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National Maritime Museum Manuscripts : Viaticum Nautarum or The Sailor's Vade Mecum

Wright, Robert

National Maritime Museum Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This beautifully written manuscript represents a rare example among the longitude material, of a direct overlap between published pamphlets and manuscript materials that we know to have been submitted to or produced by the Board. During the period of John Harrison's interaction with the Commissioners in the 1760s such overlaps are plentiful. But prior to the <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00005/1'> first minutes (RGO 14/5:7r)</a> in 1737, it is hard to establish which printed proposals were ever seen by the Commissioners. The <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(2);return false;'> auction label (NVT/5:cover (inside))</a> attached to this manuscript states that it was sent to Sir Isaac Newton, an early Commissioner of Longitude, as well as advisor on the passage of the 1714 act itself. While this may not be accurate, it is clear from the manuscript itself that Robert Wright intended it for the Commissioners. Furthermore, in 1728, Wright published his Humble address to the Right Honourable the Lords, and the rest of the Honourable Commissioners in which he referenced this manuscript as 'now lying before the Honourable Commissioners.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In this manuscript, Wright comments interestingly on other contributions to the longitude prize, and on the nature of those texts saying, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(6);return false;'> 'he has seen many as absurd Performances appear in Print on the same subject' (NVT/5:4)</a>. He criticised two aspects of the ways in which longitude pamphlets tended to abuse and comment on opposing schemes. Firstly, the tendency to see longitude proposals as fanciful or absurd, asserting that he <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'> 'venture[d] to Submit it to Public Censure; not doubting, but that what ever objections Envious and censorious Criticks may start against it, as envy is the Distemper of mean and weak Souls, yet those Honourable and Learned Judges, to whose Cognizance it properly belongs will do it Justice' (NVT/5:3)</a>. Secondly, he gently satirised the tendency to add long-winded and self-congratulatory prefaces to such pamphlets, discussing previous schemes, and asserting the authors' disinterested motives, commenting that <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'> 'he does not think it proper to trouble the Reader with a tedious and impertinent Preface concerning the Nature of the Longitude and it's usefulness, or the Several ways that have been made use of especially of late years … He does not utterly disclaim the Inducements of Self Interest and Reputation, nor Sacrifice them wholly to the Good of the Publick, as some others have done, if you will believe them; but fairly owns he had a view towards them all, which he thinks People will sooner believe' (NVT/5:3)</a>. Much of this preface was also re-used in his 1728 pamphlet, and again in the 1732 publication of his New and correct tables of the lunar motions, according to the Newtonian theory.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Wright's scheme owed its core ideas to the work of John Flamsteed and Isaac Newton, as he acknowledged. He proposed the lunar distance method of finding longitude, using Newton's theory of lunar movement, and Flamsteed's observations of the fixed stars, published posthumously as Atlas Coelestis. In this manuscript discussion, he argued for the importance of a quadrant to make observations and included <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(43);return false;'> images (NVT/5:41)</a> of an example instrument. This was nine years before John Hadley presented his new quadrant to the Royal Society. In the 1728 publication, Wright referred to the 'fluid quadrant' that had been invented and published by Jacob Rowe in 1725, of which he seems to have been unaware when writing the manuscript. Although he recommended this as the best type of quadrant in the 1728 publication, he did not alter the diagram from the manuscript copy. The 1732 publication added the tables of lunar movements necessary to 'make a complete System of all that is yet wanting in Navigation.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Relating the manuscript to the subsequent publication also shows us the ways in which participants in the longitude debate reacted to a lack of response from the Commissioners. This manuscript was very carefully written and presented, showing a high level of commitment and expectation on Wright's part. In his published version, 2 years later, he apologised to the Commissioners for repeating parts of the manuscript, explaining that this was 'since probably the Book may be long since thrown aside, or your more necessary Thoughts may have thrust them out of your Memory.' Yet, at the end of the pamphlet he also showed anger at being ignored, saying 'I hope I may be permitted to say without boasting, that I cannot think this so petty, trivial, jejeune, and insignificant a Performance, that it ought to be thrown a-side unregarded, and buried in Silence.'</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Katy Barrett<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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