Frederick A.P. Barnard Two ALS Re: Raising Funds for an Astronomical Observatory
Two letters from Columbia College President, Frederick Barnard, written in early 1868. Both are 4pp of a bifolium, measuring 5" x 8", New York, and are dated January 30 and February 7, 1868. Written on Columbia College, President's Room letterhead, they are both addressed to Abram S. Hewitt, Esq., regarding the establishment of an astronomical observatory on behalf of Dr. B. A. Gould.
The first letter, marked "Private", first poses the question of the observatory to Hewitt in order to gage his interest in the venture. It reads in part: "Have you any disposition to associate your name with the establishment in this city of an astronomical observatory? Has Mr. Cooper? I ask these questions, knowing very well how much both of you have done for the advancement of science, and knowing perfectly well that it is not reasonable to expect you to do more…The circumstances out of which this conception - perhaps it is too early as yet to give it the name of a distinct project - has grown, are these. The most accomplished astronomer in America, by universal admission, Dr. B. A. Gould, of Cambridge, planned, some fix or six years ago, a private observatory, to be erected & furnished by himself, and to be worked by himself, without any certainty of the public attention, and with the exclusive view of promoting, by systematic labor devoted to definite ends, the progress of astronomical science in America. Dr. Gould was at that time possessed of a moderate competency, and he had every reason to believe that the proseention [sic] of his plan would not involve any expenditures exceeding his means to meet them. An unfortunate investment has however swept away nearly all his productive property, and he has been obliged, with great reluctance, to abandon his astronomical scheme altogether…Dr. Gould, though no longer able to build an observatory, nor even conveniently to retain possession of this valuable instrument which he has looked forward to using with so earnest interest and longing, is nevertheless able and willing to devote himself to the use of the instrument without compensation, provided he be relieved of the burthen which its cost imposes on him, and a modest building be erected to accommodate it, by some public institution or some lover of science…"
The second later, following Hewitt's reply, continues the conversation and reads in part: "…In consequence of what you said, last Saturday night, about the great shaft of the Union, I wrote to Gould forthwith, asking him his opinion as to the possibility of obtaining satisfactory observations from its summit…His own instrument being a meridian instrument would require to be mounted much lower; and notwithstanding the depth of the foundation of this shaft, it would, on account of the amount of underlying rock, be, I imagine even more liable to the tremor from the rolling of the passing vehicles, than Dr. Gould supposes. This place then, must, I regret to say, be abandoned. I am going to make an effort or two in other directions, for I do most earnestly desire to see Gould at work, and am willing to do anything and everything in my power to avert such a misfortune as that he should pass away without doing for science & for the country, what Providence has so admirably fitted him to perform…" Both letters have flattened mail folds and edge toning. Both are boldly signed by Barnard.
Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard (1809-1889) was an American scientist and educator. Having lost his hearing after graduating from Yale, he became a teacher at the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and at the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. In 1864 he became president of Columbia College (now Columbia University). Abram Hewitt (1822-1903) was a teacher, lawyer, iron manufacturer, Congressman, and mayor of New York. He was the son-in-law of Peter Cooper (mentioned in the letter) who was an industrialist, inventor, and philanthropist, famous for his work with Hewitt at the Cooper Union.
Dr. Benjamin Apthorp Gould (1824-1896) was a pioneering astronomer, famous for creating the Astronomical Journal, founding the Argentine National Observatory, and discovering the Gould Belt.
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