Urania's Mirror

Mystery of the designer and solution of Urania’s Mirror

Advertisements for Urania’s Mirror, as well as the introduction to its companion book A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy, credit the design of the cards to “a lady”, stated in the introduction of the book to be “young”. This led to speculation for over a century, with prominent female astronomers such as Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville being proposed, others simply crediting the engraver, Sidney Hall, alone, but none of these were seen as a particularly good fit.The solution was not discovered until 170 years later, in 1994, when, while archiving early election certificates used to propose people to be admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society, P. D. Hingley found one proposing the Reverend Richard Rouse Bloxam and naming him as “Author of Urania’s Mirror”. While he had several notable sons, he has no other known publications, his main distinction being to have served as assistant master at Rugby School for 38 years.

Urania's Mirror

The reasons for the disguise are unknown. Hingley notes that many publications of the time attempted to suggest women had had a role in their creation, perhaps to make them sound less threatening to both genders. He notes that anonymity might have been necessary to protect Bloxam’s position at Rugby, but notes Rugby was quite progressive, which makes this seem unlikely; and, finally, suggests modesty as a possibility. Ian Ridpath, noting the plagiarism of the art from A Celestial Atlas, suggests that this alone might be sufficient to cause the author to wish to remain anonymous.