Cider Musings

Cider making and religion in C17th England

A question that has intrigued me. Why did cider making blossom in the early 17th Century England? Wine making did not experience a similar development in France.

Firstly did it? And unequivocal answer is yes. 

Using a little hyperbole the Royal Society was a cider club. Many members including Newtown made cider, cider occupied many early reports. The first book commissioned by the Society; Sylva, contained a large section devoted to it, called Pomona. Outside the Royal Society many books were published on cider eg Worlidge ,Vinetum Britannicum, and Ralph Austen, Treatise on Fruit Trees. Many members were Puritans or Anglicans no longer associated with the Catholic Church, unlike the scholars at the French Academy at the same time

There are several factors that came together, firstly the Puritan Revolution in England, secondly the wars with France, and thirdly the climate. I have posted on the latter 2 before. This article regards the the birth and growth of science as a branch of religion, specifically Puritan Christianity. Cider making does not strike one as much of a “natural philosophical” endeavour or applied science as we now call it. However, in England, in the second part of the seventeenth-century, many scientists who called themselves natural philosophers were actively involved in it.  

However I am getting ahead of the start of the story. 

A traditional starting point to consider the relations of science and religion would be the painful dance of the Catholic Church and Galileo. After much debate in the Churches upper courts the leaders found Galileo’s heliocentric theory incompatible with doctrine inherited from Classical knowledge which ironically was pre Christian and based on empirical Greek philosophy.

Galileo’s observational science or natural philosophy ran against that. This did not mean Galileo lost his faith, He found observation science and mathematics as showing Gods work,, his troubles were that the Catholic Church as most large long lived institutions found change disturbing and to be countered. Kepler thought astronomy a “priestly calling”.

The Puritans of England however were a vibrant new form of Christianity. Formed to reform the Anglian Church of the remaining Catholic trappings in the Anglican Church post its formation in 1534, given the see-sawing from Henry, through the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth. This was a time of divergent views in the Anglican Church from Laudism to reform. Puritans becoming the dominant force in the time of the Commonwealth 1649-1660. They believed in a more direct relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, Original Sin ( ie the Fall of Adam by eating and apple from the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad. ) A more literal interpretation of the Bible, the creation of Eden and the fall of Man were viewed as historical facts, and a striving for redemption. 

Into this environment came Sir Francis Bacon 1561 - 1626.

An English philosopher and statesman. Although he did not perform any experimentation himself, his thesis of scientific investigation laid the groundwork for many natural philosophers or scientists who followed. These started with observational science and built up into more and more abstract fields as the scientific base grew and also grew out from the constraints of the Biblical written word. However that is exemplified by the later work of Isaac Newton and the Principia or to give it its full name ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’ 1687. Newton was devoutly Christian and believed in Puritan concepts especially God is revealed by understanding nature. He also made cider and I suggest that came from mixing with others in the early Royal Society who were experimenting with cider production as one way of exploring natural sciences. 

Again we are ahead of the historical narrative to show science and religion co existed harmoniously in this period in England.

Bacon is famous for his role in the Scientific Revolution, begun during the Middle Ages, promoting scientific experimentation as a way of glorifying God and fulfilling scripture. Bacon felt science restores the Dominion of Man over Nature lost in the expulsion of Eden. He explores this in Novum Organum, ”These losses ( of the Fall, innocence and dominion) can even in this life be in some part repaired: the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and science” The title is a reference to Aristole's work Organon, which was his treatise on logic and syllogism. In Novum Organum, Bacon details a new system of logic he believes to be superior to the old ways of syllogism.

Following on from Francis is Samuel Hartlib 1600-1662, who took science to a wider audience. Whilst Bacon was the spark, Hartlib was the flame.

Hartlib was a German ( Danzig of an English mother) but settled in London ( he was a neighbour of Samuel Pepys!) 1600-1662. He did this in a way that that parallels social media today. He became a clearing house of letters between many many individuals in a wide range of subjects. They were called the Hartlib Circle. Many never met in person. Hartlib kept increasing the circle and forging links, very much like Linkedin today! And amazingly most of those letters remain in the Library of Sheffield University and are digitised and free to research. He was very well read, including Bacon and John Amos Comenius Czech philosopher interested in education.

Themes in his letters and correspondents include,

Agriculture and horticulture: Ralph Austen, John Beale, Robert Child, Cheney Culpeper, Cressy Dymock, Gabriel Plattes, and Adolphus Speed.

Alchemy, chemistry, mineralogy: Robert Boyle, Frederick Close, Cheney Culpeper, John Worthington, and Gabriel Plattes.

Mathematics: John Pell, Robert Wood.

Medicine: William Rand, Thomas Coxe

Protestantism: Sarah Hewley, John Dury,  John Sadler, John Straughton.

Hartlib set out with a universalist goal: "to record all human knowledge and to make it universally available for the education of all mankind". His work has been compared to modern internet search engines. The was described as an Intelligence which is better I guess than an Influencer of today. 

The remaining archives of Samuel Hartlib, which were recently discovered in Sheffield University, number in excess of 4,250 letters either written to or (mostly) from some 400 correspondents or exchanged between third parties (not only in England but throughout Protestant Europe). Link to Hartlib papers 

Some of these including Boyle went on to form the Invisible College and then merge into the Royal Society. 

With regards to Cider making here is Ralph Austen. Again a puritan, in fact quite a militant one.  See his history here. He applied Baconian scientific system to cider making starting with analysis of soil suitable to apple tree growing, Pruning the trees harvesting the apples processing them and the science of cider making. All this as an example of redemption from the fall of Man. Combined with this practical A Treatise on Fruit-trees, showing the manner of grafting, setting, pruning, and ordering of them in all respects, which includes religious references; he attached a long pamphlet Spiritual Use of an Orchard.

The Royal Society was formed in 1660 and contained many members with Puritan leading. Charles II was the patron. The Society was charged with developing “useful science’ to refill the public purse that has been drained by the Civil war. The motto is Nullius in verba: ‘Take nobody’s word for it.’ Useful science broadened the scope of the Society from an academic or University type Society to one we would consider skills based such as Polytechnic. The Societies' Trades program began at its formation and involved initially those members from the Hartlib Circle. Trades explored included optics Hooke et al textiles metal extraction, chemicals and of course timber and cider. Three books were written, Christopher Merret translated Neri's book on glass, Evelyn Sylva on timber ( initially sought to furnish the Navy with timber for ship building. Cider was proposed by Beale see his history here and Oldenburgh in 1662 as a continuation of the correspondence of the Hartlib Circle. A committee was formed including these two and Evelyn, Sir Robert Moray, Robert Boyle and Christopher Merret. Beale was charged with growing and distributing apple grafts to members to plant across the country. Although a seperate "history" was not published, the work was appended to the successful Sylva book.

Cider, at first glance, appears less philosophical than others. However the cider-making project was a thoroughly Baconian enterprise; a development of a new mechanical art, constructed by extension from a “natural history of wine making,” into a more general investigation of a universal process, characteristic for a “chemical history of vegetable bodies.” This was Baconian in its collaborate nature and completeness. For seventeenth century English naturalists, making cider did not begin with apples and a press. It began with the soil, plans for planting new orchards, experimenting with new kinds of trees, new methods of grafting and “domesticating” apples, and continued with inventing and patenting new “cider-mills,” and improving methods of storage. John Beale stating “soe Cider & perry does differ according to the difference of Soyle. 

View of Blackberry Hill and the Vale of Hereford from Beale described to John Evelyn in his book 'Elysium Britannicum' showing different soils.

Pomona contains essays, descriptions, trials and recipes written by authors of different professions, education and social status. Some are well-known virtuosi, such as John Evelyn himself, John Beale and Sir Paul Neile. Others are gentlemen-farmers, such as John Newburgh, Sylas Taylor; others seem to have had medical or alchemical interests, such as “Dr Smith,” and Daniel Colwall. Last but not least, Pomona quotes others not members but with, similar interests , written by fellow naturalists such as Thomas Browne, Ralph Austen, and Thomas Willis. It was envisaged as the record of a continuing project with new material added in each new edition.

All these involved in the cider-making enterprise called this universal process by different names, such as vegetation, concoction and fermentation; but they all understood it, like Bacon, in terms of sets of “motions of spirits.” The vocabulary of spirits entrapped in matter is pervasive and persistent in these texts; and in this sense cider-making can be read as a “spiritual technology,” i.e. a regulated set of attempts to control and bring to perfection what are ultimately the natural motions of spirits, peculiar to the natural world. Last but not least, they follow Bacon in claiming that the fermented drink they produce has benefits for good health and the prolongation of life. 

In fruit-trees, the maturation of fruit is a stage in a long process that has begun in the seed, and continued with the transformation of water into the sap of the plant. Some of this sap is further concocted (fermented) to create the fruits and, within the fruit, is further fermented (or maturated) while the fruit ripens. This process of fermentation and maturation is further continued in an artificial improving manner, by the gardener who picks the fruits, gathers them in piles, and lets them mature. The cider-making enterprise as an attempt to control various stages of this process of nature. This is summarised in John Worlidge’s Vinetum Britannicum.  Worlidge emphasises the continuity between water, sap and fruit juices and insists that the latter are the more concocted versions of the former. Cider is praised by Worlidge as the best drink not only in virtue of its Englishness, but because it is the “most concocted” of drinks resulting from this augmented natural process of vegetation, maturation and fermentation. 

Another step in the cider- making process is the distributing of spirits more uniformly and evenly into matter: this was the grinding of apples, pressing them and pouring the result in barrels. 

Robert Hooke collaborated and invented a new press.

Finally, and again following Bacon, they discussed ways of keeping spirits “at peace” and preventing them from producing further fermentation, maturation and putrefaction once the cider is put in the newly invented glass bottles. 

Worlidge claims that concocted spirits well distributed, are already half digested, being turned into “half-blood” already, hence cider is basically a medicinal drink, recommended for the treatment of melancholy, of diseases of the spleen and the stone; and it is also a restorative drink, likely to contribute to the prolongation of life. In order to argue this last point, Worlidge appeals to Bacon’s Historia vitae et mortis. He claims that, according to Bacon, the use of cider is the main reason for longevity in English villages, and adds a story to illustrate this claim. It is the story of a Gloucester village, where the members of a Morris-dance team had, summed together, more than 800 years.

Worlidge expands on Bacon here, claiming that the old men were “Tenants of one Manour belonging to the Earl of Essex at that time,” and known to be “constant Cider-dinkers.” Interestingly, these details do not appear at all in Bacon’s Historia vitae et mortis! In fact, Bacon had little to say about cider; although he agreed that apples are full of living spirits and these are “better distributed” and more concocted than in other fruits. However, Worlidge’s appeal to Bacon is not entirely misleading, since most of the explanatory framework employed by the advocates of cider- making is Baconian in its essence, According to Bacon, plants convert water and watery juices into oily matter, better infused with spirits; and this happens through the universal process of concoction. Bacon describes concoction in two ways: in terms of matter theory, one can say that through concoction matter is transmuted from “watery” to “oily.” 

Some of the resulting spirits leave the plant, joining other spiritual substances in the atmosphere (such as, for example, the smell of the ripened fruits). Other spirits produced through concoction are finely distributed in the body of the plant. Fruits are especially rich in spirits; and these spirits are finely and evenly distributed. 

Bacon suggests that one can control the process of concoction by placing it in a sealed container, speed it up, by raising the temperature or slow it down, by cooling. In Bacon’s view, the cold condenses the spirits and a cold, sealed container is the best for preventing concoction from continuing (and hence turn into putrefaction). Such recipes for keeping under control the motions of the spirits abound in the cider-making tracts. Sir Paul Neile lists some which involve covering the bottle of cider with straw in order to increase or slow down the workings of spirits, achieving, thus, controlled fermentation. John Beale and John Worlidge advocate placing bottles in deep wells or cisterns with water. Beale notes a number of correlations found in Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum between the motions of the spirits and the influences of the surrounding air. If the pressed must is exposed to the surrounding air, spirits gets “dissipated.” Hence the need to enclose the result in a closed container (a barrel). Beale also suggests that the process of fermentation should be further controlled from the outside. Simply enclosing the must in a barrel is not enough to get the desired effect. One needs to allow some spirits to leave the barrel, while also letting some air enter the barrel; and for this Beale suggests a narrow “vent-hole” which can be opened, when needed. References are made, in the margin of Beale’s text, to three practical solutions proposed for he vent-hole by “Mr. Newburg, C. Taylor and Dr. Smith,” who offer, in the same collective volume of the Pomona different versions of the sealing the spirits in a closed container. Worlidge has a figure of such a barrel

There are recurrent analogy with the production of beer and wine which shows that Beale and his colleagues are aware they are dealing with a universal process of fermentation. This thinking leads to incorporating in the cider-making project of a large number of recipes borrowed from the making of wine and beer, such as adding brimstone (sulphur). All these authors quoted above think cider is a liquid full of spirits. These spirits are initially produced in the process of vegetation, in the body of the tree and they are further refined and “congregated” in the ripe fruits. From there, the natural- ist takes the lead and creates the conditions for a controlled extension of this process of the production in sealed recipients. Cider-making is about congregating more spirits, but also about keeping the balance between the amount of spirits and their distribution into matter. 

So many of the investigational facts noted in thesis early cider making studies hold true such as using sulphur to treat the barrel before fresh cider, Beale again, and the constructed theory does to a degree too , we many smile at the wording but these were early days, John Beale and Sir Paul Neile discuss spirits in corpuscularian terms; and so does John Evelyn who mixes mechanical and more universally generative theories coming from alchemy. However we have hindsight fermentation was not really understood for a further 200 years! 

The Royal Society caused friction with classicists. A memorable lecture at the opening of the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford 1669 shows this. The address was by Robert South, the University orator. He denigrated the Society in front of many members inc Christopher Wren who had designed the building! I quote John Evelyn who was there, “Then followed Dr. South, the Universitie’s orator, in an eloquent speech, which was very long, and not without some malicious and indecent reflections on the Royal Society.... “ and observed “that fellows of Royal Society ‘can admire nothing except fleas, lice, and themselves” referring to Robert Hooke’s work on the microscope.  

Even King Charles II patron of the Society was reported to “laugh mightily” at the Royal Society for “weighing air”

Boyle thought scientific investigation an act of worship. He thought “discovering the perfection of God displayed in creatures, a more acceptable act of religion than the burning of sacrifices or perfume on the alter” 

Isaac Newton in Optics 4th ed 1730 “ Natural philosophy was a means of enlarging the bounds of moral philosophy and the shedding of light on the nature of the first cause (God)” 

To them the quest of material benefits at relieving the human estate was Christian charity in action. 

So hopefully you can see how creative these natural philosophers were, and with their devout Puritan religious views felt it was their duty to experiment and innovate. Some in pure science, some in applied science with an emphysis on profitable endevours such as cider. The Church authorities in England if not supported them were not antagonistic unlike the Catholic Church in Europe. Most criticism came from classicists who followed Aristotelean 'science'

Latter entering the 21st Century there was an inversion in the power play between science and religion as it grew more scientific and distanced from theology. Thomas Huxley was described as Darwin’s bulldog in 1860.  Pictured here defending Darwin. No longer a harmonious situation.