This first full-length biography of Dr. Martin Lister (1639-1712), vice-president of the Royal Society, Royal Physician, and the first arachnologist and conchologist, provides an unprecedented picture of a seventeenth-century virtuoso. Lister is recognized for his discovery of ballooning spiders and as the father of conchology, but it is less well known that he invented the histogram, provided Newton with alloys, and donated the first significant natural history collections to the Ashmolean Museum. Just as Lister was the first to make a systematic study of spiders and their webs, this biography is the first to analyze the significant webs of knowledge, patronage, and familial and gender relationships that governed his life as a scientist and physician.
Anna Marie Roos, Ph.D. (1997) in History, University of Colorado, is the Lister Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She has published extensively on early modern English science including
The Salt of the Earth: Natural Philosophy, Medicine, and Chymistry in England, 1650–1750 (Brill, 2007).
"[...] Roos’s study at last provides the foundation for any assessment of [Dr. Martin Lister's] significance. Her meticulous research into Lister’s life and work, full of unexpected connections and curiosities, will be welcomed by anyone who wishes to dive into the study of nature in the later sevententh and early eighteenth centuries."
– Harold J. Cook,
Brown University, in:
Renaissance Quarterly 65/4 (Winter 2012), pp. 1235-1236 [DOI:
"[...] the biography of Lister should be seen as an innovative and valuable contribution to the historical, social and cultural understanding of ‘scientific’ persona and practice in the seventeenth century."
– Palmira Fontes Da Costa, in:
British Journal for the History of Science (2012), 293-294
"It is in this marriage that Roos achieves, between Lister’s technical work and her biographical account of him, that her book is exemplary. It is a compelling work to read,written in a lively, even racy style, which communicates well the author’s ‘creative flights of fancy’."
– Anthony Turner, in:
Notes Rec. R. Soc. 20 June 2012 [online]
"Delightfully rendered...[this] superb biography of the 17th-century polymath Martin Lister is a pleasure to read."
– Tim Birkhead, in:
Times Higher Education 27 October 2011
"At long last, one of the most versatile and influential naturalists of the second half of the seventeenth century receives the comprehensive intellectual biography he so eminently deserves. Availing herself of a rich archive, Anna Marie Roos presents a vivid portrayal of Martin Lister as a consummate researcher, and a complex individual, whose scientific researches and personal contacts contributed to the maturation of several domains of natural history as well as to strengthening the bounds of the community that practiced them."
– Mordechai Feingold,
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
Table of contents
List of Illustrations
PART ONE: THE BIRTH OF A NATURALIST, 1663-1668
2. Early Life and Letters, 1639-1663
3. French Connection: The Voyage to Montpellier, 1663-1666
4. Early Contributions to Natural History, 1666-1668: The Influence of John Ray
PART TWO: IN LOCATION AT THE PERIPHERY OF THE WEB, IN THE MIND AT ITS VERY CENTER: LISTER’S YEARS IN YORK (1669-1683)
5. Spider Threads and a Tangled Web of Misunderstanding, 1668-1671
6. "My Dear Hart": Lister's Marriage to Hannah Parkinson and his Medical Practice in York
7. The Circulation of Knowledge: Lister and the Royal Society's Debates about Plant Circulation in the 1670s
8. Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral? Crinoids, and the Fossil Debate in the Royal Society
9. "All that Glitters": Martin Lister and Fools' Gold, 1677-1684
10. A Speculum of Chemical Practice: Lister, Newton, and Telescopic Mirrors
PART THREE: AT THE WEB'S CENTER: LISTER IN LONDON, THE ROYAL SOCIETY, AND THE PRODUCTION OF MASTERWORKS: 1684-1692
11. Lister's London Beginnings: Virtuoso, Antiquarian and Benefactor
12. The Art of Science: The Historiae Conchyliorum and the Historia Piscium
PART FOUR: TIME SPINS AWAY: 1692-1712
13. Publication and Prestige, Sex Exercitationes Medicinales and the Royal College of Physicians
14. The Spice of Life: A Journey to Paris and a Cookery Book
Epilogue: The Tragedy at Burwell Park
All those interested in biography, early modern English history, the history of medicine, the history of science, and intellectual history, as well as arachnologists, conchologists, and natural historians.