Burgess, James

Notes on Hindu Astronomy and the History of Our Knowledge of It

  • An uncommon offprint by the mathematician and archaeologist James Burgess (1832-1916), a presentation copy inscribed by the author on the upper wrapper, “with the author’s compliments, June 1898” and bound together with a manuscript letter on Indian astronomy, in particular the “lunar mansion” Pushya, and its principal star. Worldcat locates only five institutional copies: the Warburg Institute, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, Smith College, and the Newberry Library.

    Burgess directed the Archaeological Survey of India between 1886 and 1889 and was a leading Western researcher into Indian astronomy.

    This offprint is an overview of the European study of Hindu astronomy up to the 1890s, and was described by the historian of science Otto Neugebauer as “very useful” for providing “complete references to the early literature which contains much important information that is no longer available otherwise” (Neugebauer, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, p. 178).

    Burgess’s letter is dated June 25th, 1898, and was written in regard to his correspondent’s submission of a paper to the Royal Society. “Being one of the two members which your paper on ‘Cancer’ was referred, I was much interested in it, and it was suggested to me by some one at the Council meeting at the R. S. that I might give you a line on a remark I made about Pushya - the 8th Asterion or lunar mansion of the Hindu zodiac. I send you a paper I wrote some time ago for the R. Asiatic Society. At p. 756 is a list of the lunar mansions, with the generally accepted chief or ‘junction’ star in each. I am not sure that they are all quite correct. But if the junction star in Pushya be not δ Cancer, it may be θ Cancer.” He goes on to discuss the meaning of the name Pushya and its relevance to Indian mythology, comparing this with the star’s designations in ancient Arabic and Chinese culture. He finishes with, “The legends say Buddha was conceived when the full moon was in Pushya, and that he renamed his home on a like conjunction: in fact it is almost the only star mentioned in the legends, and is called the ‘king of stars’. Excuse my inflicting all this upon you. Yours sincerely, James Burgess”.

  • ...[together with an autograph letter signed by the author] From the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, October, 1893.

    Hertford: printed by Stephen Austin and Sons, 1893.

    Offprint. Later black morocco spine, blue cloth boards, titles to spine gilt. Manuscript letter dated June 25th, 1898, on Seton Place letterhead by the author and original wrappers bound in. Wrappers rubbed and tanned, short closed tears to the upper wrapper, title page, and page 759 repaired with tissue, occasional small spots. very good condition.

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