Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Visit to "Professor" Maury

The following is from A Belle of the Fifties by Virginia Clay-Clopton. She doesn't give a date, but the event clearly took place before June 1861. "Professor" Maury (she seems to have forgotten his full name, Matthew Fontaine Maury) was still the director of the Naval Observatory in Washington at the time of the visit she describes. I find her description of Mr. Maury rather unkind.

I remember an amusing visit paid by a party from our mess to the observatory of Professor Maury. It was an occasion of special interest. Jupiter was displaying his brilliancy in a marvelous way. For no particular reason, in so far as I could see, the Professor's great telescope seemed to require adjusting for the benefit of each of the bevy present. I noticed Professor Maury's eye twinkling as he went on with this necessary (?) preliminary, asking betimes: "What do you see? Nothing clearly? Well, permit me!" And after several experiments he would secure, at last, the right focus. When all of his guests had been treated to a satisfactory view of the wonders of the sky, Professor Maury delivered himself somewhat as follows:

"Now, ladies, whilst you have been studying the heavenly bodies, I have been studying you!" and the quizzical expression deepened in his eye.

"Go on," we assented.

"Well," said the Professor, "I have a bill before Congress," (mentioning its nature) "and if you ladies don't influence your husbands to vote for it, I intend to publish the ages of each and every one of you to the whole of Washington!"


Anonymous said...

I do not believe that "Professor Maury" made the comment this writer states. Matthew Fontaine Maury was very much a Christian and to make such a statement as she states in her book does not seem to be Christian-like. It seems more like attempted blackmail and that is not Matthew Fontaine Maury's nature. Perhaps she wanted to include as many famous or important people as possible in her book to help sell her book. If so, she catches the eye and causes one to wonder. Still, if any person knows about "Professor Maury" well enough then they also know her statement sounds wrong. PS. Thank you for my new book. You did well on Betty Maury's diary. I have one of those by Alice Maury Parmalee. It's an interesting comparison showing how Alice edited her mother's work. -- William Maury Morris II

Carolyn Carpenter said...

Mr. Morris:
I don't believe Matthew Fontaine Maury was anything like the portrait of him presented by Virginia Clay. She has unkind things to say about many people, and this is certainly an example of her barbed tongue.

And thank you for your kind words about my work on Betty's diary. It was a wonderful experience for me.