Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/340

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pages. These volumes were highly commended by the astronomers of Europe as well as those in America. They stand as a lasting monument to the great energy, indefatigable industry, scientific ardor, and consummate skill as an observer, of this young naval lieutenant.

The difficulties under which Gilliss performed his scientific work were exceedingly great. His many routine duties as superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments had to be attended to daily. His transit instrument was defective. The little building used as an observatory was most inadequate. The observing slits originally extended to within three feet of the ridge-pole on each side, thus precluding all observations between 26° and 53° north declination, a region which actually includes a part of the moon's path. This defect was partly remedied by extending the aperture some five and a half degrees on the southern side, the utmost that the strength of the building permitted. One seventh of the standard stars of the Nautical Almanac still remained hidden from view. At the age of twenty-seven, Gilliss began his work without the aid or counsel of fellow scientists. Indeed, there were but few practical astronomers in the United States whom he might have consulted had he been acquainted with them. Not until 1840 did he obtain advice and assistance. He then received valuable counsel from the astronomers Richard Sheepshanks and Sears C. Walker. Gilliss says that he commenced his observations "with but little experience in the manipulation of fixed instruments; without a book relating to the subject in any manner, except Pearson's Introduction and Vince's Astronomy." He had never seen a volume of the annals of any of the European observatories.

Dr. B. A. Gould, a most competent judge, says that it was Lieutenant James M. Gilliss, who first in all the land conducted a working observatory, he who first gave his whole time to practical astronomical work, he who first published a volume of observations, first prepared a catalogue of stars, and planned and carried into effect the construction of a working observatory as contrasted with one intended chiefly for purposes of instruction." The last clause has reference to Gilliss's work of planning and constructing the Naval Observatory. In 1841 he obtained authority to import a meridian circle for his little establishment on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Since his narrow quarters here afforded no room for the new instrument, he availed himself of the opportunity to urge the construction of a permanent observatory. Gilliss says that as the observations which he began in 1838 progressed, the "unsuitableness of the building, the defects of the transit instrument, the want of space to erect a permanent circle, and the absolute necessity of rebuilding the observatory in use, became each day more urgent." At his earnest request the commissioners of