- Edited by Robert G W Anderson and Jean Jones
Joseph Black (1728-1799) was one of the central figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. His friends and colleagues included David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, William Cullen and James Hutton; together, they formed a celebrated intellectual circle which regularly met, conversed and dined. Black was widely admired for his discovery and characterisation of 'fixed air' (carbon dioxide}, which arose from investigations he undertook at Edinburgh for the dissertation which counted towards his MD degree. His first teaching appointment followed at Glasgow University, where he developed ideas about latent and specific heat, all the more intriguing as there he formed a close friendship with James Watt, whose ambition grew to improve the performance of steam engines. Black's reputation lay largely as a highly talented teacher. From 1766, when he became professor of medicine and chemistry at Edinburgh, his large classes included pupils who were drawn from as far away as America, the West Indies and Russia. Black was also admired for his skill in applying science and economics to the improvement of agriculture and to the developing industrial landscape. According to a contemporary commentator he was, "the best judge, perhaps, in Europe" of such matters.
This publication includes more than eight hundred items of Black's extensive correspondence, most of them published for the first time. It reveals relationships with businessmen, entrepreneurs and former pupils, as well as with prominent scientific and cultural figures of the day, including Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, James Watt, Benjamin Rush, Josiah Wedgwood and Robert Adam. A number of letters and reports written to and from fellow physicians indicate that Black practised medicine throughout his career, particularly caring for the health of his friends, David Hume among them. There is also a revealing series of letters which point to the financial struggles his Ulster family endured at a period of political unrest in Europe and America, and showing how Black saved them from bankruptcy on various occasions. Documents associated with Black's domestic life and academic work are also included.
The letters are preceded by an important introduction, covering Black's life and work, and the context and history of the correspondence, and are provided with extensive annotation. A comprehensive index concludes the work. These volumes therefore comprise an indispensable resource for all those interested in medicine, teaching, the growth of scientific ideas, the social fabric, and the rise of industry in the eighteenth century, and in the Enlightenment itself.
Contents: Volume I: Preface; Introductory Chapters: Historical background; Joseph Black: life and work; History of the manuscripts; The nature and significance of the correspondence; Transcription of the letters; Index of letters. The Correspondence, Letters 1-399.
Volume II: Letters 400-835. Appendices; Bibliography; Index.
About the Editor: Robert G.W. Anderson is an historian of science whose career was spent largely in museums: he was Director of the British Museum from 1992 to 2002, and previously, from 1985, of the National Museums of Scotland. He has been President of the British Society for the History of Science, is currently Chairman of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, and is Vice-Chair of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia. He has long been interested in eighteenth-century chemistry: an early publication of his, The Playfair Collection, dealt with how Joseph Black and other professors of chemistry conducted their teaching at the University of Edinburgh. He is now Vice-President of Clare Hall, Cambridge and an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford.
Jean Jones was born in the Scottish Borders, and lived most of her life in Edinburgh. Educated at school in St Andrews, and at the University of Oxford, LSE and Edinburgh, she was a professional editor and a successful painter. Her exceptionally wide scholarly interests ranged from literature and the arts to social history and the history of science. She devised and organised three thought-provoking exhibitions in the National Museums of Scotland in 1986, 1988 and 1991 which dealt with the Scottish Enlightenment, scientific revolutions, and Adam Smith. She published widely, most importantly on the Scottish geologist James Hutton, who was a lifelong friend of Joseph Black. Jean Jones died in 2009.
Reviews: 'This is a solid piece of scholarship, and the edition will be a valuable, indeed an invaluable source for historians of science and technology and of the Scottish Enlightenment.'
Trevor Levere, University of Toronto, Canada
'The historical interest of the correspondence is therefore considerable but the scholarly standards of the edition are if anything even more impressive. Anderson and Jones provide a detailed account of Black’s life and works as well as a forensic analysis of the letters as a whole. Each individual piece is thereafter supplied with extensive background information in footnotes, while a fine biographical register at the end of the second volume allows the reader easily to identify all of Black’s known correspondents. Finally, a comprehensive bibliography and meticulous index complete the work. It is sad that Jean Jones did not live to see the fruits of her labours with Robert Anderson. But this edition of the Black correspondence, certain to be a standard reference source for historians of eighteenth-century science and for students of the Scottish Enlightenment too, will stand as a fine testament to her scholarly powers.' Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies
'The editors have transcribed and printed a total of 835 letters and documents, comprising 355 from Black himself, and 408 from his correspondents who include important contemporaries such as William Cullen, Lorenz Crell, Thomas Beddoes and James Watt… the volumes are superbly edited, printed and illustrated. Some may wonder why a complex edition like this was not put on the internet. I am glad it was not, for nothing can beat the convenience of having the notes instantly to hand, easy cross-referencing and a very accessible comprehensive index… the edition will be an essential purchase for academic libraries where its rich contents will be of the greatest interest to historians of science and medicine, economic historians and historians of eighteenth-century Scotland and Ireland, and of the Enlightenment… Robert Anderson and his publisher, Ashgate, are to be warmly congratulated for producing this major work of scholarship and important academic resource for historians of chemistry.' Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter
'This is a magnificant edition, crammed with erudite footnotes and background essays.' Medical History
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