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John Wilkins

Bishop of Chester
DioceseDiocese of Chester
In office1668–1672 (death)
PredecessorGeorge Hall
SuccessorJohn Pearson
Other post(s)Dean of Ripon (1663–1672)
Consecration15 November 1668
by Gilbert Sheldon
Personal details
Born(1614-02-14)14 February 1614[1]
Died19 November 1672(1672-11-19) (aged 58)
Chancery Lane, London[2]
BuriedSt Lawrence Jewry, London[2]
SpouseRobina Cromwell (m.1656)[2]
ProfessionClergyman, natural philosopher, author, administrator
Alma materNew Inn Hall, Oxford
Magdalen Hall, Oxford[2]
Arms: Argent on a pale engrailed cotised plain Sable three martlets Or.[3]

John Wilkins FRS (14 February 1614 – 19 November 1672) was an Anglican clergyman, natural philosopher, and author, and was one of the founders of the Royal Society. He was Bishop of Chester from 1668 until his death.

Wilkins is one of the few persons to have headed a college at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. He was a polymath, 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 Oxford, in founding the Royal Society on non-partisan lines, and in efforts to reach out to Protestant Nonconformists. He was one of the founders of the new natural theology compatible with the science of the time.[4] He is particularly known for An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668) in which, amongst other things, he proposed a universal language and an integrated system of measurement, similar to the metric system.

Wilkins lived in a period of great political and religious controversy, yet managed to remain on working terms with men of all political stripes; he was key in setting the Church of England on the path toward comprehension for as many sects as possible, "and toleration for the rest". Gilbert Burnet called him "the wisest clergyman I ever knew. He was a lover of mankind, and had a delight in doing good."[5] His stepdaughter married John Tillotson, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1691.

Early life

He was probably born at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire, though some sources say Fawsley; his father Walter Wilkins (died 1623) was a goldsmith and his mother Jane Dod was daughter of John Dod, a well-known conforming Puritan. His mother then remarried to Francis Pope, and their son, Walter Pope was a half-brother.[6][7]

Wilkins was educated at a school in Oxford run by Edward Sylvester, and matriculated at New Inn Hall. He then moved to Magdalen Hall, Oxford where his tutor was John Tombes, and graduated with a BA degree in 1631, an MA degree in 1634.[6] He studied astronomy with John Bainbridge.[8]

Wilkins went to Fawsley in 1637, a sheep-farming place with little population, dominated by the Knightley family, to whom he and then Dod may have ministered; Richard Knightley had been Dod's patron there. He was ordained a priest of the Church of England in Christ Church Cathedral in February 1638.[9][10] He then became chaplain successively to Lord Saye and Sele, and by 1641 to Lord Berkeley. In 1644 he became chaplain to Prince Charles Louis, nephew of King Charles I, who was then in England.[6]

In London, Oxford and Cambridge

An 18th Century engraving of John Wilkins, Chester

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. The group included George Ent, Samuel Foster, Francis Glisson, Jonathan Goddard, Christopher Merrett, and John Wallis.

Others of Scarburgh's circle were William Harvey and Seth Ward. This London group, the Gresham College group of 1645, was described much later by Wallis, who mentions also Theodore Haak, anchoring it also to the Palatine exiles; there are clear connections to the Wilkins Oxford Philosophical Club, another and less remote precursor to the Royal Society.[11]

From 1648 Charles Louis was able to take up his position as Elector of the Palatinate on the Rhine, as a consequence of the Peace of Westphalia. Wilkins travelled to continental Europe, and according to Anthony Wood visited Heidelberg.[12]

In 1648 Wilkins became Warden of Wadham College in Oxford, and under him the college prospered. He fostered political and religious tolerance and drew talented minds to the college, including Christopher Wren.[6] Although he was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell, Royalists placed their sons in his charge. From those interested in experimental science, he drew together a significant group known as the Oxford Philosophical Club, which by 1650 had been constituted with a set of rules. Besides some of the London group (Goddard, Wallis, Ward, and Wren who was a young protégé of Scarburgh), it included (in the account of Thomas Sprat) Ralph Bathurst, Robert Boyle, William Petty, Lawrence Rooke, Thomas Willis, and Matthew Wren.[13] Robert Hooke was gradually recruited into the Wilkins group: he arrived at Christ Church, Oxford in 1653, working his way to an education, became assistant to Willis, became known to Wilkins (possibly via Richard Busby) as a technician, and by 1658 was working with Boyle.[14]

In 1656, Wilkins 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, had died. Wilkins thereby joined a high stratum of Parliamentary society, and the couple used rooms in Whitehall Palace. Shortly before his death, Oliver Cromwell arranged for Wilkins a new appointment as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge,[15][16] an appointment that was confirmed by Richard Cromwell who succeeded his father as Lord Protector. Wilkins was there long enough to befriend and become a patron of Isaac Barrow.[17]

After the Restoration

Wilkins' signature as Secretary, signing off the 1667 accounts of the Royal Society, from the minutes book

Upon the Restoration in 1660, the new authorities deprived Wilkins of the position given him by Cromwell; he gained appointment as prebendary of York and rector of Cranford, Middlesex. In 1661, he was reduced to preacher at Gray's Inn, lodging with his friend Seth Ward. In 1662, he became vicar of St Lawrence Jewry, London. He suffered in the Great Fire of London, losing his vicarage, library and scientific instruments.[18]

Possessing strong scientific tastes, Wilkins was a founding member of the Royal Society and was soon elected fellow and one of the Society's two secretaries: he shared the work with Henry Oldenburg, whom he had met in Oxford in 1656.[6][19]


Wilkins became vicar of Polebrook, Northamptonshire, in 1666; prebendary of Exeter in 1667; and in the following year, prebendary of St Paul's and bishop of Chester. He owed his position as bishop to the influence of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. 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 the nonconformists to the Church of England by some peaceful form of negotiation and arrangement. Wilkins too thought along these lines.[20] He had been a sympathetic reader of John Humfrey's 1661 justification of his acceptance of re-ordination by William Piers, having already once been ordained in the Presbyterian style by a classis.[21]

As Wilkins 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.[22]

A serious effort was made in 1668 to secure a scheme of comprehension, with William Bates, Richard Baxter and Thomas Manton for the dissenters meeting Wilkins and Hezekiah Burton. 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 for independent scheming for general toleration with Buckingham, and Baxter pointing the finger at the House of Lords.[23]


Wilkins died in London, most likely from the medicines used to treat his kidney stones and urinary retention.[24]


His numerous written works include:

Mathematical magick, 1691
Frontispiece of John Wilkins "An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language" (1668)

The early scientific works were in a popular vein, and have links to the publications of Francis Godwin. The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638) was followed up by A Discourse Concerning a New Planet (1640). The author highlights the similarities between the Earth and the Moon. Based on these similarities, he proposes the idea that the Moon would house living beings, the Selenites.[27] [28] Godwin's The Man in the Moone was also published in 1638. In 1641 Wilkins published an anonymous treatise entitled Mercury, or The Secret and Swift Messenger.[29] This was a small work on cryptography; it may well have been influenced by Godwin's Nuncius inanimatus (1629).[30][31] His Mathematical Magic (1648) was divided into two sections, one on traditional mechanical devices such as the lever, and the other, more speculative, on machines. It drew on many authors, both classical writers and moderns such as Guidobaldo del Monte and Marin Mersenne.[32] It alludes to Godwin's The Man in the Moone, for bird-powered flight.[33] 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, the Rosicrucians, Robert Fludd.[34][35]

Ecclesiastes (1646) is a plea for a plain style in preaching, avoiding rhetoric and scholasticism, for a more direct and emotional appeal.[36][37] 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 to the modern sense of vocal production.[38][39]

A Discourse Concerning the Beauty of Providence (1649) took an unfashionable line, namely that divine providence 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.[40]

In 1654, Wilkins joined with Seth Ward in writing Vindiciae academiarum, a reply to John Webster'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, a top military figure, and was launched during Barebone's Parliament, when radical change seemed on the cards. Wilkins (as NS) provided an open letter to Ward; and Ward (as HD, 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, and Galen, 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, 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.[41]

In 1668 he published his Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. In it he attempted to create a universal language to replace Latin as a completely unambiguous tongue with which scholars and philosophers could communicate.[42] One aspect of this work was the suggestion of an integrated system of measurement, similar to the metric system but which was never promoted.[43]

In his lexicographical work he collaborated with William Lloyd.[44] The Ballad of Gresham College (1663), a gently satirical ode to the Society, refers to this project:

A Doctor counted very able
Designes that all Mankynd converse shall,
Spite o' th' confusion made att Babell,
By Character call'd Universall.
How long this character will be learning,
That truly passeth my discerning.[45]

See also


  1. ^ Davies, Cliff S.L. (2004), "The Family and Connections of John Wilkins, 1614–72", Oxoniensia, vol. LXIX
  2. ^ a b c d e Sanders, Francis (1900). "Wilkins, John" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 61. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. ^ "The Armorial Bearings of the Bishops of Chester". Cheshire Heraldry Society. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  4. ^ Alister E. McGrath, A Scientific Theology: Nature (2001), p. 242.
  5. ^ Burnet, Gilbert (1833). Lives, Characters, and an Address to Posterity (2nd ed.). London, England: James Duncan. p. 304.
  6. ^ a b c d e Henry, John. "Wilkins, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29421. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ Geoffrey Russell Richards Treasure (January 1998). Who's who in British History: A-H. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1309–. ISBN 978-1-884964-90-9. Archived from the original on 13 February 2018.
  8. ^ Feingold, Mordechai (1997), "Mathematical Sciences and New Philosophies", in Tyacke, Nicholas (ed.), The History of the University of Oxford, vol. IV Seventeenth-century Oxford, p. 380
  9. ^ Barbara J. Shapiro (1969). John Wilkins, 1614–1672: An Intellectual Biography. University of California Press. p. 257. GGKEY:BA7AHU7B3TC.
  10. ^ "Knightley, Richard (1593–1639), of Fawsley, Northants. History of Parliament Online". Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  11. ^ Tinniswood, Adrian (2001), His Invention So Fertile: A life of Christopher Wren, pp. 23–24.
  12. ^ Barbara J. Shapiro (1969). John Wilkins, 1614–1672: An Intellectual Biography. University of California Press. p. 23. GGKEY:BA7AHU7B3TC.
  13. ^ Purver, Margery (1967), The Royal Society: Concept and Creation, p. 205.
  14. ^ Jardine, Lisa (2003), The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, pp. 63–75.
  15. ^ The Master of Trinity, UK: Trinity College, Cambridge, archived from the original on 19 March 2008
  16. ^ "Wilkins, John (WLKS639J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  17. ^ Feingold, Mordechai (1990), Before Newton: The Life and Times of Isaac Barrow, pp. 52–3.
  18. ^ Project Gutenberg, archived from the original on 27 September 2008.
  19. ^ Garber, Daniel; Ayers, Michael, eds. (2003), 'The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-century Philosophy, vol. II, p. 1455.
  20. ^ Keeble, NH (2002), The Restoration: England in the 1660s, p. 123.
  21. ^ "Humfrey, John", Dictionary of National Biography
  22. ^ Marshall, John (1991), "Locke and Latitudinarianism", in Kroll, Richard W.F.; Ashcraft, Richard; Zagorin, Perez (eds.), Philosophy, Science, and Religion in England, 1640–1700, p. 257.
  23. ^ Lamont, William M. (1979), Richard Baxter and the Millennium, p. 220
  24. ^ Inwood, Stephen (2005). The Forgotten Genius: The Biography of Robert Hooke 1635–1703. MacAdam/Cage Publishing. ISBN 1-59692-115-3.
  25. ^ "Cromwell's moonshot: how one Jacobean scientist tried to kick off the space race", This Britain, The Independent, UK, 10 October 2004, archived from the original on 9 May 2009.
  26. ^ "14; The Discovery of a World in the Moon", History, Positive atheism, archived from the original on 6 September 2001
  27. ^ Bouyre Claire, «  Vivre et Aller sur la Lune en 1640 ? Les sciences du vivant dans le discours sur la pluralité des Mondes, à partir de l’œuvre de John Wilkins: The Discovery Of A New World (1640) » Bulletin d’Histoire et d’épistémologie des Sciences de la vie, 2014, 21 (1), pp. 7–37.
  28. ^ In 1701 The Discovery of a World in the Moone was included in the Vatican list of condamned books Library of Condamned books
  29. ^ MERCVRY: The secret and swift Messenger (scan of original book), Light of truth, archived from the original on 4 September 2009.
  30. ^ Knowlson, James R. (1968), "A Note on Bishop Godwin's "Man in the Moone:" The East Indies Trade Route and a 'Language' of Musical Notes", Modern Philology, 65 (4): 357–91, doi:10.1086/390001, JSTOR 435786, S2CID 161387367
  31. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Godwin, Francis" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 176.
  32. ^ Fauvel, UIUC, archived from the original on 13 August 2009, retrieved 16 February 2009
  33. ^ Proceedings (PDF), Newberry, p. 25, archived from the original (PDF) on 24 February 2009
  34. ^ Brann, Noel E. (1999), Trithemius and Magical Theology: A Chapter in the Controversy over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe, p. 233
  35. ^ Yates, Frances (1986), The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, p. 284
  36. ^ Jones, Richard Foster (1951), The Seventeenth Century: Studies in the History of English Thought and Literature from Bacon to Pope, p. 78
  37. ^ Goring, Paul (2005), Rhetoric of Sensibility in Eighteenth-century Culture, p. 37
  38. ^ Green, I.M. (2000), Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England, p. 109
  39. ^ Enos, Theresa, ed. (1996), Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age, p. 764
  40. ^ Guyatt, Nicholas (2007), Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607–1876, Cambridge University Press, p. 43, ISBN 978-0-521-86788-7, [Wilkins] urged his readers to 'remember [that] we are but short-sighted, and cannot discern the various references, and dependences, amongst the great affairs in the world, and may therefore be easily mistaken in our opinion of them.'... After the Restoration, Wilkins's words seemed particularly prescient.
  41. ^ Debus, Allen G. (1970), Science and Education in the Seventeenth Century: The Webster-Ward Debate
  42. ^ The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, Alamut, archived from the original on 2 February 2006
  43. ^ Rooney, Anne (2013). The History of Mathematics. New York: Rosen Publishing Group. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-4488-7227-5. Archived from the original on 16 May 2016.
  44. ^ Natascia final report, NO: UIB, archived from the original on 14 October 2006
  45. ^ Stimson, Dorothy (1932), "Ballad of Gresham College", Isis, vol. 18, pp. 103–17


  • Wright Henderson, Patrick Arkley. The Life and Times of John Wilkins. Project Gutenberg.
  • Funke, O (1959). "On the Sources of John Wilkins' philosophical language". English Studies. Vol. XL.
  • Shapiro, Barbara J (1968). John Wilkins 1614–1672: An Intellectual Biography..
  • Dolezal, Fredric (1985). Forgotten But Important Lexicographers: John Wilkins and William Lloyd. a Modern Approach to Lexicography Before Johnson.
  • Slaughter, M. M. (1982). Universal Languages and Scientific Taxonomy in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-24477-0.
  • Subbiondo, JL, ed. (1992). John Wilkins and 17th-Century British Linguistics.
  • ———————— (July 2001). "Educational Reform in Seventeenth-Century England and John Wilkins' Philosophical Language". Language & Communication. 21 (3): 273–84. doi:10.1016/S0271-5309(00)00014-8.
  • Davies, Cliff S L (2004). "The Family and Connections of John Wilkins, 1614–72". Oxoniensia. LXIX.

External links

15 Annotations

First Reading

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Fascinating figure

A mathematician and divine, Wilkins (1614-72) was about 56 years old when he first shows up in the diary on 25 November 1660.

During the Interregnum, Wilkins's connection to Oliver Cromwell, his brother-in-law, "had done much to protect Oxford from political interference. His written works, composed in language notable for its simplicity and clarity, included forecasts of submarines and interplanetary travel," says his entry in the L&M Companion volume (source of all the information in this annotation).

Pepys's library eventually contained at least seven of Wilkins's books, including his "Essay towards ... a philosophical language" (1668), in which the author created a universal language in the form of symbols. Pepys made some criticisms of the naval section of the book.

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Wilkins had his 46th birthday 1660. Not 56th.

David Quidnunc  •  Link


(his age, roughly, in parentheses below)

1614 -- born

1648-59 (34-45)
Warden of Wadham College, Oxford

1659-60 (45-46)
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge

1662-onward (48- )
Vicar of "St. Lawrence Jewry"

1663-onward (49- )
Dean of Ripon

1663-68 (49-54)
One of the two secretaries of the Royal Society

1668-72 (54-58)
Bishop of Chester

1672 -- died (58)
-- L&M Companion volume

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Wilkins's standing & where he stood

"One of the most original scholars of his day; a founder of the Royal Society," he was a "liberal" divine who strongly favored keeping moderate Presbyterians in the Church of England and advocated toleration for Nonconformists.
-- L&M Companion

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Wilkins on the web

The L&M Companion only hints at Wilkins's extraordinary life. He had connections both to some of the highest members of English society during the Interregnum and the Restoration. He was the (popular) head of Oxford and Cambridge universities at different times, and was influential in the groupings of scholars who eventually founded the Royal Society. He invented various mechanical devices, speculated on others that would be invented in the next few centuries and wrote pioneering books in ciphers and symbolic language.

Imagine a kind of 17th century clerical Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, in terms of their holding of high office, intellect, originality, literary output and interest in tolerance.

Links to some informative web pages:

Much more detailed resume:…

Excellent online biographical essay:…

Many links to Wilkins-related web pages:…

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Wilkins's airy speculation ...

"Yet I do seriously and on good grounds affirm it possible to make a flying chariot in which a man may sit and give such a motion unto it as shall convey him through the air. And this perhaps might be made large enough to carry divers men at the same time, together with food for their viaticum and commodities for traffic. It is not the bigness of anything in this kind that can hinder its motion, if the motive faculty be answerable thereunto. We see a great ship swims as well as a small cork, and an eagle flies in the air as well as a little gnat

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Jorge Luis Borges on Wilkins's language book

Borges here is writing about "An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language" (600 pages in large quarto, 1668) by Wilkins (the translation seems a little rough at points):

"He divided the universe in forty categories or classes, these being further subdivided into differences, which was then subdivided into species. He assigned to each class a monosyllable of two letters; to each difference, a consonant; to each species, a vowel. For example: de, which means an element; deb, the first of the elements, fire; deba, a part of the element fire, a flame. ... The words of the analytical language created by John Wilkins are not mere arbitrary symbols; each letter in them has a meaning ..."

"[I]t is clear that there is no classification of the Universe not being arbitrary and full of conjectures. ... The impossibility of penetrating the divine pattern of the universe cannot stop us from planning human patterns, even though we are conscious they are not definitive. The analytic language of Wilkins is not the least admirable of such patterns. The classes and species that compose it are contradictory and vague; the nimbleness of letters in the words meaning subdivisions and divisions is, no doubt, gifted. The word salmon does not tell us anything; zana, the corresponding word, defines (for the man knowing the forty categories and the species of these categories) a scaled river fish, with ruddy meat."

From: "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins"
A short essay by Jorge Luis Borges…

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Head of colleges at both Cambridge and Oxford

There's a mistake in my "Wilkins on the web" annotation. He didn't head up both universities, but colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. I misread a sentence at this web page, which has another very good biographical essay on Wilkins.…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

A DISCOVERY OR, A DISCOURSE Tending to prove, that 'tis Probable there may be another Habitable W O R L D in the MOON.

With a Discourse Concerning the Probability of a Passage thither. Unto which is Added, A Discourse Concerning a New Planet, Tending to prove, That 'tis Probable Our Earth is one of the Planets.

In Two Parts.

By John Wilkins, late Lord Bijkop of Chester.

The Fourth Edition Corrected and Amended.
L 0 N D 0 N, Printed by f. M & J. A. for John Gilltbrand at the Golden-Ball St. Pauls Church-Yard MDCLXXXIV.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John Wilkins, D.D., born 1614, took the Parliament side, and was made warden of Wadham College, Oxford. In 1656 he married Robina, the widow of Dr. French and sister of Oliver Cromwell. He was appointed Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1659, but was ejected in 1660. Consecrated Bishop of Chester, November 15th, 1668. He died November 19th, 1672. He was one of the founders of the Royal Society, and jokes were often made respecting the publication of his work, "The Discovery of a New World."
---Wheatley, 1896.

Bill  •  Link

"In [John Wilkins's] "Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language," from 1668, Wilkins laid out a sprawling taxonomic tree that was intended to represent a rational classification of every concept, thing, and action in the universe. Each branch along the tree corresponded to a letter or a syllable, so that assembling a word was simply a matter of tracing a set of forking limbs until you'd arrived on a distant tendril representing the concept you wanted to express. For example, in Wilkins's system, De signifies an element, Deb is fire, and Deba is a flame.
The natural philosopher Robert Hooke was so impressed with Wilkins's language that he published a discourse on pocket watches in it, and proposed it be made the lingua franca of scientific research. That never happened. The language was simply too burdensome, and it soon vanished into obscurity. But Wilkins taxonomic-classification scheme, which organized words by meaning rather than alphabetically, was not entirely without use: it was a predecessor of the first modern thesaurus."
Joshua Foer. New Yorker Magazine, Dec. 24 & 31, 2012, p.88.

Bill  •  Link

Dr. Wilkins, a man of a penetrating genius and enlarged understanding, seems to have been born for the improvement of every kind of knowledge to which he applied himself. He was a very able naturalist and mathematician, and an excellent divine. He disdained to tread in the beaten track of philosophy, as his forefathers had done; but struck into the new road pointed out by the great lord Bacon. Considerable discoveries were made by him and the ingenious persons who assembled at his lodgings in Oxford, before the incorporation of the Royal Society; which was principally contrived by Theodore Haak, Mr. Hartlib, and himself. His books on prayer and preaching, and especially his "Principles and Duties of Natural Religion," shew how able a divine he was. His "Essay towards a real Character and Philosophical Language" is a master-piece of invention, yet has been laughed at together with his chimeras: but even these shew themselves to be the chimeras of a man of genius. He projected the impracticable "Art of Flying," when the nature of the air was but imperfectly known. That branch of philosophy was soon after much improved by the experiments of his friend Mr. Boyle. This excellent person whose character was truly exemplary, as well as extraordinary, died much lamented, the 19th of Nov. 1672.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

Bill  •  Link

WILKINS, JOHN (1614-1672), bishop of Chester; Bjl. Magdalen Hall, Oxford, 1631; M.A., 1634; vicar of Fawsley, 1637 ; private chaplain to prince palatine, Charles Lewis, nephew of Charles I; adhered to parliamentary side in civil war and took covenant; B.D., 1648; warden of Wadham College, Oxford, 1648-59; D.D., 1649; centre of group of men who formed Royal Society, 1662, and first secretary; master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1659; incorporated D.D. Cambridge, 1659; deprived of mastership at Restoration; prebendary of York, 1660; vicar of St. Lawrence Jewry, London, 1662 ; dean of Ripon, 1663; prebendary and precentor of Exeter, 1667; prebendary of St. Paul's Cathedral, 1668; bishop of Chester, 1668; published 'The Discovery of a World in the Moone,' 1638, 'A Discourse tending to prove that 'tis probable our Earth is one of the Planets,' 1640, 'Mathematical Magick,' 1648, and 'An Essay towards a real Character and a Philosophical Language,' 1668 (suggested by the 'Ars Signorum' of George Dalgarno), and other works.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.



  • Feb


  • Feb