know of no mechanical pursuit in connection with science, that offers such an opportunity for practising the technical arts, as that of constructing from first to last a complete Newtonian or Gregorian Reflecting Telescope. Such an enterprise brings before the amateur a succession of the most interesting and instructive mechanical arts, and obliges the experimenter to exercise the faculty of delicate manipulation. If I were asked what course of practice was the best to instil a true taste for refined mechanical work, I should say, set to and make for yourself from first to last a reflecting telescope with a metallic speculum. Buy nothing but the raw material, and work your way to the possession of a telescope by means of your own individual labour and skill. If you do your work with the care, intelligence, and patience that is necessary, you will find a glorious reward in the enhanced enjoyment of a night with the heavens -- all the result of your own ingenuity and handiwork. It will prove a source of abundant pleasure and of infinite enjoyment for the rest of your life.

I well remember the visit I received from my dear friend Warren de la Rue in the year 1840. I was executing some work for him with respect to a new process which he had contrived for the production of white lead. I was then busy with the casting of my thirteen-inch speculum. He watched my proceedings with earnest interest and most careful attention. He told me many years after, that it was the sight of my special process of casting a sound speculum that in a manner caused him to turn his thoughts to practical astronomy, a subject in which he has exhibited such noble devotion as well as masterly skill. Soon after his visit I had the honour of casting for him a thirteen-inch speculum, which he afterwards ground and polished by a method of his own. He mounted it in an equatorial instrument of such surpassing excellence as enabled him, aided by his devotion and pure love of the subject, to record a series of observations and results which will hand his name down to posterity as one of the most faithful and patient of astronomical observers.

Fireside, Patricroft. After a drawing by James Nasmyth

But to return to my own little work at Patricroft. I mounted my ten-inch home-made reflecting telescope, and began my survey of the heavens. Need I say with what exquisite delight the harmony of their splendour filled me. I began as a learner, and my learning grew with experience. There were the prominent stars, the planets, the Milky Way -- with thousands of far-off suns -- to be seen. My observations were at first merely general; by degrees they became particular. I was not satisfied with enjoying these sights myself; I made my friends and neighbours sharers in my pleasure; and some of them enjoyed the wonders of the heavens as much as I did.

In my early use of the telescope I had fitted the speculum into a light square tube of deal to which the eye-piece was attached, so as to have all the essential parts of the telescope combined together in the most simple and portable form. I had often to remove it from place to place in my small garden at the side of the Bridgewater Canal, in order to get it clear of the trees and branches which intercepted some object in the heavens which I wished to see. How eager and enthusiastic I was in those days! Sometimes I got out of bed in the clear small hours of the morning, and went down to the garden in my night-shirt. I would take the telescope in my arms and plant it in some suitable spot, where I might get a peep at some special planet or star then above the horizon.

It became bruited about that a ghost was seen at Patricroft! A barge was silently gliding along the canal near midnight, when the boatman suddenly saw a figure in white. "It moved among the trees with a coffin in its arms!" The apparition was so sudden and strange that he immediately concluded that it was a ghost. The weird sight was reported at the stations along the canal, and also at Wolverhampton, which was the boatman's headquarters. He told the people at Patricroft on his return journey what he had seen, and great was the excitement produced. The place was haunted: there was no doubt about it! After all, the rumour was founded on fact, for the ghost was merely myself in my night-shirt, and the coffin was my telescope, which I was quietly shifting from one place to another in order to get a clearer sight of the heavens at midnight.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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