“…in scanning the wonders of the Sidereal Universe…”

18 05 2013
Lunar crater Piazzi Smyth

Lunar crater Piazzi Smyth

Charles Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1846 to 1888, reminds us of the lost art (and drama) of correspondence in a letter penned to Edward S. Holden, then Director of Lick Observatory:

Clova, Ripon, England.

October 18 1888

My dear Mr. President-Astronomer, Edward S. Holden,

From your noble eagle’s perch and grand employ for intellectual man in scanning the wonders of the Sidereal Universe, how kind of you to make a little leisure wherein to recognise, that after my having, in utter despair, torn up all the stakes and ropes of a life-long employment, — I should highly appreciate a few friendly words from those who understand the subjects I have aimed at, oh! how earnestly, though nearly ineffectually, and partly from want of any sufficient apparatus or necessary means. While from the manner in which you are pleased to allude to my early experiment on the Peak of Teneriffe, — I am now quite ready to let that go by the board even in my own private thoughts, — for if it has had any share in directing a converging attention in America towards thinking and working out ultimately, & I might say inventing, so superb an Institution as the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, with the  friendly mists of the Pacific through the summer nights to cut off the radiations of the heated lower country; and with the grandest astronomical instruments yet constructed anywhere, but all of American manufacture—it has helped a little those who have carried out  an ideal for above anything I had ever contemplated even proposing.

Already too there is a stirring of the public journals in this country towards a new Astronomy emanating from your Lick Observatory, which is quite unmistakable. The rapidity with which, after you were once in working order, a new comet was picked up one night, and nebula & otherwise invisible stars noted on another, & reasoned on as well to the extent of the possibilities of the best modern physical, as well as astronomical theory, — is causing these to begin to express an interest in Astronomy, who never felt it before. Long may you and your well chosen band of friends keep it up, — while I remain in a lower wilderness,

Yours very truly, though lost,

C. Piazzi Smyth

Courtesy, Special Collections, University Library, University of California Santa Cruz. Lick Records, Mary Lea Shane Archives.



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