Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin on Arthur Eddington

We present two similar descriptions of Arthur Eddington by Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

1. The following short extract is from Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's autobiography "The dyer's hand". It relates to the time when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge:


There was to be a lecture in the Great Hall of Trinity College. Professor Eddington was to announce the results of the eclipse expedition that he had led to Brazil in 1918 [Note by EFR: Payne-Gaposchkin's memory is incorrect here. Eddington actually led the expedition to Principe Island off West Africa for the eclipse on 29 May 1919. There was a second expedition which set out from England at the same time and went to Sobral in Brazil which has confused Payne-Gaposchkin]. Four tickets for the lecture had been assigned to students at Newnham College and (almost by accident, for one of my friends was unable to go) a ticket fell to me. The Great Hall was crowded. The speaker was a slender, dark young man with a trick of looking away from his audience and a manner of complete detachment. He gave an outline of the Theory of Relativity in popular language, as none could do better than he. He described the Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction, the Michelson-Morley experiment and its consequences. He led up to the shift of the stellar images near the Sun as predicted by Einstein and described his verification of the prediction. ... I began to attend Eddington's lectures. Those on Relativity revived the interest first stimulated in the Great Hall of Trinity College. The Determination of Orbits and the Reduction of Observations proved to be of more lasting value. Under his eye we computed the orbits of several comets - all, of course, with the use of logarithms. These computational sessions were topped off by the special treat of tea at the Observatory, at the invitation of old Mrs Eddington and her sweet and gentle daughter Winifred. There were only three or four students at these sessions and we were warmly received in the family atmosphere. It came as a slight shock to me to learn that Eddington's favourite composer was Humperdinck, and that the music he liked best included the songs of Harry Lauder, especially Roamin' in the gloaming. He was a very quiet man and a conversation with him was punctuated by long silences. He never replied immediately to a question; he pondered it, and after a long (but not uncomfortable) interval would respond with a complete and rounded answer.

2. The following short extract is from an interview that Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin gave in her office at the Harvard College Observatory on Tuesday, 5 March 1968. The interviewer was Owen Gingerich and the interview appeared in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics:


Eddington lectured on the determination of orbits, on the application of statistics to astronomy, and on relativity. ... He was rather unapproachable. He was very shy, very silent, not an easy man to talk to and I regarded him with considerable reverence. The professor appeared at his lectures when he gave them and then disappeared. He didn't have an office or anything where you could go and see him, so you had to go to one of his lectures and ask whether you might see him and he would say, "yes, come up to the Observatory and I'll see you tomorrow" or something. It was rather a business. I was, and still am, very shy. It could have been easier I suppose if I had gone around and asked him more often. He had done this as a sort of a kindness. I wasn't a student of his.


JOC/EFR November 2017

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