Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > The Progress of Science > Intelligence of the Stewarts in Matters Scientific: Charles II and Prince Rupert
  Witches, Astrologers and Alchemists The Marquis of Worcester  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XV. The Progress of Science.

§ 9. Intelligence of the Stewarts in Matters Scientific: Charles II and Prince Rupert.


Whatever were the political and moral deficiencies of the Stewart kings, no one of them lacked intelligence in things artistic and scientific. The pictures at Windsor and at Buckingham palace which the nation owes to Charles I and Charles II are only approached by those it owes to the knowledge and taste of queen Victoria’s consort. At Whitehall, Charles II had his “little elaboratory, under his closet, a pretty place,”  9  and was working there but a day or two before his death, his illness disinclining him for his wonted exercise. The king took a curious interest in anatomy; on 11 May, 1663, Pierce, the surgeon, tells Pepys “that the other day Dr. Clerke and he did dissect two bodies, a man and a woman before the King with which the King was highly pleased.” Pepys also records, 17 February, 1662/3, on the authority of Edward Pickering, another story of a dissection in the royal closet by the king’s own hands.   29
  It has, I think, seldom been pointed out that Charles II’s ancestry accounts for many of his qualities and especially for his interest in science. He was very unlike his father, but his mother was the daughter of a Medici princess, and the characteristics of that family are strongly marked in the “merry monarch.” His gaiety and wit and his skill in money matters when he chose to apply himself, all bring to mind the Italian family from which he sprang.  10    30
  Another royal personage, prince Rupert, “full of spirit and action, full of observation and judgement,” about this time invented his “chemical glasses which break all to dust by breaking off a little small end: which is a great mystery to me.” 11  He had, says Gramont, quelques talens for chemistry and invented a new method for making gunpowder, for making “hails hot” and for boring cannon. His traditional invention of the almost lost art of mezzotint is probably due to the fact that, at an early date, the real inventor, Ludwig von Siegen, explained to him his process and that prince Rupert demonstrated with his own hands this new method of engraving to Evelyn.   31

Note 9. Pepys, 15 Jan., 1669. [ back ]
Note 10. Even the swarthy complexion of Charles II was probably due to his Italian blood, and his fondness for outdoor sports is another trait which is often observed in the Medici themselves. There is an old engraving of a portrait of Lorenzo (d. 1648), the brother of Cosimo II, which shows an astonishing resemblance to Charles II; and it is interesting to remember that Cosimo II earned his chief claim to the gratitude of posterity by his courageous encouragement, protection and support of Galileo, who owed to him the opportunity and means of making his famous astronomical discoveries. [ back ]
Note 11. Pepys, 13 Jan., 1662. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Witches, Astrologers and Alchemists The Marquis of Worcester  
 
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