|Eise Eisinga by Willem Bartel van der Kooi, 1827|
The salon where I write my tales of the long 18th century is the place where I feel happiest; it is here, surrounded by the things most precious to me, that I am at my most productive, creative and settled. It is far from minimalist and full of things that bring the 18th century to life, whether pictures, books or little items of interest.
Another man who turned his home into a most personal place was my guest today, Eise Jeltes Eisinga. Employed in the wool industry, Eisinga's true passion was for astronomy and since childhood he was fascinated in the heavens, publishing his first book on the subject at the age of just 17. He harboured grand dreams of being the proud master of his own planetarium and, in 1774, decided to make this a reality.
Astronomers across Europe were keenly waiting for a conjunction of the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter that was due in May 1774. However, Reverend Eelco Alta, from Boazum in Netherlands predicted that this conjunction, due on 8th May, would mark the end of the world. In his own book he predicted that the planets and the moon would crash into one another and force the earth straight into the sun, resulting in a fiery demise for the planet and all life on it. Many who read the book took it as fact and soon people were just a little panicked that they were headed for Armageddon.
Sure that the Reverend and his readers were mistaken, Eisinga set about constructing the Eise Eisinga Planetarium in his home in Franeker. Although he missed the conjunction by some time, he eventually completed construction in 1781. As soon as it was finished, the planetarium was out of date as Uranus was discovered soon after and there was no space remaining on the ceiling in which to paint this newly discovered planet!
However, Eisinga's planetarium is still a remarkable achievement and King William I of the Netherlands certainly thought so; visiting the planetarium in 1818, he immediately decided to buy it for the nation and it remains in working order to this day!