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.
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”…