Continuing my posts on the themes that run between discussions of the longitude problem in the 18th century and the present day, I have come across a particularly appealing document in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

This is the menu from a meeting of the 'Odd Volumes' Society in 1921, at which Rupert Gould was the speaker. Rupert Gould is well known as the man who brought John Harrison's longitude chronometers back to mainstream attention and has been portrayed by Dava Sobel, and Jeremy Irons, as a slightly unworldly obsessive. This menu shows that he  also had a sense of humour, and was well aware of the links that could be drawn between Harrison's status as a 'natural genius' in the 18th century, and Gould's own independently acquired knowledge of the H chronometers in the 20th. The 'Odd Volumes' were a group of academically and gastronomically interested men who met once a month to hear a paper on subjects ranging from science to art. These papers were sometimes published as 'opuscula', beautifully bound volumes available only to members of the society. Their monthly menus were also illustrated and printed on fine paper, and are now collectors items.

Rupert Gould with H2.jpgJohn Harrison. PL Tassaert after Thomas King, 1768.jpg

On November 22nd 1921, Rupert Gould addressed the Society. The menu is illustrated with the  PL Tassaert engraving after Thomas King's portrait of Harrison. The emphasis is on Harrison, longitude inventors, and Gould himself as 'odd' or indeed mad. The inside of the menu quotes Edward Harrison's 1696 Idea Longitudinis on 'An Officer in the Navy ... who Cursed and Damned the Man who should discover the LONGITUDE,' and minutes of the Board of Longitude interviewing one John Baptist who 'wished to lay a scheme before them ... but, it becoming presently manifest that he was Lunatick, he was desired to withdraw.' 

The description of the evening's proceedings announces that, 'the enjoyable portion of the evening being over, the majority of the Brethren and their guests will hastily seize their impedimenta and depart with all possible celerity, signs of extreme consternation writ large upon their faces. For then the overgrown form of Brother Rupert T Gould (Hydrographer) will arise ... and commence an interminable harangue, full of sound and fury, upon John Harrison (Father of the Chronometer, and son of Henry Harrison, of Foulby). The outpouring of our Brother's chrononhotontologue having at length reached some conclusion ... a discussion, or more properly a vituperation, [will be] initiated, condemning both the matter and manner of the Hydrographer's discourse.' John Harrison's interactions with the Board also involved lengthy discussions 'condemning both the matter and manner' of his address. As the menu involves eight courses, including soup, sole, lamb, duck, ice cream and further desserts these must indeed have been quite some occasions, 'odd' in terms of both content and style.