Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Emery Molyneux, Cartographer


Imagine never having seen a globe before. It had only just been "proved" after all, that the earth was not flat. Thankfully the cartography business was in its prime. Maps, after all, were constantly changing. Emery Molyneux is commonly credited with being the first English Globe-maker. The picture is one of the four known surviving globes he created.

A globe is one of the first learning devices I remember, and our poor globe received a lot of harsh treatment. We had gotten it second-hand at a garage sale to begin with. (Later, my sister and I took great joy in noting all of the details that had changed since the globe was created, especially in Africa and Asia.) And that globe was only 20 years old. We used to spin it (as everyone is tempted to do when they see a globe.), and then jab it with a finger and then try to find that location in our (also secondhand) Encyclopedia Brittanica. It was such joy and adventure to find out about the lands and oceans on the globe, figure out how far things were from home, and talk about where we wanted to go "someday."

Molyneux by trade was a creator of mathematical and navigational equipment, and so was aquainted with the greatest explorers of his age; Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were among them. Eventually one of these explorers got some financing and suggested Molyneux be chosen to work on the project of creating a "round map" of the world as they knew it.

I know there must be a lot of math involved in a task like that, and so it wouldn't be for me. But I can imagine Molyneux lying awake at night after a week's work on the north edge of the continent of Asia, wondering about what was really there. I can imagine him being driven crazy by the insanity of the sharp phalanges of the Norwegian fjordlands, and trying to decide where, exactly, to show the border between the Dutch Lowlands and the Ocean.

Somewhere, in the middle of that task, he must have stopped now and then to think about what he was really doing...bordering, defining the world to a greater extent than had ever been done.

But then, maybe not. Not many of us stop in our daily life to really think about how our work may or may not create a great difference in the world. At least I don't. I wish my work to make a difference, but until something breaks in and reminds me, like a customer's story that the product I help to create and support in a small way has somehow facilitated life-change somewhere else in the world.

I wonder how Emery Molyneux felt, standing on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, looking toward America or Europe or other continents unknown to him that he still had somehow bound up into a map and made accessible for many more people to understand. I stood on the edge of the Pacific tonight (well, Puget Sound, actually) and looked out toward the lights of the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.

Many people feel more peaceful at the sight of the ocean, but I always feel more restless here at the edge of opportunity and endless change. The mountains are stability; there I can let go and focus on what's in front of me. But standing in front of the ocean reminds me of all that I have not done and all the places I want to be. This September I spent a weekend at a cabin on an island in Puget sound, and it was one of the most beautiful places I've been in my whole life. There was a little natural jetty of ocean rocks that changed with the tides. Hidden when the water came up the beach at high tide, by the time I woke in the morning I would look out the window over my mug of coffee and see it curving gracefully to the left, pointing out to the curve of bayshore that sheltered our cove. In the afternoon, the water had acted upon it again, and the gravel spit now looked like a loop of rocks, and it curved to the right. By sunset, it was nearly covered over again by rose-and-gold colored liquid, just a tiny, straight jetty pointing out the sunset ferry lazily gliding back to the mainland. It's like that with water...you can't look away because you know you're always going to be missing something, some possibility that will act upon and influence you permanently.

I wonder if Molyneux felt like that about oceans after he bordered them all with fine black lines and labels.

3 comments:

Carlos said...

I very much enjoyed that post. There is something that the sea awakens in all of us. In particualr, I think the Pacific Ocean does something for Americans who have always move west in search of oppurtunity. Again, from a fellow map lover, I enjoyed the post.

chris preece said...

from chris.

I have the privilege of being a steward at Petworth house in Sussex, England. In ournorth gallery we have the oldest "Great Globe" (2ft 1 in in diameter)in existence ( made in 1592) by Emery Molyneux, bought by the "Wizard" (9th) Earl of Northumberland. It is one of only 6 extant Great Globes, and for what it is, is also in the best condition of any. This earl was in the Tower of london in the "cell" (6 plush rooms!) next to Sir Walter Raleigh (a close lifelong friend)who helped the Earl buy it from Molyneux. I could go on ........come and see it

jana.kaye said...

Thank you so much for finding and commenting on this, Chris!

How fascinating that you have one of the globes there, I will definitely keep that in mind if I am able to get over to the UK anytime soon!

I have an acquaintance who recently visited Petworth, I believe. I'll have to ask him if he was able to see the Globe.

Thanks again! I love the small bit of history you've included...I have so many questions now!

Jana