Struve’s Exact Words: to Peter Abrahams

Dear Friend and Colleague!

In the matter of the actual intentions of Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve in purchasing what is referred to as the “astronomical repeating circle” (for 1082 rublei) and “two 3 1/2 foot passage instruments” (800, the two), that is, putting virtually all of the money which (according to Sokolovskaia’s 1963 biography) was appropriated for the trigonometric topographic survey of the Baltic provinces, with the central point of Dorpat Observatory, into stellar research: to start again at the beginning, here are Sokolovskaia’s exact words.

The sum of 2969 silver rubles requested by Struve had been approved.   With this money he was to obtain the following instruments in Munich:

“ 1) an azimuthal disk 12 inches in diameter, for 470 silver rubles;

“ 2) an astronomical repeating circle [in a ‘repeating circle’ – accuracy is secured by repetition of observation – MM] 2 feet wide, for 1082 silver rubles;

“ 3) a device for measuring simple plumb vertical, 71 silver rubles;

“ 4) two 3 ½-foot passage instruments, 800 silver rubles;

“ 5) two pendulum clocks, 300 silver rubles;

“ 6) two clocks with fractional seconds, 96 silver rubles;

“ 7) a device used to calibrate the horizontal of the pedestal for instruments, 150 silver rubles.” Zhurnal’ Departamenta Narodnogo Prosveshcheniia, 1822, No. 6, p. 157.[1]


And here is my footnote, renumbered by the Machine


[1]   Sokolovskaia’s provision of these significant details is surely one her best features; sufficient to note here that only one (and that one the least expensive) of the devices purchased was of much use in trigonometric measurement in the field – the avowed purpose of the trip.

Even a small passage instrument (and anything measured in feet is surely at least medium in size) was assumed by contemporaries to require a building to house it. For so I read Brosche 2001, p. 76, footnote 231: [von] Zach erwähnt für 1789 ein Gartenhaus hinter dem Fürstenhaus, in dem ab Juni 1790 ein kleines Passageninstrument aufgestellt werden sollte. Von Zach mentioned a garden house behind the prince’s palace in which by June 1790 a small passage instrument might be set up.

In graphic terms we have Struve purchasing one of the left-hand, and two of the right-hand, devices pictured on the next page



The left-hand caption reads: “Reichenbach’s meridian circle, 1819. Like the transit, the astronomical circle operated only in the meridian, but the addition of an accurate graduated circle to the right-hand axis made it possible to measure the vertical ‘declinations’ of stars, as well as the right ascensions, in a single observation. For over a century beforehand, right ascension and declination had been observed on different instruments, but Reichenbach’s engineering innovations succeeded in offsetting stresses within the structure to enable both to be made without distortions occurring.”

The right-hand: “Reichenbach’s transit instrument, 1810. Like all transits, the telescope is mounted on balanced cannon-type trunnions between two massive stone blocks” [emphasis added – MM]. Chapman 1993, pp. 70 and 69, respectively.

Building on this base, one turns to translate the report, cited by Sokolovskaia, of F.G.W. Struve which appeared in the Zhurnal Narodnogo Prosveshcheniya for 1822.  As I wrote earlier,

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.

There was a difficulty which dogged my attempt to produce a publishable English-language version of Struve’s 1822 (let us call it) Report, a text written in Russian.  Struve was an employee of the Imperial Russian government, and so he produced this version from what was very likely a German-language original.  Karin Reich and Elena Roussanova assert in their 2013 Formeln und Sterne (p. 26)

It is sufficiently decisive to point out that not a single one of the scientists we have selected ever wrote a work in Russian.

Karin Reich and Elena Roussanova, eds. Scientific Relations during the nineteenth century between Russia and Germany, volume 13

Karin Reich and Elena Roussanova, eds.
Scientific Relations during the nineteenth century between Russia and Germany, volume 13


Of course, Struve is not merely one of those deutscher Gelehrter penning Correspondenz mit der Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu St Petersburg; rather, he is the peg upon which this archival collection has been edited and published.  The letter whose photograph appears on the cover is FGW Struve’s  original report to the Secretary of the Academy that Reichenbach’s superb Meridian Circle had arrived in Dorpat.

Struve, despite my learned Continental colleagues’ written statement to the contrary, wrote his Report in Russian.

Alas!  A clotted, bureaucratic, title-encrusted, convoluted sort of un-Russian language, our hero’s attempt to report to the general subject population of the Empire what its learned astronomer had been up to in Germany, that faraway place.  I can only describe the contents, and that only generally, of the Report; the initial point had been, rather, to penetrate by virtue of the exact words, the ipsimmi verbi, how F.G.W. had smuggled in an expensive Reichenbach instrument.

It has proved to the only-mortal-human-being writing these lines virtually impossible to figure out the meaning of the German original which is underlying this most painful piece of ugly Slavic prose.  I gotta for good and sufficient reason look to other avenues to pursue this line of thought.


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.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Diffeomorphisms on a manifold, Empire, Paul Forman, Uncategorized, Vali Balint. Bookmark the permalink.

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