William Herschel, George III, and Uranus

Yes, dear reader, this is another groan-inducing Curmudgeonly post, the sort of thing that happens around here on news-free weekends.

George III (1760 – 1820) was King of England when Sir William Herschel announced the discovery of Uranus in March of 1781. For irrelevant historical context, that was seven months before Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown. The Wikipedia article on Uranus says:

In recognition of his achievement, King George III gave Herschel an annual stipend of £200 on the condition that he move to Windsor so that the Royal Family could have a chance to look through his telescopes.

What is not generally known, but which is documented in the Curmudgeon’s archive of hidden lore, is what happened during the King’s first glimpse of the seventh planet through Herschel’s telescope. Now the tale can be told, for the very first time.

Herschel’s assistant — whose name is lost to history — had a strong Cockney accent, which caused endless and rather comical communication problems, because Herschel was born in Hanover and lived there until he came to England at the age of 19. Knowing that His Majesty would soon be arriving, there was a considerable uproar as Herschel and his assistant shouted at one another in their mutually incomprehensible English while attempting to get everything just right for the Royal visit.

But at last they were ready. The assistant had carefully aimed Herschel’s telescope at the newly discovered planet. As the King approached the instrument, the assistant bowed low, gestured toward the eyepiece, and solemnly presented the heavenly spectacle by saying:

“Your ‘AYE-nesss, Uuuur-AYE-nusss!”

**Curmudgeon ducks flying shoes, eggs, and rotten tomatoes** Okay, okay — but let’s see if you can do better. Go ahead and use the comments as an Intellectual Free Fire Zone.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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17 responses to “William Herschel, George III, and Uranus

  1. Herschel was also a pretty good composer. You can find some of his works (recording standard varies, of course) on YouTube.

  2. Not a rotten tomato from me – me likes this.

  3. Actually, Herschel originally wanted to name the new planet after King George himself. (perhaps one reason he was in such favor with the court) He called it Georgium Sidus. The broader astronomical community was not pleased, and eventually settled on Uranus, which in mythology was the god of the sky and father of Saturn, in keeping with tradition of naming planets for Greek/Roman gods. Universal acceptance of the name took the better part of a century however, and the planet was widely known as Herschel’s planet for many years after its discovery.

    So, in a sense, your story would have been true. The planet King George was about to gaze at was, indeed, his highness. (or, in your telling, his lowness)

  4. No rotten tomato from me, either–but what is worse, I’m awarding Curmy the

    Dick van Dyke Trophy for An Execrably Unconvincing Attempt at a Cockney Accent

    Intolerably pedantic notes to explain why this award has been bestowed upon you:

    [1] In the United Kingdom, the seventh planet is pronounced with the the accent on the first syllable, and with a long ‘a’, thus: YEW-rahn-us. Some members of the older generation, displaying a Classical education, may be heard to use the more philologically-correct pronunciation of OO-rahn-os. Cockney would be YER-ruhn-us

    [2] One addresses a reigning British monarch as Your Majesty, absolutely not as Your Highness, which is a generic honorific for other members of the royal family (and which is more properly used in the form Your Royal Highness).

    But we understand that you are a benighted and uncouth Colonial to whom such civilities are unknown and from whom decorum is not to be expected.

    Supplementary Note to American Visitors to Great Britain. Please, never describe anyone as “falling on their fanny.” That expression is at once shockingly improper to British ears and utterly baffling, conjuring up an unimaginable image of gymnastic impossibility.

    Further Supplementary Note to South Carolinian Visitors to Great Britain: You must never offer “to shag” a prospective dance partner.

  5. Ed says: “Actually, Herschel originally wanted to name the new planet after King George himself.”

    Yeah, the name “Uranus” came letter, but why let that interfere with a good story?

  6. Megalonyx unleashes: “But we understand that you are a benighted and uncouth Colonial to whom such civilities are unknown and from whom decorum is not to be expected.”

    Oh yeah? What do you know? I’ve been to London three different times! I’ve been to Westminster Abby. I’ve bought neckties at Harrods. I have a photo of me with Big Ben in the background. I’ve eaten shepard’s pie in a pub. Don’t try to tell me how things are over there.

  7. Megalonyx: so you are saying I’m not allowed to pull something out of my fanny pack?

  8. Diogenes enquires:

    so you are saying I’m not allowed to pull something out of my fanny pack?

    The action is permitted–if you are a female, and the object in question were some variety of sanitary towel.

    But to speak of such things would be indecorous in the extreme and can in no wise be deemed acceptable in any social context whatsoever….

  9. Ah, Westminster Abby. And what a popular lass she was . . .

  10. Our Curmudgeon unconvincingly claims

    I have a photo of me with Big Ben in the background

    I’ll allow you might possibly have a photo of yourself with The Elizabeth Tower in the background.

    For Big Ben to have been in the background, you would have had to be inside the Elizabeth Tower–and heaven help us if Security is so wanting at Parliament that you should have got so far…

  11. Megalonyx condescendingly sneers: “I’ll allow you might possibly have a photo of yourself with The Elizabeth Tower in the background.”

    That designation is new, and the tower was not so named when I was there. Aside from all this trivia, you are you to question the authenticity of the Curmudgeon’s archive of hidden lore? You don’t know how the Cockney assistant spoke, or how he may have addressed the King. Were you there?

  12. So, Megs, you’re saying we should never bring a “box” of Fannie May chocolates (http://www.fanniemay.com) to England as a gift? How about a bouquet of pussy willows? Ok, enough of this twattle.

  13. A tale of the difference between UK and US English:

    The first weekend my American wife and I got together we embarrassingly didn’t get out of bed, aside from brief excursions for the obvious, for some 40 hours. On the Monday my very elderly Scots mum phoned to say hello.

    “And what have you been doing with your weekend in Exeter?” she said.

    “Oh, I dunno,” said my wife-to-be innocently. “Just sort of pokin’ around.”

  14. I first found out the UK meaning of “fanny” when a professor explained that John Cleland gave the name “Fanny Hill” to the title character in his ribald novel because it means “mons veneris.”

    Authors do such things a lot. Three examples that come to mind are “Dewy Dell” (moist valley) for the pregnant girl in William Faulkner’s _As I Lay Dying_, “Manly Pointer” for the predatory male in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” and of course “Pussy Galore” for the femme fatale in Ian Fleming’s _Goldfinger_.

  15. realthog makes reference to

    my American wife and I

    My domestic situation is the inverse of yours: I’m a Yank long, long resident in the UK with a British wife, whom I accompanied (during our courtship) on her first trip to the USA.

    Our itinerary included South Carolina, where she was agog at signs advertising such things as Shag Lessons!, or Shag Contest this Saturday!, or–even more perplexing–Come to Eastland Mall–the place for shoppin’ and shaggin’!!!.

    Two nations divided by a common tongue, indeed…

  16. Retired Prof says:

    and of course “Pussy Galore” for the femme fatale in Ian Fleming’s _Goldfinger_.

    Yes, now that you mention it. I never spotted that one.

  17. Then there was the 70’s ubiquitous American shag rug (in the Seattle area we even have Shag Apartments, for elderly residents of modest income) – or the down under crowd’s take on the American practice of rooting for one’s sport team…