Category Archives: Scotland

Pepys struggled with reading a book on Colours

I have just received a lovely letter from Mr Kenneth Bone in Stirlingshire, telling me about one of his favourite quotations from Samuel Pepys’ Diary (Vol 2).

2nd June 1667 (Lords Day)

Being weary and almost blind with writing and reading so much today, I took boat and up the river all alone as high as Putney almost, and then back again, all the way reading and finishing Mr. Boyle’s book of Colours, which is so chemical that I can understand but little of it, but enough to see that he is a most excellent man.”

Pepys was talking about Robert Boyle’s Experiments on Colours, published in 1663, and Mr Bone wondered why I hadn’t mentioned it in my bibliography of Colour: Travels through the Paintbox. I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t even found it, let alone struggled through the chemistry of it.

However since then, Gutenberg, that wonderful free library institution (for which I helped on the inputting of a couple of fantastic obscure books a few years ago, which I’d recommend to anyone who likes that kind of thing) has now put it online.

It starts with a short Preface, expressing a concern that I have some sympathy with:

Having in convenient places of the following Treatise, mention'd the
Motives, that induc'd me to write it, and the Scope I propos'd to my self
in it; I think it superfluous to entertain the Reader now, with what he
will meet with hereafter. And I should judge it needless, to trouble
others, or my self, with any thing of Preface: were it not that I can
scarce doubt, but this Book will fall into the hands of some Readers, who
being unacquainted with the difficulty of attempts of this nature, will
think itn strange that I should publish any thing about Colours, without a
particular Theory of them.

Read more of the 1664 book here, though apparently the best edition was published in 1852, with notes by John Holmes Esq, of the British Museum. Next time, some information from the Painter’s Companion, 1810, also sadly unquoted in my book, but deserving a mention.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those readers giving thanks.


How a life changed with a friend’s carelessness

The Heddle Family in around 1890

I have just been rereading my notes about the eminent 19th century Scottish mineralogist Matthew Forster Heddle, who studied at the University of Edinburgh and found he loved studying chemistry and botany, and wanted to devote his life to those subjects. But then he lent his herbarium to a friend, who ruined it.

“Thinking over his loss he determined to relinquish botany as a special study and to devote himself to geology and mineralogy, which determination he never afterwards regretted,” wrote David Douglas in his 1901 book, The Mineralogy of Scotland.

Heddle went on to teach mineralogy at St Andrews, spending every summer exploring Scotland’s rocks: “Few parts of Scotland and its adjacent Islands… were unvisited and unexplored… The slitting of agates, rocks and minerals for specimens and microscopic slides, which he did actually by thousands amid all his other work, was little less than marvellous…”

I wonder how often, as he crouched alone with his rock hammer and collecting bags in all sorts of weather beside the cliffs, beaches, tarns and precipices of remote highlands and islands, he remembered that friend. Did he thank him or her, or did he always wonder with a little regret whether he might instead have discovered a great cure for malaria or TB, or what his very different life might have been like, had that herbarium survived?

Link here for some extra notes about agates, which nearly merited a chapter, but then at the last minute did not.

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