Brahe, Tycho

, a very celebrated astronomer, descended from a noble and illustrious Danish family, was born in 1546 at Knudstorp, a small lordship near Helsingborg, in Scania. His father, Otto Brahe, having a large family, Tycho was educated under the care and at the expence of his uncle George Brahe, who, having no children, adopted him as his heir. Finding his nephew a boy of lively capacity, and though only seven years of age, strongly inclined to study, he had him instructed in the Latin tongue unknown to his father, who considered literature as inglorious, and was desirous that all his sons should follow the profession of arms. In the twelfth year of his age, Tycho was removed to the academy of Copenhagen; and his mind, which, had not yet taken any direction, was casually incited to the study of astronomy by fin eclipse of the sun, which happened on. Aug. 21? 1560. | He had for some time examined the astrological diaries or almanacks, which pretended to predict future events from the inspection of the stars; but when he observed that the eclipse happened at the precise time at which it was foretold, he considered that science ‘as divine, which could thus so thoroughly understand the motions of the heavenly bodies as to foretel their places and relative positions: and from that moment he devoted himself to astronomy.

In 1562, he was sent to Leipsic for the purpose of studying civil law; but attending to it no farther than he was compelled, continued his astronomical pursuits, and from his tutor’s remonstrances conceived a greater disgust for law studies. All the money his uncle allowed him for pocket-expences, he laid out in the purchase of astronomical books; and having obtained a small celestial globe, he took the opportunity, while his preceptor was in bed, of examining the heavenly bodies, and before a month had elapsed, he made himself acquainted with all the stars which at that time appeared above the horizon. Inspired with the same ardent zeal in pursuit of his favourite science, he learned geometry and mathematics without a master, and invented a radius, and several mathematical instruments.

Having passed three years at Leipsic, he was preparing to pursue his travels though Germany ’, but the death of his uncle obliged him to return to his native country, in order to superintend and settle his estates, which he largely inherited. Instead of finding himself encouraged and esteemed for the wonderful progress which at his early age he had made in the science of astronomy and its concomitant studies, he was mortified at being treated with contempt by his relations and and acquaintance for following a science which they considered as degrading, and who reproached him for not pursuing the study of the law. Disgusted at their behaviour, he settled his affairs, and before a year had elapsed set out upon his travels. He proceeded to Wittenberg, and afterwards to Rostoc, where an accident happened which had nearly occasioned his death. Being invited to a wedding feast, he had a dispute with a Danish nobleman relative to some subject in mathematics; nd as they were both of choleric dispositions, the dispute ended in a duel. In the conflict part of Tycho’s nose was cut off. Jn order to remedy this defect, Tycho contrived | a nose made of gold and silver, which he fastened by means of a glue, so artfully formed, it is said, as to bear the appearance of the real membe and to deceive many who were not acquainted with his loss.

From Rostoc Tycho continued his travels, and prosecuted his studies in the principal towns of Germany and Italy, and particularly at Ausburgh, where he formed an acquaintance with the celebrated Peter Ramus; invented and improved various mathematical instruments, superintended the building of an observatory at the expence of the burgomaster Paul Hainzell, after a plan communicated by himself, and formed a series of astronomical observations and discoveries, which astonished and surpassed all who had hitherto been considered as the greasest proficients in that science. On his return to Copenhagen, in 1570, he was soon disgusted with the necessity of going to court; and meeting with innumerable interruptions of his studies, he removed to Herritzvold, near Knudstorp, the seat of his maternal uncle, Steno Bille, who alone of all his relations encouraged him to persevere in his astronomical labours. Steno consigned to his nephew a commodious apartment, and a convenient place for the construction of his observatory and laboratory. Here Tycho, besides his astronomical researches, seems to have followed with no less zeal the study of chemistry, or rather of alchemy, from the chimerical view of obtaining the philosopher’s stone, that he might amass sufficient riches to settle in some foreign country, but neither his philosophy, or the unwearied zeal with which he prosecuted his studies, could exempt him from the passion of love. Being a great admirer of the fair sex, he conceived a violent inclination for Christina, a beautiful country girl, the daughter of a neighbouring peasant, and alienated his family, who conceived themselves disgraced by the alliance, and refused to hold any intercourse with him, until Frederick II. commanded them to be reconciled. Tycho, who chose her because she might be more grateful and subservient than a lady of higher birth, never seems to have repented, but ever found his Christina an agreeable companion and an obedient wife. About this period, he first appeared as a public teacher, and read lectures on astronomy at the express desire of the king. He explained the theory of the planets, and preceded his explanation by a very learned oration concerning the history and excellency of astronomy and its | sister sciences, with some remarks in favour of judicial astrology, a study as congenial to the time as to the inclinations of our philosopher.

Offended with his relations, and disgusted with his countrymen, he had long determined to quit Denmark, and to settle abroad; and after travelling through Germany and Italy, he at length fixed upon Basil: which he preferred, for the wholesomeness of the air, the cheapness of the living, and the celebrity of the university; and irom whence he might hold a correspondence with the astronomers of France, Germany, and Italy. On his return to Denmark he was preparing with the utmost secrecy to transport his library, &c. but was prevented by an unexpected summons from the king, who, in order to retain him, offered him his protection and encouragement, presented him with the island of Huen as a proper retirement, and promised to erect, at his own expence, whatever buildings and apparatus should be found necessary for his astronomical pursuits. He settled upon him likewise a pension of a thousand crowns a year, and gave him a canonry of Roschild, worth two thousand more. Tycho, delighted with this liberality, did not hesitate to accept the king’s offer, but immediately repaired to Huen, Aug. 8, 1576, and was present at the foundation of a magnificent house, which he afterwards called Uranienburgh, or the Castle of the Heavens, and which contained a large suite of apartments, an observatory, and a subterraneous laboratory; and although the king supplied 190,000 rix-dollars, Tycho Brahe did not expend less than the same sum. He afterwards constructed a detached building, which he culled Stiernberg, or the, Mountain of the Stars.

In this retreat Tycho Brahe passed twenty years, and greatly improved the science of astronomy by the diligence and exactness of his observations. He maintained several scholars in his house for the purpose of instructing them in geometry and astronomy, some of whom were sent and their expences defrayed by the king; others, who voluntarily offered themselves, he received and supported at his own expence. He lived at the same time in a most sumptuous manner, kept an open house with unbounded hospitality, and was always happy to entertain and receive all persons, who flocked in crowds to pay their respects to a person of his renown. | During his residence in the island of Huen, he received numerous visits from persons of the highest rank. Among these must be particularly mentioned Ulric duke of Mecklenburgh, in company with his daughter Sophia, queen of Denmark; William, landgrave of Hesse Cassel, whose correspondence with Brahe on astronomical subjects has been given to the public, and who had shewn himself a constant patron to the Danish astronomer. In 1590 Tycho was honoured with a visit from James the First, then king of Scotland, when that monarch repaired to the court of Copenhagen, to conclude his marriage with the princess Anne, and was so delighted with Brahe’s apparatus and conversation, that he remained eight days at Uranienburgh. On retiring he presented Tycho with a magnificent present, and afterwards accompanied his royal licence for the publication of Tycho Brahe’s works with the following flattering testimony of his abilities and learning: “Nor am I acquainted with these things from the relation of others, or from a mere perusal of your works; but I have seen them with my own eyes, and heard them with my own ears, in your residence at Uranienburgh, during the various learned and agreeable conversations which I there held with you, which even now affect my mind to such a degree, that it is difficult to decide, whether I recollect them with greater pleasure or admiration; which 1 now willingly testify by this licence to present and future generations, &c.” His majesty also, at his particular request, composed, in honour of the Danish astronomer, some Latin verses, more expressive indeed of his esteem and admiration than remarkable for classic elegance.

In 1592 he was honoured with a visit from his own sovereign, Christian the Fourth, then in the fifteenth year of his age, who continued some days at Uranienburgh. That promising young prince shewed great curiosity in examining the astronomical and chemical apparatus,- expressed the highest satisfaction in receiving explanations and instructions, proposed various questions on several points of mathematics and mechanics, to which his majesty was attached, and particularly on the principles of fortification, and the construction of ships. He was also highly delighted with a gilt tin globe, which represented the face of the heavens, and so contrived, that, being turned on its own axis, it shewed the rising and setting of the sun, the motions of ths planets and heavenly bodies; a | wooclerful contrivance for that age. Tycbo, observing the delight which the young king shewed in observing these phenomena, presented it to him, who in return gave him a gold chain, and assured him of his unalterable protection, and attachment.

Notwithstanding, however, these assurances, the king’s youth was worked upon by those courtiers who were envious of Brahe’s merit, or who had been offended by the violence of his temper, and the severity of his satire, and under various pretences, prevailed upon Christian to deprive him of his pension, and the canonry of Roschild, Being thus deprived of the means of supporting his establishment at Uranienburgh, he repaired to his house at Copenhagen, and having afterwards transported from Uranienburgh all such instruments as could be removed, he left Copenhagen, landed at Rostock, and remained a year at Wansbeck with his learned friend Henry Rantzau. Having dedicated a treatise on astronomy to the emperor Rhodolph II. who was extremely addicted to astronomy, chemistry, and judicial astrology, he at length received a very flattering invitation from that monarch, which he accepted without hesitation, and repaired to Prague in 1599. The emperor received him in the kindest and most honourable manner, built for him an observatory and elaboratory, settled on him an ample pension, and treated him with the highest marks of deference and respect.

In the service of Rhodolph he passed the remainder of his days, but did not live long to enjoy his protection. He had had a good state of health till the year previous to his death, when his constitution, somewhat weakened by* the intenseness of his application, was still farther shattered by the chagrin occasioned by his removal from Uranienburgh. At that period he began to experience symptoms of complaints which announced his approaching dissolution, but which he concealed as much as possible from his friends. He was reduced, however, to so low a state as to be affected with the most trifling circumstances, which he considered as prodigies, and would frequently interrupt his sallies of wit with sudden reflections on death. The immediate cause of his death was a strangury, occasioned by an imprudent retention, from delicacy, while in company, which being attended with the most excruciating torments, brought on a violent fever, and a temporary delirium, in the midst of which he was heard repeatedly | to cry out, “Ne frustra vixisse videar.” His delirium at length subsiding, he became calm and composed, and perfectly sensible. Being extremely debilitated by the violence of his disorder, he perceived that he had not many hours to live. Accordingly he gave orders with the utmost coolness and resignation; even amused himself with composing an extempore copy of verses, sung various hymns; offered up prayers and supplications to the Supreme Being; recommended to his family and friends piety and resignation to the divine will; exhorted his pupils to persevere in their studies; and conversed with Kepler on the most abstruse parts of astronomy. Thus, amidst prayers, exhortations, and literary conversation, he expired so peaceably, that he was neither heard nor seen, by any of those who were present, to breathe his last. He died in October 1601, in the fifty-fifth year of his age.

It is remarkable, that so sensible a man, and so accurate an observer as Tycho Brahe, should be so infected with the rage of system-making as to reject the simple and beautiful system of Copernicus, established by the most incontrovertible proofs, and to endeavour to reconcile the absurdities of the Ptolemaic system. He was, indeed, too well acquainted with the motions of the heavenly bodies, not to be sensible that the sun was the centre of the system; and though he was struck with the simplicity and harmony of the Pythagorean system, which Copernicus had lately revived, yet, out of respect, it is said, for several passages in scripture, he absurdly endeavoured to reconcile (what were never intended to be reconciled) his learning with his faith: he rejected the diurnal rotation of the earth on its own axis; supposed that the earth was quiescent; that the sun, with all the planets, was carried about the earth in the space of a year; and that the planets, by their proper motions, revolved round the sun in their several periods; thus retaining the most absurd part of the Ptolemaic hypothesis, which makes the whole planetary system revolve round the earth in the space of every twenty-four hours. Tycho, indeed, was so bigotted to his own hypothesis, and shewed, even in his last moments, such an attachment to his own system, as to desire his favourite scholar, the great Kepler, to follow his system rather than that of Copernicus.

If we were to estimate the merits of Tycho Brahe as an | astronomer, we should compare the science as he left it with the state in which he found it. His great merit consisted in his inventions and improvements of mathematical instruments, and in the diligence and exactness with which he made astronomical observations for a long series of years. And as his instruments were remarkably good, he composed a catalogue of 777 fixed stars, all observed by himself, with an accuracy unknown to former astronomers. He likewise discovered the refraction of the air; demonstrated, against the prevailing opinion of those times, that the comets were higher than the moon; and from his observations on the moon and the other planets, the theories of their motions were afterwards corrected and improved. He was also the first astronomer who composed a table of refractions, and shewed the use to be made of them in astronomy. Such is the reputation of Tycho Brahe, for his great proficiency in that science, that Costard, in his History of Astronomy, has fixed upon his name as marking the beginning of a new period.

He seems to have embraced a large circle of the arts and sciences. He cultivated poetry, and wrote Latin verses, not without some degree of classic elegance. He drew the plan for building the castle of Cronberg, and sketched the design for the noble mausoleum of Frederic the Second, which was executed in Italy, and is erected in the cathedral of Roschild. He dabbled also in physic. He was fond of being consulted, and readily gave his advice and medicines gratis to those who consulted him. He invented an elixir, which he calls an infallible cure for epidemic disorders, of which he has published the recipe in a letter to the emperor Rhodolph. He was a good mechanic. He possessed several automates, and took great delight in showing them to the peasants, and was always pleased if they took them for spirits. He was no less fond of being consulted as a fortune-teller, and willingly encouraged an opinion, that his knowledge of the heavenly bodies enabled him to observe horoscopes, and foretel events. Many traditional fables of his predictions have been handed down to posterity, which shew his proneness to judicial astrology, and the weakness of those who beheved his predictions. In many instances astrological predictions, by alarming, occasion the event which they foretel, and have thus gained a false credit from the weak or the unwary. Thus Tycho Brahe’s astrological predictions | proved fatal to the emperor Rhodolph II. for, being informed by Tycho, that a star Which presided at his nativity threatened him with some sinister designs to his prejudice, from his relations, he was thrown into such a panic, that he did not venture to quit his palace, or appear before any person; and, as the conduct of his brother Matthias conlirmed the astrologer’s informations, he fell at last a prey to his grief, and died 18th of January 1612, aged fiftynine years.

At Uranienburgh Tycho Brahe had several contrivances calculated to deceive and astonish those who came to visit and consult him. Among others, several bells, communicating with the rooms in the “upper story, inhabited by his scholars, the handles of which were concealed in his own apartments. Frequently, when company was with him, he would pretend to want something, and having secretly pulled the bell, would cry out,” Come hither Peter, come hither Christian,“and was pleased to observe the astonishment of the company, who not hearing the bells, were surprized at the appearance of the person who was thus summoned. He was no less devoted to the study of chemistry than to astronomy, and expended as much on the terrestrial astronomy, as he styles it, as on the celestial. He left, indeed, no writings upon that science, although it seems to have been his intention to have given to the public a selection of his experiments, which he had made with so much labour and expence; yet, he adds, in the true cant of alchymy,” On consideration, and by the advice of the most illustrious as well as the most learned men, he thought it improper to unfold the secrets of the art to the vulgar, as few people were capable of using its mysteries to advantage, and without detriment."

His foibles were as prominent as his virtue and capacity. He was of a morose and unbending disposition, indulged himself in too great freedom of speech, but while he rallied others was not pleased to be rallied himself. He was greatly addicted to judicial astrology, and prone to a credulity and superstition below his learning and judgment. If he met an old woman in going out of his house, he would instantly return home; and considered an hare as an ill omen. While he lived at Uranienburgh he had a fool, whose name was Sep, who was accustomed during dinner to sit at his feet, and whom he used to feed with his own hand, This man was continually uttering | incoherent expressions, which Tycho observed and noted down, from a persuasion that the mind, in a state of emotion, was capable of predicting future events, and he even believed, if any inhabitant of the island was taken ill, that this madman could predict whether he should live or die. He maintained, that the cabala and magic, if they did not act to the offence of God or man, could lay open many abstruse things by figures, images, and marks. But upon the whole, with all these weaknesses, we may assent to the truth of the eulogium given in his “Oratio funebris,” that to him his studies were life; meditation his delight; science riches; virtue nobility; and religion his constant direction.

Gassendus, in his “Equitis Dani Tychonis Brahe Astronomorum Coryphaei vita,” gives the following list of his principal writings: 1. “An account of the new star which appeared Nov. 12th, 1572, in Cassiopeia,Copenhagen, 1573, 4to. 2. “An oration concerning the mathematical sciences, pronounced in the university of Copenhagen, in 1574,” published by Conrad Aslac, of Bergen, in Norway. 3. “A treatise on the comet of the year 1577, immediately after it disappeared.” Upon revising it nine years afterwards, he added a tenth chapter, printed at Uraniburgh, 1589. 4. “Another treatise on the new phenomena of the heavens;” in the first part of which he treats of the restitution, as he calls it, of the sun, and of the fixed stars; and in the second part, of a new star which had then made its appearance. 5. “A collection of' astronomical epistles,” Uraniburgh, 1596, 4to; Nuremberg, 1602, and Francfort, 1610. It was dedicated to Maurice, landgrave of Hesse, because it contains a considerable number of letters of the landgrave William, his father, and of Christopher Rothmann, the mathematician of that prince, to Tycho, and of Tycho to them. 6. “The mechanical principles of Astronomy restored,” Wandesburg, 1598, folio. 7. “An answer to the letter of a certain Scotchman concerning the comet in the year 1577.” 8. “On the composition of an elixir for the plague; addressed to the emperor Rodolphus.” 9. “An elegy upon his exile,Rostock, 1614, 4to. 10. “The Rodolphine tables,” revised and published by Kepler, according to Tycho’s desire. 11. “An accurate enumeration of the fixed stars, addressed to the emperor Rodolphus.” 12. “A complete catalogue of 1000 of the fixed stars, which Kepler has inserted in the Rodolphine tables.| 13. “Historia caelestis or a history of the heavens, in two parts” the first containing the observations he had made at Uraniburgh, in 16 books; the latter containing the observations made at Wandesburg, Wittenberg, Prague, &c. in four books. 14. “An epistle to Caster Pucer,” printed at Copenhagen, 1668.

The apparatus of Tycho Brahe, after having been transported from place to place during his life, was, after his death, purchased of his heirs by the emperor Rodolph, for 22,000 crowns of gold. The persons to whose custody he committed them, concealed them from inspection; and thus they remained useless till the time of the troubles of Bohemia, when the army of the elector palatine plundered them, breaking some of them, and applying others to different uses. The great celestial globe of brass was preserved, carried from Prague, and deposited with the Jesuits of Neyssa, in Silesia, whence it was afterwards taken, about the year 1633, by Udalric, son of Christian, king of Denmark, and placed in the hall of the royal academy at Copenhagen. 1


Principally from Coxe’s Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, vol. III. 4to edit. 1791.—Rees’s Cyclopædia.—Gen. Dict.—Moreri.— Saxii Onomast.