Charles Messier was born in Badonviller on 26 June 1730 in the Lorraine region of France. He was the tenth of twelve children. Six of his siblings died young. Messier’s interest in astronomy was fired by, first, the Great Comet of 1744, and, later, by a solar eclipse in 1748. This eclipse occurred on July 25, near Messier’s home town.
For those of you unfamiliar with “The Great Comet of 1744, whose official designation is C/1743 X1, and which is also known as Comet de Chéseaux or Comet Klinkenberg-Chéseaux, [it] was a spectacular comet that was observed during 1743 and 1744. It was discovered independently in late November 1743 by Jan de Munck, in the second week of December by Dirk Klinkenberg, and, four days later, by Jean-Phillippe de Chéseaux. It became visible with the naked eye for several months in 1744 and displayed dramatic and unusual effects in the sky.” One can only imagine how such a spectacular display could inspire a curious boy of fourteen.
At the age of twenty-one, Messier was employed by Joseph Nicolas Delisle, a French astronomer and cartographer, associated with the French navy. Delisle instructed Messier on how properly to conduct his observations. The Mercury transit of 6 May 1753 was Messier’s first observation. That one was followed by his observations journals at Cluny Hotel and at the French Navy observatories.
In 1764, Messier was made a fellow of the Royal Society in England. He was also elected as a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1769. The next year he was honored to become a member of the French Academy of Sciences.
He was most notable for publishing an astronomical catalogue consisting of 110 nebulae and star clusters, which came to be known as the Messier objects. The purpose of the catalogue was to assist astronomical observer, in particular comet hunters, to distinguish between permanent and transient visually diffuse objects in the sky.
- C/1760 B1 (Messier) c/2760
- C/1763 S1 (Messier)
- C/1764 A1 (Messier)
- C/1766 E1 (Messier)
- C/1769 P1 (Messier)
- D/1770 L1 (Lexell)
- C/1771 G1 (Messier)
- C/1773 T1 (Messier)
- C/1780 U2 (Messier)
- C/1788 W1 (Messier)
- C/1793 S2 (Messier)
- C/1798 G1 (Messier)
- C/1785 A1 (Messier-Méchain)
Unfortunately, near the end of his life, Messier self-published a booklet connecting the great comet of 1769 to the birth of Napoleon, who was in power at the time of publishing. This is the tidbit of history that plays out in my latest Austen release.
According to Meyer:
As hard as it may seem to accept, the memoir is an ingratiation to Napoleon in order to receive attention and monetary support. It is full of servility and opportunism. Messier did not even refrain from utilizing astrology to reach his goal. Messier comes quickly to the point on the first page of the memoir, by stating that the beginning of the epoch of Napoleon the Great … coincides with the discovery of one of the greatest comets ever observed.
Maik Meyer (see link to Messier and Napoleon below) explains the historic context of this booklet’s publication, “Until 1789, Messier had earned an honored name in astronomy. His comet discoveries led to numerous memberships in national and international academies. The Marine Observatory in Paris, from where he was observing as a chief astronomer was financed by the Navy. In summer 1789, the French Revolution erupted, culminating in the ‘Year of Terror’ (1793-1794). Messier lost all his salaries for the Marine Observatory. This was a hard time for Messier, who was then in his sixties. Things got better for him after 1795, and Messier started to observe again from the Marine Observatory, now maintained and financed by himself. His last named comet discovery happened in 1798, and when he was beaten by Pons on the comet of 1801 (C/1801 N1), with which Pons started an impressive career as a comet hunter, Messier seemed to have a hard time accepting that he was no longer dominating the field of comet hunting….
“Napoleon did not take much notice of this memoir. However, Messier’s reputation was seriously harmed. The observatory’s condition became increasingly bad, since no funds for repair were available. Messier’s observing activities came to an end. Charles Messier died in 1817….”
So, although history does not show that a disgraced French astronomer by the name of Charles Messier lectured in England in late 1812, an author by the name of Regina Jeffers exercised a bit of dramatic license to place Messier into the life of one Fitzwilliam Darcy. The question remains, what purpose does Messier’s presence serve to the plot of Mr. Darcy’s Bet?
Teaser from the book:
“Monsieur Messier, merci de me recevoir aujourd’ hui,” Darcy said as he bowed to the man, who had not risen when Darcy entered the suite Messier occupied in London. The astronomer appeared frail.
“Tu es le bienvenu mon garçon.” Messier gestured to a nearby chair. Once Darcy was seated, the Frenchman switched to a halting form of English. “Your name…brought thought…of other Mr. Darcy. You favor ton père.”
My father would have known honneur in reclaiming your acquaintance, Monsieur.” Darcy spoke in clear, distinct syllables, for the man turned his head to one side as if his hearing was not as sharp as it once was.
“You have kept…ton père’s observatory?” Messier asked.
“Oui, but I spend less time studying the heavens than I would wish,” Darcy admitted.
“Responsabilités?” Messier asked.
“Yes, many responsibilities,” Darcy explained.
“Comment puis-je vous servir?” The man’s expression turned to caution.
“I thought perhaps it would be I who could serve you, rather than the reverse, Monsieur,” Darcy clarified. “May I have your permission to speak honestly of what I have to offer?”
“Certainement!” Messier sat straighter. His features had turned to hope. “What did you…have in mind…Mr. Darcy?”
For those of you whose curiosity I piqued with this article, check out these other sources on Messier:
Mr. Darcy’s Bet: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – Act 1, Sc. 4, William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure
FITZWILLIAM DARCY has done everything within his power to prove his devotion to ELIZABETH BENNET. He believes they are so close to knowing happiness; however, when his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, accosts Elizabeth with predictions of Elizabeth never being able to fit in with his social connections, everything changed. Although the lady sent his aunt packing with words to the contrary, a bit of doubt has slipped under Elizabeth’s shield of confidence, and she again refuses his hand in marriage, this time to protect him from the gossiping beau monde.
Therefore, Darcy has taken a leap of faith, he has proposed to her before the congregation gathered for the marriage of Elizabeth’s sister and his friend Bingley. A public proposal from which he cannot legally or morally withdraw, one only Elizabeth Bennet can refuse. He bets he can win not only her heart this time, but also her consent. With the assistance of her family and his, a plan is put into motion to prove Elizabeth Bennet, not only worthy of his attentions, but also the only one he should consider marrying.
GIVEAWAY: I HAVE TWO eBOOK COPIES OF “MR. DARCY’S BET” AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO COMMENT BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY ENDS AT MIDNIGHT, EDST, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, SO HURRY!