One of the most brilliant and prolific writers of the 19th/early 20th centuries was Agnes Mary Clerke. She was born in Skibbereen in County Cork, Ireland on February 10, 1842. She was the second child of three born to a talented mother and a father who was a keen amateur astronomer. The children were home-schooled, though when they moved to Dublin, Agnes's brother Aubrey studied astronomy and mathematics at Trinity College Dublin.

When the family spent several years in Florence, Agnes used the National Central Library to continue her self-education. She took notes from texts read in the original languages, ancient Greek, Latin, German, Italian and French. Upon her return to Britain, she was ready to start writing.

In all, Clerke published seven books, mostly related to astronomy. Her Popular History of Astronomy went to four editions and some reprints. Both professional astronomers and the public appreciated her work with its clarity, integrity and style. Clerke was also asked to write articles, both on astronomy and biography. She wrote regularly for the Edinburgh Review, Dictionary of National Biography, Encyclopaedia Britannica and occasionally for several other publications.

Clerke's final book was Problems in Astrophysics in which she used the depth of her understanding to describe open questions in astronomy, and consider how new observational technology might deal with them. The brilliance of the book moved the Royal Astronomical Society to elect her to honorary membership. (Women weren't allowed to be full members and no honorary memberships had been given to women for nearly seventy years.)

Mona Evans
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