Thomas Young’s Lectures: An Origin Story

The origin of my book is interesting, and I believe it adds insight into bookmaking during the time period (1807).  More specifically, I believe the nature of the book itself also adds an interesting layer of history, as my book is unlike most others in the class- mine is a large textbook.  I must say it is in remarkably good shape.  For a book that is 210 years old, it does not look a day past 50!

While other books were published for distribution among the public, mine appears to be made specifically for a University, with the intention of university students using it.  I believe this has an effect on the binding of the book, and the format of it. While most books are printed with the intent to entice the general public, or at least a certain large demographic, to buy them, physics textbooks generally don’t serve that purpose. The first significant thing that points to this is the fact that the binding is absolutely boring.  It is simply a burnt orange flap.  I presume it has been rebound, but I can’t imagine the prior binding was too flashy either. The side of the binding just reads “Young’s Natural Philosophy”.

Now, I want to explore the context in which the book was made. We know from the dedication page, that the book was dedicated to Thomas Grenville.  Thomas Grenville was a politician by profession, but a bibliophile by passion.  I think this shows us a bit about the academic milieu of the time.  There was a very elite academic circle at the time. Thomas Young was certainly at the center of it.  While he started out with the intention of becoming a doctor, he found himself gravitating towards physics.  He soon became involved specifically with optics- truly the most exciting conundrum at the time.  He soon joined the Royal Society, an exclusive club that I will get into in my next blog post.  It was here that he gave lectures on all areas of “natural philosophy”.  These lectures were then published and we know them today as my pet book.

The book itself was published in St. Paul’s Church Yard.  This is not surprising as St. Paul’s Church yard was a huge printing yard at the time, and was in relatively close proximity to the university.  It was printed by a man named William Savage, in Bedfordbury.  William Savage was not a random printer, either.  I learned that he was actually the official printer for the Royal Society at the time.  I initially came into this book thinking it was done on commission.  For instance, an organization needed a reference book on all things mechanical, so they contacted Thomas Young, who wrote it for them.  It actually seems quite opposite.  The printing of this book seems to be a very run of the mill production.  Thomas Young gave a series of lecture and the Royal Institution wanted to document, record, and distribute them.  Naturally, they used their in house printer.

The style in which it is printed is actually quite hard for me to figure out. The early 1800’s saw a period of change in regards to how things were printed.  However, after talking with my Professor, I believe the pages were hand-made.

I have attached pictures just to give the reader a sense of their texture and make-up.

Looking at them under the light, you can see the gridlines that come with hand pressed paper.  Another cool thing that is revealed under the light is a watermark. I have tried to capture a picture of it but it is fairly impossible to see.  The watermark reads 1806.  That is presumably the year the paper was made.  Looking through the pages, we can see markers that signify it was bound in a quarto style.  That is to say, there are four pieces of paper per “leaf”.  We know this by looking at the groupings that are characterized by letter.  For instance on page, there lies an “a”.  Four pages later, a “b” and so on and so fourth.


For instance, when looking through the book, I came across this “c” .  Four pages later, I came across a “d” and so on and so forth.

Overall, the book appears to be standard given books of the time- although possible printed with better quality than most given its origin.