Friday 31 January 2020

The Travels and Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson (1901)

Following the short lived Republic of California, which had been established in 1846, California was admitted to the United States as a free state in 1850. Since 1854 the state capital of California has been Sacramento, but the historic seat of government between 1777 and 1845, covering periods of both Spanish and Mexican rule, was Monterey on the Pacific coast. 

In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck's paean to the inhabitants of the sardine canning region of Monterey, he claims that; Monterey is a city with a long and brilliant literary tradition. It remembers with pleasure and some glory that Robert Louis Stevenson lived there.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894) was a Scottish writer of novels, essays, letters, travel memoirs and poetry. He was born into an Edinburgh family that was famous for lighthouse engineering. He was an only child who was frequently ill, but his literary imagination was well developed and his father paid for his first publication to be printed when he was 16. Much of Stevenson's work remains in print and his works have been widely translated. He is best known for his novels Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

In August 1879 Stevenson began a romantic and adventurous journey to the USA to be united with his married lover Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. He sailed from Scotland to New York in second-class accommodation aboard the steamship Devonia. The journey, his impressions of his fellow passengers and arrival at New York are recounted in the Amateur Emigrant (1895). From New York, Stevenson then travelled overland by train to California, which is recounted in Across the Plains (1892). The combined effects of the sea and train journeys almost killed him. When he arrived in Monterey he was close to death and only recovered due to attentive care from a local doctor J.P.E. Heintz and his family. After he had recovered, Stevenson then headed for San Francisco where he was eventually nursed back to reasonable health by his lover Fanny. 

After marrying in May 1880, Stevenson, Fanny and her son Lloyd, headed north into the Napa Valley area of California. They had an unconventional summer honeymoon in  a three-storey bunkhouse at an abandoned mining camp on Mount Saint Helena. His book The Silverado Squatters (1883) is based on this experience. 

Monterey made a big impact on Stevenson. In his essay on Monterey, The Old Pacific Capital, he says; The one common note of all this country is the haunting presence of the ocean. The great faint sound of breakers follows you high up into the inland canons.

In October 1879  Stevenson wrote to his friend William Ernest Henley (who Stevenson later used as a model for Long John Silver), he described Monterey as follows;

This is a lovely place which I am growing to love. The Pacific licks all other oceans out of hand; there is no place but the Pacific Coast to hear eternal roaring surf. When I get to the top of the woods behind Monterey, I can hear the seas breaking all round over ten or twelve miles of coast from near Carmel on my left, out to Point Pinos in front, and away to the right along the sands of Monterey to Castroville and the mouth of the Salinas. 
Later in life, after returning to England, Stevenson wrote Treasure Island. From Chapter XIII is this description of the shore of the heavily wooded slopes of the island as seen from the boat Hispaniola;
Perhaps it was this - perhaps it was the look of the island, with its grey, melancholy woods, and wild stone spires, and the surf that we could both see and hear foaming and thundering on the steep beach - at least, although the sun shone bright and hot, and the shore birds were fishing and crying all around us, and you would have thought any one would have been glad to get to land after so long at sea, my heart sank, as the saying is, into my boots; and from that first look onward, I hated the very thought of Treasure Island.
In 1880 Robert Louis Stevenson returned with his family to Britain. After an itinerant period in Europe and the US, he moved to live in the South Pacific in 1888.  After he had moved to Samoa in 1890, he took the name Tusitala, Samoan for teller of tales. He died suddenly at his home in Samoa on 3rd December 1894 at the age of 44.

Image is the frontispiece, drawn by S.W. van Schaick: Far away were hilltops like little islands.

The Book is HERE.

Mehew, E. (Ed.) (2001). Selected letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. Nota Bene, Yale.
Steinbeck, J. (1945). Cannery Row. Viking, New York.

Oculus Hoc Est: Fundamentum Opticum (1619)

The American philosopher Abraham Kaplan (1918-1993) describes scientific observation as follows; 

An observation in science is first of all something done, an act performed by the scientist; only thereby is it something seen, a product of the process in which the scientist is engaged … Scientific observation is deliberate search, carried out with care and forethought, as contrasted with the casual and largely passive perceptions of everyday life.

This type of deliberate and careful observation became a distinctive part of the natural sciences during the early modern era of western science (roughly 1490 -1730). 

Christoph Scheiner (1573 - 1650) was a Jesuit physician, astronomer and mathematician who was a contemporary of Galileo. He was a first rate scientific observer. Early in his career, Scheiner invented the Pantograph, built his own telescope and drew a map of the moon's surface. He is best known for the brilliant observations of sunspots he made in March 1611.

Scheiner's major work is Rosa Ursina (1630), in which he describes and plots dozens of sunspot observations and criticises some of Galileo's calculations. In common with Galileo, Christoph Scheiner vigorously argued for the primacy  of  observation in natural science.  In Rosa  Ursina, he asserts that: Against  a  single,  true,  observed fact  a  thousand  hair-splitting  arguments  are  without  any  value  at  all.

In 1619 Scheiner published Oculus hoc est: Fundamentum opticum.  This is a thorough investigation of the optical properties of the human eye, including its anatomy, refraction of light by the eye and the role of the retina in vision. Throughout the book, Scheiner describes his observations, experiments and experiences, not a set of theoretical conjectures. Many of Scheiner's investigations include elegant experiments with pinholes, that show how light, optical phenomena and the eye work.

The simplest of all image forming devices is a small, clean, pinhole punched through an opaque sheet of material. Even without a lens of any sort, a pinhole can produce a rudimentary image of a well-lit scene. Although these images are inverted, faint and somewhat blurred, they are recognisably images. The earliest record of a pinhole image is the Mo Ching, a text by the Chinese scholar Mo Ti (also known as Mo Tzu) from about 400 BCE. Since Mo Ti, a small image forming hole has been variously known as a stenopeic disk, pinhole camera, camera ottica or camera obscura.  This knowledge was developed and used by the early medieval Chinese statesman and philosopher Shen Kua (c.1031 - 1095) who described the inverted and reversed image which forms on a wall opposite a small hole in a dark room. 

This illustration from Oculus hoc est summarises Scheiner's experimental investigation of what happens to the light rays that have been reflected from an object as they pass through a pinhole. The inferential step made by Scheiner using this experimental apparatus is clear; the observed left-right image inversion seen through a pinhole is not found on the far side of the pinhole, but only on this side, and thus the conclusion is that it has been caused by the pinhole itself. This simple experiment provides evidence of how the pinhole works as an optical element and illustrates that light travels in straight lines: I-H-L and K-H-M. 

Two of the practical uses that Scheiner found for pinholes; the Pinhole occluder and the Scheiner disk, are still used by ophthalmologists and optometrists as diagnostic tests.

Book available HERE.


Daston, L. & Lunbeck, E. (eds.) (2011). Histories of Scientific Observation. University of Chicago Press.
Daxecker, F. (1994). Further studies by Christoph Scheiner concerning the optics of the eye. Documenta Ophthalmologica. 86 pp. 153-161.
Kaplan, A. (1964). The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science. Chandler Publishing Company, San Fransisco.
Needham, J. (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Physics and Physical Technology. CUP, Cambridge.
Scheiner, C. (1626 - 1630). Rosa Ursina, sive sol ex admirando facularum & macularam suaram phoenomeno varius. Bracciano.

Thursday 30 January 2020

The science of colour mixing : a manual intended for the use of dyers, calico printers and colour chemists (1900)

From HERE.

The Miseries of Human Life (1806)

The Reverend James Beresford (1764-1840) was an English cleric, better known for his popular satirical volumes than his work as a clergyman. An obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine gives a long list of his books and a begrudging acknowledgement that; `In his clerical capacity Mr. Beresford was highly and universally respected'
Beresford was born in the small village of Upham, Hampshire in 1764. His father, Richard Beresford Esq., was a wealthy landowner and barrister from South Carolina who had been a delegate in the Confederate Congress of 1783. After attending Charterhouse school, James Beresford attended Oxford university, graduating with his bachelors degree in 1786. The next year he was elected a fellow of Merton College. Beresford successfully avoided any administrative roles that would disturb his scholarly work until 1812, when he became rector of Kibworth Beauchamp, a small village in rural Leicestershire. He lived as an unmarried rector at Kibworth until his death in 1840.

This volume, The Miseries of Human Life (sub-titled or The last groans of Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive, with a few supplementary sighs from Mrs Testy, in Twelve Dialogues) was written by James Beresford and published anonymously in 1806 by William Miller. It was an immediate bestseller, it went through eight editions in a year (this is the fourth edition) and provoked numerous imitations; The Pleasures of Human Life, The Comforts of Human Life and An Antidote to the Miseries of Human Life. Sir Walter Scott reviewed the book and says that, `… on the whole we strenuously recommend this work to all who love to laugh'.

In the sixth edition, Beresford's name was accidentally included on the title-page as the author. By September 1808, he was well known enough to appear in a coloured etching that appeared in the Satirist magazine. The image, titled Miller's Asses, shows a procession of asses and donkeys entering the Albermarle Street shop of the bookseller and publisher William Miller. Beresford is shown as an ass with the head of a parson saying: `Oh! Ah! alack aday! alas! / What burden for a reverend Ass'.
Some of the miseries described in the book are typical of Beresford's time and social class;

The harrowing necessity of asking a person to dine in your house, who is in that critical class of life which makes him not quite a proper guest at your own table, and at the same time, a few grades too high for that of the servants:- no second table. 

Others are recognisable even today; `Finding that the person with whom you thus claim acquaintance has entirely forgotten you, though you perfectly remember him’.  

The Oxford English Dictionary has nearly five hundred quotations from this book, including quotations to illustrate the following words;

abominable, blister, cat-o'-nine-tails, dead man's fingers, embranglement, ferret, gawky, harrow, jargon, keep, limp, mizzle, nickname, overdressing, pantaloon, quaggy, ringleader, slabby, throttle, unutterable, villainous, waxwork, yerk, zigzag. 

For mizzle (very fine misty rain), it quotes Beresford as; `A mist, which successively becomes a mizzle, a drizzle, a shower, a rain, a torrent'. Each of these progressively heavier forms of rain would no doubt have been recognised by his readers as some of the miseries of their daily lives.


The coloured frontispiece cartoon engraved by W.H. Pyne for the first edition. It shows Mrs Testy, Mr Testy and Samuel Sensitive suffering some of the common miseries of life. The latin phrase being spoken by the gentleman on the right; Sunt lacrimae rerum, is the first half of a famous line from The Aeneid by Vergil. This had been translated by James Beresford from Latin into English blank verse in 1794. This line is subject to many and varied interpretations and translations, but the sense of the line that was proposed by Arthur Keith in 1922; Here are tears for man's adversities, seems somehow appropriate for the subject matter of Beresford's book.


Keith, A.L. (1922). `A Vergillian Line'. The Classical Jnl. Vol 17, No 2, pp. 398-402.
Roberts, S.C. (1958) Doctor Johnson and Others. CUP, Cambridge.
Scott, W. (1806). `On The Miseries of Life'. Edinburgh Rev. October 1806.

The Book is HERE.