London: John Murray, 1880. Second edition, inscribed by David Gill. 8vo. liv, 285 pp. with 32 pp. of ads dated September, 1888 bound in at rear. Frontispiece map and with tables and figures in the text.Publisher’s brown cloth, stamped in black and in gilt. Hinges split; top corner of front free endpaper wanting—despite these faults still a nice copy. Item #401565
Inscribed by David Gill on half-title: “To Annie Maclear/with best wishes/from David Gill/1890 Nov 18”. Four-page manuscript poem, “In Memoriam,” pinned to front free endpaper.
An account of Isobel Sarah Black Gill’s (1848-1919) life on Ascension Island, with her husband, Scottish astronomer Sir David Gill (1843-1914). The purpose of this 1877 expedition was to measure the solar parallax—the distance between the Earth and the Sun—by observing Mars, which was then the closest to Earth than it had been for a century. In his introduction to his wife’s book he details the various historical attempts at this same endeavor. Among his many achievements, David Gill was a pioneer in the field of astrophotography, he photographed the Great Comet of 1882, and he served as the director of Lord Lindsay’s (later, 26th Earl of Crawford) private observatory. Also, the Carte du Ciel project—an international effort to catalogue and map the stars—was continued largely due to Gill’s support. His expedition to Ascension Island was partially funded by the Royal Astronomical Society, where he later served as president from 1909-1911. Despite Isobel’s claim that the book is an “unscientific account,” in Chapter I she wrote a very knowledgeable description of her husband’s work which relied upon objects, such as knitting needles and lengths of fabric, to explain the measuring of astronomical distances and angles. (David Gill was once asked if his wife knew anything about astronomy, to which he replied “Not a word, thank God!”)
Inscribed to Annie Maclear (1868-1945), the granddaughter of Sir Thomas Maclear (1794-1879), an Irish astronomer known for his work recalculating the dimensions of the Earth, and also a friend of David Livingstone. Both Maclear and Gill spent much of their careers in South Africa and both served as Her Majesty’s Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope from 1833-1870 and 1879-1907, respectively. When they first moved to Ascension Island, Annie Maclear was one of the Gills’ first visitors and became a dear friend. On December 28, 1890 in Cape Town, South Africa, Annie married Harold Jacoby (1865-1932), an American astronomer and an assistant of Gill’s. This book was perhaps an engagement or wedding gift, as the inscription is dated a month before the wedding.
Laid in is a fair copy of a lengthy poem in honor of Maclear entitled “In Memoriam” (“Died at Mowbray, on the 14th July 1879. Sir Thomas Maclear, late H. M. Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, in his 86th year…”) that is signed by Gill, although her name appears to be misspelled “Isabel”. The poem appears to be unique as we can find no mention or trace of it and, to our knowledge, it remains unpublished. A footnote explains that Maclear was totally blind in his last years and the poem ends, appropriately, with the lines “The weary eyes that rested here,/Preparing for a purer light,/Have opened far beyond the stars,/And endless day succeeds the night.”
In a letter to the English mathematician and astronomer Sir George Airy notifying him of Thomas Maclear’s death, David Gill wrote that, though he had only met him a few times, he was deeply impressed by Maclear’s work and hoped to “produce much valuable metal from the ore which Maclear has collected.”.