Following my adventures with the Duke of Sussex, I have moved on to cataloguing five volumes of ‘additional papers’ submitted to the Society in its early years. For reasons that are not entirely clear, these papers were bound together as a discrete set, rather than being included with the main volumes of submitted papers. They are a glorious miscellany, illustrating the breadth of intellectual enquiry underway in the later 17th century and including a number of papers from well-known figures.
John Flamsteed, first Astronomer Royal and cataloguer of over 3,000 stars, is represented with two papers on moons: one is about our own satellite; the other lays out predicted positions for the “Luna ad Fixas Saturnum” in 1671. Assuming I have correctly interpreted the Latin, Flamsteed’s observations here must be of Titan, discovered in 1655 by Christian Huygens, and at that time the only one of Saturn’s moons to have been seen. Giovanni Domenico Cassini would discover four more by 1686, and in total 62 have now been observed.
Also present is John Wallis, the mathematician and chief cryptographer to both Parliament and the restored Monarchy. We have the text of two lectures that he gave at Gresham College, combining mathematics, astronomy and religious scholarship to derive future dates for Easter under the Church of England’s precepts – a reminder of a time when religious questions frequently drove academic research. And there are his comments on some works of geometry by Thomas Hobbes – perhaps part of their well-known and long-running polemical dispute.
‘An Essay of Enquirie into the Naturall Production of Letters By William Holder DD FRS (with an Appendix Concerning Persons Deaf and Dumb)’ bears on another controversy involving Wallis – a dispute with Holder over which of them deserved the credit for teaching a deaf-mute child, Alexander Popham, to speak. As it happens, there is a forthcoming Royal Society history of science lecture by David Cram on just this subject.
There is also a detailed description of Robert Boyle’s experiments with an air pump, in which he explored the effects of vacuum. For me it was serendipitous to read this only three days after visiting the National Gallery with a friend and seeing Joseph Wright of Derby’s wonderfully atmospheric ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ which takes Boyle’s work as its inspiration.
Just as interesting are the papers from some lesser-known figures:
Dr John Beale gives detailed advice on how to cultivate the best orchards for cider “with newly revised helps and encouraging examples”. In fact, horticultural and agricultural work such as this was regarded by the Society as being of great importance in the 1660s given its impact on the economy.
William Minors, ship’s captain with the East India Company, presents the Society with the logs of his five voyages to the trading post of Bantam, in Java. Included with these are two documents which illustrate the varied responsibilities of the captain of a merchantman: one is set of “articles and instructions for our better keeping company at sea, agreed upon by us whose names are here subscribed”; the next is notes on keeping merchants’ accounts “in the Italian style” – in other words a guide to double-entry book-keeping.
Overall there is much material worth perusing, and if anyone can work out exactly why these papers were bound together as discrete volumes, rather than being included with others received by the Society at the same time, the archivists and librarians here will be very grateful!