Have you ever heard of Animalcula? I would wager probably not, though many of you owe your existence to them!
The obscure Animalcula and the knowledge surrounding them have remained elusive for more than 250 years, until George Balojohn and yours truly were tasked by Mister C. to prove their existence once and for all by capturing them; Let it never be said that bookbinders don’t contribute to the advancement of science and progress of humanity!
In 1750 a letter was humbly addressed to the Royal Society by Abraham Johnson, in which he claimed:
“It is proved by most incontestable evidence, drawn from Reason and Practice, that a Woman may conceive and be brought to Bed (i.e. become pregnant) without any commerce with Man.”
The reason behind this are Animalcula:
“Small, original, unexpanded minims of existence […] Little Men and Women, exact in all their limbs and linaments, ready to offer themselves little candidates for life whenever they should happen to be imbibed with air or nutriment […]”
According to the scientist these are carried by the West Wind and can impregnate women if they are standing at the right place at the right time. Such a discovery sounded of course preposterous to the decorated scientists at the time, but Dr A. Johnson’s believed so firmly in it that he even suggests of a way to prove the legitimacy of his findings: if the King would prohibit any kind of sexual intimacy between people, if only for a year, people would still be born. And since no one would dare to disobey the King in such a matter it would be obvious Animalcula exist.
To validate his theory though Dr A. Johnson had to capture some Animalula first. He contrived an invention suitable for the task: a “wonderful cylindrical, catoptrical, rotundo-concavo-convex machine” that functioned by the “nicest Laws of Electricity”, the design of which he intended to publish. Alas, it was not to happen… The prints were never published, the prototype was lost and the knowledge surrounding Animalcula faded into obscurity. Until now that is…
Mister C., an avid book collector and most kind patron of the book arts, managed to locate a copy of that letter. Moved by the unfair treatment of history towards the great scientist and intrigued by curiosity he called two bookbinders and laid upon them an almost impossible task: re-create the contraption and capture enough Animalcula, contributing thusly to the progress of humanity and also clearing Abraham Johnson’s name once and for all.
The bookbinders were George Balojohn and yours truly. I was to make the device and George had the most difficult task, to capture and preserve the Animalcula.
How was I to succeed though without any knowledge of the original design, besides its description and its intended purpose? George was able, after considerable study and research, to provide me with an accurate depiction of the Animalcula. With this as an aid and after months of trial and error, and experiments quite dangerous to my well being – thought knowledge has never been gained without considerable risk, I finally managed to create the necessary device, a fine instrument which, through delicate use and the wonders of electricity, could capture this elusive quantum of life.
The most difficult part was still ahead of us though. George had to capture enough Animalcula and then find a way to preserve them indefinitely for study, so as to prove their existence. To do so he needed a vessel suitable for such a purpose: robust yet functional and ever lasting. Determined he toiled and using the finest materials brought from the other side of the world he created such a vessel out of Dr A. Johnson’s letter – a most fitting tribute to the brilliant forgotten scientist.
A great many months followed as he prepared for the day when the device would be lit up and, guided by his hand, extract Animalcula from the west wind. And that day surely came and one by one the tiny seeds of life were collected. The more he captured the more daunting became each following attempt, since a small mistake could lay waste upon all of his progress. Yet he persevered and through steady and skillful hand the Animalcula where captured and laid upon the binding, forever visible to anyone who would dare raise an eyebrow at the groundbreaking discovery.
And so, through a patron of the arts and the collaboration of two artisans, knowledge previously thought as lost has been reclaimed, brought to light and its validity proven. The only thing remaining is for the Royal Academy to take notice, of which I have absolutely no doubt.