The above creature is a Cantor’s Giant Soft-shelled Turtle. We write about drinks and food here, not zoology.
Albeit of some general interest (if not charm) what possible relation can this lugubrious animal, whose beat is the mudflats of Southeast Asia, have to the area of food and drink?
A putative connection to a meal is obvious, at least if one is familiar with Victorian dining predilections.
But don’t worry, I’m not interested in eating turtles.
I’m interested in whom the species is named for. The Cantor named is Dr. Edward Theodore Cantor. Who was this gentleman? He was a surgeon in the Indian Medical Service in Bengal, in charge of a lunatic asylum among other duties. He lived from 1809-1860.
He was an amateur zoologist, and found time to publish numerous books on the subject. His writings were important enough to form the basis for later classification or understanding of some unusual species, including fish, hence his moniker in the name of the turtle shown.
Alright, that’s good to know, what else? This Cantor is the one who founded the Cantor Lectures, an influential series of talks held by the London-based Royal Society of Arts.
The lectures concerned matters of industrial technology and ranged on subjects from gutta percha to electricity to … brewing.
On his death Dr. Cantor made a bequest of £5000 to the Royal Society of Arts, to be applied as seemed appropriate to its president. This figure decided to create a series of lectures on industrial science, memorialized through the name Cantor Lectures.
The money was invested in Indian railway bonds and the interest was used to pay for research and presentation of the lectures. The fund was later broadened by bequests from others.
Dr. Charles Graham was an influential, late-1800s figure in the emerging field of brewery science. His well-remembered chemistry lectures were given in 1873-1874. Parts have been published in various sources and are sometimes quoted by contemporary writers on brewery history, including me.
Soon I will look at further things he stated, ranging from the presence of coal odours in kilned English malt to what the future of beer looked like to him (he got it partly right).
But first, I wanted to know for whom the Cantor Lectures were named. It was surprisingly difficult to find this information. Generally a few keystrokes does it, but not in this case.
Finally, I found the answer, in Henry Trueman Wood’s 1913 A History of the Royal Society of Arts. Read here, from p. 450.
Cantor was of Danish extraction, yet the surname seems to tend to other origins. The little biographical information online, see here, suggests he was of Jewish origin.
Those familiar with the broad outlines of 19th public science may know the name Georg Cantor. He too had Danish roots but was variously described as Russian and German.
This Cantor was an eminent mathematician, famous for originating set theory. He encountered some difficulty from established professional quarters due to the novelty and daring nature of his theories. He was periodically hospitalized in a sanitarium, and his professional work suffered.
He died in Britain at the end of WW I in penury and semi-obscurity, nonetheless even before his death his importance was recognized including by Bertrand Russell. Since then his groundbreaking innovations have been fully recognized.
This lengthy Wikipedia entry offers some good information on him. He has also been the subject of full-length and other biographical treatments.
Now, this Cantor’s family was schooled in the Lutheran church. Some biographers consider though that Georg Cantor was of Jewish, possibly Sephardic, origins.
I mention this here simply because I’m wondering if he was related to the Cantor for whom the RSA’s lectures were named.
Perhaps he was a brother, or a cousin. It seems unlikely, given the Danish connection, that sharing the surname was coincidental.
I don’t know whether the Cantor Lectures continue. They did at least until WW I, but I’m not sure if they were revived after.
The series was inaugurated in 1864. The first subject, as Henry Trueman Wood acknowledges, seemed rather wayward for a series anchored in industrial science: the naval laws of war. But as Wood notes, the American Civil War was ongoing, and the topic impacted an understanding of naval warfare.
After that the lectures stayed within the ambit of industrial technology and science albeit ranging widely therein.
Most of the lectures were published, sometimes in part, and not just in the Society’s Journal. Charles Graham’s brewing lectures were published in full not long after presentation in English Mechanic and World of Science. I’ll return to them soon.