In the fourth (1944) edition of the Shorter Oxford English dictionary the word ‘browse’ is considered to refer only to the activity of goats, deer and cattle feeding on the leaves and shoots of trees and bushes. It warns that the word is sometimes used carelessly to mean ‘graze’, which readers will of course know means to feed on grass or growing herbage. Since 1944, however, both words have taken on much wider meanings in the English language. Today the term ‘grazing’ is also used to describe the eating habits of certain people, both children and adults, who no longer sit down to three meals a day but instead seem to nibble almost continuously. This is a very recent usage. The word ‘browsing’ has taken the meaning of perusing the pages of a book or a journal or looking along the shelves of a library or bookshop. More recently, it has become very familiar to those of us who sit in front of our computer screens. Indeed, one of the options that is presented on the opening page of the JSTOR archive of the Royal Society's publications is ‘Browse’, which means going to the chronological list of volumes where one can choose the one to consult. In the past, newly formed scientific and academic institutions or societies placed a strong priority on setting up a library, an endeavour in which the Royal Society was no exception. At that time, though, and in the two centuries that followed, many of the great libraries were those built up by private individuals—notably Sir Hans Sloane's library of some 50 000 volumes, which became the original core of the British Museum Library in 1753, and that of Sir Joseph Banks, which contained 25 000 volumes. An essential requirement of a library is the possibility of browsing in the sense of looking for material close to or related to the main subject of interest. Sometimes, of course, a visit (in the sense of a physical visit or search on the web, another new usage) to a library or repository of information is in search of a single specific piece of information, in which case one does not normally browse, although the temptation to do so is always present. The content of a science library has greatly evolved since the seventeenth century. No longer consisting solely of books and manuscripts, it now includes long runs of scientific journals that increasingly became the repository of new knowledge. In addition, there began to exist catalogues of the contents of libraries that themselves became great works of scholarship; these have evolved into electronic databases, as did compilations of abstracts of published works. All of this now provides the basic reference and source material for current and future scholarship in the fields of scientific and other research. In any event, the role of a library is an essential prerequisite for almost all intellectual activity, particularly in science and the history of science, and the possibility of browsing as well as searching must always be present if the library is to serve its purpose fully.
At least three of the articles in this issue of Notes and Records refer directly or indirectly to libraries, their use or things found in them. Paul Quarrie gives a detailed account of the origins and contents of the scientific library of the Earls of Macclesfield. As patrons of the arts and sciences, the first three Earls were each major intellectual figures of their time and it is thanks to them that such a magnificent library was created. Sadly, the library has now been dispersed after a sale, but until then it was almost completely intact and had remained unchanged since its formation during the first half of the eighteenth century. Comprising not only books but also a great collection of scientific manuscripts, it was the most important collection of such manuscripts in private hands. Included were autographed letters and other papers of Newton as well as letters and papers of such people as John Collins, William Jones, William Oughtred and Edmund Halley. The Newton papers had already been acquired by the Cambridge University library some years ago. In another article, John Young presents his translation from the Latin of the Newton alchemical manuscript recently discovered by Ross Macfarlane among the Royal Society's previously uncatalogued Miscellaneous Manuscripts. Its discovery was the subject of a short piece in Notes and Records in September 2005. Young discusses the provenance of this manuscript and Newton's alchemical work, and gives a description of the manuscript itself. He has also provided a transcription of the substantial 16-folio manuscript, which because of its length is provided online only, along with photographic images of the original folios. The third article on this same theme is by John van Wyhe. It is an account of the project to put online the complete works of Charles Darwin, whose writings cover much more than his works on evolution. He was a prolific writer on many other subjects including geology, botany, biogeography, psychology and taxonomy, to say nothing of scientific travel writing. The online archive will include all the extant books, articles and manuscripts as well as a search engine and catalogue. All of these will be digitized and presented in two forms, a searchable text and a facsimile image of each page. This is a major project in the history of science and is of course a sign of the way things will be. The ability to browse through Darwin's works will become a possibility for a vastly increased number of people.
So, what of libraries in the future? Clearly, there will always be need of original material but as time goes by the original material will itself become increasingly electronic in form. Already, the strong push in the medical field to have free access to electronic journal articles from the date of publication will become irresistible and this will be true for journals in all areas of intellectual activity, not only science. The consequences for today's publishers of academic journals is evident and could well result in the disappearance of paper copies of scientific and other journals because there will be no one to pay for printing. One might wonder how long it will be before specialized scientific books become published in electronic versions only. Research in the history of science will, in one sense, become much easier as the original material will be available to all on the web, provided of course that it has been digitized by someone. It seems inevitable that in the future most libraries will be virtual institutions leaving just a small number of places where the books, manuscripts and journals of the pre-electronic age will be preserved and only the fortunate few having access to them will have the pleasure of reading a real Newton or Darwin manuscript. Great efforts are now being made to devise ways to ensure the long-term security and accessibility of electronic data. These are evolutions, or indeed revolutions, that cannot be planned other than in the short term, driven by the irresistible power of new technology.
Among the other pieces in this issue is an article by Matt Jenkinson on the first publication in English, in 1685, of Confucius's Great learning, translated from the Jesuit Latin text by Nathaniel Vincent FRS. This text was part of a court sermon delivered in 1674 in the presence of Charles II as an example to contrast the high moral and personal standards recommended by Confucius with the then low moral and personal standards of the King's Court. Not surprisingly, it was not well received and he was only permitted to publish it some years later.
Few experimental physicists educated in British universities during the middle part of the twentieth century would not prick up their ears if they heard the names ‘Kaye and Laby’. It would probably have been in a dog-eared copy of their Tables of physical and chemical constants, first published in the 1930s, that the student would have found the thermal conductivity of copper or the electrical resistivity of nichrome, together with much other basic data essential for the design of experiments. In his short article Douglas Ambrose, a contributor to successive editions of Kaye and Laby from the 1960s, gives an account of the handbook produced by these two Cambridge physicists, both later elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, who together published the first edition of their essential reference book after having been research students at the Cavendish laboratory. The last paper edition was the 16th, published in 1995, but now the latest edition appears on the NPL website in electronic version only.
This issue continues with a tribute to Max Perutz by Sir John Meurig Thomas on the occasion of the first Max Perutz Memorial Lecture given by Professor Sari Nusseibeh at the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies at the Royal Society on 19 May 2005. There are then four Reports, one on the Royal Society purchases from the Macclesfield Library by Sir John Rowlinson, also featured in Paul Quarrie's article, one on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Department at Oxford University by Robert Fox, one by Vivian Nutton on a meeting to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Johann Laurentius Bausch (1605–65), the prime mover among the four founders of the Academia Leopoldina, and one by van Wyhe, mentioned above. These are followed by two Recollections, one by Peter Felgett on the origins of Fourier spectrometry and the other by Britton Chance on the cavity magnetron, a follow-up to the earlier piece on the same subject from Sir Bernard Lovell. After the book reviews there follows, as is the tradition in this issue, the text of the President's Anniversary Address given at the Society on 30 November. Finally, there is a selection of four plates from seventeenth-century medical and alchemical texts in the Royal Society's library.
- © 2006 The Royal Society