History & Philosophy of Science

Huggins, William | The Royal Society

  • First edition, first impression of this history of the Royal Society, from the library of chemist Sir Robert Robertson (1869-1949). The contents also include addresses by Huggins on the importance of fundamental research to industry and the state, the relationships between the Royal Society and the other scientific societies and the government, and the place of science in general education.

    The previous owner of this volume, Sir Robert Robertson, was an expert on explosives and made numerous contributions to their development and manufacture in colonial India and during the Boer War and both World Wars. Appointed government chemist in 1921, he also “pursued important fundamental research. In collaboration with John Jacob Fox, who succeeded him as government chemist, he made a detailed study of the infra-red absorption of the gases ammonia, phosphine, and arsine and interpreted the main features of their spectra. This pioneering work stimulated the growth of infra-red spectroscopy both in Britain and abroad” (Online Dictionary of National Biography).

    Author William Huggins ( ) was a self-taught astronomer and microscopist who made very significant contributions to the birth of spectrographic astronomy. Together with a friend and neighbour, the analytic chemist William Allan Miller, Huggins “perfected a spectroscope which, attached to his telescope, brought the prominent spectral lines of the brighter stars into view. Huggins's star spectroscope enabled astronomers to ask new questions and undertake new mensuration, and ultimately altered the boundaries of acceptable astronomical research. He was recognized by contemporaries as a principal founder of this new science of celestial spectroscopy. Direct visual comparison of stellar spectra against those produced by known terrestrial elements was hindered by the lack of standard and precise spectrum maps. To rectify that, in 1863 Huggins embarked on an extensive examination of metallic spectra, making important improvements in instrument design and research methodology. As an independent observer he tested the spectroscope's analytic power on his choice of a variety of celestial objects. Thus in 1864 his research shifted from stars to nebulae in the hope that the spectroscope would resolve the many unanswered questions about their nature. It was a bold initiative which ultimately propelled Huggins to a position of prestige and authority among his fellow astronomers. He selected a bright planetary nebula (37 H. IV. Draconis) as his first object, fully expecting to find that it differed from a star not so much in terms of composition but in its temperature and density. He was astonished to find a bright line spectrum unlike that of any known terrestrial element. The spectra of other planetary nebulae showed similar characteristics, leading him to conclude that they were not only gaseous in nature but represented a class of truly unique celestial bodies. Huggins's announcement captured his colleagues' imagination and heightened their awareness of the potential of spectrum analysis to generate new knowledge about the heavens. In June 1865 he was elected to fellowship in the Royal Society, and in February 1867 he and Miller were jointly awarded the RAS gold medal for their collaborative research on nebular spectra... Huggins was created a KCB by Queen Victoria in 1897 and was among the first twelve individuals awarded the prestigious Order of Merit by Edward VII in 1902. ” (Online Dictionary of National Biography).

  • ...or, Science in the State and in the Schools. With Twenty-Five Illustrations. London: Methuen & Co., 1906.

    Quarto. Original red cloth, titles to spine and upper board gilt. Frontispiece and 22 plates, roundel of Francis Bacon to the title page. The list of illustrations includes 22 numbered plates as well as the frontispiece and, unusually, also counts the title page roundel and the gilt crest on the upper board, making a total of 25 “illustrations”. Loosely inserted in this copy is a photographic reproduction, probably from microfiche, of a manuscript document dating to 1670. Occasional light pencil marks in the contents, faint chemical smell from the inserted microfiche reproduction. Cloth lightly rubbed at the tips, small tear at the head of the spine, which is faintly toned. An excellent copy.