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Papers of Nevil Maskelyne : Letters from Maskelyne to Henry Andrews

Papers of Nevil Maskelyne

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Fifty three letters mainly sent by Nevil Maskelyne, the long-serving Astronomer Royal and Commissioner of the Longitude, to Henry Andrews, one of the human 'computers' of calculations for the annual Nautical Almanac. The last few letters are from Maskelyne's daughter Margaret, written in and after the final month of her father's life. While most of Andrews's responses have not survived to the present day, this one-sided cache still provides insight into the dynamics of the important relationships between Maskelyne and the (typically provincial) associates to whom he farmed out mathematical and astronomical work. A note on the first page of the volume records that this collection was purchased for two pounds from the secondhand bookseller H. W. Ball of Barton-on-Humber on 28 September 1909.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>As Mary Croarken [Mary Croarken, 'Providing Longitude for All', <i>Journal of Maritime Research</i>, September 2002.] and Patrick Curry [Patrick Curry, 'Andrews, Henry (1744–1820)', <i>Oxford Dictionary of National Biography</i> (Oxford, 2004).] have described, the self-taught Henry Andrews (1744-1820) was a schoolmaster until 1787 in Royston in Cambridgeshire, who also practiced astronomy, sold 'scientific' instruments and books, and held various civil positions there. He and the rare female computer Mrs Mary Edwards (c.1750-1817) were some of the longest serving of Maskelyne's computers, with the former being employed from 1768 to 1815.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Andrews, like Maskelyne's other computers, worked from home rather than at Greenwich, computing on average three months of each edition of the <i>Almanac</i>. When he retired, the Board sent him thanks and a gift, and when he died, he was respectfully memorialised in the <i>Gentleman's Magazine</i>. Over the course of his working life, Andrews also issued the <i>Royal Alammanack</i> and edited the well-known 'Old Moore's Almanack' or <i>Vox stellarum</i>, making it a great success for the Stationers' Company by discussing a mix of subjects including 'science', astrology, practical information, biblical prophecy and progressive whig politics.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>These letters show Maskelyne and Andrews corresponding cordially over: contact information (for example <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:46-47</a>); calculations, corrections and new methods relevant to the production of the <i>Nautical Almanac</i> (such as <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:16-17</a>, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:48-49</a>,<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:60-61</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:94-95</a>); payments due to the computer (for example <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:20-21</a>); occasionally opinions on newly proposed methods (see <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:71-72</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:96-97</a>); predictions for and enquiries about astronomical events (such as <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:6-7</a>); Maskelyne having sent the computer a globe (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:75-76</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:77-78</a>); and his being considered as a 'comparer' of the computers' calculations for the <i>Almanac</i> (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:52-53</a>. The Astronomer Royal also sometimes shared his opinions of other computers, as in <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:91</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>At most of these letters, Maskelyne sounds more reserved than in many other examples of his correspondence which have survived, but clearly there were at least some ties beyond work forged between the two men and their families, since for example in December 1788 the astronomer <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> reported (RGO 4/149:6-7)</a> that he and his wife were to see a nursery maid soon, so Mrs. Andrews should no longer trouble herself to try to find one for Mrs. Maskelyne, to care for their three-year old daughter Margaret. (Maskelyne revealed in the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> next letter (RGO 4/149:8-9)</a> that they had taken up the suggested female servant, but that she had behaved badly and left and later tried to impose upon Mrs. Maskelyne for references.) In 1810, the astronomer also sent Andrews a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> 'neat' celestial globe (RGO 4/149:75-76)</a> of 12 inches in diameter with a quadrant of altitude and an accompanying book, which might help the computer to work with lunar eclipses by marking the moon's location on the globe with red ink which could then be mostly rubbed off with a cloth. (A <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00016/'> receipt (RGO 14/16:438)</a> elsewhere from the London instrument makers W. & S. Jones commemorates Maskelyne giving four computers, also including Mary Edwards, these relatively fancy globes with accoutrements.)</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>As can be seen in the same letter, the Astronomer Royal gradually came to consult with his counterpart more openly on astronomical matters such as viewing the predicted appearance of a comet in 1790 as well. He also educated him about new developments in their field such as innovation by M. de la Place (Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace), 'a great French mathematician', <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> in (RGO 4/149:28-29)</a>. In <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:10-11</a>, when Andrews was to make one of his rare trips to Greenwich, Maskelyne also hoped to dine with him and promised to try to find a position for his son. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> Later that year (RGO 4/149:12-13)</a> he warned the computer that he might not have more work for him for five years, as his ongoing work and recent publications by Lalande needed to be incorporated first. However, he and the Board did their compassionate best to make work for the computers who expressed fears about their livelihood in the interval and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> set them (RGO 4/149:14-15)</a> to redoing earlier almanacs in light of Lalande's and Mason's new tables.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Touchingly, it was Margaret Maskelyne who <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> wrote (RGO 4/149:98-99)</a> two days before Maskelyne's death to notify Andrews, at her father's direction, that he was very ill and that the work on the <i>Nautical Almanac</i> would have to stand still until he was better. She wrote twice more about a month later at the behest of her widowed mother regarding any sums outstanding between the two men, which was to be paid by Coutts' bank (letters at <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:100-101</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'>RGO 4/149:102-103</a>). Andrews continued to work with the astronomer's replacement, John Pond, for four more years although Pond was criticised for his handling of the preparation and publication of the <i>Almanacs</i>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Alexi Baker<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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