Of Horology and Letters

The fashionable thing to do these days would probably be to write a graphic novel based on the epistolary contacts of the Huygens family. Heck, I’d read it. But Lisa Jardine shows that just plain good writing is more than enough to keep you glued to the pages in this page-turner essay collection about archival science. Yes, you read that right, and no, there’s no irony hidden between the lines. Download the open-access book right now (clickety-click) and read chapter 3: “Never Trust a Pirate: Christiaan Huygens’s Longitude Clocks.” You can thank me later.

The first and titular essay is perhaps the worst of the collection, which is not nearly as bad a thing as you might think. Consider, after all, that it was the first essay on which I based my decision to read the rest of the book. A bigger thematic outlier is the final essay, which essentially offers a theoretical framework. This book is a paragon of intimate yet in-depth, meticulously sourced writing. As a bonus you’re given all of the relevant transcriptions in appendices at the end. The only thing which I felt was somewhat lacking, if only in a footnote, was a discussion of the deeper intricacies of the languages used in letter writing. Obviously (courtly) French was in vogue at the time, and I know that you could show off your language skills and appropriate register, but I was still somewhat surprised to see that every quoted intra-familial letter seemed to be in French. To experts I suppose this is so self-evident that it’s not the least bit remarkable. One thing is clear after reading this volume: the North Sea was referred to as the Narrow Sea with reason. England and the Netherlands were closely linked indeed.

Lisa Jardine (2015), Temptation in the Archives. DOI: 10.14324/111.9781910634035.

★★★★½

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