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31 Oct

An Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft

From page 127 of 'Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Rebellion of 1745" Courtesy British Library, Public Domain

From page 127 of ‘Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Rebellion of 1745″ Courtesy British Library, Public Domain

Dr. Wallace Notestein chose an end date of 1718 for his A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718 because “that year was marked by the publication of Francis Hutchinson’s notable attack upon the belief. Hutchinson levelled a final and deadly blow at the dying superstition.”

Historical Essay concerning witchcraft
This view of the importance of An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft is echoed in more recent works. For example, The Devil in Disguise (2011) concurs with the assessment of the Essay and also suggests that an earlier pamphlet The Case of the Hertfordshire Witchcraft Consider’d is likely to have been written by Hutchinson. An account of that Hertfordshire witch trial against Jane Wenham, together with Hutchinson and Hans Sloane’s involvement is to be found on the Sloane Letters blog. Hutchison was concerned by the level of superstition which characterised the witch hunts, and moved from sharing that concern with Sloane to publishing his Essay in 1718, with the aim of preventing that superstition from spreading.

Sloane is not the only Irish link to this story. A second edition of the Historical Essay was published in 1720, the year Hutchinson was appointed Bishop of Down and Conor. While not active in his religious duties as bishop, he took an interest in conditions in his diocese. He was particularly concerned with the problems of Irish speakers in the Church of Ireland, especially the community on Rathlin Island. He had a bilingual catechism and primer printed for their use, and later an Irish catechism. In all these the Irish was rendered phonetically in a Roman script. More on his adaptation of Irish and his attempts to proselytize among the Catholic population is available on History Ireland.
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30 Oct

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: GPA Bolton Library

Bolton Library

Is the sun setting on GPA Bolton Library?
© IrishPhilosophy (CC BY 2.0)

One of Ireland’s most visited sites, the Rock of Cashel, was in use up to the mid-Eighteenth century. To replace the cathedral there, a new one was built (1749-1784) on the site of a medieval church. The Church of Ireland Cathedral of St John the Baptist now stands next next to an unassuming chapterhouse, which houses the Bolton book collection, which the International Dictionary of Library Histories calls “one of the great treasures of the Church of Ireland” and “probably one of the finest collections of antiquarian books in Ireland outside Dublin.” The Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections (London 1997) says that, “The [Bolton] collection contains many items of great rarity, at least fifty not recorded elsewhere in the world, and some 800 not recorded elsewhere in Ireland.”

The Collection

Photography is not permitted in the library, but the Heritage Council report on the Library contains images of the interior and of many of the books mentioned below.

The collection includes 11,000-12,000 items. These include fragments of papyrus, 15 manuscripts predating 1701, 45 books printed before 1501 (incunabulas), letters, maps and 200 pamphlets. The oldest manuscript, on vellum, dates from the 12th century and includes an early example of the use of zero. The finest Irish manuscript comes from the hand of Dermot O’Connor of Limerick in 1716, and includes translation of French heraldric rules into Irish. The most notable of the incunabulas is probably an uncoloured copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1483).
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24 Oct

What Kind of Nation (Once Again)?

Thomas Osbourne Davis Wikicommons (Public Domain)

Thomas Osborne Davis
Wikicommons (Public Domain)

Thomas Osborne Davis was born two hundred years ago in Mallow Co. Cork on 24 October 1814 (the date is disputed – some say the 14th October). He is best known as a poet (see here), with one of his most famous songs being “A Nation Once Again” (version by the Dubliners here).

Later writers have argued for Davis as more than a poet and writer, however. T. W. Rolleston (in the introduction to The prose writings of Thomas Davis) goes as far as to cite Davis as the mingling of two streams in Irish thought: Swift’s defence from enemies without and Berkeley’s encouragement of improvements by the Irish people themselves. Davis did not write systematically or academically, but he did succeed in his self-set task as populariser. He set out a vision of Ireland that proved influential. Not only were his works (mostly written for newspapers) collected and republished, but he was invoked by Padraig Pearse and Arthur Griffith, and cited as inspiration by Fenian John O’Leary. Most directly, he influenced the group around him, who had joined O’Connell’s Repeal Movement with him in 1841 and who were christened by a reporter “Young Ireland”.
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21 Oct

Why Study…James Ussher

Why Study…James Ussher with Professor Alan Ford, University of Nottingham.

Ussher (1581-1656) is now principally remembered for just one thing: giving the date of the creation as 4004 B.C. (on “the entrance of the night preceding the twenty third day of Octob[er]”). The chronology from which this date comes has become a foundational text of creationists; as Prof Alan Ford writes

It is a neat irony that one of Ussher’s greatest works of scholarship, the summation of a lifetime’s investigation of biblical chronology, which combined the latest scientific and astronomical discoveries of his day with the profoundest scriptural and historical research, should now be upheld by those who reject the consensus of contemporary biblical and scientific studies.

Stephen J. Gould argued that, while obviously wrong, “I shall be defending Ussher’s chronology as an honourable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past.” Those adopting and those dismissing Ussher both tend to break the rule that the context in which a philosopher worked should not be ignored; another irony is that Ussher did the same when exploring the history of the early Christian Church in Ireland, as the video explains.

16 Oct

“Old Luke Wadding…said Welcome”

Oil painting of Luke Wadding by Carlo Maratta held in the National Gallery of Ireland (public domain)

Oil painting of Luke Wadding by Carlo Maratta held in the National Gallery of Ireland (public domain)

He was born in Waterford and became a great scholar. He died in the 17th century after spending most of his adult life abroad. Religion was central to his life. Some of his work is still used today. However, unlike Robert Boyle, to whom this description could also apply, Luke Wadding has been almost forgotten.

In the 16th and 17th century, scholasticism saw a second flowering. The works of Thomas Aquinas were studied by scholars of the Dominican and Carmelite orders. The Franciscans tended to study the work of Franciscan Duns Scotus, with the school proper emerging as Scotus’ works were collected and edited in the 16th century. The Jesuits drew from both, the philosopher Suárez being the most influential example (Suarezianism was effectively another school). There was variation within this broad outline: an individual philosopher in any of these schools might draw on many philosophers. Corkman John Punch for example was primarily a Scotist scholar but also drew on Ockham and Aquinas.

This was the world Luke Wadding moved in. Born eleventh in a family of fourteen, he was named for “Luke” after the feastday on the 18th October two days after his birth. His mother was related to the archbishop of Armagh, his brother Ambrose became a Jesuit as did cousins Peter and Michael Wadding, and another cousin Richard became an Augustinian. Little surprise then that Luke Wadding entered a seminary in Portugal in 1604 after studying in Kilkenny College. He joined the Franciscan order and was ordained in 1613. That was the start of a long and illustrious career: professor in Salamanca, theologian in Rome, founder of the Irish College of St Isidore in Rome (1625), rector of the college, founder of the Ludovisian College for Irish secular priests, Procurator of the Franciscans at Rome, 1630-34, and Vice-Commissary of the order from 1645-48.
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16 Oct

Quaternion Bridge

The quaternion plaque on Broombridge © Cliff Bilbrey on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The quaternion plaque on Broombridge
© Cliff Bilbrey on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This plaque commemorates the discovery of the quaternion formula (i2=j2=k2=ijk=-1) by Sir William Rowan Hamilton on 16th October 1843, as he walked along the canal from Dunsink on his way to a meeting in Dublin. Without paper to hand he scratched the formula into one of the bridge’s stones.

There is a commemorative Hamilton Walk organised by the Maynooth University Maths department every year. There is also a virtual version here.

For a Storify of Hamilton Day 2015 and the 25th Hamilton Walk, click here.

16 Oct

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About…

Statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Sq, Dublin © Eoin Gardiner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Sq, Dublin
© Eoin Gardiner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

…is not being talked about. Here is a roundup of links for Oscar Wilde’s 160th birthday.

With the release of a new play The Trials of Oscar Wilde the Independent asked Is Oscar Wilde’s reputation due for another reassessment? One of the authors is Merlin Holland, Wilde’s only grandchild.

An Oscar Wilde photograph from Ashford Castle is to go to auction, while a photograph of Harry Bushell, who may be been the fellow prisoner Wilde mentioned in letters, has been in the papers today. The photograph is just one item turned up by Prof Peter Stoneley, University of Reading, which will form part of a new exhibition, Oscar Wilde and Reading Gaol.
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03 Oct

Tyranny and Government

A democratic republic cannot be permanently maintained in any country, unless there prevail amongst the people much public spirit and intelligence; and even if it be maintained, civic virtues of the highest kind are required to prevent the existence of evils incidental to the abuse of power. In the republics of ancient Greece, oppression was practised by the dominant majority of the multitude, with as much recklessness as has ever been exhibited by the caprice of imperial tyranny. The republic of Rome was never free from faction.
[…]
These observations are made, not for the purpose of reconciling the reader to the maintenance of tyranny in any form; not for the purpose of deterring him from seeking the greatest possible perfectibility in political institutions; but in order to prevent him from being misled by mere names, and in order to convince him that much of evil must be expected under even the most perfect form of government that can be devised.”

From Principles of Government, Or Meditations in Exile, by William Smith O’Brien (p. 126, American Edition, 1857).