Comets, Meteors, & Using Reptiles to Forecast the Weather - With Contemporary Annotations and Additions

COMETS. METEORS. PROGNOSTICATION. Willsford, Thomas (about 1612-after 1658)

Natures secrets. Or, the admirable and wonderfull history of the generation of meteors. Particularly describing, the temperatures and qualities of the four elements, the heights, magnitudes, and influences of the fixt and wandring stars: the efficient and finall causes of comets, earthquakes, deluges, epidemicall diseases, and prodigies of precedent times; registred by the students of nature. Their conjecturall presages of the weather, from the planets mutuall aspects, and sublunary bodies: with the proportions and observations on the weather-glass, with philosophicall paraphrases rendred explicitely, usefull at sea and land. By the industry and observations of Thomas Willsford, Gent

London: printed for Nath. Brook, at the Angel in Cornhill, 1658


Octavo: 15.5 x 9.5 cm. [14], 199, [1] p. With an added portrait. Collation: A-N8, O4 (lacking initial blank and final advert leaves.)


With an added engraved frontispiece portrait by R. Vaughan, and a full-page woodcut "The Weather-Glass, or Perpetual Kalendar" on p. 150. Contemporary calf, rebacked and recornered. A very good copy with minor cosmetic faults: engraving trimmed and mounted (no loss), some mild stains and, a small paper flaw to gutter of title (just touching the rule), a few headlines slightly shaved. With contemporary annotations in the text and extensive additions on the pastedowns and endpapers (vide infra).

First edition –and a unique copy- of this work on meteorological phenomena (including comets), weather prognostication, and the terrestrial effects of celestial and sublunary events, by the mathematician and instrument-maker Thomas Willsford.

Willsford opens his work with a chapter on cosmology, in which he includes tables giving the ascension, declination, and magnitude of stars in each of the constellations in the northern and southern hemispheres. The second part concerns the nature and causes of meteorological phenomena, including comets and meteors, hail, thunder and lightning, etc., and terrestrial signs of their influence (dew, earthquakes, the ebb and flow of the tides, etc.).

The third part concerns weather prognostication through the observation of celestial bodies (the planets, sun, moon and stars); and sublunary phenomena such as comets, meteors, "ignis fatui", rainbows, thunder and lightning, etc.; There is a remarkable section on weather forecasting by observing "sensitive creatures", i.e. "beasts" and reptiles, fowl, and fishes. The behavior of all creatures great and small are examined, including spiders, sea-urchins, moles, fleas, hogs ("Hogs crying and running unquietly up and down, with hay or litter in their mouths, foreshows a storm to be near at hand"), and cats"(Cats licking their feet or trimming the hair of their heads and moustaches presages rainy weather.") The vegetable and mineral kingdoms also provide clues about future weather conditions.

At the end of the third part Willsford provides a full-page illustration of a "Weather-Glass, or Perpetual Kalendar" with instructions for its use. The fourth part is divided into three sections: "The direful effects of some prodigious Meteors, Epidemical diseases, and Memorable accidents"; "the opinions of some men concerning blazing stars"; and a brief "Compendium of meteors."

"Do not stand gazing upon the lightning": The Annotations

This copy has been annotated throughout by an early owner, possibly its first. The annotations include: comments on the tides; quotations from learned authorities ("thunder and lightning, Pliny says, hurteth not the eagle"); the nature of earthquakes ("It should be a great wonder if the Earth were generally delivered of the many vapors and wind that are naturally engendered within its bowels, without the pangs and throes of Earthquakes."); the influence of the stars on animals ("Dogs go mad in Dog days. Lyons are very furious under the sign Leo."); the effects of sudden changes in temperature on the human body; the favorable and unfavorable planets (the latter being "the enemies of nature"); the motions of comets (generally from east to west); the relative sizes of celestial bodies ("The sun is greater than the moon 6645 times, than the Earth 150 times"), and much more.

The pastedowns and endpapers have additional text:

Front pastedown: 1. Index of various means of predicting the weather ("by comets", "by beasts and reptiles", "by weather glass", "by vegetables", etc.); 2. A passage explaining on what days and at what hours to pick or gather plants "under the dominion of" the Sun, Moon, and each of the planets. 3. Index of meteorological phenomena (including "Prodigies extraordinary.") 4. Two ownership signatures: Thomas Barrow (probably 18th c.), and J.L. Philips, dated 1805.

Front free endpaper: 1 (recto): discussion of the axial and orbital rotation of the Earth, apparent motion of celestial bodies as seen from Earth, the constellations, etc. 2 (verso): the nature of the Devil and discussion of his powers and exploits ("The Devil who having great Skill in natural causes, and a large command over the Air and other elements, may assist those that are in league with him to do many strange and astonishing things." etc.); the behavior of animals ("It is thought Birds and Beasts understand one another's language"), and more.

Rear free endpaper: 1 (recto): Substantial passage on lightning, including the admonition, "Do not stand gazing upon lightning for it may hurt the sight, swell the face, or make it break out with scabs or leprosy with its sulfurous, poysonous substances." Next, a passage on the degree to which celestial phenomena are predictors of terrestrial outcomes ("We must conclude a decree from the aspect of heavenly bodies, for the stars may incline, but not impose a necessity.") and the credulity of "superstitious, infirm, illiterate persons." 2 (verso): Passages on Agriculture ("It is thought that Rice would turn to great Advantage… if sown on marshy land", etc.); the nature, formation, and appearance of rainbows; astrology ("Superstitious observation of the stars, attributing to them the power of overruling as well our mind as our bodies and that inevitably too, without leaving us any power to decline their influences, is perniciously abominable"); and notes on which Mondays it is folly to conduct business.

Rear pastedown: anecdotes and quotations concerning nativities, including the story of "Mr. Martin, Chaplain to the Admiral of France (in the Parisian Massacre), that made his escape upon a Hay-mow, a fortnight long was fed by a hen that came every day and laid him an egg, so that good Chaplain was preserved. A.D. 1572."

ESTC R204119; Wing W2875