Badly researched footnotes.

Ted Hand historian of alchemy drew my attention, through a tweet, to the Camden Society’s 1842 edition of the Diary of John Dee. This diary contains one reference to Thomas Digges in the entry for 1593, which reads as follows:

I borrowed £10 of Mr. Thomas Digges for one hole yere

To this simple statement the editor, a Mr James Orchard Halliwell Esq. F.R.S, appended the following footnote:

This notice is particularly interesting, showing the intimate connexion which existed between the first English mathematician of the day and the philosopher of Mortlake.

This footnote is interesting for its complete lack of knowledge of the relationship between Dee and Digges. Halliwell is, as I interpret it, saying look Dee, the philosopher of Mortlake, is on good terms with England’s leading mathematician, Digges, is that not wonderful? He appears to be blithely ignorant of the fact that Thomas Digges was John Dee’s foster son. Dee took over the care of Thomas when his father, Dee’s friend Leonard, died as Thomas was about fourteen years old in 1559. In a letter of 1573 Dee referred to his foster son as:

‘charissimus mihi juvenis, mathematicusque meus dignissimus hæres’



Filed under History of Astrology, History of Astronomy, History of Mathematics, Renaissance Science

6 responses to “Badly researched footnotes.

  1. Rebekah Higgitt

    But when was that 1573 letter available to scholars? Halliwell was one of a generation interested in publishing primary source material for the first time. That was what the Camden Society was founded to do in 1838. It was the idea behind Halliwell’s own brief-lived History of Science Society in 1840-1. What of Dee’s life and work had been published before Halliwell got to work on the diary? Or was this, in fact, the first inkling of a Dee-Digges intimacy?

    • All very good questions to which I have no answers. The relationship between Dee and both Leonard and Thomas Digges was well known in the 16th and 17th centuries as they had both published books in 1573 in which the prefaces acknowledge their relationship. Also the Leslie Stephen Dictionary of Biography entry for Thomas Digges (ca. 1890) contains the Latin quote from above.

      What more do you know about Halliwell’s History of Science Society?

      • Rebekah Higgitt

        See chapter on antiquarians, librarians and historians in my book! (Think it might be a good topic for me to blog about soon…). Its possible that these books were little known at this date. It was people like Halliwell, Peacock and De Morgan who really started looking into them. De Morgan remarked how cheap old scientific and mathematical texts were when he first started to collect them – no one was interested.

      • I wait with bated breath for your post.

      • Will Thomas

        No better example of why it’s important to think about what the difference is between what “we know” and what “we have known”. Historical knowledge doesn’t keep well, even if you put it in the refrigerator!

      • Especially if you put it in the refrigerator.

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