THE origin of the constellations is obscure. Some of them have been recognized from time immemorial, but they were first definitely fixed by Ptolemy about 140 A. D. As outlined by him they were used by the decadent Greeks and Romans, and with the fall of Alexandria before the victorious arms of Omar they passed into the knowledge of the Arabians. This singular people, still in the state of natural youth, were barely able to understand and preserve the treasure of astronomical science that had fallen into their hands, but could not materially enlarge it. Thus, the constellations of Ptolemy, who was probably a priest in the temple of Canopus, near Alexandria, passed unchanged to the Europeans after the crusades, and were maintained in the subsequent revival of letters and science.
Europe, however, is further north than Egypt, and hence fewer of the southern constellations are visible to the northern nations than were seen by Ptolemy at Alexandria. Yet, as the latitude of Ptolemy’s station was about thirty-one degrees, there was a circle of stars round the south pole of this radius which never rose above his horizon, and hence for this hidden region no constellations were formed by the ancients. Nevertheless, the constellations extended well south, and included parts of the brilliant regions of the great ship Argo, the Centaur, the Cross, the Wolf, the Scorpion, the Altar, the Phœnix, and the river Eridanus. The present constellations, however, are not identical with those of Ptolemy; they have been considerably modified and rearranged by several modern astronomers.
When the early navigators, after the heroic expeditions of Columbus, began to pass beyond the equator, they realized for the first time that the richest and finest portion of the celestial sphere is invisible in Europe, and had either never been seen by the ancients, or seen only very near the southern horizon, where the density of the air obscured the real wonders of the heavens.
Magellan and his sailors recognized for the first time the great group of bright stars in the Galaxy near Centaurus and in Argo, and the dark holes in the Milky Way known as the Coal Sacks ; nor could they fail to be impressed with those luminous starry patches separated from the Milky Way, and known as the two Magellanic Clouds, the most extraordinary objects in the face of the sky. The reports of these celestial wonders excited the interest of mankind, and in due course of events men of science were found eager to explore the new regions, and to extend the constellations over the expanse near the south pole.
Before giving an account of the division of the heavens into constellations — a process of apportionment somewhat analogous to the formation of states from the national domain, although it was accomplished, I believe, with less violence than has sometimes marked the creation of new states — let me say a few words about the precession of the equinoxes, and the effect of this motion of the poles among the stars, as respects the constellations visible in a given latitude.
The plane of the equator is inclined to the ecliptic by an angle of twenty-three and one half degrees, and as the earth’s figure is oblate, owing to the rotatory motion it had when in a molten condition, the attraction of the sun and moon on the protuberant ring of matter about the equator tends to bring that plane into coincidence with the ecliptic ; this slight turning caused by the sun and moon, combined with the rapid rotation of the earth about its axis, produces a shifting of the intersection of the two planes ; and this westward motion of the equinox (as the intersection is called) along the ecliptic is known as the precession of the equinoxes. The effect of the precession is to make a great change in the apparent places of the fixed stars. For the pole is slowly revolved through a circle round the pole of the ecliptic about forty-seven degrees in diameter ; and this change in the place of the pole shifts the apparent place of all the stars in the heavens. As the pole revolves on its long journey of twenty-five thousand eight hundred years, it passes successively by various stars ; and the declinations of many of the stars may be changed by forty-seven degrees. Thus, a star which at the present epoch is twenty-three and a half degrees south of the equator may in twelve thousand nine hundred years be found the same distance north of the equator of that epoch. This great change in the declinations of the heavenly bodies is accompanied by a shifting of the orientation of the constellations with respect to the temporary position of the pole, though the situations of the constellations with respect to one another do not change from this cause. If Hipparchus or Job were now to rise from the dead and look upon the heavens, he would see the constellations related to one another as of old, but he would find that the pole had shifted its position among the stars; and if an immortal could witness the grand phenomenon which the precession produces, in about twelve thousand nine hundred years he would find the heavens so altered that the former aspect could be recognized only by an understanding of the changes which had intervened. As Humboldt justly remarks, the beautiful and celebrated constellation of the Southern Cross, never seen by the present inhabitants of Europe, and visible in the United States only on the southern coast, formerly shone on the shores of the Baltic, and may again be seen in that latitude in about eighteen thousand years. The Cross will then be visible on the shores of Hudson’s Bay, but at present it is going rapidly southward, and in a few thousand years will be invisible even at the extreme point of Florida. In like manner, the brilliant star Canopus in the constellation Argo, situated some thirty-seven degrees south of Sirius, can now be seen in the southern portion of the United States ; in about twelve thousand years it will cease to rise even in Central America. The changes thus resulting from the precession are among the grandest phenomena of which the mind can conceive, but they come about so slowly that they are hardly perceptible to an unscientific observer in an ordinary lifetime. Yet Hipparchus, who discovered the precession by comparing observations made one hundred and fifty years before Christ with others made a century before, mentions the fact traditionally reported by the inhabitants of Rhodes, that certain stars formerly to he seen there on the southern horizon had disappeared. From the same cause, if Ptolemy were to look again upon the heavens at Alexandria, he would be unable to find Alpha and Beta Centauri, which he easily saw and catalogued in the time of Hadrian ; at present these magnificent stars are just visible at the pyramids near Cairo, and in a few thousand years they will be seen by dwellers on the Nile only in Upper Egypt.
While Hipparchus discovered the fact of the precession of the equinoxes, the cause of this grand phenomenon was unexplained for over eighteen centuries, till Newton showed that it arose from the attraction of the sun and moon upon the protuberant matter about the earth’s equator.
After the general aspects of the southern skies were made known by the early navigators, the first to make a more scientific exploration of that region were the French Jesuit Fathers, men like Richaud and Feuillée, who were actuated by a religious zeal which overcame all difficulties and endured the hardships incident to adventures among the barbarians of the new hemisphere. But though the French Jesuits made known a number of striking individual objects, as for example the double star Alpha Centauri, they were not able to make good telescopic exploration of the heavens, or even a good catalogue of the stars visible to the naked eye. When instruments of precision had been much improved by Graham, and chronometers had been brought to a high state of perfection by Harrison, it was possible to make an accurate catalogue of the principal fixed stars. Accordingly, in 1676 the celebrated Dr. Edmund Halley, then a youth of twenty years, landed at St. Helena for the purpose of cataloguing the conspicuous stars of the Southern hemisphere. The station chosen for the observations was sufficiently far south, and had the great advantage at that time of being accessible to merchant vessels trading with India; but it proved to be in a cloudy region, and was otherwise unsuitable for the prosecution of astronomical research ; yet Halley’s perseverance enabled him to fix with reasonable accuracy the places of 360 stars, and the labor was so important from every point of view that it gave him the title of the Southern Tycho. His expedition is also forever memorable for the observation of the retardation of the pendulum on approaching the equator, — a phenomenon proving that gravity is greater near the poles, and of the highest consequence for the establishment of the theory of universal gravitation, in which he was afterward to play so great a part as the friend and benefactor of Newton. Yet valuable as was Halley’s work on the southern stars, and fruitful as were his numerous and profound astronomical researches, he had the misfortune to place among his new southern constellations one in memory of the Royal Oak ; and as this personal allusion to his patron and friend, King James II., was not acceptable to astronomers of other nationalities, this apportionment of the sky was frustrated by his successors.
Some earlier astronomers of Holland and Spain had vaguely outlined certain southern constellations, and Bayer himself had given some stars in these regions when he published his maps of the northern heavens, and introduced the Greek letters for designating the stars in a given constellation according to brightness. For example, the Cross, whose stars had been observed by Ptolemy at Alexandria, and mentioned in 1515 by Andrea Corsali, and in 1520 by Pigafetta, who had accompanied Magellan and Del Cano in their circumnavigation of the globe, was depicted by Bayer. In like manner, Monoceros was given by Bartsch in a planisphere published in 1624, four years after the landing of the Mayflower, while the Dove of Noah had been introduced some years earlier by the Dutch geographer Petrus Plancius. These, with the Sextant and the Shield of Sobieski, introduced by Hevelius, were the only constellations, beside those given by Ptolemy, which were generally adopted by astronomers at the time of Lacaille’s memorable expedition to the Cape of Good Hope in 1750.
Lacaille has been justly called the true Columbus of the southern skies. Born near Rheims in 1713, and left destitute at an early age, he was educated at the expense of the Duke of Bourbon. Having acquired proficiency in theology, like Laplace he abandoned that profession for the study of science, and by the favor of Cassini became one of the surveyors of the coast from Nantes to Bayonne, and in 1739 took part in the remeasurement of the French arc of the meridian. The perfection with which this work was done secured him admission to the Academy of Sciences, and a professorship at the Collége Mazarin, where he worked energetically in a small observatory fitted up for determining the places of the fixed stars. While occupied with this work he became impressed with the need of good observations of the stars of the southern hemisphere. Accordingly, he proposed an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope, which was officially sanctioned, and carried out with marvelous rapidity and success. Landing in April, 1751, at the Cape, which was then a mere signal station for Indian vessels, he secured a location in the wild country near the great Table Mountain, and in fourteen months had observed the positions of nearly ten thousand stars with a degree of precision never before attempted in that region of the heavens. The great catalogue which he formed from these observations was published in 1763, and reprinted in 1847 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and until within the last twenty years was the chief source of our knowledge of the southern hemisphere.
As we have seen, there were few constellations well defined at that time, and Lacaille had the pleasant but perplexing problem of apportioning the heavens for the guidance of future ages; and well did he perform this delicate and difficult task. A French savant of high order, in full sympathy with the scholarly ideals then dominating the French capital, he considered that nothing could be more appropriately commemorated in the skies than the principal implements of the sciences and the fine arts. Accordingly, after revising as best he could the boundaries and details of the constellations used by Ptolemy sixteen centuries before, and those added more recently by modern authors, he assigned to the remaining stellar regions the names of familiar objects, as, for instance, the Altar, the Clock, the Fly, the Crane, the Net, the Cross, the Rule.
A map of the southern heavens presents a fine, picturesque representation of the interests, beliefs, and achievements of mankind. The mixture of animals and birds, real and imaginary, with implements of the fine arts and physical apparatus has but little scientific foundation ; yet it has prevailed in the northern skies from the earliest times, and it was felt that approximate homogeneity in the constellations spread over the celestial sphere was a desideratum, and that a sudden break for a new system in the regions unknown to the ancients would be incongruous, if not inelegant. Moreover, as the old names of the northern constellations were scattered throughout all literature, and rendered sacred by history and poetic association, there was no possibility of re-forming, except in minor details, the spaces assigned to various objects in the northern hemisphere. Under these circumstances, the picturesque system, representing mythology, history, tradition, and the arts and sciences, was extended and completed, so that the constellations are more or less homogeneous from pole to pole. In the case of the great ship Argo, which includes the most brilliant large region on the face of the celestial sphere, it was found that the constellation was too large for the convenience of astronomers ; and hence Lacaille introduced the subdivisions of the Mast, the Sails, the Poop, and the Keel. With the exception of the Mast this apportionment has been retained, and each of the new constellations is in reality large and brilliant, and full of objects of high interest.
After Lacaille had returned to France the fame of his illustrious services to science rendered him an object of public attention, which caused a true philosopher of his modesty some uneasiness and embarrassment, and with a reticence so characteristic of high genius, and yet so seldom observed in the bearing of the noisy and the pushing, he retired to the seclusion of the Collége Mazarin, and continued his unremitting labors. Unfortunately his powers were overtaxed, and in 1762 his career came to a premature close, at the early age of forty-nine years. It was said of him by Lalande that in a short life he had made more observations and calculations than all other astronomers of his time put together, and this eulogy is amply justified by the judgment of posterity.
If the honor for having made the first great catalogue of the southern stars must go to France, we must concede to England the credit for a continuation of this glorious work. The provinces of the British Empire lying in the southern hemisphere offered ample opportunity for studying that region of the heavens, and in 1822 Sir Thomas Brisbane, a wealthy and illustrious nobleman who lived in Paramatta, New South Wales, founded an observatory for determining the places of the southern stars. Several professional observers were employed, and their activity was very great for a number of years ; from 1822 to 1826 were accumulated the observations which served as the basis of the famous Brisbane catalogue, reduced by Richardson, and published in London in 1835. This grand work contained the places of 7385 stars ; and although it did not see the light for nearly ten years after the observations were concluded, it had in the meantime left its impress on the astronomy of future ages. For at the time of Sir John Herschel’s expedition to the Cape of Good Hope Lacaille’s results were not reduced in a manner adapted to his needs, and hence there was no large published work which could serve as a convenient catalogue of the stars of that region ; he had accordingly applied to Brisbane for a working list of the places of the principal fixed stars in the constellations around the south pole. The star places given by Herschel in the Results of Astronomical Observations at the Cape of Good Hope depend, therefore, directly on the work done at Paramatta, and the discoveries made in Africa are thus associated with the labors previously executed in Australia.
Before the appearance of the Brisbane catalogue, another Englishman, Manuel J. Johnson, had made a series of accurate and reliable observations near the station originally chosen by the youthful Dr. Edmund Halley, in St. Helena; he supplied a most useful catalogue, with good places of 606 of the principal stars of the austral heavens.
Nor did the commercial spirit, which has always been a conspicuous trait of the English character, fail to contribute its share to the progress of science ; for in 1830 the Honorable East India Company established an observatory at Madras, and the astronomer Mr. T. G. Taylor, during the next thirteen years, determined the places of about eleven thousand stars. From this long series of observations he prepared the fine general catalogue of the principal fixed stars published at Madras in 1844. While this work, like that of Brisbane, was of a less epoch-making character than that of Lacaille, it was nevertheless of very high value, and in the period before the great survey begun by Gould at Cordoba in 1870 occupied a distinguished place.
Deeper popular interest in the southern heavens had already been awakened by Humboldt’s description of the steadiness and lustre of the stars in the American tropics, and the extraordinary impressiveness of the part of the heavens invisible in Europe. This, among other things, led to the expedition of Sir John Herschel to the Cape of Good Hope in 1834. The expedition of Herschel in turn exercised a determining influence on the founding of the National Observatory of the Argentine Republic, through the efforts of the great American astronomer Benjamin Apthorp Gould, whose work in the southern hemisphere has brought our knowledge of that region to almost as perfect a state as that of the northern heavens, and thus marked a great epoch in modern astronomy.
The results of the explorations of Herschel and Gould may be properly described as the first census of the southern stars; for Herschel first discerned with characteristic penetration, and made known in a clear and lucid style, the class of objects abounding in the regions about the south pole ; and Gould, forty years later, determined their places and other peculiarities with a degree of precision never before attempted.
Sir John Herschel was the only son of the illustrious Sir William Herschel, whose fame toward the close of the eighteenth and in the early years of the nineteenth century filled the earth as had that of no other man since the days of Galileo. Thus born in the purple, and possessed of the highest intellectual endowments and the most noble qualities of mind, he was singularly fitted by nature and by his station in life to continue worthily the traditions developed by the many years of hardship and by the ceaseless exertion of the poor music teacher who was to shine in all future time as the discoverer of Uranus, and the true Copernicus of the starry heavens. Herschel, with a modesty not unlike that of Newton, always claimed that in his early years he had no strongly iixed predilections, but turned with equal facility to all subjects, to tire of each without being able to accomplish much. It is certain that he had a decided taste for physics, in particular for light, and for astronomy and mathematics, and he early made the celebrated compact with Babbage to “ leave the world wiser than they had found it.” In 1816 he began some preliminary work on double stars in connection with Sir James South, and during the next fifteen years these two observers were the principal contributors to this branch of science. In 1825, after formally pledging himself to astronomy, he undertook a review of all of his father’s discoveries in the northern heavens ; and finally presented the results of this extensive survey to the Royal Society in a series of papers of much value. The noteworthy reception of this work, and the interest now attaching to the part of the heavens unseen by his father, induced him to transport his twenty-foot reflector, five-inch refractor, and other instruments used at Slough, to the Cape of Good Hope, for the purpose of completing the review of the whole face of the sidereal heavens on a uniform plan.
The first objects examined by Herschel were the brilliant double star Alpha Crucis and the great nebula about the variable star Eta Carinæ. The regular sweeps were begun on March 5, 1834, and continued with zeal and regularity till the whole region round the pole was swept over and reviewed. On January 22, 1838, the last work was done, and the expedition set sail for England.
Of the 1708 nebulæ noted by Herschel at least 300 were new ; yet whether the nebulæ be new or old, his observations are accompanied by condensed but accurate descriptions of each mass. The Greater Magellanic Cloud, an object of wonder from the earliest times, was submitted to a searching examination, and found to be a vast system sui generis, situated in a desert region of the sky, and composed of innumerable masses of convoluted nebulosity intermixed with masses and groups of stars. He reckoned in this luminous area 278 distinct nebulæ and clusters, with numerous neighboring objects of a similar character; and, including the stars which are sprinkled so copiously over the region, he catalogued in all 919 bodies. In the case of the Lesser Magellanic Cloud he fixed the places of 244 objects, and executed a general sketch of the region, of high value to future observers. Though the study of southern double stars was made of secondary interest, he yet managed, in the four years of his activity at the Cape, to catalogue 2102 new systems. Many of these stars are of great interest, and several are already known to be in comparatively rapid orbital motion.
Herschel’s survey may be said to have established the continuity of the scheme of stellar arrangement observed in the northern hemisphere, in addition to showing a striking richness of extraordinary objects in the regions around the south pole. For example, we have in the northern sky no clusters comparable to 47 Toucanæ, or Omega Centauri, “ the noble globular cluster, beyond all comparison the richest and largest object of the kind in the heavens.” “ The stars are literally innumerable, and as their total light, when received by the naked eye, affects it hardly more than a star of the fifth magnitude, the minuteness of each may be imagined.” This description of Omega Centauri by Herschel is amply justified by the photographs recently taken of it at the Harvard station in Peru and at the Cape, and by our own examination of it with the great Lowell telescope in Mexico.
Nor have we any objects so remarkable as the Magellanic Clouds or the Coal Sacks, — phenomena in the most striking contrast with their surroundings. On the other hand, the bright stars are more numerous in the region of Argo, Centaurus, Lupus, Scorpion, and the Cross than in any other corresponding area of the heavens. It may also be borne in mind that the three brightest of all the fixed stars, Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri, are in the southern hemisphere. These individual objects of the greatest lustre combined with the large group of bright stars just mentioned give the southern heavens an impressiveness difficult of conception by those who are acquainted only with the part of the sky visible in northern latitudes.
About the year 1848, Captain Gilliss, who had virtually founded the United States Naval Observatory in 1846, prevailed on the government and Congress to organize the United States Naval Astronomical Expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, for securing parallax observations of Venus, and for cataloguing the fixed stars within thirty degrees of the south pole. The expedition was at last set in motion, and finally better equipped than its earliest friends had dared to anticipate. Provided with the most essential instruments, and such means for running expenses as would meet necessary outlays, but give few luxuries, they selected a site at Santiago, in Chile, and for four years the work was carried on with a degree of zeal not unworthy of the successors of Lacaille. When the observations were concluded, it was arranged to print them in a series of quarto volumes, which should include a detailed account of the geography and the climatic and economic condition of Chile ; but owing to unfortunate political machinations only a part of the work ever saw the light. Astronomers had given up hope of getting the rest of the results in print, but the Gilliss catalogue, containing good places of 16,748 stars, has at last appeared, after a delay of more than forty years.
Great and important as were the labors of Herschel and Gilliss in exploring and cataloguing the stars of the southern skies, their work for the future of stellar astronomy is insignificant when set beside the incomparable survey executed by Dr. Gould at Cordoba, in the Argentine Republic, from 1870 to 1885.
Benjamin Apthorp Gould was born in Boston, September 27, 1824. Coming of an ancient and illustrious family, he enjoyed the best educational advantages to be found in the United States. Graduating at Harvard College in the class of 1844, he was for a year master of the Roxbury Latin School. A student and friend of Professor Benjamin Peirce, he early formed the project of consecrating his fife to science, — a career at that time unique, and hardly considered legitimate,— and in July, 1845, set sail for England, to study astronomy at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. After passing a year with Airy, he proceeded to Paris, hoping that he might derive some benefit from the genius of Arago, who was then inspiring all France by his defense of pure science and by his apostolic eloquence in popularizing its results. After a short stay in France he started for Germany, to study under the illustrious Bessel, then the recognized leader of European astronomers; but, unfortunately, that great man, already weak from his indefatigable exertions and the ravages of a wasting disease, died the day Gould passed the border, and his only course then was to proceed to Berlin and seek the favor of Encke. The young man carried with him letters from John Quincy Adams, and these gave him the friendship of the American Minister, who in turn introduced him to Alexander von Humboldt. Encke would not listen to the idea of any one, least of all an American, studying at the new Royal Observatory, though Gould offered to clean the lamps or do anything that might give him the coveted privilege. Since no progress could be made by the offer of services, Gould’s only course was to apply to Humboldt; and that great man, with a generosity characteristic of high genius, immediately championed the cause of the young American. As Encke was dependent upon the favor of Humboldt for certain appropriations, it did not require much further persuasion to admit young Gould to the observatory. After concluding his labors at Berlin he proceeded to Göttingen, where he was admitted to Gauss’s household, and signalized his residence there by the computation of a number of planetary and cometary orbits. Gauss was very much taken with the young American, and Gould was equally devoted to his master, and to the end of his life preserved a lock of the great mathematician’s hair, secured while at Gottingen. A short stay at Gotha and at Poulkowa concluded his residence abroad, and he returned to his native land full of enthusiasm for the advancement of science.
One of the earliest matters to receive his attention was the founding, in 1849, of the Astronomical Journal, for the publication of purely scientific papers. This at once took rank with the foremost astronomical publications of the world. In assuming the directorship of the Dudley Observatory at Albany, Gould entered upon an important and promising piece of work, which was destined to be cut short a few years later by the jealous intrigues of certain trustees who brought about his enforced retirement. He then passed several years in the service of the Coast Survey and of the government during the war for the preservation of the Union.
About l865 Dr. Gould became greatly impressed with the need of a thorough survey of the southern hemisphere for the purpose of determining the exact places of the fixed stars. His high scientific standing and the influence of a large circle of friends and admirers in Boston soon proved adequate to provide the necessary means for a private astronomical expedition. The news of this venture reached the ear of the Argentine Minister at Washington, Señor Sarmiento, who not only welcomed the enterprise, but showed himself a zealous and active champion of the interests of science. Cordoba was selected as the observing station, chiefly from the knowledge of South America gained by the lamented Gilliss. Sarmiento transmitted Dr. Gould’s application for certain privileges and assurances to the Argentine government, then under the presidency of Mitre, and these requests were at once conceded. These negotiations increased Sarmiento’s interest in the plan ; and when, soon afterward, he was himself elected President of the Republic, he obtained the assent of the Argentine Congress to the establishment of a permanent national observatory, and wrote asking Gould to change his plans accordingly. The government assumed the expense of the instruments and equipment already bespoken, and authorized the engagement of the requisite assistants. The task then devolved upon Dr. Gould of selecting men of ability, if not of special experience, in astronomical work, and of inspiring them with the degree of zeal and enthusiasm necessary for maintaining continued effort in so distant and unattractive a country, at the most laborious work; of purchasing instruments, and building and equipping the observatory; and of managing the whole undertaking in so acceptable a manner that change of political parties would not endanger an undertaking which had been founded or supported by the opposition. How well Dr. Gould carried out this enormous enterprise history is now a witness. Having reached his destination in 1870, previous to the arrival of any instruments, and while the observatory was still building, he set about the determination of the brightness of every naked-eye star within one hundred degrees of the south pole. This work included the critical study of over seven thousand stars, and led to the detection of a large number of variable stars. When completed, it made the muchdesired Uranometria of the southern hemisphere. Along with the investigation of the brightness of the southern stars, Dr. Gould reviewed and carried into execution an idea suggested by Sir John Herschel of re-forming and rectifying the boundaries of the constellations, and embodied all this splendid work in the classic Uranometria Argentina, which fixes the southern constellations for future ages, as the Almagest of Ptolemy essentially fixes those in the northern hemisphere.
Dr. Gould’s great work with the meridian circle consisted in observing the right ascensions and declinations of the stars in zones of a certain width. When the places were thus fixed by innumerable pointings of the telescope, notings of times of transits, and readings of the circles, and the resulting positions were reduced to a common epoch by infinite labor and calculation, he obtained the huge mass of material for the great Argentine Star Catalogues, which contain more than one hundred thousand stars. The immensity of the labor will be somewhat more intelligible to the lay reader if I say that when printed in fine type, with no waste space, these observations fill sixteen large quarto volumes of over five hundred pages each; and Dr. Gould’s part in it can be appreciated when we recall that he not only organized and managed the observatory, but made the greater part of the observations and supervised all the calculations and printing.
Such a record is absolutely unique in astronomical history, and is in no way even approached by the labors of the greatest astronomers of past ages. We may even assert that the Cordoba observatory alone, from 1870 to 1885, by the wise direction and energy of one man, made more observations than all the observatories in the northern hemisphere put together. Though the determination of the places of the fixed stars in the northern hemisphere has engaged the attention of many observatories during the whole of this century, and our knowledge of the places of the northern stars would therefore presumably be nearly perfect, it is a fact that Gould’s work practically equalized our knowledge of the two celestial hemispheres. Such an achievement is a veritable monument to the American nation, and has added new lustre to the American name. Had the American people never contributed anything beyond the labors of Gould to the world’s knowledge of astronomy, this magnificent contribution alone would entitle the nation to an honorable place in the eyes of posterity. And yet how little is the work of Gould known to even the best circle of American readers ! So great was his devotion to the cause of pure science, and so oblivious was he of contemporary fame, that none but professional men of science are able to appreciate his incomparable services to the sublimest of the sciences. It is certain that he has gained a place among the greatest astronomers of all ages and countries, and that the estimate now placed on his work will only increase with the flight of centuries. If England is justly proud of her Newton and Herschel, France of her Lagrange and Laplace, Germany of her Copernicus and Kepler, Italy of her Leonardo and Galileo, well may America honor her Peirce and Gould ! The following stanzas by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, read at the complimentary dinner given to Dr. Gould on his return from Cordoba in 1885, will appropriately conclude this estimate of his character and illustrious services : —
While the blue realm had kingdoms to explore,—
Patienee, like his who ploughed the unfurrowed ocean,
Till o’er its margin loomed San Salvador.
Thy footstool earth, thy roof the hemisphere,
While with thy griefs our weaker hearts are aching,
Firm as thine equatorial’s rock-based pier.
Watch with thy tireless vigils, all unseen,
Tycho and Kepler bend benignant o’er thee,
And with his toylike tube the Florentine,—
To find her central sovereignty disowned,
While the wan lips of priest and pontiff quivered,
Their jargon stilled, their Baal disenthroned.
Their strife forgotten with its faded scars,—
(Titans, who found the world of space too crowded
To walk in peace among its myriad stars.)
Persians, Ionians, Mizraim’s learned kings,
From the dim days of Shinar’s hoary sages
To his who weighed the planet’s fluid rings.”
T. J. J. See.