Table of Contents



Tycho’s Birth, Family, and Education—An Eclipse of the Sun turns his attention to Astronomy—Studies Law at Leipsic—But pursues Astronomy by stealth—His Uncle’s Death—He returns to Copenhagen, and resumes his Observations—Revisits Germany—Fights a Duel, and loses his Nose—Visits Augsburg, and meets Hainzel—Who assists him in making a large Quadrant—Revisits Denmark—And is warmly received by the King—He settles at his Uncle’s Castle of Herritzvold—His Observatory and Laboratory—Discovers the new Star in Cassiopeia—Account of this remarkable Body—Tycho’s Marriage with a Peasant Girl—Which irritates his Friends—His Lectures on Astronomy—He visits the Prince of Hesse—Attends the Coronation of the Emperor Rudolph at Ratisbon—He returns to Denmark.

Among the distinguished men who were destined to revive the sciences, and to establish the true system of the universe, Tycho Brahe holds a conspicuous place. He was born on the 14th December 1546, at Knudstorp, the estate of his ancestors, which is situated near Helsingborg, in Scania, and was the eldest son and the second child of a family of five sons and five daughters. His father, Otto Brahe, who was descended from a noble Swedish family, was in such straitened circumstances, that he resolved to educate his sons for the military profession; but Tycho seems to have disliked the choice that was made for him; and his next brother, Steno, who appears to have had a similar feeling, exchanged the sword for the more peaceful occupation of Privy Councillor to the King. The rest of his brothers, though of senatorial rank, do not seem to have extended the renown of their family; but their youngest sister, Sophia, is represented as an accomplished mathematician, and is said to have devoted her mind to astronomy as well as to the astrological reveries of the age.

George Brahe, the brother of Otto, having no children of his own, resolved to adopt and to educate one of his nephews. On the birth of Tycho, accordingly, he was desirous of having him placed under his wife’s care; but his parents could not be prevailed upon to part with their child till after the birth of Steno, their second son.

Having been instructed in reading and writing under proper masters, Tycho began the study of Latin in his seventh year; and, in opposition to his father’s views, he prosecuted it for five years under private teachers, from whom he received also occasional instruction in poetry and the belles lettres.

In April 1559, about three years after his father’s death, Tycho was sent to the University of Copenhagen, to study rhetoric and philosophy, with the view of preparing for the study of the law, and qualifying himself for some of those political offices which his rank entitled him to expect. In this situation he contracted no fondness for any particular study; but after he had been sixteen months at college, an event occurred which directed all the powers of his mind to the science of astronomy. The attention of the public had been long fixed on a great eclipse of the sun, which was to happen on the 21st August 1560; and as in those days a phenomenon of this kind was linked with the destinies of nations as well as of individuals, the interest which it excited was as intense as it was general. Tycho watched its arrival with peculiar anxiety. He read the astrological diaries of the day, in which its phases and its consequences were described; and when he saw the sun darkened at the very moment that had been predicted, and to the very extent that had been delineated, he resolved to make himself master of a science which was capable of predicting future events, and especially that branch of it which connected these events with the fortunes and destinies of man. With this view he purchased the Tabulæ Bergenses, calculated by John Stadius, and began with ardour the study of the planetary motions.

When Tycho had completed his course at Copenhagen, he was sent, in February 1562, under the charge of a tutor to study jurisprudence at Leipsic. Astronomy, however, engrossed all his thoughts; and he had no sooner escaped from the daily surveillance of his master, than he rushed with headlong impetuosity into his favourite pursuits. With his pocket money he purchased astronomical books, which he read in secret; and by means of a celestial globe, the size of his fist, he made himself acquainted with the stars, and followed them night after night through the heavens, when sleep had lulled the vigilance of his preceptor. By means of the Ephemerides of Stadius, he learned to distinguish the planets, and to trace them through their direct and retrograde movements; and having obtained the Alphonsine and Prutenic Tables, and compared his own calculations and observations with those of Stadius, he observed great differences in the results, and from that moment he seems to have conceived the design of devoting his life to the accurate construction of tables, which he justly regarded as the basis of astronomy.

With this view, he applied himself secretly to the study of arithmetic and geometry; and, without the assistance of a master, he acquired that mathematical knowledge which enabled him to realise these early aspirations. His ardour for astronomy was still farther inflamed, and the resolution which it inspired still farther strengthened, by the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which took place in August 1563. The calculated time of this phenomenon differed considerably from the true time which was observed; and in determining the instant of conjunction Tycho felt in the strongest manner the imperfection of the instruments which he used. For this purpose he employed a sort of compass, one leg of which was directed to one planet and the second to the other planet or fixed star; and, by measuring the angular opening between them, he determined the distance of the two celestial bodies. By this rude contrivance he found that the Alphonsine Tables erred a whole month in the time of conjunction, while the Copernican ones were at least several days in error. To this celebrated conjunction Tycho ascribed the great plague which in subsequent years desolated Europe, because it took place in the beginning of Leo, and not far from the nebulous stars of Cancer, two of the zodiacal signs which are reckoned by Ptolemy “suffocating and pestilent!”

There dwelt at this time at Leipsic an ingenious artisan named Scultetus, who was employed by Homelius, the professor of mathematics in that city, to assist him in the construction of his instruments. Having become acquainted with this young man, Tycho put into his hand a wooden radius, such as was recommended by Gemma Frisius, for the purpose of having it divided in the manner adopted by Homelius; and with this improved instrument he made a great number of astronomical observations out of his window, without ever exciting the suspicions of his tutor.

Having spent three years at Leipsic, he was about to make the tour of Germany, when, in consequence of his uncle’s death, he was summoned to his native country to inherit the fortune which had been left him. He accordingly quitted Leipsic about the middle of May 1565, and after having arranged his domestic concerns in Denmark, he continued his astronomical observations with the radius constructed for him by Scultetus. The ardour with which he pursued his studies gave great umbrage to his friends as well as to his relations. He was reproached for having abandoned the profession of the law; his astronomical observations were ridiculed as not only useless but degrading, and, among his numerous connexions, his maternal uncle, Steno Bille, was the only one who applauded him for following the bent of his genius. Under these uncomfortable circumstances he resolved to quit his country, and pay a visit to the most interesting cities of Germany.

At Wittemberg, where he arrived in April 1566, he resumed his astronomical observations; but, in consequence of the plague having broken out in that city, he removed to Rostoch in the following autumn. Here an accident occurred which had nearly deprived him of his life. On the 10th December he was invited to a wedding feast; and, among other guests, there was present a noble countryman of his own, Manderupius Pasbergius. Some difference having arisen between them on this occasion, they parted with feelings of mutual displeasure. On the 27th of the same month they met again at some festive games, and having revived their former quarrel, they agreed to settle their differences by the sword. They accordingly met at 7 o’clock in the evening of the 29th, and fought in total darkness. In this blind combat, Manderupius cut off the whole of the front of Tycho’s nose, and it was fortunate for astronomy that his more valuable organs were defended by so faithful an outpost. The quarrel, which is said to have originated in a difference of opinion respecting their mathematical acquirements, terminated here; and Tycho repaired his loss by cementing upon his face a nose of gold and silver, which is said to have formed a good imitation of the original.

During the years 1567 and 1568, Tycho continued to reside at Rostoch, with the exception of a few months, during which he made a rapid journey into Denmark. He lived in a house in the college of the Jesuits, which he had rented on account of its fitness for celestial observations; but, though he intended to spend the winter under its roof, he had made no arrangement respecting his future life, leaving it, as he said, in the hands of Providence. A desire, however, to visit the south of Germany induced him to quit Rostoch, and having crossed the Danube, he paid a visit to Augsburg.

Upon entering this ancient city, Tycho was particularly struck with the grandeur of its fortifications, the splendour of its private houses, and the beauty of its fountains; and, after a short residence within its walls, he was still more delighted with the industry of the people, the refinement of the higher classes, and the love of literature and science which was cherished by its wealthy citizens. Among the interesting acquaintances which he formed at Augsburg, were two brothers, John and Paul Hainzel, the one a septemvir, and the other the consul or burgomaster. They were both distinguished by their learning, and both of them, particularly Paul, were ardent lovers of astronomy. Tycho had hitherto no other astronomical instrument than the coarse radius which was made for him by Scultetus, and he waited only for a proper occasion to have a larger and better instrument constructed for his use. Having now the command of workmen who could execute his plans, he conceived the bold design of making a divided instrument which should distinctly exhibit single minutes of a degree. While he was transferring the first rude conception of his instrument to paper, Paul Hainzel entered his study, and was so struck with the grandeur of the plan, that he instantly undertook to have it executed at his own expense. The projected instrument was a quadrant of fourteen cubits radius! and Tycho and his friend entered upon its construction with that intense ardour which is ever crowned with success.

In the village of Gegginga, about half a mile to the south of the city, Paul Hainzel had a country house, the garden of which was chosen as the spot where the quadrant was to be fixed. The best artists in Augsburg, clockmakers, jewellers, smiths, and carpenters, were engaged to execute the work, and from the zeal which so novel an instrument inspired, the quadrant was completed in less than a month. Its size was so great that twenty men could with difficulty transport it to its place of fixture. The two principal rectangular radii were beams of oak; the arch which lay between their extremities was made of solid wood of a particular kind, and the whole was bound together by twelve beams. It received additional strength from several iron bands, and the arch was covered with plates of brass, for the purpose of receiving the 5400 divisions into which it was to be subdivided. A large and strong pillar of oak, shod with iron, was driven into the ground, and kept in its place by solid mason work. To this pillar the quadrant was fixed in a vertical plane, and steps were prepared to elevate the observer, when stars of a low altitude required his attention. As the instrument could not be conveniently covered with a roof, it was protected from the weather by a covering made of skins, but notwithstanding this and other precautions, it was broken to pieces by a violent storm, after having remained uninjured for the space of five years.

As this quadrant was fitted only to determine the altitudes of the celestial bodies, Tycho constructed a large sextant for the purpose of measuring their distances. It consisted of two radii, which opened and shut round a centre, and which were nearly four cubits long, and also of two arches, one of which was graduated, while the other served to keep the radii in the same plane. After the radii had been opened or shut till they nearly comprehended the angle between the stars to be observed, the adjustment was completed by means of a very fine tangent screw. With this instrument Tycho made many excellent observations during his stay at Augsburg. He began also the construction of a wooden globe about six feet in diameter. Its outer surface was turned with great accuracy into a sphere, and kept from warping by interior bars of wood supported at its centre.

After receiving a visit from the celebrated Peter Ramus, who subsequently fell a victim at the massacre of St Bartholomew, Tycho left Augsburg, having received a promise from his friend Hainzel that he would communicate to him the observations made with his large quadrant, and with the sextant which he had given him in a present. He paid a visit to Philip Appian in passing through Ingolstadt, and returned to his native country about the end of 1571.

The fame which he had acquired as an astronomer procured for him a warmer reception than that which he had formerly experienced. The King invited him to court, and his friends and admirers loaded him with kindness. His uncle, Steno Bille, who now lived at the ancient convent of Herritzvold, and who had always taken a deep interest in the scientific character of his nephew, not only invited him to his house, but assigned to him for an observatory the part of it which was best adapted for that purpose. Tycho cheerfully accepted of this liberal offer. The immediate proximity of Herritzvold to Knudstorp, rendered this arrangement peculiarly convenient, and in the house of his uncle he experienced all that kindness and consideration which natural affection and a love of science combined to cherish. When Steno learned that the study of chemistry was one of the pursuits of his nephew, he granted him a spacious house, a few yards distant from the convent, for his laboratory. Tycho lost no time in fitting up his observatory, and in providing his furnaces; and regarding gold and silver and the other metals as the stars of the earth, he used to represent his two opposite pursuits as forming only one science, namely, celestial and terrestrial astronomy.

In the hopes of enriching himself by the pursuits of alchemy, Tycho devoted most of his attention to those satellites of gold and silver which now constituted his own system, and which disturbed by their powerful action the hitherto uniform movements of their primary. His affections were ever turning to Germany, where astronomers of kindred views, and artists of surpassing talent were to be found in almost every city. The want of money alone prevented him from realizing his wishes; and it was in the hope of attaining the means of travelling, that he in a great measure forsook his sextants for his crucibles. In order, however, that he might have one good instrument in his observatory, he constructed a sextant similar to, but somewhat larger than, that which he had presented to Hainzel. Its limb was made of solid brass, and was exquisitely divided into single minutes of a degree. Its radii were strengthened with plates of brass, and the apparatus for opening and shutting them was made with great accuracy.

The possession of this instrument was peculiarly fortunate for Tycho, for an event now occurred which roused him from his golden visions, and directed all his faculties into their earlier and purer current. On the 11th November 1572, when he was returning to supper from his laboratory, the clearness of the sky inspired him with the desire of completing some particular observations. On looking up to the starry firmament he was surprised to see an extraordinary light in the constellation of Cassiopeia, which was then above his head. He felt confident that he had never before observed such a star in that constellation, and distrusting the evidence of his own senses, he called out the servants and the peasants, and having received their testimony that it was a huge star such as they had never seen before, he was satisfied of the correctness of his own vision. Regarding it as a new and unusual phenomenon, he hastened to his observatory, adjusted his sextant, and measured its distances from the nearest stars in Cassiopeia. He noted also its form, its magnitude, its light, and its colour, and he waited with great anxiety for the next night that he might determine the important point whether it was a fixed star, or a body within, or near to, our own system.

For several years Tycho had been in the practice of calculating, at the beginning of each year, a sort of almanac for his own use, and in this he inserted all the observations which he had made on the new star, and the conclusions which he had drawn from them. Having gone to Copenhagen in the course of the ensuing spring, he shewed this manuscript to John Pratensis, a Professor, in whose house he was always hospitably received. Charles Danzeus, the French ambassador, and a person of great learning, having heard of Tycho’s arrival, invited himself to dine with him at the house of Pratensis. The conversation soon turned upon the new star, and Tycho found his companion very sceptical about its existence. Danzeus was particularly jocular on the subject, and attacked the Danes for their inattention to so important a science as astronomy. Tycho received this lecture in good temper, and with the anxious expectation that a clear sky would enable him to give a practical refutation of the attack which was made upon his country. The night turned out serene, and the whole party saw with astonishment the new star under the most favourable circumstances. Pratensis conceived that it was similar to the one observed by Hipparchus, and urged Tycho to publish the observations which he had made upon it. Tycho refused to accede to this request, on the pretext that his work was not sufficiently perfect; but the true reason, as he afterwards acknowledged, was, that he considered it would be a disgrace for a nobleman, either to study such subjects, or to communicate them to the public. This absurd notion was with some difficulty overcome, and through the earnest entreaties and assistance of Pratensis, his work on the new star was published in 1573.

This remarkable body presents to us one of the most interesting phenomena in astronomy. The date of its first appearance has not been exactly ascertained. Tycho saw it on the 11th November, but Cornelius Gemma had seen it on the 9th, Paul Hainzel saw it on the 7th of August at Augsburg, and Wolfgangus Schulerus observed it at Wittenberg on the 6th. Tycho conjectures that it was first seen on the 5th, and Hieronymus Munosius asserts that at Valentia, in Spain, it was not seen on the 2d, when he was shewing that part of the heavens to his pupils. This singular body continued to be seen during 16 months, and did not disappear till March 1574. In its appearance it was exactly like a star, having none of the distinctive marks of a comet. It twinkled strongly, and grew larger than Lyra or Sirius, or any other fixed star. It seemed to be somewhat larger than Jupiter, when he is nearest the earth, and rivalled Venus in her greatest brightness. In the first month of its appearance it was less than Jupiter; in the second it equalled him; in the third it surpassed him in splendour; in the fourth it was equal to Sirius; in the fifth to Lyra; in the sixth and seventh to stars of the second magnitude; in the eighth, ninth, and tenth, to stars of the third magnitude; in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, to stars of the fourth magnitude; in the fourteenth and fifteenth to stars of the fifth magnitude; and in the sixteenth month to stars of the sixth magnitude. After this it became so small that it at last disappeared. Its colour changed also with its size. At first it was white and bright; in the third month it began to become yellowish; in the fifth it became reddish like Aldebaran; and in the seventh and eighth it became bluish like Saturn; growing afterwards duller and duller. Its place in the heavens was invariable. Its longitude was in the 6th degree and 54th minute of Taurus; and its latitude 53° 45´ north. Its right ascension was 0° 26⅖´ and its declination 61° 46¾´. It had no parallax, and was unquestionably situated in the region of the fixed stars.

After Tycho had published his book, he proposed to travel into Germany and Italy, but he was seized with a fever, and he had no sooner recovered from it, than he became involved in a love affair, which frustrated all his schemes. Although Tycho was afraid of casting a stain upon his nobility by publishing his observations on the new star, yet he did not scruple to debase his lineage by marrying a peasant girl of the village of Knudstorp. This event took place in 1573, and in 1574 his wife gave birth to his daughter Magdalene. Tycho’s noble relations were deeply offended at this imprudent step; and so far did the mutual animosity of the parties extend, that the King himself was obliged to effect a reconciliation.

The fame of our author as an astronomer and mathematician was now so high, that several young Danish nobles requested him to deliver a course of lectures upon these interesting subjects. This application was seconded by Pratensis, Danzeus, and all his best friends; but their solicitations were vain. The King at last made the request in a way which ensured its being granted, and Tycho delivered a course of lectures, in which he not only gave a full view of the science of astronomy, but defended and explained all the reveries of astrology.

Having finished his lectures, and arranged his domestic affairs, he set out on his projected journey about the beginning of the spring of 1575, leaving behind him his wife and daughter, till he should fix upon a place of permanent residence. The first town which he visited was Hesse-Cassel, the residence of William, Landgrave of Hesse, whose patronage of astronomy, and whose skill in making celestial observations, have immortalized his name. Here Tycho spent eight or ten delightful days, during which the two astronomers were occupied one half of the day in scientific conversation, and the other half in astronomical observations; and he would have prolonged a visit which gave him so much pleasure, had not the death of one of the Landgrave’s daughters interrupted their labours. Passing through Frankfort, Tycho went into Switzerland; and, after visiting many cities on his way, he fixed upon Basle as a place of residence, not only from its centrical position, but from the salubrity of the air, and the cheapness of living. From Switzerland he went to Venice, and, in returning through Germany, he came to Ratisbon, at the time of the congress, which had been called together on the 1st of November, for the coronation of the Emperor Rudolph. On this occasion he met with several distinguished individuals, who were not only skilled in astronomy, but who were among its warmest patrons. From Ratisbon he passed to Saalfeld, and thence to Wittemburg, where he saw the parallactic instruments and the wooden quadrant which had been used by John Pratensis in determining the latitude of the city, and in measuring the altitudes of the new star.

Tycho was now impatient for home, and he lost no time in returning to Denmark, where events were awaiting him which frustrated all his schemes, by placing him in the most favourable situation for promoting his own happiness, and advancing the interests of astronomy.


Frederick II. patronises Tycho—And resolves to establish him in Denmark—Grants him the Island of Huen for Life—And Builds the splendid Observatory of Uraniburg—Description of the Island, and of the Observatory—Account of its Astronomical Instruments—Tycho begins his Observations—His Pupils—Tycho is made Canon of Rothschild, and receives a large Pension—His Hospitality to his Visitors—Ingratitude of Witichius—Tycho sends an Assistant to take the Latitude of Frauenburg and Konigsberg—Is visited by Ulric, Duke of Mecklenburg—Change in Tycho’s fortunes.

The patronage which had been extended to astronomers by several of the reigning princes of Germany, especially by the Landgrave of Hesse, and Augustus, Elector of Saxony, had begun to excite a love of science in the minds of other sovereigns. The King of Denmark seems to have felt it as a stain upon his character, that the only astronomer in his dominions should carry on his observations in distant kingdoms and adorn by his discoveries other courts than his own. With this feeling he sent ambassadors to Hesse-Cassel to inquire after Tycho, and to intimate to him his wish that he should return to Denmark, and his anxiety to promote the advancement of astronomy in his own dominions. Tycho had left Cassel when these messengers arrived, and had heard nothing of the King’s intentions till he was about to quit Knudstorp with his family for Basle. At this time he was surprised at the arrival of a noble messenger, who brought a letter requesting him to meet the King as soon as possible at Copenhagen. Tycho lost no time in obeying the royal summons. The King received him with the most flattering kindness. He offered to give him a grant for life of the island of Huen, between Denmark and Sweden, and to construct and furnish with instruments, at his own expense, an observatory, as well as a house for the accommodation of his family, together with a laboratory for carrying on his chemical inquiries. Tycho, who truly loved his country, was deeply affected with the munificence of the royal offer. He accepted of it with that warmth of gratitude which it was calculated to inspire; and he particularly rejoiced in the thought that if any success should attend his future labours, the glory of it would belong to his native land.

The island of Huen is about sxix miles from the coast of Zealand, three from that of Sweden, and fourteen from Copenhagen. It is six miles in circumference, and rises into the form of a mountain, which, though very high, terminates in a plain. It is nowhere rocky, and even in the time of Tycho it produced the best kinds of grain, afforded excellent pasturage for horses, cattle, and sheep, and possessed deer, hares, rabbits, and partridges in abundance. It contained at that time only one village, with about forty inhabitants.

Having surveyed his new territory, Tycho resolved to build a magnificent tower in the centre of the elevated plain, which he resolved to call Uraniburg, or The City of the Heavens. Having made the necessary arrangements, he repaired to the island on the 8th of August, and his friend Charles Danzeus laid the foundation stone of the new observatory, which consisted of a slab of porphyry, with the following inscription:—

Regnante in Dania Frederico II., Carolus Danzæus Aquitanus R. G. I. D. L.,[37] Domui huic Philosophiæ, imprimisque Astrorum contemplationi, Regis decreto a nobili viro Tychone Brahe de Knudstrup extructæ votivum hunc lapidem memoriæ et felicis auspicii ergo P. Anno CIC.IC.LXXVI. VI Id. Augusti.

This ceremony was performed early in the morning of a splendid day, in which the rising sun threw its blessing upon Frederick, and upon the party of noblemen and philosophers who had assembled to testify their love of science. An entertainment was provided for the occasion, and copious libations of a variety of wines were offered for the success of the undertaking.

The observatory was surrounded by a rampart, each face of which was three hundred feet long. About the middle of each face the rampart became a semicircle, the inner diameter of which was ninety feet. The height of the rampart was twenty-two feet, and its thickness at the base twenty. Its four angles corresponded exactly with the four cardinal points, and at the north and south angles were erected turrets, of which one was a printing-house, and the other the residence of the servants. Gates were erected at the east and west angles, and above them were apartments for the reception of strangers. Within the rampart was a shrubbery with about three hundred varieties of trees; and at the centre of each semicircular part of the rampart was a bower or summer-house. This shrubbery surrounded the flower-garden, which was terminated within by a circular wall about forty-five feet high, which enclosed a more elevated area, in the centre of which stood the principal building in the observatory, and from which four paths led to the above-mentioned angles, with as many doors for entering the garden.

The principal building was about sixty feet square. The doors were placed on the east and west sides; and to the north and south fronts were attached two round towers, whose inner diameter was about thirty-two feet, and which formed the observatories which had windows in their roof, that could be opened towards any part of the heavens. The accommodations for the family were numerous and splendid. Under the observatory, in the south tower, was the museum and library, and below this again was the laboratory in a subterraneous crypt, containing sixteen furnaces of various kinds. Beneath this was a well forty feet deep, from which water was distributed by syphons to every part of the building.

Besides the principal building there were other two situated without the rampart, one to the north, containing a workshop for the construction of astronomical and other instruments, and the other to the south, which was occupied as a sort of farm-house. These buildings cost the King of Denmark 100,000 rix-dollars (£20,000), and Tycho is said to have expended upon them a similar sum.

As the two towers could not accommodate the instruments which Tycho required for his observations, he found it necessary to erect, on the hill about sixty paces to the south of Uraniburg, a subterranean observatory, in which he might place his larger instruments, which required to be firmly fixed, and to be protected from the wind and the weather. This observatory, which he called Stiern-berg, or the mountain, of the stars, consisted of several crypts, separated by solid walls, and to these there was a subterranean passage from the laboratory in Uraniburg. The various buildings which Tycho erected were built in a regular style of architecture, and were highly ornamented, not only with external decorations, but with the statues and pictures of the most distinguished astronomers, from Hipparchus and Ptolemy down to Copernicus, and with inscriptions and poems in honour of astronomers.

While these buildings were erecting, and after their completion, Tycho was busily occupied in preparing instruments for observation. These were of the most splendid description, and the reader will form some notion of their grandeur and their expense from the following list:—

In almost all the instruments now enumerated, the limb was subdivided by diagonal lines, a method which Tycho first brought into use, but which, in modern times, has been superseded by the inventions of Nonius and Vernier.

When Tycho had thus furnished his observatory, he devoted himself to the examination of the stars; and during the twenty-one years which he spent in this delightful occupation, he made vast additions to astronomical science. In order to instruct the young in the art of observation, and educate assistants for his observatory, he had sometimes under his roof from six to twelve pupils, whom he boarded and educated. Some of these were named by the King, and educated at his expense. Others were sent by different academies and cities; and several, who had presented themselves of their own accord, were liberally admitted by the generous astronomer.

As Tycho had spent nearly a ton of gold (about 100,000 dollars) in his outlay at Uraniburg, his own income was reduced to very narrow limits. To supply this defect, Frederick gave him an annual pension of 2000 dollars, beside an estate in Norway, and made him Canon of the Episcopal Church of Rothschild, or Prebend of St Laurence,[38] which had an annual income of 1000 dollars, and which was burdened only with the expense of keeping up the chapel containing the Mausolea of the Kings of the family of Oldenburg.

It would be an unprofitable task, and one by no means interesting to the general reader, to give a detailed history of the various astronomical observations and discoveries which were made by Tycho during the twenty years that he spent at Uraniburg. Every phenomenon that appeared in the heavens, he observed with the greatest care; while he at the same time carried on regular series of observations for determining the places of the fixed stars, and for improving the tables of the sun, moon, and planets. Though almost wholly devoted to these noble pursuits, yet he kept an open house, and received, with unbounded hospitality, the crowds of philosophers, nobles, and princes who came to be introduced to the first astronomer of the age, and to admire the splendid temple which the Danish Sovereign had consecrated to science.

Among the strangers whom he received under his roof, there were some who returned his kindness with ingratitude. Among these was Paul Witichius, a mathematician; who, under the pretence of devoting his whole life to astronomy, insinuated himself into the utmost familiarity with Tycho. The unsuspecting astronomer explained to his guest all his inventions, described all his methods, and even made him acquainted with those views which he had not realised, and with instruments which he had not yet executed. When Witichius had thus obtained possession of the methods, and inventions, and views of Tycho, and had enjoyed his hospitality for three months, he pretended that he was obliged to return to Germany to receive an inheritance to which he had succeeded. After quitting Uraniburg, this ungrateful mathematician neither returned to see Tycho, nor kept up any correspondence with him; and it was not till five years after his departure that Tycho learned, from the letters of the Prince of Hesse to Ranzau, that Witichius had passed through Hesse, and had described, as his own, the various inventions and methods which had been shewn to him in Huen.

Being unable to reconcile his own observations with those of Copernicus, and with the Prutenic Tables, Tycho resolved to obtain new determinations of the latitude of Frauenburg, in Prussia, where Copernicus made his observations, and of Konigsberg, to the meridian of which Rheinhold had adapted his Prutenic Tables. For these purposes he sent one of his assistants, Elias Morsianus, with a proper instrument, under the protection of Bylovius, Ambassador of the Margrave of Anspach, to the King of Denmark, who was returning by sea to Germany; and after receiving the greatest attention and assistance from the noble Canons of Ermeland, he determined, from nearly a month’s observations on the sun and stars, that the latitude of Frauenburg was 54° 22½´, in place of 54° 19½´, as given by Copernicus. In like manner he determined that the latitude of Konigsberg was 54° 43´, in place of 54° 17´, as adopted by Rheinhold. When Morsianus returned to Huen in July, he brought with him, as a present to Tycho, from John Hannovius, one of the Canons of Ermeland, the Ptolemaic Rules, or the Parallactic Instrument which Copernicus had used and made with his own hands. It consisted of two equal wooden rules, five cubits long, and divided into 1414 parts. Tycho preserved this gift as one peculiarly dear to him, and, on the day of his receiving it, he composed a set of verses in honour of the great astronomer to whom it belonged.

Among the distinguished visits which were paid to Tycho, we must enumerate that of Ulric, Duke of Mecklenburg, in 1586. Although his daughter, Sophia, Queen of Denmark, had already paid two visits to Uraniburg in the same year, yet such was her love of astronomy, that she accompanied her father and his wife Elizabeth on this occasion. Ulric was not only fond of science in general, but had for many years devoted himself to chemical pursuits, and he was therefore peculiarly gratified in examining the splendid laboratory and extensive apparatus which Tycho possessed. It has been said by some of the biographers of Tycho, that the Landgrave of Hesse visited Uraniburg about this period; but this opinion is not correct, as it was only his astronomer and optician, Rothman, who made a journey to Huen in 1591 for the recovery of his health. Tycho had long carried on a correspondence with this able astronomer respecting the observations made at the observatory of Hesse-Cassel, and, during the few months which they now spent together, they discussed in the amplest manner all the questions which had previously been agitated. Rothman was astonished at the wonderful apparatus which he saw at Uraniburg, and returned to his native country charmed with the hospitality of the Danish astronomer.

Hitherto we have followed Tycho through a career of almost unexampled prosperity. When he had scarcely reached his thirtieth year he was established, by the kindness and liberality of his sovereign, in the most splendid observatory that had ever been erected in Europe; and a thriving family, an ample income, and a widely extended reputation were added to his blessings. Of the value of these gifts he was deeply sensible, and he enjoyed them the more that he received them with a grateful heart. Tycho was a christian as well as a philosopher. The powers of his gifted mind have been amply displayed in his astronomical labours; but we shall now have occasion to witness his piety and resignation in submitting to an unexpected and an adverse destiny.


Tycho’s Labours do honour to his Country—Death of Frederick II.—James VI. of Scotland visits Tycho at Uraniburg—Christian IV. visits Tycho—The Duke of Brunswick’s visit to Tycho—The Danish Nobility, jealous of his fame, conspire against him—He is compelled to quit Uraniburg—And to abandon his Studies—Cruelty of the Minister Walchendorp—Tycho quits Denmark with his Family and Instruments—Is hospitably received by Count Rantzau—Who introduces him to the Emperor Rudolph—The Emperor invites him to Prague—He gives him a Pension of 3000 Crowns—And the Castle of Benach as a Residence and an Observatory—Kepler visits Tycho—Who obtains for him the Appointment of Mathematician to Rudolph.

The love of astronomy which had been so unequivocally exhibited by Frederick II. and his Royal Consort, inspired their courtiers with at least an outward respect for science; and among the ministers and advisers of the King, Tycho reckoned many ardent friends. It was every where felt that Denmark had elevated herself among the nations of Europe by her liberality to Tycho; and the peaceful glory which he had in return conferred upon his country was not of a kind to dissatisfy even rival nations. In the conquests of science no widow’s or orphan’s tears are shed, no captives are dragged from their homes, and no devoted victims are yoked to the chariot wheels of the triumphant philosopher. The newly acquired domains of knowledge belong, in right of conquest, to all nations, and Denmark had now earned the gratitude of Europe by the magnitude as well as the success of her contingent.

An event, however, now occurred which threatened with destruction the interests of Danish science. In the beginning of April 1588, Frederick II. died in the 54th year of his age, and the 29th of his reign. His remains were conveyed to Rothschild, and deposited in the chapel under Tycho’s care, where a finely executed bust of him was afterwards placed. His son and successor, Christian IV., was only in the 11th year of his age, and though his temper and disposition were good, yet Tycho had reason to be alarmed at the possibility of his discontinuing the patronage of astronomy. The taste for science, however, which had sprung up in the Danish Court had extended itself no wider than the influence of the reigning sovereign. The parasites of royalty saw themselves eclipsed in the bright renown which Tycho had acquired, and every new visit to Uraniburg by a foreign prince supplied fresh fuel to the rancour which had long been smothering in their breasts. The accession of a youthful king held out to his enemies an opportunity of destroying the influence of Tycho; and though no adverse step was taken, yet he had the sagacity to foresee, in “trifles light as air,” the approaching confirmation of his fears. Hope, however, still cheered him amid his labours, but that hope was founded chiefly on the learning and character of Nicolas Caasius, the Chancellor of the Kingdom, from whom he had experienced the warmest attentions.

Among the princes who visited Uraniburg, there were none who conducted themselves with more condescension and generosity than our own sovereign, James VI. In the year 1590, when the Scottish King repaired to Denmark to celebrate his marriage with the Princess Anne, the King’s sister, he paid a visit to Tycho, attended by his councillors and a large suite of nobility. During the eight days which he spent at Uraniburg, James carried on long discussions with Tycho on various subjects, but chiefly on the motion which Copernicus had ascribed to the earth. He examined narrowly all the astronomical instruments, and made himself acquainted with the principles of their construction and the method of using them. He inspected the busts and pictures in the museum, and when he perceived the portrait of George Buchanan, his own preceptor, he could not refrain from the strongest expressions of delight. Upon quitting the hospitable roof of Tycho, James not only presented him with a magnificent donation, but afterwards gave him his royal license to publish his works in England during seventy years. This license was accompanied with the following high eulogium on his abilities and learning:—“Nor have I become acquainted with these things only from the relation of others, or from a bare inspection of your works, but I have seen then before my own eyes, and have heard them with my own ears, in your residence at Uraniburg, and have drawn them from the various learned and agreeable conversations which I there held with you, and which even now affect my mind to such a degree, that it is difficult to determine whether I recollect them with greater pleasure or admiration; as I now willingly testify, by this license, to present and to future generations,” &c.

At the request of Tycho, the King also composed and wrote in his own hand some Latin verses, which were more complimentary than classical. His Chancellor had also composed some verses of a similar character during his visit to Tycho. A short specimen of these will be deemed sufficient by the classical reader:—

In the year 1591, when Christian IV. had reached his 14th year, he expressed a desire to pay a visit to Uraniburg. He accordingly set out with a large party, consisting of his three principal senators, and other councillors and noblemen; and having examined the various instruments in the observatories and laboratory, he proposed to Tycho various questions on mechanics and mathematics, but particularly on the principles of fortification and ship building. Having observed that he particularly admired a brass globe, which, by means of internal wheelwork, imitated the diurnal motion of the heavens, the rising and setting of the sun, and the phases of the moon, Tycho made him a present of it, and received in return an elegant gold chain, with his Majesty’s picture, with an assurance of his unalterable attachment and protection.

Notwithstanding this assurance, Tycho had already, as we have stated, begun to suspect the designs of his enemies; and in a letter addressed to the Landgrave of Hesse, early in 1591, he throws out some hints which indicated the anxieties that agitated his mind. The Landgrave of Hesse, as if he had heard some rumours unfavourable to the prospects of Tycho, requested him to write him respecting the state of the Kingdom, and concerning his own private affairs. To this letter, which was dated early in February, Tycho replied about the beginning of April. He informed the Landgrave that he led a private life in his own island, exempt from all official functions, and never willingly taking a part in public affairs. He was desirous of leaving the ambition of public honours to others, and of devoting himself wholly to the study of philosophy and astronomy; and he expressed a hope that if he should be involved in the tumults and troubles of life, either by his own destiny or by evil counsels, he might be able, by the blessing of God, to extricate himself by the force of his mind and the integrity of his life. He comforted himself with the idea that every soil was the country of a great man, and that wherever he went the blue sky would still be over his head;[39] and he distinctly states at the close of his letter, that he had thought of transferring his residence to some other place, as there were some of the King’s councillors who had already begun to calumniate his studies, and to grudge him his pension from the treasury.

The causes which led to this change of feeling on the part of Christian IV.’s advisers have not been explained by the biographers of Tycho. It has been stated, in general terms, that he had made many enemies, by the keenness of his temper and the severity of his satire; but I have not been able to discover any distinct examples of these peculiarities of his mind. In an event, indeed, which occurred about this time, he slightly resented a piece of marked incivility on the part of Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick, who had married the Princess Eliza of Denmark; but it is not likely that so trivial an affair, if it were known at court, could have called down upon him the hostility of the King’s advisers.

The Duke of Brunswick had, in 1590, paid a visit to Uraniburg, and had particularly admired an antique brass statue of Mercury, about a cubit long, which Tycho had placed in the roof of the hypocaust or central crypt of the Stiern-berg observatory. By means of a concealed mechanism, it moved round in a circular orbit. The Duke requested the statue and its machinery, which Tycho gave him, on the condition that he should obtain a model of it, for the purpose of having another executed by a skilful workman. The Duke not only forgot his promise, but paid no attention to the letters which were addressed to him. Tycho was justly irritated at this unprincely conduct, and ordered this anecdote to be inserted in the description of Uraniburg which he was now preparing for publication.

In the year 1592, Tycho lost his distinguished friend and correspondent the Prince of Hesse, and astronomy one of its most active and intelligent cultivators. His grief on this occasion was deep and sincere, and he gave utterance to his feelings in an impassioned elegy, in which he recorded the virtues and talents of his friend. Prince Maurice, the son and successor of the Landgrave, continued, with the assistance of able observers, to keep up the reputation of the observatory of Hesse-Cassel; and the observations which were there made were afterwards published by Snellius. The extensive and valuable correspondence between Tycho and the Landgrave was prepared for publication about the beginning of 1593, and contains also the letters of Rothman and Rantzau.

For several years the studies of Tycho had been treated with an unwilling toleration by the Danish Court. Many of the nobles envied the munificent establishment which he had received from Frederick, and the liberal pension which he drew from his treasury. But among his most active enemies were some physicians, who envied his reputation as a successful and a gratuitous practitioner of the healing art. Numbers of invalids flocked to Huen, and diseases, which resisted all other methods of cure, are said to have yielded to the panaceal prescription of the astrologer. Under the influence of such motives, these individuals succeeded in exciting against Tycho the hostility of the court. They drew the public attention to the exhausted state of the treasury. They maintained that he had possessed too long the estate in Norway, which might be given to men who laboured more usefully for the commonwealth; and they accused him of allowing the chapel at Rothschild to fall into decay. The President of the Council, Christopher Walchendorp, and the King’s Chancellor, were the most active of the enemies of Tycho; and, having poisoned the mind of their sovereign against the most meritorious of his subjects, Tycho was deprived of his canonry, his estate in Norway, and his pension.

Being no longer able to bear the expenses of his establishment in Huen, and dreading that the feelings which had been excited against him might be still further roused, so as to deprive him of the Island of Huen itself, he resolved to transfer his instruments to some other situation. Notwithstanding this resolution, he remained with his family in the island, and continued his observations till the spring of 1597, when he took a house in Copenhagen, and removed to it all his smaller and more portable instruments, leaving those which were large or fixed in the crypts of Stiern-berg. His first plan was to remove every thing from Huen as a measure of security; but the public feeling began to turn in his favour, and there were many good men in Copenhagen who did not scruple to reprobate the conduct of the government. The President of the Council, Walchendorp—a name which, while the heavens revolve, will be pronounced with horror by astronomers—saw the change of sentiment which his injustice had produced, and adopted an artful method of sheltering himself from public odium. In consequence of a quarrel with Tycho, the recollection of which had rankled in his breast, he dreaded to be the prime mover in his persecution. He therefore appointed a committee of two persons, one of whom was Thomas Feuchius, to report to the government on the nature and utility of the studies of Tycho. These two individuals were entirely ignorant of astronomy and the use of instruments; and even if they had not, they would have been equally subservient to the views of the minister. They reported that the studies of Tycho were of no value, and that they were not only useless, but noxious. Armed with this report, Walchendorp prohibited Tycho, in the King’s name, from continuing his chemical experiments; and instigated, no doubt, by this wicked minister, an attack was made upon himself, and his shepherd or his steward was injured in the affray. Tycho was provoked to revenge himself upon his enemies, and the judge was commanded not to interfere in the matter.

Thus persecuted by his enemies, Tycho resolved to remain no longer in an ungrateful country. He carried from Huen every thing that was moveable, and having packed up his instruments, his crucibles, and his books, he hired a ship to convey them to some foreign land. His wife, his five sons and four daughters, his male and his female servants, and many of his pupils and assistants, among whom were Tengnagel, his future son-in-law, and the celebrated Longomontanus, embarked at Copenhagen, to seek the hospitality of some better country than their own.

Freighted with the glory of Denmark, this interesting bark made the best of its way across the Baltic, and arrived safely at Rostoch. Here the exiled patriarch found many of his early friends, particularly Henry Bruce, an able astronomer, to whom he had formerly presented one of his brass quadrants. The approach of the plague, however, prevented Tycho from making any arrangements for a permanent residence; and, having received a warm invitation from Count Henry Rantzau, who lived in Holstein at the Castle of Wandesberg, near Hamburg, he went with all his family, about the end of 1597, to enjoy the hospitality of his friend.

Though Tycho derived the highest pleasure from the kindness and conversation of Count Rantzau, yet a cloud overshadowed the future, and he had yet to seek for a patron and a home. His hopes were fixed on the Emperor Rudolph, who was not only fond of science, but who was especially addicted to alchemy and astrology, and his friend Rantzau promised to have him introduced to the Emperor by proper letters. When Tycho learned that Rudolph was particularly fond of mechanical instruments and of chemistry, he resolved to complete and to dedicate to him his work on the mechanics of astronomy, and to add to it an account of his chemical labours. This task he soon performed, and his work appeared in 1598 under the title of Tychonis Brahe, Astronomiæ instauratæ Mechanica. Along with this work he transmitted to the Emperor a copy of his MS. catalogue of 1000 fixed stars.

With these proofs of his services to science, and instigated by various letters in his favour, the Emperor Rudolph desired his Vice-Chancellor to send for Tycho, and to assure him that he would be received according to his great merits, and that nothing should be wanting to promote his scientific studies. Leaving his wife and daughters at Wandesberg, and taking with him his sons and his pupils, Tycho went to Wittemberg; but having learned that the plague had broken out at Prague, and that the Emperor had gone to Pilsen, he deferred for a while his journey into Bohemia.

Early in the spring of 1599, when the pestilence had ceased at Prague, and the Emperor had returned to his capital, Tycho set out for Bohemia. On his arrival at Prague, he found a splendid house ready for his reception, and a kind message from the Emperor, prohibiting him from paying his respects to him till he had recovered from the fatigues of his journey. On his presentation to Rudolph, the generous Emperor received him with the most distinguished kindness. He announced to him that he was to receive an annual pension of 3000 crowns; that an estate would as soon as possible be settled upon him and his family and their successors; that a town house would be provided for him; and that he might have his choice of various castles and houses in the country as the site of his observatory and laboratory. The Emperor had also taken care to provide every thing that was necessary for Tycho’s immediate wants; and so overwhelmed was he with such unexpected kindness, that he remarked that, as he could not find words to express his gratitude, the whole heavens would speak for him, and posterity should know what a refuge his great and good Sovereign had been to the Queen of the Arts.

Among the numerous friends whom Tycho found at Prague, were his correspondents Coroducius and Hagecius, and his benefactor Barrovitius, the Emperor’s secretary. He was congratulated by them all on his distinguished reception at court, and was regarded as the Æneas of science, who had been driven from his peaceful home, and who had carried with him to the Latium of Germany his wife, his children, and his household gods. If external circumstances could remove the sorrows of the past, Tycho must now have been supremely happy. In his spacious mansion, which had belonged to his friend Curtius, he found a position for one of his best instruments, and having covered with poetical inscriptions the four sides of the pedestal on which it stood, in honour of his benefactors, as well as of former astronomers, he resumed with diligence his examination of the stars.

When Rudolph saw the magnificent instruments which Tycho had brought along with him, and had acquired some knowledge of their use, he pressed him to send to Denmark for the still larger ones which he had left at Stiern-berg. In the meantime, he gave him the choice of the castles of Brandisium, Lyssa, and Benach as his country residence; and after visiting them about the end of May, Tycho gave the preference to Benach, which was situated upon a rising ground, and commanded an extensive horizon. It contained splendid and commodious buildings, and was almost, as he calls it, a small city, situated on the stream Lisor, near its confluence with the Albis. It stood a little to the east and north of Prague, and was distant from that city only five German miles, or about six hours’ journey.

On the 20th of August, the Prefect of Brandisium gave Tycho possession of his new residence. His gratitude to his royal patron was copiously displayed, not only in a Latin poem written on the occasion, but in Latin inscriptions which he placed above the doors of his observatory and his laboratory. In order that he might establish an astronomical school at Prague, he wrote to Longomontanus, Kepler, Muller, David Fabricius, and two students at Wittemberg, who were good calculators, requesting them to reside with him at Benach, as his assistants and pupils: He at the same time dispatched his destined son-in-law, Tengnagel, accompanied by Pascal Muleus, to bring home his wife and daughters from Wandesberg, and his instruments from Huen; and he begged that Longomontanus would accompany them to Denmark, and return in the same carriage with them to Bohemia.

Kepler arrived at Prague in January 1600, and, after spending three or four months at Benach, in carrying on his inquiries and in making astronomical observations, he returned to Gratz. Tycho had undertaken to obtain for him the appointment of his assistant. It was arranged that the Emperor should allow him a hundred florins, on the condition that the states of Styria would permit him to retain his salary for two years. This scheme, however, failed, and Kepler was about to study medicine, and offer himself for a professorship of medicine at Tubingen, when Tycho undertook to obtain him a permanent appointment from the Emperor. Kepler, accordingly, returned in September 1601, and, on the recommendation of his friend, he was named imperial mathematician, on the condition of assisting Tycho in his observations.

Tycho had experienced much inconvenience in his residence at Benach, from his ignorance of the language and customs of the country, as well as from other causes. He was therefore anxious to transfer his instruments to Prague; and no sooner were his wishes conveyed to the Emperor than he gave him leave to send them to the royal gardens and the adjacent buildings. His family and his larger instruments having now arrived from Huen, the astronomer with his family and his property were safely lodged in the royal edifice. Having found that there was no house in Prague more suited for his purposes than that of his late friend Curtius, the Emperor purchased it from his widow, and Tycho removed into it on the 25th February 1601.


Tycho resumes his Astronomical Observations—Is attacked with a Painful Disease—His Sufferings and Death in 1601—His Funeral—His Temper—His Turn for Satire and Raillery—His Piety—Account of his Astronomical Discoveries—His Love of Astrology and Alchymy—Observations on the Character of the Alchymists—Tycho’s Elixir—His Fondness for the Marvellous—His Automata and Invisible Bells—Account of the Idiot, called Lep, whom he kept as a Prophet—History of Tycho’s Instruments—His great Brass Globe preserved at Copenhagen—Present state of the Island of Huen.

Although Tycho continued in this new position to observe the planets with his usual assiduity, yet the recollection of his sufferings, and the inconveniences and disappointments which he had experienced, began to prey upon his mind, and to affect his health. Notwithstanding the continued liberality of the Emperor, and the kindness of his friends and pupils, he was yet a stranger in a distant land. Misfortune was unable to subdue that love of country which was one of the most powerful of his affections; and, though its ingratitude might have broken the chain which bound him to the land of his nativity, it seems only to have rivetted it more firmly. His imagination, thus influenced, acquired an undue predominance over his judgment. He viewed the most trifling occurrences as supernatural indications; and in those azure moments when the clouds broke from his mind, and when he displayed his usual wit and pleasantry, he frequently turned the conversation to the subject of his latter end.

This state of mind was the forerunner, though probably the effect, of a painful disease, which had, doubtless, its origin in the severity and continuity of his studies. On the 13th October, when he was supping at the house of a nobleman called Rosenberg, he was seized with a retention of urine, which forced him to leave the party.

This attack continued with little intermission for more than a week, and, during this period, he suffered great pain, attended with want of sleep and temporary delirium, during which, he frequently exclaimed, Ne frustra vixisse videor. On the 24th he recovered from this painful situation, and became perfectly tranquil. His strength, however, was gone, and he saw that he had not many hours to live. He expressed an anxious wish that his labours would redound to the glory of his Maker, to whom he offered up the most ardent prayers. He enjoined his sons and his son-in-law not to allow them to be lost. He encouraged his pupils not to abandon their pursuits, he requested Kepler to complete the Rudolphine Tables, and to his family he recommended piety and resignation to the Divine will. Among those who never quitted Tycho in his illness, was Erick Brahe, Count Wittehorn, a Swede, and a relation of his own, and Counsellor to the King of Poland. This amiable individual never left the bedside of his friend, and administered to him all those attentions which his situation required. Tycho, turning to him, thanked him for his affectionate kindness, and requested him to maintain the relationship with his family. He then expired without pain, amid the consolations, the prayers, and the tears of his friends. This event took place on the 24th of October 1601, when he was only fifty-four years and ten months old.

The Emperor Rudolph evinced the greatest sorrow when he was informed of the death of his friend, and he gave orders that he should be buried in the most honourable manner, in the principal church of the ancient city.[40] The funeral took place on the 4th November, and he was interred in the dress of a nobleman, and with the ceremonies of his order. The funeral oration was pronounced by Jessenius, before a distinguished assemblage, and many elegies were written on his death.

Tycho was a little above the middle size, and in the last years of his life he was slightly corpulent. He had reddish yellow hair and a ruddy complexion. He was of a sanguine temperament, and is said to have been sometimes irritable, and even obstinate. This failing, however, if he did possess it, was not exhibited towards his pupils or his scientific friends, who ever entertained for him the warmest affection and esteem. Some of his pupils had remained in his house more than twenty years; and in the quarrel which arose between him and Kepler,[41] and which is allowed to have originated entirely in the temper of the latter, he conducted himself with the greatest patience and forbearance. There is reason to think that the irritability with which he has been charged was less an affection of his mind than the effect of that noble independence of character which belonged to him, and that it has been inferred chiefly from his conduct to some of those high personages with whom he was brought in contact. When Walchendorp, the President of the Council, kicked his favourite hound, it was no proof of irritability of character that Tycho expressed in strong terms his disapprobation of the deed.

It was, doubtless, a greater weakness in his character that he indulged his turn for satire, without being able to bear retaliation. His jocular habits, too, sometimes led him into disagreeable positions. When the Duke of Brunswick was dining with him at Uraniburg, the Duke said, towards the end of the dinner, that, as it was late, he must be going. Tycho jocularly remarked that this could not be done without his permission; upon which the Duke rose and left the party, without taking leave of his host. Tycho became indignant in his turn, and continued to sit at table; but, as if repenting of what he had done, he followed the Duke, who was on his way to the ship, and, calling upon him, displayed the cup in his hand, as if he had washed out his offence by a draught of wine.

Tycho was a man of true piety, and cherished the deepest veneration for the Sacred Scriptures, and for the great truths which they reveal. Their principles regulated his conduct, and their promises animated his hopes. His familiarity with the wonders of the heavens increased, instead of diminishing, his admiration of Divine wisdom, and his daily conversation was elevated by a constant reference to a superintending Providence.

As a practical astronomer, Tycho has not been surpassed by any observer of ancient or of modern times. The splendour and number of his instruments, the ingenuity which he exhibited in inventing new ones and in improving and adding to those which were formerly known, and his skill and assiduity as an observer, have given a character to his labours, and a value to his observations, which will be appreciated to the latest posterity. The appearance of the new star in 1572 led him to form a catalogue of 777 stars, vastly superior in accuracy to those of Hipparchus and Ulugh Beig. His improvements on the lunar theory were still more valuable. He discovered the important inequality called the variation, and also the annual inequality which depends on the position of the earth in its orbit. He discovered, also, the inequality in the inclination of the moon’s orbit, and in the motion of her nodes. He determined with new accuracy the astronomical refractions from an altitude of 45° down to the horizon, where he found it to be 34´; and he made a vast collection of observations on the planets, which formed the groundwork of Kepler’s discoveries and the basis of the Rudolphine Tables. Tycho’s powers of observation were not equalled by his capacity for general views. It was, perhaps, owing more to his veneration for the Scriptures than to the vanity of giving his name to a new system that he rejected the Copernican hypothesis. Hence he was led to propose a new system, called the Tychonic, in which the earth is stationary in the centre of the universe, while the sun, with all the other planets and comets revolving round him, performs his daily revolution about the earth. This arrangement of the planets afforded a sufficient explanation of the various phenomena of the heavens; and as it was consistent with the language of Scripture, and conformable to the indications of the senses, it found many supporters, notwithstanding the physical absurdity of making the whole system revolve round one of the smallest of the planets.

It is a painful transition to pass from the astronomical labours of Tycho to his astrological and chemical pursuits. That Tycho studied and practised astrology has been universally admitted. He calculated the nativity of the Emperor Rudolph, and foretold that his relations would make some attempts upon his life. The credulous Emperor confided in the prediction, and when the conduct of his brother seemed to justify his belief, he confined himself to his palace, and fell a prey to the fear which it inspired. Tycho, however, seems to have entirely renounced his astrological faith in his latter days; and Kepler states,[42] in the most pointed manner, that Tycho carried on his astronomical labours with his mind entirely free from the superstitions of astrology; that he derided and detested the vanity and knavery of astrologers, and was convinced that the stars exercised no influence on the destinies of men.

Although Tycho informed Rothman that he devoted as much labour and expense to the study of terrestrial (chemistry) as he did to that of celestial astronomy, yet it is a singular fact that he never published any account of his experiments, nor has he left among his writings any trace of his chemical inquiries. He pretended, however, to have made discoveries in the science, and we should have been disposed to reprobate the apology which he makes for not publishing them, did we not know that it had been frequently given by the other alchemists of the age—“On consideration,” says he, “and by the advice of the most learned men, I thought it improper to unfold the secrets of the art (of alchemy) to the vulgar, as few persons were capable of using its mysteries to advantage and without detriment.”

Admitting then, as we must do, that Tycho was not only a professed alchemist, but that he was practically occupied with its pursuits, and continually misled by its delusions, it may not be uninteresting to the reader to consider how far a belief in alchemy, and a practice of its arts, have a foundation in the weakness of human nature; and to what extent they are compatible with the piety and elevated moral feeling by which our author was distinguished.

In the history of human errors two classes of impostors, of very different characters, present themselves to our notice—those who wilfully deluded their species, and those who permitted their species to delude themselves. The first of those classes consisted of the selfish tyrants who upheld an unjust supremacy by systematic delusions, and of grovelling mountebanks who quenched their avaricious thirst at the fountains of credulity and ignorance. The second class comprehended spirits of a nobler mould: It embraced the speculative enthusiasts, whom the love of fame and of truth urged onward, in a fruitless research, and those great lights of knowledge and of virtue, who, while they stood forward as the landmarks of the age which they adorned, had neither the intellectual nor the moral courage to divest themselves of the supernatural radiance with which the ignorance of the vulgar had encircled them.

The thrones and shrines, which delusion once sustained even in the civilized quarter of the globe, are for ever fallen, and that civil and religious liberty, which in past ages was kept down by the marvellous exhibitions of science to the senses, is now maintained by its application to the reason of man. The charlatans, whether they deal in moral or in physical wonders, form a race which is never extinct. They migrate to the different zones of the social system, and though they change their place, and their purposes, and their victims, yet their character and motives remain the same. The philosophical mind, therefore, is not disposed to study either of these varieties of impostors; but the other two families which compose the second class are objects of paramount interest. The eccentricities and even the obliquities of great minds merit the scrutiny of the metaphysician and the moralist, and they derive a peculiar interest from the state of society in which they are exhibited. Had Cardan and Cornelius Agrippa lived in modern times, their vanity and self-importance would have been checked by the forms of society, and even if their harmless pretensions had been displayed, they would have disappeared in the blaze of their genius and knowledge. But nursed in superstition, and educated in dark and turbulent times, when every thing intellectual was in a state of restless transition, the genius and character of great men necessarily reflected the peculiarities of the age in which they lived.

Had history transmitted to us correct details of the leading alchemists and scientific magicians of the dark ages, we should have been able to analyse their actions and their opinions, and trace them, probably, to the ordinary principles by which the human mind is in every age influenced and directed. But when a great man has once become an object either of interest or of wonder, and still more when he is considered as the possessor of knowledge and skill which transcend the capacity of the age, he is soon transformed into the hero of romance. His powers are overrated, his deeds exaggerated, and he becomes the subject of idle legends, which acquire a firmer hold on credulity from the slight sprinkling of truth with which they are seasoned. To disclaim the possession of lofty attributes thus ascribed to great men is a degree of humility which is not often exercised. But even when this species of modesty is displayed, it never fails to defeat its object. It but calls forth a deeper homage, and fixes the demigod more firmly in his shrine.

The history of learning furnishes us with many examples of that species of delusion in which a great mind submits itself to vulgar adulation, and renounces unwillingly, if it renounces at all, the unenviable reputation of supernatural agency. In cases where self-interest and ambition are the basis of this peculiarity of temperament, and in an age when the conjuror and the alchemist were the companions and even the idols of princes, it is easy to trace the steps by which a gifted sage retains his ascendancy among the ignorant. The hecatomb which is sacrificed to the magician, he receives as an oblation to his science, and conscious of possessing real endowments, the idol devours the meats that are offered to him without analysing the motives and expectations under which he is fed. But even when the idolater and his god are not placed in this transverse relation, the love of power or of notoriety is sufficient to induce good men to lend a too willing ear to vulgar testimony in favour of themselves; and in our own times it is not common to repudiate the unmerited cheers of a popular assembly, or to offer a contradiction to fictitious tales which record our talents or our courage, our charity or our piety.

The conduct of the scientific alchemists of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries presents a problem of very difficult solution. When we consider that a gas, a fluid, and a solid may consist of the very same ingredients in different proportions; that a virulent poison may differ from the most wholesome food only in the difference of quantity of the very same elements; that gold and silver, and lead and mercury, and indeed all the metals, may be extracted from transparent crystals, which scarcely differ in their appearance from a piece of common salt or a bit of sugarcandy; and that diamond is nothing more than charcoal,—we need not greatly wonder at the extravagant expectation that the precious metals and the noblest gems might be procured from the basest materials. These expectations, too, must have been often excited by the startling results of their daily experiments. The most ignorant compounder of simples could not fail to witness the magical transformations of chemical action; and every new product must have added to the probability that the tempting doublets of gold and silver might be thrown from the dice-box with which he was gambling.

But when the precious metals were found in lead and copper by the action of powerful re-agents, it was natural to suppose that they had been actually formed during the process; and men of well-regulated minds even might have thus been led to embark in new adventures to procure a more copious supply, without any insult being offered to sober reason, or any injury inflicted on sound morality.

When an ardent and ambitious mind is once dazzled with the fascination of some lofty pursuit, where gold is the object, or fame the impulse, it is difficult to pause in a doubtful career, and to make a voluntary shipwreck of the reputation which has been staked. Hope still cheers the aspirant from failure to failure, till the loss of fortune and the decay of credit disturb the serenity of his mind, and hurry him on to the last resource of baffled ingenuity and disappointed ambition. The philosopher thus becomes an impostor; and by the pretended transmutation of the baser metals into gold, or the discovery of the philosopher’s stone, he attempts to sustain his sinking reputation, and recover the fortune he has lost. The communication of the great secret is now the staple commodity with which he is to barter, and the grand talisman with which he is to conjure. It can be imparted only to a chosen few—to those among the opulent who merit it by their virtues, and can acquire it by their diligence, and the divine vengeance is threatened against its disclosure. A process commencing in fraud and terminating in mysticism is conveyed to the wealthy aspirant, or instilled into the young enthusiast, and the grand mystery passes current for a season, till some cautious professor of the art, like Tycho, denounces its publication as detrimental to society.

Among the extravagant pretensions of the alchemists, that of forming a universal medicine was perhaps not the most irrational. It was only when they pretended to cure every disease, and to confer longevity, that they did violence to reason. The success of the Arabian physicians in the use of mercurial preparations naturally led to the belief that other medicines, still more general in their application, and efficacious in their healing powers, might yet be brought to light; and we have no doubt that many substantial discoveries were the result of such overstrained expectations. Tycho was not merely a believer in the medical dogmas of the alchemists, he was actually the discoverer of a new elixir, which went by his name, and which was sold in every apothecary’s shop as a specific against the epidemic diseases which were then ravaging Germany. The Emperor Rudolph having heard of this celebrated medicine, obtained a small portion of it from Tycho by the hands of the Governor of Brandisium; but, not satisfied with the gift, he seems to have applied to Tycho for an account of the method of preparing it. Tycho accordingly addressed to the Emperor a long letter, dated September 7, 1599, containing a minute account of the process. The base of this remarkable medicine is Venetian treacle, which undergoes an infinity of chemical operations and admixtures before it is ready for the patient. When properly prepared he assures the Emperor that it is better than gold, and that it may be made still more valuable by mixing with it a single scruple either of the tincture of corals, or sapphire, or hyacinth, or a solution of pearls, or of potable gold, if it can be obtained free of all corrosive matter! In order to render the medicine universal for all diseases which can be cured by perspiration, and which, he says, form a third of those which attack the human frame, he combines it with antimony, a well known sudorific in the present practice of physic. Tycho concludes his letter by humbly beseeching the Emperor to keep the process secret, and reserve the medicine for himself alone!

The same disposition of mind which made Tycho an astrologer and an alchemist, inspired him with a singular love of the marvellous.

He had various automata with which he delighted to astonish the peasants; and by means of invisible bells, which communicated with every part of his establishment, and which rung with the gentlest touch, he had great pleasure in bringing any of his pupils suddenly before strangers, muttering at a particular time the words “Come hither, Peter,” as if he had commanded their presence by some supernatural agency. If, on leaving home, he met with an old woman or a hare, he returned immediately to his house: But the most extraordinary of all his peculiarities remains to be noticed. When he lived at Uraniburg he maintained an idiot of the name of Lep, who lay at his feet whenever he sat down to dinner, and whom he fed with his own hand. Persuaded that his mind, when moved, was capable of foretelling future events, Tycho carefully marked every thing he said. Lest it should be supposed that this was done to no purpose, Longomontanus relates that when any person in the island was sick, Lep never, when interrogated, failed to predict whether the patient would live or die. It is stated also in the letters of Wormius, both to Gassendi and Peyter, that when Tycho was absent, and his pupils became very noisy and merry in consequence of not expecting him soon home, the idiot, who was present, exclaimed, Juncher xaa laudit, “Your master has arrived.” On another occasion, when Tycho had sent two of his pupils to Copenhagen on business, and had fixed the day of their return, Lep surprised him on that day while he was at dinner, by exclaiming, “Behold your pupils are bathing in the sea.” Tycho, suspecting that they were shipwrecked, sent some person to the observatory to look for their boat. The messenger brought back word that he saw some persons wet on the shore, and in distress, with a boat upset at a great distance. These stories have been given by Gassendi, and may be viewed as specimens of the superstition of the age.

Tycho left behind him a wife and six children, but even in the time of Gassendi nothing was known of their history, excepting that Tengnagel, who married one of the daughters, gave up his scientific pursuits, and, having been admitted among the Emperor’s counsellors, was employed in several of his embassies.

The instruments of Tycho were purchased from his heirs, by the Emperor, for 22,000 crowns. They were shut up in the house of Curtius, and were treated with such veneration, that no astronomer, not even Kepler himself, was permitted to see or to use them.

Here they remained till the death of the Emperor Matthias, in 1619, when the troubles in Bohemia took place. When Prague was taken by the forces of the Elector Palatine, the instruments were carried off, and some were destroyed, and others converted to different purposes. The great brass globe, however, was saved. It was first carried to Niessa, the episcopal city of Silesia; and having been presented to the College of Jesuits, it was preserved in their museum, till Udalric, the son of Christian, King of Denmark, took Niessa in 1632. The globe was recognized as having belonged to Tycho, and it was carried in triumph to Denmark. An inscription was written upon it by Longomontanus, and it was deposited with some pomp in the Library of the Academy of Sciences.

After Tycho left Huen, the island was transferred to some of the Danish nobility, and the following brief but melancholy description of it was given by Wormius. “There is, in the island, a field where Uraniburg was.” The scientific antiquities of Huen, have been more recently described by Mr Cox, in his travels through Denmark.

“We landed,” says he, “on the south west part in a small bay, just below the place where a stream, supplied by numerous pools and fish ponds, falls into the sea. We ascended the shore, which is clothed with short herbage, crossed the stream, and passed over a gently waving surface, gradually sloping towards the sea, and walked a mile to a farm house, standing in the middle of the island, inhabited by Mr Schaw, a Swedish gentleman, to whom the greater part of the island belongs. He lives here in summer, but in winter resides at Landscrona. This dwelling is the same as existed in Tycho Brahe’s time, and was the farm house belonging to his estate. A guide, whom we obtained from Mr Schaw, conducted us to the remains of Tycho’s mansion, which are near the house, and consist of little more than a mound of earth which enclosed the garden, and two pits, the sites of his mansion and observatory.”[43]