This is the second edition of Cumberland’s Essay, the first having appeared in 1686; between the publications of the two editions the author had been appointed Bishop of Peterborough. Cumberland dedicates his tract to Samuel Pepys, President of the Royal Society, whom he had known since their student days at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He places his work on the recovery of ancient measures within the programme for ‘the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, for which the Royal Society was founded’ (sig. A2).
Cumberland points to the importance of measures in the Old Testament – the careful recital of them in relation to Noah’s Ark, the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temples of Solomon and Ezekiel and their sacred contents and utensils. These were ‘the most ancient, beautiful, and magnificent proportions of Architecture to be recorded’ (p. 2), and their designs, due to God himself, had been given in round numbers. The most holy place in Solomon’s Temple, the inner sanctuary containing the Ark of the Covenant, was a perfect cube of 20 cubits.
Not only were the priests responsible for maintaining and administering standards of weight and measure, but when Ezekiel prophesied the restoration of religion and society almost a thousand years after Moses, he stipulated a return to the ancient cubit, ephah, shekel and gerah. The ancient measures derived from Noah and descended through his sons to the Egyptians, as well as to the Canaanites and Abraham. They were used by Joseph when he was in authority in Egypt and by Moses when writing the Pentateuch. They were embodied in the sacred utensils of the Temple.
Having determined the length of the cubit (almost 22 inches) and the measures of volume and weight in relation to this, Cumberland then seeks to make these results available to all nations by expressing the cubit in the universal measure of the length of a seconds pendulum (cf. Wilkins, catalogue no. 36). This is the ‘Horary Yard’ and ‘Horary Foot’, authority for which he derives from Christian Huygens’s Horologium oscillatorium (Paris, 1673).
The relevance of this work to the Royal Society derives from the importance of standards of measure for settled community and Godly governance, while mankind’s ‘best Sciences’ and ‘most perfect Arts’ are ‘founded in the Principles of Numeration, and Mensuration, and built up by a close order and coherence of Demonstrations, such as no where else are to be found’ (p. 133). The divine significance of such standards is demonstrated by the priestly office of their regulation, by their embodiment in sacred objects, and by their prominence in ‘the Magnificence, Symmetry, and Beauty that was in the Structure of the Temple’ (p. 130).