Station Three: Wadham Books and Meetings

Robet Plot

The Natural History of Oxford-Shire (1667)

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 Plot's The Natural History of Oxford-shire

Click here to see a flat image of the right hand page, in which Plot recalls Wilkins's creation of artificial rainbows in the Warden's garden at Wadham

This publication led to Plot's later appointment as Oxford's first professor of chemistry and first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, a combined laboratory, library, and museum that also hosted a scientific club, opening in 1683, the year in which Plot, despite his Oxford domicile, also became secretary of the Royal Society of London. Plot also organised displays of experiments for the newly-formed Oxford Philosophical Society, much as Robert Hooke did for the parallel London society, and for a period in the 1680s, therefore, Plot through his person provided overlap and reciprocity between Oxford and London experimental philosophy.

Plot's handsomely printed book, sold bound for 11½s and adorned with sixteen engravings and a map, departed from the conventions of country history by placing the emphasis on 'natural' matters, arranged into chapters dealing with Oxford air, waters, earths, stones, fossils, plants, animals, men and women, arts, and antiquities. He catalogued and celebrated local achievement, and two Wadham experiments of the 1670s he mentions are in establishing the chemistry of a type of mineral glass by Dr John Ludwell (M.D. 1676, the year in which he also first served as librarian), and the discovery in acoustics of nodes in vibrating strings by Thomas Pigot (matr. 1672, fellow 1677, F.R.S.). Pigot, whom we will encounter again, was briefly vicar of Yarnton, outside Oxford, a living in the gift of Sir Thomas Spencer. Plot dedicated the final plate of his Oxford-Shire to Spencer, whom he described as 'one of the Noblest Encouragers' of his work. Rather surprisingly, at the bottom of this final plate is an illustration of a Chinese seal-stone, dug up in Spencer's gardens of Yarnton Manor. It is a genuine item; but how a Ming artefact found its way to Yarnton, and indeed where it is now, remain puzzles.