Bradley, James

, D. D. Savilian professor of astronomy in Oxford, F. R. S. and member of the academies of sciences and belles-lettres of Paris, Berlin, Petersburgh, and Bologna, was born at Shireborn in Gloucestershire in 1692, and educated at Northleach in the same county. | Thence he was admitted a commoner of Balliol-college in Oxford, March 15, 1710: where he took the degree of B. A. Oct. 14, 1714, and of M. A. Jan. 21, 1716. He was ordained deacon and priest in 1719, and instituted the same year to the vicarage of Bridstow in Herefordshire. He never had any other preferment in the church, except the small rectory or sinecure of Landewy Welfry, in the county of Pembroke, and diocese of St. David: and hi* institution to this bears date the Jst of March 1719. It is presumed that the bishop of Hereford, to whom he was chaplain, was his patron to the vicarage; and Mr. Molyneux, who was then secretary to the prince of Wales, procfcred him the sinecure.

It appears that thus early in life he had many friends; and it is probable that by some of them he might have risen to eminence in the church, had not his natural inclination led him to pursue other studies, in which he afterwards shone so conspicuously. He received his first rudiments of the mathematics from his uncle Dr. James Pound, who resided at his living of Wanstead in Essex, where our astronomer was some time curate: this gentleman was his mother’s brother, a man of singular capacity and genius, and eminent as a divine, a physician, and a mathematician. In the two former capacities he went to the East-Indies in the company’s service; and was one of those who had the good fortune to escape from the massacre of the factory, on the island of Pulo Condore, in Cochin China. An account of this shocking scene remains amongst Dr. Bradley’s papers, written by Dr. Pound, together with a journal kept by him on board the Rose sloop, until, after many difficulties* and distresses, they arrived at Batavia the 18th of April 1705. The public suffered much in this catastrophe, by the loss of Dr. Pound’s papers, and other valuable curiosities collected by him, which all perished in the conflagration; as he had no time to save any thing but his own life. With this relation, to whom he was dear even more than by the ties of blood, he spent all his vacations from other duties: it was whilst with him at Wanstead, that he first began the observations with the sector, which led to his future important discoveries.

On the death of John Keill, M. D. he was chosen Savilian professor of astronomy in Oxford, Oct. 31, 1721. On this promotion, so agreeable to his taste, he resigned the living of Bridstow, and also the sinecure of Landewy | Welfry, and henceforward devoted his time and studies to his beloved science; nor was he sooner known, than distinguished by the friendship of lord Macclesfield, sir Isaac Newton, his colleague in the Savilian professorship, Dr. Halley, and other great mathematicians, astronomers, and patrons of science. In the course of his observations, which were innumerable, he discovered and settled the laws of the alterations of the fixed stars, from the progressive motion of light, combined with the earth’s annual motion about the sun, and the nutation of the earth’s axis, arising from the unequal attraction of the sun and moon on the different parts of the earth. The former of -these effects is called the aberration of the fixed stars, the theory of which he published in 1727; and the latter the nutation of the earth’s axis, the theory of which appeared in 1737: so that in the space of about 10 years, he communicated to the world two of the finest discoveries in modern astronomy; which will for ever make a memorable epoch in the history of that science. In 1730, he succeeded Mr. Whiteside, as lecture-reader of astronomy and experimental philosophy in Oxford: which was a considerable emolument to himself, and which he held till within a year or two of his death, when the ill state of his health made it necessary to resign it. At the decease of Dr. Halley, he was appointed astronomical observator at the royal observatory at Greenwich, February 3, 174-1-2. From letters found amongst his papers, it appears that Dr. Halley was very desirous that our astronomer should succeed him; and in one letter, when he found himself declining, he desires his leave to make interest for him: but he owed this new acquisition chiefly to the friendship of lord Macclesfield, the late president of the royal society. Upoa this promotion he was honoured with the degree of doctor of divinity, by diploma from Oxford.

In 1747, he published his Letter to the earl of Macclesfield, concerning an apparent motion observed in some of the fixed stars; on account of which he obtained the annual gold prize-medal from the royal society. It was in consequence of the royal society’s annual visit to the observatory at Greenwich, during which he represented to them the necessity of repairing the old instruments, &c. that in 1748 George II. by his sign manual, directed to the commissioners and principal officers of his navy, ordered the payment of 1000 to James Bradley, D. D. his | astronomer, and keeper of the royal observatory, in order to repair the old instruments in the said observatory, and to provide new ones. This enabled him to furnish it with the noblest and most accurate apparatus in the known world, suited to the ‘dignity of the nation and the royal donor: in the executive part of this useful work, those eminent artists, Mr. George Graham and Mr. Bird, deserve honourable mention, who contributed much towards the perfection of those instruments, which enabled Dr. Bradley to leave behind him the greatest number of the most accurate observations that were perhaps ever made by any one man. Nor was this the last instance by which his late majesty distinguished his royal astronomer; for, upon his refusing to accept the living of Greenwich from a conscientious scruple, “that the duty of a pastor was incompatible with his other studies and necessary engagements,” his majesty granted him an annuity or yearly pension of 250l. during pleasure in consideration (as the sign manual, dated Feb. 15, 1752, expresses it) of his great skill and knowledge in the several branches of astronomy, and other parts of the mathematics, which have proved so useful to the trade and navigation of this kingdom. This pension was continued to the demise of the late, and renewed by the present king. The same year he was chosen one of the council of the royal society.

About 1748, he became entitled to bishop Crew’s benefaction of 30l. per aim. to the lecture reader in experimental philosophy in Oxford. He was elected member of the royal society in 1752; of the academy of sciences at Paris, in 1748; of that at Petersburg, in 1754; of the academy of sciences at Bologna, in 1757; and also of the royal Prussian academy of sciences and belles lettres, but the time when does not appear amongst his papers.

By too close application to his observations and studies, as is probable, he was afflicted for near two years before his death, with a grievous oppression on his spirits, which quite put an end to his labours: his chief distress arose from an apprehension, that he should survive his rational faculties; but this so much dreaded evil never came upon him. In June 1762, he was taken with a suppression of urine, occasioned (as it afterwards appeared) by an inflammation in his kidnies, which proved fatal the 13th of July following. He died at Chalford in Gloucestershire, in the 70th year of his age, and lies interred at Minchinhampton | in the same county, near to the remains of his wife and mother. In 1744, he had married a daughter of Samuel Peach, of Chalford, esq. by whom he left one daughter, who in 1769, gave her father’s portrait, by Hudson, to the picture gallery, Oxford.

Dr. Bradley was extremely amiable in his private character, as well as illustrious for his scientific knowledge. His temper was gentle and placid, and he was eminently characterised by his modesty. He appears to have taken, little pains to attract the notice of mankind, and it was his singular merit alone which procured him the general esteem and regard of the friends of learning and science. Among his acquaintance and friends were many of the first persons in this kingdom, both for rank and abilities; and it is said, that there was not an astronomer of any eminence in the world, with whom he had not a literary correspondence. He spoke well, and expressed his ideas with great precision and perspicuity; but in general was silent, and seldom spoke, except when he conceived it absolutely necessary. He was, however, very ready to communicate useful knowledge to others, and especially in that science which he more particularly professed, whenever he thought there was. a proper opportunity. He also encouraged those who attended his lectures to propose questions to him, by the exactness with which he answered them, and his obvious solicitude to accommodate himself to every capacity. He was censured by some, for having withheld his observations from the public use; but this charge appears not to have been well founded: and it has been alleged, on the contrary, that an improper use was made of the facility with which he made his communications; that his observations were very ungenerously transmitted abroad; and that, by such practices, foreigners have been enabled to gain reputation, and to adopt the fruits of his labour as their own. He was extremely temperate, even to abstinence; and he enjoyed a great share of health, and was active and robust, till towards the close of his life. Eminently remarkable for the equanimity of his temper, he was yet in a very great degree compassionate and liberal; and was extremely generous to such of his relations as needed his assistance. Though he was unquestionably one of the greatest astronomers of the age, - he has published very little which seems to have arisen from his natural diffidence, and from that solicitous accuracy, which made him always apprehensive | that his works were imperfect. His papers which have been inserted in the Philosophical Transactions are, 1. Observations on the comet of 1703; vol. 33, p. 41. 2. The longitude of Lisbon and of the fort of New York from Wansted and London, determined by the eclipse of the first satellite of Jupiter; vol. 34, p. 85. 3. An account of a new discovered motion of the fixed stars; vol. 35, p. 637. 4. On the going of clocks with isochronal pendulums; vol. 38, p. 302. 5. Observations on the comet of 1736-7; vol. 40, p. 1 1 1. 6. On the apparent motion of the fixed stars; vol. 45, p. 1. 7. On the occultation of Venus by the moon, the 15th of April 1751; vol. 46, p. 201. 8. On the comet of 1757; vol. 50, p. 408. 9. Directions for using the common micrometer; vol. 62, p. 46. His observations made at the royal observatory during 20 years, comprized in 13 folio and two quarto volumes, unfortunately for the interests of science, were taken away at his death by his representatives ,*

*

We leave this story as it has been generally told, but as it conveys a reflection upon the representatives of Dr. Bradley, it is but justice to add the account given by Mr. Lysons, Dr. Bradley’s relation. “After Dr. Bradley’s decease, the guardians of his only daughter, then a minor, thinking that she had a right to any profits which might accrue from her father’s labours, took possession of his Mss. A suit being instituted against them a few years afterwards, in his majesty’s name, for the recovery of these papers as the properly of the public, they were advised by eminent counsel not to abandon their claim but in the year 1777, the rev. Samuel Peach having married Dr. Bradley’s daughter and sole heir, and being in consequence possessed of the right which she might have in her father’s ms observations, threw him self, the suit being then undetermined, upon the generosity of government, and presented them to lord North, then chancellor of the exchequer, who being at that time chancellor also of the university of Oxford, gave them to that learned body.” Lysons’s Environs, vol. IV. p. 457. It is absurd, therefore, as well as unjust to say that this conduct on the part of Dr. B.’s representatives was “unfortunate for the interests of science,” since the Mss could be of no use to them unless published. A full account of the proceedings of governnient and of the university on this affair may be seen in a pamphlet published in 1796, “Proceedings of the Board of Longitude, in regard to the recovery of the late Dr. Bradley’s Observations, &c.” See also Dr. Hornsby’s preface to the Observations,

who, upon preparations being made by government for recovering them by process of law, (and an actual commencement of a suit for that purpose,) presented them to lord North, by whom they were transferred, in 1776, to the university of- Oxford, of which he was chancellor, on condition of their printing and publishing them. Accordingly the first volume was published in, 1798, by the late Dr. Hornsby, in a splendid form, entitled “Astronomical Observations made at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, from the year 1750 to the year 1762,” fol. The remainder are in the possession of Dr. | Hornsby’s very learned successor in the astronomical chair, Dr. Abraham Rpbertson. 1
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Biog. Brit.