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James Ferguson (1710-76)

Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton's principles and made easy to those who have not studied mathematics / James Ferguson. 1756

26.4 x 3.0 x 22.0 cm (book measurement (inventory)) | RCIN 1090094

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  • James Ferguson was a Scottish astronomer who, despite never receiving formal training, became famed for his travelling lectures and easy-to-understand works on the basics of astronomy. Ferguson learned mechanics at a very early age and developed an interest in stargazing while working as a shepherd in the Scottish highlands. These interests, as well as an innate skill for draughtsmanship, were encouraged by his father and others but due to lack of funds he was unable to pursue study at one of the major universities in Scotland. Nevertheless, he was able to use his skills to produce mechanical devices such as orreries (an early piece of equipment used to demonstrate the movements of the planets), clocks and globes and earned a steady living painting portrait miniatures with India ink.
    This book on astronomy was the first major work by Ferguson and earned him an immediate scientific reputation, resulting in his election as Fellow of the Royal Society in 1763. It provides easy-to-follow illustrated instructions on the workings of an orrery and simply describes the movements of the planets, the timings of eclipses and the discoveries of other astronomers such as Johannes Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley. This was a remarkably useful enterprise: it allowed ordinary people without formal mathematical training to understand the works of Newton and helped support the vogue for amateur astronomy that was taking place in the mid eighteenth century. Ferguson travelled the country giving popular lectures on astronomy and followed the work with several others along similar themes in the 1760s and 1770s until his death in 1776.


    From the library of George III at Windsor

  • Measurements

    26.4 x 3.0 x 22.0 cm (book measurement (inventory))