chapter  7
26 Pages

Patronizing, Publishing and Perishing: Harriot’s Lost Opportunities and His Lost Work ‘Arcticon’

During the 1580s, Thomas Harriot compiled an advanced work on navigation called ‘Arcticon’. Like all of his mathematical work, it remained in manuscript, and it was one of the manuscript works that are now lost. John Roche has stated that, had it been published, it ‘would have had an immediate impact on western navigation and established Harriot internationally as a navigation expert’.1 By contrast, Harriot’s close contemporary Edward Wright achieved in the seventeenth century the level of international recognition as a practical mathematician that Harriot’s brilliance deserved but did not receive. Wright’s fame rested, and rests, on a treatise very similar to the lost ‘Arcticon’, his Certaine errors in navigation, of which the first of several editions was printed in London in 1599. Mark Monmonier considers that ‘[i]f Thomas Harriot had been as eager to publish, Edward Wright might be no better known today than Abraham Kendall or Henry Bond’.2 In this chapter I will analyse and compare the fortunes of Harriot and Wright and their navigational treatises. I do so with specific attention to two factors: the system of early modern patronage within which both men worked and the vagaries of publishing at the time, where manuscript circulation still vied with printed editions. My revisionist conclusions are that Harriot’s lack of publications was normal, whilst Wright’s monumental publication was an accident of history.