Home >> Encyclopedia-britannica-volume-9-part-1-extraction-gambrinus >> James David Forbes to Millard Fillmore >> John Flamsteed

John Flamsteed


FLAMSTEED, JOHN , English astronomer, was born at Denby, near Derby, on Aug. 19, 1646. He was edu cated at the free school of Derby, but was forced to leave in May 1662, because of bad health. During his illness he began to study astronomy. He read all the books on the subject that he could buy or borrow; observed a partial solar eclipse on Sept. 12, 1662; and attempted the construction of measuring instruments. A paper embodying his calculations of appulses to stars by the moon, which appeared in the Philosophical Transactions (iv. 1099), signed In Mathesi a sole fundes, an anagram of "Johannes Flamsteedius," secured for him, from 167o, general scientific recognition.

In 167o he became acquainted with Isaac Newton at Cam bridge, entered his name at Jesus college, and four years later, took a degree of M.A. by letters-patent. An essay composed by him in 1673 on the true and apparent diameters of the planets furnished Newton with data for the third book of the Principia, and he fitted numerical elements to J. Horrock's theory of the moon. Flamsteed was appointed "astronomical observator" by a royal warrant dated March 4, 1675. He was presented by Lord North in 1684 to the living of Burstow in Surrey; his financial position was further improved by a small inheritance in 1688. He now ordered a mural arc, with which he began to observe sys tematically on Sept. 12, 1689 (see ASTRONOMY: History). The latter part of Flamsteed's life passed in a turmoil of controversy regarding the publication of his results. He struggled to withhold them until they could be presented in a complete form ; but they were urgently needed for the progress of science. Newton led the movement for immediate communication ; whence arose much ill-feeling between him and Flamsteed. At last, in 1704, Prince George of Denmark undertook the cost of printing; and although the prince died in 1708, and in spite of Flamsteed's objections, the work was printed. The Historica coelestis, embodying the first Greenwich star-catalogue, together with the mural arc observa tions made 1689-1705, was issued under Edmund Halley's editor ship in 1712. Flamsteed denounced the_ production as surrepti tious; he committed to the flames three hundred copies; and, in defiance of bodily infirmities, vigorously prosecuted his designs for the entire and adequate publication of his materials. He died on Dec. 31, 1719. The preparation of his monumental work, Historia coelestis Britannica (3 vols. folio, 1725), was finished by his assistant, Joseph Crosthwait, aided by Abraham Sharp. The first two volumes included the whole of Flamsteed's observations at Derby and Greenwich ; the third contained the British Cata logue of nearly 3,00o stars. A portrait of Flamsteed, painted by Thomas Gibson in 1712, hangs in the rooms of the Royal Society. The extent and quality of his performance were the more remark able considering his severe physical sufferings, his straitened means, and the antagonism to which he was exposed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.—Francis Baily's Account of the Rev. John Flamsteed Bibliography.—Francis Baily's Account of the Rev. John Flamsteed (1835) is the leading authority for his life. It comprises an autobio graphical narrative pieced together from various sources, a large collection of Flamsteed's letters, a revised and enlarged edition of the British Catalogue.

See also General Dictionary, vol. v. (1737), from materials supplied by James Hodgson, Flamsteed's nephew-in-law ; Biographica Britan nica, iii. (1750) ; J. S. Bailly, Histoire de l'astronomie moderne, ii. (1779-82) ; J. Granger, Biographical History of England, M. Noble's Continuation, 3 vols. (18o6) ; J. B. J. Delambre, Histoire de l'astrono mie au XVIIIe siecle (1827) ; G. G. Cunningham, Lives of Eminent Englishmen (1833-37) ; W. Whewell, Flamsteed and Newton (1836), History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) ; S. Rigaud, Correspondence of Scientific Men (1841) ; R. Grant, History of Physical Astronomy (1852) ; Observatory, vol. xv. (1877 etc.).

flamsteeds, history, newton, astronomy, derby and materials