I recently did a brief talk for some of the staff at Nesta, including their Centre for Challenge Prizes, on our project and outcomes of our research. During the discussion, someone asked what is, particularly for them, a very pertinent question: “Did the Longitude Act speed up the arrival of a solution?”.
My answer was something along the lines of “sort of, possibly, probably no…”. It is not the kind of question that we historians are necessarily very good at answering, involving as it does the counter-factual world in which no such Act was ever passed by the British parliament. Still, it’s an interesting idea to play around with.
All the things that first came to my mind were the reasons why it didn’t make the blindest bit of difference. For a start, it was not the only potential reward available for whoever should come up with a viable longitude solution. As well as the earlier Spanish reward system, the Dutch version was still on-going, as were prizes on offer from the French Académie des Sciences. Had there not been the 1714 Act in Britain there might have been another one or initiatives organised through private individuals or institutions like the Royal Society.
Even without these schemes, plausible navigation-related ideas were always a potential means of gaining patronage and, if successful, could lead to honours, rewards, customers and a viable business. While the Longitude Act held out the possibility of a very large reward, it was certainly not the only or – for most people – the most likely way to make new ideas around longitude pay.
The question of “speed” is an interesting one. It is impossible to predict how long new ideas should take to develop, but when we consider that it is two decades before the Commissioners of Longitude met as a group, and another three before serious money was dispensed, it doesn’t sound particularly speedy. The 1714 Act had looked for a “practicable and useful” solution for the public, but there wasn’t anything widely available until a century later.
Something else that disrupts the idea of a prize having a quick and direct impact is the very international and collaborative nature of the potential solutions. The astronomical knowledge and mathematical tools required to make the lunar distance method workable were the product of many minds, in several countries. It was a process that might have been sped up by much larger sums of money being thrown at observatories to employ many more astronomers, but probably not by the possibility of a future prize.
The timekeeping method was also more international and collaborative than is often remembered. While a single clock can seem obviously the work of an individual, it incorporates the skills of many piece-workers and collaborators, knowledge of predecessors and availability of particular materials. These things are specific to time and place, meaning that new technologies only become possible in those circumstances. If the time was ripe for Harrison, so too was it for Ferdinand Berthoud and Pierre Le Roy in Paris and (possibly, or in time) for Thomas Mudge, Larcum Kendall and John Arnold in London.
However, it is certainly true that the Longitude Act gained lots of attention and provoked lots of interest. It would also seem that the key players in the story – like John Harrison, John Hadley and Tobias Mayer – were, it not directly inspired to look at the problem as a result of the Act, certainly quickly interested in making contact with the Commissioners. Over time, their work was also to become of greater public interest and, therefore, better known as a result of the fame of the Act and all those involved in it.
It is probably also fair to say that Harrison would not have had the time or money to dedicate so much of his life to the problem without the financial assistance of the Board. I would also argue that investment in the later 18th century in the two methods – through the Nautical Almanac and other publications, trials, further rewards, training and so on – probably did speed up or at least allow their wider adoption. This, however, was only through new Acts and a changing understanding of the Board’s purpose.
All in all, my view is that had the 1714 Act, Harrison, Hadley and Mayer not existed, others would very probably have (and sometimes did) come up with similar solutions to the problems they tackled within somewhere around the same time frame. However, this is not necessarily a conclusion that I would claim for the progress of all reward schemes and challenge prizes. Things would be different should a prize, for example, highlight an issue people were unlikely otherwise to be working on or in a period with a much larger and more professionalised workforce than in the 18th century.
But that is only my view and, like all counter-factuals, probably begs to be shot down. I’d love to know what others think.*
*NB I am aware that the comments on this blog aren’t working properly at the moment. If anyone has thoughts and would like to share them please contact email@example.com and I will put them up for you.
Lucy Worsley, head curator at Historic Royal Palaces, has just finished presenting a series on BBC 1 called ‘Fit to Rule.’ In this she is considering the medical strengths and weaknesses of the British royal families as intrinsic to the success or failure of their reigns. The various royal palaces provide a lively backdrop for these discussions. In the second episode she investigated the health of the Hanoverians, paying particular attention to the ‘madness’ of George III. This is best known from the play and film by Alan Bennett, but is also told beautifully in the displays at Kew Palace, where George III was kept during his ‘mad’ periods.
Bennett’s play used the fashionable theory that George’s ‘madness’ was in fact a symptom of the physical, genetic blood disease porphyria, which famously turns the patient’s urine blue. But, Lucy Worsley’s programme discussed new ideas being developed by a research project at St George’s, University of London. This has pointed out that gentian was often used to treat mental disorders in the eighteenth century, and that this could account for George’s blue urine. Furthermore, researchers Dr Peter Garrard and Dr Vassiliki Rentoumi have been analysing George’s handwritten letters from his periods of illness, and are using them to argue that he was, in fact, suffering from a psychiatric disorder. They highlight how much longer and more disordered George’s sentences became during periods of illness, and how his vocabulary became much broader and more colourful. Likewise, his attendants reported that he became increasingly verbose and incoherent, sometimes talking incessantly until he foamed at the mouth. These are all symptoms which modern medicine ascribes to the manic phase of psychiatric illness.
I pricked up my ears at these arguments, because it is just such characteristics that I have been identifying in the speech and writings of John Harrison, our famous longitude clockmaker. His communication was sufficiently disordered, verbose and colourful, I want to argue, that the Commissioners of Longitude were worried that he too was going mad. Such features are clearly shown in the pamphlet which Harrison published in 1775 entitled A description concerning such mechanism as will afford a nice, or true mensuration of time. It is more than three times longer than any of his (probably ghost-written) other publications, it rants and rails at the commissioners and regularly gets lost in its own sentences. These run over multiple pages, and feature layers of footnotes and sub footnotes. The work opens, for instance, thus:
‘As first, or rather as here at the first [viz. as without the taking any Notice of the great or chief Matter, viz. of what pertains to different Vibrations, or rather, as more properly speaking, of what Advantage pertains to, or accrues from, the Largeness of a Vibration] the bare Length of a Pendulum can be no otherwise rightly considered or esteemed, but as only to what it bears, or may [as according to the common Application] bear in Proportion to the Length of the Pallats, and as together with such improper Powers or Circumstances thereunto belonging, or may, as farther thereunto belong; i.e. in other Words, [and as still in the first Place] …’
and we have not yet reached the end of the sentence! Likewise, in a later footnote, Harrison referenced a well-known scatological ode satirising Whiston and Ditton which is thought to have been written by one of the Scriblerian group. This ode opens:
The Longitude mist on
By wicked Will. Whiston.u
And not better hit on
By good Master Ditton.
So Ditton and Whiston
May both be bep-st on;
And Whiston and Ditton
May both be besh-it on.
Harrison’s footnote commented that, ‘Whiston was pissed on, and Ditton shit on, but surely these Men [the Commisioners] ought to be besmear’d or bespatter’d with both.’ Given such examples, it is unsurprising to find the Commissioners getting exasperated and irritated by their interactions with Harrison. In one meeting Lord Morton described a letter from Harrison as ‘such a confused, piece of Jargon as I believe you never have heard before, and you will see from it that whoever drew it up cannot express their own minds.’
Historians like Roy Porter and Clement Hawes have discussed just such features as characteristic of mad writing in the eighteenth century, and as key to physicians’ theories around it. Lucy Worsley doesn’t need to go to a modern medical research project, the same discussions are right there in the period! One wonders if, perhaps, George III recognised such characteristics of Harrison as latent in himself when the two men met in the 1760s, encouraging the king to help to ‘see Harrison righted’ by an award from parliament.
Last summer, despite the rain, our national life was enlivened not only by the Olympics, but also by the Queen’s jubilee. One of the things that struck me during the many events was the prominence accorded to the Thames. One of the major events of the Jubilee was the Thames pageant, in self-conscious reference to Canaletto; the river hosted the Olympic rowing and acted as a stunning backdrop for views of the equestrian events at Greenwich; and the Paralympic opening ceremony had a decidedly watery theme. The Thames has always been, and remains central to the physical and conceptual life of the capital. And yet, given that it’s a big, navigable waterway it seldom appears in the story of the longitude problem. One notable exception would be the Harrisons’ complaint in 1767 that Nevil Maskelyne had transported their timekeepers by land to Greenwich, rather than by boat, causing them to be ‘broke to Pieces.’
Such questions about the physical negotiation of metropolitan space in solving the longitude problem are something that I’m going to consider when I take up the Caird Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum next year. I was given a helping hand recently when I accompanied my undergraduate students on a walking tour of eighteenth-century London with Dr Larry Klein. We were lucky enough to be given access to the Royal Society of Arts which still inhabits its original Adam building by Embankment. The Great Room at the RSA is decorated with murals by James Barry which show The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture (all of which you can see online thanks to the ‘Your Paintings‘ project). Barry started these in 1777 and they were first exhibited in 1783. The series features six murals showing the progress from Orpheus to Elysium, or the State of Final Retribution. I was excited to see that Barry’s pantheon of ‘great and good men of all ages’ includes Hogarth and Swift among many others.
More interestingly, though, the penultimate painting in the series Commerce, or the Triumph of the Thames, shows Father Thames steering his path to commercial triumph with the rudder in one hand and compass in the other. His bark is carried by ‘the great navigators’: Sir Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, Sebastian Cabot, and our own longitude proponent Captain James Cook (his portrait is clearly copied from the Nathaniel Dance-Holland portrait now at the NMM). Given that Cook had only returned from his first voyage on the Resolution the year before Barry was given the commission, and the Endeavour voyage had only returned in 1771 this shows the speed with which Cook’s skills at navigating, aided notably by Kendal’s copy (K1) of Harrison’s timekeeper, quickly made him a recognised ‘national treasure.’
Looking up at Cook, I was reminded of another painted paean to national maritime success further down the river: the Painted Hall at Greenwich Old Royal Naval College, completed by Sir James Thornhill in 1714 (also a notable date for longitude as we know). Richard Johns pointed out to me that the figures behind the balustrade over the entrance to the lower hall include Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed observing the sky through his telescope to create the infamous star catalogues Historia coelestis necessary to establish the lunar distance method of finding longitude. The move over 70 years from Thornhill’s Flamsteed in Greenwich to Barry’s Cook by Embankment shows us not only the slow embedding of accurate chronometers as a rival solution to celestial observation for finding longitude at sea, but also the way that the problem and its proponents moved from royally patronised baroque Greenwich to the commercial, sublime environs of the RSA in the West End. The Thames is there in the story, but perhaps not in the way we would expect.
John Harrison, Remarks on a Pamphlet lately published by the Rev. Mr Maskelyne, under the Authority of the Board of Longitude
(London, 1767), pp.22-3
I started 2013 with an academic bang attending the annual conference of the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies for three days last week. The theme was ‘Credit, Money and the Market’ which attendees used to discuss a wide range of subjects relating to financial and intellectual concerns in the period.
I took the opportunity to create a panel with friends who work in medical and literary history in which we looked at how credit and credibility were created and assessed through ephemera in our relative areas. I considered Hogarth’s image of the longitude lunatic in A Rake’s Progress (predictably) in the context of the print and text ephemera that discussed the longitude problem as a ridiculous or malicious scientific project, and/or as the route to and result of madness. I used this to think about how our man John Harrison had such trouble establishing his own credibility and getting the Board of Longitude to give credit to his ideas.
It was a rich and stimulating conference. I heard about cultural knowledge production in botanical and zoological texts, and satirical attitudes to burning mirrors. I discovered what eighteenth-century gentlemen carried in their pockets, how the poet Kit Smart was patronised by the Delaval family, and how late seventeenth-century theatre began creating a language of political sensibility. I saw caricatures of the 1797 invasion crisis, a fascinating Goya painting of The Junta of the Philippines, and contemporary video art inspired by eighteenth-century financial crisis.
But what really struck me, like many, was Robert Hume’s thought-provoking keynote on ‘The Value of Money’ in which he argued convincingly that we need to take better account of the cost of cultural products and activities in our period. Money comparisons across time are notoriously problematic, but Hume made a good case for multiplying eighteenth-century prices by two or three hundred for present day comparison. This gave me pause. Many of the pamphlets that proposed longitude schemes, on which my PhD is based, don’t include the price on their title page, but of those that do the cheapest seem to have cost 6d. This sounds nice and cheap, but on Hume’s scale equates to at least £12 today. I baulk at paying £6 or £7 for a paperback let alone a slim pamphlet on a niche and heavily satirised subject. I am no longer surprised that such pamphlets crop up in so few libraries, I am frankly surprised that any one bought them at all!
The first time I came across an intersection of longitude and Christmas, it was while studying the changing usage of the term ‘longitude’ over the centuries. In the London newspaper The Instructor of 29 January 1724, a commentator employed the word in a fictional conversation between a table and a sideboard, which was intended to criticise the miserly meals being laid out by pious Englishmen (whom he otherwise deemed admirable):
Here I must subjoin a Dialogue sent me out of Yorkshire, between the Table and the Side-Board.
Side-Board. Methinks you have a rate Time of it. I remember the Time when upon a Christmas Day you have has as many Plates upon you as would furnish an ordinary Pewterer’s Shop, and now there’s only Four set, to shew your Longitude and Latitude; and anon we shall see a fricassed Lark in the centre.
For centuries, ‘longitude’ and ‘latitude’ had been used to refer to the length and width of objects, land or people, and even to the extent of human characteristics such as mental capacities. Larks had been eaten in England for centuries as well and were often roasted on small spits or sometimes baked in pies or preserved in jellies. Charlotte Mason’s The lady’s assistant for regulating and supplying her table of 1777 described a number of styles of roasting them, including this simple version: ‘To roast Larks. LET them be put upon a small bird-spit : they will take fifteen minutes : fry some crumbs of bread, and strew all over them. For sauce – plain butter in a boat.’
The effect of the Christmas season, from 25 December to 5 January (Twelfth Night), upon the workings of the Board of Longitude and its associates appears to have been limited. Before the Victorian era, the holiday season mainly involved some additional churchgoing, some better-than-normal repasts, more social gatherings, and increased charity far more than reciprocal gift-giving. There was also some of the raucous behavior which had characterised the holiday before the Protestant Reformation, such as youths and servants acting outside of their normal spheres.
After the Reformation, many religious groups including the Puritans had opposed the celebration of Christmas because of its purported ties to Catholicism. Its celebration as a feast or festival was banned from the conclusion of the Civil War until the restoration of Charles II to the throne, although many people ignored or objected to this constraint including through public protest. After the Restoration, many groups and religious officials continued to oppose Christmas revelry, including observant Quakers.
Most evidence points to the holiday season having had a limited effect on the Board of Longitude and associated actors and institutions. Their correspondence and relevant meetings often continued through late December and into early January. For example, the openly Catholic projector Jane Squire first wrote to Lord Torrington, First Lord of the Admiralty, on 24 December 1731 to seek feedback on her scheme for finding the longitude. Many of the longitude actors with commercial concerns, including ‘scientific’ instrument makers with retail shops, seem to have only abstained from work entirely on Christmas Day. The end of the year also typically saw them settling accounts, paying off employees and otherwise trying to put their books to right.
A taste of Christmas in early modern London can be had from the slightly earlier record of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who described his Christmas-time celebrations in the wake of the Restoration. The season repeatedly prompted some soul-searching and New Year’s resolutions from Pepys and featured additional churchgoing, but was otherwise different because of the making or purchasing of treats including Christmas or mince pies and fine cuts of meat, the sharing of small holiday meals with friends, and briefly a greater closeness between master or mistress and servants. There seems to have been limited gift-giving between Pepys and his wife and relatives, but money was regularly given to the servants and tradesmen. (This was sometimes called ‘box money’, which later leant its name to Boxing Day.)
The diarist and politician Samuel Pepys in 1666, as painted by John Hayls.
On 25 December 1660, Pepys visited church twice, enjoyed a dinner of ‘a good shoulder of mutton and a chicken’ with his wife and brother, and then retired alone to read and to play the lute until midnight. Two years later, the diarist attended church with the Court and then ‘dined by my wife’s bed-side with great content, having a mess of brave plum-porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner, and I sent for a mince-pie abroad, my wife not being well to make any herself yet. After dinner sat talking a good while with her, her [pain] being become less, and then to see Sir W. Pen a little, and so to my office, practising arithmetique alone and making an end of last night’s book with great content till eleven at night, and so home to supper and to bed.’ In 1663, he also ‘began to read to my wife upon the globes with great pleasure and to good purpose’ before returning to the office.
New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night were special dates in the early modern holiday calendar as well. On 31 December 1664, Pepys recorded that: ‘Soon as ever the clock struck one, I kissed my wife in the kitchen by the fireside, wishing her a merry new yeare, observing that I believe I was the first proper wisher of it this year, for I did it as soon as ever the clock struck one. This Christmas I judged it fit to look over all my papers and books; and to tear all that I found either boyish or not to be worth keeping, or fit to be seen, if it should please God to take me away suddenly.’ That Twelfth Night, after the diarist finally returned from the office, his wife celebrated with the servants and the traditional cake all night while he retired to bed.
In archives related to the Board of Longitude, one of the places in we can see mentions of the celebration of the Christmas holidays is in the records of voyages of exploration and science, since these ships were at sea for months at a time and typically over one or more winters. These reveal that Christmas could be a time for sailors to let off some steam for a brief period and, if possible, to indulge in special food and drink as would their land-bound counterparts. The journals of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks both describe the festivities aboard the Endeavour in the holiday seasons which passed during Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific.
Banks noted on 25 December 1768: ‘Christmas day; all good Christians that is to say all hands get abominably drunk so that at night there was scarce a sober man in the ship, wind thank god very moderate or the lord knows what would have become of us.’ On 24 December a year later he wrote that, ‘myself in a boat shooting in which I had good success, killing cheifly several Gannets or Solan Geese so like Europaean ones that they are hardly distinguishable from them. As it was the humour of the ship to keep Christmas in the old fashiond way it was resolvd of them to make a Goose pye for tomorrows dinner.’ On Christmas Day, ‘Our Goose pye was eat with great approbation and in the Evening all hands were as Drunk as our forefathers usd to be upon the like occasion’ – but on the 26th, ‘all heads achd with yesterdays debauch’.
A satellite image of Tierra del Fuego.
In 1774, during Captain Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific, the entire crew of the Resolution was able to dine on Christmas goose after hunting parties landed 76 of the birds in a cove on the western side of Tierra del Fuego. (The cove was within a sound which the captain later named Christmas Sound – just as on the third voyage to the Pacific, he named Christmas Harbour on one of the Kerguelen or Desolation Islands for the date on which the ship first anchored there.)
Cook recorded that, ‘I was able to make distribution to the whole crew, which was the more acceptable on account of the approaching festival. For had not Providence thus singularly provided for us, our Christmas cheer must have been salt beef and pork. … we had not experienced such fare for some time. Roast and oiled geese, goose-pye, etc. was a treat little known to us; and we had yet some Madeira wine left, which was the only article of our provision that was mended by keeping. So that our friends in England did not, perhaps, celebrate Christmas more cheerfully than we did.’
Image sources: Lark – Wikimedia Commons / Daniel Pettersson, Pepys – National Portrait Gallery, Tierra del Fuego – MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.
The Cambridge University Library offers an unusual prize to undergraduate and graduate students at Cambridge: The Rose Book-Collecting Prize for students with interesting book collections. I have seen adverts for this go out over the past two years and never thought I had anything that I could enter, until last week when I realised that I’ve built up quite a collection of longitude-related books and ephemera, especially to do with Hogarth (no surprise there really). So, I thought I would try entering my collection for the prize and the 500 word essay required makes a perfect blog post too …
Like all good collections, this started with an idea: to look at representations of longitude for my PhD. Like, I suspect, all personal collections, it grew with the conviction that I would understand each item better if I owned it myself. And, like all modern collections, it started on amazon.co.uk.
The process began with a ‘bridging’ item. In writing my masters thesis, I had been particularly influenced by the historian Paul Fussell’s work from the 1960s, now hard to find. In 2010, while Christmas shopping on Amazon, it appeared as a recommended purchase, and I bought it as a sort of talisman for future research. The look, feel and, most importantly, smell of these older hardbacks always brings them to life for me.
As I worked on the PhD, researching popular discussions and representations of the problem of measuring longitude at sea in the eighteenth century, I became particularly interested in a print by William Hogarth, which shows a ‘lunatic’ solving the longitude problem on the wall of Bedlam. The collection grew out from this one image three ways. Firstly, I scoured second hand and discount bookshops searching for Hogarth print collections, and couldn’t resist some of the secondary material on Hogarth and visual culture that I found along the way. I like owning second hand copies of books that feel like they have an independent life, and bring with them the previous ideas and emotions with which they have been associated.
Secondly, I bought myself a new copy of Hogarth’s art theoretical text, The Analysis of Beauty, thinking that I could annotate it. But the book turned out to be so white and beautiful that I couldn’t bring myself to mark it. I did, however, find cheap versions of other eighteenth-century literature that discuss the longitude problem – authors like Pope, Swift and Sterne – and made them into working copies. I went to theatre productions of eighteenth-century plays and added the programmes to my collection.
Researching Hogarth, thirdly, made me aware of the varied responses to his work by other artists, especially George Cruikshank, David Hockney and Grayson Perry. I purchased catalogues, postcards, prints and even DVDs that show how they developed Hogarth’s iconography. This makes my collection disparate in both chronology and content, as it extends to ephemera, digital and website items, but I think any modern collection has to incorporate these media, and that is one of its beauties.
Detail from Hockney's programme for the 1975 season at Glyndebourne. Author's Own.
I like the highly personal nature of my collection, but would like to expand the more traditional part, to buy the classic works on Hogarth by Ronald Paulson, older editions of the eighteenth-century literature, and a set of Hockney’s Rake’s Progress etchings. One day I will display the whole collection together: the books and pamphlets housed in shelving units between the prints and postcards, with a screen showing the digital items. It will cohere around an original copy of Hogarth’s Bedlam print at the centre, which, one day, I might afford to buy, and then the collection will be complete.
Many of the themes and some of the objects staple to our story here at the Board of Longitude project are ones that have a much wider currency than academic history. This was demonstrated when one of the team working on the NMM’s planned exhibition on longitude spotted the online design description of the New Zealand passport.
Navigation, travel and exploration are, of course, entirely appropriate themes for passport imagery (although the 2010 design for the UK passport is distinctly insular), but in the New Zealand case they are also very closely associated with national identity. As the description explains, the designs were to show “our evolution from a place of discovery, to a place of destination”.
“The journey begins at sea, with New Zealand below the horizon, representing the leap into the unknown made by early Polynesian explorers who speculated on the existence of land to the south based on the patterns of migratory birds. Travelling towards New Zealand, the land appears and the viewpoint moves closer. As the coastline is reached, the view moves towards a harbour, travels up a river and into the mountains, representing the waves of exploration that penetrated New Zealand’s hinterlands.
Finally the journey ‘launches’ from the summit of Aoraki Mount Cook, representing the modern aerial explorations and journeys made today. In addition, a progressive journey is also made from north to south to reflect the general geographic pattern of exploration and settlement.”
We are taken through the design, page by page. It reflects both western and native traditions and uses motifs that show a range of navigational techniques that can be used – cloud, ocean and land patterns, the constellations of the southern hemisphere and maps. Over all we are presented with a progressive journey and story, moving from “traditional to contemporary, and natural to technological”.
Even if this might seem a little linear, it is nice to see mention of planisphere, compass, the use of a canoe as a compass, astrolabe, sundial, marine clock, sextant, radar and GPS – and of course, Cook and the Endeavour. There are, though, a couple of points to make a specialist raise an eyebrow. The “astrolabe and chart” on pp. 21-22 certainly wasn’t used for “determining local time using local longitude and vice-versa”, for example, but for me the greatest curiosity is the choice of illustration for pp. 30-31.
That it is devoted to Harrison and the development of the marine timekeeper is understandable, and, correctly, the blurb tells us that “after 40 years of work, in 1764 [Harrison] proved that a clock could be used to locate a ship’s position at sea with extraordinary accuracy”. What is odd, though is that, despite the accuracy of the date, the illustration is of the earlier H1 and the blurb goes on to state that after 1764, “Further developments led to the H4 clock”, when it was H4 that had been trialled.
The level of accuracy and detail is again revealed by saying that it was H4 that “was copied by Larcum Kendall and used by Cook on his voyages”. But given that H4 was the timekeeper that gained the largest reward, and that it was Kendall’s K1 that was actually used by Cook and made it to New Zealand, why the prominence given to H1?
I haven’t seen the actual passport, but I assume that none of this explanation is there (or that people spend much time looking at or making sense of the pictures). It is simply an illustration and perhaps H1 has benefits in this context over H4, in terms of producing a complex design that it hard to forge. Yet I think it is the case that that the early clock has become much more iconic than the much-rewarded watch. There is, for example, an H1 iPhone app available but not an H4 one, and it is H1 that is pictured on signage outside the Royal Observatory.
It speaks, I think, to the engaging nature of this clock – its unusual appearance, its moving parts, its openness, its sense of a unique mind working on a unique solution to an intractable problem. While visitors are certainly struck by, and often comment on, the sudden change in the sequence from the large H1, H2, and H3 to the smaller and entirely different H4, I think that on its own it would much more likely be looked over. After all, it simply looks like a big watch, and its movement is usually hidden.
For the purposes of a designer or illustrator, how much more likely would it be to choose the curious object that might make people stop and ask a question over the watch? And even if you chose H4, who would know whether you had in fact chosen K1? Having two such unique and important objects that nevertheless look almost exactly the same is, it turns out, rather problematic. It is, likewise, interesting to reflect on how Harrison would be considered today had his earlier marine timekeepers not survived just long enough to be rescued and restored by Rupert Gould.
William Hogarth, artist, social commentator, and eighteenth-century source extraordinaire, was born 315 years ago today on 10th November 1697. He’s looking good for 315. While the richness of detail in his prints might require high levels of contextual knowledge in his audience, they are nonetheless enjoyable on more superficial levels and, of course, it is that very level of detail which makes him so invaluable for students of the eighteenth century. One detail, the lunatic drawing a diagram of longitude on the wall of Bedlam, in the final plate of A Rake’s Progress is providing me, I hope, with a whole PhD.
In his prints, Hogarth has given us many suggestions of how we might celebrate his anniversary. We might drink tea out of tiny jewel-like Sèvres teacups, revelling in the wealth that makes us able to buy this exotic and expensive beverage, like the couple in Taste in High Life. We might quaff beer out of tankards, whilst balancing baskets of fish on our heads and surveying a scene of middle class productivity and urban construction, as the street sellers do in Beer Street. Should we be in a more lascivious mood, we might follow Tom Rakewell’s example and frequent the Rose Tavern to watch the infamous posture woman spin on her silver plate in A Rake’s Progress. Those of us in higher stations of life, might aspire to be more like Francis Goodchild and host a grand feast, as he does on becoming Lord Mayor of London in Industry and Idleness. Or, those of us who like the odd gin and tonic, might choose to sit on a disintegrating step in Gin Lane and almost literally throw our baby out with the bath water.
Advert for Mother's Ruin
I, being a more classy sort of lady, may well purchase a bottle of ‘Mother’s Ruin’, an excellent red wine produced in Nuriootpa, Australia, and while savouring it, I shall contemplate the label and muse on the enduring legacy of the ‘ingenious Mr. Hogarth.’
I mentioned in a post long ago that I am interested in how longitude and latitude get used in eighteenth century literature to discuss social boundaries. Back in 2010, I thought I had found the perfect subject for a blog post when I came across the statement in A Satyr on Women of the Town by Thomas Browne from 1708, that ‘You might as easily fix the Longitude, as a Woman’s mind’ . From a humorous blog post this has now become a whole chapter of my PhD, about longitude, women and the boundaries of scientific and sexual knowledge in the eighteenth century, so I don’t want to give the game away too much.
However, one of the interests that I’ve also posted here before is the frequency with which cucumbers seem to crop up in satires on the history of science. One day I will do some proper research into this. But, in the meantime, I couldn’t resist sharing this satirical blending of female sexuality, longitude/latitude and garden vegetables from The Schemer. Or, Universal Satirist published by Charles Morell in 1763. Within a discussion of the variability of concepts of virtue in different societies, Morell commented thus:
‘nothing, upon the whole face of the earth, alters so much as the ladies notions of modesty, except it be the gentlemans notion of honour … the growth of modesty is always contrary, but yet always in proportion to the growth of vegetables … it increases in proportion to the decrease of space in the degrees of longitude, and if this is the truth, how anxious should our philosophers and divines be to establish the system of Cassini in contradiction to Sir Isaac’ .
The astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini had argued that the earth’s shape was elongated at the poles, in comparison to Sir Isaac Newton, such that for Morell, Cassini’s world would present narrowing degrees of longitude towards the poles and therefore a greater abundance of women with dubious morality, although also fewer opportunities for growing cucumbers. Earlier in the century, Cassini’s accurate determinations of longitude at the Paris observatory as astronomer to the French crown had allowed the accurate mapping of France for the first time. As his kingdom turned out to be considerably smaller than thought, Louis XIV is said to have quipped that Cassini had taken more land from him than he had won in all of his battles.
In this case Cassini was taking longitude, but in Morell’s satirical extension of his science, it was the ladies taking latitude that counted.
 The third volume of the works of Mr. Thomas Brown, containing, Amusements serious & comical, calculated for the meridian of London (London, 1708) pp.79-80
 The schemer. Or, universal satirist. By that great philosopher Helter van Scelter. Illustrated with Notes Critical and Explanatory, by some of … Morell, Charles, Sir. (London, 1763), p.20
(Both sources available on ECCO)
Today is National Poetry Day, which has ‘stars’ as its theme this year, so it seemed rather appropriate to offer up a ‘poem’ (more or less) that was published in Lloyd’s Evening Post in 1764 (in the edition for September 12-14). The poem is about the 1763-4 sea trials to Barbados to test John Harrison’s sea watch (H4), Tobias Mayer’s latest tables for determining longitude by lunar distance, and Christopher Irwin’s marine chair for observing Jupiter’s satellites.
I’ve not included the footnotes from the original, but it’s a nice summary of at least one person’s view of what was going on at a crucial time for the history of longitude at sea:
The TRIPLE-SCHEME for finding the LONGITUDE at SEA, truly stated: Or, REMARKS on Mr. HARRISON’S TIME-PIECE, and late VOYAGE to BARBADOES.
Humbly addressed to the PUBLIC.
By the PALLADIUM AUTHOR.
To aid true judgment, which he thinks no crime,
He thus, for shortness, makes remarks in rhime.
Was e’er this Watch’s equal motion prov’d.
From Stars revolving, uniformly mov’d?
It’s gain in eight days by th’unequal Sun,
Proves not it’s equal gain in ev’ry one:
Nor does it’s gain or loss in eight days space,
Prove the same gain or loss in diff’rent place;
Without which equal motion first be shown,
No Longitude can certainly be known.
– Unequal, if it goes too fast or slow,
The Longitude, in error, must be so.
Various effects, it’s equal pace with-hold.
Shocks, gravity, wet, dry, and heat and cold;
Sometimes too slow it goes, and then too fast,
That Longitude, by chance, is found at last.
– How vain prediction, from each Port, accords
With Longitudes, as taken on mens words!
As those and Latitudes are dark or clear,
At Ship and Port, their distance will appear;
For Longitude for nothing ever serv’d,
But where the Latitude was well observ’d,
From both we shew how far the Port’s a-part,
The Navigator’s, not Time-keeper’s art.
The Seaman in the Latitude steers right
Due West or East until his Port’s in sight;
Then running three leagues off, and lying to
‘Till morning light, he hits the place most true;
As, in our voyage, we were us’d to do.
So, in return, another might behold,
And make the Lizard, as the brig foretold.
But as to what was done at Surry-stairs,
The public must be judge from what appears;
The Watch examin’d with a friend’s regard,
Was found within the Longitude-reward:
– Tho’ this, and others made, must go the same,
On ev’ry voyage — else the project’s lame!
– If such a Watch will time, at home, decide,
The time, on board, another must divide,
From day to day be often rectified.
The diff’rence of which times, when you descry,
Is the Ship’s Longitude to ev’ry eye.
But a Watch-maker must with these be sent,
To keep in order, or cure accident:
For, if these miss the Longitude at Sea,
(While num’rous Ships, for num’rous Watches pay)
The Nation’s care and cost are thrown away!
But, if you more prefer the Lunar scheme,
As Maskelyne, and Speculatists seem;
Some gaping for the mammon more than praise,
Exciting wonder, as our mirth they raise!
Two minutes, in degree, if these mis-spy,
(And who can peep out Latitude so nigh?)
Two miscompute-twice two, in time, those crost,
Then all their credit, time, and gain, are lost!
– But rivals, will each other still offend,
And for a shadow often will contend;
Each vying with the other to be great,
And each one’s scheme the other wou’d defeat!
See Irwin’s Chair exalted for a while,
O’erpower’d by interest, now is in exile!
Tho’ recommended by a noble Lord,
To whom it truth, and pleasure did afford.
An easy, cheap, and certain, simple thing,
That can’t above two minutes error bring;
As Jove‘s first Satellite will give you proof,
Whose known Eclipses are seen oft enough;
Which observations, when improv’d with care,
To thirty miles will tell you where you are.
– But Truth and Fashion vary like the Times,
Virtues to-day, to-morrow may be crimes!
And what avails it Art or Truth to know,
Without a Friend in Pow’r to prove it so!