Quotation for the week: James VI

I had a lecturer at college who specialised in what he called “proof by intimidation”: he would assert something to the class and then stare at us with his eyes bulging madly from their sockets until we all nodded our heads and agreed with him. I was amused to find, from no less a source than King James VI, a hint that this technique was in use a good four centuries earlier:

For let one or two of the greatest Masters of Mathematickes in any of the two famous Vniuersities, but constantly affirme any cleare day, that they see some strange apparition in the skies: they will I warrant you be seconded by the greatest part of the Students in that profession: So loath will they be, to bee thought inferiour to their fellowes, either in depth of knowledge or sharpnesse of sight.

(A Counterblaste to Tobacco, 1604)

For those who are in any doubt, the “two famous Vniuersities” he had in mind didn’t include Strathclyde. Obviously — or obuiovsly? — such things could never happen here.


PS. A bit of context: James was perhaps the last Scottish monarch to fancy himself as an intellectual; he also, famously, wrote about witchcraft (he was against it) and about the divinely instituted authority of kings (he was for it). The Counterblaste, as the title suggests, is his attack on “this vile custome of Tobacco taking”, which he describes as

A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, daungerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.

Consider yourselves tellt.

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