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Document number: 2417
Date: 16 Sep 1832
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: RIGAUD Stephen Peter
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Collection number historic: LA32-43
Last updated: 24th January 2013

Observatory Oxford
Sept. 16. 1832


Though I might wish to thank you for your favour of the 15th <1> I should have hesitated in troubling you with a Reply to it, if I had not feared that I had failed in making myself rightly understood. I hope you do not suspect that I am going to bring your name forward in this unpleasant controversy, if such an idea has been suggested to you by any thing in my letter, I must beg you to believe that there is no foundation for it. I am so circumstanced myself that I have no retreat without a derilection [sic] of duty, but these discussions are hateful and I would not involve any one in them without occasion. I must explain, likewise, that in my assertion of the letter’s not having been written by the Earl of Northumberland <2> I did not mean to call in question the genuineness of the text as it is printed. I admit most distinctly that your argument was founded on the contents rather than the name of the writer and, that (who undoubtedly was contemporary with Harriot) <3> and they are certainly of the greater importance – but still the writer’s name is not without its weight and I though it might not be pleasant to you to find that you had been deceived about it. There is internal evidence to raise strong suspicion on on [sic] this head. I assure you that the first time I read the letter I did not hesitate in declaring to a friend, with whom I conversed on the subject, that it was never written by the E. of Northumberland. I have not been able to find the original, but Zach, <4> who had it in his possession, might have compared it with the handwriting of the Earl & he would have found that there was no resemblance. You may think this a bold assertion about what I have never seen, but when you know all, which it would be too long to enter on at present, you will see beyond a doubt that Harriots correspondent in this case was Sr Wm Lower <5> and that Zach, with proper care, might have found it to be so. He was bound to have avoided this blunder, and in his remarks on this document (in the Corr: Ast. <6> Vol VII) he has not only built on the supposed writer’s name, but has gone on to make accusations against us, which he ought to have known to be without foundation. Since I took the liberty of writing to you I have, while looking for some thing else, met with the very authority on which I stated that Zach it was Zach who had sent the papers in 1794 to Oxford. It is the very first paper for which I ought to have looked, and, bad as my memory is, I cannot now conceive how it was possible for me to have forgotten it. It is a contemporary writing clearly and fully to the point. Zach must have known what he selected for us – at least before he proposed all his questions (Corr. Ash. VII p. 108.9) about what was “curieux & meme glorieux” he should have recollected himself and ascertained whether he had given us the means, by which to judge & publish to the world, what were Harriots speculations on the paths of comets, on specific gravities, the construction of the anti-logarithmic canon &c. – We had them not – This I must explain and it should be kept in mind that Dr Robertson’s report was drawn up for an especial purpose, so that it was sufficient if it contained all that was required by the Delegates of the Press – It was finished in 1798 and when it was printed (in 1822*) it cannot be expected that he could venture to order on the details of papers, which he had not then seen for nearly five–&–twenty years. He could only point what [sic] he was convinced to be true at the time when he examined them. I do not know, likewise, whether he ever examined Zach’s account critically. I confess myself that I had no suspicions of its being possible for any one to have given publication to such a tissue of misrepresentation. – I will shortly give you one instance & that of prime importance. Zach tells us that there is no reason for supposing that Harriot was aware of Galileo’s <7> discoveries or had ever mentioned his name in any of his papers. Zar Zach says, likewise, distinctly that he had found an observation which Harriot had made of Jupiter’s satellites on the 16th of January 1610. Galileo saw them on the 7th of January 1610 & altho’ this could have raised no doubt of Harriots discovery, it would not have justified us in the conclusion of his having been the first to make it. But the truth is (& the papers prove it beyond the possibility on [sic] controversy) that Harriot never made any such observation on the 16th of January – that he never saw any one of the satellites till the 17h [sic] of the following October & that he then looked out for them in consequence of what he had heard of Galileo’s discoveries in Italy. Dr Robertson has noticed [illegible deletion] Harriots own declaration of his first observations having been on the 17th of Oct. 1610, but he unfortunately does not point out the contradiction which this gives to Zach’s statement or the inquiry might have been followed up & the question settled without my having any thing to do with it.

I have to apologise for the length of this letter and I can only deprecate your displeasure by assuring you that I have no intention of intruding again upon you in the same manner: and that I remain

Sir Your very humble servant
S. P. Rigaud

W. H. F. Talbot Esqre
Lacock Abbey

* You may recollect that Zach says (p.105) nous ignorons comment & pourquoi apres (sic) trente huit ans de repos, on est revenu sur ces manuscrits <8>. He keeps carefully out of sight that he was himself responsible for the first 10 years of this period from <9> 1784 to 1794) more than double the time that the papers were in the keeping of the University –


1. Letter not located.

2. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland (d. 1408). [See Doc. No: 02416].

3. Harriot’s Papers, ‘Reprint of a Lettter to the Editors of the Journal of the Royal Institution’, vol. 11, p. 267 (Oxford, 1 September 1831). [See Doc. No: 02416].

4. Franz Xaver, Baron von Zach (1754–1832), Hungarian astronomer.

5. Sir William Lower ( ca.1570–1615), astronomer.

6. Correspondance astronomique, géographique, hydrographique et statistique du Baron de Zach (Genoa: 1818–1826).

7. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), scientist.

8. We do not know how or why, after thirty eight years, people have decided to return to these manuscripts.

9. No opening bracket.

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