How to be larned, like what I am


Chambers Cyclopaedia 1786

The following advertisement appeared in a provincial newspaper and was sent as a curiosity by someone living in Newport, Shropshire to a reader of The New London Magazine in Wolverhampton. He in turn forwarded it to the editors, who published it in the issue for October 1786.

‘Larning has always been desired and esteemed, and it has always been a matter of dispute , and is yet amongst the abellist philosophers, wheather the earth or the sun moves, and how far distant the sun is from the earth , and how big the sun is , and also the moon and stares; and thousands of the greatyest schollors of every age, who have travelled into farin nations, and spent large sumes to get larning, and have taught and wrote the greatyest part of their life of artes and sciences , yet known of them all ever found out , or left any rule behind them, which infalabley proved, wheather the earth or the sun moved, nor how big the sun is, nor how far distant the sun is from the earth, nor the moon nor stares, yet all of them desired to know them—Therefore I, James Bagnall, of Newport , does hereby most respectfully informe the Ladyes and Gentlemen of Newport and it’s environs , and those that love the knolledge of artes and sciences, that he has from good phelosophey geometry invented sume curious geometrickal tables of the earth, and sun, moon and stares which point out and visabley shew, and infallabley prove, wheather the earth or the sun moves, and far distant the sun his from the earth; and with sume curious observations of the sun , taking the earth as such a size , with the power of figures in the mathematicks, proves the exact bigness of the sun, and moon and stares ; he also from good philosophy, gives a more perfect account of the earth, sea, rivers , wind and the different sorts of aire , and of the moon, stares and their properties, thunder and lightning, than any heretofore given. He also from good phelosophy and astrology, proves that the stares do not predestinate or influence the will of man, to make him luckey or unluckey, good or evil, and that he cannot avoid it; and therefore for their instructions and edifycations, and that those who choose it, may have the honour to see the performance of these very great and desirable and noble artes and sciences, the first time they ever wheare taught or made publick in any part of the world, by the person himself, who found out the understanding of them; therefore he has taken the market hall of Newport for five nights only, where he will go through the whole of them; and the weakest capacity, who comes the five nights to be instructed by him, will in so short a time larn more true knolledge of these great and desirable and truly eddefying artes and scinces then all the great phelosophers of the world, all put together, ever got of them, till now, with all their expence and pains’ and by these rules found out or done almost everything that can be done by figuers.

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I once met A. S. Eddington

Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour for background on him) this piece on the British astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Sir  Arthur Eddington (1882 - 1944.) He did his greatest work in astrophysics and also wrote books on philosophy and popular science. L.R. Reeve actually met him and gives an amusing account of the slightness of this encounter but has good information on Eddington's appearance and his lecturing style. He ends with quite a good joke, relatively speaking…Some may remember that David Tennant played him in the BBC/HBO film Einstein and Eddington (2008.)


For several years I expressed my homage to Semprini, the pianist of genius; then when I heard him declare on the radio that if he were on a desert island his choice of a book would be The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Eddington, O.M., F.R.S., my obeisance was beyond all description, for I look upon Eddington as the greatest astronomer of my era.
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Vulcan 2

The second part, from the fascinating forgotten work Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts (Allan, London 1928) by R.T. Gould, on the non-existent planet Vulcan. The first part can be found here.

Vulcan Landscape (from Star Trek, the Motion Picture)
 Leverrier, once convinced as to the real character of Lescarbault's discovery, lost no time in performing the necessary calculations which that worthy had found so baffling. He obtained, for the new planet's mean distance from the sun, about 13,000,000 miles, and for its period of revolution 19 days 17 hours. Lescarbault, who had seen Mercury in transit over the sun with the same telescope, and the same magnifying power, on May 8, 1845, considered that the new planet (which he decided to name "Vulcan") had a disc rather less than a quarter as large. Accordingly, Leverrier calculated that Vulcan's volume was probably about one seventeenth that of Mercury. It did not escape him that, supposing its mass to be in anything like the same proportion, Vulcan could not be held responsible for more than a small fraction of the disturbances observed to be taking place in Mercury's orbit.

  He also calculated that Vulcan ought to be in transit on the sun's face on or about April 3rd and October 6th of every year, at which times it should, of course, be visible in the same manner as it had been to Lescarbault. He did not hold out much hope of its being seen at other times, since he computed that its lustre would be so feeble that it might easily remain unseen, even during a total eclipse of the sun.*

  * Proctor has questioned this statement. By his calculations, Vulcan and Mercury, seen during eclipse at their greatest angular distance from the sun, would appear about equally bright.

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R.T. Gould and The Planet Vulcan 1

T.T. Gould & his wife Muriel
Found - a fascinating forgotten  work Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts (Allan, London 1928) by R.T. Gould. Rupert Thomas Gould (1890 – 1948), was a lieutenant Commander in the British Royal Navy noted for his contributions to horology. While in the navy in WW1 he suffered a nervous breakdown. During long recuperation, he was stationed at the Hydrographer's Department at the Admiralty, where he became an expert on various aspects of naval history, cartography, and expeditions of the polar regions. He gained permission in 1920 to restore the marine chronometers of John Harrison, and this work was completed in 1933. Jeremy Irons played him in Longitude, a dramatisation of Dava Sobel's book about John Harrison Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, which recounted in part Gould's work in restoring the chronometers.

Something of a polymath, he wrote an eclectic series of books on topics ranging from horology to the Loch Ness Monster. He was a member of the Sette of Odd Volumes (Brother Hydrographer) and the book Oddities is dedicated to the club. He was a science educator, giving a series of talks for the BBC's Children's Hour starting in January 1934 under the name "The Stargazer", and these collected talks were later published. He was a member of the BBC radio panel Brains Trust. He umpired tennis matches on the Centre Court at Wimbledon on many occasions during the 1930s. This is the first part of the chapter on the planet Vulcan (more to follow)-

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