The Mental World of an Early Modern Virtuoso

In 1663, Martin Lister left his parents’ house in Lincolnshire to study medicine in Montpellier. During his three years in France, he kept a detailed journal in an almanac published as Every Man’s Companion: Or, An Useful Pocket-Book (MS Lister 19, Bodleian). There are other varied and rich referential sources of material about his journey utilised for this website. Another 25 pages of memoirs about Lister’s time in Montpellier also survive (MS Lister 5, Bodleian), as well as Lister’s correspondence. Furthermore, Lister’s travel companion, Phillip Skippon, and his mentor, the botanist John Ray, published accounts of part of their travels.

Lister was one of the more important doctors and virtuosi of his generation. He became a court physician to Queen Anne in 1702, contributed over fifty papers to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for which he served as vice-president., wrote nineteen books on medicine, antiquarianism and natural history, and was the first arachnologist and conchologist, as well as a chemist. Two species of orchids, a spider, and a wrinkle ridge system on the moon have been named in his honour.

Lister’s journal anticipates these accomplishments. Month by month, Lister noted the medical texts he consulted, and in his textbooks, he annotated the recipes given to him when he lodged with an apothecary. He described the personalities and works of luminaries he met in France including Nicolas Steno, Francis Willughby, and John Ray. The pocket book and his memoirs reveal that Lister performed a series of dissections with Steno, as well as going on natural history expeditions with Ray. Lister also regularly went to the salon of Sir Thomas Crew to discuss ornithology, medicine, and literature, mixing with other fellows of Cambridge and English expatriates. As his time in Montpellier was part of his education as a gentleman, Lister visited gardens and libraries in Paris, and made observations of French manufacturing methods, viniculture, literature and drama, and rules of politesse and art connoisseurship.

This site, authored by Dr Anna Marie Roos, housed at the History Faculty at the University of Oxford, and funded by the British Academy, maps stages of his journey from England to Montpellier and back via Paris documenting them photographically. The images of landscape, natural history specimens, and museums and artifacts were conceived as a form of humanistic fieldwork, allowing us to reconstruct the mental world of the early modern virtuoso.

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