Paper given to the Bibliographical Society 18th January 2000.
My title will perhaps represent a puzzle. The search for John Senex. To some of you it will be a matter of – John Senex – of course, the early eighteenth century mapmaker, the engraver, the globemaker – we thought we had already found him. But to others, those of you more interested in the book trade than the map trade, it may be more a matter of John Senex – Who he? – were we even looking for him? His activities as a bookseller have not been widely recognised. This Society’s own dictionary of the book-trade just about accepts him: we are told that alongside his main activities, the maps and the globes, he also “kept a bookseller’s shop”. No publications mentioned: a peripheral figure.
I would like to present him this evening in rather a different light: as someone at least as important as a bookseller as he was as a mapmaker – and, putting the two together, someone who made a remarkable contribution to the life of his time. The aspect of the book-trade I direct you towards is that point at which it merges with the map trade – and that, in Senex’s day, was in the area of scientific publishing. The period – and by that I mean the period of Senex’s active career – from 1702 to his death in 1740 – was, of course, the founding era of modern science. Above all, the age of Isaac Newton: the poet Alexander Pope captures it well –
“Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, ‘Let Newton be’ – and all was light”.
It wasn’t in truth quite that sudden. It was only towards the end of Newton’s life, the period of his presidency of the Royal Society (between 1703 and his death in 1727) that his message began to get through. The message was, of course, that he had discovered the fundamental laws of physics: the basic equations that underpin all subsequent progress.
How does Senex fit into this? Before assembling a snapshot of his career, let me just block in the early biography. He was born at Ludlow in Shropshire in November 1678. If we can adjust the lights and begin the slides – [SLIDE 1: JOSEPH SMITH: PROSPECT OF LUDLOW] – here it is, as it stood in his lifetime. He was the son of John Senex, described simply as a gentleman, and his wife Marie. I can tell you nothing of his family beyond the fact his father was churchwarden at the parish church – you can see the tower in the centre – and that the elder John Senex was buried there in 1701. They don’t appear to have been a family with any roots in the neighbourhood. The view, by the way, isn’t a Senex publication: it was published in 1719 by Joseph Smith. I’ll stay with it for just a moment longer, you might like this enlargement of the shield in the centre. [SLIDE 2: SMITH LUDLOW – DETAIL 1]. I don’t know whether you can read this, but it says, “John Morley, butcher, of Halsted in Essex, subscrib’d in Ludlow May 5. 1718. Half a guinea”. This is of course the map and print trades’ special adaptation of publishing by subscription – honouring the subscribers on the image. But this is the only example I know of the sordid financial details ending up on the plate. It’s a method of publication that Senex himself used – or tried to use – I will return to that later.
Born in Ludlow in 1678. And thereafter apprenticed to the London bookseller, Robert Clavell, in 1695. Clavell was a man literally at the head of his profession – Master of the Stationers’ Company in 1698. He is also remembered as the founder of the “Mercurius librarius” – the precursor of the Term Catalogues familiar to many of you. What is significant is that Clavell was a bookseller. As far as I am aware he had no involvement in mapmaking or engraving [*Post lecture note: This needs some correction: Clavell had published a number of books containing maps, as well as books on surveying and a large wall-map of Tangier. I am grateful to Ashley Baynton-Williams for a sight of his notes]. Senex was, from the start, a bookseller. But his career went through several distinct phases – the range of his activity was wide – and there is a large cast of characters. Let me try to fashion them into some kind of order.
His seven-year apprenticeship ended in 1702 and we find him straight away, already publishing, already with his own premises near St Clement’s in the Strand – probably one of the shops just beyond the church. The earliest publications are modest enough and typical of the period – “Short discourses upon the whole Common Prayer” (1702) and the “Axioma Basilicon” of 1703, a little book on the divine right of kings. But one of these very early books was to change the entire course of his career – it was a new edition of Caradoc’s “History of Wales” published in 1702.
As a frontispiece Senex employs a little map of Wales – here it is – not one of his own maps at this stage, but printed from a plate made some ten years earlier by the seventeenth-century map and instrument-maker John Seller. Now Seller’s own career was a colourful one, but I won’t digress. It is what happened to his business and his stock of plates after his death in 1697 that concerns us. His successors were his son, Jeremiah, and his former apprentice, a young man called Charles Price. Here is their trade-card [SLIDE 5: SELLER & PRICE TRADECARD], offering maps, charts, globes, mathematical books and a variety of instruments. They were also compass-makers to the Navy. It must have been from them that Senex obtained the little map. And what we see from here is, I think, one of those meetings of minds. A meeting of minds in particular with Price, apprenticed to Seller in 1694 – he and Senex must have been almost exactly of an age. The exact sequence is a little uncertain, but almost immediately Senex becomes heavily involved in the activities of his new friends. A cancel title-page dated 1702 adds his name to the imprint of their recently published “Treatise of trigonometry”. In 1703 he shares with them in a new edition of John Seller’s “New systeme of geography”. And by 1705, when Senex moves to new premises “next the Fleece Tavern in Cornhill”, he is, if not actually in full partnership with Seller and Price, at least sharing the address. If we look again at the trade-card, we can see the Cornhill address added at the foot. The thinking, incidentally, in this choice of location was almost certainly influenced by the death of the Cornhill mapmaker Robert Morden in 1703. This was a strong area for the map and instrument trade and there was a vacuum to be filled. This period of involvement with Seller and Price is clearly the start of Senex’s career as a mapmaker – and it must also have been at this period that he learned to engrave, I cannot see that it would have formed any part of his training under Clavell. But there are other straws in the wind: it was in 1705 that Senex (on his own account) published the first book that was to make his bookselling career distinctive. It was a translation from the Latin of Edmond Halley’s “Synopsis of the astronomy of comets”, the work in which the great astronomer makes a prediction about a particular comet: “Hence I dare venture to foretell, that it will return again in the year 1758. And, if it should then return, we should have no reason to doubt but the rest must return too”. Halley in the act of establishing the periodicity of comets. Of course it did return and has been known as Halley’s Comet ever since. And Senex, right at the outset of his career, has already made a mark in scientific publishing.
1705 was also a critical year for Seller and Price. Their contract to supply the Navy with compasses was lost. The impact was immediate. Jeremiah Seller from that point all but disappears – and Price joins Senex in Cornhill.
There they remained, offering a mixture of books, maps, globes and instruments, before embarking on what, in the context of the trade at this time, was a very single-minded undertaking. In 1707, they gave up the shop and moved to what were plainly private premises in White’s Alley, just off Coleman Street. They had, I think, simply decided to take their mapmaking more seriously than their rivals. Their predecessor, Robert Morden, provides a clue. He prefaces one of his works with an apology – its preparation, he says, “ought to have been freed from those frequent avocations and disturbances that attend a publick shop and trade”. He frankly envies those “whose quiet doors, and unmolested hours afford no such distractions”. Senex and Price decide to sequester themselves for the big project. They issued proposals [SLIDE 6: SENEX & PRICE PROPOSALS] – “we design to publish a new sett of maps, which shall, in correctness, and all other particulars, far exceed any yet done”. There were to be twenty maps, each on two sheets of imperial paper, to be delivered to subscribers within a year. This was unrealistic, but they kept up a reasonable pace. We can track their progress through advertisements [and I must pause here to thank both Donald Hodson and Ashley Baynton-Williams – they know what a debt I owe them]. The map of Spain was ready in September 1707, the British Isles in March 1708, and so on until, with the map of South America, dedicated to Halley, and a map of the world, the series was completed in 1711. They had brought others in to help.
They were joined in 1709 by John Maxwell, whom I take to be the Maxwell who translated Newton’s “General scholium” – it was published by Senex in 1715. Also arriving on the scene were Emanuel Bowen, later a distinguished mapmaker in his own right, apprenticed to Price in 1709; the surveyor and globe-maker Richard Cushee, who will feature again, apprenticed to Price in 1710. And the map-engraver Samuel Parker, apprenticed to Senex, again in 1710. What a forcing house for the map trade was in prospect – but, in the way of such things, it could not last. Even before the maps were complete, there was a general falling out. Senex and Maxwell remove themselves to the Globe, “going into Salisbury Court”, off Fleet Street. And Price forms a new partnership with George Willdey, who had been acting as retailer of the maps. The plates were divided, and surviving maps most often show one or other of the partners’ names scratched out.
The partnership over, the project at an end, Senex moves on to a new phase. He returns to bookselling, but he was also experimenting with quite new kinds of material – indeed new kinds of publishing. Look at this: [SLIDE 7: SOLAR SYSTEM] published by Senex and Maxwell in 1713 – a wall-chart of the solar system, with the orbits of the planets and Halley’s comets. It was compiled by William Whiston, formerly Newton’s assistant and his successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. He was among the few at that date fully to grasp the implications of the theory of universal gravitation. The chart remained in print throughout the century and became a key icon of the period, imbued with a sense of wonder at the vastness of the unknown, and yet with a certainty that mankind was now poised on the threshold of understanding. The roundels, or planets of text, are musings from Newton himself: “What is in those coelestial spaces void of matter? … How comes it that nature acts nothing in vain? And whence proceeds the admirable beauty of the universe”?
It was the beginning of a long connection between Senex and Whiston – and we can also see, in passing, how much Senex had developed as a craftsman. The engraving, with the mass of lettering so delicately handled, is as fine a piece of work as he ever produced.
Here is a similar Senex publication dating from 1715, this time from Halley. A map predicting the forthcoming eclipse: “A description of the passage of the shadow of the moon over England”. It is the first recorded attempt at this type of map – showing the path of totality and with a scale showing the predicted timings. This wasn’t wholly pure science, it was also partly an exercise in allaying the fears of the populace – “so that the sudden darkness … may give no surprise to people, who would, if unadvertised, be apt to look upon it as ominous”.
Whiston and Senex were also alive to some commercial possibilities here. They produced a chart showing the conjunction of the orbits, and Whiston offered tickets in the “Daily Courant” to those who wished to observe the eclipse under his direction. The same advert announced, in rather a modern touch, some protective eye-wear. “Mr. Senex’s smoak’d glasses, price 6d. are very proper to be had by such as would with any care observe the same”. Senex continued publishing similar material throughout his career. There were maps for the eclipse of 1724 (again by Whiston and Halley) and [SLIDE 9: WRIGHT ECLIPSE] this rather fine example by Thomas Wright of Durham for the annular eclipse of 1737.
But let us return to Senex as a bookseller. In 1714 he published a version of the maps he had made with Price in atlas form: “The English atlas”. He did this in association with a bookseller named William Taylor, of the Ship in Paternoster Row. It was the beginning of another significant relationship. Taylor is chiefly remembered for two things. The first, that he was the original publisher of “Robinson Crusoe” in 1719. The second, that his bookselling business passed to Thomas Longman. He was, in effect, the founder of the Longman publishing firm that still survives – and still uses his sign of the Ship as its logo.
A third thing we might note is that, especially after the success of Robinson Crusoe, Taylor was a wealthy man. At his death in 1724 he was reputed to be worth between forty and fifty thousand pounds. As Senex returned to bookselling we find that where he shares a publication, he almost always shares it with Taylor. These appear to be primarily Senex publications – his name is usually first on the imprint – but we sense Taylor’s solid support in the background. This was one of the factors that enabled Senex to embark on an ambitious programme. A second factor was possibly that in 1714 Senex took on a highly talented apprentice in the young Ephraim Chambers, who went on to become our first encyclopaedist – Chambers’ Cyclopaedia. A final factor was that in 1715 Senex made another major connection in the scientific community. It was in that year that he published (not in fact with Taylor but with Edmund Curll – Pope’s “shameless Curll”) a book by John Theophilus Desaguliers. The book wasn’t of major consequence, although no doubt welcome enough: “Fires improv’d: being a new method of building chimneys so as to prevent their smoaking”. But Desaguliers was important. At Oxford he had succeeded to the lectureship of John Keill, the man who introduced Newtonian physics to the rival university. On moving to London, Desaguliers became, in effect, curator of experiments to the Royal Society. His public lectures brought him fame and next to Newton himself he became probably the best-known man of science in the country. It was he who, more than anyone, put the new science across to the public. And Senex became his publisher.
But Desaguliers had a wider impact even than this. He was also – and this takes us in a wholly new direction – a freemason. And in fact the man who founded modern freemasonry, the man who devised its rules and structure. He made it the hugely fashionable cult it became at that time. He was a friend of Frederick Prince of Wales and drew in the royal family and the aristocracy. The Fellows of the Royal Society from Newton down became masons almost to a man. Here are the “Constitutions of the Free-Masons”, the first ever such production, commissioned by Desaguliers and published by Senex and his neighbour John Hooke in 1723. [Desaguliers is the figure on the far right]. Senex not only published the book but was by now the warden of one of the leading masonic lodges. What Desaguliers brought to Senex was not just the opportunity to publish a stream of works and translations, but a wide range of contact, both in the scientific community and beyond.
What were the books that evolved from these connections? Let me give a brief sampling: there were a clutch of Whiston’s works of course. In 1716 Senex published his synopsis of the new science, “Sir Isaac Newton’s mathematical philosophy” and by 1718 he had at least ten of Whiston’s other works in print. There were books by Desaguliers – Mariotte’s “The motion of water”, a treatise on hydrostatics, translated by Desaguliers in 1718. There was Francis Hauksbee’s “Physico-mechanical experiments … containing an account of several surprizing phaeonomena touching light and electricity” in 1719 – this the elder Hauksbee, a protégé of Newton, the first to carry out sustained experiment on electricity, and the inventor of the first electrical machine. In 1720 there was Newton’s own “Universal arithmetic”. There was Willem van s’Gravesande’s “Mathematical elements” in 1720, dedicated to Newton. S’Gravesande was professor of mathematics at Leiden and the man who took the new science to continental Europe. Senex later published his “Essay on perspective” and “Elements of universal mathematics”.
There were the works of the Scottish mathematician Edmund Stone, including his “New mathematical dictionary”. This is from Stone’s translation of Nicolas Bion, “The construction and principal uses of mathematical instruments”, not in fact just a translation, Stone adds much fresh material. All of the plates were all engraved by Senex himself.
One could continue at some length, but you have the flavour – and there were similar books in related areas – works on medicine and anatomy. Fuelled perhaps by the profits of Robinson Crusoe, Senex and Taylor were also producing handsomely illustrated works on art and architecture. In 1721 they published “A treatise of painting by Leonardo da Vinci” – I believe the first of Da Vinci’s works to appear in an English translation. But it was the scientific works that formed the core of this flow of material. The pace slackened after Taylor’s death in 1724 – Senex perhaps now lacked his support – but also, as we shall see, Senex was once more breaking off in a new direction. Nonetheless, he continued to publish in this vein and, if I may jump ahead a little, we can perhaps see the culmination and indeed the rationale of this activity in the publication of Desagulier’s own major work, “A course of experimental philosophy”. The first volume was published in 1734 with Senex heading the booksellers concerned. I lay stress on “experimental” because it was a word that had a special resonance at that time. We nowadays use it to mean something “experimental” – something not fully worked out, not fully understood. To Desaguliers and Senex and their circle the meaning was rather different. To them, it meant something rooted in practical observation and not in hypothesis; something proved by experiment and not by speculation; something in essence very fully worked out. It was a word that was almost a call-to-arms to the Newtonians. The battle-ground lay between the supporters of the new “experimental” science and the older speculative school. Desaguliers is specific: he praises Newton for his ascendancy – “the routing”, as he calls it, “of this army of Goths and Vandals in the philosophical world”. And we can see here quite clearly what Senex was about. He was by now publishing the reprints and original editions of all the key figures: not just Newton, Keill, Hauksbee, Desaguliers, Whiston and Halley, but also carefully selected reprints of that first (seventeenth-century) generation of true believers in the “experimental” approach, Hooke and Boyle. Senex had deliberately become the publishing champion of the whole of the new science. It is actually rather difficult to exaggerate the importance of that: these were the books that ushered in the modern world.
In the course of all this, Senex had not been neglecting his maps. That rich period of publication either side of 1720 also saw some of his best-known works in this field. His road-book [SLIDE 12: SENEX ROAD] “An actual survey of all the principal roads of England and Wales …” came out in 1719, advertised as “a handsome pocket volume” – and indeed it was. Not absolutely a new idea, but now in a popular and convenient format: it was reprinted a number of times. Only a dozen or so of the hundred maps are signed by Senex as engraver, but those he did execute himself naturally included the road to his home-town of Ludlow, shown here at the foot of the sixth column. His largest map, a wall-map of the British Isles in nine sheets, was also published about this time. It no longer appears to survive [Post lecture note: with the exception of the one in the Newberry of course].
[SLIDE 13: SCOTLAND] The “New General Atlas” appeared in 1721 – the maps “all engraven or revised by Mr. Senex”. The most handsome English atlas of the period. In the same year, Senex moved to new premises on Fleet Street itself, at the Globe opposite St Dunstan’s Church.
One of the buildings in the heavily shadowed area to the left. It was from the new premises that he issued proposals for William Mayo’s map of Barbados in November 1721 – one of his best known maps, published the following year. In 1723 he engraved and published Richard Budgen’s map of Sussex – one of the earliest large-scale county maps.
At just about this point, he again, I think probably enthused by the tenets of the new science, attempts to move his map-making up to another level. He wanted, I think, to make a really lasting contribution. The first intimation of this comes as early as 1719, with the announcement that “a compleat sett of sea-charts” was in preparation on what was called a “new invented globular projection”. The projection was intended improve the navigational chart, avoiding the “gross errors” of the plain chart and the “puzzling difficulties, absurdities, false views, and deficiencies” of the Mercator chart – to discover “true navigation according to the globe”. It was devised by John Harris, an instrument-maker; Henry Wilson, whose “Trigonometry improv’d” Senex published in 1720, and by Senex himself. A patent was obtained in 1721. Complications followed: there was a vigorous and abusive pamphlet war on the merits of the idea, but eventually, in 1728, fifty-two charts were published as the “Atlas maritimus et commercialis”. The general text was quite plausibly written by Daniel Defoe – there are sailing directions from Nathaniel Cutler – and there is specialised material by Halley himself. It had a good deal going for it, but it appears almost to have sunk without trace. The intricacies of the globular projection with its “spiral rhumb-lines”, were perhaps too much for all concerned: surviving copies tend to show much reworking of the plates prior to publication. For all its theoretical merit, it was simply too complicated.
The second of Senex’s attempts to leave a permanent mark on mapmaking, was I think even more closely related to his understanding of the new science, with its emphasis on observation and experiment. His earlier maps, however carefully compiled, were just that – “compilations” from earlier sources. The skill of the mapmaker lay in evaluating, selecting and combining those sources. But in 1721 Senex issued proposals for a full-scale field survey. The county of Surrey was to be surveyed “as a specimen for the rest of the counties of England, to be performed after a new method”. Operations began in August. The method of survey was indeed novel – and experimental – “A ball of fire will be thrown up from the top of Box-Hill at half an hour past eight every evening for a fortnight; and rockets will be let off from proper eminences near Godalming, Chertsey, and Westram; the first half a quarter of an hour after the ball, and the rest at a like interval from each other: whence such gentleman as are furnish’d with proper instruments, will have an opportunity of determining their own bearings”. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the method, but it sounds like fun. I have a vivid image of bewigged and bemused post-prandial gentlemen emerging on to the terrace to get their bearings. Senex never moved on to the rest of the counties, but he did launch himself into surveying. In 1724, together with Charles Price’s old apprentice Richard Cushee, he was advertising an estate mapping service. And in 1726 they were working on a map of London: although announced at that point as being “in great forwardness”, it is not a map that appears to have been completed. There was of course a difficulty in this sort of work. It was time-consuming and expensive – and there probably just wasn’t a market.
To illustrate that let us look at the map of Surrey [SLIDE 15: SURREY]. It eventually appeared, dated 1729 although not apparently published until 1730: a handsome four-sheet map, on a scale of one-inch to one-mile. Publication was delayed, according to the “Daily Journal” – “in expectation of gentlemen sending in their arms”, the coats of arms that form the border. Now, Senex had been publicising the map and advertising for subscribers for several years – and Surrey was a populous and prosperous country – and yet, as you can see, of the 156 shields only a quarter are filled in. The gentlemen had simply not sent in their arms: the enterprise seems to have lacked broad appeal. I think we can confirm this by a look at who the subscribers were: among them there are two bishops, three dukes, four earls, three viscounts, ten assorted lords and a couple of knights. Even among the untitled we find James Oglethorpe, MP for Haslemere and the founder of Georgia; the banker Francis Child, about to become Lord Mayor – and Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons. This is hardly a cross-section even of the well-to-do. Cushee left to work elsewhere and Senex, despite some involvement in a couple of similar maps produced by others, never again undertook original work of this sort.
The final years of Senex’s career, 1730 to 1740, seem to have passed in relative quietness. This may have had something to do with what appears to have been the failure of these two major projects. It may more simply be a matter of advancing years, or that he was now a family man: his only child, a daughter, Elizabeth Maria, was born in 1730. The generation of scientists he was most associated with were, by now, either dead or in decline. But he was still publishing – there are some notable individual works: charts of the Mediterranean and Atlantic published in 1738-1739; books by Richard Dunthorne, “The practical astronomy of the moon”, and Thomas Wright’s “Use of globes”. Senex was by now a man of some mark. His services to science had been recognised in 1728 when he was himself elected a Fellow of the Royal Society [Post lecture note: Elected on the recommendation of Sir Hans Sloane, Edmond Halley himself, and Desaguliers – as announced in the London Evening Post (issue 88) 1728 June 29th – July 2nd. I am grateful to Ashley Baynton-Williams for alerting me to this fresh information]. And his business was substantial. After his death in 1740, his widow – Mary Senex, the Mary Wilcox whom he had married in 1723 – was able to continue in Fleet Street for a further fifteen years, offering the same mixture of stock, together with some additions of her own. One would like to know more of her: she was clearly a woman of considerable abilities, but little has come to light – and I can’t leave Senex himself without some final consideration of his work as a globe-maker.
This is an area that overarches all his other activities and in a way pulls them all together. It is a constant throughout his career. It is the point at which the very highest skills of printing and engraving are brought to the service of science. Senex’s involvement with globes dates from his days with Charles Price. In 1706 they announced a pair of twelve-inch globes, the celestial one based on Halley’s observations and showing nineteen new constellations “never before printed”. About the same time they published a book on the use of globes, reprinted by Senex in 1718. By 1713 Senex announced that he was working on a pair of large globes to add to his existing stock in three smaller sizes. And throughout his later career he could provide a complete range – from little pocket-globes to the largest globes then made in London, the twenty-eight inch, at prices from ten shillings to twenty-five guineas. He used the shop-sign of “The Globe” for most of his life. The single paper that he read to the Royal Society, in 1738, was on improvements in their construction. He has long been accepted as a leading globe-maker, but the recent publication of a provisional inventory of early British globes, based on the work of the late Helen Wallis, allows me to be more dogmatic. If we can judge from survival rates and geographical spread, he was the greatest globe-maker of his day. There are about seventy different surviving British globes from his period. Over a third of them are by Senex: twenty-three his own and four from the partnership with Price. To those we can add another dozen bearing the names of either James Ferguson, who acquired the Senex globe-plates from Mary Senex in 1755, or of Desagulier’s former assistant, Benjamin Martin, who acquired the plates from Ferguson soon after. These are essentially still Senex globes – from his plates. The only other substantial groups are six by Price, who worked with Senex, eight by Cushee, who also worked with Senex, and nine by Nathaniel Hill, who was apprenticed to Cushee in 1730 and may also have worked with Senex. In terms of geographical spread there are surviving Senex globes as far afield as Bologna, Lisbon, Paris, Hillerod in Sweden, Utrecht, Warsaw and Vienna. We can assume that his reputation was international.
Let me leave you with this – as far as I know his only contemporary obituary: the death is announced of John Senex, “a sincere, worthy, honest man, and greatly valued by men of learning”.