Edmund Halley

Aubrey's Brief Lives

Obituaries Index

Mr Edmund Halley, Master of Arts, the eldest son of Mr Halley, a soap-boiler, a wealthy citizen of the city of London; of the Halleys of Derbyshire, a good family.

He was born in Shoreditch parish, at a place called Haggerston, the backside of Hogsdon.

At nine years old, his father's apprentice taught him to write, and arithmetic. He went to Paul's school, to Dr Gale: while he was there, he was very perfect in the celestial globes, insomuch that I heard Mr Moxon (the globe-maker) say that if a star were misplaced he would at once find it. He studied geometry, and at 16 could make a dial, and then, he said, thought himself a brave fellow.

At 16 went to Queen's College in Oxford, well versed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew: where at the age of nineteen, he solved this useful problem in astronomy, never done before, viz 'from three distances given from the sun, and angles between, to find the orb': (mentioned in the Philosophical Transactions, Aug. or Sept. 1676, No 115), for which his name will be ever famous.

Left Oxford, and lived at London with his father until 1676; at which time he got leave and a money for his travels from his father, to go to the island of Saint Helena, purely upon the account of advancement in astronomy, to make the globe of the Southern Hemisphere right, which before was very erroneous, as being done only after the observations of ignorant seamen. At his return, he presented his planisphere, with a short description, to his majesty, who was very well pleased; but received nothing but praise. I have often heard him say that if his majesty would only pay for sending out a ship,, he would take the longitude and latitude, right ascensions and declinations of many southern fixed stars.

In 1678, he added a spectacle glass to the shadow-vane of the lesser arch of the sea-quadrant (or back-staff); which is of great use, for that that spot of light will be manifest when you cannot see any shadow.

He went to Danzig to visit Hevelius; 1 December 1680, went to Paris.

Cardinal D' Estrie caressed him and sent him to his brother the admiral with a letter of recommendation. He hath contracted an acquaintance and friendship with all the eminentest mathematicians of France and Italy, and holds a correspondence with them.

He returned into England, 24 January 1682.

Mr Edmund Halley, FRS was carried on with a strong impulse to take a voyage to St Helena, to make observations of the southern constellations, being then about twenty-four years old. Before he undertook his voyage, he dreamt that he was at sea, sailing towards the place, and saw the prospect of it from the ship in his dream, which he declared to the Royal Society, to be the perfect representation of that island, even as he had it really when he approached to it.
From John Aubrey's Brief Lives. (Edited by R Barber, Boydell Press, 1982)