Hell, Maximilian

, a learned astronomer, and member of most of the learned societies of Europe, was born in 1720, at Chemnitz, in Hungary, and first educated at Neusol. Having in 1738 entered the society of the Jesuits, | he was sent by them to the college of Vienna, where, during his philosophical studies, he displayed a genius for mechanics, and employed his leisure hours in constructing water-clocks, terrestrial and celestial globes, and other machines. In 1744 and 1745 he studied mathematics, now become his favourite pursuit, under the celebrated Froelich, and not only assisted Franz, the astronomer of the Jesuits’ observatory, in his labours, but also in arranging the museum for experimental philosophy. At the same time he published a new edition of Crevellius’s “Arithmetica numeralis et literalis,” as a text-book. In 1746 and 1747 he taught Greek and Latin in the catholic school of Leutschau, in Hungary, and returning to Vienna in the latter year, was employed as the instructor in the mathematics, and the art of assaying, of several young men destined for offices in the Hungarian mines. In 1750 he published, “Adjumentum memoriae manuale Chronologicogenealogico-historicum,” which has since been translated into various languages, and of which an enlarged edition appeared in 1774. In 1751 and 1752 he obtained the priesthood, completed his academical degrees, and was appointed professor of mathematics at Clausenburg. Here he published his “Elementa Arithmetical 1 for the use of his pupils, and had prepared other works, when he was, in Sept. 175”2, invited to Vienna, and appointed astronomer and director of the new observatory, in the building of which he assisted, and made it one of the first in Europe, both as to construction and apparatus. From 1757 to 1767 he devoted himself entirely to astronomical observations and calculations for the “Ephemerides,” each volume of which, published annually, contained evident proofs of his assiduity. About the same time he published a small work, entitled “An Introduction towards the useful employment of Artificial Magnets.

A circumstance now occurred which contributed not a little to increase his fame. The transit of Venus over the sun’s disk, announced for June 3, 1769, was considered as a phenomenon, which, if observed in different parts of the globe, would furnish data for determining the true distance of the sun and planets from the earth; and some of the ablest astronomers were selected to proceed for this purpose to Cajaneborg in Finland, to Otaheite, to California, and to Hudson’s Bay. Hell had also the honour of being chosen to participate in this undertaking; and, | although he had previously refused two offers of the kind, accepted that of Christian VII. king of Denmark, to observe the transit in an island in the Frozen Ocean, near Wardoehuus, at the Northern extremity of Europe. Having set out in April 1768, with J. Sajnovies, a member of the same order, as his assistant, he arrived at the place of his destination October 11. He now constructed an observatory, and began his observations, which extended to a great many other phenomena than that which was the chief object of his journey; but in this last he was successful beyond all expectation, the serenity of the sky being so much in his favour. As the results, however, of the astronomers sent out to different parts to make their observations, did not agree, Hell was involved in a literary contest, particularly with Lalande.

In June 1769 he set out on his return, and arrived safely at Copenhagen, where he was honoured with every mark of respect by the king, and he and his assistant were admitted members of the academies of Copenhagen, Drontheim, and Norway. During his residence at Copenhagen, which lasted seven months, he communicated, besides other things, to the academy of sciences, the observations he had made of the transit, which were published, and afterwards reprinted in the Ephemerides for 1771. In May 1770 he returned to Vienna, and collected and arranged the fruits of his journej', which he meant to publish under the title of “Expeditio literaria ad Polum Arcticum;” but the suppression of the order of the Jesuits, which gave him great concern, and the dispersion of some of his literary coadjutors, are supposed to have prevented him from completing this undertaking. He was also unsuccessful in endeavouring to establish an academy of sciences, which, according to his plan, was to be under the direction of the Jesuits. He superintended, however, the building of a new observatory at Erlau, in Hungary, at the expence of the bishop, count Charles of Esterhazy, and undertook two journeys thither to direct the operations, and to arrange a valuable collection of instruments which had been sent to him from England. In the month of March 1792, he was attacked by an inflammation of the lungs, which producing a suppuration, put an end to his lite in a few weeks. He is to be ranked with those who have rendered essential service to the science of astronomy. The “Ephemerides Astronomical ad meridianum Vindobonensem,| begun in 1767, aucl continued till his death, forms a valuable astronomical calendar, which contains a great many interesting papers. In other branches of knowledge, and particularly theology, he was a firm adherent to the principles he had been taught in his youth, and which he strenuously defended. He always entertained hopes of the revival of the order of the Jesuits. He possessed a benevolent heart, and was always ready to assist the distressed; in particular he endeavoured to relieve the sufferings of the poor, and with this noble view expended almost the whole of his property. 1


Athenaeum, vol. III.-—Dict. Hist.