Herschels is the only discovery of a planet in our solar system since the ancient Babylonians; The awarding institution, the University of Glasgow, was part of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century
The diploma says of Herschel: “For who, by the aid of the most excellent telescope, such as he himself first fashioned, the scattered rays of light spread through the vast void… and who not only found the most previously known planets, but also investigated and revealed a new primary and farthest planet,...
The diploma says of Herschel: “For who, by the aid of the most excellent telescope, such as he himself first fashioned, the scattered rays of light spread through the vast void… and who not only found the most previously known planets, but also investigated and revealed a new primary and farthest planet, and several secondary ones, unknown to humans from the present world, each one in the Milky War, explored and explained…”
The Scottish Enlightenment was the period in 18th century Scotland characterized by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. At that time, Scotland had a network of schools in the Lowlands and five universities. The Enlightenment culture was based on readings of new books and new discoveries, and intense discussions took place daily at such intellectual gathering places in Edinburgh as well as within Scotland’s universities – St. Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh, King’s College, and Marischal. Men like James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, and Adam Smith, pioneer of economics, took part; and foreign intellectuals, like Benjamin Franklin, became associated with it as well. Science, literature, and philosophy were among the topics on the agenda, and led to disproportionately large Scottish contributions to British science and letters that continued for another 50 years or more and influenced others all around the world.
Sir William Herschel was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1738. He arrived in England almost penniless but soon found success as a member of the band of the Durham militia. He began to perform and teach across northern England and by 1760 he had completed six symphonies–several of which were eventually published. In 1766 Herschel moved to Bath, where his career continued to blossom. His success allowed him to pursue other interests and before long he had learned Italian, Latin, and Greek. Having read Isaac Newton’s “Opticks” he learned how to construct telescopes and began observing the planets and the moon.
Herschel’s interests in astronomy quickly began to compete with his musical career. He soon realized that he would need much larger telescopes to meet his observational needs. Beginning in 1773 he spent much of his time grinding and polishing telescopic mirrors in his basement. His reputation as a master craftsman in the construction of reflector telescopes became widely recognized. Having begun observations of the Orion nebula in the 1770s, William decided to familiarize himself with the brightest stars in the night sky. On the night of March 13, 1781, he came across a star in the constellation Gemini whose appearance seemed unusual. After several more nights of observing the object he decided to report his findings to the Astronomer Royal. The object was confirmed to be special–Herschel became the first person ever to discover an unseen planet of the solar system with a telescope. As a reward for his discovery of the planet now called Uranus, the King granted him a pension that allowed him to leave his musical duties to pursue astronomy full time.
In his efforts to explore what he referred to as “the construction of the heavens”, Herschel continued to build ever-larger telescopes. In 1783 he built a 20-foot reflector and in 1789 he completed a 40-foot reflecting telescope that for the next fifty years would remain the largest ever constructed. Herschel’s astronomical achievements were widely recognized: in addition to receiving a pension, he received doctorates from the universities of Edinburgh (1786) and Glasgow (1792), was a member of the American Philosophical Society. Although Herschel was most famous for his discovery of Uranus, later generations of scientists would recognize the significance of his findings on nebulas, variable stars, infra-red rays from the sun, and the direction in which the solar system is traveling. In 1822, William Herschel died at the Observatory House, his home in Slough, Berkshire, England.
This is the very doctoral degree that Hershel received from the University of Glasgow in 1792. It recited Herschel’s achievements as justification for the degree: “For who, by the aid of the most excellent telescope, such as he himself first fashioned, the scattered rays of light spread through the vast void… and who not only found the most previously known planets, but also investigated and revealed a new primary and farthest planet, and several secondary ones, unknown to humans from the present world, each one in the Milky War, explored and explained…Moreover, those dim and indefinite rays, which other astronomers called nebulas without stars, are almost infinite in space… the bright and august system of our new world…. He found that there were stars more than two thousand in number; all these great and astonishing miracles…” The original large seal of the university, and the metal contained in which the degree was stored, are still present.
The degree is signed by: Archibald Davidson, head of the university; John Millar, professor of Civil Law, whose lectures gained him fame. His colleagues and supporters included Adam Smith and David Hume. Millar was elected Clerk of the Senate of the University of Glasgow in 1772. He is on the Wiki list of key figures in the Scottish Enlightenment; Robert Findlay, Chair of Divinity at the University and Dean of Faculty; John Anderson was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University from 1757 until 1796 and Clerk of the University, 1768-1769. He published academic texts on subjects including experimental physics and the use of field artillery; designed a cannon, which he presented to the French nation in 1791; and in 1772 installed Glasgow’s first lightning conductor on the College steeple. He was a friend of the University’s instrument maker, James Watt; Patrick Cumin was the longest-serving professor in the history of the University, holding the Chair of Oriental Languages from 1761 to 1820. He was elected as Clerk of Senate in 1774, and served in that capacity again from 1795 to 1796.Thomas Reid was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University from 1764 to 1781. He was elected Clerk of Senate in 1776. He was chosen as the University’s representative at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1767 and 1772 and served as Vice-Rector to Edmund Burke, 1784-1785; William Richardson was Professor of Humanity at the University from 1773 to 1815. He was elected Clerk of Senate in 1778; John Young was a graduate of the University and Professor of Greek from 1774 until his death in 1820. In 1781 he was appointed one of the curators of the College chambers and he was elected Clerk of Senate in 1779; Hugh MacLeod, Professor of Church History; Patrick Wilson was Regius Professor of Practical Astronomy, 1784 to 1799. He was Clerk of Senate from 1783 until 1795 and 1796 to 1799; George Jardine was Professor of Greek from 1774, and then Professor of Logic and Rhetoric 1787 to 1824; James Jeffray was Regius Professor of Botany and Anatomy; and Thomas Charles Hope was Regius Professor of the Practice of Medicine at the University from 1791 to 1795.y from 1790 until his death. He was appointed Vice-Rector in 1800 and he was Clerk of Senate from 1814 to 1815.
This document was in the collection of Dr. Otto O. Fisher, a prodigious collector who acquired his treasures from the 1920s to the 1940s. He died in 1961, and it remained in the possession of his descendants until we obtained it just recently. So this document has not been offered for sale in about a century.
This is clearly the most important honorary degree that we have ever carried in all our decades in this field.
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