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Natural Sciences in General
In his comprehensive survey of the work of William Herschel, published in the Annuaire du Bureau des Longitudes for 1842, Dominique Arago argued that the life of the great astronomer ‘had the rare privilege of forming an epoch in an extended branch of astronomy’. Arago also noted, however, that Herschel's ideas were often taken as ‘the conceptions of a madman’, even if they were subsequently accepted. This fact, commented Arago, ‘seems to me one that deserves to appear in the history of science’. From the time Herschel published his first paper in the Philosophical transactions in 1781, he was subjected to the suggestion of lunacy. His patron and friend William Watson, told him that after his claims for the extraordinary power of his telescopes, ‘your prognosis that some would think you fit for Bedlam has been verified’. On learning of Herschel's supremely accurate new micrometer, the astronomer Alexander Aubert exclaimed to Herschel that ‘we would go to Bedlam together’: Aubert wrote to Herschel in January 1782 that he should ‘mind not a few jealous barking puppies: a little time will clear up the matter, and if it lays in my power you would not be sent to Bedlam alone, for I incline much to be of the party’.
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