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The Reminiscences of an Astronomer By Simon Newcomb Characters: 44366

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

My first trip to Europe, mentioned in the last chapter, was made with my wife, when the oldest transatlantic line was still the fashionable 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, ability 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 carefully 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-fashioned 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 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 Rugby 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. Mill's acquaintance, Mr. Hughes immediately offered to give me a note of introduction. Mill lived 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 trellis-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.

As a philosopher, it must be conceded that Mr. Mill lived 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 impress the scientific student from our country is the closeness of touch, socially as well as officially, between the literary 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 General 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.

Congress had made a very liberal appropriation for observations of the solar eclipse,-the making 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, consisting 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 provision for the observations of the eclipse. Considering 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 American invasion occur than it was semi-officially discovered 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 without saying. A little 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 scientific 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. Willard Gibbs in 1902. The long time that elapsed between the first and the second of these awards affords an illustration of the backwardness of scientific 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.

I was a guest at the banquet, which was the most brilliant function I had witnessed up to that time. The leaders in 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 intellectuality of his face. He looked as if he had something interesting he wanted to tell you; and he proceeded to tell it in a very felicitous way as regarded 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 a visit, a few days since, from a very distinguished American professor, Professor Peirce of Harvard. In the course of the interview, the learned gentleman expressed his regret that her Majesty's government 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 astronomers 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 subsequent 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 between two terms of service as Premier of England, presided over the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and delivered an address showing a wide and careful study of the generalizations of modern science.

In France, also, one great glory of the nation is felt to be the works of its scientific and learned 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 official position, and earned a modest subsistence as a collaborator of the "Revue des Deux Mondes." But he had found time to make investigations in mathematical astronomy of such merit that he was considered 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 his being, for several years, the president of the Royal Society. I would willingly 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 Hill, 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 sentiment is added to the cold atmosphere of science by the collaboration of Lady Huggins. Almost at the beginning of his work Mr. Huggins, analyzing 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 light which they absorbed. Quite recently an illustrated account of his observatory and its work has appeared 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.

In England, the career of Professor Cayley affords an example of the spirit that impels a scientific 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 protracted 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, recognize 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 conveyancer. 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 diverted in another direction. The spirit in which he pursued his work may be judged from an anecdote related by his friend and co-worker, Sylvester, 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 papers 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 published one investigation after another with ceaseless activity, to the end of his life.

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 adopting 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 be mentioned in connection with the work. If repute 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 splendid 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 constructing new tables of the sun and planets. It thus became his duty to deliver the address setting forth the reasons for the award. He did this with a warmth of praise for 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 mathematical 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 published writings had been rather meagre. But I believe he was justly credited with an elaborate witticism to the following 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 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 Aristotelians or Platonists, then it may be supposed that all Englishmen are born Conservatives or Liberals.

The utterances of English journalists of the Conservative 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 appreciative 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 known 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 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 Gibraltar. How great the error of the supposed longitude 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, indeed, profess to feel it humiliating that the longitude 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 themselves as such. Still, it would not be an English enterprise if an American carried it out. I suspect, however, that my proceedings were not looked upon with entire dissatisfaction even by the astronomers. They might prove as good a stimulant to their government 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 Royal 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 Greenwich 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 approach, 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 Greenwich!" 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 observatory and spend an afternoon with him a day or two later.

I was shown around the observatory by an assistant, while my wife was entertained by Mrs. Airy and the daughters inside the dwelling. The family 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 impressions of London.

"What place in London interested you most?" said Airy to my wife.

"The first place I went to see was Cavendish Square."

"What was there in Cavendish Square to interest 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 favorite 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 commanding 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 less extent in his own way. It is true that organization was not unknown in such institutions. Nominally, at least, the assistants in a national observatory were supposed to follow the instructions of a directing head. This was especially the case at Greenwich. Still, 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 almost any bright schoolboy could learn to do in a few weeks, and that in most of the remaining part plodding industry, properly directed, was more important than scientific training. He could himself work out all the mathematical formul? 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 observation. A third grade was that of computers: ingenious youth, quick at figures, ready to work for a compensation which an American laborer would despise, yet well enough schooled to make simple calculations. Under the new system they needed to understand only the four rules of arithmetic; indeed, so far as possible Airy arranged his calculations 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 ability. He introduced production on a large scale into astronomy.

At the time of my visit, it was much the fashion among astronomers elsewhere to speak slightingly 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 importance 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 astronomer worked with instruments of very delicate 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 solid 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 detail 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 Observatory. 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 between 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 might go on for half an hour before the connections were all reported good. If we had such trouble in a land line, how should we get a connection 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 moment, say eight o'clock Greenwich mean time, at which signals are to commence. Every intermediate office through which the signals are to pass is instructed to have its wires connected in both directions 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 understand 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 moment, 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 William Rowan Hamilton to say that when Airy wiped his pen on a blotter, he fancied him as always taking a press copy of the mark. His machinery seemed to work perfectly, whether it was constructed of flesh or of brass. He could prepare 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 carried 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 accomplish 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 independent 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. Observations with the spectroscope have been pursued, and the observatory has taken a prominent part in the international work of making a photographic map of the heavens. Of special importance are the regular 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 observations; these disprove some theories of the relation between the sun and the weather, in a way that no other set of meteorological records has done. While delicate determinations of the highest precision, such as those made at Pulkova, are not yet undertaken to any great extent, a regular even if slow improvement is going on in the general character of the observations and researches, which must bear fruit in due time.

One of the curious facts we learned at Greenwich was that astronomy was still supposed to be astrology by many in England. That a belief in astrology should survive was perhaps not remarkable, though I do not remember to have seen any evidence of it in this country. But applications received at the Royal 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 Professor C. Piazzi Smyth, who was also an Egyptologist 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, indeed, 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 measure it in these degenerate days. With him, to believe 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, 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 liveliest little man of sixty I ever saw; amusing us by singing German songs, and dancing about the room like 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 believe in this book, and said that Mill could not understand her father's philosophy. 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.

A large party of English astronomers were going to Algeria to observe the eclipse. The government 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 invitation 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 Royal Society; Father Perry, S. J., a well-known astronomer; and Lieutenant Wharton, who afterward became hydrographer to the Admiralty.

The sprightliest man on board was Professor Tyndall. He made up for the absence of mountains 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 if looking 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 refused 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 adjoining 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 the vows of a seasick passenger are forgotten sooner than any others I know of; and it was only four 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 arriving at Gibraltar, he wrote a glowing account of the storm to the London Times, in which he described 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, under 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 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 English, 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 travelers speak nearly every language one ever heard.

I hired a Moor-who bore some title which indicated 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 American consul, who the proper officer was to issue the permit, which I was assured would be granted without the slightest difficulty. The consul presented me to the military governor 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 III., 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 strengthens the dignity of the position that the holder may be frank and hearty at his own pleasure, without danger of impairing it. Certainly, we found Sir Fenwick a most genial and charming 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 the matter seriously, which would have implied that we did not fully 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 theodolite. "Please, sir, don't shoot till I get past," she begged.

Before leaving England, I had made very elaborate arrangements, both with the Astronomer Royal and with the telegraph companies, to determine the longitude of Gibraltar by telegraphic signals. The most difficult 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 willing 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 terminus 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 young gentlemen, and I had no difficulty in making them understand how the work was to be done.

The manager of the cable was Sir James Anderson, who had formerly commanded a Cunard steamship from Boston, and was well known to the Harvard 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 Atlantic 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 obscuring by its brilliancy that of Thomson, Field, and all others who had taken part in designing and laying 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 replied that he had received a copy of "The Atlantic Monthly" containing it from the poet himself, accompanied by a note saying that he might find in it something of interest. He had been overwhelmed with invitations to continue his journey from Newfoundland to the United States and lecture on the cable, but was sensible enough to decline them.

The rest of the story of the telegraphic longitude 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 unknown 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.

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