Glass story

December 15, 2010

In The Invention of Comfort, John E. Crowley writes that:

The English word story, for a horizontal division of a building, derived from the Middle English term storye, which came from the Latin historia and referred to the story told by a horizontal series of illustrations on glazed windows. (p.42)

Crowley illustrates this with a great example from Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess. William Camden mentions something similar in his description of Peterborough abbey (later Cathedral): ‘The forefront carieth a majesty with it, and the Cloisters are very large, in the glasse-windowes whereof is represented the history of Wolpher the founder, with the succession of the Abbots’ (p.513). Painted glass windows were often smashed by iconoclasts, but breaking windows in general could be part of persecution, as one bad priest does to his host in Foxe’s Actes and monuments:

This dronken priest sitting at supper, was so dronke that he coulde not tell what he did, or els feyned himselfe so dronke of purpose, the better to accomplishe hys intended mischiefe. So it followed that this wretch, after hys first sleep, rose out of his bed and brake all the glasse windowes in his chamber, threwe downe the stone, and rent all his hostes bookes that he founde. (p.893)

This malefactor destroys the frames of his victims stories and exposes him to the elements — something windows are supposed to block while allowing agreeable illumination. In essence, he destroys his victim’s reading environment as well as directly destroying his books.

Glass windows were part of the scientific imagination. In his Anatomical Exercitations William Harvey used the skills of a private detective to prove that chickens broke out of their shells when they hatched, as opposed to the shells being broken inwards by the mother bird:

And as when Glass-Windowes are broken, a man may easily discover whether they were burst from within, or without; if he do but take the paines to compare the bent and inclination of the fragments remaining: So also when the egge is pierced, by the erection of the splinters all along the circuit of the Coronet, it is manifest that the invasion came from within. (p.130)

As part of his researches into air, and as an extension of experiments already undertaken with small animals in airtight glass containers, Robert Boyle imagined a set of windows looking inward on the story of human asphyxiation:

I have also had thoughts of trying whether it be not practicable, to make a Receiver, though not of Glass, yet with little Glass windows, so placed, that one may freely look into it, capacious enough to hold a Man, who may observe several things, both touching Respiration, and divers other matters; and who, in case of fainting, may, by giving a sign of his weakness, be immediately reliev’d, by having Air let in upon him. (p.192)

As far as I know, Boyle never made this contraption, but it is interesting to follow his imagination of viewing a human specimen gesturing for air through a series of little glass panes.

*John E. Crowley, The Invention of Comfort: Sensibilities and Design in Early Modern Britain (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)
*William Camden, Britain (1637)
*John Foxe, Actes and monuments of matters most speciall and memorable (1563)
*William Harvey, Anatomical exercitations concerning the generation of living creatures (1653)
*Robert Boyle, New experiments physico-mechanicall, touching the spring of the air (1660)

Mines Royal

October 31, 2010

In 1688 a law was passed that terminated a period of royal ownership of copper, tin, iron or lead mines, leaving only gold and silver mining under the royal prerogative. This meant they passed from being in the ownership of the Company of Mines Royal, which Deborah E. Harkness describes as one of two Elizabethan ‘metallurgical collectives’, the other being the Company of Mineral and Battery Works.*

A century earlier, in 1567, these laws had tightened in response to the test case of Elizabeth I vs. Thomas Percy, seventh Earl of Northumberland. It was a battle over royal copper-mining rights on privately owned land. The case occurred three years after the institution of the Company of Mines Royal and there is a very good article by Eric Ash in History of Science** which explains that Elizabeth managed to win the trial because she harnessed the knowledge of all of the domestic and foreign (mainly German) mining experts who had been drafted in to work for the company since its then recent inception.

The details of the case, as outlined Ash, are fascinating. Northumberland responded to the royal right to mine on his property, without affording him any compensation or profit, as an impeachment of his birthright and inheritance. The negotiations, which were after all about the removal of a certain asset that Northumberland considered his, broke down when it transpired that he did possess the tools to value the ore, the queen having harnessed them all (in the form of her mining experts). Eventually she defeated him by employing her technicians to her advantage, referring to knowledge from the continent that asserted that copper was always mingled with silver and/or gold, both of which were undoubtedly the crown’s. Measurement and property go hand in hand: if you want to own something legally you need to be able to assess it, or acquire the tools of assessment.

*Harkness, The Jewel House, p.170.
** E. H. Ash, ‘Queen v. Northumberland, and the Control of Technical Expertise’ in History of Science 39 (2001), pp.214-240.

Jean Nicot was born in Nimes in the sixteenth century and is credited with helping to popularise the use of tobacco in France. Blount’s Glossographia explains under its definition of the active drug component:

Nicotian (Fr. Nicotiane, Span. Nicociana) Tobacco. so called from John Nicot, who first sent that weed into France from Portugal, where he was Ambassador Leiger for the French King, about the year 1560. Near which time, and at which place he made that great French and Latin (called Nicots) Dictionary.

In Nicot’s own dictionary, the Thresor de la langue françoyse (1606), which you can browse here, between entries on Nicher and Nid (‘to nest’ and ‘nest’) appears the reference to his eponymous substance:

Nicotiane, f.penac. est une espece d’herbe, de vertu admirable pour guarir toutes naurures, playes, ulceres, chancres, dartres, & autres tels accidents au corps humain, que Iean Nicot de Nismes Conseiller du Roy, & maistre des requestes de l’hostel dudit Seigneur, estant Ambassadeur de sa Maiesté Tres-chrestienne en Portugal lequel a recueill ce present Thresor ou Dictionaire de la langue Françoise, envoya en France l’an mil cinq cent soixante. Dont toutes Provinces de ce Royaume ont esté engées & peuplées, à cause de quoy laditte herbe a obtenu & porté ledit nom de Nicotiane, pour de laquelle sçavoir l’histoire entiere, voyez le ch.59. du li.2. de la Maison rustique.

Though it was based on a Latin understanding of how language works and many of the entries were given Latin explanations and etymologies, Nicot’s dictionary helped to establish the French vernacular in its own right. Following the fashions of his day Nicot called his book a ‘treasure’ (see John Considine, Dictionaries in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, 2008). Like most information-collectors in the seventeenth century, Nicot regarded a ‘treasure’ as akin to the modern ‘treasury’ – a dimensional place in which riches and other goods could be stored. I post his definition of Thresor below.

It is interesting to consider the instant addition of ‘Nicotiane’ to that storehouse or repository, making a link between smoking and the French vernacular in the early seventeenth century.

Un Thresor, Alij Thesor, Thesaurus interponitur r. C’est tant l’assemblée et amas d’or et argent monnoiez qu’on tient en espargne, et en serre sans employ ordinaire, que le mesme lieu auquel tel or et argent sont mis en espargne et en reserve. Ce mot toutesfois ne sonne, ny n’est fait que de cestuy or, estant prins par antonomasie presques en toutes les langues, dautant que (comme dit Pindare en sa premiere Ode des Olympies) l’or est l’excellence, le fleuron et la supereminence de la richesse. Il vient de ce mot Latin Thesaurus, par interposition de la lettre r. Thresor aussi se prend pour la chambre, le lieu, le cabinet où sont les chartres, lettres et tiltres d’une couronne, d’un Royaume, d’une communauté et chapitre. Selon ce on dit La chambre et les Conseillers du Thresor, pour le lieu où sont reduictes, rangées et gardées toutes les chartres de France de toutes choses, qui est au Palais à Paris, ce qu’en aucunes provinces de ce Royaume on appelle les Archifs, ou Archives, Sanctius aerarium. Bud. La raison de ce mot Thresor attribué à la chambre des chartres de France, semble se pouvoir tirer de ce que Servius dit sur ce vers de Virgile au 2. livre des Georgiques: Insanumque forum, aut populi tabularia vidit. Qui est que les chartres des Senat et Peuple de Rome, estoient au temple de Saturne, auquel le thresor et coffres des finances d’icelle rep. avoient esté establis auparavant. Si que le nom d’Airaire, qui signifie Thresor, demeura par prerogative d’ancienneté au Tabulaire, c. aux Archifs de Rome, où les Tables, c. les chartres, tiltres et enseignemens publics estoyent en garde. Ce que paradventure les François ont pris pour raison d’appeler Thresor, le lieu où sont les chartres de la Couronne, voyez Archifs, Ce qu’ont imité les communautez et chapitres des Eglises cathedrales de ce Royaume.

In 1533 John Heywood’s ‘The Play of the Wether’ was published – an interlude in which Jupiter asks the people of earth to petition, via ‘Merry Report’ the vice, for their favourite weather, a topic on which the gods have already been debating.

A gentleman is the first to speal, and he pleads for calm weather so that he can enjoy the hunt:

It may please you to sende vs wether pleasaunte
Drye and nat mysty the wynde calme and styll
That after our houndes yournynge so merely
Chasynge the dere ouer pale and hyll
In herynge we may folowe and to comforte the cry

The merchant, next in line, asks for weather ‘Stormy nor mysty the wynde mesurable’ so that he can sail to the markets he requires. The ranger asks for ‘good rage of blusterynge and blowynge’ so that he can collect fallen debris. He also says:

And yf we can not get god to do some good
I wolde hyer the deuyil to runne thorowe the wood
The rootes to turne vp, the toppes to brynge vnder
A myschyefe vpon them and a wylde thunder.

Next, a water-miller asks for ‘plente of rayne’, and a wind-miller conplains that ‘The wynde is so weyke it sturrerh nat our stones’ and asks for ‘wynde continuall’. A gentlewoman asks Merry Report to ask Jupiter ‘To sende vs wether close and temperate / No sonne shyne no frost nor wynde to blowe’. Yet a launderer comes in and counter-argues:

I thynke it farre better
Thy face were sonne burned and thy clothes the swetter
Then that the sonne frome shynynge shulde he smytter
To kepe thy face fayre and thy smocke be shytter

Lastly, a boy asks for ‘plente of snowe’ so that he can continue making snowballs. Having heard all the petitioners (some via Merry Report, some directly) Jupiter decides to keep a variety of weather, as mankind cannot function with only one flourishing craft. In making this judgement Jupiter remarks:

All to serue at ones and one destroy an other
Or elles to serue one and destroye all the rest
Nother wyll we do the tone nor the other
But serue as many or as fewe as we thynke best
And where or what tyme to serue most or lest
The dyrectyon of that doubtles shall stande
Perpetually in the power of our hande.

Wherfore we wyll the hole worlde to attende
Eche sorte on suche wether as for them doth fall
Nowe one nowe other as lyketh vs to sende
Who that hath it ply it and sure we shall
So gyde the wether in course to you all
That eche with other ye shall hole remayne.
In pleasure and plentyfull welth certayne.


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