The Herschel evening at the Whipple Museum was an enormous success, with over fifty guests in attendance. This included some of William and Caroline’s descendants: the current head of the Herschel household, John Herschel-Shorland, his son William, and his daughter Amanda. So, as Melanie keenly put it, our ‘Herschel Trio’ event had a ‘Herschel trio’ in the audience!
The renowned Herschel scholar, Michael Hoskin, started off the evening with an engaging overview of William and Caroline’s work, explaining why he finds William Herschel the most impressive astronomer, possibly ever, for making groundbreaking progress in all three traditional strands of astronomy–observational astronomy, instrument building (namely telescopes,) and theoretical astronomy.
An additional honour to having Professor Hoskin speak at the Whipple is his status as the first Director of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, and he reminisced on teaching lectures in the very room we were sitting in, now the Museum’s main gallery. Professor Hoskin’s penultimate book on the Herschel family is due out in 2011.
Derek, who runs the Whipple’s Science of Musical Sound activities, introduced the musicians and spoke on William as a composer. The first piece played was composed by William at the age of only 21.
It was a very special treat for us all to hear the compositions played, which is very rare indeed. The Herschel family were especially pleased to hear the music, and the current William Herschel was very encouraging to hear about my work-in-progress, kindly saying that I’m ‘filling in the gaps with creativity.’ I am certainly trying to do so!
The fifty-strong audience then relaxed for an Oboe Concerto, drifting back to the days when socialites flocked to Bath’s Octagon Chapel, where William played and conducted, and Caroline sang. These were the days when King George’s madness began to run rampant, and little Jane Austen frolicked along the limestone cobbles of the city.
Next, I read excerpts from my novel-in-progress, Caroline. One scene has William and Caroline strolling with their friend towards the recently designed Crescent, one of the poshest areas of Bath, where they find some schoolchildren playing at making a ‘living orrery’ in a field. William tries to correct their orbits and meteoric routes, to no avail. Another scene has Caroline swept away in the overwhelmingly expensive social activities in London with the rich widow, Mrs. Celia Colebrook.
Two trio sonatas followed, and then guests had time to look at some of the museum collections in the main gallery, speak with the participants, and leave their comments and compliments regarding the evening.
Thank you to Derek and Melanie for arranging such an excellent event, and to Melanie for being our photographer!