Category Archives: Science

animal Books Curiosities Science

The True And Lively Nature Of Every Beast

I recently discovered a compendium of four-footed beasts dating from 1607. As well as providing a comprehensive overview of each beast, it also contains a wealth of detail about diet, illness, fighting habits, and general character traits. However, for me, the illustrations are by far the most fascinating aspect of the text. Find below some of the more entertaining examples. Note especially the smiling tiger.








Violent Hippo












Rhino (in armour!)




Hyena (sporting what appears to be a moustache)






Grinning Tiger


Biography Curiosities Dinosaurs Medicine Science

He discovered the fossil bones of the prehistoric Iguanodon

Gideon Mantel by Samuel Stepney, published in ‘Thoughts on a Pebble’ (1837)


Shakespeare’s England usually sits very firmly in the everyday world of the seventeenth century, but I’ve always believed this doesn’t preclude me from exploring tantalising snippets of history from both before and after my beloved sixteen hundreds. So this post is on Gideon Mantell (1790-1852), father, doctor, and dinosaur expert. As a resident of Sussex, I’ve often walked past the house which once belonged to him, and this week I thought it was time, at last, to discover who he really was.

Gideon was born on 3rd February 1790, at the family home in Lewes, East Sussex. His father Thomas was a shoemaker, and his mother, Sarah Austen, came originally from a family in Kent. Gideon’s father had radical political opinions. As a strident Whig and Methodist, his views were unacceptable at the local grammar school, and so Gideon was educated by John Button in Sussex and his uncle in Wiltshire. By 1805, at the age of fifteen, Gideon had become apprenticed to the Lewes surgeon James Moore, and after a six-month spell at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, he became Moore’s business partner. In 1816, Mantell married Mary Ann Woodhouse of London, the daughter of one of his earliest patients, and he was soon successful enough to buy out James Moore’s interest in the Lewes medical practice and support a growing family.

Gideon contributed to a number of journals and publications as his medical career progressed, but he developed an increasing fascination for geology and palaeontology; interests he had been fostering since childhood. Spending many hours exploring the rolling countryside of Sussex, Gideon published his first book, The Fossils of the South Downs, in 1822. By 1825, having surveyed Tilgate Forest near Cuckfield, Mantell announced the exciting discovery of Iguanodon. His early evidence for the existence of dinosaurs (incidentally a word not yet coined in 1825) consisted primarily of extant teeth he had collected, but it was sufficient to establish the identity of a gigantic extinct herbivore, and Mantell was subsequently invited to become a member of the Royal Society.

In 1827, Gideon published Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex, a booked devoted to vertebrate fossils, it is ‘the earliest book of any to deal primarily with dinosaur remains’ (Dean). In 1833, he combined his writings from both his previous books with a paper written for the Geological Society, and published a new book entitled Geology of the South-East of England, in which he confirms his discovery of a second type of dinosaur, the heavily-armoured Hylaeosaurus. This discovery confirmed that dinosaurs walked on the ground and were not amphibians; a theory previously held by scientists.

Mantell’s work and reputation grew exponentially in these years, and he began to associate with members of the aristocracy, particularly the third earl of Egremont, who made him a whopping grant of £1000. Such was his fame and popularity, Mantell located to the more fashionable nearby resort of Brighton, which the king visited every winter. Gideon attempted to open a medical practice in Brighton which failed, but he did create a geological museum to house his fossils. In 1834, Benjamin Silliman of Yale managed to secure Gideon an honorary LLD, and despite his distinction being literary, rather than medical, he adopted the title Dr Mantell henceforth.


The Weekly True Sun (London) 1838


In 1834, Mantell acquired his most famous paleontological specimen, the Maidstone Iguanodon, which had been located for him by two of his friends. It was one of only two almost complete dinosaur fossils known at the time, and it became the chief attraction in Mantell’s Brighton museum. Despite this however, Mantell’s finances were failing, and he was forced to purchase a medical practice in Clapham. Unable to afford to maintain his collection, he sold his fossils to the British Museum in 1838 for £4000. The following year, his wife and elder son left him, and in 1840, his favourite daughter, Hannah, died of tuberculosis.


Maidstone Iguanodon


Initially and naturally devastated by his accumulated losses, Gideon nevertheless maintained his interest in palaeontology, and his book Wonders of Geology (1838), as well as his Medals of Creation (1844, which opposed evolution), and Thoughts on Animalcules (1846, on microscopy) sold well and were popular. His last books on geology, A Pictorial Atlas of Fossil Remains (1850) and Petrifactions and their Teachings (1851), included contributions on recently extinct New Zealand birds by his son Walter.

From 1841 onwards, Gideon was plagued with a painful spinal disease and he eventually died in his Chester Square home in London on 10th November 1852, possibly from an overdose of opium taken to counteract his back-pain. He was buried in Norwood cemetery with his daughter, Hannah.

The word dinosaur came into use in 1842, coined by a comparative anatomist named Richard Owen, who was envious of Mantell’s discoveries. For posterity it should be noted that it was Mantell, and not Owen, who first emphasised that there had been an age of reptiles preceding the age of mammals. Besides Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus, Mantell’s dinosaur discoveries included Megalosaurus, Cetiosaurus, Regnosaurus, Pelorosaurus, and the later-named Hypsilophodon. He also discovered dozens of other prehistoric creatures: new fossil fishes, further vertebrates, and a very large number of invertebrates, together with microspecies and plants.


Plaque outside Mantell’s home in Lewes


Source: “Mantell, Gideon Algernon (1790–1852),” Dennis R. Dean in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, October (2006)

Medicine Science

The anatomy of human bodies

These images are all taken from The Anatomy of Human Bodies published in 1698.  The level of detail and skilled execution of the images reveal a depth of sophistication in the early modern understanding of human anatomy which might be surprising. Click on the images to enlarge them.







 Back muscles








 Pregnant Woman






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Astronomy Science

Of shooting or falling stars

These fragments come from A goodly gallerye with a most pleasaunt prospect, in to the garden of naturall contemplation, to behold the naturall causes of all kynde of meteors, as wel fyery and ayery, as watry and earthly, of whiche sort be blasing sterres, shooting starres, flames in the ayre &c. tho[n]der, lightning, earthquakes, &c. rayne dewe, snowe, cloudes, springes &c. stones, metalles, earthes &c. to the glory of God, and the profit of his creaturs, by William Fulke (1563). This book, which attempts an explanation of the workings of the heavens gives us an insight into the development of early modern astronomy. Because it is such an early work, I have modernised spellings.

Of the general cause of all Meteors and first of the material cause:

The matter whereof the moste part of Meteors doth consiste is either water or earth, for out of the water proceed vapours, and out of the earth come exhalations. Vapor as the Philosopher sayeth, is a certain watery thing, and yet is not water, so exhalation hath a certain earthly nature in it, but yet it is not earth. For the better understanding of vapours, understand that they be as it were fumes or smokes, warme & moist, whiche will easily be resolved into water, much like to the breath that proceedeth out of a mans mouth, or out of a pot of water standing on the fire. These vapours are drawn up from the waters and watery places, by the heat of the Sunne, even unto the middle region of the air, and there after diverse manner of meeting with coldness, many kinde of moist Meteors are generated, as sometime clouds and rain, sometime snow and hail, and that such vapours are so drawn up by the Sun.

In Autumn  & Spring, are oftener Meteores seen, than in Summer and Winter, except it be in such places, where the Summer and Winter are of the temper of Spring and Autumn.

The places in which Meteors are caused, be either the air or the earth, in the air be generated rain, hail, snow, dew, blazing stars, thunder, lightning &c.  In the earth be wells, springs, earthquakes, metals, minerals, &c. made, and as it were in their mothers belly begotten & fashioned. But for the better understanding hereof, such as have not tasted the principles of Philosophie, must consider there be elements, Earth, water, Air, & Fire, one co-passing another round about.

The highest is the sphere of the fire, which toucheth the hollowness of the Moon’s heaven, the next is the air, which is in the hollowness of the fire, the air within this hollowness, comprehendeth the water and the earth, which both make but one Sphere or Globe, or as the commen sort may understande it one Ball. So each element is within another as the scales of a pearl, are on above another, or (to use a gross similitude) as the peeles of an onion, are one within another, after the same sort from the highest heaven to the earth.

But for this present purpose it is to be known, that the air is divided into three regions, the highest, the middle, and the lowest. The highest, because it is next to the region of the fire, is exceeding hot, the lowest being next the earth and the waters, is temperate, and by repercussion or striking back of the sun beames waxeth hot, and by absence of them is made colde, being subiect to Winter and Summer. The middle region of the air, is always exceeding cold, partly because the sun beames can not be cast back so high, and partly because the cold that is there, between the heat above and the heat beneath it, is so kept in that it can not get out, so that it must needs be excessively cold. For the water and the earth being both cold elements, after the sun setting in the night season do cool the air, even to the middle region.  But in the morning the sun rising warmeth the air, so far as his beames which are beaten back from the earth & the water, can extend and reach, whiche is not so high as the middle region, and by heat on both sides, is enclosed and kept, saving that a little thereof falleth downe in the night, which the next day with much more is driven back again. Wherefore this region being so colde, is darke and cloudy, in so much that some doting Divines have imagined purgatory to be there in the middle region of the air.



In the highest region, be generated Comets or blazing stars, and suche like of diverse sorts.  In the middle region clouds, rain, storms, winds &c. In the lowest region, dew, frost, horefrost, mists, bright rods, candles burning about graves, & gallows, where there is store of clammy fatty or oily substance, also lights and flaming fires, seene in fields, &c.

A Fiery impression, is an exhalation set on fire, in the highest or lowest region of the air, or else appearing as though it were set on fire and burning.

They are therefore divided into flames and apparitions. Flames are they, which burn in dead and are kindled with fire. These are discerned by divers ways, by the fashion of them, by their place, by the abundance of their matter, & by the want of their matter. Their placing is after the abundance & scarcity of the matter whereof they consist, for if it be great, heavy and gross, it cannot be carried so far as the middle region of the air, and therefore is set on fire in the lowest region, if it be not so great, light, and full of heat, it passeth the middle region & ascendeth to the highest, where it is easily kindled & set on fire. According to their diverse fashions, they have diverse names, for they are called, burning stoble, torches, dancing or leaping Goats, shooting or falling stars, or candles, burning beames, round pillars, spears shieldes, globes or bowles, firebrandes, flying dragons or firedrakes, pointed pillars or broched steeples, or blazing stars, called Comets. The time when these impressions doth most appear, is the night season, for if they were caused in the day time, their cold not be seen, no more then the stars be seen, because the light of the sun which is much greater, dimmeth the brightness of these being lesser.



Of shooting and falling Stars:

A Flying, shooting, or falling Star is when the exhalation being gathered as it were on a round heap, and yet not throughly compacted in the highest part of the lowest region of the air, being kindled, by the sudden cold of the middle region is beaten back, and so appeareth as though a Star  should fall, or slide from place to place. Sometime it is generated after another sort, for there is an exhalation  long and narrow, which being kindled at one end burneth swiftly, the fire running from end to end, as when a silk thread is set on fire at the one end.  Some say it is not so much set on fire, as that it is direct under some Star in the firmament, and so receiving light of that star, seemeth to our eyes to be a star. Indeed some times it may be so, but that is not so always, nor yet most commonly, as it may be easely demonstrated. The Epicurians as they are very gross in determining the chief goodness so they are very fond in assigning the cause of this Meteor. For they say, that the stars fall out of the firmament, and that by the fall of them, both thunder and lightning are caused: for the lightning (say they) is nothing else but the shining of that star that falleth, which falling into a watery cloud, and being quenched in it, causeth that great thunder, even as when  iron maketh a noise if it be cast into cold water. But it is evident that the stars of the firmament can not fall, for God hath set them fast for ever, he hath given them a commandement which they shall not pass.  And though they should fall into the cloud, yet could they not rest there, but with their weight being driven down, would cover the whole earth.’

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