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Thomas Gray Manuscripts : Thomas Gray, Pocket Book, 1755

Gray, Thomas (1716-1771)

Thomas Gray Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Thomas Gray habitually used pocket books like this one; his pocket book for 1760 is another example in this collection. Eighteenth-century pocket books were usually printed books akin to diaries and calendars, produced for recording daily information and appointments over the course of a year in dated blank boxes. They are printed books that were meant to become manuscripts, but manuscripts guided and organised by their printed elements.</p><p>In 1755, the pocket book that Gray used was <i>The Gentleman’s and Tradesman’s Pocket Assistant: or Daily Remembrancer, for the Year 1755</i> (London: M. Sheepey, 1755), subtitled ‘A New and Compleat Memorandum Book, Of General Use to all Persons’. Its title page advertises its contents, which are aimed at facilitating business: ‘An Account of the Weeks in the Year, with proper Partitions for the entering Bargains, Contracts, Assignments both of Business and Pleasure, all Sums of Money Received and Paid each Day in each Week’, plus additional printed information for consultation at the back, including ‘An universal Table, serving for all Rates of Interest’, ‘An Account of what Places Letters go to and from by the General Post’, and ‘A New and Correct List of the Eleventh Parliament of Great-Britain’. It is not paginated, but it has printed signatures, and some pagination among the printed information at the back. This printed information aside, all other openings of the pocket book are dedicated to a week of the year, and as well as dates they offer printed headings with blank boxes for the relevant information: ‘Appointments’ (with boxes for each day of the week), ‘Receipts’ and ‘Payments’ (both with columns for ‘L.’, ‘S.’, and ‘D.’, i.e. pounds, shillings, and pence), and ‘Memorandums’. Like Gray’s 1760 pocket book, this 1755 pocket book is a good example of a type of document that was popular in the eighteenth century, reflecting the period’s widespread use of tables and calendars to organise information, and its hybrid print/manuscript genres.</p><p>Like many people faced with a blank form, Gray did not follow the printed framework of his 1755 pocket book subserviently. Instead he worked within its structure according to his interests, turning it into something more like a weather diary – another common type of document in the eighteenth century, but not one for which this pocket book was intended. Gray did sometimes follow his pocket book’s printed cues: he occasionally recorded his movements around the country under the ‘Appointments’ heading, and sometimes recorded financial information under ‘Receipts’ and ‘Payments’, as well as in the free space offered for ‘Memorandums’. But he more often used the grid structure provided by the ‘Appointments’ boxes for each day of the week to record daily wind direction and weather observations, and related information such as which plants, insects, and birds could be observed, the progress of particular plants as they grew, blossomed, fruited, and died, what the weather was like elsewhere in Europe, and the occurrence of flooding and earthquakes, including the Lisbon earthquake of 1<sup>st</sup> November 1755.</p><p>Gray was a keen natural historian: he collected and grew his own specimens, shared botanical and meteorological observations with friends, and kept up with the latest publications in the field, many of which he also annotated extensively. In this respect it is unsurprising to find him turning a tradesman’s pocket book to scientific account, especially because it enabled him to record observations in something like the tabular format that eighteenth-century natural historians valued for facilitating comparison between the observations of many individuals; Gray himself sought out such comparison when he sent information first recorded in this pocket book to like-minded friends such as Thomas Wharton (1717-1794).</p><p>In other respects Gray’s use of this pocket book was counterintuitive, an imaginative manipulation of what was to hand. Unlike the dedicated naturalists’ journals he used later in his life, in this pocket book he was always working somewhat against the grain, and often literally across the vertical lines of the printed grid. He also wrote additional notes on its blank pastedowns and flyleaves, and in a blank space among its pages of printed information. These notes include memorandums to himself, a record of his admission to Pembroke College on 6<i>th</i> March 1756, reading references such as the names of authors, titles of books, and descriptions of manuscripts, a comment on ‘The province of eloquence’, sums, and further weather records for the opening months of 1756. Some of these were evidently entered after the end of 1755, and therefore escape the bounds of the pocket book in another way too. The presence of such notes is recorded in the contents index for this digital edition, which also details the dates shown on each calendrical opening, the headings of each page of printed information, and signatures for referencing. Note that the Cambridge Digital Library system uses the word ‘page’ to display referencing metadata, however: ‘image 10, sig. B3<sup>v</sup>’ therefore displays as ‘(image 10, page B3v)’, for example.</p><p>As was common in his manuscripts, and for all eighteenth-century natural historians interested in botany and meteorology, Gray made notes in this pocket book in both English and Latin. Many of his entries are in pencil, and some are now quite worn, as are the stitching and binding of the volume; this digital edition therefore facilitates preservation as well as wider access. It offers a window onto Gray’s practices as a natural historian, and insight into how he organised scientific information as well as his finances and daily life. It was published in this digital edition in March 2023, with editorial and bibliographical metadata by Ruth Abbott, and images courtesy of The Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge.</p><p>Ruth Abbott<br /> University of Cambridge<br /><a href='/collections/thomasgray'></a><br /><br /></p><p><b>How to cite:</b> Thomas Gray, ‘Pocket Book, 1755 (GBR/1058/GRA/2/1)’, ed. Ruth Abbott, in <i>Thomas Gray Manuscripts</i>, ed. Ruth Abbott, assoc. ed. Ephraim Levinson, <a href='/collections/thomasgray'></a></p></p>

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