A few days ago, in her column in the Daily Telegraph, Victoria Coren Mitchell, commenting on our present times, wrote;
Most of us have veered sharply in one of two directions: into the future or into the past. Some have relaxed into a rather 18th-century life of sketching, singing and snoozing, with an hour’s constitutional each day to take the air. Others have grabbed the 21st century by the throat, downloading Zoom and Skype, taking mass online Zumba classes and launching podcasts.
Now as somebody who never quite got on with the twentieth century it is obvious which way I would go. So today I found myself regulating my Beaureau. My wife had pointed out that several generations of spiders had created interesting artworks between my larger Galilean thermometer and Rush Light holder, so I spent several hours turning this.
Discovering the desiccated remains of arachnids, and other invertebrates, small tools of various dates and part of a Mammoth tooth (in other words the usual things one has on a desk).
But how, you might ask if you have managed to get this far, is this Georgian?
Well, I remembered a passage in the diary of Edmund Rack of Bath, which not only mentioned tidying a desk but also covered the problem of toilet paper shortage!
January 14 1780
In the morning regulated my Beaureau and put the useless papers on a string for necessary purposes.
As Mr Rack was a scientist who was friends with William Herschel and corresponded with the likes of Sir Joseph Banks, one wonders what was in the ‘useless papers’ he recycled as toilet paper!
“Professor, this rock has a star on it.”
“Wonderful, another of these marvellous stones.”
“But don’t you think it looks as if it has been carved by hand?”
“Indeed it does, the hand of God. My theories about the nature of fossils are proved, I must write the book immediately.”
Illustration from Lithographiae Wirceburgensis
The conspirators were delighted.
“If he publishes he will be laughed at across Europe. We will be revenged.”
“But what if we are discovered? Already the stonecutter wants more money.”
“Don’t worry, he will lose his place in the University and we will be safe.”
They were very wrong.
In the 1720’s Professor Johann Beringer, professor of Natural History at the University of Würzburg, collected numerous fossils. At the time it was debated whether they were the remains of long dead animals and plants or had been created by God during the process of creation.
J. Ignatz Roderick and Georg von Eckhart, colleagues and rivals at the university, arranged for hundreds of mock fossils to be carved and placed where Beringer could find them. Beringer published his book, Lithographiae Wirceburgensis, which was universally mocked.
Then the stonemason came forward, as he hadn’t been paid, Beringer sued Roderick and Eckhart and won, they were dismissed from the university. Beringer remained at the university and wrote many more books, but none as controversial, Roderick and Eckhart died in poverty, not helped by the fact that the stonemason also won his case for unpaid wages!
This piece was written in response to the latest Carrot Ranch prompt; In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock star. You can feature a central character or write about the feeling like a rock star. Go where the prompt leads!
I, naturally, have been led up a curious byway of scientific history, I hope you enjoy it.