New Monograph on Thomas Hobbes out this week

Thomas Hobbes spent most of his long life (1588-1679) connected with the Cavendish family. He lived through the turbulence of the English Civil War and the European Thirty Years War. This little monograph reclaims the author of the most important work of political philosophy in the English language for Derbyshire, and examines how his radically mechanistic approach to reality led to clashes with the both clergy and the emerging scientific establishment.

Selling like hot cakes ?

The recent Joseph Wright volumes in the Enlightenment Series seem to have been flying off the shelves. This has recently forced a reprint of ‘Searching for the Philosopher’s Stone’ which now includes some slightly alarming additional information about the chemical compounds implied by the enticing aromas recorded during the alchemical process of extracting Phosphorus from vast quantities of of urine. ‘Experimentising the Bird in the Air Pump’ is now sold out, and a reprint is scheduled for the end of this month. The new volume on Thomas Hobbes (who had links with the Cavendish family and hence Derbyshire for over 70 years) entitled ‘Nature, Power and Liberty’ is now also ready for printing at the same time. More news to follow.

Joseph Wright’s Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

The third of my mini-monographs on Joseph Wright’s scientific paintings is now with the printer. The curious title ‘Experimentising the Bird in the Air Pump’ is taken from the writings of someone I suggest could have been the distressed young girl in the picture. However, unlike with the Orrery painting, I do not have overwhelming confidence in my proposal for the identity of the lecturer. Nevertheless much that was unexpected has come to light in the course of the search. For those who want material which is securely demonstrated the book traces the use of live animals  – and attempts to find alternatives – in air pump demonstrations from the time of Robert Boyle onwards. The first creature to die in this way was a lark whose wing had been broken by a musket ball. The cover design imagines the spirit of this poor bird, inside an air pump made by Boyle’s successor, soaring towards the light of the moon. Wright’s picture seems to ask what price sentient creatures should pay for our Enlightenment.

New Edition of the Henry Cavendish Volume

An enlarged edition of the Henry Cavendish volume has now gone to print. It includes an extended Appendix on Gravitation, as a homage to Cavendish’s extraordinary diligence and accuracy in determining the Mean Density of the Earth, which in modern terms fixes the Gravitational Constant (‘Big G’). The Appendix explains the significance of this, and provides a pictorial introduction to Einstein’s relativistic theory of gravitation. Despite the overthrow of previous concepts of space, time and matter, ‘Big G’ remains central. Of all the Fundamental Constants of Nature it is the one whose value has been least improved upon since the work of Henry Cavendish in the 18th century.

Preparing for Derby Book Fair at the Silk Mill on Saturday 10th June

Quandary Books is taking stall number 15 at the Derby Silk Mill this Saturday. Two new editions will be on sale. There are special offers on everything – for one day only ! This includes not only all eight titles in the Enlightenment Series, but also Anne’s ‘Parcel of Ribbons’, and Andrew’s ‘One Voice’. Come and have a look !

Forthcoming Lecture: Experimentising a Bird in the Air Pump

On Saturday 18th March at 11 am I am giving a talk in the Joseph Wright Gallery at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. This will be my third talk on on of Wright’s ‘scientific paintings’. This time it is on ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ (exhibited in 1668).

Once again I shall be drawing attention to the significance of little details which seem to have been overlooked by other commentators. If the reception to my talk is sufficiently positive – and I can secure all the permissions I need – I will complete and publish a new mini-monograph. This will explain the origin of the curious word in the title of this post, found in a hostile reference to such demonstrations in the writings of a woman who might have been the little girl in the picture. Whether my hypothesis about the identities of most of those depicted will continue to survive critical scrutiny, I have quite a number of new things to say about this picture.

Change to Lecture on 23rd November 2016 – now on ‘The Alchymist’

The lecture at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery at 2 pm on 23rd November was going to be on both Joseph Wright’s painting ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ and his ‘The Alchymist, in search of the Philosopher’s Stone, discovers Phosphorus’. However having stumbled upon some major surprises when investigating the Air Pump, I have concluded I need to undertake further investigations before going public. They may lead to a major discovery or else turn out to be a complete red herrings. The worst outcome would be being unable either to prove or to refute my conjectures.

Even if the investigation of the Air Pump  does turn out to be a wild goose chase, it is taking me through some interesting countryside which I will share with people at a talk in March next year.

In the meantime the lecture on 23rd November will be exclusively on ‘The Alchymist’. Recent close attention has led me to a number of observations which do not appear to have been made before. While not world-shattering, these observations may justify treatment in a mini-monograph of their own. I will see what the audience on 23rd thinks about that.

Upcoming Lecture on the Alchymist and the Air Pump

After successfully decoding Joseph Wright’s Orrery painting and identifying the ‘Philosopher’ with as much certainty as is possible, I felt obliged to take a look at his two other main scientific paintings. The Alchymist of course imagines an actual historical event – the discovery of Phosphorus by Hennig Brand in 1669 – but the alarming painting ‘The Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ appears to depict a contemporary occasion. The painting raises important questions about the ethics of scientific experimentation. It is a more complex painting than ‘the Orrery’ but is it possible to determine whether the event shown actually took place and if so where and with whom ?