Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: blogging


Some blogs I really should have found sooner:

Bits and bobs

Early Modern Post is a very good new blog by Lizzy Williamson of Queen Mary, University of London. Its focus is on how information and intelligence was gathered, spread and consumed during the early modern period.

This piece on tweeting as oral marginalia at the SHARP 2011 conference is definitely required reading.

I have a review of Jonathon Green’s Crooked Talk: Five Hundred Years of the Language of Crime in this month’s History Today.

The journals of James Williamson

A bit of a plug for a new initiative by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The NMMC have just launched a new website about maritime history called Maritime Views.  The highlight is a transcription of the journals of James Williamson, a surgeon on a packet ship sailing out of Cornwall. In total he made seventeen voyages around the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic.

The journals are wonderfully well-written and remind me of nothing so much as a real-life version of Matthew Kneale’s English Passengers. Williamson’s account of his first voyage is now up: here are some highlights.

Monday 25 Aug.t 1828 – this morning was very warm, so that I perspire much without exerting myself. Today for the first time saw the flying fish. These are about the size of our herring with two fins near the head so large – that when spread out they will support the fish in the same way as the wings support a bird. But these fish are so constituted that they cannot fly to any great distance – because their wings or fins require to be frequently wette. Some of them having fallen on the deck were next day prepared for breakfast, when we found them to be most excellent eating.

Wednesday 17th – fine day 172 Miles. Saw to day great numbers of Portuguese Men-o-War as these are called. This is a fish, the upper part of which is seen constantly above the water – and it seems like a fin about the size & shape of a Cox-combe. There appear to be two kinds – the one smaller and without any colour – the other 5 or 6 times larger and ornamented with most beautiful and vivid colours. The former are the common Men of War – while the latter may be called the Admirals or Commodores ships.

Saturday 20 Sept.r – the Bananas are a small fruit 5 or 6 inches in length of the shape growing in bunches on one stalk. They have a sweetish insipid taste and I don’t much like them. The Mangoes are about the size of a pigeon’s egg – with a skin like that of a peach. Their taste is delicious, resembling the strawberry precisely in flavour.

But to finish with the Portuguese on board, I shall put down what I have observed relative to their manners.

They seem to me very much addicted to gambling – but of this propensity, I have observed little or nothing since leaving Madeira. They do not by any means drink much – and I believe that they have not consumed the 10th part of the wine, which the same number of Englishmen would have done. Much to my surprise and contrary to all my preconceived notions, I have not found the Portuguese so extremely devout, as I had expected – I never saw them cross themselves – or kneel or keep the Sunday with any form of religion – although we happened to have a Bishop on board.

At dinner as a necessarily appendage or accompaniment a score or two of wooden & elastic toothpicks (called pelillos) are set down, and every gentleman helps himself to these as occasion requires – for not being hard or durable like ours they are soon totally useless. Those made at Lisbon are peculiarly esteemed – & of these, many gentlemen carry a dozen or so in their pockets, for their own accommodation & that of their friends

In some of their habits they are very dirty. For example once or twice at dinner, Lleyall, the merchant, after he had finished eating, took a mouthful of water from his glass – inserted his fingers into his mouth – rubbed his teeth with them and finally squirted the water into his plate. Faugh! Faugh!

Wednesday 10th – today a small schooner was towed into Harbour which had suffered severely during the gale on Saturday last. Her masts were broken – her bulwarks driven in – & in fact she was nearly a wreck – but of 7 men 5 had been washed overboard, & only the Capt.n and a boy remained. The boy also had been washed overboard but luckily got hold of a rope. The Capt.n himself was at the helm when a tremendous sea came & washed him from his place – and he was only saved by his head being jammed in between the tiller and the skylight.

There is also a great article by Tony Pawlyn, who transcribed the journals, about their provenance and history.

Now you are four

Four years ago I registered this blog with WordPress and wrote my first post. The blog was only ever meant to last for the length of my MA, if that. But it’s managed to outlive my degree and, while I don’t get as much time to blog now as I’d like, it’s still hugely important to me. I have posted elsewhere about what I get out of blogging so I won’t repeat it here. But I thought I should mark the occasion nonetheless, so I’ve dug out some statistics.

Since 12 July 2007 this blog has had:

  • 148,407 unique views.
  • 303 spam comments.

The most hits I’ve had in one day is 821 – from when the blog got linked to by MetaFilter (as a long time member of MeFi, still probably my proudest blogging achievement).

The most popular posts have been:

None of these are particularly brilliant posts, but I can see why they are popular. Most of them are about Charles I and Cromwell, and I suspect are well-used by students for revision judging by the search terms through which people end up here. Every so often the post on the Mowing-Devil pamphlet gets linked to by paranormal websites interested in crop circles, despite the fact I make clear the pamphlet’s not about crop circles at all.

Much of what is on the blog is throwaway snippets or initial thoughts as I start to engage with a topic, but every so often I have used posts to write up more considered pieces (one of which eventually turned into a published article). Amongst the long-form posts, some of the ones which I wouldn’t entirely disown include:

  • Samuel Pepys and self-fashioning: this post came almost out of nowhere and tumbled out fully formed onto the page over an hour or two.
  • The ghost of Lukas Wainman: by contrast I spent about a week crafting this post, which is as much about me as it is Wainman, and nobody seemed to read it as a result!
  • Recycled woodcuts: 1, 2, 3. I would like to go back and do more with this material at some point.
  • Cromwell and mince pies: prompted by annoyance at various spurious stories in the press last Christmas.
  • The early years of Henry Walker: the product of lots of hours browsing microfilms of parish registers.

The last bullet reflects the fact that I’m currently writing up – well, trying to write up – the initial chapters of a book about Walker at the moment. I never would have started this project without the blog, and particularly not without encouragement from its readers. So here’s to another four years: I may even have finished my book by then.

Bits and bobs

  • Anchora is a blog by Adam G. Hooks at the University of Iowa, focusing on the history and future of the early modern book. Some amazing posts are already up including highlights from the rare books collection at Iowa.
  • Republic of Thought is a blog about early modern Irish history, focused particularly on the sixteenth century.
  • Women in Early Modern and Medieval History is a treasure trove of primary texts and images which has been going for over a year, but which I have only recently come across. It covers themes such as fashion, poetry and childbirth.
  • Streets of Salem is a blog by an academic based in Salem, Massachusetts. A strong early modern focus but the posts also range much more widely, and include excellent illustrations.
  • Beggars Bush is a new site by Neil Howlett about geographical sites associated with the name Beggars Bush. I can’t better the way Neil himself describes it: ‘a Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary’. Definitely recommended.
  • And finally… I have a review of Adam Smyth’s excellent Autobiography in Early Modern England (limited preview at Google Books) in this month’s History Today.