Okay, blogosphere, I’m picking it up again for the summer. Stay tuned for reports from the February/March UK trip, the depths of Newton’s strangeness, and the various adventures I’ll be partaking in over the summer.

Stay tuned!

Well, I have many updates to make, now that I am back home from a lengthy research and conference trip to the UK.

My first stretch was at the Wren library in cambridge. It was a wonderful place to work, although it was very intimidating having multiple busts of newton glowering at me as i leafed through his bible. he dogeared a lot of the naughty parts of the bible, including that section about lying with whomever being wickedness. At first I wanted this to mean that he was either titillated or naughty himself.

Then I started thinking about the kinds of sermons I’d choose if I were preaching to Cambridge university students during the 1660s, and realized that all of the parts about not sleeping around might be exactly what I’d choose. so the marking up of dirty parts might just have meant he was a good churchgoing boy.

More clear-cut is Newton’s love for the book of revelation, thumbed and annotated like crazy. But who can blame him?

I also looked at his copy of the Principia, possibly the most expensive/priceless thing i have ever touched, his copies of literary texts (whose pristine condition implies that most of them were less fascinating to newton than the bible), and lots of other random things.

I also saw his death mask — newton had a hell of a nose.

i think my favorite part of the library was that stained glass window above the work table. when the sun would shift, little patches of red and blue would sometimes slide across the table. my least favorite part? when tourists would come to see the library and stare at me like i was some kind of nerd exhibit.

coming up: adventures at the british library, conference experiences in manchester and oxford, our trip to the cotswolds, and more love and adventures in london.

I found something interesting today from ECCO — a French grammar book that uses a sample dialogue about alchemy to teach grammar. In the dialogue, the alchemist is a friend of the conversants who has “run mad on chymistry.” Finally a useful French textbook! Much better than “Jacques donne de l’argent a la vendeuse” or all of the other banal sentences we had in 6th grade.  Perhaps an alchemical version would be “Jacques rende la vendeuse en argent.”

Of course, I’m speaking relatively. Even though much of my work goes back to the seventeenth century — Newton was, after all, born in 1642 — when I find myself reading older writers, it’s sometimes rather painful. I just finished Jonson’s The Alchemist as research for this chapter and, even though I find it wonderful, I can’t imagine how those early seventeenth centuriers (centurions?) do it. I think I was halfway through the play when I deciphered that “Dol.” was female. She is referred to as “a colleague” in the Dramatis Personae. Perhaps I should just blame the edition, which had some lousy footnotes.

Late seventeenth and eighteenth century plays were nothing if not distinct about these matters, listing the men separately from the ladies. And of course anatomical distinctions in these plays are quite…pronounced.

Even though it’s not terribly embarrassing to mistake someone’s gender in print today, especially when there are girls named Mitch out there, I still feel like somehow I should have known.  

But old people from back in the early 17th don’t make that much sense anyway. 1610? That’s so old. They wrote poems about farts back then. Give me the 1670s when they wrote about wandering dildos.

I’m tracking the different English editions of Algarotti’s Newtonianismo per le Dame for my SHARP presentation in Oxford this June, and I’m feeling ambivalent about both rare books and online sources.

ECCO is so daft to work with sometimes, but at least I could scribble on printed pages that way. At the huntington, on the other hand, I could have three or four editions just sitting in front of me, and I could turn each page to see what is new. And no waste of trees. However, there would be fossil fuel waste from driving down. And the not inconsiderable inconvenience, however beautiful it is.

What would Newton do? Make the Huntington send him the copies? Don’t think I could pull that off.

That’s the only line I remember from Sartre’s Huis Clos. But I had my first chapter conference today and have the surge of energy that comes from reorganizing and planning. It’s pretty exciting — I am splitting my first chapter into two chapters, so the chapter I’m working on now will be the third. What’s great about this is that this summer I can work on revising the three and adding the introduction, and for the other two chapters, I will have already presented a conference paper on each of them, so when I am on the job market, my dissertation will feel more or less sound.

Newton remains a source of unending interest. Any time I ask myself the question, “what was really going on?” I am set off on another quest. I really want to know what happened with Fatio de Duiller, the nervous breakdown, and whether Newton’s alchemy was a more open secret than people avow. The cultural history part of this project also excites me. I am interested in whether average consumers of popular culture would have made much distinction between a philosopher, an alchemist, or a crackpot virtuoso anyway, especially at a time when Faust was made a farce.

More on this to come…I can’t wait to read all of those alchemical mockeries.

This week I have a few reading goals. First is the first volume of the series of early Newton biographies edited by Iliffe, Keynes, and Higgitt. I’ve read most of the material that is online, but I like seeing it in book form. Call me old-fashioned. The introduction offers some helpful historiography. Obviously I’m hoping for some kind of mysterious illumination no one’s noticed in 300 years. We’ll see how it does. I am also teaching Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess for the intro to literature class I am teaching. Talk about having to switch gears while reading!

The other texts I’m going to be working with in the coming weeks for this chapter include the body of texts on Newton’s (and other early modern) alchemy, literary texts on alchemy, and some other stuff on book history and the history of science for a seminar I’m taking. I’m looking forward to it!

My other work this quarter will involve looking at three editions of a text about Newton’s natural philosophy, and analyzing changes to the text as they evolve in the eighteenth century. I am also teaching a class on “Literature and the Stages of Life,” which is both an enjoyable distraction from my other pursuits and a great learning experience.