Persuasive if Indirect Evidence from Cleveland Abbe

Peter Abrahams, with a copy to
Robert McGown, F.R.A.S.

Dear Peter,

At the risk of starting from too far back I reproduce below, in as public a venue as I can, the passage from 1867 which supports my claim that the majority of the 1820 purchase order for Dorpat Observatory went for the Reichebach whatchamucallit. What I call “new evidence” is in boldface.

The control of the instruments was now left by Huth entirely in Struve’s hands, and from the commencement of 1814 dates the scientific activity of the observatory, whose history for 25 years continues to be identified with that of Struve; for the succeeding quarter century it has been honored by the presence of the illustrious Maedler; . . [we] call attention to the steps by which were realized the hopes and plans of Struve’s early youth.

In June 1812 whilst conducting some experimental trigonometrical surveys in Livonia, Struve foresaw the grandeur of the geodesical operations that might grow from the beginning there made.

His first scientific journey, in 1814, and his second (which was also his wedding tour) in 1815, introduced him, as the astronomical observer of Dorpat, to many of the prominent German and opened a personal acquaintance that was afterwards of eminent service to him. His succession in 1815 to the vacancy caused by the death of Professor Huth placed him in a position of authority; and the separation in 1822 of the chairs of astronomy and mathematics (this latter being given to Professor Bartels, to whom Professor Minding now succeeds) left Struve full liberty to push forward in his chosen field of activity.

The geodesic work for the map of the province of Livonia, ordered by the Lieffland Economic Society, occupied the summers of the years 1816 — 1819, and brought the geodesic in contact with General Tenner of the Russian military engineers, who was pursuing a similar work in the neighboring provinces.

No sooner was Struve’s work finished (in its prosecution a 10-inch sextant and an arc for the measurement of small vertical angles were the principal instruments used) than he laid definitive plans for the measurement of an arc of three degrees thirty-five minutes before the Council of the University, by whom the undertaking was sanctioned.

The necessary appropriation was granted by the Emperor Alexander, who directed that Struve should order the needed instruments in person from the best makers; and who further showed his appreciation of the astronomer’s past labors by a munificent appropriation for the purchase of better instruments for the university observatory.

This is the same year as that of Emperor Alexander’s “saving” of the University of Kazan’ — which also had its own observatory, at which Lobachevskii studied. “When Alexander received a report recommending the closing of Kazan’ University (a school where the majority of the faculty were nonRussian and hence hopelessly ‘corrupt’), he replied, ‘Why destroy it when it can be improved?'” [James T. Flynn, in “The Role of the Jesuits in the Politics of Russian Education, 1801-1820,” Catholic Historical Review July 1970, 56(2): 249-265, on pp. 260-261, quoting Peter von Goetze, Fürst Alexander Nikolaewitsch Galitzin und seine Zeit, Leipzig 1882]

In the summer of 1820 Struve made his 3rd journey, visiting southern as well as northern Germany, drawing to him the hearts and good wishes of all, especially his younger co-workers. Having seen the most renowned mechanists and discussed with them the details of his new and long-hoped-for instruments, he retired to the university to await their arrival.

The Reichenbach Universal Instrument was received in 1821, and in 1824 he began to use it in the proposed geodetic operations (in which Baron von Vrangel of the Russian [Imperial] Navy was his efficient co-worker).

This latter work was nearly completed in five years. The results are to be found in the Beschreibung der Breitengradmessung (Dorpat 1831).

After I’m dead I’ll haunt the halls of Dorpat Observatory archives until I consult Beschreibung der unter allerhöchstem Kaiserlichen Schutze von der Universität zu Dorpat veran stalteten Breitengradmessung in den Ostseeprovinzen Russlands ausgeführt und bearbeitet in den Jahren 1821 bis 1831 mit Beihilfe des Captain-lieutenants B. W. v. Wrangell und anderer.

The three-foot meridian circle, the mate of which was found at Königsberg

Peter A. you and I have seen the photos of the Reichenbach Meridian Circle at Dorpat and the mate at Königsberg; it only looks like the one at Dorpat was actually being used, and the one in Königsberg was already in a museum.

was received at the observatory in 1822.

Observations with it began in October, the winter months henceforth especially devoted to astronomical labors. It was in this year also that officers of the army and navy began to be sent to Dorpat to study practical astronomy under a man of such ability.

In November 1824 the 9-inch refractor of Fraunenhofer [sic — it is that way in the text] was received and in February [1825] was begun the review of the heavens whose results were published in 1827 as “Catalogus novus generalis stellarum duplicium et multiplicium”.

In this latter year it was that Professor Parrot was called from Dorpat to reside in St. Petersburg as a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences; almost directly thereafter he was commissioned to prepare for the Academy the plans for the new astronomical observatory, whose erection had long been before the consideration of that body.

The 1822 Report by Struve to the Curatorial Commission of Dorpat University has not yet been translated, but we now see that there are two Reichenbach instruments, one received in 1821 and the other in 1822 [I defy you to find any mention of this in Sokolovskaia].

The first of these two to be received was the Reichbach Universal Instrument. The second to be received was the Reichenbach Meridian Circle, the big-ticket item.

Michael Meo

Your Friend from Portland

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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