As recently reported by the BBC, in August, 2011, a significant trove of documents from the first years of the Regal Society of London were found in the attic of a boarding house in Dover. The landlady, 73-year-old Mary Cruce, came into a windfall of almost 800,000 GBP when the papers were auctioned at Sothebys in March, 2012. Among the most surprising discoveries were a handful of verbatim transcripts of presentations on scientific topics given by individual members to the rest of the society. The practice of transcribing oral communication in such detail is otherwise unknown in early modern Europe. The presentation below, delivered by Dr. J. Smith to the Royal Society on June 24, 1686, provides a vivid example of the mundane interactions that took place within this key scientific institution, and confirms beyond any doubt the significance of Ms. Cruce's Discovery.
Dr. Smith: Isaac... Isaac! Get o'er here, you Block-Head. What's that woman doing there? There, next to my Desk?
Isaac: You don’t recall, Sir? 'Tis Mrs. Eulalia Tubbs, from Humane Resources. She is come to ensure you employ the lessons lately taught to you in your Sensitivity Work-Shoppe.
Dr. Smith: My person! You mean, no mention of Half-Wits, Changelings, nor e'en the cul-de-jatte paraded before the Members of our Society February last? You recall, the fellow with-out Arms nor Legges, who roll'd about upon a wheel'd cart?
Isaac: You may mention 'em, Sir. You simply mustn't relish the Mentioning of 'em.
Dr. Smith: Well how can they prohibit that, dear Isaac? I cannot help it if I take delight in my Labours, yea, and in the Advancement of Science. No matter, Isaac. Let us get down to to-day's business. To wit: A Discourse upon Opticks.
Isaac: I believe you are to discourse upon Tartar today, Sir.
Dr. Smith: Tartar, is it? Very well then. Tartar. A Discourse upon Tartar.
Gentle-Men, esteem'd Members of the Society, As is well-known, the Word, Tartar, stems from the Greeke name for Hell, which is Tartaros. The Land of Tartary is so-call’d because the Savages coming therefrom are like unto so many Demons out of Hell. E’en at a great remove they reek of Sulphur and fetid Flesh. They are squat, round-faced, and wear their Hair in a single Plait a-top their Heads, call’d natively a Iuk-Tak, which, being English’d, is a sort of Dread-Lock, yea, or Terrible-Clump, which falls to the side, o’er one of the Ears, and down to the very Waist. This Dreaded Lock is call’d lately a Polish Plait or Plica Polonica (Isaac, by the way, has inform'd me that these Words yield up many note-worthy Results in that ridiculous Search-Engine of his), as many fearsome Tartar Horsemen have lately descended upon Cracow and Vilna, and frighten’d the Christians in those parts with their infernal Odor, their craving for Horse-Blood, and most of all the fus’d Lock of Hair that falls from their Heads, that has over Time not only come together into one great Cord of Hair, but has even transform’d as ‘twere into an Organ of the Body itself, has become one with the Body, whose Blood doth now course through the very Dread-Lock as if this were but another Limb. ‘Tis said that if the Plait be sever’d from a Tartar’s Head, he will die from loss of Blood within the Hour.
Tartary lieth beyond Muscovy, and thus, we may infer, is a Land even fouler, inhabited by Men to whom the Muscovites be regular Gentle-Men by comparison. A Circassian General, whose Name escapeth me for the moment, hath truly said: Scrape a Muscovite, and you will find a Tartar under-neath, by which he intended, that Muscovy be a sort of Buffer ‘twixt the civiliz’d World and the savage, and that as a result the inhabitants there have over Time become what are call’d Mestizo’s or Mongrels… May I say that, Mrs. Tubbs?
Now don’t look so sour, Ma’am. Perhaps I’ve all-together misunderstood the Circassian’s Meaning. For another Theory has it that what was meant was this: When you scrape a Muscovite’s Teeth, you will find yourself with a great quantity of Tartar. Now this dental residue is so-call’d in view of its Likeness unto the Crystals, discover’d anciently in the Alchemick Furnace of the great Geber. These Crystals form in the making of Wine, which the Germans call Wein-Stein and which, when render’d into a Cream, call’d crème de Tartare, is used by Confectioners for the making of sundry Sweets.
It is said that these Crystals of Tartaric acid are lick’d by the savages of Tartary on their long voyages, as the brute Beasts that accompany them might lick upon a Brick of Salt. Some conjecture that it induces in them the wildest Phancies, yea, and Delusions, which only goad them on in their evil Ransackings of Christian towns and Hamlets, causing them to believe that they are become Bears, Wolves, or e’en the very Demons of Tartaros themselves!
Now this Tartar of the Teeth, thus call’d for reasons allready given, may be eliminated by use of a strong Dentifrice. The Saxon courtier Godfrey William von Liebnitz recommends a powder of ground Glossopetrae, which are either Snake’s Tongues or Shark’s Teeth harden’d into Stone, depending upon whom thou believest. But this von Liebnitz is naught but a Charlatan, and whatsoever he hath writ in matters of Dental Hygiene is assuredly to be pay’d no Mind.
What is more certain is that this Tooth-Tartar, as it is call'd, when scrap'd from the Teeth, be used by the Tartars in many recipes and Dishes. From but a tiny Scraping they obtain a great Portion of Salsa tartarica, or what is commonly call'd Tartar Sauce, and is said to be particularly delectable when taken with breaded Fish. This was lately confirmed by the crew-members a-shipboard with Capitain L. J. Silver (himself a Tartar faring from Simferopol), who did consume great quantities of this Tartaric delicacy when voyaging through the Antilles. They ate it not just upon Fish, but also as an accompaniment to pommes-de-terre fried after the French manner, and smear'd upon a fabled maritime delicacy known as a tais-toi-chiot or Hush-Puppie, which be a sort of fried Fish, with-out the Fish.
But the most famous Tartarickal contribution to world cuisine are surely the dishes of Steak, Salmon, and Tunny serv'd up à la Tartare, by which 'tis understood that they are all quite cold and raw, and thus do fail to undergo that basic Transformation by Fire that separates the Food of Men from the Fodder of animals. 'Tis a great question of Natural Philosophy, whether the Gut of Man be naturally suited for the devouring of Flesh. Petrus Gassendus points to the length of the Gut, to argue that we are better outfitted for the Eating of Plants onely. Other Philosophers disagree, yet all concur that if Flesh is to be eaten by Men, then truely, that Flesh must first be cook'd. All concur, that is, but the Tartars and the French-Men. Indeed, in this Respect our Gallic Neighbours differ not at all from the Wild-Men of the Scythian Steppe, being no less Blood-Thirsty and desirous of raw Flesh to gnaw upon, as Wolves, or common Carrion-eaters. They will devour their own Horses quite raw just as happily as if they were eating boeuf (and lately, I am told, Horse-Meat from France has been discover'd on this very Island, hidden in that most English of Dishes, the congelated Lasagne-Pie).
I have lately returned from a visit to the Académie des Sciences of Paris --where I presented a most memorable Rendition of my Discourse upon Opticks-- and did see there for myself great Mounds of coeurs-de-vache or Cow's-Hearts for sale at the out-door Markets, along-side the greyish Curd of cerveaux d'agneau, and the massive black-red foies of unknown Beasts. A French-Man will happily devour all of these before you, raw and unprepar'd, and will look upon you with great Contempt, as a sort of Bump-Kin, if you do not go in with equal Zeal for this Tartarick Feast. Yea, ne'er was I so reliev'd to find myself back at the Old Hogs-Head, dining upon a fine Stew of Beef and Cabbage which, the Inn-Keeper assur'd me, had been a-cooking e'en before I set off across the Channel to Calais, yea, to the Land I should now like to call Tartaria Occidentalis.
Mrs. Tubbs: That will be quite enough, Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith: What's that, then? Do you mean to tell me I mustn't speak ill e'en of the French? Can this be, Isaac? I mean, Heavens! Is nothing sacred?
Isaac: [whispering]: Mrs. Tubbs considers France to be a place of Romance, Sir. I have seen upon her writing Desk fram'd images of Men embracing Women beside the Seine, and a copy of the well-known Book, The French Tongue for Simpletons, Idiots, Cretins, and Half-Wits. I think she's planning a Trip there, Sir.
Dr. Smith [shouting]: Ridiculous! What business could that old Work-Cow have in France?
Mrs. Tubbs: This Discourse upon Tartar is now finish'd, Gentle-Men. Dr. Smith, you will be hearing from Humane Resources again, that much I can assure you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've a Skiff to catch. Isaac, my bags.
Dr. Smith: Isaac? What is this? Where are you going, Isaac? Isaac!
To be continued...