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29 Apr

Root and STEM

Taming the Electric Fluids (c) PhotoAtelier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Taming the Electric Fluids
(c) PhotoAtelier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the general consciousness, philosophy is more associated with the arts than with science. The nesting of philosophy under “literature” in the Oxford Reference timeline tool is one example. In the case of Irish philosophy it’s understandable given great writers such as Swift, Wilde and Yeats fit into the category of Irish philosopher. But Irish philosophy (as all philosophy) also includes people who are interested in the natural world, mathematics and technology.

AE wrote in 1925 (Irish Statesman): “Ireland has not only the unique Gaelic tradition, but it has also given birth, if it accepts all of its children, to many men who have influenced European culture and science, Berkeley, Swift, Goldsmith, Burke, Sheridan, Moore, Hamilton, Kelvin, Tyndall, Shaw, Yeats, Synge and many others of international repute.” Four of those names unequivocally played a role in the history of STEM. Three of those were also philosophers.
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28 Apr

Honest, Noble and Most Ancient

Toland testimonial

The text of a testimonial given by the Franciscans of Prague to John Toland, taken from A collection of several pieces of Mr. John Toland (1726) edited by Pierre Desmaizeaux after Toland’s death in 1722 (on Google Books). This testifies that John Toland came from a honest, noble and most ancient family from the Innisowen peninsula. There were many rumours about Toland’s background, including that he was the illegitimate son of a priest.

John Toland visited the Irish College in Prague in 1708 and met Francis O’Devlin (the second signatory above), renowned for his work in the Irish language. The college itself was founded in 1629. Its first superior was Patrick Fleming, mentioned previously in connection with the Irish colleges in Leuven and Rome. He, along with fellow-Irishman Matthew Hoar, was killed on 7 November 1631 by Calvinist peasants while fleeing a threatened attack on Prague in the Thirty Years War.

More on the Irish College in Prague is in the Irish Times today (Andy Pollak, 28th April 2015). Surprisingly the College library contained a work by Toland: his edition of the works of English republican James Harrington Oceania.

The latin text of the testimonial:

Infra scripti testamur Dom. Joannem Toland ortum esse ex honesta, nobili & antiquissma Familia, quae per plures centenos annos, ut Regni Historia mostrant memoria, in Peninsula Hiberniae Enis-Oën dicta, prope urbem Londino-Deri in Ultonia, perduravit. In cujus rei firmiorem fidem, nos ex eadum Patria oriundi propriis manibus subscripsimus, Pragae in Bohemia, hac die 2 Jan. 1708.

16 Apr

Further Elucidations on Newton’s Thoughts

how acceptable I thought it might be to the Learned World, upon a second edition of Mr. Newton’s Phil. Nat. Princ. Math. to receive some further Elucidations upon those sublime thoughts therein containd. I do not know how far Mr Newton himself may be inclinable to undertake such a task, I am apt to think he may not conceive it worth his While, but may rather leave it to others to build on that Foundation that he has laid. If therefore by your Advice and Incouragement any of the Curious Witts of Lond[on] could be put upon such an undertaking, I should think it very wel worth his Pains. We have in some Measure already an Instance of the Relish Many would have of such a Work in what Mr Whiston has Publishd in his New-Theory. Which you know has had an abundance of Mr Newtons doctrine in it, and has invited a Multitude of Readers that would hardly ever have lookd into Mr Newtons own Work, By reason of the Difficulty of the One, and the Familiarity of the Other.

From a letter dated November 13, 1697, from William Molyneux (born 17th April 1656) to Hans Sloane (born 16th April 1660). Sloane MS 4036, fol. 367, as quoted in Science and the Shape of Orthodoxy: Intellectual Change in Late Seventeenth Century Britain by Michael Hunter.

This letter is characteristic of the roles both men played: Molyneux (one of the few who could appreciate Newton’s Principia without assistance, per Hunter) seeking to disseminate Newtonian physics more widely, and seeking the support of Sloane, editor of the Philosophical Transactions and centre of a network of those “witts” interested in natural philosophy. The book Molyneux recommended emulating is A New Theory of the Earth. At the time of writing the spread, let alone the widespread acceptance, of Newton’s physics had only just begun.

10 Apr

Mysticism and Better Business: George William Russell (AE)

St. John Ervine’s play Changing Winds (1917) includes the following line: ‘Was there any one on earth less like the typical Ulsterman than George Russell, who preached mysticism and better business?” Russell’s story seems a radical divide between two aspects: the ‘strayed angel’ (as W. B. Yeats’ sisters nicknamed him): artist, poet, spiritualist, visionary and the practical man: agricultural economist, organiser of the Irish co-operative movement, journalist and newspaper editor.

Born on 10th April 1867 at William Street, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, Russell lived there until 1878 when the whole family moved to Dublin. Russell spent every second summer in Armagh and on a visit in 1883 began to experience supernatural visions which continued into adult life, affecting both his art and his sense of self. His artistic talents had been clear from a young age and he took classes at the Metropolitan School of Art where he came to know the poet William Butler Yeats around 1883. Yeats wrote a pen portrait of him about this time.
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04 Apr

Here lies our good Edmund

Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such,
We scarcely can praise it, or blame it too much;
Who, born for the universe, narrow’d his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind:
Tho’fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat
To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote;
Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
And thought of convincing, while they thought of dining;
Though equal to all things, for all things unfit;
Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit;
For a patriot, too cool; for a drudge, disobedient;
And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient.

From “Retaliation” (1774) by Oliver Goldsmith (full poem here, notes here).

The actor Garrick suggested that he and Goldsmith should compare their skill at epigrams by writing each others epitaph. Goldsmith went further and wrote this poem, containing epitaphs for Garrick and ten others, with a prologue where they meet at table bringing food. Goldsmith brings the gooseberry fool.

The extract above is the epitaph for Edmund Burke.

01 Apr

Marsh’s comment on Christianity Not Mysterious

A page of Toland's "Christianity Not Mysterious", annotated by Marsh © Marsh's Library (CC)

A page of Toland’s “Christianity Not Mysterious”, annotated by Marsh
© Marsh’s Library (CC)

Narcissus Marsh was a member of the Irish Parliament that ordered the burning of Christianity not Mysterious (1696) by the public hangman in Dublin on 11 September 1697. Nonetheless, he retained a copy which still survives in the library he founded. Marsh has underlined the last four words of Toland’s assertion that “This I stand by still, and may add, I hope, that I have clearly prov’d it too” and noted waspishly in the margin:

‘You have often said it indeed, but yet proved nothing, unless saying a thing is so be proving it to be so’.

This annotation was not enough for him; Marsh was the one who commissioned Peter Browne to write a response, published as a A letter in answer to a book entitled, Christianity not mysterious as also, to all those who set up for reason and evidence in opposition to revelation & mysteries published in 1697.