Графични страници
PDF файл


Tycho Brahe-Boyle-The Airpump.

It would be easy to add to that of Napier a long ist of other names of men of wealth and rank, who, in like manner, have devoted themselves to science or literature in preference to all other pursuits. But we shall mention only two. A contemporary of Napier, whose labours and speculations were similar to his own, was the celebrated Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe. Brahe's family was both wealthy and noble ; but when, by his contributions, he first manifested his attachment to the science in which he afterward acquired so much reputation, being then only a boy at school, his friends did everything they could to check an inclination which they deemed quite unsuited to his birth and prospects; and the young astronomer was obliged to conceal from his tutor the mathematical books which he purchased with his pocket-money, and to read them, as well as to make his observations on the stars, in hours stolen from the time allowed him for sleep. For, even before he was sixteen, he had begun to measure the distances of the heavenly bodies from one another, although he had no better instrument than a common pair of compasses, the hinge of which he used to put to his eye, while he opened the legs until they pointed to the two stars whose relative position he wished to ascertain. A collection of celestial observations, made by him at this early period, is still preserved at Copenhagen. When he became of age, however, and was his own master, his fortune enabled him to choose his own pursuits; and, having first spent some years in travelling through Germany and Switzerland, and visiting the different observatories in these countries, he then returned home, took up his residence on his estate, and dedicated himself almost entirely to his favourite science. Some of the results of his studies, which he pubJished, soon drew to him the attention of the learned among his countrymen; and, at the desire of the king, he at last left his retreat to teach astronomy in the capital. But the constant interruptions to which he was here exposed disgusted him with a town life, and he sighed to get once more back to his country retirement. All his wishes in this respect were at length gratified, by an act of extraordinary munificence on the part of his sovereign, who bestowed on him the island of Hueen, in the Sound, together with a pension of five hundred crowns, a lordship in Norway, and an ecclesiastical benefice, which brought him two thousand crowns more, in order that, with these revenues, added to those of his original estates, he might be enabled to prosecute his celestial operations on the grandest scale. In this island, accordingly, Brahe now took up his abode, and soon erected on it a splendid observatory, provided with all the best instruments known in that age. He spent, he says, a hundred thousand crowns of his own money upon its completion, in addition to the produce of his grants from the king. Here he resided for seventeen years, durir g the whole of which time he continued to devote himself, with unabated zeal, to his scientific pursuits. But such was now his fame, that, even in this retirement, besides being surrounded, as before, by pupils who crowded to profit by his instructions, he was sought out by many visiters, both from his own and foreign countries. Among other persons of distinction who came to see him, was James I., then king of Scotland, who passed a week with himi in the year 1590; but if the story that is told be true, this visit was anything rather than a fortunate incident for Brahe. Some years afterward, it is said, his protector, Frederic II., being dead, he was visited one day by the young king Christian IV., accompanied by his chief minister, Walckendorf; and it so happened that this latter personage, who was very sensitive and choleric, was barked at, as he approached the house, by two dogs belonging to the astronomer, at which he chose to be so much offended, that he went up to the animals and beat them severely, The dogs had been presented to Brahe by the Scottish monarch; and, irritated at seeing them ill-treated, he interfered to prevent the enraged senator from continuing his chastisement. This gave rise to some high words between the two, and the result was a quarrel, which Walckendorf, at least, never forgot. From that day Brahe's ruin was resolved upon by his powerful enemy. A commission was soon after appointed to report upon the public utility of his establishment; and upon this compliant body declaring that they saw nothing in his splendid observatory

but a source of useless expense to the state, a decree was passed, recalling all the grants he had received from the former king, and dispossessing him of his island. On this, Brahe determined to bid adieu for ever to his ungrateful country; and, taking with him all his instruments, he retired to Germany. About two years afterward, however, he was invited to take up his residence at Prague, by the emperor, Rodolph II.; and by this prince, who was warmly attached to science, he was provided with a second asylum, almost as splendid as that which he had enjoyed in his native country. But he lived only a very short time after this, having died in 1601, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. Tycho Brahe, as most of our readers are probably aware, was the inventor or reviver of a peculiar scheme of the universe, according to which the earth is conceived to be immoveable in the centre of the system, the sun to revolve round it, and the other planets round the sun. It is unnecessary to say that this hypothesis has been long exploded. Indeed, even at the time when it was proposed by its author, it was, although supported by him with much ingenuity, a most unphilosophical retrogression from the true system previously established by Copernicus. But although Brahe, it thus appears, has no very high claims upon our admiration as a theorist, he undoubtedly did much in another way to promote the improvement of astronomy. His extraordinary devotion to the science, of itself, operated as inspiration upon many of the other ardent minds of the time. But it was by the great number and comparative exactness of his observations, far surpassing anything that had been attained by his predecessors, that he chiefly contributed to the progress of astronomy. No other but one in his circumstances could have commanded either the leisure or the pecuniary means necessary for the making of these observations, which, besides having occupied many years, owed much of their superior accuracy to the excellence, and consequent costliness, of the instruments which Brahe employed. Here, therefore, was a case in which science. was indebted to the wealth of one of its cultivators for services which no zeal or talents could have otherwise enabled him to render.

But perhaps the best example we can adduce of the manner in which wealth may be made subservient by its possessor, not only to the acquisition of knowledge, but also to its diffusion and improvement, is that of the celebrated Robert BoYLE. Boyle was born at Lismore, in Ireland, in 1627, and was the seventh and youngest son of Richard, the first Earl of Cork. The first advantage which he derived from the wealth and station of his father, was an excellent education. After having enjoyed the instructions of a domestic tutor, he was sent, at an early age, to Eton. But his inclination, from the first, seems to have led him to the study of things rather than of words. He remained at Eton only four years, “ in the last of which,” according to his own statement, in an account which he has given us of his early life," he forgot much of that Latin he had got, for he was so addicted to more solid parts of knowledge, that he hated the study of bare words naturally, as something that relished too much of pedantry to consort with his disposition and designs.” In reference to what is here insinuated, in disparagement of the study of languages merely as such, we may just remark, that the observation is, perhaps, not quite so profound as it is plausible. So long as one mind differs from another, there will always be much difference of sentiment as to the comparative claims upon our regard of that, on the one hand, which addresses itself principally to the taste or the imagin ion, and that, on the other, which makes its appeal to the understanding only. But it is, at any rate, to be remembered that, in confining the epithet useful, as is commonly done, to the latter, it is intended to describe it as the useful only pre-eminently, and not exclusively. The agreeable or the graceful is plainly also useful. The study of language and style, therefore, connot, with any propriety, be denounced as a mere waste of time; but, on the contrary, is well fitted to become to the mind a source both of enjoyment and power.

So great, indeed, is the influence of diction upon the common feelings of mankind, that no literary work, it may be safely asserted, has ever acquired a permanent reputation and popularity, or, in other words, produced any wide and enduring effect, which was not distinguished by the graces of its style. Their deficiency, in this respect, has been at least one of the causes of the comparative oblivion into which Mr. Boyle's own writings have fallen, and, do'abtless, weakened the

« ПредишнаНапред »