Saturday, August 29, 2015

Of the Invention of Telescopes and Microscopes, with their First Improvements

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I happened to run across an article by Joseph Priestley  [Priestley, Joseph, LL.D, F.R.S., Of the Invention of Telescopes and Microscopes, with their First Improvements,The Literary and Biographical Magazine and British Review, vol.10 (June,1793): pp. 407-11.].

What I found so interesting with this article was that I could not find it listed in any of the standard bibliographies of his works; not even in the on-line Wikipedia bibliography on Joseph Priestley, which, importantly, is the most up to date (I have subsequently corrected that situation), nor in Robert Schofield book which is considered the authoritative biography on Priestley with an excellent bibliography.  It seems rather odd that a person with such a distinguished career and elaborate corpus of works as Priestley would have a publication missing from his bibliography for more than 210 years after his death, and 221 years after he wrote the article.  

I note, however, that while there was a section on the very subject of the article with the exact same title I found in his book: The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light, and Colours, London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1772,pp.55-81, there is enough of a difference between the two works that this work should have been recorded as part of his bibliographical legacy. Further, it should be noted that there is a full 21 years difference between the publication dates of the book and the journal article. Finally, it is worth noting that it doesn't make any sense to have excluded it, based solely upon the fact that it appeared in such a prominent British publication with his authorship clearly identified.

One final note about the article, versus its content, is that while the title as stated above is what appears at the head of the magazine article, all subsequent pages of the article carry the banner "On the Invention of Telescopes and Microscopes" [emphasis added].

"The More Elaborate our Means of Communication, the Less we Communicate" J. Priestley

I have often seen the quote offered in the title of this post attributed to Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the famous 18th century British-American polymath who was the first to report the isolation of the gas Oxygen.  It has never sat right with me.  I have studied much about Joseph Priestley's life and it just didn't seem like there was much in the way of "elaborating" communication that had transpired before or during his lifetime other than the invention of movable type and the printing press in the 15th century.  I had often thought that a more probable candidate for the quote was J(ohn). B(oynton). Priestley (1894-1994), the famous twentieth century British novelist and broadcaster.  He was certainly alive during a period of rapid change in communications technology; as a broadcaster was most certainly aware of communications skills; and, as a novelist he could certainly elaborate upon all this.

 I have found two quotations, one is the title of this post and the other, almost identical, which, at first blush, looks identical, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate”.  The second quote has an additional "we" as the third word.   Of the numerous sources I have found they attribute each of these quotations to either J. B. Priestley, or Joseph Priestley (by the way, most are attributed to Joseph Priestley).  Interestingly, though, the quoters are not unanimous on which is attributable to each person. Not one quoter has actually cited the primary source (by primary source, I mean the actual publication by the respective author). I have found it hard to believe that these two people with almost identical names, each uttered almost identical quotes. I also find it hard to believe that I could not find the actual source of the quotation. 

I am proud to announce that, after a considerable search, I have now found the proper attribution and wording for the quote: “The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  See Baden Eunson, Communicating in the 21st Century, in reference to Priestley’s Paradox.  The source reference for the quote is J.B. Priestley, Thoughts in the Wilderness,   Heinemann, 1957, p. 201. 

And, of course, the photo above is that of the author of the quote, J. B. Priestley.  May he rest in peace.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Joseph Priestley on Public Television

Wed, Aug 19 at 8 pm, PBS
(Check your local PBS station for broadcast times)

Patrick Page as Joseph Priestley                      Patrick Page, Ava Deluca-Verley and Hugo Becker
 as Joseph Priestley, Marie Anne and Antoine Lavoisier

The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements is an exciting PBS series about one of the great adventures in the history of science: the long (and continuing) quest to understand what the world is made of—to identify, understand and organize the basic building blocks of matter.

Three hour-long episodes introduce viewers to some of history’s most extraordinary scientists: Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier, whose discovery of oxygen—and radical interpretation of it—led to the modern science of chemistry; Humphry Davy, who made electricity a powerful new tool in the search for elements; Dmitri Mendeleev, whose Periodic Table brought order to the growing gaggle of elements; Marie Curie, whose groundbreaking research on radioactivity cracked open a window into the atom; Harry Moseley, whose discovery of atomic number redefined the Periodic Table; and Glenn Seaborg, whose discovery of plutonium opened up a whole new realm of elements, still being explored today.

The Mystery of Matter shows us not only what these scientific explorers discovered but also how, using Broadway-caliber actors to reveal the creative process through the scientists’ own words, and conveying their landmark discoveries through re-enactments shot with working replicas of their original lab equipment. Knitting these strands together into a coherent, entertaining whole is host Michael Emerson, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor.

Mystery of Matter:  Search for the Elements will be shown on PBS on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 from 8PM to 11PM. (3-1 hour shows airing back to back)