Posted by: whipplelib | March 3, 2017

Fluddean Philosophy and the Weapon-Salve

This post is on an exciting acquisition for the Whipple: the Philosophia Moysaica of Robert Fludd, philosopher, physician and writer on the occult. Bound with a pamphlet on the ‘weapon-salve’ treatment of wounds, this was the last work of an intriguing author, and this copy’s provenance is linked to the discipline of HPS.

Philosophia Moysaica

vellum-bindingBound in contemporary vellum, this volume is the first edition of the first part of Fludd’s Philosophia Moysaica, the final synthesis of his own ‘Fluddean’ philosophy, an approach steeped in alchemical, Neoplatonist, Hermetic and Paracelsian thought.[1] For Fludd, the cosmos, and man’s place in it, was explained by the mystical linking of the physical world with the spiritual, the relationships between the macrocosm and the microcosm.

Born in 1574, Fludd gained his Master’s degree at Oxford in 1598 and then spent 6 years as a student travelling in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. During this time he developed his interest in the alchemical approach to nature and was likely exposed to Hermeticism and Paracelsianism. When he returned to England in 1604, Fludd gained his MD, moved to London and set up what was to become a very successful practice as a physician.[2] After several failed attempts, he was finally made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in September 1609 and became a respected member, counting William Harvey among his friends.[3]

Although a successful physician in London, Fludd’s works did not gain great popularity in England, and were typically published abroad. His earlier books had been published by Frankfurt and Oppenheimer printer Theodor De Bry, and then by his successors Johann Theodor De Bry and William Fitzer. Not only did Fludd avoid having to pay printers in London, but De Bry published them for free and paid him a generous fee. Philosophia Moysaica was published posthumously in Gouda by the printer Petrus Rammazenius in 1638; Fludd had died the previous year. It was not until 1659 that a translation appeared in England as The Mosaicall Philosophy: Grounded upon the Essential Truth or Eternal Sapience.[4]

title-pageFludd may have worked on the illustrations himself and was likely the draughtsman for his earlier Utriusque cosmi … historia, his first philosophical account of the macrocosm and microcosm.[5] The title-page of Philosophia Moysaica is engraved with geometric motifs of concentric circles, triangles, pyramids, hemispheres and blazing suns typical of Fludd’s imagery. The interplay of dark and light reflects the tradition of ‘Mosaic’ philosophy, and the 3 primary elements of darkness, light and the waters or Spirit of God.[6]

Fludd also included experimental demonstrations to support his philosophy, including the use of the Weather-Glass. This barometer-thermometer was used to show the effects of light-dark or heat-cold on the natural world. A glass bulb with a long, tube-like neck, this was a microcosmic symbol of the universe.[7]

The ‘Weapon-Salve’

weapon-salveBound in this volume is another work of Fludd’s: Responsum ad Hoplocrisma-spongum M. Fosteri presbiteri. This was also published at Gouda in 1638 and an errata leaf at the end of the volume shows they were intentionally kept together. Several other copies have been found with the same 2 works.

This pamphlet was the only work Fludd produced originally in English and came in response to criticisms levelled at him by a little-known English clergyman, William Foster. Fludd was no stranger to criticism. Evidence for his influence in Europe comes in the form of the unfavourable attention of significant figures such as Kepler, Mersenne and Gassendi, and Fludd defended himself in print.[8]

Foster’s complaint was directed at Fludd’s defence (in the Anatomiae amphitheatrum, published 1623) of the ‘weapon-salve’. This method was believed to heal a wound by applying a salve to the weapon that had inflicted it. It consisted of treating the wound by cleaning it daily (with urine) and wrapping it with a clean linen cloth, while the weapon was dipped in a mixture of the patient’s own blood, moss grown on a human skull, and human flesh from the body of a hanged man. It relied on a magnetic or sympathetic relationship between the weapon and the wound:

“The cure is done by the magnetique attractive power of this Salve, caused by the Starres, which by the mediation of the ayre, is carried and adjoyned to the Wound, that so the Spirituall operation thereof may bee effected.”[9]

William Foster went so far as to nail a copy of the title-page of his own work, Hoplocrisma-spongus, or, A Sponge to Wipe Away the Weapon-Salve, to Fludd’s door in 1631. He suggested that Fludd’s defence of the salve was enough to suspect him of witchcraft. In his own pamphlet, Fludd argues that the cure is not superstitious or magical, but natural, and suggests that these matters should be left to learned physicians (like himself).[10]

Provenance: Walter Pagel and the history of science and medicine

This volume is not only fascinating for its author and contents. It was purchased through the sale of books once in the library of Walter Pagel, celebrated physician and historian of science and medicine. Pagel (1898-1983) studied texts for their philosophical, metaphysical and religious background, and regarded the historical context of medical ideas and practices as significant, rather than judging works according to contemporary criteria. He was one of the founders of the Cambridge History of Science Lectures Committee, formed in 1936, with Pagel as secretary and Joseph Needham as Chairman. The Committee arranged for courses of lectures on the history of science and, along with the Cambridge Philosophical Society, was involved in negotiating Robert Stewart Whipple’s donation to the University. It is from these beginnings that the Department of HPS grew.

pagel-labelAfter Pagel’s death, the bulk of his library was sold at Sotheby’s, but he had left a selection of rare and valuable books on philosophy, chemical, alchemical and medical history, to his son, the astronomer Bernard Pagel. This volume came from Bernard Pagel’s collection.[11]


[1] Debus (1966), 105, 124; Debus (1967), 50

[2] Debus (1967), 50

[3] Debus (1966), 105-106; Pagel (1967), 113-114; DNB

[4] Debus (1966), 126; DNB

[5] DNB

[6] Debus (1966), 107-108; Debus (1967), 51

[7] Huffman (1988), 121; Golinski (2007), 112-114

[8] Debus (1966), 105; DNB

[9] Debus (1966), 121

[10] Debus (1966), 121-122

[11] Gaskell Rare Books, Catalogue 41 (2009), Introduction; Catalogue 42 (2010), no.58


Debus, A.G., The English Paracelsians (New York : Franklin Watts, 1966)

Debus, A.G., (1967), ‘Renaissance Chemistry and the Work of Robert Fludd’ Ambix, 14:1, pp.42-59

DNB: Maclean, I., ‘Fludd, Robert (bap. 1574, d. 1637)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 2 March 2017]

Golinski, J., British weather and the climate of enlightenment (Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Huffman, W.H., Robert Fludd and the end of the Renaissance (London : Routledge, 1988)

Pagel, W., William Harvey’s biological ideas : selected aspects and historical background (New York : Hafner Pub. Co., 1967)

Roger Gaskell Rare Books, Books from the library of Walter Pagel, Catalogue 41 (2009), Part I: 1483-1600; Catalogue 42 (2010), Part II: books printed after 1600

Library Assistant

Posted by: whipplelib | February 8, 2017

Exhibiting science books: The 1951 Festival of Britain

1951 saw London host the Festival of Britain. It was to be a celebration of the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition and aimed to be a “national display illustrating the British contribution to civilization in the arts, in science and technology, and in industrial design”1. The Festival was centred “around the twin themes of land and the people of Britain”2 and was planned to be unlike the 1851 Exhibition with no big demonstration of Britain’s power and industry. It was hoped the Festival would bring some post-war relief yet not be overly expensive. The Festival was based on the South Bank with a Dome of Discovery (imagine a smaller Millennium Dome) and a structure known as the Skylon, an aluminium-clad steel tower supported by cables. The Festival featured an Exhibition of Books at the Victoria and Albert Museum which included a range of sections covering the Bible, printing, children’s literature, books on politics and philosophy and a section called “The Scientist”.

“The Scientist”

The National Book League, along with its advisory panel, selected the books for this section of the exhibition as they were “landmarks in the progress of science”3. From what is the “first great scientific book to be printed in England”4, William Gilberts De Magnete, to Rutherfords book on radioactive substances, each has either been ground breaking in its own right or has led others to develop theories which have changed the face of science.


Title Page of Gilbert’s De Magnete

We have versions of a number of books in our collection that were displayed at the Festival of Britain. In a few cases these are the same editions but mainly they are later versions. Gilbert’s De Magnete was first published in 1600 and is mentioned by Zilsel as “the first printed book, written by an academically trained scholar and dealing with a topic of natural science which is based almost entirely on actual observation and experiment”5. Our copy is a second edition from 1628 which used to belong to the poet and playwright Ben Jonson (1572-1637).  We have four copies of Robert Boyle’s Sceptical chymist (the Festival showed the first edition, ours are later publications), which is viewed as his most famous work. In it he tried to convince chemists to use a more philosophical approach to their investigations into nature. Here we can see the title pages of three of the Boyles.

One book we do have which is a first edition that was displayed at the Festival is James Gregory’s Optica promota. In it Gregory investigates the refraction and reflection of lens and mirrors using conic sections and he described a design for a new type of telescope. Sadly his telescope failed because instrument makers were unable to match his specifications at the time. However, a telescope based on the same ideas was successfully produced years later by Robert Hooke. And surely no exhibition demonstrating the greatness of scientific books would be complete without a copy of the Micrographia? We have three copies at the Whipple, a first edition and two later copies published in 1667 and 1780. Below is a selection of images from the first edition of the Mircographia.

Another, book which is mentioned in the Exhibition and that we have a copy of is John Dalton’s A New system of chemical philosophy. Our edition is slightly different, being published in London rather than Manchester. Dalton is accredited with realising that atoms had weight and he created a very basic table demonstrating this.  Some of his atom drawings are very much like those the 1951 Festival used for some of its promotional materials. A Festival Pattern group was set up to “use patterns derived from crystallographic structure as the basis for repetitive patterns in mass-produced consumer products such as carpets, textiles, glassware or lighting”6. The designs were drawn by Dr Helen Megaw, a pioneer in x-ray crystallography. Designs used for the festival included Beryl and insulin and appeared in the exhibition areas themselves on curtains and wallpaper.  (There is an interesting video about this at Below are photographs showing some of Daltons diagrams.

About half of the books that we have in our collections that were represented at the Festival in 1951 (be they the same edition or later versions) are from the original Whipple donation. These tend to be pre 1860, but a few books from the early 1800’s (Dalton and Lyell’s Principles of Geology) aren’t from the Whipple donation. Anything published after 1900 is not from the Whipple donation even though they are dated before his collection was given to the University. So why did Whipple not collect copies of these important books? By looking at his original notebook, where his book purchases are listed, he didn’t collect items from his own time and only purchased items from before the mid 1800’s.

The Scientist today

What books would we display if the exhibition was happening today?  Discover magazine produced an article back in 2006 about the 25 greatest science books of all time which included works by Darwin, Copernicus, Versalius, Einstein, Dawkins and James Watson. But what about more modern 20-21st century books? Stephen Hawkings Brief History of Time perhaps? What about specific HPS books, Schaffer and Shapins Leviathan and the Airpump,  Cambridge History of Science volumes? Suggestions welcome!! Here are some more photographs of the books from our collections mentioned in the Exhibition catalogue.


1.    Wallis, N. (1951), ‘General Notes’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 99  (4848), pp.549-552

2.    Forgan, S. (1998), ‘Festivals of science and the two cultures: science, design and display in the Festival of Britain, 1951’, British Journal for the History of Science 31, pp 217-40

3. National Book League (1951) Exhibtion of books (Cambridge University Press)

4. idem.

5.    Zilse, E. (1941), ‘The origins of William Gilbert’s scientific method’, Journal of the History of Ideas 2 (1), pp 1-32

6.    Forgan, S. (1998), ‘Festivals of science and the two cultures: science, design and display in the Festival of Britain, 1951’, British Journal for the History of Science 31, pp 217-40



Library Assistant

Posted by: whipplelib | December 22, 2016

Z is for Zoonomia, or, the laws of organic life

L0003618 Portrait of Erasmus Darwin

Portrait of Erasmus Darwin. Engraving by Alpin and Alpin after J. Wright. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome images Available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

We end the series with another Darwin, this time Charles’ grandfather: physician, natural philosopher, inventor and poet Erasmus Darwin, and his ‘medico-philosophical’ work, Zoonomia.

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) became well known for his medical work and healing and ran a successful medical practice in Lichfield between 1756 and 1781 before going on to work in Derby. A man of varied interests, as well as treating patients Darwin was a keen inventor, and he studied chemistry, geology and botany. His absorption into the field of botany led to the construction of his own botanic garden and translations of works of Linnaeus. Darwin’s own poetic work, The loves of plants, was published anonymously in 1789 and centred on the Linnaean classification of plants. This was reprinted in 1791 as part 2 of The Botanic Garden, along with another poetic work, The Economy of Vegetation. An innovator in science and industry, Darwin was also a founding member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham.

Erasmus Darwin referred to his Zoonomia as his ‘medico-philosophical’ work. According to the Preface, it aimed “to reduce the facts belonging to animal life into classes, orders, genera, and species; and by comparing them with each other, to unravel the theory of diseases.” Representative of the theory that classification produces knowledge, the work also aimed to form a basis for good medical practice.

In Zoonomia he categorised the laws of animal motion as:
irritative (from the stimulation of organs of sense and muscular fibres from external sources)
sensitive (caused by pleasure or pain)
voluntary (caused by desire or aversion)
associative (when diseases of one organ or system caused other problems)

The first volume was published in 1794 (STORE 74:1). This was followed in 1796 by a second volume (STORE 74:2) containing a catalogue of diseases, divided into the classes of ‘irritation’, ‘sensation’, ‘volition’ and ‘association’. Also included was a materia medica of substances for medical treatment of these diseases. The Whipple’s copy of Volume I contains a typed note explaining that this Dublin edition was published simultaneously with the first London edition. Also inside the front cover is the bookplate of a Robert Wilmot, perhaps connected to the Robert Wilmot whose case is included under diseases of association and the suffering of gout in Volume II.


Particularly interesting in the Zoonomia are Darwin’s optical experiments on eye movements and afterimages, or ‘ocular spectra’. Volume I begins with studies of motion, including motions of the retina, demonstrated by experiments. These include the following examples on a tadpole shaped spot:

and different coloured circles of silk:

The Whipple’s 1794 edition has been hand painted, and the 3rd edition of 1801 was also hand coloured (STORE 170:19).

Included at the end of Volume I is a paper ‘On the ocular spectra of light and colours’ by Dr. R.W. Darwin of Shrewsbury. This was Robert Waring, Charles Darwin’s father. Born in 1766, he became a successful physician and set up his own medical practice in Shrewsbury. The paper included further optical experiments, including this one:


STORE 170:19

Zoonomia is also significant for the section ‘Of Generation’ where Darwin presented his theories, including that all warm-blooded animals may have “arisen from one living filament”, and that generation involved continuous development and the passing on of capacities through living creatures. He noted that many species have adapted in different ways and for different reasons. This section was revised and expanded for the 4 volume 3rd edition (STORE 170:19-22). In it, Erasmus anticipated many of the later arguments concerning adaptation and reproduction and Charles Darwin’s exposure to these ideas may have played a part in his own theory of evolution. The Whipple’s copy of the 3rd edition came from the collection of marine biologist George Parker Bidder.

Maureen McNeil, ‘Darwin, Erasmus (1731–1802)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013 [, accessed 21 Dec 2016]
Nicholas J. Wade (2010) ‘The Darwins and Wells: From Revolution to Evolution’, Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 19:2, pp.85-104
Nicholas J. Wade (2010) ‘Pioneers of eye movement research’ i-Perception, volume 1, pp.33 – 68 [accessed 21 Dec 2016]


Posted by: whipplelib | December 13, 2016

Y is for Young, books for the

We are very lucky at the Whipple to have a nice collection of books aimed at improving and expanding the minds of the young. The most obvious author we have is the Rev. John George Wood (1827-1889). His first book was published in 1851 and he aimed to encourage all people, not just children, to learn about natural history. Most of our juvenile books are from the 19th to early 20th centuries and are from both women and men authors.


Title page of Orbis sensualism pictus

The earliest book we have is Orbis sensualium pictus by Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670). It is full of wonderful woodcuts and was originally published in Latin and German in 1658. It is set out like an encyclopaedia and is noted by Murphy as “what is now recognised as the first picture book make expressly for children”. Noted as the “Teacher of Nations”, Comenius was born in Moravia, which is part of the Czech Republic and taught in Poland, Sweden and Hungary. Our copy was published in 1777 and is in English and Latin. Below are some examples of the woodcuts relating to books.

The second oldest book directed at children that we have in our collection is Kleine Katechismus der Natuur voor Kinderen by Johannes Florentinus Martinet (1729-1795). Martinet wrote around 20 books for children and believed that you had to study nature to understand the true miracles of Gods ideas of the world. Marieke van Delft has stated that “he was central to the education of the Dutch nobility and upper classes throughout the latter half of the 18th century and beyond”. As well as the Dutch version, the volume we have also has a French translation bound with it. It was originally published around 1778 and we own a later edition from 1792. Below are the two versions of the frontispiece, one for the French translation then the one for the original Dutch.


Murphy, P. (2009) “Using picture books to engage middle school studies” in Middle School Journal, vol.40, 4. Pp.20-24

Radl, O. (1944) “Development of Czechoslovak nationalism” in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol.232. pp61-70.


Posted by: whipplelib | December 7, 2016

X is for X-ray, or just funny bones

In spite of the Whipple Library having very little in its special collections abp1030649out the X-ray, I believe it is still worth making a note of this remarkable discovery which had an influence on later scientific disciplines (DNA diffraction pattern) as well as contributing to the up and coming radiology and radiography.

One item in particular caught my attention: the book written by Lewis Wright (2 years after the phenomenal discovery of X rays by Prof. Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in 1895) “The induction coil in practical work; including Rontgen X rays” (STORE 86:21). In this book a whole chapter is dedicated to Rontgen’s X-rays. This same book has a few interesting plates of X-ray pictures (a hand, fingers, various bone structures, including the pelvic region of a young boy, and the skeleton of a snake). Looking at these pictures, no one should wonder how this remarkable discovery has become a fundamental part of medical diagnostics.


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Posted by: whipplelib | December 5, 2016

W is for Ward’s World of Wonders

One of my favourite authors at the Whipple is Mary Ward (or the Hon. Mrs Ward as she was named on some of her books), writer on microscopy and astronomy.

The Microscope

Born in Ireland in 1827, Mary Ward took a keen interest in natural history and astronomy from an early age and proved herself to be an accomplished artist. As her enthusiasm grew into serious study, she put on exhibitions for her family and friends and hand-printed her own booklets. In 1857 she produced her Sketches with the microscope. It had begun as a collection of letters to her friend Emily Filgate on objects suitable for examination under the microscope. Ward lithographed the plates herself and they were then hand coloured by a Dublin engraver.


STORE 200:14

Sketches was published locally in 250 copies but it soon came to the attention of the London publisher Groombridge & Sons, who bought the copyright and republished it in 1858 as A world of wonders revealed by the microscope. The Whipple’s copy is beautifully bound in green gold-tooled binding.

The book combined a ‘panorama’ of the natural world, showing a real love of spectacle and the minute, with a guide to the practical use of the microscope. Ward taught herself various techniques for making observations and wrote honestly about the difficulties beginners faced when using the instrument. She relied on personal experience and emphasised the importance of making practical observations.


The Microscope, by the Hon. Mrs Ward. 3rd edition, 1870. STORE TURNER 6

Written at a key time in the history of microscopy, when good quality, affordable microscopes were becoming more generally available, A world of wonders proved popular and went through a number of editions and revisions. It later became Microscope Teachings, and finally simply The Microscope.

microscope-rossWard’s own microscope, used for her observations, had been bought for her by her father when she was 18. It was produced by Andrew Ross, a leading instrument maker of the time, and Ward opened her book with an illustration of it in Plate 1.



Telescope Teachings STORE CR 0:19

The Telescope

Mary Ward’s cousin was William, 3rd Earl of Rosse and she was a frequent visitor to Birr Castle. She met and corresponded with a number of leading scientists of the time, including David Brewster. Lord Rosse also had the famed great telescope,with a 6 foot diameter mirror, built at Birr Castle. This was completed in 1845 and Mary Ward was one of the first to make observations with it. She produced a companion volume to her microscopical work: Telescope teachings. Similar to her microscopy book, this presented the wonders of the heavens along with a practical guide to the use of a small telescope, with the aim of encouraging others to observe and study for themselves. It was llustrated with Ward’s drawings and observations, made using her own telescope, which had been recommended by her cousin. It was published by Groombridge & Sons in 1859. Also included were recent discoveries made with more powerful telescopes, including the comet of 1858.


Telescope Teachings
Plate 12: The Comet of 1858


The Telescope. 3rd edition. STORE 33:9

Another successful work, Telescope Teachings was revised to become The Telescope. The Whipple has the 3rd edition, bound in bright blue cloth, and the 5th from 1879 (STORE 93:32).

Although she had no real claim to the title, Ward was often named on her books as ‘The Hon. Mrs Ward.’ This was perhaps an attempt to reinforce her authority as an author at a time when it was likely difficult for a woman to find a publisher. Mary Ward’s writing was important in encouraging a knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the natural world among the general public and a young audience, at a crucial time in the history of the production and availabiltiy of scientific instruments like the microscope and telescope. Sadly she died in 1869 when she fell from a steam road carriage at Birr Castle.




G. L’E. Turner, ‘Ward , Mary (1827–1869)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [, accessed 7 Nov 2016]

Owen G. Harry (1984), ‘The Hon. Mrs Ward and ‘A windfall for the microscope’, of 1856 and 1864’ Annals of Science, 41:5, pp.471-482



Posted by: whipplelib | December 1, 2016

V is for … Vestiges

L0012623 Robert Chambers, engraved portrait

L0012623 Robert Chambers, engraved portrait Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Chambers, Robert 1802-1871 Milton Millhauser, ‘Just Before Darwin’, Middletown Conn., Wesleyan U.P., 1959. Frontispiece, page 22. Engraving portrait of Robert Chambers, seated, to right;anon;before 1864. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Anonymously published in 1844, The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation has been noted by Millhasuer as “…one of the most roundly hated books of its time.” It caused much outrage from gentlemen of science and other commentators when it was published. Samuel Richard Bosanquet (1800-1882) wrote a whole book on his dislike for it entitled “Vestiges of the natural history of creation”: its argument examined and exposed” in 1845. I think he goes a bit over the top:

The treatise which we have to examine and analyse is most engaging and interesting. We willingly accord to it all the attractions of novelty and ingenuity, the fascinations of beauty, the delights of theory. We readily attribute to it all the graces of the accomplished harlot. Her song is like the syren for its melody and attractive sweetness; she is clothed in scarlet, and every kind of fancy work of dress and ornament…. But she is a foul and filthy thing, whose touch is taint, whose breath is contamination; whose look, and words, and thoughts, will turn the spring of purity to a pest, of truth to lies, of life to death, of love to loathing

Adam Sedgwick anonymously reviewed the Vestiges for the Edinburgh Review in July 1845. He spends about 15 pages discussing the “anatomy of the authors mind” and then concludes that

“..our authors work is not merely shallow and superficial, but utterly false throughout to all the principles of sound philosophy”

Despite this loathing of the book, it still ran to eleven editions and sold forty thousand copies in Britain alone.

We sadly don’t have a copy of the first edition but do have copies of the 4th and 9th editions (STORE 152:28 and STORE 47:213). On both of these copies previous owners have added Chambers name to the title page. We also have a German version, Spuren der Gottheit in der Entwickelungs by A. Seubert which Livingstone has pointed out “…strangely incorporated material from William Whewell’s Indications of the Creator (1845)- originally intended to rebut Vestiges”.


Newspaper clipping

In 1884, Chambers name finally appeared on the title page of Vestiges. The photo here shows a clipping from the Glasgow Evening Citizen which is pasted into our copy of Chamber’s follow up to the Vestiges “Explanations: a sequel to Vestiges of the natural history of creation” which was published in 1845, explaining the revealing of the author.



Millhauser, M. Just before Darwin: Robert Chambers and Vestiges
Livingstone, D.N. Putting Science in its place
Lightman, B “Science and the public” in Harrison, P., Numbers, R.L. & Shank, M.H. (ed.) Wrestling with nature, pp.337-375


Library Assistant

Posted by: whipplelib | November 30, 2016

U is for the Universe

Throughout history, humanity has looked to understand the Universe and our place within it, and the Whipple holds many volumes of work on time, space, matter and energy. Another strength of the collections is the great and varied 19th century material, including many books written for a ‘popular’ audience and for the education of children and adults. Charles Blunt’s The beauty of the heavens: a pictorial display of the astronomical phenomena of the universe reflects both of these aspects (STORE CR 0:45).




The Fixed Stars

In the mid-19th century, Charles Blunt, a lecturer on astronomy and natural philosophy, saw the need for a series of ‘accurate yet popular’ plates illustrating the known Universe. First published in 1840, the Whipple has the ‘new edition’ of 1842.

The text of Blunt’s book is presented as ‘A Familiar Lecture on Astronomy’. Lectures were often used to communicate knowledge in an easy to follow format and Blunt explains his intentions in the Introduction (pp. v-vi): this was to be read aloud by a parent, teacher or other adult to a gathered audience. The family didn’t even have to leave the home to learn about the Universe and to enjoy and understand the beauty of the heavens. The lecture, which avoided technical language and focused on simple explanations, was even neatly divided into 2 sections so it could be spread out over more than one session if desired.



Most striking are the 104 plates accompanying this lecture, made from Blunt’s own drawings, paintings and observations. These covered the Sun, Moon, Earth and planetary system, eclipses, comets, asteroids, the milky way, nebulae, clouds, constellations and phenomena, such as rainbows and the Aurora Borealis, all in colourful illustrations.

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Posted by: whipplelib | November 29, 2016

T is for Tom Telescope

Tom Telescope and his Newtonian System of Philosophy regularly feature during special collections events at the Whipple.



Tom Telescope editions from 1797, 1838 and 1827

The text is a digest of natural philosophy presented for a young audience, cast in the form of ‘lectures’ by the eponymous Tom to members of the ‘Lilliputian Society’.


STORE 71:10 (1838), p. [1]

It was issued in a series of 14 editions over 77 years, initiated by the publisher John Newbery (1713-67), who specialised in children’s books, often ingeniously advertised. Newbury’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident in the other item in the Whipple collection from his print shop, namely A course of lectures in natural and experimental philosophy, geography and astronomy… (Reading, 1743) written by instrument maker Benjamin Martin. Adverts for Newbury’s wares, which included books and instruments, turn up on the frontispiece, and on a full-sheet fold-out plate illustrating a pocket reflecting microscope.

All but two editions of Tom Telescope were published beyond John Newbery’s lifetime. The earliest Whipple copy, “A New Improved Edition, with many alterations and additions, to explain the late new Philosophical Discoveries, &c. &c. By William Magnet, F.L.S.”, published in 1798, mentions no fewer than 5 firms on the title page: Ogilvy and Son; Vernor and Hood; J. Walker; Lackington, Allen, and Co.; Darton and Harvey. By 1827, the date of our second copy, Thomas Tegg of Cheapside was listed as a retailer, becoming the sole publisher of the final edition of 1838.

Jim Secord has shown how the content of ‘Tom Telescope’ changes over the course of its published life, reflecting shifts in perceptions of science in different political and historical circumstances.[1] It’s also possible to see across the three Whipple copies how the physical book changes, becoming slightly larger and more substantial in later editions, and illustrated with finer wood engravings as Tom himself grows up.

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[1] James A. Secord, ‘Newton in the Nursery: Tom Telescope and the Philosophy of Tops and Balls, 1761-1838’, History of Science 23 (1985), 127-151.

Posted by: whipplelib | September 20, 2016

S is for Sherburne’s Sphere of Manilius

Edward Sherburne’s Sphere of Marcus Manilius (1675) will be studied as a Primary Source in the HPS Part II undergraduate course this year.[1]


The text of the Sphere is a versified translation of the first book of Marcus Manilius’s 5-part astrological treatise Astronomicon, probably written in Rome in the first century CE. Sherburne’s publication, with an original Appendix that includes a catalogue of eminent ancient and modern astronomers, provides an interesting case study of the place of astronomy in gentlemanly society in seventeenth-century England, making it an ideal source for students of the history of science in the early modern period.[2]

As ever, the detail of that general picture is greatly enhanced by the evidence of a particular copy of the book, so, as Library staff busily prepare to support this and other taught courses in the Department with the start of term rapidly approaching, we take a moment to look at some of the features of the Whipple copy of Sherburne’s Sphere of Manilius that may help to bring this Primary Source to life.

pastedownThe Library acquired this copy at the sale of the private library of the Earls of Macclesfield at Shirburn Castle in 2005.[3] The sale attracted a lot of public attention as it brought to widespread notice for the first time the riches of a collection built up by generations of the Parker family. This was particularly distinguished by the scientific interests and patronage of father and son Thomas and George, 1st and 2nd Earls of Macclesfield respectively, who spanned the period from the latter half of the seventeenth to the second half of the eighteenth centuries.[4] The books acquired for the household during this time remained largely undisturbed at Shirburn in subsequent years, so evidence of contemporary use is especially valuable.

Among the contributors to intellectual life at the castle was William Jones (1675-1749), resident maths tutor to both Thomas and George Parker. By virtue of his connections in the field Jones secured for Shirburn the library of a notable mathematical pedagogue of the previous generation, John Collins (1625-83). Collins had extensive connections with the book trade, and is credited by Edward Sherburne as having seen several important mathematical works through the press.[5]

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Sherburne’s Sphere is an impressive folio volume, with illustrations that would have required careful supervision through the press, perhaps with assistance from Collins himself. Besides a striking and richly symbolic full-page frontispiece engraved by Hollar there are 11 engraved plates on separate leaves bound in the book.[6] All occur in either Sherburne’s Preface or Appendix, since Manilius’s text is not illustrated (beyond decorative borders and initials), though the use of multiple types sizes to distinguish between the verse text and accompanying commentary on each page would have kept the compositors and proof readers busy.

A manuscript note in the Whipple copy provides a brief index to the illustrated plates, describing the astronomical ‘schemes’ they depict, and, where relevant, indicating the source of the illustration, e.g.

“C. The appearance of the Sun, from Kircher ………………………….. p. 166”

In each case, Kircher, Grimaldi and Hevelius’s work is discussed in Sherburne’s text on the surrounding pages.


Comparison of the engravings in Sherburne with the original sources cited shows that they are close copies, though the versions in Sherburne are not signed, so we cannot attribute them. In the case of the map of the moon from Hevelius’s Selenographia the Sherburne version includes the corner decorations from the original plate, including the legend attributing it to Hevelius with the date 1645. But the plate mark on Grimaldi’s ‘Figura pro nomenclatura et liberation lunari’ a few pages later clearly shows that the outer edges of the original have been masked out, presumably because the content wasn’t relevant to Sherburne’s purpose. We would need to compare multiple copies of the Sphere to determine whether the uneven edges of the mask match or whether there are variations across the edition. Plenty to follow up here for a bibliographically minded Primary Source student…

We can’t be sure of the author of the manuscript note, but it’s plausibly an aide memoire for an early reader of Sherburne at Shirburn, guiding them quickly to illustrations of key astronomical features as envisaged by leading authors of the day.

Anna Jones



[3] Despite the similarity of names, there is no direct connection between Edward Sherburne (1616-1702) and Shirburn Castle. Sir Edward pursued his poetic interests alongside government service, including as Clerk to the Ordnance Office during the Civil War. Hugh de Quehen, ‘Sherburne, Sir Edward (bap. 1616, d. 1702)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 20 Sept 2016]

[4] R. Gaskell & P. Fara, ‘Selling the silver: country house libraries and the history of science’, Endeavour 29,1 (2005), 14-16.

[5] Edward Sherburne, The Sphere of Marcus Manilius, pp 116-117.

[6] See R. Horry, ‘The mind of the frontispiece: myth, meaning and motivation in Sherburne’s ‘Manilius’ (unpublished dissertation, 2003).

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