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Seven years gone, and still no telescope, was the condition in which the Board found matters at their first visitation in 1792. They had, however, assurances from Ramsden that the instrument would be completed within the year; but, alas for such promises, another seven years rolled on, and in 1799 the place for the great circle was still vacant at Dunsink. Ramsden had fallen into bad health, and the Board considerately directed that "inquiries should be made." Next year there was still no progress, so the Board were roused to threaten Ramsden with a suit at law; but the menace was never executed, for the malady of the great optician grew worse, and he died that year.
Affairs had now assumed a critical aspect, for the college had advanced much money to Ramsden during these fifteen years, and the instrument was still unfinished. An appeal was made by the Provost to Dr. Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal of England, for his advice and kindly offices in this emergency. Maskelyne responds-- in terms calculated to allay the anxiety of the Bursar--"Mr. Ramsden has left property behind him, and the College can be in no danger of losing both their money and the instrument." The business of Ramsden was then undertaken by Berge, who proceeded to finish the circle quite as deliberately as his predecessor. After four years Berge promised the instrument in the following August, but it did not come. Two years later (1806) the professor complains that he can get no answer from Berge. In 1807, it is stated that Berge will send the telescope in a month. He did not; but in the next year (1808), about twenty-three years after the great circle was ordered, it was erected at Dunsink, where it is still to be seen.
The following circumstances have been authenticated by the signatures of Provosts, Proctors, Bursars, and other College dignitaries:--In 1793 the Board ordered two of the clocks at the observatory to be sent to Mr. Crosthwaite for repairs. Seven years later, in 1800, Mr. Crosthwaite was asked if the clocks were ready. This impatience was clearly unreasonable, for even in four more years, 1804, we find the two clocks were still in hand. Two years later, in 1806, the Board determined to take vigorous action by asking the Bursar to call upon Crosthwaite. This evidently produced some effect, for in the following year, 1807, the Professor had no doubt that the clocks would be speedily returned. After eight years more, in 1815, one of the clocks was still being repaired, and so it was in 1816, which is the last record we have of these interesting timepieces. Astronomers are, however, accustomed to deal with such stupendous periods in their calculations, that even the time taken to repair a clock seems but small in comparison.
The long tenure of the chair of Astronomy by Brinkley is divided into two nearly equal periods by the year in which the great circle was erected. Brinkley was eighteen years waiting for his telescope, and he had eighteen years more in which to use it. During the first of these periods Brinkley devoted himself to mathematical research; during the latter he became a celebrated astronomer. Brinkley's mathematical labours procured for their author some reputation as a mathematician. They appear to be works of considerable mathematical elegance, but not indicating any great power of original thought. Perhaps it has been prejudicial to Brinkley's fame in this direction, that he was immediately followed in his chair by so mighty a genius as William Rowan Hamilton.
After the great circle had been at last erected, Brinkley was able to begin his astronomical work in earnest. Nor was there much time to lose. He was already forty-five years old, a year older than was Herschel when he commenced his immortal career at Slough. Stimulated by the consciousness of having the command of an instrument of unique perfection, Brinkley loftily attempted the very highest class of astronomical research. He resolved to measure anew with his own eye and with his own hand the constants of aberration and of nutation. He also strove to solve that great problem of the universe, the discovery of the distance of a fixed star.
These were noble problems, and they were nobly attacked. But to appraise with justice this work of Brinkley, done seventy years ago, we must not apply to it the same criterion as we would think right to apply to similar work were it done now. We do not any longer use Brinkley's constant of aberration, nor do we now think that Brinkley's determinations of the star distances were reliable. But, nevertheless, his investigations exercised a marked influence on the progress of science; they stimulated the study of the principles on which exact measurements were to be conducted.
Brinkley had another profession in addition to that of an astronomer. He was a divine. When a man endeavours to pursue two distinct occupations concurrently, it will be equally easy to explain why his career should be successful, or why it should be the reverse. If he succeeds, he will, of course, exemplify the wisdom of having two strings to his bow. Should he fail, it is, of course, because he has attempted to sit on two stools at once. In Brinkley's case, his two professions must be likened to the two strings rather than to the two stools. It is true that his practical experience of his clerical life was very slender. He had made no attempt to combine the routine of a parish with his labours in the observatory. Nor do we associate a special eminence in any department of religious work with his name. If, however, we are to measure Brinkley's merits as a divine by the ecclesiastical preferment which he received, his services to theology must have rivalled his services to astronomy. Having been raised step by step in the Church, he was at last appointed to the See of Cloyne, in 1826, as the successor of Bishop Berkeley.
Now, though it was permissible for the Archdeacon to be also the Andrews Professor, yet when the Archdeacon became a Bishop, it was understood that he should transfer his residence from the observatory to the palace. The chair of Astronomy accordingly became vacant. Brinkley's subsequent career seems to have been devoted entirely to ecclesiastical matters, and for the last ten years of his life he did not contribute a paper to any scientific society. Arago, after a characteristic lament that Brinkley should have forsaken the pursuit of science for the temporal and spiritual attractions of a bishopric, pays a tribute to the conscientiousness of the quondam astronomer, who would not even allow a telescope to be brought into the palace lest his mind should be distracted from his sacred duties.
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