Rational Recreations

One of the best things about The Osborne Collection is how accessible the collection’s rare books are to the general public. I recently studied the four volumes of Rational Recreations, by William Hooper. At 234 years old, they are in excellent condition. The book is out of copyright and it can be found online, but it is much more interesting to study the originals, especially in this case because the volumes at The Osborne Collection contain sixty-five engraved plates by John Lodge, and all but four of them are hand-coloured.

The full title is long and descriptive, which was typical for the time. Rational Recreations: in which the Principals of Numbers and Natural Philosophy are clearly and copiously elucidated, by a series of Easy, Entertaining, Interesting Experiments. Among which are All those commonly performed with the cards. Some of the experiments are fairly straightforward and in the process, they teach children (and adults) about mathematics and natural philosophy, as the title states.

I had some trouble finding information about Dr. William Hooper, but I did find that in 1755 he translated Nouvelles Recreations Physiques et Mathematiques, by Edme-Gilles Guyot. He credits Guyot for many of the figures and experiments included in Rational Recreations and he specifically acknowledges  Giambattista della Porta (1535-1615) and  Jacques Ozanam (1640-1718) for many of the ‘recreations’ included in the book.

Hooper says that although the work is, “in general, a compilation, some original experiments will be here found…The principal of each science are, moreover, here laid down in a few plain aphorisms, such as require no previous knowledge, and very little capacity or attention to comprehend…” (Vol. 1, i-ii). Although the experiments he includes are entertaining and interesting, I wouldn’t say that they are all easy, or safe. For this reason, I wouldn’t say it was specifically a book for children, as you will see below.

The Catapulta & The Sailing Chariot

Volume I: Page 200, Plate IX.

Figure One – The Catapulta. ABCD, the frame in which the arrows are placed; EF the spring by which they are forced out. G the post to which the rope that bonds the springs are fastened.

Figure Two – The sailing chariot; AB the body of the chariot; CD the sails; E the rudder, guided by the man at the helm A.

A Carriage To Go Without Any External Force

The footman is technically inside the carriage, so I suppose the name is accurate.

Volume I: Page 196, Plate VIII

Figure One – A carriage to go without any external force. ABCD, the figure of the carriage, with the person who rides in it, and the footman who drives it.

Figure Two – represents the machinery by which it is moved, and which is concealed in a box behind the carriage. CD are two treadles behind that are pushed down alternatively by the man behind the carriage, and by means of the ropes. CA, DA, turn the wheels HH, which being fixed on the frame axis with the great wheels II, turn them also.

A Carriage To Sail Against the Wind & The Univertable Carriage

Volume I: Page 206, Plate X

Figure One – A carriage to sail against the wind. ABCD the body of the carriage; M the mast; GEFH the sails; K the cog-wheel, that takes the teeth placed perpendicular to the sides of the fore-wheels; R the rudder by which it is guided.

Figure Two – The uninvertible carriage. AB the body of the carriage; C the weight by which it is always kept upright. FGDE are iron circles in which it moves; P the door; O the window, and QR the shafts.

The Magician’s Box

Volume III: Page 232, Plate XVIII

Figure One – The magicians box. AB is the base of the box in the top of which is a hole E, about the size of a card: in this base is placed the circle of OP, figure three, that has five cards painted on it; containing a magnet QR, and is movable on a pivot.

Figure Two – the body of the box, which consists of four inclined panes of glass; and in a hole at the top is fixed a convex lens. This box is placed on the magnetic table, by which either of the cards on the circle are brought under the hole.

Figure Four – The mystical dial: this dial is divided into ten equal parts and its centre is a touched needle, which is regulated by the magnetic table.

Figure Five – The box for the intelligent fly. At the centre of the box is a pivot, on which is placed a touched needle L, that has at one end of it an enameled fly: over this is placed the pasteboard circle ABCD, on which ten letters are written.

Volume One contains an inserted advertisement (between pages viii and iv) for the instruments and machines needed to perform some of the experiments in the book, sold by George Adams at the time of publishing. It says he is “the only person who makes them under the author’s inspection.” Unfortunately, you cannot find any such equipment at The Osborne Collection, but you can find the original instructions and coloured diagrams for making your own.

All photos were taken at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library:

1. Hooper, William. Rational Recreations: in which the Principals of Numbers and Natural Philosophy are clearly and copiously elucidated, by a series of Easy, Entertaining, Interesting Experiments. Among which are All those commonly performed with the cards.Vol. 1. London: L. Davis, Holborn; J. Robson, New Bond-Street; B. Law, Avemary-lane; and G. Robinson, Pater-noster-row, 1774.

2. Hooper William. Rational Recreations: in which the Principals of Numbers and Natural Philosophy are clearly and copiously elucidated, by a series of Easy, Entertaining, Interesting Experiments. Among which are All those commonly performed with the cards. By W. Hooper, M.D. Vol. 3. London: L. Davis, Holborn; J. Robson, New Bond-Street; B. Law, Avemary-lane; and G. Robinson, Pater-noster-row, 1774.

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1 Comment

Filed under Mel Rhodes Gray

One response to “Rational Recreations

  1. Ruth

    You really must take me to see this Osborne Collection March Break or in the summer. What are the consequences for trying to smuggle in a bag of Cheetos to eat while you flip through the pages of these rare books?

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