WILKINS (Dr. John)

, a very ingenious and learned English bishop and mathematician, was the son of a goldsmith at Oxford, and born in 1614. After being educated in Greek and Latin, in which he made a very quick progress, he was entered a student of New-Inn in that university, when he was but 13 years of age; but after a short stay there, he was removed to Magdalen Hall; where he took his degrees. Having entered into holy orders, he first became chaplain to William Lord Say, and afterwards to Charles Count Palatine of the Rhine, with whom he continued some time. Adhering to the Parliament during the civil wars, they made him warden of Wadham college about the year 1648. In 1656 he married the sister of Oliver Cromwell, then lord protector of England, who granted him a dispensation to hold his wardenship, notwithstanding his marriage. In 1659, he was by Richard Cromwell made master of Trinity college in Cambridge; but ejected the year following, upon the restoration. He was then chosen preacher to the society of Gray's Inn, and rector of St. Lawrence Jewry, London, upon the promotion of Dr. Seth Ward to the bishoprick of Exeter. About this time he became a member of the Royal Society, was chosen of their council, and proved one of their most eminent members. He was afterwards made dean of Rippon, and in 1668 bishop of Chester; but died of the stone in 1672, at 58 years of age.

Bishop Wilkins was a man who thought it prudent to submit to the powers in being; he therefore subscribed to the solemn league and covenant, while it was enforced; and was equally ready to swear allegiance to king Charles when he was restored: this, with his moderate spirit towards dissenters, rendered him not very agreeable to the churchmen; and yet several of them could not but give him one of the best of characters. Burnet writes that “he was a man of as great a mind, as true a judgment, as eminent virtues, and of as good a soul, as any he ever knew: that though he married Cromwell's sister, yet he made no other use of that alliance, but to do good offices, and to cover the university of Oxford from the sourness of Owen and Goodwin. At Cambridge, he joined with those who studied to propagate better thoughts, to take men off from being in parties, or from narrow notions, from superstitions conceits, and fierceness about opinions. He was also a great observer and promoter of experimental philosophy, which was then a new thing, and much looked after. He was naturally ambitious, but was the wisest clergyman I ever knew. He was a lover of mankind, and had a delight in doing good.” The same historian mentions afterwards another quality which Wilkins possessed in a supreme degree, and which it was well for him he did, since he had great occasion for the use of it; and that was, says he, “a courage, which could stand against a current, and against all the reproaches with which ill-natured clergymen studied to load him.”

Of his publications, which are all of them very ingenious and learned, and many of them particularly curious and entertaining, the first was in 1638, when he was only 24 years of age, viz, The Discovery of a New World; or, A Discourse to prove, that it is probable there may be another Habitable World in the Moon; with a Discourse concerning the Possibility of a Passage thither.—In 1640, A Discourse concerning a New Planet, tending to prove that it is probable our earth is one of the Planets.—In 1641, Mercury; or, the Secret and Swift Messenger; shewing, how a man may with Privacy and Speed communicate his Thoughts to a Friend at any Distance, 8vo.—In 1648, Mathematical Magic; or, the Wonders that may be performed by Mathematical Geometry, 8vo. All these pieces were published entire in one volume 8vo, in 1708, under the title of, The Mathematical and Philosophical Works of the right rev. John Wilkins, &c; with a print of the author and general title page handsomely engraven, and an account of his life and writings. To this collection is also subjoined an abstract of a larger work, printed in 1668, folio, intitled, An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. These were all his mathematical and philosophical works; beside which, he wrote several tracts in theology, natural religion, and civil polity, which were much esteemed for their piety and moderation, and went through several editions.

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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WHISTON (William)
* WILKINS (Dr. John)