Astronomy & Cosmology

[Gell-Man, Murray] Snooke, W. D. | The Calendar of the Memory

  • First and only edition of this rare guide to memorising timekeeping rules and astronomical tables, from the library of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019), with his bookplate on the front pastedown. Only one copy of this book appears in auction records, sold at Dominic Winter in 2004, and WorldCat locates five institutional copies, at the British Library, St. Andrews, Cambridge, Glasgow, and the Open University.

    Murray Gell-Mann was one of the founders of the standard model of physics, responsible for predicting the existence of both quarks and gluons. “To bring order to a plethora of recently discovered subatomic particles, in 1961 Gell-Mann proposed a set of rules based on symmetries in the fundamental forces of nature. The rules classified subatomic particles called hadrons into eight groups, a scheme he named the eightfold way in a reference to Buddhist philosophy. In 1964, he realized that such rules would naturally arise if the particles were composed of two, three or more fundamental particles, held together by the strong nuclear force... protons and neutrons, for example, would be made up of three of these more fundamental particles, which Gell-Man named quarks, inspired by a quote — ‘Three quarks for Muster Mark!’ — from James Joyce’s 1939 novel Finnegans Wake (Nature obituary, 28 May, 2019).

    As is apparent from his esoteric naming conventions, Gell-Man was a polymath with extremely wide-ranging interests, foremost among them linguistics and archaeology. Novelist Cormac McCarthy described him as knowing “more things about more things than anyone I’ve ever met”. Gell-Mann “wanted to understand the ‘chain of relationships’ that connected the universal laws of physics to complex systems like economies and human cultures. He described these two extremes of interest in his 1994 book, The Quark and the Jaguar, as ‘two aspects of nature…on the one hand, the underlying physical laws of matter and the universe, and on the other, the rich fabric of the world that we perceive directly and of which we are a part’” (Santa Fe Institute obituary, 24 May, 2019). These interests led him to found the Santa Fe Institute to collaborate with “economists, linguists, biologists, computer scientists, and with other physicists who shared his passion for finding fundamental principles in learning, evolving systems” (Santa Fe Institute obituary). It may have been Gell-Mann’s interest in linguistics or a related field that attracted him to this volume.

    Little is known of the author of this work, W. D. Snooke, but he was apparently a professor of mathematics and was also responsible for a volume on the botany of the Isle of Wight and a selection of Psalms. The Calendar of Memory was well-reviewed by Mechanic’s Magazine, which reported that “we earnestly recommend this work to all who have ever experienced the benefit of the old verse beginning with ‘thirty days hath September’, which is much the same thing, we presume, as if we were to recommend it to every man, woman, and child, in the three kingdoms... Although the memorial verses form, of course, the peculiar feature of Mr. Snooke’s Calendar, they are far from being its only recommendation. The rules embodied in them, and the explanations by which they are accompanied, are distinguished by great simplicity, conciseness, and accuracy” (Mechanic’s Magazine, Museum Register, Journal and Gazette, no., 309, July 11, 1829, p. 352).

  • ...Comprehending Familiar Explanations of the Subjects Necessary for the General Calendar, &c. With the Rules Rendered in Verse For the Memory, by which the Principal Divisions of Time, Moon’s Age, Eclipses, Tides, with Various Other Astronomical and Interesting Particulars, Can be Mentally Ascertained. Also, a Guide to the Stars... London: J. Stephens, [1828].

    Duodecimo. Original dark blue skiver, spine gilt in compartments, title to upper board gilt. Bookplate of Murray Gell-Man. Contemporary or near-contemporary ownership signature to the front free endpaper. Boards a little rubbed and scuffed, particularly at the extremities, two abrasions of the fore-edge slightly nicking and creasing the margins, significant foxing affecting pages 37 through 71. A very good copy.