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Tycho Brahe: a picture of scientific life and work in the sixteenth century/Chapter 2

 

CHAPTER II.

TYCHO BRAHE'S YOUTH.

Tycho Brahe belonged to an ancient noble family which had for centuries flourished not only in Denmark, but also in Sweden, to which country it had spread in the fourteenth century, when one of its members, Torkil Brahe, fled thither from Denmark to escape punishment for manslaughter. The family still exists in both countries. In the sixteenth century the Danish nobility was still of purely national origin, unmingled with the foreign blood which became merged in it in the course of the next two hundred years, when every new royal bride brought with her a train of needy adventurers, with empty purses and long titles, from the Holy Roman Empire. Like their foreign fellow-nobles, they were descended from men who had received grants of land on tenure of military service, and until about the end of the thirteenth century they can hardly be said to have formed a separate class, as their privileges and duties were not yet of necessity hereditary. They were untitled (till 1671), but all the same they were as proud and jealous of the privileges of their order as any Norman count or baron, and were called by the characteristic names of "free and wellborn" or "good men." In the first half of the sixteenth century they had successfully resisted the attempts of King Christiern II. to curb their power, and had driven him from his throne; and when the lower orders afterwards had attempted to replace him on the throne rendered vacant by the death of his brother and successor, the nobles had, after a hard struggle, crushed their opponents, though the latter were backed by the powerful Hansa city of Lübeck. The Reformation had broken the rival power of the Church, and the nobles had in consequence (though not to the same extent as in Germany and England) increased in wealth and possessions. And during the next fifty years they did not abuse their worldly advantages, but were, as a rule, faithful servants of their king and country, generous and kind to their tenants, fond of studies and learning. Most of them had in their youth travelled abroad, frequently for years at a time, and studied at foreign universities, where they acquired knowledge not only of books, but also of the world. At their country-seats many of them encouraged and protected men of learning, and kept up their acquaintance with classical literature, as well as with the more humble folk-lore which, in the shape of old epics and ballads (Kjæmpeviser), had been handed down from one generation to another among the humble as well as among the high-born. Almost every country-seat possessed what was at that time considered a fine library, so that it was quite natural that hardly a pamphlet or book was published without a dedication to some noble patron.

The father of the great astronomer was Otto Brahe, born in 1517, from 1562 or 1563 a Privy Councillor, and successively lieutenant of various counties, finally governor of Helsingborg Castle (opposite Elsinore), where he died in 1571. His wife was Beate Bille, whom he had married in 1544, and their second child and eldest son, Tyge, was born on the 14th December 1546 at the family seat of Knudstrup, in Scania or Skaane, the most southern province of the Scandinavian peninsula, which at that time still belonged to Denmark, as it had done from time immemorial.[1] Tyge, or Tycho (as he afterwards Latinised his name), had a still-born twin-brother, a fact alluded to in a Latin poem which he wrote and had printed in 1572.[2] Otto Brahe had in all five sons and five daughters (in addition to the still-born son), the youngest being Sophia, born in 1556, who will often be mentioned in the sequel. Though he was the eldest son and heir to the family estate of Knudstrup, Tycho did not remain under his father's care for more than about a year, as his father's brother, Jörgen (George) Brahe, who was childless, had been promised by Otto, that if the latter got a son, he would let Jörgen bring him up as his own. The fulfilment of the promise was claimed in vain; but Jörgen Brahe was not to be put off so easily, and as soon as a second boy had been born to Otto, the uncle coolly carried off his eldest nephew by stealth as soon as he got an opportunity. The parents of Tycho gave way when the thing was done, knowing that the child was in good hands, and doubtless expecting that the foster-parents would eventually leave their adopted son some of their wealth, which they also seem to have done.

We know nothing of Tycho's childhood except that he was brought up at his uncle's seat of Tostrup, and was from the age of seven taught Latin and other rudiments of learning by a tutor.[3] He acquired the necessary familiarity with the only language which was then properly studied, so that he was afterwards able not only to converse in and write Latin, but also to write poetry in this language, which was then and for a long time afterwards considered a very desirable accomplishment for a learned man. We shall often have occasion to quote his poetry, some of which is not without merit. Thus prepared, he was sent to Copenhagen in April 1559 to study at the University there.[4] This seat of learning had been founded in the year 1479 by permission of the Pope, but it had languished for a number of years for want of money and good teachers. The confiscation of the property of the monasteries enabled King Christian III. to commence improving it, and by the statutes of 1539 (which were still in force in Tycho Brahe's time) the number of professors was fixed at fourteen, three of Divinity, one of Law, two of Medicine, and eight in the Faculty of Arts, among whom were several whose names were honourably known outside their own country. Tycho now commenced his studies here, devoting himself specially to rhetorics and philosophy, as being the branches of learning most necessary to the career of a statesman, for which he was destined by his uncle, and probably also by his father, who had at first objected to his receiving a classical education.[5] But astronomy very soon claimed his attention. On the 21st of August 1560 an eclipse of the sun took place, which was total in Portugal, and of which Clavius has left us a graphic description. Though it was only a small eclipse at Copenhagen, it attracted the special attention of the youthful student, who had already begun to take some interest in the astrological predictions or horoscopes which in those days formed daily topics of conversation. When he saw the eclipse take place at the predicted time, it struck him "as something divine that men could know the motions of the stars so accurately that they could long before foretell their places and relative positions."[6] He therefore lost no time in procuring a copy of the Ephemerides of Stadius in order to satisfy his curiosity as to astronomical matters; and not content with the meagre information he could get from this book, he very soon made up his mind to go to the fountain-head, and at the end of November in the same year he invested two Joachims-thaler in a copy of the works of Ptolemy, published at Basle in 1551. This copy is still in existence, and may be seen in the University Library at Prague; there are many marginal notes in it, and at the bottom of the title-page is written in Tycho's own hand that he had bought the book at Copenhagen on the last day of November for two thaler. This book contained a Latin translation of all the writings of Ptolemy except the Geography, the Almegist being in the translation of Georgios from Trebizond. The study of this complete compendium of the astronomy of the day must have given the youthful student enough to do; indeed, it may well be doubtful whether he was at that time able to master it.

Tycho remained at Copenhagen for three years, chiefly occupying himself with mathematical and astronomical studies. We are not acquainted with any details as to this period of his life; all we know is that he formed an intimate friendship with one of the professors of medicine, Hans Frandsen, from Ribe, in Jutland (Johannes Francisci Ripensis), and especially with Johannes Pratensis, a young man of French extraction, who also afterwards became professor of medicine.[7] Jörgen Brahe now thought that the time had come to send his nephew to a foreign university, as was then customary. He probably hoped that, when removed from his friends at Copenhagen, the young worshipper of Urania might be induced to give up his scientific inclinations and devote himself more to studies which would in after years enable him to take the place in his native land to which his birth entitled him. The university he selected for his nephew was that of Leipzig. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Danish students had followed the universal custom of the age and repaired to the University of Paris, where several of them had risen to great distinction, and even occupied the rectorial chair;[8] but gradually as the German universities improved they became more frequented by Danes than Paris. To accompany Tycho as tutor, Jörgen Brahe chose a young man of great promise, who, although only four years older than his pupil, was known to be steady enough to be intrusted with this responsible office. Anders Sörensen Vedel, son of a respected citizen of Veile, in Jutland, had been less than a year at the University, where he attended lectures on divinity, and at the same time devoted himself to the study of history. He became afterwards Royal Historiographer, and is particularly known by his translation of the Latin Chronicle of Saxo Grammaticus, an important source of Danish history from the end of the twelfth century, and also by his edition of the ancient national ballads or Kjæmpeviser.[9] Yedel was only too happy to accept the proposal of accompanying the young nobleman abroad, as there was at that time no Professor of History in the Copenhagen University, while it was not uncommon to find professors in German universities who combined the chair of History with some other one.[10]

Vedel and his pupil left Copenhagen on the 14th February 1562, and arrived at Leipzig on the 24th March following. They were at once installed in the house of one of the professors,[11] possibly on the recommendation of some of their learned friends in Copenhagen, several of whom were in constant communication with their colleagues at the Leipzig University. They had at once their names entered in the book of matriculation, where they may still be seen as "Andreas Severinus Cimber" and "Tyho Brade ex Scandria." There is, however, no sign whatever that Tycho devoted himself to the study of law, while we know that he at once sought the acquaintance of the professor of mathematics, Johannes Homilius; of his disciple, Bartholomæus Scultetus (Schultz), and probably also of the "electoral mathematician," Valentine Thau.[12] Homilius died on the 5th July, a little over three months after Tycho's arrival, but we shall afterwards see that he had even in that short time imparted valuable and practical knowledge to the young student. Vedel did his best to carry out his instructions by trying to keep Tycho to the study of jurisprudence, but Tycho would not allow himself to be hindered in his favourite pursuits, and spent most of his money on astronomical books and instruments, though he had to receive the money from his tutor and account to him for the way it was spent. He made use of the Ephemerides of Stadius[13] to find the places of the planets, having first learned the names of the constellations by means of a small celestial globe not larger than his fist, which he hid from Vedel, and could only use when the latter was asleep. Though this state of things at first produced some coolness between tutor and pupil, it appears that they soon renewed their friendly intercourse. Tycho could not but see that Vedel was only doing his duty, and Vedel gradually had to acknowledge that the love of astronomy had become so deeply rooted in his pupil that it was utterly impossible to force him against his will to devote himself to a study he disliked, or at least looked on with indifference. Another circumstance which was a bond of union between them was that the learned men whose society Vedel sought were to a great extent the same to whom Tycho looked for instruction. Thus the above-mentioned Valentine Thau had a great regard for Vedel, and even tried to get him to enter the service of the Elector, while Homilius was a son-in-law of Camerarius, the most renowned of the professors at Leipzig, and a man whom Vedel later in one of his writings mentions as his beloved teacher.[14] Drawn together through their intercourse with these and other men of learning, Vedel and Tycho laid the foundation of a warm friendship which lasted through life.

Though Tycho was during the greater part of the time he spent at Leipzig obliged to study astronomy in secret, he did not long content himself with the use of the Ephemerides of Stadius, but procured the Alphonsine tables and the Prutenic tables.[15] We have already mentioned that the former were founded on the Ptolemean planetary system and the observations of the Arabs, as well as those made under the direction of Alphonso X. of Castile in the thirteenth century; while the latter, which got their name from being dedicated to Duke Albrecht of Prussia, were the work of Erasmus Reinhold, a disciple and follower of Copernicus. Tycho soon mastered the use of these tables, and perceived that the computed places of the planets differed from their actual places in the sky (even though he only inferred the latter from the relative positions of the planets and adjacent stars), the errors of the old Alphonsine tables being much more considerable than those of their new rivals. He even found out that Stadius had not computed his places correctly from Reinhold's tables. And already at that time, while Tycho was a youth only sixteen years of age, his eyes were opened to the great fact, which seems to us so simple to grasp, but which had escaped the attention of all European astronomers before him, that only through a steadily pursued course of observations would it be possible to obtain a better insight into the motions of the planets, and decide which system of the world was the true one. An astronomical phenomenon which took place in August 1563, a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which in those days was looked on as a very important one, owing to the astrological significance it was supposed to have, induced him to begin at once to record his observations, even though they were taken with the crudest implements only. A pair of ordinary compasses was all he had to begin with; by holding the centre close to the eye, and pointing the legs to two stars or a planet and a star, he was able to find their angular distance by afterwards applying the compasses to a circle drawn on paper and divided into degrees and half degrees. His first recorded observation was made on the 17th August 1563,[16] and on the 24th of August in the morning he noted that Saturn and Jupiter were so close together that the interval between them was scarcely visible.[17] The Alphonsine tables turned out to be a whole month in error, while the Prutenic ones were only a few days wrong as to the moment of nearest approach. Tycho continued his observations, partly with the above-mentioned tool, partly using eye-estimations as to which stars formed with a planet a rectangular triangle, or which stars were in a right line with it. But in the following year he provided himself with a "radius," or "cross-staff," as it used to be called in English, one of the few instruments employed by the intrepid navigators who discovered the new worlds beyond the ocean.[18] It consisted of a light graduated rod about three feet long and another rod of about half that length, also graduated, which at the centre could slide along the longer one, so that they always formed a right angle. The instrument could be used in two ways. Two sights might be fixed at the ends of the shorter rod, and one at the end of the longer rod, and the observer, having placed the latter close before his eye, moved the cross-rod along until he saw through its two sights the two objects of which he wanted to measure the angular distance. Or one of the sights of the shorter arm might be movable, and the observer first arbitrarily placed the shorter arm at any of the graduations on the longer one, and then shifted the movable sight along until he saw the two objects through it. and a sight fixed at the centre of the transversal arm. In either case the graduations and a table of tangents furnished the required angle. Tycho's instrument was of the latter kind, and was made according to the directions of Gemma Frisius. He got his friend Bartholomæus Scultetus to subdivide it by means of transversals, which method of subdividing small intervals was then beginning to be used, and which Tycho ascribes to Homilius. The earliest observations stated to have been made with the radius are from the 1st of May 1564, and Tycho says that he had to use it while his tutor was asleep, from which we see that Vedel had even at that time not given up his resistance to his pupil's scientific labours. The observer soon found that the divisions did not give the angles correctly, and as he could not get money from Vedel for a new instrument, he constructed a table of corrections to be applied to the results of his observations.[19] This is deserving of notice as the first indication of that eminently practical talent which was in the course of years to guide the art of observing into the paths in which modern observers have followed. Kepler, who more than any one else was able to appreciate his great predecessor, justly says that the "restoration of astronomy" was "by that Phoenix of astronomers, Tycho, first conceived and determined on in the year 1564."[20]

While occupied with the study of astronomy and occasional observations, Tycho, like everybody else at that time, believed in judicial astrology, and now and then worked out horoscopes for his friends. He even kept a book in which he entered these "themata genethliaca." He mentions in a letter,[21] written in 1588 to the mathematician Caspar Peucer, the son-in-law of Melanchthon, that he had during his stay at Leipzig made out the nativity of Peucer, and found that he was to meet with great misfortunes, either exile or imprisonment, and that he should become free when about sixty years of age, through the agency of some "martial" person. This prediction chanced to turn out correct, as Peucer in 1574 was deprived of his professorship at Wittenberg, and kept in a rigorous imprisonment till 1586, being suspected of a leaning to Calvinism. From a lunar eclipse which took place while he was at Leipzig, Tycho foretold wet weather, which also turned out to be correct.[22]

Tycho left Leipzig on the 17th May 1565 with Vedel to return to Denmark. During his absence from home war had broken out between Denmark and Sweden, and his uncle, Jörgen Brahe, who held the post of vice-admiral, probably considered that his nephew's proper place at such a time was in his native country. Travelling by way of Wittenberg, they reached Rostock on the 25th May, and succeeded in crossing to Copenhagen without meeting any hostile cruisers. Whether the uncle had become reconciled to the substitution of the study of astronomy for that of law, is not known with certainty; but the two relatives did not long enjoy each other's company, as Jörgen Brahe, who had just returned from a naval engagement in the Baltic (near the coast of Mecklenburg), died on the 21st June 1565. It happened that King Frederick II., when riding over the bridge which joined the castle of Copenhagen and the town, fell into the water. Jörgen Brahe was in his suite, and hastened to help the king out; but a severe cold he caught in consequence developed into an illness which proved fatal in a few days. After his uncle's death there was nothing to keep Tycho at home. Another uncle, Steen Bille, maintained that he should be left to follow his own inclinations; but, with this exception, all his relations and other nobles looked with coldness at this young man with his odd taste for star-gazing and his dislike to what they considered sensible occupations. He was, therefore, glad to escape from these surroundings to others more congenial, and early in 1566 he left Denmark for the second time, and arrived at Wittenberg on the 15th April. The University of Wittenberg had been founded in 1502, and had then for nearly fifty years been one of the most renowned in Europe, possessing great attractions for Protestant students. Here Luther had lived, and from this hitherto insignificant spot had shaken the spiritual despotism under which the world had suffered so long; and a few years had only elapsed since the death of Melanchthon had deprived the University of an accomplished scholar as well as a faithful and indefatigable worker for the Reformed faith. There were still many men of celebrity following in their footsteps, and keeping up the high reputation they had made for the University. Mathematics were specially cultivated at Wittenberg, because, as the Statutes stated, without them Aristotle, "that nucleus and foundation of all science," could not be properly understood. At the instance of Melanchthon, two chairs of Mathematics were founded, "Mathematum superiorum" and "inferiorum," the holder of the former having to lecture on astronomy—that of the latter on algebra and geometry. To Danish students Wittenberg had since the Reformation been a favourite resort, and, among a number of young countrymen, Tycho Brahe also found his former tutor, Vedel, who had arrived a few months before. We do not possess any information as to how Tycho spent his time at Wittenberg; all we know is that he had the advantage of studying under the above-mentioned Caspar Peucer, Professor of Medicine and Physician in ordinary to the Elector of Saxony. This man, who was distinguished both as a mathematician, a physician, and a historian, had been invested with unusual authority over the University.[23] In the history of astronomy Peucer is known as the author of a few treatises, among which is one on spherical astronomy. Tycho, however, did not profit very much from Peucer's instruction, as the plague broke out at Wittenberg, so that he was induced to leave it on the 16th September, after a stay of only five months,[24] and to go to Rostock, where he arrived on the 24th September, and was matriculated at the University a few weeks later.[25]

Though not as celebrated as the University of Wittenberg, Rostock was also much frequented by Scandinavian students, a natural consequence of its being situated close to the shore of the Baltic, and within easy reach from the Northern countries. It can hardly have been the wish of studying astronomy under any of the professors at Rostock which induced Tycho to take up his abode there, for there was not at that time any savant attached to the University of Rostock who occupied himself specially with astronomy; and only one, David Chytræus, otherwise well known as a theological author, is very slightly known in the history of astronomy as one of the numerous writers on the new star of 1572. But if there were no astronomers at Rostock (and, indeed, they were not numerous anywhere), there were several men who devoted themselves to astrology and alchemy, in addition to mathematics or medicine. It must be remembered that it was at that time easy enough to be thoroughly acquainted with the little that was known in several sciences, and men frequently exchanged a professorship of medicine for one of astronomy or divinity. The connection of medicine in particular with astronomy was supposed to be a very intimate one, and as physicians, if they kept to what we should call their proper sphere, could do little but grope in the dark, they were only too glad to call in the aid of astrology to make up for the deficiency of their medical knowledge. The idea of a connection between the celestial bodies and the vital action of the human frame was a natural consequence of the Aristotelean and scholastic views of the kosmos and of the dependence of the four elements of the sublunary region on the movements in the æthereal part of the universe. The dependence of vegetable life on the motion of the sun in the ecliptic, and the similarity of the period of the moon's orbital motion to that of certain phenomena of human life, were looked upon as proofs of the connection between the sublunary and the æthereal worlds; and as the human body was composed of the elements, it would, like these, be influenced by the forces, chiefly the planets, by which the celestial part of the kosmos exercised its power. Thus it was supposed that the state of the body was dependent on the positions of the planets among the signs of the zodiac, and that the power of the Deity over the fate of man was also exercised by the medium of the stars.[26] Galileo had not yet overthrown the Aristotelean system of Natural Philosophy, and Bacon had not yet taught us to look for the explanation of the phenomena of nature by seeking for the mechanically acting causes through observation and induction, instead of through metaphysical speculation. Until this was done, it is not to be wondered at that the greatest minds believed in astrology; and it only shows the narrow-mindedness of some modern writers, and their ignorance of the historical development of man's conception of nature, when they, on every occasion, sneer at the greatest men of former ages for their belief in astrology.

Among the professors at Rostock was Levinus Battus, Professor of Medicine, born in the Netherlands, and originally a mathematician. He has left writings on alchemy, and was a follower of Paracelsus; so that it is likely enough that Tycho, who afterwards paid a good deal of attention to chemistry, attended his lectures. Tycho does not seem to have taken observations regularly at that time; at least we do not possess any made at Rostock earlier than January 1568. But shortly after his arrival, on the 28th October 1566, a lunar eclipse took place, and Tycho posted up in the college some Latin verses, in which he announced that the eclipse foretold the death of the Turkish Sultan. It was natural to think of him, as Soliman, who was about eighty years of age, had the year before startled Christendom by his formidable attack on Malta, which was heroically and successfully defended by the Knights of St. John. A few weeks later news was received of the Sultan's death; but unluckily he had died before the eclipse, so that the praise Tycho received for the prophecy was not unmingled with sneers, while he defended himself by explaining the horoscope of Soliman, from which he had drawn his conclusions as to the Sultan's death.[27]

An event took place at Rostock soon after this, which was a good deal more unfortunate for Brahe, and which has become more widely known than many other and much more important incidents in his life. On the 10th December 1566 there was a dance at Professor Bachmeister's house to celebrate a betrothal, and among the guests were Brahe and another Danish nobleman, Manderup Parsbjerg. These two got into a quarrel, which was renewed at a Christmas party on the 27th, and finally they met (whether acciden- tally or not is not stated) on the 29th, at seven o'clock in the evening, "in perfect darkness," and settled the dispute with their swords. The result was that Tycho lost part of his nose, and in order to conceal the disfigurement, he replaced the lost piece by another made of a composition of gold and silver. Gassendi, who recounts all these details, adds that Willem Jansson Blaev, who spent two years with Tycho at Hveen, had told him that Tycho always carried in his pocket a small box with some kind of ointment or glutinous composition, which he frequently rubbed on his nose.[28] The various portraits which we possess of Tycho show distinctly that there was something strange about the appearance of his nose, but one cannot see with certainty whether it was the tip or the bridge that was injured, though it seems to be the latter. A very venomous enemy of his, Reymers Bär, of whom we shall hear more farther on, says that it was the upper part of the nose which Tycho had lost.[29]

As already remarked above, Tycho does not seem to have taken many observations about this time, but on the 9th April 1567 an eclipse of the sun took place which he observed. At Rostock the eclipse was of about seven digits, but at Rome it was total, and the solar corona was seen by Clavius. In the summer of 1567 Tycho paid a visit to his native country, but he does not appear to have been altogether pleased with his reception there, and at the end of the year he returned to Rostock, where he arrived on the 1st January 1568. Already, at six o'clock on the following morning, he commenced to take observations, though he had not an instrument at hand, and therefore had to content himself with noting down the positions of Jupiter and Saturn among the stars. On the 14th he wrote a letter to a countryman Johannes Aalborg (whose acquaintance he had probably made at Rostock the previous winter), that he had since his arrival been staying at the house of Professor Levinus Battus, but that he hoped the same day to take up his residence in the College of the Jurists, where he would have a convenient place for observing. (We find that he commenced to use the radius or cross-staff there on the 19th.) In this letter, which is printed by Gassendi,[30] Tycho says that he intends remaining over the winter in his new abode, and adds: "But you, my dear Johannes, must keep perfect silence with regard to those reasons for my departure which I have confided to you, lest anybody should suspect that I complain of anything, or that there was something in my native land which obliged me to leave it. For I am very anxious that nobody should think that I am complaining of anything, as in truth I have not much to complain of. I was indeed received better in my native land by my relations and friends than I deserved; only one thing was wanting, that my studies should please everybody, and even that may be excused. There are many denunciators everywhere."

But though Tycho was dissatisfied with the want of sympathy which his countrymen showed for his love of the stars, it appears that there must have been those in Den- mark who appreciated the steady perseverance with which the young nobleman devoted himself to study, and the first sign of this appeared soon after. On the 14th May 1568, King Frederick II. granted him under his hand a formal promise of the first canonry which might become vacant in the Chapter of the Cathedral of Roskilde in Seeland.[31] To understand this, we must mention that the Danish cathedral chapters were not abolished at the Reformation (1536), but that their incomes for more than a century were spent to support men of merit (or who were supposed to be such), and especially men of learning. The members were still called canons, and if they lived about the cathedral, they formed a corporate body and managed the temporalities of the cathedral and its associated foundations. Gradually the canonries became perfect sinecures, and the kings assumed the right to fill them, until their property, in the course of the second half of the seventeenth century, was taken possession of by the Crown. One of these sinecures was thus by royal letter promised to Tycho Brahe, who now might feel certain that means of following his favourite pursuit would not be wanting. He was possibly still at Rostock when this letter was issued, and it is not known when he left this town (his last recorded observation there is of the 9th February), but it must have been early in the year, as he was at Wittenberg some time in 1568,[32] and went to Basle in the course of the same year, where he was matriculated at the University.[33] He must have stayed at Basle till the beginning of the following year, when we find him at Augsburg, where he began to observe on the 14th April. On the way he had paid a visit to Cyprianus Leovitius (Livowski), a well-known astronomer, who lived at Lauingen, in Suabia,[34] who had published an edition of the trigonometrical tables of Regiomontanus (Tabulæ Directionum, 1552), various Ephemerides, and an astrological book on the signification of conjunctions of planets, eclipses, &c.[35] Leovitius thought the world was likely to come to an end in 1584, after the next great conjunction, and he was, on the whole, more of an astrologer than of an astronomer. Tycho asked him, among other things, whether he ever took observations, as he might thereby see that the Ephemerides, which he had with some trouble computed from the Alphonsine tables, did not agree with the heavens. To this Leovitius answered that he had no instruments, but that he sometimes "by means of clocks" observed solar and lunar eclipses, and found that the former agreed better with the Copernican (Prutenic) tables, the latter better with the Alphonsine, while the motion of the three outer planets agreed best with the Copernican, the inner ones with the Alphonsine tables.[36] It does not seem to have struck him, nor, indeed, any one before Tycho, that the only way to produce correct tables of the motions of the planets was by a prolonged series of observations; and not by taking an odd observation now and then.

In the ancient free city of Augsburg Tycho seems to have felt perfectly at home. Dear to all Protestants as being the place where the fearless Reformers had declared their faith, and where the Protestant princes and cities of Germany had signed the "Confession of Augsburg," the city possessed the further attraction of having many handsome public and private buildings and spacious thoroughfares, while the society of many men of cultured tastes and princely wealth (such as the celebrated Fugger family), made it an agreeable place of residence. Among the men with whom Tycho associated here were two brothers, Johann Baptist and Paul Hainzel, the former burgomaster, the latter an alderman (septemvir). Both were fond of astronomy, but Paul particularly so, and they were anxious to procure some good instrument with which to make observations at their country-seat at Göggingen, a village about an English mile south of Augsburg.[37] Tycho tells us in his principal work, Astronomiæ Instauratæ Progymnasmata, at some length, that he was in the act of making out how large an instrument would have to be in order to have the single minutes marked on the graduated arc, when Paul Hainzel came in and a discussion arose between them on the subject. Tycho was convinced that no good would result to science from using "those puerile tools" with which astronomers then observed, and he concluded that it was necessary to construct a very large quadrant, so large that every minute could readily be distinguished, and fractions of a minute estimated; "for he did not then know the method of subdividing by transversals." This last remark is curious, as we have already seen that he attributed his acquaintance with the method to Scultetus, but he evidently means that it had not yet occurred to him to use this plan on an arc as well as on a rectilinear scale. He spoke in favour of constructing a quadrant, as he had already made several of three or four cubits radius (this is the only evidence we have of this fact), and was sufficiently familiar with the cross-staff to know that no accurate results were to be expected from it. The outcome of this discussion was that Paul Hainzel undertook to defray the expense of a quadrant with a radius of 14 cubits (or about 19 feet). The most skilful workmen were engaged, and within one month the huge instrument was completed. Twenty men were scarcely able to erect it on a hill in Hainzel's garden at Göggingen; it was made of well-seasoned oak; the two radii and the arc were joined together by a framework of wood, and a slip of brass along the arc had the divisions marked on it. Unlike all Tycho's later quadrants, it was suspended by the centre, and was movable round it, the two sights being fixed on one of the radii, and the measured altitude being marked by a plumb-line. The weighty mass was attached to a massive beam, vertically placed in a cubical framework of oak, and capable of being turned round by four handles, so as to place the quadrant in any vertical plane. The framework or base was strongly attached to beams sunk in the ground. There was no permanent roof over it, but some kind of removable cover. The instrument stood there for five years, until it was destroyed in a great storm in December 1574, and some observations made with it of the new star of 1572 and other fixed stars are published in Tycho's Progymnasmata.[38] He does not himself appear to have observed with it, although we possess his observations made at Augsburg, with few interruptions, from April 1569 to April 1570. Some of these are, as formerly, mere descriptions of the positions of the planets, stating with which stars they were in a straight line or in the same vertical; others are made with the cross-staff; others again with a "sextant" or instrument for measuring angles in any plane whatever, which he had designed about this time. This instrument, which he presented to Paul Hainzel, consisted of two arms joined by a hinge like a pair of compasses, with an arc of 30° attached to the end of one arm, while the other arm could be slowly moved along the arc by means of a screw.[39] We shall farther on describe this instrument in detail.

In addition to these instruments, Tycho while at Augsburg arranged for the construction of a large celestial globe five feet in diameter, made of wooden plates with strong rings inside to strengthen it. It was afterwards covered with thin gilt brass plates, on which the stars and the equator and colures were marked. It was not finished when Tycho left Augsburg; but Paul Hainzel, who was under great obligations to him for having designed the quadrant and given him the newly-constructed sextant, readily undertook to superintend the completion of it.

At Augsburg Tycho made the acquaintance of Pierre de la Ramée, or Petrus Ramus, Professor of Philosophy and Rhetoric at the College Royal at Paris, who had been obliged to leave France several times owing to his adherence to the Huguenot party, and the odium he had drawn on himself by his opposition to the then all-powerful Aristotelean philosophy. He wanted to discourage the exclusive study of this time-honoured system of philosophy, now worn to a shadow, which had become a mere cloak for stagnation, bigotry, and ignorance, and to introduce in its place the study of mathematics in the University of Paris. But his zeal only procured him much enmity and persecution; he had to apologise for his abuse of the Peripatetic philosophy before the Parliament of Paris, and by sentence of special royal commissioners appointed to investigate the matter, Aristotle was reinstated as the infallible guide to learning. Ramus had therefore for a while withdrawn from France, but, unluckily for himself, he returned in 1571, and perished the following year in the massacre of St. Bartholomew. This man, who was naturally inclined to hail with pleasure a rising star in a science closely allied to his own, happened to be at Augsburg in 1570, and became acquainted with Tycho Brahe through Hieronymus Wolf, a man of great learning, especially in the classical languages, and himself drawn to Tycho by his love of astrology. Having been invited by Hainzel to inspect the great quadrant, Ramus expressed his admiration of this important undertaking, so successfully carried out by a young man only twenty-three years of age, and begged him to publish a description of it. In his work Scholarum Mathematicarum Libri XXXI., published at Basle in 1569 (only a few months before his conversation with Tycho), Ramus had advocated the building up of a new astronomy solely by logic and mathematics, and entirely without any hypothesis, and had referred to the ancient Chaldeans and Egyptians as having had a science of this kind, which had gradually by Eudoxus and that terrible Aristotle been made absurd through the introduction of solid spheres and endless systems of epicycles. Ramus explained his views to Tycho (who has left us an account of this conversation[40]); but he answered that astronomy without an hypothesis was an impossibility, for though the science must depend on numerical data and measures, the apparent motions of the stars could only be represented by circles and other figures. But though Ramus could not bring over the young astronomer to his views, they could cordially agree in the desire of seeing the science of astronomy renovated by new and accurate observations, before a true explanation of the celestial motions was attempted; and it can hardly be doubted that the conversation of this rational, clear thinker (so different from a Leovitius, with his brain crammed full of astrology and other hazy and fanciful ideas) took root in the thoughtful mind of the young astronomer, and bore fruit in after years in that reformation of his science for which Ramus had hoped.

Tycho Brahe left Augsburg in 1570, but the exact month is not known, nor the route by which he travelled. We only know that he passed through Ingolstadt, and called on Philip Apianus,[41] a son of Peter Apianus (or Bienewitz), whose name is well known both by his having pointed out that the tails of comets are turned away from the sun, and also by his work Astronomicum Cæsareum, to which we have already alluded. He was probably called back to Denmark by the illness of his father, Otto Brahe, for the first sign of his having returned is an observation made on the 30th December 1570 at Helsingborg Castle, where his father was governor,[42] and it is known that his brother, Steen Brahe, who was also abroad at that time, was called home by the alarming state of his father's health.[43] Otto Brahe died at Helsingborg on the 9th May 1571, only fifty-three years of age, surrounded by his wife and family. Tycho has in a letter to Vedel given a touching description of his last moments.[44] His property of Knudstrup seems to have been inherited jointly by his eldest two sons, Tycho and Steen, the latter of whom was already the following year in a still existing document styled "of Knudstrup."[45]

Tycho remained at home after his father's death, paying occasional visits to Copenhagen, but spending most of his time in Scania. He seems to have found it too lonely at Knudstrup, and soon took up his abode with his mother's brother, Steen Bille, at Heridsvad Abbey, about twenty English miles east of Helsingborg, and not very far from Knudstrup. Formerly there had been here a Benedictine monastery, which, like several others in Denmark, was not at once abolished at the Reformation; but in 1565 Steen Bille had been ordered to take possession of the Abbey, "because ungodly life was going on there," and to maintain the Abbot, and to keep up divine service according to the Lutheran ritual, while he was to drive out "all superfluous learned and useless people." The Abbey does not appear to have been granted to him formally in fee till 1576.[46] We have already mentioned Steen Bille as the only one of Tycho's relations who appreciated his scientific tastes, and he seems indeed to have been a man of considerable culture, who took an interest in more than one branch of learning or industry. Tycho says that he was the first to start a paper-mill and glass-works in Denmark. Whether it was from living with this uncle, or from some other cause, that Tycho for a while devoted himself more to chemistry than, to astronomy, is uncertain, but from the 3Oth December 1570 till November 1572 we do not possess a single astronomical observation made by him, while during this time he worked with great energy at chemical experiments, to which he had already paid some attention at Augsburg. His uncle gave him leave to arrange a laboratory in an outhouse of the Abbey, and was evidently himself much interested in the work carried on there.[47] Whether the object of this work was to make gold, as was most frequently the case with chemical experiments made in those days, there is no evidence to show; but even if this was not the case, there is nothing surprising in seeing an astronomer in the sixteenth century turn aside from the contemplation of the stars to investigate the properties of the metals and their combinations. We have already alluded to the idea of the universe as a whole, of which the single parts were in mystical mutual dependence on each other—an idea which had arisen among Oriental nations in the infancy of time, had thriven well owing to the mystical tendency of the Middle Ages, and had been gradually developed and formed into a complicated system by the speculations of philosophers of successive periods. The planets were the rulers of the elementary world and of the microcosmos, the moon being represented among the metals by silver, Mercury by quick- silver, Venus by silver, the sun by gold, Mars by iron, Jupiter by gold or tin, and Saturn by lead. It is therefore very probable that Tycho while working in the laboratory considered himself as merely for a while pursuing a special branch of the one great science, to the main branch of which he had hitherto felt specially attracted. But if these mystical speculations had as yet some power over his mind, they would seem gradually to have been pushed into the background, while cool and clear reasoning took their place, and guided him safely to his great goal—the reformation of practical astronomy.

We have now followed Tycho through what may be considered the first period of his life. By study and intercourse with learned men he had mastered the results of the science of antiquity and the Middle Ages. But though he had to some extent already, as a youth seventeen or eighteen years of age, perceived the necessity of a vast series of systematic observations on which to found a new science, he had hitherto shrunk from carrying out this serious undertaking himself, or had perhaps despaired of getting the means of doing so. But a most unusual and startling celestial phenomenon was now to occur, to rouse him to renewed exertion, and firmly fix in his mind the determination to carry out the plans he had so long entertained.

  1. In several places in his writings Tycho alludes to the 13th December as his birthday, but this is astronomically speaking, counting the day from noon, as he was born between nine and ten o'clock in the morning.
  2. Reprinted in Danske Magazin, ii. p. 170 (Weistritz, ii. p. 23).
  3. Autobiographical note, Astron. Inst. Mechanica, fol. G.
  4. In those days students frequently entered a university at a very early age, and with an exceedingly slender stock of knowledge. At Wittenberg one of the professors in the Faculty of Arts was bound to teach the junior students Latin grammar, and one of the Wittenberg professors in his opening address pointed out how simple the rudiments of arithmetic were, and how even multiplication and division might be learned with some diligence. Prowe, Nic. Coppernicus, i. p. 116
  5. Gassendi, p. 4.
  6. Gassendi, p. 5.
  7. His father was Philip du Pré, from Normandy, who had come to Denmark with Queen Isabella, the wife of Christiern II. He afterwards became a Protestant and Canon of Aarhus Cathedral. N. M. Petersen, Den Danske Literaturs Historie, iii. p. 190.
  8. There were four times in the fourteenth century Danish Rectors of the University of Paris (N. M. Petersen, Den Danske Literaturs Historie, i. p. 74). Students from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (provincia Daciæ) belonged to Anglicana Natio, one of the four Nations of the University.
  9. Historiske Efterretninger om Anders Sörensen Vedel, af C. F. Wegener. Appendix to a new edition of Den Danske Krönike af Saxo Grammaticus, translated by Vedel, Copenhagen, 1851, fol. This book is a valuable source for Tycho's early life.
  10. Though the University of Leipzig did not get a chair of History till 1579, Camerarius (about whom see next page) was to some extent considered as being Professor of History, and is even once styled "Historiarum et utriusque linguæ professor" (Wegener, l.c., p. 31).
  11. His name is not known. Tycho only mentions him once in a note among his observations: "1564, 14th Dec. Sub cœnam Pfeffigerus, qui apud doctorem nostrum hospitem convivabatur, dicebat . . ." (then follows an account of the conversation in German).
  12. Thau is mentioned by Vedel as a friend of his own, and appears to have been the inventor of an artificial car (rheda, viameter?). See Wegener, p. 32. Is he identical with Lucius Valentinus Otho, who edited the Opus Palatinum de Triangulis of Rhäticus in 1596?
  13. Published at Cologne in 1556 for the years 1554-70, again in 1559 and 1560, being continued to the year 1576. Founded on the Prutenic tables.
  14. Joachim Liebhard (who changed his name to Camerarius because there had been several Kämmerer in his family), born at Bamberg in 1500, died at Leipzig in 1574; published the Commentary of Theon as an appendix to the edition of Ptolemy edited by Grynæus in 1538; wrote a book on Greek and Latin arithmetic (see Kästner, Gesch. d. Mathem., i. p. 134), and published in 1559 a book, De eorum qvi Cometæ appellantur, Nominibus, Natura, Caussis, Significatione, in which he shows from history that comets sometimes announce evil, sometimes good events.
  15. In his observations from 1563-64 he also mentions the Ephemerides of Carellus (Venice, 1557).
  16. Die 17, H. 13, M. 15, Erat ♂ in 7 Gr. 8 lat. Mer. 3 Gr. ad fixas.
  17. "Intervallum ♄ et ♃ matutino tempore vix observatione oculari notari potuit: in hac nocte enim uterque se invicem obumbrabat suis radiis sed latitudo ipsorum diversa adhuc erat, ♄ enim meridionalior ipso ♃ erat. Die 27 (astron. 26) Mane vidi ♃ cum ♄ obtinere eandem alt. ab horizonte, hinc licet conjicere eorum ☌ jam præteriisse sed propius erant ab invicem dispositi quam ante triduum: quare etiam tempus συζυγίας propinquius huic 27 Aug. quam priori 24 fuisse manifestum est. In utroque autem die paulo ante ortum ʘ distantiam ipsorum observavi."—MS. volume of observations, 1563- 1581 incl., in the Royal Library at Copenhagen (Gamle Kongelige Samlinger, 4to, No. 1824). The early observations (up to 1577) only exist in this copy, the originals would seem to be lost, at least they are not at Copenhagen.
  18. In French called arbalète or arbalestrille, in Spanish ballestilla, in German Jacobsstab. It seems to have been invented by Regiomontanus, and is described in his Problemata XVI. de Cometæ Longitudine, written in 1472. and printed in 1531 in Schoner's Descriptio Cometæ.
  19. Astronomiæ Instauratæ Mechanica, fol. G. 2. For a specimen of the observations see Appendix A. at end of this volume.
  20. Tabulæ Rudolphinæ, title-page.
  21. Printed in Resenii Inscriptiones Hafnienses (Hafniæ, 1668), pp. 392 et seq.; and in Weistritz, Lebensbeschreibung des T. v. Brahe, i. pp. 239 et seq. (the matter referred to occurs on p. 259).
  22. In the volume of observations, 1563-81, there follow, after April 19, 1565, sixteen pages headed "Notationes interiectæ," of various contents. On a vacant quarter page is written in a different hand: "Duobus sequentibus annis nullæ extant observationes Brahei, sed earum loco sequebantur annotationes qualescunque in codice." Also in another hand is the following: "Tycho Brahe Tomo II. Epistolarum aliqvando excuso sed non edito fol. 54 scribit se hujus eclipsis tempore adhuc Lipsiæ studiorum causa commoratum, et pluvium tempus cum meteoris humidis ex hac eclipsi prædixisse." Among the notes is also "Observatio XII. dierum et noctiurn statim sequentium natalem Christi in Anno 1564 completo, pro constitutione et temperamento 12 mensium Anni 1565 proxime seqventis." The probable weather for January is concluded from the weather on December 26th; that for February from the 27th, and so on.
  23. As Præceptor primarius totius Academiæ. We have already mentioned Peucer's subsequent misfortune. He died in 1602.
  24. Tycho probably remembered that the well-known astronomer Erasmus Reinhold, author of the Prutenic tables and professor at Wittenberg, had in 1553 vainly tried to escape the plague by flying from Wittenberg to Saalfeld, where he died.
  25. As "Tycho Brahe, natus ex nobili familia in ea parte regni Danici quæ dicitur Scania." See G. C. F. Lisch, Tycho Brahe und seine Verhältnisse zu Mecklenburg, in Jahrbücher des Vereins für Mecklenburgische Geschichte, xxxiv., 1869 (Reprint, p. 2).
  26. "Astra regunt hominem, sed regit astra Deus."
  27. In a marginal note in the volume of observations, 1563-81 (printed in Danske Magazin, ii. p. 177), Tycho states that Soliman died a few days before the eclipse. In reality he died on 6th September, while besieging the Hungarian fortress Szigeth, though his death was kept secret for more than a fortnight. There is a written pamphlet by Tycho, apparently intended to be printed, in the Hofbibliothek at Vienna, De Eclipsi Lunari, 1573, Mense Decembri, in which the eclipse of 1566 and the prediction of the Sultan's death are also treated of. Friis, in Danske Samlinger, 1869, iv. p. 255.
  28. Gassendi (p. 10) adds, that according to the Epistles of Job. Bapt. Laurus (Protonotarius Apostolicus of Pope Urban VIII.), the dispute between Brahe and Parsbjerg was as to which of them was the best mathematician. But this is probably only gossip. They are said to have been very good friends afterwards. Towards the end of this book we shall see that Parsbjerg complained of the fight being referred to in Tycho's funeral oration.
  29. Delambre, Astr. Moderne, i. p. 297; Kästner, Geschichte der Mathematik, iii. p. 475.
  30. Page 11, and reprinted in Tychonis Brahei et ad eum doctorum Virorum Epistolæ, Havniæ, 1876-86, p. 1.
  31. The letter may be seen in Danske Magazin, ii. p. 180 (Weistritz, ii. P. 45).
  32. Mechanica, fol. G. 2.
  33. R. Wolf, Geschichte der Astronomie, p. 271.
  34. Born in 1524 in Bohemia, died at Laningen in 1574.
  35. The original edition (of 1564) is in German (see Pulkova Library Cat., p. 382), and not in Latin, as stated by Lalande. The London edition of 1573 (of which more below) is in Latin, and has the title given by Lalande.
  36. Astr. Inst. Progymnasmata, p. 708.
  37. The latitude of Göggingen is 48 20' 28", and that of St. Ulrich's Church, Augsburg = 48 21' 41" (Bode's Jahrbuch, Dritter Supplementband, pp. 166-167). Hainzel found, in 1572-73, the latitude of Göggingen = 48 22' with the great quadrant (Progymnasmata, p. 361).
  38. Pages 360-367. The quadrant is figured ibid., p. 356; also in Astron. Inst. Mechanica, fol. E. 5, and in Barretti Historia Cœlestis, p. cvii. About its destruction, see T. B. et ad eum Doct. Vir. Epistolæ, p. 17.
  39. Figured in Mechanica, fol. E. 2.
  40. In a letter to Rothmann, Epist. Astron., p. 60; see also Progymn., p. 359.
  41. Progymn., p. 643.
  42. It can hardly be called an observation: "1/3 Hor. quasi post occasum ʘvidi quod ☾ limbi illuminati extremitate distabat a ♃ per duplicem diametrum sui corporis, habebatque eandem præcise cum ♃ latitudinem visam."
  43. Danske Magazin, ii. p. 182 (Weistritz, ii. p. 50).
  44. T. B. et ad eum Doct. Virorum Epistolæ, pp. 1-3. In this letter Tycho, at Vedel's request, gives him a prescription against fever, and adds that he could give him others, but will wait till he sees him, as he does not like to put them in writing.
  45. Danske Magazin, 4th Series, vol. ii. pp. 324-325.
  46. Friis, Tyge Brake, p. 31.
  47. Progymn., p. 298.