Great Astronomers

Author: Robert Stawell Ball


It has been my object in these pages to present the life of each astronomer in such detail as to enable the reader to realise in some degree the man’s character and surroundings; and I have endeavoured to indicate as clearly as circumstances would permit the main features of the discoveries by which he has become known.

There are many types of astronomers—from the stargazer who merely watches the heavens, to the abstract mathematician who merely works at his desk; it has, consequently, been necessary in the case of some lives to adopt a very different treatment from that which seemed suitable for others.

While the work was in progress, some of the sketches appeared in "Good Words." The chapter on Brinkley has been chiefly derived from an article on the "History of Dunsink Observatory," which was published on the occasion of the tercentenary celebration of the University of Dublin in 1892, and the life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton is taken, with a few alterations and omissions, from an article contributed to the "Quarterly Review" on Graves’ life of the great mathematician. The remaining chapters now appear for the first time. For many of the facts contained in the sketch of the late Professor Adams, I am indebted to the obituary notice written by my friend Dr. J.W.L. Glaisher, for the Royal Astronomical Society; while with regard to the late Sir George Airy, I have a similar acknowledgment to make to Professor H.H. Turner. To my friend Dr. Arthur A. Rambaut I owe my hearty thanks for his kindness in aiding me in the revision of the work.

R.S.B. The Observatory, Cambridge. October, 1895


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Chicago: Robert Stawell Ball, "Preface," Great Astronomers, ed. Smiles, Samuel, 1812-1904 in Great Astronomers Original Sources, accessed February 21, 2024,

MLA: Ball, Robert Stawell. "Preface." Great Astronomers, edited by Smiles, Samuel, 1812-1904, in Great Astronomers, Original Sources. 21 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Ball, RS, 'Preface' in Great Astronomers, ed. . cited in , Great Astronomers. Original Sources, retrieved 21 February 2024, from