Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/November 1886/Sketch of Professor Edward S. Holden

972894Popular Science Monthly Volume 30 November 1886 — Sketch of Professor Edward S. Holden1886William C. Winlock




PROFESSOR EDWARD SINGLETON HOLDEN, the President of the University of California, and Director of the Lick Observatory, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on the 5th of November, 1846. He is a direct descendant of Justinian Holden, who came to this country from Kent, England, in 1636, and settled in Massachusetts on a tract of land which now forms a part of the city of Cambridge, but was then called, I believe, Watertown. Dr. William Holden, grandson of Justinian Holden, and Professor Holden's great-grandfather, afterward moved from Cambridge to Dorchester, Massachusetts, where the family resided till about 1830. The first eight years of Professor Holden's life were spent in St. Louis, but about 1854 he was taken to Cambridge and placed at the private schools taught by Miss Ware and Miss Harris. It was during the six years spent here that he received his first idea of astronomy—from his cousin, Professor George P. Bond, then Director of Harvard College Observatory—and a certain occasion upon which he first saw the bright star α Lyræ through the fifteen-inch telescope made a lasting impression upon his mind.

In 1860 Holden returned to St. Louis and entered the preparatory academy of Washington University, from which, after two years' study, he passed into the Scientific School of the university. The young student soon attracted the attention of Professor Chauvenet, the accomplished mathematician and astronomer, then Chancellor of the University. Professor Chauvenet spent the winter of 1864-'65 in Minnesota for the benefit of his health, and during this time Mr. Holden formed a part of his household, and prosecuted his studies directly under Professor Chauvenet's eye.

In 1866 we find him assisting Dr. Gould in collecting the statistics of the United States volunteer soldiers from the State of Missouri, for the "Investigations in the Military and Anthropological Statistics of American Soldiers," published by the United States Sanitary Commission, and in the same year he graduated with distinction from the Scientific School, receiving the degree of B. S. While at the university he also went over an important part of the classical course.

With a view of continuing his mathematical studies, he secured an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point through the Hon. J. W. McClurg, Representative of the Fifth Missouri District in Congress, and was admitted as a cadet to the Academy on the 1st of September, 1866. On the 15th of June, 1870, he was graduated, third in a class of fifty-nine members, and was appointed Second-Lieutenant of the Fourth United States Artillery. He was assigned to Company G of that regiment, and served with his command at Fort Johnston, North Carolina, until August, 1871, when he was ordered to duty at the Military Academy, West Point, as Assistant Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. June 10, 1872, he was transferred to the Engineer Corps of the army, remaining at West Point, however, as instructor in practical military engineering.

During these few years at the Military Academy he published, in the "American Journal of Science," his first astronomical work—a short paper on the "Spectrum of the Aurora" and another on the "Spectrum of Lightning."

In March, 1873, Lieutenant Holden resigned his commission in the army, and was appointed Professor of Mathematics in the United States Navy, a position which his teacher Chauvenet had held before him. He was ordered to the Washington Naval Observatory, then under the direction of Rear-Admiral B. F. Sands, and his first duties in his new profession were as assistant to Professor Harkness in the work of the transit circle. Immediately, however, upon the completion and mounting of the twenty-six-inch equatorial—at that time the largest refractor in the world—he was transferred, November 15, 1873, to duty as assistant to Professor Newcomb, who had been placed in charge of that instrument.

The results of Professor Holden's work during six years of observation with this instrument, first as assistant to Professor Newcomb, and afterward as assistant to Professor Hall, have been printed in the volumes of the Observatory publications and in various astronomical journals. Turning over the files of the "Astronomische Nachrichten" for these years, we find numerous observations of comets and of double stars, of the satellites of Uranus and Neptune, and of the companion of Sirius; but, besides all this rather prosaic routine work. Professor Holden devoted himself zealously to the more fascinating study of the physical features of the planets and nebulæ. His most elaborate investigation in this field is given in the "Monograph of the Central Parts of the Nebula of Orion," an exhaustive résumé and discussion of all the observations hitherto made on the central parts of this interesting nebula. Professor Holden's own observations were made with the twenty-six-inch equatorial from 1874 to 1880, their main object being to provide sufficient data to determine with certainty in the future whether or not changes have occurred in the nebula. His conclusion, from a thorough discussion of the large mass of material already available in the observations of two hundred and twenty-four years, is briefly, that "the figure of the nebula of Orion has remained the same from 1758 to now (if we except a change in the shape of its apex (E) about 1770, which appears quite possible) but that in the brightness of its parts undoubted variations have taken place, and that such changes are even now going on."

In June, 1876, Professor Holden went to London, under instructions from the Secretary of the Navy, to examine and report on the South Kensington Loan Collection of Scientific Instruments, giving especial attention to improvements in astronomical and geodetic instruments. An interesting portion of the report (which may be found in full in the report of the Secretary of the Navy for 1876) is that relating to the system of time-signals, etc., in use in foreign countries. Considerable attention was also given to methods of testing chronometers. The time-ball on the Western Union Telegraph Building in New York was erected according to his plans in 1879.

Professor Holden observed the transit of Mercury of May 6, 1878, in co-operation with his friend Dr.Henry Draper, at the latter's private observatory at Hastings; and later in the same year he was put in charge of a party to observe the total solar eclipse of July 29th. The station selected was Central City, Colorado, an altitude of some 8,400 feet above sea-level. Professor Holden's special work was the examination of the sky about the sun for the detection of the hypothetical planet Vulcan—a search which, as we know, was fruitless. In 1879 he took charge of the library of the Naval Observatory, and in 1880 he was transferred from duty with Professor Hall to duty on the transit circle with Professor Eastman, taking part in the observations with this instrument in addition to his work as librarian. His connection with the library is marked by several valuable contributions to astronomical bibliography, notably "A Subject-Index to the Publications of the United States Naval Observatory, 1845-1875," an "Index Catalogue of Books and Memoirs relating to Nebulæ and Clusters," and a work undertaken in connection with Dr.Hastings, "A Synopsis of the Scientific Writings of Sir William Herschel."

Upon the death of the distinguished astronomer, Professor James C. Watson, Professor Holden accepted the position thus made vacant, of Professor of Astronomy in the University of Wisconsin and Director of the Washburn Observatory; and obtaining, at the request of Governor Washburn, a leave of absence from the Naval Observatory, February 2, 1881, he immediately proceeded to Madison to take charge of the observatory, which was then in an entirely unfinished state: his official connection with the navy was not severed till June 1, 1882. Professor Holden's five years of administration of the Washburn Observatory have established it in the foremost rank of American observatories. Four volumes of publications have been issued, the last one containing the most important piece of work of the Repsold meridian circle, the determination of the positions of the 303 fundamental stars for the southern zones of the "Astronomische Gesellschaft"; to form, however, an adequate idea of the varied labors of the director and his assistants, reference must be made to the volumes themselves. In 1883 Professor Holden's work at Madison was interrupted for several months, to conduct the Government expedition to Caroline Island in the South Pacific mid-ocean, for the purpose of observing the total eclipse of the sun on May 6th. Professor Holden's chosen task was again, as in 1878, the search for intra-Mercurial planets, and with the exceptionally long duration of totality—nearly six minutes—this search was made under most favorable circumstances, and again resulted negatively. The account of this expedition, contained in an interesting memoir of the National Academy of Sciences, will be found to be "much more than a technical report on the dry scientific details of the work of eclipse-observers": it includes an entertaining narrative of the ocean-voyage of twenty-nine days from Callao, and a complete history and description of the lonely little island, with photographic views of the characteristic vegetation and reef-beeches.

Professor Holden's resignation of the chair of Astronomy at Madison took effect on the 1st of January, 1886, upon his acceptance of his present position, the presidency of the University of California, and directorship of the Lick Observatory. Since 1874 he has been one of the chief consulting astronomers to the Lick trustees, who, under the provisions of the will, have charge of building and equipping the observatory. In 1881 he visited Mount Hamilton and successfully observed the transit of Mercury; in 1833 he visited it again, and in 1884 he went out again to superintend the erection of the fine Repsold meridian circle. The Lick Observatory, as it approaches completion, has received so much attention in scientific and popular journals, that a description of it seems hardly necessary here. The giant thirty-six-inch objective—through which "the observer might expect to see the moon much the same as he would without the telescope if it were only a hundred miles away," and might make out objects on the moon's surface "although they were no larger than some of the larger edifices on the earth"—is now in a fair way to be finished by the Clarks during the autumn of the present year; the steel dome will probably be finished about the same time, and the telescope tube, which is being made by Messrs. Warner and Swasey, of Cleveland, will be ready in June, 1887. The trustees only await the mounting of this instrument, to turn over the observatory formally to the University of California. Meanwhile the observatory, as it now stands, with a twelve-inch Clark equatorial, a six-inch equatorial, a six-inch Repsold meridian circle, photographic instruments, clocks, chronometers, and all accessory apparatus, and an extensive library, is far better equipped than most observatories, and Professor Holden, with characteristic energy, has already begun an extensive series of observations with the meridian instrument, and has established a time-service for the benefit of the railroads connecting with San José.

This brief sketch merely attempts to outline Professor Holden's career as an astronomer. His administrative experience and ability were proved at Madison, and as a teacher he seems to have shown the rare faculty of arousing the enthusiasm of his pupils. His general interest in many matters outside of his profession may be seen by a glance at the partial list of his writings which is appended. This bibliography I have made tolerably full, though by no means exhaustive; I have found nearly one hundred papers, etc., contributed to scientific journals and transactions between the years 1873 and 1886; and the titles that I have given will form in themselves an effective "sketch" of his work. His life of Sir William Herschel should be referred to especially: it has been published in London as well as in New York, and has also been translated and published in Germany. A text-book of astronomy, published in co-operation with Professor Newcomb, has likewise been favorably received, and has passed through several editions.

In 1879 Professor Holden received the degree of A.M. from his alma mater, and the University of Wisconsin has just conferred the degree of LL.D. on its former professor. He is a member of the California and Wisconsin Academies of Science, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, member of the Philosophical Society of Washington, and of the German Astronomische Gesellschaft, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Science of St. Louis, Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society, and member of the National Academy of Sciences. While at Madison he was connected with Professor Raphael Pumpelly's Northern Trans-continental Survey, as head of the Division of Climate and Rivers, and in 1885 he served as a member of the Board of Visitors to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Professional and other Papers by E. S. Holden (in general chronological order).

No. Title. Place and date of publication.
1 On a New Arrangements of Shutters for a Dome for an Equatorial Telescope. Am. Jour. Sc., 3s., 6:375-377 (Nov., 1873)
2 On the Adopted Value of the Sun's Apparent Diameter. Bull. Phil. Soc. Wash. 1 (App. 1): 3-9 (Jan., 1874).
3 On Sir William Herschel's Observations of the Satellites of Uranus. Bull. Phil. Soc. Wash. 1 (App. 4): 30-36 (June, 1874).
4 Telescopic Research on the Nebula of Orion. (Illustrated.) Pop. Sc. Month., 5: 257-268 (July, 1874).
5 On the Inner Satellites of Uranus. Proc. Am. Ass., 23: 49-56 (Aug., 1874; Month. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 35: 16-22 (Nov., 1874).
6 On the Possible Periodic Changes of the Sun's Apparent Diameter [by Newcomb and Holden]. Am, Jour. Sc., 3 s., 8: 268-277 (Oct., 1874)
7 On the Number of Words used in Speaking and Writing. Bull. Phil. Soc. Wash. 2 (App. 6): 16-21 (Jan. 1875).
8 Drawing of the Ring Nebula in Lyra. Month. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 36: 61-69 (Dec., 1875).
9 [Progress of Astronomy in 1876.]
[Note.—This annual review of astronomy is continued in Professor Baird's Annual Record for 1877 and 1878, and subsequently in the Smithsonian Reports.]
Ann. Rec. Sc. and Indust., 1876 pp. xvii-xxvi.
10 Report upon the Astronomical Instruments of the Loan Collection of Scientific Instruments at the South Kensington Museum, 1876. Rept. Sec. Navy, 1876, pp. 289-314.
11 The Horseshoe Nebula in Sagittarius. (Illustrated.) Pop. Sc. Month., 8: 269-281 (Jan., 1876).
12 On Supposed changes in the Nebula M. 17. Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s., 11: 341-361 (May, 1876).
13 Comparison of the Washington Observations of the Satellite of Neptune with Newcomb's Tables. Astron. Nachr., 88: 183-188 (July, 1876).
14 On Reference Catalogues of Astronomical Papers and Memoirs. Bull. Phil. Soc. Wash., 2: 95-101 (Dec., 1876).
15 Index-Catalogue of Books and memoirs relating to Nebulæ and Clusters, etc. Washington, 1877, 9+109+[2]p. 8°. (Smithsonian Misc. Coll., vol. 14).
16 Observatons of the Satellites of Neptune and Uranus, and of the Companion of Sirius. Astron. Nachr., 90: 161 (July, 1877).
17 [Observations of Comets a, b, c, 1877.] Astron. Nachr., 90: 167, 170, 331 (1877).
18 On the proper motion of the Trifid Nebula. (Illustrated.) Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s., 14: 433-458 (Dec., 1877).
19 Index-Catalogue of Books and Memoirs on the Transits of Mercury. Cambridge, 1878. 6 pp., 8°. (Lib. Harv. Univ. Bibliog. Contrib., No. 1).
20 Note on the Reticulated Forms of the Sun's Surface. Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s., 16: 346 (Nov., 1878).
21 A Subject-Index for the Publications of Observatories. Library Jour., 3: 365 (Dec., 1878).
22 Catalogue of the Library of the United States Naval Observatory. Part I, Astronomical Bibliography. Washington, 1879. 10 pp. 4°.
23 A Subject-Index to the Publications of the United States Naval Observatory, 1845-1875. Washington, 1879. 74 pp. 4°. (Washington Observations, 1876, App. I.)
24 Reports of Observatories, 1879. Smithsonian Rep., 1879, p.455-512
25 The Cipher Dispatches. Internat. Rev., 6: 405-424 (April, 1879).
26 Astronomy for Students and General Readers [by Newcomb and Holden]. (Illustrated.) 2d. ed. New York, 1880. 11 + 512 pp. 8°.
27 Note on a Relation between Colors and Magnitudes of the Components of Binary Stars. Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s. 19: 467-472 (June, 1880).
28 On the Treatment of Pamphlets in Special Libraries. (Illustrated.) Library Jour., 5: 166 (June, 1880).
29 On some of the Consequences of the Hypothesis recently proposed, that the Intrinsic Brilliancy of the Fixed Stars is the same for each Star. Proc. Am. Ass., 29: 137-151 (Aug., 1880).
30 Sir William Herschel: his Life and Works. New York, 1881. 6 + 238 pp. (Portrait.) 12°.

31 Synopsis of the Scientific Writings of Sir William Herschel [by Holden and Hastings]. Washington 1881. 114 pp. 8°. (From Smithsonian Rep., 1880.)
32 Reports of Observatories, 1880. Washington, 1881. 126 pp. 8°. (From Smithsonian Rep., 1880.)
33 An Account of Recent Progress in Astronomy (For the years 1879 and 1880.)
[Note.—Similar reviews will be found in the Smithsonian reports for 1881, 1883, and 1884.)
Washington, 1881. 37 pp. 8°. (From Smithsonian Rep., 1880.)
34 Studies in Central American Picture-Writing. (Illustrated.) 1st Ann. Rept. Bureau Ethnol. Smithson. Inst. pp. 207-245 (1881).
35 Investigation of the Objective and Micrometers of the 26-inch Equatorial constructed by Alvan Clark and Sons. Washington, 1881. 44 pp. 4°. (Washington Observations, 1877, App. I.)
36 The Multiple Star Σ 748. Washington, 1881. 22 pp. 4°. (Washington Observations, 1877, App. I.)
37 List of Red Stars observed at the Washburn Observatory. Copernicus, 1; 176 (1881).
38 Observations on the Light of Telescopes used as Night-Glasses. Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s., 22: 129-131 (Aug., 1881).
39 Observations of Comet b 1881 [1881, III], made at the Washburn Observatory. (Illustrated.) Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s., 22: 260-263 (Oct., 1881).
40 Publications of the Washburn Observatory of the University of Wisconsin. Vols, i, ii, iii, iv. Madison, 1882-'86. 4 vols. 8°.
41 Monograph of the Central Parts of the Nebula of Orion. (Illustration.) Washington, 1882. 230 pp. 4°. (Washington Observations 1878, App. I.)
42 Observations of the Transit of mercury, 1881, Nov. 7, at Mount Hamilton, California. Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s., 23: 48 (Jan., 1882).
43 On the Inclination of the Ring of Saturn to its Orbit, deduced from Washington Observations. Month. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 42; 304-307 (April, 1882).
44 Measures of the Rings of Saturn in the Years 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1882. Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s; 23: 387-394 (May, 1882).
45 Figure of the Nucleus of the Bright Comet of 1882 [1882, II.] (Illustrated.) Am. Jour. Sc., 3 s; 24: 435 (Dec., 1882).
46 Report of the Eclipse Expedition to Caroline Island, May, 1883. Mem. Nat. Acad. Sc., 2: 1-146 (1883).
47 Observations of the Transit of Venus, made at the Washburn Observatory. Am, Jour. Sc., 3 s., 25: 71-74 (Jan., 1883).
48 List of Twenty-three New Double Stars discovered at Caroline Island by E. S. Holden and C. S. Hastings. Science, 2: 66 (July 20, 1883).
49 Preliminaary List of Errata in Yarnall's Catalogue. Astron. Nachr., 107: 261-268 (Oct., 1883).
50 A System of Local Warnings against Tornadoes. Science 2: 521 (Oct., 19, 1883).
51 Proper Motion of Lacaille 8262. Astron. Nachr., 107: 273 (Oct., 1883).
52 The Narrow Belt on Saturn. (Illustrated.) Observatory, 7: 74 (Mar., 1884).
53 Statistics of Stellar Distribution derived from Star-Gauges and from the Celestial Charts of Peters, Watson, Chacornac, and Palisa. Observatory, 7: 249-256 (Sept., 1884).
54 The Lick Observatory. Sid, mesa., 301-303 (Dec., 1884). See also Overland Mon., n. s., 6: 651-655 (Dec., 1885).
55 Sketch of professor S. P. Langley. Pop. Sc. Month., 27: 401-409 (July, 1885).