Nicolaus Copernicus – Heretic or Devotee?

Post by David Rinehart.

Do you remember when you learned that the planets in the solar system orbit the Sun? No? Yeah, me neither. It’s always been a fact of life for me. I’d say that for nearly all of us that is the case. I do recall when I learned that there was a time in which people thought the universe revolved around the Earth. The Geocentric theory. I cannot say exactly when I learned about this historical perspective of humanity’s place within the stars, but I suspect it was in primary school.

Do you remember who was responsible for this paradigmatic shift in thought where the heliocentric theory became as commonplace as the sky being blue? It was Copernicus. I’d say that while some of us may recall his name from memory, many of us at least recognize his name.

What if I told you that the very book in which the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus established the heliocentric theory is available as a second edition in our very own Russell Library?

Amazed, I wonder? Because I sure was! A unique aspect of working in a library with tens of thousands of books is that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually know every single book in the collection. You have catalogues and systems by which to maintain the collection and keep it safe. But it is nearly humanly impossible to know every single item within the library, especially only a year or two into the job. So, we rely on colleagues, especially scholars and researchers who come in to view the materials, to key us into the treasures we have on the shelves.

I remember perfectly the day in which one of our frequent readers, a history of maths researcher, came into the library to do some research on several mathematics and physics texts essential to the history of Mathematics, and brought out the De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI (Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs). When he asked me to pull this book out, I did a double-take and asked him at least twice if we really had the very text Copernicus wrote to establish the heliocentric theory. Yes, indeed we did and do.

The text we hold is a second edition copy, printed in Basel in 1566. What’s more is that there are a known 277 copies of the first edition and a known 324 copies of the second edition in existence today, making this quite a gem.

We know this is a second edition for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, the second edition was printed in Basel by Henric Petrina. Evidence of this is found on the title page where we see the stunning printer’s mark unique to this Basel based printer with the text underneath, “BASᴁL, EX OFFICINA HENRICPETRINA”. Because we know that the second edition was printed by Henric Petrina, which is a different printer from the first and subsequent editions,

this text is indeed a second edition printed in 1566. Further, the printers also stamped the date of print, September of 1566, in the back of the book as well.

An interesting bit of debated history is the belief by storytellers of differing professions, myself included until very recently, that Copernicus was shunned by the Catholic Church for his ‘radical’ theory. However, many researchers have noted that this was not, in fact, the case. They state as evidence that Copernicus was devout to the church and in fact, the forward by Andreas Osiander, defending Copernicus’ work, was dedicated to the Pope at the time, Pope Paul III. Osiander states,

As you can see with this snippet of the forward, the theories and maths were presented with the utmost care to not be offensive or heretical. In fact, Osiander states that the heliocentric theory as it was presented was not to be believed as fact, but only as a tool for calculations until a better theory could fit in its place. This introduction of Copernican theories as purely hypothetical actually kept the book off the Index of Prohibited Books until the next century.

I would like to now shift your attention back to the book in question

to the stunning engraving on page 9, the diagram of the heavenly bodies, or what we now-a-days call planets and their orbits around the Sun. This diagram encapsulates a period of history in which there was a paradigmatic shift in which our understanding of our place in the cosmos dramatically changed.

To quote the amazing Dr. Elizabeth Boyle in an interview on the Library Treasures Podcast,

We fundamentally cannot get back into the mindset of a world before all of the things that have revolutionised our understanding of where the Earth sits in relation to the Solar System, the Universe – where humans sit in relation to evolution and so on. There have been fundamental shifts.

Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Boyle – Part 2

In part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Boyle, we talk more about her book Fierce Appetites, her research, and the library spaces and collections at Maynooth University and St. Patrick’s College Maynooth.

‘We have deceived the senate’: The Trial of Reverend William Jackson, 30th April 1795.

By Ruairí Nolan, Library Assistant with Engagement and Information Services.

The Russell Library carries a great deal of invaluable documentation from the late eighteenth century. This is particularly true of items concerning the 1798 Rebellion and the run up to it. One can find works by Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Edmund Burke (1730-97), Richard Musgrave (1746-1818) and many more. One name that stood out to me while doing research in the Russell was that of Rev. William Jackson (1737-95). I found summaries of proceedings for the trial in the form of pamphlets from 1795 which included transcripts but also a published book from 1845 by Thomas MacNevin (1814-48). MacNevin’s account notably takes from the summarised accounts with a bit more substance added – whether from other unknown sources or historical hagiography, is unclear.

The anniversary of the trial was yesterday and took place at the bar of the King’s Bench in Ireland. He was a man that led the life of a reverend in the Church of England, a journalist, a courtier to aristocracy and spy for the French Committee of Public Safety. In 1794 Jackson was caught and arrested on charges of high treason for passing on documents which proved the existence of a French mission to gauge public opinion in Britain and Ireland for armed revolution. The sentence for high treason was the death penalty, meaning the forfeiture of his estate to the government upon his death, something Jackson could not stomach – among other things.

Jackson was a man known for his self-dramatizing appetite for life, embedding himself in the controversial life of the Duchess of Kingston and engaging in a journalistic debate with Samuel Foote, a fight which cost him his job. What stands out the most about Jackson’s trial and MacNevin’s account of such, is Jackson’s continued flair for the dramatics right up until the end of his life. Jackson was found guilty on the morning of April 24th and his date of sentencing set for the following week.

While imprisoned, Jackson at no point showed regret or concern for his fate – he simply accepted it and understood that what he did was the right thing to do. So, eyebrows were raised when on 30th April there were reports of him vomiting from the carriage on the way to the courthouse and looking ill, sweating profusely and steam rising from his head.             


Newgate Prison, Dublin

To many it had seemed that he had begun to reconsider the consequences of his actions, but MacNevin records it in a different light: ‘He beckoned to his counsel to approach him…and uttered in a whisper, and with a smile of mournful triumph, the dying words of Pierre, ‘We have deceived the senate’’. This reference, a call back to the last words uttered by Pierre in Thomas Otway’s play Venice Preserv’d, a conspirator against the state who kills himself before the government can reach him. Otway’s production, from the Restoration Era, was particularly controversial in 1790s Britain for its overt radical political imagery – a somewhat fitting reference for Jackson to make.

As Jackson’s lawyers haggled over the formalities of proceedings, he started to become visibly more distraught. Eventually he was heard groaning aloud and clutching at his sides in pain – forcing prosecutors to call a doctor to the bench, almost immediately pronouncing Jackson dead.

As Jackson had passed before a formal sentencing was handed down to him, all his property and wealth was left to be inherited by his family, as opposed to the state. It was found that he had intentionally ingested a lethal amount of metallic poison, but how and by whom, was never concluded. The details of this trial are incredible to follow, and the pamphlets detailing the trial provide a great amount of detail and I can’t recommend visiting the Russell Library to read them more.


The trial of the Rev. William Jackson, at the bar of the King’s Bench in Ireland, for high treason, on Thursday the 23rd of April, 1795 By William Sampson

A full report of all the proceedings on the trial of the Rev. William Jackson, : at the bar of His Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench, Ireland, on an indictment for high treason. Collected from the notes of William Ridgeway, William Lapp, and John Schoales, Esqrs. barristers at law

The life and trials of Archibald Hamilton Rowan, the Rev. William Jackson, the Defenders, William Orr, Peter Finnerty, and other eminent Irishmen By Thomas McNevin

The Irish Race Congress 1922

Ciara Joyce, Archivist

On the 21st of January 1922, on the third anniversary of the establishment of Dáil Éireann and the Irish Republic, the Irish Race Congress took place in a Paris hotel.

Proceedings of the Irish Race Congress, Issued by Fine Ghaedheal Secretariat

This eight-day congress, attended by delegates from seventeen countries, was first mooted by representatives of the Irish Republican Association of South Africa and organised by the Irish Self-Determination League of Great Britain with support from the Dáil cabinet.

The purpose  of the congress was political, but it also sought to showcase highlights from Irish culture. Its objectives included:

‘1. To put a stop to the  excesses of the British troops in Ireland by securing their withdrawal.

2. To secure the International Recognition of the Irish Republic, and to afford moral and material assistance to the Irish Government.

3. To form a centre and rallying point for those members of the Irish Race throughout the world who feel the humiliation of the continued subjection of their motherland and recognise that to free Ireland is to exalt the status of the Irish Race in every land where it has found a home’.

Attendees at the Irish Race Congress, Paris, 1922

The congress was organised over the course of a year but its timing in January 1922 was unfortunate. The Treaty was signed on the 6th of December 1921 and ratified by the Dáil on the 7th of January. It was agreed that the congress should go ahead but a deeply divided delegation left from Ireland, the majority of which were anti-treaty republicans led by Éamon DeValera.

Some of the delegates at the Congress, 1922

England sent the largest number of delegates to the congress, but attendees also travelled from Scotland, Wales, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, France, Belgium, Spain and from Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico.

Among the delegation that attended from Scotland was Henry Warren Hutchinson, whose son was the Irish poet Pearse Hutchinson. Among Hutchinson’s archive held by Special Collections & Archives, are several items his father kept regarding his attendance at the congress including letters, photographs, notes and the published proceedings of events. He was conscious of the tensions between the pro and anti-treaty delegates, as all the attendees must have been. In a letter sent to his wife Cailtín, Henry wrote that:

‘somehow I feel that the conference is not a success – the treaty has knocked it out of gear’.

The congress’s main outcome was the establishment of Fine Ghaedheal, an organisation intended to represent Irish people throughout the world. De Valera was elected as Chairman of the organisation, with a committee made up of republican representatives only. Hutchinson, despite his reflection on the success of the congress, was delighted to be elected to the executive committee, writing to his wife:

Postcard from Henry Warren Hutchinson to his wife Caitlín McElhinney, January 1922

‘I have had a great honour in being elected one of the members of the Executive Committee for the Irish Race Convention out of representatives of 24 nations’

he also adds that:

‘we had a great fight -they were fighting & we were fighting, it was glorious but we beat them, it became evident from one or two test points that we were the stronger and after several attempts to defeat Dev -they gave in & he was elected unanimously’ .

His own admiration of De Valera is very clear, he writes:

‘everyone admits De Valera is the greatest man in the world & certainly there never was a more loved & honoured leader’.

Invitation to the Irish Art Exhibition at the Galerie Barbazanges, Paris, 1922

The cultural aspects of the congress were very successful, with lectures on Irish art and literature by W.B. and Jack B. Yeats, a talk on the Gaelic League by Douglas Hyde, an Irish traditional music concert and an exhibition of Irish art at the Galerie Barbazanges, where three hundred paintings and sculptures were displayed.

Fine Ghaedheal, failed to secure financial backing from the Provisional Government, and faded into obscurity. By the end of June 1922, the Irish Civil War had begun.

For more information or to access this collections please contact Special Collections & Archives at or (01) 474 7423

His Feathered Friends: The Birds of Edward Lear

By Audrey Kinch, Special Collections and Archives

As the seasons move onwards, once again we go from winter to spring.  Therefore, with the beauty of nature’s colour in mind, this month’s blog post is inspired by a glorious item from our Special Collections at Maynooth University Library

Figure 1. dust jacket image from ‘The Birds of Edward Lear’

The book is titled ‘The Birds of Edward Lear’ from the English artist, illustrator, and poet Edward Lear (1812-1888), with an introduction by Adrian Thorpe, editor.  It is in large format and contains 12 colour illustrations of birds both common to our lands, such as the pheasant, and the more exotic blue and yellow macaw.  Additional illustrations are of the eagle, snowy and barred owls, a solan gannet and the Guinness mascot – a red-billed toucan.  Published in London by The Ariel Press in 1975, the book was bound and printed by K.G. Lohse of Frankfurt. 

Born in the suburb of Holloway in London, Edward Lear was the second youngest of 21 children to parents Ann and Jeremiah Lear.  Many of his siblings did not survive beyond infancy. Lear himself lived to 75; however his health was delicate throughout his life, he had poor eyesight and suffered respiratory problems.  His father was a stockbroker by profession, however over time the family underwent financial hardship. They were divided and had to rent out their home. 

Lear’s elder sister Ann acted as a maternal figure for him from this time (she devoted her life to his care) and they took lodgings off the Gray’s Inn Road.  She tutored the young Lear and encouraged his talent in drawing and painting.  By the time he was 16, Lear was able to support them both by selling miscellaneous sketches.  He progressed to anatomical drawings and later to illustrations for natural history books.  In 1832, a volume of 12 folio lithographic prints of parrots was printed titled ‘Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae’. 

Figure 2. Blue and Yellow Macaw

Lear’s work was noticed by Edward Stanley, thirteenth Earl of Derby (1775-1851), who was looking for an artist to draw the animals he held in his menagerie at Knowsley in Lancashire.  Lear accepted the offer and he resided in Knowsley Hall while he undertook the work.  His time spent there would prove to be the formation of his career and Lear was popular with the children and adults alike.  He not only produced drawings for entertainment, but Lear also composed poetry and improvised on the piano to everyone’s delight. 

Lear received patronage from the Lord Stanley, and he encountered many aristocrats who purchased his paintings and subsequently gave him access to a high level of society. In 1837 with failing eyesight and respiratory issues, Lear could not continue his natural history paintings. Lord Stanley provided funds, made introductions, and set Lear up in Rome to enable him to continue his career through landscape painting.

Figure 3. Common Pheasant

Lear stayed in Italy for 10 years and he made close friends there.  In 1846 he published a book of the limerick verse form ‘A Book of Nonsense’ with his illustrations includedAfter spending some time travelling to India and Ceylon, Lear returned to England in 1849 and there he met Alfred (1809-1892) and Emily (1813-1896) Tennyson.  Lear had admired Tennyson’s poetry, he set some pieces to music, and he also did illustrations of Tennyson’s works. 

In 1855 Lear left England and set up home in Corfu.  He then travelled throughout the Mediterranean and he returned to England numerous times.  His only constant companions were his trusted manservant, Giogio and his beloved cat Foss.

The warm reception he received on the publication of his poems bemused Lear as he always aspired to gain reputation as a painter; he viewed nonsense poems as a source of amusement and income.  Published in 1870, ‘Nonsense songs’ were longer poems with more realistic characterisation.  The characters in the book are animals and they undertake a journey; ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat go to sea, in a beautiful pea-green boat.’ 

Figure 4. Snowy Owl

Lear’s health slowly deteriorated, and he passed away on the 29th of January 1888.

His nonsense poems are still enjoyed by children to this day and collections of his paintings and illustrations are housed in the Houghton Library at Harvard and the British Museum amongst others.  His book ‘The birds of Edward Lear: a selection of the 12 finest bird plates of the artist’ will be on display during March in the exhibition case outside the Special Collections and Archives reading room, Level 2 in the John Paul II Library. 

Lastly, a note of thanks to Gretchen Allen for her conservation work preparing the book to go on display.


Hark, Ina Rae.  ‘Edward Lear (12 May 1812-29 January 1888)’, Dictionary of Literary Biography

Graziosi, Marco, ‘Edward Lear: A Life in Pictures’ (Gale Literature Resource Center, European Comic Art, 09/2019, vol. 12, Issue 2)

Noakes, Vivien, ‘Lear, ‘Edward (1812-1888), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Images from Wikimedia Commons

Tags:  Maynooth University Library, Special Collections, birds, Edward Lear, Alfred Tennyson, German publisher, lithography, nonsense poetry

A Billiard Connoisseur? An 1806 analysis of the game by An Amateur

Susan Durack, Special Collections and Archives

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Tilte-page of pamphlet held in Russell Library, Maynooth University

On a recent browse through the Pamphlet Collection held in the Russell Library at Maynooth University I came across a curious and somewhat long title.

 “A philosophical essay on the game of billiards: wherein the theory is minutely examined upon physical principles; and familiarly exhibited by easy transitions from causes to effects: With plates illustrating the several propositions advanced and the practice shewn in all its variety with copious observations and directions”.   

Who would write such a pamphlet? We are none the wiser, as the author signs himself “An Amateur” on the title page and ends the essay as “Philobill”. Printed in Bath by W. Meyer and sold by G. Robinson, of the same city in 1806, the fifty-nine page pamphlet is followed by a four-page appendix and two fold out diagrammatic sheets, which are referenced throughout the main text.

One can only imagine the difficulty in describing the intricacies of the game, in an interesting way, without the benefit of modern technology and commentary that we enjoy today. Such was the problem for Philobill in 1860.  He does not make it easy for the reader and in fact describes whom this essay will not benefit…

“The perusal of the following pages will not be of any use to a good player” as practice and experience are indispensable.  Neither does he suggest that the novice will derive much advantage from it as a course of instruction, as liking the activity, tops reading technical instruction.  But he says, it may be useful to those “inquisitive travellers” who when encouraged to play, “may be better accommodated on the road to Science” in linking cause and effect and Nature’s Laws and therefore the essay “cannot be charged as useless”.

The scientific and verbose language of the text is accompanied by two fold out diagramatic sheets that are intended to help our understanding, but as you will see from the text below, it takes some effort on the part of the reader.

“The progressive motion takes place with the middle point at both ends of the cue, and the centre of the ball make part of a right line at the time of impulse; and if this position be also parallel with the table, as a, (see Fig1) it will be smoothest, lightest, and the least impeded.  For such the cue be pointed downwards, as in b, the motion of the ball mush be partly destroyed by the reaction of the table; and, if pointedopwards, as in c, or anywhere else, the power of gravity would be more directly in opposition to it….”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is billiards-diagram-1-2.jpg
Diagram of Fig 1. of text

He notes that Chance is the “common enemy of bad players” but the writer does not wish to have it taken from the game but to confine it “within due and reasonable bounds”. While games of judgement are sources of amusement and may be down to expertise and skill, the writer warns “those merely of chance” never can and man’s exalted nature becomes inactive and he falls for the “favours of that capricious deity who presides”.

There were two contrasting reviews of the essay in periodicals of the day.  John Richards Green (1758-1818) in The Anti-Jacobin Review and Protestant Advocate: Or, monthly political and literary Censor (Vol. 26, 1806) stated, “This is not merely a curious and ingenious, but a truly scientific essay of the Game” and “we conclude that the author be not only an amateur but a connoisseur. While the essaywill not be a pleasing study to novices or to players, who have made certain progress in the knowledge of the Game but it affords both amusement and instruction”.

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) editor of The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature (Vol. 10, 1807) states that the author “has better claim which he gives himself at the end of his treatise (Philobill) than that of philosopher to which he seems to aspire in his title page”. The review questions who this essay is for, if not the experienced player or novice.  It goes on “a more flimsy performance we have rarely seen” and that the author should “take his cue, and give up authorship”

Both critics agree in their observations on the author’s assertion as to who would not benefit from this essay.

Some facts about Billiards: Billiards evolved from a lawn game similar to Croquet, played in the 15th century in Northern Europe, probably France. Kings and commoners played it alike.  The term billiard is derived from the French word “billart” meaning wooden stick or “bille” meaning ball. The first Billiard Room was built in England in 1785, which was a table with one pocket and four balls. Billiards was the inspiration of the development of snooker and other pool games played today.

For more on the history of billiards, click here.

Fold-out showing various diagrams in relation to the text.

Cosmography: First mention of California and Australia in print

By Adam Staunton, Special Collections & Archives

Peter Heylin

Cosmography in Four Books: Containing the Chorography and History of the Whole World (1652) is an attempt by Peter Heylin to describe in immaculate detail everything known about the world, including its cultures, religions, politics, customs and geography. Heylin was enrolled in Magdalen College at Oxford University in 1615 and by 1617 had already graduated with a B.A and begun lecturing with the school of Geography. By 1620 he completed his M.A and published his lectures, Microcosmos: a Little Description of the Great World and presented the same to Prince Charles in 1621. His continued loyalty to the Monarchy would cause Heylin a great deal of trouble during The English Civil Wars (1642-1651). His home was attacked by Parliamentarian troops, he narrowly escaped the siege of Oxford and was later forced into hiding. It wasn’t until the Restoration of 1660 that Heylin was restored to his position as sub-dean of Westminster, presenting the royal sceptre to King Charles II at his coronation.

Cosmography is one of Heylin’s most important works. It is the first print mention of California, Australia and the Tierra del Fuego province of Argentina. California is described in book four, part two, The Chorography and History of America and all the Principal Kingdoms, Provinces, Seas and Iles thereof. Heylin starts his description by objecting to the name given to the continent. America was named after Amerigo Vespucci who sailed from Spain to the Gulf of Mexico, then was the first to travel as far as to Brazil and back to Haiti. Heylin argues that Christopher Columbus and John Cabot “led the way” and “touched many places” but that Vespucci did not. Heylin suggests the names “Columbana” or “Cabotia” and refers to Vespucci only as “an adventurous Florentine” and not by name.

Map one of North America first showing California attached to mainland North America

California at this time was believed to be an Island, with the Gulf of California separating it from mainland Mexico, as Heylin notes: “acceptation of it to an Island, as now it is generally conceived to be.”  Although one map in the chapter shows California attached to mainland North America while a second shows it as an island. He goes on to describe California as “very plain, of few trees, nor much of people.” California is broken down into four different provinces, Quivira to the North, Cibola in the South, New Albion to the North West and California as the remaining part. Each with its own climate, food sources and descriptions of its indigenous people. Their religions, clothing, language and first interactions with Spanish or English travellers are described in great detail by Heylin. For example Englishmen had been kidnapped by the Tartary of Quebec who are described as “near neighbours” of the indigenous people of Quivira, only known to be “apparelled in bull skins from head to feet.” While in New Albion, Englishmen were gifted feathers and bull skins by its indigenous people upon landing.

Map two showing the Isle of California as described by Heylin

Terra Australis Incognita is briefly described in An Appendix to the Former Work Endeavouring a Discovery of the Unknown Parts of the World. Heylin notes that mariners travelling along the Cape of Good Hope have noted cold winds coming from the South. Heylin argues that wind blows colder from land than it does from sea, thus there must be a new land mass to the south of Good Hope. This land mass “of glory (and) enough to satisfy the hungry appetite of any Empire” had gone undiscovered as Princes are “engaged in wars and other such avocations” while merchants are busy in their “wealthy factories.”  Terra Australis would end up being Antarctica as we know it today, hence the cold wind theory. While Australia as we know it today was originally named New Holland and it wasn’t until Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the continent in 1803 that he suggested the name Terra Australis, 150 years after it appeared in print in Cosmography.

Cosmography was the last work Heylin could complete by himself before becoming blind. By 1660 he couldn’t read or write and could only make out shapes. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, under his own choir stall after being visited in a dream by King Charles I who told him “Peter, I will have you buried under your own seat in church, for you are rarely seen but there or at your study.” Further reading on the life of Peter Heylin and his relationship with both King Charles I and II can be found in the Russell Library. Cosmography was recently viewed in the Russell Library by Maynooth University president Professor Eeva Leinonen, accompanied by The Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Gary Gray.