Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Arundell's Ramelli

I've been hacking away at deciphering Arundell's annotations in his Ramelli (Croft's transcript is apparently gone for good). I've made a few observations:

1. It was a literary exercise of Arundell... this sounds pithy but I really have no idea how to render it into something practical.
2. It's painful to read. Arundell's annotations are terrible. His secretary hand is damn near impossible to decipher (for me to decipher at any rate). I'm struggling with his language at all levels: the inidividual letters are tough to recognize, the words are often bizarre since Arundell lacked both standard spelling and a technical vocabulary, and his actual expression is exceedingly odd.
3. He was working without tools. My mind rebels when I read what Arundell wrote. As a trained engineer I want to tell him to back up and do things differently: make some calculations, draw some diagrams, do something--anything--that resembles modern practice. But he doesn't. The one example of a diagram that I have seen is flawed (not uncommon) and Arundell seems to be constantly struggling with his technical vocabulary. He is forced to talke about the "greate wheele" and the "lesser wheele" and, on occassion, the "lanterna." What he lacks, however, is any possible way of stringing all these things together. With the mechanics of Galileo or the later introduction of algebra and number systems, he's stuck. Although familiar with Aristotle's Mechanica, he seems unable of establishing abstract configurations. Indeed, there is no abstract in his work.
4. It's a type of commonplace. There is certain similarities between what Arundell is doing and the creation of commonplace books. In his comments he describes the machines and relates them to what he had seen or done elsewhere. He makes extensive annotations concerning where individual mechanisms appear in other locations in Ramelli's books. In some cases, he refers to other works clearly indicating that he read his Ramelli in conjunction with other books, notably his Besson. He also made annotations in different locations, including the body of the page and on the extra sheets. This process may have some similarities to the contemporary practice of creating commonplace books (see Blair). He also makes notes about other types of things like the names and addresses of various instrument makers or his own experiences with particular machines, notably at Parma.
5. His language is wack. He introduces many of his machines with the very imperious sounding "Hee setteth downe". It's as if God made the machine. There's an odd line here between the mechanism and the creator. After all, he was a Catholic!

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