Woodward, John

, an eminent natural philosopher, was descended from a good family, originally of Gloucestershire, and was born in Derbyshire, May 1, 1665. He received the first part of his education at a school in the country, where he made a considerable progress in the Latin and Greek languages; but his father designing him for trade, he was taken from school, before he was sixteen | years old, and put apprentice, as is said, to a linen-draper jr> London. This way of life, however, was so contrary to his natural thirst for knowledge and love of books, that he quitted it in a few years, and devoted himself entirely to literary pursuits. His studies were directed to philosophical objects, and the progress he made soon attracted the notice of some persons of eminence in the learned world. Amongst others he was honoured with the particular friendship of that distinguished scholar and physician Dr. Peter Barwick, who was so pleased with his ingenuity and industrious application, that he took him under his immediate tuition in his own family. In this advantageous situation he prosecuted his studies in philosophy, anatomy, and physic, with the utmost ardour.

During his residence here, sir Ralph Dutton, who was Dr. Barwick‘ s son-in-law, invited Mr. Woodward to accompany the doctor on a visit to his seat at Sherborne, in Gloucestershire. He probably made some stay here, for we are told that he was now first led to inquire into that branch of natural philosophy, which became afterwards the favourite object of his studies, and the foundation of the fame which he acquired. The country about Sherborne, and the neighbouring parts of Gloucestershire, to which he made frequent excursions, abounded with stone; and there being quarries laid open almost every where, he was induced to visit them, and to examine the nature and condition of the stone. In these visits he was struck with the great variety of sea-shells, and other marine productions, with which the sand of most of this stone was incorporated; and being encouraged by the novelty, and as he judged, the singular importance of this speculation, he resolved to pursue it through the remote parts of the kingdom. In consequence of this resolution, he travelled throughout almost all England, in order to inform himself of the present condition of the earth, and all bodies contained in it, as far as either grottoes, caverns, mines, quarries, &c. led him into a knowledge of the interior, and as far as his best observations could extend in respect to the exterior surface, and such productions as any where occurred, plants, insects, sea, river, and land-shells. He directed his attention likewise to the fluids; as well those within the surface of the earth, the water of mines, grottoes, caverns, &c. as those upon the surface, the sea, rivers, and springs; and in making these observations, he entered every curious circumstance, | with great care$ in a journal. When he had finished these researches, and had returned to London, he would gladly have gone to the continent on the same pursuit, hut was prevented by the war which at that time disturbed the quiet of Europe. In order, however, to supply this defect as far as possible, he applied to gentlemen who had travelled, and were likely to give him information on the subject of his inquiries; and he also drew up a list of questions upon this subject, which he sent off to all parts of the world, whereever either himself, or any of his acquaintance, had any friends resident; the result of which was, that in time he was abundantly satisfied, that the circumstances after which he inquired, were much the same every where. Being now prepared with information, and, as it will appear, not unprovided with a theory, he published in 1695, in 1 vol. 6vo, “An Essay towards a natural history of the Earth and terrestrial bodies, especially minerals; as also of the sesj rivers, and springs. With an account of the universal deluge, and of the effects that it had upon the earth.’ 1 He called it an” Essay," because it was designed, as, he said, to be followed by a large work upon the same subject, of whi-ch this was but a specimen.

Not only the account of the deluge in Genesis, and the traditions to the same effect preserved by all ancient nations, but the abundant remains of sea-shells and coral, found at great distances from the sea, at great heights, and intermixed with various rocks, have induced mineralogists, without exception, to agree that at some former period the whole of this earth was covered with the sea. Various hypothetical explanations of the Way in which* this deluge took place have been from time to time published, and several of these are to be found in the Philosophical Transactions. It is not necessary to take notice of the old hypothesis of Burnel, who conceived that the ante-diluvian world consisted of a thin, smooth crust spread over the whole sea, and that this crust breaking occasioned the deluge, and the j|reWnt uneven surface of the earth; nor of Whiston, who ascribed the deluge to the effect of the tail of a comet; because those opinions have many years ago lost all their supporters. Nor is any attention at present paid to the hypothesis of Buffon, who conceived the earth to have been splintered from the sun by the blow of a comet, and accounted for the deluge by suppositions equally arbitrary, and inconsistent with the phenomena. Dr. | Woodward was the first writer who acquired a splendid reputation by his theory; and his opinions, though not always correct, generally prevailed in his time, and after. In the work above mentioned, which he afterwards considerably augmented and improved, after refuting the hypotheses of his predecessors, he proceeds to shew, that the present slate of the earth is the consequence of the universal deluge; that the waters took up and dissolved all the minerals and rocks, and gradually deposited them along with the sea-shells; and he affirms that all rocks lie in the order of their specific gravity. Although this theory has long lost its authority, several of the positions which he laid down continue still to find a place in every theory which has succeeded him.

In the mean time Woodward’s “Essay*‘ occasioned no small controversy. Some of its errors were pointed out by Dr. Martin Lister, in three distinct pieces; and Mr. Robinson, a clergyman of Cumberland, soon after published some” Observations on the natural history of the world of matter, and the world of life,“in which he accused Woodward of plagiarism, and mentioned the authors from whom, as he said, he had borrowed most of his notions. But these different works received an answer in a single treatise published by Mr. Harris, in 1697; and the dispute was compromised that same year, in a pamphlet written by Dr. Arbuthnot, in which, after an impartial examination of Woodward’s hypothesis, he decided that though it seemed liable to many just exceptions, yet the whole was not to be exploded. Hitherto the author himself had made no reply to any of the objections against his” Essay;“but in 1704, a Latin translation of it being published at Zurich, he was led into a controversy, by letters on the subject, with some of his learned correspondents abroad, and particularly with the celebrated Leibnitz. This controversy continued some years, and when ended, a fresh attack was made on our author’s hypothesis, by Elias Camerarius, professor of physic at Tubingen, in some Latin dissertations printed in 1712. On this Dr. Woodward published in 1714,” Naturalis historia telluris illustrata et aucta,“in the preface to which he declares, that what had been urged by his antagonists, before Camerarius, was not of such force as to deserve a distinct reply; that every thing considerable in their objections was now proposed by Camerarius, with some additions of his own entirely new, and that the | present might be considered as a general answer. In this work, therefore, he supplied the main defects and omissions of his Essay, and endeavoured to vindicate his hypothesis. The dispute with Catnerarius was closed in a very friendly address from that learned professor, which was published in the German Ephemerides in 1717, though not without some intimation of his continuing still in his first sentiments. In 1726, Mr. Benjamin Holloway, F. R. S. having translated the” Naturalis Historia telluris" into English, doctor Woodward readily embraced this opportunity of strengthening his opinion by some additional papers with which he furnished the translator.

The connexion of all the circumstances of Dr. Woodward’s publication with each other, rendered it necessary to give the above account of the whole in succession; but we must now return to other transactions in his progress towards the reputation he had acquired, and which was not altogether unmixed. In the interval between his visit to sir Ralph Button, and the publication of his first “Essay,” he had been elected professor of physic in Gresham college, to which place he was recommended by some persons of consequence in the learned world, and particularly by Dr. Barwick. This preferment, which he obtained in 1692, was soon followed by other honours. In 1693 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and was frequently afterwards one of their council. In 1695 he was created M. D. by archbishop Tenison, and in the following year he was admitted of Pembroke-hall, Cambridge, and honoured with the same degree in that university. In 1698 he was admitted a candidate of the college of physicians, and was chosen a fellow in 1702.

In 1699 he published, in the Philosophical Transactions, “Some thoughts and experiments concerning Vegetation.” These experiments have acquired great celebrity, and are constantly referred to by all writers on vegetable physiology. They consist in putting sprigs of vegetables into the mouths of phials filled with water, allowing them to vegetate for some time, and then determining the quantity of water which they have imbibed, and the quantity of weight which they have gained. The difference obviously indicates the quantity of moisture exhaled by the plant. About 1693, Dr. Woodward’s attention was directed to an object of a very different kind. He had purchased from the museum of a deceased friend, a small, but very curious | icon shield of a round form; on the concave side of which were represented, in the upper part, the ruins of Rome when burnt by the Gauls; and below, the weighing out the gold to purchase their retreat, together with the arrival of Camillus, and flight of the Gauls; and in the centre appeared a grotesque mask with horns very large and prominent; the figures all executed in a spirited and beautiful manner. Mr. Conyers, in whose collection this curiosity was, had purchased it of a brazier, who bought it among some brass and iron fragments which came out of the armoury in the Tower of London, near the end of Charles II.’s reign. As soon as it came into the possession of Dr. Woodward, many inquisitive persons came to see it, and in order to enable others, who had not that opportunity, to form a judgment of it, he not only had several casts made of it, but also, in 1705, had it engravenat Amsterdam, on a copper-plate of the size of the original copies of which were transmitted to many learned foreigners, for their opinion. Antiquaries, however, could not agree as to its age. The professors and other critics in Holland, in general, pronounced it antique; but those in France thought otherwise, and Woodward wrote against their opinion a letter to the abbe Bignon, which is published by Dr. Ward in the appendix to his “‘Lives of the Gresham Professors.” Dodwell wrote a “Dissertatio de Parma equestri Woodwardiana,” which was published by Hearne (See Hearne) in 1713. Dodwell supposed this shield came out of some public collection; such as the Shield Walk in Whitehall-­palace, from Henry VIII.’s time to Charles I. Theophilus Downes, fellow of Baliol college, differed from him as to the antiquity of this monument; and after his death were published, in two leaves, 8vo, his “De clypeo Woodwardiano stricturae breves.Ainsworth abridged Dodwell’s dissertation, and inserted it at the end of the “Museum Woodwardianum,” or catalogue of the doctor’s library and curiosities, sold by auction at Covent-garden in 1728. He afterwards enlarged the piece, considered the objections, and reprinted it with the title, “De Clypeo Camilli antique,” &c. 1734, 8vo. Spanheim and Abr. Seller had both begun to write dissertations on it, but were prevented by death. Ward was the last who made any remarks on it, and those in favour of its antiquity; but Moyle’s objection to its antiquity from the ruins of an amphitheatre has not been removed by Dr. Ward. No ancient artist, Mr. Gough | observes, could be so ignorant as to ascribe such buildings to that period. At Dr. Woodward’s sale, this shield was purchased by Col. King, one of his executors, for 100l., and at the sale of the colonel’s effects, in 1768, it was sold to Dr. Wilkinson for forty guineas, along with the letters, &c. relating to it.

In 1707, Dr. Woodward published “An account of some Roman urns, and other antiquities, lately digged up near Bishopsgate; with brief reflections upon the ancient and present state of London, in a letter to sir C. Wren,” &c. This was reprinted at London and Oxford, 1713 and 1723, 8vo, with a letter from the doctor to the editor. It was printed first at the desire of sir Christopher, whose observations have since appeared in the “Parentalia.” Wren could not be persuaded that the temple of Diana stood on the scite of St. Paul’s, though Woodward had prepared a dissertation on her image dug up near that cathedral. This dissertation, never printed, is now in the possession of the editor of this Dictionary.

In the midst of those researches into antiquity, Dr. Woodward did not neglect his medical profession, although it cannot be said that he was eminently successful. In 1718 we find him involved in a controversy with two of the greatest physicians of his time, Dr. Freind and Dr. Mead. In a learned work which Dr. Freind published, about this time, he had advanced several arguments in favour of purging upon the access of the second fever, in some dangerous cases of the confluent small-pox. This practice was warmly Opposed by Dr. Woodward, who, on the contrary, strenuously recommended the use of emetics in such cases; and in the following year printed his “State of Physic and of Diseases, with an Inquiry into the Causes of the late increase of them; but more particularly of the Small-pox. With some considerations upon the new practice of purging in that disease” &c. in 8vo. This laid the foundation of a bitter controversy and Dr. Mead retained a sense of the injury, as he thought it, for many years after, as appears from the preface to his treatise on the small-pox; where he gives a short history of the affair, and also throws some personal reflections on Dr. Woodward, which would have been inexcusable in the heat of the controversy, and were certainly much more so near thirty years after. Pope, Arbuthnot, and other wits, attempted also to turn Dr. Woodward into ridicule, and there | appears to have been something of irascibility in his temper, which afforded his enemies considerable advantage io this way.

Dr. Woodward declined in his health a considerable time before he died; and though he had all along continued to prepare materials for his large work, relating to the Natural History of the Earth, yet it was never finished; but only some collections, said to have been detached frooi it, were printed at different times, as enlargements upon particular topics in his essay. He was confined first to his house, and afterwards to his bed, many months before his death. During this time, he not only drew up instructions for the disposal of his books and other collections, but alsocompleted and sent to the press his “Method of Fossils,” in English; and lived to see the whole of it printed, except the last sheet. He died in Gresham-college April 25, 1728; and was buried in Westminster-abbey, where is a monument to his memory. After his death, the two following* works were published, 1. “Fossils of all kinds, digested into a Method suitable to their mutual relation and affinity,” &c. 8vo. 2. “A Catalogue of Fossils in the Collection of John Woodward, M. D.*' in 2 vols. 8vo. By his last will, he founded a lecture in the university of Cambridge, to be read there upon his” Essay towards the Na-r tural History of the Earth, his Defence of it, his Discourse of Vegetation, and his State of Physic;" for which he ordered lands of 150l. per annum in South-Britain to be purchased and conveyed to that university, and out of this a hundred pounds per annum to the lecturer, who, after the death of his executors Dixie Windsor, Hugh Bethel, Richard Graham, esqrs. and colonel Richard King, is to be chosen by the archbishop of the province, the bishop of the diocese, the presidents of the College of Physicians and of the Royal Society, the two members of parliament, and the whole senate of the university. This lecturer to be a bachelor; to have no other preferment to read four lectures a year in English or Latin, of which one is to be printed; to have the custody of the two cabinets of fossils given by the doctor to the university, to shew them three days in ach week gratis; and to be allowed ten pounds per annum for making experiments and observations, and keeping correspondence with learned men. Some of these conditions it would not be easy to fulfil, yet the professorship continues, and has been held by men of talents. Dr. | Conyers Middleton was the first appointed to the office, who opened the lectures with an elegant Latin oration in praise of the founder, and upon the usefulness of his institution.

Dr. Woodward left a great many manuscripts, enumerated by Dr. Ward, some of which he ordered to be burnt, but others came into the possession of his executor, colonel Richard King, and were sold in 1768 with the rest of the colonel’s collection. Dr. Woodward was in many respects a visionary and an enthusiast, but the extent of his ingenuity and learning cannot well be called in question, and it ought not to be forgot that the circumstances of his youth were discouraging, and that he had no help in his progress from academical instruction. 1


Ward’s Lives of the Gresham Professors. Biog, Brit. Thomson’s Hist, of the Royal Society. Cough’s Topography.