Autobiography, with Letters

By William Lyon Phelps | Go to book overview

10
ASTRONOMY

AMONG my extra-curriculum activities in school at Hartford, was astronomy. I have forgotten how my interest in this subject began, but among the new books sent to my father for review was a copy of Simon Newcomb Popular Astronomy; I read that book over and over again. Thomas Mills Day, son of the former editor of the Hartford Courant, was a boy at the West Middle School, and his family had come into the possession of a good telescope. I used to go to his front yard, formed by the intersection of Farmington and Asylum Avenues, and there spent many evenings gazing at the firmament.

I wanted a telescope of my own and had no funds. My schoolmate, Arthur Perkins, who had such a talent for scientific pursuits that his subsequently being forced into the practice of the law was a lifelong tragedy, offered to make me a telescope if I would provide the materials, the total cost of which was less than three dollars. He made a tube out of cardboard, painted it black, made a tripod, and with an object glass of two and one-half inches at one end, and an eye-piece at the other, I could see the moons of Jupiter, the crescent of Venus, occultations of stars, and such phenomena. I could not afford an achromatic eye-piece, so I had all the colours for nothing. For years I was passionately devoted to astronomy, and my interest in the subject lasted until I was compelled to take a course in astronomy in college, which was devoted wholly to mathematical calculations; the stars were neither seen nor mentioned. I was

-73-

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