The sport of visual hunting got started after the first predicted return of Halley's Comet. Charles Messier thought he was the first person to recover the comet in January 1759, but he then learned that a German farmer, Johann Georg Palitzsch, had beaten him by almost a month. This disappointment must surely have been a factor in inspiring Messier to start hunting for comets in the 1760s. At first, he had the field to himself, but his countrymen Jacques Montaigne and Pierre Mechain soon became his rivals. Messiers's fierce competitiveness is suggested by a famous story. Shortly after Messier's wife died, he heard that Montaigne had found a new comet. A friend, seeing Messier wracked with grief and thinking he was upset over his wife's death, said "I am sorry." Messier allegedly replied, "Alas! Montaigne has robbed me of my comet!" -- and then, trying to recover, "Poor woman."

-- P.123-124, Comet of the century, Fred Schaaf,  Copernicus, Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.