Eclecticism, Opportunism, and the Evolution
of a New Research Agenda:

William and Margaret Huggins and the
Origins of Astrophysics


Barbara J. Becker

A Dissertation submitted to The Johns Hopkins University
in conformity with the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Baltimore, Maryland

Copyright ©1993 by Barbara J. Becker
All rights reserved




The introduction of spectrum analysis into astronomical research in the mid-nineteenth century was synchronous with William Huggins' rise to prominence as an amateur astronomer.  Huggins was celebrated in his own lifetime as a self-taught pioneer who played a key role in adapting an old chemical and physical instrument, the spectroscope, to new astronomical purposes.  After his death in May 1910, eulogizers were effusive in their praise of his vision and imagination which, the American astronomer, George Ellery Hale suggested, allowed Huggins "to divine some of the less obvious applications of the spectroscope."1  Appreciation of Huggins' willingness to break new ground was tempered by admiration for what England's Astronomer Royal, Frank Dyson termed his "characteristic thoroughness" and "care," and what American astronomer, T. J. J. See characterized as his "judicious habits of weighing evidence," "wise selection of subjects of research," and "strict conscientiousness and calm deliberation."2  These conservative qualities contrast with historian John Lankford's depiction of the pioneers of astrophysics as scientific "risk-takers" and beg the question of how an individual with the personal qualities attributed to William Huggins helped to lead a movement which ultimately revolutionized the theory, technique, and practice of astronomy by the turn of the twentieth century.3

In this chapter, following a biographical sketch of William Huggins' early life, I shall trace the development of his fledgling astronomical career to the end of the 1850s by which time he had adopted a moderately rigorous, albeit eclectic, research program based on others' questions.  My goal is to present the options Huggins perceived as being available to him during this formative period of his career and to show how his methods, instruments, and observational agenda were shaped by his choices among those options.  In this way, I shall lay a foundation for understanding Huggins' later positive response to the notion of applying the spectroscope to the light emitted by celestial bodies, as well as his role in introducing this new instrument into routine astronomical observation.

The Early Years

Born in 1824, William Huggins was the sole surviving child of a London silk mercer and linen draper, William Thomas Huggins, and his wife, Lucy.4  Like their neighbors on Gracechurch Street, the Hugginses lived above the family shop. Gracechurch Street was a thriving commercial center with hatters, ironmongers, bootmakers, printsellers, teadealers and wine merchants alongside coach companies, taverns and life assurance companies populating its quartermile stretch between Cornhill and Eastcheap.5  Inside the elder Huggins' shop, the swatches of colorful, luxurious fabrics, the measuring tapes, and the linen provers coupled with the talk of travel to buy fabrics elsewhere in Britain and abroad would have stimulated any young child's mind.6

In their biography of William Huggins, Mills and Brooke tell us that he was a precocious child.  While family anecdotes about an individual's childhood escapades can evolve into something of near mythic proportions by the time that person's memoirs are published, there may be a smattering of truth in the story Mills and Brooke recount in which five-year-old William "ingeniously constructed an electrical machine" after mastering a primer on electricity.7  Once he got his machine working, William is reputed to have run through the house shouting, "I've had a shock, I've had a shock."  For the twentieth century reader, the phrase "electrical machine" conjures up an image of something quite complex, perhaps incorporating a motor or an electromagnet.  But it must be remembered that this story relates an incident which took place around 1829, when the term "electrical machine" referred to a simple static charge generator.  As the son of a dealer in silk, William would have had access to an abundance of fabric scraps with which to explore the variety of electrical effects produced when silk is rubbed against amber, rubber, or glass.8

That his father's business prospered in Huggins' youth can be inferred from the fact that the 1841 census report lists three shop assistants and a domestic servant living on the premises.9  Mercers and drapers served as middlemen between the individuals who produced woven fabric and those who put it to use.  The Hugginses' shop was conveniently located close to Spitalfields -- the hub of England's silk trade -- and the warehouses at St. Paul's Churchyard.  Assuming it to have been typical of other medium-sized operations with two or three assistants in residence, the family would have enjoyed a friendly relationship with their employees.10  The work day would have run from about 10 o'clock in the morning until as late as 9 or 10 o'clock at night, Mondays through Saturdays, with tea served between 5 and 6 p.m.  Living on the premises would have allowed the Hugginses to tend their shop in a leisurely way when business was slow and be attentive during peak evening hours.

The business training received by drapers' assistants was reputed to be excellent, although standing continuously for long hours "looking busy" each day coupled with poor dietary habits fostered by short mealtimes proved debilitating for many of the young assistants.11  It was one trade which showed a disproportionate number of young people employed over all, indicating that many who started out in the business soon gave it up for less physically wearing jobs with more opportunities for personal advancement.12


While accounts of William's boyhood vary, they all agree that he received little formal education aside from some private tutoring at home.  From the description of his educational background given by Mills and Brooke, we can surmise that his family took advantage of the few educational experiences available to children of tradesmen in the 1830s.13

The dissenting academies of the previous century had curricula based on biblical studies which required a reading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew as well as practical knowledge in the physical sciences and mathematics.14  Given the Nonconformist religious proclivities of the Huggins family, it seems reasonable that the Hugginses were influenced by the legacy of these institutions to seek such an education for their son, whether through formal or informal means.15

Mills and Brooke tell us that William briefly attended a small nearby school on Great Winchester Street.  By the age of nine or ten he spent "an hour in the morning" with the curate of the parish learning "classics and mathematics."16  His appetite for scientific study was whetted, meanwhile, through his attendance at lectures on chemistry and physics at the newly opened Adelaide Gallery, a science and technology theater for public demonstrations of modern machines and marvelous physical phenomena.17

  Schooling for young children in England in the 1830s was not directed toward practical ends.  For the most part, the goal was moral, not intellectual, development.  Public schools like Eton, Rugby and Harrow offered courses chiefly in the classics with little in the way of science, mathematics or modern languages.18 The sad state of intellectual offerings in the English schools in comparison with those in Scotland was lamented by John Stuart Mill in 1867:  "Youths come to the Scottish Universities ignorant, and are there taught.  The majority of those who come to the English universities come still more ignorant, and ignorant go away."19

William Huggins' circumstances would have precluded his obtaining an elite public school education in the 1830s.  About that time, however, increased demand by the upper middle class for comparable educational opportunities led to the establishment of a new generation of public schools accessible to a still select, but nonetheless broader spectrum of individuals.  Such a school was the City of London School, established in 1837.20  In February of that year, at the age of thirteen, William Huggins became one of this school's first pupils.  Sources differ on how long he was enrolled there as a student, but the records of the City of London School indicate that Huggins left in the first term of 1839.21

Students were selected by an examination accompanied by an interview with the Headmaster.  The basic tuition was £8 5/- per year with seven shillings assessed for extra lessons in such things as music, art, and special foreign languages.  The general course of instruction extended beyond the confines of the strictly classical curriculum offered at the established public schools.  Thus, in his two years of formal education there, William would have received instruction in a broad array of subjects.  Enlightened by the needs of commerce, but not subservient to them, the new school's instructional program included Latin, Greek, French, writing, grammar, bookkeeping, mathematics, natural philosophy, geography, natural history, ancient and modern history, choral singing, chemistry and other branches of experimental philosophy.22

The school's history tells us that Huggins spoke, many years later, of his fondness for the eccentric and irascible mathematical master, a Mr. Edkins who, Huggins contended, offered him assistance in mathematical matters even after his formal withdrawal from the school.23  In February 1838, during Huggins' brief sojourn there, experimental apparatus was procured by City of London "to be used in explaining the principles of Natural Philosophy."  This equipment included an air pump, glass tubes, a condensing syringe, a small amount of mercury and a lathe. Demonstrations were immediately performed with it by the Reverend William Cook as accompaniments to his lectures.24

Mills and Brooke state that Huggins "studied industriously under private tutors at home" between the time he left the City of London School and came of an age to enter university, a length of time which they give as three or four years. Being schooled at home by private tutors was not only a respectable educational history for individuals regardless of social class, it lent a special air of prestige to members of the rising middle and upper middle classes.  As a form of self-education, engaging a private tutor was emblematic of the inner drive, ambition, and self-motivation that marked a man in control of his destiny.25

While the wealthy were able to afford live-in tutors and governesses for their children, many individuals of moderate means employed private tutors who visited the home but did not live there.  For a few shillings a week, lessons in a variety of subjects could be obtained from peripatetic private tutors.26  It is not unreasonable to think that young Huggins was thus educated.  It is interesting to note, however, that in his own published reminiscences later in life, and in the biographies written by others after his death, there is no mention of a tutor or mentor who actively encouraged his scientific interests during his childhood and early adulthood.27

Mills and Brooke state that Huggins shared his parents' hope that he would attend Cambridge.  This ambition is difficult to account for.  First, as a Nonconformist, Huggins would have been barred from matriculating at Cambridge.28 Second, the fees were prohibitive to all but the wealthy.  And third, it is not clear what end attending Cambridge might have served in terms of Huggins' avowed interest in applied rather than pure science.  In the 1840s, a degree from Cambridge offered more prestige than practical scientific expertise.

In Mills and Brooke's account, Huggins' purported desire for a Cambridge education suffered a severe setback when, just as he was old enough to attend university, failing health left his father incapable of continuing to run the family business.  Mills and Brooke tell us that rather than have his family sell the shop so he could proceed with plans to enter Cambridge, William dutifully chose to remain at home and assume his father's responsibilities.29  According to their account, Huggins, throughout his life, regretted this "grievous" but necessary choice which deprived him of a university education, a loss he felt was "irreparable."30  The construction of this narrative with its emphasis on Huggins' later success served to heighten readers' appreciation for the adversity he had been forced to overcome in order to achieve it.  Late in his life, at a time when rising above one's god-given station in life was a stamp of having followed physician-turned-social critic Samuel Smiles' simple recipe for a successful life, Huggins was able to make the best of his lack of a social pedigree, of a public school education, and of a Cambridge degree.  According to Smiles, every individual, regardless of his material resources, was capable of self-improvement through a regimen of thrift, perseverance, and responsible behavior.31  Huggins wished to present his own life as having fit this pattern.

Interest in Science

While Huggins' scientific activities during his youth are not specifically identified, they are nevertheless described as self-motivated and directed.  He is reported to have conducted "research" in "chemistry, optics, physics, electricity ... [and] photography" which he pursued independently in "every spare moment." According to Mills and Brooke, young Huggins designed and built his own experimental equipment, an activity which provided him with opportunities for "thinking out problems for himself."32

William was given a microscope by his parents in his youth.  Improvements in microscope design during the 1830s had made them sturdier, easier to use and much more affordable.33  He may have become interested in microscopy through his daily contact with linen provers, the handheld thread-counting magnifiers, in his parents' shop.

Huggins became a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society in 1852.  In so doing he made his first formal attachment to an organization aimed at the active pursuit of scientific knowledge.34  This society had been founded only twelve years earlier to facilitate the dissemination of information among like-interested individuals engaged in microscopical studies, and to provide encouragement to scientific instrument makers as they worked to further perfect the microscope.35  The volume of the Society's Transactions which appeared that year contained articles on instrumentation as well as particulars of microscopical study of various animals and plants.  The authors included many individuals prominent in London's physiological and medical community:  John Quecket, for example, was the Assistant Conservator of the Museum and Demonstrator of Histology at the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Arthur Farre, another frequent contributor, was Professor of Midwifery at King's College; W. C. Williamson, was Professor of Natural History at Owen's College.

Not all contributors were professional microscopists or physiologists, however.  A number of serious amateurs submitted articles to the Society's journal as well.  One such amateur, Warren De La Rue (1815-1889), may have played a role in the development of William Huggins' social network.  De La Rue, like Huggins, was running his father's business in the early 1850s.36  One reason that De La Rue stands out among the other Fellows of the Microscopical Society is that he was also a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (elected 1851).  As we shall see later, De La Rue was just beginning his pioneering efforts in celestial photography at the time Huggins first made his acquaintance.

In an oft-quoted retrospective essay on the "new" astronomy written in 1897, Huggins recalled his interest in microscopy and physiological research in the early 1850s.  He noted that the nineteenth century had witnessed the birth of not one, but two new scientific disciplines.  These "new sciences," as he called them, had emerged in natural consequence of the dramatic changes in what had been traditionally considered proper bounds for research in two of the oldest domains of scientific investigation:  astronomy and medicine.  Medicine, he claimed, had experienced an invigorating overhaul at the hands of Lister and Pasteur.  A few pages later, as he recounted his initial steps to establish his own astronomical observatory, he mentioned that the exciting work being done in physiology during the 1850s made his eventual choice of astronomical research an especially difficult one.  As he stated, "It was after a little hesitation that I decided to give my chief attention to observational astronomy, for I was strongly under the spell of the rapid discoveries then taking place in microscopical research in connection with physiology."37  His lack of specificity in this passage makes it unclear to what particular physiological breakthroughs he is referring -- the nineteenth century was replete with discoveries in the life sciences.38  Both Lister's and Pasteur's notable research was done in the following decade, however.39

In the end, Huggins' interest in microscopy may have succumbed to a certain squeamishness he experienced while engaged in physiological studies.40  It may also be that opportunities for recognition and advancement in astronomy were more accessible to amateur observers like himself than in the more professionally trained realm of physiology, a possibility which warrants further investigation.  That he nevertheless did not abandon his interest in microscopical research entirely in the early 1860s as his desire to pursue astronomical research increased can be inferred from the fact that he wrote an article on spectroscopic studies with the microscope which was published in the Transactions of the Royal Microscopical Society in 1865.41

Interest in Astronomy

Mills and Brooke tell us that when William Huggins was eighteen years old, he purchased his first telescope for £15.  We are told that with it he attempted to observe the smoke-obscured sky over downtown London by "lying prone on the floor ... with the telescope pointed out of the window."42  There is no discussion about what may have urged him to purchase a telescope at this time.43

Three celestial events occurred during Huggins' childhood and youth which attracted general public attention and thus may have stimulated his early astronomical interests.  In mid-November 1832, when William was only eight years old, Europe was treated to an awe-inspiring, if not frightening, meteor shower.44 Nothing like it had been seen since 1799.45  A few years later on 15 May 1836, the center line of an annular solar eclipse passed from Ayr on the west coast of southern Scotland to Alnwick on the northern English coast and would have been over 90% total in London.  Weather conditions in London were generally favorable during the eclipse, scheduled church services were cancelled, and hundreds of people gathered at Greenwich to see the event, apparently under the mistaken impression that they would be given an opportunity to observe the sun with the astronomical instruments there. 46  A partial eclipse, even one of such magnitude, lacks the stunning impact of a total eclipse.  Still, it would have been an exciting event for a boy of twelve.

Another impressive celestial event which drew considerable public interest, and which took place about the time young Huggins acquired his first telescope, was the apparition of an exceptionally bright daylight comet between February and April, 1843.  This comet, which became known as the Great Comet of 1843, was a sun-grazer with an exceptionally long tail.  This comet passed closer to the sun than any other comet then on record.  A contemporary lithograph of this comet shows it stretching across the Parisian sky from the constellation Eridanus to Canis Major.47 Observers in Bologna, Italy, where weather conditions were favorable, reported seeing this comet in the sky at noon as it passed perihelion on February 27 and 28, but the weather in England prohibited a view of it until the evening of March 17. At that time, the comet was so close to the sun that only its tail appeared above the horizon after sunset.  The next night, the whole comet was visible.  In his classic book, History of Physical Astronomy of 1852, Robert Grant tells us, "The head was small, but the tail was a brilliant object, extending over an arc of the heavens of about 40°."48  The comet was visible in England until the beginning of April 1843. A short walk from his home to the northern bank of the Thames with his new telescope would have provided young William with an excellent view of this comet as it shifted its position night after night across the southern constellations.49

While these dramatic celestial events encourage speculation on the matter of Huggins' motivations for purchasing a small telescope, it must be pointed out that Huggins never talked about the circumstances which precipitated this early phase of his astronomical interest, nor did he discuss its extent.  In addition, he has left no clues concerning any individual who may have guided him in his first observational efforts.

Fellowship in the Royal Astronomical Society

Some ten years later, in 1854, shortly after his thirtieth birthday, William Huggins was elected to fellowship in the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).50  At the time, George Biddell Airy, England's Astronomer Royal, was in the midst of the third of his four terms as President of the Society.  Articles published in the Society's Monthly Notices and Memoirs show that in addition to engaging in the usual tasks of timing celestial events and mapping celestial objects, Fellows of the RAS, the majority of them amateurs, pursued a variety of observational projects including such things as searching for new asteroids and planetary satellites, locating and observing double stars, noting changes on planetary surfaces, counting and mapping sunspots, and documenting coincident solar and terrestrial phenomena. Presumably there were items on this rich observational agenda to which Huggins wished to contribute.

What had either enhanced or resurrected his interest in astronomy?  One possible catalyst is Robert Grant's History of Physical Astronomy, a book mentioned briefly in the previous section and which became a standard reference book for amateur astronomers soon after its appearance in 1852.  This book grew out of a series on the history of astronomy in the "Library of Useful Knowledge" which Grant began writing in 1848.  Given Huggins' professed interest in scientific matters during this period of his life, he may have read some or all of these individual essays as they appeared.51  About one year after Grant published his book, Huggins replaced his old telescope with a 5-inch Dollond equatorial which cost £110.52

Another factor contributing to Huggins' burgeoning interest in astronomy at this time may have been his previously mentioned acquaintance with Warren De La Rue through the Microscopical Society.  Daguerreotypes of the moon made by William Cranch Bond of Cambridge, Massachusetts were displayed at London's Great Exhibition in 1851 and subsequently at the RAS.  Viewing these daguerreotypes had inspired De La Rue to begin experimenting in 1852 with Scott Archer's newly introduced wet collodion photographic technique.  Near the end of that year, De La Rue succeeded in obtaining images of the moon "possessing great sharpness of definition and accuracy of detail."53  There is no direct evidence that Huggins and De La Rue enjoyed a close association at this time.  But that Huggins was in some way stimulated by De La Rue's efforts can be inferred from the fact that two years later Huggins was mentioned, along with several others, as having "produced lunar pictures" in De La Rue's report on celestial photography delivered before the Aberdeen meeting of the British Association (BAAS) in 1859.54

During the first two years of Huggins' fellowship in the RAS there is no mention of him or his work in the Monthly Notices.  He was still living in the City of London and running the family business there.  This would have made regular observation difficult for a number of reasons:  the frequent obscuration of the London sky, the constraints on the horizon afforded by the density of neighboring buildings, the practical problems of maneuvering such a cumbersome telescope without assistance, and the late evening hours required for operating the shop.  It was, however, about this time that Huggins made a serious change in his life.

Tulse Hill

Mills and Brooke indicate that Huggins "was astute enough to see that such quiet businesses as his father's were doomed" and so he decided to "dispose" of his family's silk shop in the mid-1850s.55  One might suppose that Huggins was responding to unfavorable fluctuations in the movement of silk or linen brought on by such complex factors as the mechanization of the textile industry, the elimination of trade protections, and the growing popularity of cotton by mid-century.  But if there was a sense that the industry was headed for disaster, it was not evident in the numbers of silk mercers listed in Kelly's London Postal Directory.56  In 1840, there were 69 silk mercers listed, while in 1853, there were 81, an increase of over 17%.  Of these, 24 were named on both lists.  The silk industry, while buffeted by a number of serious economic factors throughout the nineteenth century, did not suffer real damage until the discovery of artificial silk (rayon) in 1891, an event which even the most astute market analyst in the 1850s could not have anticipated. Of more immediate concern to small shop owners like the Hugginses was the introduction and growth of large-sized department stores which sold ready-to-wear clothing, cloaks, and curtains.57  Thus, the family retired from commercial life, sold the lease on their shop to the London & Continental Assurance Society,58 and moved in late 1854 or early 185559 to a home in Lambeth, a well-to-do and growing suburb just south of London populated by prosperous businessmen and professionals.60  Unfortunately, Huggins' father died shortly after the move.

This new residence was a detached house with an extensive garden in the back.  During the first years Huggins and his mother lived there, the house, like many others in the neighborhood, had no numbered address.  It was simply called "Alpha Cottage."  Later it became known as 90 Upper Tulse Hill Road.  The property's elevation provided Huggins with a promising vantage point for celestial observation.  The prevailing winds blew the smoke of London northward leaving the local skies clear.  The garden afforded him a convenient place to set up his telescope on a small wooden stand and keep it ready for use.

Huggins' new commitment to serious observational work in astronomy is evidenced by three things:  His construction of a substantial observatory building in the garden of his home, his purchase of an improved telescope and an array of instruments for making accurate measurements of planetary and stellar positions, and his acquisition of a bound notebook in which to record his observations.

Soon after moving into this house, Huggins contracted Edward Leigh, a local carpenter, to construct an observatory building in which to keep his instruments.61 In May 1856, Huggins described his new observatory in what was to become the first of many communications to the Royal Astronomical Society published in the Monthly Notices. 62  In this brief communique, he provided vivid detail of the structure of this building.  The observatory itself was raised 16 feet above the ground in order to clear the neighboring houses and trees.  The instruments were supported by brick columns imbedded in a concrete foundation constructed to be free of any connection to the surrounding building.  The 12 X 18-foot building was itself supported on iron columns imbedded in concrete.  A passageway connected the observatory with the second story of Huggins' home, thus making it as Huggins himself described it, "for all purposes of convenience and access, a part of the house."

Figure 2. HM Land Registry Map showing the property of 90 Upper Tulse Hill Road with attached outbuilding (from Edition 1894-6, London Sheet XI.84, HM Land Registry.)

The Land Registry map for the area in 1894 depicts a sizable outbuilding near the rear of the main house (see Figure 2).63  This represents a later version of his earlier observatory building which had been enlarged in 1870 to accommodate larger instruments.  A photograph of this later observatory can be seen in Huggins' Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra (see Figures 3 and 4).64  Nevertheless, the location and general orientation of the observatory building is undoubtedly much the same.  The instruments he possessed in 1856 included his 5-inch Dollond telescope, an 18-inch transit-circle made by Thomas Jones which Huggins boasted was capable of readings down to 3 arcseconds using the attached verniers, and a clock by T. Arnold.

Figure 3. The Tulse Hill Observatory (from photograph in the Huggins Collection, Whitin Observatory, Wellesley College; reproduced in Huggins and Huggins, Atlas, 23).  William Huggins' wife, Margaret Lindsay Huggins, is seen in this photograph, standing at the base of the observatory building (see enlargement in Figure 4).

Figure 4. Detail of Tulse Hill Observatory photograph showing Margaret Lindsay Huggins (from photograph in Huggins Collection, Whitin Observatory, Wellesley College).

From the published accounts of Huggins' observations begun in this private observatory, it would appear that he pursued rather ordinary projects like timing occultations or describing planetary surfaces, contenting himself to be included as one contributor of many to a pool of reports on special celestial events which the Society published in the Monthly Notices.  But during his first decade as a fellow of the RAS, his view of himself as an astronomical observer and his place in the RAS changed.

The Notebooks -- Huggins' Novitiate

In 1856 Huggins acquired a bound notebook in which he began to keep a permanent record of his observations.  The title page of this first notebook bears the mark of a new enthusiast (see Figure 5).  At the top of the page, Huggins has written in carefully scripted Hebrew, a verse from Genesis:  Look to the heavens and count the stars.65  Below this is written:

quæ ex
Specula sua
Guil: Huggins


Quidquid nitet notandum.

Speculam hanc ad coeli
explorationem commodissimam
designavit et fecit
Guil: Huggins
anno Dni  1856.
Ed. Leigh Structore.


asthr astero diaferei en doxh66

The inside front cover contains poetic statements in English, Italian and German.67

Figure 5. Title page of Notebook 1 (in the Huggins Collection, Wellesley College).

It is not clear when Huggins began making written records of his observations, as the first few notebook entries were probably copied at a later time from notes taken during the actual observation.  It is likely that these first recordings include only those observations which Huggins felt were worth saving. An examination of these first entries provides some insight into his perception of what it meant for Huggins to be a serious amateur, what sorts of information Huggins understood to be required in order to participate actively in the astronomical community, and what contributions he was interested in making, or felt qualified to make, to the on-going work of that community.

Figure 6. Drawings of the Planet Mars by William Huggins (Notebook 1).  Compare Huggins' depiction of Mars with those of Brodie, Webb, and De La Rue (Figures 7a, b, and c).  See also the computer generated figure showing the axial alignment of Mars in April 1856 as seen from Earth (Figure 8).

The very first page is entitled, "Observationes Marti A.D. 1856" and is filled with a group of five uniform circles.  Four of these circles have been filled in to show the Martian surface as seen on 24 April, 28 April, 19 May and 2 June (see Figure 6).  The one unfilled circle at the bottom suggests that Huggins had planned an additional observation of Mars which either was not made, or simply not recorded.68  These drawings are interesting to examine as examples of what a novice planetary observer might produce.  There is no written discussion accompanying the diagrams save the captions telling the date and time each observation took place. There is no sense that Huggins feels he is marking a special celestial event, or that he is observing for a particular purpose.

Each drawing of Mars clearly shows two polar caps in an axial alignment typical of that at a martian equinox.  When Mars is in opposition during April, however, it is late summer for that planet's northern hemisphere, thus it presents its north polar cap towards the earth.  Changing appearances of the martian surface during each apparition make it difficult to determine whether the features depicted in Huggins' drawings are accurate representations, although they appear to be internally consistent given the time intervals between each observation and the expected change in appearance due to martian rotation.  Of these four drawings, Huggins chose to submit copies of the middle two to the RAS.69

Other observers sketched Mars during this opposition.  A comparison of them against Huggins' depiction of the planet's appearance is instructive.  The Reverend T. W. Webb, for example, and Frederick Brodie submitted drawings of the planet which were published in the Monthly Notices (see Figures 7a and 7b).70 Both claim to show Mars as it appeared in mid-April and draw attention to bright regions located around the limb of the planet.71  Webb's and Brodie's drawings stand in stark contrast to those of Huggins.  But there are sketches of Mars which so very closely resemble Huggins' that it is worth noting them.  First, a drawing of Mars from the 1856 opposition reproduced in a late-nineteenth century American encyclopedia distinctly shows what appear to be the two polar caps in a similar orientation to that found in Huggins' drawings.72  Second, two of Warren De La Rue's drawings of Mars from the same opposition reproduced in Flammarion's retrospective volume on Mars look very much like Huggins' (see Figure 7c).

Figure 7a. 15 April 1856, T. W. Webb (Mon. Not. Roy. Astr. Soc. 16:  188).

Figure 7b. 18 April 1856, Frederick Brodie (Mon. Not. Roy. Astr. Soc. 16:  204).

Figure 7c. 25 April 1856, Warren De La Rue (Flammarion, 129).

Perhaps De La Rue guided Huggins' early efforts at serious observation. This is indeed possible, although it is worth noting that Grant's History of Physical Astronomy reported that William Herschel had observed Mars to have two icy polarcaps inclined at an angle of 28° 42' to the ecliptic.  Both De La Rue and Huggins may have been individually influenced by this information to see precisely that in their telescopes.73  Regardless of the source of influence, Huggins' drawings of Mars reveal a novice observer learning from books and colleagues how to interpret what he sees in order to participate in the observational program of the larger community.

Figure 8.  Computer generated views of Mars as seen from Earth, March-June 1856.  The north pole is shown at the top; the order represents direction of Mars' orbital motion.  (I should like to thank Guy Ottewell of The Astronomical Workshop at Furman University for generating these drawings.)

Huggins' first descriptive entries from the summer of 1856 are written in his notebook slightly out of sequence, enhancing the suspicion that these early entries were inscribed at some later time from selected notes made at the actual time of observation.  There is a two-month lapse in the record which is broken by a note concerning a lunar eclipse on 13 October complete with an illustration of the eclipsed moon artfully drawn in colored pencil.  These opportunistic observations take advantage of oppositions of planets, comet apparitions, occultations and eclipses.  The records are brief and sporadic for someone whose public image later in life was that of an observer consumed by his work.  They fill only the first quarter of his first notebook.74  Not having found his own personal research agenda at this embryonic stage in his career, Huggins was content to be a contributor to the collection of data by a large group of fellow amateurs on a wide variety of subjects.75

Developing a Sense of Research Agenda

In 1858, William Huggins became an annual member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.76  Lists of members in the annual reports indicate that he was an annual member until the early 1870s when he became a lifetime subscriber.  Perhaps membership in the BAAS and attendance at its annual meetings helped to satisfy his growing interest in astronomy while allowing him to keep abreast of what was going on more generally in physiology and to meet others with similar interests.

It is at this point that it is well to mention Huggins' acquaintance with the Reverend William Rutter Dawes of Haddenham (1799-1868).  Dawes, an avid amateur astronomer best known for his careful observations of double stars, was a quarter century older than Huggins.  Like Huggins, Dawes professed a childhood interest in astronomy which he had satisfied with a small telescope.  And, like Huggins, Dawes obtained an improved telescope, built an observatory and began more serious observation when he was about thirty years of age.77

There is no information to indicate when the two men met for the first time. Dawes' name is not mentioned in Huggins' notebook until 24 November 1859.  But Dawes was a prominent Fellow in the RAS and would have been known to Huggins.  He had been awarded the Society's Gold Medal in 1855.  This medal presentation would have been the first Huggins was eligible to witness as a Fellow. The Astronomer Royal, George Airy, in his role as President of the RAS, gave an embarrassingly brief speech (later referred to as the "model of terseness and brevity"78) drawing attention to Dawes' monumental catalogue of double stars, his simultaneous discovery of the dusky, or so-called crape ring of Saturn with William Cranch Bond of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his participation in a voyage to Sweden to view the total solar eclipse in 1851.79  It is possible, then, that Huggins and Dawes were acquainted well before Huggins' first BAAS meeting at Leeds in the fall of 1858.  Even if they did not know each other personally before the Leeds meeting, they probably did by its conclusion for it was around this time that Huggins sold his 5-inch Dolland telescope and purchased from Dawes an 8-inch objective made by Alvan Clark of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dawes' interest in double stars had led him to seek object glasses with superior resolving power.  He had become impressed with those made by Clark and had purchased a number of them.80  Dawes agreed to sell Huggins his own Clark 8-inch glass at cost for £200.  The two men likely negotiated the sale at the Leeds meeting of the BAAS in September 1858.  Following this transaction, Huggins' notebook entries provide evidence of Dawes' influence on Huggins' selection of subjects to observe, his method of observation, and his overall sense of purpose in his astronomical observations.

On 22 October, for example, shortly after the BAAS meeting, Huggins recorded a visit of his neighbors, the Clissolds, to see the moon.  Huggins also showed them g Andromedae, or Almach, a binary star.  Almach consists of a brighter yellow star with a bluish-green companion and is easily resolved even in small telescopes.  Consequently, it has always been a popular target for novices, comparable to b Cygni (Albireo).  Nevertheless, Huggins' choice of this object as a showpiece for his neighbors hints strongly of Dawes' influence.  First, previous to this entry, Huggins had not recorded any observations of binaries, while Dawes had expended considerable effort in studying them by that time.  And, second, reading Huggins' notebook entry further, we discover that his aim on this particular evening was to observe something far more challenging.  The small blue companion star in this pair had recently been observed by Otto Struve (1842) to be a close double.  In 1858, these two components were near their greatest angular separation of 0.55 arcseconds, a separation which is just at the resolution limits of an 8-inch telescope.81  Huggins' old 5-inch Dollond would have been incapable of resolving the close pair, and yet he wrote, "the components of B [the small blue companion in g Andromedae] were beautifully defined & separated."  He continued, "I fully believe, if the atmosphere had not prevented it, that I should have had most excellent definition of the stars, such is the perfection of the image formed by the object glass."82  I believe that we can assume he is speaking here of Dawes' 8-inch Alvan Clark objective.

Beginning in October 1858, there is a noticeable change in the form and substance of Huggins' notebook entries suggestive of Dawes' influence.  Here, for the first time, Huggins recorded an extended sequence of regular observations. Between October 1858 and July 1860, with few exceptions, there is at least one notebook entry every month.  These entries, in contrast to those made earlier, demonstrate an interest in recording subtle changes observed in a single object over time.  From 2 November 1858 through 10 February 1859, a period when Jupiter was favorably placed in the sky, Huggins devoted his attention to observing changes in its surface.

The previous year, numerous drawings of Jupiter had been published in the Monthly Notices, so Huggins' interest in contributing to this effort is not surprising. Many of those drawings were submitted by William Dawes.  Each of Huggins' 13 observations of Jupiter during this period is accompanied by a drawing.  A number of these drawings have been carefully excised from the notebook in order to be submitted to the RAS.

As Saturn moved into view in mid-February 1859, Huggins began making similar repetitive observations of that planet and its satellites.  His observations of Jupiter and, especially, of Saturn continued with great regularity through May 1860. On one occasion during this period, Huggins' notebook entry indicates that the observation was prompted by information received from Dawes.84  It could be claimed that simply acquiring the new instrument was responsible for this increase in the rigor and sophistication of Huggins' observations.  But while the new instrument may have made such a shift possible, it could not insure the realization of such action.  Huggins' entries before October 1858 are those of a novice anxious to observe whatever the heavens might display hoping that his record, when combined with those of numerous others, might contribute to some increase in astronomical knowledge.  Like many others new to astronomical work at this time, Huggins needed guidance and encouragement in order to transcend the opportunism of his initial observational pattern and learn how to operate within a research agenda.  His notebook entries point to Dawes as his likely mentor and model during this transition.

Huggins' notebook entries provide evidence that he and Dawes corresponded with one another until Dawes' death in February 1868.85  These letters, if they exist, have not yet been uncovered by me.  In fact, only a handful of letters written by William Huggins has come to light from this early phase of his astronomical career and all deal strictly with administrative matters relating to his fellowship in the RAS.  The first correspondence which reveals something of Huggins' research interests, or level of expertise does not appear until the mid-1860s by which time he had achieved some degree of notoriety in the community.  Thus the few clues to Huggins' metamorphosis from a true novice to a confident, self-directed amateur are provided by his often cryptic notebook jottings and his brief contributions to the RAS's Monthly Notices.  While there is no doubt that William Huggins derived considerable support for his early observational efforts from his contacts within the RAS, his early notebook entries suggest that William Dawes played a significant role in the development of a sense of commitment and rigor in Huggins' observational program.

In this phase of his astronomical career Huggins was not observing to answer questions of his own.  Nor are there signs that his observational program was driven by an unrelenting and urgent desire to serve as an interpreter of Nature.  Instead, he was content to act as Nature's witness and interlocutor -- albeit one of increasingly selective interests.  There is no record, for example, that he observed the annular solar eclipse in March 1858 which was noted by other amateur observers in England.86  Of the comet discovered in 1858 by Donati and which captured the public imagination with its graceful sweeping tail, Huggins wrote simply, "Before leaving for Leeds ... several times examined the nucleus of comet.  With a low power it presented a planetary disk, but with a power of 700 it merely appeared a nebulous haze with a central condensation."87  In spite of the fact that this comet remained visible to the naked eye for 112 days,88 and that Huggins' notebook indicates he made several observations during that period, he chose to focus his attention on describing changes in Jupiter's surface features.

Huggins' growing selectivity can be viewed as indicative of a shift from a totally opportunistic observational program toward a more purposeful agenda.89  With this in mind, we see that there is as much to be learned from what he chose to ignore as from what he opted to observe.  For Huggins, it seems that noting changes on Jupiter's surface had compelling relevance -- it was a task only those with sufficiently fine instrumentation and experience could undertake.  The comet, meanwhile, was just one more fuzzy little object which even the man on the street could see without instrumental assistance.  Subjecting the comet to telescopic scrutiny revealed no additional information.

William Huggins, a businessman with little formal education but an interest in a range of scientific matters, sold the family business at the age of thirty and moved to a suburban location which afforded him both the leisure time and the darkened skies necessary to begin a program of astronomical observation.  His notebook entries and published notices reveal an opportunistic research agenda common to most casual amateurs.  But it was an agenda that took on an increasingly focussed, though somewhat eclectic, character in consequence of his association with expert amateurs in the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Association.  By 1860, following his acquisition of a new and more powerful telescope and adept guidance from the more experienced William Rutter Dawes, Huggins had reached something of an intermediate stage in the development of his emerging identity as a serious observer.

At the same time, his observing choices indicate an appreciation of the value of diversification as a way to remain free of onerous constraints on method and problem selection.  He wished to remain his own man, a desire born, no doubt, from his experience in the business world.  This independence of mind and action served him well throughout his career, particularly in the next phase, when, as the next chapter will reveal, William Huggins embarked upon a new observational program fraught with substantial risk and promise, namely the application of spectrum analysis to the light of stars and nebulae.

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1. George E. Hale, "The Work of Sir William Huggins," The Astrophysical Journal 37 (1913):  145-53; 148.  See also, [F. W. Dyson], "Sir William Huggins," Proceedings of the Royal Society 86A (1910):  i-xix; T. J. J. See, "Tribute to the Memory of Sir William Huggins," Popular Astronomy 18 (1910):  387-401; "Sir William Huggins," London Times (13 May 1910); [Richard A. Gregory], "Sir William Huggins," Nature 83 (1910):  342-3; [H. F. Newall], "William Huggins," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 71 (1911):  261-70; H. F. Newall, "Sir William Huggins," Science Progress 5 (1910):  173-90; W. W. Campbell, "Sir William Huggins," Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution (1910):  307-17.

2. [Dyson], v and x; See, 391-2.

3. John Lankford, "Amateurs and Astrophysics:  A Neglected Aspect in the Development of a Scientific Specialty," Social Studies of Science 11 (1981):  275-303; 277.

4. Christening of William, son of William Thomas and Lucy Huggins (b. 7 February 1824) recorded by Samuel Nichols on 24 August 1824, Register Book, Pinners Hall Meeting, RG4 4226, London 17.  I should like to thank Mr. Phillip B. Dunn of the Genealogical Library, Salt Lake City, for making this document available to me.

5. For a list of neighboring businesses, see "Gracechurch Street," Street Directory, Post Office London Directory 1853 (Frederic Kelly:  London, 1853): 285-6.

6. The year William Huggins was born, a law was passed which lifted the prohibition against importing wrought silk creating serious economic hardships for English textile workers, but making a wide range of continental silks available for sale in Britain.  See Gail Malmgreen, Silk Town:  Industry and Culture in Macclesfield, 1750-1835 (Hull University Press:  Hull, 1985):  57-8.

7. Charles E. Mills and C. F. Brooke, A Sketch of the Life of William Huggins (Times Printing Works:  Richmond, 1936):  7.

8. For some examples of simple electrical machines, see Silvanus P. Thompson, Elementary Lessons in Electricity and Magnetism (Macmillan Company:  New York, 1915):  44-8.

9. 1841 Census Return for 97 Gracechurch St., London, St. Peter-upon-Cornhill Parish, HO 107/723/f.8.

10. See "Drapers, Hosiers, Silk Mercers, etc.," in Life and Labour of the People in London:  Population Classified by Trades, Vol. VII, Charles Booth, ed., (Macmillan and Co.:  London, 1896):  67-87.  This information is based on conditions at the turn of the century so conditions in Huggins' shop at mid-century could have been somewhat different.

11. Booth, Life and Labour, 77.

12. "Table of Census Information for Drapers, Hosiers, Silk Mercers &c.," in Booth, Life and Labour, 66 and page facing.  It is worth noting that in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, different individuals are named as live-in employees in the Hugginses' shop.

13. See Trevor May, An Economic and Social History of Britain:  1760-1970 (Longman Inc.:  New York, 1987):  136-45; Harold Perkin, The Origins of Modern English Society:  1780-1880 (Routledge & Kegan Paul:  London, 1969):  290-308; J. F. C. Harrison, The Early Victorians:  1832-1851 (Praeger Publishers:  New York, 1971):  136-8.

14. See J. W. Ashley Smith, The Birth of Modern Education:  The Contribution of the Dissenting Academies, 1660-1800 (Independent Press Ltd.:  London, 1954):  246-65.

15. The Hugginses' religious leanings can be inferred from the fact that William was baptized at the Pinners Hall Independent Meeting House on Broad Street.  (See, Register Book, Pinners Hall Meeting, RG4 4226, London 17.)  Mills and Brooke tell us that young William and his parents were members of a local Congregational Church, although as an adult, William's wife, Margaret described him as a "Christian unattached."  (See, Mills and Brooke, 12.)

16. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 8.

17. See Ian Inkster and Jack Morrell, Metropolis and Province:  Science in British Culture, 1780-1850 (Hutchinson:  London, 1983):  98 and 110; Robert H. Kargon, Science in Victorian Manchester:  Enterprise and Expertise (Manchester University Press:  Manchester, 1977):  38-9.

18. Charles Darwin claimed that his early interest in scientific studies was thwarted during his schooldays at Shrewsbury.  In his autobiography, Darwin complained, "Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught except a little ancient geography and history.  The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank."  Nora Barlow, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin:  1809-1882 (W. W. Norton & Co.:  New York, 1958):  27.

19. John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address, Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st 1867 (Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer:  London, 1867):  6.

20. See news articles on the opening of the City of London School in the London Times, February 3 (3f) and 4 (6e), 1837.

21. Mills and Brooke, for example, state that he left the next year after a bout with smallpox, while Dyson reports that he remained there until December 1843. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 8-9; [Dyson], "William Huggins," i.

22. I should like to thank Mr. William F. Hallett of the City of London School for taking the time to answer my many questions about the early years of the school, and for sending me the valuable information from which I have drawn my description of William Huggins' formal education there.  Following Margaret Huggins' death, the sum of £2000 was bequeathed to the City of London School in her husband's name to pursue the study of astronomy at the University of Cambridge.

23. A. E. Douglas-Smith, The City of London School, 2nd ed. (Blackwell: Oxford, 1965):  82-3.

24. Ibid.  It is conjectured that these demonstrations may have been the first of their kind performed in any English school, the first chemical laboratory in England having been built only ten years earlier at University College.

25. J. F. C. Harrison, Early Victorians, 138.

26. See David Wardle, English Popular Education:  1780-1975 (Cambridge University Press:  Cambridge, 1976):  118-9.

27. Unless, of course, one counts Huggins' verbal reference to Mr. Edkins, his mathematics master at the City of London School.

28. May, Economic and Social History, 84-5.  May points out that while Oxford excluded all but Anglicans from entering the university, Cambridge allowed those not affiliated with the Church of England to enter, but prohibited them from taking degrees until membership in the Church was established.

29. 1851 Census Return for 97 Gracechurch St., London, St. Peter-upon-Cornhill Parish, HO 107/1531/1.

30. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 13.

31. Samuel Smiles Self-Help (Belford, Clarke & Co.:  Chicago, 1884).  While Smiles' message struck a particularly responsive chord among the workingclass, entrepreneurs also found it appealing.  See Asa Briggs, "Samuel Smiles and the Gospel of Work," in idem., Victorian People:  A Reassessment of Persons and Themes 1851-67 (University of Chicago Press:  Chicago, 1973):  116-39; 131-3.

32. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 11.

33. See "Preface," The Transactions of the Royal Microscopical Society of London 1 (1844):  v-vi; and David Elliston Allen, The Naturalist in Britain:  A Social History (Allen Lane:  London, 1976):  128.

34. Huggins was certainly not alone in his interest in microscopy.  To assist the growing ranks of amateur microscopists in mastering the available apparatus and preparing specimens for observation, the prominent physiologist William Benjamin Carpenter wrote a handbook which he hoped would be of "special interest to the amateur Microscopist."  By 1875, it was in its fifth edition.  See, W. B. Carpenter, The Microscope and its Revelations (Lindsay & Blakiston:  Philadelphia, 1876), vii.

35. "Preface," The Transactions of the Royal Microscopical Society of London 1 (1844):  v-vi.

36. His father, Thomas De La Rue, had founded a stationery printing firm on Bunhill Row.  See History of the Royal Astronomical Society, J. L. E. Dreyer and H. H. Turner, eds. (Blackwell Scientific Publications:  Palo Alto, 1987):  154.  He wrote an article describing his microscopical examination of butterfly markings. Warren De La Rue, "On the Markings on the Scales of Amathusia Horsfieldii," The Transactions of the Royal Microscopical Society of London 1 (1844):  36-40.

37. William Huggins, "The New Astronomy:  A Personal Retrospect," The Nineteenth Century 41 (1897):  907-29; 910.

38. Research in the life sciences during the nineteenth century focussed on problems of reproduction, growth, development, as well as life functions such as respiration, fermentation, and metabolism.  See, for example, William R. Coleman, Biology in the Nineteenth Century:  Problems of Form, Function and Transformation (Wiley:  New York, 1971).

39. Joseph Lister announced his method of disinfecting wounds in 1865 and Louis Pasteur's famous S-shaped flask experiments were conducted in 1861. Lister's work may have been mentioned in Huggins' 1897 account because he was one of Huggins' contemporaries (1827-1912) and had been honored at the Queen's Jubilee in 1897 with an elevation to the peerage.  Huggins was honored with a knighthood that same year.

40. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 18-9.

41. William Huggins, "Note on the Prismatic Examination of Microscopic Objects," The Transactions of the Royal Microscopical Society of London 13 New Series (1865):  85-7.

42. In regard to Huggins' purchase of a telescope, Mills and Brooke state that, "This was not so momentous an occasion in his life as might at first be thought, since he was prevented by his surroundings from making the best use of the instrument.  In fact, it was only by standing upon the roof among the smoky chimneys of the City, or by lying prone on the floor of a room below with the telescope pointed out of the window, that he could make observations with it."  See Mills and Brooke, 11.

43. Charles Dickens is reputed to have enjoyed watching the coaches come and go from Robert Fagg's busy coach office while sitting across the street at the Spread Eagle Inn (located just a few doors down from the Huggins' shop).  Perhaps young William had more terrestrial interests to motivate his telescopic observations as well.  See, "Gracechurch Street," The London Encyclopedia, Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, eds. (Macmillan:  London, 1983):  319.

44. Meteor showers such as this were indeed awe-inspiring.  While ten to fifty meteors, or "shooting stars," can be observed during the course of an hour at the height of this particular shower every year in mid-November, on several occasions, at approximately thirty-three year intervals, their numbers have been estimated in the tens of thousands per hour!  In Europe, the meteor shower of 1832 was one such event.  See, Robert J. Burnham, Jr., Burnham's Celestial Handbook:  An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System, Volume 2 (Dover:  New York, 1978):  1064; Ken Croswell, "Will the Lion Roar Again?" Astronomy 19 (November, 1991):  44-9.

45. This event was likely clouded out in England as no mention is made of it in the popular press.  However, reports of the terror experienced in parts of France where "innumerable quantities of vivid sparks" filled the otherwise clear and calm night skies for two hours reached England a few weeks later.  See, "Shower of Fire," London Times 19 December 1832 (3c).

46. According to the London Times, "[s]o anxious were many to gain an entrance, that it was necessary to call in the aid of the police to save the gates from being actually borne down by the rush of united hundreds, and a few mathematical ladies were more clamorous than the men."  Fortunately, the crowd was appeased by the presence of some amateur astronomers who had set up their own telescopes in the vicinity.  See "The Great Annular Eclipse," London Times 16 May 1836 (3b).

47. "The Great Comet of 1843 Seen in Paris on 19 March 1843," lithograph reproduced in Roberta J. M. Olson, Fire and Ice:  A History of Comets in Art (Walker & Co.:  New York, 1985):  90.

48. Robert Grant, History of Physical Astronomy [originally published in 1852] (Johnson Reprint Corporation:  New York, 1966):  306.

49. Almost daily reports on the appearance of this comet were published in the London Times in late March 1843.  See the reports of John F. W. Herschel, James South and others:  21 March (5c), 22 March (5f), 23 March (6b), 24 March (6c), 25 March (7a), 27 March (6e), and 30 March (6e).

50. Huggins was elected to Fellowship in the RAS on 12 April 1854.  See, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 14 (1854):  173.

51. See Harry Woolf's introduction to the facsimile edition of Grant's book, ix-xi.

52. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 18.

53. President's Address on Presenting the Gold Medal to Mr. De La Rue," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 22 (1862)  131-40; 135. [E.B. Knobel], "Warren De La Rue," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 50 (1890):  155-64.  It is interesting to note in this context that there is nowhere in any account of William Huggins' life, any reference to the Great Exhibition of 1851.

54. Warren De La Rue, "Report on the present state of Celestial Photography in England," Report of the British Association (Aberdeen, 1859):  130-53; 132. William Huggins' interest in celestial photography was short-lived, however.  While he seems to have taken some photographs of stellar spectra in 1862-3 with his friend and neighbor, the chemist William Allen Miller, there is no mention of any photographic work in Huggins' notebooks until after he began a new program of research with his wife as his collaborative partner in 1876.  This will be discussed in chapter 4.

55. Mills and Brooke, Sketch of the Life, 19.

56. I have selected silk mercers because that was how William Thomas Huggins identified himself in the postal directories, although he referred to himself as a linen draper in the censuses.  In practical terms there was little difference in the two professions and how one listed oneself may have had more to do with the clientele one wished to attract than the actual work that was done.

57. See Alison Adburghan, "Shops and Shopping 1800-1914," in Victorian Britain:  An Encyclopedia, Sally Mitchell, ed. (Garland Publishing, Inc.:  New York, 1988):  720.

58. Kelly's Post Office London Directory (1859), Street Directory, 358.

59. The date is uncertain.  Mills and Brooke say that they moved in 1854, but there is a letter from William Huggins to the Royal Astronomical Society dated 2 November 1854, which he wrote while still living at 97 Gracechurch Street.

60. On a visit to Upper Tulse Hill Road, I discovered that the house Huggins lived and worked in no longer exists.  In response to my inquiry about the property, Miss Hazel Butterfield of HM Land Registry informed me that it was "purchased in about 1945 by the London County Council.  In the early 1970s the whole area was demolished and extensively redeveloped."  (Miss Hazel Butterfield to the author, 9 April 1991.)  This information coupled with my own assessment of the situation following my visit suggest that the area sustained localized, but severe, damage during World War II.

61. Edward Leigh's name appears on the title page of Huggins' first Observatory notebook.  He is also listed in Kelly's 1859 Postal Directory as a carpenter, living on New Park Road in Brixton Hill.

62. William Huggins, "Description of an Observatory erected at Upper Tulse Hill," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 16 (1856):  175-6.

63. Extract of Edition 1894-6, London Sheet XI.84, HM Land Registry.  I should like to thank Miss Hazel Butterfield of HM Land Registry Office for making this document available to me.

64. William and Margaret Huggins, An Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra from l4870 to l3300 (William Wesley and Son:  London, 1899):  23.

65. This phrase is likely taken from Genesis 15:5.  The full text of this verse as found in the King James' translation reads, "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them."  The translation given here has been kindly provided by Devora Kamrat Lang.

66. According to Sarah F. Whiting's translation, this reads, "Phenomena which William Huggins [F.R.A.S.] observes with his own telescope."  This is followed by the motto of the Royal Astronomical Society:  "Whatever shines is to be noted." Then, "This glass for exploring the sky was designed and made by him in 1856" and the name of the builder, Edward Leigh.  This might also be translated, "Phenomena which William Huggins observed out of his telescope ... This telescope designed and made for the most useful exploration of the heavens.  William Huggins.  1856."  This second and more literal translation, while ostensibly the same as Whiting's, removes the erroneous impression that Huggins made the telescope he used, something Huggins probably never intended.

The final line in Greek is taken from I Corinthians 15:41 and reads, "One star differeth from another [star] in glory."  Whiting's translations are taken from Sarah Frances Whiting, "The Tulse Hill Observatory Diaries," Popular Astronomy 25 (1917):  158-63.

67. In English at the top of the inside front page, is written:  "Ye are a beauty and a mystery."  Sarah Whiting has provided translations of the German and Italian verse, but here she has both used some poetic license and has, perhaps inadvertently, switched the two.  Reversing them, but holding to Whiting's translation, the German verse should read:  "Stars always shine everywhere, giving their light to all, but to those who keep vigils with them they impart their secrets." And, the Italian:  "Star jewels tinted in blue and green, in yellow and vermillion, in the vivid red of porphyry!  What marvelous variety of light must they impart to the planets which circle around them."  See Whiting, "Diaries," 159.

68. There was an opposition of Mars in April 1856.  Since Mars moves so quickly from favorable viewing after opposition, it is likely that by the time he resumed his observations at the end of July that it was too small to observe any features clearly.

69. William Huggins, "Note accompanying Drawings of Jupiter, Mars, &c.," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 17 (1857):  23.

70. Rev. T. W. Webb, "Note on the Telescopic Appearance of the Planet Mars," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 16 (1856):  188; Frederick Brodie, "Note on the Telescopic Appearance of Mars," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 16 (1856):  204-5.

71. Both Webb and the French astronomer, Camille Flammarion drew attention to the similarity of Webb's sketch to one drawn in 1666 by the Italian observer, Jean Dominique Cassini.  For comparison of the two drawings, see Camille Flammarion, La Planete Mars et ses Conditions D'Habitabilité (Gauthier-Villars et Fils:  Paris, 1892):  20 and 130.

72. The International Cyclopaedia:  A Compendium of Human Knowledge, XIV, H. T. Peck, ed., (Dood, Mead & Company:  New York, 1898): plate inserted between pages 84 and 85.

73. Grant, History of Physical Astronomy, 236-7.

74. Weather will always interfere with the plans of even the most intrepid observer, but it cannot explain all of the gaps in this record.  The remainder of this notebook has been filled with entries made by his wife, Margaret Huggins, in March 1889.  They are a direct continuation of her entries in what is called Notebook 2 in the Wellesley collection.

75. His notes published in the Monthly Notices are similar in tone, quantity of information and descriptive embellishment to those submitted by other amateurs. This style is mirrored in his notebook entries which contain brief descriptions of precisely what he saw in each instance accompanied by small diagrams and occasional references to others' work on the same topic.

76. "List of Members," Report of the British Association (Leeds, 1858).

77. "The Rev. William Rutter Dawes," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 29 (1869):  116-20.

78. Dreyer, Turner et al., History of the RAS, 123.

79. George B. Airy, "Address of the President on Presenting the Gold Medal," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 15 (1855):  148.  The name of this dark ring of Saturn is spelled either "crape" or "crepe."  The former spelling was used by Huggins' contemporaries, and so is used here.

80. For a brief discussion of Dawes' efforts in comparing the quality of objective lenses, see "The President, referring to the excellent opportunities...," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 25 (1865):  230-1.

81. I have determined this using 4500Å to approximate the wavelength of incoming light from these stars and then applying the formula for determining the resolving power of a telescope (separation of objects in arcseconds = 3.72 ÷ diameter of objective lens in inches).  It should be noted that it is only because of the short wavelength of the light emitted by these stars that an 8-inch telescope was able to resolve them.

82. William Huggins, 22 October 1858, Notebook 1.

83. These original drawings of Jupiter by William Huggins are held in the Royal Astronomical Society's collection.  See Royal Astronomical Society MSS Add. 18. 11-2 and 19-24.  They were presented to the Society at the meeting held on 14 April 1871.  See Astronomical Register 9 (1871):  107-9.

84. William Huggins, 16 April 1860, Notebook 1.

85. Apparently Huggins' close association with Dawes on astronomical matters was noted by Dawes's survivors.  In a letter to the Reverend Thomas Romney Robinson, Huggins remarked, "Mr. Dawes's nephew & executor has most kindly presented me with Mr. Dawes' observatory journals."  See, William Huggins to Thomas Romney Robinson, 23 January 1869, Stokes papers, Add MS 7656.TR75, University of Cambridge Library.  Dawes' observatory notebooks are now held in the library of the Royal Astronomical Society.

86. See the numerous individual reports of this annular solar eclipse, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 18 (1858):  181-213.

87. See William Huggins, October 1858, Notebook 1.  For artists' renderings of this impressive comet, see Olson, 99-100.

88. See the numerous individual reports of this comet, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 19 (1858):  12-28.

89. I am assuming here that Huggins' notebook entries, while possibly incomplete, are nonetheless broadly representative of his observational interests during this period.


  • Chapter 1

William Huggins' Early Astronomical Career

  • Chapter 2—

Unlocking the "Unknown Mystery of the True Nature of the Heavenly Bodies"

The Astronomical Agenda:  1830-1870

"A sudden impulse..."

Reception of Spectrum Analysis Applied to the Stars

  • Chapter 3—

Moving in the Inner Circle

Cultivating Advantageous Alliances; Opportunism and Eclecticism

Opportunism and Eclecticism (continued)

Achieving "A mark of approval and confidence"

  • Chapter 4—

Margaret Huggins: The myth of the "Able Assistant"

The Solitary Observer

Celestial Photography

Diversity and Controversy: Defining the Boundaries of Acceptable Research

  • Chapter 6—

Solar Observations at Tulse Hill

The Red Flames

The Eclipse Expedition to Oran

Photographing the Corona Without an Eclipse

The Bakerian Lecture