Early Enlightenment 1650-1750

Diderot1The Enlightenment is characterized as an historical period marked by a departure from  superstition and  religious wars, and a turn towards science and rationalism. This illustration depicts Denis Diderot and French philosphes discussing Diderot’s  Encyclopedia.

1661 — John Evelyn writes “Fumifugium, or the Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated” to propose remedies for London’s air pollution problem. These include large public parks and lots of flowers.

The immoderate use of, and indulgence to, sea-coale in the city of London exposes it to one of the fowlest inconveniences and reproaches that can possibly befall so noble and otherwise incomparable City… Whilst they are belching it forth their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Aetna, the Court of Vulcan… or the suburbs of Hell [rather] than an assembly of rational creatures…”

In his diary, Evelyn writes in 1684 that smoke was so severe “hardly could one see across the street, and this filling the lungs with its gross particles exceedingly obstructed the breast, so as one would scarce breathe.”

1662 — John Graunt publishes a book of mortality statistics compiled by parish and municipal councils in England. Although the numbers are inaccurate, a start was made in epidemiology and the understanding of disease and public health.

1666 — Japan’s shogun warns against dangers of erosion, stream siltation and flooding caused by deforestation. A proclamation urges people to plant tree seedlings. Additional measures lead to an elaborate system of woodland management by 1700. (Collapse by Diamond, p. 301, citing Conrad Totman).

1669 — Stricter forest codes introduced in France, again aimed at regulating wood production for the Navy.

1684 — A man is pilloried in Sagan, Germany, for cruelty to a horse. Other early German convictions for cruelty to animals were recorded in 1765 and 1766. (M. Clifton, 2007).

1685 — Jared Eliot. Born Nov. 7 (Died 22 Apr 1763)A physician, clergyman, physician, and agronomist, Eliot wrote Essays upon Field Husbandry about reducing inefficiency and waste in colonial American farming methods. He had first become concerned about soil when he noticed that water running from a bare hillside was muddy, unlike water running from grassy and forested areas. He conducted experiments such as plowing green crops back into the soil to enrich it, and planting grasses and legumes to make better pastures for livestock.

1690 –Colonial Governor William Penn requires Pennsylvania settlers to preserve one acre of trees for every five acres cleared.

1700 — Some 600 ships are engaged in hauling “sea coal” from Newcastle to London, an enormous increase compared to 1650, when only two ships regularly carried sea coal. The reason? Rapid industrialization and the demand for iron and naval supplies has stripped England’s forests.

1700 — The dodo is extinct. (approximate date). See Sixth Extinction web site. BBC Witness program on the dodo extinction.

1706 — Benjamin Franklin born January 17 in Boston, Mass. Franklin’s concern for sanitation and pure drinking water was a part of his lifelong concern for the improvement of Philadelphia in “small matters.” But Franklin also saw a larger question — one of “public rights” as opposed to private rights — in many of these controversies.

1709 — Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale, England uses coal instead of wood for manufacturing iron. British coal production around this time is 3 million tons per year, or five times more than the rest of the world combined. (Simmons).

1711 — Johnathan Swift notes the contents of London’s gutters: “sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood, drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud…” (Markham, Brimblecombe).

1712 — Bernardo Ramazzini (1633 – 1714), the father of occupational medicine, publishes De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (English title, printed in 1764 was The Diseases of Artificers, which by their particular callings they are most liable to, with the Method of avoiding them, and their Cure). The book describes the hazards of 52 occupations, including leather tanning, wrestling, and gravedigging. Ramazzini says that with a general improvement in diet and less arduous work, people would be better able to resist attacks on their health. Ramazzini also noticed that nuns tended to have a higher incidence of breat cancer and that lead miners and workers often had skin the same color as the metal. “Demons and ghosts are often found to disturb the [lead] miners,” he said.

1717 — Christmas flood  hits the North Sea coasts of Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia. About 14,000 people drowned.

1721 — Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, popularizes smallpox inoculation, a practice she had observed in Turkey.

1721-1728 — A rabies epidemic sweeps across eastern Europe during these years. According to Spanish medical historian Juan Gomez-Alonso, M.D., this may be the historical origin of the vampire legends, later grafted by Victorian era British novelists to the much earlier legends of Vlad the Impaler, the original Count Dracula, and Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian “blood countess” who bathed in the blood of virgins.

Easter Island statues (Wikipedia).

1722 – Easter Sunday — Europeans discover Easter Island.   “DutchAdmiral Roggeveen, onboard the Arena, was the first European to visit the island on Easter Sunday 1722. He found a society in a primitive state with about 3,000 people living in squalid reed huts or caves … What amazed and intrigued the first European visitors was the evidence, amongst all the squalor and barbarism, of a once flourishing and advanced society. Scattered across the island were over 600 massive stone statues, on average over twenty feet high.” — Clive Ponting in “The Lessons of Easter Island” from A New Green History of the World:  The Environment and the  Collapse of Great Civilizations.  (2007).

1723 — Lead in alcohol stills causes serious stomach pains, a commission of inquiry learns. The commission, based in Boston, investigates complaints about New England rum from consumers in North Carolina. “It poisoned their people, giving them the Dry Bellyache,” Benjamin Franklin said while describing the incident in a 1767 letter to a friend who was investigating a similar problem in Devonshire, England.


Amrita Devi sacrifices her life for a Kherjri tree in the Thar Desert of India, near modern-day Jodhpur, September, 1730.

Tree huggers — September,  1730 — When the maharajah of Marwar wanted cement for a new palace, he sent woodsmen into the forest to harvest  khejri  trees  (Prosopis cineraria).  But the villagers who lived in the khejri forest held the trees to be sacred, according to the teachings of  Guru Jambheshwar.   One villager, Amrita Devi, wrapped her arms around a tree. The woodsmen said they would take a bribe to spare her life, but she said she would rather sacrifice her life to save the trees.  Sar santey rukh rahe to bhi sasto jaan”  she said; If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it is worth it.”   So the woodsmen killed her, along with her three daughters Asu, Ratni and Bhagubai.  When the  other Bishnoi villages heard about the incident, each of the 83 villages sent a representative to also hug the trees and defy the maharajah.  Many were also killed, and the rest  were mocked by the leader of the woodsmen, who said the villages were sending old people who no longer useful.  In response, young men, women and children also began hugging the trees. Altogether, 294 men and 69 women of the Bishnoi branch of the Hindu faith were killed in the incidents.   The maharajah was appalled, and decreed that the khejri trees would forever be protected.

The Bishnois inspired the modern Van Mahotsav tree-planting movement (begun in 1950) and the Chipko environmental movement to preserve Himalayan forests (begun in 1973).

Tree huggers 2:    To this day, Bishnoi villages are wooded oases in the otherwise harsh Rajasthan desert, where wildlife congregates in proximity to the people. The Thar region of Pakistan is adjacent to the Rajasthan desert of India. Although the Thari people are now mostly Islamic, their traditional teachings about the sanctity of life somewhat resemble those of the Bishnoi. The Sindh desert is farther west in Pakistan. The Sindhi people, related to the Thari, have similar beliefs, but are now culturally divided: Sindhis who practice Hinduism long ago migrated into the Mumbai region of India, while those who practice Islam remain in Pakistan. (Note: The date of this event has been given as 1778 (Clifton), 1720 (Guha), 1737 (Prasad),  1750 (Gottlieb) and 1730 (WikipediaBishnoi samaj)

Dock Creek environmental controversy, Philadelphia, 1739 — Benjamin Franklin and neighbors petition Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from Dock Creek in Philadelphia’s commercial district. Foul smell, lower property values, disease and interference with fire fighting are cited. The industries complain that their rights are being violated, but Franklin counters with an argument for “public rights.” Franklin and the environmentalists win a symbolic battle but the dumping goes on.  Eventually, Dock Creek is covered over, but Franklin continues to fight for “small matters” such as healthy water for the rest of his life. A grant to finance a better drinking water system for the city of Philadelphia is included in his will.

1741 — Foundling Hospital of London established. Other children’s hospitals in Germany and France are also built around this time.  By 1800, infant mortality in one London hospital dropped from 66 per thousand to 13 per thousand.

1743 — American Philosphical Society organized.

1748 — Jeremy Bentham born 15 February, (d 6 June 1832) A philosopher and jurist whose doctrine of Utilitarianism and the principle of `the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ was a yardstick for the progress of social reform in 19th century Britain. He was an outspoken advocate of law reform, a pugnacious critic of established political doctrines like natural law and contractarianism, and the first to produce a utilitarian justification for democracy. He also had much to say of note on subjects as diverse as prison reform, religion, poor relief, international law, and animal welfare. (Bentham Project). His 1780 book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation includes a footnote on “Interests of inferior animals improperly neglected in legislation by the insensibility of the ancient jurists.” The footnote concludes, “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” It may be the most quoted footnote phrase of all time. Bentham was a friend of Lord Thomas Erskine, 1750-1823, who in 1809 made the first attempt to pass a British humane law. (M. Clifton, 2007)

1748 -1762  — Essays on Field Husbandry in New England written by Jared Eliot (November 7, 1685—April 22, 1763), clergyman and physician. Eliot promoted soil conservation and a scientific approach to agriculture.