Fyodor Alekseyevich Semyonov

a Kursk astronomer, 1791–1860

His family name is so familiar isn’t it? Lets find out why. Once upon a time, one of the streets in the centre of the city named Knyazhaya — Beregovaya turned into Lower Lazaretnaya and since 1894, it was changed Semyonovskaya until the present day. But why? For that, we need to go back to the 1700s to follow up on an almost forgotten story.

On the quiet street of Semyonovskaya, you can find a two-story house, number 14. It is a historical monumental museum with the inscription on the plaque: “In this house was born, lived and worked a self-taught astronomer Fyodor Semyonov.”

Fyodor Alekseyevich Semyonov was born in Kursk on May 1, 1794, into a merchant family. His father sold cattle, meat, beeswax, honey, fish, and other goods. Having learned to read and write in a parochial school, from an early age the boy had to help his father in trade. But his heart was not in the business of trade. As Fyodor writes, “ these monotonous conversations tore my ears.” His favorite activities were reading books and observing nature and the starry sky.

Since his early childhood, he had a passion in contemplating the heavens, and in general all natural phenomena, such as lightning, thunder, snow, rain, and others. He often resorted to the people around him about what the Sun, Moon, stars, and so on are. But these people, though clever, answered him: “This is incomprehensible, but only God knows”, and some mocked him and said: “Fyodor! You’re being childish. What for do you need to know about it and what good does it do you? How will you live in the world? You’re a lost man”.

But the inquisitive young man was not lost. The boy became interested in reading the Holy Scripture, regularly attended Church services, and sang in the choir. Something striked his head so hard that he decided to isolate himself from society and live alone. Others called him a monk and even predicted that he would be one.

His fate was abruptly changed by an accident. In 1807, the teenager saw a comet flying in the sky. The unearthly vision startled Fyodor, he could not think of anything else but to study the heavenly bodies and natural phenomena. After visiting the Korenskaya fair, he bought the book “Astronomical Telescope” and made a note in his own hand about the date of its purchase. A year later, he was lucky enough to read Fortunatov’s Astronomy. According to him there is no other science feeds and elevates the human mind as much as astronomy. At the same time, he was convinced that “we must humble ourselves and reverence the greatness of the Creator.”

The young enthusiastic dreamer began to work hard to comprehend “the mysterious wisdom of the heavens”. But what mental strength it cost him. His peers made fun of him, called him a “white crow” behind his back and twirled a finger at his temple, saying that the guy was completely crazy. A person “not of this world” did not fit into the merchant and middle-class environment. Suprisingly his passion for natural science was not suppressed by his parents, and his mother Ekaterina Semyonovna even encouraged Fyodor, saying, “What God does not give, you will not have”.

Meanwhile, the everyday life in the Semyonov house went on as usual. At the age of 20, Fyodor married 15-year-old Anna Vetrova, a middle-class woman from the Yamskaya Sloboda. During a long life together, Anna Fyodorovna gave her husband fourteen children! Having inherited an estate with some capital debts from his deceased father in 1817, Fyodor was forced to engage in lawsuits. He won some cases, and got a lot of money from the defendants. So he was able to buy the land that belonged to his father where he started his own farm and planted an orchard. Otherwise, he could not support such a huge family.

Apparently, he was a wonderful father, worried about the fate of each child. An important role was played by the event described in the local history dictionary-reference “Kursk” “when the heir to the throne, Emperor Alexander II, passed through Kursk in 1837 with Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Semyonov was introduced to them. Elena Pavlovna drew her attention to the family circumstances of the scientist and promised to take on the upbringing of his two sons at their own expense, which was fulfilled two years later, when Semyonov took his sons to St. Petersburg.”While he was there he visited the Russian Academy of Sciences and left his weather observation papers.

Once there was a tragedy in the house — due to careless handling of fire, three-year-old son Vanechka was burned alive. Fyodor Alekseyevich “almost lost his sanity”. This is how he described his condition: “My studies disgusted me, and I, as an alienated son of nature from her harmony, sat with my eyes downcast all day, the most terrible, desperate, and incomprehensible ideas were born in my dark soul.”

The spiritual break came in the same year of 1822 after the birth of another son, named in memory of the deceased infant Ivan. The last was born in 1843, daughter Sophia, who is the mother of the famous inventor Anatoly Ufimtsev.

Closest to the self-taught scientist was a journalist and writer N. A. Polevoy, who published the popular magazine “Moscow Telegraph”. At Semyonov’s request, he translated French articles for him. They were almost the same age and became friends who often talked about science and arts in general. “Nights passed in our conversations and we did not notice them”, he claimed.

Even though family is an inseparable part of Semyonov’s life, he still devoted himself to science. He made optical glasses, telescopes, microscopes. His best invention was a powerful telescope that gave 40x magnification with a wooden frame. The astronomer began to observe the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

He worked hard and independently studied the heavenly bodies and on simple accounts he made the most complex calculations that formed the basis of his scientific work “Tables of indications of the time of lunar and solar eclipses from 1840 to 2001, on the Moscow Meridian, according to the old style, calculated by Fyodor Semyonov”, for which he was awarded the Gold medal by the Imperial Russian geographical society.

Famous French astronomer Arago stated that there will be no solar eclipses in Europe after 1842 till the end of the 19th century. But when the information reached Semyonov, he boldly opposed the great scientific authority and proved that there will be four more eclipses, and gave a detailed list of places where you can observe each of them, and as expected he was right.

Fyodor was a multi-talented person. In one side, he was an astronomer, mechanic, chemist, and a meteorologist. His weather observations were regularly published in the local newspaper “Kursk Provincial Vedomosti” and in a number of Metropolitan publications. On the other hand, he was seriously engaged in gardening. He planted an orchard with trees of apple and pear and kept an apiary. Later the Russian Economic Scientific Society elected him as one of its corresponding members and awarded him a medal for his success in gardening.

On April 18, 1860, Fyodor Alekseyevich died of an incurable disease — cancer. A mind that had no equal, not only in Russia, but also in the world, had left the physical world. He was buried in the Nikitsky cemetery.

On his grave, a monument is placed as a tribute to the exceptional being. If you look closely, on the top of the globe are the 12 horoscope signs.


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