William Herschel and his work

William Herschel and his work (1900)
by James Sime
580367William Herschel and his work1900James Sime

William Herschel
and His Work


James Sime, M.A., F.R.S.E.

"The life of Herschel had the rare advantage of forming an epoch in an extensive branch of astronomy."


Edinburgh. T. & T. Clark


To present to the public the life and work of a man who powerfully influenced the progress of astronomy a century ago, and stamped on his own age as well as ours a loftier view of Creation and its Author than was ever before entertained, may be best done by allowing him and his contemporaries to tell their own story, and to relate their own impressions. We all prefer to hear them speaking, to see them playing their parts in life, and to watch the drama of surprise, wonder, and criticism unfolding itself in their written or printed pages. If I have succeeded in my endeavour to tell the story on these lines, I shall have attained the end which I had in view when I undertook this work.

William Herschel was not a mathematician of the order of Newton, Laplace, or even of his own son. He made no pretence to that high honour. His fields of research were much simpler, though not less laborious, and the harvests he reaped were enjoyed by mankind without a strain on the understanding which very few in any age are capable of. A popular exposition of his career and his discoveries in the light of more recent triumphs may be as easy to follow now, and as welcome as it was in his own day.

What Sir William and Lady Huggins recently said of their own labours with the spectroscope, Herschel could have said a century before of the difficulties his sister and he encountered and overcame with the telescope: "It is scarcely possible at the present day, when all these points are as familiar as household words, for any astronomer to realise the large amount of time and labour which had to be devoted to the construction of the first star spectroscope."[1]


  1. Atlas, 1899, p. 8.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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