The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Walter B. Houghton, Jr.

The History of Trades: Its Relation to Seventeenth-Century Thought:

As Seen in Bacon, Petty, Evelyn, and Boyle

Journal of the History of Ideas, 2 (1)

Jan. 1941, 33-60.




I – Francis Bacon

II – William Petty

III – John Evelyn

IV - The Royal Society

V – Robert Boyle

                    HHC: Titling and Index added.


The History of Trades has remained unexplored, and in fact forgotten, but there can be no question of its major importance in the minds of such distinguished men as Bacon and Boyle, Petty and Evelyn; and no adequate account of English science or education in the seventeenth century can afford to neglect it.  The project was first sketched in The Advancement of Learning and then expanded in the Parasceve appended to the Novum Organum; but in this, as in other cases, there are anticipations of Bacon’s thought in the previous century.

In the 1530’s we notice a modification of earlier humanist education.  Although virtuous action continues to be the primary end of learning, the strain of practical wisdom and the appeal to reason and experience, both implicit in the humanist position, are given greater emphasis.  As a result, the observation of man and nature takes its place in a curriculum hitherto limited mainly to classical reading.  This is evident in Rabelais and Vives, and makes possible the inclusion of trades as a branch of study.  On rainy days, Gargantua and his tutor

went likewise to see the drawing of metals, or the casting of great ordnance; how the lapidaries did work; as also the goldsmiths and cutters of precious stones.  Nor did they omit to visit the alchemists, money-coiners, upholsters, weavers, velvet-workers, watchmakers, looking-glass framers, printers, organists, and other such kind of artificers, and… did learn and consider the industry and invention of the trades. 1

Two years earlier Vives had formulated a similar program in his De Tradendis Disciplinis (1531), where, among higher studies, be recommends the arts of cooking, clothing, building, agriculture, and navigation, “wherefore and how they were invented, pursued, developed, preserved, and how they can be applied to our use and profit.” 2  In this connection, Vives recognizes an

1. Master Francis Rabelais, Five Books of the Lives, Heroic Deeds and Sayings of Gargantua and his Son Pantagruel, translated into English by Sir Thomas Urquhart…. and Peter Antony Motteur (1904), I, 73 (in bk. i, ch. 24).

2. Vines: On Education. A Translation of the “De Tradendis Disciplinis” by Juan Lids Vines… by Foster Watson (1912), p. 205.


obstacle we shall meet again - the traditional disdain for vulgar knowledge; but learned men, he insists, must “not be ashamed to enter into shops and factories, and to ask questions from craftsmen, and to get to know about the details of their work.” (Ibid., 209.)  And then follows a passage (ibid., 210) which carries us to the threshold of the History of Trades:

How much wealth of human wisdom is brought to mankind by those who commit to writing what they have gathered on the subjects of each art from the most experienced therein!... By such observation in every walk of life, practical wisdom is increased to an almost incredible degree; those who make such observations should hand them down and let them serve posterity, for whom we ought to care as we do for our own sons.

This sentence shows how the study of trades “applied to use and profit” leads naturally to the description of industrial processes; but the conception of the History of Trades as an organic and systematic work is not in Vives’ mind.  That appears first in Bacon, and it does so because the study of mechanical arts held a central place in his program for the “reconstruction of the sciences.” 3


I – Francis Bacon

So much stress has been laid on his inductive method that we sometimes forget Bacon’s reiterated claim that “the foundation of this reconstruction must be laid in natural history,” though it is to be a natural history “of a new kind and gathered on a new principle.” 4  As early as 1605, the outline of the subject in The Advancement o/ Learning reveals his major innovation. 5  In the past, he says, natural history has scarcely gone beyond “nature in course” or the “history of Creatures.”  “Nature erring or varying” and “nature altered or wrought” - the history of Marvels and the history of Arts - have been “handled so weakly and unprofit-

3. This article makes no attempt to deal with histories of trades, except in so far as certain histories, like those of Evelyn and Petty, were written as contributions to a History of Trades.  It is only that concept as an idea which the article explores.

4. Preface to the Magna Instauratio, in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. Spedding, It. L. Ellis, and D. D. Heath (1857—1859), IV, 28. Cf. IV, 28-29, 127, 251, 252; V, 211, 507-509.  R. F. Jones, Ancients and Moderns; a Study in the Background of the “Battle of the Books” (1936), pp. 56-59, places the right emphasis on natural history in Bacon’s thought.

5. Works, 111, 330-333.  Cf. also the expanded passage in the De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), in Works, IV, 294-299.


ably, as I am moved to note them as deficient.”  Of the latter, there have been “some collections made of agriculture, and likewise of manual arts; but commonly with a rejection of experiments familiar and vulgar.  For it is esteemed a kind of dishonour unto learning to descend to inquiry or meditation upon matters mechanical.” 6  Bacon’s protest against such social fastidiousness is all the more vigorous because, of the three, the history of Nature Wrought or Mechanical is by far the most important.  The paragraph which makes this claim is the central text, 7 and must be quoted in full:

But if my judgment be of any weight, the use of History Mechanical is of all others the most radical and fundamental towards natural philosophy; such natural philosophy as shall not vanish in the fume of subtle, sublime, or delectable speculation, but such as shall be operative to the endowment and benefit of man’s life: for it will not only minister and suggest for the present many ingenious practices in all trades, by a connexion and transferring of the observations of one art to the use of another, when the experiences of several mysteries shall fall under the consideration of one man’s mind; but further it will give a more true and real illumination concerning causes and axioms than is hitherto attained.  For like as a man’s disposition is never well known till he be crossed, nor Proteus ever changed shapes till he was straitened and held fast; so the passages and. variations of nature cannot appear so fully in the liberty of nature, as in the trials and vexations of art.

If we follow the implications of this passage we see how closely the History of Trades is related to Bacon ‘s whole cast of thought.  It is, for one thing, a particular instance of knowledge directed to the “benefit of man’s life” in contrast to scholastic speculation, “cobwebs of learning… of no substance or profit” 8  And as the failure of the Schoolmen is laid to their neglect of nature and of the observations of experience (ibid., ITT, 292), so, we may assume, the success of the mechanical arts is due to the contrary method.  This is explicit in the Novum Organum, where the vigorous growth of these arts is contrasted with the static or degenerate state of the intellectual sciences.  It is because doctrines have been torn up from their proper roots in nature that “the sciences stand where they did” centuries ago; “whereas in the mechanical arts, which are founded on nature and the light of experience, we see the contrary happen, for these . are con-

6. Cf. Novum Organum, bk. i, aphorism 120, in Works, IV, 106-107, where he calls such fastidiousness “childish and effeminate.”

7. Works, III, 332-333.

8. The Advancement of Learning, in Works, III, 286.


tinually thriving and growing.” 9  Elsewhere, the same contrast is used to illustrate another and related axiom of the advancement of learning, the rejection of authority.  “The overmuch credit that hath been given unto authors in sciences, in making them dictators”to be followed and annotated, means that “the first author goeth furthest, and time leeseth and corrupteth.”  But in the “arts mechanical the first deviser comes shortest, and time addeth and perfecteth,” as, for example, in artillery, sailing, and printing. 10  Finally, in the paragraph quoted above, we see that a history of these arts would be the perfect expression of Bacon’s twofold desire for immediate and for future benefits - for experiments of fruit and experiments of light, production of works and discovery of laws. 11  The first of these purposes extends Vives’s scheme of separate histories to a single organic project of one man’s mind, since only then can the successful technique in one trade be applied to the improvement of another.  The second purpose, new in Bacon, 12 and for him the more important, now seems a curious motive for a History of Trades.  We, of course, associate the discovery of causes and axioms with hypothesis and laboratory experiment, but when Bacon failed to grasp the short-cut method of hypothesis and found no laboratories at hand for the collection of experimental data, he naturally turned to factories and workshops.  For in his time they alone could supply conditions later reproduced in a laboratory, namely, when nature “by art and the hand of man… is forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and moulded.” (Ibid., IV, 29.)  Indeed, as we shall see, even when Bacon plans a scientific college of research, some of his laboratories are workshops built on the grounds.

So important was the History of Trades in Bacon’s mind that in 1608 he determined if possible to get it started himself.  In July of that year we find a memorandum in his diary 13 which incidentally

9. Part i, aphorism 74, in Works, IV, 74-75.

10. The Advancement of Learning, in Works, III, 289-290.

11. See Works, III, 165, IV, 17, 105.

12. He says so himself in the Parasceve, in Works, IV, 254: “Natural History, which in its subject (as I said) is threefold, is in its use twofold.  For it is used either for the sake of the knowledge of the particular things which it contains, or as the primary material of philosophy and the stuff and subject-matter of true induction.  And it is this latter which is now in hand; now, I say for the first time.”

13. James Spedding, The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon, including all his Occasional Works (1861-74), IV, 85-66, in the Commentarius Solutus.


gives a more detailed description of the scheme:

To procure an History mechanique to be compiled wth care and diligence (and to profess it that is of the experimts and observations of all Mechanicall Arts).  The places or thinges to be inquyred are; first the materiaIls, and their quantites and proportions; Next the Instrumts and Engins requesite; then the use and adoperation of every Instrumt then the woork it self and all the processe thereof wth the tymes and seasons of doing every part thereof, Then the Errors wth may be comytted, and agayn those things wch conduce to make the woorke in more perfection.  Then all observacions, Axiomes, directions.  Lastly all things collaterall incidt or intervenient.

But how was such a vast history to be written?  The very next entry reads: “Layeng for a place to comand wytts and pennes.  Westminster, Eton, Wynchester, Spec. Trinity College in Cambridg, St Jhons in Camb. Maudlin College in Oxford and bespeaking this betymes, wth yt K. my L. Archb. my L. Treasorer.” 14  If he could get himself appointed to some commanding office in one of these schools or colleges, the scheme might be set on foot. “Qu. of young schollars in ye Universities,” he continues; “It must be the postnati.”  In the meanwhile, perhaps he could start by hiring some research workers to collect materials.  And at once that purpose and that notion of cooperation stir his imagination to the conception of Solomon’s House: “Foundac. of a college for Inventors” with a “Library and an Inginary…. Vaults, fornaces, Tarraces for Insolacion; woork houses of all sorts.”  In a word, the collocation of entries shows Bacon’s mind moving from the History of Trades to a scientific college where the plan could best be realized. 15  It is therefore hardly surprising that when he wrote the New Atlanis in 1624, he included, along with gardens and furnaces and observatories, “brew-houses, bake-houses, and kitchens,” together with shops of “divers mechanical arts… papers, linen, silks, tissues; dainty works of feathers of wonderful lustre; excellent dyes, and many others.” 16 These are the chief laboratories of the three “mystery-men,” appointed to “collect the experiments of all mechanical arts,” (Ibid., 164.)

Before this, however, Bacon had published his principal account of the History of Trades - in the Parasceve, or Preparative

14. That is, Bancroft and Salisbury, the chancellors, respectively, of Oxford and Cambridge.

15. For this interpretation I am partly indebted to Spedding’s introductory remarks on p. 25.

16. Works, III, 159, 161.


towards a Natural and Experimental History, affixed to the Novum Organum (1620).  Logically, this belonged to a later section of the Magna Instauratio, but as he explains, it is printed now because the indispensable natural history on which all scientific progress depends is a thing of great size, requiring vast labor and expense, and the help of many people.  It must therefore be started at once, and on the method herein laid down. 17  The aphorisms that follow expand the passage on natural history in The Advancement of Learning, insisting again that of the three kinds, “the history of Arts is of most use, because it exhibits things in motion, and leads more directly to practice”; and again protesting against “all fineness and daintiness” which considers such work too mechanical and illiberal for gentlemen to stoop to. (Ibid., 257.)  After the aphorisms, Bacon prints a “Catalogue of Particular Histories by Titles,” those of trades running from numbers 81 to 128, and including all those which later were written or planned during the century.  And as we shall see, the later work was probably guided by Bacon’s own selection of the most important (ibid., 257-258):

Among the particular arts those are to be preferred which exhibit, alter, and prepare natural bodies and materials of things; such as agriculture, cookery, chemistry, dyeing; the manufacture of glass, enamel, sugar, gunpowder, artificial fires, paper, and the like.  Those which consist principally in the subtle motion of the bands or instruments are of less use; such as weaving, carpentry, architecture, manufacture of mills, clocks, and the like; although these too are by no means to be neglected.

At this point we can summarize our conclusions as follows.  Bacon reached his original conception of a History of Trades from two related premises: in general, from the first principle of his thought, the inductive study of nature for the use and benefit of man; and in particular, from the groundwork for such a study in a new natural history that would include and emphasize the mechanical arts.  Once achieved, such a history would benefit mankind by the discovery not only of many ingenious practices in trades, but also, and primarily, of scientific causes and axioms.  The project was thus bound up tightly with the Baconian program for the advancement of learning.  That is why we hear no more of a History of Trades until, in the 1640’s, Bacon’s thought began to bear fruit.

17. Works, IV, 251, 252



II – William Petty

Broadly speaking, we can see Bacon’s influence, after 1640, working in two directions, each corresponding roughly with a particular group of men.  On the one hand, it stimulated the growth of experimental philosophy and the formation of a cooperative group of scientists.  This group was first organized as the “Invisible College” in 1645, was continued at Oxford in the 1650’s, and was given formal embodiment in 1663 as the Royal Society.  Because their various interests were centered in the common goal of a Baconian natural history, these men were inevitably concerned with the manual arts; and, as we shall see, one of their leaders, Robert Boyle, was already thinking in 1647 of the great History of Trades which was later undertaken by the Royal Society.

At the same time the broader implications of Bacon ‘s thought were affecting another set of men who were primarily reformers rather than scientists in the strict sense.  This group, typified and largely led by Samuel Hartlib, and including John Dury, William Petty, and John Evelyn, was thinking less about “experiments” than “improvements,” less about scientific laws than the amelioration of society. 18 To some extent they found in Bacon practical suggestions for what they called “the reformation of the whole world,” 19 but their main debt is less concrete and more potent - the inspiration to apply knowledge to the immediate and practical needs of middle-class society.  We have, for example, the testimony of Hartlib ‘s friend, John Dury, in 1649, that “the advancement of learning hath been oftener and in a more public way at least mentioned in this nation of late than in former times, partly by the publication of those excellent works of the Lord Verulam.” 20  And more significant, we find that the master of Hartlib’s Office of Address is “to put in Practice the Lord Verulams Designations,

18. It is true that Petty and Evelyn were both members of the Royal Society, and that Petty in particular worked with Boyle at Oxford on experimental anatomy.  But since both thought of the History of Trades as primarily a contribution to social and commercial improvement, I place them here.  The two categories are not to be taken too rigidly.

19 The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, ed. T. Birch (1772), VI, 132, in a letter from Hartlib to Boyle, Nov. 15, 1659.  Cf. Petty’s remark below, p. 42.

20. A Seasonable Discourse Written by Mr. J. Dury (1649), quoted in Foster Watson, The Beginnings of the Teaching of Modern Subjects in England (1900), p. 230.


De Augmentis Scientiarum, amongst the Learned.” 21

As we shall see in a moment, the designation uppermost in Hartlib’s mind was the History of Trades, but not as part of a natural and experimental history.  It is Bacon’s secondary motive that appeals to Hartlib and his group.  This general shift in emphasis from philosophy to practice, with special reference to the practice of trades, can be seen at once when we compare Macaria (1641) with the New Atlantis on which it was modelled.  In Hartlib’s utopia we find that Solomon’s House is dedicated not to “the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things,” but to the immediate and commercial improvement of middle-class society:

They have an house, or College of Experience, where they deliver out, yearly, such medicines as they find out by experience; and all such as shall be able to demonstrate any experiment, for the health or wealth of other men, are honourably rewarded at the publick charge. 22

Moreover, the college is a minor element.  Most of the tract is devoted to the councils of husbandry, fishing, trade by land, trade by sea, and new plantations, organized to the end that men may “live in great plenty, prosperity, health, peace, and happiness.” (Ibid., 381.)

The same frame of mind, sympathetic to a History of Trades, can be seen also in John Bury.  In The Purpose and Platform of my Journey into Germany (1631), “the main purpose is to find a basis of union among all Protestants.  But in the course of his travels, Bury also planned, he says, to observe “all Inventions, and Feats of Practise in all Sciences”:

For Inventions and Industries, I will seeke for such chiefly as may advance learning and good manners in the Universities, Schooles, and Commonweales; next for such as may bee profitable to the health of the body, to the Preservation and Encrease of wealth by trades and mechanicall Industries, either by sea or Land; either in Peace or Warre.

That quotation shows how commercial motives combined with the influence of Bacon and Comenius to foster a reform of education

21. Considerations Tending to the Happy Accomplishment of Englands Reformation (1647), p. 47; and cf. pp. 50-51.

22. A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (1041), reprinted in The Harleian Miscellany (8vo. ed., 1808-11), IV, 382.

23. Printed by G. H. Turnbull, Samuel Hartlib (1920), pp. 10-13, from Sloane MSS. (British Museum) 654, if. 247-249.  The quotation below is on p. 11.


based on the study of “things” and the introduction of scientific and vocational training.  This is the educational theory we find in the two works directly inspired by Hartlib - Dury’s The Reformed School (about 1649) and Petty’s The Advice of W. P. to Mr. S. Hartlib for the Advancement of Some Particular Parts of Learning (1648).  Indeed, in Petty’s program we find that the principal text-book is the History of Trades.

In this respect, the immediate background of Petty’s Advice is important.  Late in 1647, the year in which Hartlib spoke of his Office of Address putting “in Practice the Lord Verulams Designations,” he sent to Boyle a “design of the History of Trades,” assuring him that it was the “meat or banquet to which I desire to invite mainly all ingenious spirits and discerning palates at this time”; and he appeals to Boyle for financial support, certain that “to your sense it will be a delicacy, and the best venison that ever I could have hunted out for you in this populous wilderness.24  As the final remark implies, Hartlib knew that he was turning to a sympathetic mind, and through Boyle to his associates in the Invisible College, who would welcome so necessary a contribution to Bacon’s natural history.  In this way, I suggest, Hartlib was counting on the alliance of the two groups.  And by a lucky chance, he had found a man for the job who combined both points of view.

For the actual design, the outline of the scheme sent to Boyle, was not Hartlib’s.  “The author… is one Petty, of twenty-four years of age… a most rare and exact anatomist, and excelling in all mathematical and mechanical learning”; and it is Petty who is to write the history if and when “at least a hundred and twenty pounds per ann.” can be guaranteed.  To help raise these funds Hartlib has asked him to write out a specimen “in one trade (which also is near done) and set down all the terms and conditions upon which he desires that annual assistance.” 25

Petty was ideally suited for the work.  The son of a clothier who “also did dye his owne clothes,” his greatest delight as a boy “was to be looking on the artificers, - e.g. smyths, the watchmakers, carpenters, joyners, &c. - And at twelve yeares old could have

24. The Works of Boyle (1772), VI, 76, 77.

25. Ibid.  The actual design is quite possibly the papers for Petty’s History of Trades, Sloane MSS. (British Museum), 2903, 03 ff, which I have been unable to see.


worked at any of these trades. 26  At fifteen he went to France, and began to play the merchant, and had so good successe that he maintained himselfe, and also educated himselfe.” (Ibid., 482.)  Besides Latin, Greek, and French, he learned, as he says himself, “the whole body of common Arithmetick, the practicall Geometry and Astronomy conducing to Navigation, Dialing, &c. with the knowledge of severall Mathematicall Trades. 27  Back in England in 1646, he took up his father ‘s trade of clothier, and “devoted himself to the study of mechanical improvements in textile processes. 28  This was the person of “admirable inventive head, and practicall parts” 29 whom Hartlib, with his keen eye for genius, discovered in 1647, and at once determined to make the historian of trades.

But at that time it was not easy to raise £120 a year.  Meanwhile, Petty might begin work on another of Hartlib’s favorite schemes, the reform of education. Already Hartlib had publicized the theories of Comenius and persuaded Milton to write his tractate; and here was a man who had actually had the very type of education desiderated by the reformers - the broad encyclopedic range, the scientific subjects, the stress on “real” as opposed to verbal learning.  Petty, however, was not an educationalist.  He was a business man, fascinated by the possibilities of applied science.  As Hartlib talked with his protégé, they must suddenly have bit on a brilliant idea.  Within the framework of a Comenian essay, why not propose a scientific college on the model of Solomon’s House, with a faculty of tradesmen engaged mainly on industrial experiments - and on the writing of a History of Trades for the common benefit of scientists and artificers?  In fact, wouldn’t such a history have so many values even for laymen that it would in itself be the principal text-book of the new education?  Once we gain this perspective, we see how misleading is the common notion that Petty’s Advice is simply another contribution to Comenian

26. John Aubrey, Letters Written by Eminent Persons in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1813), II, 481.

27. From his will, reprinted in Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice, The Life of Sir William Petty, 1623-1687 (1895), pp. 318-319.

28. Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice, in the D.N.B. article on Petty.  This makes it highly probably that the specimen of one trade which Hartlib says Petty had nearly completed in 1647 was a history of clothing.  Years later he read a history of clothing to the Royal Society.  See below, p. 52.

29. Aubrey, op. cit., II, 486.


education. Its main inspiration is not Comenius but Bacon - Bacon of the New Atlantis and of the history of mechanical arts, as his thought was modified by the more utilitarian and commercial spirit of Hartlib and Petty.  But its immediate provocation, the spark that set pen to paper, was the letter to Boyle; and its primary purpose, I believe, is to persuade a wide audience to support the scheme for a History of Trades.

After two pages on the education of children in literary workhouses which should combine practical studies with the learning of a trade, we come to the heart of the essay, the erection of “a gymnasium mechanicum or a college of tradesmen,” “for the advancement of all mechanical arts and manufactures”  30

From this institution we may clearly hope… that all trades will miraculously prosper, and new inventions would be more frequent, than new fashions of cloaths and household-stuff.  Here would be the best and most effectual opportunities and means, for writing a history of trades, in perfection and exactness; and what experiments and stuff would all those shops and operations afford to active and philosophical heads, out of which, to extract that interpretation of nature, whereof there is so little, and that so bad, as yet extant in the world?

The appeal at once to London tradesmen and Gresham College philosophers is skilfully handled; and the appeal is quite definite, for Petty is not talking utopias.  “For more expedition, until such a place could be built,… the most convenient houses, for such a purpose, may be either bought or hired.” (ibid., 146.)  Beyond that there will be no further expense, since in lieu of salary, the tradesmen-fellows will have a ready market for goods produced by such famous workmen.

After the outline of institutions, that is, the literary workhouses and the new college, “we now come to speak of such books, as, being well studied and expounded in those schools, would lay a very firm foundation of learning in the scholars.”

We recommend therefore in the first place… the compiling of a work, whose title might justly be Vellus Areum sive Facultatum Lucriferarum. Descriptio magna, wherein all the practised ways of getting a subsistence, and whereby men raise their fortunes, may be at large declared.  And, among these, we wish that the history of arts or manufactures might

30. The Advice of W. P. to Mr Samuel Hartlib for the Advancement of Some Particular Parts of Learning (1648), reprinted in The Harteian Miscellany (Svo. ed., 1808-11), VI, 146.


first be undertaken as the most pleasant and profitable of all the rest, wherein should be described the whole process of manual operations and applications of one natural thing, (which we call the elements of artificials) to another, with the necessary instruments and machines, whereby every piece of work is elaborated, and made to be what it is; unto which work bare words being not sufficient, all instruments and tools must be pictured, and colours added, when the descriptions cannot be made intelligible without them. (ibid., 152-153.)

We need not linger on Petty’s exposition of “the nature, manner, and means of writing the history of trades,” beyond. noticing the personal reference when he says that the compiler must be a young man if he is to finish the work (Petty was twenty-five at the time).  But the long list that follows of “profits and commodities” redounding to society from such a book - inserted, significantly enough, “for the better encouragement of the undertakers” (ibid., 155) - is of the first importance.  A few selections (ibid., 155-157) will indicate the range of utility which justifies the claim he later made that the History of Trades was one of “the great pillars of the reformation of the world.” 31

All men whatsoever may hereby so look into all professions, as not to be too grossly cozened and abused in them.

Scholars, and such as love to ratiocinate, will have more and better matter to exercise their wits upon, whereas they now puzzle and tire themselves, about mere words and chimerical notions.

All men in general that have wherewithal will be venturing at our vellus aureum, by making of experiments: and whether thereby they thrive or no, the directions in the preface being followed, they shall nevertheless more and more discover nature,

All ingenious men, and lovers of real knowledge, have a long time begged this work, wherefore it can be no small honour to him that shall satisfy them.

A vast increase of honourable, profitable, and pleasant inventions must needs spring from the work, when one man (as the compiler thereof) may, uno intuitu, see and comprehend all the labour and wit of our ancestors, and be thereby able to supply the defects of one trade with the perfections of another.

There would not then be so many fustian and unworthy preachers in divinity, so many petty-foggers in the law, so many quack-salvers in physick, so many grammaticasters in country schools, and so many lazy

31. The Works of Boyle, VI, 113, quoted in a letter from Hartlib to Boyle,


serving-men in gentlemen’s houses, when every man might learn to live otherwise in more plenty and honour; for all men, desirous to take pains, might, by this book, survey all the ways of subsistence, and chuse out of them all one that best suits with his own genius and abilities.

Boys, instead of reading hard Hebrew words in the bible (where they either trample on, or play with mysteries) or parrot-like repeating heteroclitous nouns and verbs, might read and hear the history of faculties expounded… It would be more profitable to boys to spend ten or twelve years in the study of things, and of this book of faculties, than in a rabble of words. 32

This work will be an help to eloquence, when men, by their great acquaintance with things, might find out similitudes, metaphors, allusions, and other graces of discourse in abundance.

To arithmeticians and geometricians, supplying them with matter, whereon to exercise those most excellent sciences… The number of mixt mathematical arts would hereby be increased.

Divines, having so large a book of God’s works, added to that of his word, may, the more clearly from them both, deduce the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Almighty.

Lastly, This history, with the comments thereupon, and the indexes, preface, and supplements thereunto belonging, would make us able, if it be at all possible, to demonstrate axioms in philosophy, the value and dignity whereof cannot be valued or computed.

Anyone familiar with the period will see in this list an extraordinary reflection of the ‘climate of opinion’ - the new philosophy, the rejection of Scholasticism, the commercial drive, the attack on grammar with the demand for a practical study of things, the sop to rhetoric in the promise of new materials for tropes, 33 the growth of applied matbematics, the apology for science as the study of God’s second book, and over all, the full spirit of utilitarianism.  Is it too much to say that in Bacon’s conception of the History of Trades, Petty has condensed and focussed the ideals of the scientific middle-class society which was born in the Interregnum and grew up in the Restoration?  And it is literally Bacon’s conception, for after the last “profit,” Petty concludes the essay:

32. In The Petty Papers, edited by the Marquis of Lansdowne (1927), II, 45, is a document called “Three Sorts of Education, 1686.”  In the first curriculum, which the editor suggests is for “a successful man of the world,” we find the History of Trades as a subject of study.

33. Cf. Sprat in 166?, The History of the Royal Society (ed. 1734), pp. 413-417.  Since “the Wit of the Fables and Religions of the antient World is well-nigh consumed,” the new science will supply fresh imagery drawn from “a vast Number of Natural and Mechanical Things.”


The next book, which we recommend, is the history of nature free; for indeed the history of trades is also an history of nature, but of nature vexed and disturbed.  What we mean by this history, may be known by the Lord Verulam’s most excellent specimen thereof; and, as for the particulars that it should treat on, we refer to his exact and judicious catalogue of them, at the end of his advancement of learning. 34


III – John Evelyn

It was at his own house in 1656, and probably on April 12th in the company of Wilkins and Jeremy Taylor, that Evelyn first met Boyle. 35  They were at once attracted to each other, and Evelyn has described how the acquaintance ripened quickly into friendship. 36  After a polite exchange of “divers letters… in civilities,… we became perfectly acquainted and had discovered our inclination of cultivating the same studies and designes, especially in ye search of natural and usefull things”; and of one thing in particular, for Evelyn continues:

my selfe then intent on collections of notes in order to an History of Trades and other mechanical furniture, which he earnestly incouraged me to proceed with: so that our intercourse of letter was now only upon yt account, and were rather so many receipts and processes, than letters.

We are, of course, prepared for Boyle's enthusiastic support of the scheme which had been abandoned in 1648; but what had led Evelyn just at that time and independently of Boyle, to undertake the same work?  On November 27, 1655, he paid a visit to “honest and learned Mr. Hartlib, a public spirited and ingenious person, who had propagated many usefull things and arts.” 37  In Evelyn ‘s notes on the conversation, there is mention only of various mechanical inventions, and the conclusion, “This gentleman was a master of innumerable curiosities and very cummunicative.”  Five months later Evelyn is “intent on collections of notes in order to an History of Trades.”  One can scarcely imagine that the loqua-

34. Ibid., Page 157.  He means, of course, at the end of the Novum Organism.

35. In 1696, Evelyn speaks [in the Diary of John Evelyn, Esq., F.R.S., to which are added a Selection from his Familiar Letters, edited by Henry B. Wheatley (1879), III, 481] of meeting Boyle “almost fourty yeares since;” and (IV, 34) at his own house at Deptford.  The entry for April 12, 1656 (II, 83) is the first mention of Boyle.

36. In a letter to William Wotton, Sept. 12, 1703 (ibid., IV, 35-36).

37. Ibid., II, 80.


cious Hartlib, finding Evelyn concerned at once with mechanical arts and public improvements, and possessed of a good-sized income, could have failed to mention the project of 1648 and its manifest advantages to society.  It is true, no doubt, that a work which “all ingenious men and lovers of real knowledge, have a long time begged” was already in Evelyn’s mind, and would, in any case, have appealed to a man so devoted to public service and the new philosophy; but the collocation of dates makes it highly probable that some remark of Hartlib's set Evelyn going.  At any rate, Hartlib had a share in the new venture, for it is to him that Evelyn sent, in 1659, a specimen of a history of the trade of gardening, which Hartlib in turn was to send on to Boyle for further criticism. 38

About a year after their first meeting, Evelyn reports to Boyle on his progress, in a letter so important that most of it must be quoted. 39  Of the “trifles” which Boyle was pleased to command, he encloses only a receipt for making varnish; 40 as for the other trades,

I have omitted those of brasse, &c. because they properly belong to Etching and Ingraving: which treatise, together with five other (viz. Paynting in Oyle, in Miniature, Anealing in Glasse, Enamiling, and Marble Paper), I was once minded to publish (as a specimen of what might be further done in the rest) for the benefit of the ingenious: but I have since ben put off from that designe, not knowing whether I should do well to gratifie so barbarous an age (as I feare is approaching) with curiosities of that nature, delivered with so much integrity as I intended them: and least by it I should also disoblige some, who made those professions their living: or, at least, debase much of their esteeme by prostituting them to the vulgar.  Rather, I conceived that a true and ingenious discovery of these and the like arts, would, to better purpose, be compiled for the use of that Mathematico-Chymico-Mechanical Schoole designed by our noble friend Dr Wilkinson, where they might (not without an oath of secresy) be taught to those that either affected or desired any of them: and from thence, as from another Solomons house, so much of them onely made publique, as should from tyme to tyme be judged convenient by the superintendent of that Schoole, for the reputation of learning and benefit of the nation.  And upon this score, there would be a most willing contribution of what ingenious persons know of this kind, & to which I should most freely dedicate what I have.”

38. Ibid., III, 261, in a letter, dated Aug. 9, 1659.

39. Ibid., III, 235, dated May 9, 1657.

40. This was probably used by Boyle for his own history of varnish.  See below, p. 52.


In the first place, this letter marks the difference between Evelyn and his associates.  The superior tone of the gentleman scholar, condemned by Vives and Bacon, never appears in Hartlib or Petty, and was scorned by Boyle. 41  In the next place, this attitude, as it combines with the aesthetic side of his nature, determines the kinds of trades which we see Evelyn willing to examine, those which are not so much manual arts as fine arts.  Finally, the letter prophesies what later became a fact, that the scheme might best be undertaken in such a scientific foundation as Dr. Wilkins was planning, that is to say, in the Royal Society, and that to such an academy, Evelyn would, as we shall see that he did, freely dedicate his own histories. 42

After this letter we half expect the confession two years later that “in the History of Trades, I am not advanced a step”; nor are we surprised at his excuse, that he cannot support “the many subjections… of conversing with mechanical capricious persons.”  And so the design is abandoned, with the acknowledgment of his fault “if from any expression of mine there was any room to hope for such a production, farther than by a short collection of some heads & materials, & a continual propensity of endeavouring in some particular, to encourage so noble a work, as far as I am able.” 43

But even as he was writing, circumstances were forming to give ample room for such a hope, and in less than two years his own collection of beads and materials was the basis of a fresh attempt.  For in 1658 many of the Oxford virtuosi came up to London, and there we find the weekly meetings at Gresham College which were to lead directly to the Royal Society; and there, with other “eminent Persons of their common Acquaintance,” they were joined by “Mr. John Evelyn44

41. See below, p. 50.

42. “Dr, Wilkinson” is an error for “Dr. Wilkins.” Obviously referring to this letter, William Wotton, at work on his life of Boyle, wrote to Evelyn in 1703 (Diary, IV, 32): “In one of your 1res to Mr. B. you mention a Chymico-Mathematico-Mechanical Schole designed by Dr. Wilkins what farther do you know about it!”  To which Evelyn answered (p. 34), that at Oxford in the 1650’s there was “a famous assemblage of virtuosi,” where Boyle, Christopher Wren, Seth Ward, “and especially Dr. Wilkins (since Bishop of Chester): the head of Wadham Coll… used to meete to promote the study of the new philosophy, which has since obtained.  It was in that Colledge where I think there was an elaboratory, and other instruments mathematical, mechanical, &c. which perhaps might be that you speake of as a scbole” - that is to say, which I spoke of in that letter.

43.  Diary, III, 260—261, in a letter to Boyle, Aug. 9, 1659.

44. Sprat, History of the Royal Society, p. 57.



IV - The Royal Society

Both in aims and methods, as in size and range of membership, the Royal Society was nicely constituted to attack the History of Trades.  Their purpose, wrote Sprat (ibid., 61), is “to make faithful Records of all the Works of Nature, or Art”; their method is “to heap up a mixt Mass of Experiments,” registered “as bare unfinish’d Histories.” (Ibid., 115.)  In this Baconian way, the society would avoid the barren fruits of the old philosophers, busy with speculative opinions instead of the solid groundwork of natural history (ibid., 118).  It is significant that Sprat finds the sterility of ancient thought obstructing trade quite as much as natural philosophy.  What help, he asks, did it ever bring to the vulgar?  “What visible Benefit to any City or Country in the World?  Their Meckanicks, and Artificers (for whom the true natural Philosophy should be principally intended), were so far from being assisted by those abstruse Doctrines,” that learning made no contribution to “Professions and Trades.” (Ibid., 117-118.)  All this, of course, is straight Bacon - all except the highly significant clause in the parentheses.  For Bacon had said, “I care little about the mechanical arts themselves: only about those things which they contribute to the equipment of philosophy.” 45  The notion that natural philosophy was principally intended for mechanics and artificers would have shocked him profoundly.  That Sprat could adopt such a position so casually, and in the face of his claim that the Royal Society was the child of Bacon’s thought, 46 is largely explained, I think, by a passage like the following:

Of our chief and most wealthy Merchants and Citizens, very many have assisted it with their Presence and thereby have added the industrious, punctual, and active Genius of Men of Traffick, to the quiet, sedentary, and reserv’d Temper of Men of Learning. they have contributed their Labours; they have help ‘d their Correspondence; they have employ’d their Factors abroad to answer their Inquiries; they have laid out in all Countries for Observations; they have bestow’d many considerable Gifts on their Treasury and Repository.

And he goes on to praise the recent establishment by Sir John Cutter of a lectureship in mechanics, to be read “where the Royal Society shall meet,” the first lecture of its kind, and “the most necessary of all others.”

45. Works, IV, 271, at the end of the Parasceue.

46. History, pp. 35, 144.


For this has chiefly caus’d the slow Progress of manual Arts; that the Trades themselves have never serv’d Apprentiships, as well as the Tradesmen; that they have never had any Masters set over them, to direct and guide their Works, or to vary and enlarge their Operations. 47

Late in the volume a long and glowing section is devoted to “the Purpose of the Royal Society, and the probable Effects of Experiments, in respect of all the Manual Trades.” (Ibid., 378-403.)

The fact is, of course, that the Royal Society was riddled with a utilitarian and commercial spirit far beyond anything in Bacon.  He was writing for the Stuart court and the learned scholars of Europe, appealing for the advancement of natural philosophy.  Sprat is writing quite as much for the city and the country, giving the advancement of trade and industry an equal place with the advancement of pure science.  The difference is seen with significant clarity in the famous passage on style, where the society goes on record as preferring “the Language of Artizans, Countrymen, and Merchants, before that of Wits, or Scholars.” (Ibid., 113.)  Or, with greater relevance to our purpose, the shift in emphasis comes out in Hooke ‘s remark that “they [the members of the Royal Society] do not wholly reject Experiments of meer light and theory; but they principally aim at such, whose Applications will improve and facilitate the present way of Manual Arts.” 48  In short, it was primarily the acquisitive temper of the middle-class, building on the heritage of Bacon and the social reformers, that directed the virtuosi to the History of Trades.

The project was at once brought to their notice by two members already prepared with plans and methods.  In the minutes for the meeting of January 16, 1661, we find the following entries: 49

The catalogue of trades brought in by Mr. Evelyn, and that of Dr. Petty, were referred to them and Dr. Merret, to be compared, methodised, and returned to the society.

Dr. Merret was requested to bring in writing that account of refining, which he had delivered in discourse this day.

Mr. Evelyn was desired to bring in an history of engraving and etching: And

Dr. Petty to communicate the history of some trade at his own choice.

47. Ibid., 129-130.  Cf. other salutes to the “noble and inquisitive Genius of our Merchants” on pp. 67, 88, 121, 407.

48. Robert Hooke, Mierographia (1665), preface, quoted in Jones, Ancients and Moderns, p. 206.

49. Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London for Improving of Natural Knowledge (1755-1757), I, 12.


Petty’s catalogue, which must have been drawn up originally for Hartlib in 1647, is very likely the list of histories, modelled on Bacon, which still exists among his MSS. 50   And I assume that Evelyn’s paper, which he calls “my Circle of Mechanical Trades,” 51 is the “short collection of some heads & materials” that he mentioned to Boyle in 1659.  The actual document is preserved in the Archives of the Royal Society.  It consists of four pages, in Evelyn ‘s own hand, with the title, History of Arts Illiberal and Mechanical.  The arts are divided into eight groups, the last of which is headed “Exotick and very rare Seacrets." 52  Five months later, when Evelyn drew up a design for the library of the Royal Society, he included, of course, a section of “Books of Arts Illiberal and purely Mechanick,” the working bibliography for the history, divided into sections which must correspond roughly with the grouping mentioned above: “1.Usefull & Vulgar, Meane, Servile, Rusticall, Female, Polite, More Liberall, Curious, Exotick, Modells & Engines belonging to them.” 53

Quickened by this initial meeting, interest in the History of Trades steadily increased.  A few weeks later Petty talked to the King for “half an hour before the forty Lords, upon the philosophy of shipping, loadstones, guns, &c., feathering of arrows, vegetation of plants, the history of trades, &c., about all of which I discussed intrépide and I hope not contemptibly.” 54  Later in the year, Cowley's Proposition for the Advancement of Learning outlined a philosophical college in which men were to learn “the Mysteries of all Trades, and Improvement of them; the Facture of all Merchandizes,… and briefly all things contained in the Catalogue of Natural Histories annexed to My Lord Bacon’s Organon.” 55   Within the Royal Society itself the subject was constantly

50. Printed in The Petty Papers, I, 203-205.

51. Diary, II, 122, under Jan. 16, 1661.

52. Since I have been unable to see the ms., I have taken these facts from A. H. Church, Evelyn’s Sculptura, with the Unpublished Second Part, ed. C. F. Bell (1906), part II, pp. i—ii; and Geoffrey Keynes, John Evelyn; a Study in Bibliography & a Bibliography of his Writings (1937), p. 112.

53. Keynes, p. 18. The ms is dated May 22, 1661.

54. Quoted by Fitzmaurice, The Life of Petty, p. 104, from a letter to his brother John, Feb. 5, 1661.

55. In Abraham Cowley; the Essays and Other Prose Writings, ed. A. B. Gough (1915), p. 34.


under discussion.  In March, “Dr. Merret was to be asked for the catalogue of trades, which he took, of Mr. Evelyn’s and Dr. Petty’s.” (Birch, loc. cit., I, 19).  On May 22nd, “the business of the history of trades was appointed to be discoursed of at the next meeting” (I, 24), though no discussion appears in the minutes for May 28th.  A similar promise occurs in an entry for October 23rd: “Dr. Merret and Dr. Clarke were desired to bring in their account of trades at the next meeting.” (1, 50.)  Finally, the matter was apparently turned back to Petty, who promised on February 26, 1662, “to produce on that day fortnight his paper concerning trades.” (I, 77.)

In the meanwhile various particular histories had been planned or written.  Drawing on his first-hand experience, Petty had read papers on the history of clothing, the history of dyeing, and “propositions concerning shipping.” 56  Boyle had been asked “for what he knew relating to varnish,” and Oldenburg was to write on “making steel and lattin plates.”57  I find no notice of Christopher Merret’s account of refining, but in 1662 he translated the Italian work of Antonio Neri, De Arte Vitraria (1612), a book which Boyle was later to cite as a model of mechanical history. 58 Finally, Evelyn had contributed an “Account of the making of marbled paper,” 59  and then elaborated another of the treatises written in association with Boyle, that on etching and engraving, 60 which he published in 1662: Sculptura; or, The History and Art of Chalcography and Engraving in Copper.

The dedication to Boyle, at whose “reiterated instances,” Evelyn says, the work was prepared, is only natural.  But this is followed, unexpectedly, by “An Account of Signor Giacorno Favi,”

56. The paper on clothing, read on Nov. 27, 1661, is reprinted by Birch, I, 55-65; that on dyeing, read on May 7, 1662 (Birch, I, 83), was published in 1667 by Sprat in The History of the Royal Society (ed. 1724), pp. 284-301.  The material on shipping (Birch, I, 65) was presented on Nov. 27, 1661.

57. Birch, I, 52, dated Oct. 30, 1661.  It will be recalled (see above p. 47) that Evelyn sent a history of varnish to Boyle in 1657.  See also below, p. 59.

58. The Art of Glass wherein are shown the wayes to make and colour glass, pastes, enamels, lakes, and other curiosities… translated into English, with some observations on the author, London, 1662.  For Boyle’s mention of this work, see below, p. 59.

59. Birch, I, 69, dated Jan. 8, 1662.

60.  See the letter quoted above, p. 50.


which has nothing to do with engraving, and which seems, from Evelyn’s description, to be utterly irrelevant.  It is taken, he says, from a discourse of M. Sorbière’s “concerning the utility of great travel and forreign voyages” 61 and translated here “because it approaches so neer to the idea which I have propos’d, and may serve as an encouragement and example to the gentlemen of our nation, who for the most part wander, and spend their time abroad, in the pursuit of those vain and lower pleasures, fruitless, and altogether intollerable.” 62  The example which Favi gives is not, however, related to the usual precepts for the grand tour.  On the contrary, Favi went from country to country “collecting with a most insuperable diligence all that the mechanics had invented for Agriculture, Architecture, and the fabric of all sorts of works, belonging to sports, and to cloatbes, for use and for magnificence.” (Ibid., 248.)  Then, at the close of the sketch (p. 250), Evelyn himself draws the moral:

His intention was, as I have been credibly inform’d by one that did often converse with him (though Monsieur Sorbière is silent of it) after he had travelled over all the world (for his designe was no lesse ample) at returne into his native country, to compile, and publish a compleat Cycle and History of Trades, with whatsoever else he should judge of use and benefit to mankind: but this had been a charity and a blessing too great for the world, because it do’s not depart from its vices and impertinences, and cherish such persons, and the virtues which should render it worthy of them.

This explains why Favi ‘s life approached the idea which Evelyn had proposed, and why it is prefixed to the Scuiptura.  For the published volume is plainly intended to call the “gentlemen of our nation” to similar contributions toward a complete cycle of trades.  And not merely gentlemen.  At the end of the book, Evelyn inserted an important note.  He had intended, he says, to add a translation of M. du Bosse’s treatise on the rolling press, but had desisted when be heard that William Faithorn, the engraver, was planning to translate the same work.  Given this occasion, Evelyn concludes:

61. Samuel de Sorbi’ere (1615-1670), Lettres et Discours sur Diverses Matières Curieuses (Paris, 1660), lettre lxxxiii, p. 644.

62. The dedication, in The Miscellaneous Writings of John Evelyn, ed. William Upcott (1825), p. 246.


I could wish, with all my heart, that more of our workmen would (in imitation of his laudable example) impart to us what they know of their several trades and manufactures… For what could so much conduce to their profit and emolument?  when their several mysteries being subjected to the most accurate inspection and examen of the more polite and enquiring spirits, they should return to their Authors again so greatly refin'd and improved, 63 and when (through this means also) Philosophy her self might hope to attain so considerable a progress towards her ultimate perfection. 64

One feels here, and still more in the previous passage, that Evelyn is somewhat discouraged.  Neither gentlemen nor workmen had apparently backed the History of Trades with the vigor he desired.  The activity cited above was largely confined, we notice, to the old guard - that is, to Petty, Boyle, and Evelyn himself.  The project had not yet caught on, as it did later after 1664.  This accounts for Evelyn’s discouragement in 1662, and provides a further explanation of his earnest appeal to gentlemen and workmen. 64a

He himself continued his efforts, developing the early specimen sent to Hartlib on the trade of gardening 65 into his largest work, published in 1664:

Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesties Dominions. By J. E. Esq.  As it was deliver’d in the Royal Society the XVth of October, MDCLXII,… to which is annexed Pomona, or an Appendix concerning Fruit. Trees in relation to Cider, the making and severall wayes of ordering it.  Published by express order of the Royal Society.  Also Kalendarium .Hortense, or the Gard’ners Almanac, directing what he is to do monethly throughout the year.

63. Cf. Sprat’s remark quoted above, p. 49.

64. Miscellaneous Writings, pp. 335-336.  We notice that Evelyn, in contrast to Bacon, and in harmony with the Royal Society, sees the scientific value of mechanical history as subordinate to its commercial value.  His translation of du Bosse was published as part II in C. F. Bell’s edition of Sculptura (1906).

64a. In this connection we have the evidence of the anonymous translator of Guido Pancirollus, The History of Many Memorable Things Lost (1715), appendix, p. 431, where he finds that the attempts of the virtuosi “to look into our Manufactures, Country-Business, and common Shop-Trades” to make them “more easy and gainful” were “met at first with no small Discouragements, even from the Mechanicks themselves.”

65. See above. p. 47


If this hardly seems part of the History of Trades, we need only refer back to Bacon’s catalogue, “History of Agriculture, Pasturage, Culture of Woods, &c.; History of Gardening. 66  And in any case Evelyn himself wrote to Wotton in 1703 that “what I gathered of this nature [the collections made with Boyle toward “an History of Trades”], and especially for the improvement of planting and gardening; my Sylva and what else I published on that subject, being but part of that work,… would astonish you, did you see the bundles and packets. 67  Among these bundles and packets were certainly the four treatises mentioned earlier on “Paynting in Oyle, in Miniature, Anealing in Glasse, Enamiling,” as well as his Panificium, or the Several Manners of Making Bread in France, read to the society on March 1, 1665. 68  Nor does this exhaust Evelyn’s contribution, for we must add also, I think, another of his principal works, A Parallel of the Ancient Architecture with the Modern, translated from the French of Roland Fréart (1664).  This is primarily a critical essay on architecture as a fine art, but the title-page insists that it was “made English for the benefit of builders” - a purpose emphasized by Evelyn’s glossary of technical terms which he says is intended even for “the capacities of the most vulgar understandings.” 69  Moreover, he connects the Parallel directly with Sylva: “After I had (by the commands of the Royal Society) endeavour’d the Improvement of Timber and the Planting of Trees, I have advanced to that of Building, as its proper and natural consequent.” (Ibid., 339.)

As long ago as 1755, an anonymous biographer claimed that Evelyn’s “great work was to have been intitled, ‘A general History of all Trades.’” 70  No proof was given, and none exists today to warrant the remark as a statement of fact.  And yet, when we look back over all the evidence assembled and remember in particular the eulogy of Favi, we see that as a piece of criticism the remark is penetrating.  For it indicates the neglected truth that

66. Works, IV, 270.

67. Diary, IV, 34.  This follows the quotation given above, p. 47.

68. Birch, II, 19.  It was published in John Houghton, A Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade, no. xii, Jan. 16, 1683.  This would come under Bacon’s entry in the catalogue of trades (Works, IV, 269) for a “History of Baking, and the Making of Bread.”

69. In The Miscellaneous Writings, p. 353.

70. In the second edition of Sculptura, p. xxxi.


much of Evelyn’s endless and apparently random virtuosity was directed towards a single goal.

We have now seen, as prophesied, that Evelyn’s choice of trades falls under the “polite” or “more Liberall” categories.”  After 1664, however, when the formation of a committee for “Histories of Trade” stimulated fresh interest, the trend was more and more toward the “Usefull & Vulgar.”  A catalogue was finally drawn up, and in December the members were invited to choose such trades “as they would give the history of.” 72  By 1667, when Sprat reviewed the progress, plans of vast scope bad been formed and considerable work accomplished:

They have propounded the composing a Catalogue of all Trades, Works, and Manufactures, wherein Men are employ’d; in order to the collecting each of their Histories, by taking notice of all the physical Receipts or Secrets, the Instruments, Tools, and Engines, the manual Operations or Slights, the Cheats and ill Practices, the Goodness, Baseness, and different Value of Materials, and whatever else belongs to the Operations of all Trades. 73

The following paragraphs refer to plans already under way for the “Manufacture of Tapestry; the improving of Silk-making: the propagating of Saffron: the melting of Lead-Oar with Pit-coal”; the study of soils and clays “for the better making of Bricks and Tiles”; and the culture of potatoes.  And this list is later expanded by another which includes the histories of iron-making, tinneries and tin-working, lead, saltpeter, brass, varnish, cloth, leather, marble paper, bats, bread, and a host of others. (Ibid., 258.)  After sample specimens, one of which is Petty’s Apparatus to the History of the Common Practices of Dying (ibid., 284-301), Sprat closes with a glowing prophecy (ibid., 310):

They have assured grounds of confidence, that when this attempt shall be compleated, it will be found to bring innumerable benefits to all practical Arts: When all the secrets of Manufactures shall be discover’d, their Materials describ’d 74, their Instruments figur’d, their Products represented:  It will soon be determin’d, how far they themselves may be promoted, and

71. In his design for a. library, above, p. 51.

72. Birch, I, 407, for the creation of the committee on March 30, 1664.  It included Boyle, Evelyn, Merret, and Petty.  On June 8th, Merret was made chairman (I, 439) and fortnightly meetings were arranged.  At the Dec. 7th meeting (I, 502, where the quotation appears), Seth Ward said be had seen a printed catalogue of trades, but if this is not Bacon’s, I have found no trace of it.

73. Sprat, History of the Royal Society, p. 190.


what new consequences may thence be educ’d… In short, by this help the worst Artificers will be well instructed, by considering the Methods, and Tools of the best:  And the greatest Inventors will be exceedingly inlighten’d; because they will have in their view the labours of many men, many places, and many times, wherewith to compare their own.


V – Robert Boyle

Ever since 1647 Robert Boyle had been offering encouragement and suggestions to others; in 1671 he spoke out himself.  The quickened interest of the years from 1664 to 1667 had again died down; the scattered and desultory work of the virtuosi needed more concentration, firmer conviction, fresh stimulus.  Ignoring catalogues and specific plans, Boyle wrote the finest apology we have for the History of Trades as an idea, gathering up into a rounded essay the full range of its meaning for his time.  Because he was a scientist, and Bacon’s greatest disciple, he reaffirmed its highest function, long subordinated, even in the Royal Society, to considerations of trade and industry:

For I look upon a good history of trades, as one of the best means to give experimental learning both growth and fertility, and like to prove to natural philosophy what a rich compost is to trees, which it mightily helps, both to grow fair and strong, and to bear much fruit. 74

But because he was defending science in an age of commercial expansion, Boyle looked also to its immediate practical application:

I have often wished, that some ingenious friends to experimental philosophy would take the pains to enquire into the mysteries, and other practices of trades, and give us an account, some of one trade, and some of another, towards the melioration of the professions they write of. (Ibid.)

Balancing these values in complementary sections, he composed his essay, That the Goods of Mankind may be much increased by the Naturalist’s Insight into Trades. 75

As we might expect, the first section on the contribution of trades to a natural history, is little more than an elaboration of Bacon’s pregnant suggestions.  Quite possibly with Evelyn in mind, Boyle reproves the childish disdain of learned men to converse with “illiterate mechanicks” in their workhouses and

74. Works, III, 449.  I give the title of the tract just below in the text.

75. Essay IV in Some Considerations Touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy… The Second Tome (1671), in Works, III, 442-456.


shops. 76  For it is there that we find “nature in motion, and that, too, when she is (as it were) put out of her course” - Bacon’s “nature wrought or altered” - and consequently most instructive. (ibid., 443.)  Because by 1670 such conditions could often be reproduced in laboratories, largely non-existent in Bacon’s time, Boyle does not argue that factories alone could supply mechanical data.  Instead, by contrasting tradesmen in their shops with the virtuosi in their laboratories, he brings out the continued importance of the former for the advancement of science.  For one thing, they are more diligent than other “experimenters” since their livelihood is at stake; and if their observations are less accurate than those of learned men, “that defect is recompensed by their being more frequently repeated, and more assiduously made, than most of the experiments, wherein men of letters have furnished natural history.”  Or again, want of tools and accommodation will often force a craftsman to discover “new uses and applications of things,” otherwise hardly found out by “even a knowing man.”  And finally, workshops contain many things “unknown to classical writers” - Boyle himself has learned more about stones from “two or three masons, and stone-cutters, than ever I did from Pliny, or Aristotle and his commentators.”  In fact, their very ignorance of books and the theories of the schools, makes tradesmen examine “the things they deal with, by mechanical ways,” - ways that seem extravagant to a “bookman,” but prove true and useful to the scientist.”

In these last remarks we notice an attitude familiar enough today, but one which was just emerging in the middle of the seventeenth century, the disdain of the scientist for the “bookman.”  It is the extreme form of a general tendency of thought.  The attack on pedantry in Montaigne and such English disciples as Feltham, Osborne, and Locke, leads to the subordination of reading to observation of the social world.  In Comenius and his followers, the study of things, the phenomena of nature and crafts, is opposed to the long discipline in grammar and rhetoric.  But the extreme position is found among the Baconians, with their passion for empirical knowledge.  Petty boasted to Aubrey that he had read little since be was twenty-five, for “had he read much, as some men have, he had not known so much as he does, nor should be have

76. Ibid., 442, 443.  For Evelyn’s attitude, see above, p. 4Sf.

77. All quotations are on pp. 443-444, op. cit.


made such discoveries and improvements.” 78  It is this conviction which makes him claim, in the Advice to Hartlib, that a man educated in the Gymnasium Mechanicum “would certainly prove a greater scholar than the walking libraries so called, although he could neither write nor read.” 79  It is a kind of scientific primitivism.  And Boyle shares this view to an unexpected extent.  Speaking of his studies in anatomy with Petty, “I have seen,” he says, “especially in the dissections of fishes, more of the variety and contrivances of nature… than all the books I ever read in my life could give me convincing notions of.” 80  Or, in another field, the writing of meditations, he finds a great difference between “him that but takes up instructions in books of morality and devotion, and him that by occasional reflections derives them from the book of nature.” 81  It is not surprising that Evelyn found Boyle’s library to be small, “as learning more from men, real experiments, & in his laboratory (which was ample and well furnished), than from books.” 82  And sometimes, as we have just seen, the men were workmen, and the laboratory, their shops.  In short, to people like Petty and Boyle, strongly suspicious of traditional knowledge, even to the point of actual distaste for reading, the direct study of manual arts took on special validity and special appeal.

We need not pause on Boyle’s arguments in section two.  Starting again from Bacon, he illustrates how practices in one trade may be applied by analogy to the improvement of another - if and when a group of scientists will set themselves methodically to a collection of mechanical histories.  By way of example, he refers the reader to a specimen of his own, a history of the trade of varnish; mentions Italian accounts of particular professions which, like Merret’s translation of De Arte Vetraria, should be made English; and begs all the virtuosi of our country “not to disdain to contribute their observations to the history of trades.” 83  And

78. Letters Written by Eminent Persons (1813), II, 486.

79. In The .Harleian Miscellany, VI, 146-147.

80. Works, VI, 55, in an undated letter to Clodius, Hartlib’s son-in-law.

81. Occasional Reflections upon Several Subjects (1665), in Works, II, 340.

82. Diary, 1111, 485, in a letter to Wotton, Mar 30, 1696.

83. Works, III, 449.  See above, p. 52, and p. 47 for Boyle’s earlier interest in the history of varnish.  He promises to give this specimen “at the close of this essay,” but I cannot find it there or anywhere else.


then, to emphasize its importance, Boyle inserts a sentence of autobiography (ibid., 450) which throws further light on his activities before the Restoration:

I once designed, if the publick calamities of my country had not hindered, to bind several ingenious lads apprentices to several trades, that I might the better, by their means, both have such observations made as I should direct, and receive the better historical accounts of their professions, when they should be masters of them.

And so, like Bacon’s and Petty’s and Evelyn’s, Boyle’s design was never achieved, and the History of Trades remains unwritten.  Its scope was too vast; its promoters were virtuosi, men of a thousand interests, unfitted for the prolonged concentration demanded; its contribution to science was no longer needed when laboratories increased in number and efficiency, and when the method of hypothesis supplanted the mere collection of experimental data.  It remains, however, of real historical importance.  For almost a hundred years the History of Trades was an idea closely associated with the progress of science, education, and society.  And without recognizing its influence, we cannot fully appreciate the work of Bacon and the Royal Society, of Petty, Evelyn, and Boyle. 84

Harvard University

84. Since this article was written, Francis R. Johnson has published his “Gresham College: Precursor of the Royal Society,” Journal of the History of Ideas, I (1940), 413-438, which definitely shows that long before the “Invisible College” of 1645, a cooperative group of scientists was centered at Gresham College.  My statement, therefore, on p. 48 needs qualification; but my claim that Bacon’s influence first became active about that time is unaffected by Mr. Johnson’s evidence, since the men he discusses were apparently indifferent to Bacon’s work.