Autograph letter signed to Charles Tilston Bright

Airy, George Biddell

Published by London, 1862
From Jeremy Norman's historyofscience (Novato, CA, U.S.A.)

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Airy, George Biddell (1801-92). A.L.s. to Charles Tilston Bright. London, August 15, 1862. 4pp. 188 x 119 mm. Provenance: Latimer Clark. Airy served as Great Britain's astronomer royal from 1835 to 1881, and was a noted critic and frequent adversary of Charles Babbage. In 1862 he undertook the task of determining the difference in longitude between Greenwich and Valentia, Ireland, the European landing point for the first Atlantic cable, which had failed four years earlier. The observations were made with the aid of time signals transmitted from Greenwich to Valentia by telegraph, using some of the cable laid for the failed 1858 venture, and Airy's letter to Bright, a founding member of Cyrus Field's Atlantic Telegraph Company, expresses his gratitude for the opportunity: "We have at length finished the practical part of our operations for the Valentia longitude, and I trust successfully. . . . For the opportunity of doing it at all, we are entirely indebted to your kindness-in the retention of the Valentia wires, when there was hardly any reason for the retention except the prospect of our work, and in the favourable introduction to your brother [Edward Bright] and to the B. & I. M. T. [British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph] Company. . . . The signals were transmitted without difficulty and in an excellently observable state when the weather was reasonably good. In some of the heavy Irish showers, they were rather weak, but never too faint for observation. "The operation was naturally protracted by the impossibility of securing in every case transits at Greenwich, transits at Valentia, and galvanic signals. But the principal cause of delay was the irregularity of some clerk, name and station unknown . . . who did not always follow out your brother's regularity in establishing connexions. We imagine him to be an Irishman and entitled to use the national privilege of irregularity, and accordingly we forgive him heartily, and thank him for the connexions which he did make. . . ." Airy had been consulted about the feasibility of submarine telegraphy prior to the laying of the first Atlantic cable, his opinion at the time being that it was "a mathematical impossibility to submerge a cable at so great a depth" (quoted in Carter 1968, 125). Origins of Cyberspace 110. Bookseller Inventory # 40711

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Title: Autograph letter signed to Charles Tilston ...

Publisher: London

Publication Date: 1862

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