Robert Grant - Encyclopedia

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ROBERT GRANT (1814-1892), British astronomer, was born at Grantown, Scotland, on the 17th of June 1814. At the age of thirteen the promise of a brilliant career was clouded by a prolonged illness of such a serious character as to incapacitate him from all school-work for six years. At twenty, however, his health greatly improved, and he set himself resolutely, without assistance, to repair his earlier disadvantages by the diligent study of Greek, Latin, Italian and mathematics. Astronomy also occupied his attention, and it was stimulated by the return of Halley's comet in 1835, as well as by his success in observing the annular eclipse of the sun of the 15th of May 1836. After a short course at King's College, Aberdeen, he obtained in 1841 employment in his brother's counting-house in London. During this period the idea occurred to him of writing a history of physical astronomy. Before definitely beginning the work he had to search, amongst other records, those of the French Academy, and for that purpose took up his residence in Paris in 1845, supporting himself by giving lessons in English. He returned to London in 184 7. The History of Physical Astronomy from the Earliest Ages to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century was first published in parts in The Library of Useful Knowledge, but after the issue of the ninth part this mode of publication was discontinued, and the work appeared as a whole in 1852. The main object of the work is, in the author's words, "to exhibit a view of the labours of successive inquirers in establishing a knowledge of the mechanical principles which regulate the movements of the celestial bodies, and in explaining the various phenomena relative to their physical constitution which observation with the telescope has disclosed." The lucidity and completeness with which a great variety of abstruse subjects were treated, the extent of research and the maturity of judgment it displayed, were the more remarkable, when it is remembered that this was the first published work of one who enjoyed no special opportunities, either for acquiring materials, or for discussing with others engaged in similar pursuits the subjects it treats of. The book at once took a leading place in astronomical literature, and earned for its author in 1856 the award of the Royal Astronomical Society's gold medal. In 1859 he succeeded John Pringle Nichol as professor of astronomy in the University of Glasgow. From time to time he contributed astronomical papers to the Monthly Notices, Astronomische Nachrichten, Comptes rendus and other scientific serials; but his principal work at Glasgow consisted in determining the places of a large number of stars with the Ertel transit-circle of the Observatory. The results of these labours, extending over twenty-one years, are contained in the Glasgow Catalogue of 6415 Stars, published in 1883. This was followed in 1892 by the Second Glasgow Catalogue of 2156 Stars, published a few weeks after his death, which took place on the 24th of October 1892.

See Month. Notices Roy. Astr. Society, liii., 210 (E. Dunkin); Nature, Nov. 10, 1892; The Times, Nov. 2, 1892; Roy. Society's Catalogue of Scient. Papers. (A. A. R.*)

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