Rare Books Highlights: Squire on the Longitude

A book open to two pages showing interspered text and rows of symbols.

Pages of Squire’s Proposal showing symbols of her own invention.

Squire, Jane. A proposal to determine our longitude. London: Printed for the author, and sold by S. Cope … and by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1743. Call number: QB225 S66x, 1743.

Women’s History Month was established to honor the contribution of women to society, and Jane Squire was not at all shy about putting herself forward as a women with a contribution to make.

Squire was an eighteenth century British woman and the only woman to participate openly when the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714 that offered a reward to whomever could establish a workable method for determining longitude at sea. Latitude was much easier to calculate than longitude, and the inability to accurately determine a ship’s east-west location sometimes resulted in shipwrecks.

Jane Squire boldly put forward her proposal, expecting it to be taken seriously, even though it was not considered proper at the time for women to engage in navigation and mathematics, especially for monetary gain. In a letter to Sir Thomas Hanmer, published in the book, she counters the objection with a hint of sly wit:

The Term Mathematick, I with great Ease resign to Men; but to count, to measure, &c. which are now generally suppos’d to be included in it; are so naturally, the Properties of every reasonable Creature, that it is impossible to renounce them, and deserve that Honour. (30)

And later she writes, in a frequently-quoted passage, “I do not remember any Play-thing, that does not appear to me a mathematical Instrument; nor any mathematical Instrument, that does not appear to me a Play-thing: I see not, therefore why I should confine myself to Needles, Cards, and Dice; much less to such Sorts of them only, as are at present in Use” (31).

If you are interested in learning more about Squire’s unusual and sometimes difficult life, I highly recommend the blog post, “The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire,” from the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge.

Our copy of Squire’s Proposal is a second edition, bound in leather and decorated with some unusual symbols that seem to be Squire’s invention and can be seen within the text in the image that heads this post. According to the aforementioned CRASSH blog post, this is the common binding for this book, which is interesting at a time when most books were sold unbound.

Shows front cover of book bound in leather with a black circle in the center fo the cover with cross-shaped symbols stamped in gold into the circle.

Front cover of Squire’s Proposal, showing symbols stamped into the leather binding.

Inside the front cover, there is evidence of an interesting provenance, or ownership history, for our copy, indicating that it was owned by at least two notable people.

Inside front cover of a book showing a bookplate in the center with a coat of arms of a birth of pray with wings extended rising out of a crown surrounded by a ring with the words White Wallingwells. Second bookplate is a simple name in white on gray reading Harrison D. Horblit

Two bookplates inside ISU’s copy of Squire’s Proposal.

The round armorial bookplate in the center has the words “White” and “Wallingwells” in the circle and appears to belong to the White Baronetcy of Tuxford and Wallingwells in County of Nottingham, England. Sir Thomas Woollaston White, 1st Baronet, lived from 1767-1816, and could easily have added this book to his library. The plain name plate reading “Harrison D. Horblit” indicates the noted collector of rare books in the history of science, navigation, and mathematics. Horblit is the author of One hundred books famous in science: based on an exhibition at the Grolier Club (call number: Q124 H781o), now a common reference book for rare book collectors and librarians–though it does not include Squire’s Proposal. It is pretty exciting to have a book with such an interesting provenance!

The copy also includes the fold-out summary of the proposal.

Unfolded large sheet of paper with many sections of text and charts of symbols

Fold out summary of Squire’s proposal bound into the front of the book.

This summary gives a visual demonstration of the proposal’s complexity. The CRASSH blog post describes the proposed method as based on “real astronomical research and intellectual trends” but not easy to put into practice. “The scheme centred on dividing the heavens into more than a million segments which could be recognised visually, so that young sailors would not need advanced mathematics, and which were described through a new universal language.”

This book presents an interesting element in the history of navigation and a woman who was not afraid to tread in new paths.

Cited

“The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire.” CRASSH blog, Posted 1 Dec. 2014, CRASSH: Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities, www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/blog/post/the-lady-of-the-longitude. Accessed 28 March 2017.

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