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EDMUND HALLEY (1656–1742)

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Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 856 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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EDMUND HALLEY (1656–1742), English astronomer, was born at Haggerston, London, on the 29th of October 1656. His father, a wealthy soapboiler, placed him at St Paul's school, where he was equally distinguished for classical and mathematical ability. Before leaving it for Queen's College, Oxford, in 1673, he had observed the change in the variation of the compass, and at the age of nineteen, he supplied a new and improved method of determining the elements of the planetary orbits (Phil. Trans. xi. 683). His detection of considerable errors in the tables then in use led him to the conclusion that a more accurate ascertainment of the places of the fixed stars was indispensable to the progress of astronomy; and, finding that Flamsteed and Hevelius had already undertaken to catalogue those visible in northern latitudes, he assumed to himself the task of making observations in the southern hemisphere. A recommendation from Charles II. to the East India Company procured for him an apparently suitable, though, as it proved, ill-chosen station, and in November 1676 he embarked for St Helena. On the voyage he noticed the retardation of the pendulum in approaching the equator; and during his stay on the island he observed, on the 7th of November 1677, a transit of Mercury, which suggested to him the important idea of employing similar phenomena for determining the sun's distance. He returned to England in November 1678, having by the registration of 341 stars won the title of the " Southern Tycho," and by the translation to the heavens of the " Royal Oak," earned a degree of master of arts, conferred at Oxford by the king's command on the 3rd of December 1678, almost simultaneously with his election as fellow of the Royal Society. Six months later, the indefatigable astronomer started for Danzig to set at rest a dispute of long standing between Hooke and Hevelius as to the respective merits of plain or telescopic sights; and towards the end of 168o he proceeded on a continental tour. In Paris he observed, with G. D. Cassini, the great comet of 168o after its perihelion passage; and having returned to England, he married in 1682 Mary, daughter of Mr Tooke, auditor of the exchequer, with whom he lived harmoniously for fifty-five years. He now fixed his residence at Islington, engaged chiefly upon lunar observations, with a view to the great desideratum of a method of finding the longitude at sea. His mind, however, was also busy with the momentous problem of gravity. Having reached so far as to perceive that the central force of the solar system must decrease inversely as the square of the distance, and applied vainly to Wren and Hooke for further elucidation, he made in August 1684 that journey to Cambridge for the purpose of consulting Newton, which resulted in the publication of the Principia. The labour and expense of passing this great work through the press devolved upon Halley, who also wrote the prefixed hexameters ending with the well-known line Nec fas est propius mortali attingere divos. surgery in the newly founded university of Gottingen. He became F.R.S. in 1743, and was ennobled in 1749. The quantity of work achieved by Haller in the seventeen years during which he occupied his Gottingen professorship was immense. Apart from the ordinary work of his classes, which entailed upon him the task of newly organizing a botanical garden, an anatomical theatre and museum, an obstetrical school, and similar institutions, he carried on without interruption those original investigations in botany and physiology, the results of which are preserved in the numerous works associated with his name; he continued also to persevere in his youthful habit of poetical composition, while at the same time he conducted a monthly journal (the Gottingische gelehrte Anzeigen), to which he is said to have contributed twelve thousand articles relating to almost every branch of human knowledge. He also warmly interested himself in most of the religious questions, both ephemeral and permanent, of his day; and the erection of the Reformed church in Gottingen was mainly due to his unwearied energy. Not-withstanding all this variety of absorbing interests he never felt at home in Gottingen; his untravelled heart kept ever turning towards his native Bern (where he had been elected a member of the great council in 1745), and in 1753 he resolved to resign his chair and return to Switzerland. The twenty-one years of his life which followed were largely occupied in the discharge of his duties in the minor political post of a Rathhausammann which he had obtained by lot, and in the preparation of his Bibliotheca medica, the botanical, surgical and anatomical parts of which he lived to complete; but he also found time to write the three philosophical romances—Usong (1771), Alfred (1773) and Fabius and Cato (1774),-111 which his views as to the respective merits of despotism, of limited monarchy and of aristocratic republican government are fully set forth. About 1773 the state of his health rendered necessary his entire withdrawal from public business; for some time he supported his failing strength by means of opium, on the use of which he communicated a paper to the Proceedings of the Gottingen Royal Society in 1776; the excessive use of the drug is believed, however, to have hastened his death, which occurred on the 17th of December 1777. Haller, who had been three times married, left eight children, the eldest of whom, Gottlieb Emanuel, attained to some distinction as a botanist and as a writer on Swiss historical bibliography (1785–1788, 7 vols.). Subjoined is a classified but by no means an exhaustive list of his very numerous works in various branches of science and literature (a complete list, up to 1775, numbering 576 items, including various editions, was published by Haller himself, in 1775, at the end of vol. 6 of the correspondence addressed to him by various learned friends):—(1) Anatomical:—Icones anatomicae (1743–1754); Disputationes anatomicae selectiores (1746–1752); and Opera acad. minora anatomici argumenti (1762–1768). (2) Physiological: De respiratione experimenta anatomica (1747) ; Primae lineae physiologiae (1747) ; and Elementa physiologiae corporis humani (1757–1760). (3) Pathological and surgical: Opuscula pathologica (1754); Disputationum chirurg. collectio (1777) ; also careful editions of Boerhaave's Praelectiones academicae in suns institutions rei medicae (1739), and of the Artis medicae principia of the same author (1769.-1774). (4) Botanical :—Enumeratio methodica stir plum Helveticarum (1742); Opuscula botanica (1749); Bibliotheca botanica (1771). (5) Theological :—Briefe Tiber die wichtigsten Wahrheilen der Offenbarung (1772); and Briefe zur Vertheidigung der Offenbarung (1775–1777). (6) Poetical :—Gedichte (1732, 12th ed., 1777). His three romances have been already mentioned. Several volumes of lectures and Tagebucher " or journals were published posthumously. See J. G. Zimmermann, Das Leben des Herrn von Haller (1755), and the articles by Forster and Seiler in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopadie, and particularly the detailed biography (over Sao pages) by L. Hirzel, printed at the head of his elaborate edition (Frauenfeld, 1882) of Haller's Gedichte.
End of Article: EDMUND HALLEY (1656–1742)
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