Page images
PDF
EPUB

On August 4, 1863, Prof. Newcomb married Miss Mary Caroline Hassler, daughter of Dr. C. A. Hassler, United States Navy, and granddaughter of Ferdinand R. Hassler, the founder and first superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. Their life was a happy one in all respects. Mrs. Newcomb was able and constant in thoughtfulness for his comfort, health, and happiness, and the remarkably strong individuality of each was thoroughly respected by the other. Mrs. Newcomb is cheered by three surviving daughters, the oldest of whom, Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, was Acting Assistant Surgeon, United States Army, in charge of the Army Nurse Corps in the Spanish War and until 1901.

Prof. Newcomb became aware several months before his death that his days were numbered, and his remaining energies were devoted to the completion of his investigations of the motion of the moon. He died in Washington on July 11, 1909. His funeral was attended by many who were prominent in science and government, including the President of the United States and representatives of foreign governments. He was buried with military honors in the National Cemetery at Arlington, on the south side of the Potomac River, directly opposite the city of Washington. His chief monument consists of his contributions to astronomical science. An outline of his publications, prepared 10 by Prof. R. C. Archibald, is contained in the following article.

Newcomb's more striking qualities were well described, as below, by the late William Alvord, president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, in awarding the Bruce gold medal of the society to him. Alvord was a member of James Lick's first board of trustees, and his acquaintance with Newcomb began in 1874 when the latter was first consulted by the trustees:

The basis of Prof. Newcomb's character is intellectual and moral honesty pushed to the highest degree. He loves truth and detests shams. He has, as it were, a veritable passion for justice-whether in personal relations or in civil matters. The circumstances of his career have made him ruggedly independent in thought and speech. The excellent quality of his mind is that of a philosopher, rather than that of a mathematician or an astronomer merely. his treatment of all questions it is the philosophical habit of his mind which is the most remarkable and the most valuable.

With all these qualities there is a note of practicality in his methods of work which has stood him in good stead and enabled him to complete vast labors which another man scarcely less gifted might not have been able to bring to a termination.

It is due to this faculty that the enormous task of revising the elements of the orbits of the major planets and of tabulating them in convenient forms has been carried through to completion in a comparatively short time. * * This gigantic task would have been above even his power had it not been for this practicality

Newcomb's work, driven by untiring energy and guided by philosophic intelligence for more than a half century, placed him at the head of his profession in America, and gave him membership in a small class of the most productive astronomers of all countries and all centuries. His influence upon the development of the science was exerted by speech and by letter as well as by published paper and volume. It was potent with beginners and assistants as well as with veterans and directors. It was applied with singleness of purpose, and solely in the interest of the science. Those who discussed astronomy with Newcomb had the impression of obtaining astronomy in the abstract, impersonal and disembodied, and on that account his scientific associates often failed to understand his personality. A survey of Newcomb's activities leads to the view that he was intellectually a giant.

What we may call Newcomb's personal interests made of him a charming friend to many people in many States and countries. He was a lover of travel. Mountain climbing in Switzerland enticed him successfully up to within a year of his death. He read history and other literature extensively. He could recite page after page of poetry. His wide and varied reading, combined with accurate memory and universal interest, made his conversation virile and enlightening. His lamented death brought a sense of severe loss to personal friends as well as to scientific colleagues.

*

* In

*

*

*

[ocr errors]

*

[ocr errors]

*

*

10 Publication of this biographic sketch has been delayed, pending the completion of the bibliography.

SIMON NEWCOMB

1835-1909

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HIS LIFE AND WORK

BY

RAYMOND CLARE ARCHIBALD

1924

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »