Tycho Brahe

OF eminent astronomers, the next in point of time was Tycho Brahe, who, though adopting the Ptolemaic notion of the earth being the fixed and immovable centre of the universe, yet did good service to the progress of the science by his numerous observations and discoveries. Descended of an ancient and noble family, originally of Sweden, but settled in Denmark, Tycho was born December 14, 1546, at Knub Strap, in the bailiwick of Schönen, the jurisdiction of which was then held by his father. When seven years old, he commenced the study of the classics, his education, as well as that of his brothers, being intrusted to private tutors. His father dying, his uncle sent him, in 1559, to study philosophy and rhetoric at Copenhagen, where it was intended to train him for some civil employment. The great eclipse of the sun on the 21st August 1560, happening at the precise time the astronomers foretold, he began to look upon astronomy as something divine; and purchasing the tables of Stadius, gained some notion of the theory of the planets. His thoughts were now wholly engrossed with astronomy; and though sent by his uncle, in 1562, to study jurisprudence at Leipsic, mathematics, and not law, were the subject of his private labors. It is told of him, that, having procured a small celestial globe, he was wont to wait till his tutor had gone to bed, in order to examine the constellations and learn their names; and that, when the sky was clear, he used to spend whole nights in viewing the stars. He abandoned the amusements and pleasures fitting for his age, and devoted his pocket-money to the purchase of mathematical and astronomical books, the perusal of which he persisted in, in spite of the remonstrances and rebukes of his preceptor. About this time he also began to apply himself to chemistry, less perhaps for the cause of the science, than with a view to discover the Philosopher's Stone and the grand Elixir of Life - a digression from his astronomical career, prompted no doubt by the natural supersition and enthusiasm of his constitution.

In 1571 he returned to Denmark; and was favored by his mother's brother, Steno Belle, a lover of learning, with a convenient place at the castle of Herritzvad, near Knub Strup, for conducting his observations and building a laboratory: but marrying a peasant girl beneath his rank, such a violent quarrel ensued between him and his relations, that Frederick II, king of Denmark, was obliged to interpose to reconcile them. In 1575, he began his travels through Germany, and proceeded as far as Venice, meeting with the kindliest attention from various philosophers and crowned heads. This attention, conjoined with certain offers made him by the Landgrave of Hesse, and the greater facility of procuring better apparatus, induced him to think of removing his family to Basil; but Frederick of Denmark, being informed of his design, and unwilling to lose such an ornament to his country, promised (to enable him to pursue his studies) to bestow upon him for life the island of Hveen in the Sound, to erect an observatory and laboratory there, and to defray all the expenses necessary for carrying on his designs. Tycho Brahe readily embraced this proposal; and, accordingly, the first stone of the observatory was laid in August 1576. The king also bestowed on him a pension of two thousand crowns, a fee in Norway, and a canonry, which brought him one thousand more. In this retreat he was visited by various princes; among others, by James VI of Scotland, when proceeding to Denmark to marry the princess Anne. This monarch, of literary memory, made the astronomer several presents, and with his own hand wrote some verses in his praise. In Uramenborg, for such he had styled his new erection, he framed that system 'of the universe which is yet known by his name; namely, that the earth remains fixed and immovable as the grand centre, and that the sun and all the heavenly bodies revolve around it - a doctrine the reverse of that of Copernicus, which all succeeding astronomers have adopted. But though mistaken in this conception, we are indebted to him for a more correct catalogue of the fixed stars; for several important discoveries respecting the motions of the moon and comets, and the refraction of the rays of light; and for valuable, improvements in astronomical instruments. Tycho was likewise a skillful chemist, and found in poetry his recreation from severer studies. His Latin poems are said to exhibit considerable merit; but his chemical manipulations partook too much of the alchemy of his day to be of use to future inquirers.

Happy might our philosopher have been in the castle of Uranienborg, had not his impetuous character, and his fondness for satire, made him many enemies, who prejudiced Christian IV, the successor of Frederick II, against him. On the death of his patron, he was deprived of his pension, fee, and canonry; and finding himself incapable of bearing the expenses Of his observatory, he went to Copenhagen, whither he brought some of his instruments, and continued his observations in the city, till Valkendorf, chamberlain to Christian, commanded him, by the king's orders, to discontinue them. He then removed his family to Rostock, and afterwards to Holstein, to solicit Henry Ranzon to introduce him to the Emperor Rodolphus, who was a great friend to astronomy and astrology. Succeeding in his wishes, he was received by the emperor with the greatest civility and respect; provided with a magnificent house, till he could procure one more fit for astronomical observations; allotted a pension of three hundred crowns; and promised, upon the first opportunity, a fee for himself and his descendants. Unluckily he did not long enjoy this happy situation; for, being suddenly taken ill with a fatal disease, he was cut off on the 24th of October 1601, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. He was interred with great pomp and ceremony in the principal church of Prague, where a noble monument was erected to his memory; thus like many other men of eminence, receiving in a strange land the honors that had been denied him in his own.

Tycho was, notwithstanding his faults and weaknesses, a remarkable man for the age in which he lived; his errors and misjudgments being to a great extent those of his era. His skill in astronomy is universally admitted; and though failing to establish his system over that of Copernicus, yet no one can deny him the merit of advancing by his labors the progress of the science. That he was addicted to astrology, presages, and the occult sciences, is true; but these were features of the age more than of individuals: that he was impetuous, sarcastic, and unamiable, is to be regretted; but it must also be admitted that the grossest injustice was done him and the cause of science by the successor of his patron. Most of his works, which were numerous, and written in Latin, are still extant. The Emperor Rodolphus purchased his expensive astronomical and other instruments; but they were mostly destroyed after the battle of the Weisseberg, near Prague, in 1620. A large sextant alone remains in Prague. The famous brass celestial globe, which was six feet in diameter, and cost about a thousand pounds, returned to Copenhagen after various adventures, but perished in the great fire of 1728. The castle of Uranienborg, where he nightly watched and pondered, has long been in ruins, leaving scarcely a trace of its structure and character. All, however, has not perished, nor been fruitless. It was the friendship of Tycho,' says an eminent authority, ' which formed Kepler, and directed him in the career of astronomy. Without this friendship, and without the numerous observations of Tycho, of which Kepler found himself the depositary after the death of his master, he would never have been able to discover those great laws of the system of the world which have been called Kepler's Laws,' and which, combined with the theory of central forces, discovered by Huygens, conducted Newton to the grandest discovery which has ever been made in the sciences - that of universal gravitation.'