‘An Ocean of Books’

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

In preparing our latest mini-biography of an interesting person from Essex’s past for Essex Life magazine, I came across this wonderful quote from William Gilberd (1544-1603), in the preface to his book De Magnete, published in 1600:

‘But why should I, in so vast an Ocean of Books by which the minds of studious men are troubled and fatigued, through which very foolish productions the world and unreasoning men are intoxicated, and puffed up, rave and create literary broils, and while professing to be philosophers, physicians, mathematicians and astrologers, neglect and despise men of learning: why should I, I say, add aught further to this so-perturbed republick of letters, and expose this noble philosophy, which seems new and incredible by reason of so many things hitherto unrevealed, to be damned and torn to pieces by the maledictions of those who are either already sworn to the opinions of other men, or are foolish corruptors of good arts, learned idiots, grammatists, sophists, wranglers, and perverse little folk? But to you alone, true philosophizers, honest men, who seek knowledge not from books only but from things themselves, have I addressed these magnetical principles in this new sort of Philosophizing.’

Portrait of William Gilbert (Wellcome Collection)

Gilberd was a physician and natural philosopher who founded the field of magnetic science. He was the first person to suggest (correctly) that the earth is a giant magnet, and the word ‘electricity’ has its origins in his work. The ‘new sort of Philosophizing’ to which he refers is his methodology of using experiments to find out about natural phenomena.

Gilberd was born in Colchester and is buried there in Holy Trinity church. You can find out more about him in our article that will be published in the October 2015 edition of Essex Life magazine.

 

Document of the month, July 2015: The heat of summer

Each month one of our Archivists selects a document to highlight. This month it is the turn of Chris Lambert – his chosen document will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout July 2015.

It was July 1615.  Joan, Lady Barrington, of Hatfield Broad Oak was unwell, and she sought medical advice.  That advice, from Dr Duke of Colchester, survives amongst the Barrington family papers in the ERO (D/DBa F40/1).

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The advice of Dr Duke of Colchester to Lady Barrington of Hatfield Broad Oak, July 1615 (D/DBa F40/1)

Reassuringly, Duke did not believe ‘that the swelling of her legges shold be an effect of a dropsy’ (what might now be understood as heart disease).  Lady Barrington’s urine suggested to Duke ‘only much melancholy’.  The effects of melancholy were extensive, including ‘windiness of stomacke & body, flushing heates, [and] causeless feares’, but Duke did not think them dangerous.

Beyond that, Lady Barrington was ‘of a good complexion, well coulered & eateth her meat well, having a full body’.  For Duke, this was evidence that the swelling was simply ‘an effect of watery humours in the veynes, wherewith Nature being burthened, she doth expell & abandon them to the inferiour partes’.  The condition appeared in summer because Lady Barrington ‘eateth & drinketh liberally although the naturall heat of the stomacke be now much lesse then in winter, as also because the passages of the body are more open in sommer … and so the humours do with more facilitye flowe into those partes’.  The ancient Greek doctrine of the four bodily humours, associated with the four seasons, still ruled 17th-century medicine.  In 1615, William Harvey’s revolutionary discovery of the circulation of the blood still lay 13 years in the future.

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Hatfield Broad Oak, seen in a contemporary map (D/DQ 14/191). Lady Barrington’s home at the Priory House appears just above the church.

Duke’s prescription was a moderate purge, the ‘often use of turpentine of Cipres [Cyprus]’, and frequent ‘astringent bathes’ for the patient’s legs.  But ‘at the fall of the leafe, it wer necessary to take some more forcible purging physicke’.  The humours of the body being un-balanced, purging would restore them.  Perhaps it did: Lady Barrington lived on until 1641.