Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/356

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OUR purpose is to inquire briefly, illustrating our research by a few eminent examples, how men become astronomers, or, in general, how those who achieve distinction in that profession are directed to it. No one is destined to astronomy from his childhood. No fathers in forecasting the future of their sons ever think of preparing them especially for so unpractical a business, one so far from any of the roads to fortune as the study of the skies. Some particular conditions, independent of parental views of the career their sons are to follow, outside of anything that is contemplated in arranging the course of their studies in school, must contribute to lead a youth to consecrate his life to this pursuit. How, then, we ask again, does one become an astronomer? Well, he begins by taking up some other career—that of watch-maker, for instance, or of writing-master, clergy-man, revenue officer, carpenter, bookseller, doctor, or perhaps shepherd, musician, or tradesman; and then, some day, if the thing is to be, some little incident determines it: the die is cast, and he becomes an astronomer. Nothing in particular is done; there are no parental lamentations or reproaches of friends who think you are a fool; you go your way, to the university if you can pay the cost, or straight to the observatory of which you are to become the director, to the disgust of the assiduous students who have been cramming for the examinations. This is the history of Hansen. He was watch-maker, and was called in one day to a scientific man's house to repair a clock. Having to wait a little while in the laboratory till the gentleman came in, he casually picked up a book, which proved to be a geometry. The man of science came in, and, finding him interested in the book, lent it to him. Hansen devoured it; the man lent him other books, and he gave himself up to them as a miss would to a novel she was forbidden to read. Two years after this, Hansen, at thirty years of age, was director of the observatory at Gotha, where he performed his celebrated labors on the motions of the moon.

Mädler was a writing-master till he was forty-five years old, when all at once it came into his head to make an astronomer of himself. He obtained a place at the private observatory of Beer (brother of Meyerbeer), where he drew a map of the moon. Shortly afterward, he was placed by the Russian Government at the head of the Dorpat Observatory, where he continued till his death, at the age of eighty-three years.

Brunhs, director of the Leipsic Observatory, who died a short time ago, was found by Humboldt in a locksmith's shop in Berlin, and obtained through his influence a place in the observatory.