WEST, Benjamin (1738-1820)
An Account of the Observation of Venus Upon the Sun, The Third Day of June, 1769, at Providence, in New-England. With some Account of the Use of those Observations
Providence: Printed by John Carter, at Shakespear's Head, 1769. 8vo. , 22pp. Uncut.
Stitched self-wrappers. Housed in a modern black morocco box.
Provenance: John Brown Francis (early inscription at head of title)
A milestone of American science.
The transit of Venus in 1769, which was visible throughout the thirteen colonies, presented an extraordinary opportunity for the development of science in America. "The attention of the entire learned world was riveted upon the event so that any sort of activity related to it was bound to be noticed ... The Americans were at last presented with an opportunity for observation in the physical sciences which promised as attentive a reception as their descriptive work in natural history had long commanded." Preparations were made by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the observatory at Harvard in Boston, and elsewhere, but among the most significant were the observations made in Providence Rhode Island. Joseph Brown, a wealthy merchant and one of the "Four Brothers" Brown who founded what would become the University to bear their family name, was fascinated by science and engineering. He convinced Providence bookseller, alamanc maker and mathematician Benjamin West to undertake their own observations, and specially ordered from London a three-foot reflecting telescope, a sextant and other necessary instruments.
The present work by West details the history of determining the sun's horizontal parallax through astronomical observations, discussing the work of Kepler and Halley, as well as the measurements gleaned from the observation of the 1761 transit. He then turns to his own preparations for the 1769 transit, detailing his instruments, how they were set up and regulated, and giving the results of his observations.
The work is rare, with no other example in the auction records for the last half century. This example with provenance to John Brown Francis (1791-1864) Governor of Rhode Island and the nephew of Joseph Brown.
"The American achievement in observing the transit of Venus and in making American work known to European scientists was the major factor in gaining a new recognition for American science" (Hindle).
Evans 11525; Sabin 102715; Rink 833; Alden 433; ESTC W13213; cf. Hindle, The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America 1735-1789 (Chapel Hill, 1956), pp. 146-165.