Analeuvs vevsus FvoJessionaIs· TIe Conlvovevs¸ ovev TeIescope Size in Lale Viclovian Science

AulIov|s)· JoIn LanIJovd
Souvce· Isis, VoI. 72, No. 1 |Mav., 1981), pp. 11-28
FuIIisIed I¸· TIe Univevsil¸ oJ CIicago Fvess on IeIaIJ oJ TIe Hislov¸ oJ Science Sociel¸
SlaIIe UBL· http://www.jstor.org/stable/231175 .
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Amateurs versus Professionals:
The Controversy
over Telescope Size
in Late Victorian Science
By John Lankford*
S TUDENTS OF THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE have long held profession-
alization to be a theme worthy of systematic investigation. Their con-
ception of the dynamics involved, however, is frequently too narrow. This
paper examines the dynamics of professionalization in astronomy as evidenced
by the changing status of amateurs. The development of astronomy does not fit
existing models of the way in which science becomes professionalized because
the professional never achieved a complete monopoly; instead, the role of
amateurs became institutionalized within the discipline. When professionaliza-
tion is understood as a dynamic process involving the clash of groups and
interests, it is possible to escape assumptions of inevitability. The triumph of
professionalism was a contingent, historical, and political process.
I
Even in the closing decades of the twentieth century, amateur astronomers in
most industrialized nations include a minority whose skill at designing and using
instruments or whose perseverance as observers permits them to make signifi-
cant contributions to knowledge. A worldwide network of variable star ob-
servers keeps track of long-period variables and monitors many short-period
variables as well. These amateurs cooperate with professionals through such
organizations as the Variable Star Section of the British Astronomical Associa-
*Department of History, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri 65211.
I am indebted to the Research Council of the G-raduate School of the University of Missouri-
Columbia for several grants, to my colleague Professor James L. McCartney for valuable sug-
gestions, and to Professor Malcolm J. Rohrbough of the University of Iowa for supplying material
not available to me.
' See in particular Nathan Reingold, "Definitions and Speculations: The Professionalization of
Science in America in the Nineteenth Century," in Alexandra Oleson and Sanborn C. Brown,
eds., The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic: American Scientific and Learned
Societies from Colonial Times to the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1976), pp. 33-69. See also W. J. Reader, Professional Men: The Rise of the Professional Classes in
Nineteenth-Century England (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966). The problem of dynamics
is addressed by Geoffrey Millerson, The Qualifying Associations: A Study in Professionalization
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; New York: Humanities Press, 1964). A classic example of
the linear model of professionalization is George H. Daniels, "The Process of Professionalization
in American Science: The Emergent Period, 1820-1860," Isis, 1967, 58:151-166. John D. Holm-
feld, "From Amateurs to Professionals in American Science: The Controversy over the Proceed-
ings of an 1853 Scientific Meeting," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1970,
114:22-36, is similar. Astronomy does not conform to the model developed in the classic study by
A. M. Carr-Saunders and P. A. Wilson, The Professions (London: Frank Cass, 1964), esp. pp.
352-365, since professional astronomers never ahieved a monopoly over the discipline.
ISIS, 1981, 72 (261) 1
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12 JOHN LANKFORD
tion (1890) or the American Association of Variable Star Observers (1911).
Lunar and planetary observers from Japan to the London suburbs or the
American Southwest are similarly organized to supplement the work of profes-
sionals. The discovery of comets and the observation of occultations also are
largely the province of amateur astronomers working in conjunction with pro-
fessionals. Some amateurs, even in the post-World War II period, have crossed
the line and become full-time professional scientists.
In Britain amateurs and professionals came to a parting of the ways toward
the end of the nineteenth century, a result of dramatic shifts in the conceptions
of scientific identity held by both groups. Professionals demanded specializa-
tion, technical knowledge gained only through advanced education, and access
to large-scale research facilities. Further, they sought government support for
their research, an action to which many amateurs strenuously objected. Com-
munications between amateurs and professionals declined and in many in-
stances flowed only in one direction. The two groups ceased to share a common
set of scientific goals, and the growth of complex and expensive instrumentation
underscored the fact that they were concerned with different research prob-
lems.2
D. S. L. Cardwell accurately characterizes the earlier development of astron-
omy in Great Britain: science was "prosecuted with vigour and success by a
brilliant group of semi-amateurs."3 Aside from the Astronomer Royal and his
staff, the superintendent of the Nautical Almanac and his assistants, the Astro-
nomers Royal for Ireland and Scotland, holders of chairs in the ancient univer-
sities and assistants in university observatories, paid observers in private ob-
servatories, and (after 1881) Norman Lockyer and his South Kensington astro-
physical research group, virtually no one in Britain earned a living by doing
astronomy.
That "brilliant group of semi-amateurs" contributing to astronomical science
during the nineteenth century included Stephen Groombridge (1755-1832),
whose meridian-circle observations of circumpolar stars provided the basis for a
catalogue still in use. The Reverend William R. Dawes (1799-1868), known to
Victorians as "the eagle-eyed," made major contributions to the study of the
planets and double stars. Richard Carrington (1826-1875) developed new
methods of observing sunspots which led to important advances in the knowledge
of the sun's rotation period and the position of its axis. William Lassell (1799-
1880) constructed large reflectors and with them discovered planetary satellites.
Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) designed the photoheliograph used to make a
daily record of sunspots at Kew and pioneered
in the use of reflectors for
astronomical photography. Dawes, Carrington, Lassell, and De La Rue all
received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. Lassell and De
La Rue were fellows of the Royal Society.
An examination of the list of
persons awarded medals or testimonials by the
-The History of the Royal Astronomical Society 1820-1920, by J. L. E. Dreyer et al. (London:
Wheldon & Wesley, 1923), is an indispensible introduction to the problem of amateurs in nine-
teenth-century science. See also Arthur Schuster and Arthur E. Shipley, Britain's Heritage of
Science (London: Constable & Co., 1917), esp. pp. 72-73, 88, 161-162. Agnes M. Clerke devotes
a good deal of her A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century (4th ed.,
London: Adam and Charles Black, 1908) to the work of amateurs. Apparently amateurs are still
active in microscopy. See Hal Bowser, "Invisible World Sings a Siren Call to Amateurs,"Smith-
sonian, 1978, 9(5): 66-72.
3D. S. L. Cardwell, The Organisation of Science in England (London: Heinemann, 1957), p. 242.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 13
Royal Astronomical Society shows amateurs receiving honors along with such
British professionals as G. B. Airy or international leaders like F. W. Bessel,
F. G. W. Struve, and J. F. Enck.4 But by the third quarter of the century a change
became evident. Fewer amateurs received the coveted R.A.S. award and those
who did (A. A. Common, Isaac Roberts, and Frank McClean) represented a
new trend, the application of photography to the study of astrophysics. William
F. Denning's 1898 award was the sole exception to this rule. After 1900 the
Gold Medal went to professional astronomers exclusively. With the creation in
1897 of the Hannah Jackson (nee Gwilt) gift and medal, generally awarded to
amateurs, the R.A.S. began to differentiate in its distribution of honors be-
tween amateurs and professionals. The Jackson-Gwilt was not, however, be-
stowed as frequently as the Gold Medal.
By the closing decades of the nineteenth century, then, British astronomy was
in flux. As Cardwell remarks, the "old free amateurism" was passing from the
scene.
5
It is on the nature of the old free amateurism and the process involved in
its passing that we shall focus our attention.
* * *
In 1885 William Frederick Denning (1848-1931), one of the most productive
and outspoken amateurs in England, opened a heated exchange concerning the
relative merits of large and small telescopes that occupied astronomical journals
in both Great Britain and the United States for over a year. Denning later
embodied his ideas on the value of small apertures and the imperfections of
large telescopes in a book, Telescopic Work for Starlight Evenings (1891). The
issues debated were complex. While they dealt with matters of basic theory as
well as research programs and findings, there were also social and psychological
dimensions.
Denning's paper compared observations of Jupiter made by George Washing-
ton Hough (1836-1909), director of the Dearborn Observatory in Chicago, and
several English amateurs. The point at issue concerned the Great Red Spot, one
of the most interesting features on Jupiter's cloudy face. Denning and the
British amateurs, observing with a variety of telescopes ranging from a 4-inch
refractor through an 18-inch reflector, contended that the spot had lost its
outline and merged with a faint belt. Professor Hough hotly disputed their
observations. Had the matter rested with empirical issues, it would merely have
required a third party to make observations which confirmed those of one side
or the other. However, Denning went on to remark, "I cannot understand how
it is these things are not seen with the Chicago refractor [an 18'/2-inch Clark].
They are conspicuous with much smaller instruments than my own." And, he
continued, "This directly brings us to the question as to the superiority (?) of
large telescopes in showing details on a bright planet. Apertures of from 6 to 8
inches seem able to compete with the most powerful instruments ever con-
4The listing is to be found in Dreyer et al., History of the Royal Astronomical Society, pp.
252-253.
5Cardwell, Organisation of Science, p. 156. Both historians and social scientists seem to perceive
the years 1870-1900 as pivotal in the process of professionalization in the United Kingdom. For a
complementary view see Steven Shapin and Arnold Thackray, "Prosopography as a Research Tool
in History of Science: The British Scientific Community 1700-1900," History of Science, 1974,
12:1-28, on p. 11.
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14 JOHN LANKFORD
structed."6 He appealed to history by presenting a brief survey of the failure of
large telescopes, and closed with a quotation from William Kitchiner, M.D.
(1775?- 1827), who conducted a series of tests with fifty different instruments.
This was typical of Denning's forensic style. In Kitchiner's opinion, "Immense
telescopes are only about as useful as the enormous spectacles which are
suspended over the doors of opticians!"7
The paper offered a preview of ideas Denning would expound during the
course of the 1885-1886 debate. He did not give them systematic form, the
closest he came to ordered exposition being Telescopic Work for Starlight
Evenings. On the whole, then, his thoughts were less coherent and logically
organized than the following synoptic analysis suggests. Denning was first and
foremost a debater, out to win points.
Denning's assessment of the relative performance of large and small tele-
scopes rested on a faulty grasp of the principles of geometrical optics. Ap-
parently, he had never had significant observing experience with an instrument
larger than his 12'/2-inch Calver reflector. While his arguments centered on the
optical advantages of small telescopes, he sometimes referred to other benefits,
which can be summarized as follows:
* Small telescopes are portable, cheap, and easy to store.
* They can be used in or out of doors.
* They are easy to manipulate and seldom need adjustment.
* Small lenses or mirrors are light in weight and easy to mount. There are no
problems with distortion introduced by the weight of a large lens in its cell
or a heavy mirror imperfectly mounted.
* It is easier to make optically perfect glass for small than big lenses and
mirrors.
8
Denning admitted that large apertures possess "an immense superiority of light
[-gathering power] over smaller telescopes," but argued, "They are rendered
ineffective by inferior definition."9 At least initially, he did not try to account
for inferior definition in terms of optical imperfections, but ascribed the diffi-
culty to atmospheric conditions. Indeed he quoted with approval an opinion that
the effect of atmospheric conditions on definition increases with the cube of the
aperture.
Denning went on to admit that "separating power [resolution of extended
detail] is a function of aperture, and the expansion of a very minute planetary
detail can only be effected by the high powers which may be used with large
instruments." But then he entered a series of important qualifications. "What
the minor telescope lacks in point of light it gains in definition. When the seeing
is good in a large aperture it is superlative in a small one. When unusually high
powers may be employed on the former, far higher ones proportionately may be
used with the latter."'0 Had he argued that "separating power" and light grasp
were a function of aperture, and suggested that the larger the telescope the
more critical seeing conditions were for its performance, few would have quib-
6W. F. Denning, "Jupiter and the Relative Powers of Telescopes in Defining Planetary Mark-
ings," Observatory, 1885, 8:76-81, on p. 79.
7Ibid., p. 81.
8William F. Denning, Telescopic Work for Starlight Evenings (London: Taylor and Francis,
1891), pp. 20-21, 29-31.
9Denning, "Jupiter and the Relative Powers of Telescopes," p. 80.
'0W. F. Denning, "The Defining Powers of Telescopes," Observatory, 1885, 8: 205-209, on pp.
206, 209.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 15
bled. It would have been a matter of seeking better observing sites. But Den-
ning instead introduced several optical conceptions of his own. He also became
increasingly rigid in his defense of the defining power of small telescopes.
On the basis of reports by the elder Herschel and observers using Lord
Rosse's 72-inch reflector, Denning developed his theory of glare. "The details
on a bright planetary object are apt to become obliterated in the glare of a large
instrument." It was better to observe the planets with a smaller glass that
would not flood the field with excessive light. Indeed such objects as Venus
and Jupiter were best observed, he suggested, against a twilight sky. Denning
associated glare with both the optical characteristics of large lenses and seeing
conditions. Images produced by small apertures are "comparatively tranquil
and sharply definite," but in large telescopes "forms are presented much more
brilliant and expansive, it is true, but involved in glare and subject to constant
agitation, which serve to obliterate most of the details." The conclusion was
clear: "The observer becomes conscious that what he has gained in light has
been lost in definition." "I
By the fall of 1885 Denning's position became inflexible. In spite of his earlier
attempts to link seeing conditions and the quality of planetary images produced
by large telescopes, the British amateur moved toward an unqualified endorse-
ment of small instruments. "It is to small apertures that we are chiefly indebted
for our knowledge of planetary markings." Six years later, after extensive
international discussion of the basic issues involved, Denning would still insist
that the defining powers of small telescopes were "of such excellent character as
to compensate in a measure for feeble illumination.""2
Denning received little overt support in the debate; in fact the majority of
British astronomers remained silent in the face of his criticism of large tele-
scopes and defense of smaller instruments. The Americans, however, did not.
Several factors motivated them. The last quarter of the nineteenth century was
a period of rapid development in instrumentation. Americans were making
important contributions to the building of large refractors, and the firm of
Alvan Clark and Sons of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, was, by the 1880s,
coequal with the great European telescope makers. Some of the largest refract-
ing telescopes in the world were in America, and they were virtually all Clark
instruments. To Americans, still in the thralls of a political and cultural nation-
alism often tinged with Anglophobia, the great American refractors could not
be characterized as less efficient than small English reflectors.
Further, since the 1850s planetary astronomy had received greater attention
from professional astronomers in America than in England. It is of more than
symbolic importance that the Crepe ring of Saturn (ring C) was detected almost
simultaneously by William Cranch Bond (1789-1859), first director of the
Harvard College Observatory, and the English amateur Dawes. After mid-
century, American professionals engaged in serious planetary observation in-
cluded Etienne Trouvelot (1827-1895) working with the Harvard and Washing-
ton refractors, Asaph Hall (1829-1907) and Edward S. Holden (1846-1914) at
the Naval Observatory, Edward E. Barnard (1857-1923) at the Vanderbilt
University Observatory, Hough at Chicago, Carr Waller Pritchett (1823-1910)
"Denning, Telescopic Work, pp. 34, 22n., and "Defining Powers," p. 209; Denning, Telescopic
Work, p. 33.
'2W. F. Denning, "Large v. Small Telescopes," Observatory, 1885, 8:340-342, on p. 341;
Denning, Telescopic Work, pp. 20-21.
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16 JOHN LANKFORD
at the Morrison Observatory, Glasgow, Missouri, and, by the end of the 1880s,
most of the staff at the newly opened Lick Observatory (including Holden and
Barnard). The 1890s saw American planetary work make a quantum jump with
the entry of Percival Lowell (1855-1916) and William H. Pickering (1858-1938)
into the field. American professionals, then, with a significant tradition of
planetary observations generally carried out with large refracting telescopes,
had an increasingly large stake in the field.
The first American to respond to Denning's criticisms was Professor Charles
A. Young (1843-1908), director of the Halsted Observatory at Princeton. In
1882 the Clarks had installed a 23-inch refractor at Princeton, and in 1885 it was
still the second largest refractor in the United States, coming after the two 26-
inch Clark telescopes at Washington and the University of Virginia. While
agreeing with Denning that "the greater susceptibility of large instruments to
atmospheric disturbances is most sadly true," Young recounted the advice
given him by the elder Clark when the 23-inch was mounted. Clark told Young
he would "almost always see with the 23-inch everything I can see with the 9112-
inch [the old Princeton instrumei-t] under the same atmospheric conditions, and
see it better:-if the seeing is bad, only a little better; if good, immensely
better." When observations made with small apertures could not be duplicated
with large telescopes, Denning had concluded that the giant instruments were
defective rather than questioning the objective reality of the observations.
Young, however, had clearly undertaken comparative trials with the old 91/2-
inch and the new Clark instrument. He suggested that frequently markings on
Saturn and Jupiter, "which with the smaller telescope appear most beautifully
definite and sharp, turn out when examined by the larger one to be quite
different, hazy in outline, and made up of an assemblage of finer details." This
was due to the ability of the larger aperture to resolve extended detail. "Under
high powers also markings which are conspicuous with lower ones often disap-
pear, in the same way that the naked-eye markings on the moon vanish in the
telescope." Young was also aware of the psychological pitfalls of using smaller
telescopes. He suggested that "imagination had constructed a story that was not
true by building up faintly visible details and hazy suggestions furnished by the
smaller lens."'3
Replying in the June number of the Observatory, Denning expressed surprise
at Young's report concerning the performance of the 23-inch Clark. "On a bad
night I should have supposed the 9'/2-inch would give tolerable views while the
23-inch would have been utterly useless." He then apparently agreed with
Young's discussion of telescopic resolution, but asked how, if Young was right,
Schiaparelli at Milan could have found the canals of Mars in 1882 with a mere 8-
inch Merz refractor. Denning implied that they ought to have been invisible,
according to the rule laid down by Young.'4
in August the Observatory printed letters from both Carr Waller Pritchett at
the Morrison Observatory and G. W. Hough at Dearborn. Most significant
perhaps was Pritchett's suggestion that seeing conditions be considered when
the observations made on any given night were evaluated. "I am more than ever
convinced that the atmospheric conditions under which we make our observa-
"3C. A. Young, "Obscuration of the Red Spot on Jupiter," Observatory, 1885, 8:172-174, on
pp. 173, 174.
'4Denning, "Defining Powers," p. 206.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 17
tions are, or ought to be, as potential in the formation of our judgments of what
we see as the telescope itself."'5 Within a decade Lowell and his coworkers
would develop a seeing scale.
Hough declared that on the basis of twenty-five years' observing experience
with a variety of telescopes, he had "no hesitation in saying that I can see more
and better under any atmospheric conditions with the 18'/2-inch than with any
smaller telescope," and he claimed that "a large telescope will always do the
work of a smaller one, and generally do it better." The Illinois astronomer was
perplexed by Denning's theory of glare. "I do not understand why the increased
illumination of a planet's disk by the use of a large aperture is objectionable to
seeing [definition], since every part is proportionally illuminated." Arguing by
analogy, Hough concluded that "one can certainly see objects better in a
brilliantly illuminated apartment than in one indifferently lighted." 16
Denning responded in the September Observatory. He flatly refused to back
down on the superiority of small apertures for planetary work. "In any case the
advantage claimed for the costly, giant telescopes of the present day, if really
admissible, must be so very trifling that we are justified in doubting its signifi-
cance, especially on bright planets, which do not essentially require excessive
command of light." The expensive giants he relegated to the study of faint
nebulae, comets, and satellites. 17
Sherburne W. Burnham (1838-1921) entered the fray in the September issue
of the Sidereal Messenger. Burnham's essay involved a tart lecture on spurious
objects reported by owners of small telescopes. "It never occurred to me that I
was laboring under any disadvantage in using a larger aperture . . . or that I
could be mistaken in asserting positively, after a fair and thorough investigation
with the aid of such an instrument, that the supposed stars [seen with smaller
telescopes] were simply due to an excess of imagination on the part of the
several writers." Burnham criticized reflectors and defended the telescopes
produced by Alvan Clark and Sons. He argued that if reflectors were as power-
ful as Denning suggested, why not prove it by discovering some close double
stars with, say, a separation of 0.3 to 0.4 seconds of arc for pairs of equal bril-
liance. Burnham ironically concluded that in spite of the claims of amateurs,
observers like himself "who have only large CLARK refractors to work with"
would not be discouraged by "the alleged discovery and repeated verification of
a select assortment of companions to Polaris, Vega, Sirius, etc."18
Denning simply dismissed Burnham's remarks out of hand. He refused to
admit any degree of similarity between planetary work and the study of double
stars, or to accept the possibility that small telescopes might show spurious
detail. "The explanation has not yet been forthcoming how it is that the 18l/2-
inch Chicago refractor, in the hands of such able men as Profs. Hough and
Burnham, gives no trace of the Merope nebula [part of the nebula in which the
Pleiades are imbedded], while Profs. Tempel and Swift, independently, found it
so plain in their small telescopes as to mistake it for a comet. Failure in this
'5C. W. Pritchett, "The Red Spot on Jupiter," Observatory, 1885, 8:268-270, on p. 268.
'6G. W. Hough, "Large versus Small Telescopes," Observatory, 1885, 8:275-277, on pp. 275,
276.
I7W. F. Denning, "Jupiter and Large versus Small Telescopes," Observatory, 1885, 8:300-305,
on p. 305.
'8S. W. Burnham, "Small vs. Large Telescopes," Sidereal Messenger, 1885, 4:193-200, on pp.
194, 197.
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18 JOHN LANKFORD
prominent case may well prepare us for the failures of large telescopes in other
respects."' 9 Later Denning challenged Burnham to observe the planets using a
With or Calver mirror. If Burnham should accept, "he will be rather astonished
to see with such distinctness many of the features which are described as very
difficult objects in much larger instruments, and possibly his keen and practiced
eye may reach a marking, which, though of absolute existence is obliterated in
the glare from very large object glasses and specula. If he is so successful he
must clearly understand it is a mere deception arising from small aperture."20
From March through November of 1885 a total of fifteen separate publica-
tions appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. The six publications from 1886
were more technical. In the fall of 1885 Young tried an experiment with the 23-
inch instrument. In presenting his findings, he also made the point that eye and
brain were as important as telescope size in "the discovery and delineation of
planetary features." He pointed out that different observers represented mark-
ings on the planet Mars in a discordant fashion. The reason was clear: "The best
and most keen-eyed of observers unconsciously supplement what they really
see, with details of what they only think they see; so that in the finished drawing
fact and fancy are inextricably mingled." Later, the observer using a larger
telescope and higher powers "naturally fails to recognize many features, and
some, he has to repudiate." Young next clarified the geometrical optics in-
volved under conditions of poor seeing, when "the image formed by the smaller
telescope is somewhat better defined and less veiled by stray light." But he
denied that problems caused by poor seeing increased with the cube of the
diameter. On the basis of his comparisons between the 9'/2-inch and the 23-
inch at Princeton, he concluded that the impact of poor seeing was more likely
to vary with the square root "or even with some still more slowly growing
function." But even if there was a moderate comparative gain in definition for a
small telescope under poor conditions, it was rendered nugatory "due to the
diffraction effect of the diminished aperture.
"2 '
Later, in his widely used
textbook, Young explained this problem. He stressed the fact that "the dia-
meter of the 'spurious disk' [the Airy disk] varies inversely with the aperture of
the telescope. According to Dawes, it is about 4'.5 for a 1-inch telescope and
consequently 1" for a 4'/2-inch instrument, O'.'5 for a 9-inch, and so on."22
In the fall of 1885, Young and his colleague Malcolm McNeill (1855-1923)
put Denning's ideas to a test. Using the same eyepiece (a Steinheil monocentric
giving a power of 480) they successively viewed Saturn with the full aperture of
the 23-inch Clark, then stopped down to 15 and 9 inches.
Finally, they con-
cluded the session with the full aperture again. Both men's observations were
reported in detail, and their conclusions told strongly in favor of using full
aperture. "Both observers agreed that there was simply no comparison between
the 9-inch and the 23-inch aperture." Indeed, with the 15-inch stop Young
noted "a knot or lump" where the shadow of the planet touched Cassini's
division (AO to use modern nomenclature) in the rings. But with full aperture
'9Denning, "Large v. Small Telescopes" (1885), p. 341.
20W. F. Denning, "Small vs. Large Telescopes," Sidereal Mess., 1885, 4:259-261, on p. 261.
2
1C. A. Young, "Small Telescopes vs. Large," Sidereal Mess., 1886, 5:1-5, on pp. 1, 2.
22Charles A. Young, A Text-Book of General Astronomy for Colleges and Scientific Schools
(rev. ed., Boston and London: Ginn & Company, 1900), p. 26.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 19
"the imagined knot had disappeared-a mere optical illusion, in this case at
least. "23
Denning rejected Young's experiments in toto. His reasons for doing so
rested on certain assumptions about the consequences of stopping down a 23-
inch objective to 9 inches. Specifically, he argued that the center of the 23-inch
objective "must be enormously greater than the average thickness of an or-
dinary 9-inch glass. Hence the latter will pass far more light and give superior
definition and other advantages because of more perfect figure and greater
facility of manipulation." Almost automatically Denning here slipped in his
ideas on the figure of small lenses, their defining power, and their ease of
handling. But these technical aspects of the argument were only preliminary.
Unless large telescopes made important new contributions to planetary as-
tronomy, Denning simply refused to accept "their oft-asserted prowess." In-
deed, he insisted that "their powers seem exercised to eliminate certain forma-
tions seen in smaller appliances, and thus they cut down rather than extend our
knowledge."24 No amount of reasoning or data could ever make Denning back
down from this position. His approach was calculated to keep observers using
larger instruments on the defensive.
The 1886 phase of the debate concluded with a rejoinder from Young. First
he took Denning to task over optical theory. While the 23-inch Clark at
Princeton did indeed have a thicker central portion than a 9-inch refractor,
Young calculated that this reduced transmission by about 5 or 6 percent, the
equivalent of reducing a 9-inch aperture by a mere 3/lo inch. Further, "with
the longer focus [of the stopped-down 23-inch] the outstanding chromatic
aberration is greatly diminished, and the definition notably improved-more
than enough to compensate for the slight loss of light, I think." Young pointed
out, a little wearily perhaps, that observations with large telescopes do "of
course destroy illusions and correct errors based upon a perfectly honest inter-
pretation of features dimly seen, or supposed to be seen, by enthusiastic ob-
servers with smaller instruments."25 For the professional this was part of the
give-and-take of scientific work. The findings of a particular worker must be
confirmed by others. Professionals accepted this complex dialectical process
because their commitment was to the growth of scientific knowledge.
What can be said concerning the 1885-1886 phase of the debate? Clearly,
there was an element of cultural nationalism in the American response, most
evident in the defense of American-made Clark refractors. But the American
side, and especially Charles A. Young, also engaged in analytical discussion of
the issues raised by critics concerning the merits of small instruments and the
deficiencies of large apertures.
By and large Denning was the most interesting of the personae involved. He
never grew or changed. His whole position was foreshadowed in the first essay
(March 1885). At no time during the course of the debate (or during the next
decade, for that matter) did Denning attempt to work up the complex subject of
geometrical optics and telescope function. Further, he had little use for experi-
23Young, "Small Telescopes vs. Large," pp. 5, 3, 4. Young summed up his findings for English
observers under the inevitable heading, "Large Telescopes v. Small," Observatory, 1886, 9:92-
94.
24W. F. Denning, "Large v. Small Telescopes," Observatory, 1886, 9:274-277, on pp. 274, 275.
25C. A. Young, "Large Telescopes v. Small," Observatory, 1886, 9:328-329.
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20 JOHN LANKFORD
ments. He rejected those carried out by Young and apparently attempted none
himself. Denning- accepted the objective reality of planetary markings per-
ceived with his reflectors and never criticized his own methods, instrumenta-
tion, or findings.
If we take Denning as representative of the old order in British astronomy,
the "old free amateurism" which was passing from the scene by the 1880s, we
may gain significant insights into the dynamics of professionalization during
these important years. Discoverer of five comets and two novae, Denning later
won the R.A.S. Gold Medal (1898) and the Valz Prize of the French Academy
(1895) and was awarded an honorary Master of Science degree by Bristol
University (1927). He worked in planetary astronomy, concentrating on Saturn
and Jupiter, but the lasting basis of his scientific reputation was as an observer
of meteors. So great was Denning's reputation in this area that he served as first
president of Commission 22 of the International Astronomical Union (Commis-
sion des etoiles filantes). As the American astronomer Charles P. Olivier (1884-
1975), director of the Flower Observatory of the University of Pennsylvania and
founder of the American Meteor Society, wrote in the Observatory at the time
of Denning's death, he was "one of the few great meteor observers. His name
deserves to be remembered for all time as one of the pioneers, and his example
of enthusiastic work up to the very end of a long life, despite age and infirmi-
ties, should be an inspiration to all who work in this branch of astronomy."26 In
a succession of catalogues Denning reported the location of the radiant point of
meteor showers. Volume 53 (1899) of the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical
Society contains his most comprehensive study.
Few professional scientists achieve such a record of success and make as many
significant contributions in several different areas. Fewer still do it on the basis
of such slender instrumentation. In 1870 Denning purchased a 10-inch Brown-
ing reflector. Later he procured a 12'/2-inch Calver. But, as T. E. R. Phillips
wrote, "Denning was first and foremost a naked-eye astronomer, delighting
always in those spectacles of wonder and beauty which require only an under-
standing and appreciative mind for their due perception."27 In an age that
witnessed the rapid growth of complex and expensive instrumentation in almost
all fields of physical science, Denning was able to succeed admirably, primarily
on the basis of naked-eye work. What instrumentation he employed was simple
and unprepossessing. His practice of mounting a telescope as an altazimuth was,
by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, rare. Such a mounting (compared
to an equatorial driven by clockwork to follow a celestial object in its apparent
motion across the sky) required patience to manipulate.
Denning appeared committed to a primitive Baconian approach to science.
Working with the unaided eye or a minimum of instrumentation, he relied on
direct observation. This in turn produced reliable knowledge. Observation need
not be filtered through the analytical medium of physics or mathematics. That
''understanding and appreciative mind" of which Phillips wrote apparently did
not feel the need of a knowledge of geometrical optics. Others might discuss
diffraction and the way it limited small apertures. Denning's view of doing
science did not demand such extras. They had no bearing on the process of "due
perception.
"
26Letter from Chas. P. Olivier, Observatory, 1931, 54:282-283, on p. 283.
27T. E. R. Phillips, "William Frederick Denning," Observatory, 1931, 54:276-282, on p. 277.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 21
But how are we to account for the tone of Denning's publications? His
language was often provocative and sometimes almost insulting. Clearly, he felt
himself to be in competition with professionals like Hough and Young. Further,
he apparently believed he was defending a particular tradition of scientific work.
A. J. Meadows has argued that many Victorians looked on "scientific ideas as
being in some way the property of their owner."28 Time and again, Denning
insisted it was the amateur working with small apertures who developed plane-
tary astronomy. He was in effect acting as spokesman for English amateurs
against those professionals who sought to trespass on an already preempted
specialty.
In a larger sense, however, Denning represents aspects of the amateur tradi-
tion in British science analyzed by Morris Berman, who contends that "the lack
of scientific organization in the nineteenth century was paralleled by a series of
discoveries that were almost pathologically individualistic." While Berman may
not fully appreciate the complex relationships between amateurs and profes-
sionals within the Royal Astronomical Society, his conception of the individual-
istic nature of scientific discovery is supported by Denning's career. The ama-
teur pursued research without pressure from "a professional network and de-
void of the hunger for professional recognition" which later generations of
university-trained specialists would define as the desire for status, honors, and
rewards. Denning practiced science in an "unrestricted sort of way," following
his own interests and taking risks which more cautious professionals would seek
to avoid. For Denning, scientific discovery was not the cumulative product of
collective effort. In a career marked by success, Denning acted the part of the
"brilliant scientist-hero.
"29
A decade separated the first and second phases of the debate over telescope
size. The years from 1886 to 1895 marked a watershed for British astronomy. In
1890 the British Astronomical Association was founded. While not a rebellion
against the R.A.S., the new group clearly set itself off from the older body. The
original impetus came, as the organizing committee suggested, from a desire
"to meet the wishes and requirements of those who find the subscription of the
Royal Astronomical Society too high, or its papers too advanced; or, who are,
as in the case of ladies, practically excluded from becoming Fellows." Further,
the new group, unlike the R.A.S., would "afford a means of direction and
organisation in the work of observation to amateur Astronomers."30 The
R.A.S. assumed that individuals knew basic observing procedures and tech-
niques.
The first president of the B.A.A., Captain William Noble (1828-1904), had
been elected a fellow of the R.A.S. in 1855 and became a vocal opponent of
astrophysics, especially of state support for solar physics at South Kensington.
Indeed in the 1870s Noble served as secretary to the Society for Opposing the
Endowment of Research. 31 Clearly, Noble's views ran counter to those aspiring
2'8A. J. Meadows discusses this problem at length in his admirable study Science and Controver-
sy: A Biography of Sir Norman Lockyer (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972), p. 196.
29Morris Berman, "'Hegemony' and the Amateur Tradition in British Science," Journal of
Social History, 1975, 8:30-50, on pp. 40, 41.
30Circular II issued by the Provisional Committee, Sept. 1890, reprinted in the Journal of the
British Astronomical Association, 1890, 1:17-19, on p. 19.
3"H. P. Hollis, "Captain Noble," Observatory, 1904, 27:298-300, on p. 299. For a detailed
analysis of the South Kensington project and the larger issue of government support for British
science see Meadows, Science and Controversy, pp. 75-112.
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22 JOHN LANKFORD
professionals like Lockyer who sought to enlist financial support from the gov-
ernment. In his presidential address Noble reviewed the status and role of
amateur astronomers in the United Kingdom. The address forms perhaps one of
the first extended discussions of changing relationships within British as-
tronomy. While stressing cooperation rather than competition between ama-
teurs and professionals, Noble tacitly admitted that the status of the amateur
had declined. Amateurs, like professionals, henceforth must specialize. In the
B.A.A. they would be organized into observing sections concentrating their
energies on Jupiter, Mars, the moon, or variable stars. But it was a mark of
their new status that amateurs would provide professionals with data. They
would undertake tasks commensurate with their skills and instrumentation.
Uranus and Neptune, objects far beyond the reach of most amateurs' tele-
scopes, were "handed over to the Cyclopean Equatorial of the Lick Observa-
tory for any fresh information as to their physical structure and aspect."32
While permitting himself a critical thrust in the direction of the professional,
with his "luxurious observatory furnished with every optical and mechanical
appliance that wealth can procure," and even an aside in defense of small
apertures for observing bright planets, Noble was content to relegate amateurs
to the task of "steady and persistent observation."33 This left the higher status
and rewards of scientific activity to professionals. Noble also expressed the
hope that a member of the B.A.A. would continue Sir William Herschel's work
on the distribution of stars in space, but here he unwittingly stumbled into an
area that would increasingly call forth some of the most sophisticated efforts of
professionals. The problem of stellar distribution in future would be the domain
of the von Seeligers and Kapteyns of professional astronomy.
Amateurs were not read out of the R.A.S. Many, like Denning himself,
maintained only minimal connections with the B.A.A. But the process of
differentiation was well under way in the 1890s. There were now two plainly
marked roads. One led to professional status by way of higher education and a
period of virtual apprenticeship learning the skills and techniques of astronomy
in an observatory setting. The other led to membership in the B.A.A. and
perhaps association with one or more of its sections, where the emphasis was on
"steady and persistent observation." The
process of differentiating between
amateur and professional had the immediate effect of limiting competition
between the two groups. The amateur's lack of specialized knowledge had to
give way before the expertise of the trained professional. But for some, W. F.
Denning included, this was a difficult situation to accept.
Against this background, then, the second phase of the debate took place. In
July 1895 in the pages of Nature, the most widely-read scientific journal in
Britain, Denning returned to the issue of telescope size. As with his original
paper in 1885, he was prodded into action by published observations with which
he found fault. But in 1895 it was not the work of Hough, the American
professional observing with a large refractor, but that of a fellow British ama-
teur, A. Stanley Williams (1861-1938), which troubled him. Williams, a solici-
tor more committed to astronomy than to the law, was described by T. E. R.
32Captain Noble's presidential address, J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 1890, 1:49-55, on p. 53. See also
p. 50 for a discussion of specialization for amateurs.
33Ibid., pp. 55, 53. For an autobiographical view of these processes see Lieut.-Col. E. E.
Marwick, F.R.A.S., "Evolution of an Amateur Astronomer," J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 1892,
2:496-504.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 23
Phillips as "one of the most outstanding non-professional astronomers of mod-
ern times, ranking with such men as Dawes [and] Denning."34 Williams worked
in both planetary astronomy and visual and photographic photometry.
In the 1890s Williams published observations of bright and dark spots on
Saturn. He used these features to determine the rotation period of the equa-
torial region of the giant planet.35 Astronomers have glimpsed such markings
very infrequently. But Williams observed them for several oppositions. His
work was all the more remarkable because it was carried out with a 6'/2-inch
reflector. Denning suggested that if Williams's observations of Saturn were
"fully confirmed, they will deserve to be ranked among the best observational
feats of modern times."36 But he clearly had doubts. Williams was working with
a small aperture. Many of his observations were made when the planet was
approaching conjunction. Few observers appeared able to report confirmation.
Further, in observing spots 2 seconds of arc in diameter, Williams was working
close to the theoretical and empirical limits of resolution for a 61/2-inch mirror.
Thus Denning was caught on the horns of a grievous dilemma. On the one hand,
Williams and his 6'/2-inch were again outclassing the professionals with their
large and expensive refractors. On the other, even Denning had serious reserva-
tions about the validity of the observations.
Denning began his 1895 paper with a brief review of evidence that told against
the effectiveness of large telescopes. He found Percival Lowell especially valu-
able, accepting Lowell's distinction between two "classes of celestial phenomena
-those dependent on quantity of light, and those dependent on quality of
definition." This dovetailed perfectly with Denning's earlier ideas. Lowell,
involved in an acrimonious dispute with observers at the Lick Observatory over
the reality of complex detail he observed on the surface of Mars, found it
expedient to argue that "the biggest instruments have not always given the best
views of Mars."37
Denning called for "careful trials of large and small instruments, side by side,
upon the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn," but made it clear that such trials
would do little to change his mind: "Up to the present time it must be confessed
that small instruments have somewhat the best of the argument." He would bow
to "the unanimous testimony of our most trustworthy observers" if they "as-
serted the superiority of large telescopes on bright planets," but it would be a
grudging acquiescence. Curiously, Denning concluded by admitting that ob-
servers using large telescopes (professionals) could not "be disproved, as they
alone have the effective means of judging the question on its merits."38 As the
century drew to a close, even Denning conceded that access to large telescopes
benefited professionals. Amateurs could not hope to compete with them.
For the first time the editors of the British journal Observatory (H. H.
Turner, T. Lewis, and H. P. Hollis) commented on the controversy, siding with
the professionals. "If it be true that large telescopes fail to show appearances
34T. E. R. Phillips, "Arthur Stanley Williams," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical
Society, 1939, 99:313-316, on pp. 313-314.
35A. S. Williams, "On the Rotation of Saturn," Mon. Notices Roy. Astron. Soc., 1895, 54:297-
314.
36W. F. Denning, "The Relative Powers of Large and Small Telescopes in Showing Planetary
Detail," Nature, 1895, 52:232-234, on p. 233.
37Lowell, quoted in ibid., p. 234. William Graves Hoyt deals with these aspects of Lowell's
career in Lowell and Mars (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1976), pp. 87-102.
38Denning, "Relative Powers of Large and Small Telescopes," p. 234.
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24 JOHN LANKFORD
Figure
1
Figure2
Drawings of Saturn by A. S. Williams, Spring 1893, using
a 61/2-inch reflector
(Fig. 1)
and E. E. Barnard, 2 July 1894, using the 36-inch refractor of the Lick
Observatory,
Mount
Hamilton, California (Fig. 2). South is at the top in both. Note the pairs
of
dusky spots
in the
Northern Equatorial Belt region in Williams's drawing and the absence of
spots
in Barnard's.
From A. F. O'D. Alexander, The Planet Saturn: A History of Observation, Theory and Discovery
(London: Faber & Faber, 1962), facing pages 209 (Williams)
and 225
(Barnard). Original
source:
Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1893,
Volume
54,
Plate 6
(Williams),
and
1894, Volume 55, Plate 8 (Barnard).
readily seen in small telescopes, and that these appearances are real,
then it
follows that the ordinary 2-inch finder is the proper instrument to work with
rather than the telescope carrying it."39
Williams's work came under attack at the monthly meeting
of the Fellows of
the Royal Astronomical Society on the afternoon of Friday,
10
January 1896,
over which Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903), Fellow of the Royal
Society, engineer, and pioneer builder of large reflectors, presided.
Herbert
Hall Turner (1861-1930),
Savilian Professor of
Astronomy
at
Oxford, opened
the
discussion of "an important paper" by Edward E. Barnard. Barnard had made
micrometric measurements of the ball and ring system of Saturn and the dia-
meter of Titan, carrying out his observations in 1894 and 1895 with the 36-inch
Lick refractor. Moreover, Barnard had also tested the relative virtues of
large
and small telescopes. On several occasions he reduced the
aperture
of the Lick
39"Notes," Observatory, 1895, 18:316.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 25
telescope to twelve inches. "These experiments were made to determine if, as is
thought by some astronomers, a reduction of the aperture would make it
possible to see details that are not visible with the full aperture." Turner
reported, "Prof. Barnard remains convinced that everything that can be seen
with the area of the O[bject] G[lass] diminished can be seen with the full
aperture, and, further, that such details can be seen better with the full aperture
when the air is steady."40
In the discussion which followed Turner's review of Barnard's observations
and experiments, professional astronomers bluntly read amateurs a lesson.
After brief technical comments by two fellows, Captain William Noble, former
president of the B.A.A., rose to the defense of A. Stanley Williams. Noble
minced no words: "If Mr. Stanley Williams did not see them [the spots],
I am
perfectly certain he would not have said he did; he is a skilful observer and not
an imaginative man." The captain suggested that the cause of Barnard's failure
to see the Saturnian spots lay in spherical aberration of the 36-inch objective.
"When I read the figures I was astounded at the amount of the aberration in this
large telescope; and with that amount of aberration I do not wonder a bit at his
[Barnard's]
not seeing the spots."'4'
Here again the amateurs' unfamiliarity with geometrical optics led them to
inappropriate conclusions. Noble referred to a paper by James E. Keeler of the
Lick Observatory which dealt, he said, with the "spherical aberration" of the
36-inch objective. But Keeler tested the Lick objective for chromatic aberration.
Noble either misspoke or, as is more likely, simply did not have a clear under-
standing of the difference between spherical and chromatic aberration. While
both forms of aberration affect the focus of a refracting telescope, the former
generally can be controlled by careful lens design and workmanship. Any large
objective showing signs of significant spherical aberration would at once be
returned to the maker for correction. Chromatic aberration, on the other hand,
cannot be completely removed from refractors. It occurs because it is impos-
sible to bring all colors into focus at the same point. Keeler readily admitted
that "in the thirty-six-inch equatorial of the Lick Observatory the difference of
focal length for different colors amounts to several inches." But he reminded
readers "that this great range is not proportionally greater than in small tele-
scopes, and is as small as the nature of the materials from which the object-glass
is constructed will permit." Keeler identified conditions under which chromatic
aberration would affect observation: if "the visibility of planetary details"
differed "greatly in color from the general surface tint." Thus, "a fine blue line
on the surface of Jupiter would be spread out into a diffuse band of considerable
width at the visual focus, and, if faint, would certainly escape detection. "42 This
point is germane to Williams's work: he said little about the color of the faint
spots on Saturn. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that under good seeing
conditions Barnard would have been able to detect these features had they been
present.
A series of reports by professionals on their experiences with large and small
apertures concluded the discussion refuting Williams. Professor Hugh Newall
40Observatory, 1896, 19:72.
41Ibid.
42James E. Keeler, "On the Chromatic Aberration of the Thirty-six-inch Refractor of the Lick
Observatory," Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1890, 2:160-165, on pp.
160, 165.
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26 JOHN LANKFORD
(1857-1944), who worked with the 25-inch refractor at
Cambridge, sum-
marized his comparative tests. Edward Walter Maunder
(1851-1928), a staff
member at Greenwich, discussed experiments with the 28-inch and its 6-inch
finder. The Astronomer Royal, Sir William Christie (1845-1922), leant his
weight to the large-aperture camp.43
The March issue of the Observatory carried a response from A. Stanley
Williams. Like Denning, Williams was vigorous in his defense of the small
telescope. Disregarding optical theory, Williams argued that somewhere
''amongst the hundreds of small telescopes now in use there may be a few of
such superlative excellence, as regards the dealing with planetary details, as to
reduce the superiority of the big instruments to a vanishing point." But the
main thrust of his reply concerned the relationship between objects to be
observed and visual acuity. Williams characterized the spots on Saturn as of
"considerable size [2 seconds of arc in diameter for bright spots and 4 seconds
long by 2 or 3 seconds in diameter for small spots]," faint, and of "extreme
indefiniteness." He stressed the need to train the eye for "the detection of very
slight contrasts in indefinite objects of considerable size."44 To this day the
objective reality of Williams's observations remains in doubt.45
The debate between Barnard and Williams illustrates more than the changing
relationships between amateurs and professionals. The controversy over tele-
scope size extended to perception as well, since amateurs and professionals
employed different visual languages to represent planetary markings. Indeed, a
number of important problems in the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-
century astronomy might fruitfully be explored as perceptual controversies
using techniques developed by such social historians of science as Steven Shapin
and Martin J. S. Rudwick.46 Shapin points out that scholars studying the
controversies can go beyond exhibiting "in detail the political and social interests
that have informed the general styles, orientations, metaphors and Weltan-
schauungen of certain pieces of scientific knowledge" and demonstrate "the
presence of social interests in the esoteric and technically most detailed content
of that knowledge."47
Inspection of the drawings of Saturn referred to in the 1895 portion of the
debate illustrates perceptual differences. Figure 1 is a drawing of Saturn by the
professional E. E. Barnard working with the 36-inch Clark refractor at the Lick
Observatory. Figure 2 is a depiction of the ringed planet by the amateur Stanley
Williams working with a 61/2-inch reflector. The
drawings are separated by
about a year, and a change
in the inclination of the
ring system is evident. While
it is clear that they were observing the same object, the differences are more
striking than the similarities. Barnard's visual language placed a premium on
clarity, precision, and geometrical order, while that of Williams attempted to
43Observatory, 1896, 19:73.
44A. Stanley Williams, "Large versus Small Telescopes and the Spots on Saturn,"
Observatory,
1896, 19:112-114, on pp. 112n., 113.
45A. F. O'D. Alexander, The Planet Saturn: A History of Observation, Theory and Discovery
(London: Faber and Faber, 1962), p. 208.
46Steven Shapin, "The Politics of Observation: Cerebral Anatomy and Social Interests in the
Edinburgh Phrenology Disputes," in Roy Wallis, ed., On the Margins of Science: The Social
Construction of Rejected Knowledge, Sociological Review Monograph 27 (Keele, Staffs.: Univer-
sity of Keele, 1979), pp. 139-178, and Martin J. S. Rudwick, "The Emergence of a Visual
Language for Geological Science, 1760-1840," Hist. Sci., 1976, 14:149-195.
47Shapin, "The Politics of Observation," p. 139.
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TELESCOPE SIZE IN VICTORIAN SCIENCE 27
express indistinct and imprecise detail, tantalizingly elusive at the edge of
vision. Barnard's perception seems to rest on the mathematical certainty en-
tailed in the use of the precision micrometer to measure very small distances.
Williams presents a more pictorial and even artistic view of Saturn. His percep-
tions are couched in a language which is highly individualistic in contrast to
Barnard's classical impersonality. Barnard and Williams represented opposing
interests, and the scientific knowledge they produced rested on strikingly dif-
ferent perceptions of the natural world.
* * *
While W. F. Denning never recanted his belief in the virtues of small tele-
scopes and the weaknesses of large instruments, the debate achieved symbolic
resolution. In June 1911 Henri A. Deslandres (1853-1948), director of the
observatory at Meudon, invited the Reverend Theodore E. R. Phillips (1868-
1942) to observe Jupiter with the 33-inch refractor. Phillips, last of the great
nineteenth-century amateurs, served as president of both the R.A.S. and the
B.A.A. From 1925 to 1935 he was president of Commission 16 (Physical Obser-
vations of the Planets) of the International Astronomical Union.48 After ex-
claiming that "the view of the planet in the great telescope was quite a revela-
tion," he wrote, "Two points struck me especially as bearing on the question of
the relative efficiency of large and small apertures in the study of the planets." In
comparison to the 12'/4-inch Calver reflector with which he normally worked,
Phillips was impressed by "the ease with which delicate and ordinarily difficult
features were seen." He did not have to search out these features; they "ob-
truded themselves upon the vision and could be held with surprising steadi-
ness." Light and dark shadings of small features in the equatorial zone stood
out clearly, and Phillips "readily confirmed" features which in the 12'/4-inch
reflector were seen only with difficulty.
The second point concerned the resolving power of the 33-inch. "Spots which
I have previously observed as simple were shown to possess a highly complex
structure, and the belts appeared more irregular and knotted than I had ever
previously seen them." Small telescopes work well enough to show "the broad
features" of planetary surfaces, but "to find out the true structure of planetary
features recourse must evidently be had to instruments of great separating
power." Phillips admitted that he could "no longer question the immense value
of great telescopes in the study of the planets. A large aperture shows them as a
small aperture cannot possibly do, and any seeming uniformity or regularity
which the latter may appear to indicate is at once dispelled in a large tele-
scope. "49
Between Denning's 1895 Nature article and Phillips's 1911 visit to Meudon,
the process of differentiating amateurs and professionals gathered momentum.
Indeed, Denning himself became more professional. While he wanted to be-
lieve the discovery A. Stanley Williams made with a small reflector of faint
spots on Saturn, Denning remained ambivalent. In the ensuing years honors
48W. H. Steavenson, "Theodore Evelyn Reece Phillips," Mon. Notices Roy. Astron. Soc., 1943,
53:70-72.
49Theodore E. R. Phillips, "A Visit to the Meudon Observatory," Observatory, 1911, 34:365-
366.
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28 JOHN LANKFORD
_
r
-~
Figure
3. The
eye
end of the 36-inch
Lick refractor with which Barnard
made his Saturn observations. The
larger
of the two finder telescopes
(upper right)
is almost the size of
0
}t. A. S. Williams's instrument. From
_ _ { A Few Astronomical Instruments from
m m=
F
-
r
-
the Works of Warner &
Swasey,
- ----------~ ___j -.5., ,!,0* . '' Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. (New York:
Chasmar Winchell, 1900), Plate XXVII.
and various connections with professional organizations rather than with the
B.A.A. drew him toward the world of the professional. Phillips bridged the old
amateur tradition and the new commitment to professionalism, as illustrated by
his service as president of both the B.A.A. and the R.A.S. Both Phillips and
Denning participated in the work of the International Astronomical Union. In
this context Phillips's visit to Meudon may be interpreted as an act of sub-
mission to the values of professionalism. Stanley Williams, on the other hand,
remained an individualistic amateur to the end of his life. In 1927 he confided to
his notebook: "I have never even looked through a bigger telescope than one of
6 '/2-inches aperture. " 50
By the beginning of the new century the status of amateurs within
astronomy
had changed, but they did not disappear as a significant factor in the
growth
and
development of the science. Both amateurs and professionals developed new
scientific identities, and amateurs institutionalized their new identity
in the
B.A.A. In a curious sense each group supported the identity of the other: the
professional represented expert knowledge and carried out esoteric research
programs using costly instrumentation, while amateurs stood for careful and
persistent observing
of a routine nature. The
findings
of amateurs were used
by the professional. The amateurs' diminished status reflected a loss of knowl-
edge as well as authority, for unlike
professionals they might
confuse chromatic
and spherical aberration and fail to grasp the principles of geometrical optics.
Conflict of the kind witnessed in the 1880s and 1890s
during
the debate over
telescope size, however, was virtually eliminated as a consequence of these new
roles.
5'R. H. Garstang, "Variable Star Observations of Stanley Williams," Quarterly Journal of the
Royal Astronomical Society, 1961, 2:24-35, on p. 33. I am indebted to Professor Garstang
for
providing a reprint of this valuable paper based on the Williams manuscripts in the R.A.S. library
at Burlington House.
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