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Saunders, Richard, the name under which Benjamin Franklin published his almanac, 1732-1757.


Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

Richard Saunders (1613-1675? 1692?) was an English physician, astrologer, and studier of what would today be considered arcane pseudosciences. Although he is best known for an almanac he didn't write, he did edit the Apollo Anglicanus or The English Apollo, an almanac of his own with substantial notes on everything from astrology to animal husbandry. Apollo was the Greek God of revelation and wisdom, so the title is meant to be an assessment of the almanac's use to potential readers. Editions of Apollo were published as early as 1654, and updates continued to be published well after his death.

Although Saunders studied and practiced many topics that would today be considered pseudoscience and quackery, he would likely have been considered a reasonable and learned man for the age he lived in. The Enlightenment had just got underway by the time Saunders was writing his books, and astrology and alchemy were still considered perfectly valid pursuits. (To be really fair, they're not entirely dead today.) Saunders' aim, as with most people interested in these subjects, was certainly to try and understand how the world works. In a time when very little was known about astronomy, biology, and medicine, Saunders' ideas were perfectly reasonable. And his interest in astrology, alchemy, chiromancy, and physiognomy were par for the course during his age.

A perusal of the web yields an image of the title page of the posthumous 1680 edition of Apollo Anglicanus, which I transcribe (retaining his interesting spellings) below (see sources at bottom for the URL)

T H E
E_N_G_L_I_S_H___A_P_O_L_L_O

Assisting
All Persons in the right Understand-
ing of this Years Revolution, as also of
things past, present, and to come.
WITH NECESSARY TABLES PLAIN AND USEFUL.

A twofold Kalendar, viz. Julian or English
Gregorian or Foreign Computations more plain
and full than any other, with the Sun and
Moons Risings and Settings daily ob-
served, of general use for most men.

BEING THE BISSEXTILE OR LEAPYEAR

To which is added certain brief and plain Dire-
ctions how to know the Hour of the night by
the Stars, with a new Method of Com-
pound Interest and Annuities
---------------------------------------------
BY RICHARD SAUNDERS
Student in the Physical, Celestial Sciences

(The inscription above is followed by a blurry quote in Latin from Thomas Aquinas that I can't make out.)

Clearly, the primary purpose of the Apollo was to be an almanac -- a table of astronomical positions and celestial happenings computed for the course of an upcoming year. The almanac had been around since Regiomontanus published a version of the Almagest in the fifteenth century with a few added bits of helpful information here and there. Saunders' almanac had very comprehensive information on the days of the year and the wanderings of the moon and planets, much like modern, astronomical almanacs. He simply added lots of additional information from astrology and chiromancy to practical medicine and social etiquette. The book was quite popular in its time, and many editions were published.

While The English Apollo was certainly his most "famous" work (if one can call it famous), Saunders published a few other works on similar topics beginning (as far as I can find) in 1653 with Physiognomie, and chiromancie, metoposcopie, the symmetrical proportions and signal moles of the body, a treatise on physiognomy -- the study of a person's character based upon their facial features. However, one source I found noted that this book was largely a direct translation of the work of Jean Belot, a French chiromancer of the early 1600's, and not at all original. However, Saunders is credited with developing the principle within palmistry that lines of the hand are ruled by different planets, as in astrology. Later, Saunders would go on to write a short book specifically on palmistry, targeted at a general audience. His other works include:

  • Palmistry, the secrets thereof disclosed, or, A familiar, easy and new method whereby to judge of the most general accidents of man's life from the lines of the hand withal its dimensions and significations. As also that most useful piece of astrology (long since promised) concerning elections for every particular occasion, now plainly manifested from rational principles of art, not published till now. (ca. 1663)
  • The astrological judgment and practice of physick deduced from the position of the heavens at the decumbiture of the sick person. (ca. 1677, posthumously?)
  • The second edition of Physiognomie.... fully and accurately explained, with their natural-predictive significations to both men and women; with the subject of dreams made plain; whereunto is added the art of memory (ca. 1671)
  • A view of the soul, in several tracts, by a person of quality (ca. 1682, posthumously?)

The first book on Palmistry and astrology is faintly noteworthy for being one of the few books on astrology in the library of Isaac Newton at the time of his death. While it's doubtful Newton ever dabbled in astrology in any serious way, he certainly did try his hand at alchemy (see the URL on Newton below, and also Rupert Hall's excellent Isaac Newton: Adventurer in Thought).

Now, to what he didn't write:

Benjamin Franklin began his own almanac some fifty years after Saunders' death in 1675. However, Franklin had a wider and more modern understanding of nature than Saunders, as well as a wicked sense of humor. Saunders' almanac was apparently known well enough in Franklin's time that Ben found him a worthy pseudonym. Franklin released his own compendium of astronomical predictions, weather lore, helpful information, and now famous quotations under Saunders' name as Poor Richard's Almanack in 1732. However, as the writeup on Poor Richard's Almanack notes, Franklin took the joke on his pseudonym's love of astrology even farther by predicting the date and time of death of a rival publisher, Titan Leeds. Of course Franklin meant it as a joke (if not a good natured one), but his rival didn't find it particularly funny. Leeds, thoroughly alive, published a response in his own almanac the following year.

Scan of the first page of The English Apollo from http://gateway.library.uiuc.edu/rbx/exhibit/intro.html
List of books taken from the Harvard and Yale University Library online catalogs.
Tidbit on Newton from http://www.phys.uu.nl/~vgent/astrology/newton.htm
Additional information from http://users.breathemail.net/chiro/chiro/saunders.htm

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