Posted by: whipplelib | July 28, 2011

A work of theory and practice

The Whipple Library copy of Thomas Digges’ Pantometria (1591, 2nd edition) by Katie Taylor

First published in 1571, Pantometria was unusual in combining the practical and theoretical sides of geometry. In the first three books of the work, Digges dealt in turn with the measurement of distances, areas and volumes. He then included an appendix featuring a series of complex theories concerning geometrical solids. When publishing the second edition of the work, a copy of which is held in the Whipple Library, in 1591, Digges added further supplements to the end of the work on practical matters relating to artillery, although these additions were still couched in fairly abstract terms at times. The combination of theoretical understanding with practical results is a common theme in Digges’ work.

 

 

A well-used book
From the rich annotations in this Whipple copy we can infer that Digges’ readers saw Pantometria as a book intended for use. The handwriting of at least two individuals can be found in the margins of the work. The title page of the appendix on geometrical solids has been inscribed “John Reade his book Anno MDCXCI”, although this signature has later been crossed out. Interestingly, Reade did not emblazon his name on the title page which opened the work and betrayed an interest in more practical matters. We may speculate that Reade was more interested in geometrical theory than in practice.

Someone was interested in the first three books on practice, though, if the frequent annotations are anything to go by. It was common practice in the period for printers to include a list of errors that had escaped notice and in this copy one or possibly two readers have been through the book meticulously correcting the faults identified in the printer’s list. The annotator also had access to the first edition of the work, and inserted several notes and one extended passage (p. 50) from the 1571 edition which had been cut from the 1591 edition. 

 

 

 

Other annotations were used to identify passages of particular interest, making these sections easier to find when flicking through the book. Alongside the passage describing how to measure the distance of a ship from a shoreline, the annotator added the note “if your ground be not level”, highlighting the section on the special case where the ground is not flat (p. 27).

 

 

 

 

Notes were also used to summarise key points from lengthy blocks of text and to cross reference to relevant passages within the book (pp. 36-37) or in other volumes. Our annotator reminded himself, for instance, to refer to Tectonicon (p. 61), a book on related matters in surveying written by Thomas Digges’ father, Leonard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instruments in Pantometria
It is clear from all this that our annotator was well-read, but we also get a sense of his interest in instruments. Devices to help readers locate particular sections of books, such as contents pages and indexes, were becoming more common in the period, but the 1591 edition of Pantometria did not include such aids to the reader. However, on the title page of the work our annotator inserted a table of his own, possibly reflecting personal interests (see above). The table included page references for information on the quadrant, geometrical square, theodolite and topographical instrument, devices intended for the practice of measurement. Later in the work, we find an annotation commenting on a passage on the need to unite “reason” with “practice”. It seems then, that our annotator may have been adept in the field, as well as in the library.

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Responses

  1. I think one should mention that Thomas’ Pantometria was partially based on his father Leonard’s notes and observations. Like father like son 😉

    • ‘Quite right! In fact, on the title page of the 1571 edition, Thomas described the work as being “framed by Leonard Digges Gentleman, [and] lately finished by Thomas Digges his sonne.” An impressive pair, indeed!’
      Katie


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