Pistoning Into the Victorian Era

Here in a few years, after catching up on some other long term projects, I’d like to have another go at melding science/engineering and novel writing.  I’ve been reading through the intro to A Practical Treatise on Locomotive Engines Upon Railways written in 1830, and apparently, even though the basics of locomotion had been worked out by then, the theoretical details, such as pressure variability and evaporating power had not been cemented into neatly constructed physical equations that one could use to construct an engine for a prescribed power, velocity, &c.  The Treatise was the first attempt at doing so and also corrected previous theoretical errata.

A credible possibility for my next offering would be to take the 10 year old nameless girl that appears throughout Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, who Mr. Winter, an engineer from a wealthy industrial family, takes under his scientific wing at the end of the novel, and turn her into a 20 year old protagonist in 1830, equipped with the mathematics and engineering knowledge of the day, who has discovered these detailed equations by her own study at one of Mr. Winter’s operations, and uses such to help design and build one of say, the big Stephenson locomotives that won the right to run between Liverpool and Manchester, during a famous contest held for the purpose.  Stephenson did contract out some of the components to his winning locomotive; one could imagine a certain tooling engineer butting her head into the matter, with regard to design, when a contract came down, or working directly under Stephenson in some anomalous manner (it was actually Stephenson’s son that did a lot of the design work).  Perhaps even some industrial espionage and patent disputes that get physical would be called for, to turn the story into more of an action-adventure.   Part 1 could conclude with the Liverpool/Manchester Line contest, then Part 2 would be about sailing to America with a newly commissioned locomotive, where perhaps a convoy of ships are harassed by privateers/Letters of Marque, and a Patrick O’Brian style high seas battle ensues, &c.  Part 3 would be another railway contest which the protagonist somehow plays a vital role in.

Indeed she may also uncommonly pursue multiple romantic dalliances, experiment with abortifacient drugs, offer a quick tongue, similar to Kasey Michaels’ character, Tansy Tamerlane, in The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane, affording odd Regency/Victorian Era slang to thwart her naysayers as she negotiates the male saturated field of engineering and materials construction.  Oh, and she would wear pants of some sort; the like to Mr. Winter, indifferently running around in filthy shirtsleeves in parts of my present novel.   There might be some sort of story there.  Charlotte would be her name, in honor of oWaH’s Charlotte, who [***SPOILER***] suffers great tragedy towards the end.

Addressing the Literary Questions – Question Seven

In fear of a repeat of the cold 1816, where the Thames froze over, and crop yields were diminished, Manchester began providing what they conceived was a solution to the global cooling.

In my last post, built for book reviewers, I posted the set of literary questions that exist directly after the conclusion of the story in both the kindle and physical formats.  Question seven of these is as follows, for which I will attempt a brief answer:

The author, in various places inside the novel, offers mathematically detailed solutions to simple, logistical problems, which showcase the creative spirit of an entrepreneur and applied scientist; and the manner in which such a person would approach puzzles owning both inherent knowns and unknowns. Many days research were spent so that not only sound physics and chemistry prevailed throughout the story, but the engineering and material solutions were true to what was available in 1820 (albeit to a son of one of the wealthiest men in England, who happened to have his hand squarely on the modern industrial operations of the time). Why did the author risk stifling the flow of the novel with technical details that could be construed as excessive, or improper for popular entertainment and the casual reader?

There are a few places, indeed, where Mr. Winter walks the reader by the hand through the details of calculations he has made concerning his experiments, the first one, I believe, involving how to water two 1/2-acre fields with a solution of carbonate of ammonia so that enough of the fertilizer is deployed at the correct concentration, but further, that the field is not overly drenched, especially during the months of heavier precipitation; the second, being where he affords logistical and dimensional analysis driven solutions to moving marl, lime, and gypsum from their quarries to their sights of application; and thirdly, towards the end of the novel where he estimates his grain yields through sample based extrapolation.

The function of these sections, which would surely be dissected by a professional editor, is five fold:

Firstly I’m recreating real problems that would have existed during this era, and finding real solutions to them.  Even though I’m but an armchair historian, I believe there is historical merit in doing so, especially considering that a true historian may not have the mathematical skills or abstract problem solving ability to provide a detailed account of such by way of recreation.  When Mr. Winter informs his audience, regarding the movement of marl from the quarry to the field, that, ‘Each cart [they’ve] observed is drawn by one draft horse of approximately eighteen hundred pounds, and on account of the hills, we wished that the creatures not pull more than their weight,’ the reader may comfortably accept that I did the research on how much a horse weighed, how much it could pull up a moderate hill, the like to those characteristic of the Cotswold countryside, and how much a tumbril cart would have weighed, &c.  Again I will reemphasize that I did my level best in recreating calculations that would have been accomplished in 1820 to garner the feats my characters thusly performed in the novel.

Secondly I want the audience to realize the cold hard reality of cold hard calculations.  I’m weary of those contemporary propagandists that would have us believe that scientists are ‘fudging numbers’ to conform to a liberal agenda; the like to the cooked books coal baron and billionaire Donald Blankenship of WV created to fool safety inspectors into thinking he wasn’t out to destroy his gentlemen miners for the sake of a few extra cents in earnings per share of common stock.  There’s no magic; no feelings; no mark-to-fantasy home values; just plain, simple Euclidean inspired adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.  This novel is about science advocacy; here is partly the essence of science and engineering, boiled down to some rudimentary calculations.

Thirdly this novel was intended partly for the readership of those scientists fed up with the right wing think tanks’ propaganda that they are up to no good for the sake of money, that global warming is ‘the greatest hoax played on the American people’, &c.  I fancy a particular reader may try to recreate my calculations on the back of an envelope for their own amusement.

Further, this is my hobby.  The novel exists mostly for my own amusement, and is indeed not an instrument to sell a million copies to the teenage masses for the sake of wealth creation.  In fact there is some diversion from the thought of an editor, all in an uproar, over Mr. Winter’s long winded instructions inside the mundane subject of farming.

And lastly, the book is a reaction to a novel, contemporary phenomenon which marks the most significant crossroads in human history – the point where we either listen to our scientists and engineers and prosper, or we destroy ourselves needlessly for the greed of a small subset of wealthy humans, cohabiting among us.  Here, at least in my novel, the reader is obliged to listen to the scientist, understand in detail he is not a fraud, and reinforce their acceptance of the scientific method.  What an odd time we live in, drowning in technology that has improved our condition, but where it is politically fashionable to deny the method of thinking that led us to such.

Message to Potential Reviewers of ‘Of Woodbridge and Hedgely’

Note: Until a satisfactory number of reviews are present, I will provide a free mobi or pdf file of the novel to anyone that agrees to write a well thought out review on its Amazon Kindle page!  See the comments field below on how to contact me.  

Of Woodbridge and Hedgley bravely occupies what one might consider a credibly small niche in the ever growing sea of literature available online:  Firstly, it is a literary work that focuses on science denial and the flawed belief systems, mechanics of propaganda, and delinquencies of character that are nebulous to such.  Secondly, the science involved in the novel is that from the early 19th century, with emphasis on early geology (James Hutton), pre-Darwinian evolution (Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin), and the birth of agricultural chemistry (Sir Humphrey Davy); with a few brief examples of the state of engineering, concerning glass, iron, stove and boiler manufacturing.  Thusly, I often appeal to likes of ‘Science Geeks, History Geeks, and Science-History Geeks’ to answer to the call of readership:


The novel also provides subtle messages with regard to climate change and food security, basic ecology, and resource limitations. A brief overview of some of these can be found in my post entitled On the Satirical Content and Philosophical Commentary in the Novel. Readers best equipped to comprehend the novel’s offerings are those that are interested in the politics of science (such as modern climate change politics, or possibly the teaching of evolution in public schools), have at least some small degree of environmental concern, and enjoy science advocacy.


Yes, there are also secondary, Jane Austen inspired romantic subplots at work, where the novel’s frontward pages afford some mystery as to who will be married to who (and perhaps, who will fail to marry) by the end of the novel. The main character, Mr. Winter, has a habit of writing detailed poetical prose (sometimes poorly) in a journal he keeps, where he documents his scientific and engineering endeavors, and all other dealings he has in his new towns of which the novel’s title is derived. And the lead female, Harriet Moore, even offers some country poetry in the novel’s interlude. Indeed man’s interaction with the world of nature is at the very heart of music, literature and art’s 19th century romantic era, and the novel keeps to this tradition with characters enjoying the sights and smells of the small town English countryside. Yes, there is romance. It would almost seem amiss not to offer such in a Regency Era novel.

Further, the novel is an appeal to intellect, and not to pop entertainment. There are no vampires. The plots are idea driven; not action driven. The tragedy is subtle; not one character melodramatically dies. There is, however, one gentleman’s duel that represents the concept of climate change inflaming false belief systems and causing adverse physical outcomes (the U.S. military considers climate change a ‘threat multiplier’).

And so there it is, dear reviewer – my four paragraph caveat for a book that presumably benefits from explanations that exist beyond its pages; the like to the many literary works that have come before it. Indeed this blog is the primary medium in which such occurs. Please do look around if there is any question in your mind as to whether or not the novel would be a handsome addition to your collection and inspire thoughtful feedback on its kindle product page. You may also find utility in the literary questions that exist directly after the novel’s conclusion which I will post below:

For less than a cup of coffee, you too can enjoy the mechanics of propaganda.
  1. Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is set in the county Gloucestershire, in the South West of England. The two towns are separated by a fairly significant amount of wood for the area, and it becomes known in chapter nine that the closest grain markets to them were at Gloucester, Cirencester, and Stow-on-the-Wold. From these clues, can you find which two Cotswold’s towns these are modeled after? What features, such as road names, or other geographical names, did you use to confirm your answer?
  2. The author has, in many places in the novel, paid tribute to Jane Austen novels and movies, as well as Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin Series. For example, the latter author did oblige his character, Jack Aubrey, to use a particular phrase, ‘to smoke’, in a unique dialectal manner that was given to mean ‘to understand’. This may have been the author’s own invention, or it may have derived from his study of naval letters and knowledge of early 19th century dialect; but inside Of Woodbridge and Hedgely it has taken on a more general role as a substitute for having understood a phenomenon or idea. Another example, related to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is where the character, Mr. Wyatt, who is obliged to learn to read after being unexpectedly elevated from an agricultural laborer to a land owner, has expressed a desire to show off his newfound abilities by reading William Paley’s Natural Theology to the Moore cousins, Harriet and Charlotte, at his estate home to which the ladies are invited, and which the lesser cousin conceives would be an unpleasant experience. This somewhat parallels Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins, who insists on reading James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women to the Bennet ladies. What other hat tips does Of Woodbridge and Hedgely contain, regarding these authors? Which Jane Austen character does Harriet Moore most resemble?
  3. The novel’s purpose is to showcase science denial and manifestations of ideology confounding rational thought, using a historical lens: The phenomenon becomes readily observable when applied to scientific positions long settled in our present era, and which, even in 1820, had enough credible evidence to point thoughtful men in the proper direction towards them, but which were indeed irrationally refused by a particular individual or set. What are some of these settled scientific positions featured in the novel?
  4. Throughout the novel, the antagonists – a faction of Hedgely Particular Baptists and their agrarian laborers – have latched onto geological hypotheses and theories that were in the process of falling out of favor at the time (ex. Werner’s Neptunism). Why did these men hold so fervently to these ideas? Did each individual and socioeconomic class have its own reasons for this?
  5. Following question four, list several elements contained within the Particular Baptist’s belief systems. Further, provide a contradistinguishing list for the Anglican’s (which includes Mr. Winter, for the purpose of the question). Finally, provide instances where beliefs were held, not secondary to rational conclusions, but from social constructs and the failure of an individual to understand their own incapacity to properly assess a phenomenon, purely by reason and examination of evidence. Were there individuals within the novel that were aware of their limitations, with regard to understanding whether or not a phenomenon was probable, based rational and empirical evidence? Which modern sociopolitical groups are most similar to the Baptist and Anglican groups?
  6. Mr. Winter’s chooses two ‘experimental’ fertilizers for his two, half-acre plots, situated by the River Compton (Mr. Foster’s fields). Which of these represents the scientific pillar of reproducible results from previous discoveries and claims? Which of these represents the scientific phenomenon of serendipitous and rationally informed discovery? What do these two compounds represent with regard to modern fertilizer?
  7. The author, in various places inside the novel, offers mathematically detailed solutions to simple, logistical problems, which showcase the creative spirit of an entrepreneur and applied scientist; and the manner in which such a person would approach puzzles owning both inherent knowns and unknowns. Many days research were spent so that not only sound physics and chemistry prevailed throughout the story, but the engineering and material solutions were true to what was available in 1820 (albeit to a son of one of the wealthiest men in England, who happened to have his hand squarely on the modern industrial operations of the time). Why did the author risk stifling the flow of the novel with technical details that could be construed as excessive, or improper for popular entertainment and the casual reader?
  8. Why does the author state in chapter ten, that the most prolific female writer of the day – meaning the early 19th century – was a woman who went by the title, ‘A Lady’?
  9. Most of the natural philosophers at the time were noblemen or otherwise men financially independent. Why were there little, if any, female scientists? What were some of the disciplines or roles gentry class women could pursue during the Regency Era as a proper means of intellectual expression for their sex? Considering the time period, who are the progressive females in the novel, and who are less so? Were women of the Regency Era less, similarly, or more emotionally happy than they are in today’s Western society?
  10. Mr. Edwards dinner table is always dressed with handsome dishes during his entertaining of guests: white soup, tarts, mutton, pigeon pie, &c. But in the last part of the winter recess, he is said to have suffered a want of food reserves. It is also stated that his income may only be around 100 pounds per year. Is this character going above his means in entertaining guests?
  11. At the front of the novel, the nameless tailor’s daughter watched a glasshouse being built in Mr. Winter’s backyard. Such was the product of brand new glass and iron manufacturing techniques at the time, yet it was still quite a rare for anyone but a handful of the most wealthy people in the country to own one. What does the construction of the glasshouse represent in the novel with regard to themes? What were the latest manufacturing techniques and material innovations occurring, concerning glass and iron? Were there any other attempts previous to 1820 to install a boiler and pipe system into a glasshouse? Who owned and/or where were other glasshouses, conservatories, or orangeries located in England before 1820?

The Divine (or Blind) Watchmaker

William Paley, author of Natural Theology, a series of converging inferences on the existence of divine creation.

One of the reoccurring ideas in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is that of clockwork, as is analogously applies to the solar system, evolutionary mechanics, and to the local ecosystem of the forest that exists between the two towns (and to the distortion of time during an acute romantic moment at the end of chapter five).

The antagonists tend to apply it in two manners:  1) as an argument that the universe/world/earth was intelligently designed, in homage to William Paley’s Natural Theology; and 2) as a foundation to their argument that evolution cannot explain the present state of the earth’s biology.  They argue that, regarding a pocket watch, if one component of the clockwork – say as spring, lever or gear – was to change shape (or perhaps metallurgic properties) that the watch would fail to function; and then such is analogically applied to the idea of evolution:  if one animal or plant were to change, this too could be detrimental to the entire system; and thus if there is no detriment being witnessed, then the concept of evolution is wrong.  Such is most eloquently expressed in chapter six of the novel, in the antagonist’s propaganda pamphlet, in which the author, Mr. Princep, writes:

‘…Should we be so bold as to disrupt supreme authority, as well as the simplest common sense, in venturing beyond the notion that the Lord without question has the capacity to create a cow, a hen or a hog in but one day, further insisting that he has done so? Whatever for would a brilliant creator of heaven and earth waste a thousand, or ten thousand, or a million years doing what he could do in a day? As to the supposed mechanism let us dispel it by considering the following: Firstly, that as all of creation may easily be compared to a supreme apparatus – let us say a great clock – constructed by our Lord, the Watchmaker – and this is not too burdensome to conceive when we observe the perfect motion of our heavenly bodies – it must thusly follow that each animal and plant tribe upon our earth are but tiny gears or instruments whom do play small but vital roles to the continuance of our Clock’s right motion. Therefore if but one part is corrupted, the entire machine becomes lost; and every right clockmaker or engineer knows that the resilience of their parts against such corrosion is vital to the longevity of that from which they are made; the weakest gear or assembly being the limiting factor. Would not then our heavenly Watchmaker to his fullest capacity ensure that the weakest gear in His great Clock, be it animal, plant, or other have an inextinguishable fortitude against corruption? To say otherwise is atheism…

This argument is deficient in that it is ignorant of the phenomenon of extinction, which was still a new concept in the early 19th century, derived from Cuvier’s examination of northern hemispheric mammoth bones,  but was ironically known to the protagonists, through parson Jonathan Moore’s science lectures.  The argument is also ignorant of the basic mechanics of evolution where species can ‘react’ to, or with the environment, sometimes fluidly, to become better equipped to survive its tribulations; a somewhat pertinent, though imperfect, analogy of this being that of an old, worn gear in a watch being replaced with better made one; its excellence naturally derived from the original piece’s experience.  And at one point in the novel this antagonistic argument is stifled by Mr. Winter’s dispelling of artificial rigidity of the earth system, when he rejects the parroting out of the talking point by an indoctrinated field worker:

‘An’ how many times must it be pounded, sirs – th’ world is but a clock made by Divinity, with gears that cannot become molest’d…’

‘Or else they do, causing the gears adjacent to do so as well, and then those tertiary members respectively having their turn; and so on throughout until by the appreciation of deep time an entirely new clock is born! Good afternoon, gentlemen’, piped up the lonely gentleman that had been keeping to himself in the corner as he rose to quit the room.  

‘Oh, oh! Damn my eyes – it ‘twas the Frenchman!’, cried one of the Hedgely’s as the man exited the inn.    

‘The Mr. Winter?’

‘Oh, he was in disguise without his Napoleon’s jacket!’  

‘He’s sure to go directly to Mr. Moore and we are all to be hung!’ 

Yet it was the propagandist’s style of argument that allowed the religiously indoctrinated to so readily grab hold of the concept.  In chapter six, Mr. Princep explains his methods of argument:

‘Whilst I know not of any one piece of philosophical information that can comprehensively break their entire lot, we must however constantly strive to create the perception that such can be done, or has already been done. Indeed in a contradistinguishing fashion to one sole, all-smiting stroke, we, to the greatest effect, thus work in the realm gratuitous rhetoric, the like to a London barrister weaving a case by multiple strands, the greater of these appealing to an audience not necessarily on any logical ground, but in a manner rhetorical, political, emotive, or otherwise. To be sure, we will have our moments for a given strand: we may find a careless error in our adversary’s argument and work to turn such into a very great thing indeed. But the better part must be attractive enough, even in cases of broken reason, that it remains effective; in fact it’s probably most efficacious not to subject any strand to the focus on first principles or evidence. By this style of argument, several strands may buckle or break, but if the majority stay intact then we give ourselves the finest cause to be the victors. And for every strand our adversary produces, we need only continuously produce two against it to legitimize our stand against him’. 

This is also the method in which the modern climate denial propagandists (conservative think tanks, Fox News, &c.) get their audience stirred up.  And further down the page Mr. Princep states:

‘For the material that is relevant to your particular country towns sirs, sharp wit is not our instrument; rather the opposite: We must solicit the admiration of dullards that hold the way of the world, not in long drawn out passages, but in quick bites of ‘truths’ that are easily clapped onto: casual observances that work more times than not, even if but near half of those, yet which they will grasp onto most angrily on all occasion as a function of they being so readily understood, and by their holder’s frailty of mind in the presence of the unfamiliar, or that which is troublesome to smoke…’

‘An egg in the pudding is worth two in the bush, sir?’

‘To that effect, yes; our arguments must be the like to such. However the pamphlet itself is the better exemple: Do I not know my audience when I provide, “Why would God do in ten thousand years, what he could do in a day?”? I believe they very much delight in a sprightly little sting such as that’, returned Mr. Princep.

‘Oh, Mr. Princep – there you have it! You’ve knocked them all flat with but a handful of wit! I had read it of course in our publication, but not until this moment, when you’d pressed upon it, did I gather its full capacity!’, cried the preacher.

‘Y-yes sir, indeed’, their author returned in another fit of blinking.

Basically, Mr. Princep is arguing for the use of an easily remembered meme or talking point that sounds witty or clever, even though the notion is, more often than not, veritably false or misleading.  The concept of offering a Gish gallop of ‘strands’ of information to form a rhetorical argument was something I came across when reading the introduction to William Paley’s Natural Theology:

page xx, Introduction, Natural Theology
page xxi, Introduction, Natural Theology

And it may be incidentally noted, having now displayed part of this well done introduction, that Paley’s early 19th century work was getting the ball rolling on the denial of evolution by 1) misunderstanding its mechanics and then applying straw-man arguments against such.  [This is easy enough to do since all he had to work with at that point was Erasmus Darwin, possibly Lamarck (though I believe Lamarck’s theory was published after Natural Theology, if I’m not mistaken), and other immature hypotheses; The Origin of Species was still more than half a century away; whilst Jame’s Hutton’s chapter hinting at natural selection was tucked away in a book consisting of thousands of pages, the volume discouraging its reading.  And indeed, it’s hard to even give Paley this handicap, as one of the fundamental tenants in Darwin’s and Lamark’s evolutionary philosophy is that species evolve in reaction to evolutionary pressure:  Erasmus Darwin even lists three facets to this in the his chapter on generation in Zoonomia: mating advantages, advantages in food acquisition, and advantages in the dissuasion of predators];  2) by misapplying probabilistic reasoning; and 3) by his ignorance of the phenomenon of extinction.

I’ve showcased some of Paley’s fallacies in my novel, again using the antagonist propaganda pamphlet, The Balanced Scale, which quotes from him the following:

“…There is another answer which has the same effect as the resolving of things into chance; which would persuade us to believe that the eye, the animal to which it belongs, every other animal, every plant, indeed every organized body which we see are only so many out of the possible varieties and combinations of being, which the lapse of infinite ages has brought into existence; that the present world is the relic of that variety; millions of other bodily forms and other species having perished, being by the defect of their constitutions incapable of preservation, or of continuance by generation. Now there is no foundation whatever for this conjecture in anything which we observe in the works of nature; no such experiments are going on at present; no such energy operates as that which is here supposed, and which should be constantly pushing into existence new varieties of beings: Nor are there any appearances to support an opinion, that every possible combination of vegetable or animal structure has formerly been tried. Multitudes of conformations, both of vegetables and animals, may be conceived capable of existence and succession which yet do not exist. Perhaps almost as many forms of plants might have been found in the fields, as figures of plants can be delineated upon paper. A countless variety of animals might have existed which do not exist. Upon the supposition here stated, we should see unicorns and mermaids, sylphs and centaurs, the fancies of painters, and the fables of poets, realized by examples. Or if it be alleged that these may transgress the limits of possible life and propagation, we might at least have nations of human beings without nails upon their fingers, with more or fewer fingers and toes than ten, some with one eye, others with one ear, with one nostril, or without the sense of smelling at all…”

And of course everything that gets published in The Balanced Scale eventually gets parroted out by the uneducated Baptist field workers, no doubt in the same smug, Dunning-Kruger inspired cockiness that is to be found inside informal internet conversations, concerning climate change, &c.:

‘Rain an’ shine mates, an’ what be th’ newest on centaurs an’ fairies?’

‘Centaurs and fairies, sir?’, returned one of the Woodbridge’s, genuinely confounded.

‘An’ mermaids’.

The locals looked amongst themselves for answers that did not materialize, and when a consensus of ignorance was established they peered back at the Hedgely with pursed lips and furrowed brows that he may issue his point, for it was clear he was gaming them.

‘Does your parson not preach that man’s arisen directly from emmets an’ worms?’    

‘No sir, he does not!’

‘That from th’ Great First Seed all creatures are sprung?’

There he had them. They understood their opponent’s design, and consequently their faces hotly flushed beyond that of the effects of their grog and they began to lightly pant, for the last time transmutation became the subject of debate, noses were broken and eyes were blackened. Unmade they appeared, for some among them were not viscerally convinced by all of Mr. Darwin, and what cognitive impartiality they had mustered for the sake of Jonathan Moore had been wounded by their recent revelation that the parson personally included man in the fold of animals that had gradually formed from microscopic beings – a tough nut to crack for many in their community who had been told otherwise all their lives by the very man. Indeed it might have been their lack of enthusiasm in defending the poet-doctor’s ideas with their own that had brought the debate so rapidly to a scuffle during their last assembly.  

But let us now wrap back around to the concept of clockwork for the final leg of this posting and illuminate some of the protagonists’ thoughts – namely Mr. Winter’s – on the ecology of the local forest, and on the experience of romantic lust within it, with such in mind.   Upon walking through the forest in the first chapter of the novel – that which seeks to paint its setting – Mr. Winter comes to the following epiphany:

But the forest needed no such attention: the thirsty Willow arranged itself by water courses; the autumn leaves and the offerings of the birds, squirrels, and every other creature present manured the soil and enlivened it, that there were no areas fallow or need be so. Pestilence was held in check, Mr. Winter rationalized, as function of the rich variation of flora and fauna of the wood, for just as agrarian fields were less susceptible to disease as their contents became more varied season by season through the introduction of rotation, such manifested exponentially here, though he admitted that the mechanics of this were still partly a mystery. And acts of man, be they structures, paths, or otherwise, if left in want of attention would be reclaimed by the forest, similar to the body’s reaction to a minor cut or wound. It was as if the wood was a great perpetual clock having hundreds to thousands of working parts which were self-righting and self-tinkering, that all gave and received from each other purpose.

And in chapter five, we have his moment of passion, in which scientific notions on this clockwork are replaced with poetic ones:

Mr. Winter felt the passage of time become gnarled as if the great perpetual clock of the wood was gently amiss: some ten fathoms above, the wind did dart to and fro through their tree’s oldest branches, causing sharpened wisps of sound to cry ‘hurry’ to the already shortened day; but below there was no such haste: Droplets lazily fell from the lowest branches and quietly and flatly puttered upon the forest litter, and the gusts were never quite so quarrelsome as to be the cause of their reddened cheeks. He was vaguely aware of the harm he was then to accomplish, but more so he was paradoxically at ease, for this woman calmed him and kept him from suffering the work of the clock, that he was indifferent to the consequences of the next year, the next month, or the next day.    

And I believe that’s all the other great perpetual clock has for me this evening…

Do Waterwheel Pumps Cause the Marthambles?

Turbines no doubt causing herpes outbreak epidemics. Compliments of Wikimedia Commons.

Of Woodbridge and Hedgely contains several satirical moments that poke fun at the modern anti-science crowd, which may be lost one folks not intimately acquainted with the propaganda currently being generated by climate denialists and anti-clean energy associations funded by those with stakes in the fossil fuel industry.   Luckily, I’m here to help:

In Episode 6th of the novel, we find the engineer, Thomas Winter, committing to his journal a recount of the obstruction the novel’s antagonists have served out regarding his recently installed water pumps (see previous blog post on water wheel pumps) which will be used to deliver water to a set of small fields to be mixed with a primitive nitrogen fertilizer he’s experimenting with.  He writes the following:

‘…George Moore has naturally taken some complaints concerning my engineering endeavors – firstly against my pools, for as soon as my hires had presented to the fields the ridiculous notion that I was to glaze over the land and take backdoor payments on tax collections sprung up again, causing time to be wasted on the part of all involved. And as quick as the howling of these dogs quieted down after having been satisfied in our suffering of time, they started up again upon the recent deployment of my water wheel pumps: Claims that they were a blight on the countryside, ruining its continuity and picturesque quality, became a pounding point by this same set of men at the latest Society meeting. No doubt they further authored the misinformation that the pumps would be uncommon loud, like steam pumps when they ran at full capacity, and that the noise and vibration would cause those proximal to suffer “headaches, dyspepsia, shortened tempers, and any other manner of nervous attitude putting them and their offspring in the way of infectious sequelae”, those specifically mentioned being pox, influenza, measles, whooping cough and even the nefarious marthambles. I’m now obliged to dispel these charges through demonstrations, again dampening my schedule whilst these few wag their tales and salivate at having further antagonized me.’                

The satire is revealed when one realizes all the loathsome tactics the antagonists use to slow the progress of Mr. Winter’s experiment are the selfsame tactics currently being used by anti-wind groups (as in wind turbines – renewable energy).  The waterwheel pumps indeed act as a satirical proxy for modern wind turbines.  I’m sure a significant amount of readers have heard, through the media, some of the anti-wind propaganda – they muck up the countryside, they’re loud, &c. – so I needn’t explain these grievances further.  But the ‘plum in the pudding’, as is colloquially stated throughout the novel, is the notion that these contraptions cause those nearby to suffer illnesses they otherwise wouldn’t have.  Enter the mischief of modern propagandists and activists:

From Desmogblog:

Research Finds Wind Farm Health Concerns Probably Caused By Anti-Wind Scare Campaigns

By Graham Readfearn • Thursday, March 14, 2013 – 21:55

‘ANTIWIND farm activists around the world have created a silent bogeyman they claim can cause everything from sickness and headaches to herpes, kidney damage and cancers.

This “infrasound” exists at frequencies too low for the human ear to detect but is present almost everywhere from offices and roadsides to waves tumbling on ocean beaches. These low frequencies can crawl menacingly from the back of your kitchen fridge or from your heart beating.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of infrasound, anti-wind farm groups such as Australia’s Waubra Foundation like people to think that it’s only inaudible infrasound from wind turbines which might send residents to their sick beds.

But two new studies suggest the cause of health complaints by people living near wind farms could in fact be down to the scare campaign of the anti-wind groups and reports about such scares in the media.

The first study Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines? was published earlier this month in Health Psychology – a journal of the American Psychological Association.

The researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand wanted to find out if simply exposing people to warnings that turbines might make you ill was enough to cause them to report typical symptoms such as headaches and nausea.

Using 54 people, the researchers showed half the group five minutes of footage of people complaining that wind farms had made them ill. Some of the footage was taken from this Australian Broadcasting Corporation report (watch it here) into “Waubra disease” where residents were filmed complaining about a wind farm at Waubra in Victoria. Footage was also taken from this CTV Network report from Canada about a wind farm in Ontario.

This group was called the “high expectancy group” because the information they were given had led them to expect they might experience certain symptoms if exposed to infrasound. The other half of the group was shown interviews with experts stating that the science showed infrasound could not directly cause health problems.

The researchers then told each person they were going to be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound in a special acoustic room when, in fact, for one of those periods they would be exposed to no sound at all, or “sham infrasound” as the researchers describe it.  So what happened?

The response from the “high expectancy” group was to report that the “infrasound” had caused them to experience more symptoms which were more intense. This was the case whether they were exposed to sham infrasound or genuine infrasound. The report explains that “the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptom experienced during listening sessions were not affected by exposure to infrasound but were influenced by expectancy group allocation.”

In the low expectancy group, the infrasound and sham infrasound had little to no effect. In other words, the study found that if a person is told that wind turbines will make them ill then they are likely to report symptoms, regardless of whether they are exposed to infrasound or not.

Clearly, this points the finger at anti-wind farm campaigns as a potential cause of people’s symptoms, rather than “infrasound” from turbines. The research added: “The importance of findings in this study is that symptom expectations were created by viewing TV material readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for such expectations to be created outside of the laboratory in real-world settings.”

Writing about her research on The Conversation, lead author Fiona Crichton says

The findings indicate that negative health information readily available to people living in the vicinity of wind farms has the potential to create symptom expectations, providing a possible pathway for symptoms attributed to operating wind turbines. This may have wide-reaching implications. If symptom expectations are the root cause of symptom reporting, answering calls to increase minimum wind-farm set back distances is likely to do little to assuage health complaints.

Reading some news reports (such as those offered by The Australian newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd or anti-wind activist and UK anti-wind columnist James Delingpole) and material from anti-wind farm groups, it might seem that health complaints are common among people living near turbines.

But an as yet unpublished study (and therefore not peer-reviewed) just released by Simon Chapman, the Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, suggests only a tiny proportion of people living near turbines do actually complain and, when they do, the complaints coincide with campaigning from anti-wind groups.

Chapman looked at health complaints made by residents living within 5 kilometres of all 49 wind farms operating in Australia between 1993 and 2012. After reviewing media reports, public inquiries and complaints to wind companies themselves, Chapman found evidence of only 120 individuals having actually complained – representing about 1 in 272 people living near wind farms.

But significantly, Chapman found that 81 of those 120 residents were living beside just five wind farms “which have been heavily targeted by anti wind farm groups”. What’s more, some 82 per cent of all the complaints had occured since 2009 when Chapman says anti-wind farm groups began to push the health scare as part of their opposition to turbines.

Some 31 of the 49 wind farms studied had never been subjected to a complaint either about noise or health.

“The 31 farms with no histories of complaints, and which today have some 21,530 residents within 5km of their turbines have operated for a cumulative total of 256 years,” says Chapman’s report. In Chapman’s research, he says that anxiety among residents increases as media reports spread the stories of health concerns and as researchers start investigating.

One down side to this research is, of course, that it tells anti-wind farm groups that by concentrating on unproven health concerns, their campaigns can illicit a steady flow of complaints and negative sentiment from communities.’

And aside from plums in puddings, the cherry on top of my satire is that the antagonists’ scare tactics concerning illnesses contains the ‘nefarious marthambles’.  You see the marthambles was a fictional disease authored to sell snake oil health remedies in the 18th century.

And now you may ever so slightly raise one corner of your mouth and blink once in appreciation of the subtleness of the humor.

Particular Baptist Itinerant Preachers of the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries

Methodist minister E. Eggleston getting his groove on.

Two of the antagonists in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, a Mr. Edwards and a Mr. Wyatt, are bound fraternally to one another not only by their religion – that of the Particular Baptist denomination – but that both their fathers were itinerant preachers, traveling about the countryside to bring their message to a wider audience, amongst a sea of proper Anglicans.  During my research on Particular Baptists, I came across this gem on these roaming evangelists in The Baptist Quarterly, entitled Particular Baptist Itinerant Preachers During the late 18th and early 19th Centuries and thought I may post a quick link, so that not only may others enjoy reading this history, but also I may clear one more open tab off my internet browser!  There is much more to say (and more references to post) regarding the Particular Baptists, the novel, and my research, but for now I will just say this reference does mention a few places I’ve illuminated in the book:  The Bristol Baptist College (which cranked out a who’s-who of Baptist preachers during the era), and Horsley Baptist Church in Gloucestershire, the county in which my story takes place.

Page 1 of the article
Page 2 of the article

Further reading:

An excellent history of Particular Baptists, their major authority figures, publications, and fraternities:  History of the English Calvinistic Baptists, 1771-1892 From John Gill to C.H. Spurgeon, Pastor’s Fraternal – Heritage Church, Fayetteville, Georgia February 22, 2008 (opens with Word or other word processors that accommodate rtf (rich text format) files)

A history of Bristol Baptist College and its presidents entitled Bristol Baptist College – the 250th Anniversary [pdf] from The Baptist Quarterly

Some rough cut-n-paste research I’ve done on the differences between Baptists and Anglicans [Word 2003 file]

How much did a newspaper (or pamphlet) cost in 1820?

Some of Woodbridge and Hedgely’s plot in the later chapters hinges on the fact that a newspaper or pamphlet in 1820 was quite expensive.  [The book is partly a literary examination of propaganda, and in the early 19th century, propaganda naturally was published through these mediums.]  But just how expensive were they?

One would be forgiven were they to assume such a triviality would be just a few clicks away on the all-knowing internet, and all that they must accomplish is a quick trip to www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk    Here’s a screenshot of all the 1820’s newspapers:

The British Newspaper Archive for 1820

However, one quickly finds that clicking on any individual paper results in not a full size image of such, so that a printed price may be looked upon, but instead a pay-wall page loads and wants a fair amount of coin before any detail is spared.

Okay, so what other route do we have?

Rummaging through Google with popular publication names for the era and also creating more generic approaches, one finds the same sentence posted on multiple pages, harvested no doubt from but one, individual source.  From www.georgianindex.net we find:

‘A tax was first imposed on British newspapers in 1712. The tax was gradually increased until the 1815 Stamp Act increased it to 4d. a copy. As few people could afford to pay 6d. or 7d. for a newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes. Some radicals, such as Richard Carlile, ignored the law and continued to publish his newspaper, The Republican without paying stamp duty. The tax remained high until 1855 when it was reduced to 1d.’

And we can even find more detail about the Stamp Duty on find.galegroup.com who professes:

‘At the beginning of the nineteenth century, in 1800, Britain had been at war with France since 1793, and would remain so (with a small gap) until 1815. The needs of the nation to fund a protracted war drove events that influenced taxation policy, which in turn influenced newspaper publication in this period. Newspapers remained essentially what they had been—similar in form and style to earlier decades, under-capitalised and produced in small workshops, and financially incapable of drawing upon the services of professional journalists.1 Equally, there is no doubt that newspapers were well established in all regions of the United Kingdom, in the major cities and in London.

The high taxation imposed by the British government had a real impact upon the production and sale of newspapers. This had the effect of both restricting investment in newspapers, and so their potential for development, while also distorting the patterns of publication. By 1815 the rates of duty had been raised to: paper duty 3d. per pound in weight; stamp duty 4d. a sheet; advertising duty 3s. 6d. for an advertisement. By these means, more revenue was raised for the government, and the circulation of newspapers could be restricted via the cover price to the rich and reputedly reliable members of society. This structure was, however, relaxed gradually. In the years 1833-1836, advertising duty and paper duty were halved, and the stamp duty was reduced from 4d. to 1d. Advertising duty was abolished in1853; the stamp duty in 1855, and finally, the duty on paper in 1861.2

We’re still dealing in ambiguity concerning the duties:  I’ve assumed the cost of the end product, be it paper or pamphlet, has in it both the paper duty and the stamp duty; the former being somewhat negligible in relation to the latter.  Each sheet was probably folded into folio or quarto format, so I’ll also assume an average publication may have been made up of a couple sheets (and this is what I used for my novel’s fictional propaganda pamphlet, The Balanced Scale, lovingly titled in homage of Fox News’ ‘Fair and Balanced’ motto).  But a conflict arises between my two previous sources:  the first says 4d. per newspaper (I’m assuming pamphlet as well); the second says 4d. per sheet and thusly a publication made with two sheets of paper would have an 8d. duty.  And lastly if a newspaper cost 6 or 7d. then it was either just made of one sheet on average, or the duty assignment was different for this particular publishing format.

One finds from wiki, that during the original issuance of the duties, multiple sheets were taxed more than single sheets (but of course between 1765 and 1820, the details of the law may have been changed):

‘The Stamp Act was passed by Parliament on March 22, 1765 with an effective date of November 1, 1765. It passed 205–49 in the House of Commons and unanimously in the House of Lords.[28] Historians Edmund and Helen Morgan describe the specifics of the tax:

The highest tax, £10, was placed … on attorney licenses. Other papers relating to court proceedings were taxed in amounts varying from 3d. to 10s. Land grants under a hundred acres were taxed 1s. 6d., between 100 and 200 acres 2s., and from 200 to 320 acres 2s. 6d., with an additional 2s 6d. for every additional 320 acres (1.3 km2). Cards were taxed a shilling a pack, dice ten shillings, and newspapers and pamphlets at the rate of a penny for a single sheet and a shilling for every sheet in pamphlets or papers totaling more than one sheet and fewer than six sheets in octavo, fewer than twelve in quarto, or fewer than twenty in folio (in other words, the tax on pamphlets grew in proportion to their size but ceased altogether if they became large enough to qualify as a book).’

late 18th century printer from Strabane, Ulster, UK, where John Dunlap, printer of the Declaration of Independence, worked as an apprentice.

But wait!  There’s more!  What of the cost of the paper?  Obviously a proportion of the price of a product is the cost of the material.  Though I couldn’t find a British manufacturing source, I did happen to find an American one for the year 1810, which is fairly close to our 1820 number, as the large scale, contemporary economic growth we enjoy today was never so vicious in the early 19th century, and thusly inflationary pressure was small enough that prices didn’t move upwards significantly enough over a 10 year period for it to impact our answer that much.  From page 25 of the book, The History of Printing in America:

‘My endeavors to obtain an accurate account of the paper mills in the United States have not succeeded agreeably to my wishes as I am not enabled to procure a complete list of the mills and the quantity of paper manufactured in all the states.  I have not received any particulars that can be relied on from some of the states, but I believe the following statement will come near the truth.  From the information I have collected it appears that the mills for manufacturing paper are in number about one hundred and eighty five, viz: in New Hampshire 7, Massachusetts 40, Rhode Island 4, Connecticut 17, Vermont 9, New York 12, Delaware 10, Maryland 3, Virginia 4, South Carolina 1, Kentucky 6, Tennessee 4, Pennsylvania about 60, (and) in all the other states and territories, say 18.  Total 195 in the year 1810.  At these mills it may be estimated that there are manufactured annually 50,000 reams of paper which is consumed in the publication of 22,500,000 newspapers.  This kind of paper is at various prices according to the quality and size and will average three dollars per ream at which this quantity will amount to 150,000 dollars The weight of the paper will be about 500 tons.

Now we’re left with a few more assumptions:  1) that the tons expressed are imperial tons (long tons historically used to measure ship displacement); and 2) that the price of creating paper in the US is somewhat similar to that in the UK, during this pre-globalization period.  With these assumptions we need only to convert US dollars to English pounds using a historical conversion rate:  I’m using www.measuringworth.com and looking at the period between 1800 and 1820.  Here we find that in 1800, the conversion is $4.55 per £1, and by 1820 it’s $4.52.

Thus far we can calculate a cost of a paper from the duty + material cost:

50,000 reams/22,500,000 newspapers * $3.00/ream * £1/$4.52 = £0.0015/paper or 1/3 of a pence for the material cost (0.36 pence)

500 imperials tons/22,500,000 newspapers * 2240 pounds/imperial ton * 3d./pound = 0.15 pence per paper or between 1/6th and 1/7th of a pence is the weight duty per paper

And of course, how we interpret the Stamp Duty and number of sheets per paper gives us either 4 pence per paper or 8 pence per paper as explained above.  Let’s consider that the 6 to 7 pence per paper reference above too is correct and assign a 4 pence per paper duty.

duties + material cost is therefore = 4 +0.36 +0.15 = 4.51 pence.

What this means is that if the 6 to 7 pence number is correct, the printer’s operating costs plus profit were to be taken from 1.5 to 2.5 pence per paper.  Is that enough to pay rent, feed his apprentice, pay editor(s) and content creator(s), maintain his press, and perhaps pay a junior printer (traveling journeyman)?  In 1820 the options‡ for a press were either a traditional wooden contraption that could crank out 200 papers per hour, or a new Stanhope iron press, invented around 1800, which improved efficiency to 250 papers per hour.  Given this production limitation, does this 6 to 7 pence number make sense?

I would assume that a printer in 1820 must be making at least enough to pay himself £100/yr., out of his operating costs, to maintain a middling life, have a family, &c. If the printer had a readership of say 1,500 per week, at 2 pence per paper allocated to operating costs, this would translate to £650/yr. to pay himself and run the business.  I would say, having little experience in the matter, that such would be sufficient; but modulating the readership and operating cost allocation (which is a function of price) upwards or downwards just a bit creates a relatively rich printer, or a poor one, respectively.  One must also take into account that only well off people could regularly pay 6 or 7 pence for a paper, and their populations were probably on the scrawny side.  One historical blogger says the following, regarding the American sector:

‘It has been estimated that the largest circulation of a single newspaper during the earlier colonial period was about 350 and that only a few reached this high of a number of circulation.  By the 1750’s circulation for larger city newspapers reached upwards of 600 of each issue printed and during the Revolutionary War some newspapers boasted circulations in excess of 2000.  By 1790 most newspapers were printing less than 1000 copies but the very popular “Columbian Centinel” from Boston was printing over 4000 copies of each printing date.

Despite poor equipment, limited circulation, nonpaying subscribers, poor distribution facilities & the general unprofitability of publishing a newspaper, the number of newspapers being published continued to increase as the years went by. There were numerous failures, but new newspapers were established to replace them. From 1704 to 1820 about 1634 newspapers came to life and died. Of that number only two-thirds of them lived beyond three years.’

What do you think?  Obviously a casual internet search will filter for the most prominent printers of the day, and thus skew the results to the more lucrative players, but what about the average printer?  If you have any pieces to this puzzle let me know in the comments below. For my part I’m going to conclude 6 or 7 cents was probably a fair cost at the time, and lack of volume was made up on the margins; and that theoretically this would favor a small population of wealthy printers in the market.

‡Incidentally by 1820, The Times was using the new steam driven, cylinder laden, mechanized press that could produce 1000 papers per hour:

‘The fortunes of these daily London newspapers were eclipsed by the progress of The Times. Under the energetic proprietorship of John Walter (1776-1847), the Koenig Steam press was introduced to The Times in November 1814, producing 1,000 sheets per hour. The new machinery meant that the paper could go to press later but still contain more recent news than other dailies.’ (source: galegroup)

Further reading:

On the Food in Early 19th Century England

Early 19th Century Kitchen compliments of Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard it said that there were very few food dishes mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, on account that she was writing for a contemporary audience, who already knew what was to be had at the table, and not for future historians.  But as some of our modern, western societies have retired back to a rather Victorian attitude when it comes to the reverence and overindulgence of sustenance, food in contemporary Regency novels has, in cases, become quite a thing:  One of the tenants of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series – a twenty one book cannon featuring the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars – is the gluttony of food and wine by the naval officers, and no detail is spared.

During my research for Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, with regard to food, I glanced through several cookbooks, online, that would have been available in 1820 (at least to the middle and upper classes).  And when the writing of the novel was complete, I compiled a list of many of the dishes I mentioned.  Most of it would not be unfamiliar to the modern reader, save for a few oddities, such as a Solomon’s Temple Jelly or Green Gooseberry Baked Pudding.  Incidentally, gooseberries were popular at the time, but the original English cultivars, between then and now, have been wiped out by disease, and have since been replaced with American varieties.  Here indeed is my compiled list of foods mentioned in the novel (note the archaic spelling of ‘ragu’):

~ Agrarian Society’s Table ~

Roasted Pigeon and Rabbit

White Cullis

Ragoo’d Beans with Potatoes, Cabbage, and Parsnips

Ragoos and Stews of Onion and Cauliflower

Fried Toast

Potato and Oatmeal Puddings

Beer, Claret, and Port

White Soup

Solomon’s Temple Jelly

~Mr. Edward’s Table~

Mashed and Buttered Turnips

Venison Roast

Bread, unspecified

White Soup

Tarts, unspecified


Pigeon Pie

Cucumbers Dressed in Vinegar and Pepper

Cold Rabbit

Spotted Dog Pudding

~Mr. George Moore’s Table~

Lamb, unspecified on the manner of cooking.

Scotch Whisky

Wine, unnamed.

~Mr. Thomas Winter’s Table~


Hardboiled Egg


Dilute Coffee


Baked Apple Pudding

Apple Dumplings

Apple Tartlets

~Mr. Jonathan Moore’s Table~

 Toasted Cheese

Bread and Butter

Strawberry Tart

Green Gooseberry Baked Pudding


Hardboiled Eggs



 Some Cookbook References for Early 19th Century Kitchens

A New System of Domestic Cookery… (1807) “by A Lady” [Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell]. “Second Edition”

A New System of Domestic Cookery… (1808) “by A Lady” [Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell].”Corrected Edition”

The English Art of Cookery… (1788) by Richard Briggs.

The London Art of Cookery and Domestic Housekeepers’ Complete Assistant: uniting the principles of elegance, taste, and economy: and adapted to the use of servants, and families of every description… (1811) by John Farley.

The Experienced English Housekeeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies … (1786) by Elizabeth Raffald.

The Experienced English Housekeeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies… Published 1786 by R. Baldwin . [This link gives an option for PDF or plain text, and from the plain text, you can perform searches with your internet browser (for example Ctrl-F brings up the ‘find’ option in Firefox)]

The Universal Receipt Book: Being a Compendious Repository of Practical …(1818) by Priscilla Homespun.

* Most of these references are compiled on Vintage Cook Book’s Website (this link goes to the 1800 – 1819 list).

[Some of these references, even though they are formatted for Vintage Cook Book’s Website, may actually be harvested from Google Books, so if your not enjoying the quasi-ebook reader format, please check Google’s library.]

‘The Vague Ancient Opinion of the Use of Nitre and of Nitrous Salts in Vegetation’


A particular edition to Sir Humphy Davy’s Elements of Agricultural Chemistry on Google Books contains an added bonus:  An add-on book called A Treatise on Soils and Manures…In Which the Theory and Doctrines of Sir Huphry Davy…Are Rendered Familiar to the Experienced Farmer by ‘A Practical Agriculturalist’ published in 1821.  On page 28 of this latter work we find this anonymous author critiquing Davy’s dismissal of fallowing on the grounds that atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen, Davy has observed, do not react with elements or compounds in the soil.  He illuminates a particular passage of Davy’s dealing with nitrogen, which appears on page 72 and 73, in Lecture VIII of Elements of Agricultural Chemistry Part 2 (this is an 1840 edition), that reads as follows:  “Oxygen is absorbed by the vegetable film and perhaps in certain cases azote, but the earths the great elements of soils cannot be combined with new elements from the air; none of them unite to azote; and such of them as are capable of attracting carbonic acid are always saturated with it in those soils on which the practice of fallowing is adopted.  The vague ancient opinion of the use of nitre and of nitrous salts in vegetation seems to have been one of the principal speculative reasons for the defence of summer fallows.  Nitrous salts are produced during the exposure of soils containing vegetable and animal remains, and in greatest abundance in hot weather, but it is probably by the combination of azote from these remains with oxygen in the atmosphere that the acid is formed, and at the expense of an element which otherwise would have formed ammonia; the compounds of which, as is evident from what is stated in the last Lecture, are much more efficacious than the nitrous compounds in assisting vegetation”.  The author notes that such seems almost contradictory to experiments done by physiologists in which plants grew in nitre alone.


Excerpt on fallowing in Elements of Agricultural Chemistry

Now the interesting part about Davy’s and the anonymous farmer’s arguments has little to do with fallowing, but that they are discussing one of the key ingredients to plant fertilizer (nitrogen) several decades before such is discovered by a later agricultural chemist to be so (see below pamphlet snippet, regarding Baron Liebig).  Secondly this also illuminates the state of agricultural science in 1820:  Davy understands that a soil lacking a particular nutrient causes a lower yield for a particular crop dependent on such, and he has developed a soil assay technique for discovery of a fair amount of soil chemistry, but he puts little effort into understanding the relative value of the elements he’s adjudicating; it does not occur to him that a cocktail of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (potash) is the key to fertilizer.  J.C. Lyons of Australia makes this very point in his 1867 pamphlet that deals with the history of agricultural chemistry, entitled The Chemistry of Soils and Manures.  He sums up Davy’s contribution to the science on page 32:

Page 32, Lyon’s ‘Chemistry of Soils and Manures’

This 42 page pamphlet is a wonderful summary of the history of agricultural chemistry from ancient times up to the point commercial scale fertilizers were being implemented in the mid-19th century.  Inside there is also some specific talk about Davy’s lack of reverence for phosphate (which would have come from crushed animal bone in his day; long before bat guano and superphosphate, &c.).  This particular concept is not lost either on my character, Thomas Winter, in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, for he mentions Davy’s lack of attention to the ingredient in the man’s lectures.  In spite of this, he manages to understand its utility from a chance look at one of Davy’s charts on elemental concentrations in different organs of a plant, and as a result, triumphs in boosting crop yields for his new home in the English countryside by commissioning a miller to grind up animal bones for his fields.

‡ Note: azote is the olden term for atmospheric nitrogen or N2.


However, we cannot be overly dismissive:  Reread Davy’s quote from above, in which he does define a relative value for nitrous salts against ammonium salts, favoring the latter concerning vegetation.  He further makes reference to what was stated in Lecture VII as supportive evidence, which is partly the following:

“I made a number of experiments in May and June 1807 on the effects of different saline substances on barley and on grass growing in the same garden, the soil of which was a light sand, of which 100 parts were composed of 60 parts of siliceous sand, and 24 parts finely divided matter, consisting of 7 parts carbonate of lime, 12 parts alumina and silica, less than one part saline matter, principally common salt, with a trace of gypsum and sulphate of magnesia: the remaining 16 parts were vegetable matter.  The solutions of the saline substances were used twice a week, in the quantity of two ounces, on spots of grass and corn sufficiently remote from each other to prevent any interference of results.  The substances tried were super-carbonate, sulphate, acetate, nitrate, and muriate of potassa; sulphate of soda, sulphate, nitrate, muriate, and carbonate of ammonia.  I found that in all cases when the quantity of the salt equaled 1/10th part of the weight of the water, the effects were injurious; but least so in the instances of the carbonate, sulphate, and muriate of ammonia.  When the quantities of the salts were 1/300th part of the solution the effects were different.  The plants watered with the solutions of the sulphates grew just in the same manner as similar plants watered with rain water.  Those acted on by the solution of nitre, acetate, and super carbonate of potassa, and muriate of ammonia grew rather better.  Those treated with the solution of carbonate of ammonia grew most luxuriantly of all. This last result is what might be expected, for carbonate of ammonia consists of carbon, hydrogene, azote, and oxygene. There was however another result which I had not anticipated the plants watered with solution of nitrate of ammonia did not grow better than those watered with rain water.  The solution reddened litmus paper and probably the free acid exerted a prejudicial effect and interfered with the result.” – Pg. 303-05 Elements of Agricultural Chemistry 

This section too is of great interest to my character, Thomas Winter, who goes on to solve the problem in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely of how to water an entire 1/2 acre of wheat using such a solution (carbonate of ammonia), as there was no commercially available, off-the-shelf, supply of the salt, nor formulation for delivery to the field in 1820-21.  He does indeed come up with an engineering solution (which meant I had to run though lots of calculations and research onto what was feasible at that point in time, including guesstimating how much water could be applied to a field, based on weather data, without such being prejudicial).

Basically, Davy had the great epiphany that is nitrogen fertilizer on the tip of his tongue in places in his writing, but it seemed never to travel past that point, based on my readings of such.

Of Incidental Interest: Arthur Young’s Inquiries on the Subject of American Agricultural Efficiency

Monticello, VA
Monticello, VA

During my research regarding early 19th century England’s Board of Agriculture and its related publications, I came across a particular extract of a letter from Arthur Young – a proficient author of agricultural topics who published such in his journal The Annals of Agriculture (1784 – 1818) – to His Excellency, George Washington, president of the U.S.  The idea behind this particular letter is that Mr. Young is trying to compare the efficiency of the American slave labor agricultural model against England’s free labor model.  He’s appalled on two accounts:  firstly that American farmers are so lax on their accounting (presumably because they are in the land of plenty, and are therefore indifferent to economy, efficiency and sustainability); and secondly that they have so little cattle with respect to their wheat production.  This second point too is a jab at Americans’ disregard for sustainability:  without enough cattle, perhaps there will not be enough animal manure to replenish the land with nutrients that the wheat crops are extracting from it, but there is more concern for the lack of rotation that the inadequate number of animals implies.

Here are pages 427-28 of a historian’s paper entitled ARTHUR YOUNG, AGRICULTURALIST AND TRAVELLER, 1741-1820. SOME BIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES BY JOHN G. GAZLEY, Ph.D. PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AT DARTMOUTH COLLEGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE from the John Ryland Library (incidentally, Ryland was one of England’s most influential Baptist ministers and President of the Bristol Baptist College (late 18th century and early 19th century), which produced generations of Baptist ministers).  The subject is Thomas Jefferson’s land at Monticello: