Great Astronomers HTML version
The most picturesque figure in the history of astronomy is undoubtedly that of the famous
old Danish astronomer whose name stands at the head of this chapter. Tycho Brahe was
alike notable for his astronomical genius and for the extraordinary vehemence of a
character which was by no means perfect. His romantic career as a philosopher, and his
taste for splendour as a Danish noble, his ardent friendships and his furious quarrels,
make him an ideal subject for a biographer, while the magnificent astronomical work
which he accomplished, has given him imperishable fame.
The history of Tycho Brahe has been admirably told by Dr. Dreyer, the accomplished
astronomer who now directs the observatory at Armagh, though himself a countryman of
Tycho. Every student of the career of the great Dane must necessarily look on Dr.
Dreyer's work as the chief authority on the subject. Tycho sprang from an illustrious
stock. His family had flourished for centuries, both in Sweden and in Denmark, where his
descendants are to be met with at the present day. The astronomer's father was a privy
councillor, and having filled important positions in the Danish government, he was
ultimately promoted to be governor of Helsingborg Castle, where he spent the last years
of his life. His illustrious son Tycho was born in 1546, and was the second child and
eldest boy in a family of ten.
It appears that Otto, the father of Tycho, had a brother named George, who was childless.
George, however, desired to adopt a boy on whom he could lavish his affection and to
whom he could bequeath his wealth. A somewhat singular arrangement was accordingly
entered into by the brothers at the time when Otto was married. It was agreed that the first
son who might be born to Otto should be forthwith handed over by the parents to George
to be reared and adopted by him. In due time little Tycho appeared, and was immediately
claimed by George in pursuance of the compact. But it was not unnatural that the parental
instinct, which had been dormant when the agreement was made, should here interpose.
Tycho's father and mother receded from the bargain, and refused to part with their son.
George thought he was badly treated. However, he took no violent steps until a year later,
when a brother was born to Tycho. The uncle then felt no scruple in asserting what he
believed to be his rights by the simple process of stealing the first-born nephew, which
the original bargain had promised him. After a little time it would seem that the parents
acquiesced in the loss, and thus it was in Uncle George's home that the future astronomer
passed his childhood.
When we read that Tycho was no more than thirteen years old at the time he entered the
University of Copenhagen, it might be at first supposed that even in his boyish years he
must have exhibited some of those remarkable talents with which he was afterwards to
astonish the world. Such an inference should not, however, be drawn. The fact is that in
those days it was customary for students to enter the universities at a much earlier age
than is now the case. Not, indeed, that the boys of thirteen knew more then than the boys
of thirteen know now. But the education imparted in the universities at that time was of a
much more rudimentary kind than that which we understand by university education at