Music composed by William Herschel

The following article appeared in the "Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution," 1871

By  M. Arago.

WILLIAM HERSCHEL, one of the greatest astronomers that ever lived in any age or country, was born at Hanover, on the 15th of November, 1738. The name of Herschel has become too illustrious for the world to neglect searching back, along the stream of time, to learn the social position of the families that have borne it. Yet pardonable curiosity on this subject has not been entirely satisfied. We only know that Abraham Herschel, great-grandfather of the astronomer, resided at Mahren, whence he was expelled on account of his strong attachment to the Protestant faith; that Abraham's son Isaac was a farmer in the vicinity of Leipzig; that Isaac's eldest son, Jacob Herschel, disappointed his father's earnest desire to see him devote himself to agriculture, that he determined on being a musician, and settled at Hanover.

Jacob Herschel, father of William, the astronomer, was an eminent musician, not less remarkable for the good qualities of his heart than for those of his mind. His very limited means did not enable him to bestow a complete education on his family, consisting of six boys and four girls, although, by his care, his ten children all became excellent musicians. The eldest, Jacob, even acquired a rare degree of skill, which procured for him the appointment of master of the band in a Hanoverian regiment, which he accompanied to England. The third son, William, remained under his father's roof, and, without neglecting the fine arts, took lessons in the French language, and devoted himself to the study of metaphysics, for which he retained a taste to his latest day.

In 1759 William Herschel, then about twenty-one years of age, went over to England, not with his father, as has been erroneously stated, but with his brother Jacob, whose connections in that country seemed likely to favor the young man's opening prospects in life. But neither London nor the country towns afforded him any resource in the beginning, and the first two or three years after his expatriation were marked with cruel privations, which were, however, manfully endured. A fortunate chance finally raised the young Hanoverian to a better position; Lord Durham engaged him as master of the band in an English regiment which was quartered on the borders of Scotland. From this moment he began to acquire a reputation as a musician that was gradually extended, until in 1766 he was appointed organist at Halifax, (Yorkshire.) The emoluments of this situation, together with those of giving private lessons both in the town and the country around, afforded him the means to remedy, or rather to complete, his early education. It was


then that he learned Latin and Italian, though without any other help than a grammar and a dictionary, and that he also acquired some knowledge of Greek. So great was the desire for knowledge with which he was inspired that while residing at Halifax he found means to continue his philological exercises, and at the same time to study deeply the learned but very obscure mathematical work of Smith on the theory of music. This treatise, either explicitly or implicitly, supposed the reader to have a knowledge of algebra and geometry, which Herschel did not possess, but of which he made himself master in a very short time.

In 1766 Herschel obtained the appointment of organist to the Octagon Chapel at Bath. This was a more lucrative post than that at Halifax, but it also devolved on him new obligations. He had to play incessantly either at the oratorios, or in the rooms at the baths, at the theater, and in the public concerts. Besides this, from among his patrons in the most fashionable circle of England, he could not refuse to take numerous pupils who wished to be instructed in his art. It is difficult to imagine how, among so many duties, so many distractions of various kinds, Herschel could continue the studies, which even at Halifax had required so much resolution and perseverance, with a very uncommon degree of talent. We have seen that it was by music that Herschel was led to mathematics; mathematics in their turn led him to optics, the principal and fertile source of his illustrious career. The time finally arrived when his theoretic knowledge was to guide the young musician into a laborious application of principles quite foreign to his habits; and of which the brilliant success, as well as the excessive temerity, must excite reasonable astonishment.

A telescope - a simple reflector, only two English feet in length falls into the hands of Herschel during his residence at Bath This instrument however imperfect, shows him a multitude of stars in the sky that the naked eye cannot discern; shows him also enlarged known objects, under their true dimensions; reveals forms to him that the richest imaginations of antiquity had never suspected. He is transported with enthusiasm, and resolves, without delay, to have a similar instrument but of larger size. The answer from London is delayed for some days. These few days appear to him as years. When the answer arrives, the price that the optician demands proves to be much beyond the pecuniary resources of a mere organist. To any other man this would have been an unsurmountable obstacle. This unexpected difficulty, on the contrary, inspired Herschel with fresh energy. He cannot buy a telescope; then he will construct one with his own hands. The musician of the Octagon Chapel rushes immediately into a multitude of experiments, on metallic alloys that reflect light with the greatest intensity, on the means of giving the parabolic figure to the mirrors, on the causes that in the operation of polishing affect the regularity of the reflection, &c. So rare a degree of perseverance at last receives its reward. In 1774 Herschel has the happiness of being


able to examine the heavens with a Newtonian telescope of five English feet focus, entirely made by himself. This success tempts him to undertake still more difficult enterprises. Other telescopes of seven, of eight of ten, and even of twenty feet focal distance, crown his efforts. As if to answer in advance those critics who would have accused him of a superfluity of apparatus, of unnecessary luxury, in the large size of the new instruments, and his extreme minutiae in their execution, Nature granted to the astronomical musician, on the 13th of March, 1781, the unprecedented honor of commencing his career of observation with the discovery of a new planet, situated on the confines of our solar system. Dating from that moment, Herschel's reputation, no longer in his character of musician, but as a constructor of telescopes and as an astronomer, spread throughout the world. George III, a lover of science, and much inclined besides to protect and patronize both men and things of Hanoverian origin, had Herschel presented to him. He was charmed with the simple yet lucid and modest account that the astronomer gave of his repeated endeavors; he caught a glimpse of the glory that such an observer might reflect on his reign; granted him a pension of three hundred guineas a year, and furnished him with a residence near Windsor Castle, first at Clay Hall and then at Slough.  The anticipations of George III were completely realized. We may confidently assert, relative to the little house at Slough, that it is the place of all the world where the greatest number of astronomical discoveries have been made. The name of that village will never perish. Science will transmit it religiously to our latest posterity.

I shall avail myself of this opportunity to rectify a mistake, of which ignorance and idleness wish to make a triumphant handle, or, at all events, to wield in their cause as an irresistible justification. It has been repeated to satiety that at the time when Herschel entered on his astronomical career he knew nothing of mathematics. But I have already said that, during his residence at Bath, the organist of the Octagon Chapel had familiarized himself with the principles of geometry and algebra; and a still more positive proof of this is, that a difficult question on the vibration of strings loaded with small weights having been proposed for discussion in 1779, Herschel gave it a solution which was thought worthy to be inserted in several scientific periodicals of the year 1780.

The adventurous life of Herschel is here closed. The great astronomer will not quit his observatory any more, except to submit the sublime results of his laborious vigils to the Royal Society of London. These results are contained in his memoirs; they constitute one of the principal riches of the celebrated collection known under the title of Philosophical Transactions.

Herschel was even elected as a member of the principal academies of Europe, and about 1816 he was named a Knight of the Guelphic Order of Hanover. According to the English custom, from the time of that


nomination the title of Sir William took the place, on all his memoirs, already honored with so much celebrity, of the former appellation of Doctor William. He had been named a doctor of laws in the University of Oxford in 1786. This dignity, by special favor, was conferred on him without any of the obligatory formalities of examination, disputation, or pecuniary contribution, usual in that learned corporation.

I should wound the elevated sentiments that Herschel professed all his life, if I were not here to mention two indefatigable assistants that this fortunate astronomer found in his own family. The one was Alexander Herschel, endowed with a remarkable talent for mechanism, always at his brother's service, and who enabled him to realize without delay any ideas that he had conceived; *  the other was Miss Caroline Herschel, who deserves a still more particular and detailed mention.

Miss Caroline Lucretia Herschel went to England as soon as her brother became special astronomer to the King. She received the appellation there of Assistant Astronomer, with a moderate salary. From that moment she unreservedly devoted herself to the service of her brother, happy in contributing night and day to his rapidly increasing scientific reputation. Miss Caroline shared in all the night-watches of her brother, with her eye constantly on the clock, and the pencil in her hand; she, without exception, recorded all the observations; she afterward made three or four copies in separate registers; coordinated, classed, and analyzed them. If the scientific world saw with astonishment how Herschel's works succeeded each other with unexampled rapidity during so many years, they were specially indebted for it to the ardor of Miss Caroline. Astronomy, moreover, has been directly enriched with several comets by this excellent and respectable lady. After the death of her illustrious brother, she retired to Hanover, to the house of Jahn Dietrich Herschel, a musician of high reputation, and the only surviving brother of the astronomer.

William Herschel died without pain on the 23d of August, 1822, aged eighty-three. Neither fame nor fortune ever changed in him the fund of infantine candor, inexhaustible benevolence, and sweetness of character with which nature had endowed him. He preserved to the last both his brightness of mind and vigor of intellect. For some years before his death he enjoyed with delight the distinguished success of his only son, t Sir John Herschel. At his last hour he sunk to rest with the pleasing conviction that his beloved son, heir of a great name, would not allow it to fall into oblivion, but would adorn it with fresh luster,

* When age and infirmities obliged Alexander Herschel to give up his profession as a musician, he quitted Bath and returned to Hanover, very generously provided by Sir William with a comfortable independence for life.

t Sir W. Herschel had married Mary, the widow of John Pitt, esq., possessed of a considerable jointure, and the union proved a remarkable accession of domestic happiness. This lady survived Sir William by several years. They had but this son.-TRANSLATOR'S NOTE


and that great discoveries would also honor his career. No prediction of the illustrious astronomer has been more completely verified.

In the English journals an account is given of the interesting means adopted by the family of Sir William Herschel for preserving the remains of the great telescope of thirty-nine feet focus, constructed by that celebrated astronomer.

The metal tube of the instrument, carrying at one end the recently cleaned mirror of four feet ten inches in diameter, has been placed horizontally in the meridian on solid piers of masonry, in the midst of the circle where formerly stood the mechanism requisite for maneuvering the telescope. The 1st of January, 1840, Sir John Herschel, his wife, their children, seven in number, and some old family-servants assembled at Slough. Exactly at noon the party walked several times in procession around the instrument; they then entered the tube of the telescope, seated themselves on benches that had been prepared for the purpose, and sung a requiem, with English words, composed by Sir John Herschel himself. After their exit, the illustrious family ranged themselves around the great tube, the opening of which was then hermetically sealed. The day concluded with a party of intimate friends.

I know not whether those persons who can only appreciate things from the peculiar point of view from which they have been accustomed to look, may think there was something strange in several of the details of the ceremony that I have just described. I affirm, however, that the whole world will applaud the pious feeling which actuated Sir John Herschel, and that all the friends of science will thank him for having consecrated the humble garden where his father achieved such immortal labors by a monument more expressive in its simplicity than pyramids or statues. 


1780. Philosophical Transactions, vol. lxx.-Astronomical observations on the periodical star in the neck of the Whale.-Astronomical observations relative to the lunar mountains.

1781. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxi.- Astronomical observations on the rotation of the planets on their axes, made with a view to decide whether the daily rotation of the earth be always the same.-On the comet of 1781, afterward called the Georgium Sidus.

1782. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxii.- On the parallax of the fixed stars.-Catalogue of double stars.-Description of a lamp micrometer, and the method of using it.-Answers to the doubts that might be raised to the high magnifying powers used by Herschel.

1783. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxiii.- Letter to Sir Joseph Banks on the name to be given to the new planet.-On the diameter of the Georgium Sidus, followed by the description of a micrometer with luminous or dark disks.-On the proper motion of the solar system, and the various changes that have occurred among the fixed stars since the time of Flamsteed.

1784. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxiv. - On some remarkable appearances in the polar regions of Mars, the inclination of its axis, the position of its poles, and its spheroidal form.

* These titles are copied direct from the Philosophical Transactions, instead of being re-translated. - TRANSLATOR'S NOTE


Some details on the real diameter of Mars, and on its atmosphere. - Analysis of some observations on the constitution of the heavens.

1785. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxv. - Catalogue of double stars.-On the constitution of the heavens.

1786. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxvi. - Catalogue of a thousand nebulas and clusters of stars.-Researches on the cause of  a defect of definition in vision, which has been attributed to the smallness of the optic pencils.

1787. Phil. Trans., vol. Ixxvii. - Remarks on the new comet. - Discovery of two satellites revolving round George's Planet.-On three volcanoes in the moon.

1788. Phil. Runs., vol. lxxviii. - On George's Planet (Uranus) and its satellites.

1789. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxix. - Observations on a comet. - Catalogue of a second thousand new nebulas and clusters of stars. - Some preliminary remarks on the constitution of the heavens.

1790. Phil. Rang., vol. lxxx. - Discovery of Saturn's sixth and seventh satellites; with remarks on the constitution of the ring, on the planet's rotation round an axis, on its spheroidal form, and on its atmosphere. On Saturn's satellites, and the rotation of the ring round an axis. .

1791. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxxi. - On the nebulous stars and the suitableness of this epithet.

1792. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxxii. - On Saturn's ring, and the rotation of the planet's fifth satellite round an axis. Mixed observations.

1793. Phil. Trans., vol. Ixxxiii. - Observations on the planet Venus.

1794. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxxiv. - Observations on a quintuple band in Saturn. - On some peculiarities observed during the last solar eclipse. - On Saturn's rotation round an axis.

1795. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxxv. - On the nature and physical constitution of the sun and stars. - Description of a reflecting telescope forty feet in length.

1796. Phil. Trans., vol. lxxxvi. - Method of observing the changes that happen to the fixed stars; remarks on the stability of our sun's light.- Catalogue of comparative brightness, to determine the permanency of the luster of stars.-On the periodical star  a-Herculis, with remarks tending to establish the rotatory motion of the stars on their axes;  to which is added a second catalogue of the brightness of the stars.

1797. Phil. Tram., vol. lxxxvii. - A third catalogue of the comparative brightness of the stars; with an introductory account of an index to Mr. Flamsteed's observations of the fixed stars, contained in the second volume of the Historia Coelestis, to which are added several useful results derived from that index. Observations of the changeable brightness of the satellites of Jupiter, and of the variation in their apparent magnitudes; with a determination of the time of their rotary motions on their axes, to which is added a measure of the diameter of the second satellite, and an estimate of the comparative size of the fourth.

1798. Phil. Tram., vol. lxxxviii. - On the discovery of four additional satellites of the Georgium Sidus. The retrograde motion of its satellites announced; and the cause of their disappearance at certain distances from the planet explained.

1799. Phil. Tram., vol. lxxxix. - A fourth catalogue of the comparative brightness of the stars.

1800. Phil. Tram., vol. xc. - On the power of penetrating into space by telescopes, with a comparative determination of the extent of that power in natural vision, and in telescopes of various sizes and construction; illustrated by select observations. - Investigation of the powers of the prismatic colors to heat and illuminate objects; with remarks that prove the different refrangibility of radiant heat; to which is added an inquiry into the method of viewing the sun advantageously with telescopes of large apertures and high magnifying powers. Experiments on the refrangibility of the invisible rays of the sun. - Experiments on the solar and on the terrestrial rays that occasion heat; with a comparative view of the laws to which light and beat, or rather the rays which occasion them, are subject, in order to determine whether they are the same or different.


1801. Phil.
Trans., vol. xci. - Observations tending to investigate the nature of the sun, in order to find the causes or symptoms of its variable emission of light and heat; with remarks on the use that may possibly be drawn from solar observations. Additional observations tending to investigate the symptoms of the variable emission of the light and heat of the sun; with trials to set aside darkening glasses, by transmitting the solar rays through liquids, and a few remarks to remove objections that might be made against some of the arguments contained in the former paper.

1802. Phil. Trans., vol. xcii. - Observations on the two lately discovered celestial bodies, (Ceres and Pallas.) Catalogue of 500 new nebulae and clusters of stars, with remarks on the construction of the heavens.

1803. Phil. Trans., vol. xciii. - Observations of the transit of Mercury over the disk of the sun; to which is added an investigation of the causes which often prevent the proper action of mirrors.-Account of the changes that have happened during the last twenty-five years in the relative situation of double stare ; with an investigation of the cause to which they are owing.

1804. Phil. Trans., vol. xciv. - Continuation of an account of the changes that have happened in the relative situation of double stars.

1805. Phil. Trans., vol. xcv. - Experiments for ascertaining how far telescopes will enable us to determine very small angles, and to distinguish the real from the spurious diameters of celestial and terrestrial objects; with an application of the result of these experiments to a series of observations on the nature and magnitude of Mr. Harding's lately discovered star.-On the direction and velocity of the motion of the sun and solar system. Observation on the singular figure of the planet Saturn.

1806. Phil. Trans., vol. xcvi. - On the quantity and velocity of the solar motion. Observations on the figure, the climate, and the atmosphere of Saturn and its ring.

1807. Phil. Trans., vol. xcvii. - Experiments for investigating the cause of the colored concentric rings discovered by Sir Isaac Newton between two object-glasses laid one upon another.-Observations on the nature of the new celestial body discovered by Dr. Olbers, and of the comet which was expected to appear last January, in its return from the sun.

1808. Phil. Trans., vol. xcviii. - Observations of a comet, made with a view to investigate its magnitude and the nature of its illumination. To which is added an account of a new irregularity lately perceived in the apparent figure of the planet Saturn.

1809. Phil. Trans., vol. xcix. - Continuation of experiments for investigating the cause of colored concentric rings and other appearances of a similar nature.

1810. Phil. Trans., vol. c. - Supplement to the first and second part of the paper of experiments for investigating the cause of colored concentric rings between object-glasses, and other appearances of a similar nature.

1811. Phil. Trans., vol. ci .- Astronomical observations relating to the construction of the heavens, arranged for the purpose of a critical examination, the result of which appears to throw some new light upon the organization of the celestial bodies.

1812. Phil. Trans., vol. cii. - Observations of a comet, with remarks on the construction of its different parts. Observations of a second comet, with remarks on its construction.

1814. Phil. Trans., vol. civ. - Astronomical observations relating to the sidereal part of the heavens, and its connection with the nebulous put; arranged for the purpose of a critical examination.

1815. Phil. Trans., vol. cv. - A series of observations of the satellites of the Georgian Planet, including a passage through the node of their orbits; with an introductory account of the telescopic apparatus that has been used on this occasion, and a final exposition of some calculated particulars deduced from the observations.

1817. Phil. Trans., vol. cvii. - Astronomical observations and experiments tending to investigate the local arrangement of the celestial bodies in apace, and to determine the extent and condition of the Milky Way.

1818. Phil. Tram., vol. cviii. - Astronomical observations and experiments selected


for the purpose of ascertaining the relative distances of clusters of stars, and of investigating how far the power of telescopes may be expected to reach intro space, when directed to ambiguous celestial objects.

1822. Memoirs of the Astronomical Society of London. - On the positions of 145 new double stars.

The chronological and detailed analysis of so many labors would involve numerous repetitions. A systematic order will be preferable, since it more distinctly fixes the eminent place that Herschel will never cease to occupy in the small group of contemporary men of genius, while his name will reecho to the most distant posterity. The variety and splendor of Herschel's labors vie with their extent. The more we study them the more we must admire them. It is with great men as it is with great movements in the arts: we cannot understand them without studying them from various points of view.

Let us here again make a general reflection. The memoirs of Herschel are, for the greater part, pure and simple extracts from his inexhaustible journals of observations at Slough, accompanied by brief remarks. Such a table would not suit historical details. In these respects the author has left almost everything to his biographers to do for him. And they must impose on themselves the task of assigning to the great astronomer's predecessors the portion that legitimately belongs to them out of the mass of discoveries which the public, we must say, are in the habit of erroneously referring too exclusively to Herschel.

At one time I thought of adding a note to the analysis of each of the illustrious observer's memoirs, containing a detailed account of the improvements or corrections to which the progressive march of science has led. But in order to avoid an exorbitant length in this biography, I have been obliged to give up my project. In general, I shall content myself with pointing out what belongs to Herschel, referring to Arago's Treatise on Popular Astronomy for the historical details. The life of Herschel had the rare advantage of forming an epoch in an extensive branch of astronomy; it would require us almost to write a special treatise on astronomy to show thoroughly the importance of all the researches that are due to him.


The improvements that Herschel made in the construction and management of telescopes have contributed so directly to the discoveries with which that observer enriched astronomy that we cannot hesitate to bring them forward at once.

I find the following passage in a memoir by Lalande,  printed in 1783, and forming part of the preface to Volume VIII of the Ephemerides of the Celestial Motions:

"Each time that Herschel undertakes to polish a mirror (of a telescope) he condemns himself to ten, or twelve, or even fourteen hours of constant work. He does not quit his workshop for a minute, not even to


eat, but receives from the hands of his sister that nourishment without which one could not undergo such prolonged fatigue. Nothing could induce Herschel to leave his work; for, according to him, if he did so it would be to spoil it."

The advantages that Herschel found in 1783, 1784, and 1785, in employing telescopes of twenty feet and with large apertures, made him desire to construct one much larger still. The expense would be considerable; the King provided for it. The work, begun about the close of 1785, was finished in August, 1789. This instrument had an iron cylindrical tube, thirty-nine feet four inches in length, and four feet ten inches in diameter. Such dimensions are enormous as compared with those of telescopes previously made. They will appear but small, however, to persons who have heard the report of a pretended ball given in the Slough telescope. The propagators of this popular rumor must have confounded the astronomer Herschel with the brewer Meux, and a cylinder in which a man of the smallest stature could scarcely stand upright, with divers wooden vats, as large as a house, in which beer is made in London.

Herschel's telescope, forty English feet * in length, allowed the realization of an idea, the advantages of which would not be sufficiently. appreciated if I did not here recall to mind some facts.

In any telescope, whether refracting or reflecting, there are two principal:  the part that forms the aerial images of the distant objects, and the small lens by the aid of which these images are magnified just as if they consisted of radiating matter. When the image is produced by means of a lenticular glass, the place it occupies will be found in the prolongation of the line that extends from the object to the center of the lens. The astronomer, furnished with an eye-piece and wishing to examine that image, must necessarily place himself beyond the point where the rays that form it have crossed each other; beyond, let us carefully remark, means farther off  from the object-glass. The observer's head, cannot then interfere with the formation or the brightness of the image, however small may be the distance from which he may have to study it. But it is no longer thus with the image formed by means of reflection. For the image is now placed between the object and the reflecting mirror, and when the astronomer approaches in order to examine it, he inevitably intercepts, if not the totality, at least a very considerable portion, of the luminous rays, which would otherwise have contributed to give it great distinctness. It will now be understood why, in optical instruments where the images of distant objects are formed by the reflection of light, it has been necessary to carry the images, by the aid of a second reflection, out of the tube that contains and sustains the

*Conforming to general usage, and to Sir W. Herschel himself, we shall allude to this instrument as the
forty-foot telescope, though M. Arago adheres to thirty-nine fact and drops the inches, probably because the Parisian foot is rather looter than the English.---TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.


principal mirror. When the small mirror on the surface of which the second reflection is effected is plane and inclined at an angle of 45 to the axis of the telescope; when the image is reflected laterally through an opening made near the edge of the tube and furnished with an eyepiece; when, in a word, the astronomer looks definitively in a direction perpendicular to the line described by the luminous rays coming from the object and falling on the center of the great mirror, then the telescope is called Newtonian. But in the Gregorian telescope the image formed by the principal mirror falls on a second mirror, which is very small, slightly curved, and parallel to the first. The small mirror reflects the first image and throws it beyond the large mirror, through an opening made in the middle of that mirror.

Both in the one and in the other of these two telescopes, the small mirror interposed between the object and the great mirror forms relative to the latter a sort of screen which prevents its entire surface from contributing toward forming the image. The small mirror also, in regard to intensity, gives some trouble.

Let us suppose, in order to clear up our ideas, that the material of which the two mirrors are made reflects only half of the incident light. In the course of the first reflection, the immense number of rays that the aperture of the telescope had received may be considered as reduced to half. Nor is the diminution less on the small mirror. Now, half of a half is a quarter. Therefore the instrument will send to the eye of the observer only a quarter of the incident light that its aperture bad received If these two causes of diminished light did not exist in a refracting telescope, it would give, under parity of dimensions, four times more *  light than a Newtonian or Gregorian telescope gives.

Herschel did away with the small mirror in his large telescope by placing the large mirror obliquely in the tube which causes the images to be formed, not in the axis of the tube, but very near the circumference or edge of the enter mouth, as we may call it. The observer might therefore look at them directly merely by means of an eye-glass. A small portion of the astronomer's head, it is true, encroaches on the tube, forms a screen, and interrupts some incident rays. Still, in a large telescope, this loss does not amount to half as much as it would inevitably do if the small mirror were there.

Those telescopes in which the observer, standing at the anterior extremity of the tube, looks directly into it, turning his back to the objects, were called by Herschel  front-view telescopes. In Volume LXXVI of the Philosophical Transactions, he says that the idea of this construction occurred to him in 1776, and that lie then applied it unsuccessfully to a ten-foot telescope; that during the year 1784 he again made a fruitless trial of it in a twenty-foot telescope. Yet I find that on the 7th of September, 1784, he recurred to a front view in observing some nebulae and groups of stars. However discordant these dates may be, we cannot

*It would be more correct to say four times as much light. - TRANSLATOR.


without injustice neglect to remark that a front-view telescope was already described in 1732, in Volume VI of the collection entitled "Machines and Inventions approved by the Academy of Sciences." The author of this innovation is Jacques Lemaire, who has been unduly confounded with the English Jesuit, Christopher Maire, assistant to Boscovitch, in measuring the meridian comprised between Rome and Rimini. Jacques Lemaire, having only telescopes of moderate dimensions in view, was obliged, in order not to sacrifice any of the light, to place the great mirror so obliquely that the image formed by its surface should fall entirely outside the tube of the instrument. So great a degree of inclination would certainly distort the image. The front-view construction is admissible only in very large telescopes.

I find in the Transactions for 1803 that, in solar observations, Herschel sometimes employed telescopes, the great mirror of which was made of glass. It was with a telescope of this kind, seven feet long, and six inches and three-tenths in diameter, that he observed the transit of Mercury on the 9th of November, 1802.

Practical astronomers know how much the mounting of a telescope contributes to produce correct observations. The difficulty of a solid yet very movable mounting increases rapidly with the dimensions and weight of an instrument. We may then conceive that Herschel had to surmount many obstacles in mounting a telescope suitably of which the mirror alone weighed upward of 1,000 kilograms, (a ton.) But he solved this problem to his entire satisfaction by the aid of a combination of spars, pulleys, and ropes, of which a correct idea may be formed by referring to the wood-cut given in Arago's Treatise on Popular Astronomy, (Vol. I.) This apparatus, and the different stands that Herschel devised for telescopes of smaller dimensions, assign to that llustrious observer a distinguished place among the most ingenious mechanics of our age.

The public in general - I may even say the greater part of astronomers -know not what was the effect that the great forty-foot telescope had in the labors and discoveries of Herschel. Still, we are not less mistaken when we suppose that the observer of Slough always used this telescope than in imagining, with Baron von Zach, (see Monatliche Correspondenz, January, 1802) that the colossal instrument was of no use at all; that it did not contribute to any new discovery; that it must be considered as a  mere object of curiosity. These assertions are distinctly contradicted by Herschel's own words. In the volume of Philosophical Transactions for the year 1795 (p. 350) I read, for example: "On the 28th of August, 1789, having directed my telescope (of forty feet) to the heavens, I discovered the sixth satellite of Saturn, and I perceived the spots on that planet better than I had been able to do before." (See also relative to this sixth satellite the Philosophical Transactions for 1790, p. 10.) In that same volume of 1790 (p. 11) I find: "The great light of my forty-foot telescope was so useful that on the 17th of September, 1789, I  re-


marked the seventh satellite, then situated at its greatest western elongation."

The 10th of October, 1791, Herschel saw the ring of Saturn and the fourth satellite, looking in at the mirror of his forty-foot telescope, with his naked eye, without any kind of eye-piece.

Let us acknowledge the true motives that prevented Herschel from oftener using his forty-foot telescope. Notwithstanding the excellence of the mechanism, the maneuvering of that instrument required the constant aid of two laborers, and that of another person charged with noting the time at the clock. Besides this, during nights when the variation of temperature was considerable, this telescope, on account of its great mass, was always behind the atmosphere in thermometric changes, giving rise to a difference of density in the air within and without the tube very injurious to the distinctness of the images.

Herschel found that in England there are not above a hundred hours in a year during which the heavens can be advantageously observed with a telescope of forty feet, furnished with a magnifying power of a thousand. This remark led the celebrated astronomer to the conclusion that to take a complete survey of the heavens with his large instrument, though each successive field should remain only for an instant under inspection, would not require less than eight hundred years.

He explains very clearly the rare occurrence of the circumstances in which it is possible to make good use of a telescope of forty feet, and of very large aperture.

A telescope does not magnify real objects only, but magnifies also the apparent irregularities arising from atmospheric refractions; now, all other things being equal, these irregularities of refraction must be so much the greater, so much the more frequent, as the stratum of air is thicker through which the rays have passed in going to form the image.

Astronomers expressed extreme surprise when, in 1782, they learned that Herschel had applied linear magnifying powers of a thousand, of twelve hundred, of two thousand two hundred, of two thousand six hundred, and even of six thousand times, to a reflecting telescope of seven feet in length. The Royal Society of London participated in this surprise, and officially requested Herschel to give publicity to the means he had adopted for using such amounts of magnifying power in his telescopes. Such was the object of a memoir that he inserted in Volume LXXII of the Philosophical Transactions; and it dissipated all doubts. No one will be surprised that magnifying powers, which it would seem ought to have shown the lunar mountains as the chain of Mont Blanc is seen from Macon, from Lyons, and even from Geneva, were not easily believed in. They did not know that Herschel had never used magnifying powers of three thousand and six thousand times, except in observing brilliant stars; they had not remembered that light reflected by planetary bodies is too feeble to continue distinct


under the same degree of magnifying power as the direct light of the fixed stars does.

Opticians had given up, more from theory than from careful experiments, attempting high magnifying powers, even for reflecting telescopes. They thought that the image of a small circle cannot be distinct, cannot be sharp at the edges, unless the pencil of rays coming from the object in nearly parallel lines, and which enters the eye after having passed through the eye-piece, be sufficiently broad. This being once granted, the inference followed that an image ceases to be well defined when it does not strike at least two of the nervous filaments of the retina with which that organ is supposed to be overspread. These gratuitous conditions, grafted on each other, vanished in presence of Herschel's observations. After having put himself on his guard against the effects of diffraction-that is to say, against the scattering that light undergoes when it passes the terminal angles of bodies-the illustrious astronomer proved, in 1786, that objects can be seen well defined by means of pencils of light whose diameter does not equal five-tenths of a millimeter.

Herschel considered the almost unanimous opinion of the double-lens eye-piece being preferable to the single-lens eye-piece as a very injurious prejudice to science, since experience proved to him,  notwithstanding all theoretic deductions, that, with equal magnifying powers, in reflecting telescopes, at least (and this restriction is of some consequence), the images were brighter and better defined with single than with double eye-pieces. On one occasion this latter eye-piece could not show him the bands of Saturn, while by the aid of a single lens they were perfectly visible. Herschel said: "The double eye-piece must be left to amateurs, and to those who, for some particular object, require a large field of vision."  (Philosophical Transactions, 1782, pp. 94 and 95.)

It is not only relative to the comparative merit of single or double eye-pieces that Herschel differs in opinion from opticians generally. He thinks, moreover, that he has proved, by decisive experiments, that concave eye-pieces (like that used by Galileo) surpass the convex eyepiece, both as regards clearness and definition.

Herschel assigns the date of 1776 to the experiments which he made to decide this question. (Philosophical Transactions, year 1815, p. 297.) Plano-concave and double-concave lenses produced similar effects. In what did these lenses differ from the double-convex lenses? In one particular only: the latter received the rays reflected by the large mirror of the telescope after their union at the focus, whereas the concave lenses received the same rays before that union. When the observer made use of a convex lens, the rays that went to the back of the eye to form an image on the retina had previously crossed each other in the air, but no crossing of this kind took place when the observer used a concave lens.  Holding the double advantage of this latter sort of lens over the other as quite proved, one would be inclined, like Herschel,



to admit "that a certain mechanical effect, injurious to clearness and definition, would accompany the focal crossing of the rays of light." *

This idea of the crossing of the rays suggested an experiment, the result of which deserves to be recorded. A telescope of ten English feet was directed toward an advertisement covered with very small printing, and placed at a sufficient distance. The convex lens of the eye-piece was carried, not by a tube, properly so called, but by four fine rigid wires, placed at right angles; this arrangement left the focus open in almost every direction. A concave mirror was then placed so that it threw a very condensed image of the sun laterally on the very spot where the image of the advertisement was formed. The solar rays, after having crossed each other, finding nothing on their route, went on and lost themselves in space. A screen, however, allowed the rays to be intercepted at will before they united. This done, having applied the eye to the eyepiece, and directed all his attention to the telescopic image of the advertisement, Herschel did not; perceive that the taking away and then replacing the screen made the least change in the brightness or definition of the letters. It was, therefore, of no consequence in this instance as well as in the other, whether the immense quantity of solar rays crossed each other at the very place where, in another direction, the rays united that formed the image of the letters. I have marked in Italics the words that especially show in what this curious experiment differs from the previous experiments, and yet does not entirely contradict them. In this instance, the rays were of different origin, those coming from the advertisement and those from the sun crossed each other, respectively, in an almost rectangular direction; while in the comparative examination of the stars with convex and with concave eye-pieces, the rays that seemed to have a mutual influence had a common origin, and crossed each other at very acute angles. There seems to be nothing, then, in the results at which we need to be much surprised.

Herschel increased the catalogue, already so extensive, of the mysteries of vision, when he explained in what manner we must endeavor to distinguish separately the two members of certain double stars very close to each other. He said, "If you wish to assure yourself that  h-Corona is a double star, first direct your telescope to a-Geminorum, to z-Aquarii, to m-Draconis, to r-Herculis, to a-Piscium, to e-Lyrae. Look at those stars for a long time, so as to acquire the habit of observing such objects; then pass on to x-Ursae majoris, where the closeness of the two members is still greater. In a third essay select i-Bootis,

*On comparing the Cassegrain telescopes, with a small convex mirror, to the Gregorian telescopes, with a small concave mirror, Captain Kater found that the former, in which the luminous rays do not cross each other before falling on the small mirror, possess, as to intensity, a marked advantage over the latter, in which this crossing takes place.


(marked 44 by Flamsteed and i in Harris's maps,) * the star that precedes a-Orionis n of the same constellation, and you will then be prepared for the more difficult observation of h-Coronae. Indeed h-Coronet is a sort of miniature of  i-Bootis, which may itself be considered as a miniature of a-Geminorum." (Philosophical Transactions, 1732,  p. 100.)

As soon as Piazzi, Olbers, and Harding had discovered three of the numerous telescopic planets now known, Herschel proposed to himself to determine their real magnitudes; but telescopes not having then been applied to the measurement of excessively small angles, it became requisite, in order to avoid any illusion, to try some experiments adapted to giving a scale of the powers of those instruments. Of the labor of our indefatigable astronomer in this line, I am going to give a condensed account.

The author relates first, that in 1774 he endeavored to ascertain experimentally, with the naked eye, and at the distance of distinct vision, what angle a circle must subtend to be distinguished by its form from a square of similar dimensions. The angle was never smaller than 2' 17"; therefore, at its maximum it was about one-fourteenth of the angle subtended by the diameter of the moon.

Herschel did not say of what nature the circles and squares of paper were that he used, nor on what background they were projected. It is an omission to be regretted, since in those phenomena the intensity of light must be an important feature. However it may have been, the scrupulous observer, not daring to extend to telescopic vision what he had discovered relative to vision with the naked eye, he undertook to do away with all doubt by direct observations.

On examining some heads of pins, placed at a distance in the open air, with a three-foot telescope, Herschel could easily discern that those bodies were round when the subtended angles became, after being magnified,  2' 19". This is almost exactly the result obtained with the naked eye.

When the globules were darker-when, instead of pins' heads, small globules of sealing wax were used - their spherical form did not begin to be distinctly visible till the moment when the subtended magnified angles - that is, the moment when the natural angle multiplied by the magnifying power-amounted to five minutes.

In a subsequent series of experiments, some globules of silver,  placed very far from the observer, allowed their globular form to be perceived, even when the magnified angle remained below two minutes.

* In the selection of i-Bootis as a test, Arago has taken the precaution of giving its corresponding denomination in other catalogues, and Bailey appends the following note, No. 2062, to 44 Bootis: "In the British Catalogue this star is not denoted by any letter, but Bayer calls it i, and on referring to the earliest MS. catalogue in MSS. Vol. XXV, I find it is there so designated; I have therefore restored the letter." (See Bailey's edition of Flamsteed's British Catalogue of Stars, 1835.) The distance between the two members of this double star is 3".7, and position 23.5  (See Bedford Cycle.)  - TRANSLATOR.


Under equality of subtended angle, then, the telescopic vision with strong magnifying powers showed itself superior to the naked-eye vision. This result is not unimportant.

If we take notice of the magnifying powers used by Herschel in these laborious researches-powers that often exceeded five hundred times-it will appear to be established that the telescopes possessed by modern astronomers may serve to verify the round form of distant objects, the form of celestial bodies, even when the diameters of those bodies do not subtend naturally, to the naked eye, angles of above three tenths of a second; and 500 multiplied by three-tenths of a second give 2' 30".

Much still remained to be learned in regard to refracting telescopes; even when they already served to reveal brilliant astronomical phenomena; the result was due rather to chance than to definite theory. Their theory, as far as it depended on geometry and optics, had made rapid progress. These two early phases of the problem leave but little more to be wished for; it is not so with a third phase, hitherto a good deal neglected, connected with physiology, and with the action of light on the nervous system. Therefore, we should search in vain in old treatises on optics and on astronomy for a strict and complete discussion on the comparative effect that the size and intensity of the images that the magnifying power and the aperture of a telescope may have, by night and by day, on the visibility of the faintest stars. This lacuna Herschel tried to fill up in 1799; such was the aim of the memoir entitled "On the Space-penetrating Power of Telescopes."

This memoir contains excellent things; still it is far from exhausting the subject. The author, for instance, entirely overlooks the observations made by day. I also find that the hypothetical part of the discussion is not perhaps as distinctly separated from the rigorous part as it might be; that doubtful numbers, though given with a degree of precision down to the smallest decimals, do not contrast well as terms of comparison with those which, on the contrary, rest on observations bearing mathematical evidence of correctness.

Whatever may be thought of these remarks, the astronomer or the physicist who would like again to undertake the question of visibility with telescopes will find some important facts in Herschel's memoir, and some ingenious observations, well adapted to serve them as guides.


The curious phenomenon of a periodical change of intensity in certain stars very early excited the earnest attention of Herschel. The first memoir by that illustrious observer, presented to the Royal Society of London, and inserted in the Philosophical Transactions, treats especially of the changes of intensity of the star o in the neck of the Whale.

This memoir was dated from Bath, May, 1780. Eleven years afterward, in the month of December, 1791, Herschel communicated a second time to that celebrated English society the observations that he had made by


occasionally directing his telescopes to this mysterious star. At both those epochs the observer's attention was chiefly directed to the absolute values of the maxima and minima of intensity.

The changeable star in the Whale was not the only periodical star with which Herschel occupied himself.  His observations of 1795 and of 1796 proved that a-Herculis also belongs to the category of variable stars, and that the time requisite for the accomplishment of all the changes of intensity, and for the star's return to any given state, was sixty days and a quarter. When Herschel obtained this result, about ten changeable stars were already known; but they were all either of very long or very short periods. The illustrious astronomer considered that by introducing between two groups that exhibited very short and very long periods a star of somewhat intermediate conditions-for instance, one requiring sixty days to accomplish all its variations of intensity-be had advanced the theory of these phenomena by an essential step; the theory at least that attributes all to a movement of rotation which the stars may undergo round their centers.

Sir William Herschel's catalogues of double stars offer a considerable number to which he ascribes a decided green or blue tint. In binary combinations, when the small star appears very blue or very green, the large one is usually yellow or red. It does net appear that the great astronomer took sufficient interest in this circumstance. I do not find, indeed, that the almost constant association of two complementary colors (of yellow and blue, or of red and green) ever led him to suspect that one of those colors might not have anything real in it, that it often might be a mere illusion, a mere result of contrast. It was only in 1825 that I showed that there are stars whose contrast really explains their apparent color; but I have proved besides that blue is incontestably the color of certain insulated stars, or stars that have only white ones, or other blue ones, in their vicinity. Red is the only color that the ancients ever distinguished from white in their catalogues.

Herschel also endeavored to introduce numbers in the classification of stars as to magnitude; he has endeavored, by means of these, to show the comparative intensity of a star of the first magnitude with one of second, or one of third magnitude, &c.

In one of the earliest of Herschel's memoirs, we find that the apparent sidereal diameters are proved to be for the greater part factitious, even when the best telescopes are used. Diameters estimated by seconds --- is to say, reduced according to the magnifying power-diminish in certainty as the magnifying power is increased. These results are of the greatest importance.

In the course of his investigation of sidereal parallax, though without finding it, Herschel made an important discovery-that of the proper motion of our system. To show distinctly the direction of the motion of the solar system, not only was a displacement of the sidereal perspective required, but profound mathematical knowledge, and a peculiar tact.


This peculiar tact Herschel possessed in an eminent degree. Mover, the result deduced from the very small number of proper motions known at the beginning of 1783, has been found almost to agree with that found recently by our best astronomers, with the application of subtitle analytical formulae,  to a considerable number of exact observations.

The proper motions of the stars have been known for more than a century, and even Fontenelle used to say, in 1738, that the sun has probably a similar motion. The idea of partly attributing the displacement of the stars to a motion of the sun had suggested itself to Bradley and to Mayer.  Lambert especially had been very explicit on the subject. Until then, however, there were only conjectures and mere probabilities. Herschel passed these limits. He proved that the sun himself positively moves, and that in this respect that immense and dazzling body must also be classed among the stars; that the apparently inextricable irregularities of numerous sidereal proper motions arise in great measure from the displacement of the solar system; that, in short, the point of space toward which we are annually advancing is situated in the constellation of Hercules.

These are magnificent results. The discovery of the proper motion of our system. will always be accounted among Herschel's highest claims to glory, even after the mention that my duty as historian has obliged me to make of the anterior conjectures of Fontenelle, of Bradley, of Mayer, and of Lambert.

By the side of this great discovery we should place another, that seems likely to be expanded in future. The results which it allows us to hope for will be of extreme importance. The discovery here alluded to was announced to the learned world in 1803; it is that of the reciprocal dependence of several stars, connected the one with the other, as the several planets and their satellites of our system are with the sun.

Let us to these immortal labors add the ingenious ideas that we owe to Herschel on the nebula, on the constitution of the Milky Way, on the universe as a whole-ideas which almost by themselves constitute the actual history of the formation of the worlds and we cannot have too deep a  reverence for that powerful genius that notwithstanding the play of an ardent imagination scarcely ever erred.


Herschel devoted much time to the sun, but only relative to its physical constitution.  The observations that he made on this subject, and the consequences that he deduced from them, equal in interest the Most ingenious discoveries for which the sciences are indebted to him.

In his important memoir in 1795, the great astronomer declares himself convinced that the substance by the intermediation of which the sun  shines cannot be either a liquid or an elastic fluid. It must be analogous to our clouds, and float in the transparent atmosphere of that body. The sun has, according to him, two atmospheres, endowed with


motions quite independent of each other. An elastic fluid of an unknown nature is being constantly formed on the dark surface of the sun, , and rising up, on account of its specific lightness, it forms the pores, in the stratum of reflecting clouds; then, combining with other gases,  it produces  the striae in the region of luminous clouds. When the ascending currents are powerful, they give rise to the nuclei, to penumbrae and the faculae. If this explanation of the formation of solar spots is well founded, we must expect to find that the sun does not constantly emit equal quantities of light and beat. Recent observations have verified this conclusion. But large nuclei, large penumbrae,  striae, faculae, do they indicate an abundant, luminous, and calorific emission, as Herschel supposed ?  That would be the result of his hypothesis on the existence of very active ascending currents, but direct experience seems to contradict it.

The following is the way in which a learned physicist, Sir David Brewster, appreciates this view of Herschel's: "It is not conceivable that luminous clouds, ceding to the lightest impulses and in a state of constant change, can be the source of the sun's devouring flame and of the dazzling light which it emits; nor can we admit, besides, that the feeble barrier formed by planetary clouds would shelter the objects that it might cover from the destructive effects of the superior elements."

Sir David Brewster imagines that the non-luminous rays of caloric, which form a constituent part of the solar light, are emitted by the dark nucleus of the sun; while the visible colored rays proceed from the luminous matter by which the nucleus is surrounded. "From thence," he says, "proceeds the reason of light and beat always appearing in a state of combination; the one emanation cannot be obtained without the other. With this hypothesis we could readily explain why it is hottest when there are most spots, because the beat of the nucleus would then reach us without having been weakened by the atmosphere that it usually has to traverse." But it is far from being an ascertained fact that we experience increased heat during the apparition of color spots; the inverse phenomenon is more probably true.

Herschel also studied the physical constitution of the moon. In 1780; he sought to measure the height of the mountains of our satellite.  The conclusion that he drew from his observations was, that few of the lunar mountains exceed 800 meters, (or 2,600 feet.) More recent selenographic observations give conclusions different from this.  There is reason to remark, on this occasion, how much the result presented by Herschel differs from any tendency to the extraordinary or the gigantic, that has been so unjustly assigned as the characteristic of the illustrious astronomer.

At the close of 1787,  Herschel presented a memoir to the Royal Society, the title of Which must have made a strong impression on the popular mind.  The author therein relates that, on the 19th of April, 1787, he had observed in the non-illuminated part of the moon - that is, in


the then dark portion-three volcanoes in a state of ignition. Two of these volcanoes appeared to be on the decline, the other appeared to be active. Such was his conviction of the reality of the phenomenon, that the next morning he made the following record:
"The volcano burns with more violence than last night." The real diameter of the volcanic light was 5,000 meters. (16,400 English feet.) Its intensity appeared vary superior to that of the nucleus of a comet then in apparition. He further added: "The objects situated near the crater are feebly illuminated by the light that emanates from it;" and concludes thus: "In short, this eruption very much resembles the one I witnessed on the 4th of May, 1783."

How happens it, after such exact observations, that few astronomers now admit the existence of active volcanoes in the moon? I will explain this singularity in a few words.

The various parts of our satellite do not all equally reflect light. Here, it may depend on the form, elsewhere, on the nature of the materials. Those who have examined the moon with telescopes know how very considerable the difference arising from these two causes may be, how much brighter one point of the moon sometimes is than those around it. Now, it is quite evident that the relations of intensity between the faint parts and the brilliant ones must continue to exist, whatever be the origin of the illuminating light. In the portion of the lunar globe that is illuminated by the sun there are, everyone knows, some points, the brightness of which is extraordinary compared to those around them; those same points, when they are seen in that portion of the moon that is only lighted by the earth, or in the ash-colored part, will still predominate over the neighboring regions by their comparative intensity. Thus we may explain the observations of the Slough astronomer, without recurring to volcanoes. While the observer was studying in the non-illuminated portion of the moon the supposed volcano of the 20th of April, 1787, his nine-foot telescope showed him in truth, by the aid of the secondary rays proceeding from the earth, even the darkest spots.

Herschel did not recur to the discussion of the supposed actually burning lunar volcanoes until 1791. In the volume of the Philosophical Transactions for 1792, he relates that in directing a twenty-foot telescope, magnifying three hundred and sixty times, to the entirely eclipsed moon, on the 22d of October, 1790, there were visible, over the whole face of the satellite, about a hundred and fifty very luminous red points. The author declares that he will observe the greatest reserve relative to the nature of all these points, their great brightness, and their remarkable color.

Yet is not red the usual color of the moon when eclipsed, and when it has not entirely disappeared? Could the solar rays reaching our satellite by the effect of refraction, and after an absorption experienced in the lowest strata of the terrestrial atmosphere, receive any other tint? Are there not in the moon, when freely illuminated, and opposite to the


sun, from one to two hundred little points, remarkable by the brightness of their light ? Would it be possible for these little points not to be also distinguishable in the moon when it receives only the portion of solar light which is refracted and colored by our atmosphere ?

Herschel was more successful in his remarks on the absence of a lunar atmosphere. During the solar eclipse of the 5th September, 1793, the illustrious astronomer particularly directed his attention to the shape of the acute horn resulting from the intersection of the limbs of the moon and of the sun. He deduced from his observation that if toward the point of the horn there had been a deviation of only one second, occasioned by the refraction of the solar light in the lunar atmosphere, it would not have escaped him.

He also made the planets the object of numerous researches. Mercury was the one to which he gave least attention; he found its disk perfectly round on observing it during its projection-that is to say, in astronomical language, during its transit over the sun, on the 9th of November, 1802. He sought to determine the time of the rotation of Venus as early as 1777. He published two memoirs relative to Mars, the one in 1781, the other in 1784, and we owe to him the discovery of its being flattened at the poles. After the discovery of the small planets, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta, by Piazzi, Olbers, and Harding, Herschel applied himself to measuring their angular diameters. He concluded from his researches that those four new bodies did not deserve the name of planets, and he proposed to call them asteroids. This epithet was subsequently adopted, though bitterly criticized by a historian of the Royal Society of London, Dr. Thomson, who went so far as to suggest that the learned astronomer " had wished to deprive the first observers of those bodies of all idea of rating themselves as high as himself in the scale of astronomical discoverers." I should require nothing further to annihilate such an imputation than to put it by the side of the following passage, extracted from a memoir by this celebrated astronomer, published in the Philosophical Transactions for the year 1805: "The specific difference existing between planets and asteroids appears now, by the addition of a third individual of the latter species, to be more completely established, and that circumstance, in my opinion, has added more to the ornament of our system than the discovery of a new planet could have done."

Although much has not resulted from Herschel's investigations in regard to the physical constitution of Jupiter, astronomy is indebted to him for several important results relative to the time of that planet's rotation. He also made numerous observations on the distances and comparative magnitude of its satellites.

The compression of Saturn, the duration of its rotation, the physical constitution of this planet and that of its ring, were, on the part of Herschel, the object of numerous researches which have much contributed


to the progress of planetary astronomy.  But on this subject two important discoveries especially added new glory to his name.

Of the five known satellites of Saturn at the close of the seventeenth century, Huygens had discovered the fourth; Cassini the others.

The field seemed to be exhausted, when news from Slough announced that this was a mistake.

On the 28th of August, 1789, the great forty-foot telescope revealed to Herschel a satellite still nearer to the ring than the other five already observed. According to the principles of the nomenclature previously adopted, the small body of the 28th August ought to have been called the first satellite of Saturn; the numbers indicating the places of the other five would then have been each increased by a unity. But the fear of introducing confusion into science by these continual changes of denomination induced a preference for calling the new satellite the sixth.

Thanks to the prodigious powers of the forty-foot telescope, a last satellite, the seventh, showed itself on the 17th of September, 1789, between the sixth and the ring.

This seventh satellite is extremely faint. Herschel, however, succeeded in seeing it whenever circumstances were very favorable, even by the aid of the twenty-foot telescope.

The discovery of the planet Uranus, and the detection of its satellites, will always occupy one of the highest places among those by which modern astronomy is honored.

On the 13th of March, 1781, between ten and eleven o'clock at night, while Herschel was examining the small stars near H Geminorum with a seven-foot telescope, bearing a magnifying power of two hundred and twenty-seven times, one of these stars seemed to have an unusual diameter; and it was, therefore, thought to be a comet. It was under this denomination that it was discussed at the Royal Society of London. But the researches of Herschel and of Laplace showed later that the orbit of the new body was nearly circular, and Uranus was consequently elevated to the rank of a planet.

The immense distance of Uranus, its small angular diameter, and the feebleness of its light, scarcely allowed the hope that, if that body had satellites, they could be perceived from the earth. Herschel was not a man to be deterred by such discouraging conjectures. Therefore, since powerful telescopes of the ordinary construction-that is to say, with two mirrors conjugated - had not enabled him to discover anything, he substituted, in the beginning of January, 1787, front-view telescopes that is, telescopes throwing much more light on the objects, the small mirror being then suppressed, and with it one of the causes of loss of light is got rid of.

By this means, with patient labor and observations requiring a rare perseverance, Herschel made (from the 11th of January, 1787, to the 28th of February, 1794) the discovery of the six satellites of his planet, and thus completed the system of worlds that belongs entirely to himself.


There are several of Herschel's memoirs on comets. In analyzing them we shall see that this acute observer could not touch anything without making further discoveries in regard to it.

He applied some of his fine instruments to the study of the physical constitution of a comet discovered by Mr. Pigott, on the 28th September, 1807. The nucleus was round and well-determined. Some measures taken on the day when the nucleus subtended only an angle of a single second gave as its real diameter 6/100 of the diameter of the earth.

Herschel saw no phase at an epoch when only 7/10 of the nucleus could be illuminated by the sun. The nucleus then must shine by its own light.

This is a legitimate inference in the opinion of every one who will allow, on the one hand, that the nucleus is a solid body, and on the other, that it would have been possible to observe a phase of  8/10 on a disk whose apparent total diameter did not exceed one or two seconds of a degree.

Very small stars seemed to grow much paler when they were seen through the coma or through the tail of the comet.

This faintness may have only been apparent, and might arise from the circumstance of the stars being then projected on a luminous background. Such is, indeed, the explanation adopted by Herschel. A gaseous medium; capable of reflecting sufficient solar light to efface that of some stars, would appear to him to possess in each stratum a sensible quantity of matter, and to be, for that reason, a cause of real diminution of the light transmitted, though nothing reveals the existence of such a cause.

This argument, offered by Herschel in favor of the system which transforms comets into self-luminous bodies, has not, as we may perceive, much force. I might venture to say as much of several other remarks by this great observer. He tells us that the comet was distinctly visible in the telescope on the 21st of February, 1808; now, on that day, its distance from the sun amounted to 2.7 times the mean radius of the terrestrial orbit; its distance from the observer was 2.9;  "What probability would there be that rays going to such distances, from the sun to the comet, could, after their reflection, be, seen by an eye nearly three times more distant from the comet than from the sun ?"

It is only numerical determinations that could give value to such an argument.  By satisfying himself with vague reasoning, Herschel did not even perceive that he was committing a great mistake by making the comet's distance from the observer appear to be an element of visibility. If the comet be self-luminous, its intrinsic splendor (its brightness for unity of surface) will remain constant at any distance, as long as the subtended angle remains sensible. If the body shines by borrowed light, its brightness will vary only according to its change of distance from the sun; nor will the distance of the observer occasion any change in the visibility; always, let it be understood, with the restriction that the apparent diameter shall not be diminished below certain limits.


Herschel finished his observations of a comet that was visible in January, 1807, with the following remark:

Of the sixteen telescopic comets that I have examined, fourteen bad no solid body visible at their center; the other two exhibited a central light, very ill-defined, that might be termed a nucleus, but a light that certainly could not deserve the name of a disk."

The beautiful comet of  1811 became the object of his conscientious labor. With large telescopes he saw, in the midst of the gaseous head, a reddish body of planetary appearance, which bore strong magnifying powers, and showed no sign of phase. Hence Herschel concluded that it was self-luminous. Yet if we reflect that the planetary body under consideration was not a second in diameter, the absence of a phase does not appear a conclusive argument.

The light of the head had a bluish-green tint. Was this a real tint, or did the central reddish body, only through contrast, cause the surrounding vapor to appear colored ?  Herschel did not examine the question from this point of view.

The head of the comet appeared to be enveloped at a certain distance, on the side toward the sun, by a brilliant narrow zone, embracing about a semicircle, and of a yellowish color. From the two extremities of the semicircle there arose, toward the region away from the sun, two long luminous streaks which limited the tail. Between the brilliant circular semi-ring and the head, the cometary substance seemed dark, very rare, and very diaphanous.

The luminous semi-ring always presented similar appearances in all the positions of the comet; it was not then possible. to attribute to it really the annular form-the shape of Saturn's ring, for example.  Herschel sought whether a spherical Semi-envelope of luminous matter, and yet diaphanous, would not lead to a natural explanation of the phenomenon. In this hypothesis, the visual rays, which on the 6th of October, 1811,  traversed a thickness of matter of about 399,000 kilometers, (248,000 English miles,) while the visual rays near the head of the comet did not meet above 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles) of matter. As the brightness must be proportional to the quantity of matter traversed, there could not fail to be an appearance around the comet of a semi-ring five times more luminous than the central regions.  This semi-ring, then, was an effect of projection, and it has revealed a circumstance to us truly remarkable in the physical constitution of comets.

The two luminous streaks that outlined the tail at its two limits may be explained in a similar manner; the tail was not fiat, as it appeared to be; it had the form of a conoid, with its sides of a certain thickness. The visual lines which traversed those sides almost tangentially evidently met much more matter than the visual lines passing across. This maximum of matter could not fail of being represented by a maximum of light.

The luminous semi-ring appeared one day to be suspended in the


diaphanous atmosphere by which the head of the comet was surrounded, at a distance of 518,000 kilometers (322,000 English miles) from the nucleus.

This distance was not constant. The matter of the semi-annular envelope seemed even to be precipitated by slow degrees through the diaphanous atmosphere; finally it reached the nucleus; the earlier appearances vanished; the comet was reduced to a globular nebula.

During its period of dissolution, the ring appeared sometimes to have, several branches.

The luminous shreds of the tail seemed to undergo rapid, frequent, and considerable variations Of length. Herschel discerned symptoms of a movement of rotation both in the comet and in its tail. This rotatory motion carried unequal shreds from the center toward the border, and reciprocally. On looking from time to time at the same region of the tail-at the border,  for example-sensible changes of length must have, been perceptible, which, however, had no real existence. Herschel thought, as I have already said, that the beautiful comet of 1811 and that of 1807 were self-luminous. The second comet of 1811 appeared to him to shine only by borrowed light. It must be acknowledged that these conjectures did not rest on anything demonstrative.

In attentively comparing the comet of 1807 with the beautiful comet of 1811, relative to the changes of distance from the sun, and the modifications resulting thence, Herschel put it beyond doubt that these modifications have something individual in them, something relative to a special state of the nebulous matter. On one celestial body the changes of distance produce an enormous effect; on another the modifications are insignificant.


I shall say very little as to the discoveries that Herschel made in physics, since every one is familiar with them. They are to be found in all elementary works, and are given in verbal instruction; they must be considered as the starting-point of a multitude of important labors with which the sciences have been enriched during later years.

The chief of these is that of the dark radiating heat which is found mixed with light.

In studying the phenomena., not with the eye, as Newton did, but with a thermometer, Herschel discovered that the solar spectrum is prolonged on the red side far beyond the visible limits. The thermometer sometimes rose higher in the (lark region than in the midst of brilliant zones. The light of the sun, then, contains, besides the colored rays so well characterized by Newton, invisible rays, still less refrangible than the red, and whose warming power is very considerable. A world of discoveries has arisen from this fundamental fact.

The dark ray emanating from terrestrial objects more or less heated also became the subject of Herschel's investigations. His work contained


the germs of a large number. of  beautiful experiments more fully developed in our own day.

By successively placing the thermometer in all parts of the solar spectrum, he determined the illuminating powers of the various prismatic rays. The general result of these experiments may be thus enunciated; The illuminating power of the red rays is not very great; that of the orange rays surpasses it, and is in its turn surpassed by the power of the yellow rays. The maximum power of illumination is found between the brightest yellow and the palest green. The yellow and the green possess  this power equally. A like assimilation may be laid down between the blue and the red. Finally, the power of illumination in the indigo rays, and above all in the violet, is very weak.

The memoirs of Herschel on Newton's colored rings, though containing a multitude of exact experiments, have not contributed much to advance the theory of those curious phenomena. I have learned, from good authority, that he himself held the same opinion. He said that it was the only occasion on which he had reason to regret halving, according to his constant custom, published his labors immediately, as fast as they were performed.