“In an Age of Dissipation and Pleasure…”

“In an Age of Dissipation and Pleasure, when the Instructive Faculties are loosened by Inattention, and the Minds of the People, in a great Measure, too much attached to trifling Novelties, nothing but a Work of extraordinary Merit can reclaim the Attention of the Publick to a Subject of real Utility, wherein Novelty is blended with Instruction, which, at the same Time, amuses the Imagination and gratifies the Judgement.”

No, not a review of this blog, but the preface to an Irish atlas from 1809 by Bernard Scalé, land surveyor. He continues in similar vein…

“… how strange does it seem, that no Man has ever exhibited an actual Survey of this Ancient and of late cultivated fertile Kingdom: yet, when it is considered how few there are capable of the Important Undertaking, the Wonder ceases.”

Whether or not the atlas lives up to its author’s opinion, it is a charming volume. This copy, which I was lucky enough to be given for Christmas, belonged to my late father. Each county of Ireland has a double page spread, with a hand coloured map on the left-hand page and a description of the county on the right. Here is part of the title page:

atlas1The description of each county is mostly factual, giving the numbers of members of Parliament, post-towns and so on. But there is generally a sentence or so of the author’s overall opinion of the county. He is unimpressed by County Kerry: “The Air is wholesome but sharp, and the Soil of some particular Spots fruitful both in Corn & Grass, but great Part of the Country is mountainous, dreary, and almost uninhabited”.

Map of county Kerry

But he likes the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim which is “esteemed to be, unexceptionally, one of the Greatest and most singular Natural Curiosities in the known World”. The spelling on the map “Gyants” is not the same as in the text.

atlas6 Perhaps Scalé reveals his true allegiance in his description of Dublin: “Excepting a Mountainous Tract in the South Part of this County, it is very fertile, abounding in all the Necessaries of Life, and exceeds any other Part of the Kingdom, not only in Populousness, Culture, Trade and Wealth, but Politeness, Elegance, Ingenuity, and every Species of Refinement and Improvement.”

atlas5atlas4This description always pleased my father, a Dubliner.