Posted by: whipplelib | February 26, 2015

More reflections on ‘Science in Print’

Jose Beltran, a PhD student from the European University Institute in Florence, was a Visiting Student at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science during the Michaelmas Term 2014, and joined us for the ‘Science in Print’ series. Here he offers some reflections on how the seminars have helped his thesis work and beyond:

The “Science in Print” graduate seminar, led by Roger Gaskell, Anna Jones and Jim Secord, was one of the graduate training series I attended at the University of Cambridge during my stay in the Michaelmas term 2014 as visiting PhD student at HPS. The seminar covered in five sessions the most significant aspects of bibliographical analysis and the history of early-modern and nineteenth-century book production. Three elements of originality deserve to be highlighted. First, the seminar did not only cover the hand-press period (roughly the 16th to the 18th centuries), but also the mechanical-press period (the 19th century). Although an early-modern historian, the session on mechanical-press book production gave me a very useful perspective on the bibliographical production of my own period.

Second, the seminar succeeded in the delicate exercise of combining theory and practice. The stunning collections of the Whipple Library—and the convenient location of this at the heart of the department—make this kind of seminar very difficult to reproduce in other institutions. Original copies of pivotal works of the history of science were under our eyes for close inspection during virtually all the sessions. The restricted number of participants permitted a fantastically close interaction not only with the materials, but also with the faculty. The varied expertise of the three conveners (a curator, a bibliographer, and a book historian) helped to sustain the high-quality level and far-reaching ambitions of the seminar. It is also important to say that even if these kind of practicalities seem to stir more enthusiasm than theory, the seminar gave an introduction to material and descriptive bibliography that has very much transformed my way of working with printed sources. In any case, the important aspect of the almost constant handling of books is that it effectively transmitted what I think was one of the most crucial messages of the seminar: that there is an immense gap between the non-existent ideal version of a book and the multiple copies of it, and that it is with the materiality of these variegated copies, issues and editions that the historian has to work.

Third, particular attention was given during the whole seminar to images, and this was a particularly compelling element for me. My doctoral dissertation revolves around the work of the French Minim friar Charles Plumier (1646-1704), Royal Botanist to the King Louis XIV, well-travelled natural historian, and accomplished draftsman. It interrogates, through this specific case study, the role of visual representation in the daily work of naturalists travelling overseas in late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century France. In this sense, the Science in Print seminar was crucial to help me think anew the visual printed sources I am using in my thesis, and how their material specificities are the symptoms of not only the technical, but also the socio-cultural circumstances in which they were produced.

Among the points raised during the seminar while consulting and discussing concrete woodcut and intaglio book illustrations, there was one that has been especially influential in the writing of my thesis, namely the problem of fixity. Fixity has been one of the key notions in the history of book in recent decades, and particularly in the controversy between Elisabeth Eisenstein and Adrian Johns. Yet the existence or lack of fixity as a result of the culture of print has mainly been explored in the case of texts: images were assumed to be naturally less mutable than texts when a work was reedited, simply because the same plates tended to be re-used while a text has always to be entirely recast. After the ‘Science in Print’ seminar, however, I went back to my printed sources and I was urged to rethink fixity in the case of printed images, since the same copperplates were sometimes modified so as to adapt them to a book with a new target audience, or simply to adapt to new social, cultural, and economic circumstances. In other words, the seminar compelled me to go far beyond the traditional and simplistic polarity in the history of printmaking between intaglio and woodcut printing.

I would like to conclude with one specific illustration of the process of intaglio printing that struck me in particular, namely an etching from Abraham Bosse’s 1645 Traicté de la manière de graver en taille douce sur l’airin, a reproduction of which was circulated in the seminar. The image presents the scene of a printmaker’s shop: on the right, an engraver carves lines with a burin on a copperplate; on the left, an etcher incises through the dark acid-resistant patina covering his plate. At the back of the shop, two friars observe printed images made with the traditional and painstaking technique of engraving, while a nobleman admires a landscape done with a relatively new technique of etching, more convenient (etchings were slightly easier to make than engravings), and somehow mundane in comparison to the perceived austerity of engraving. Furthermore the etcher, whose technique was similar to drawing enough so as to be practiced by amateurs, wears the robbe de ville of the honnête homme; the burin engraver, whose complex art was rarely practiced by non-professional craftsmen, wears the bonnet of the artisan. Bosse’s etching is a fantastic example of one of the most significant contributions of bibliography to the historian: the idea that the correct understanding of the techniques involved in the production of books, both in the hand- and the machine-press periods, are consequential for the interpretation of the social and cultural worlds in which those books lived. The “Science in Print” seminar succeeded in conveying a master message: there cannot be a solidly grounded history having books for objects of inquiry without basic notions of bibliography. The five sessions taught its attendants, both in practice and theory, these essential notions. In this sense, the seminar has been consequential not only in the writing of my doctoral thesis, but also in my education as a historian.

Posted by: whipplelib | December 22, 2014

Reflections on ‘Science in Print’

‘Science in Print: Understanding book production from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries’ is a seminar series hosted by the Whipple Library in the Michaelmas Term. Over 5 sessions led by Roger Gaskell, Anna Jones and Jim Secord we look at various aspects of the production and illustration of scientific books during the handpress and mechanized periods (using examples from the Whipple’s collections), and how this matters when studying contemporary texts in the History and Philosophy of Science and beyond.

The series is open to all, from students to researchers. Read how Claire Sabel (HPS MPhil, 2014-15), one of this year’s participants, found the experience:

I took part in the ‘Science in Print’ seminar series while researching and writing my first MPhil essay. Although I had done a fair amount of work with early modern books and manuscripts before coming to Cambridge, the most I could have told you about my experiences was that the pages smell nice, and that it is proper etiquette to use a book weight.

P1000104Each week of ‘Science in Print’ brought new, concrete insights into the significance of book production that I was able to connect to the Renaissance natural history texts I was studying in the Rare Book Room of the University Library. The combination of independent work at the UL, and hands on learning with Science in Print created an enriching dialogue that considerably developed my appreciation of my sources, and provided ample resources for future studies of early modern material.

Although my reflections on the series are bound up in my personal project, I think explaining them in terms of my research shows how the course really made a positive and lasting impact on my appreciation of early modern books in particular, and the material and intellectual history of the book more generally.

Without digressing too much into the details of seventeenth century entomology, I’ll just briefly explain: For my essay I was looking at images of insects, particularly those drawn by the Dutch microscopist Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680), and thinking about how new and extraordinary knowledge about the details of the natural world might be communicated visually. Each week, ‘Science in Print’ introduced a new way of approaching the medium of the book, from evaluating format and paper size, to going through the intricate steps involved in setting type and producing engravings. Every seminar shed new light on Swammerdam: I was able to make more and more sensitive evaluations about the way his books and images had been made, and about the significance of decisions made by the author, engraver, and publisher, and by the subsequent scholars who translated Swammerdam’s work into English, French and Latin.

IMAG0107For instance, although the original Dutch text was over 400 pages, and the English translation only 40, the difference in both paper size and the fact that the Dutch was an octavo accounted for a considerable amount of the discrepancy. Moreover, the contrast between these more humble editions made during Swammerdam’s lifetime, and the considerably larger folio volumes made in the 18th century alerted me to the altered status of Swammerdam’s work 50 years after his death. The large, lavishly illustrated bi-lingual Latin-Dutch edition would have been received and read by audiences very differently than the diminutive original, which was more akin to an every-day devotional book than an authoritative taxonomical treatise.

I was able to bring my discoveries back into the classroom with renewed attention to the importance of image reproduction, which we covered very thoroughly, from early wood-blocks to the wood-engravings of nineteenth century periodicals. The diverse expertise of the presenters, as well as many of the participants, allowed me to understand both specific details about one book’s eccentric binding, and long-term changes in print, such as the evolving role of the publisher.

IMAG0118The course balanced concise but very informative lectures from each of these experts with plenty of time to handle material. The best part of this was being able to discuss queries with the seminar leaders as they wandered around the room. We also discussed and handled a variety of material, covering both classics like Galileo and Darwin, and lesser-known works. The emphasis on the production-side of the book trade yielded important insights into the reception of scientific books. For instance, understanding the difference between new editions (a new reproduction of a book, requiring a complete re-setting of the type) and new issues (already printed pages rebound with a new title page) can reveal the difference in demand for something like Hooke’s Micrographia (two issues of a single edition) and Newton’s Principia (three editions in Newton’s lifetime).

It was also a pleasure to get to work with the very rich holdings of Whipple’s collections, supplemented by some of Roger Gaskell’s teaching aids (original woodcuts and engravings were a highlight), and Jim Secord’s Victorian rarities. The series really impressed upon me the strength of the Whipple Library for both primary sources and secondary literature, and also provided a thorough overview of the relevant secondary literature on bibliography and the book trade, which can illuminate more of the world that Whipple’s rare books came from. Seeing the books come alive in the hands of students and staff helped animate the history of print in my independent project, and I’m certain will continue to do so in future studies.

Posted by: whipplelib | August 13, 2014

The family dictionary; or the many ways to kill a cat

The beginning of the dictionary

Noel Chomel’s Dictionaire oeconomique : or, the family dictionary was first published in French in 1709, with the English revised version by Richard Bradley appearing nine years later. It has an amazing long title, almost listing every subject it covers but what is “oeconomique”? Obviously it has something to do with economics, so were better to look than the book itself:

“Oeconomy, a certain order in the management of a family and domestick affairs: Hence the word Oecominist, for a good manager. But oeconomy may be taken in a more extensive sense, for a just, prudent, and regular Conduct in all the parts of life, and relative capacities.”

The book does contain information relating to this definition and a lot more. So should you need a remedy for an illness for yourself or an animal, need to know what you should be planting in your garden in a certain month or fancy trying a bit of distilling, this book is the place to go. Of course being a book from the eighteenth century it contains many things that would be considered outdated and bizarre today. The remedies can be especially cruel or just disgusting. If you suffer from asthma, how about a nice cup of alcoholic woodlice tea (see photo below showing how to make this lovely brew). There is a cure for deafness which involves dripping three drops of cat wee into the ear of the deaf person. The cat has to be black and to have been kept in a basket for three days. Some of the remedies for humans and animals, and even to treat problems in the home, are quite cruel. One cure for clap in horses is horrible:

“The method to cure it, is to cut off the head of a cat, and her legs, then to rip her open at her back, laying her insides, guts and all, to the sinew, with her back closing together upon the fore-part of the horses leg”

This has to be applied while the cat is warm and if needed more cats should be used so that the treatment can last up to four hours. They don’t like cats in this book very much, a treatment for getting rid of bedbugs involves killing and roasting a cat, mixing “the stuff that drops from her” with egg yolks and oil of spike and then placing the mixture where the bugs live.

The Dictionaire oeconomique, when not killing animals, does have lots of information about them. It can guide you through the different types of horses and what tasks they are best suited for. It also has sections on wild animals including birds, sadly some of the information reverts to cruelty and provides guidance on the best methods of catching them and in some cases preparing them to eat. I enjoyed reading some of the descriptions of insects including bees and ants. The bee is, according to Chomel, ruled by a King who is the only one to reproduce and there are “…also several princes or nobles, who compose the sovereign council of the kingdom”. These noble bees are bigger and more beautiful than the other bees and don’t have stingers, instead of looking for food, their job is to maintain peace in their kingdom (the hive). The king bee is larger than all the other bees but has smaller wings so, the author tells us, if he goes out of the hive and falls to the ground his nobles guard him until he can fly off again. However, should he die while stuck on the ground they will take his body back to the hive “as if they would bury him honourably in the tomb of his ancestors”. There is mention of a Queen bee as well but only briefly. Ants are also interesting and along with the bees have teeth (see photo).

Example of a Desert Table

Example of a Desert Table

Domestic affairs are cover in the book, as seen above with the bedbug treatment, as well as with the description of various food stuffs such as vegetables and ideas are given on how they should be prepared. There is even a guide on how to set out a “Desert or Banquet of Sweet-Meats” including two models, one of an oval table and the other for a round table (see photos)

In some sections of the book it is made clear who the author is, either by mentioning Chomel by name or by saying “The English author says…”. There are also sections when cultural differences between France and England are mentioned, for example the section on artichokes states “The remaining part of the French account being somewhat confused, and not so well suited to our English way of culture…”. The two authors do seem to have had very different lives. Noel Chomel was born in 1632 (dying in 1712) and was a priest based in Lyon. His family have been noted for containing a few scientists and doctors, including Charles de Lorme (1584-1678) who was chief physician to French Kings and is credit with inventing the plague mask. The English author, Richard Bradley (1688-1732) was a botanist, writer of popular scientific and medical works and the first professor of botany at Cambridge. He, however, failed to keep his promise of setting up a botanical garden at the university and had debt problems for most of his life, even leaving his once wealthy wife in debt after he died.

Overall, the Dictionaire oeconomique is a very interesting book and wouldn’t be out of place in any 18th century family bookcase.



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Parker, J. (1995) “The development of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden” in Curtis’s botanical magazine, 23 (1) pp.4-19

Egerton, F.N. (1970) “Richard Bradley’s illicit excursion in to medical practice in 1714”, in Medical history,14 (1) pp.53-62

Edmondon, J. (2002) “Richard Bradley (c.1688-1832): an annoted bibliograohy, 1710-1818” in Archives on natural history 29(2) pp.177-212

Egerton, F.N. (1970) “Richard Bradley’s relationship with Sir Hans Sloane” in Notes and records of the Royal Society of London, vol. 25 (1) pp.59-77

Santer, M. (2009) “Richard Bradley: a unified, living agent theory of the cause of infectious diseases of plants, animals, and humans in the first decades of the 18th century” in Perspectives in biology and medicine, 52 (4) pp.566-578

Hamshaw Thomas, H. (1952) “Richard Bradley, an early eighteenth century biologist” in Bulletin of the British Society for the History of Science, 1, pp.176-178

Spary, E. “’Peaches which the patriarchs lacked’: natural history, natural resources, and the natural economy in France” in Schabas, M. & De Marchi, N. (ed.) Oeconomies in the age of Newton PP14-41 Duke University Press, 2003

Posted by: whipplelib | April 14, 2014

A colourful Atlas

Book cover

Book cover

From small books to large, this time we have an item from the oversize section in our special collections, Edward Quin’s Historical Atlas. This book was published in 1830, two years after the author’s death, and continued to be published in various forms for about thirty years. It was reprinted in 1836, then in 1846 William Hughes (1818-1876) redrew the maps and published them separately from the text. The original work was also highly influential to Emma Willard (1787-1870) who published the Atlas to Accompany a System of Universal History which contains maps very similar to those of Quin. Examples of Willard’s maps can be seen here, and the only images of Hughes’ that I can find are here.

The book

The Historical Atlas contains text and maps ranging from The Deluge (B.C. 2348) to 1828, when the book was completed. Its preface states that the plan was to produce a “known history of the world as a whole…. as a consistent and uniform whole”. Quin achieved this by using the same scale for all of the maps and by placing each country in the same place in each. The text itself is a bit dull, it explains who ruled which empire/country, for how long, and who succeeded them. In some cases it gives an idea of a person’s character, for example Charlemagne’s son Louis the Debonair (also known as the Fair or Pius) was “of an imbecile and pusillanimous character”. There are also a few mistakes in the book, either by the author or the printing process I’m not sure. For example on page 23 it refers to the Emperor Adrian as the builder of the wall running from the Solway of Firth to the mouth of the Tyne.

Colours amongst the clouds

Foundation of Rome

Foundation of Rome

Each map is colour coded to distinguish the different empires: colours used include crimson, lilac, shades of blue, shades of green, the more exotic pink grey and chocolate. In most cases a colour was used repeatedly for the same empire, but sometimes the colour was used for different empires. For example pink was used for Scotland in the 13th period but after it became part of the British empire it is used for the United States of America. Described by a reviewer as “novel” and “ingenious”, the clouds add a new dimension to the Atlas that hadn’t been seen before. Goffart refers to the use of clouds as Quin’s “highly personal device combining function with decoration, make him a memorable cartographer”. Both Black and Gottart believe that the clouds represent growth of knowledge of the earth and the discovery of new countries rather than the progress of civilisation. The clouds vary slightly in their billowing and shading, with more movement as the years progressed.


In most cases the Atlas seems to have been well received. One reviewer however, did not like that the Garden of Eden was placed in Mesopotamia, calling it a “gross geographical blunder”. The reviewer, however, does go on to say that the book would be useful not just to the general reader but also to teachers and students. More photos from this colourful book can be seen below.

Black, J. Maps and history: constructing images of the past (Yale University Press, 1997)
Goffart, W. Historical atlases: the first three hundred years, 1570-1870 (University of Chicago Press, 2003)
Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Quin, Edward (1794–1828)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 28 Feb 2014]
Laurence Worms, ‘Hall, Sidney (1788/9?–1831)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 28 Feb 2014]


Posted by: whipplelib | February 19, 2014

The Little Rev. Wilson

Covers of the three books

Covers of the three books

A previous post allowed me to get over excited about a tiny phrenology book, this time I have three small books (triple excitement).

The Little Mineralogist, the Little Geologist, and First Lessons on Natural Philosophy have no publication dates but a search on COPAC gives us estimated dates ranging from 1830-1850. All three are under 15 cm tall with two of them (the Littles) looking a bit plain, though all of them do have plates inside.

The Little Mineralogist runs through a selection of minerals noting such things as their chemical composition, structure, frangibility, and lustre. It lets the reader know which mineral samples are easy to get hold of and which are “most necessary to learn to distinguish”. The Little Geologist details types of rock and describes the strata of England and Wales. It also covers fossils and has one plate showing what the fossils looked like in fleshy form. Both of these books are quite short and are a quick read.

Title page of First lessons, with signature

Title page of First lessons, with signature

First Lessons on Natural Philosophy is different from the Littles. It is set out in the question and answer format of catechisms, concluding with the question, what is natural philosophy, with the answer being “Natural philosophy informs us of the properties of bodies, and ascertains the immediate causes of events”. The book does cover the properties of bodies (impenetrability, extension, divisibility, attraction and so on) and basic scientific facts such as how rainbows are formed, what dew is, and information on the solar system. One section, which demonstrates the age of the book, asks for examples of good things the wind does. The reply is that it is good for blowing away bad air which makes a “dreadful sickness” and for moving ships around the world. As it is set out in the form of catechisms it does have a religious slant to some sections. At the front and back of the book there are adverts for other books in the series and the “opinion of the press” towards the Rev. Wilson’s books. His books are looked upon in a good light (no one is going to use a bad review though are they). His other publications include more catechism books, more lessons on natural philosophy, religious oriented topics, botany, astronomy, grammar, modern history etc.

The physical book itself is quite interesting. The cover looks to have been restitched to the main block of the book and a cotton fabric cover has been added. The colours on the fabric are still vivid and it would be nice to think it was added in the 19th century but we can’t say for sure. There is a signature on the page opposite the title page and the book also has a few pencil markings inside.

The author

Plate from the Little Geologist

Plate from the Little Geologist

Although the title pages of these books state they were authored by the Rev. T. Wilson, they were in fact the work of Samuel Clark (1810-1875). His Memorials, (available through which was published and edited by his second wife in 1878, gives us an insight into his life. Clark was brought up and educated as a Quaker but later left and joined the Church of England. Through his selected letters and journal entries we can see his internal debates about changing churches and how he worried about his parents reaction. One story from Memorials recounts the time his dog prevented a baby from crawling down some stairs by picking it up by its clothing and moving it back to the centre of the room. Supposedly the child makes another attempt at escape and the dog flips the child over on to its back with his paw to stop it crawling away. Clark toured around the UK and France visiting cathedrals and churches commenting on the various places he travelled to: how flat Lincolnshire was, that Edinburgh was beautiful, naturally and architectural, but has “detestable filth” and “The smells exceed the seventy-two of Cologne, and there is no eau d’Edinburgh to wash them out.” He says the people in Durham “are a very uncultivated race, and the poor children seem dreadfully neglected. I suppose this is common in the neighbourhood of mines”. He also has a connection with previous posts as in 1834 he gave a lecture to the Phrenological Society on temperaments.

Secord’s introduction to Peter Parley’s Wonder of the earth, sea and sky (available in the library), tells us that he was a “…keen advocate of scientific education for the young…… becoming fluent in six languages and mastering geography, chemistry and the physical sciences.” We also learn that he became a partner in the publishers Darton & Son (subsequently changing their name to Darton & Clark for the seven years he worked there). The three books here were also published by this company, the Littles by Darton & Clark and the Lessons by Darton & Hodge. Clark didn’t just used the pseudonym “The Rev. T. Wilson” he also used “Peter Parley,” “Uncle John,” “Reuben Ramble,” and “Uncle Benjamin.”

Although these three books are interesting examples of small educational works for children from the 19th century, I think the most important question to ask is will I ever get away from phrenology!!


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Posted by: whipplelib | December 6, 2013

Drawing on Chaucer

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Just a quick post this time looking at a book with a slight connection to departmental teaching: The workes of Geffrey Chaucer.

The Whipple’s copy is not a complete version and where other copies start with a title page and prologue, the copy we have starts with the Romaunt of the Rose. The catalogue record provides details of the pagination and states that it may be a “copy of either of 2 issues, STC (2nd ed.) 5075, 5076”. These numbers refer to records in Pollard & Redgrave Short-title Catalogue.  We can trace the cataloguing history of this book as there is a copy of the old catalogue record (from before the time of Newton and LibrarySearch) which a previous member of staff has annotated. They have spent a lot of time matching the book to the other versions including checking the foliation against copies on EEBO.

Our incomplete version is interesting for me because of the doodling inside (I’m not encouraging this behaviour). There are a few signatures, one page looks like it was used for handwriting practice and another has a drawing of a person on it. This shows that books are more than just something to read.


Posted by: whipplelib | October 31, 2013

The Conversations of Jane Haldimand Marcet

To coincide with our current book display in the library this post takes a closer look at one of its stars: Jane Haldimand Marcet.


Jane Haldimand was born in London, 1769, to an English mother and a Swiss father.  Her mother died when she was 15 leaving her to run the family household. This involved arranging the education of her younger siblings and organising her fathers evening soirees. She studied painting with Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence and used this skill when later illustrating her own books. She married the physician, and later lecturer in chemistry, Alexander Marcet (1799-1822), with whom she had 3 children.  Jane came into contact with various scientists and intellectuals of the day including Humphrey Davy, Edward Jenner, Thomas Malthus, Maria Edgeworth, and Harriet Martineau, becoming personal friends with a number of them. She authored around 30 books, some running to numerous editions, and died in London in 1858.

Her books

Title page of Conversations on Chemistry

Title page of Conversations on Chemistry

The first book Jane published was Conversations on Chemistry in 1805. This book and some of her other early works were published anonymously. In the preface to the tenth edition, which we have at the Whipple, she states that she was apprehensive about publishing partly due to her being female and because of her “imperfect knowledge”. The book features Mrs B., a motherly governess type character, and her 2 students Caroline and Emily. These characters appear in a number of her other books, while in others they are replaced with similarly eager to learn students.

Jane gained the information she needed for her books by attending demonstrative lectures at the Royal Institution and, for Conversations on vegetable physiology, the lectures of Augustin Pyramus de Candolle who was a Swiss botanist. Her husband had a chemistry laboratory built in their house so she was able to test out some of the experiments with him and had her scientific friends to write to for guidance.

Although she began writing books of a scientific nature, she did move on to other topics including language and grammar, the history of England, and religion. Another subject Jane wrote about was political economy. Shackleton notes that, along with Harriet Martineau, she was one of the “best-selling English economists of the first half of the nineteenth century” (p. 283). She also wrote a number of children’s stories including a book about the adventures of Bertha who travels from Brazil, where her father was working, to stay with her uncle in England. She writes letters in the form of a journal back to her mother describing life in England and tells her how she is improving herself by learning about animal and plants, different countries and history, and about the bible.

Plate from Conversations on Vegetable Physiology

Plate from Conversations on Vegetable Physiology

Authorship confusion

There is, however, some confusion over a few books that have been attributed to Jane. Conversations on botany was published anonymously in 1817 by Sarah and Elizabeth Fitton.  It has probably been credited to Jane Marcet as the authors state in the preface that they admired the author of Conservations on Chemistry and both books were published in the same series. Conversations on mineralogy is listed as a work by Jane Marcet in Polkinghorn’s biography of the author. However, there are no records on Copac or World Cat that link this book to Jane. The book itself, a copy is available via, has Delvalle Lowry on the title page with the date 1822. The preface refers to the success of Conversations of Chemistry and states that this is why the author has selected to use the format of conversations. It has been noted by Shackleton that Jane’s books were widely plagiarized in the United States and confusion about who authored them was rife possibly leading to the confusion.

Audience changes

When she began writing Jane Marcet was aiming her books at young women and girls, particularly those of the middle class. However, the books did have a much wider audience. Michael Faraday is often mentioned as being one person who was inspired by Jane’s writings. Thomas Jefferson is also quoted telling people to read her books. As time went on Jane changed her mind about not educating the labouring classes and began to aim her books at them also (Shackleton). Bahar also makes note of this change in her audience, stating “…she also moved away from feminized polite society towards an explicitly working class audience. She abandoned ‘conversations’, a format more adapted to polite society, for fables, deemed more appropriate for the uneducated masses.” (p.48)


Jane was a very successful writer who continued to edit her book well into her 80’s, new editions of a few of them were even released after her death.  Shackleton concludes that she had a secondary role as a popularizer but had she been working in a different context her work could have led to “genuinely creative work”.


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Shackleton, J.R. “Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau: pioneers of economics education”. In History of Education: journal of the History of Education Society 19:4  (p.283-297)

Polkinghorn, B. Jane Marcet: an uncommon woman (Aldermaston : Forestwood, 1993)

Bahar, S. “Jane Marcet and the limits to public science” in British journal for the history of science, 34:1 March 2001 (p.29-49)

Rossotti, H. “The woman that inspired Faraday” in Chemical world, June 2007 (p.58-61)

Posted by: whipplelib | June 25, 2013

Arabella Buckley: Spiritualist populariser of science

Buckley's book spines

Buckley’s book spines

Arabella Buckley (1840-1929) was a populariser of science who was acquainted with a number of well known scientists including Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Buckley and Wallace had more than just natural history in common, they also shared an interest in Spiritualism. Those who have written about Buckley  comment that her spiritualism doesn’t appear in her books and is kept hidden from certain scientific friends.

Her public side

Fairy-land of science and its follow up Through magic glasses are probably Buckley’s more known works.  Both these books use magical terms to teaching children about nature, science and evolution. In the first, fairies are likened to natural forces such as magnetism, gravity, crystalisation and electricity. She says in the introduction:

There are forces around us, and among us, which I shall ask you to allow me to call fairies, and these are ten thousand times more wonderful, more magical, and more beautiful in their work, than those of the old fairy tales. They, too, are invisible, and many people live and die without ever seeing them, or caring to see them (pg. 6)

A magician is the main character in Through magic glasses, who uses the magic glasses (microscope, telescope, spectroscope and photographic camera) to peer into the secrets of nature. He is in fact the Principle and founder of a public boys school who teaches them about such things as mosses, fungi, stars, and horses.

Cover of Life and her children

Cover of Life and her children

We have two books by Buckley in our special collections: Life and her children and its sequel, Winners of Life’s race. Both these books tell the story of life on earth from the amoeba to “The large milk-givers which have conquered the world by strength and intelligence”. These books have the occasional reference to fairy-land; for example the prawn is described as

…the crystal fairy of the sea, [and] … the crab, when big, is the lumbering armed giant, who destroys and devours without mercy, glaring out of his coat of mail, and not fearing any creature except a stronger crab than himself (pg. 167)

Both books are very descriptive and invite young readers to use their imaginations to discover these creatures and explore the worlds they inhabit. She moves through the animal kingdom demonstrating how the different species are related and develops a theme of mutuality. Gates has called her a pioneer in continuing “Darwin’s observations with far greater emphasis on mutuality”(pg. 169). One of my favourite descriptions in Winners of Life’s race is for the birds of prey:

It needs only a glance at them to see that they are strong destroyers, with their powerful wings, their sharp hooked beaks, their long toes with pointed claws, and their strong muscular thighs; and because most men admire strength and power, we call such birds noble, thought their nobility chiefly consists in loving their little ones, and asking neither pity not shelter from others, as they themselves are pitiless in return (pg. 174)

This mention of parental care reoccurs throughout the book and Buckley states that it is only after reaching the “clever, industrious, intelligent insects” that it begins and develops as we move up the “scale of life”.

Cover of Winners of Life's race

Cover of Winners of Life’s race

Both of these books have decorative covers and illustrations throughout. Not only do they contain general illustrations of animals, but also anatomical diagrams demonstrating how the various species are related. One of my favourite illustrations is that of the bat, especially after  Buckley describes them firstly as

…  a grotesque looking animal at best; but some of these leaf-nosed bats are simply hideous, with their wide-open mouth, sharp teeth, and skinny leaves sticking up around their nose.

Then as,

…gentle-looking.. [with] Their fox-like and intelligent faces [which] are a pleasure to look at, reminding one of the lemurs, and harmonising beautifully with their quiet and peaceful life among the fig-tree… (both pg. 237)

She is referring to vampire bats in the first quote then fruit bats in the second.



The “other” side

Buckley’s interest in spiritualism has been mainly documented through her correspondence with Alfred Russel Wallace, who she met through working as Charles Lyell’s secretary. Their letters discuss Buckley’s visits to mediums and her own attempts to communicate with spirits, they even attended at least one séance together (Fichman). Wallace sponsored Buckley’s application to join the Society of Psychical Research in 1896, which resulted in her becoming an Associated Member. She is mentioned in their Journal twice (Volumes 8 and 9) and their Proceedings (Volume  14), although two of these are related to one of the Society’s General Meetings where a letter from her is read out. In this letter Buckley describes a case of telepathy between herself and her step-daughter. On the other occasion she is noted for making a remark at another General Meeting about a suggestion experiment in which the medium was perhaps confused by the fact that there were two people in the room with the same name. A search for information on the step-daughter (Rosa or Rose Elizabeth Marie Fisher) brings up a mention of her in “Reincarnation for everyman” by Shaw Desmond where she is described as a lady of “high probity and scientific training”. The author mentions a case in which Rose, approaching a house she has never visited, describes the interior decor and furnishings and discovers, upon entering the house, that her “vision” of it was correct. Wallace definitely influenced Buckley in her investigations into spiritualism but it was her spiritualist mother who must have sown the first seed. Buckley visits mediums to help with a serious case of writers block (Lightman) and her letters to Wallace mention her communications with the spirit of her dead sister who refers to Wallace’s own son whose death greatly affected him.

Chapter title page from Winners of Life's race

Chapter title page from Winners of Life’s race

With her family and Wallace, on one side, and her more sceptical friends (including Darwin and Lyell) on the other, Buckley, Slotten, comments  “remained conflicted”. Lightman states that she kept this side hidden and didn’t show it in her books “to avoid raising questions about her credibility as a scientific author”.  With the references to fairies in  the four books looked at here, it can be viewed that spiritualism does appear in at least some of her work. As Silver’s article points out fairies were seen by the Victorians as a variety of beings including angels, spirits, elementals and prehistoric ancestors. In Through Magic Glasses the narrator mentions a book he saw when he was younger called World without end with a cover featuring a stile with a tree at each end and after asking a neighbour what it means he gets the reply

I do not rightly know what happens when there is no end, but I do know that there is a mighty lot to be found out in this world, and I’m thinking we had better learn first all about that, and perhaps it may teach us something which will help us to understand the other

Does this refer to life continuing after death with the possibility of rebirth or the taking on of another form, such as that of a fairy?  In the final chapter the narrator has a waking dream were he travels back in time and encounters Palæolithic peoples and then travels forward briefly meeting Romans, Saxons and finally the Britons. Could this be connected to Buckley’s experiences with mesmerism, perhaps linked to past life regressions? It could, of course, be that the references to fairies and magic is merely a descriptive tool used to make her books more appealing to children. We shall really never know.

(I became interested in Arabella Buckley through cataloguing past MPhil Dissertations so would like to thank the author, A. Silke, for bringing her to my attention. I also thank Jill Whitelock for helping me with the collections of the Society for Psychical Research at the University Library)


Bown, N., Nurdett, C. & Thurschwell, P. (ed.) The Victorian supernatural

Buckley, A. B. Fairyland of science (ed. by A. Fyfe)

Buckley, A. B. Through Magic Glasses via

Buckley, A.B. Life and her children

Buckley, A. B. Winners in Life’s race

Fichman, M. An elusive Victorican

Gates, B.T. “Revisioning Darwin with sympathy: Arabella Buckley” in Gates, B. T. & Shteir, A. B. (ed.) Natural eloquence

Gates, B.T. Kindred nature

Lightman, B. Victorian popularizers of science

Nicholson, H. “Postmodern fairies” in History Workshop Journal 46 (1998)

Silke, A. “Arabella Buckley, popularisation and The Fairy-land of science” MPhil Dissertation, 2002

Silver, C. “On the origin of fairies: Victorians, Romantics and folk belief” in Browning Institute Studies 14 (1986)

Slotten, R.A. The heretic in Darwin’s court


Posted by: whipplelib | March 28, 2013

Pocket books and almanacs

Following on from the tiny phrenology book and White’s Ephemeris I’ve become slightly obsessed with odd shaped books and almanacs. William Parsons Chronological tables of Europe is like a small flip notebook, bound at the top. It has one page for each century giving the names of the ruling heads of Europe. There is an index in the back so you can look up a monarch etc. by name and then follow the symbols to find out about them. The copy at the Whipple is, however, missing the table that shows you what the symbols mean but by using ECCO I’ve been able to track down a copy of the table.

Example of symbols used in Parsons

Example of symbols used in Parsons

The photo here shows a selection of the symbols used: the sun or sol as it is referred to in the table means “being ye most glorious of all ye characters the prince to whose name you find ye affixed is endowed wth ye greatest perfections. And by our historians esteemed a most accomplished prince.”, the symbol for Saturn (h like shape) means a cruel and bloody monarch, while the symbol for Mars (circle with arrow)  “denotes a prince of good courage and a warrior”, and the crescent moon is consigned to an unfortunate person. Other symbols appearing in the book cover various reign related information such as who they succeeded to the throne and how they died. The various symbols for cause of death include natural death, violent death, slain in battle, poisoned, beheaded, strangled, and died in prison. This book ends with a Perpetual Almanac, leading us nicely on to A pocket book by John Seller. Also containing a Perpetual Almanac  “For finding the day of the month for ever. For the past, present, and to come”, Seller’s book also provides a “description and use of the thirty-years almanack” and contains a history section. This section notes events which happened during the reign of Elizabeth I until 1678 including when the Thames froze over, the number of people who died of plague each year and when earthquakes occurred.  Many almanacs were political in tone, this one covering details from the reigns of James I, Charles I (mentioning him being “traitorously beheaded”) and Charles II and makes no references to Oliver Cromwell. Just like the previous book, this one is also missing pages when compared to copies on EBBO and does not have its original covers.

Title page of Playford's Pocket Companion

Title page of Playford’s Pocket Companion

Book number three in our little collection is Playford’s Vade mecum : or the necessary pocket companion. It is a slim tall book containing various tables and information including what you should be doing in your garden and orchard each month; weights and measures; postal rates; details of roads from London, including the distances to towns and cities and their market days; and the “rules, orders and rates, of hackney coachmen”. One of my favourite parts of this book is the rhyming guide to purchasing land (see photo below). This book used to belong to John Campbell, 4th  Earl of Loudoun (1705-1782) a Scottish soldier and Fellow of the Royal Society.

The books mentioned above date from the late 17th to 18th centuries but these types of publications were still available in the 19th century.  An index of dates by J. Willoughby Rosse was produced as a companion to Blair’s chronological tables.  It is an A-Z which covers the origins of countries, provides details about dynasties and eminent families, notes important battles throughout history, and other events such as earthquakes and major fires. Some sections are quite large, especially those which cover monarchs which have had the same name, for example there are about 15 pages on Charles’s. The slide show features various images from the books mentioned in this post. Its made a nice change looking at items that are not necessarily HPS related which have a more general audience.


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Posted by: whipplelib | February 25, 2013

White’s Ephemeris

Title page from 1794

Title page from 1794

Towards the end of last year we received a donation of five volumes of White’s Ephemeris running from 1794 to 1845. (For its full title see photo of title page). First published in 1750 and continuing well after the original author’s death, the main feature of the Ephemeris was its astronomical tables but over the years other content was added. This included the dates when the law courts sat, birthdays of members of the royal family, list of the ruling heads of Europe, tide tables, and the longitude and latitudes of places around the globe. By looking though these volumes you can chart the history of England and science as they include changes in monarch and the discovery of new planets. The volumes we have cover the discovery of Uranus which is referred to as the Georgian or Hershel planet.

Little seems to be known of Robert White, according to the title pages he was a mathematics teacher at Grantham in the 1750’s. After his death in 1773 the Ephemeris continued and in 1831 became “White’s celestial atlas” edited first by Olinthus Gregory (1774-1841) and then by Wesley Stoker Barker Woolhouse (1809-1893). Both of these men were editors of similar almanacs (Gentleman’s and the Ladies Diaries). Perkins mentions that from 1775-1870, along with two others, they “dominated almanac compilation”.

Bequest note

Bequest note

Although we know little of the original author we do know more about the history of the volumes themselves. They were gifted to Alfred James Pearce (1840-1923) from Frederic Willis of Huddersfield around 1894. Sadly I’ve been unable to find any information about Willis. Pearce is more known as Zadkiel, the author of a self named almanac. This pseudonym “is the Cabbalistic name of the angel of Jupiter, the planet of wisdom” (Curry). Taking up such names was common practice in the world of almanacs, especially those that contained astrological information. Raphael was another name used and Raphael V (R.V. Sparkes) became the second Zadkiel for a brief time.  Capp comments that “almanacs founded by ‘Zadkiel’ and ‘Raphael’ sold together roughly 300,000 copies each year by 1900″. So that we have the full set: Zadkiel I was Richard James Morrison (1795-1874). Pearce became Zadkiel III, editing the almanac from 1875 for 47 years. The volumes we have do contain either full or parts of Zadkiel’s Almanac from 1840-1846 bound next to the White’s Ephemeris for the same year. Both Zadkiel I and III had events in their lives involving the law. Zadkiel I was personally involved in a libel case in which he was accused of being an imposer and of gulling the public. He went on to win the case. Zadkiel III’s father, who believed in the use of homoepathy, was put on trial for manslaughter after one of his patients died through no connection to this belief. He was acquitted and both he and his son went on to work together in medicine. Pearce’s profile in the DNB states that he changed the character of Zadkiel’s Almanac “..demonstrating a combination of moral integrity and seriousness, unmistakably high-Victorian in tone, with an absolute conviction that astrology was a mathematical science of corresponding probability”.

Zadkiel's Almanac

Zadkiel’s Almanac



All five volumes have annotations written by both previous owners. These scribblings including the date and time of birth of Napoleon III, birth date of Ada Byron (who became Ada Lovelace, mathematician who worked on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine) and a note on the publishing history of Morrison (see photo). Most of the other almanacs we have in the library are nautical so these volumes are a nice addition to our collection.



Capp, B. Astrology and the popular press: English almanacs 1500-1800

Perkins, M. Visions of the future: almanacs, time, and cultural change 1775-1870

Curry, P. A confusion of prophets: Victorian and Edwardian astrology

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