Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-hfldf Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-17T22:54:44.665Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 May 2012

University of Edinburgh
Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Hope Park Square, Edinburgh EH8


Case-studies of the circle of Samuel Hartlib, one of the most prolific groups of reformers in post-Reformation Europe, are flourishing. The uncovering of rich details has, however, made it difficult to draw a meaningful generalization about the circle's bewilderingly wide range of activities. Focusing on the circle's promotion of ‘useful knowledge’, this article offers an analytical framework for building a new synthesis. The eclectic and seemingly chaotic pursuit of useful knowledge emerged, it will be shown, as differing responses to, and interpretations of, pervasive distrust and the pursuit of reformation. The article thus explores how loosely-shared experience shaped the circle's ambivalent practices of collaboration and exclusion. The study thereby contributes not only to studies of the Hartlib circle, but also to the historiography of post-Reformation culture and burgeoning studies of trust and credibility in the history of science and technology.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Earlier versions of this article were presented in London, Reading, St Andrews, and Tokyo. I thank audiences in these places, particularly those at the Public Understanding of Science Seminar and the Bridging History and Social Psychology Workshop in London. I am also grateful to Mark Greengrass, Jessica Ratcliff, and John Young for sharing their unpublished papers, to Helen Birkett, Jo Hepworth, Rab Houston, Vera Keller, Peter Lake, and Aurélien Ruellet for commenting on drafts, and especially to Mark Jenner for supervising the Ph.D. thesis from which this is partly drawn. The greatest debt is to Sakiko Kaiga for feedback and moral support.


1 M. J. Braddick and M. Greengrass, eds., ‘The letters of Sir Cheney Culpeper (1641–1657)’, Camden Miscellany, 33, 5th ser., 7 (1996), pp. 269–70, Culpeper to Hartlib, 4 Mar. 1646 (13/136–7), hereafter cited as ‘Culpeper letters’. All letters cited below are from Culpeper to Hartlib unless otherwise stated. Dates are given in footnotes where relevant. References given in parentheses are to the Hartlib papers cited below (see n. 21). In all quotations, contractions are silently expanded. All pre-1800 works were published in London unless otherwise stated.

2 It is impossible to do adequate justice to the rich historiography. But see Turnbull, G. H., Hartlib, Dury and Comenius: gleanings from Hartlib's papers (London, 1947)Google Scholar; Webster, Charles, The great instauration: science, medicine and reform, 1626–1660 (London, 1975)Google Scholar; Leslie, Michael and Raylor, Timothy, eds., Culture and cultivation in early modern England: writing and the land (London, 1992)Google Scholar; Greengrass, Mark, Leslie, Michael, and Raylor, Timothy, eds., Samuel Hartib and universal reformation (Cambridge, 1994)Google Scholar, hereafter cited as UR; Slack, Paul, From reformation to improvement: public welfare in early modern England (Oxford, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ch. 4.

3 Webster, Great instauration, ch. 1. See also Walzer, Michael, Revolution of the saints: a study in the origins of radical politics (Cambridge, MA, 1965)Google Scholar, chs. 2, 5; H. R. Trevor-Roper, ‘Three foreigners: the philosophers of the Puritan Revolution’, in idem, Religion, the Reformation and social change and other essays (New York, NY, 1968), pp. 237–93.

4 Young, John T., Faith, medical alchemy and natural philosophy: Johan Moriaen, reformed intelligencer, and the Hartlib circle (Aldershot, 1998)Google Scholar, ch. 7; Hotson, Howard, Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1588–1638: between Renaissance, Reformation, and universal reform (Oxford, 2000), pp. 6674CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Leng, Thomas, Benjamin Worsley (1618–1677): trade, interest and the spirit in revolutionary England (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 187, 189Google Scholar. But William Petty was less overtly religious. See McCormick, Ted, William Petty and the ambitions of political arithmetic (Oxford, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, passim.

5 In addition to those cited above, see also Sharp, Lindsay, ‘Timber, science, and economic reform in the seventeenth century’, Forestry, 48 (1975), pp. 5179CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Newman, William R., Gehennical fire: the lives of George Starkey, an American alchemist in the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, MA, 1994)Google Scholar; Newman, William R. and Principe, Lawrence M., Alchemy tried in the fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the fate of Helmontian chymistry (Chicago, IL, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lewis, Rhodri, Language, mind and nature: artificial languages in England from Bacon to Locke (Cambridge, 2007)Google Scholar, ch. 2; Michelle DeMeo, ‘Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh (1615–91): science and medicine in a seventeenth-century Englishwoman's writing’ (Ph.D. thesis, Warwick, 2009), ch. 2.

6 Walsham, Alexandra, ‘The reformation and “the disenchantment of the world” reassessed’, Historical Journal, 51 (2008), pp. 497528CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 527.

7 Scribner, R. W., For the sake of simple folk: popular propaganda for the German Reformation (Cambridge, 1981)Google Scholar.

8 See Clark, Stuart, ‘Inversion, misrule and the meaning of witchcraft’, Past and Present, 87 (1980), pp. 98127CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 105; idem, Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe (Oxford, 1997). Cf. Shagan, Ethan, ‘Beyond good and evil: thinking with moderates in early modern England’, Journal of British Studies, 49 (2010), pp. 488513CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Peter Lake, ‘Anti-popery: the structure of a prejudice’, in Richard Cust and Ann Hughes, eds., Conflict in early Stuart England: studies in religion and politics, 1603–1642 (London, 1989), pp. 72–106, at pp. 81–2, 90–2; idem, ‘Anti-puritanism: the structure of a prejudice’, in Kenneth Finchman and Peter Lake, eds., Religious politics in post-Reformation England (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 80–97.

10 Braddick, Michael, God's fury, England's fire: a new history of the English Civil Wars (London, 2008), pp. 177, 282Google Scholar (see also pp. 9, 50, 53, 143–4, 152).

11 I adopt the notion of ‘useful knowledge’ from Joel Mokyr to bridge the somewhat artificial gap between science and technology, something that hardly existed during the early modern period. See Mokyr, Joel, The gifts of Athena: historical origins of the knowledge economy (Princeton, NJ, 2002), p. 3Google Scholar; Berg, Maxine, ‘The genesis of “useful knowledge”’, History of Science, 45 (2007), pp. 123–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 See Leng, Worsley, ch. 5; Timothy Raylor, ‘Providence and technology in the English Civil War: Edmond Felton and his engine’, Renaissance Studies, 7(1993), pp. 398–413.

13 Goffman, Erving, Stigma: notes on the management of spoiled identity (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963)Google Scholar; Link, Bruce G. and Phelan, Jo C., ‘Conceptualizing stigma’, Annual Review of Sociology, 27 (2001), pp. 363–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. pp. 373–4. These sociological studies may help us to bring together historical scholarship that explores negative representations and their impact on the reality. See, for example, Patrick Collinson, ‘Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair: the theatre constructs puritanism’, in David L. Smith, Richard Strier, and David Bevington, eds., The theatrical city: culture, theatre and politics in London, 1576–1649 (Cambridge, 1995), 157–69; Nummedal, Tara, Alchemy and authority in the Holy Roman Empire (Chicago, IL, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chs. 2–3.

14 We do not have a systematic analysis of the concept of projecting. This will be rectified by my Capitalism for the public good? Innovation, distrust and the culture of projecting in early modern England (forthcoming), ch. 1, on which this and the next paragraphs draw. Incidentally, Jessica Ratcliff has concurrently written on literary representations of the projector. Eadem, ‘Sons of Machiavelli: inventors, projectors and patentees in English satire, c. 1630–1670’, Technology and Culture (forthcoming).

15 Thirsk, Joan, Economic policy and projects: the development of a consumer society in early modern England (Oxford, 1978)Google Scholar, chs. 2–4; eadem, ‘The crown as projector on its own estates, from Elizabeth I to Charles I’, in R. W. Hoyle, ed., The estates of the English crown, 1558–1640 (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 297–352; Cramsie, John, Kingship and crown finance under James VI and I, 1603–1625 (Woodbridge, 2002)Google Scholar; MacLeod, Christine, Inventing the industrial revolution: the English patent system, 1660–1800 (Cambridge, 1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ch. 1.

16 The problem had been evident by the 1570s. See David Harris Sacks, ‘The countervailing of benefits: monopoly, liberty, and benevolence in Elizabethan England’, in Dale Hoak, ed., Tudor political culture (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 272–91, at pp. 273–6.

17 Frédéric Graber is proposing to develop a long-term history of the project based on this definition. See idem, Du faiseur de projet au projet régulier dans les Travaux Publics (XVIIIe–XIXe siècles): pour une histoire des projets’, Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, 58, 3 (2011), pp. 733Google Scholar. His research complements mine on the English case.

18 Oxford English Dictionary, project, v., jactation, n.; Ephraim Chambers, Cyclopaedia: or an universal dictionary of art and science (2 vols., 1728), ii, p. 887.

19 The English short title catalogue reveals that during the 1640s the terms ‘project’, ‘projector’, and their derivatives appeared on fifty different publications, five times more than the average of 9.5 titles of the previous two decades. The surge was proportionally greater than the overall expansion of printing activity, and was due almost entirely to negative uses of the terms. Yamamoto, Capitalism for the public good?, ch. 1.

20 Thomas Haywood, Machiavel (1641), sig. [A3v].

21 The Hartlib papers: electronic edition (2nd edn, Sheffield, 2002), 1/9/5A, hereafter cited as HP.

22 Mark Jenner, ‘“Another epocha”? Hartlib, John Lanyon and the improvement of London in the 1650s’, in UR, pp. 343–56, at p. 353.

23 Johns, Adrian, ‘Identity, practice, and trust in early modern natural philosophy’, Historical Journal, 42 (1999), pp. 1125–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 1138; Mark Greengrass, ‘The projecting culture of Samuel Hartlib and his circle’ (unpublished paper), no pagination.

24 The English Reports (178 vols., 1900 – 1932), lxxvii, p. 1294 (12 CO. REP. 12.)

25 Williams, A. R., ‘The production of saltpetre in the middle ages’, Ambix, 22 (1975), pp. 125–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 125–8.

26 Hunter, Michael, Clericuzio, Antonio, and Principe, Lawrence M., eds., The correspondence of Robert Boyle (6 vols., London, 2001)Google Scholar (hereafter cited as Boyle correspondence), i, p. 43; Gardinar, S. R., The constitutional documents of the Puritan Revolution (3rd edn, revised, Oxford, 1906), p. 212Google Scholar. For local grievances see Ferris, J. P., ‘The saltpetreman in Dorset, 1635’, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 85 (1963), pp. 158–63Google Scholar.

27 HP 53/26/2B, 3A.

28 Leng, Worsley, p. 23.

29 HP 71/11/10A, 8A–B.

30 Lords journal, viii, p. 574; Newman and Principe, Alchemy, pp. 239–40.

31 HP 71/11/1A–1B. The same report was presented to the Lords. Lords journal, viii, p. 574. See also Boyle's favourable comment in Boyle correspondence, i, pp. 42–3.

32 Commons journal, v, p. 481; Petty, William, The advice of W. P. to Mr. Samuel Hartlib for some particular parts of learning (1647 [1648])Google Scholar, sig. A2.

33 Petty, William, A declaration concerning the newly invented art of double writing (1648), p. 3Google Scholar. My account complements McCormick, Petty, pp. 58–60.

34 Leng, Thomas, ‘“A potent plantation well armed and policeed”: Huguenots, the Hartlib circle, and British colonization in the 1640s’, William and Mary Quarterly, 66 (2009), pp. 173–94Google Scholar.

35 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 239, n.d. [late 1645?] (13/279–83).

36 Ibid., pp. 235–6, Dury to Culpeper, n.d. [autumn 1645] (55/10/11–14).

37 HP 53/14/4B. Other versions are HP 55/10/18A, HP 12/62B.

38 HP 53/14/8A, 9B.

39 ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 307–8 (13/194–5).

40 Leng, ‘“A potent plantation”’, p. 188.

41 Plattes, Gabriel, A discovery of infinite treasure hidden since the worlds beginning (1639)Google Scholar, sigs. [A3v]–[A4].

42 Ibid., sig. D.

43 See Plattes, Discovery of subterraneall treasure, sigs. [B2v]–B3, pp. 47–9; Hartlib, Samuel, ed., Chymical, medicinal, and chirurgical addresses (1655)Google Scholar, esp. pp. 51, 65, 86.

44 Blith, Walter, English improver improved (1652)Google Scholar, sig. [c4v], c2.

45 Blith, Walter, English improver (1649)Google Scholar, sig. [a2v]–a. See also idem, English improver improved, sigs. [c4v–c5].

46 Plattes, Discovery of subterraneall treasure, sig. [Bv]. For background, see Thirsk, ‘The crown as projector’.

47 HP 71/11/9B.

48 HP 53/14/24A–B.

49 HP 58/9A; Samuel Hartlib [Cressy Dymock], Reformed husband-man (1651), pp. 6, 9, 10.

50 Plattes, Discovery of infinite treasure, p. 76.

51 This has been overlooked in studies of the Hartlib circle. Bodleian Library, MS Bankes 11/39; The National Archives (TNA), C66/2842/1.

52 Plattes, Gabriel, Certaine new inventions and profitable experiments (1640)Google Scholar, non-paginated handbill.

53 Cf. Long, Pamela O., Openness, secrecy, authorship: technical arts and the culture of knowledge from antiquity to the Renaissance (Baltimore, MD, 2001), pp. 90Google Scholar, 95, 101, 141.

54 Ann Hughes, ‘Men, the “public” and the “private” in the English Revolution’, in Peter Lake and Steve Pincus, eds., Politics of public spheres in early modern England (Manchester, 2007), pp. 191–212, at p. 194.

55 See also Kevin Dunn, ‘Milton among the monopolist: Areopagitica, intellectual property and the Hartlib circle’, in UR, pp. 177–92, at p. 178.

56 [John Dury], Considerations tending to the happy accomplishment of Englands reformation in church and state (1647), p. 42.

57 Ibid., pp. 42, 48, 45–6.

58 Webster, Great instauration, pp. 32, 70, 422–4; Eamon, William, Science and the secrets of nature: books of secrets in medieval and early modern culture (Princeton, NJ, 1994), 327–8Google Scholar; Dunn, ‘Milton’, p 186; Mark Greengrass, ‘Samuel Hartlib and the commonwealth of learning’, in John Barnard and D. F. McKenzie, eds., The Cambridge history of the book in Britain, iv:1557–1695 (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 315–16, 318. An exception is Michelle DiMeo, ‘Openness vs secrecy in the Hartlib circle: revisiting “democratic Baconianism” in Interregnum England’, in Elaine Leong and Alisha Rankin, eds., Secrets and knowledge in medicine and science, 1500–1800 (Farnham, 2011), pp. 105–21, at pp. 119–20.

59 What follows complements existing accounts of the Office which pay more attention to its sources of inspiration such as Bacon, Comenius, and Théophraste Renaudot.

60 Webster, Great instauration, pp. 372–3.

61 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 246 (13/114). We do not know whether the meeting took place. A summary of the inventions and schemes Wheeler could offer survives in the Hartlib papers. The full list is HP 67/6/3A–10B.

62 HP 13/119A.

63 HP 13/119A; ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 247, 31 Oct. 1645 (13/115–16); ibid., p. 249, 12 Nov. 1645 (13/121–2). It is unclear whether Wheeler was meant to reveal his secrets to the trustees.

64 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 248 (13/117–18). Hartlib's preference is revealed in another copy of the letter with his editorial intervention. See HP 13/119A.

65 ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 248–9 (13/121–2).

66 Ibid., p. 264, 17 Feb. 1646 (13/127–8).

67 Ibid., pp. 263, 309.

68 Wheeler, William, Mr William Wheeler's case from his own relation (1645), pp. 3Google Scholar, 10.

69 HP 71/7/3A. See also ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 320 (n. 12).

70 Petty, Double writing, handbill with no pagination; TNA, SP 18/2, fos. 156–9.

71 ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 318–19, 18 Jan. 1648 (13/180–1).

72 Ibid., p. 287, n.d. [Jan. 1648?] (13/284/5). This dating is based on Culpeper's paying his Michaelmas rent which is also mentioned at ibid., p. 297.

73 Ibid., p. 287.

74 [Samuel Hartlib], A further discoverie of the Offfice of Publick Addresse for Accommodations (1648); [Dury], Considerations, p. 42 (quotation).

75 [Hartlib], Further discoverie, pp. 3, 24.

76 Ibid., p. 2.

77 Ibid., sig. [D4]. See also Dury, John, A seasonable discourse written by Mr John Dury (1649)Google Scholar, sig. [D2v], [D4v].

78 Culpeper had originally depicted the parliament committee as ‘an Accommodation in this point’ (HP 13/180). A copy of this with the intervention, quoted above, is HP 53/35/1A. Italics are mine.

79 Dury, Seasonable discourse, sigs. [Dv], [D3v]; [Cressy Dymock], An essay for advancement of husbandry-learning (1651), pp. 6, 10.

80 Alastair Duke, ‘The ambivalent face of Calvinism in the Netherlands, 1561–1618’, in Menna Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism, 1541–1715 (Oxford, 1985), pp. 109–34, at p. 132.

81 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 269, 4 Mar. 1646 (13/136–7).

82 Worden, Blair, ‘Providence and politics in Cromwellian England’, Past and Present, 109 (1985), pp. 5599CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 93.

83 Hartlib was granted a parliamentary fund of £300 in Mar. 1647, two months before the first publication on the Office. He also was to receive an annuity of about £100, but the payment proved irregular. Commons journal, v, p. 131; Webster, Charles, Samuel Hartlib and the advancement of learning (Cambridge, 1970), p. 49Google Scholar.

84 Webster, Great instauration, p. 74; Turnbull, Hartlib, Dury and Comenius, pp. 83–4.

85 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 331 (13/215–16).

86 Ibid., p. 338–9 (13/231–2); ibid., p. 348 (13/246–7). For subsequent negative comments on Wheeler, see ibid., pp. 355, 358.

87 HP 36/8/3A–4A.

88 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 324 (13/209–11).

89 HP 18/1/2B–3A. See also McCormick, Petty, p. 59.

90 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 235, Dury to Culpeper, n.d. [autumn 1645] (55/10/11–14).

91 Ibid., p. 244 (13/294–5).

92 Greengrass, ‘Projecting culture’; John T. Young, ‘Utopian artificers: Hartlib's promotion of German technology in the English commonwealth’ (unpublished paper).

93 HP 33/2/19A, 26/33/1B.

94 ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 335ff.

95 See Charles Webster, ‘Benjamin Worsley: engineering for universal reform from the Invisible College to the Navigation Act’, in UR, pp. 213–46, at p. 223, n. 26; Young, Moriaen, p. 202.

96 ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 340–1, 344, 347, 348. For details of Glauber's reception among reformers in England, see Young, Moriaen, ch. 6.

97 HP 62/48/1B. This corrects ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 134.

98 HP 58/8A. While a ‘model’ of this engine had been erected in Lambeth, the access to the engine's mechanical details was tightly controlled (HP 58/8B–9A).

99 Hartlib[Dymock], The reformed husband-man, p. 10. See also idem, An invention of engines of motion lately brought to perfection (1651), p. 2, sig. [A2v].

100 Boyle correspondence, i, pp. 159, 178.

101 Alsted, J. H., Cursus philosophici encyclopaedia (2 vols., 1620)Google Scholar, i. 20. 3, quoted in Hotson, Alsted, p. 70. The tradition of cataloguing divine wisdom and judgement goes well beyond Hartlib's immediate predecessors. See McLean, Matthew, The Cosmographia of Sebastian Munster: describing the world in the Reformation (Aldershot, 2007), pp. 105–26Google Scholar, 332; Walsham, Alexandara, Providence in early modern England (Cambridge, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, chs. 2–3.

102 [Dymock], Husbandry-learning, sig. 2A, [2Av], preface by Hartlib.

103 Boyle correspondence, i, pp. 160, 178.

104 HP 62/17/1B, W. Rand to Hartlib, 14 Feb. 1652.

105 HP 28/2/2A, 14B, 35B, 39B, 45A, 46B, 50A, 52B, 53A.

106 HP 7/7/3B, Hartlib to Winthrop, 16 Mar. 1660.

107 ‘Culpeper letters’, p. 312 (13/202–3).

108 HP 62/50/5A, Dymock to Hartlib, 29 Sept. 1649.

109 Dymock's letter to Worsley, transcribed in Royal Society Archives, Boyle letters 7/1, 18 May 1649, Worsley to Hartlib (‘nothing is wanting to make you … rich’).

110 HP 62/60/9A passim.

111 A now lost letter to Hartlib on 10 Mar. 1652, printed in Cressy Dymock, An invention of engines of motion lately brought to perfection (1651), pp. 2–3.

112 HP 26/33 2B, Worsley to Hartlib, 22 June 1649.

113 HP 71/11/9A.

114 Worsley, Benjamin, Free ports, the nature and necessitie of them stated (1652), p. 4Google Scholar; [Benjamin Worsley], The advocate: or, a narrative of the state and condition of things between the English and Dutch nation, in relation to trade (1651), sig. B2v. For backgrounds, see Leng, Worsley, pp. 77–9.

115 Leng, Worsley, pp. 55–70.

116 ‘Culpeper letters’, pp. 335–48; McCormick, Petty, pp. 73–4, ch. 3.

117 Dear, Peter, Discipline and experience: the mathematical way in the scientific revolution (Chicago, IL, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, passim; Steven Shapin, A Social history of truth: civility and science in seventeenth-century England (Chicago, IL, 1994), p. 124. But see Ratcliff, ‘Sons of Machiavelli’.

118 The literature is too vast to do justice to here. But see important works reviewed in Johns, ‘Identity, practice, and trust’; Stephen Johnston, ‘Making mathematical practice: gentlemen, practitioners and artisans in Elizabethan England’ (Ph.D thesis, Cambridge, 1994); Shapiro, Barbara, A culture of fact: England, 1550–1720 (Ithaca, NY, 2000)Google Scholar; Sarasohn, Lisa T., ‘Who was then the gentleman? Samuel Sorbière, Thomas Hobbes, and the Royal Society’, History of Science, 42 (2004), pp. 211–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Keblusek, Marika, ‘“Keeping it secret”: the identity and status of an early-modern inventor’, History of Science, 43 (2005), pp. 3756CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ratcliff, J. R., ‘Samuel Morland and his calculating machines c. 1666: the early career of a courtier-inventor in Restoration England’, British Journal for the History of Science, 40 (2007), pp. 159–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

119 The phrase is taken from Keblusek, ‘“Keeping it secret”’, p. 49.

120 Stewart, Larry, The rise of public science: rhetoric, technology, and natural philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660–1750 (Cambridge, 1992), p. 15Google Scholar.