A Proposal to Determine our Longitude
Published: London: Printed for the author, and sold by S Cope.
Date: 1743 - 1743
Second edition. 8vo. 200x125mm. pp. unnumbered half-title, (3), folding table and explanatory notes entitled “Lodgitude”, 5-160. The contents pages (L1-L2) have, as is usual, been bound after page 152 (the end of the main text) and before the postscript which starts on p154 (153 being blank). Contemporary tan calf with single line gilt border to upper and lower covers. Five raised bands and six compartments with gilt borders. Second compartment has a black morocco label with “Squire On the Longit” tooled in gold. In the centre of both upper and lower covers is a black morocco roundel with a decorative gilt roll. The roundel is divided into four quadrants by crossed gold lines and each quadrant contains a design based on the symbols used by Jane Squire to demonstrate her theories. This use of decoration on the cover relating to the contents of the book is unusual before the nineteenth century and Squire’s “Proposal” is an extremely rare example of the practice in the eighteenth century. This is a near-fine binding with a little looseness to the hinges and some minor staining to the foot of the upper and lower covers. The contents are in fine condition with no foxing. There are some very light pencil lines in the margins made by a previous reader to note important points in the text. Overall, this is a very nice copy of a comparatively rare volume.
In 1714, Parliament formed a committee for discovering a system of determining longitude. The large prize of £20,000 (about £1.5m today) was won by John Harrison. Jane Squire was the only woman who entered the competition without hiding her sex behind a pseudonym. Squire was born in 1671 and died in 1743 (as this second edition was being published). She is rare in being an educated female mathematician and scientist at a time when women’s education was largely ignored altogether.
Jane Squire began by writing an eleven page pamphlet in 1731 but it seems that this was largely ignored. Her “Proposal to Determine our Longitude” was a fuller sequel to that pamphlet. The first edition of this work was published in 1741 in English and French. This second edition, in English only, contains the Proposal itself taken from the original pamphlet, together with her correspondence to and from the MPs who served on the longitude committee. In her letters Squire complains how her proposal was not taken seriously and it seems clear that this was, in large part, because she was a woman. Whilst her ideas were never likely to win the competition - even admirers admit that they were impractical - she was undoubtedly the victim of some prejudice and her book is a valuable insight into the experience of women in science in the eighteenth century. Modern scholarship is now taking Squire seriously, not so much for her ideas on longitude, but for her pioneering role as a female scientist and an educated woman.
Offered by Simon Finch Rare Books