HEVELIUS (John)

, a very celebrated astronomer, and a burgomaster of Dantzick, was born in that city in 1611. He studied mathematics under Peter Cruger, in which he made a wonderful progress. He afterwards spent several years on his travels through Holland, England, Germany, and France, for his improvement in the sciences. On his return, he constructed excellent telescopes himself, and began diligently to observe the heavens, an employment he closely followed during the course of a long life, which was terminated only in 1687, at 76 years of age. Hevelius was author of several notable discoveries in the heavens. He was the first that observed the phenomenon called the libration of the moon, and made several other important observations on the other planets. He also discovered several fixed stars, which he named the firmament of Sobieski, in honour of John the 3d, king of Poland. He framed a large catalogue of the stars, and collected multitudes of the unformed ones into new constellations of his own framing. His wife was also well skilled in astronomy, and made a part of the observations that were published by her husband. His principal publications are, his Selenographia, or an exact description of the moon; in which he has engraved all her phases, and remarkable parts, distinguished by names, and ascertained their respective bounds by the help of telescopes; containing also a delineation of the several visible spots, with the various motions, changes, and appearances, discovered by the telescope, as also in the sun and other planets, 1647.—In 1654, two epistles; one to the celebrated astronomer Ricciolt, concerning the Libration of the Moon; and the other to Bulliald, on the Eclipses of both luminaries.—In 1656, a Differtation. De Natura Saturni faciei, &c.—In 1668, his Cometogrophia, representing the whole nature of comets, their situation, parallaxes, distances, diverse appearances, and surprising motions, with a history of all the comets from the beginning of the world down to the present time; being enriched with curious sculpture of his own execution: to which he added a treatise on the planet Mercury, seen in the sun at Dantzick, May 3, 1661; with the history of a new star appearing in the neck of Cetus, and another in the beak of Cygnus; besides an Illustration of some astronomical discoveries of the late Mr. Horrox, in his treatise on Venus seen in the sun, Nov. 24, 1639; with a discourse of some curious Paras<*>lena and Parhelia observed at Dantzick. He sent copies of this work to several members of the Royal Society at London, and among them to Mr. Hooke, in return for which, this gentleman sent to Hevelius a description of the Dioptric Telescope, with an account of the manner of using it; and recommending it to him, as much preferable to telescopes with plain sights. This gave rise to a dispute between them, viz, “whether distances and altitudes could be taken with plain sights any nearer than to a minute.” Hooke asserted that they could not; but that, with an instrument of a span radius, by the help of a telescope, they might be determined to the exactness of a second. Hevelius, on the other hand, insisted that, by the advantage of a good eye and long practice, he was able with his instruments to come up even to that exactness; and, appealing to experience and facts, sent by way of challenge 8 distances, each between two different stars, to be examined by Hooke. Thus the affair rested for some time with outward decency, but not without some inward grudge between the parties.

In 1673, Hevelius published the first part of his Machina Cœlestis, as a specimen of the exactness both of his instruments and observations; and sent several copies as presents to his friends in England, but omitting Mr. Hooke. This, it is supposed, occasioned that gentleman to print, in 1674, Animadversions on the First Part of the Machina Cœlestis; in which he treated Hevelius with a very magisterial air, and threw out several unhandsome reflections, which were greatly resented; and the dispute grew aftewards to such a height, and became so notorious, that in 1679 Dr. Halley went, at the request of the Royal Society, to examine both the instruments and the observations made with them. Of both these, Halley gave a favourable account, in a letter to Hevelius; and Hooke managed the controversy so ill, that he was universally condemned, though the preference has since been given to telescopic sights. However, Hevelius could not be prevailed on to make use of them: whether he thought himself too experienced to be informed by a young astronomer, as he considered Hooke; or whether, having made so many observations with plain sights, he was unwilling to alter his method, left he might bring their exactness into question; or whether, being by long practice accustomed to the use of them, and not thoroughly apprehending the use of the other, nor well understanding the difference, is uncertain. Besides Halley's letter, Hevelius received many others in his favour, which he took the opportunity of inserting among the astronomical observations in his Annus Climactericus, printed in 1685. In a long preface to this work, he speaks with more confidence and greater indignation than he had done before, and particularly exclaimed against Hooke's dogmatical and magisterial manner of assuming a kind of dictatorship over him. This revived the contest, and occasioned several learned men to engage in it. The book itself being sent to the Royal Society, at their request an account of it was given by Dr. Wallis; who, among other things, took notice, that “Hevelius's observations had been misrepresented, since it appeared from this book, that he could distinguish by plain sights to a small part of a minute.” About the same time Mr. Molyneux also wrote a letter to the society, in vindication of Hevelius, against Hooke's animadversions. To all which, Hooke drew up a letter in answer, which was read before the society, containing many qualifying| and <*>accommodating expressions, but still at least expressing the superiority of telescopic sights over plain ones, excellent as the observations were that had been made with these.

In 1679, Hevelius had published the second part of his Machina Cœlestis; but the same year, while he was at a seat in the country, he had the misfortune to have his house at Dantzic burnt down. By this calamity it is said he sustained several thousand pounds damage; having not only his observatory and all his valuable instruments and astronomical apparatus destroyed, but also a great many copies of his Machina Cœlestis, an accident which has made this second part very scarce, and consequently very dear.

In 1690, were published a description of the heavens, called, Firmamentum Sobiescianum, in honour of John the 3d, king of Poland, as above mentioned; and also Prodromus Astronomiæ, & Novæ Tabulæ Solares, una cum Catalogo Fixarum; in which he lays down the necessary preliminaries for taking an exact catalogue of the stars.

But both these works were posthumous; for Hevelius died the 28th of January 1687, exactly 76 years of age, as above said, and universally admired and respected; abundant evidence of which appears in a collection of letters between him and many other persons, that was printed at Dantzic in 1683.

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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HERSILLON
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* HEVELIUS (John)
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