RATHBORNE, Aaron The Surveyor in foure bookes

London, W. Stansby for W. Burre, 1616


Folio, pp. [xii] 228. Roman letter. Fine, large engraved portrait of Rathborne by Simon de Passe bound at end, engraved title with allegorical figures of Arithmetica and Geometria surmounted by celestial and terrestrial globes and ‘Artifex’ trampling fools and dunces underfoot, and two vignettes of surveyors in the field with their various instruments by W[illiam] H[ole], further engraved portrait of the dedicatee, a young Charles I as Prince of Wales, by F. Delaram. Elaborate woodcut headpieces to opening of each book, geometric woodcut illustrations to text throughout, including a three-quarter page illustration of a quadrant, woodcut initials. The diagram on p 160 is believed to have inspired the configuration of the Pilgrim Land Survey of Cape Cod conducted in 1636. It is now known that Pilgrim William Brewster carried a copy of the Surveyor with him on the Mayflower. O3 is a cancel, fifth line of verso has “58 4/5”. Light dampstaining to lower margin, slight discolouration to upper edge of a few leaves in initial gathering, occasional light thumbmark, paperflaw to outer edge of R3, generally very good. Contemporary vellum over pasteboard, the spine titled in brown ink in a 17th-century hand. A little spotting to outer edge of upper board. Edward Thorne’s contemporary ownership inscription to title, also library of the Earls of Macclesfield, their nineteenth-century armorial bookplate to front pastedown, and armorial blindstamp to title and A3.

FIRST EDITION. A very good copy of “the first comprehensive English textbook on Survey” (Singer, vol. III, p. 541). Rathborne addressed the difficulty for contemporary surveyors of computing the areas of fields and estates. He was an advocate of the new decimal arithmetic introduced by Simon Stevin in 1585, and made use of trigonometry, as well as being a staunch supporter of the then relatively new pocket-tables of logarithms. This is one of the most important works of the new kind of vernacular literature on surveying which began to appear at around this time. These offered practical advice for surveyors ‘in the field’, using relatively straightforward equipment, as opposed to concentrating on fanciful advances in scientific instruments. Rathborne presents the basic principles of geometry, and expounds upon their application, as well as discussing instruments useful to the art of surveying (some of them of his own invention, viz. the ‘peractor’ and the decimal chain, an improved version of which is still in use today), and finally discourses on the legal aspects of survey, thus setting out a comprehensive introduction to the practical process of surveying.

The frontispiece portrait of the author here shows him in 1616 (aged 44), in a high ruff, at a desk holding a compass, with other, simple mathematical instruments in the lower spandrels (Hind II, p. 267). The portrait of the dedicatee, the future Charles I as Prince of Wales, by Francis Delaram, shows the future King wearing an elaborate lace collar, and the order of the garter, with his royal arms beneath.

The stunning title-page engraving by William Hole, an English artist active around this time, and mainly known for his portraits and frontispieces, shows “surveyors at work with theodolite and plane-table, their instruments mounted on tripods…readings are entered in an orderly manner in a field-book and plotting is done with a protractor and a mounted needle for pricking points. A bearing-dial or circle termed a ‘circumferentor’ is also in use, and the particular pattern described includes a table of horizontal equivalents on the alidade”. (ibid., p. 542).

STC 20748; Hind II, p. 267; Johnson 27:15; cf. Taylor, Tudor, pp. 154-5. Not in Alden.
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