<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> 1707–1773 A Musician's Odyssey <p> <p> William's early life in Hanover had not been easy. Despite Isaac's absences for military service, he succeeded in fathering ten children; of the ten, four sons and two daughters survived into adulthood. Isaac was a poorly paid bandsman in the Hanoverian Guards; but he did what he could to supplement the basic education offered his children by the Garrison School, which consisted of reading, writing, and religious knowledge to the age of fourteen for both boys and girls, and for the boys, arithmetic. William later recorded how "my father's great attachment to Music determined him to endeavour to make all his sons complete Musicians." As soon as the boys were old enough to hold a miniature violin, their lessons would begin. <p> <p> Isaac, Anna, and the Founding of the Herschel Dynasty <p> Isaac himself was born in 1707, the youngest son of Abraham Herschel, a gardener who worked on an estate near Magdeburg, midway between Berlin and Hanover. Abraham was a remarkable man, for he "was very fond of the art of arithmetic and writing as well as of drawing and music," and when he returned home after a hard day's manual work he would wash his hands, eat his supper, and then stretch his mind with pen and paper. Unfortunately Abraham died when Isaac was only eleven, and his widow could not afford to put her son through the usual apprenticeship as a gardener. But the resourceful boy taught himself the rudiments of gardening and eventually got a job tending the garden of an aristocratic widow. Yet he found himself irresistibly drawn to music. As a lad he had managed to buy a violin, and he had taught himself to play by ear. Now he used his wages to purchase an oboe and to pay for proper lessons. <p> When he was twenty-one, Isaac took his courage in both hands, quit his gardening job, and set off for Berlin to find a post as oboist, only to decide that what he was offered was "very bad and slavish." Impressed by the young man's dedication, his surviving brother and their sister paid for him to have a year's musical tuition with an elderly Prussian band conductor. Eventually we find him in Brunswick, again looking for a post as oboist—and again declining what he was offered, this time because it was "too Prussian." Isaac next traveled to Hanover, where the elector—who was also King of Britain—maintained a corps of Guards with its own band. This time Isaac found the terms acceptable, and on August 7, 1731, he at last became a professional musician. <p> Isaac was a young man far from home. Hanover was a prosperous city whose houses employed servant girls from the surrounding countryside, and among them was Anna Ilse Moritzen, the illiterate eighteen-year-old daughter of a baker. For the first time in her life she was free from family constraints. She met the lonely bandsman, they went to bed, and conceived a daughter. Normally weddings took place in the bride's village and were accompanied by great festivities, but Anna's pregnancy made this impossible. Instead they were married quietly on October 12, 1732, in the Garrison Church in Hanover. Six months later, on April 12, 1833, Sophia was born. <p> Thus was founded the great Herschel dynasty. No fewer than ten of their immediate descendants would be at one time or another in the service of King George III or his consort, Queen Charlotte: their sons Jacob, Alexander, and Dietrich would be members of the elector's court orchestra in Hanover; Sophia's five sons would form the core of Queen Charlotte's band at Windsor Castle; while William, and later Caroline, would become salaried astronomers to the Court at Windsor. And William's son John would be awarded the hereditary title of baronet by Queen Victoria for his services to astronomy, and when he died he would be buried in Westminster Abbey, next to Newton. As an educator of children, Isaac was without peer. <p> <p> Trials and Tribulations of an Army Bandsman <p> In times of peace the routine of a bandsman in the Guards had much to commend it—minimal duties and maximal family life. By 1741 Sophia had three brothers—Jacob, William, and Johann Heinrich, who was to die young—and a sister, Anna Christina, who would also die in childhood. But now the War of the Austrian Succession was raging, and in wartime the bandsmen would go on campaign along with the fighting soldiers, separated from their families and enduring hardships and privation. That September the Guards marched out of Hanover, only to return six weeks later. The following September they marched again, and in June 1743 they fought in the Battle of Dettingen. Although the Hanoverians were victorious, Isaac and his comrades spent the following night in a waterlogged field. For a time Isaac lost the use of his limbs, and his health would never recover. After his convalescence he was granted a spell of home leave, during which the fertile Anna conceived Alexander. <p> In February 1746 the Guards returned home. Isaac had had his fill of army life, and he applied for "dismission" (discharge). But how was he to earn his living? There were churches aplenty in Hanover, but he was no organist. The court orchestra offered prestige and affluence and entry into the higher echelons of society, but vacancies were rare, and in any case a humble gardener-turned-bandsman could hardly aim so high. And so when winter came Isaac decided to transfer his family to the great port of Hamburg, where surely there would be demand for musicians. <p> The journey was difficult—Alexander was just one year old, his milk bottle was frozen, and the vigor of his complaints would live in the memory of those who had to endure them—and on arrival Hamburg proved to be populated by philistines unconcerned about music. While Isaac pondered what to do next, he chanced to meet a former pupil, General Georg August von Wangenheim, no less. The general made Isaac an offer he could not refuse. The prospects of peace were good, the general said, and if Isaac returned to Hanover he could rejoin the Guards band, confident that he could live at home in peace for many years to come. Not only that, but Isaac's talented eldest son, Jacob, could join his father in the band, and William might do the same when he attained the age of fourteen, the age when a schoolchild would be confirmed and go out into the world. <p> And so the Herschels returned to Hanover. Isaac rejoined the Guards, Jacob marched in the band alongside his father, and they and their comrades were able to live at home in peace and contentment. In May 1753 William, now aged fourteen, was auditioned on the oboe and violin by General Sommerfeld, and so a third Herschel joined the band. Isaac, despite his continuing health problems, was enjoying the happiest time of his life. He could supervise his three sons as they developed their talents as musicians, and the wages earned by Jacob and William could be used to further their general education: lessons in French for both, and for the enquiring William an introduction to logic, ethics, and metaphysics. Isaac was an exemplary father. <p> But soon war clouds began to gather once more. The French were, as ever, on the march, and in the spring of 1756 the Hanoverian Guards were summoned to England by the current Elector of Hanover to reinforce the realm he ruled as King George II. This early move in what we know as the Seven Years' War proved to be a false alarm, but William took the opportunity to learn some English. He saved up enough pennies to buy John Locke's great three-volume treatise, <i>An Essay Concerning Human Understanding</i>, but what his fellow bandsmen thought of this pretentious acquisition, we are not told. Both boys made friends among the musical community of London and the surrounding area, and this would one day stand them in good stead. <p> Jacob had long since decided that the army was not for him, and such were his musical talents that he had been assured that a post in the court orchestra would be his just as soon as formal approval reached Hanover from the elector's entourage in London. To his chagrin, the required letter had still not arrived when the Guards—with Jacob resentfully among them—left for England. When the letter did arrive Jacob was in England and so unavailable, and the post went to another candidate. But at least he now succeeded in securing his dismission from the army. Comfort was always near the top of his priorities, and in the autumn he returned home by ship and coach, followed in January by Isaac and William, who had to march across Germany with their regiment while the bandsmen did their best to lift the spirits of the troops. <p> <p> Defeat at Hastenbeck <p> Before long, sadly, the French were once again on the warpath, and this time the threat was real and against Hanover itself. In July 1757 the Hanoverian Guards were defeated at Hastenbeck, some twenty-odd miles from Hanover. As musicians, Isaac and William were entitled to take cover when shooting began. If we are to believe what William told his son in later life, while the battle raged, "with balls flying over his head he walked behind a hedge spouting speeches, rhetoric then being his favourite study." <p> In the chaotic aftermath of Hastenbeck, Isaac persuaded himself that because William was a boy and not under oath, he was free to quit the field of battle, and so Isaac discreetly sent him home to Hanover, where Jacob was lying low. But William found that the burghers of Hanover were desperately trying to raise a makeshift force to defend the city against the French, and all able-bodied men were being pressed into service. Suddenly civilian life lost its attraction: back in the army, as a bandsman, William was accepted by both sides as a noncombatant. So he borrowed a civilian greatcoat from the family's landlord, and wearing it, slipped out of the city, followed at a discreet distance by his mother carrying a bundle containing his uniform. Once outside the ring of pickets, he changed into uniform and bade Anna farewell. Before long he was back with the band, relieved to find that his absence had not been noticed. <p> Isaac was far from pleased at the reappearance of his son, whom he had supposed to be out of harm's way. The following weeks of retreat and confusion were arduous and fraught for soldiers and bandsmen alike, and finally Isaac uttered to William in German the equivalent of "Why don't you get the hell out of here?" England offered sanctuary, and a musician could earn a living in any land. So Isaac dispatched him to the port of Hamburg, there to await the arrival of Jacob, to whom Isaac somehow got word of his plan for the two boys' removal to safety. Their travel he paid for by borrowing to the limit from one of his pupils; but on arrival in England the boys would have to fend for themselves. <p> William had managed to get word to his mother asking her to forward his possessions to Hamburg, including some celestial globes he had made himself. But the illiterate woman had little patience with such trinkets; she instead gave them to Caroline and her baby brother, Dietrich, as playthings, and before long they were in pieces. <p> <p> William the Refugee Deserter <p> The boys arrived penniless—William had a single French crown piece in his pocket—and for two years they survived in and around London by copying music and getting whatever teaching and performing engagements they could. Matters were not helped by the talented Jacob's absolute refusal to play second fiddle: if he was asked to be part of a band, he must be the first violin, failing which he would decline to accept such "degradation," even if it meant going hungry. At last, in the autumn of 1759, the French were expelled from Hanover, and Jacob returned home. But he traveled alone: William was formally a deserter (Isaac had been arrested briefly for conniving at his escape) and had no wish whatever to be compelled to rejoin the army. <p> But London was overstocked with musicians, and so when early the following year William was invited to take charge of a small military band in the north of England, he accepted with alacrity. He had given Jacob every penny he could spare to help pay for his brother's travel home, but he made himself solvent again by walking the lengthy journey to Richmond in Yorkshire and pocketing his traveling expenses. <p> The post with the band was part-time, but it gave William a secure base from which to branch out as teacher, performer, and especially composer of music (figure 2). It was as a composer that he hoped one day to be remembered, and in his methodical fashion he was soon turning out symphonies at the rate of half a dozen a year. He also began to write Jacob formal "letters" on philosophy and music and suchlike. He hoped that one day these minitreatises would be published. They are priggish and pretentious, but they reveal an original mind restless under the constraints of the daily round of the itinerant musician. <p> In the Garrison School back in Hanover, William had been an able pupil who helped the master by supervising the lessons of the younger children. At home, Isaac had done all in his power to further his sons' education. Although he never had money to spare for books, Isaac somehow managed to teach himself something of the ideas of the great mathematicians, and he encouraged his sons to see these ideas, not as received wisdom but as claims to be debated. Caroline recorded: <p> But generally their conversation would branch out on Philosophical subjects, when my brother Wm and his Father often were arguing with such warmth and my Mother's interference became necessary when the names Leibnitz, Newton and Euler sounded rather too loud for the repose of her little ones; who ought to be in school by seven in the morning. But it seems that on the brothers' retiring to their own room, where they partook of one bed, my brother W<sup>m</sup> still had a great deal to say; and frequently it happened that when he stopt for an assent or reply; he found his hearer had gone to sleep, and I suppose it was not till then that he bethought himself to do the same. <p> <p> In Sunderland William at last had time to indulge his fascination for mathematics. As a musician he was intrigued by the arithmetic underlying musical harmony, and so he bought a copy of <i>Harmonics</i> by the Cambridge professor Robert Smith. He liked it so well that in the early 1770s, when he came across Smith's other work, the two-volume <i>Opticks</i>, he decided to buy that too, with momentous consequences for the history of astronomy. <p> But this was for the future, and meanwhile he had a living to earn. Early in 1761 he heard of a vacancy that could bring him both prestige and money: that of manager of the concerts in the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh. The incumbent, he was told, intended to resign. William journeyed north and was delighted to be introduced to the great philosopher David Hume. A few days later he was invited to lead a local band in concerts that included some of his own music. <p> Mr. Hume, who patronised my performance, asked me to dine with him and accepting of his invitation I met a considerable company, all of whom were pleased to express their approbation of my musical talents. <p> <p> He returned south confident that the post was his, and so he resigned from the military band. <p> Alas, the manager in Edinburgh changed his mind, and now William was without the security of the regular source of income he had enjoyed until now. He was sure he could make a living from his freelance work, but, as he told Jacob, "a certain anxiety attends a vagrant life. I do daily meet with vexations and trouble and live only by hope." He was constantly journeying on horseback in all weather. If it was a sunny day, he would pass the time by reading a book while the horse made its own way forward. On one occasion the horse took exception to something and reared up, after which William found himself on the ground facing the horse, with the book still in his hand. But in winter he would have to brave the elements: <p> I will only say that at 9 o'clock, when I had still about 20 miles to ride, I was caught in an unusually heavy thunderstorm, which continued accompanied by torrents of rain, with unbroken fury, for three hours, and threatened me with sudden death. The distance from an habitation, the darkness and loneliness, obliged me nevertheless to ride on. I pursued my way therefore with unshaken sangfroid although I was often obliged to shut my eyes on account of the blinding lightening. At last the flashes all around me were so terrifying that my horse refused to go on; luckily at this moment I found myself near a house, into which, after much knocking, I was admitted. This morning, at 3 o'clock, I proceeded on my journey and arrived safely at this place. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Discoverers of the Universe</b> by <b>Michael Hoskin</b> Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of Princeton University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.