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The Life of Caroline Herschel

caroWho was Caroline Herschel?

Caroline Lucretia Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848) was a German British astronomer and the sister of astronomer Sir William Herschel with whom she worked throughout both of their careers. Her most significant contributions to astronomy were the discoveries of several comets and in particular the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which bears her name.

She was the first woman to be paid for her contribution to science, to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville). She was also named an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy (1838). The King of Prussia presented her with a Gold Medal for Science, on the occasion of her 96th birthday (1846).

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Statue of William and Caroline at the William Herschel Museum , Bath. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). Herschel Museum of Astronomy. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org

Caroline Lucretia Herschel was born at Hanover on 16 March 1750. She was the eighth child and fourth daughter of Isaac Herschel and his wife, Anna Ilse Moritzen. Isaac became a bandmaster in the Guards, was away with his regiment for substantial periods, and suffered ill-health after the battle of Dettingen in 1743.

At the age of ten, Caroline was struck with typhus, which stunted her growth, so that she never grew past four-foot three. Her family assumed that she would never marry and her mother felt it was best for her to train to be a house servant. Her father wished her to receive an education, but her mother opposed this. Her father sometimes took advantage of her mother’s absence to teach her directly or include her in her brother’s lessons. Caroline was allowed to learn millinery and dress-making and worked hard at various types of fancy-work, with a view to someday supporting herself.

"The Octagon Bath" by Ngw2009 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Octagon_Bath.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_Octagon_Bath.jpg
Interior of the Octogon Chapel, Bath, circa 1900, by Ngw2009 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Octagon_Bath.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_Octagon_Bath.jpg

Following her father’s death, her brother William proposed that she join him in Bath, England, “to make the trial if by his instruction I might not become a useful singer for his winter concerts and oratorios”.Caroline eventually left Hanover on 16 August 1772, and accompanied her brother William back to England. There she took on the responsibilities of running his household, and learning to sing. William had established himself as an organist and music teacher at 19 New King Street, Bath, Somerset (now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy). He was also the choirmaster of the Octagon Chapel. William was busy with his musical career and became fairly busy organising public concerts. Caroline took several singing lessons a day from William. She became the principal singer at his oratorio concerts, and acquired such a reputation as a vocalist that she was offered an engagement for the Birmingham festival. She declined to sing for any conductor but William. But it appears that Caroline did not blend in with the local society and made few friends.

William and Caroline Herschel polishing a telescope lens, 1896 Lithograph.
William and Caroline Herschel polishing a telescope lens, 1896 Lithograph.

When William became increasingly interested in astronomy, transforming himself from a musician to an astronomer, Caroline again supported his efforts. She said somewhat bitterly, in her Memoir, “I did nothing for my brother but what a well-trained puppy dog would have done, that is to say, I did what he commanded me.” It is clear, however, from the independent work she did during William’s lifetime, from her work after William’s death, and from the interest in astronomy displayed in her letters throughout her life, that Caroline became as interested in astronomy as William. She became a significant astronomer in her own right as a result of her collaboration with him.

Throughout her writings, she repeatedly makes it clear that she desires to earn an independent wage and be able to support herself. When the state began paying her for her assistance to her brother, she became the first woman—at a time when even men rarely received wages for scientific enterprises—to receive a salary for services to science.

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Telescope created for Caroline by William, 1795, Photo by Geni. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org

When William married a rich widow, Mary Pitt (née Baldwin), in 1788, the union caused tension in the brother-sister relationship. Caroline has been referred to as a bitter, jealous woman who worshiped her brother and resented those who invaded their domestic lives. In his book The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes is more sympathetic to Caroline’s position, noting that the change was in many respects negative for Caroline. With the arrival of William’s wife, Caroline lost her managerial and social responsibilities in the household and accompanying status. According to her memoir, she also moved from the house to external lodgings, returning daily to work with her brother. She no longer held the keys to the observatory and workroom, where she had done much of her own work. Because she destroyed her journals from 1788 to 1798, her feelings about the period are not entirely known. Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond indicated she and her brother continued working well during this period. When her brother and his family were away from home, she often returned there to take care of it for them. In later life, she and Lady Herschel exchanged affectionate letters and she became deeply attached to her nephew, astronomer John Herschel.

William’s marriage likely led to Caroline Herschel’s becoming more independent of her brother and more a figure in her own right. Caroline made many discoveries independently of William, and continued to work solo on many of the astronomical projects which contributed to her rise to fame.

The front of the Herschel Museum in Bath.
The front of the Herschel Museum in Bath.

William’s interest in astronomy started as a hobby to pass time at night. At breakfast the next day he would give an impromptu lecture on what he had learned the night before. Caroline became as interested as William, stating that she was “much hindered in my practice by my help being continually wanted in the execution of the various astronomical contrivances.”William became known for his work on high performance telescopes, and Caroline found herself supporting his efforts. Caroline spent many hours polishing mirrors and mounting telescopes in order to maximize the amount of light captured. She learned to copy astronomical catalogues and other publications that William had borrowed. She also learned to record, reduce, and organise her brother’s astronomical observations. She recognised that this work demanded speed, precision and accuracy.

Herschel's 40-foot telescope.
Herschel’s 40-foot telescope.

In 1782, William accepted the office of King’s Astronomer to George III and moved to Datchet and subsequently to Observatory House near Slough (then in Buckinghamshire, now in Berkshire). The new job proved to be a mixed blessing; although it left him with ample free time to continue his astronomical observations, it also meant a reduction in income and being called upon by the king for entertainment at any time. During this time William perfected his telescope making, building a series of ever larger devices that ultimately ended with his famous 40-foot (12 m) focal length instrument. Caroline was his constant assistant in his observations, also performing the laborious calculations with which they were connected. During one such observation run on the large telescope in 1783, Caroline became caught on an iron hook and when she was helped off “…they could not lift me without leaving nearly 2 ounces (60 g) of my flesh behind.”

At William’s suggestion, Caroline began to make observations on her own in 1782. During her leisure hours she occupied herself with observing the sky with a 27-inch (690 mm) focal length Newtonian telescope and by this means detected a number of astronomical objects during the years 1783–87, including most notably an independent discovery of M110 (NGC 205), the second companion of the Andromeda Galaxy. During 1786–97 she also discovered eight comets, her first comet being discovered on 1 August 1786. She had unquestioned priority as discoverer of five of the comets and rediscovered Comet Encke in 1795. In 1787, she was granted an annual salary of £50 (equivalent to £5,500 in 2015) by George III for her work as William’s assistant.

Caroline's dress on display at the William Herschel museum, Bath.
“The dress on display in the drawing room of the museum was worn and probably made by Caroline, and its simple design reflects the simple tastes and unassuming nature of this remarkable woman. It is made of white muslin, with a pale blue flower decoration, and has a cross-over boudice and lacy trim at the long sleeves. The dress dates to the last decade of the 18th century, so Caroline would probably have been in her forties when she wore it. The pleats and seams are all hand stitched and it has a couple of small patches, which are well disguised.” At the William Herschel Museum, Bath. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). Herschel Museum of Astronomy.

In 1797 William’s observations had shown that there were a great many discrepancies in the star catalogue published by John Flamsteed, which was difficult to use due to its having been published as two volumes, the catalogue proper and a volume of original observations. William realised that he needed a proper cross-index to properly explore these differences but was reluctant to devote time to it at the expense of his more interesting astronomical activities. He therefore recommended to Caroline that she undertake the task. The resulting Catalogue of Stars was published by the Royal Society in 1798 and contained an index of every observation of every star made by Flamsteed, a list of errata, and a list of more than 560 stars that had not been included.

Caroline returned to Hanover in 1822 following her brother’s death, continuing her astronomical studies to verify and confirm William’s findings and producing a catalogue of nebulae to assist her nephew John Herschel in his work.

Herschel was awarded a gold medal from the Astronomical Society of London, and another from the King of Prussia. The gold medal from the Astronomical Society was awarded to her in 1828 “for her recent reduction, to January, 1800, of the [2,500] Nebulæ discovered by her illustrious brother, which may be considered as the completion of a series of exertions probably unparalleled either in magnitude or importance in the annals of astronomical labour.” She completed this work after her brother’s death and her removal to Hanover.

The Royal Astronomical Society elected her an Honorary Member in 1835, along with Mary Somerville; they were the first women members. In 1838 she was notified by Sir William Hamilton, Astronomer Royal, Dublin that she had also been elected as an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

"Herschel Caroline age 92" by Mrs. John Herschel
“Herschel Caroline age 92” by Mrs. John Herschel

In 1846, at the age of 96, she was awarded a Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia, conveyed to her by Alexander von Humboldt, “in recognition of the valuable services rendered to Astronomy by you, as the fellow-worker of your immortal brother, Sir William Herschel, by discoveries, observations, and laborious calculations”.[2]

Caroline Herschel died at Hanover on 9 January 1848. She is buried at 35 Marienstrasse in Hanover at the cemetery of the Gartengemeinde

 

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Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Balzoni
Giovanni Battista Belzoni

November 1778 – 3 December 1823), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Italian explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities.

Belzoni was born in Padua. His father was a barber who sired fourteen children. His family was from Rome and when Belzoni was 16 he went to work there, claiming that he “studied hydraulics.” He intended taking monastic vows, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. In 1800 he moved to the Netherlands where he earned a living as a barber.

In 1803 he fled to England to avoid being sent to jail. There he married an Englishwoman, Sarah Bane (1783–1860). Belzoni was a tall man at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m) tall (one source says that his wife was of equally generous build, but all other accounts of her describe her as being of normal build) and they both joined a travelling circus.They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by performing exhibitions of feats of strength and agility as a strongman at fairs and on the streets of London. One trick he was famous for, was to lift a platform holding twelve people and carry it across the stage. In 1804 he appears engaged at the circus at Astley’s amphitheatre at a variety of performances. Belzoni also had an interest in phantasmagoria and experimented with the use of magic lanterns in his shows.

In 1812 he left England and after a tour of performances in Spain, Portugal and Sicily, he went to Malta in 1815 where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali, who at the time was undertaking a programme of agrarian land reclamation and important irrigation works. Belzoni wanted to show Muhammad Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the project was not approved by the pasha. Belzoni, now without a job, was resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called “the Young Memnon”.
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John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer

800px-John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._Gainsford

and physician, and Bath native. He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement and credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the 1819 short story, The Vampyre, the first published modern vampire story. Although originally and erroneously accredited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the story is Polidori’s.

Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810 went up to the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a thesis on sleepwalking and received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815 at the age of 19.

In 1816 Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited. At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

One night in June, after the company had read aloud from Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German horror tales, William Beckford’s Vathek and indulged in quantities of laudanum, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley,produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Shelley wrote “A Fragment of a Ghost Story” and wrote down five ghost stories recounted by Matthew Gregory (“Monk”) Lewis, published posthumously as the Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories) Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment”, and in “two or three idle mornings” produced “The Vampyre“.

Dismissed on bad terms, by Byron, Polidori travelled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, “The Vampyre” was first published on 1 April 1819 by Henry Colburn in the New Monthly Magazine with the false attribution “A Tale by Lord Byron”, much to both his and Byron’s chagrin. Byron even released his own “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, “The Vampyre” continued to be attributed to him. The name of the work’s protagonist, “Lord Ruthven”, added to this assumption, for that name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel Glenarvon (from the same publisher), in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven. Despite repeated denials by Byron and Polidori, the authorship often went unclarified.

Vampyre_title_page_1819

The tale was first published in book form by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones in London, Paternoster-Row, in 1819 in octavo as The Vampyre; A Tale in 84 pages. The notation on the cover noted that it was: “Entered at Stationers’ Hall, March 27, 1819”. Later printings removed Byron’s name and added Polidori’s name to the title page.

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Joseph Grimaldi: King of Clowns

Joseph Grimaldi
Joseph Grimaldi

Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 – 31 May 1837) was an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era. In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden theatres. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade clowns became known as “Joey”, and both the nickname and Grimaldi’s whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. Grimaldi originated catchphrases such as “Here we are again!”, which continue to feature in modern pantomimes.

Born in London to an entertainer father, Grimaldi began to perform as a child, making his stage debut at Drury Lane in 1780. He became successful at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre the following year; his first major role was as Little Clown in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin’s Wedding in 1781, in which he starred alongside his father. After a brief schooling, he appeared in various low-budget productions and became a sought-after child performer. He took leading parts in Valentine and Orson (1794) and The Talisman; or, Harlequin Made Happy (1796), the latter of which brought him wider recognition.

Towards the end of the 1790s, Grimaldi starred in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe, which confirmed his credentials as a key pantomime performer. Many productions followed, but his career at Drury Lane was becoming turbulent, and he left the theatre in 1806. In his new association with the Covent Garden theatre, he appeared at the end of the same year in Harlequin or Mother Goose, which included perhaps his best known portrayal of Clown. Grimaldi’s residencies at Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells ran simultaneously, and he became known as London’s leading Clown and comic entertainer, enjoying many successes at both theatres. His popularity in London led to a demand for him to appear in provincial theatres throughout England, where he commanded large fees.

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Horace Walpole: Regency Author, Historian, Antiquarian and Politician

Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756
Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756

Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797) was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.

He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors, and for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Along with this book, his literary reputation rests on his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest.

Walpole was born in London, the youngest son of British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and his wife Catherine. Like his father, he received early education in Bexley he was also educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.

Walpole’s first friends were probably his cousins Francis and Henry Conway, to whom Walpole became strongly attached, especially Henry. At Eton he formed with Charles Lyttelton and George Montagu the “Triumvirate”, a schoolboy confederacy. More important were another group of friends dubbed the “Quadruple Alliance”: Walpole, Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton.

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Ludwig van Beethoven, Immortally Beloved Composer

Beethoven
Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Ludwig van Beethoven, (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works and songs.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and Christian Gottlob Neefe. During his first 22 years in Bonn, Beethoven intended to study with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and befriended Joseph Haydn. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and began studying with Haydn, quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death. In about 1800 his hearing began to deteriorate, and by the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. He gave up conducting and performing in public but continued to compose; many of his most admired works come from this period.

Jane Austen and Ludwig van Beethoven shared not only the same birthdate (December 16, if not the year, she was born December 16, 1775) but also a similar publication timeline. Both were demonstrating their respective creative powers at an early age, and though Beethoven outlived Austen by 10 years, their works , produced contemporaneously, are both now regarded as pure genius. We will never know if Beethoven had a chance to read Austen’s works. She was not granted the immense public acclaim he enjoyed, during her life, however, we know that several pieces (Scotch and Irish airs, in particular) in her private music collection were arranged by Beethoven and his mentor, Joseph Haydn. Continue reading Ludwig van Beethoven, Immortally Beloved Composer

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Parson Woodforde: Country Diarist

James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.
James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.

James Woodforde (1740–1803) was an English clergyman who was nearly an exact contemporary of Jane Austen’s father, George Austen (1731–1805). Best known as the author of The Diary of a Country Parson, his personal recollections of life as clergyman in the Georgian countryside give a valuable glimpse into what the Austen household might have been like.

James Woodforde was born at the Parsonage, Ansford, Somerset, England on 27 June 1740. In adulthood he led an uneventful, unambitious life as a clergyman of the Church of England: a life unremarkable but for one thing — for nearly 45 years he kept a diary recording an existence the very ordinariness of which provides a unique insight into the everyday routines and concerns of 18th century rural England.

The sixth child of the Reverend Samuel Woodforde, rector of Ansford and vicar of Castle Cary, and his wife Jane Collins, James was one of four brothers (one of whom died in infancy) and the only one to attend public school — Winchester College, and university — Oxford. He was admitted to Winchester as a scholar in 1752 and enrolled at Oriel College, Oxford in 1758, migrating to New College in the following year. His diary begins with the entry for 21 May 1759: “Made a Scholar of New College”.

Woodforde was ordained and graduated BA in 1763, became MA in 1767 and BD in 1775. He appears to have been a competent but uninspired student and the portrait he provides of Oxford during his two periods of residence as scholar and fellow (from 1758–1763 and from 1773–1776) only confirm Edward Gibbon’s famously damning opinion that it was a place where the dons’ “dull and deep potations excuse the brisk intemperance of youth”. The diary is a rich source of information on university life in eighteenth-century Oxford.

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Charles Wesley: Methodist Minister

Charles-Wesley-preachingAs the daughter of an Anglican minister, Jane Austen would have grown up in a family whose daily life centered around the doings and needs of the church. As music was always important to her, she no doubt took an interest in the psalms and hymns sung during each service, and would probably have been familiar with the works of Charles Wesley.

Wesley, a contemporary of Jane’s father, was influential in the founding of the Methodist movement (a group Austen was aware of, considering Mary Crawford’s remarks in Mansfield Park.)

“A pretty good lecture, upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At this rate you will soon reform everybody at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.”
-Mansfield Park

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