'To the Public'

Any readers of this blog who also follow my own blog or twitter feed, will have seen that I have spent 5 weeks of the summer in the US, researching pamphlet and visual materials in the collections there, as well as speaking at the 3 Societies conference about which Becky has posted already. I spent time in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Haven and Farmington, visiting a mixture of libraries and museums and discussing my work with some very helpful and supportive American academics. My huge thanks to the Paul Mellon Centre for awarding me the funds to make the trip. I could write a whole series of posts about the materials that I found, but a few items really stood out. I will never forget balancing on a ladder in the middle of the map room at the New York Public Library (which is, irrespective, a spectacular building, even more so than you have seen in Ghostbusters, Sex and the City, and other blockblusters), in order to get a full photograph of a magnetic map from 1745. This was A correct chart of the terraqueous globe, according to Mercator's, or more properly Wright's projection, on which are describ'd lines, shewing the variation of the magnetic needle according to observations made about the year 1744, which was released by William Mountaine and James Dodson, updating the observations and subsequent map produced by Edmond Halley in 1702. A pamphlet produced alongside this discussed the processes of calculating and drawing the lines of magnetic variation, so links in nicely to what I discussed at 3 Societies on the visualisations of longitude. Mountaine and Dodson produced a further update in 1756 of which a number of copies survive, but as far as I have been able to ascertain, the NYPL has the only copy of the 1745 version. Another week, and another beautiful bulding saw me in New Haven at the Yale Beinecke Rare Book Library. Here the magnificent books are all on display in a central glass tower (much like the British Library) and glow in the light from the translucent marble walls. It is mesmerising. In the, luckily slightly less distracting, reading room, I discovered two single handbills produced by two ‘longitudinarians’ who found themselves ignored by the Commissioners. Both Case Billingsley and Conyers Purshall produced handbills in 1714, in response to the longitude act, directly addressing the Commissioners. We have discussed many times, as a project (see for instance a previous post by Alexi), how pamphleteers might have interacted with the Commissioners before our first official meeting minutes appear in 1737. This gives us one method. Purshall had produced a pamphlet solving longitude in 1705, Billingsley one soon after the act in 1714, but both used a handbill format to update their schemes, make them sound more practical, answer criticisms which they foresaw, and to address the commissioners directly. It was just such handbills which were attached to the railings around Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields, where William Hogarth placed the ‘longitude lunatic’ about which I have posted many times (such as).

Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Indeed, hours spent poring over Hogarth materials in the Yale Centre for British Art and the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington were some of my happiest parts of the trip. At the Lewis Walpole I looked through albums of Hogarth prints and ephemera collected by George Steevens, one of his first biographers, in the late eighteenth century. These included a group of satires on Hogarth, mostly by Paul Sandby, which tie wonderfully with my discussions of madness and genius in relationship to the longitude problem. Among these was another (anonymous) handbill, satirising Hogarth’s new art theory based around the ‘line of beauty’ as like him trying to create a new theory of the sun. The handbill states that this ‘will be printed on a new invented Fool’s Cap paper’, a nice play on the intellectual and material overlap of the satire, and a reminder to me of the sheer joy of seeing the materiality of these pamphlets, handbills and prints, giving myself a tiny part of the physical experiences of my longitude actors.