John Flamsteed: Historia Celestis Britannica

London: 1725
Sp Coll Bl3-a.4

Steered towards sedentary pursuits by physical weakness during his teenage years, John Flamsteed (1646–1719) became interested in astronomy after reading Sacro Bosco’s Sphaera Mundi, which was given to him shortly after he left school.

Flamsteed was appointed first Astronomer Royal in 1675. His first few years were difficult: the complexities of setting up the Royal Greenwich Observatory delayed active observation and publication. But as he began to publish observations and cultivated relationships with prominent astronomers abroad, the reputation of the Observatory grew.

Flamsteed engaged in rivalries with Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley and the natural philosopher Robert Hooke. His feuds had a direct impact on the publication history of his observations. In the 1690s he had begun working towards a substantial work of his observations and computations. In 1712, one section of this, an unfinished star catalogue, was sent to the press by Halley without Flamsteed’s consent. It not only contained alterations to Flamsteed’s work but also included a preface which openly criticised the Astronomer Royal. On the accession of a new monarch, George I (and a more sympathetic government), Flamsteed was able to claim the unsold copies of the unauthorised edition. He destroyed certain sections, but the sextant observations were incorporated into the first volume of his Historia celestis Britannica, the book highlighted here.

 Title Page of 'Historia Celestis Britannica'
Image: title page plus engraved illustration of Flamsteed.

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