Robert Scott, M.D. - a chance encounter
Is this the preface to Clockwork Orange?
A book on eBay recently caught my attention, a Poughkeepsie imprint and an early one – A Regular Series of Chronology from the Creation of the World, to the Year 5813, ending with the Autumnal Equinox, A.D. 1810, exhibiting, in fourteen tables, the principal events recorded in the old and new Testaments, and many in profane history - by Robert Scott, M.D. It seemed unusual in many respects.
The title page illustrated in the eBay auction listing had, to my eye, a Pennsylvania Dutch look. The type was large and bold and altogether different from the small and conservative typefaces routinely found in early Hudson Valley printing., the size too out of keeping with Poughkeepsie common practice; 11.25” wide by 9” high. Most Poughkeepsie printed books were small.
The subject too seemed outside the mainstream. Dr. Scott sought to reconcile science and the bible by creating charts that dated biblical events on the western Gregorian calendar in use since 1582. In his calculation the year 1810 was the 5,813th year since the creation of the world, an interesting idea and an example of the fresh, if defective, thinking overwhelming traditional Christian thought in that era. Within fifty years Darwin would establish evolution as irreconcilable with history as expressed in the Bible. With or without Darwin the portents of change hung heavy and in Rhinebeck, New York Dr. Scott, believing the Bible to be the revealed word and therefore fully reconcilable with all events historic, completed his rebuttal to the gathering skeptics and the increasingly certain scientific mob. He would square the accounts.
Christianity had been a heaving throb of subjugation and revolt for almost as many years as the faith had existed, controversies and politics jostling with underlying political structures from its first days. With the fomenting of Protestant reformation in the early 16th century the Catholic Church then saw a substantial portion of its flock join the reformed movement that later lead, in North America, to the great awakenings and the development of evangelical Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Baptist and new Methodist churches.
Mr. Scott, born in England in 1760 according to the date on his tombstone and hailing from Lincolnshire, came to America in 1794 sailing from London, August 21 and arriving in New York October 10th. He brought with him the belief that Joseph Priestly’s reconciliation of religion and science was valid. In an account he later wrote he explained his decision to leave England:
“My reasons were first for the sake of religious liberty, not being able to take the oaths that required of those who dissented from the Episcopal Church; and second for the sake of civil liberty.” A reference to him in Hasbrouck‘s History of Dutchess County  further elaborates, “He was a man of fine talents and his superior education enabled him to become a very successful teacher. In 1796 he opened a school in Rhinebeck, and enrolled the children of some of the best families in NYC, among them being Henry Stokes, President of the Manhattan Life Insurance Co., and Robert Colgate, president of the Atlantic White Lead Works.
Robert Scott, M.D. - a chance encounter
The first of 14 charts
During his years as schoolmaster he would become a published author, his first book, the one I am discussing, offered as an antidote to deism in 1810; Chronology from the Creation to the year 1810. Two years later his second book, A Treatise on the Millennium was set into print. Both volumes were published in Poughkeepsie and thereafter all but disappeared.
Not to be content with the titles schoolmaster and author he also carried on the work of a surveyor and many of the old maps of Rhinebeck bear his name. Later it was he who would bring the Baptist Church to Rhinebeck, and on July 5, 1821 at the age of sixty years be ordained to the gospel ministry and set over the infant church as pastor, his busy career ending only with his death - on September 24, 1834.
To posterity he left a grieving wife, references to himself in local histories, these two slim volumes and some difficult to locate pamphlets he authored. He was an unusually gifted man.
In his antidote to deism; Chronology from the Creation to the year 1810 he sought to prove that religion and science could be reconciled and in so doing debunk the idea, elsewhere called the clockwork universe theory, “in which a god designs and builds a universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own. For Dr. Scott God was both very real and very involved.
In his introduction to his Chronology he wrote:
“To the Reader”
The reason which first induced me to undertake the following Work, was to satisfy my own mind, by attempting the removal of an objection often urged by men opposed to REVEALED RELIGION, viz, “That the Chronological Dates are so uncertain and contradictory, that no dependence can be placed upon them.” How far I have succeeded in the under taking, must be left to every one to judge for himself. Only this I must say, that after a close investigation of the subject, I am fully persuaded that the objection is without foundation, and that no writings, either ancient or modern, give so clear an account of matters of fact, nor represent the history of two separate kingdoms so plain as the books of the Kings and Chronicles do the history of the kings of Israel and Judah.”
In his book that is mostly charts and explanations he traces the history of the world from the creation, dating the lives of those named in the Bible and of course dating signal events such as Noah and the Ark. In detail the Bible’s complex cast is juxtaposed – references by book, chapter and verse set against a detailed chronology that over 5,810 years connects the creation of the world to the presidency of James Madison in 5,813 or, as we remember it now, 1809.
It is an exuberant tale, brimming with an optimistic certainty that the world has not since reflected. For that response we need look no further than the AED and the OCLC. In the AED a single reference in Sabin notes both books and credits them to Dr. Scott. Elsewhere, among the more than 3.6 million items described in the AED there is only silence. In the OCLC we find a single original copy of the Chronology in the Library of Congress and but neither shard nor shadow suggesting any copies of his second book. It seems likely his print runs were as small as his intellectual ambitions were large.
Robert Scott, M.D. - a chance encounter
From Adam and Eve to James Madison in 14 charts. Who knew?
Today with the AED and other global resources to consult we find little evidence of his books, suggesting muted initial interest and a tepid passage through time. We are then led to contemplate that God, contrary to his expectation, has been less involved than he expected. How else to explain that his works have come down to us as silently as whispered prayers? Almost. For on the other the single previously known extant copy at the Library of Congress has been scanned and for many years been available at about 80 institutions. This sounds to me like life after death. Does this explain his books’ tenuous and continuing connections to our world today? Gutenberg if able might in fact blush at how common, by comparison, his 48 first printings of the Bible have turned out to be. Dr. Scott’s Antidote by comparison, thought to be a single copy but now known to exist twice with its discovery on eBay, may turn out to be the perfect antidote to any pride Gutenberg might be harboring about the rarity of his work. In fact both of Dr. Scott’s books trump him, the first in two copies, the second with no known copies. So there.
This puffery aside, the slim survival of his first book may stem more from the arcane nature of his question and proof than with the length of his print runs. The Gregorian calendar had after all firmly taken hold. Few people woke up thinking its 5813. The newspapers on their mastheads said 1810. The War of 1812 was a scant few months away and epidemics were routinely trimming the human herd. Fulton had recently built the North River Steamboat to ply the Hudson between New York and Albany and would have passed within eyeshot of Dr. Scott’s home in Rhinebeck. Perhaps the unsettled nature of the present and the gathering sweep of a rapidly developing future may simply have swamped all serious consideration of a project that looked back even as the world lurched forward. Whatever the reason the chance survival of his first book is a reminder to book collectors that book collecting is an exceptional experience that occasionally rewards both the diligent and the lucky.
On the day I found it I was both.
Hasbrouck’s History of Dutchess County
Poucher’s “Old Gravestones of Dutchess County New York. Pg 325, ref. 471