Graunt, John

, the celebrated author of the " Observations on the Bills of Mortality,‘ 7 was the son of Henry Graunt of Hampshire, who being afterwards settled in Birchin-lane, London, had this child born there, April 24, 1620. Being a rigid puritan, he bred him up in all the strictness of those principles; and designing him for trade, gave him no more education than was barely necessary for that purpose; so that, with the ordinary qualifications of reading, writing, and arithmetic, he was put apprentice to a haberdasher in the city, which trade he afterwards followed, but became a freeman of the Drapers’ company. He came early into business, and in a short time grew so much into the esteem of his fellow -citizens, that he was | frequently chosen arbitrator for composing differences between neighbours, and preventing law-suits. With this reputation he passed through all the offices of his ward, as far as that of a common council-man, which he held two years, and was first captain and then major of the train bands. These distinctions were the effects of a great share of good sense and probity, rendered amiable by a mild and friendly disposition; which was all that was in those days expected from a tradesman of no great birth, and of small breeding. But Graunt’s genius was far from being confined within those limits: it broke through all the disadvantages of his slender education, and enabled him to form a new and noble design, and to execute it with as much spirit as there appeared sagacity in forming it.

The exact time is not known when he first began to collect and consider the Bills of Mortality but he tells us himself that he had turned his thoughts that way several years, before he had any design of publishing the discoveries he had made. As his character must have been eminently distinguished in 1650, when, though not above thirty years of age, his interest was so extensive, as to procure the music professor’s chair at Gresham, for his friend doctor (afterwards sir William) Petty; so it is more than probable, that his acquaintance and friendship with that gentleman, was the consequence of a similarity of pursuits; and that our author had then communicated some of his thoughts upon this subject to sir William, who, on his part, is likewise said to have repaid the generous confidence with some useful hints towards composing his book. This piece, which contained a new and accurate thesis of policy, built upon a more certain reasoning than was before that time known, was first presented to the public in 1661, 4to, and met with such an extraordinary reception, that another edition was called for in the following year; and our author’s fame, and the usefulness of his book, began to be spoken of both at home and abroad. Immediately after the publication of it, Lewis XIV. of France, or his ministers, provided, by a law, for the most exact register of births and burials, that is any where in Europe; and in England Charles II. conceived such a high esteem for his abilities, that at the first institution of the royal society, his majesty recommended him to their choice for a member; with this charge, that if they found any more such tradesmen, they should be ure to admit | them all. He had dedicated the work to sir Robert Moray, president of the royal society, and had sent fifty copies to be dispersed among their members, when he was proposed (though a shopkeeper), and admitted into the society, February 26, 1661-2; and an order of council passed, June 20, 1665, for publishing the third edition, which was executed by the society’s printer, and came out that same year. Alter receiving this honour, he did not long continue a shopkeeper, but left off business; and on September 25, 1666, became a trustee for the management of the New-river, for one of the shares belonging to sir William Backhouse, who dying in 1669, his relict, afterwards countess of Clarendon, appointed Mr. Graunt one of her trustees.

This account of the time of our author’s admission into the government of the New-river is taken from the minute books, or register, of the general court of that company, and sufficiently clears him from an imputation thrown upon his memory by bishop Burnet who, having observed that the New-river was brought to a head at Islington, where there is a great room full of pipes that conveys it through the streets of London, and that the constant order was to set all the pipes running on Saturday night, that so the cisterns might be all full on Sunday morning, there being a more than ordinary consumption of water on that day, relates the following story, which he says was told him by Dr. Lloyd (afterwards bishop of Worcester) and the countess of Clarendon: “There was,” says he, “one Graunt, a papist, who under sir William Petty published his Observations an the Bills of Mortality. He had some time before applied himself to Lloyd, who had great credit with the countess of Clarendon, and said he could raise that estate considerably, if she would make him a trustee for her. His schemes were probable; and he was made one of the board that governed that matter, and by that he had a right to come as often as he pleased to view their works at Islington. He went thither the Saturday before the fire broke out, and called for the key where the heads of the pipes were, and turned all the cocks of the pipes that were then open, stopt the water, and went; away and carried ’the keys with him; so, when the fire broke out next morning, they opened the pipes in the streets to find water, but there was none. Some hours were lost in sending to Islington, where the door was broke open, and the | cocks turned, and it was long before the water got to London. Graunt, indeed, denied that he had turned the cocks; but the officer of the works affirmed, that he had, according to order, st them all running, and that no person had got the keys from him besides Graunt, who confessed he had carried away the keys, but said he did it without design.” This, indeed, as Burnet observes, is but a presumption; and, we may add, a groundless calumny; since it is evident, from the above account, that Graunt was not admitted into the government of the New-river company till twenty-three days after the breaking out of the tire of London, to which may be added a farther proof that the parliament met September 18, 1666, and, on the very day that he was admitted a member of the New-river Company, they appointed a committee to inquire into the causes of the fire.

The report made by sir Robert Brooke, chairman of that committee, contains abundance of extraordinary relations, but not one word of the cocks being stopped, or any suspicions of Graunt. It is true, indeed, that he changed his religion, and was reconciled to the church of Rome some time before his death; but it is more than probable he was no papist at this juncture, since, in the title-page of his book in 1665, he is styled captain, and Wood informs us, that he had been two or three years a major when he made this change, which therefore could not have happened before 1667 or 1668 at soonest. However, the circumstances of the countess of Clarendon’s saying he was her trustee makes it plain that the story was not invented till some years after the fire, when Graunt was known to be a papist. It was apparently not invented till after his death. The first time of its appearance in public seems to have been in Echard’s “History of England.‘ 1 And according to bishop Burnet’s account, the story could not be told to him till after 1667, when Graunt was appointed trustee for the countess of Clarendon. The report, however, never reached his ears, and so could not disturb him in the prosecution of his studies, which he carried on after this change in his religion with the same assiduity as before, and made some considerable observations within two years of his death, which happened April 18, 1674, in the vigour of his age, having not quite completed his 54th year. He was interred on the 22d of the same month in St. Dunstan’s church, in Fleet-street, the corpse being at. | tended by many of the most ingenious and learned persons of the time, and particularly by sir William Petty, who paid his last tribute with tears to his memory. He left his papers to this friend, who took care to adjust and insert them in a fifth edition of his work, which he published in 1676, 8vo, and that with so much care, and so much improved, that he frequently cites it as his own which probably gave occasion to bishop Burners mistake, who, as we have seen, called it sir William’s book, published under Graunt’s name. It is evident, however, that his observations were the elements of that useful science, which was afterwards styled” Political Arithmetic,“and of which Graunt must have the honour of being the first founder; and whatever merit may be ascribed to sir William Petty, Mr. Daniel King, Dr. Davenant, and others, upon the subject, it is all originally derived from the first author of the” Observations on the Bills of Mortality." 1

1 Bioj;. But, Gen. Dict. Dodd’s Church Hist.