SKU: A01745 Category:


Description: Writing from Midnapore (Medinipur West Bengal), William Herschel begins his 8-page letter to his father, the astronomer Sir John Herschel, expressing his frustration with Schalah (a Bengal member of the Committee on Weights and Measures) for not voting to establish the Metrical system in India before England “declared itself,” and at the “nuisance in India . . . .  They have no common measure at all . . . .” Most of his letter is detailed discussion of the article “La Physique Moderne:” [Essai Sur L’unité Des Phénomènes Naturels] wherein the reviewer undertakes an explanation of Emile Saigey’s theory of gravity and its impact on the universe, revealing Herschel’s knowledge and enthusiasm of the subject. He is ill at ease in India and lonely without his wife Emma, wanting to return to England soon. Simultaneously his unsympathetic characterization of Indians and its multifaceted belief systems shows him up as a typical colonial administrator.

Herschel who has learned to be curious is fascinated with the theory of gravitational attractions between atoms as elaborated by the reviewer of the article but is troubled that the reviewer “adopts it without doubt himself & so demolishes to his own satisfaction all necessity for believing in any other property of matter than that of ‘motion.’” He wonders, “Is this explanation of gravity tenable?” proceeding to state his doubts: “The propounders . . . speak almost as if it were an original property of matter to be in a state of uniform unquenchable violent agitation. That seems to me a much more difficult conception than that two atoms attract each other. . . .” He is also apprehensive as he considers the writer “to be of no authority.” He hopes to have long talks on the subject with his father after he returns to England.  Signed, “Your Affte Son, W, J, Herschel”

Autograph letter signed on eight pages of 5” x 8,” light gray laid paper. Filed in a sales envelope from Maggs Brothers, Rare Books, Prints and Photographs, London. Includes typed transcript and a copy of the article, “La Physique Moderne.” Item #A01745

William J. Herschel, 2nd Baronet (1833-1917), British Magistrate, was the son of the noted astronomer, Sir John Herschel. He started working for the Indian Civil Service in 1858 and is credited as being the first European to use fingerprinting as a means of identification.

Sir John F. W. Herschel 1st Baronet (1792-1871) was a mathematician, inventor, astronomer and accomplished chemist, and the son of Sir William Herschel (who discovered Uranus). He studied binary stars to arrive at an understanding of gravitational forces, invented a way to measure solar radiation, recorded the locations of as many as 68, 948 stars, observed Halley’s comet, and the satellites of Saturn.

Condition: But for a ½” tear at the margin of page one and mailing fold lines, the letter is in very good condition. Writing is clear and legible.