Maria Mitchell visits Europe

Maria Mitchell writes about many things in her letters and diary. We give a few extracts below relating to her trip to Europe from August 1857 to June 1858, in particular those in which she describes meeting George Airy, William Whewell, John Couch Adams, John Herschel, Urbain Le Verrier, and Mary Somerville.

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Maria Mitchell meets George Airy

Maria Mitchell meets William Whewell and John Couch Adams

Maria Mitchell meets John Herschel

Maria Mitchell talks about Adams and meets Urbain Le Verrier

Maria Mitchell meets Mary Somerville

Extracts from Maria Mitchell's writings

1. Maria Mitchell meets George Airy
At Greenwich Observatory Mr Airy was exceedingly kind to me, and seemed to take great interest in showing me around. He appeared much gratified by my interest in the history of the observatory. He is naturally a despot, and his position increases this tendency. Sitting in his chair, the zero-point of longitude for the world, he commands not only the little knot of observers and computers around him, but when he says to London, 'It is one o'clock,' London adopts that time, and her ships start for their voyages around the globe, and continue to count their time from that moment, wherever the English flag is borne.

It is singular what a quiet motive-power Science is, the breath of a nation's progress.

Mr Airy is not favourable to the multiplication of observatories. He predicted the failure of that at Albany. He says that he would gladly destroy one half of the meridian instruments of the world, by way of reform. I told him that my reform movement would be to bring together the astronomers who had no instruments and the instruments which had no astronomers.

Mr Airy is exceedingly systematic. In leading me by narrow passages and up steep staircases, from one room to another of the irregular collection of rooms, he was continually cautioning me about my footsteps, and in one place he seemed to have a kind of formula: 'Three steps at this place, ten at this, eleven at this, and three again.' So, in descending a ladder to the birth place of the galvanic currents, he said, 'Turn your back to the stairs, step down with the right foot, take hold with the right hand; reverse the operation in ascending; do not, on coming out, turn around at once, but step backwards one step first.'

Near the throne of the astronomical autocrat is another proof of his system, in a case of portfolios. These contain the daily bills, letters, and papers, as they come in and are answered in order. When a portfolio is full, the papers are removed and are sewed together. Each year's accumulation is bound, and the bound volumes of Mr Airy's time nearly cover one side of his private room.

Mr Airy replies to all kinds of letters, with two exceptions: those which ask for autographs, and those which request him to calculate nativities. Both of these are very frequent.

In the drawing-room Mr Airy is cheery; he loves to recite ballads and knows by heart a mass of verses, from 'A, Apple Pie,' to the 'Lady of the Lake.'

A lover of Nature and a close observer of her ways, as well in the forest walk as in the vault of heaven, Mr Airy has roamed among the beautiful scenery of the Lake region until he is as good a mountain guide as can be found. He has strolled beside Grasmere and ascended Helvellyn. He knows the height of the mountain peaks, the shingles that lie on their sides, the flowers that grow in the valleys, the mines beneath the surface.

At one time the Government Survey planted what is called a 'Man' on the top of one of the hills of the Lake region. In a dry season they built up a stone monument, right upon the bed of a little pond. The country people missed the little pond, which had seemed to them an eye of Nature reflecting heaven's blue light. They begged for the removal of the surveyor's pile, and Mr Airy at once changed the station.

The established observatories of England do not step out of their beaten path to make discoveries - these come from the amateurs. In this respect they differ from America and Germany. The amateurs of England do a great deal of work, they learn to know of what they and their instruments are capable, and it is done.

The library of Greenwich Observatory is large. The transactions of learned societies alone fill a small room; the whole impression of the thirty volumes of printed observations fills a wall of another room, and the unpublished papers of the early directors make of themselves a small manuscript library.
2. Maria Mitchell meets William Whewell and John Couch Adams
If any one wishes to know the customs of centuries ago in England, let him go to Cambridge.

Sitting at the window of the hotel, he will see the scholars, the fellows, the masters of arts, and the masters of colleges passing along the streets in their different gowns. Very unbecoming gowns they are, in all cases; and much as the wearers must be accustomed to them, they seem to step awkwardly, and to have an ungraceful feminine touch in their motions.

Everything that you see speaks of the olden time. Even the images above the arched entrance to the courts around which the buildings stand are crumbling slowly, and the faces have an unearthly expression.

If the visitor is fortunate enough to have an introduction to one of the college professors, he will be taken around the buildings, to the libraries, the 'Combination' room to which the fellows retire to chat over their wine, and perhaps even to the kitchen.

Our first knowledge of Cambridge was the entrance to Trinity College and the Master's Lodge.

We arrived in Cambridge just about at lunch time - one o'clock.

Mrs Airy said to me, 'Although we are invited to be guests of Dr Whewell, he is quite too mighty a man to come to meet us.' Her sons, however, met us, and we walked with them to Dr Whewell's.

The Master's Lodge, where Dr Whewell lives, is one of the buildings composing the great pile of Trinity College. One of the rooms in the lodge still remains nearly as in the time of Henry VIII. It is immense in size, and has two oriel windows hung with red velvet. In this room the queen holds her court when she is in Cambridge, for the lodge then becomes a palace. and the 'master' retires to some other apartments, and comes to dinner only when asked.

It is said that the present master does not much like to submit to this position.

In this great room hang full-length portraits of Henry and Elizabeth. On another wall is a portrait of Newton, and on a third the sweet face of a young girl, Dr Whewell's niece, of whom I heard him speak as 'Kate.'

Dr Whewell received us in this room, standing on a rug before an open fireplace; a wood fire was burning cheerily. Mrs Airy's daughter, a young girl, was with us.

Dr Whewell shook hands with us, and we stood. I was very tired, but we continued to stand. In an American gentleman's house I should have asked if I might sit, and should have dropped upon a chair; here, of course, I continued to stand. After, perhaps, fifteen minutes, Dr Whewell said, 'Will you sit?' and the four of us dropped upon chairs as if shot!

The master is a man to be noted, even physically. He is much above ordinary size, and, though now grey-haired, would be extraordinarily handsome if it were not for an expression of ill-temper about the mouth.

An Englishmen is proud; a Cambridge man is the proudest of Englishmen; and Dr Whewell, the proudest of Cambridge men.

In the opinion of a Cambridge man, to be master of Trinity is to be master of the world!

At lunch, to which we stayed, Dr Whewell talked about American writers, and was very severe upon them; some of them were friends of mine. and it was not pleasant. But I was especially hurt by a remark which he made afterwards. Americans are noted in England for their use of slang. The English suppose that the language of Sam Slick [*] or of Nasby [*] is the language used in cultivated society. They do not seem to understand it, and I have no doubt today that Lowell's comic poems [*] are taken seriously. So at this table, Dr Whewell, wishing to say that we would do something in the way of sight-seeing very thoroughly, turning to me, said, 'We'll go the whole hog, Miss Mitchell, as you say in America.'

I turned to the young American girl who sat next to me, and said, 'Miss S, did you ever hear that expression except on the street?' 'Never,' she replied.

Afterwards he said to me, 'You in America think you know something about the English language. and you get out your Webster's dictionary, and your Worcester's dictionary, but we here in Cambridge think we know rather more about English than you do.'

After lunch we went to the observatory. The Cambridge Observatory has the usual number of meridian instruments, but it has besides a good equatorial telescope of twenty feet in length, mounted in the English style; for Mr Airy was in Cambridge at the time of its establishment. In this pretty observatory, overlooking the peaceful plains, with some small hills in the distance, Mr and Mrs Airy passed the first year of their married life.

Professor Challis, the director, is exceedingly short, thick-headed (in appearance), and, like many of the English, thick-tongued. While I was looking at the instruments, Mrs Airy came into the equatorial house, bringing Mr Adams, the rival of Le Verrier, - another short man, but bright-looking, with dark hair and eyes, and again the thick voice, this time with a nasal twang. He is a fellow of Pembroke College, and master of arts. If Mr Adams had become a fellow of his own college, St John, he must have gone into holy orders, as it is called; this he was not willing to do; he accepted a fellowship from Pembroke.

Mr Adams is a merry little man, loves games with children, and is a favourite with young ladies.

At 6.30 we went again to the lodge to dine. We were a little late, and the servant was in a great hurry to announce us; but I made him wait until my gloves were on, though not buttoned. He announced us with a loud voice, and Dr Whewell came forward to receive us. Being announced in this way, the other guests do not wait for an introduction. There was a group of guests in the drawing-room, and those nearest me spoke to me at once.

Dinner was announced immediately, and Dr Whewell escorted me downstairs, across an immense hall, to the dining-room, outside of which stood the waiters, six in number, arranged in a straight line, in livery, of course. One of them had a scarlet vest , short clothes, and drab coat.

As I sat next to the master, I had a good deal of talk with him. He was very severe upon Americans; he said that Emerson did not write good English, and copied Carlyle! I thought his severity reached really to discourtesy, and I think he perceived it when he asked me if I knew Emerson personally, and I replied that I did, and that I valued my acquaintance with him highly.

I got a little chance to retort, by telling him that we had outgrown Mrs Hemans [*] in America, and that we now read Mrs Browning more. He laughed at it, and said that Mrs Browning's poetry was so coarse that he could not tolerate it, and he was amused to hear that any people had got above Mrs Hemans; and he asked me if we had outgrown Homer! To which I replied that they were not similar cases.

Altogether, there was a tone of satire in Dr Whewell's remarks which I did not think amiable.

There were, as there are very commonly in English society, some dresses too low for my taste; and the wine-drinking was universal, so that I had to make a special point of getting a glass of water, and was afraid I might drink all there was on the table!

Before the dessert came on, saucers were placed before each guest, and a little rose-water dipped into them from a silver basin; then each guest washed his face thoroughly, dipping his napkin into the saucer. Professor Willis [*], who sat next to me, told me that this was a custom peculiar to Cambridge, and dating from its earliest times.

The finger bowls came on afterwards, as usual.

It is customary for the lady of the house or the 'first lady' to turn to her nearest neighbour at the close of dinner and say, 'Shall we retire to the drawing-room?' Now, there was no lady of the house, and I was in the position of first lady They might have sat there for a thousand years before I should have thought of it. I drew on my gloves when the other ladies drew on theirs, and then we waited. Mrs Airy saw the dilemma, made the little speech, and the gentlemen escorted us to the door, and then returned to their wine.

We went back to the drawing-room and had coffee; after coffee new guests began to come, and we went into the magnificent room with the oriel windows.

Professor Sedgwick [*]came early - an old man of seventy-four, already a little shattered and subject to giddiness. He is said to be very fond of young ladies even now, and when younger made some heartaches; for he could not give up his fellowship and leave Cambridge for a wife; which, to me, is very unmanly. He is considered the greatest geologist in England, and of course they would say 'in the world,' and is much loved by all who know him. He came to Cambridge a young man, and the elms which he saw planted are now sturdy trees. It is pleasant to hear him talk of Cambridge and its growth; he points to the stately trees and says, 'Those trees don't look as old as I, and they are not.'

I did not see Professor Adams at that time, but I spent the whole of Monday morning walking about the college with him. I asked him to show me the place where he made his computations for Neptune, and he was evidently well pleased to do so.

We laughed over a roll, which we saw in the College library, containing a list of the ancestors of Henry VIII; among them was Jupiter.

Professor Adams tells me that in Wales genealogical charts go so far back that about half-way between the beginning and the present day you find this record: 'About this time the world was created'!

2 November 1857
At lunch today Dr Whewell was more interesting than I had seen him before. He asked me about Laura Bridgman [*], and said that he knew a similar case. He contended, in opposition to Mrs Airy and myself that loss of vision was preferable to loss of hearing, because it shut one out less from human companionship.

Dr Whewell's self-respect and immense self-esteem led him to imperiousness of manner which touches the border of discourtesy. He loves a good joke, but his jests are serious. He writes verses that are touchingly beautiful, but it is difficult to believe, in his presence, that he writes them. Mrs Airy said that Dr Whewell and I riled each other!

I was at an evening party, and the Airy boys, young men of eighteen and twenty, were present. They stood the whole time, occasionally leaning against a table or the piano, in their blue silk gowns. I urged them to sit. 'Of course not,' they said; 'no undergraduate sits in the master's presence!'

I went to three services on 'Scarlet Sunday,' [*] for the sake of seeing all the sights.

The costumes of Cambridge and Oxford are very amusing, and show, more than anything I have seen, the old-fogyism of English ways. Dr Whewell wore, on this occasion, a long gown reaching nearly to his feet, of rich scarlet, and adorned with flowing ribands. The ribands did not match the robe, but were more of a crimson.

I wondered that a strong-minded man like Dr Whewell could tolerate such trappings for a moment; but it is said that he is rather proud of them, and loves all the etiquette of the olden time, as also, it is said, does the queen.

In these robes Dr Whewell escorted me to church - and of course we were a great sight!

Before dinner, on this Scarlet Sunday, there was an interval when the master was evidently tried to know what to do with me. At length he hit upon an expedient. 'Boys,' he said to the young Airys, 'take Miss Mitchell on a walk!'

I was a little surprised to find myself on a walk, nolens volens; so as soon as we were out of sight of the master of Trinity, I said, 'Now, young gentlemen, as I do not want to go to walk, we won't go!'

It was hard for me to become accustomed to English ideas of caste. I heard Professor Sedgwick say that Miss Herschel, the daughter of Sir John and niece to Caroline, married a Gordon. 'Such a great match for her!' he added; and when I asked what match could be great for a daughter of the Herschels, I was told that she had married one of the Queen's household, and was asked to sit in the presence of the queen!

When I hear a missionary tell that the pariah caste sit on the ground, the peasant caste lift themselves by the thickness of a leaf, and the next rank by the thickness of a stalk, it seems to me that the heathen has reached a high state of civilization - precisely that which Victoria has reached when she permits a Herschel to sit in her presence!

The University of Cambridge consists of sixteen colleges. I was told that, of these, Trinity leads and St John comes next.

Trinity has always led in mathematics; it boasts of Newton and Byron among its graduates. Milton belonged to Christ Church College; the mulberry tree which he planted still flourishes.

Even today, a young scholar of Trinity expressed his regret to me that Milton did not belong to the college in which he himself studied. He pointed out the rooms occupied by Newton, and showed us 'Newton's Bridge,' "which will surely fall when a greater man than he walks over it"!

Milton first planned the great poem, Paradise Lost, as a drama, and this manuscript, kept within a glass case, is opened to the page on which the dramatis personae are planned and replanned. On the opposite page is a part of Lycidas, neatly written and with few corrections.

The most beautiful of the college buildings is King's Chapel. A Cambridge man is sure to take you to one of the bridges spanning the wretched little stream called the 'Silver Cam,' that you may see the architectural beauties of this building.

It is well to attend service in one or the other of the chapels, to sec assembled the young men, who are almost all the sons of the nobility or gentry. The propriety of their conduct struck me.

The fellows of the colleges are chosen from the 'scholars' who are most distinguished, as the 'scholars' are chosen from the undergraduates. They receive an income so long as they remain connected with the college and unmarried.

They have also the use of rooms in the college; they dine in the same hall with the undergraduates, but their tables are placed upon a raised dais; they have also little garden-places given them.

'What are their duties?' I asked Mr Airy. 'None at all; they are the college. It would not be a seat of learning without them.'

They say in Cambridge that Dr Whewell's book, 'Plurality of Worlds,' reasons to this end: The planets were created for this world; this world for man; man for England; England for Cambridge; and Cambridge for Dr Whewell!
3. Maria Mitchell meets John Herschel
Collingwood. 14 November 1857.

My Dear Father: This is Sir John Herschel's place. I came last night just at dusk.

According to English ways, I ought to have written a note, naming the hour at which I should reach Etchingham, which is four miles from Collingwood: but when I left Liverpool I went directly on, and a letter would have arrived at the same time that I did. I stopped in London one night only, changed my lodging-house, that I might pay a pound a week only for leaving my trunk live in a room, instead of two pounds, and started off again.

I reached Etchingham at ten minutes past four, took a cab, and set off for Sir John's. It is a large brick house, no way handsome, but surrounded by fine grounds, with beautiful trees and a very large pond.

The family were at dinner, and I was shown into the drawing-room.

There was just the light of a coal fire, and as I stood before it Sir John bustled in, an old man, much bent, with perfectly white hair standing out every way. He reached both hands to me, and said, "We had no letter and so did not expect you, but you are always welcome in this house." Lady Herschel followed - very noble looking: she does not look as old as John but of course must be; but English women, especially of her station, do not wear out as we do, who are "Jacks at all trades."

I found a fire in my room, and a cup of tea and crackers were immediately sent up.

The Herschels have several children; I have not seen Caroline, Louise, William, and Alexander, but Belle, and Amelie, and Marie, and Julie, and Rosa, and Francesca, and Constance, and John are at home!

The children are not handsome, but are good-looking, and well brought up of course, and highly educated. The children all come to table, which is not common in England. Think what a table they must set when the whole twelve are at home!

The first object that struck me in the house was Borden's map of Massachusetts, hanging in the hall opposite the entrance. Over the mantelpiece in the dining-room is a portrait of Sir William Herschel. In the parlour is a portrait of Caroline Herschel, and busts of Sir William, Sir John, and the eldest daughter.

I spent the evening in looking at engravings, sipping tea, and talking. Sir John is like the elder Mr Bond [*], except that be talks more readily; but he is womanly in his nature, not a tyrant like Whewell. Sir John is a better listener than any man I have met in England. He joins in all the chit-chat, is one or the domestic circle. and tells funny little anecdotes. (So do Whewell and Airy.)

The Herschels know Abbot Lawrence [*] and Edward Everett [*] - and everywhere these two have left a good impression. But I am certainly mortified by anecdotes that I hear of "pushing" Americans. Mrs - sought an introduction to Sir John Herschel to tell him about an abridgment of his Astronomy which she had made, and she intimated to him that in consequence of her abridgment his work was, or would be, much more widely known in America. Lady Herschel told me of it, and she remarked, "I believe Sir John was not much pleased, for he does not like abridgments." I told her that I had never heard of the abridgment.

There are other guests in the house: a lady whose sister was among those killed in India; and her husband, who is an officer in the army. We have all been playing at "spelling" this evening, with the letters, as we did at home last winter.

Sunday, 15th. I thought of going to London today, but was easily persuaded to stay and go with Lady Herschel tomorrow. All this afternoon I have spent listening to Sir John, who has shown me his father's manuscript, his aunt's, beautifully neat, and he told me about his Cape observations.

The telescope used at the Cape of Good Hope lies in the barn (the glass, of course, taken care of) unused; and Sir John now occupies himself with writing only. He made many drawings at the Cape, which he showed me, and very good ones they are. Lady Herschel offers me a letter to Mrs Somerville, who is godmother to one of her children. I am afraid I shall have no letter to Le Verrier, for every one seems to dislike him. Lady Herschel says he is one of the few persons whom she ever asked for an autograph; he was her guest, and he refused!

Just as I was coming away, Sir John bustled up to me with a sheet of paper, saying that he thought I would like some of his aunt's handwriting and he would give it to me, He had before given me one of his own calculations; he says if there were no "war, pestilence, or famine," and one pair of human beings had been put upon the globe at the time of Cheops, they would not only now fill the earth, but if they stood upon each other's heads, they would reach a hundred times the distance to Neptune!

I turned over their scrap-books, and Sir John's poetry is much better than many of the specimens they had carefully kept, by Sir William Hamilton. Sir William Hamilton's sister had some specimens in the book, and also Lady Herschel and her brother.

Lady Herschel is the head of the house - so is Mrs Airy - so, I suspect, is the wife in all well-ordered households! I perceived that Sir John did not take a cup of tea until his wife said, "You can have some, my dear."

Mr Airy waits and waits, and then says, "My dear, I shall lose all my flesh if I don't have something to eat and drink."

I am hoping to get to Paris next week, about the 23rd, I have had just what I wanted in England, as to society.
4. Maria Mitchell talks about Adams and meets Urbain Le Verrier
At this time, the feeling between astronomers of Great Britain and those of the United States was not very cordial. It was the time when Adams and Le Verrier were contending to which of them belonged the honour of the discovery of the planet Neptune, and each side had its strong partisans.

Adams, a graduate of Cambridge, made the calculations which showed how an unseen body must exist whose influences were felt by Uranus. It was a problem of great difficulty, for he had some half-dozen quantities touching Uranus which were not accurately known, and as many wholly unknown concerning the unseen planet. We think it a difficult question which involves three or four unknown quantities with too few circumstances, but this problem involved twelve or thirteen, so that x,y,zx, y, z reached pretty high up into the alphabet. But Adams, having worked the problem, carried his work to Airy, the Astronomer Royal of England, and awaited his comments. A little later Le Verrier, the French astronomer, completed the same problem, and waiting for no authority beyond his own, flung his discovery out to the world with the self-confidence of a Frenchman.

When the news of the discovery of Neptune reached this country , I happened to be visiting at the observatory in Cambridge, Mass. Professor Bond (the elder) [*] had looked for the planet the night before I arrived at his house, and he looked again the evening that I came.

His observatory was then a small, round building, and in it was a small telescope; he had drawn a map of a group of stars, one of which he supposed was not a star, but the planet. He set the telescope to this group, and asking his son to count the seconds, he allowed the stars to pass by the motion of the earth across the field. If they kept the relative distance of the night before, they were all stars; if any one had approached or receded from the others, it was a planet; and when the father looked at his son's record he said, 'One of those has moved, and it is the one which I thought last night was the planet.' He looked again at the group, and the son said, 'Father, do give me a look at the new planet - you are the only man in America that can do it!' And then we both looked; it looked precisely like a small star, and George and I both asked, 'What made you think last night that it was the new planet?' Mr Bond could only say, 'I don't know, it looked different from the others.'

It is always so - you cannot get a man of genius to explain steps, he leaps.

After the discover of this planet, Professor Peirce, in our own country, declared that it was not the planet of the theory, and therefore its discovery was a happy accident. But it seemed to me that it was the planet of the theory, just as much if it varied a good deal from its prescribed place as if it varied a little. So you might have said that Uranus was not the Uranus of the theory.

Sir John Herschel said, 'Its movements have been felt trembling along the far-reaching line of our analysis, with a certainty hardly inferior to ocular demonstration.' I consider it was superior to ocular demonstration. as the action of the mind is above that of the senses. Adams, in his study at Cambridge, England, and Le Verrier in his closet at Paris, poring over their logarithms, knew better the locus of that outside planet than all the practical astronomers of the world put together.

Of course in Paris I went to the Imperial Observatory, to visit Le Verrier. I carried letters from Professor Airy, who also sent a letter in advance by post. Le Verrier called at my hotel, and left cards; then came a note, and I went to tea.

Le Verrier had succeeded Arago. Arago had been a member of the Provisional Government, and had died. Le Verrier took exactly opposite ground, politically, to that of Arago; he stood high with the emperor.

He took me all over the observatory. He had a large room for a ballroom, because in the ball room science and politics were discussed; for where a press is not free, salons must give the tone to public opinion.

Both Le Verrier and Madame Le Verrier said hard things about the English, and the English said hard things about Le Verrier.

The Astronomical Observatory of Paris was founded on the establishment of the Academy of Sciences, in the reign of Louis XIV. The building was begun in 1667 and finished in 1672; like other observatories of that time, it was quite unfit for use.

John Dominic Cassini came to it before it was finished, saw its defects, and made alterations; but the whole building was afterwards abandoned. M Le Verrier showed me the transit instrument and the mural circle. He has, like Mr Airy, made the transit instrument in capable of mechanical change for its corrections of error, so that it depends for accuracy upon its faults being known and corrected in the computations.

All the early observatories of Europe seem to have been built as temples to Urania, and not as working chambers of science. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the Imperial Observatory of Paris, and the beautiful structure on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, were at first wholly useless as observatories. That of Greenwich had no steadiness, while every pillar in the astronomical temple of Edinburgh, though it may tell of the enlightenment of Greece, hides the light of the stars from the Scottish observer. Well might Struve [*] say that 'An observatory should be simply a box to hold instruments.'

The Le Verriers speak English about as well as I do French, and we had a very awkward time of it. M Le Verrier talked with me a little, and then talked wholly to one of the gentlemen present. Madame was very chatty.

Le Verrier is very fine-looking; he is fair-haired full-faced, altogether very healthy-looking. His wife is really handsome, the children beautiful. I was glad that I could understand when Le Verrier said to the children, 'If you make any more noise you go to bed.'

While I was there, a woman as old as I rushed in, in bonnet and shawl, and flew around the room, kissed madame, jumped the children about, and shook hands with monsieur; and there was a great amount of screaming and laughing, and all talked at once. As I could not understand a word, it seemed to me like a theatre.

I asked monsieur when I could see the observatory, and he answered, 'Whenever it suits your convenience.'

December 15. I went to Le Verrier's again last evening by special invitation. Four gentlemen and three ladies received me, all standing: and bowing without speaking. Monsieur was, however, more sociable than before, and shrieked out to me in French as though I were deaf.

The ladies were in blue dresses; a good deal of crinoline, deep flounces, high necks, very short, flowing sleeves, and short undersleeves ; the dresses were brocade and the flounces much trimmed, madame's with white plush.

The room was cold, of course, having no carpet, and a wood fire in a very small fireplace.

The gentlemen continued standing or promenading, and taking snuff.

Except Le Verrier, no one of them spoke to me. The ladies all did, and all spoke French. The two children were present again - the little girl five years old played on the piano, and the boy of nine played and sang like a public performer. He promenaded about the room with his hands in his pockets, like a man. I think his manners were about equal to --'s, as occasionally he yelled and was told to be quiet.

About ten o'clock M Le Verrier asked me to go into the observatory, which connects with the dwelling. They are building immense additional rooms, and are having a great telescope, twenty-seven feet in focal length, constructed.

With Le Verrier's bad English and my bad French we talked but little, but he showed me the transit instrument, the mural circle, the computing-room, and the private office. He put on his cloak and cap, and said, 'Voila le directeur!'

One room, he told me, had been Arago's, and Arago had his bed on one side. M Le Verrier said, 'I do not wish to have it for my room.' He is said to be much opposed to Arago, and to be merciless towards his family.

He showed me another room, intended for a reception-room, and explained to me that in France one had to make science come into social life, for the government must be reached in order to get money.

There were huge globes in one room that belonged to Cassini. If what he showed me is not surpassed in the other rooms, I don't think much of their instruments.

M Le Verrier said he had asked M Chacornac [*] to meet me, but he was not there. I felt that we got on a little better, but not much, and it was evident that he did not expect me to understand an observatory. We did not ascend to the domes.

Le Verrier has telegraphic communication with all Europe except Great Britain.

It was quite singular that they made such different remarks to me. Le Verrier said that they had to make science popular.

Airy said, 'In England there is no astronomical public, and we do not need to make science popular.'
5. Maria Mitchell meets Mary Somerville
I had no hope, when I went to Europe, of knowing Mrs Somerville. American men of science did not know her, and there had been unpleasant passages between the savants of Europe and those of the United States which made my friends a little reluctant about giving me letters.

Professor Henry offered to send me letters, and said that among them should be one to Mrs Somerville; but when his package came, no such letter appeared, and I did not like to press the matter, - indeed, after I had been in England I was not surprised at any amount of reluctance. They rarely asked to know my friends, and yet, if they were made known to them, they did their utmost.

So I went to Europe with no letter to Mrs Somerville, and no letter to the Herschels.

I was very soon domesticated with the Airys, and really felt my importance when I came to sleep in one of the round rooms of the Royal Observatory. I dared give no hint to the Airys that I wanted to know the Herschels, although they were intimate friends. 'What was I that I should love them, save for feeling of the pain?' But one fine day a letter carne to Mrs Airy from Lady Herschel, and she asked, 'Would not Miss Mitchell like to visit us?' Of course Miss Mitchell jumped at the chance! Mrs Airy replied, and probably hinted that Miss Mitchell 'could be induced,' etc.

If the Airys were old friends of Mrs Somerville, the Herschels were older. The Airys were just and kind to me; the Herschels were lavish, and they offered me a letter to Mrs Somerville.

So, provided with this open sesame to Mrs Somerville's heart, I called at her residence in Florence, in the spring of 1858.

I sent in the letter and a card , and waited in the large Florentine parlour. In the open fireplace blazed a wood fire very suggestive of American comfort; very deceitful in the suggestion, for there is little of home comfort in Italy.

After some little delay I heard a footstep come shuffling along the outer room, and an exceedingly tall and very old man entered the room, in the singular head-dress of a red bandanna turban, approached me, and introduced himself as Dr Somerville, the husband.

He was very proud of his wife, and very desirous of talking about her, a weakness quite pardonable in the judgment of one who is desirous to know. He began at once on the subject. Mrs Somerville, he said, took great interest in the Americans, for she claimed connection with the family of George Washington.

Washington's half-brother, Lawrence, married Anne Fairfax, who was one of the Scotch family. When Lieutenant Fairfax was ordered to America, Washington wrote to him as a family relative, and asked him to make him a visit. Lieutenant Fairfax applied to his commanding officer for permission to accept, and it was refused. They never met, and much to the regret of the Fairfax family the letter of Washington was lost. The Fairfaxes of Virginia are of the same family, and occasionally some member of the American branch returns to see his Scotch cousins.

While Dr Somerville was eagerly talking of these things, Mrs Somerville came tripping into the room, speaking at once with the vivacity of a young person. She was seventy-seven years old, but appeared twenty years younger. She was not handsome, but her face was pleasing; the forehead low and broad; the eyes blue; the features so regular, that in the marble bust by Chantrey, which I had seen, I had considered her handsome.

Neither bust nor picture, however, gives a correct idea of her, except in the outline of the head and shoulders.

She spoke with a strong Scotch accent, and was slightly affected with deafness, an infirmity so common in England and Scotland.

While Mrs Somerville talked, the old gentleman, seated by the fire, busied himself in toasting a slice of bread on a fork, which he kept at a slow-toasting distance from the coals. An English lady was present, learned in art, who, with a volubility worthy of an American, rushed into every little opening of Mrs Somerville's more measured sentences with her remarks upon recent discoveries in her specialty. Whenever this occurred, the old man grew fidgety, moved the slice of bread backwards and forwards as if the fire were at fault , and when, at length, the English lady had fairly conquered the ground, and was started on a long sentence, he could bear the eclipse of his idol no longer, but, coming to the sofa where we sat, he testily said, 'Mrs. Somerville would rather talk on science than on art.'

Mrs Somerville's conversation was marked by great simplicity; it was rather of the familiar and chatty order, with no tendency to the essay style. She touched upon the recent discoveries in chemistry or the discovery of gold in California, of the nebulae, more and more of which she thought might be resolved, and yet that there might exist nebulous matters, such as compose the tails of comets, of the satellites, of the planets, the last of which she thought had other uses than as subordinates. She spoke with disapprobation of Dr Whewell's attempt to prove that our planet was the only one inhabited by reasoning beings; she believed that a higher order of beings than ourselves might people them.

On subsequent visits there were many questions from Mrs Somerville in regard to the progress of science in America. She regretted, she said, that she knew so little of what was done in our country.

From Lieutenant Maury, alone, she received scientific papers. She spoke of the late Dr (Nathaniel) Bowditch with great interest, and said she had corresponded with one of his sons. She asked after Professor Peirce, whom she considered a great mathematician, and of the Bonds, of Cambridge. She was much interested in their photography of the stars, and said it had never been done in Europe. At that time photography was but just applied to the stars. I had carried to the Royal Astronomical Society the first successful photograph of a star. It was that of Mizar and Alcor, in the Great Bear. (Since that time all these things have improved.)

The last time I saw Mrs Somerville, she took me into her garden to show me her rose-bushes, in which she took great pride. Mrs Somerville was not a mathematician only, she spoke Italian fluently, and was in early life a good musician.

I could but admire Mrs. Somerville as a woman. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science had not unfitted her for the drawing-room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of wife and mother; the mind that has turned to rigid demonstration has not thereby lost its faith in those truths which figures will not prove. 'I have no doubt,' said she, in speaking of the heavenly bodies, 'that in another state of existence we shall know more about these things.'

Mrs Somerville, at the age of seventy-seven, was interested in every new improvement, hopeful, cheery, and happy. Her society was sought by the most cultivated people in the world. [She died at ninety-two.]

Last Updated June 2023