The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 11, 2016

July 11, 1603

Kenelm Digby (July 11, 1603 to June 11, 1665) still had a wet nurse when his father was beheaded for treason against the English throne. This did not rule out Kenelm Digby being a diplomat and Stuart stalwart during the later civil war. Under the monarchical system of government personal relations were everything, and these relations certainly prized family and history; the Digbys were an old family. It is especially hard for us now to reconstruct the power relations among noble families, but that helps explains Digby's prominence. He was also an exemplar of the gentleman scientist that flowered before the rigidities of modern positivism settled onto the modern mind. Again, an obstacle to appreciating the accomplishments of Sir Kenelm Digby. 

Following is an example of the 17th century empirical method.

In his book, Two treatises: in the one of which, the nature of bodies; in the other, the nature of mans soule, is looked into: in way of discovery of the immortality of reasonable soules 
(1645), Digby is, at one point, concerned to explicate the "the opinion that the seed contains every part of the parent." 

Now it is evident that this superfluidity cometh from all parts of the body, and maybe said to contain in it... the perfection of the whole living creature...Be it how it
will, it is manifest that the 'living creature‘ is made of this substance moisture of the parent: which, according to the opinion of some, being compounded of several parts derived from the several limbs of the parent; those parts when they come to be
fermented in convenient heat and moisture....grow... daily greater and solider, ...
[and] do at the length become such a creature as that Was, from whence they had their origine.....

...[A]n accident that I remember, seemeth much to confirm [this]. It was of a cat that [had its].... tail cut off when it was very young: which cat happening afterwards to have young ones half the kitlings proved without tails, and the other half had them in an ordinary manner; as if nature could supply but one partners side, not...both.

.....[And so] it happeneth that the deficiencies or excellences of the parent's body are often seen in their children.

The staggering fact of inheritability is what Digby is focusing on, with the tools
at his disposal: an intense attention to detail, a faith in the naturalness of the physical world, and a delight in human knowledge.

In a world without a divine order to rely on for explaining the details of our world, the natural processes must be traced out. 

Sir Kenelm Digby lived before that divide of thinker and doer. He was a excellent swordsman, and a naval commander as well as confidante of royalty.  He was good friends with Thomas Hobbes, Ben Jonson, and Anthony Van Dyck. He conversed with Descartes.
Evidence of his contributions is that he was one of the founders of the Royal Society.

It is the summation of Paul S. McDonald that Digby's Two Treatises, which we excerpted above, "is the first comprehensive philosophical work in the English language." We certainly cannot fault Digby for not knowing about Manx cats.


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