John Wilkins

John Wilkins

Overview
John Wilkins FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 (1 January 1614 – 19 November 1672) was an English clergyman
Anglican ministry
The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves...

, natural philosopher
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

 and author, as well as a founder of the Invisible College
Invisible College
The Invisible College has been described as a precursor group to the Royal Society of London, consisting of a number of natural philosophers around Robert Boyle...

 and one of the founders of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, and Bishop of Chester
Bishop of Chester
The Bishop of Chester is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Chester in the Province of York.The diocese expands across most of the historic county boundaries of Cheshire, including the Wirral Peninsula and has its see in the City of Chester where the seat is located at the Cathedral...

 from 1668 until his death.

Wilkins is one of the few persons to have headed a college at both the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 and the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

. He was a polymath
Polymath
A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable...

, although not one of the most important scientific innovators of the period. His personal qualities were brought out, and obvious to his contemporaries, in reducing political tension in Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

 Oxford, in founding the Royal Society on non-partisan lines, and in efforts to reach out to religious nonconformists.
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John Wilkins FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 (1 January 1614 – 19 November 1672) was an English clergyman
Anglican ministry
The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves...

, natural philosopher
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

 and author, as well as a founder of the Invisible College
Invisible College
The Invisible College has been described as a precursor group to the Royal Society of London, consisting of a number of natural philosophers around Robert Boyle...

 and one of the founders of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, and Bishop of Chester
Bishop of Chester
The Bishop of Chester is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Chester in the Province of York.The diocese expands across most of the historic county boundaries of Cheshire, including the Wirral Peninsula and has its see in the City of Chester where the seat is located at the Cathedral...

 from 1668 until his death.

Wilkins is one of the few persons to have headed a college at both the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 and the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

. He was a polymath
Polymath
A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable...

, although not one of the most important scientific innovators of the period. His personal qualities were brought out, and obvious to his contemporaries, in reducing political tension in Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

 Oxford, in founding the Royal Society on non-partisan lines, and in efforts to reach out to religious nonconformists. He was one of the founders of the new natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 compatible with the science of the time.

He is particularly known for An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language
An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language
An Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language is the best-remembered of the numerous works of John Wilkins, in which he expounds a new universal language, meant primarily to facilitate international communication among scholars, but envisioned for use by diplomats, travelers, and...

in which, amongst other things, he proposed a universal language
Universal language
Universal language may refer to a hypothetical or historical language spoken and understood by all or most of the world's population. In some circles, it is a language said to be understood by all living things, beings, and objects alike. It may be the ideal of an international auxiliary language...

 and a decimal system of measure not unlike the modern metric system.

Early life


Wilkins was likely born at Canons Ashby
Canons Ashby
Canons Ashby is a small village and civil parish in the Daventry district of the county of Northamptonshire, England.Its most notable building is Canons Ashby House, a National Trust property. The parish church is a surviving fragment of Canons Ashby Priory.It is situated one mile from Moreton...

, Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire is a landlocked county in the English East Midlands, with a population of 629,676 as at the 2001 census. It has boundaries with the ceremonial counties of Warwickshire to the west, Leicestershire and Rutland to the north, Cambridgeshire to the east, Bedfordshire to the south-east,...

. His father was a goldsmith
Goldsmith
A goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals. Since ancient times the techniques of a goldsmith have evolved very little in order to produce items of jewelry of quality standards. In modern times actual goldsmiths are rare...

, and died when he was young; his mother remarried, and Walter Pope
Walter Pope
Walter Pope was an English astronomer and poet. He was born in Northamptonshire and was the half brother of John Wilkins, who would become bishop of Chester. He was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, with a BA in 1649, MA in 1651...

 was half-brother to Wilkins. His maternal grandfather was a Puritan vicar, John Dod
John Dod
John Dod , known as “Decalogue Dod”, was a non-conforming English clergyman, taking his nickname for his emphasis on the Ten Commandments. He is known for his widely circulated writings...

. He was educated at Magdalen Hall (which later became Hertford College
Hertford College, Oxford
Hertford College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is located in Catte Street, directly opposite the main entrance of the original Bodleian Library. As of 2006, the college had a financial endowment of £52m. There are 612 students , plus various visiting...

), Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, being tutored by John Tombes
John Tombes
-Early life:He was born at Bewdley, Worcestershire, in 1602 or 1603. He matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 23 January 1618, aged 15. His tutor there was William Pemble; among his college friends was John Geree. He graduated B.A. on 12 June 1621...

 and graduating B.A. in 1631 and M.A. in 1634. He studied astronomy with John Bainbridge.

After ordination, Wilkins became vicar
Vicar
In the broadest sense, a vicar is a representative, deputy or substitute; anyone acting "in the person of" or agent for a superior . In this sense, the title is comparable to lieutenant...

 of his home town of Fawsley
Fawsley
Fawsley is a hamlet and civil parish in the Daventry district of the county of Northamptonshire, England. The population at the 2001 census was 32....

 in 1637, but he soon resigned. He became chaplain successively to Lord Saye and Sele
William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele
William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele was born at the family home of Broughton Castle near Banbury, in Oxfordshire. He was the only son of Richard Fiennes, seventh Baron Saye and Sele...

 and George Berkeley, 8th Baron Berkeley. In 1644 he became chaplain to Prince Charles Louis, nephew of King Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

, who was in England; from 1648 Charles Louis was able to take up his position as elector palatine on the Rhine, as a consequence of the Peace of Westphalia
Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October of 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster. These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the...

. Wilkins may have accompanied him on his return to Heidelberg
Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

.

Wilkins was one of the group of savants interested in experimental philosophy who gathered round Charles Scarburgh, the royalist physician who arrived in London in summer 1646 after the fall of Oxford to the parliamentarian forces. These included George Ent
George Ent
George Ent was an English scientist in the seventeenth century who focused on the study of anatomy. He was a member of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians...

, Samuel Foster
Samuel Foster
Samuel Foster was an English mathematician and astronomer. He made several observations of eclipses, both of the sun and moon, at Gresham College and in other places; and he was known particularly for inventing and improving planetary instruments...

, Francis Glisson
Francis Glisson
Francis Glisson was a British physician, anatomist, and writer on medical subjects. He did important work on the anatomy of the liver, and he wrote an early pediatric text on rickets...

, Jonathan Goddard
Jonathan Goddard
Jonathan Goddard was an English physician, known both as army surgeon to the forces of Oliver Cromwell, and as an active member of the Royal Society.-Life:...

, Christopher Merrett
Christopher Merrett
Christopher Merret FRS was an English physician and scientist. He was the first to document the deliberate addition of sugar for the production of sparkling wine, and produced the first list of British birds.-Life:Merret was born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire on 16 February; Hunter gives the...

, and John Wallis. Others of Scarburgh's circle were William Harvey
William Harvey
William Harvey was an English physician who was the first person to describe completely and in detail the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped to the body by the heart...

 and Seth Ward
Seth Ward (bishop)
Seth Ward was an English mathematician, astronomer, and bishop.-Early life:He was born in Hertfordshire, and educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1636 and M.A. in 1640, becoming a Fellow in that year...

. This London group was described much later by Wallis, who mentions also Theodore Haak
Theodore Haak
Theodore Haak was a German Calvinist scholar, resident in England in later life. Haak’s communications abilities and interests in the new science provided the backdrop for convening the “1645 Group,” a precursor of the Royal Society.Although not himself known as a natural philosopher, Haak's...

, anchoring it also to the Palatine exiles; while there are clear connections to the Wilkins Oxford 'club', it is no longer considered that these were founders of what later became the Royal Society.

In Oxford and Cambridge


In 1648 he became warden of Wadham College, Oxford
Wadham College, Oxford
Wadham College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, located at the southern end of Parks Road in central Oxford. It was founded by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, wealthy Somerset landowners, during the reign of King James I...

. Under him the college prospered. Wilkins fostered political and religious tolerance and drew talented minds to the college, including Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren FRS is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history.He used to be accorded responsibility for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710...

. Although he was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

, Royalist
Cavalier
Cavalier was the name used by Parliamentarians for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I and son Charles II during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration...

s placed their sons in his charge. From those in Oxford interested in experimental science, he drew together a significant group or 'club', which by 1650 had been constituted with a set of rules. Besides some of the London group (Goddard, Wallis, Ward, Wren who was a young protégé of Scarburgh), it included (in the account of Thomas Sprat
Thomas Sprat
Thomas Sprat , English divine, was born at Beaminster, Dorset, and educated at Wadham College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship from 1657 to 1670.Having taken orders he became a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral in 1660...

) Ralph Bathurst
Ralph Bathurst
Ralph Bathurst was an English theologian and physician.-Early life:He was born in Hothorpe, Northamptonshire in 1620 and educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry.He graduated with a B.A...

, Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle FRS was a 17th century natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor, also noted for his writings in theology. He has been variously described as English, Irish, or Anglo-Irish, his father having come to Ireland from England during the time of the English plantations of...

, William Petty
William Petty
Sir William Petty FRS was an English economist, scientist and philosopher. He first became prominent serving Oliver Cromwell and Commonwealth in Ireland. He developed efficient methods to survey the land that was to be confiscated and given to Cromwell's soldiers...

, Lawrence Rooke
Lawrence Rooke
Lawrence Rooke was an English astronomer and mathematician. He was also one of the founders of the Royal Society, although he died as it was being formally constituted.-Life:...

, Thomas Willis
Thomas Willis
Thomas Willis was an English doctor who played an important part in the history of anatomy, neurology and psychiatry. He was a founding member of the Royal Society.-Life:...

, and Matthew Wren. Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke FRS was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath.His adult life comprised three distinct periods: as a scientific inquirer lacking money; achieving great wealth and standing through his reputation for hard work and scrupulous honesty following the great fire of 1666, but...

 was gradually recruited into the Wilkins group: he arrived at Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England...

 in 1653, working his way to an education, became assistant to Willis, and became known to Wilkins (possibly via Richard Busby
Richard Busby
The Rev. Dr. Richard Busby was an English Anglican priest who served as head master of Westminster School for more than fifty-five years.-Life:...

) as a technician. By 1658 he was working with Boyle.

In 1656, he married Robina French née Cromwell, youngest sister of Oliver Cromwell, who had been widowed in 1655 when her husband Peter French, a canon of Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England...

, had died. Wilkins thereby joined a high stratum of Parliamentary society, and the couple used rooms in Whitehall Palace. In 1659, shortly before his death, Oliver Cromwell arranged for Wilkins a new appointment as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

, an appointment that was confirmed by Richard Cromwell
Richard Cromwell
At the same time, the officers of the New Model Army became increasingly wary about the government's commitment to the military cause. The fact that Richard Cromwell lacked military credentials grated with men who had fought on the battlefields of the English Civil War to secure their nation's...

 who succeeded him as Lord Protector
Lord Protector
Lord Protector is a title used in British constitutional law for certain heads of state at different periods of history. It is also a particular title for the British Heads of State in respect to the established church...

. He was there long enough to befriend and become a patron of Isaac Barrow
Isaac Barrow
Isaac Barrow was an English Christian theologian, and mathematician who is generally given credit for his early role in the development of infinitesimal calculus; in particular, for the discovery of the fundamental theorem of calculus. His work centered on the properties of the tangent; Barrow was...

.

In London


Upon the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 in 1660, the new authorities deprived Wilkins of the position given him by Cromwell; he gained appointment as prebendary
Prebendary
A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral...

 of York and rector
Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

 of Cranford
Cranford
Cranford may refer to:*Cranford - a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell*Cranford - a BBC television adaptation of Cranford and other works by Elizabeth GaskellCranford may also refer to the following places:...

, Middlesex
Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

. In 1661 he was reduced to preacher at Gray's Inn
Gray's Inn
The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, an individual must belong to one of these Inns...

, lodging with his friend Seth Ward
Seth Ward
Seth Ward may refer to:* Seth Ward, Texas** Jimmy Dean , entertainer, mistakenly identified with the birth name of Seth Ward, which was actually the above town in Texas where he grew up...

. In 1662 he became vicar of St Lawrence Jewry
St Lawrence Jewry
St Lawrence Jewry is a Church of England guild church in the City of London on Gresham Street, next to the Guildhall.-History:The church was originally built in the twelfth century and dedicated to St Lawrence The church is near the former medieval Jewish ghetto, which was centred...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He suffered in the Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...

, losing his vicarage, library and scientific instruments.

Possessing strong scientific tastes, Wilkins was a founding member of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 and was soon elected fellow and one of the Society's two secretaries: he shared the work with Henry Oldenburg
Henry Oldenburg
Henry Oldenburg was a German theologian known as a diplomat and a natural philosopher. He was one of the foremost intelligencers of Europe of the seventeenth century, with a network of correspondents to rival those of Fabri de Peiresc, Marin Mersenne and Ismaël Boulliau...

, whom he had met in Oxford in 1656.

Bishop


He became vicar of Polebrook
Polebrook
-History:There is evidence that Polebrook as a settlement dates back to 4000 BC,. The farms were mainly centred around the modern day village of Ashton...

, Northamptonshire, in 1666; prebendary
Prebendary
A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral...

 of Exeter
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter at Exeter, is an Anglican cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of Exeter, in the city of Exeter, Devon in South West England....

 in 1667; and in the following year, prebendary of St Paul's
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

 and bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

 of Chester.

He owed his position as bishop of Chester to the influence of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham
George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham
George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 20th Baron de Ros of Helmsley, KG, PC, FRS was an English statesman and poet.- Upbringing and education :...

. Buckingham's approach to the religious problem of the day was 'comprehension', something less than religious tolerance but aimed at least at bringing in the Presbyterians among nonconformists to the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 by some peaceful form of negotiation and arrangement. Wilkins too thought along these lines. He had been a sympathetic reader of John Humfrey
John Humfrey
John Humfrey was an English clergyman, an ejected minister from 1662 and controversialist active in the Presbyterian cause.-Life:...

's 1661 justification of his acceptance of re-ordination by William Piers
William Piers
William Piers was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University from 1621 to 1624, Bishop of Peterborough from 1630 to 1632 and Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1632 to his death in 1670.-Life:...

, having already once been ordained in the Presbyterian style by a classis.

As he was ordained he spoke out against the use of penal laws, and immediately tried to gather support from other moderate bishops to see what concessions to the nonconformists could be made. A serious effort was made in 1668 to secure a scheme of comprehension, with William Bates, Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long...

 and Thomas Manton
Thomas Manton
Thomas Manton was an English Puritan clergyman.-Life:Thomas Manton was baptized March 31, 1620 at Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset, a remote southwestern portion of England. His grammar school education was possibly at Blundell's School, in Tiverton, Devon...

 for the dissenters meeting Wilkins and Hezekiah Burton
Hezekiah Burton
-Life:He was educated in Sutton-on-Lound and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow.He was an associate of a number of intellectual figures of the day, in particular Richard Cumberland whose De legibus naturae he edited and to which he contributed an Address to the Reader. He is...

. Wilkins felt the Presbyterians could be brought within the Church of England, while the Independent separatists were left outside. It fell through by late summer, with Manton blaming John Owen
John Owen (theologian)
John Owen was an English Nonconformist church leader, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford.-Early life:...

 for independent scheming for general toleration with Buckingham, and Baxter pointing the finger at the House of Lords.

Death and legacy


He died in London, most likely from the medicines used to treat his kidney stone
Kidney stone
A kidney stone, also known as a renal calculus is a solid concretion or crystal aggregation formed in the kidneys from dietary minerals in the urine...

s and stoppage of urine.

The influence and ambitions of John Wilkins were an important thread in the historical fiction
Historical fiction
Historical fiction tells a story that is set in the past. That setting is usually real and drawn from history, and often contains actual historical persons, but the principal characters tend to be fictional...

 trilogy The Baroque Cycle
The Baroque Cycle
The Baroque Cycle is a series of novels by American writer Neal Stephenson. It was published in three volumes containing 8 books in 2003 and 2004. The story follows the adventures of a sizeable cast of characters living amidst some of the central events of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in...

by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson
Neal Town Stephenson is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction.Difficult to categorize, his novels have been variously referred to as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk...

.

Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

 wrote a short essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.

Works


His numerous written works include:
  • The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638)
  • A Discourse Concerning a New Planet (1640)
  • Mercury, or the Secret and Swift Messenger (1641), the first English-language book on cryptography
    Cryptography
    Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

  • Ecclesiastes (1646)
  • Mathematical Magick (1648)
  • A Discourse Concerning the Beauty of Providence (1649)
  • A discourse concerning the gift of prayer: shewing what it is, wherein it consists and how far it is attainable by industry (1651)
  • Vindiciae academiarum (1654), with Seth Ward
  • An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (London, 1668), in which he proposes a new universal language for the use of natural philosophers.
  • Of the Principle and Duties of Natural Religion (London, 1675).


The early scientific works were in a popular vein, and have links to the publications of Francis Godwin
Francis Godwin
Francis Godwin was an English divine, Bishop of Llandaff and of Hereford.-Life:He was the son of Thomas Godwin, Bishop of Bath and Wells, born at Hannington, Northamptonshire...

. The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638) was followed up by A Discourse Concerning a New Planet (1640). Godwin'sThe Man in the Moone was also published in 1638. In 1641 Wilkins published an anonymous treatise entitled Mercury, or The Secret and Swift Messenger. This was a small work on cryptography
Cryptography
Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

; it may well have been influenced by Godwin's Nuncius inanimatus (1629). His Mathematical Magic (1648) was divided into two sections, one on traditional mechanical devices such as the lever
Lever
In physics, a lever is a rigid object that is used with an appropriate fulcrum or pivot point to either multiply the mechanical force that can be applied to another object or resistance force , or multiply the distance and speed at which the opposite end of the rigid object travels.This leverage...

, and the other, more speculative, on machines. It drew on many authors, both classical writers and moderns such as Guidobaldo del Monte
Guidobaldo del Monte
Guidobaldo del Monte , Marquis del Monte, was an Italian mathematician, philosopher and astronomer of the 16th century.- Biography :...

 and Marin Mersenne
Marin Mersenne
Marin Mersenne, Marin Mersennus or le Père Mersenne was a French theologian, philosopher, mathematician and music theorist, often referred to as the "father of acoustics"...

. It alludes to Godwin's The Man in the Moone, for bird-powered flight. These were light if learned works and admitted both blue-sky thinking, such as the possibility of the Moon being inhabitable, and references to figures on the "occult" side: Trithemius, John Dee
John Dee
John Dee was a Welsh mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I.John Dee may also refer to:* John Dee , Basketball coach...

, the Rosicrucians, Robert Fludd
Robert Fludd
Robert Fludd, also known as Robertus de Fluctibus was a prominent English Paracelsian physician, astrologer, mathematician, cosmologist, Qabalist, Rosicrucian apologist...

.

Ecclesiastes (1646) is a plea for a plain style in preaching, avoiding rhetoric and scholasticism, for a more direct and emotional appeal. It analysed the whole field of available Biblical commentary, for the use of those preparing sermons, and was reprinted many times. It is noted as a transitional work, both in the move away from Ciceronian style in preaching, and in the changing meaning of elocution
Elocution
Elocution is the study of formal speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone.-History:In Western classical rhetoric, elocution was one of the five core disciplines of pronunciation, which was the art of delivering speeches. Orators were trained not only on proper diction, but on the proper...

 to the modern sense of vocal production.

A Discourse Concerning the Beauty of Providence (1649) took an unfashionable line, namely that divine providence
Divine providence
In Christian theology, divine providence, or simply providence, is God's activity in the world. " Providence" is also used as a title of God exercising His providence, and then the word are usually capitalized...

 was more inscrutable than current interpreters were saying. It added to the reputation of Wilkins, when the Stuarts returned to the throne, to have warned that the short term reading of events as managed by God was risky.

In 1654, Wilkins joined with Seth Ward in writing Vindiciae academiarum, a reply to John Webster
John Webster (minister)
John Webster , also known as Johannes Hyphastes, was an English clergyman, physician and chemist with occult interests, a proponent of astrology and a sceptic about witchcraft. He is known for controversial works.-Life:...

's Academiarum Examen, one of many attacks at the time on the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and their teaching methods. This attack had more clout than most: it was dedicated to John Lambert
John Lambert (general)
John Lambert was an English Parliamentary general and politician. He fought during the English Civil War and then in Oliver Cromwell's Scottish campaign , becoming thereafter active in civilian politics until his dismissal by Cromwell in 1657...

, a top military figure, and was launched during Barebone's Parliament, when radical change seemed on the cards. Wilkins (as N. S.) provided an open letter to Ward; and Ward (as H. D., also taking the final letters of his name therefore) replied at greater length. Wilkins makes two main points: first, Webster is not addressing the actual state of the universities, which were not as wedded to old scholastic ways, Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, and Galen
Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

, as he said; and secondly Webster's mixture of commended authors, without fuller understanding of the topics, really was foolish. In this approach Wilkins had to back away somewhat from his writings of the late 1630s and early 1640s. He made light of this in the way of pointing to Alexander Ross
Alexander Ross (writer)
Alexander Ross was a prolific Scottish writer and controversialist. He was Chaplain-in-Ordinary to Charles I.-Life:He was born in Aberdeen, and entered King's College, Aberdeen, in 1604. About 1616 he succeeded Thomas Parker in the mastership of the free school at Southampton, an appointment which...

, a very conservative Aristotelian who had attacked his own astronomical works, as a more suitable target for Webster. This exchange was part of the process of the new experimental philosophers throwing off their associations with occultists and radicals.

In 1668 he published his Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language
An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language
An Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language is the best-remembered of the numerous works of John Wilkins, in which he expounds a new universal language, meant primarily to facilitate international communication among scholars, but envisioned for use by diplomats, travelers, and...

. In it he attempted to create a universal language to replace Latin as a completely unambiguous tongue with which scholars and philosophers could communicate. One aspect of this work was the suggestion of a decimal system
Decimal system
Decimal system may refer to:* The decimal number system, used in mathematics for writing numbers and performing arithmetic.* The Dewey Decimal System, a subject classification system used in libraries....

 of measurement, such as the metric system
Metric system
The metric system is an international decimalised system of measurement. France was first to adopt a metric system, in 1799, and a metric system is now the official system of measurement, used in almost every country in the world...

. In his lexicographical work he collaborated with William Lloyd.
The Ballad of Gresham College (1663), a gently satirical ode to the Society, refers to this project:

Further reading

  • Patrick Arkley Wright Henderson, The Life and Times of John Wilkins; Project Gutenberg text
  • O. Funke (1959), On the Sources of John Wilkins' philosophical language. English Studies XL 208.
  • Barbara J. Shapiro (1968), John Wilkins 1614–1672: An Intellectual Biography
  • Fredric Dolezal (1985), Forgotten But Important Lexicographers: John Wilkins and William Lloyd. a Modern Approach to Lexicography Before Johnson
  • J. L. Subbiondo (editor) (1992), John Wilkins and 17th-Century British Linguistics
  • J. L. Subbiondo, Educational Reform in Seventeenth-Century England and John Wilkins' Philosophical Language, anguage & Communication, v21 n3 p273-84 Jul 2001

External links