However, Herschel was unwilling to consider moving to busy but musically competitive London. So, after a brief period as organizer of the Halifax parish church in West Yorkshire (according to Miller, he informed the panel at his hearing that he had already accepted a better offer elsewhere) he moved to Bath in 1776, entering a city emerging high-level World-class sophistication, with a budding intellectual scene and the newly built Octagon Chapel, from which Herschel built a small musical empire built around oratorio performances and subscription concerts.
Several years earlier, William’s sister Caroline had followed her brothers to England. Accounts of her history also obscure his early interest in music. The first woman to receive the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the first published woman to publish scientific research, and the first woman scientist to receive a salary, Caroline moved to England after an intervention by her brother, to free her from a a life of drudgery at home after her father’s death – and began taking singing lessons, eventually becoming the resident soprano at William’s oratorio performances, at a time when artist families were all the rage.
Herschel believed that music belonged as one of the four liberal arts of the quadrivium, along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. With the help of two 18th-century books by Cambridge scholar Robert Smith, “Harmonics” and “A Complete System of Opticks,” he began to approach astronomy with the same self-taught zeal that he used when learning English through the dense texts. by John Locke. And one of his first homemade Newtonian reflecting telescopes brought about a change that would make Herschel an overnight celebrity: the discovery, in March 1781, of Uranus, which he initially believed to be another comet. Herschel obsequiously named the planet Georgium Sidus to the delight of King George III, who later offered him a salary with the title “the king’s astronomer”.
The position involved taking a big pay cut from his lucrative music business, but Herschel nonetheless gave up music to set his sights on the skies. As the Herschels moved to Slough to be closer to the king, the telescopes grew larger, the surveys more ambitious, and the celebrity more intense.
Although Herschel’s musical compositions stopped with the move, there is a mystery surrounding his relationship with Haydn, who visited the observatory in June 1792. In “Essays in Musical Analysis”, classic volumes of the 1930s, Sir Donald Tovey concluded that looking through Herschel’s famous 40-foot telescope provided the cosmic inspiration for Haydn’s famous oratorio opening “The Creation”. The problem: Records show that Herschel was out of town at the time. But perhaps Caroline, now his trusted assistant, might have led Haydn to his moment of clarity.
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