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Day 9 of ‘Looking for the Longitude’: ‘language and insults’

  • 23 June 2016
Unknown, Plate from Jeremy Thacker, The longitudes examin’d, 1714, engraving, 19.3 x 16.4cm,

St John’s College Cambridge, 10_ day 9 1714 Thacker, Unknown, Plate from Jeremy Thacker, The longitudes examin’d, 1714, engraving, 19.3 x 16.4cm,

Not only playwrights and satirists had adopted this view of longitude as an impossible project, however. Many of the proposals published in hopes of gaining the reward adopted this language to discredit their competitors. Between the passage of the Act in 1714 and Hogarth’s print appearing in 1735, hundreds of hopeful projectors published enthusiastic proposals for finding longitude. These not only bolstered the satirical view of it being an impossible project, but also employed the language and insults that this popularly entailed.

One stellar example is the vacuum clock proposed by Jeremy Thacker in 1714, which he used to critique other proposals. He accused others of being projectors, saying of one inventor’s “mercurial chronometer”, “if he would have this Instrument go, let him consult about it with the Inventors of a Perpetual Motion.” As much of the pamphlet was devoted to abusing others as to his own solution, and he freely declared he was only in it for the reward. There has been speculation that “Thacker” is in fact a satire himself, dreamed up by the Scriblerian circle of Jonathan Swift and John Arbuthnot, to poke fun at longitude projectors. Either way, it is noteworthy how carefully they addressed the visual veracity of their pamphlet, with a beautifully produced engraving making the proposal much more persuasive.

Read day 9 by expert Greg Lynall, University of Liverpool, on the Scriblerians and longitude satire