Burnett, on maps

I’ve been thinking about the correspondence of Thomas Burnett of Kemnay, particularly his correspondence with Leibniz (thus this earlier post and indeed this one).[1] Here I’d like to think a little bit about Burnett’s travels, and the geographical distribution of the correspondence. For now I’d like to focus on correspondence with Leibniz, and on the years 1695 to 1705.[2]

Figure 1 shows what might seem to be the three most important geographical locations involved. It shows Kemnay (where Burnett was from), London (where he spent a good deal of time) and Hanover (where Leibniz was, for the most part).

Figure 1. Three places
Figure 1. Three places. (All images are linked to larger versions.)

That is in some ways misleading, however. This second map shows all the places from which Burnett wrote to Leibniz in this period.

Burnett to Leibniz, 1695-1705
Figure 2. Burnett to Leibniz, 1695-1705

The places fall into a remarkably neat triangle on the map, albeit with most of the points actually lying near a line from Bath to Berlin. This draws attention to, if nothing else, Burnett’s fondness for wandering around Europe. But there’s more to see if we split this up chronologically. To begin, Figure 3 shows the places from which Burnett wrote to Leibniz in 1695.

Burnett to Leibniz, 1695
Figure 3. Burnett to Leibniz, 1695

What this doesn’t quite show is Burnett’s westward movement: the earliest letters are from Celle, Wolfenbüttel, and Hanover, then there are some from Amsterdam and Leiden, and then he was writing from London. This was, more or less, Burnett on his way home.

Figure 4 then shows all the places from which Burnett wrote to Leibniz in the following five years, 1696-1700.

Burnett to Leibniz, 1696-1700
Figure 4. Burnett to Leibniz, 1696-1700

This is in some ways the heart of the correspondence. Burnett was in England, writing three or four letters a year to Leibniz, telling him about recent books and debates. He was, so to speak, Leibniz’s own personal London Review of Books. Indeed, only one of those letters was written from Bath and one from Oxford.

Figure 5 shows places from which Burnett wrote to Leibniz in 1701, and shows him off on his travels again.

Burnett to Leibniz, 1701
Figure 5. Burnett to Leibniz, 1701

Burnett started the year off in London, then traveled to Paris, and wrote to Leibniz from there. There are no letters from Burnett to Leibniz dated 1702, because that is when Burnett as imprisoned in the Bastille — there is some suggestion he was suspected of being a spy. Burnett’s letters to Leibniz resumed with one sent from Geneva after his release the following year. Figure 6 shows places from which he wrote to Leibniz between 1703 and 1705.

Burnett to Leibniz, 1703-5
Figure 6. Burnett to Leibniz, 1703-5

Again we can trace Burnett’s movements around the continent, as he moved from Geneva to Frankfurt to Berlin, and then on to Rotterdam before ultimately heading back to London. Later again he would move back to Scotland (there’s even a letter to Trotter of November 1707 that was actually sent from Kemnay).


[1] There are currently, I believe, 111 published letters to or from Burnett. The largest groups are those to and from Leibniz, and those to and from Catherine Trotter.

[2] I’m relying on information in A 1.11-23. The one exception is that I’ve made use of the fact that Burnett wrote to Leibniz on 29 December 1705 from Rotterdam. This letter is not yet in a published A volume, though it is part of a file of transcriptions for future volumes that is available online, and Burnett’s location is confirmed by a letter written to Trotter from Rotterdam on that day.