From Arts to Science

William and Caroline Herschel in their study

William and his sister Caroline were widely known and appreciated musicians before they started to dedicate their lives to science. Friedrich William Herschel, born 1738 in Hannover, Germany, started to study music from a very young age on, and was also interested in mathematics and languages. His military duty led him to England, whereto he returned after his assignment to join the orchestra of Bath. In Bath, a known center of culture and society in those days, he wrote the majority of his musical compositions, taught musical education, and occupied himself with mathematical music-theory.

Caroline Lucretia Herschel, the younger sister of William Herschel, was born in 1750. She was not only educated to be a housemaid, according to the social conventions at that time, but also profited from the scientific curiosity of her father and older brothers. She was educated in writing, reading, mathematics, and music, and developed a strong interest in increasing her personal knowledge - a trait which was not always appreciated. With the endorsement of her brothers she was finally allowed to follow William to Bath, where he introduced her to the musical society and trained her to be his personal assistant as well as housekeeper. She became to be known as a singer and choirmaster and stayed with her brother, who slowly turned his attention away from the musical world.

Both siblings started to dedicate their work to astronomy, which they first studied out of pure interest, before they began to build their own astronomical instruments and telescopes to systematically observe the heavens.