Table of Contents
- 1. THE MARTYRS OF SCIENCE
- 2. CONTENTS.
- 3. LIFE OF GALILEO.
- 4. LIFE OF TYCHO BRAHE.
- 5. LIFE OF JOHN KEPLER.
LIFE OF JOHN KEPLER.
Kepler’s Birth in 1571—His Family—And early Education—The Distresses and Poverty of his Family—He enters the Monastic School of Maulbronn—And is admitted into the University of Tubingen, where he distinguishes himself, and takes his Degrees—He is appointed Professor of Astronomy and Greek in 1594—His first speculations on the Orbits of the Planets—Account of their Progress and Failure—His “Cosmographical Mystery” published—He Marries a Widow in 1597—Religious troubles at Gratz—He retires from thence to Hungary—Visits Tycho at Prague in 1600—Returns to Gratz, which he again quits for Prague—He is taken Ill on the road—Is appointed Tycho’s Assistant in 1601—Succeeds Tycho as Imperial Mathematician—His Work on the New Star of 1604—Singular specimen of it.
It is a remarkable circumstance in the history of science, that astronomy should have been cultivated at the same time by three such distinguished men as Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo. While Tycho, in the 54th year of his age, was observing the heavens at Prague, Kepler, only 30 years old, was applying his wild genius to the determination of the orbit of Mars, and Galileo, at the age of 36, was about to direct the telescope to the unexplored regions of space. The diversity of gifts which Providence assigned to these three philosophers was no less remarkable. Tycho was destined to lay the foundation of modern astronomy, by a vast series of accurate observations made with the largest and the finest instruments; it was the proud lot of Kepler to deduce the laws of the planetary orbits from the observations of his predecessors; while Galileo enjoyed the more dazzling honour of discovering by the telescope new celestial bodies, and new systems of worlds.
John Kepler, the youngest of this illustrious band, was born at the imperial city of Weil, in the duchy of Wirtemberg, on the 21st December 1571. His parents, Henry Kepler and Catherine Guldenmann, were both of noble family, but had been reduced to indigence by their own bad conduct. Henry Kepler had been long in the service of the Duke of Wirtemberg as a petty officer, and in that capacity had wasted his fortune. Upon setting out for the army, he left his wife in a state of pregnancy; and, at the end of seven months, she gave premature birth to John Kepler, who was, from this cause, a sickly child during the first years of his life. Being obliged to join the army in the Netherlands, his wife followed him into the field, and left her son, then five years old, under the charge of his grandfather at Limberg. Sometime afterwards he was attacked with the smallpox, and having with difficulty recovered from this severe malady, he was sent to school in 1577.
Having become security for one of his friends, who absconded from his creditors, Henry Kepler was obliged to sell his house and all his property, and was driven to the necessity of keeping a tavern at Elmendingen. Owing to these misfortunes, young Kepler was taken from school about two years afterwards, and was obliged to perform the functions of a servant in his father’s house. In 1585, he was again placed in the school of Elmendingen; but his father and mother having been both attacked with the smallpox, and he himself having been seized with a violent illness in 1585, his education had been much neglected, and he was prohibited from all mental application.
In the year 1586, on the 26th of November, Kepler was admitted into the school at the Monastery of Maulbronn, which had been established at the Reformation, and which was maintained at the expense of the Duke of Wirtemberg, as a preparatory seminary for the University of Tubingen. After remaining a year at the upper classes, the scholars presented themselves for examination at the College for the degree of Bachelor; and having received this, they returned to the school with the title of Veterans. Here they completed the usual course of study; and being admitted as resident students at Tubingen, they took their degree of Master. In prosecuting this course of study, Kepler was sadly interrupted, not only by periodical returns of his former complaints, but by family quarrels of the most serious import. These dissensions, arising greatly from the perverseness of his mother, drove his father to a foreign land, where he soon died; and his mother having quarrelled with all her relations, the affairs of the family were involved in inextricable disorder. Notwithstanding these calamities, Kepler took his degree of Bachelor on the 15th September 1588, and his degree of Master in August 1591, on which occasion he held the second place at the annual examination.
In his early studies, Kepler devoted himself with intense pleasure to philosophy in general, but he entertained no peculiar affection for astronomy. Being well grounded in arithmetic and geometry, he had no difficulty in making himself master of the geometrical and astronomical theorems which occurred in the course of his studies. While attending the lectures of Mœstlin, professor of mathematics, who had distinguished himself by an oration in favour of the Copernican system, Kepler not only became a convert to the opinions of his master, but defended them in the physical disputations of the students, and even wrote an essay on the primary motion, in order to prove that it was produced by the daily rotation of the earth.
In 1594, the astronomical chair at Gratz, in Styria, fell vacant by the death of George Stadt, and, according to Kepler’s own statement, he was forced to accept this situation by the authority of his professional tutors, who recommended him to the nobles of Styria. Though Kepler had little knowledge of the science, and no passion for it whatever, yet the nature of his office forced him to attend to astronomy; and, in the year 1595, when he enjoyed some leisure from his lectures, he directed the whole energy of his mind to the three important topics of the number, the size, and the motion of the orbits of the planets. He first tried if the size of the planets’ orbits, or the difference of their sizes, had any regular proportion to each other. Finding no proof of this, he inserted a new planet between Mars and Jupiter, and another between Venus and Mercury, which he supposed might be invisible from their smallness; but even with these assumptions the distances of the planets exhibited no regular progression. Kepler next tried if these distances varied as the cosines of the quadrant, and if their motion varied as the sun’s, the sine of 90 representing the motion at the sun, and the sine of 0° that at the fixed stars; but in this trial he was also disappointed.
Having spent the whole summer in these fruitless speculations, and praying constantly to his Maker for success, he was accidentally drawing a diagram in his lecture-room, in July 1595, when he observed the relation between the circle inscribed in a triangle, and that described round it; and the ratio of these circles, which was that of 1 to 2, appeared to his eye to be identical with that of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s orbits. Hence he was led to compare the orbits of the other planets’ circles described in pentagons and hexagons. As this hypothesis was as inapplicable to the heavens as its predecessors, Kepler asked himself in despair, “What have plane figures to do with solid orbits? Solid bodies ought to be used for solid orbits.” On the strength of this conceit, he supposed that the distances of the planets were regulated by the sizes of the five regular solids described within one another. “The Earth is the circle, the measurer of all. Round it describe a dodecahedron; the circle including this will be Mars. Round Mars describe a tetrahedron; the circle including this will be Jupiter. Describe a cube round Jupiter; the circle including this will be Saturn. Then inscribe in the Earth an icosahedron; the circle described in it will be Venus. Inscribe an octohedron in Venus; the circle inscribed in it will be Mercury.”
This discovery, as he considered it, harmonized in a very rude way with the measures of the planetary orbits given by Copernicus; but Kepler was so enamoured with it, that he ascribed the differences to errors of observation, and declared that he would not renounce the glory of having made it for the whole Electorate of Saxony.
In his attempt to discover the relation between the periodic times of the planets and their distances from the sun, he was not more successful; but as this relation had a real existence, he made some slight approach to its determination. These extraordinary researches, which indicate the wildness and irregularity of Kepler’s genius, were published in 1596, in a work entitled, “Prodromus of Cosmographical Dissertations; containing the cosmographical mystery respecting the admirable proportion of the celestial orbits, and the genuine and real causes of the number, magnitude, and periods of the planets demonstrated by the five regular geometrical solids.”
Notwithstanding the speculative character of this volume, it obtained for its author a high name among astronomers. Galileo and Tycho, whose opinions of it he requested, spoke of it with some commendation. The former praised the ingenuity and good faith which it displayed; and Tycho, though he requested him to try to adapt something of the same nature to the Tychonic system, saw the speculative character of his mind, and advised him “to lay a solid foundation for his views by actual observation, and then, by ascending from these, to strive to reach the causes of things.”
In 1592, before Kepler had quitted Tubingen, he was on the eve of entering into the married state. Though the foolish scheme was fortunately broken off, yet he resumed it again in 1596, when he paid his addresses to Barbara Millar of Muleckh, who was a widow for the second time, though only twenty-three years of age. Her parents, however, would not consent to the match till Kepler proved his nobility; and, owing to the delay which arose from this circumstance, the marriage did not take place till 1597. The income which Kepler derived from his professorship was very small, and as his wife’s fortune turned out much less than he had been led to expect, he not only was annoyed with pecuniary difficulties, but was involved in disputes with his wife’s relations. These evils were greatly increased by the religious troubles which took place in Styria. The Catholics at Gratz rose against the Protestants, and threatened to expell them from the city. Kepler, who openly professed the Protestant religion, saw the risks to which he was exposed, and retired with his wife into Hungary. Here he continued nearly a year, during which he composed and transmitted to his friend Zehentmaier, at Tubingen, several small treatises, “On the Magnet,” “On the cause of the Obliquity of the Ecliptic,” and “On the Divine Wisdom, as shewn in the Creation”—all of which seem to have been lost. In 1599, Kepler was recalled to Gratz by the States of Styria, and resumed his professorship; but the city was still divided into two factions, and Kepler, who was a lover of peace, found his situation very uncomfortable. Having learned from Tycho that he had been able to determine more accurately than had been done the eccentricities of the orbits of the planets, Kepler was anxious to avail himself of these observations, and set out on a visit to Tycho at Prague, where he arrived in January 1600. Tycho received him with great kindness, notwithstanding the part which he had taken against him along with Raimar, and he spent three or four months with him at Benach. It was then arranged that Kepler should be appointed Tycho’s assistant in the observatory, with a salary of 100 florins, provided the States of Styria should, on the Emperor’s application, allow him to be absent for two years and retain his salary. Kepler had returned to Gratz before this arrangement was completed, and new troubles having broke out in that city, he resigned his professorship. Dreading lest this step would frustrate his scheme of joining Tycho, he resolved to ask the patronage of the Duke of Wirtemberg for the professorship of medicine at Tubingen; and with this view he corresponded with Mœstlin and his other friends in that University. When Tycho heard of this plan, he pressed him to abandon it, and promised his best exertions to procure a permanent situation for him from the Emperor.
Encouraged by these promises, Kepler and his wife set off for Prague, but he was unfortunately attacked on the road with a quartan ague, which lasted seven months; and having exhausted the little money which he had along with him, he was obliged to apply to Tycho for a supply. After his arrival at Prague he was supported entirely by the bounty of his friend, and he endeavoured to make some return for this kindness by attacking in a controversial pamphlet two of the scientific opponents of Tycho. Kepler’s total dependence on the generosity of his friend had made him suspicious of his sincerity. He imagined that Tycho had not freely communicated to him all his observations, and that he had not been sufficiently liberal in supplying his wife with money in his absence. While absent a second time from Prague, and influenced by these feelings, he addressed a violent letter to Tycho, filled with reproaches. On the plea of being occupied with his daughter’s marriage, Tycho requested Ericksen, one of his assistants, to reply to Kepler’s letter; and he did this with so much effect, that Kepler saw his mistake, and in the noblest and most generous manner supplicated the forgiveness of his friend. Tycho exhibited the same good feeling; and the kindness of Hoffman, President of the States of Styria, completed the reconciliation of the two astronomers.
On his return to Prague in 1601, he was presented by Tycho to the Emperor, who conferred upon him the title of Imperial Mathematician, on the condition that he would assist Tycho in his calculations. This connexion was peculiarly valuable to Kepler, as the observations of his colleague were the only ones made in the world which could enable him to carry on his own theoretical inquiries. These two astronomers now undertook to compute, from Tycho’s observations, a new set of astronomical tables, to be called the Rudolphine Tables, in honour of the Emperor. This scheme flattered the vanity of their master, and he pledged himself to pay all the expenses of the work. Longomontanus, Tycho’s principal assistant, took upon himself the labour of arranging and discussing the observations on the stars, while Kepler devoted himself to the more congenial task of examining those on the planet Mars, with which Tycho was at that time particularly occupied. The appointment of Longomontanus to a professorship in Denmark, and the death of Tycho in October 1601, put a stop to these important schemes.
Kepler succeeded Tycho as principal mathematician to the Emperor, and was provided with a handsome salary, which was partly charged on the imperial treasury, and partly on the States of Silesia, and the first instalment of which was to be paid in March 1602. The generosity of the Emperor did not fail to excite the jealousy of ignorant individuals, who were not aware of the value of science to the state; but the increasing fame of Kepler, and the valuable works which he published, soon silenced their opposition.
In September 1604, astronomers were surprised with the appearance of a new star in the foot of Serpentarius. It was not seen before the 29th of September, and Mœstlin informs us that, on account of clouds, he did not obtain a good view of it till the 6th of October. Like that of 1572, it at first surpassed Jupiter in brightness, and rivalled even Venus, but it afterwards became as small as Regulus, and as dull as Saturn, and disappeared at the end of a few months. It constantly changed its colour, and was at first tawny, then yellow, then purple and red, and often white at great altitudes. It had no parallax, and therefore was a fixed star. Kepler wrote a short account of this remarkable body, and maintained its superiority to that of 1572, as this last came in an ordinary year, while the other appeared in the year of the fiery trigon, or that in which Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, are in the three fiery signs, Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, an event which occurs only every 800 years. After discussing a great variety of topics, but little connected with his subject, and in a style of absurd jocularity, he attacks the opinions of the Epicureans, that the star was a fortuitous concourse of atoms, in the following remarkable paragraph, which is a good specimen of the work:—“When I was a youth with plenty of idle time on my hands, I was much taken with the vanity, of which some grown men are not ashamed, of making anagrams by transposing the letters of my name, written in Latin. Out of Joannes Keplerus came Serpens in Akuleo (a serpent in his sting); but not being satisfied with the meaning of these words, and being unable to make another, I trusted the thing to chance, and taking out of a pack of playing cards as many as there were letters in the name, I wrote one upon each, and then began to shuffle them, and at each shuffle to read them in the order they came, to see if any meaning came of it. Now, may all the Epicurean gods and goddesses confound this same chance, which, although I have spent a good deal of time over it, never shewed me anything like sense even from a distance. So I gave up my cards to the Epicurean eternity, to be carried away into infinity; and, it is said, they are still flying about there in the utmost confusion among the atoms, and have never yet come to any meaning. I will tell those disputants, my opponents, not my own opinion, but my wife’s. Yesterday, when weary with writing, and my mind quite dusty with considering these atoms, I was called to supper, and a salad I had asked for was set before me. ‘It seems then,’ said I, aloud, ‘that if pewter dishes, leaves of lettuce, grains of salt, drops of water, vinegar, and oil, and slices of egg, had been flying about in the air from all eternity, it might at last happen by chance that there would come a salad.’ ‘Yes,’ says my wife, ‘but not so nice and well dressed as this of mine is.’”
Kepler’s Pecuniary Embarrassments—His Inquiries respecting the Law of Refraction—His Supplement to Vitellio—His Researches on Vision—His Treatise on Dioptrics—His Commentaries on Mars—He discovers that the orbit of Mars is an Ellipse, with the Sun in one focus—And extends this discovery to all the other Planets—He establishes the two first laws of Physical Astronomy—His Family Distresses—Death of his Wife—He is appointed Professor of Mathematics at Linz—His Method of Choosing a Second Wife—Her Character, as given by Himself—Origin of his Treatise on Gauging—He goes to Ratisbon to give his Opinion to the Diet on the change of Style—He refuses the Mathematical Chair at Bologna.
Although Kepler now filled one of the most honourable situations to which a philosopher could aspire, and possessed a large salary fitted to supply his most reasonable wants, yet, as the imperial treasury was drained by the demands of an expensive war, his salary was always in arrear. Owing to this cause he was constantly involved in pecuniary difficulties, and, as he himself described his situation, he was perpetually begging his bread from the Emperor at Prague. His increasing family rendered the want of money still more distressing, and he was driven to the painful alternative of drawing his income from casting nativities. From the same cause he was obliged to abandon his plan of publishing the Rudolphine Tables, and to devote himself to works of a less expensive kind, and which were more likely to yield some pecuniary advantages.
In spite of these embarrassments, and the occupation of his time in the practice of astrology, Kepler found leisure for his favourite pursuits. No adverse circumstances were capable of extinguishing his scientific ardour, and whenever he directed his vigorous mind to the investigation of phenomena, he never failed to obtain interesting and original results. Since the death of Tycho, his attention had been much occupied with the subject of refraction and vision; and, in 1606, he published the result of his researches in a work, entitled “A Supplement to Vitellio, in which the optical part of astronomy is treated, but chiefly on the artificial observation and estimation of diameters, and of the eclipses of the Sun and Moon.” Astronomers had long been perplexed with the refraction of the atmosphere, and so little was known of the general subject, as well as of this branch of it, that Tycho believed the refraction of the atmosphere to cease at 45° of altitude. Even at the beginning of the second century, Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria had unravelled its principal mysteries, and had given in his Optics a theory of astronomical refraction more complete than that of any astronomer before the time of Cassini; but the MSS. had unfortunately been mislaid, and Alhazen and Vitellio and Kepler were obliged to take up the subject from its commencement. Ptolemy had not only determined that the refraction of the atmosphere had gradually increased from the zenith to the horizon, but he had measured with singular accuracy the angles of refraction for water and glass, from a perpendicular incidence to a horizontal one.
Kepler treated this branch of science in his own peculiar way, “hunting down,” as he expressed it, every hypothesis which his fertile imagination had successively presented to him. In his various attempts to discover the law of refraction, or a measure of it, as varying with the density of the body and the angle of incidence of the light, he was nearer the goal, in his first speculation, than in any of the rest; and he seems to have failed in consequence of his not separating the question as it related to density from the question as it related to incidence. “I did not leave untried,” says he, “whether, by assuming a horizontal refraction according to the density of the medium, the rest would correspond to the sines of the distances from a vertical direction, but calculation proved that it was not so: and, indeed, there was no occasion to have tried it, for thus the refraction would increase according to the same law in all mediums, which is contradicted by experiment.”
Although completely foiled in his search after the law of refraction, which was subsequently discovered by Willebrord Snell, and sometime afterwards by James Gregory, he was, singularly successful in his inquiries respecting vision. Regarding the eye as analogous in its structure with the camera obscura of Baptista Porta, he discovered that the images of external objects were painted in an inverted position on the retina, by the union of the pencils of rays which issued from every point of the object. He ascribed an erect vision to an operation of the mind, by which it traces the rays back to the pupil, where they cross one another, and thus refers the lower parts of the image to the higher parts of the object. He also explained the cause of long-sighted and short-sighted vision, and shewed how convex and concave lenses enabled those who possessed these peculiarities of vision to see distinctly, by accurately converging the pencils of rays to a focus on the retina. Kepler likewise observed the power of accommodating the eye to different distances, and he ascribed it to the contraction of the ciliary processes, which drew the sides of the eyeball towards the crystalline lens, and thus elongated the eye so as to produce an adjustment of it for near objects. Kepler wisely declined to inquire into the way in which the mind perceives the images painted on the retina, and he blames Vitellio for attempting to determine a question which he considered as not belonging to optics.
The work of Kepler, now under consideration, contains the method of calculating eclipses which is now in use at the present day.
The only other optical treatise written by Kepler, was his Dioptrics, with an appendix on the use of optics in philosophy. This admirable work, which laid the foundation of the science, was published at Augsburg in 1611, and reprinted at London in 1653. Although Maurolycus had made some slight progress in studying the passage of light through different media, yet it is to Kepler that we owe the methods of tracing the progress of rays through transparent bodies with convex and concave surfaces, and of determining the foci of lenses, and of the relative positions of the images which they form, and the objects from which the rays proceed. He was thus led to explain the rationale of the telescope, and to invent the astronomical telescope, which consists of two convex lenses, by which objects are seen inverted. Kepler also discovered the important fact, that spherical surfaces were not capable of converging rays to a single focus, and he conjectured, what Descartes afterwards proved, that this property might be possessed by lenses having the figure of some of the sections of the cone. The total reflection of light at the second surface of bodies was likewise studied by Kepler, and he determined that the total reflection commenced when the angle of incidence was equal to the angle of refraction, which corresponded to an incidence of 90.
Two years before the publication of his Dioptrics, viz. in 1609, Kepler had given to the world his great work, entitled “The New Astronomy, or Commentaries on the Motions of Mars.” The discoveries which this volume records form the basis of physical astronomy. The inquiries by which he was led to them began in that memorable year 1601, when he became the colleague or assistant of Tycho. The powers of original genius were then for the first time associated with inventive skill and patient observation; and though the astronomical data provided by Tycho were sure of finding their application in some future age, yet without them Kepler’s speculations would have been vain, and the laws which they enabled him to determine would have adorned the history of another century. Having tried in vain to represent the motion of Mars by an uniform motion in a circular orbit, and by the cycles and epicycles with which Copernicus had endeavoured to explain the planetary inequalities, Kepler was led, after many fruitless speculations, to suppose the orbit of the planet to be oval; and, from his knowledge of the conic sections, he afterwards determined it to be an ellipse, with the sun placed in one of its foci. He then ascertained the dimensions of the orbit; and, by a comparison of the times employed by the planet to complete a whole revolution or any part of one, he discovered that the time in which Mars describes any arches of his elliptic orbit, were always to one another as the areas contained by lines drawn from the focus or the centre of the sun to the extremities of the respective arches; or, in other words, that the radius vector, or the line joining the Sun and Mars described equal areas in equal times. By examining the inequalities of the other planets he found that they all moved in elliptic orbits, and that the radius vector of each described areas proportional to the times. These two great results are known by the name of the first and second laws of Kepler. The third law, or that which relates to the connexion between the periodic times and the distances of the planets, was not discovered till a later period of his life.
When Kepler presented to Rudolph the volume which contained these fine discoveries, he reminded him jocularly of his requiring the sinews of war to make similar attacks upon the other planets. The Emperor, however, had more formidable enemies than Jupiter and Saturn, and from the treasury, which war had exhausted, he found it difficult to supply the wants of science. While Kepler was thus involved in the miseries of poverty, misfortunes of every kind filled up the cup of his adversity. His wife, who had long been the victim of low spirits, was seized, towards the end of 1610, with fever, epilepsy, and phrenitis, and before she had completely recovered, all his three children were simultaneously attacked with the smallpox. His favourite son fell a victim to this malady, and at the same time Prague was partially occupied by the troops of Leopold. The part of the city where Kepler resided was harassed by the Bohemian levies, and, to crown this list of evils, the Austrian troops introduced the plague into the city.
Sometime afterwards Kepler set out for Austria with the view of obtaining the professorship of mathematics at Linz, which was now vacant; but, upon his return in June, he found his wife in a decline, brought on by grief for the loss of her son, and she was sometime afterwards seized with an infectious fever, of which she died.
The Emperor Rudolph was unwilling to allow Kepler to quit Prague. He encouraged him with hopes that the arrears of his salary would be paid from Saxony; but these hopes were fallacious, and it was not till the death of Rudolph, in 1612, that Kepler was freed from these distressing embarrassments.
On the accession of Mathias, Rudolph’s brother, Kepler was re-appointed imperial mathematician, and was allowed to accept the professorship at Linz. His family now consisted of two children—a daughter, Susannah, born in 1602, and a son, Louis, born in 1607. His own time was so completely occupied by his new professorial duties, as well as by his private studies, that he found it necessary to seek another parent for his children. For this purpose, he gave a commission to his friends to look out for him a suitable wife, and, in a long and jocular letter to Baron Strahlendorf, he has given an amusing account of the different negotiations which preceded his marriage. The substance of this letter is so well given by Mr Drinkwater Bethune, that we shall follow his account of it.
The first of the eleven ladies among whom his inclinations wavered, “was a widow, an intimate friend of his first wife; and who, on many accounts, appeared a most eligible match. At first,” says Kepler, “she seemed favourably inclined to the proposal; it is certain that she took time to consider it, but at last she very quietly excused herself.” It must have been from a recollection of this lady’s good qualities, that Kepler was induced to make his offer; for we learn rather unexpectedly, after being informed of her decision, that when he soon afterwards paid his respects to her, it was the first time that he had seen her during the last six years; and he found, to his great relief, that “there was no single pleasing part about her.” The truth seems to be, that he was nettled by her answer, and he is at greater pains than appears necessary, considering this last discovery, to determine why she would not accept his offered hand. Among other reasons, he suggested her children, among whom were two marriageable daughters; and it is diverting afterwards to find them also in the catalogue, which Kepler appeared to be making, of all his female acquaintance.... Of the other ladies, one was too old, another in bad health, another too proud of her birth and quarterings, a fourth had learned nothing but shewy accomplishments, “not at all suitable to the sort of life she would have to lead with me,” another grew impatient, and married a more decided admirer, whilst he was hesitating. “The mischief,” says he, “in all these attachments was, that whilst I was delaying, comparing and balancing conflicting reasons, every day saw me inflamed with a new passion.” By the time he reached the 8th, he found his match in this respect. “Fortune at length has avenged herself on my doubtful inclinations. At first she was quite complying, and her friends also; presently, whether she did or did not consent, not only I, but she herself did not know. After the lapse of a few days came a renewed promise, which, however, had to be confirmed a third time; and four days after that, she again repeated her confirmation, and begged to be excused from it. Upon this I gave her up, and this time all my counsellors were of one opinion.” This was the longest courtship in the list, having lasted three whole months; and, quite disheartened by its bad success, Kepler’s next attempt was of a more timid complexion. His advances to No. 9 were made by confiding to her the whole story of his recent disappointment, prudently determining to be guided in his behaviour, by observing whether the treatment he had experienced met with a proper degree of sympathy. Apparently the experiment did not succeed; and, almost reduced to despair, Kepler betook himself to the advice of a friend, who had for some time past complained that she was not consulted in this difficult negotiation. When she produced No. 10, and the first visit was paid, the report upon her was as follows:—“She has, undoubtedly, a good fortune, is of good family, and of economical habits: but her physiognomy is most horribly ugly; she would be stared at in the streets, not to mention the striking disproportion in our figures. I am lank, lean, and spare; she short and thick: in a family notorious for fulness, she is considered superfluously fat.” The only objection to No. 11 seems to have been her excessive youth; and when this treaty was broken off on that account, Kepler turned his back upon all his advisers, and chose for himself one who had figured as No. 5 in the list, to whom he professes to have felt attached throughout, but from whom the representations of his friends had hitherto detained him, probably on account of her humble station.
The following is Kepler’s summary of her character:—“Her name is Susannah, the daughter of John Reuthinger and Barbara, citizens of the town of Eferdingen. The father was by trade a cabinetmaker, but both her parents are dead. She has received an education well worth the largest dowry, by favour of the Lady of Stahrenberg, the strictness of whose household is famous throughout the province. Her person and manners are suitable to mine—no pride, no extravagance. She can bear to work; she has a tolerable knowledge how to manage a family; middle-aged, and of a disposition and capability to acquire what she still wants. Her I shall marry, by favour of the noble Baron of Stahrenberg, at 12 o’clock on the 30th of next October, with all Eferdingen assembled to meet us, and we shall eat the marriage dinner at Maurice’s at the Golden Lion.”
Kepler’s marriage seems to have taken place at the time here mentioned; for, in his book on gauging, published at Linz in 1615, he informs us that he took home his new wife in November, on which occasion he found it necessary to stock his cellar with a few casks of wine. When the wine-merchant came to measure the casks, Kepler objected to his method, as he made no allowance for the different sizes of the bulging parts of the cask. From this accident, Kepler was led to study the subject of gauging, and to write the book which we have mentioned, and which contains the earliest specimens of the modern analysis.
About this period, Kepler was summoned to the Diet at Ratisbon, to give his opinion on the reformation of the kalendar, and he published a short essay on the subject; but though the Government did not scruple to avail themselves of his services, yet his pension was allowed to fall in arrear, and, in order to support his family, he was obliged to publish an Almanac, suited to the taste of the age. “In order,” says he, “to defray the expense of the Ephemeris for two years, I have been obliged to compose a vile prophesying Almanac, which is scarcely more respectable than begging, unless from its saving the Emperor’s credit, who abandons me entirely, and would suffer me to perish with hunger.”
Although Kepler’s residence at Linz was rendered uncomfortable by the Roman Catholics, who had excommunicated him on account of his refusing to subscribe to some opinions respecting the ubiquity of our Saviour, or, as others maintain, on account of some opinions which he had expressed respecting transubstantiation, yet he refused, in 1617, to accept of an invitation to fill the mathematical chair at Bologna. The prospect of his fortune being bettered by such a change could not reconcile him to live in a country where his freedom of speech and manners might expose him to suspicion; and he accordingly declined, in the most respectful manner, the offer which was made him.
Kepler’s continued Embarrassments—Death of Mathias—Liberality of Ferdinand—Kepler’s “Harmonies of the World”—The Epitome of the Copernican Astronomy—It is prohibited by the Inquisition—Sir Henry Wotton, the British Ambassador, invites Kepler to England—He declines the Invitation—Neglect of Genius by the English Government—Trial of Kepler’s Mother—Her final Acquittal—And Death at the age of Seventy-five—The States of Styria burn publicly Kepler’s Calendar—He receives his Arrears of Salary from Ferdinand—The Rudolphine Tables published in 1628—He receives a Gold Chain from the Grand Dulce of Tuscany—He is Patronised by the Duke of Friedland—He removes to Sagan, in Silesia—Is appointed Professor of Mathematics at Rostoch—Goes to Ratisbon to receive his Arrears—His Death, Funeral, and Epitaph—Monument Erected to his Memory in 1803—His Family—His Posthumous Volume, entitled “The Dream, or Lunar Astronomy.”
Kepler was kept in a state of constant anxiety from the delay in the Government to pay up the arrears of his pension, while their repeated promises prevented him from accepting of other employments. He had hoped that the affair of the Bolognese chair would rouse the imperial treasury to a sense of its duty, and enable him to publish the Rudolphine Tables,—that great work which he owed to the memory both of Tycho and of Rudolph. But though he was disappointed in this expectation, an event now occurred which at least held out the prospect of a favourable change in his circumstances. The Emperor Mathias died in 1619, and was succeeded by Ferdinand III., who not only continued him in the situation of his principal mathematician, with his former pension, but promised to pay up the arrears of it, and to furnish the means for publishing the Rudolphine Tables.
The year 1619, so favourable to Kepler’s prospects in life, was distinguished also by the publication, at Linz, of one of his most remarkable productions, entitled “The Harmonies of the World.” It is dedicated to James I. of England, and will be for ever memorable in the history of science, as containing the celebrated law that the squares of the periodic times of the planets are to one another as the cubes of their distances. This singular volume, which is marked with all the peculiarities which distinguish his Cosmographical Mystery, is divided into five books. The two first books are principally geometrical, and relate to regular polygons inscribed in a circle; the third book is a treatise on music, in which musical proportions are derived from figures; the fourth book is astrological, and treats of the harmony of rays emanating on the earth from the heavenly bodies, and on their influence over the sublunary or human soul; the fifth book is astronomical and metaphysical, and treats of the exquisite harmonies of the celestial motions, and of the celebrated third law of the universe, which we have already referred to.
This law, as he himself informs us, first entered his mind on the 8th March 1618; but, having made an erroneous calculation, he was obliged to reject it. He resumed the subject on the 15th May; and having discovered his former error, he recognised with transport the absolute truth of a principle which for seventeen years had been the object of his incessant labours. The delight which this grand discovery gave him had no bounds. “Nothing holds me,” says he; “I will indulge in my sacred fury; I will triumph over mankind by the honest confession, that I have stolen the golden vases of the Egyptians, to build up a tabernacle for my God, far away from the confines of Egypt. If you forgive me, I rejoice; if you are angry, I can bear it. The die is cast; the book is written, to be read either now or by posterity, I care not which. It may well wait a century for a reader, as God has waited six thousand years for an observer.”
About the same time, in 1618, Kepler published, at Linz, the three first books of his “Epitome of the Copernican Astronomy,” of which the fourth was published at the same place in 1622, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh at Frankfort in the same year. This interesting work is a kind of summary of all his astronomical views, drawn up in the form of a dialogue for the perusal of general readers. Immediately after its publication, it was placed by the Inquisition in the list of prohibited books; and the moment Kepler learned this from his correspondent Remus, he was thrown into great alarm, and requested from him some information respecting the terms and consequences of the censure which was then pronounced against him. He was afraid that it might compromise his personal safety if he went to Italy; that he would be compelled to retract his opinions; that the censure might extend to Austria; that the sale of his work would be ruined; and that he must either abandon his country or his opinions.
The reply of his friend Remus calmed his agitated mind, by explaining to him the true nature of the prohibition; and he concluded his letter with a piece of seasonable exhortation, “There is no ground for your alarm either in Italy or in Austria, only keep yourself within bounds, and put a guard upon your own passions.”
In the year 1620, Sir Henry Wotton, the English ambassador at Venice, paid a visit to Kepler on his way through Germany. It does not appear whether or not this visit was paid at the desire of James I., to whom Kepler had dedicated one of his works, but from the nature of the communication which was made to him by the ambassador, there are strong reasons to think that this was the case. Sir Henry Wotton urged Kepler to take up his residence in England, where he could assure him of a welcome and an honourable reception; but, notwithstanding the pecuniary difficulties in which he was then involved, he did not accept of the invitation. In referring to this offer in one of his letters, written a year after it was made, he thus balances the difficulties of the question—“The fires of civil war,” says he, “are raging in Germany. Shall I then cross the sea whither Wotton invites me? I, a German, a lover of firm land, who dread the confinement of an island, who presage its dangers, and must drag along with me my little wife and flock of children?” As Kepler seems to have entertained no doubt of his being well provided for in England, it is the more probable that the British Sovereign had made him a distinct offer through his ambassador. A welcome and an honourable reception, in the ordinary sense of these terms, could not have supplied the wants of a starving astronomer, who was called upon to renounce a large though an ill-paid salary in his native land; and Kepler had experienced too deeply the faithlessness of royal pledges to trust his fortune to so vague an assurance as that which is implied in the language of the English ambassador. During the two centuries which have elapsed since this invitation was given to Kepler, there has been no reign during which the most illustrious foreigner could hope for pecuniary support, either from the Sovereign or the Government of England. What English science has never been able to command for her indigenous talent, was not likely to be proffered to foreign merit. The generous hearts of individual Englishmen, indeed, are always open to the claims of intellectual pre-eminence, and ever ready to welcome the stranger whom it adorns; but through the frozen life-blood of a British minister such sympathies have seldom vibrated; and, amid the struggles of faction and the anxieties of personal and family ambition, he has turned a deaf ear to the demands of genius, whether she appeared in the humble posture of a suppliant, or in the prouder attitude of a national benefactor.
If the imperial mathematician, therefore, had no other assurance of a comfortable home in England than that of Sir Henry Wotton, he acted a wise part in distrusting it; and we rejoice that the sacred name of Kepler was thus withheld from the long list of distinguished characters whom England has starved and dishonoured.
In the year 1620, Kepler was exposed to a severe calamity, which continued to harass him for some time. His mother, Catherine Kepler, to whose peculiarities of temper we have already referred, was arrested on the 5th April, upon a charge of a very serious nature. One of her friends having some years before suffered a miscarriage, was subsequently attacked with violent headaches, and Catherine was charged with having administered poison to her friend. This accusation was indignantly repelled, and a young doctor of the law, whom she consulted, advised her to raise an action against her calumniator. From professional reasons, or probably pecuniary ones, this zealous practitioner continued to delay the lawsuit for five years. The judge who tried it happened to be displaced, and was succeeded by another, who had a personal quarrel with the prosecutor. The defender, who was aware of this favourable change in her case, became the accuser, and, in July 1620, Catherine Kepler was sent to prison, and condemned to the torture. The moment this event reached the ears of her son, he quitted Linz, and arrived in time to save her from punishment. He found that the evidence upon which she was condemned had no other foundation but her own intemperate conduct; and, though his interference was successful, yet she was not finally released from prison till the 4th November 1621. Convinced of her innocence, this bold woman, now in the 79th year of her age, raised a new action for damages against her opponent; but her death, in April 1622, put an end to her own miseries, as well as to the anxiety of her son. Among the virtues of this singular woman, we must number that of generosity. Mœstlin, the old preceptor of Kepler, had generously declined any compensation for his instructions. Kepler never forgot this act of kindness, and, in the midst of his poverty, he found means to send to Mœstlin a handsome silver cup in token of his gratitude. In acknowledging this gift, Mœstlin remarks, “Your mother had taken it into her head that you owed me 200 florins, and had brought 15 florins and a chandelier towards reducing the debt, which I advised her to send to you. I asked her to stay to dinner, which she refused. However, we hanselled your cup, as you know she is of a thirsty temperament.”
In the same year in which his mother was arrested, the States of Styria ordered all the copies of the Kalendar for 1624 to be publicly burnt. There does not seem to be any reason for supposing that this insult proceeded from his old enemies the Catholics. They would, no doubt, take an active share in carrying it into effect; but it would appear that his former patrons were affronted at Kepler’s giving the precedence in his title page to the States of Upper Ens, where he then resided, above the States of Styria.
In 1622, the Emperor Ferdinand, notwithstanding his own pecuniary difficulties, ordered the whole of Kepler’s arrears to be paid, even those which had been due by Rudolph and Mathias; and so great was his anxiety to have the Rudolphine Tables published, that he supplied the means for their immediate completion. New difficulties, however, sprung up to retard still longer the appearance of this most important work. The wars of the reformation, which were then agitating the whole of Germany, interfered with every peaceful pursuit. The library of Kepler was sealed up by order of the Jesuits, and it was only his position as imperial mathematician that saved him from personal inconvenience. A popular insurrection followed in the train of these disasters. The peasantry blockaded Linz, the place of Kepler’s residence, and it was not till the year 1627, as the title page bears, or 1628, as Kepler elsewhere states, that these celebrated Tables were given to the world.
The Rudolphine Tables were published at Ulm in one volume folio. These Tables were calculated by Kepler from the Observations of Tycho, and are founded on his own great discovery of the ellipticity of the planetary orbits. The first and third parts of the work contain logarithmic and other auxiliary tables, for the purpose of facilitating astronomical calculations. The second part contains tables of the sun, moon, and planets; and the fourth a catalogue of 1000 stars, as determined by Tycho. A nautical map is prefixed to some copies of the tables, and the description of it contains the first notice of the method of determining the longitude by means of occultations.
A short time after the publication of these tables, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, instigated no doubt by Galileo, sent Kepler a gold chain in testimony of his approbation of the great service which he had rendered to astronomy.
About this time Albert Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland, a great patron of astrology, and one of the most distinguished men of the age, made the most munificent offers to Kepler, and invited him to take up his residence at Sagan in Silesia. The religious dissensions which agitated Linz, the love of tranquillity which Kepler had so little enjoyed, and the publication of his great work, induced him to accept of this offer. He accordingly removed his family from Linz to Ratisbon in 1629, and he himself set out for Prague, with the double object of presenting the Rudolphine Tables to the Emperor, and of soliciting his permission to go into the service of the Duke of Friedland. The Emperor did not hesitate to grant this request; and would have gladly transferred Kepler’s arrears as well as himself to the charge of a foreign prince. Kepler accordingly set out with his wife and family for Sagan, where he arrived in 1629. The Duke Albert treated him with liberality and distinction. He supplied him with an assistant for his calculations, and also with a printing press; and, by his influence with the Duke of Mecklenburg, he obtained for him a professorship in the University of Rostoch.
In this remote situation, Kepler found it extremely difficult to obtain payment of the imperial pension which he still retained. The arrears had accumulated to 8000 crowns, and he resolved to go to the Imperial Assembly at Ratisbon to make a final effort to obtain them. His attempts, however, were fruitless. The vexation which this occasioned, and the great fatigue which he had undergone, threw him into a violent fever, which is said to have been one of cold, and to have been accompanied with an imposthume in his brain, occasioned by too much study. This disease baffled the skill of his physicians, and carried him off on the 5th November, O.S. 1630, in the sixtieth year of his age.
The remains of this great man were interred in St Peter’s Churchyard at Ratisbon, and the following inscription, embodying an epitaph which he had written for himself, was engraven on his tombstone.
This monument was not long preserved. It was destroyed during the wars which desolated Germany; and no attempt was made till 1786 to mark with honour the spot which contained such venerable remains. This attempt, however, failed, and it was not till 1803 that this great duty was paid to the memory of Kepler, by the Prince Bishop of Constance, who erected a handsome monumental temple near the place of his interment, and in the Botanical Garden of the city. The temple is surmounted by a sphere, and in the centre is a bust of Kepler in Carrara marble.
Kepler left behind him a wife and seven children—two by his first wife, Susanna and Louis; and three sons and two daughters by his second wife, viz.—Sebald, Cordelia, Friedman, Hildebert, and Anna Maria. The eldest of these, Susanna, was married a few months before her father’s death to Jacob Bartschius, his pupil, who was educated as a physician; and his son Louis died in 1663, while practising medicine at Konigsberg. The children by his second wife are said to have died young. They were left in very narrow circumstances; and though 24,000 florins were due to Kepler by the Emperor, yet only a part of this sum was received by Susanna, in consequence of her refusing to give up Tycho’s Observations till the debt was paid. Kepler composed a little work entitled “The Dream of John Kepler, or Lunar Astronomy,” the object of which was to describe the phenomena seen from the moon; but he died while he and Bartschius were engaged in its publication, and Bartschius having resumed the task, died also before its completion. Louis Kepler dreaded to meddle with a work which had proved so fatal to his father and his brother-in-law, but this superstitious feeling was overcome, and the work was published at Frankfort in 1636.
Number of Kepler’s published Works—His numerous Manuscripts in 22 folio volumes—Purchased by Hevelius, and afterwards by Hansch—Who publishes Kepler’s Life and Correspondence at the expense of Charles VI.—The History of the rest of his Manuscripts, which are deposited in the Library of the Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg—General Character of Kepler—His Candour in acknowledging his Errors—His Moral and Religious Character—His Astrological Writings and Opinions considered—His Character as an Astronomer and a Philosopher—The Splendour of his Discoveries—Account of his Methods of Investigating Truth.
Although the labours of Kepler were frequently interrupted by severe and long-continued indisposition, as well as by the pecuniary embarrassments in which he was constantly involved, yet the ardour and power of his mind enabled him to surmount all the difficulties of his position. Not only did he bring to a successful completion the leading inquiries which he had begun, but he found leisure for composing an immense number of works more or less connected with the subject of his studies. Between 1594, when he published his Kalendar at Gratz, and 1630, the year of his death, he published no fewer than thirty-three separate works; and he left behind him twenty-two volumes of manuscripts, seven of which contain his epistolary correspondence.
The celebrated astronomer Hevelius, who was a cotemporary of Louis Kepler, purchased all these manuscripts from Kepler’s representatives. At the death of Hevelius they were bought by M. Gottlieb Hansch, a zealous mathematician, who was desirous of giving them to the world. For this purpose he issued a prospectus in 1714 for publishing them by subscription, in 22 volumes folio; but this plan having failed, he was introduced to Charles VI., who liberally obtained for him 1000 ducats to defray the expense of the publication, and an annual pension of 300 florins. With such encouragement, Hansch published in 1718, in one volume folio, the correspondence of Kepler, entitled “Epistolæ ad Joannem Keplerum, insertis ad easdem responsionibus Keplerianis, quidquid hactenus reperiri potuerunt, opus novum, et cum Jo. Kepleri vita.”
The expenses of this volume unfortunately exhausted the 1000 ducats which had been granted by the Emperor, and, instead of being able to publish the rest of the MSS., Hansch was under the necessity of pledging them for 828 florins. Under these difficulties he addressed himself in vain to the celebrated Wolfius, to the Royal Society of London, and to other bodies that were likely to interest themselves in such a subject. In 1761, when M. De Murr of Nuremberg was in London, he made great exertions to obtain the MSS., and Dr Bradley is said to have been on the eve of purchasing them. The competition probably raised the demands of the proprietor, in whose hands they continued for many years. In 1773 they were offered for 4000 francs, and sometime afterwards M. De Murr purchased them for the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg, in whose library they still remain. Euler, Lexell, and Kraft undertook the task of examining them, and selecting those that were best fitted for publication, but we believe that no steps have yet been taken for executing this task, nor are we aware that science would derive any advantage from its completion.
Although, in drawing his own character, Kepler describes himself as “troublesome and choleric in politics and domestic matters,” yet the general events of his life indicate a more peaceful disposition than might have been expected from the peculiarities of his mind and the ardour of his temperament. On one occasion, indeed, he wrote a violent and reproachful letter to Tycho, who had given him no just ground of offence; but the state of Kepler’s health at that moment, and the necessitous circumstances in which he had been placed, present some palliation of his conduct. But, independent of this apology, his subsequent conduct was so truly noble as to reconcile even Tycho to his penitent friend. Kepler quickly saw the error which he committed; he lamented it with genuine contrition, and was anxious to remove any unfavourable impression which he might have given of his friend, by the most public confession of his error, and by the warmest acknowledgments of the kindness of Tycho.
In his relations with the scientific men of his own times, Kepler conducted himself with that candour and love of truth which should always distinguish the philosopher. He was never actuated by any mean jealousy of his rivals. He never scrupled to acknowledge their high merits; and when the discoveries made by the telescope established beyond a doubt the errors of some of Kepler’s views, he willingly avowed his mistake, and never joined in the opposition which was made by many of his friends to the discoveries of Galileo. A striking example of this was exhibited in reference to his supposed discovery of Mercury on the sun’s disc. In the year 1607, Kepler observed upon the face of the sun a dark spot, which he mistook for Mercury; but the day proving cloudy, he had not the means of determining by subsequent observations whether or not this opinion was well founded. As spots on the sun were at that time unknown, Kepler did not hesitate to publish the fact in 1607, in his Mercurius in Sole visus; but when Galileo, a few years afterwards, discovered a great number of similar spots with the telescope, Kepler retracted his opinions, and acknowledged that Galileo’s discovery afforded an explanation, also, of many similar observations in old writers, which he had found it difficult to reconcile with the actual motions of Mercury.
Kepler was not one of those cold-hearted men who, though continually occupied in the study of the material world, and ambitious of the distinction which a successful examination of it confers, are yet insensible to the goodness and greatness of the Being who made and sustains it. His mind was cast in a better mould. The magnificence and harmony of the divine works excited in him not only admiration but love. He felt his own humility the farther he was allowed to penetrate into the mysteries of the universe; and sensible of the incompetency of his unaided powers for such transcendent researches, and recognising himself as but the instrument which the Almighty employed to make known his wonders, he never entered upon his inquiries without praying for assistance from above. This frame of mind was by no means inconsistent with that high spirit of delight and triumph with which Kepler surveyed his discoveries. His was the unpretending ovation of success, not the ostentatious triumph of ambition; and if a noble pride did occasionally mingle itself with his feelings, it was the pride of being the chosen messenger of physical truth, not that of being the favoured possessor of superior genius. With such a frame of mind, Kepler was necessarily a Christian. The afflictions with which he was beset confirmed his faith and brightened his hopes: he bore them in all their variety and severity with Christian patience; and though he knew that this world was to be the theatre of his intellectual glory, yet he felt that his rest and his reward could be found only in another.
It is difficult to form any very intelligible idea of the nature and extent of Kepler’s astrological opinions, and of the degree of credit which he himself placed in the opinions that he did avow. In his Principles of Astrology, published in 1602, and in other works, he rails against the vanity and worthlessness of the ordinary astrology. He regards those who professed it as knaves and charlatans; and maintains that the planets and stars exercise no influence whatever over human affairs. He conceives, however, that certain harmonious configurations of suitable planets, like the spur to a horse, or a speech to an audience, have the power of exciting the minds of men to certain general actions or impulses; so that the only effect of these configurations is to operate along with the vital soul in producing results which would not otherwise have taken place. As an example of this, he states that those who are born when many aspects of the planets occur, generally turn out busy and industrious, whether they be occupied in amassing wealth, managing public affairs, or prosecuting scientific studies. Kepler himself was born under a triple configuration, and hence, in his opinion, his ardour and activity in study; and he informs us that he knew a lady born under nearly the same configurations, “who not only makes no progress in literature, but troubles her whole family and occasions deplorable misery to herself.” This excitement of the faculties of sublunary natures, as he expresses it, by the colours and aspects and conjunctions of the planets, is regarded by Kepler as a fact, which he had deduced from observation, and which has “compelled his unwilling belief.” “I have been driven to this,” says he, “not by studying or admiring Plato, but singly and solely by observing seasons, and noting the aspects by which they are produced. I have seen the state of the atmosphere almost uniformly disturbed as often as the planets are in conjunction, or in the other configurations so celebrated among astrologers. I have noticed its tranquil state either when there are none or few such aspects, or when they are transitory and of short duration.” Had Kepler been able to examine these hasty and erroneous deductions by long continued observation, he would soon have found that the coincidence which he did observe was merely accidental, and he would have cheerfully acknowledged it. Speculations of this kind, however, are, from their very nature, less subject to a rigorous scrutiny; and a long series of observations is necessary either to establish or to overturn them. The industry of modern observers has now supplied this defect, and there is no point in science more certain than that the sun, moon, and planets do not exercise any influence on the general state of our atmosphere.
The philosophers in Kepler’s day, who had studied the phenomena of the tides, without having any idea of their cause, and who observed that they were clearly related to the daily motions of the two great luminaries, may be excused for the extravagance of their belief in supposing that the planets exercised other influences over “sublunary nature.” Although Kepler, in his Commentaries on Mars, had considered it probable that the waters of our ocean are attracted by the moon, as iron is by a loadstone, yet this opinion seems to have been a very transient one, as he long afterwards, in his System of Harmonies, stated his firm belief that the earth is an enormous living animal, and enumerates even the analogies between its habits and those of known animated beings. He considered the tides as waves produced by the spouting out of water through its gills, and he explains their relation to the solar and lunar motions by supposing that the terrene monster has, like other animals, its daily and nightly alternations of sleeping and waking.
From the consideration of Kepler’s astrological opinions, it is an agreeable transition to proceed to the examination of his high merits as an astronomer and a philosopher. As an experimental philosopher, or as an astronomical observer, Kepler does not lay claim to our admiration. He himself acknowledges, “that for observations his sight was dull, and for mechanical operations his hand was awkward.” He suffered much from weak eyes, and the delicacy of his constitution did not permit him to expose himself to the night air. Notwithstanding these hindrances, however, he added several observations to those of Tycho, which he made with two instruments that were presented to him by his friend Hoffman, the President of the States of Styria. These instruments were an iron sextant, 2½ feet in diameter, and a brass azimuthal quadrant 3½ feet in diameter, both of which were divided into single minutes of a degree. They were very seldom used, and we must regard the circumstances which disqualified Kepler for an observer, as highly favourable to the developement of those great powers which he directed with undivided energy to physical astronomy.
Even if Kepler had never turned his attention to the heavens, his optical labours would have given him a high rank among the original inquirers of his age; but when we consider him also as the discoverer of the three great laws which bear his name, we must assign him a rank next to that of Newton. The history of science does not present us with any discoveries more truly original, or which required for their establishment a more powerful and vigorous mind. The speculations of his predecessors afforded him no assistance. From the cumbrous machinery adopted by Copernicus, Kepler passed, at one step, to an elliptical orbit, with the sun in one of its foci, and from that moment astronomy became a demonstrative science. The splendid discoveries of Newton sprung immediately from those of Kepler, and completed the great chain of truths which constitute the laws of the planetary system. The eccentricity and boldness of Kepler’s powers form a striking contrast with the calm intellect and the enduring patience of Newton. The bright spark which the genius of the one elicited, was fostered by the sagacity of the other into a steady and a permanent flame.
Kepler has fortunately left behind him a full account of the methods by which he arrived at his great discoveries. What other philosophers have studiously concealed, Kepler has openly avowed, and minutely detailed; and we have no hesitation in considering these details as the most valuable present that has ever been given to science, and as deserving the careful study of all who seek to emulate his immortal achievements. It has been asserted that Newton made his discoveries by following a different method; but this is a mere assumption, as Newton has never favoured the world with any account of the erroneous speculations and the frequent failures which must have preceded his ultimate success. Had Kepler done the same, by recording only the final steps of his inquiries, his method of investigation would have obtained the highest celebrity, and would have been held up to future ages as a pattern for their imitation. But such was the candour of his mind, and such his inordinate love of truth, that he not only recorded his wildest fancies, but emblazoned even his greatest errors. If Newton had indulged us with the same insight into his physical inquiries, we should have witnessed the same processes which were employed by Kepler, modified only by the different characters and intensities of their imaginative powers.
When Kepler directed his mind to the discovery of a general principle, he set distinctly before him, and never once lost sight of, the explicit object of his search. His imagination, now unreined, indulged itself in the creation and invention of various hypotheses. The most plausible, or perhaps the most fascinating, of these was then submitted to a rigorous scrutiny; and the moment it was found to be incompatible with the results of observation and experiment, it was willingly abandoned, and another hypothesis submitted to the same severe ordeal. By thus gradually excluding erroneous views and assumptions, Kepler not only made a decided approximation to the object of his pursuit, but in the trials to which his opinions were submitted, and in the observations or experiments which they called forth, he discovered new facts and arrived at new views which directed his subsequent inquiries. By pursuing this method, he succeeded in his most difficult researches, and discovered those beautiful and profound laws which have been the admiration of succeeding ages. In tracing the route which he followed, it is easy for those who live under the light of modern science to say that his fancies were often wild, and his labour often wasted; but, in judging of Kepler’s methods, we ought to place ourselves in his times, and invest ourselves with the opinions and the knowledge of his contemporaries.
In the infancy of a science there is no speculation so absurd as not to merit examination. The most remote and fanciful explanations of facts have often been found the true ones; and opinions which have in one century been objects of ridicule, have in the next been admitted among the elements of our knowledge. The physical world teems with wonders, and the various forms of matter exhibit to us properties and relations far more extraordinary than the wildest fancy could have conceived. Human reason stands appalled before this magnificent display of creative power, and they who have drunk deepest of its wisdom will be the least disposed to limit the excursions of physical speculation.
The influence of the imagination as an instrument of research, has, we think, been much overlooked by those who have ventured to give laws to philosophy. This faculty is of the greatest value in physical inquiries. If we use it as a guide, and confide in its indications, it will infallibly deceive us; but if we employ it as an auxiliary, it will afford us the most invaluable aid. Its operation is like that of the light troops which are sent out to ascertain the strength and position of an enemy. When the struggle commences, their services terminate; and it is by the solid phalanx of the judgment that the battle must be fought and won.
G. S. TULLIS, PRINTER, CUPAN.