The Transit of Venus, or, The Cranes of Kepler
by David Shavin · June 15, 2012
Kepler, in 1618, on his Harmonices Mundi "It may be that my book will wait for a hundred years for a reader. Has not God waited 6,000 years for an observer?"
The first recorded sighting of the transit of Venus was the product of three young followers of Kepler in 1630's England, who styled themselves, 'Nos Keplari'. They all died young, and their suppressed work was finally published two decades later by Hevelius. This Polish astronomer also obtained Kepler's papers, and, when he announced his intention to publish them, he came under intense scrutiny from the British Royal Society. When his observatory was destroyed by arson, the papers of Kepler, and Hevelius himself, survived - to the dismay of some in England.
The recent transit of Venus was as lawful as the cranes of Ibykus, famous from Schiller’s poem. Previously, in researching the provenance of Kepler’s manuscripts and the gap of over two centuries before his papers were published, I had established the role of Leibniz in his grand strategy for Kepler. One hundred years after Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi, Leibniz dared to re-organize the Austro-Hungarian Empire around a Kepler-publishing project – of which more below. However, the boldness of this project takes on an even more massive character when the brawl over those manuscripts first century of obscurity becomes known.
Last Tuesday’s transit of Venus called out the name of "Horrocks!” to me, the young Keplerian who first sighted the transit of Venus, and who mysteriously died at the age of 22. That his papers and memory were revived two decades later by Huyghens’ (and later, Leibniz’s) associate, Johann Hevelius; that this same Hevelius was key to the transmission of Kepler’s manuscripts to Leibniz; and that Kepler’s works survived premature deaths and arson –all this provided a whole new dimension to Leibniz’s bold strategic adventure.
Kepler’s cranes cry out approximately twice every century or so. Perhaps 2012 is a good time to figure out what they are saying.
In 1629, Kepler published in Leipzig, with the editorial aide of his son-in-law, Jacob Bartsch, his predictions in his "De raris mirisque Anni 1631”1Full title: "De raris mirisque Anni 1631. Phaenomenis, Veneris put & Mercurii in Solem incursu, Admonitio ad Astronomos, rerumque coelestium studiosos.": a transit of Mercury could be observed in November, and a transit of Venus could be observed in December, most easily in America. Kepler advised the Europeans that they should still be on their guard. Kepler died a year before the sightings. Bartsch died of the plague, three years after Kepler.
On November 7, 1631, right on schedule, Gassendi in Paris made the first ever recording of a transit of Mercury. Unfortunately, the December transit of Venus occurred during pre-dawn hours in Paris, and could not be confirmed or measured. Gassendi promptly published the exciting news.2In 1632, Gassendi published his "Mercurius in sole visus, et Venus invisa Parisiis Anno 1631: Pro voto, & Admonitione Keppleri: Cujus heic sunt ea de re Epistol Du cum Observatis quibusdam alijs." One of Kepler’s important collaborators, Wilhelm Schickart – who had worked with Kepler on a calculating machine3Blaise Pascal and Leibniz himself were early developers of the Kepler/Schikart initiative. – responded to the news with his "Pars responsi ad epistolas P. Gassendi de Mercurio sub Sole viso". Schickart had also drawn the frontispiece design for Kepler’s publication of the Rudolphine Tables4Kepler had a friend, Johann Baptist Hebenstreit, compose the poem for it. Later, a J. C. Hebenstreit, the conrector at Bach's Thomas-schüle during 1724-31, would compose the introduction for the long-delayed publication of an astronomical work by Kepler's colleague, David Gans. The work, first published (1742) in Dessau by the rabbi of young Moses Mendelssohn, would trigger the youth's fascination for astronomy and subsequent desire for mastering other tongues. J. C. Hebenstreit himself was a godfather to one of J. S. Bach’s sons., the ‘Bible’ for astronomers, and the best map of our solar system. (It was named after the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Rudolph, the patron of Tycho Brahe and of Kepler in their work at the observatory near Prague.)
In 1632, a young fourteen-year-old Puritan, Jeremiah Horrocks, became fascinated with astronomy, possibly motivated by these reports of Gassendi and Schikart. Jeremiah had come into this world about the same time as had Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi, 1618; but he was not from an academic background. His father, James Horrocks, and his maternal grandfather, Thomas Aspinwall, had both been noted watchmakers.
Jeremiah found the teaching at Cambridge boring, and spent most of his time and energies reading the astronomical works at the library there. Two of his fellow students, John Wallis and John Worthington, would, later, be instrumental in rescuing Horrocks’ works from obscurity. Jeremiah described his dissatisfaction with the professors, and the loneliness of pursuing study on his own: "I am determined therefore that the tediousness of study should be overcome by industry. . . and that instead of a master I would use astronomical books. Armed with these weapons I would contend successfully; and having heard of others acquiring knowledge without greater help, I would blush that any one should be able to do more than I…”. Jeremiah left Cambridge in 1635, abjuring a degree.
It was Worthington5John Worthington was called a "Cambridge Platonist." Worthington studied with Joseph Mead and Benjamin Whichcote, and married Whichcote’s niece, Mary. He collaboration with Samuel Hartlib (refer to their 1655-62 correspondence) was key for the recovery of Horrocks'' Venus work. who, most likely, put Horrocks in touch with William Crabtree, whom he had known from his home town of Manchester. Crabtree himself had never attended university, but he had an excellent collection of astronomical works, including Kepler and Hipparchus. Horrocks and Crabtree corresponded for the next five years, working and reworking Kepler’s New Astronomy, Epitome, Rudolphine Tables, and even the Harmonices Mundi.
It was Crabtree who enlightened Horrocks as to the deficiency of the astronomical tables of Landsberg, that Horrocks had been working through from Cambridge, and who introduced Horrocks to Kepler's superior tables. They examined Philip Landsberg's 1631/2, simplified version of Kepler's Tables - a version that took out the elliptical paths for the simpler circles. They happily determined that Kepler’s tables were vastly superior. Or course, they also worked on other Keplerian topics – e.g., the elliptical path of the moon, the lunar cause of tides. On March 28, 1637, they arranged, by letters, for simultaneous measurements of the Pleiades, done from their separate residences.
By the time of his death, Kepler had only prepared his Ephemerides up through the year 1636, and so had only mentioned, explicitly, the 1631 transit of Venus. But Horrocks extended them and found his happy surprise in 1639 of another transit visible within a few weeks: "The more accurate calculations of Rudolphi very much confirmed my expectations; and I rejoiced exceedingly in the prospect of seeing Venus.” On November 24, 1639, Horrocks, near Liverpool, and Crabtree, near Manchester, carried out the simultaneous measurements of the Venus transit, the first time ever recorded by a human. From their measurements, Horrocks' increased the calculated distance to the sun to around sixty million miles (or, as Horrocks had put it, "at least 15,000 semi-diamters of the Earth”). Though not our 93 million miles, it was a big improvement over previous estimations. And Kepler’s, at around 13 million miles, was a vast improvement over the estimates of the last 1,800 years. One still can be quite impressed by Aristarchus of Samos’ 3rd century BC estimate of 4 million miles. Horrocks reported his scientific discovery and his Keplerian methodology in his XXX
After the dramatic success of Kepler's Rudolphine Tables and his astronomical methods, Horrocks began work, still in 1640, on another book to develop the full scope of Kepler's ideas. While Kepler's Epitome and his Tables had some limited circulation in the 1630's, Horrocks, perhaps alone, was pushing forward with his study of Kepler's Harmonices Mundi. (So, Kepler only had to wait twenty-two, and not one hundred, years!) Horrocks, at the age of eighteen, had been horrified that Landsberg's Tables could have been so massively promoted in the 1630's, so that astronomers would not have to take up the challenge of Kepler's physical geometry - including the elliptical paths. Horrocks' next book was to use the Landsberg fraud to prove the superiority of Kepler's science, and delve into the deeper reasons why Kepler's physical science approach worked. This work was later published, in the 1670's, by Wallis as Astronomia Kepleriana defensa et promota.
Horrocks wrote, in 1640, that Kepler was "the most learned astronomer who had ever lived… His death [ten years before, in 1630, when Horrocks was only twelve] was an event that must ever have happened too soon; the science of astronomy received the lamentable intelligence whilst left in the hands of a few trifling professors who had kept themselves concealed like owls until the brightness of his sun has set.” Within months, the otherwise healthy Horrocks lay dead.
In that fall of 1640, perhaps inspired by the success of the transit of Venus, another collaborator of Crabtree, William Gascoigne, made important breakthroughs in instrumentation, promising further advances in astronomy. Gascoigne, then 27, was a maker of precision instruments. The story is that, when he was working upon some sort of ‘Keplerian optical’ arrangement, a spider had left a strand, placed fortunately across a lens that Gascoigne was working on – providing the inspiration for a cross-hair. Gascoigne would engineer the pitch of a screw with enough precision to control the cross-hair. Between August and December, 1640, Gascoigne corresponds with Crabtree over his progress on his micrometer and his telescopic lens. Crabtree visited Gascoigne's home, where he was much excited by the possibilities of the instrumentation. Then, Horrocks became enthused, simply from Crabtree’s written description. Crabtree wrote Gascoigne (12/28/1740): "My Friend Mr. Horrox professeth, that little Touch which I gave him of your Inventions, hath ravished his Mind quite from it self, and left him in an Extasie between Admiration and Amazement. I beseech you, Sir, stack not your Intentions for the perfecting of your begun Wonders. We travel with Desire till we hear of your full Delivery. You have our Votes, our Hearts, and our Hands should not be wanting, if we could further you.” They styled themselves "Nos Keplari”. The collaboration was going into high gear!
Horrocks had written Crabtree (12/19/1640) that he would arrive there for their long-anticipated meeting on January 4th, adding "nisi quid praeter solitum impediat, me tunc expectes.” However, On January 3rd, the day of his departure, seemingly out of the blue, Jeremiah Horrocks died. Crabtree related the news to Gascoigne: "Mr. Jeremiah Horrocks’ letters to me for the years 1638, 1639, 1640 up to the day of his death, very suddenly, on the morning of the 3rd January; the day he had arranged to come to me. Thus God puts an end to all worldly affairs. I have lost, alas, my dear Horrocks. Hinc illa lachrimae [thus the tears fall]. Irreparable loss.” From then until now, the death of the 22-year-old has been passed over in silence - except that it is said he was healthy... and it is a mystery.6The painting one sees - at NASA's website, or elsewhere - of Horrocks recording the first transit of Venus, was a 19th-century invention, making Horrocks out to be a tall, frail figure, capable perhaps of keeling over in a strong wind. Clearly, some professor, at some point, is going to claim that Horrocks died of the "Extasie” reported on 12/28/1640! (However, even that was a report of an "Extasie” that had started at least two weeks prior; so that professor is going to have to claim at least a three-week "Extasie” felled the young man.)
Soldiers appeared at the home of Horrocks’ father in Toxteth. They proceeded to burn Jeremiah’s papers. (This matter is mentioned, in passing, as a case of out-of-control marauders. Evidently, they somehow forgot that they were seizing valuables, and instead turned to rounding up papers to burn.) Further, though Jeremiah’s brother, Jonas, had taken, upon Jeremiah's death, some of his brother's papers to Ireland, they were later declared ‘lost’. Crabtree continued to work with Gascoigne in 1641/2, but the environment was increasingly hostile. In one of his last letters to Gascoigne, Crabtree wrote (12/6/1641) again about Horrocks, "whose immature Death there is yet scarce a Day which I pass without some pang of sorrow.”
The 1642 outbreak of the English civil war ended the collaboration. Gascoigne, an officer for Charles I, died in battle July 2, 1644. It is thought Crabtree died that same year, fighting on the side of Parliament. It was the Dr. John Worthington, who had introduced Horrocks to Crabtree, who then rescued some of Crabtree’s papers.
Twenty years after Horrocks’ "immature Death”, Christian Huyghens presented a copy of Horrocks’ work on Venus to Johann Hevelius. Huyghens had been a student of Hevelius’ astronomical work, and, based upon that, had made dramatic discoveries between 1655-59 regarding the rings of Saturn. (They also shared interest in the development of the pendulum clock.) Evidently, while in London in 1661, Huyghens received the precious Horrocks manuscripts from Sir Robert Moray, who told him that there was "no prospect of them being published in England, and might he find a publisher.”7Nicholas Kollerstrom’s "William Crabtree’s Venus transit observation” in the 2004 "Transit of Venus: New Views of the Solar System and Galaxy” Proceedings IAU Colloquium No. 196. Kollerstrom represented the Science and Technology Studies Department, University College, London. Kollerstrom adds that he received a private communication from R H van Gent, that Huyghens was at a dinner at Gresham College (4/11/1661) with Moray, where the Horrocks case may have been discussed. That there was ‘no prospect’ was certainly a rather telling comment. The 1640’s and 1650’s in England had been a rather turbulent period, but I provide the beginnings of an attempted reconstruction of the provenance of the "Nos Keplari” manuscripts and papers.
Dr. Worthington obtained two versions of Horrocks’ Venus in Sole Visa manuscript, neither fully complete. These were found amongst Crabtree’s papers when Worthington went to his home after his death. At some point, Worthington had arranged for a friend to print the work, but, as he put it, "other business, it seems, would not permit him to go through with the work.”8Hartlib to Dr John Worthington(4/20/1659): "Do you remember your promises concerning the astronomical observations of Venus made by the late Mr Horox? I wish I had them; the sooner the better.” Worthington to Hartlib (4/28/1659): "I have, as you desire, have sent you Mr. Horrox. his discourse called Venus in Sole Visa. Here are two copies of it, but neither writ to the end. I lent them some years hence to a friend, who promised out of both to make out one, and then to print it: but other business, it seems, would not permit him to go through with the work… These papers of his I found in the study of one Mr Crabtree, and I bought them after his death.” Found in The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, 1855, Chetham Society. Perhaps the friend was overworked or suffered from some innocent interruption; but this is also the way, in such a climate, that one alludes to outside pressure. Regardless, by no later than 1659, Worthington had discussed Horrocks with Samuel Hartlib; at which point, he loaned his two versions to him. The remaining pathway is less clear, but it likely a matter of connecting Hartlib to Huyghens' source, Moray.
Worthington had attained, by 1650, the position of Master at Jesus College, Cambridge, and in 1657, of Vice-Chancellor. Hartlib’s intellectual circles had more than a little to do with Gresham College and with the setting up of the Royal Society. The year after Hartlib’s study of Horrocks’ Venus work, the Royal Society was formally established (11/28/1660) on the premises of Gresham College. This was about six months before Moray met with Huyghens. Of the twelve in attendance, of note for our purposes were Roger Moray, William Neile and William Brouncker, the 2nd Viscount. While Hartlib would have had ample opportunity to discuss the Horrocks case directly with Moray, any of the others could have been intermediaries between the two. All had associations with Hartlib and Gresham College. For example, Neile’s father, Paul, was an astronomer who had provided Gresham College, in 1658, with a 35-foot telescope. Neile himself worked with in the late 1650’s with Wallis on analysis of the paraboloid – and Wallis, the old schoolmate of Horrocks, would later publish Horrocks’ collected works.9There are two letters of Huyghens (9/21/1661 and 11/9/1661) to Hevelius which may shed more light on the transmission of Horrocks’ text, though I’ve not yet examined them. Brouncker also took interest in these discussions on the paraboloid. Of some note, Wallis published, in 1659, a treatise on the cycloid which included his thinking as to Kepler's area law. (I've not yet examined this treatise to see whether he refers explicitly to Kepler, or not.) In sum, if Moray had not gotten the manuscript directly from Hartlib (or Worthington), any of these others are fully qualified candidates.
Finally, the Neiles also seemed to be aware of Towneley’s collection of Gascoigne's material from the ‘Nos Keplari’. One of Gascoigne’s collaborators, the astronomer Christopher Towneley, had preserved Gascoigne’s papers after his death at the battle of Marston Moore. (Towneley’s brother died on that same field of battle with Gascoigne.) His brother’s 14-year-old son, Richard, would go on to perfect Gascoigne’s micrometer. The Towneleys proved to be an early source for the papers of ‘Nos Keplari’. Whether they also provided a copy of the specific Venus work is not clear. In 1664, in the discussions that broke out in the Royal Society over Horrocks' work, William Neile offered the advice that inquiry should be made of the Towneleys regarding some, as yet unexamined correspondence.
Hevelius published Horrocks' manuscript in Gdansk in 1662, along with a report that he made on the 1661 transit of Mercury.10Mercurius in sole visus Gedani, anno MDCLXI, d. III Maji, st. n. cum aliis quibusdam rerum coelestium observationibus rarisque phaenomenis: Cui annexa est Venus in Sole pariter visa, anno 1639, d. 24 Nov. st. v. Liverpoliae, a Jeremia Horroxio, nunc primum edita notisque illustrata. Quibus accedit Historiola, novae illius, ac mirae stellae in collo Ceti. Also, in 1662, Hevelius' student, Johann Hecker, published a continuation of Kepler's "Ephemerides". (Horrocks had extended Kepler's ephemerides beyond 1636, but that ended abruptly. In Gdansk, Hevelius' colleague, Lorenz Eichstadt, successfully carried Kepler's ephermides from 1637-1661. Hecker would continue this same series up to 1680. The 1679 burning of the the observatory may have had something to do with the termination of a project that had continued through more than a half-century.) The revival of Horrocks' Venus certainly had its effect in breaking up the 'shunning' of Kepler and of ‘nos Keplari’, at least temporarily - until the 'Newton' project, the 'Euclid-izing' of Kepler's gravitational system, was launched. (Today's historians of science either ignore, or are ignorant of, the self-described of 'nos Keplari' - "We Keplers". One will find them labelled under the brand name, the ‘north country’ astronomers.) It is a fair estimation that, during the first decade of the Royal Society, the 1660’s, and due to Hevelius' publishing, there was more open discussion of Kepler than during the rest of their existence. Dr. Wallis headed up the project to collect together what could be found of Horrocks’ writings, along with the correspondence of Horrocks, Crabtree and Gascoigne. His collected works of Horrocks was initially published in 1672, and then republished twice within the decade.
Johann Hevelius’ father had been prosperous as the brewer of Jopen beer. When a youth of sixteen, Johann began a three-year private study in Gdansk with Peter Kruger, himself a student of both Brahe and Kepler. We have a good idea as to what they studied, from a letter written by Kruger in 1629, near the end of the three-year tutoring of the young Hevelius:
"I am wholly occupied with trying to understand the foundations upon which the Rudolphine rules and tables are based, and I am using for this purpose the Epitome of Astronomy previously published by Kepler as an introduction to the tables. This epitome which previously I had read so many times and so little understood and so many times thrown aside, I now take up again and study with rather more success seeing that it was intended for use with the tables and is itself clarified by them…I am no longer repelled by the elliptical form of the planetary orbits; Kepler’s proofs, in his Commentaria de Marte [Astronomia Nova] have convinced me..."
So, Hevelius had gone through a similar education, as did Horrocks and Crabtree a few years later, but he had the advantage of a teacher who had worked with Kepler. It's unclear what he did from 1629-32, but from 1632-34, Hevelius toured Europe. In Holland, he established contact with the Huyghens family. In Paris, he met Gassendi shortly after his 1631 confirmation of Kepler's prediction of the transit of Mercury. In London, he met with Samuel Hartlib and John Wallis, with whom he began a regular correspondence. These meetings would have been at Cambridge at the same time that Horrocks was ensconced in the library. Perhaps Hevelius had spent time, also, with Horrocks. (If he had, some evidence of such might appear as a mention in Hevelius' later writings - should some Latin scholar wish to investigate...) When he returned to Gdansk, he married and spent about five years with the family brewery business. Then, in 1639, Kruger, as he lay dying, exhorted Hevelius that he had to live up to the Keplerian training on which they had worked together, during his high school years.
Beginning around 1640, Hevelius initiated the construction, above the family brewery, of his observatory, called "Sternenburg” ("Star Castle”). He provided it with a large Keplerian telescope, one with a 150-foot focal length!11For Hevelius' 1673 woodcut, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Telescope_140_foot_Johann_Hevelius.jpg (It was already provided with liquid refreshment.) It was fully complete by 1657. He published, in 1647, his first major work, Selenographia, which comprised an atlas of the moon and a defense of Kepler's methods, as Hevelius understood them at that time. It was the standard work on the moon for at least a century.
The year after his (1662) publication of Horrocks’ Keplerian work, Hevelius decides to obtain the unpublished Kepler manuscripts. In 1663, Ludwig Kepler died, after having sole possession of his father’s manuscripts for the previous three decades. (Ludwig had been a medical doctor in Koenigsberg, serving as the personal physician to the elector of Brandenburg, and, evidently, for some time also to the king of Sweden.) Curiously, back in 1635, Ludwig had moved briefly to Hevelius’ Gdansk, and Hevelius might have seen Kepler’s papers at that point. (And, more curiously, Ludwig had traveled from Vienna to Gdansk with the English legate to Gdansk in tow. Presently, I have no idea as to what was going on there - except that it is the case that the Empire had taken some sort of control over Gdansk at that same time.) Ludwig had stated his intention at various times over the three decades to publish his father’s manuscripts. It is not clear what happened to prevent this. (Max Caspar offers the view that Ludwig was simply not intellectually up to the task. Perhaps.) Regardless, in 1663, Hevelius initiated strenuous efforts to purchase the Kepler manuscripts from Ludwig’s heirs. Evidently, it took some time, and I do not know exactly when Hevelius succeeded, but in September, 1673, he announced to the Royal Society that he has the manuscripts (he lists 29 titles) and that he intends to publish them for the world.
All hell breaks loose. For the last dozen years of Hevelius’ life, he is subject to ridiculous attacks from London, including the intentional burning down of his observatory in 1679. The poor student of Hevelius will be treated to reams of nonsense from historians of science, who will recount in detail the supposed controversy between, on the one side, Robert Hooke, the hard cop, and Flamsteed, the soft cop; and on the other, Hevelius - and all this without ever mentioning the Kepler manuscripts even once! For what it is worth, before I dug out Hevelius’ 9/16/1673 announcement of his intention to publish Kepler's manuscripts, I had sorted through enough of this mythology to ascertain that it was in 1674 that the level of Royal Society hysteria kicked into full gear. From that analysis, I’d inferred that the Kepler manuscripts had become the issue at that point. Only then, lo and behold, did I locate the extract and date of Hevelius’ "Letter, lately written to the Publisher, concerning the famous Kepler’s Manuscripts…” that was published in the January 1, 1674 "Philosophical Transactions” of the Royal Society. The timing of the escalation of attacks upon Hevelius was ascertainable, independently of the knowledge as to when Hevelius announced his plans to publish Kepler - but it turns out that the two events matched up perfectly.
In brief, in 1668, upon the occasion of the publication of Hevelius’ Cometographia, Robert Hooke began challenging his sightings and measurements. The issue, supposedly, is that Hevelius should be using smaller telescopes with micrometers; that, if he is not using what Hooke approves of, then his measurements cannot be correct. (One of the sub-texts here is that the legacy of the ‘nos Keplari’ should NOT be Kepler’s method, but should be simply technical improvements, such as the cross-hairs of Gascoigne’s telescope.) Hevelius knew that Hooke was a small dog yapping. Compared to Hevelius' decades of observational experience, he was dealing with a rank amateur astronomer - though, perhaps, a professional ideologue. He invited Hooke to send him anything that Hooke thought would improve his work. That Hooke never did this, certainly did not stop Hooke from continuing his aspersions and doubts (sort of like Tony Blair on Iraq's nuclear program).
By 1671, Hevelius expressed his impatience to Oldenburg, the Royal Society secretary, who was suffering some embarrassment from Hooke’s antics. He referred to Hooke as the man who was "all words and no deeds…”. In 1673, Hevelius actually published an account of his observatory, instruments and methods – thinking that this would end the contretemps. He was ready to move ahead with publishing Kepler’s works. Wallis, who had been publishing Horrocks’ works, wrote to Oldenburg (1/12/1674) that there was "no reason to be displeased” with Hevelius’ continued use of common sights on measuring instruments, and that it was better for Hevelius to continue using the instruments he was most familiar with.
However, nothing seems to satisfy Hooke. He escalates his attack with his 1674 Animadversions. Hevelius begins to think that there is more to this than just the ‘edgy’ personality of Hooke. He writes that, all the sudden, others of the Royal Society, including Flamsteed, "have already pronounced their verdict on [his] observations before they have seen them, examined them or known anything at all of them.” Hevelius asked his critics to at least "suspend judgment” until after they had gained the necessary experience acquired through years of observation; only then could they sufficiently address these issues. This was aimed at Hooke. He made the further offer that if what he had displayed in the drawings and descriptions of his 1673 work did not satisfy, then the Royal Society should just send someone to observe him at work.
Wallis now thinks that Hooke should be ‘cut off at the pass’. He writes (1/11/1675) to Oldenburg: "I have now read ye whole of Mr. Hooke’s [Animadversions] against Hevelius, which I think bears a little too hard upon him. Hee might have published his own way to as good advantage as he pleased, without so frequent Reflections on Hevelius, as he hath at every turn. For Hevelius hath deserved well.” However, in 1675, Charles II appointed Flamsteed as the Royal Astronomer, and Flamsteed’s tone changes.12In 1670/1, Flamsteed spent time studying ‘Nos Keplari’ and was most impressed by them, including their estimations of the distance of the solar system to the stars, and to the Pleiades, in particular. But, by 1672, his knees buckle. He’s horrified that Horrocks’ explanation as to why the moon experiences libration (involving the sun acting upon the moon’s overall orbit) is "framed from Kepler’s groundless notions…” He actively becomes the ‘soft cop’. Flamsteed would be content if Hevelius will take the bait, and enter into an endless defense of his own integrity. Flamsteed wants to put Hooke’s attitude to one side, if only Hevelius will pretend that there are really ‘good faith’ questions being put to him. Hevelius responded that Flamsteed was not acting in good faith in seizing upon two small errors - the type of errors that Hevelius willingly acknowledges that he has made, that he will make in the future, and that all men make - in order to question the quality of all of his work.
Hevelius tries again to put an end to the ridiculous operation, writing to Oldenburg (8/21/1676): "You may believe, my friend, that I approach this little job with extreme reluctance: not because I am unsure whether I have untied [Hooke’s] Gordion knots or laid myself open to those darts he has been pleased so often to hurl at me, which I can certainly dodge – by no means! But because my mind (as, I judge, is proper in a candid and warm-hearted man) wholly abhors such things, especially disputes with others and contentions in mere idle words against a Fellow of the illustrious Royal Society… I have urged no one to be my partisan, nor have I made efforts to persuade anyone to relinquish his own point of view, which he might think the nearer to the truth; much less have I so conducted myself as to presume to play the role of dictator to free minds. In my little works I never, by any means, tried to lay down laws for anyone or for posterity as though they should follow in every detail in my footsteps, or as though that business was to be done thus and not otherwise…” Hevelius proceeded to describe Hooke as a "busybody,” who "labors in vain with words and deeds,” and was interested only in what others were doing, but never improved his own work. "Yet how Mr. Hooke has treated me before…in almost every page of his Animadversions where he reviles my observations and small labours, slights them and makes them of no account, and myself he everywhere slanders, mocks and uses scornfully. . .”
Finally, in May, 1679, the young Edmond Halley, who actually had carried out some star measurements, enough to compare methods with Hevelius13Halley had left Oxford without getting his degree. He left (on an East India Company ship) for two years to make astronomical observations in the south Atlantic. Upon his return, and without actually publishing any results, the 22-year-old was rather rapidly (that is, all within seven months)
a) made a member of the Royal Society,
b) granted an Oxford degree by the intercession of King Charles II, and
c) sent off to Gdansk.
It's not a stretch to think that powerful people certainly thought the young man owed them something in return., arrived at Hevelius’ observatory in Gdansk. He spent two months living and working with Johann and Elizabeth Hevelius. (After his first wife died, Johann met and married Elizabeth, a young enthusiastic astronomer, and she shared astronomical duties with him. She also bore him four children. Three daughters grew to adulthood and married.) Halley arrived as a sceptic of Hevelius’ methods, but found that his methods were sound and his measurements could not be improved upon. He wrote as much in his report to Flamsteed and left for England in July. Of course, this on-site inspection could have occurred anytime in the previous five years of contention.
Two months later, Hevelius’ observatory was destroyed by arson. Halley's naivety - that he there to objectively compare measurements - could not have pleased the ‘anything-but-Kepler’ faction. If a decision was made to torch Hevelius’ observatory, with Kepler’s papers included, it was made then and carried into action over the next two months. We may not be able to secure proof as to whether it was a lone arsonist or not; however, it's pretty clear that Halley was played for a fool at the time. First, the arson.
The simple version is: Hevelius suspected that it was arson. After the fire, on September 26th, 1679, he suspected that a servant, who had fled later that same night, had deliberately set the fire. It was a pretty serious fire. Hevelius’ oldest daughter, the 13-year-old Katerina Elizabeth, courageously saved the precious documents, including the Kepler treasure, by racing to the library room and throwing all she could out the window. (What a marvelous young lady!) The observatory was completely destroyed, including all the equipment, along with many manuscripts and books.
Now, into a few complexities: Hevelius reported to his patron, King Louis XIV14Hevelius’ publication of Horrocks’ work in 1662 had caught the attention of Colbert, who recommended to Louis XIV that he provide annual support to Hevelius., that on the previous night, he had "felt deeply troubled by unaccustomed fears…” (This might be a reference to his awareness of operations afoot against him.) In order "to lift his spirits”, he wrote, he took his wife to their country home on the 26th. We can follow the rest of the story, as Hevelius related it to a fellow resident of Gdansk, one "D. Capellus” - whom, some say, was a relative of Hevelius:
"He bade his coachman return to the City with the horses before the gates were closed and tell the domestics to guard carefully against fire. The coachman when he had unharnessed and stabled the horses made as if to go to bed, about 9 o'clock, and whether by carelessness as some think, or with intent and of purpose (as the very noble Hevelius himself concludes from the fact that he never rescued from the flames four horses of choice breed and great value) left a burning candle in the stable and set the whole place afire. The fire being started he passed tiptoe through the front house without saying a single word about it. This took place about half past nine in the evening."
Clearly, earlier in the evening, Hevelius had trusted his coachman with the valuable horses, and with the instruction to ‘guard carefully against fire’. (Later, the ‘lone arson’ theorists will claim – against Hevelius’ explicit testimony and with no attempt to cite any evidence - that the arsonist was 'a disgruntled former coachman' who had been dismissed from service.) Further, and even more significantly, Hevelius suspected that this upcoming attack against him would be by fire. Another domestic evidently saw the arsonist leave the house around 9:30. Unless some one can produce the coachman that dropped off Hevelius and his wife that evening - the one who was in Hevelius’ employ until the moment he ran off that evening - we won’t discover more from this angle... except that ‘lone arson’ theorists are desperate liars. The same report goes on to account for some of the writings that were destroyed:
"Of the unbound books produced by Hevelius not a single leaf was saved from the flames the titles of these are
3. Prodromus Cometicus.
4. Mantissa prodromi de nativa facie Saturni.
5. Mercurius in Sole visus.
6. Epistolae ad Gassendum, Ricciolum, Oldenburgium et alios.
7. Duae partes Machinae Coelestis, the latter of which only appeared in February of this year 1679, and contained the observations of 49 years surely an incredible loss to letters and posterity."
And which ones saved:
"1. a good part of the bound books together with
2. MSS. of great importance a) specially the Catalogue of Fixed Stars, the work of many years, and b) the new Globus Coelestis Correctus et Reformatus, which was intended shortly to be published. Likewise
3. thirteen volumes of Letters of Hevelius's Correspondence with many men of the learned world - most useful documents. There were preserved
4. all Kepler's MSS.15This would stick in the craw of British intelligence for quite a while. The Edinburgh intelligence officer, Sir David Brewster - writing in the 19th century, but still before the Kepler manuscripts were published – discusses the 1679 fire and lists items saved from the fire, based upon this same report. However, in Brewster's list, he just happens to omit item #4, the Kepler manuscripts! and
5. those which Hevelius in the second part of the Machina Coelestis promised he would publish, (1) Uranographia (2) Prodromus Astronomicus (3) Annus Quinquagesimus Observationum Uranicarum."
Capellus testified that "What I am narrating thus far I saw in part myself, with others, in part I have gathered from the lips of Hevelius himself and the trustworthy statements of neighbours.” Finally, Capellus’ report goes on to make clear that Hevelius is in need of aide in reconstructing his observatory – and the kings of Poland and France do in fact respond. In London, amongst his good fellow members of the Royal Society... not so much.
In Hamburg, the British ambassador to the Hanseatic League, one Sir Peter Wyche, is interested to provide a report to London on the situation. (The story is that Capellus’ brother in Hamburg gets a copy of the German-language report and prepares a Latin translation of it for Wyche. It is Wyche’s report that is read by the Royal Society secretary, Mr. Henshaw, later in 1679.) However, no one from the Royal Society lifts a finger to help their official fellow member in Hevelius’ rebuilding of his observatory. This means that, EVEN IF there were, hypothetically, no involvement from London in the arson, everyone believed and acted as if there was! That is to say, this operation quacked like a duck... and burned like a fire.
At the age of 68, and stripped of most of his life’s work, Hevelius set back to work, completing his new observatory over the next two years. However, since his 1673 letter to a publisher, regarding his Kepler manuscripts, he had been tied up in attacks. Hevelius is able to regain some of his work, but the last dozen years of his life never afforded him the free energy to carry out his planned Kepler offensive.
The 22-year-old Halley never recovers. If he was a ‘young innocent’ before the fire, afterwards, he gets quite a ‘life-lesson’. A British ambassador knows fairly early on that Hevelius is alive and that the Kepler manuscripts survived, and whoever in London - a hop and a skip from Hamburg - hears or reads the ambassador's report, is similarly informed. However, Halley hears a version of the fire that includes the death of Hevelius. In such a moment, he fulfills a promise to the widow Elizabeth Hevelius, regarding a dress from London, as described in his curious letter:
"I quite realise that his heartbroken spouse must be wearing sad-coloured apparel, yet for several reasons I have thought well to send the gown procured for her ... because I am not yet certain her husband is dead, in which case I judge nothing would be more unwelcome than delay ... since it is of silk and of the newest fashion, I am confident it will highly please Mme Hevelius, if only it should be granted to her to wear it ..."
He goes on to describe its exorbitant costs, and request payment in the form of a parcel of three specific works authored by Hevelius. Whatever else was going on in London, in October, 1679, Halley was being kept out of the know. However, if he came, at some point, to figure out that he was being ‘played’, he also figured out how the game was to be played; and his innocence was gone. Later, he even would attempt to publicly renounce the very written documents that, after testing Hevelius' methods and measurements, he had authored and signed - a pretty good indication that he had been put through some process of humiliation.
The games that were played, beginning in 1680, as to whom would get the fame for the comet that came to bear Halley's name, is a story that can be told another time. Of note, for now, is that it was Halley, who in 1684, is pushing the project of mathematizing Kepler’s physical hypothesis of gravity, by reducing it to an inverse-square law – the project whereby he is sent to recruit the recluse, Isaac Newton.
8. Hevelius, Leibniz and Kepler Survive - Science in England Dies
Hevelius will still send reports to the Royal Society’s "Philosophical Transactions”, but he now initates publications in Leibniz’s "Acta Eruditorum”. In 1683, when he discovered a new constellation, he named it "Sobieski’s Shield", in honor of the Polish king (King John III Sobieski) who had helped him rebuild the observatory. He announced the new constellation in Leibniz’s (August, 1684) "Acta Eruditorum”. About the time that he discovered the new constellation, a new soul was born (9/22/1683) in Hevelius’ Gdansk, named Michael Hansch - who would, two decades later, work with Leibniz on the publication of the Kepler manuscripts.
On April 4, 1685, Hevelius sent to the Royal Society what would be his last work, his Annus Climactericus..., referring to 1679, the year of the fire. His accompanying letter to Francis Aston, the Royal Society secretary, made it ironically clear that the naked eye was perfectly capable of seeing what had transpired!
"Given this convenient opportunity, and having published my little work of observations, namely Annus Climactericus, I did not want to neglect my duty any longer, but to offer it duly to you and the Royal Society... Humbly asking that you will receive, in good spirit and in love of truth, these little pages ... written in defense of my observations, and that you, rmoreover, deem the author worthy of your protection against all envious persons and those wishing me ill. In the said little work you will not only see discussed that controversy between Hooke and me long ago conducted with mere words and [more recently] when Halley was here [whom the Royal Society sent to me at the end of 1679] clearly and with the eye [itself], but you will also find my observations of planets as well as occultations and eclipses, made by me here in Gdansk in my new observatory, after that abominable misfortune of mine."
He followed this up, on July 17, 1685, by sending to selected members of the Royal Society, including Wallis, Halley, and Flamsteed, personal copies of his work "so that all England” could respond to it. Wallis’s championed the work, focusing upon the Hooke outrage: "Mr. Hook published his  Animadversions. . . with much more of bitterness and boasting… than there was reason for. Which he thinks was done out of design to disparage Him, his Instruments, and his Observations (unsight and unseen,) and to prepossess others with mean and slight thoughts of them, (even before they were yet published;) and a high opinion of himself who (with so little charge and so small Instruments) could do things so much more accurate than had hitherto ever been done, by any: thus seeking to raise his own reputation by disparaging what is done by others, in things wherein himself doth nothing.” After reading Wallis' review, Halley instructed Towneley – the man who had improved Gascoigne’s micrometer and had been, two decades ago, a source for key letters amongst ‘Nos Keplari’ – to simply ignore Wallis’ defense of Hevelius! This now was the 'Party' line.
Hevelius actions’ resulted in Hooke launching a whole new attack, this time upon the deceased Royal Society secretary, Oldenburg, who evidently had broken ‘party’ ranks back in the 1670’s by dealing with Hevelius with an even hand - clearly, too honestly. Hevelius wrote to the Royal Society (4/17/1686), objecting to Hooke’s calumnies. He took the occasion to announce that he would respond to such actions by continuing with his plans to publish his Prodromus astronomiae and his Uranographia. By this time, 1686, the Royal Society was committed to the ‘Newton’ project. There was no longer any question of following procedure and publishing such communications from Hevelius in the "Transactions". Instead, written across the top of this letter from Hevelius are the instructions: "do not Print this - - - - - -.”
Hevelius was dead within a year. His friends and associates were convinced that the bitter attacks of his last dozen years shortened his life. His widow, Elizabeth, did publish his remaining two works. She died in 1693. The Kepler manuscripts, quite properly, went to Katerina Elizabeth, who 14 years earlier had saved them from the fire. Three years later, in 1696, she married the Gdansk senator and sometimes poet, Ernst Lange. Evidently, the manuscripts were part of the dowry. By 1706, the baby, Michael Hansch, that had been born in Gdansk back in 1683, Hevelius’ new constellation year, was now collaborating with Leibniz; and by 1707, they had the Kepler manuscripts. Stay tuned for part II.
The English translation of the Latin version of D. Capellus report of the fire, as prepared for Ambassador Wyche for British authorities. This version is based upon E F MacPike’s Hevelius, Flamsteed, Halley, Appendix I. Taylor and Francis, London, 1937:
The very noble and famous Hevelius, feeling himself oppressed with great and unaccustomed troubles, as if presaging some disaster to himself, withdrew with his much loved spouse (but to his great misfortune) on the 16 September to a garden not far from the City Gate of Gdansk, in order that he might refresh and restore his fatigued and weary self. He bade his coachman return to the City with the horses before the gates were closed and tell the domestics to guard carefully against fire. The coachman when he had unharnessed and stabled the horses made as if to go to bed, about 9 o'clock, and whether by carelessness as some think, or with intent and of purpose (as the very noble Hevelius himself concludes from the fact that he never rescued from the flames four horses of choice breed and great value) left a burning candle in the stable and set the whole place afire. The fire being started he passed tiptoe through the front house without saying a single word about it. This took place about half past nine in the evening. After he left, a hall servant noticing an unusual smell of smoke, went hastily to the rear portion of the house where he found the house and stable burning with a steady blaze, the fire fanned by a strong Southerly wind creeping further every moment, catching up everything adjacent before it could be stopped. So the three front structures of the house quickly began burning. These Hevelius occupied and on these he had erected that famous and incomparable observatory. His Museum indeed was broken open by friendly hands hastening to assist and save what they could from the flames, and the bound books were thrown down from the windows. But not a few purloined at the hands of unscrupulous men never returned to their owner.
Of the unbound books produced by Hevelius not a single leaf was saved from the flames the titles of these are
3. Prodromus Cometicus.
4. Mantissa prodromi de nativa facie Saturni.
5. Mercurius in Sole visus.
6. Epistolae ad Gassendum, Ricciolum, Oldenburgium et alios.
7. Duae partes Machinae Coelestis, the latter of which only appeared in February of this year 1679, and contained the observations of 49 years surely an incredible loss to letters and posterity.
Of the latter part of the Machina Coelestis scarce ten copies had been sold, so that no more survive anywhere in the world, save the few that their distinguished author presented and transmitted to sovereigns, princes, or friends. Of all the great and excellent instruments made of metal, and of which we read the description in Part 1 of the Machina Coelestis, simply nothing has been saved from this sad conflagration. The photic (or, if one prefer it, optic or perspective) tubes of which one was 140 and another 60 feet long, not to mention the rest, all the glasses too and sights appropriate to this subject, have so perished that nothing at all is left. All that optical plant for polishing and turning, and numerous "forms" specially suited for bringing remote objects under the eye-from the smallest up to those we knew of a diameter up to 100 feet, together with globes ready to be made into "concava ", all have perished.
That most splendid printing office itself and its types, brass and wooden presses and other requisites, as well as a huge and very great mass of most choice and elegant paper, stored up for the approaching publication of the Prodromus Astronomiae.
Nor of the many mechanical instruments used in horologic and gnomonic art and for engraving on brass. Nothing at all of all these remained, not anything of the steel mirrors or other things of value in the Observatory, which all were burnt before any human effort could bring help. In so sad a case wicked men were found who under guise of assisting, broke open cabinets and made off with no small sums in gold and silver coin, with other precious things, among them three clocks of silver, with their cases, which were very dear to Hevelius for the reason that he had engraved and embellished them with his own hands.
If one reckon up the immobile property lost, he mourns for three large ornate front houses, handsomely built and with walls calculated to resist fire, upon which was placed the greater observatory, near to which was another, smaller, in which were housed the greater sextant, of metal, as well as the horizontal quadrant, with many other smaller instruments. He lost also the two rear houses and two others lately erected, hi which one saw the printing office, with the octagonal observatory and that great and elaborate azimuthal quadrant specially adapted to meridian altitude observations. And so seven buildings were destroyed by the fire, completely and razed to the ground. The walls exposed to the fire for the greater part collapsed, except the three fronts of the front houses.
Pictures, silver vessels, ornaments of gold and silver, linen woollen and silk-en apparel, also the vessels of copper and tin and other such household things have so disappeared that scarce any of the metal remaining could be extracted from the ruins. From this lamentable fire there was saved, by the grace of God,
(1) a good part of the bound books together with
(2) MSS. of great importance (1) specially the Catalogue of Fixed Stars, the work of many years, and (2) the new Globus Coelestis Correctus et Reformatus, which was intended shortly to be published. Likewise
(3) thirteen volumes of Letters of Hevelius's Correspondence with many men of the learned world - most useful documents. There were preserved
(4) all Kepler's MSS. and
(5) those which Hevelius in the second part of the Machina Coelestis promised he would publish, (1) Uranographia (2) Prodromus Astronomicus (3) Annus Quinquagesimus Observationum Uranicarum.
Hevelius hopes too that he will be able, with the benevolent aid of the highest patrons of the learned world, to erect his "Urania" anew, and he desires above all the restoration of his printing office, since the copper plates rescued from the fire, which he himself engraved with his own hand and art, are, thanks to God, still extant for the service of new editions of the works-a thing which he esteems not the smallest part of his happiness.
What I am narrating thus far I saw in part myself, with others, in part I have gathered from the lips of Hevelius himself and the trustworthy statements of neighbours. May the Almighty mercifully grant our eyes may never see another such fire, so grievous and so horrible. It can scarce be told, the way the air was filled with flying papers driven by the wind-about eighty hundredweight. And had not God commanded the wind to blow from another quarter extreme danger threatened the Old City of Gdansk.
About 11 o'clock at night Hevelius returned into the City through the unlocked gate, but when alas all was already consumed by the fire. This is a very brief narrative of a most sad disaster, so bitter, so sudden, so widespread, and in the fact that the Incomparable Man did not succumb to it we admire not only the constancy of a truly heavenly soul, but we declare the Divine Mercy also, and we implore It long to preserve for the glory of Its Name an excellent scholar and interpreter of heavenly things, reinforced with new strength and possessions, the most brilliant ornament and star of our age. With which prayer, moved by the deepest sense of sympathy, I conclude.
a) made a member of the Royal Society,
b) granted an Oxford degree by the intercession of King Charles II, and
c) sent off to Gdansk.
It's not a stretch to think that powerful people certainly thought the young man owed them something in return.
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The Basement Project began in 2006 as a core team of individuals tasked with the study of Kepler's New Astronomy, laying the scientific foundations for an expanded study of the LaRouche-Riemann Science of Physical Economics. Now, that team has expanded both in number, and in areas of research, probing various elements and aspects of the Science of Physical Economy, and delivering in depth reports, videos, and writings for the shaping of economic policy.
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