Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Longitude Essay a Satire?

In the new TLS Pat Rogers has a fascinating essay, "Longitude Forged," about a 1714 pamphlet by Jeremy Thacker, "The longitudes examin’d. Beginning with a short epistle to the longitudinarians, and Ending with the Description of a smart, pretty machine Of my Own, Which I am (almost) sure will do for the Longitude, and procure me the Twenty Thousand Pounds" (London : printed for J. Roberts, at the Oxford-Arms in Warwick-Lane, [1714]).

This pamphlet, a proposal to win Parliament's £20,000 prize for a successful method to determine longitude at sea, has been taken at face value by historians of the longitude prize, including Dava Sobel (the author of the excellent Longitude). Rogers argues that "Thacker" isn't real, and that the pamphlet is a satire, probably composed by one of the Scriblerians, Dr. John Arbuthnot. Rogers has discovered some key stylistic similarities between the Thacker piece and other Scriblerian essays, and also notes a connection with our old friend Edmund Curll, whose "name appears at the head of four booksellers in a press advertisement on November 9, 1714; and the last leaf of the pamphlet displays announcements for two of his characteristic works on impotence."

I'll look forward to seeing the responses to this piece, and I recommend a full read of it - literary detective work at its best.

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