James Bradley - Miscellaneous works and correspondence

Stephen Peter Rigaud (1774-1839), was Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University from 1810 to his death in 1839, and also worked at the Radcliffe Observatory from 1827. He edited Miscellaneous works and correspondence of the Rev James Bradley, D.D. F.R.S. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1832). Below we give a version of Rigaud's Preface to this work:


Dr Bradley's Manuscripts were given by his son-in-law, the Rev Samuel Peach, to Lord North, who presented them to the University of Oxford, of which he was then Chancellor: they were placed in the hands of Dr Hornsby, Savilian Professor of Astronomy, with a view to publication; and the observations made with the new instruments at Greenwich, from 1750 to 1762, were printed at the University Press. The original books, containing these and the other Greenwich observations, were then deposited in the Bodleian Library, with a small number of loose papers (in one of them) from which some additions had been made to the original publication. Repeated inquiries have of late years been made for Bradley's other remains; but no traces of them could be found, until by a combination of fortunate circumstances it was discovered that very many were still extant among Dr Hornsby's own papers. A representation of the fact having been made to his family, they were readily restored to the University; and as I had been the means of recovering them, they were in the summer of 1829 placed in my hands, with a request that I would prepare for the press whatever might be found fit for publication.

The task was not easy. The papers were in great confusion; and it was necessary to look repeatedly through the whole before even a general arrangement of them could be made. A more minute examination required further time: sometimes, a whole book full of calculations afforded little for the object in view; and at others, a memorandum on a scrap of paper, or on the back of a letter, conveyed information, which was not to be found elsewhere. It was necessary to look to every thing; and after a second and a third revision, there was more than one instance in which I had the mortification of discovering some previous oversights. This was more particularly the case in collecting the Miscellaneous Observations, which are printed p. 339-380. These were found, some in books, others on loose paper, sometimes interspersed among other entries, and sometimes, when not mixed up with different matter, disjointed from their chronological order. The printed sheets were always carefully corrected by the originals; but even after the short interval from the copy's being set up at the press, it has often required an effort of recollection, to recover the place from whence a particular observation was transcribed. This perplexity, it is hoped, will be deemed a sufficient excuse for the few which are printed out of their regular places at p. 380.

It was soon seen that the Kew and Wansted observations would be incomplete without the accounts that Bradley had himself printed of the discoveries which they enabled him to make. A similar difficulty, though not so strong, occurred, with respect to other papers; and as Bradley's works had never been collected, I thought it desirable to take this opportunity of bringing together as much as possible from what could be found of his writing, either in print or manuscript. What had been previously published was so little, that some time elapsed before I could satisfy myself that there was not more than I had been able to meet with; and after a careful search for any new matter which might be added to that which had now been found, I met with no success but at Greenwich, where, from Bradley's handwriting being familiar to me, I was able to discover some books and papers which were not noticed as his in the Catalogues. For the readiest and most effectual assistance in this search, and for much information relative to the Observatory, I am indebted to Mr Taylor, who has now been connected with the establishment for nearly five and twenty years. The Astronomer Royal gave me the free use of all that I found; and, although it was not considerable in bulk, it supplied me with several valuable particulars.

Among Harriot's papers there were known to be observations of Halley's comet when it appeared in 1607; and through the Rev T Sockett, Rector of Petworth, I applied to the Earl of Egremont for permission to examine them. His Lordship was kind enough, not only to intrust me with the originals, but to allow me to make use of any part that I might wish to publish; and I thought that the Appendix, which will be found at p. 511, would be a valuable and appropriate addition to Bradley's observations of the same comet in 1759.

In the examination of Bradley's papers many notices occurred of what was either entirely new, or only imperfectly known; there were several particulars likewise connected with them, which were passing fast into oblivion. It is probable that no one, for a long time, will again undertake to look through them so minutely as it was incumbent on me to do, in the discharge of the duty that I had undertaken; and I felt unwilling to leave any call on others to spend their time on what had already occupied so much of mine. Now many of these notices were of such a nature, that, if introduced into the body of the publication, they would have required many notes of explanation sometimes longer than themselves. Again, it was repeatedly found that papers, the whole of which did not require to be printed, admitted of extracts being made from them that were well worth preserving. These were all connected more or less with Bradley's studies and pursuits and they threw new light on the objects which engaged his attention. It appeared, therefore, that they could be presented to the world in no way, which would make them more clear or more useful, than if they were connected with a narrative of his progress through life. It was impossible, likewise, not to feel a deep interest about such a man, when I was in the daily habit of studying his works, and of being brought, as it were, so much nearer to him, by having them as they came immediately from his own hand. All this naturally led to an inquiry into his personal history; and it was found that there was hardly any thing generally known of it but what was contained in a few pages of the Supplement to the Biographical Dictionary, (Vol 8, 1767), and in the Eloge, which was pronounced on him by De Fouchy, before the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, in 1762: but these were evidently both drawn up from the communications of those, who were personally acquainted with him.

Seventy years have nearly elapsed since the death of Bradley, and the generation of those who knew him has passed away; some little, however, might be expected to remain in traditionary remembrance. The rapid course of time would soon have swept away that little, and have impaired some of the means, which are still in our power, for understanding what may exist in written documents. It seemed desirable, therefore, to try what might yet be collected; and though it proved to be far short of what could be wished, I indulge the hope of its being authentic and accurate. I have in every instance in my power derived my information from original authorities, and have done my best to verify the facts and dates which are taken from printed accounts: wherever I thought any thing was to be learned, I did not hesitate in making inquiries; and they were uniformly met with a kindness and liberality which claim my warmest acknowledgments.

There are many to whom the expression of my thanks for their assistance will be more suitable, if offered individually; but there are others whose names I ought not to suppress, not only because in some instances my sole pretensions for addressing them were on public grounds, but because in others it will give authority to my statements, when the sources are known from which they are derived. To the Rev Daniel Lysons, who passed much of his earlier life in the closest intimacy with his uncle Mr Peach, who married Dr Bradley's daughter, I am indebted for an account-book of Mr Pound, from which several interesting particulars were collected: and the communications which I received from him and Rich. Best, Esq. of Greenwich, were of the greatest service in tracing out Dr Bradley's family and connections.

To J Shephard, Esq. the Bishop of London's Registrar, I am indebted for the particulars of Bradley's ordination as deacon. Archbishop Wake's papers are preserved in the library at Christ Church, and by the permission of the Dean and Canons the extracts were made from them respecting the election to the Savilian Professorship of Astronomy.

The Rev E Bowlby, of Ilford, gave me his assistance in searching for the house in which Mrs Pound resided after her husband's death; and the Rev W Gilly, Rector of Wansted, so zealously cooperated in this inquiry, that at his request the Hon Mrs Rushout was induced to take the trouble of examining her title-deeds, to ascertain the limits of Mr Wymondesold's property.

To the Earl of Macclesfield my acknowledgments are most especially due: for he not only admitted my repeated applications to him, but gave me all the information in his power, and allowed me freely to make use of the manuscripts in his valuable library. To Dr Brewster I am indebted for taking the trouble of inquiring for me into a fact, which I might otherwise have had considerable difficulty in verifying. Wishing to refer, as far as I was able, in every instance to those who were best acquainted with the subject, I communicated with Capt Kater on the pendulum experiments, and with Sir J Herschell on the early observations of Castor and gamma Virginis. I have to offer my thanks to them for their attention, as well as to the Rev W Lax, who upon this occasion, as upon every other for a series of years, has proved to me the warmth and constancy of his friendship. But there is no one to whom I am so much indebted as to the Bishop of Cloyne - I add no epithet to the advice which he gave me - the name of Dr Brinkley is sufficient to suggest its value to all who have any knowledge of astronomy; but I must express my deep sense of the kindness with which that advice was given, and which increased while it endeavoured to lighten the obligation.

How far due advantage has been taken of such opportunities, it rests with others to decide. I will only observe, that the present publication is not one which was undertaken by choice, for which materials had been already collected, and the composition of which could be carried on at leisure: the task came upon me most unexpectedly, and there were many reasons which militated against delay in the execution of it. I could therefore only build on an imperfect stock of previous information, add what could be learned as I went on, and reduce the whole into the best order that was practicable, during the occasional intervals of other occupations, which had the first claim on my time and thoughts.

These circumstances will account for my duties as editor not having been in some respects more completely executed. I could have wished, likewise, to have reduced the observations, and ascertained their particular results before they went out to the world: but if I had attempted this additional object, the publication must have been deferred to a much later period. I determined, therefore, not to indulge my own gratification at the expense of public expectation; but to satisfy myself with executing what was most useful. I may be contented with having reclaimed and prepared the ground, and I must not impede others who would join in the cultivation of it.

S P Rigaud. Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, Nov. 29, 1831.

Last Updated November 2018