Category: Early Modern History

Sir Hans Sloane, Abbé Bignon and Mrs. Hickie’s Pigeons

http://aiapets.com/?optionbinary=binary-option-broker-script Posted on November 26, 2013 by - Animal History, Early Modern History, Hans Sloane, Networks, Patronage, Royal Society

http://www.porttalbotwheelers.co.uk/?kisko=delhi-trade-fair&838=48 In 1720, Dr. Den. Hickie complained to Sloane about an ongoing dispute with a neighbour:

pop over to this website the Lord of the Manor who is intent upon me as a stranger to do me prejudice & particularly in destroying a few pigeons that my wife has always kept without molestation since first shee bought her estate in this Countrey.

fare trading senza investire soldi The country in this case referred to France, not just the countryside. Dr and Mrs Hickie had moved to Meulan sur Seine from London. It was “the profes that you have given me of your friendship whilest I resided & practiced in London”, Hickie wrote, that “encourages me to take the liberty of importuning you at present”. Hickie reminded Sloane that the friendship had not been one way, as he had been sending his observations to the Royal Society on Sloane’s directions.

http://hogahojder.se/?serimerko=bin%C3%A4ra-optioner-demo&ed5=a8 Sloane might not seem the obvious choice to assist with a neighbourly dispute in France, until Hickie specified who is neighbour was: one of the Abbé Bignon’s brothers. By 1720, Sloane and the Abbé had been regular correspondents for over twenty-five years (which Ann-Marie Hansen discusses in another post). Although Hickie had met the Abbé in person and been received upon Sloane’s “acc[oun]t wth a great deal of civility & friendship”, he clearly was not in a position to ask the Abbé directly for assistance. But he hoped that Sloane would intercede with the Abbé on his behalf:

http://www.cameronjamessalon.com/?silfyple=forex-piyasas%C4%B1-mutlu-meydan&0e2=e0 a word speakeing from the Abbé at his Brother is enough to free me from the disturbance that this man designes to give me therefore I hope that you’ld contribute to protect me by your recommendation.

his response This is a letter that highlights the complicated routes that patronage might take. One could not just approach someone of the Abbé’s standing on a limited acquaintance, especially in France where the rules of patronage were even more stringent than in England. An intermediary was crucial. And who better than the one who had introduced Hickie to the Abbé in the first place?

http://sebastien-poitevin.com/?semka=trading-opzioni-binarie-cos///\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'è But… it’s really the dispute over pigeons in this letter that captures my interest.

A rather fine pigeon. From John Moore, A Treatise on Domestic Pigeons (1765). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

http://aea.esperanto.org.au/?politexnika=form-8938-unvested-stock-options&2e1=54 A rather fine pigeon. From John Moore, A Treatise on Domestic Pigeons (1765). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

avatrade autotrader erfahrungen Pigeons were not just valuable livestock, but one that owners (or “fanciers” as they even called themselves in the 1700s) seemed to hold in great affection. The most common use of pigeons was for food, which provided a steady supply of meat year round. In his Columbarium: or, the pigeon-house (London, 1735),

forex företagskonto John Moore argued that pigeon dung was particularly important for fertilizing crops, making medicines, tanning leather and producing salt-petre. The dung was so good that it “challengeth the Priority, not only of the Dung of Fowls, but of all other Creatures whatsoever, on the accont of its usefulness in human Life.” Moore’s chapter on treating pigeon distempers suggests the lengths that fanciers might go to care for their pigeons: special diets, imported ingredients (such as tobacco) and attentive nursing. The attack on Mrs Hickie’s pigeons must have been upsetting for the Hickies on several levels.

the original source Alhough Hickie suggested that Bignon was attacking the pigeons because the Hickies were not local (a natural fear for anyone living in a foreign land), the reasons are likely far more complicated. Whereas there were no regulations on who might own pigeons in eighteenth-century England, French law was very clear–only lords of the manor had the right to keep or kill pigeons. This feudal right was considered to be such a fundamental mark of inequality that it was revoked in the second article of the 4 August Decrees of 1789, which were passed by the National Assembly to settle peasant unrest in the countryside during the French Revolution.

hop over to here It’s unclear which brother Hickie meant, but all three brothers were firmly entrenched in the aristocracy: Louis was the Major General of the King’s Armies, Jérôme III was the Intendant of Amiens and Armand Roland was the Intendant of Paris. Such men would not have looked kindly upon mere commoners, however well-to-do, keeping pigeons.

find Hickie may have been astute enough to spot the need for an intermediary in the dispute, but he had made a classic ex-pat mistake of fundamentally missing an important cultural difference. What would have been a simple matter of bad neighbourliness in England was at the heart of aristocratic privilege in France.

An early eighteenth-century ghost

Posted on October 30, 2013 by - Early Modern History, Experimentation, Hans Sloane, Hans Sloane's Personal Life, History of Science, Networks, Postgraduate Research, Royal Society, Sociability

By Felicity Roberts

One of the most entertaining set of letters in Sir Hans Sloane’s correspondence was written by William Derham (1657-1735), the rector at Upminster in Essex and an enthusiastic member of the Royal Society.  Derham’s letters to him are so lively that you get a good impression of their shared business and scientific interests–including, it seems, ghosts.

Sloane and Derham began to correspond around 1698 and continued until shortly before Derham’s death in 1735.  Since Derham’s clerical duties frequently prevented him from attending Royal Society meetings, Derham sent his natural history observations to Sloane to be read at Society meetings (Lisa Smith has discussed Derham’s activities in not one but two previous posts). This is especially true for the period during which Sloane was Secretary of the Society, between 1693 and 1713.  Derham wrote to Sloane with observations of the weather; details of his experiments on the speed of sound; and astronomical observations.

Perhaps the living of Upminster did not pay well, or perhaps Derham was just happy to do his friend a favour, but in 1705 it appears that alongside his clerical duties Derham also agreed to be an agent for Sloane in the purchase and management of a farm in a village Derham calls “Orset” (present-day Orsett, south east of Upminster).

The details of the property management letters are fascinating, not only because it shows the social and business connections forged between members of the Royal Society, but also because it suggests how Sloane increased his estate by investing in land.  Exactly how Sloane financed his museum is still not known–his medical practice, sugar plantation, hot chocolate recipe, eye remedy, and property buying must all have contributed.

But my favourite Derham letter is that of 13 December 1708. Derham wrote excitedly to Sloane with an “odd story” concerning Sloane’s farm tenants who:

[R]eceive disturbances constantly every night by great rumbling in the chambers, dashing the Doors open, & shutting them wth [damaged], that the woman’s Spinning-wheel (standing by her [bed]-side in the room they ly) is whirled about as if they spun, yt the warming-pan hanging by her bed-side is rattled & rung, that a woman who lay in one of the Chambres lately had the clothes pulled off her bed perpetually, & putting out her hand to pull them on, she felt a cold hand take her by her hand.

Richard Newton and John Hassell after George Woodward, The Haunted Cellar. Credit: The British Museum.

Derham’s story, which he has had second-hand from a neighbour, is rather breathlessly related.  And indeed, the details of the spinning-wheel operating of its own accord, and of the bed clothes being pulled off by a cold hand during the night, are pretty spooky.  But it seems that Derham’s http://makse.com/?kremel=speed-dating-perth-scotland&0bc=60 curiosity has been aroused rather than his index fear.  He encouraged Sloane:

 “You being a curious man, I wish you would come, & we would go, & ly there a night.”

True to their Royal Society philosophy, Derham proposes that they spend the night in the farm so that they might observe the events and collect evidence.  It is a delightful suggestion from Derham, but we do not know whether Sloane ever took him up on his offer!

Checking Tongues in the Eighteenth Century

A bored physician looks at the tongue of an old lady; suggesting the waste of physician's time by hypochondriacs. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A bored physician looks at the tongue of an old lady; suggesting the waste of physician’s time by hypochondriacs. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Miley Cyrus must, by now, have the most photographed tongue in history. My friend Jennifer Marotta recently  sent me this link about the diseases that Miley might pick up or spread by licking sledgehammers, mirrors and so forth. Although Jennifer had asked whether there were any nasty early modern equivalents, I became mesmerized by the sight of Miley’s tongue… and the secrets that it might reveal. Checking the tongue was a crucial part of diagnosis in early modern medicine.  

One of Hans Sloane’s correspondents, Giorgio Baglivi, was an Italian physician known for his work on medical practice. Baglivi, like Sloane, believed in the importance of bedside observation. In The Practice of Physick (1704), Baglivi outlined what a full medical examination should entail: “the Sick Persons Excrements and Urine, his Tongue and his Eyes, his Pulse and his Face, the Affections of his Mind, his former way of living, and the errors he has been guilty of in the way of Conduct” (30).

Physicians, of course, had no way to see or hear inside the human body. Examining the tongue was perhaps the best tool available, as it would provide

“a more certain and naked view of that state of the Blood than any other Sign”.

This included the taste, colour, “and other qualities of the Tongue” (157). In their letters to Sloane, several patients mentioned the state of their tongues.

Tongues were variously described as moist, clammy, or dry. Mrs Conyers, who had stomach pain, wheezing and shivering, apparently had a moist tongue and hands. In 1710, William Derham wrote that his wife had a “moist, & not very white” tongue, but by the following morning the tongue had become drier. Thomas Isted, according to his doctor, suffered from a clammy tongue, as well as sweating and sizy (viscous) blood.

Taste was also an important detail. Mr Campbell, who “had indulged his palate and rarely exercised as his business was very sedentary”, suffered from a foul and dry tongue. This was in addition to terrible urine (“thick and muddy”, “foul and turbid, gray, ropy and tough”) and a “muddy complexion”. The foulness had spread throughout his body.

The colour of tongues was most often described as black or white. In 1720, Dr Allen had several chest and stomach problems that were on the mend, but he also had a “slow fever, a brown but afterwards black Tongue” and low spirits. A “young gentleman” in 1725 had a violent peripneumonick fever accompanied with a “dry black tongue”; his strength was failing so rapidly that the physician did not want to try bleeding the patient. Sir William Thomson, in 1739, had a dry throat and “soon after the edge of the tip of his tongue grew hairy, white and almost transparent”. The physician believed “that an aphthous [blister] crust would creep down the throat and probably pass as a thorough thrush to the anus”. Unpleasant.

These details revealed the body’s interior. As Baglivi noted,

“if the Tongue is moist, so is the Constitution of the Blood; if dry, than the Blood is of a dry inflammatory Nature”.

An acidic taste, for example, revealed an acidic blood, or a salty taste meant salty blood (296). A canny physician could also make a prognosis, based on the evidence. For a patient delirious with an acute fever and a parched tongue (signs of inflamed viscera), the physician should avoid applying blisters, otherwise the patient would likely be “seiz’d with Convulsions before they die” (424). In malignant fevers, “a foul Tongue and trembling Hands are always dangerous in acute Diseases” (165). Black tongues were a bad sign. When a patient had an acute disorder, “a black Tongue is almost always followed by a Delirium” (88). Worst of all, though was a cold tongue: “Death follows soon after” (174).

Although displaying the body is part of the act for many female pop stars, the visibility of Miley’s tongue allows us to see inside her body in a surprisingly intimate way. The good news is, she is at present no danger of a mortal distemper.

The bad news is, her tongue does appear a little white. (Others have provided modern diagnoses here and here.) Baglivi did not mention white tongues specifically, but white-coated blood suggested inflammation of the internal organs. In any case, I sincerely hope that Miley doesn’t develop Sir William Thomson’s creeping thrush.

Lost Letters in the Eighteenth Century

Copies of William Dockwra’s postal markings used in 1680-1682. Credit: Michael Romanov, Wikimedia Commons.

Copies of William Dockwra’s postal markings used in 1680-1682. Credit: Michael Romanov, Wikimedia Commons.

Sending a letter around the turn of the eighteenth century was an uncertain business. Although the Penny Post (1680) had enabled the daily delivery of letters within ten miles of London, letters were generally sent with travellers or servants or, perhaps, by diplomatic channels, over longer distances. As Alice Marples recently hinted, warfare, lost ships, highwaymen, pirates and unreliable bearers were potential barriers to delivery. Hans Sloane’s correspondents, not surprisingly, had much to say on the matter of postal problems–including, sometimes, the letter-writer himself!

The path of sending letters was sometimes complicated. William Fraser forwarded Sloane a letter from Dr Martini in Riga. Fraser had left Martini’s letter behind in Hamburg by accident and had only just received it once more. Any replies were to be directed to Fraser at Robin’s Coffeehouse, which he would then forward to Martini in Riga. Fraser’s letter was undated, so there is no telling how long it took for Martini’s letter dated 20 December 1717 to reach Sloane. Jacob Scheuchzer of Zurich had a detailed back-up plan that he needed when he did not hear from Sloane, despite sending several letters, in 1716. He wrote to John Woodward in England who then forwarded Sloane a copy of the original letter.

This was a wise decision when letters and packages might be lost. Letters sent between countries were especially at risk.  Denis Papin, for example, only learned in 1709 that Sloane had sent a letter to him in France when a mutual acquaintance told him. Johann Philipp Breyne, writing from Amsterdam, was disappointed in 1702 when he discovered that Sloane had never received his letter from Rome, which had included (tantalizingly) a “curious account”. But even letters sent within England might go astray. In April 1702, Abraham de la Pryme, writing from Thorne, was unsure whether or not Sloane had received his last month’s letter about a man bitten by a rabid dog. To make matters worse, the Philosophical Transactions that Sloane had sent him had also not arrived!

Despite the problems, people seem to have trusted the post enough to send valuable items through it. William Sherard reported in 1701 that several prints had arrived from Paris and were at the post office awaiting payment of customs fees. Sherard also promised that his brother, once returned from Paris, would send Sloane some books. John Ray, in 1697, let Sloane know that he had finally received Sloane’s package of flower specimens.

Of course, sometimes lost letters were the ones ignored buried under Sloane’s piles of correspondence. In May 1704, Nehemiah Grew wrote to Sloane about one of Ralph Thoresby’s letters (subject unspecified). Sloane had apparently not yet responded to or returned the letter, despite his promises for over half a year. This, Grew complained, put him in a difficult position. He demanded that Sloane return Thoresby’s letter immediately. Sloane presumably returned the letter and it seems likely that the letter was eventually published in the Philosophical Transactions (1704) as the (delightfully titled) “An Extract of a Letter from Mr Ralph Thoresby, F.R.S. to Nehemiah Grew, Fellow of the College of Physicians and R.S. concerning a Ball voided by Stool”.

Sloane’s lack of a reply to Grew and Thoresby does, however, make me wonder how many of these ‘concerns’ about lost letters were actually Sloane’s correspondents issuing polite reminders to reply— a strategy that is as useful  in the age of electronic communication as it was in the eighteenth century…

October 9 is World Post Day: the celebration of the Universal Postal Union, founded in 1874, which allowed for the development of a reliable international postal service.

For more on early modern letters and post, see James Daybell, The Material Letter in Early Modern England (2012).

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Early Modern Friendship

By Alice Marples

We all miss our friends – whether they leave for study, work or holidays, their sudden absence in our daily lives can leave a bit of a gap. Most of us are fortunate enough to expect to see them again, sooner or later. Early modern absences were different, especially if they involved a lengthy journey to the New World. With countries at war, and the dangers of both high-seas and unknown lands, letters could take a very long time to go halfway around the seventeenth-century world. There were any number of possible reasons for miscarriage, some more deadly than others. Letters exchanged across these absences can therefore reveal the ways in which routine gossip and friendly banter were used to mask loss and genuine fear.

Neither the correct country or period – but you get the idea! [By Francisco Aurélio de Figueiredo e Melo (1854–1916) via Wikimedia Commons]

While Hans Sloane was in Jamaica, he frequently wrote letters home to colleagues in the Royal College of Physicians, to his scholarly patrons, and to regular punters in various coffeehouses, telling extraordinary tales of the New World. However, there appears to be a difference in the letters exchanged, depending on whether the correspondents were Sloane’s London-based friends or his far-away friends .

Though the highly-esteemed naturalist, John Ray, was a close and loving friend of Sloane’s for many years, he was almost entirely taken up with his own botanical cataloguing work at the point of Sloane’s imminent departure, and seems to think only in those terms: “If you goe to Jamayca I pray you a safe and prosperous voyage. We expect great things from you, no less than the resolving all our doubts about the names we meet with of Plants in that part of America.” Because he did not regularly see Sloane–however frequently they corresponded or visited one another–Sloane’s absence was, for him, no more an insurmountable issue than usual.

Sloane’s physician colleague, Tancred Robinson, on the other hand, missed him deeply. His first letter, in Robinson’s typical off-hand style, covers anxiety with medical banter, betraying his sincere affection and strong sense of Sloane’s physical distance:

My deare Dr This hopes to find you Safe at St Iago notwithstanding the great reports at London of the Drs dying at Sea, and of his being taken by Pyrates; I sacrificed daily to neptune for your preservation, your friends at Dicks and Bettys were mourning for you, but I conforted them with Cordiall and Alexipharmick draughts, they are all well and are like to continue so if they hear often from you, for without your frequent prescription wee can neither have health or so much as life. (Sloane MS 4036, f. 30)

Sloane, too, seems to have preferred to use his correspondence with his closest friends as a way of maintaining the same relationship they had while in close proximity. For example, much of his correspondence with William Courten contained advice for the elderly man on his health, acknowledging that his concern had grown now that he was no longer close at hand to watch over him. Sloane sought to ease the separation by reminding his old friend that he could anticipate his words and, therefore, not miss him at all:

you know my opinion about severall of your distempers & I am almost confident I am in the right, I hope for my sake you will abstaine as much from excesse in wine as the too good & complaisant humour will suffer you, you cannot doe me a greater favour then to be careful of your own health… I have att all times discoursd soe largely my opinion of the state of your body that I believe you may remember every thing very particularly. (Sloane MS 3962, f. 309)

In a later letter, Sloane longs to be reunited (though not at the expense of Courten’s health, however imaginary!): “you may be sure the last I have already is delightfull to me for this is indeed a new world in all things, I wishd heartily for you to day if you could have been back in your chambers at night, I find this place very warme.” (Sloane MS 3962, f. 310)

By writing in a way that maintained the natural, nuanced tones of the friendships left behind, correspondents remained bound together across vast distances. At home, reading letters aloud could conjure up the image of a person in the space they used to occupy. Robinson, for example, deliberately seeks to provoke an anticipated reaction from Sloane:

Wee are all overjoyed to understand by yours… that you weatherd your voyage so couragiously, and was in such good health under a fiery Sun, and new climate. I read your letter to all your friends at Dicks, Bettys, Trumpet, etc. who return you their best services, and hearty wishes for your welfare. Mr Courtin shewd mee your letters, and we often sacrifice a bottle to you. (Sloane MS 4036, f. 33)

Robinson is here either comforting the famously temperate Sloane with the assurance he and Courten are dutifully following his medical advice… Or teasing him over their defiance in his honour! If the latter, it is highly likely that Sloane would have been equal parts entertained, touched and infuriated by his friends in this instance. You can imagine him rolling his eyes as he closed the letter.

A Visit to Seventeenth-Century Jamaica

One of my favourite letters in Hans Sloane’s correspondence is one written by twenty-eight year old Sloane to Sir Edward Herbert on the 17th of April, 1688 (British Library, Sloane MS 4068, ff. 7-9). It’s a lively account of Sloane’s experiences of the new world, including earthquakes and pineapples!

A parodic cosmological diagram showing opposing aspects of the life of colonialists in Jamaica - langorous noons and the hells of yellow fever. Coloured aquatint by A.J., 1800. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A parodic cosmological diagram showing opposing aspects of the life of colonialists in Jamaica – langorous noons and the hells of yellow fever. Coloured aquatint by A.J., 1800. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Sloane had arrived in Jamaica in December 1687, after a three month journey, to be the personal physician of the Duke of Albemarle, Governor of Jamaica. Although Sloane suffered from sea sickness during the journey, followed by a fever on arrival, he had settled into his new surroundings by April. His ailments had been but a trifle—“a little seasoning (as I call it)”—and he had since enjoyed perfect health.[1] The climate, Sloane noted, was also more hospitable than people in England assumed. Mornings and evenings might be hot, but the rest of the day was temperate; “I’m sure”, he wrote, “I have felt greater heat in some parts of France then ever I did here”. 

On the subject of local diet, Sloane wrote that the fruits were not as good as European ones. Pineapples, he thought, were “far inferior” to pippins, but the watermelons were “very good”. The local water was particularly excellent and he insisted that “it has preserved my life I’m sure”. Perhaps it had, since he was in good health—unlike the settlers he treated, such as the Duke of Albemarle and his crony, the Admiral Henry Morgan, whose dissolute behaviour was well-known. Many settlers, Sloane suggested, had “a false principle concerning the climate” and ended up killing themselves “by adding fewell to the fire & drinking strong intoxicating liquor”. Sloane’s letter hints at an underlying belief that whereas intemperate men would find a tropical climate difficult, a temperate man would find it temperate.[2]

Since February, Sloane had come to “dread” the local earthquakes. He described the start of a local quake:  “I finding the house to dance & cabinetts to reel I look’d out at window to see whither people remov’d  house or no”. When he noticed the birds “in as great a concern as my selfe” and another shake occurred, he realised what was happening. He promptly “betook [himself] to [his] heels to gett clear of the house”.  Before he even reached the stairs, the earthquake was over.

Sloane’s later report in the Philosophical Transactions (issue 209, 1694) is less humorous, but provides details about both the earthquake and his life in Jamaica. He was, for example, specific about the timing. Three small shocks occurred at eight in the morning, lasting only a minute. The report also included accounts from across the island. Ships in the harbour felt it, but one man on horseback didn’t even notice. A gentleman on his plantation “saw the ground rise like the Sea in a Wave” as it headed northward. Minor though it was, the earthquake still caused damage. Many houses were “crack’d”, “ruin’d” or lost tiles.

In the Phil. Trans., Sloane also revealed tidbits about his residence in Spanish Town and other Jamaican buildings. Sloane lived in a “high Brick House”. It must have been a good size, as he had to pass through two rooms to get to the staircase to go down. There was apparently a third (or fourth?) floor since “a pair of stairs higher” suffered the most damage from the tremors, with most items on the shelves falling down.

King's Square, St. Jago de la Vega (Spanish Town), c. 1820-1824. Most of these were late eighteenth-century buildings, although as early as 1672, it was a good sized area with 2000 households. Original: Hakewill, (1875), A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica Scan: http://archive.org/details/picturesquetouro00hake Internet Archive

King’s Square, St. Jago de la Vega (Spanish Town), c. 1820-1824. In 1672, it was a good sized area with 2000 households. The buildings in this picture date to the late eighteenth century.
From Hakewill, (1875), A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica. Source: The Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/picturesquetouro00hake

The island’s Spanish architecture, in contrast, was very practical: low houses consisting only of ground-rooms, with supporting posts buried deep in the ground. This, Sloane explained, was “on purpose to avoid the Danger which attended other manner of building from Earthquakes”. He noted, for example, that “Inhabitants of Jamaica expect an earthquake every year” and that some believed “they follow their Rains”. Given the frequency of earthquakes in the region and the impracticality of Sloane’s residence, it was a good thing for him that this was a minor one.

While in Jamaica, Sloane did more than collect flora and fauna specimens and treat his patients. He keenly observed the world around him, whether it was the taste of fruit and water or the style of local buildings. Sloane might harshly judge the habits of the settlers, but his 1688 letter reveals an otherwise affable and curious young man who was enjoying his stay in Jamaica, even if he didn’t care for pineapple.

Or earthquakes.

[1] This referred to the process by which Europeans believed they would acclimatize to non-European climates, diseases, foods and waters.

[2] This fits with Wendy Churchill’s argument that Sloane attributed diseases to behaviour rather than to different climates or group complexions: “Bodily Differences? : Gender, Race, and Class in Hans Sloane’s Jamaican Medical Practice, 1687-1688”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 60, 4 (2005): 391-444.

Note from a Bristol Glassmaker

This weekend, The Sloane Letters Blog celebrated its first anniversary and the recent addition of the 3000th letter to the database! On this occasion, it seems appropriate to reflect on Letter 3000.

Bristol blue glass: unlikely to be the glass in question because it wasn't invented until later in the century. But it sure is pretty! Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, user Arpingston.

Bristol blue glass: unlikely to be the glass in question because it wasn’t invented until later in the century. But it sure is pretty! Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, user Arpingston.

The short letter was written in late October 1727 by a Bristol glassmaker, Jonathan Rogers. Rogers claimed to have discovered a method of glassmaking that would offer “Universall benefit to the state” and asked for Sloane’s assistance in promoting the technique. This sort of request was by no means unusual. People regularly wrote to Sloane asking for favours, such as providing reference letters or assistance with schemes, and offering to share secrets or give demonstrations.

What was interesting about Rogers’ letter, though, was his reference to recently reading a treatise on natural philosophy by Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680). This is what had inspired Rogers to write to Sloane. I wish that I knew my Glanvill well enough to guess what exactly Rogers had read that encouraged him to write to a man so far above his station.

That a glassmaker might read natural philosophy is not necessarily surprising; technical processes and natural philosophy regularly blurred in early modern Europe. But it strikes me as important that Rogers must have been reading widely. Glanvill, who tended towards the religious side of natural philosophy, is not the obvious practical choice for a glassmaker. The reference also suggests that Rogers expected Sloane, as an educated man, to be familiar with the work of Glanvill.

A short letter, perhaps, but one that might tell us something about eighteenth-century reading practices. If only it also told us the secret of why Roger thought his glass could be of “Universall benefit to the state”…

The Back-to-School Edition: Cesque 97

Welcome to the pre-modern blog carnival, Carnivalesque 97! Hosting the carnival has proved a welcome distraction from the busy-ness of a new academic year. It’s given me a great excuse to keep up with my blog reading.

The view from my office at the University of Saskatchewan.

The view from my office at the University of Saskatchewan.

In late summer, the pre-modernist’s mind lightly turns to thoughts of love (and sex and reproduction). Joanne Bailey has a fascinating two-part discussion on the significance of marital beds: “The bed and the emotional landscape of the household” and “Beds, marital sex and adultery“. Beds were at the heart of the household and had many practical and symbolic functions far beyond sex and sleeping. From Jennifer Evans at Early Modern Medicine, we learn about “A Very Sympathetic Husband” in 1691, who experienced the symptoms of pregnancy at the same time as his wife and how the Athenian Mercury explained it. Their marriage bed must have been particularly close. Catherine Rider at Recipes Project shares some “Medieval Fertility and Pregnancy Tests“: what, I wonder, would the sympathetic husband’s test have shown?

The Dittrick Museum Blog has an interesting series on eighteenth-century midwifery, but of particular note are the ones on material history. Brandy Schillace, for example, looks at the myths surrounding and uses of “Mystery Instruments” (forceps) in early modern childbirth. Cali Buckley considers “The Elusive Past of Ivory Anatomical Models” for understanding the anatomy of childbearing. The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice post on “Renaissance Rhinoplasty” might not seem to have much in common with sex, but rhinoplasty fulfilled a need that was directly connected to the spread of syphilis in the early modern world. Not everyone–then or now–could afford the luxury of an eighteenth-century condom, which was recently for sale at Christies

A school master is sitting at a table pointing at some books, at which a young boy is looking and attempting to explain. Etching by J. Bretherton after H.W. Bunbury, 1799. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A school master is sitting at a table pointing at some books, at which a young boy is looking and attempting to explain. Etching by J. Bretherton after H.W. Bunbury, 1799. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

After summer days of wine and roses (or, writing and research), scholars inevitably stumble onto the misty paths of historiography and methodology. In Cesque 96, Until Darwin recommended the series on “The Future of History from Below” at The Many-headed Monster. I’ll recommend it again, as it has continued throughout the month of August with lots of exciting posts. It’s worth reading the whole series, but for the most recent medieval and early modern perspectives, see:

Several posts this month considered the ‘how to’ of studying the past. In “The Divine Rebirth of Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch“, Hasan Niyazi at 3PipeProblem describes step-by-step how a painting was created, destroyed and restored. Ben Breen at Res Obscura provides a useful overview of how to read early modern texts in “Why does ‘s’ look like ‘f'”, while Eloise Lemay answers the question “what do paleographers do?“.

Andrea Cawelti at Houghton Library Blog (“Double Vision“) and Anke Timmermann (“Now you see it? No you don’t! Images in Alchemical Manuscripts“) at Recipes Project offer cautionary tales about how we interpret texts, as they wonder if what they see in their primary sources would have been meaningful to early modern readers.

A depressed scholar surrounded by mythological figures; representing the melancholy temperament. Etching by J.D. Nessenthaler after himself, c. 1750. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A depressed scholar surrounded by mythological figures; representing the melancholy temperament. Etching by J.D. Nessenthaler after himself, c. 1750. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

As we once again hoist our book-laden bags or hunch over student essays, it is perhaps not surprising that we start to think about embodiment. Over at Hooke’s London, Felicity Henderson looks at the scientific and craft methods that Robert Hooke saw and recorded in the seventeenth century (“Artists and Craftsmen in Hooke’s London”, part 1 and part 2). In an article for The Appendix, Mark Hailwood tries to understand how seventeenth-century people would have heard drinking songs–his conclusion might surprise you! (It makes perfect sense to me. I use a football stadium version of La Marseillaise when teaching the French Revolution.) From The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, we have a tasty experiment in cooking eighteenth-century salamagundi and lemon cheesecake.

On a more theoretical level, Sonja Boon asks us to contemplate what our bodies tell us “about the material [we] were exploring, but also about embodied knowledge”, while Serena Dyer reflects on “Experiencing the Past: Historical Re-enactment as Historical Practice“. Thought-provoking questions–just the way to start the week!

But I’ll end on a lighter note, with some interesting characters and tantalizing tidbits. Did you know that the East India Company set up an army of babies in the late eighteenth century? That there were sixteenth-century Irish Hipsters? And that the earliest known example of Latin writing by a woman was that of Claudia Severa in north England? Or let me tempt you with a “Swan Supper on the Thames“, recipes with “worm-eaten mushrooms” and the significance of “the big bad bean” in Antiquity…

Wishing you all a fine start to the new academic year! May you remain full of beans.

Two school masters are brought to the ground by a rope pulled across their path by pupils on each side of the corridor. Coloured etching by Thomas Rowlandson after himself, 1811. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Two school masters are brought to the ground by a rope pulled across their path by pupils on each side of the corridor. Coloured etching by Thomas Rowlandson after himself, 1811. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Cesque #98 will be held at Medieval Bex in October. Please send your nominations for the next edition here. It’s never to early to start nominating posts.

 

 

Missed Opportunities in Early Modern Exploration?

A map of "Terra Australis" by Jan Janssonius (1657). Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by: Joop Rotte.

A map of “Terra Australis” by Jan Janssonius (1657). Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by: Joop Rotte.

By Matthew De Cloedt

In early December 1721 James Brydges, the first Duke of Chandos, requested a meeting with Sir Hans Sloane. Brydges, a shareholder in chartered companies operating in New York, Mississippi, and Nova Scotia, wished to gain Sloane’s scientific expertise and advise an expedition of the Royal African Company headed by a “good Botanist” named Mr Hay. Brydges sent Francis Lynn, the company secretary, to Sloane’s residence three days later to answer his questions regarding the venture and to inform him of “the Nature of Drugs, plants, and spices” they were expecting to gather on the expedition.

Though the Royal African Company had lost its trading monopoly after the Glorious Revolution it continued to receive support from prominent individuals. Men like Brydges bet on its success, for the potential financial losses were negligible compared to the possible returns should a profitable, new commodity be discovered. Sloane was a natural choice for Brydges. He was wealthy thanks to his Jamaican interests, well connected to global trade networks, aware of the riches to be gained from botanical commerce, and friendly with the family of Brydges’s wife Cassandra Willughby. Sloane obliged Brydges’ request and directed company officials in Whydah to collect particular plant specimens. [1]

Sloane regularly received invitations to lend his scientific expertise or invest in business ventures. When he supported a person or company he connected them to a network that included the royal family and contacts around the world. Rejected proposals ended up in his large collection of manuscripts. Some of the more interesting schemes point to what might have been had Sloane seriously backed their proponents.

In the spring of 1716, shortly after he was created baronet, Sloane received a letter from Woodes Rogers asking for all the information he had on Madagascar. The Royal African Company had excluded individual traders from the West African coast, driving them to East African trade centres. English attempts had been made throughout the seventeenth century to establish meaningful trade in Madagascar, which was dominated by the Portuguese and Dutch, but they had little success. Rogers was determined to break into this market.

Rogers had already been a Colonial Governor and privateer in the Bahamas, but wanted to take on a more ambitious project in starting his own colony on Madagascar. There is no evidence that Sloane even replied, but his large library, reputation as a traveler and natural historian, and place within the scientific community attracted Rogers. It would not have been the first time Sloane helped a pirate.

John Welbe wrote several months after Rogers to request Sloane’s assistance. Welbe was in prison for a debt he failed to repay and promised to undertake a voyage to “Terra Australis Incognita” if Sloane helped him. Welbe had long been seeking a patron to support his voyage and forwarded a petition he had written to the Crown of Denmark as evidence. That Sloane was apparently Welbe’s second choice after the Danes indicates how great a patron he was considered to be, or how desperate Welbe was to be freed from bondage.

The unknown territory had been spotted before, but no serious attempt at settling there had been made. With Sloane’s help, Welbe might have gained the support of others with financial and/or natural historical interests in what became Australia, but nothing came of the plan. There is no evidence Sloane bailed Welbe out of prison or even replied to his letter, but in any case he did not sponsor any voyage to the “Terra Australis Incognita”. It would take another prominent Royal Society member, Joseph Banks, to really put Australia on the map.

With his busy medical practice and duties to the government, Royal Society, and Royal College of Physicians, Sloane was too busy to deal with all of the schemes proposed to him. But the map of the world by 1720 might have looked different if Sloane had chosen to throw the weight of the Royal Society and his social network behind Welbe or Rogers.

Counterfactuals aside, Sloane was an ideal patron for international scientific and commercial expeditions, for he had first hand experience. When he traveled to Jamaica in 1687 he was, like Mr Hay, a “good Botanist” trying to make a name for himself using science, commerce, and foreign travel as the foundation for a successful career. Understanding why Sloane ignored Welbe and Rogers might be simple. The two did acknowledge Sloane’s scientific expertise, but focused on securing his financial support. Sloane was not afraid of making money, but he was equally as interested in the opportunity to contribute to science through exploration and commerce. Appealing to this desire might have been the best approach.

[1] Larry Stewart, “The Edge of Utility: Slaves and Smallpox in the Early Eighteenth Century”, Medical History 29 (1985), 60-61.

A Death by Unicorn Horn in 1730

On the 28th of August 1730, Joseph Hastings died after receiving “several mortal Bruises with an Unicorn’s Horn”, wielded by John Williams of St. Andrew’s Holborn eleven days earlier. The assault occurred on a Holborn skittle-ground, witnessed by several local men.

Robert Linsey deposed that Joseph Hastings arrived at the skittle-ground “with the Horn in his Hand, and some old Clothes”. According to the defendent, he had been on his way for a pint of beer when he met a friend who encouraged him to drink a pint of gin instead (to help with his ague). While passing through the skittle ground, Williams picked up the horn and “ask’d the Deceas’d, what he would have for it?” When Hastings replied “it was worth more Money than he had in his Pocket”, Williams contemptuously offered three pence.

    Narwhal tusk. These tusks could grow to several metres in length and were often traded as unicorn horns. Powdered unicorn horns had medicinal uses. Credit: Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images.

Narwhal tusk. These tusks could grow to several metres in length and were often traded as unicorn horns. Powdered unicorn horns had medicinal uses. Credit: Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images.

Hastings unsurprisingly refused, demanding that Williams return the horn. Witnesses testified that Hastings bragged that he had “been bid more Money for that Horn, than any Man at the Ground had in his Pocket”—by no-one other than Sir Hans Sloane himself. Williams called Hastings “a fancy Son of a B – h, and if he spoke two Words more he would knock him down with it”.

At this point, things are a little unclear. According to the defendant, Hastings swore at him “and lifted up his Hand with the Bowl in order to throw it at him”. Williams claimed that he merely pushed Hastings off in self defence and that it was an accident that Hastings fell back onto the stump.

But some witnesses saw Williams as the aggressor. John Drew saw Williams strike Hastings in the stomach with the horn, then push “him on on the Jaw with the end of it”. After Hastings fell onto a stump, Williams again hit him with the horn until someone took it away. Williams then kicked Hastings “upon his Breast, Belly, and Members”. Hastings was unconscious for at least two minutes.

Charles Wentworth, added “That he had never seen so vile and barbarous a Thing done in his Life”. The other men at the skittle ground held Williams back to keep him from following Hastings, who “went away in a very bloody Condition”. Wentworth visited Hastings several times after the attack: his “Head had been broke, and his Head and Face bruis’d in five places” and his genitals “look’d like a piece of Neck-Beef”.

Much of testimony considered whether or not Williams could be responsible for Hastings’ later death. Apothecary Richard Buckley attended the patient on 27 August, noting that the scrotum was discoloured. He thought the cause of death was probably an apoplexy. The autopsy after Hastings died was inconclusive. Although surgeon Mr Smith believed that the injuries were the cause of death, both Noah Sherwood and Henry Hildip did not think that the injuries were severe enough. The deceased had a rupture in his scrotum, but minor bruises and no skull fracture. The real clincher, perhaps, was that several people saw Hastings walking around after his injuries.

For those close to Hastings, Williams’ guilt was obvious. Mrs Hastings provided the sad testimony that her husband had left home in perfect health and returned with a broken head, “the Mark of a Foot on his Face, and a Bruise the side of his Neck and Throat”. Her neighbours, Mr and Mrs Waller, and brother-in-law spoke about Hastings’ continual pain and insistence that, if he died, it was because of Williams’ attack.

The jury acquitted Williams.

In many ways, this is an ordinary tale of a brutal assault with terrible consequences. The case itself, though, gives us a tantalizing glimpse into daily life in Holborn: neighbours who witnessed the attack or helped to nurse the patient, the importance of the skittle-ground in local social life, the use of any weapon that came to hand, the prickliness of each man’s sense of honour, the use of gin as a remedy for ague…

But it is the unicorn horn and reference to Sloane that captures my attention. The fact that Hastings possessed a unicorn horn is intriguing: from where did he get it and for what price? It was clearly valuable to him—and of interest to others, such as Williams. Had he taken the horn out that day with the intention of showing it off to friends, or (perhaps for a small price) to people down at the local tavern? Sloane’s fame, moreover, even extended to skittle-ground skuffles. His name, it appears, was readily identifiable in popular culture with the trade in curiosities, possibly enhancing the value of an asociated object.

A fascination with curiosities was not only for the educated, but was widespread in eighteenth-century society. The unicorn horn tale is just the tip: people eagerly paid to see wild men or bearded ladies and other wonders. But the story also reveals that the wealthy were not the only ones who might have a prized collection of curiosities; those lower down the social scale could, too—even if it was just a single, and singular, unicorn horn.

You can read the records from the trial at The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online.