One of the most fruitful trends in modern writing about the history of science has been the widening of the focus of historians' work. As a result, a history once dominated by the unique achievements of a small number of canonical heroes has given way to broader and more finely textured accounts in which the Newtons, Darwins and Pasteurs are joined by figures once regarded as having only secondary importance. Roger Cotes, who edited the second edition of Newton's Principia, was just such a figure. Despite a distinguished position as Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge, Cotes received little recognition for his work, either in or after his lifetime. His only material reward, in fact, seems to have been an engraved portrait that Newton sent him in 1712. Frustratingly, the letter of thanks that Cotes sent to Newton failed to identify the portrait. So which of a number of candidates could it have been? In this issue of Notes and Records Bruce Bradley comes down in favour of a mezzotint based on a portrait by Sir James Thornhill. This engraving, as it happens, is also a rarity, to the point that Bradley has found only one copy, now in the Wellcome Library in London. If any readers know of other prints of this portrait (illustrated as fig. 4 in his article), the author would be glad to know of them.
The point about the contribution of secondary figures applies with particular strength to the natural history sciences. Especially in the nineteenth century and before, when travel was difficult and costly, leading naturalists depended heavily on observations and specimens sent to them by little-known collectors in far-flung places. Of no one was this truer than Darwin. Pursuing this thought, Jeff Ollerton, Gordon Chancellor and John van Wyhe explore the importance for Darwin of a relatively obscure Scottish gardener, John Tweedie, who turned to collecting plants in South America in the 1820s. As Ollerton, Chancellor and van Wyhe argue, it may well be that the two men met in Buenos Aires in 1832 during Darwin's voyage on the Beagle. Although the evidence of this meeting is circumstantial, we do know that Tweedie provided Darwin with local information about the geography and habitats of the Paraná River and may even have supplied him with seeds that in due course found their way back to John Stevens Henslow in Cambridge. Tweedie, of course, was one of many naturalists on whose work Darwin could draw, and the authors make no claim for any decisive influence that he may have had on Darwin's thinking. But he represents a type of contact that was essential on the long road to Origin of Species.
The widening of historians' concerns has also affected our perceptions of the shifting boundaries that have defined the scope of science in the past. The recent edition and study of the works of Francis Lodwick, reviewed in this issue by Michael Hunter, reveals a man whose profile of interests made him a characteristic, rather than an eccentric, figure in the Royal Society of the later seventeenth century. The Lodwick texts and the accompanying editorial matter by Felicity Henderson and William Poole properly have much to say about Lodwick's ambitions for a phonetic alphabet and a universal language, a project more commonly associated with John Wilkins. But they also demonstrate the breadth and boldness of Lodwick's thinking across the broad domain of natural philosophy. His modern-minded heterodoxy embraced reflexions on the age of the Earth (which he supposed to be vast) and other theologically risky questions ranging from the divinity of Christ to the nature of the pre-Adamite world and the proper form that divine worship should take in an age of reason.
In an issue in which the work of Fellows of the Royal Society is prominent, it is important to state once again, especially to potential contributors, that Notes and Records does not limit its brief to science associated with the Society. The fact remains, however, that it is hard to write about science since the seventeenth century, especially British science, without having the Society in view, often at centre stage. David Cahan's study of the award of Copley Medals to James Prescott Joule (in 1870), Julius Robert Mayer (in 1872) and Hermann von Helmholtz (in 1873) throws important light on the mechanisms by which the Society has recognized distinction and reinforced reputations. As Cahan shows, the awards came at the end of two decades in which thinly veiled national sentiment had loomed large in judgements of where true priority lay in the early history of energy physics. With William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait (‘a terrible chauvinist’, in Cahan's words) giving the main credit in the determination of the mechanical equivalent of heat to Joule, and Tyndall (who had spent three decisive years in Germany between 1848 and 1851) favouring Mayer, the awards to both Joule and Mayer have historical significance as signs that any nationalistic prejudice had gone out of the debate, in part thanks to the influence of Helmholtz, another contributor to the whole notion of energy conservation and the winner of the Copley Medal in 1873. Helmholtz emerges from Cahan's account as a conspicuously even-handed commentator who transcended prejudice by moving easily in the highest reaches of both German and British scientific circles. It is not surprising that he was approached about the possibility of accepting the new professorship of experimental physics in Cambridge, the professorship that Maxwell accepted in 1871.
The Copley Medal and other awards remain to this day essential vehicles in the Royal Society's work of acknowledging exceptional achievement. The Society, though, has always had a crucial role in the promotion of work in progress. In this, its journals have pride of place. But Neil Todd's account of the records of the Royal Society's Radium Committee identifies a little-known example of direct patronage in research. Set up in 1903, the committee administered a relatively modest fund for the purchase of radium until its winding up in 1937. Along the way, several leading figures in British science benefited from the fund, and some of the radium under its control survived long after the demise of the committee. In fact, it was not until 1953 that the last known specimen of the Royal Society's radium disappeared from the historical record.
Among those who drew on the fund for the purchase of radium was Ernest Rutherford, whose work in a quite different sphere is treated in Shaul Katzir's article on submarine detection and the invention of sonar during World War I. As Katzir shows, Rutherford's approach drew on his prewar familiarity with the piezoelectric effect. The result was an emitter of ultrasonic waves, ingenious but of limited immediate value for the development of detection equipment. In contrast, the work of Paul Langevin in France led to a true sonar device, one that built on Langevin's superior prior knowledge of piezoelectricity and his established familiarity with the associated techniques and possibilities. Katzir's conclusion is that although Rutherford's work stands as a useful contribution to the science of underwater detection, his claims to be considered even a ‘co-inventor’ of sonar are slight.
Katzir's article, like Cahan's, demonstrates the care with which historians have to handle notions of ‘discovery’ and ‘invention’ that lie at the heart of so much writing about past science and technology. That same consideration is relevant to Martin Moskovits's contribution to a series of articles about the discovery and early application of surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS). Following two earlier articles on SERS, by A. J. McQuillan and J. A. Creighton,1 Moskovits describes his own long engagement in SERS research going back to its earliest days in the 1970s, when the effect was first observed and the name SERS was coined. Almost 40 years on, SERS continues to attract keen attention, so that Moskovits's article stands (like McQuillan's and Creighton's) as an account of science still in the making. Such an account finds a natural home in Notes and Records of the Royal Society, and I hope that the Recollections section of the journal will continue to attract material of this kind.
Finally, readers may have noticed this year's cover image of the dodo and its two shadowy companions. The image, redrawn from Roelant Savery's ‘Landscape with birds’ of 1628, appeared as a plate in The Dodo and its kindred (London, 1848) by H. E. Strickland and A. G. Melville. It is yet another reminder of the bibliographical and iconographic riches of the Royal Society Library that form the core resource of the Society's Centre for History of Science. Joanna Hopkins's article in the March 2012 issue of the journal gave an account of a new means of access to these riches, through the Royal Society Picture Library database, with its initial 1000 items and facilities for downloading high-resolution images.2 The database, easily searchable and constantly growing, is now available for public consultation at http://pictures.royalsociety.org/. As a showcase for the Society's collections and an invaluable tool for researchers, it is well worth a visit.
↵1 A. James McQuillan, ‘The discovery of surface-enhanced Raman scattering’, Notes Rec. R. Soc. 63, 105–109 (2009); J. A. Creighton, ‘Contributions to the early development of surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy’, Notes Rec. R. Soc. 64, 175–183 (2010).
↵2 Joanna Hopkins, ‘The Royal Society Picture Library database’, Notes Rec. R. Soc. 66, 105–110 (2012).
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