Ray, John

, an eminent English natural philosopher, was the son of a blacksmith at Black Notley, near Braintree, in Essex, and was born there Nov. 29th, 1628. He was bred a scholar at Braintree school; and sent thence, in 1644, to Catharine-hall in Cambridge. Here he continued about two years, and then removed, for some reason orother, to Trinity-college with which, says Derham, he was afterwards much pleased, because in Catharine-hall they chiefly addicted themselves to disputations, while in Trinity the politer arts and sciences were principally cultivated. In Sept. 1649 he was chosen a minor fellow along with his ingenious friend Isaac Barrow, and was chosen major fellow, when he had completed his master’s degree. The learned Duport, famous for his skill in Greek, who had been his tutor, used to say, that the chief of all his pupils, and to whom he esteemed none of the rest comparable, were Mr. Ray and Dr. Barrow. In 1651, Mr. Ray was chosen the Greek lecturer of the college; in 1653, the mathematical lecturer; in 1655, humanity-reader; which three appointments shew the reputation he had acquired, in that early period of his life, for his skill in languages, polite literature, and the sciences. After he had been of greater standing, he was chosen into the respective offices of the college, as praelector primarius, in 1657; junior dean in 1658; and twice college-steward, in 1659 and 1660.

During his continuance in the university, he acquitted himself honourably as a tutor and a preacher; for, preaching and common placing, both in the college and in the university-church, were then usually performed by persons not ordained. Dr. Tenison informed his biographer that Mr. Ray was much celebrated in his time for his preaching solid and useful divinity, instead of that enthusiastic stuff which the sermons of that time were generally filled with. His favourite study, and what indeed made the chief business of his life, was the history of nature, and the works of God: and in this he acquired very extensive knowledge. He published, in 1660, a “Catalogue of the Cambridge Plants,” in order to promote the study of botany, which was then much neglected and the reception this work met with encouraged him to proceed farther in this study. He no longer contented himself with what he met with about Cambridge, but extended his pursuits throughout the greatest part of England | and Wales, and part of Scotland. In these journeys of simpiing, though he sometimes went alone, yet he had commonly the company of other curious gentlemen, particularjy Mr, Willoughby, his pupil, Mr. (afterwards sir) Philip Skippon, and Mr. Peter Courthope* At the restoration of the king, he resolved upon entering into holy orders; and was ordained by Sanderson, bishop of Lincoln, December 23, 1660. He continued fellow of Trinitycollege, till the beginning of the Bartholomew act; which, requiring a subscription against the solemn league and covenant, occasioned him to resign his fellowship, he refusing to sign that declaration. His biographer informs us that the reason of his refusal was not, as some have imagined, his having taken the solemn league and covenant: “for that he never did, and often declared that he ever thought it an unlawful oath, but he said he could not declare, for those that had taken the oath, that no obligation lay upon them; but feared there might.” This explanation of Mr. Hay’s conduct seems not very satisfactory, but it is all that we can now obtain, and it is certain that he died in communion with the church of England.

Having now left his fellowship, and visited most parts of his own country, he was desirous of seeing what nature afforded in foreign parts; and accordingly, in April, 1663, himself, with Mr. Willoughby,’ Mr. Skippon, and Mr. Nathanael Bacon, went from Dover to Calais, and thence through divers parts of Europe; which, however, it is sufficient just to mention, as Mr. Hay himself, in 1673, published the “Observations” they made in that tour. Towards the end of their journey, Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Ray separated; the former passing through Spain, the latter from Montpelier through France, into England, where he arrived in March, 1665-6. He pursued his philosophical studies with his usual ardour, and became so distinguished, that he was importuned to come into the royal society, and was admitted fellow thereof in 1667. Being then solicited by dean (afterwards bishop) Wilkins, to translate his-“Real Character” into Latin, he consented; and the original manuscript of that work, ready for the press, is still extant in the library of the royal society.

In the spring of 1669, Mr. Ray and Mr. Willoughby entered upon those experiments about the tappings of trees, and the ascent and the descent of their sap, which are published in the Philosophical Transactions. About | this time, Mr. Ray began to draw up his observations for public use; and one of' the first things he undertook was, his “Collection of English Proverbs.” This book, though sent to Cambridge to be printed in 3669, yet was not published till 1672. It was afterwards much enlarged, and is perhaps better known to the generality of his countrymen, than any other of his literary labours. He also prepared his “Catalogue of English Plants” for the press, which came out in 1670: his humble thoughts of this and his other book (for he was a man of uncommon modesty) may be seen in a Latin letter of his to Dr. Lister, August 22, 1670. In the same letter, he also takes notice of the altering his name, by leaving out the W in the beginning of it; for, till 1670, he had always written his name Wraij; but this being, he says, contrary to the custom of his forefathers, he therefore re-assumed the name of Ray. In the same letter, he mentions his having had an offer of 200l. per annum to travel with three young noblemen into foreign parts; but this proposal not being consistent with his infirm state of body, he thought it prudent to decline it.

In 1671 he was afflicted with a feverish disorder, which terminated in the yellow jaundice; but he was soon cured of it, and resumed his botanical pursuits. The year after, his beloved friend Mr. Willoughby died, in his 37th year, at Middleton-hall, his seat in Yorkshire; “to the infinite and unspeakable loss and grief,” says Mr. Ray, “of myself, his friends, and all good men.” There having been the sincerest friendship between Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Ray, who were men of similar dispositions and tastes, from the time of their being fellow-collegians, Mr. Willoughby not only confided in Mr. Ray in his life-time, but also at his death; for, he made him one of the executors of his will, and charged him with the education of his sons, Francis and Thomas, leaving him also for life 60l. per ann. The eldest of these young gentlemen not being four years of age, Mr. Ray, as a faithful trustee, betook himself to the instruction of them; and for their use composed his “Nomenclator dassicus,” which was published in 1672, and is far more exact, especially in the names of natural objects, than any that had previously appeared. Francis, the eldest, dying before he was of age, the younger became lord Middleton. Not many months after the death of Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Ray lost another of his best friends, bishop Wilkins; whom he visited in London, November 13, 1672, and found expiring. | Mr. Ray having thus lost some of his best friends, and being in a manner left destitute, endeavoured to consoler himself with female society; and in June, 1673, married a young lady, not half his age, being only 20 years of age, the daughter of Mr. Oakeley, of Launton in Oxfordshire. Towards the end of this year came forth his “Observations, Topographical, Moral, &c.” made in foreign countries; to which was added his “Catalogus Stirpium in exteris regionibus observatarum” and, about the same time, his “Collection of unusual or local English words,” which he had gathered up in his travels through the counties of England. In 1674, Mr. Oldenbufgh, the secretary of the Royal Society, renewed his correspondence with Mr. Ray^, which had been some time intermitted, and sent him letters almost every month. Mr. Ray’s accounts in these letters were published by Oldenburgh in the Philosophical Transactions. Oldenburgh had a farther view in his correspondence with Mr. Ray; it was to engage him with those leading members, who had agreed to entertain the society with a philosophical discourse at their meetings, so that the burthen might not lie among too few of the members. Mr. Ray complied, and accordingly sent him “A Discourse concerning Seeds, and the Specific Differences of Plants;” which, Oldenburgh tells him, was so well received by the president and fellows, that they returned him their thanks, and requested he would repeat his favours of that kind.

This year, 1674, and part of the next, he spent in preparing Mr. Willoughby’s “Observations about Birds” fof the press; which, however, was not published till 1678. These two gentlemen, finding the history of nature very imperfect, had agreed between themselves, before their travels gn the continent, to reduce the several tribes of oature to a method, and to give accurate descriptions of the several species from a strict survey of them: and, since Mr. Willoughby’s genius lay chiefly to animals, he undertook the birds, beasts, fishes, and insects, as Mr. Ray did the vegetables. How they discharged each their province, the world has seen in their works. Old lady Willoughby dying, and Mr. Wilionghby’s sons being removed from under Mr. Kay’s tuition, about 1676 he left Middletonhall, and retired with his wife to Sutton Cofield, about four miles from Middleton. Some time after, he went into Essex, to Falborne-hall, wfcere he continued till June | 1677; aod then made another remove to Black-Notley, his native place.

The first fruit of our author’s leisure and retirement here, was his “Met hod us Plantarum Nova,” published in 1682, making au octavo volume. His principles of arrangement are chiefly derived from the fruit. The regularity and irregularity of flowers, which take the lead in the system of Rivinus, make no part of that of Ray. It is remarkable that he adopts the ancient primary division of plants, into trees, shrubs, and herbs, and that he blamed Rivious for abolishing it, though his own prefatory remarks tend to overset that principle, as a vulgar and casual one, unworthy of a philosopher. That his system was not merely a commodious artificial aid to practical botany, but a philosophical clue to the labyrinth of Nature, he probably, like his fellow-labourers, for many years, in this department, believed; yet he was too modest, and too learned, to think he had brought this new and arduous design to perfection; for whatever he has incidentally or deliberately thrown out, respecting the value of his labours, is often marked with more diffidence on the subject of classification, than any other. He first applied his system to practical use in a general “Historia Plantarum,” of which the first volume, a thick folio, was published in 1686, and the second in 1687. The third volume of the same work, which is supplementary, came out in 1704. This vast and critical compilation is still in use as a book of reference, being particularly valuable as an epitome of the contents of various rare and expensive works, which ordinary libraries cannot possess, such as the “Hortus Malabaricus.” The description of species is faithful and instructive; the remarks original, bounded only by the whole circuit of the botanical learning of that day nor are generic character! neglected, however vaguely they are assumed. Specific differences do not enter regularly into the author’s plan, nor has he followed any uniform rules of nomenclature. So ample a transcript of the practical knowledge of such a botanist, cannot but be a treasure; yet it is now njucli neglected, few persons being learned enough to use it with facility, for want of figures, and a popular nomenclature; and those who are, seldom requiring its assistance. A mere catalogue or index, like the works of Tournefort and Caspar Bauhin, which teach nothing of themselves, are of readier use. The Species Plantarum of Linnseus | unites the advantages of the clearest most concise specific definition, and, by the help of Bauhin, of an universal index. Nor was Mr. Ray less mindful of Mr. Willoughby’s collections, where there were noble, though rude and indigested, materials; but spent much time and pains in reducing them to order, and fitting them for the press. He had published his “ObserTations upon Birds” in 1678; and, in 1685, he published his “History of Fishes:” and, though these works were then the completest in their kinds, yet they lost much of their perfection by the miscarriage of Mr. Willoughby’s and Mr. Ray’s papers in their travels. They had very accurately described all the birds, fishes, &c. which they saw as they passed through Germany, especially those in and upon the Danube and the Rhine j but lost their accounts in their return home. This loss Mr. Ray laments in the philosophical letters above cited.

Though Mr. Ray’s health began to be impaired by years and study, yet he continued from time to time to give his works to the public. He published, in 1688, “Fasciculus Stirpium Britannicarum;” and, in 1690, “Synopsis Methodica Stirpium Britannicarum.” The learned president of the Linnaean society observes, that if the fame or the utility of Ray’s great botanical works has, neither of them, been commensurate with the expectations that might have been formed, this “Synopsis” amply supplied all such defects, and proved the great corner stone of his reputation in this department of science. The two editions of his alphabetical catalogue of English plants being sold off, and some pettifogging reasons of his bookseller’s standing in the way of a third, with any improvements, he remodelled the work, throwing it into a systematic form, revising the whole, supplying generic characters, with numerous additions of species, and various emendations and remarks. The uses and medicinal qualities of the plants are removed to the alphabetical index at the end. A second edition of this “Synopsis” was published in 1696, nor did its author ever prepare another. The third, now most in use, was edited twenty-eight years afterwards by Dillenius. Of all the systematical and practical Floras of any country, the second edition of Ray’s “Synopsis” is the most perfect that ever came under our observation. He examined every plant recorded in his work, and even gathered most of them himself. He investigated their synonyms with consummate accuracy; and if the clearness | and precision of other authors had equalled his, he would scarcely have committed an error. It is difficult to find him in a mistake or misconception respecting Nature herself, though he sometimes misapprehends the bad figures, or lame descriptions, he was obliged to consult. Above a hundred species are added, in this second edition, and the cryptogamic plants, in particular, are more amply elucidated. A controversial letter from Rivinus to Ray, and its answer, with remarks upon Tournefort, are subjoined to this second edition. Much of the dispute turns upon the now obsolete distinction of plants, in a methodical system, into trees, shrubs, herbs, &c. The letters are well written, in Latin: and liberal, though perhaps hypercritical, in their style. Ray took no delight in controversy.

Having thus published many books on subjects which he took to be somewhat foreign to his profession, he at length resolved to edify the world like a divine. With this view he completed his Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, which he calls, “The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of the Creation.” The rudiments of this work were laid in some college-lectures, read in the chapel, and called common places; which, having much enlarged, he published in 1691, 8vo. This book is the basis of all the labours of following divines, who have made the book of nature a commentary on the book of revelation; a confirmation of truths, which Nature has not authority, of herself to establish! In it the author inculcates the doctrine of a constantly superintending Providence; as weil as the advantage, and even the duty, of contemplating the works of God. This, he says, is part of the business of a sabbath-day, as it will be, probably, of our employment through that eternal rest, of which the sabbath is a type. He was next encouraged to publish another of a similar kind, whose foundation was also laid at Cambridge, in some sermons which he had preached before the university. This was his “Three Physico-Theologicai Discourses concerning the Chaos, Deluge, and Dissolution of the World,1692, 8vo. Both these works have been often reprinted with large additions, and continued to be very popular books until within the last thirty or forty years.

Soon after these theological pieces, his “Synopsis Methodica Animalium Quadrupedum” was published in Jun6 1693 and he then finished a. “Synopsis of Birds aad | Fishes,” which was so long neglected by the bookseller, that it was thought to have been destroyed but, after Mr. Ray’s death, it was published by Mr. Derham in 1713. He made a catalogue of Grecian, Syrian, Egyptian, and Cretan, plants, which was printed with RauwolfTs Travels in 16!j3 and, the year after, published his “Sylloge Stirpium Europearum extra Britanniam.” He had afterwards some little contests with Rivinus and Tournefort, concerning the method of plants, which occasioned him to review and amend his own method, and to draw it up in a completer form than he had used in his “Methodus Plantarum,” published in 1682, or in his “Historia Plantarum.” He began now to be grievously afflicted with a continual diarrhoea, and with very painful ulcers in his legs, which ate deep into the flesh, and kept him waking whole nights: by which means he was so disabled, that, as he tells Dr. Tancred Robinson, in a letter of September 30, 1698, he could not so much as walk into the neighbouring fields. He still, however, kept up to the last his correspondence with his friends, in the vivacity and clearness of style which was natural to him. Latin and English, it is said, were equally ready to his pen. So indefatigable was he in the cultivation of the study of Nature, that within a year or two of his death, he began to collect his scattered notes for a work on insects, and actually drew up a “Methodus Insectorum,” which was printed, soon after his decease, in a little octavo of sixteen pages, and republished in the front of his “Historia Insectorum.” This last book, comprising all his own and Mr. Willoughby’s descriptions of insects, came from the press in 1710, at the expence of the Royal Society, and under the superintendance of Dr. Derham. It consists of 375 quarto pages, besides an apdendix of twenty-three more, on British Beetles, by Lister. This work is a mass of accurate and authentic observation, but, for want of plates, has never come into popular use.

The study of insects was probably the last that engaged the attention of this great and wise man; who, though on the verge of eternity, in the full possession of himself, and in the anticipation of the most glorious manifestations of his Creator, did not disdain or neglect to contemplate him in his least and lowest works. His last letter to Dr. Derham, who had just been to visit him, is dated August 16, 1704. He speaks of having lately obtained Mr. Willoughby’s entomological papers, and describes himself as then | entering on his History of Insects. How well he employed his time during the autumn, is evident from what we have related concerning this work, for he never saw another spring. He died at Black Notley, in a house of his own building, Jan. 17, 1705, in the 77th year of his age. His character is thus concisely given by Derham: In his dealings, no man more strictly just; in his conversation, no man more humble, courteous, and affable; towards God, no man more devout; and towards the poor and distressed, no man more compassionate and charitable, according to his abilities.“The friend who wrote this eulogium, in his” Life of Mr. Ray," asserts, that he was buried, according to his own desire, in the church of Black Notley; but the authors of the Biographia Britannica are probably more correct, in saying, that he declined the offer made him by the rector, of a place of interment in the chancel, choosing rather to repose with his ancestors, in the church-yard; and this account is confirmed by the original situation of his monument, erected at the expence, in part at least, of bishop Compton. The long and elegant Latin epitaph has often been published. Its author was the rev. William Coyte, M. A., father of the late Dr. Coyte of Ipswich, and the original manuscript in possession of sir E. J. Smith, contains the information that Ray was interred in the church-yard. In 1737, the monument in question, which seems to have been a sort of altar-tomb, being nearly ruined, was restored at the charge of Dr. Legge, and removed for shelter into the church; where therefore it became a cenotaph, as an inscription added on this occasion terms it. Forty-five years afterwards the tomb again underwent a repair, by the care of the present sir Thomas Gery Cullum and others, who subjoined a third inscription.

A more lasting monument was dedicated to the memory of our great English naturalist, in the genus of plants which bears his name, the Raiana. It must be lamented that he made, as far as we can learn, no collection of dried plants, which might serve to ascertain, in every case, what he described. The great Herbariums of Buddie, Uvedale, &c. still kept in the British Museum, are indeed supposed to supply, in a great measure, this defect; they having been collected by persons who had frequent communication with Ray, and were well acquainted with his plants. Whatever be had preserved relative to any branch | of natural history, he gave, a week before his death, to his neighbour Mr. Samuel Dale, author of the “Pharmacologia.” Nothing is said of his library, which was probably inconsiderable. 1


Life by Derhatn. Also an elaborate one by the President of the Linnaean Society in Rees’s Cyclopædia.