to nothing of the sort. He was 
determined to enforce his legal rights by legal 
measures. A court of law was, in such a case, at 
an enormous disadvantage, as compared with an 
astronomical board of arbitration. To the latter all 
the circumstances would have been familiar and 
simple, while the voluminous evidence, elucidated 
as it was by the arguments of counsel on the two 
sides, failed to completely enlighten the court on 
the points at issue. One circumstance will illustrate 
this. Some allusion was made during the trial to 
Peters's work while he was abroad, in investigating 
the various manuscripts of the Almagest of Ptolemy 
and preparing a commentary and revised edition of 
Ptolemy's Catalogue of Stars. This would have 
been an extremely important and original work, 
most valuable in the history of ancient astronomy. 
But the judge got it mixed up in his mind with the 
work before the court, and actually supposed that 
Peters spent his time in Europe in searching ancient 
manuscripts to get material for the catalogue in 
question. He also attributed great importance to 
the conception of the catalogue, forgetting that, to 
use the simile of a writer in the " New York Even- 
ing Post," such a conception was of no more value 



380 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

than the conception of a railroad from one town to 
another by a man who had no capital to build it. 
No original investigation was required on one side 
or the other. It was simply a huge piece of work 
done by a young man with help from his sisters, 
suggested by Peters, and now and then revised by 
him in its details. It seemed to me that the solution 
ofEered by Borst was eminently proper, and I was 
willing to say so, probably at the expense of Peters's 
friendship, on which I set a high value. 

I have always regarded the work on Ptolemy's 
catalogue of stars, to which allusion has just been 
made, as the most important Peters ever under- 
took. It comprised a critical examination and com- 
parison of all the manuscripts of the Almagest in 
the libraries of Europe, or elsewhere, whether in 
Arabic or other languages, with a view of learning 
what light might be thrown on the doubtful ques- 
tions growing out of Ptolemy's work. At the 
Litchfield Observatory I had an opportunity of ex- 
amining the work, especially the extended commen- 
taries on special points, and was so impressed by 
the learning shown in the research as to express a 
desire for its speedy completion and publication. 
In fact, Peters had already made one or more com- 
munications to the National Academy of Sciences 
on the subject, which were supposed to be equiva- 
lent to presenting the work to the academy for 
publication. But before the academy put in any 
claim for the manuscript, Mr. E. B. Knobel of Lon- 



MISCELLANEA 381 

don, a well-known member of the Eoyal Astrono- 
mical Society, wrote to Peters's executors, stating 
that he was a collaborator with Peters in preparing 
the work, and as such had a claim to it, and wished 
to complete it. He therefore asked that the papers 
should be sent to him. This was done, but during 
the twelve years which have since elapsed, nothing 
more has been heard of the work. No one, so far 
as I know, ever heard of Peters's making any allu- 
sion to Mr. Knobel or any other collaborator. He 
seems to have always spoken of the work as exclu- 
sively his own. 

Among the psychological phenomena I have wit- 
nessed, none has appeared to me more curious than 
a susceptibility of certain minds to become imbued 
with a violent antipathy to the theory of gravita- 
tion. The anti-gravitation crank, as he is commonly 
called, is a regular part of the astronomer's expe- 
rience. He is, however, only one of a large and 
varied class who occupy themselves with what an 
architect might consider the drawing up of plans 
and specifications for a universe. This is, no 
doubt, quite a harmless occupation ; but the queer 
part of it is the seeming belief of the architects 
that the actual universe has been built on their 
plans, and runs according to the laws which they 
prescribe for it. Ether, atoms, and nebulae are the 
raw material of their trade. Men of otherwise 
sound intellect, even college graduates and lawyers, 
sometimes engage in this business. I have often 



382 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

wondered whether any of these men proved that, 
in all the common schools of New York, the power 
which conjugates the verbs comes, through some 
invisible conduit in the earth, from the falls of 
Niagara. This would be quite like many of the 
theories propounded. 

Babbage's " Budget of Paradoxes " is a goodly 
volume descriptive of efEorts of this sort. It was 
supplemented a year or two ago by a most excellent 
and readable article on eccentric literature, by Mr. 
John Fiske, which appeared in the " Atlantic 
Monthly." Here the author discussed the subject 
so well that I do not feel like saying much about 
it, beyond giving a little of my own experience. 

Naturally the Smithsonian Institution was, and I 
presimie still is, the great authority to which these 
men send their productions. It was generally a 
rule of Professor Henry always to notice these com- 
munications and try to convince the correspondents 
of their fallacies. Many of the papers were re- 
ferred to me ; but a Httle experience showed that it 
was absolutely useless to explain anything to these 
" paradoxers." Generally their first communication 
was exceedingly modest in style, being evidently 
designed to lead on the unwary person to whom it 
was addressed. Moved to sympathy with so well- 
meaning but erring an inquirer, I woidd point out 
wherein his reasoning was deficient or his facts at 
fault. Back would come a thunderbolt demonstrat- 
ing my incapacity to deal with the subject in terms 
80 strong that I could not have another word to 
say. 



MISCELLANEA 383 

The American Association for the Advancement 
of Science was another attraction for such men. 
About thirty years ago there appeared at one of its 
meetings a man from New Jersey who was as much 
incensed against the theory of gravitation as if it 
had been the source of all human woe. He got ad- 
mission to the meetings, as almost any one can, but 
the paper he proposed to read was refused by the 
committee. He watched his chance, however, and 
when discussion on some paper was invited, he got 
up and began with the words, " It seems to me that 
the astronomers of the present day have gravitation 
on the brain." This was the beginning of an impas- 
sioned oration which went on in an unbroken tor- 
rent until he was put down by a call for the next 
paper. But he got his chance at last. A meeting 
of Section Q was called ; what this section was the 
older members will recall and the reader may be 
left to guess. A programme of papers had been 
prepared, and on it appeared Mr. Joseph Treat, on 
Gravitation. Mr. Treat got up with great alacrity, 
and, amid the astonishment and laughter of all pro- 
ceeded to read his paper with the utmost seriousness. 

I remember a visit from one of these men with 
great satisfaction, because, apparently, he was an 
exception to the rule in being amenable to reason. 
I was sitting in my office one morning when a 
modest-looking gentleman opened the door and 
looked in. 

" I would like to see Professor Newcomb." 

" Well, here he is." 



384 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

" You Professor Newcomb ? " 

" Yes." 

" Professor, I have called to tell you that I don't 
beUeve in Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravita- 
tion ! " 

" Don't believe in gravitation ! Suppose you 
jump out of that window and see whether there is 
any gravitation or not." 

" But I don't mean that. I mean " — 

" But that is all there is in the theory of gravi- 
tation ; if you jump out of the window you '11 fall 
to the ground." 

" I don't mean that. What I mean is I don't 
believe in the Newtonian theory that gravitation 
goes up to the moon. It does n't extend above the 
air." 

" Have you ever been up there to see ? " 

There was an embarrassing pause, during which 
the visitor began to look a little sheepish. 

" N-no-o," he at length replied. 

" Well, I have n't been there either, and until one 
of us can get up there to try the experiment, I 
don't believe we shall ever agree on the subject." 

He took his leave without another word. 

The idea that the facts of nature are to be 
brought out by observation is one which is singu- 
larly foreign not only to people of this class, but 
even to many sensible men. When the great comet 
of 1882 was discovered in the neighborhood of the 
sun, the fact was telegraphed that it might be seen 
with the naked eye, even in the sun's neighbor- 



MISCELLANEA 385 

hood. A news reporter came to my o£Bce with this 
statement, and wanted to know if it was really true 
that a comet could be seen with the naked eye right 
alongside the sun. 

" I don't know," I replied ; " suppose you go out 
and look for yourself ; that is the best way to settle 
the question." 

The idea seemed to him to be equally amusing 
and strange, and on the basis of that and a few 
other insipid remarks, he got up an interview for 
the " National Republican " of about a column in 
length. 

I think there still exists somewhere in the North- 
west a communistic society presided over by a genius 
whose of&cial name is Koresh, and of which the reH- 
gious creed has quite a scientific turn. Its funda- 
mental doctrine is that the surface of the earth on 
which we live is the inside of a hollow sphere, and 
therefore concave, instead of convex, as generally 
supposed. The oddest feature of the doctrine is 
that Koresh professes to have proved it by a method 
which, so far as the geometry of it goes, is more 
rigorous than any other that science has ever ap- 
plied. The usual argument by which we prove to 
our children the earth's rotundity is not purely 
geometric. When, standing on the seashore, we 
see the sails of a ship on the sea horizon, her hull 
being hidden because it is below, the inference 
that this is due to the convexity of the surface is 
based on the idea that light moves in a straight 
Une. If a ray of light is curved toward the sur- 



386 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

face, we should have the same appearance, although 
the earth might be perfectly flat. So the Koresh 
people professed to have determined the figure of 
the earth's surface by the purely geometric method 
of taking long, broad planks, perfectly squared at 
the two ends, and using them as a geodicist uses 
his base apparatus. They were mounted on wooden 
supports and placed end to end, so as to join per- 
fectly. Then, geometrically, the two would be in a 
straight line. Then the first plank was picked up, 
carried forward, and its end so placed against that 
of the second as to fit perfectly ; thus the continu- 
ation of a straight hue was assured. So the opera- 
tion was repeated by continually alternating the 
planks. Recognizing the fact that the ends might 
not be perfectly square, the planks were turned 
upside down in alternate settings, so that any de- 
fect of this sort would be neutralized. The result 
was that, after they had measured along a mile or 
two, the plank was found to be gradually approach- 
ing the sea sand until it touched the ground. 

This quasi-geometric proof was to the mind of 
Koresh positive. A horizontal straight line con- 
tinued does not leave the earth's surface, but grad- 
ually approaches it. It does not seem that the 
measurers were psychologists enough to guard 
against the efEect of preconceived notions in the 
process of applying their method. 

It is rather odd that pure geometry has its full 
share of paradoxers. Runkle's " Mathematical 
Monthly " received a very fine octavo volume, the 



MISCELLANEA 387 

printing of which must have been expensive, by 
Mr. James Smith, a respectable merchant of Liver- 
pool. This gentleman maintained that the circum- 
ference of a circle was exactly SVs times its diam- 
eter. He had pestered the British Association 
with his theory, and come into collision with an 
eminent mathematician whose name he did not 
give, but who was very likely Professor DeMor- 
gan. The latter undertook the desperate task of 
explaining to Mr. Smith his error, but the other 
evaded him at every point, much as a supple lad 
might avoid the blows of a prize-fighter. As in 
many cases of this kind, the reasoning was envel- 
oped in a mass of verbiage which it was very diffi- 
cult to strip off so as to see the real framework 
of the logic. When this was done, the syllogism 
would be found to take this very simple form : — 

The ratio of the circumference to the diameter 
is the same in all circles. Now, take a diameter 
of 1 and draw round it a circumference of SVs- In 
that circle the ratio is SVs ; therefore, by the major 
premise, that is the ratio for all circles. 

The three famous problems of antiquity, the 
duplication of the cube, the quadrature of the cir- 
cle, and the trisection of the angle, have all been 
proved by modern mathematics to be insoluble by 
the ride and compass, which are the instrimients 
assumed in the postulates of Euclid. Yet the 
problem of the trisection is frequently attacked by 
men of some mathematical education. I think it 
was about 1870 that I received from Professor 



388 THE EEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Henry a communication coming from some institu- 
tion of learning in Louisiana or Texas. The writer 
was sure he had solved the problem, and asked that 
it might receive the prize supposed to be awarded 
by governments for the solution. The construc- 
tion was very comphcated, and I went over the whole 
demonstration without being able at first to detect 
any error. So it was necessary to examine it yet 
more completely and take it up point by point. 
At length I found the fallacy to be that three lines 
which, as drawn, intersected in what was to the 
eye the same point on the paper, were assumed to 
intersect mathematically in one and the same point. 
Except for the complexity of the work, the sup- 
posed construction would have been worthy of 
preservation. 

Some years later I received, from a teacher, I 
think, a supposed construction, with the state- 
ment that he had gone over it very carefully and 
could find no error. He therefore requested me to 
examine it and see whether there was anything 
wrong. I told him in reply that his work showed 
that he was quite capable of appreciating a geo- 
metric demonstration ; that there was surely some- 
thing wrong in it, because the problem was known 
to be insoluble, and I would like him to try again 
to see if he could not find his error. As I never 
again heard from him, I suppose he succeeded. 

One of the most curious of these cases was that 
of a student, I am not sure but a graduate, of the 
University of Virginia, who claimed that geometers 



MISCELLANEA 389 

were in error in assuming that a line had no thick- 
ness. He published a school geometry based on 
his views, which received the endorsement of a 
well-known New York school official and, on the 
basis of this, was actually endorsed, or came very 
near being endorsed, as a text-book in the public 
schools of New York. 

Prom my correspondence, I judge that every 
civilized country has its share of these paradoxers. 
I am almost constantly in receipt of letters not 
only from America, but from Europe and Asia, 
setting forth their views. The following are a few 
of these productions which arrived in the course 
of a single season. 

Baltimore, Sept. 29, 1897. 
104 Collington Ave. 

Prof. Simon Newcomb: 

Dear Sir, — Though a straiiger to you, Sir, I take 
the liberty to enlist your interest in a Cause, — so grand, 
so beautiful, as to eclipse anything ever presented to the 
highest tribunal of human intellect and intuition. 

Trusting you to be of liberal mind, Sir, I have mailed 
you specimen copy of the " Banner of Light," which will 
prove somewhat explanatory of my previous remarks. 

Being a student of Nature and her wonderful laws, 
as they operate in that subtle realm of human life, — 
the soul, for some years, I feel well prepared to answer 
inquiries pertaining to this almost unknown field of sci- 
entific research, and would do so with much pleasure, as 
I am desirous to contribute my mite to the enlightenment 
of mankind upon this most important of all subjects. 
Yours very truly, 

P. S. — Would be pleased to hear from you. Sir. 



390 THE REMINISCENCES OP AN ASTRONOMER 

Mexico, 16 Oct. 1897. 
Dear Sir, — I beg to inform you that I have for- 
warded by to days mail to your adress a copy of my 20th 
Century planetary spectacle with a clipping of a german 
newspaper here. Thirty hours for 3000 years is to day 
better accepted than it was 6 years ago when I wrote it, al- 
though it called even then for some newspaper comment, 
especially after President Cleveland's election, whose like- 
ness has been recognized on the back cover, so has been 
my comet, which was duly anounced by an Italian astro- 
nomer 48 hours before said election. A hint of Jupiters 
fifth satelite and Mars satelites is also to be found in my 
planetary spectacle but the most striking feature of such 
a profetio play is undoubtedly the Allegory of the Paris 
fire my entire Mercury scene and next to it is the Mars 
scene with the wholesale retreat of the greecs that is just 
now puzzling some advanced minds. Of cours the mu- 
sical satelites represent at the same time the european 
concert with the disgusted halfuroons face in one corner 
and Egypt next to it and there can be no doubt that the 
world is now about getting ready to applaud such a grand 
realistic play on the stage after even the school children 
of Chicago adopted a great part of my moral scuol-club 
(act II) as I see from the Times Herald Oct. 3d. and 
they did certainly better than the Mars Fools did in 
N. Y. 4 years ago with that Dire play, A trip to Mars. 
The only question now is to find an enterprising scientist 
to not only recomend my play but put some 1500$ up 
for to stage it at once perhaps you would be able to do 
so. 

Yours truly 

G. A. Kastelic, Hotel Buenavista. 

In the following Dr. Diaforus of the Malade 
Imaginaire seems to have a formidable rival. 



MISCELLANEA 391 

Chicago, Oct. 31, 1897. 
Me. Newcombb : 

Dear Sir, — I forwarded you photographs of several 
designs which demonstrate by illustrations in physics, 
metaphysics, phrenology, mechanics. Theology, Law 
magnetism Astronomy etc — the only true form and 
principles of universal government, and the greatest life 
sustaining forces in this universe, I would like to explain 
to you and to some of the expert government detectives 
every thing in connection with those illustrations since 
1881 ; I have traveled over this continent ; for many 
years I have been persecuted, my object in sending you 
those illustrations is to see if you could influence some 
Journalist in this City, or in Washington to illustrate 
and write up the interpretation of those designs, and 
present them to the public through the press. 

You know that very few men can grasp or compre- 
hend in what relation a plumb line stands to the sciences, 
or to the nations of this earth, at the present time, by 
giving the correct interpretation of Christian, Hebrew, 
& Mohammedian prophesy, this work presents a system 
of international law which is destined to create harmony 
peace and prosperity. 

sincerely yours 



1035 Monadnock Bid 

Chicago 111 
C/o L. L. Smith. 

P. S. The very law that moulds a tear ; and bids it 
trickel from its source ; that law preserves this earth a 
sphere, and guides the planets in their course. 



392 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Oed Neb Nove 18, 1897. 

Pbofessok Simon Newcomb 
Washington D C 

Dear Sir, — As your labors have enabled me to pro- 
tect my honor And prove the Copernican Newton Keplar 
and Gallileo theories false I solicit transportation to 
your department so that I can come and explain the 
whole of Nature and so enable you to obtain the true 
value of the Moon from both latitudes at the same 
instant. 

My method of working does not accord with yours 
Hence will require more time to comprehend I have 
asked Professor James E Keeler to examine the work 
and forward his report with this application for trans- 
portation 

Yours truly 

One day in July, 1895, I was perplexed by the 
receipt of a cable dispatch from Paris in the fol- 
lowing terms : — 

WiU you act ? Consult Gould. Furber. 

The dispatch was accompanied by the statement 
that an immediate answer was requested and pre- 
paid. Dr. Gould being in Cambridge, and I in 
Washington, it was not possible to consult him 
immediately as to what was meant. After consul- 
tation with an official of the Coast Survey, I reached 
the conclusion that the request had something to 
do with the International Metric Commission, of 
which Dr. Gould was a member, and that I was 
desired to act on some committee. As there could 
be no doubt of my willingness to do this, I returned 



MISCELLANEA 393 

an affirmative answer, and wrote to Dr. Gould to 
know exactly what was required. Great was my 
surprise to receive an answer stating that he knew 
nothing of the subject, and could not imagine 
what was meant. The mystery was dispelled a 
few days later by a visit from Dr. E. R. L. Gould, 
the well-known professor of economics, who soon 
after extended his activities into the more practical 
line of the presidency of the Suburban Homes and 
Improvement Company of New York. He had just 
arrived from Paris, where a movement was on foot 
to induce the French government to make such 
modifications in the regulations governing the in- 
struction and the degrees at the French univer- 
sities as would make them more attractive to 
American students, who had hitherto frequented 
the German universities to the almost entire exclu- 
sion of those of France. It was desired by the 
movers in the affair to organize an American com- 
mittee to act with one already formed at Paris ; and 
it was desired that I should undertake this work. 

I at first demurred on two grounds. I could 
not see how, with propriety, Americans could ap- 
pear as petitioners to the French government to 
modify its educational system for their benefit. 
Moreover, I did not want to take any position 
which would involve me in an effort to draw Amer- 
ican students from the German imiversities. 

He replied that neither objection could be urged 
in the case. The American committee would act 
only as an adviser to the French committee, and 



394 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

its sole purpose was to make known to the latter 
what arrangements as regarded studies, examina- 
tions, and degrees would be best adapted to meet 
the views and satisfy the needs of American stu- 
dents. There was, moreover, no desire to draw 
American students from the German universities; 
it was only desired to give them greater facilities 
in Paris. 

The case was fortified by a letter from M. Michel 
Breal, member of the Institute of France, and head 
of the Franco- American committee, as it was called 
in Paris, expressing a very flattering desire that I 
should act. 

I soon gave my consent, and wrote to the presi- 
dents of eight or ten of our leading universities 
and several Washington officials interested in edu- 
cation, to secure their adhesion. With a single 
exception, the responses were unanimous in the 
affirmative, and I think the exception was due to a 
misapprehension of the objects of the movement. 
The views of all the adhering Americans were then 
requested, and a formal meeting was |ield, at which 
they were put into shape. It is quite foreign to 
my present object to go into details, as everything 
of interest in connection with the matter will be 
found in educational journals. One point may, 
however, be mentioned. The French committee 
was assured that whatever system of instruction and 
of degrees was offered, it must be one in which 
no distinction was made between French and for^ 
eigners. American students would not strive for 



MISCELLANEA 395 

a degree which was especially arranged for them 
alone. 

I soon found that the movement was a much 
more complex one than it appeared at first sight, 
and that all the parties interested in Paris did not 
belong to one and the same committee. Not long 
after we had put our suggestions into shape, I was 
gratified by a visit from Dom de la Tremblay, 
prior of the Benedictine Convent of Santa Maria, 
in Paris, a most philanthropic and attractive gen- 
tleman, who desired to promote the object by es- 
tablishing a home for the American students when 
they should come. Knowing the temptations to 
which visiting youth would be exposed, he was 
desirous of founding an establishment where they 
could live in the best and most attractive surround- 
ings. He confidently hoped to receive the active 
support of men of wealth in this country in carry- 
ing out his object. 

It was a somewhat difficult and delicate matter 
to explain to the philanthropic gentleman that 
American students were not likely to collect in a 
home specially provided for them, but would prefer 
to find their own home in their own way. I tried 
to do it with as little throwing of cold water as 
was possible, but, I fear, succeeded only gradually. 
But after two or three visits to New York and 
Washington, it became evident to him that the 
funds necessary for his plan could not be raised. 

The inception of the affair was still not clear to 
me, I learned it in Paris the year following. Then 



396 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

I found that the movement was started by Mr. 
Furber, the sender of the telegram, a citizen of 
Chicago, who had scarcely attained the prime of 
life, but was gifted with that indomitable spirit of 
enterprise which characterizes the metropolis of the 
West. What he saw of the educational institu- 
tions of Paris imbued him with a high sense of their 
value, and he was desirous that his fellow-country- 
men should share in the advantages which they 
ofEered. To induce them to do this, it was only 
necessary that some changes should be made in 
the degrees and in the examinations, the latter 
being too numerous and the degrees bearing no 
resemblance to those of Germany and the United 
States. He therefore addressed a memorial to the 
Minister of Public Instruction, who was much im- 
pressed by the view of the case presented to him, 
and actively favored the formation of a Franco- 
American committee to carry out the object. 
Everything was gotten ready for action, and it only 
remained that the prime mover should submit evi- 
dence that educators in America desired the pro- 
posed change, and make known what was wanted. 
Why I should have been selected to do this I do 
not know, but suppose it may have been because I 
had just been elected a foreign associate of the In- 
stitute, and was free from trammels which might 
have hindered the action of men who held official 
positions in the government or at the heads of uni- 
versities. The final outcome of the affair was the 
estabhshment in the universities of France of the 



MISCELLANEA 397 

degree of Doctor of the University, which might be 
given either in letters or in science, and which was 
expected to correspond as nearly as possible to the 
degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Germany and 
America. 

One feature of the case was brought out which 
may be worthy of attention from educators. In a 
general way it may be said that our Bachelor's de- 
gree does not correspond to any well-defined stage 
of education, implying, as it does, something more 
than that foundation of a general liberal education 
which the degree implies in Europe, and not quite 
so much as the Doctor's degree. I found it very 
difficult, i£ not impossible, to make our French 
friends understand that our American Bachelor's 
degree was something materially higher than the 
Baccalaureate of th,e French Lycee, which is con- 
ferred at the end of a course midway between our 
high school and our college. 

From education at the Sorbonne I pass to the 
other extreme. During a stay in Harper's Ferry in 
the autumn of 1887, 1 had an object lesson in the 
state of primary education in the mountain regions 
of the South. Accompanied by a lady friend, who, 
Uke myself, was fond of climbing the hills, I walked 
over the Loudon heights into a sequestered valley, 
out of direct communication with the great world. 
After visiting one or two of the farmhouses, we 
came across a school by the roadside. It was the 
hour of recess, and the teacher was taking an active 



398 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

part in promoting the games in which the children 
were engaged. It was suggested hy one of us 
that it would be of interest to see the methods of 
this school; so we approached the teacher on the 
subject, who very kindly offered to call his pupils 
together and show us his teaching. 

First, however, we began to question him as to 
the subjects of instruction. The curriculum seemed 
rather meagre, as he went over it. I do not think 
it went beyond the three E's. 

" But do you not teach grammar as well as read- 
ing ? " I asked. 

" No, I am sorry to say, I do not. I did want 
to teach grammar, but the people all said that they 
had not been taught grammar, and had got along 
very well without it, and did not see why the time 
of the children should be taken up by it." 

" If you do not teach grammar from the book, 
you could at least teach it by practice in composi- 
tion. Do you not exercise them in writing com- 
positions ? " 

" I did try that once, and let me tell you how it 
turned out. They got up a story that I was teach- 
ing the children to write love letters, and made 
such a clamor about it that I had to stop." 

He then kindly offered to show us what he did 
teach. The school was called together and words to 
speU were given out from a dictionary. They had 
got as far as "patrimony," and went on from that 
word to a dozen or so that followed it. The words 
were spelled by the children in turn, but i;iothing 



MISCELLANEA 399 

was said about the definition or meaning of the 
word. He did not explain whether, in the opinion 
of the parents, it was feared that disastrous events 
might follow if the children knew what a " patri- 
mony " was, but it seems that no objections were 
raised to their knowing how to spell it. 

We thanked him and took our leave, feeling 
that we were well repaid for our visit, however it 
might have been with the teacher and his school. 

I have never been able to confine my attention 
to astronomy with that exclusiveness which is com- 
monly considered necessary to the highest success 
in any profession. The lawyer finds almost every 
branch of human knowledge to be not only of in- 
terest, but of actual professional value, but one can 
hardly imagine why an astronomer should concern 
himself with things mundane, and especially with 
sociological subjects. But there is very high pre- 
cedent for such a practice. Quite recently the fact 
has been brought to light that the great founder 
of modern astronomy once prepared for the gov- 
ernment of his native land a very remarkable paper 
on the habit of debasing the currency, which was 
so prevalent during the Middle Ages.^ The paper 
of Copernicus is, I believe, one of the strongest ex- 
positions of the evil of a debased currency that had 
ever appeared. Its tenor may be judged by the 
opening sentence, of which the following is a free 
translation : — 

1 Prowe : Nicolaus Copernicus, Bd. ii. (Berlin, 1884), p. 33. 



400 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Innumerable though the evils are with which king- 
doms, principalities, and republics are troubled, there 
are four which in my opinion outweigh all others, — war, 
death, famine, and debasement of money. The three 
first are so evident that no one denies them, but it is not 
thus with the fourth. 

A certain interest in political economy dates with 
me from the age of nineteen, when I read Say's 
work on the subject, which was at that time in very 
wide circulation. The question of protection and 
free trade was then, as always, an attractive one. 
I inclined towards the free trade view, but stiU felt 
that there might be another side to the question 
which I found myself unable fully to grasp. I 
remember thinking it quite possible that Smith's 
" Wealth of Nations " might be supplemented by 
a similar work on the strength of nations, in which 
not merely wealth, but everything that conduces to 
national power should be considered, and that the 
result of the inquiry might lead to practical con- 
clusions different from those of Smith. Very able 
writers, among them Henry C. Carey, had espoused 
the side of protection, but for some years I had not 
time to read their works, and therefore reserved 
my judgment until more light should appear. 

Thus the matter stood until an accident impelled 
me to look into the subject. About 1862 or 1863 
President Thomas HiU, of Harvard University, paid 
a visit to Washington. I held him in very high 
esteem. He was a mathematician, and had been 
the favorite student of Professor Benjamin Peirce ; 



MISCELLANEA 401 

but I did not know that he had interested himself 
in poUtical economy until, on the occasion in ques- 
tion, I passed an evening with him at the house 
where he was a guest. Here he told me that in a 
public lecture at Philadelphia, a few evenings be- 
fore, he had informed his hearers that they had 
amongst them one of the greatest philosophers of 
the time, Henry C. Carey. He spoke of his works 
in such enthusiastic terms, describing especially his 
law of the tendency of mankind to be attracted 
towards the great capitals or other centres of popu- 
lation, that I lost no time in carefully reading 
Carey's " Principles of Social Science." 

The result was much like a slap in the face. 
With every possible predisposition to look favor- 
ably on its teachings, I was unable to find any- 
thing in them but the prejudiced judgments of a 
one-sided thinker, fond of brUliant general proposi- 
tions which really had nothing serious to rest upon 
either in fact or reason. The foUovnng parody on 
his method occurred to me : — 

The physicians say that quinine tends to cure 
intermittent fever. If this be the case, then where 
people use most quinine, they will have least inter- 
mittent fever. But the facts are exactly the oppo- 
site. Along the borders of the lower Mississippi, 
where people take most quinine, they suffer most 
from fever ; therefore the effect of quinine is the 
opposite of that alleged. 

I earnestly wished for an opportunity to discuss 
the matter further with Mr. Hill, but it was never 
offered. 



402 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

During the early years of the civil war, when 
the country was flooded with an irredeemable cur- 
rency, I was so much disturbed by what seemed 
to me the unwisdom of our financial poUcy, that 
I positively envied the people who thought it all 
right, and therefore were free from mental pertur- 
bation on the subject. I at length felt that I could 
keep silent no longer, and as the civil war was 
closing, I devoted much time to writing a httle 
book, " Critical Examination of Our Financial Pol- 
icy during the Southern EebelHon." I got this 
published by the Appletons, but had to pay for 
the production. It never yielded enough to pay 
the cost of printing, as is very apt to be the case 
with such a book when it is on the unpopular side 
and by an unknown author. It had, however, the 
pleasant result of bringing me into friendly rela- 
tions vpith two of the most eminent financiers of 
the country, Mr. Hugh McCulloch and Mr. George 
S. Coe, the latter president of one of the principal 
banks of New York. The comphments which these 
men paid to the book were the only compensation 
I got for the time and money expended upon it. 

In 1876 the " North American Review "published 
a centennial number devoted to articles upon our 
national progress during the first century of our 
existence. I contributed the discussion of our 
■work in exact science. Natural science had been 
cultivated among us with great success, but I was 
obliged to point out our backward condition in 



MISCELLANEA 403 

every branch of exact science, which was more 
marked the more mathematical the character of the 
scientific work. In pure mathematics we seemed 
hopelessly behind in the race. 

I suppose that every writer who discusses a sub- 
ject with a view of influencing the thought of the 
pubUc, must be more or less discouraged by the 
small amount of attention the best he can say is 
likely to receive from his fellow-men. No matter 
what his own opinion of the importance of the 
matters he discusses, and the results that might 
grow out of them if men would only give them due 
attention, they are lost in the cataract of utterances 
poured forth from the daily, weekly, and monthly 
press. I was therefore much pleased, soon after the 
article appeared, to be honored with a visit from 
President Gilman, who had been impressed with 
my views, and wished to discuss the practicability 
of the Johns Hopkins University, which was now 
being organized, doing something to promote the 
higher forms of investigation among us. 

One of the most remarkable mathematicians of 
the age, Professor J. J. Sylvester, had recently sev- 
ered his connection with the Royal Military Acad- 
emy at Woolich, and it had been decided to invite 
him to the chair of mathematics at the new univer- 
sity. It was considered desirable to have men of 
similar world-wide eminence in charge of the other 
departments in science. But this was found to be 
impracticable, and the policy adopted was to find 
young men whose reputation was yet to be made, 



404 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

and who would be the leading men of the future, 
instead of belonging to the past. 

All my experience would lead me to say that the 
selection of the coming man in science is almost as 
difficult as the selection of youth who are to become 
senators of the United States. The success of the 
university in finding the young men it wanted, has 
been one of the most remarkable features in the 
history of the Johns Hopkins University. Of this 
the lamented Rowland afEords the most striking, 
but by no means the only instance. Few could 
have anticipated that the modest and scarcely 
known youth selected for the chair of physics would 
not only become the leading man of his profession 
in our country, but one of the chief promoters of 
scientific research among us. Mathematical study 
and research of the highest order now commenced, 
not only at Baltimore, but at Harvard, Columbia, 
and other centres of learning, until, to-day, we are 
scarcely behind any nation in our contributions to 
the subject. 

The development of economic study in our coun- 
try during the last quarter of the last century is 
hardly less remarkable than that of mathematical 
science. A great impulse in this direction was 
given by Professor R. T. Ely, who, when the Johns 
Hopkins University was organized, became its lead- 
ing teacher in economics. He had recently come 
from Germany, where he had imbibed what was 
supposed to be a new gospel in economics, and he 



MISCELLANEA 405 

now appeared as the evangelist of what was termed 
the historical school. My own studies were of 
course too far removed from this school to be a 
factor in it. But, so far as I was able, I fought 
the idea of there being two schools, or of any ne- 
cessary antagonism between the results of the two 
methods. It was true that there was a marked dif- 
ference in form between them. Some men preferred 
to reach conclusions by careful analysis of human 
nature and study of the acts to which men were led 
in seeking to carry out their own ends. This was 
called the old-school method. Others preferred to 
study the problem on a large scale, especially as 
shown in the economic development of the country. 
But there could be no necessary difference between 
the conclusions thus reached. 

One curious fact, which has always been over- 
looked in the history of economics in our country, 
shows how purely partisan was the idea of a sep- 
aration of the two schools. The fact is that the 
founder of the historic school among us, the man 
who first introduced the idea, was not Ely, but 
David A. Wells. Up to the outbreak of the civil 
war, Mr. Wells had been a writer on scientific 
subjects without any special known leaning toward 
econonucs ; but after it broke out he published a 
most noteworthy pamphlet, setting forth the re- 
sources of our country for carrying on war and 
paying a debt, in terms so strong as to command 
more attention than any similar utterance at the 
time. This led to his appointment as Special 



406 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

Commissioner of Revenue, mth the duty of col- 
lecting information devising the best methods of 
raising revenue. His studies in this line were very- 
exhaustive, and were carried on by the methods 
of the historic school of economics. I was almost 
annoyed to find that, if any economic question was 
presented to him, he rushed ofE to the experience 
of some particular people or nation — it might be 
Sweden or Australia — instead of going down to 
fundamental principles. But I could never get 
him interested in this hind of analysis. 

One of Professor Ely's early movements resulted 
in the organization of the American Economic As- 
sociation. His original plan was that this society 
should have something like a creed to which its 
members were expected to subscribe. A discussion 
of the whole subject appeared in the pages of 
" Science," a number of the leading economists of 
the country being contributors to it. The outcome 
of the whole matter has been a triumph for what 
most men wiU now consider reason and good sense. 
The Economic Association was scarcely more than 
organized when it broke loose from all creeds and 
admitted into its ranks investigators of the subject 
belonging to every class. I think the last discus- 
sion on the question of two schools occurred at 
the New York meeting, about 1895, after which 
the whole matter was dropped and the association 
worked together as a unit. 

As Professor Ely is stiU a leader on the stage, I 
desire to do him justice in one point. I am able 



MISCELLANEA 407 

to do so because of what I have always regarded 
as one of the best features of the Johns Hopkins 
University — the unity of action which pervaded 
its work. There is a tendency in such institutions 
to be divided up into departments, not only inde- 
pendent of each other, but with little mutual help 
or sympathy. Of course every department has 
the best wishes of every other, and its coopera- 
tion when necessary, but the tendency is to have 
nothing more than this. In 1884, after the resig- 
nation of Professor Sylvester, I was invited by 
President Oilman to act as head of the depart- 
ment of mathematics. I could not figure as the 
successor of Sylvester, and therefore suggested 
that my title should be professor of mathematics 
and astronomy. The examinations of students for 
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy were then, as 
now, all conducted by a single " Board of Uni- 
versity Studies," in which all had equal powers, 
although of course no member of the board took 
an active part in cases which lay entirely outside of 
his field. But the general idea was that of mutual 
cooperation and criticism all through. Each pro- 
fessor was a factor in the department of another in 
a helpful and not an antagonistic way, and all held 
counsel on subjects where the knowledge of all was 
helpful to each. I cannot but think that the won- 
derful success of the Johns Hopkins University is 
largely due to this feature of its activity, which 
tended to broaden both professors and students 
ahke. 



408 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

In pursuance of this system I for several years 
took part in the examinations of students of eco- 
nomics for their degrees. I found that Professor 
Ely's men were always well grounded in those 
principles of economic theory which seemed to me 
essential to a comprehension of the subject on its 
scientific side. 

Being sometimes looked upon as an economist, 
I deem it not improper to disclaim any part in 
the economic research of to-day. What I have 
done has been prompted by the conviction that the 
greatest social want of the age is the introduction 
of sound thinking on economic subjects among the 
masses, not only of our own, but of every other 
country. This kind of thinking I have tried to 
promote in our own country by such books as 
" A Plain Man's Talk on the Labor Question," and 
" Principles of Political Economy." 

My talks with Professor Henry used to cover a 
wide field in scientific philosophy. Adherence to 
the Presbyterian church did not prevent his being 
as uncompromising an upholder of modern scien- 
tific views of the universe as I ever knew. He 
was especially severe on the delusions of spiritual- 
ism. To a friend who once told him that he had 
seen a " medium " waft himself through a window, 
he replied, " Judge, you never saw that ; and if 
you think you did, you are in a dangerous mental 
condition and need the utmost care of your family 
and your physician." 



MISCELLANEA 409 

Among the experiences which I heard him re^ 
late more than once, I think, was one with a noted 
medium. Henry was quite intimate with President 
Lincoln, who, though not a believer in spiritual- 
ism, was from time to time deeply impressed by 
the extraordinary feats of spirituaHstic performers, 
and naturally looked to Professor Henry for his 
views and advice on the subject. Quite early in 
his administration one of these men showed his 
wonderful powers to the President, who asked him 
to show Professor Henry his feats. 

Although the latter generally avoided all contact 
-with such men, he consented to receive him at the 
Smithsonian Institution. Among the acts proposed 
was that of making sounds in various quarters of 
the room. This was something which the keen 
senses and ready experimental faculty of the pro- 
fessor were well qualified to investigate. He turned 
his head in various positions while the sounds were 
being emitted. He then turned toward the man 
with the utmost firmness and said, " I do not know 
how you make the sounds, but this I perceive very 
clearly : they do not come from the room but from 
your person." It was in vain that the operator 
protested that they did not, and that he had no 
knowledge how they were produced. The keen 
ear of his examiner could not be deceived. 

Sometime afterward the professor was traveling 
in the east, and took a seat in a railway car beside 
a young man who, finding who his companion was, 
entered into conversation with him, and informed 



410 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

him that he was a maker of telegraph and elec- 
trical instruments. His advances were received in 
so friendly a manner that he went further yet, and 
confided to Henry that his ingenuity had heen 
called into requisition by spiritual mediums, to 
whom he furnished the apparatus necessary for the 
manifestations. Henry asked him by what medi- 
ums he had been engaged, and was surprised to 
find that among them was the very man he had 
met at the Smithsonian. The sounds which the 
medium had emitted were then described to the 
young man, who in reply explained the structure 
of ^ the apparatus by which they were produced, 
which apparatus had been constructed by himself. 
It was fastened around the muscular part of the 
upper arm, and was so arranged that clicks would 
be produced by a simple contraction of the muscle, 
iinaccompanied by any motion of the joints of the 
arm, and entirely invisible to a bystander. 

During the Philadelphia meeting of the Ameri- 
can Association for the Advancement of Science, 
held in 1884, a few members were invited by one 
of the foreign visitors, Professor Fitzgerald of Dub- 
lin, I think, to a conference on the subject of psy- 
chical research. The English society on this subject 
had been organized a few years before, and the 
question now was whether there was interest enough 
among us to lead to the organization of an Ameri- 
can Society for Psychical Research. This was de- 
cided in the affirmative ; the society was soon after 
formed, with headquarters in Boston, and I was 



MISCELLANEA 411 

elected its first president, a choice which Powell, 
of Washington, declared to be ridiculous in the 
highest degree. 

On accepting this position, my first duty was to 
make a careful study of the publications of the 
parent society in England, with a view of learning 
their discoveries. The result was far from hopeful. 
I found that the phenomena brought out lacked 
that coherence and definiteness which is character- 
istic of scientific truths. Remarkable effects had 
been witnessed ; but it was impossible to say, Do 
so and so, and you will get such an effect. The 
best that could be said was, perhaps you will get an 
effect, but more likely you will not. I could not 
feel any assurance that the society, with all its dili- 
gence, had done more than add to the mass of 
mistakes, misapprehensions of fact, exaggerations, 
illusions, tricks, and coincidences, of which human 
experience is full. In the course of a year or two 
I delivered a presidential address, in which I pointed 
out the difficulties of the case and the inconclusive- 
ness of the supposed facts gathered. I suggested 
further experimentation, and called upon the Eng- 
lish society to learn, by trials, whether the mental 
influences which they had observed to pass from 
mind to mind under specially arranged conditions, 
would still pass when a curtain or a door sepa- 
rated the parties. Fifteen years have since elapsed, 
and neither they nor any one else has settled this 
most elementary of all the questions involved. The 
only conclusion seems to be that only in exceptional 



412 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

cases does any effect pass at all ; and when it does, 
it is just as likely to be felt halfway round the world 
as behind a curtain in the same room. 

Shortly after the conference in Philadelphia I 
had a long wished-for opportunity to witness and 
investigate what, from the descriptions, was a won- 
der as great as anything recorded in the history of 
psychic research or spirituaUsm. Early in 1885 a 
taU and well-built young woman named Lulu Hurst, 
also known as the " Georgia magnetic girl," gave 
exhibitions in the eastern cities which equaled or 
exceeded the greatest feats of the Spirituahsts. On 
her arrival in Washington invitations were sent to 
a number of our prominent scientific men to witness 
a private exhibition which she gave in advance of 
her public appearance. I was not present, but 
some who attended were so struck by her perform- 
ance that they arranged to have another exhibi- 
tion in Dr. Graham Bell's laboratory. I can give 
the best idea of the case if I begin with an account 
of the performance as given by the eye-witnesses at 
the first trial. We must remember that this was 
not the account of mere wonder-seekers, but of 
trained scientific men. Their account was in sub- 
stance this : — 

A light rod was firmly held in the hands of the 
tallest and most muscular of the spectators. Miss 
Lulu had only to touch the rod with her fingers 
when it would begin to go through the most 
extraordinary manoeuvres. It jerked the holder 
around the room with a power he was unable to 



MISCELLANEA 413 

resist, and finally threw him down into a corner 
completely discomfited. Another spectator was 
then asked to take hold of the rod, and Miss Lulu 
extended her arms and touched each end with the 
tip of her finger. Immediately the rod began to 
whirl around on its central axis with such force 
that the skin was nearly taken off the holder's 
hands in his efforts to stop it. 

A heavy man being seated in a chair, man and 
chair were Ufted up by the fair performer placing 
her hands against the sides. To substantiate the 
claim that she herself exerted no force, chair and 
man were Ufted without her touching the chair at 
aU. The sitter was asked to put his hands under 
the chair ; the performer put her hands around and 
under his in such a way that it was impossible for 
her to exert any force on the chair except through 
his hands. The chair at once lifted him up with- 
out her exerting any pressure other than the touch 
upon his hands. 

Several men were then invited to hold the chair 
still. The performer then began to deftly touch 
it with her finger, when the chair again began to 
jump about in spite of the efforts of three or four 
men to hold it down. 

A straw hat being laid upon a table crown down- 
wards, she laid her extended hands over it. It was 
lifted up by what seemed an attractive force simi- 
lar to that of a magnet upon an armature, and was 
in danger of being torn to pieces in the effort of 
any one holding it to keep it down, though she 



414 THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

could not possibly have had any hold upon the 
object. 

Among the spectators were physicians, one or 
more of whom grasped Miss Lulu's arms while 
the motions were going on, without finding any 
symptoms of strong muscular action. Her pulse 
remained normal throughout. The objects which 
she touched seemed endowed with a force which 
was wholly new to science. 

So much for the story. Now for the reality. 
The party appeared at the Volta Laboratory, ac- 
cording to arrangement. Those having the mat- 
ter in charge were not professional mystifiers of 
the public, and showed no desire to conceal any- 
thing. There was no darkening of rooms, no put- 
ting of hands under tables, no fear that spirits 
would refuse to act because of the presence of 
some skeptic, no trickery of any sort. 

We got up such arrangements as we could for a 
scientific investigation of the movements. One of 
these was a rolling platform on which Miss Lulu 
was requested to stand while the forces were ex- 
erted. Another device was to seat her on a plat- 
form scale while the chair was lifting itself. 

These several experiments were tried in the 
order in which I have mentioned them. I took 
the wonderful staff in my hands, and Miss Lulu 
placed the palms of her hands and extended them 
against the staff near the ends, while I firmly 
grasped it with my two hands in the middle. Of 
course this gave her a great advantage in the 



MISCELLANEA 415 

leverage. I was then asked to resist the staff with 
all my force, with the added assurance from Mrs. 
Hurst, the mother, that the resistance would be in 
vain. 

Although the performer began with a delicate 
touch of the staff, I noticed that she changed the 
position of her hands every moment, sometimes 
seizing the staff with a firm grip, and that it never 
moved in any direction unless her hands pressed it 
in that direction. As nearly as I could estimate, 
the force which she exerted might have been equal 
to forty pounds, and this exerted first in one way 
and then in another was enough to upset the equi- 
Ubrium of any ordinary man, especially when the 
jerks were so sudden and unexpected that it was 
impossible for one to brace himself against them. 
After a scene of rather undignified contortion I 
was finally compelled to retire in defeat, but with- 
out the slightest evidence of any other force than 
that exerted by a strong, muscular young woman. 
I asked that the rod might be made to whirl in 
my hands in the manner which has been described, 
but there was clearly some mistake in this whirl, 
for Miss Lulu knew nothing on the subject. 

Then we proceeded to thp chair performance, 
which was repeated a number of times. I noticed 
that although, at the beginning, the sitter held his 
fingers between the chair and the fingers of the 
performer, the chair would not move until Miss 
Lulu had the ball of her hand firmly in connection 
with it. Even then it did not actually lift the 



416 THE KEMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER 

sitter from the ground, but was merely raised up 
behind, the front legs resting on the ground, 
whereupon the sitter was compelled to get out. 
This performance was repeated a number of times 
without anything but what was commonplace. 

In order to see whether, as claimed, no force 
was exerted on the chair, the performer was in- 
vited to stand on the platform of the scales while 
making the chair move. The weights had been 
so adjusted as to balance a weight of forty pounds 
above her own. The result was that after some 
general attempts to make the chair move the lever 
chcked, showing that a lifting force exceeding 
forty pounds was being exerted by the young 
woman on the platform. The click seemed to de- 
moralize the operator, who became unable to con- 
tinue her efforts. 

The experiment of raising a hat turned out 
equally simple, and the result of all the trials was 
only to increase my skepticism as to the whole 
doctrine of unknown forces and media of com- 
munication between one mind and another. I am 
now likely to remain a skeptic as to every branch 
of " occult science " until I find some manifestation 
of its reahty more conclusive than any I have yet 
been able to find. 



INDEX 



INDEX 



Absence of mind, examples of, 73, 
169. 

Academy of Science, a wonld-be, 
351. 

Academy of Sciences, Paris, 327. 

Adams, Prof. John C, 220; intel- 
lectual capacity, 282 ; politics, 
283. 

Agnesi, Donna Maria, 294. 

Agafisiz, Louis, discusses Origin of 
Species, 70. 

Airy, Sir George B., Observations 
of Transit of Venus, 166 ; hospi- 
tality, 285 ; poetic taste, 286 ; 
executive ability, 286 ; methods 
of work, 289. 

Alexander, Columbus, 368. 

Anderson, Sir James, 300. 

Angle, trisection of, 887. 

Argelander, Prof., master of ob- 
servational astronomy, 318, 319. 

Atlantic Cable, the first, 300. 

Auwers, the great astronomer, 306. 

Bacon, Mr., teacher at Bedeqne, 9. 

Baillie, William, U. S. engineer, 
361. 

Baird, Spencer F., 240. 

Bancroft, George, reviews judicial 
decision of Star Catalogue crse, 
378 

Barnard, E. E., 190. 

Barnard, Gen. John 6., 335. 

Bartlett, William P. G., 83. 

Belknap, Admiral G. H., 228. 

Bell, Alexander Graham, tries to lo- 
cate ball in Garfield's body, 358. 

Black, Jeremiah, 168, 169. 

BlacHe, Prof. J. S., 294. 

Bond, George P., 250. 

Booth, Edwin, 157. 

Borst, Charles A., 873. 

Boss, Prof. Lewis, 124; 280. 



Bowditch, Nathaniel, 1. 
Bradford, Isaac, 74. 
Brewster, Elder, 3. 
Brown, Prof. S. J., 125. 
Bumham, S. W., 188. 

Campbell, William W., 190. 

Carey, Henry C, 400. 

Casey, Thomas L., Jr., 174. 

Casserly, Eugene, 128. 

Cassini, astronomer, of Paris Obser- 
vatory, 331. 

Cayley, Prof. Arthur, 280. 

Chandler, Captain Balph, U. S. N., 
171. 

Chandler, W. E., 126. 

Chauvenet, WiUiam, 111. 

ChevrenI, M., his remarkable age, 
327. 

Circle, quadrature of, 387. 

Clark, Alvan, 129, 144. 

Clark, Alvan, & Sons, character of 
the firm, 147. 

Cleveland, Keith, 224. 

Cobbett, William, 7, 53. 

Coe, George S., financier, 402. 

Coffin, J. H. C, 111. 

Combe, George, 4, 16. 

Commune of Paris, 321-326. 

Comstock, G. C, 126. 

Cooke, Thomas, & Sons, 133. 

Cox, Jacob D., 258. 

Crank, the anti-gravitation, 381 ; a 
reasonable, 388. 

Cranks, specimen letters from, 389. 

Darwin's " Origin of Species," dis- 
cussion of, 70. 

Dawes, Henry L., 82. 

Dawes, Kev. W. E., 148. 

Davis, Charles H., 63 ; becomes su- 
perintendent at Kaval Observa- 
tory, 107. 



420 



INDEX 



Dayton, A. G., 126. 

Delanney, Charles, indorses Prof. 
Newcomb, 317 ; director of Paris 
Observatory, 319 ; attractive per- 
sonality, 329, 380. 

Draper, Dr. Henry, expert in astro- 
nomical photography, 171, 223. 

Draper, Dr. John W., 250. 

Da<Uey Observatory troubles, 80. 

Early, Gen. Jubal A., raid of, 339. 

Eastman, John R., 107, 274. 

Eclipse, solar, of 1860, journey to 
observe, 88. 

Economics, studies in, 399 ; alleged 
schools of, 405. 

Education in mountain regions of 
South, 397. 

Eggleston, Edward, 89. 

Eliot, Charles W., 74. 

Elkin,Dr. W.L., 176. 

Elliott, Benjamin S., 50. 

Ely, Prof. E. T., as economist, 404 ; 
organizes American Economic As- 
sociation, 406 ; merits as teacher, 
408. 

Evarts, WiUiam M., 241. 

Eveleth, G. W., 55. 

Fell, maker of optical discs, 185. 

Ferguson, James, 111. 

Ferrell, William, 72, 88. 

Field, Cyrus W., 128. 

Fiske, John, on eccentric literature, 
382. 

Fixed stars, Paris conference regard- 
ing, 230. 

Floyd, Richard S., 186. 

France, universities of, 392. 

Franklin, Admiral, 122. 

Furber, Mr., starts movement for ad- 
mission of American students in 
French universities, 396. 

Garfield, James A., first acquaint- 
ance with, 353; his early life, 
354 ; injustice done him, 354 ; bis 
intellectual gifts, 355 ; assassina- 
tion of, 356. 

Geological Survey, circumstances 
leading to origin of, 252-255 ; at- 
tacks on, 261. 

Gibraltar, determination of the lon- 
gitude of, 284, 299. 

Gill, Sir David, 176. 

Gillis, Capt. J. M., superintendent 



of Naval Observatory, 99 ; obtains 
new transit circle, 105. 

Gihnan, Daniel C, 403. 

Gladstone, William Ewart, meeting 
with, 273, 276. 

Glaisher, J. W. L., 72. 

Goldsborough, Admiral, 340. 

Gould, Benjamin A., personality, 
78 ; Dudley Observatory director- 
ship, 80 ; candidate for Kaval Ob- 
servatory director. 111. 

Gould, Dr. E. R. L., 393. 

Gravitation detestable to some 
minds, 381. 

Green, Capt. F. M., 284. 

Greenwich Observatory, situation, 
285 ; value of observations at, 
288. 

Grubb, Sir Howard J., 156, 185. 

Hagar, Judge, 189. 

Hale, Eugene P., 123. 

Hale, George E., 126. 

Hall, Asaph, 107 ; discovers satel- 
lites of Mars, 141. 

Hamlin, Hannibal, 128. 

Harkness, William, appointed to 
Naval Observatory, 107; shares 
honor of discovering brightest 
line in spectrum of sun^s corona, 
113; director of Observatory, 
180. 

Harrington, attorney, 367. 

Harvard Observatory, Prof. New- 
comb called to directorship of, 
211 ; Pickering's directorship, 
212. 

Hassler, J. J. S., 264. 

Hansen, Prof., greatest master of 
celestial mechanics, 315, 316. 

Hayden, Prof. F. V., 253. 

Hayes, Rutherford B., 242, 259. 

Hedrick, Prof., 73. 

Hell, Father Maximilian, his alleged 
forgery, 154. 

Henry, Prof. Joseph, Prof. New- 
comb's relations with, 1, 54, 58, 
161 ; characteristics, 234-237 ; on 
spiritualism, 408. 

Herbert, HUary A., 231. 

Hewitt, A. S., 255. 

Hilgard, J. E., 1, 59 ; in charge of 
Coast Survey, 65, 128. 

HiU, George W., 218, 219, 221. 

Hill, Thomas Prescott, 400. 

Holcombe, Lieut. J. H. L., 174. 



INDEX 



421 



Holden, Prof. E. S., 184-194. 

Horsford, E. N., 74. 

Hutbard, Prof. J. S., head astro- 
nomer of Naval Observatory, 98 ; 
in charge of mnral circle, 102. 

Huggins, Sir William, 279. 

Hughes, Thomas, 272. 

Humphreys, Gen., chief of engi- 
neers, 256. 

Hurst, Lulu, the " Georgia magnetic 
girl," exhibitions of, 412-416. 

Illusion, an astronomical, 137. 
Inch, Bichard, United States engi- 
neer, 361. 

Jennings, Mr., cooling device of, 

358. 
Jewett, C. C, 237. 

Keeler, James E., 191. 
Kelvin, Lord, 248. 
Kerr, Prof., 73. 
King, Clarence, 258, 259. 
Knobel, E. B., 380. 
Koresh, his theory, 385. 

Lamar, Judge Lucius, 264. 

Langley, Prof. Samuel P., 240. 

Language, advantage of not know- 
ing a, 306. 

Laplace, the " M^chanique Celeste " 
of, 1. 

Lardner's " Popular Lectures on 
Science and Art," 19. 

Lawrence, Prof. Smith J., 56. 

Lee, Gen. Robert E., 339. 

Lee's " Tables and Formula," 56. 

Leverrjer, M., two views of, 328 ; 
meeting with, 330; his merits, 
331. 

Leverrier and Hansen's systems of 
planetary computation, 219. 

Lick, James, 182. 

Lick Observatory, origin of, 182 ; 
location discussed, 187 ; telescope 
at, 185 ; Holden's administration, 
192 ; Keeler's administration, 194 ; 
Campbell's administration, l94. 

Lincoln, Pres., his war-time recep- 
tions, 342 ; assassination of, 344 ; 
trial of assassins, 345. 

Lister, Lord, 278. 

Litchfield Observatory, founder of, 
374. 

Loomis, E. J., 74. 



Lowe, Mr. (Viscount Sherbrooke), 
276. 

Mahan, Prof. D. H., 335. 

Mars, discovery of the satellites of, 
141. 

Marsh, Prof. 0. C, exposure of In- 
dian ring, 263 ; relation to " Wild 
West," 265 ; exposure of Cardiil 
giant, 266 ; his modem fossil, 269. 

Maskelyne, Rev. Nevil, 152. 

" Mathematical MootUy," founda- 
tion of, 84. 

Mathematics and exact sciences, 
state of, in America, 402. 

Maury, Matthew F., work of, 103. 

McCook, Gen. A. D., 341. 

McCormick, L. J., 132. 

McCuUoeh, Hugh, 244, 402. 

McMickan, Captain, of Cunard Line, 
271. 

McTavish, Governor, 91. 

" M4chanique Celeste," first sight 
of, 56. 

Meier, John, 223. 

Meridian conference of 1884, 226. 

Mill, John Stuart, 272. 

Mills, D. O., 183. 

Miner and TxJly's "Fevers of the 
Connecticut Valley," 33. 

Monroe, Rev. Alexander H., 36 n. 

Moore, Capt. W. S., 361. 

Moore's Navigator, 17. 

Morrill, Justin S., 124. 

National Academy of Science, early 
proceedings, 251 ; report of Geo- 
logical Survey, 255 j report of 
Forestry System, 261. 

" National Intelligencer,'' letter in, 
55. 

Natural Philosophy, Mrs. Marcet's 
Conversations on, 18. 

Nautical Almanac, assistants on, 66 ; 
in charge of, 120. 

Naval Observatory, early history of, 
102 ; work at, 109 ; conditions at, 
110; civilian head proposed. 111 ; 
views of administration in regard 
to, 112 ; reports of eclipse of 
1870, 113 ; visit of Emperor Dom 
Pedro, 117; efforts to improve, 
122; Board of Visitors appointed, 
126 ; telescope of, 128 ; Congres- 
sional action regarding new tele- 
scope, 131 ; observations of satel- 



422 



INDEX 



lites of Neptune, 136, 141 ; search 
for companion of Frocyon, 138. 

Negro, characteristics of, 346 ; edu- 
cation of, 348. 

Neptune, observations of the satel- 
Utes of, 136, 141. 

NewaU, R. S., 133. 

Newcomb, John, father of Simon, 
characteristics and marriage, 4. 

Newcomb, Simon, the first, 2. 

Newcomb, Judge Simon B., 2. 

Newcomb, Prof. Simon, ancestry, 
2, 3; parentage, 6; early educa- 
tion at Bedeque, 9 ; begins study 
of arithmetic, 10; influence of 
books, 14-22 ; winter spent with 
farmer Jefferson, 18; residence 
at Yarmouth, 23 ; ancestral home, 
23 ; begins study of medicine, 27 ; 
manufacture of botanic medicine 
under Dr. Foshay, 31, 32 ; joins 
temperance lodge, 37 ; intimacy 
with Parkin family, 39 ; first sight 
of Smithsonian, 52 ; reading in 
political economy, 53 ; study of 
Newton's "Principia,"54; first at- 
tempt at mathematical paper, 54 ; 
letter in "National Intelligencer," 
65 ; Colonel Abert sends Lee's"Ta- 
bles and Formulae," 56; letter 
from Prof. L. J. Smith, 56 ; teach- 
ing in a planter's family, 56 ; first 
sight of " M^chanique Celeste," 
56 ; assistant on staff of Nautical 
Almanac, 66 ; discussion of Dar- 
win's " Origin of Species," 70 ; stu- 
denfrin Lawrence Scientific School, 
74 ; acquaintance with Dr. B. A. 
Gonid, 78 ; friendship with Wil- 
liam F. G. Bartlett, 83 ; journey 
in 1860 to observe solar eclipse, 
88 ; meets Governor Bamsey and 
Edward Eggleston, 89 ; received 
by Governor McTavish, 91 ; Sas- 
katchewan journey, 92; candi- 
date for professorship in Wash- 
ington University, 95 ; application 
for professorship in Naval Ob- 
servatory, 97 ; early experience 
at Observatory, 101 ; edits Yar- 
nall's observations, 105 ; in charge 
of mural circle, 107 ; journey to 
observe 1869 eclipse, 113; new 
transit circle, 114; investigation 
of moon's motion, 115 ; visit of 
Dom Pedro to Observatory, 117 ; 



assumes charge of Nautical Al- 
manac Office, 120 ; veiificatian of 
satellites of Mars, 141 ; transit of 
Venus expedition to Europe, 167 ; 
expedition to Cape of Good Hope, 
174; agent of Lick Observatory 
trustees, 184; first meeting with 
Schaeberle, 190; study of orbits 
of asteroids, 195; problems of 
astronomy, 198 ; motion of moon, 
202; occultations of stars, 207; 
offered Harvard Observatory di- 
rectorship, 211 ; head of Nautical 
Almanac Office, 214; policy of 
office, 216, 233 ; computations for 
Planet Tables, 216; assistants, 
218 ; suggestions to Meridian Con- 
ference, 226; computations re- 
garding fixed stars, 230 ; member 
Yale Alumni Association, 241 ; 
member Washington Scientific 
Club, 244 ; first trip to Europe, 
271; meets Thomas Hughes, 272; 
John Stuart Mill, 272; William 
Ewart Gladstone, 273; General 
Bumside, 273; attends banquet 
of Boyal Society, 276 ; visit to 
Lord Lister, 278 ; meets Prof. 
Cayley, 280; Prof. J. C. Adams 
calls, 281 ; determination of Gib- 
raltar longitude, 284; visits 
Greenwich, 285 ; friendship with 
Sir George Airy, 285-289 ; visits 
Edinburgh, 292; meets Prof. 
Blackie, 294 ; joins party of Eng- 
lish astronomers bound for Al- 
geria, 295 ; stormy voyage, 296 ; 
at Gribraltar, 297 ; Sb James An- 
derson, an old acquaintance, 300 ; 
Mediterranean trip, 802-305; Wil- 
helm Forster, a Berlin acquaint- 
ance, 306 ; meets great astronomer 
Auwers, 306 ; visits Pulkova Ob- 
servatory, 309; winter ride in 
Bussia, 310 ; first meeting with 
Hansen, 315 ; arrives in Paris 
during German evacuation, 319 ; 
visits Paris Observatory, 321 ; 
meets Leverrier, 330; Washington 
during Civil War and after, 334- 
371 ; two days military service, 
339 ; assassination of Lincoln, 344 
attends trial of conspirators, 345 
acquaintance with Sumner, 349 
with President Garfield, 363 
asked to devise means for cooling 



INDEX 



423 



his sick chamber, 357; sngges- 
tions for location of bullet, 358 ; 
experience with eccentric theo- 
rists, 381-389 ; assists in obtaining 
entrance of American students to 
French uniyersities, 396; object 
lesson in regard to education in 
mountain regions of South, 39'7 ; 
studies in economics, 399; pub- 
lishes "Critical Examination of 
our Financial Policy during the 
Southern Rebellion," 402 ; contri- 
bution to " North American Re- 
view," 402 ; conference with Prof. 
Daniel C. Gilman, 403 ; contribu- 
tions to economic literature : " A 
Plain Man's Talk on the Labor 
Question," " Principles of Politi- 
cal Economy," 408; "Psychical 
Research," 410-412. 
Nixon, Thomas, 37, 41. 

Occultism, 93. 

Old Peake, janitor of the Smithso- 
nian, 58. 
Oldright, Mr., 53. 
Oliver, James E., 72. 
Ommaney, Sir Erastus, 295. 

Paine, Thomas, 3. 

Paradoxers, experience with, 382. 

Paris Conference, conclusions of, 
230 ; attacked by Prof. Boss and 
S. C. Chandler, 230. 

Paris Observatory, 321, 332. 

Parkin, George R., 39. 

Patent claim, a curious, 361. 

Patterson, J. W., 352. 

Peirce, Benjamin, professor of math- 
ematics, 75 ; personality, 77, 78 ; 
chairman of committee on meth- 
ods of observing transit of Ve- 
nus, 161 ; director of solar eclipse 
expedition, 274 ; presence in Eng- 
land valuable to British astrono- 
mers, 277. 

Peters, C. H. P., heads Transit of 
Venus expedition, 139 ; Star Cata- 
logue Case, 372 ; work on Ptole- 
my's Catalogue, 380. 

Photoheliograph, horizontal, 164. 

Phrenology, study of, 14, 34. 

Pickering, E. C, 126. 

Pistor and Martin's transit circle, 
105. 

Poe, Gen. O. M., 352. 



Powell, John W., 240 ; during Gar- 
field's illness, 357. 

" Principia," Newton's, 54. 

Prooyon, search for companion of, 
138 ; at Lick Observatory, 140. 

Professors in Navy, origin of corps 
of, 101. 

" Psychical Research," 410. 

Ptolemy's Star Catalogue, Petera's 
work on,.380. 

Pulkova Observatory, object glass 
made by Alvan Clark & Sons, 
144, 145; foundation and situa- 
tion, 309-313. 

Reed, Thomas B., 125. 
Rhodes scholarships, 37. 
Rodgers, Admiral John, 120. 
Rogers, William B., 250. 
Royal Society, banquet of, 275. 
Runkle, John D., 1, 66. 

Safe burglary conspiracy, 367. 

Safford, Truman H., 67. 

Sampson, Admiral W. T., 121. 

Sands, Admiral, superintendent of 
Naval Observatory, 112; retire- 
ment, 116; assists in obtaining 
new telescope, 130. 

Sauty, de, cable operator at Gibral- 
tar, 300. 

Schaeberle, assistant to Prof. Hol- 
den, 190. 

Schofield, J. M., 96. 

Schurman, Caleb, 11. 

Schurman, Jacob Gould, 11 n. 

Scientific Club, 244. 

Scudder, Samuel H., 88. 

Shepherd, Alexander H., career, 
864r-371. 

Sherman, Gen. W. T., 243. 

Sibley, J. Langdon, 76. 

Smith, James, circle squarer, 387. 

Smithson, James, 235. 

Smithsonian Institution, policy of, 
235, 286 ; diificulties in adminis- 
tration, 237 ; expansion of scope, 
240. 

Smyth, Prof. C. Piazzi, 293. 

Smyth, Admiral W. H., 152. 

Sophocles, Evangelinus Apostolides, 
75. 

Standard time, adoption of, 225, 
226. 

Stanton, Edwin M., 336 ; his tireless 
energy, 337 ; his law of war, 338. 



424 



INDEX 



Star Catalogne case, the great, 

372. 
Steeves, Isaac, 38. 
Stmve, Otto, 144, 309. 
Stmve, Wilhelm, 312. 
Strnve, Bussian minister at Wash- 

in^on, 312. 
Sudler, Dr. Arthur E., 50. 
Snimier, Charles, characteristics, 

349, 350; kills an incipient 

" Academy," 352. 
Sylvester, Prof. J. J., 403. 

Telescope, horizontal, planned by 
Prof. Winlock, 163. 

Thomson, Sir William, 248. 

TiUey, Sir Leonard, 40. 

Tracy, Benjamin, 123. 

Transit of Venus, early observa- 
tions of, 151 ; observed by Mason 
and Dixon, 153 ; Hell's alleged 
forgeries, 157; preparation for 
observation of, 160; Committee 
of National Academy of Sciences 
to consider subject, 161 ; transit 
commission, 163 ; appropriation 
for observation station, 170, 171, 
174 ; valne of observations, 173 ; 
observations at Cape Town, 177 ; 
publication of observations, 178. 

Tremblay, Dom de la, 395. 

Tuttle, H. P.,192. 

Tyndall, Prof., 296. 



Van Vleck, Prof., 73. 

Wagner, Dr., 315. 

Wallace, Gen. Lew, 339. 

Washburn, Mr., minister to Paris, 
320. 

Washington, during the Civil War, 
334; newsboys of, 336; Early's 
raid on, 339; after the fall of 
Richmond, 343; Shepherd re- 
gime, 363 ; the new city, 366. 

Weiss, director of Vienna Observa- 
tory, 157. 

WeUes, Gideon, 111. 

Wells, David A., 405. 

White House, incidents at, during 
Garfield's illness, 357. 

Whitney, WiUiam C, 123. 

Williams, Sir Fenwick, 298. 

WUson, Henry, 250. 

Winlock, Prof. Joseph, superin- 
tendent Nautical Almanac, 59, 
61 ; personality, 65 ; constructs 
instrument for astronomical pho- 
tography, 163. 

Wolf, Prof. Charles, 144. 

Woodward, Dr. J. J., 357. 

Wright, Chauncey, 70. 

Wright, Gen. H. 6., 341. 

Yale Alumni Association, 241. 
Yamall, Prof. M., characteristics, 
101 ; observations of, 105. 



EUctrotyped and printed ly H. O. Hmghton &• Co. 
Cambridge, Mass., U.S. A. 




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