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Bipartisan politics and practical knowledge: advertising of public science in two London newspapers, 1695–1720

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 July 2008

Department of Humanities, Mount Royal College, Calgary, AB, T3E 6K6, Canada. Email:
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This article explores the enticement of consumers for natural philosophy (buyers of books, audiences at public lectures and purchasers of instruments) in London between 1695 and 1720 through advertisements placed in two political newspapers. This twenty-five-year period witnessed both the birth of public science and the rage of party politics. A consideration of public science adverts within the Whig-leaning Post Man and the Tory-leaning Post Boy reveals that members of both the Whig and Tory parties were equally targeted and that natural philosophy was sold to London's reading population in bipartisan fashion. In the process of integrating natural philosophy into the wider culture through commercial sales, political allegiances were not imprinted on the advertising process. This conclusion raises questions regarding the historiographical assertion of Whig-supported public science and Tory opposition to it at the level of consumers.

Research Article
Copyright © 2008 British Society for the History of Science

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1 The period is further divided into 1695–1700 and 1710–1720. This is necessitated by two factors. First, the quantity of adverts required decisions about content; as a result not every public science advertisement is included. Second, I believed that examples taken from the early years of the Post Boy and Post Man, then from later years, provide a representative sample of what was on sale in the public science market.

2 This study ignored medical advertisements and those linked with quackery, with one exception: the section detailing adverts for public lectures includes anatomical lectures. Others have already addressed this material and there seemed no need to retrace their footsteps. See, for example, G. C. Peachy, A Memoir of William and John Hunter, Plymouth, 1924; R. Porter, Health for Sale: Quackery in England, 1660–1850, Manchester, 1989; B. M. Benedict, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry, Chicago, 2001, 40–1; Curth, L., ‘The commercialisation of medicine in the popular press: English almanacs 1640–1720’, Seventeenth Century (2002), 17, 4869Google Scholar; Guerrini, A., ‘Anatomists and entrepreneurs in early eighteenth-century London’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (2004), 59, 219–39CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. Bryden, D. J., ‘Evidence from advertising for mathematical instrument making in London, 1556–1714’, Annals of Science (1992), 49, 301–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, ‘From 16th century London to 19th century Philadelphia: a peregrination through three centuries of instrument advertising and ephemera’, Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society (1999), 61, 4–10; Bryden, D. J. and Simms, D. L., ‘Archimedes and the opticians of London’, Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society (1992), 35, 1114Google Scholar; Costa, S., ‘Marketing mathematics in early eighteenth-century England: Henry Beighton, certainty, and the public sphere’, History of Science (2002), 40, 211–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For studies of public science and newspaper advertisement see Wigelsworth, J. R., ‘Competing to popularize Newtonian philosophy: John Theophilus Desaguliers and the preservation of reputation’, Isis (2003), 93, 435–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Snobelen, S. D., ‘William Whiston, Isaac Newton and the crisis of publicity’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (2004), 35, 573603CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1666), 94, 162; (1672), 5050; (1702), 1246.

4 Adverts first appeared in English newspapers around 1624, often with the intent of retrieving items that either had been stolen or had wandered off in the case of horses, dogs and the occasional apprentice. It was not until 1660 that newspaper adverts ran regularly. Within a century nearly three-quarters of all space in newspapers consisted of advertisements. J. Black, The English Press 1621–1861, Stroud, 2001; Harris, M., ‘Timely notices: the use of advertising and its relationship to news during the late seventeenth century’, Prose Studies (1998), 21, 141–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Furdell, E. L., ‘Grub Street commerce: advertisements and politics in the early modern British press’, Historian (2001), 62, 3552, 38Google Scholar; Aspinall, A., ‘Statistical accounts of London newspapers in the eighteenth century’, English Historical Review (1948), 63, 201–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Cooter, R. and Pumfrey, S., ‘Separate spheres and public places: reflections on the history of science popularization and science in popular culture’, History of Science (1994), 32, 236–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 237, 254, 255. See also M. Fissell and R. Cooter, ‘Exploring natural knowledge: science and the popular’, in The Cambridge History of Science, Volume 4: Eighteenth-Century Science (ed. R. Porter), Cambridge, 2003, 129–58.

6 C. J. Sommeville, The News Revolution in England: Cultural Dynamics of Daily Information, Oxford, 1996, 123; Walker, R. B., ‘Advertising in London newspapers, 1650–1750’, Business History (1973), 15, 112–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 116, 130; Sutherland, J. R., ‘The circulation of newspapers and literary periodicals, 1700–30’, The Library (1935), 15, 110–24Google Scholar, 111, 124; G. Holmes, British Politics in the Age of Anne, rev. edn, London, 1987, 30–1.

7 For detailed definitions see J. G. A. Pocock, ‘The variety of Whiggism from exclusion to reform: a history of ideology and discourse’, in idem, Virtue, Commerce and History, Cambridge, 1985; L. Colley, In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714–1760, Cambridge, 1982.

8 M. C. Jacob, Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West, Oxford, 1997, 89–90; L. Stewart, The Rise of Public Science: Rhetoric,Technology, and Natural Philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660–1750, Cambridge, 1992, 317–19, 392; M. C. Jacob and L. Stewart, Practical Matter: Newton's Science in the Service of Industry and Empire 1687–1851, Cambridge, MA, 2004, 74; Guerrini, A., ‘The Tory Newtonians: Gregory, Pitcairne and their circle’, Journal of British Studies (1986), 25, 288311CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Friesen, J., ‘Archibald Pitcairne, David Gregory and the Scottish origins of English Tory Newtonianism, 1688–1715’, History of Science (2003), 41, 163–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Examples of Whig-supported natural philosophy include J. E. Force, William Whiston: Honest Newtonian, Cambridge, 1985, 93, 95; P. Fara, Sympathetic Attractions: Magnetic Practices, Beliefs, and Symbols in Eighteenth-Century England, Princeton, 1996, 25; R. G. Olson, ‘Tory high-church opposition to science and scientism in the eighteenth century’, in The Uses of Science in the Age of Newton (ed. J. G. Burke), Berkeley, 1983, 171–204; J. Gascoigne, Cambridge in the Age of the Enlightenment: Science, Religion and Politics from the Restoration to the French Revolution, Cambridge, 1989, 147, 167.

9 P. Langford, Public Life and Propertied Englishmen 1698–1798, Oxford, 1991, 9; C. Shammas, The Pre-industrial Consumer in England and America, Oxford, 1990, 299; M. Terrall, ‘Natural philosophy for fashionable readers’, in Books and the Sciences in History (ed. M. Frasca-Spada and N. Jardine), Cambridge, 2000, 239–54, 243, 252. See also J. Golinski, ‘Barometers of change: meteorological instruments as machines of Enlightenment’, in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe (ed. W. Clark, J. Golinski and S. Schaffer), Chicago, 1999, 69–93.

10 Voss, J. P., ‘Books for sale: advertising and patronage in late Elizabethan England’, Sixteenth Century Journal (1998), 29, 733–56, 736CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Furdell, op. cit. (4), 38.

11 Scholars in other fields have examined how newspapers acted to sell books. Historians of science have not, with some exceptions, made comparable studies. This is surprising when one considers the importance of books in the development of public science and the recent interest in the history of the book in relation to the history of science. See A. Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, Chicago, 1998; M. Frasca-Spada and N. Jardine (eds.), Books and the Sciences in History, Cambridge, 2000; special issue of the BJHS (2000) 33, 155–222.

12 P. Chamberlen, A Philosophical Essay on Actions on Distant Subjects, third edn, London, 1715, 1–19. Using Newton's name as a means to gain notoriety for his invention worked for Chamberlen. Two years later, in 1717, he published a much longer sixty-nine-page account of the necklace that did not include reference to Newton. On this kind of medical device see F. Doherty, A Study in Eighteenth-Century Advertising Methods: The Anodyne Necklace, Lewiston, NY, 1992.

13 Post Man, 18 May 1699; 2 January 1700; 22 September; 22 November 1715; 30 October 1718; 10 November; 3, 8, 22, 31 December 1720.

14 Post Boy, 26 October; 5, 9, 28 November 1695. The sale of Harris's library is in the Post Boy, 14, 16, 19, 21 January 1720.

15 Post Boy, 2 January 1696.

16 Post Boy, 7 March 1700.

17 Lockwood, T., ‘Subscription-hunters and their prey’, Studies in the Literary Imagination (2001), 34, 121–35Google Scholar, 122, 130; W. A. Speck, ‘Politicians, peers, and publication by subscription 1700–50’, in Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England (ed. I. Rivers), New York, 1982, 50–1, 52–3, 62; Wallis, P. J., ‘Book subscription lists’, The Library (1974), 29, 255–86Google Scholar, 268, 273.

18 Post Man, 19 April 1701. Johns, op. cit. (11), 450–4; on the social aspect of book subscriptions see J. Brewer, The Pleasure of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century, Chicago, 1997, 164–6.

19 Post Man, 16, 18, 20 June 1719. Although it falls outside the limits of this study, in April 1703 subscribers were sought for John Harris's Lexicon tecnicum magnum: or an universal English dictionary of sciences.

20 Post Man, 3 September 1720; 27, 29 October 1720; 10, 13, 20 December 1720. One advert for the completed book did appear in the Post Boy on 8 December 1720 but none of the adverts seeking subscribers seems to have been placed in that newspaper. On Newton and Slaone see Wallis, op. cit. (17), 280. On Sunderland and Mears see BL Add. MS 61659 fols. 57, 77.

21 Post Boy, 1 April 1712. W. L. Schaaf, ‘Ozanam, Jacques’, DSB.

22 Post Boy, 13, 20, 27 August 1720; J. Payen, ‘Nicolas Bion’, DSB; E. Stone, The Construction and Principle Uses of Mathematical Instruments. Translated from the French of M. Bion, London, 1723, pp. iii–iv. Argyll had joined the Whigs in 1713 and would fight the Jacobite army in 1715 before becoming commander-in-chief of the British Army in 1742.

23 Post Boy, 22 August 1696; 20 April 1697; 18 February 1699; 5 December 1699.

24 Post Boy, 11 February 1718; 10 December 1720.

25 Post Man, 25 May 1697.

26 See Post Man, 9 September 1697–December 1700, passim.

27 Post Boy, 5, 7, 28 December 1695; 28 November 1699; 15 February 1700; 15 June 1700.

28 Post Boy, 4 December 1712; 31 March 1713; 1, 11 August 1713.

29 Post Boy, 19, 24, 28 May 1720; 24 September 1720.

30 Post Man, 17 September 1696, 3 November 1696.

31 Post Man, 1 July 1699; 9 December 1704; 2 August 1705.

32 Post Man, 5 July 1715; 9, 23 June 1719.

33 Post Man, 14, 16 January 1696.

34 Post Man, 4 February 1697. Adverts for anatomical books are in the Post Boy, 2 January 1696, and Post Man, 14 December 1697. BL Add. MS 4470 fol. 41.

35 Post Boy, 21 November 1696; Post Man, 12, 14 November 1696. BL Sloane MS 4065 fol. 126. E. O'Hanlon to John Gorman, MD.

36 Post Man, 31 December 1696; 19 January 1697. On the appeal of foreign-language lectures see M. C. Jacob, Strangers Nowhere in the World: The Rise of Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern Europe, Philadelphia, 2006.

37 Gibbs, F. W., ‘George Wilson, 1631–1711’, Endeavour (1953), 12, 183–4Google Scholar.

38 J. Golinski, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760–1820, Cambridge, 1992, 59.

39 Post Boy, 17, 24 December 1696; 5 January 1697; 8, 15 April 1697; 21 September 1697, 22 March 1698.

40 Post Boy, 14 March 1699; August (passim) 1699; March (passim) 1700.

41 Post Man, 18 June 1700; 31 March 1709. A fourth edition came out in 1721.

42 G. Wilson, A Compleat Course of Chymistry, 2nd edn, London, 1703; Post Boy, 15 November 1711.

43 The Post Man did have adverts for John Harris's ‘Mathematick lecture at the session house on St Margarets Hill in Southwark’ (26 April 1701). Later adverts notified readers that these would be moving to ‘Marine Coffee-house in Birchin-lane near the Royal Exchange’ (20 September 1701). On 4 October 1701 the following advert appeared: ‘On Monday next being the 6th of October there will be a Society began at Coles Coffee-house in Birchin-lane, at 5 in the afternoon, where Mr. Caffarelli an Italian Minister, will teach Geography, History, Chronology, and the use of the Terrestrial Globe, 3 time a week in 3 different Languages, (viz.) On Monday in Latin, Wednesday in Italian, and Friday in French’.

44 Post Man, 29 June 1710; 23 November 1710.

45 Post Man, 16 February 1710. See also the issues for 2 and 21 March and 20 April 1710. F. Hauksbee, Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects, London, 1709, 185. BL Add. MS 4229 fols. 1–32v. Hauksbee's reading notes from Boyle. The Post Boy, 27 November 1711. On Friend see Guerrini, op. cit. (8).

46 Post Boy, 8, 15 January 1713.

47 Post Boy, 8 January 1713.

48 Post Boy, 7 May 1713.

49 Post Man, 31 January 1717.

50 BL Burney MS 522 fol. 2: T. Morell's notes on Whiston.

51 Johnson, P., ‘The Board of Longitude 1714–1828’, Journal of the British Astronomical Association (1989), 99, 63–9, 65–6Google Scholar; Stewart, op. cit. (8), 186, 189.

52 Post Man, 26 October 1714; S. Snobelen and L. Stewart, ‘Making Newton easy: William Whiston in Cambridge and London’, in From Newton to Hawking: A History of Cambridge University's Lucasian Professors of Mathematics (ed. K. C. Knox and R. Noakes), Cambridge, 2003, 163–5.

53 Post Man, 14 July 1715.

54 Post Man, 14 May 1717.

55 Post Boy, 8 March 1720. For a detailed account of the longitude advertising campaign see J. R. Wigelsworth, ‘Navigation and newsprint: advertising longitude schemes in the public sphere ca. 1715’, Science in Context, forthcoming.

56 Post Man, 20 April 1717; 16, 23 November 1717.

57 Post Man, 6 December 1718.

58 Post Man, 28 February 1719; 5 September 1719; 12, 19 March 1720; 10, 12 November 1720; 29, 31 December 1720. Seligman, S. A., ‘Mary Toft – the rabbit breeder’, Medical History (1961), 5, 349–60CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

59 Post Boy, 28 February 1719.

60 Post Boy, 18 September 1718. On lecture content see Guerrini, op. cit. (2), 225–6.

61 Stewart, op. cit. (8), 34–138; Loftis, J., ‘Richard Steele's censorium’, Huntington Library Quarterly (1950), 14, 4366CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Post Boy, 23, 30 December 1718; 12, 21 November 1719; 21 January 1720.

63 Post Boy, 27 December 1718.

64 Post Boy, 1719 and 1720, passim.

65 Sorrenson, R., ‘The ship as a scientific instrument in the eighteenth century’, Osiris (1996), 11, 221–36, 221CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Cohen, A. M., ‘Englishing the globe: Molyneux's globes and Shakespeare's theatre career’, Sixteenth Century Journal (2006), 37, 963–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

67 Post Boy, 16 April 1696; J. E. Bennett, ‘Shopping for instruments in Paris and London’, in Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe (ed. P. H. Smith and P. Findlen), New York, 2002, 374. On retail stores in eighteenth-century England see H.-C. Mui and L. H. Mui, Shops and Shopkeeping in Eighteenth-Century England, Montreal, 1989.

68 Post Man, 4 December 1707. BL Sloane MS 4060 fol. 270.

69 Post Man, 6 August 1709.

70 Post Boy, 21 February 1713; G. Clifton and G. L'E. Turner (eds.), Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550–1851, London, 1995, 223.

71 Post Boy, 26 February 1713.

72 Post Boy, 31 October 1696; B. Reuben, ‘Gauge, level’, in Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopedia (ed. R. Bud and D. J. Warner) London, 1998, 270.

73 BL Add. MS 33056 fols. 329r–332v. Cajori, F., ‘Notes on the history of the slide rule’, American Mathematical Monthly (1908), 15, 15, 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Grabiner, J. V., ‘“Some disputes of consequence”: Maclaurin among the molasses barrels’, Social Studies of Science (1998), 28, 139–68, 151CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

74 Post Boy, 10 June 1697; Clifton and Turner, op. cit. (70), 305.

75 Post Boy, 5 October 1697.

76 Post Man, 17 December 1697; Post Boy, 6 July 1697; C. Singer et al. (eds.), A History of Technology, Volume 3: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution c.1500–c.1750, Oxford, 1957, 634; Whipple, R., ‘John Yarwell or the story of a trade card’, Annals of science (1951), 7, 62–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hunter, M. C. W., ‘The crown, the public and the new science, 1689–1702’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society (1989), 43, 99116, 104CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

77 BL Add. MS 46968 fol. 157–162v.

78 Post Boy, 16 April 1715. Walters, A. N., ‘Ephemeral events: English broadsides of early eighteenth-century solar eclipses’, History of Science (1999), 37, 143CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 9. BL Stowe MS 748 fol. 1. Sturt requesting payment.

79 Post Man, 9 April 1696; 12 September 1702.

80 Post Man, 4 July 1699; 24, 28 October 1699; 7 December 1699.

81 Bryden, D. J. and Smith, D. L., ‘Spectacles improved to perfection and approved of by the Royal Society’, Annals of Science (1993), 50, 132CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, 17, 18, 23, 26; Bryden, D. J. and Simms, D. L., ‘The cover design: Archimedes as an advertising symbol’, Technology and Culture (1993), 34, 387–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 390; S. Tyacke, London Map-Sellers 1660–1720, Tring, 1978, 148; R. V. Tooley, Maps and Map-Makers, London, 1949, 55; Clifton and Turner, op. cit. (70), 299.

82 Post Man, 29 January 1717.

83 Post Man, 29 October 1720. On instruments as a means of self-promotion see M. Biagioli, Galileo's Instruments of Credit: Telescopes, Images, Secrecy, Chicago, 2006.

84 Harris, J. and Desaguliers, J. T., ‘An account of some experiments tried with Mons/Villette's burning concave, in June 1718’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1718), 30, 976–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I thank Larry Stewart for this reference. F. Villette, A Description of the Great Burning-Glass Made by Mr. Villette and His Two Sons, Born at Lyons, London, 1719, 14–15.

85 M. Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Oxford, 2005, 270.

86 Guerrini, op. cit. (8), 290.

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