The Travels of Dr Martin Lister: a new internet resource

I was asked to write a post about a new website I created: Every Man’s Companion: Or, An Useful Pocket-Book: The Travel Journal of Dr Martin Lister.

In 1663, Martin Lister left his parents’ house in Burwell, Lincolnshire to study medicine in Montpellier. During his three years in France, he kept a detailed journal in an almanac published as Every Man’s Companion: Or, An Useful Pocket-Book, which is in the Bodleian Library. Another 25 pages of memoirs about Lister’s time in Montpellier also survive, as well as Lister’s correspondence (total of 1140 letters). Furthermore, Lister’s travel companion, Phillip Skippon, and his mentor, the botanist John Ray, published accounts of part of their travels.

As we’ve seen in previous posts, Lister was one of the more important doctors and virtuosi of his generation. He became a court physician to Queen Anne in 1702, contributed over fifty papers to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for which he served as vice-president, wrote nineteen books on medicine, antiquarianism and natural history, and was the first arachnologist and conchologist, as well as a chemist. He also wrote a best selling travel guide to Paris, edited a Roman cookbook, and was a friend of Robert Hooke, John Flamsteed, and Samuel Pepys.   Newton consulted Lister about some work he was doing in metallurgy.  Two species of orchids, a spider, and a wrinkle ridge system on the moon have been named in Lister’s honour.

Lister’s travel journal anticipates these accomplishments. Month by month, Lister noted the medical texts he consulted, and in his textbooks, he annotated the recipes given to him when he lodged with an apothecary. He described the personalities and works of luminaries he met in France including Nicolas Steno, Francis Willughby, and John Ray. The pocket book and his memoirs reveal that Lister performed a series of dissections with Steno, as well as going on natural history expeditions with Ray.

As his time in Montpellier was part of his education as a gentleman, Lister visited  gardens and libraries in Paris, and made observations of French manufacturing methods, wine (which he greatly enjoyed), literature and drama, and French rules of etiquette and fashion.  He sent his little sister Jane, who was living in Burwell, bottles of French perfume as well as instructions to learn the latest French dance, the courante.  We even have Lister’s draft of his good-bye letter to his first girlfriend, a lovely mademoiselle he met whilst in Montpellier.

With some assistance from the British Academy, I have created an interactive website housed on the Oxford server which maps stages of his journey from England to Montpellier and back via Paris, documenting them photographically along the way. The images and videos of landscape, natural history specimens, and museums and artifacts were conceived as a form of humanistic fieldwork, allowing us to reconstruct the mental world of the early modern virtuoso.

The website with his travel journal may be accessed at:

The majority of Lister’s letters that I calendared are at ‘Early Modern Letters Online’.

Anna Marie Roos

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