Observations of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, made at Slough, with a Twenty-Feet Reflector, between the years 1825 and 1833. Offprint from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London

London: Richard Taylor, 1833.

First edition, the very rare offprint issue, of Herschel’s famous ‘Slough Catalogue,’ which includes 2306 nebulae and star clusters, 525 of which were discovered by Herschel himself. (Parkinson, Breakthroughs 296). He was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1836 for this work. Herschel was, together with his father William, the greatest discoverer of nebulae and star clusters.

Herschel explained his motivation for the present work in his Account of some Observations made with a 20-feet Reflecting Telescope (Memoirs of the RAS, Vol. II, 1826): ‘The nature of nebulae, it is obvious, can never become more known to us than at present, except in two ways – either by the direct observation of changes in the form or physical condition of some one or more among them, of from the comparison of a great number, so as to establish a kind of scale or graduation from the most ambiguous, to objects of whose nature there can be no doubt.’ The first way had been realised through his detailed observations of the Orion and Andromeda nebulae in his 1826 paper; the second was carried out in the years 1825-33, culminating in the present work.

“For his observations John Herschel used a reflector with an aperture of 18¼", which was completed in 1820. It used two mirrors, one made by his father alone and another one cast and ground under his father’s supervision. The telescope resembles William Herschel’s famous ‘large 20ft’. When John Herschel started observing, his intention was not so much the discovery of new nebulae and star clusters but rather he wanted to re-examine the three catalogues of his father. The main goals were identification and determination of exact positions...

“John Herschel could observe a large fraction of his father’s objects. Their data were partly confirmed, supplemented and corrected. Moreover, he discovered many new ones... John Herschel compiled a (pretty complete) catalogue of all non-stellar objects known up to 1833. The work meant real progress and became a great success, which was due to remarkable new features: absolute positions (for 1830), order by right ascension and new designation (h). The great homogeneity rests on the fact that all objects were observed and measured by John Herschel with the same telescope. The h-number got the new standard designation (e.g. h 50 = M 31)” (Steinicke, pp. 52-3).

Soon after the present work was published, on 13 November 1833, John and his family set sail for Cape Town, where he carried out, over the next four years, a similar survey of the southern sky. This work was published as Results of astronomical observations made during the years 1834, 1835, 1836, 1837, 1838, at the Cape of Good Hope; being the completion of a telescopic survey of the whole surface of the visible heavens, commenced in 1825 (London, 1847), and did for the southern hemisphere what the present work did for the northern hemisphere: it described 4015 nebulae and star clusters. On his return to England, John continued his astronomical researches, which culminated in the General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (1864), which contained 5,079 entries. In 1886, J. L. E. Dreyer was asked by the RAS to update the General Catalogue, leading to the publication of the New General Catalogue (NGC) in 1888.

While engaged in the work leading to the Slough catalogue, Herschel discovered between three and four thousand double stars. These were catalogued and described in a number of papers published in the Memoirs of the RAS. Offprints of two of these papers are bound with the Slough catalogue in the present volume: Fifth Catalogue of Double Stars observed at Slough in the years 1830 and 1831 with a 20-feet Reflector; containing the Places, Descriptions, and measured Angles of Position of 2007 of those objects, of which 1304 have not been found described in any previous collection; the whole reduced to the epoch of 1830.0, pp. [ii], 81; ‘Notice of the Elliptic Orbit of ξ Boötis, with a second approximation to the Orbit of γ Virginis. To which is appended, a Notice of the Elliptic Orbit of ζ Coronae’, pp. [ii], 149-157 (both published in Memoirs of the RAS, Vol. VI, 1833).

Provenance: Purchased at the sale of Edwin R. W. Wyndham-Quin (1812-71), third Earl of Dunraven, was styled Viscount Adare from 1824 to 1850. On his graduation from Trinity College, Dublin in 1833, Adare’s “interest in astronomy [was such that] he decided to establish an observatory on his estate at Adare Manor... [He] studied for three years at Dunsink Observatory under Sir William Rowan Hamilton. He threw himself into astronomy with such intensity that he damaged his eyesight through overuse of the telescopes and had to abandon his plans to establish an observatory at Adare” (Dictionary of Irish Biography). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1834.

John Herschel (1792-1871) made a short journey to Ireland in 1827 where he met Hamilton, and it is probable that it was through him that Adare made Herschel’s acquaintance. The closeness of their friendship is attested by a four-page letter from Adare to Herschel, dated 12 February 1833 and preserved in the Royal Society. Adare asks “whether your great work on the nebulae [i.e. the present work] will be published previous to your departure [to Cape Town]... I was reading lately with much interest your paper on double stars observed with the 7-foot equatorial, in which you have made remarks on the action of telescopes.’ He goes on to discuss an improvement in his eye problems, observations that he and Thomas Romney Robinson had made with Mr. Cooper’s telescope at Marktree in Co. Sligo (‘when I begin about telescopes and stars I find it very difficult to stop’), and asks Herschel to congratulate Mrs. Herschel (whom he had obviously met) on the birth of a son. In later years Herschel sent Adare an inscribed and annotated copy of his translation of Schiller’s Der Spaziergang. The present offprints must have been given to Adare by Herschel, but they are not inscribed.

DSB VI: 325; Parkinson Breakthroughs 296; W. Steinicke, Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters, CUP, 2010.

Large 4to (275 x 218 mm), pp. [ii], 359-505, with eight engraved plates (with some spotting) drawn by Herschel and engraved by Js. Basire, each with a tissue guard. Bound with two other Herschel offprints (see above) in contemporary tan diced calf, sides with nesting blind double fillets and two different blind-ruled borders, area enclosed with an overall blind diced pattern, one spine panel with black morocco gilt lettering piece, another panel directly lettered in gilt, the remaining three panels with blind diced pattern, marbled endpapers. Pencilled shelf number ‘C76’ on verso of endpaper of Viscount Adare, of Adare Manor, Co. Limerick.

Item #3162

Price: $4,500.00