Mid Wales Local Section at the National Library of Wales, 5 September 2015

Mid Wales Local Section at the National Library of Wales, 5 September 2015

Posted by Nic Bygrave on Oct 5, 2015 3:15 pm

On a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in early September, after an informal lunch at the Park Lodge Hotel, members and guests met at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.  After admiring the view from the Library’s hillside location, overlooking the town and Cardigan Bay, the group made its way to the Hengwrt Gallery, a modern environmentally-controlled display area, for a guided viewing of the current exhibition, — 'The Secret Workings of Nature': Robert Hooke and Early Science.
This exhibition marks the 350th anniversary of the publication of ‘the first scientific best-seller’, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia.  The Library’s copy of Micrographia was the centrepiece, and the circular gallery was surrounded by enlargements of images revealed to Hooke through his early scientific microscope.  A similar compound microscope from c.1700, on loan from Oxford, was positioned alongside the book. The astonishing illustrations from the Library’s copy have recently been digitised and are now accessible online (ow.ly/SbU0z) to coincide with the exhibition.
Manuscripts and early printed books by other leading figures of the ‘Scientific Revolution’, and held by the Library, were also on view in the gallery, and were introduced to the visiting group by Hywel Lloyd AMRSC, member of the RSC local section and of the Library’s staff, and co-curator of the exhibition. Alongside Micrographia were displayed the Library’s copies of Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum and Robert Boyle’s A Continuation of New Experiments.
Other early works, on biological and earth sciences, included De Historia Piscorum by Francis Willughby and John Ray (with additional notes and illustrations by Lewis Morris), Thomas Pennant’s A History of Quadrupeds with original illustrations by Moses Griffiths, and one of Edward Lhuyd’s field notebooks with his sketches of fossils.  Further aspects of early science were represented by Euclid’s The Elements of the Geometrie, René Descartes’ Geometria, Isaac Newton’s Principia and Galileo’s Dialogo dei due massimi sistemi del mondo.
Additional items of particular Welsh interest were Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos by Anglesey’s William Jones, in which π (the Greek ‘pi’) appears in print for the first time, and The Castle of Knowledge by Robert Recorde, the Pembrokeshire-born physician and mathematician who invented the ‘equals sign’ (=) and introduced ‘plus and minus signs’ (+, –) to Britain.
Separately from the public exhibition the RSC group was able to view a specially-arranged display of some of the Library’s early books on chemistry in the beautiful Summers Room.  Prominent examples were works by Robert Boyle and Antoine Lavoisier.
The RSC members expressed their appreciation of being guided through the exhibition (which runs until 9th January 2016) and their support for the Library, one of Britain’s ‘copyright libraries’, in its ambition to give greater public exposure to its valuable scientific holdings.  It was good to be reminded of the way in which early scientific knowledge developed over time and to see the physical format of the published works.

Photograph: Some of the members and guests in the Summers Room at the National Library of Wales (Photo: Jen Horgan)

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