W. L. (William Larkin) Webb.

Brief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. online

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Online LibraryW. L. (William Larkin) WebbBrief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. → online text (page 5 of 28)
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Next session begins September 10th.


On account of the action of the Legislature in reorganizing
the University, this commencement was notable. Some weeks
before it occurred Dr. Laws had spoken before the Legislature, in
Jefferson City, but finding the tide there too strong for him, he
had presented his resignation to the Governor, who held also the
resignations of all the Curators. The Governor thereupon ap-
pointed a new Board of Curators, met with them at Columbia,
and had them accept the resignation of the President of the Uni-
versity. This carried out the decree of the Legislature, and the
University began to enter upon a new period of growth and greatly
increased usefulness.

Governor Francis was always capable of doing the best thing,
and is known as the best Governor Missouri ever had. By his
presence at the Commencement he raised the spirits of everyone,
and delivered the diplomas to the graduating class, at the head of
which stood Mr. See, a great admirer of the Governor. When
Mr. See had delivered the Valedictory address and received the
Medal for his Thesis in Astronomy, the Governor remarked that
he was the hero of the day; afterwards introduced him to Mrs.
Francis, and offered him an official letter of introduction with the
Seal of the State of Missouri on it, and duly countersigned by the
Secretary of State, which proved of great value during his studies
and travels abroad.




^IMMEDIATELY after graduation at the University of Mis-
Jjl souri, June 6, 1889, Mr. See returned home for a short visit,
and then proceeded to Berlin, where he spent the next three
and a half years in postgraduate study. \ Noah See naturally was
greatly rejoiced over the high honors which his son had won, as
the result of five years of hard work at the University of Missouri*
and cordially approved his plan for study abroad. He realized
the high promise of eminent distinction which the career of his
son held out, and he desired to support him in every possible way.
The visit home, however, was saddened by the father's failing
health. It was considered very doubtful if he would live to see
his son return from Germany, for the stay abroad was to extend
over several years.

Yet with characteristic fatherly affection Noah See desired
his son to go on with his educational career, which promised event-
ually to shed such renown on the family name. Accordingly he
explained to his son the provisions of his Will, which made special
arrangements to enable him to complete his education in Europe;
and the executors were carefully enjoined to see that this trust
was faithfully executed, the money thus advanced to Thomas J.
J. See to be deducted from his share of the estate, on final settle-
ment. With this provision for his financial support assured, Mr-
See could go abroad with definite hope of completing his course


of postgraduate study and obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philo-
sophy, which would give him a favorable start in the world.

Young Mr. See was very loath to leave his father, in his
feeble condition, but as the latter was well cared for at home, he
finally started for Europe, his father merely cautioning him not
to work too hard, and to " Remember that Rome was not built in
a day." After reaching Berlin he corresponded with his father
regularly till within a few weeks of the latter's death, which came
earlier than had been expected, Feb. 9, 1890. Noah See showed
a constant interest in all that his son did, and was very proud of
the great name he was making in the world of science.

One of Mr. See's chief teachers at Berlin was the celebrated
Professor Helmholtz, and the young man sent a picture of this
master of science to his father, who had it framed and hung on
the wall of his room. If Noah See could have foreseen that his
son twenty years later would have become even more famous than
the great Helmholtz, what is there that he would not have done
for him? His cup of joy would have been filled to overflowing!
Yet it is certain that his father must have expected for his son a
great career, since from boyhood T. J. J. See made good in every-
thing which he undertook, and even surpassed the expectations
of his best friends. It was this characteristic of young Mr. See
which enabled him to triumph over all difficulties, and to gain a
decisive victory where others would have failed.

On the way to Europe, Mr. See spent several days in Wash-
ington, D. C., and saw the large telescope of the Naval Observ-
atory, visited the Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, where
he met Professor Rowland; then stopped at Princeton, for a day
with Professor Young; sailing from New York on the Etruria,
June 22, and landing at Liverpool, June 30. From there he pro-
ceeded to London, but only remained overnight, and then visited
Paris, for four days at the Exposition; and finally started for
Berlin, July 5, and reached his destination next day.

The ocean passage on the Etruria was uneventful, but London
impressed Mr. See as very noisy and as full of rush as New York


City. Paris had the charm of great works of art, and magnificient
buildings and monuments. Mr. See saw as many of these as he
could in four days, with a guide who knew the city. The Arc de
Triomphe, Napoleon's Tomb, the Louvre, the Pantheon, various
museums, the Exposition, the National Observatory, and the Pere
la Chaise Cemetery and the grave of Laplace (found to have been
removed) all claimed his attention. At the Observatory Mr. See
saw the beautiful statue of Leverrier holding the planet Neptune
in his hand. As he was not yet recognized as a professional man
of science, but was still a student, he did not seek introductions
to the French astronomers and mathematicians.

When Mr. See went to Europe, he did not know a living soul
in that part of the world. His loneliness therefore was consider-
able, and he desired to be at the University of Berlin as soon as
possible. When he reached there July 6, he found the summer
semester of the University about to close, and hence he could do
nothing till the autumn, except perfect his knowledge of German,
and accustom the ear to the accent, so that he could follow lec-
tures when the winter semester opened, in October. He located
at 97 Zimmer Strasse, about half a mile from the University, and
an equal distance from the Royal Observatory. This was a Pen-
sion, or boarding house with meals, and was kept by Frau Kahrn.
And while many of the boarders were transients, coming and going
from time to time, others were there for whole seasons, and some
for several years. Members of the nobility, such as counts and
barons, and diplomats, as well as high ranking officers of the Ger-
man army dined there, and attended the dances held in the Pen-
sion occasionally. And whilst Mr. See was too seriously occupied
with his studies to take part in such gay functions, he saw some-
thing of them, and became acquainted with citizens of various
countries France, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England,
Italy, and Austria, but naturally the Germans predominated.

Very soon after his arrival in Berlin Mr. See had called on
some of the leading professors of the University, to find out what
studies he ought to take up preparatory to the lectures. Thus


he called on Helmholtz, Weierstrass, Fuchs, Foerster, and several
others of the more renowned of his future teachers. It turned
out that Professor Weierstrass was ill, but this illustrious mathe-
matician received him with great kindness, and carefully advised
him regarding the books which should be read, and then referred
him to Professor Fuchs, as he (Weierstrass) had little hope of being
able to lecture again. In their turn Fuchs and Foerster proved
equally kind and helpful. Helmholtz too was approachable, and
kind, but a man of few words, from a habit he had learned in child-
hood; and thus not easy to get much out of. Lord Rayleigh told
Mr. See when he visited London in 1892 that he had once enter-
tained Helmholtz in England, and found the same difficulty in
conversing with him.

The lectures of Helmholtz were on mathematical physics,
and naturally of the finest quality; for in the lecture room he
had to talk. The finest lecturer in physics, however, was Pro-
fessor Kundt, who was also a delightful man to work with in the
laboratory. In mathematics the best lecturer was Fuchs, who had a
slow methodical way which enabled the student to follow every
step with entire clearness. Other important lecturers in mathe-
matics from whom Mr. See profited were Knoblauch and Schwartz;
and in astronomy, Foerster, Tietjen, Lehmann-Filhes, and Brendel.

In practical astronomy Mr. See was working with Professor V.
Knorre, at the Royal Observatory, and for several months during
the summer of 1891, in charge of the 9-inch equatorial telescope,
just as he had formerly been in charge of the 7> inch telescope at
the University of Missouri. This 9-inch telescope is famous as the
one which Dr. Galle used in discovering Neptune, Sept. 23, 1846.
Mr. See used it for measuring double stars, and his results were
later included in one of the volumes of the Royal Observatory.

The fact that Mr. See, as an American student, had these
priviliges showed the entire confidence and esteem in which he
was held by the German professors. He had access to the Ob-
servatory Library, and a key to the building, so that he could come
and go when he chose. When observing with the 9-inch telescope


in 1891 Mr. See used to work till daylight, and Professor Foerster,
Director of the Observatory, was more than once surprised to see
him going home after the members of his own family were pre-
paring for breakfast. It was by such serious effort that Mr. See
made such a great reputation at the University of Berlin. Coming
there in 1889 without a friend, he left there in 1892 with everyone
his friend and unwilling to part with him.

Once in 1892 Emperor William visited the Observatory.
While entertaining His Majesty, Professor Foerster told of the fine
work being done there by a young American, Herr See. In this
way Mr. See's fame spread to every department of the great Uni-
versity, and in fact all over Germany, and even to Italy, France,
Russia, and England. It happened that in going back and forth
to the University Mr. See would pass the Emperor almost daily,
driving in his carriage, and dressed as a General of the German
army. The Emperor always returned the salute, in military
fashion, of those who greeted him on the street; and thus Mr. See
became accustomed to this military salute, but of course he had
no occasion to be presented to the Emperor.

When the Emperor of Russia visited Berlin, in 1891, Mr. See
was admitted to the Ministry of Education, and thus obtained a
close and excellent view of the great military parade, with the
Emperors of Germany and Russia, Bismarck, and other high offi-
cials. These great military parades are one of the striking features
of life in Berlin, and as the parades pass right in front of the Uni-
versity, the students naturally see much of them.

The study of the art treasures in the museums of Berlin was
one of the chief delights of Mr. See's stay abroad. Sunday was
free to all, and on many Sunday afternoons Mr. See would wend
his way to one of the museums or to the National gallery, to study
archselogy, statuary, painting, or some other form of the fine arts.

The course of lectures in the history of Greek philosophy
under the renowned Professor Edward Zeller was especially at-
tractive to Mr. See, for he revered Zeller as a kind of modern Plato,
then nearly eighty years of age, but working on with the unabated

!2 i


(From the portrait by Schrader, in possession of Albert Havemeyer, Esq., New York; Guyot's Physical Geography).

It was in May, 1802, that Humboldt was exploring the' great volcanoes and other peaks of the Andes about Quito, and
forming the impressions which so powerfully influenced his writings. Exactly 104 years later, May, 1906, an interest in
Earthquakes and Volcanoes which Humboldt and his writings had awakened in boyhood, enabled Professor See to discover
the true laws of Earthquakes and Mountain Formation, as a result of the earthquake at San Francisco, and the revival of
early studies in the Physics of the Earth.


zeal and enthusiasm of youth. The great Zeller literally lived
for truth, like Plato in ancient times, and was so revered by all
that Mr. See was especially proud to have this venerable and good
man as one of his examiners, when he made his doctor's degree,
December 10, 1892.

Before such examinations are held the candidate for the de-
gree, in evening dress and white gloves, calls on the Professors
chosen as his examiners, by consent of the university dean, and
invites them to be present and take part in the examination. When
Mr. See called on Professor Zeller he found the venerable philos-
opher in his study, with a book in hand, but with sight so defective
that it had to be held at very close range. If an aged professor
has such enthusiasm for "Light, more Light," as Goethe said,
how much more zeal, thought Mr. See, ought a young man have
for the advancement of truth? The effect of Teller's example on
Mr. See was profound, though no one ever had need to tell him to
work; yet in adversity it is said that this recollection has more
than once sustained him.

One other very inspiring influence was Mr. See's visits to the
country seat of Alexander von Humboldt, at Tageldorf, a suburb
of Berlin. Here the student who read the Cosmos in boyhood
beheld the homes of the Humboldt brothers Wilhelm, the
founder of the Berlin University, and Alexander, the great natural-
ist and often visited the graves of these illustrious men in the
pine forest north of the house, to pluck an ivy souvenir, or to view
the beautiful park about it, with the tawny deer playing among
the bushes. As Alexander von Humboldt had been the inspira-
tion of Mr. See's boyhood days, and now, by good fortune, he
attended the University founded by Wilhelm, and he himself
wished to be an investigator of the physical universe, the pilgrim-
age was natural and appropriate. Besides, Mr. See's old teacher
Professor Paul Schweitzer, had been born in Berlin, and had acted
as assistant to Gustave Rose, the eminent chemist who accom-
panied Alexander von Humboldt on the trip to Central Asia.
Thus he was drawn to the home of the Humboldts by ties of pecu-


liar interest, while his own thoughts were centered on the study
of the physical universe.

During the stay of three years at Berlin, Mr. See often visited
Potsdam, to see the palaces, and the astrophysical observatory;
so that he formed an intimate acquaintance with all the surround-
ings of the German capital. Mr. See was especially impressed
with the classic style in art and architecture so generally followed
by the Germans; and with the classic spirit in the University of
Berlin, which was originally introduced by Wilhelm von Humboldt
and his contemporaries and firmly maintained in more recent
times. Without a classic education Mr. See would have been out
of sympathy with his beautiful surroundings, but as he had wisely
pursued those very studies before specializing in science, he could
in spirit visit Athens or Rome any Sunday afternoon, by going to
the museum.

This awakened in Mr. See a profound interest in classic things,
and led him to visit successively Italy, Egypt, and Greece. The
trip to Italy was made in company with Professor D. W. Shea of
the Catholic University, Washington, D. C., in March and April,
1890; and included stops at Basel, Turin, Milan, Pisa, Naples,
Pompei, Vesuvius, Baiae, Pozzuoli, Rome, Florence, Orvieto,
Venice, Verona, Munich, and Leipzig. It would take up too much
space to describe this wonderful journey, and we must be content
with saying that it included the objects of highest intellectual inter-
est in each place. Thus, at Naples, Vesuvius was ascended, owing
to Mr. See's life-long interest in volcanoes, while Pompei was vis-
ited for the best available insight into the Roman cities of the first
century, A. D. At Pisa and Florence on the other hand, special
attention was paid to the things associated with Galileo, such as
the leaning tower, and swinging lamp at Pisa, and the first toy-like
telescopes and other relics preserved at Florence. The grandeur
and inspiration of the scenes and antiquities at Rome simply beggar
description. It must suffice to say that here one is on holy ground,
and in the Roman Forum the traveler still walks on the very same
stones on which Caesar's legions trod nearly 2,000 years ago.





X ti

W -^




The stay in Lower Egypt was limited to about ten days (March
5-15, 1891), and Memphis was as far south as Mr. See journeyed.
But it enabled satisfactory visits to be made to the Pyramids and
other objects about Cairo; gave good views of the desert, and the
clear skies of Egypt, famed in the history of astronomy, as well as
of the Southern Constellations, such as the Ship Argus, with the
brilliant Canopus, and the stars of the Centaur. At Alexandria
effort was made to locate the site of the ancient library and
museum, where Hipparchus and Ptolemy labored 2,000 years
ago; but so little excavation has been done there that the loca-
tions are doubtful, and only the general surroundings of the
Alexandrian school of astronomy could be studied with any
success. Mr. See recalls that on the morning as the ship from
Trieste neared Alexandria the stars appeared very bright,
and Venus actually shone by reflection from the waves of the

From Lower Egypt Mr. See crossed over to Athens, for a visit
of six weeks in Greece. It would take too long to describe the
wonders of this center of Greek civilization, but it may suffice to
say that of all the places visited by Mr. See in the old .world,
Athens is the one he most admires, from the point of view of won-
derful skies of blue and violet, and other natural scenery, art and
history. As a student trying to make the most of his opportuni-
ties he visited the most interesting sights, the ruins about Athens;
including all parts of the Acropolis, the temples, and the museums;
Mount Pentelikon, Eleusis, ^gina, and the Homeric cities of
Tyrins and Mycenae; and also Corinth, Delphi, and Olympia.
The olive groves in which Plato taught had an especial charm for
Mr. See. The visit to Delphi also proved of very great interest,
as well as that to Olympia, where the Hermes of Parxitelles, ex-
cavated by the Germans in 1871 is recognized to be the most
beautiful statue ever created by the chisel of a sculptor. At Pyr-
gos, on the way to Olympia, the party* experienced a considerable

*Mr. See, two students from Cambridge, and two from Oxford, including Mr.
J. L. Myres, now Professor of Ancient History in the University of Oxford.


earthquake, which caused general alarm among the people. From
Olympia Mr. See returned to Berlin by way of Corfu, Trieste, and

The spring vacation of 1892 was spent in England, and was of
very great importance, on account of the lifelong friendships which
Mr. See formed with eminent astronomers and mathematicians.
Naturally he visited the great universities of Oxford and Cam-
bridge, and the principal places of interest about London, such
as the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Westminster
Abbey, the House of Parliament, the Royal Society, Royal Astro-
nomical Society, Royal Observatory, etc. He met and was en-
tertained by Professors Darwin and Forsyth in Cambridge, and
by the fellows of St. John's College. He was also entertained in
London by Sir William and Lady Huggins, the founders of Astro-
physics; Miss A. M. Clarke, the historian of astronomy; and Mr.
A. C. Ranyard. a well known astronomer, who had a private obser-
vatory. In traveling to England via Rotterdam and returning
via Antwerp, Mr. See was enabled to enjoy a bird's-eye view of
Holland and Belgium.

Mr. See had now remained in Germany so long that he was
anxious toxeturn to America as quickly as possible after his exam-
ination. His Inaugural Dissertation, was printed in advance of
the examination, except the title page, and on December 10, 1892,
he was granted the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Master
of Arts, with high honors. His thesis at once made a great rep-
utation, and was much discussed all over Europe. . At the public
disputation in the aula of the university, when the degree was
conferred, it was remarked by several of Dr. See's professors in
attendance, that it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies that
they had ever seen, and that Dr. See spoke German almost as
fluently and accurately as a native, which is seldom true of the
foreign students taking degrees in Germany. It is now twenty
years since Dr. See left Berlin, but it is well known that he still
speaks German fluently, and often delights his German friends by
conversing with them in their own language.




MMEDIATELY after graduating at the University of
Berlin, December 10, 1892, Dr. See sailed from Bremen for
New York,] December 13, on the North German Lloyd steam-
ship Saale. He landed at New York Christmas day, the passage
having been slow and so stormy that the ship was four days late,
and general alarm felt for her safety, when at last she was sighted
covered with snow and ice. The New York newspapers of
Christmas morning had scare headlines: "Where is the Saale?"
This was of course before the days of wireless telegraphy, and at
that time a ship had to be observed before its arrival or where-
abouts could be ascertained.

fWhile traveling in Egypt, Mr. See had met at the Hotel de
Nile, in Cairo, March 6, 1891. Professor Eri B. Hulbert of the old
University of Chicago. The meeting was quite accidental,! but
Dr. Hulbert liked Mr. See so well, after traveling with him about
Cairo, that he entrusted to him some pictures of their party taken
on camels at the Pyramids; and said that after his journey to the
Holy Land, he would visit Berlin and claim the pictures. ( At that
time Mr. See only knew Mr. Hulbert was from Chicago, but had
no inkling that he was connected with the University. What
was Mr. See's surprise, when his traveling friend reappeared in
Berlin, claimed his pictures, and then told him that he (Hulbert)
was a professor at the University of Chicago, a colleague of Dr.



Harper, the president of the new university, and wanted See to
join the faculty at Chicago when he finished his studies in Berlin? ;
Dr. Hulbert then said that he had written to Dr. Harper about
Mr. See, and that he (Harper) would be in Berlin that winter
(1891-2) . At that time little was thought of the matter, but later
sure enough Dr. Harper^came to Berlin, as Dr. Hulbert had said
he would; and of courselMr. See met Dr. Harper at the home of
Rev. Dr. J. H. W. Stuckenberg, the pastor of the American church
in Berlin, who kept open house once a week, for the American
colony. It was generally known that Dr. Harper was buying
books and libraries and selecting professors for the new university;
and he had therefore consulted with Dr. Stuckenberg and others,
but Mr. See made no application for any position at Chicago, nor
had he talked with Dr. Harper about the plans the latter was

It turned out, however, that Dr. Stuckenberg had recom-
mended Mr. See, just as Dr. Hulbert had done, and therefore when
Mr. See was at length in sight of his doctor's degree, and he wrote
President Harper at Chicago that he would be seeking a position
later for 1893, the president immediately replied, wishing Mr. See
to join the faculty at Chicago, and aid him in securing an observa-
tory to cost from $200,000 to $300,000. This was in July, 1892,

Online LibraryW. L. (William Larkin) WebbBrief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. → online text (page 5 of 28)