c. 1600 – An interesting confluence
I have been a casual collector of rare and scarce books and other items from the early days of science. Among my most treasured acquisitions is a facsimile copy of Tycho Brahe’s 1573 publication “Novae Stella,” (New Star), published in 1901 and dedicated to the King of Belgium. Brahe did not subscribe to the new Copernican ideas of the sun-centered solar system but he was the last of the great naked eye astronomers and a superb observer of the skies. His observational data were impeccable and accurate for the time. Poor Kepler, his impecunious assistant, was forced to steal this observational data in order to have grist for his brilliant work in developing the laws governing the motions of the planets around the sun.
Below are two pages from this 1901 facsimile.
Remarks that Kevin Brown wrote in his encyclopedic work, “Reflections on Relativity,” involving Brahe are worth repeating. Much of what follows is centered on Tycho Brahe and his, one might say, unconscious role in the history of England and the dawn of modern science. What follows is tangled but is indeed a confluence of events.
John Craig, an advisor to King James VI of Scotland, later King James I of England, once made a remark to John Napier that turned Napier’s attention back to the task that resulted in his momentous discovery of logarithms. Maestlin, Kepler’s math tutor at Tubingen, once jokingly cautioned him not to use logarithms for his calculations – it would be cheating for a scientist to take a short cut in doing multiplications and divisions of large numbers.
The story as Brown tells it finally centers on James and his journey in 1590 to Denmark to escort his bride, Anne of Denmark, back to England. A fierce storm forced them to take shelter in Brahe’s Uraniborg observatory on the island of Hven. It is conjectured that William Shakespeare used the news of this occasion as inspiration for his play "The Tempest” (c, 1611), one of the only two of his productions having an original plot. Suggestive are the presence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as two minor characters in his earlier play “Hamlet” (c. 1600), the play that suggests the connection to the above interpretation. These same names, family antecedents, occur in Brahe’s head dress band in one of his portraits. Brahe was related to a great many of the titled figures in Danish history. Some scholars have conjectured that Shakespeare had an island in the Mediterranean or perhaps Bermuda itself in mind. Surely, given the strong public awareness of the events of King James’ adventures encountered in bringing his bride home, the marooning of the King and his bride on Hven would have been well known and would have been a touchstone for playgoers of the time.
This brief time in English History, The Jacobean period, was host to some remarkable individuals related perhaps by circumstance: Tycho Brahe, King James I, John Napier, Johannes Kepler, William Shakespeare, and, of course, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.