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Macte, Comes ; virtute nová; vestri ordinis ingens
Ornamentum, ævi deliciæque tui!
Nobilis antiquo stemmate digna facis.
Onward, illustrious man, thy order's pride!
SIR WILLIAM PETTY.*
WILLIAM PETTY was the eldest son of a clothier of Rumsey in Hampshire, where he was born in the year 1623. From his very infancy he discovered a genius for the mechanic arts, his chief amusement being to observe artificers at work, and to attempt imitations of their performances ; so that, at twelve years of age, he could use tools of several kinds with great dexterity. According to his own account, he made equal progress in polite literature; having attained a competent knowledge of the Greek, Latin, and French languages, and rendered himself master of common arithmetic, practical geometry, dialling, and the astronomical part of navigation before he was fifteen. Thus accomplished, he went in search of farther improvement to the University of Caen in Normandy. Upon his return to England, he obtained some place in the Navy Office: and having by strict economy saved threescore pounds, he embarked with his youngest brother Antony for the Continent, about the year 1643; for the purpose of studying physic at Leyden, Utrecht, Amsterdam,
* AUTHORITIES. Wood's Athena Oxonienses, Ward's Lives of the Gresham Professors, and Granger's Biographical History of England.
and Paris. At the last of these Universities he read the works of Vesalius, the celebrated Flemish anatomist, in company with Hobbes, who took great pleasure in forwarding his pregnant genius.
As sixty pounds could obviously have done little more than set him forward on his journey, it has been generally surmised, that he carried on some advantageous branch of traffic with his own country during his three years' residence abroad; for
upon his return to England in 1646, he brought home with him ten pounds more than he carried out: a circumstance, which he has himself left wholly unaccounted for.
In 1647, he obtained a patent for an instrument which he had invented for double writing. This is described as being of small bulk and price, easily made, and extremely durable; and the art of using it could be learnt in an hour. But the additional fatigue occasioned to the hand by the increase of weight above that of a pen, rendered the project useless with respect to the chief advantage proposed by it, that of expedition : so that he derived little benefit from his exclusive privilege, except that it spread the reputation of his ingenuity, and brought him acquainted with all his learned contemporaries. By their advice he fixed his abode at Oxford, where he practised chemistry and physic with great success, and assisted Dr. Clayton, the Professor of Anatomy, in his dissections. The philosophical meetings, which preceded the institution of the Royal Society, * were frequently held at his lodgings; and some
* Of the very rudiments of this most respectable society we have an account in Dr. Wallis' Memorials of his own Life, ad
of the leading men in the House of Commons had the honourable ambition of advancing the indressed to the Rev. Thomas Smith, D.D. of Magdalen College, Oxford. “ About the year 1645, while I lived in London (at a time when, by our civil wars, academical studies were much interrupted in both our Universities) beside the conversation of divers eminent divines, as to matters theological, I had the opportunity of being acquainted with divers worthy persons inquisitive into natural philosophy and other parts of human learning, and particularly of what hath been called the New Philosophy' or Experimental Philosophy.'
6 We did by agreement, divers of us, meet weekly in London on a certain day, to treat and discourse of ch affairs. Of which number were Dr. John Wilkins (afterward Bishop of Chester) Dr. Jonathan Goddard, Dr. George Ent, Dr. Glisson, Dr. Merret (Drs. in Physic) Mr. Samuel Foster, the Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, Mr. Theodore Haak (a German of the Palatinate and then resident in London, who I think gave the first occasion, and first suggested those meetings) and many others.
“ These meetings we held sometimes at Dr. Goddard's lodgings in Wood Street (or some convenient place near) on occasion of his keeping an operator in his house for grinding glasses for telescopes and microscopes, and sometime at a convenient place in Cheapside ; sometime at Gresham College, or some place near adjoining
“Our business was (precluding matters of theology and stateaffairs) to discourse and consider of philosoplical inquiries, and such as related thereunto; as physic, anatomy, geometry, astronomy, navigation, statics, magnetics, chemics, mechanics, and natural experiments, with the state of these studies, as then cultivated at home and abroad. We there discoursed of the circulation of the blood, the valves in the veins, the Venæ Lactea, the lymphatic vessels, the Copernican hypothesis, the nature of comets and new stars, the satellites of Jupiter, the oval shape (as it then appeared) of Saturn, the spots in the Sun and it's turning on it's own axis, the inequalities and selenography of the Moon, the several phases of Venus and Mercury, the improvement of telescopes and grinding of glasses for that purpose, the weight of air, the possibility or impossibility of vacuities and
terests of a scholar and a man of genius. Accordingly, in 1649, a parliamentary recommendation was sent to Brazen Nose College to elect him to a fellowship vacated by ejectment, which was complied with, the University at the same time conferring upon him an honorary degree of M. D.: and in 1650,* he nature's abhorrence thereof, the Torricellian experiment in quicksilver, the descent of heavy bodies and the degrees of acceleration therein, and divers other things of like nature. Some of which were then but new discoveries, and others not so generally known or embraced as they now are, with other things appertaining to what hath been called the New Philosophy;' which from the times of Galileo at Florence, and Sir Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam) in England, hath been much cultivated in Italy, France, Germany, and other parts abroad, as well as with us in England.
« About the year 1648-9, some of our company being removed to Oxford (first Dr. Wilkins, then I, and soon afterward Dr. Goddard) our company divided. Those in London continued to meet there as before (and we with them, when we had occasion to be there); and those of us at Oxford with Dr. Ward, since Bishop of Salisbury, Dr. Ralph Bathurst, now President of Trinity College in Oxford, Dr. PETTY (since SIR WILLIAM Petty), Dr. Willis, then an eminent physician in Oxford, and divers others, continued such meetings in Oxford, and brought those studies into fashion there: meeting first at Dr. Petty's lodgings in an apothecary's house, because of the convenience of inspecting drugs and the like, as there was occasion ; and after his remove to Ireland (though not so constantly) at the lodgings of Dr. Wilkins, the Warden of Wadham College, and after his removal to Trinity College in Cambridge, at the lodgings of the Hon. Mr. Robert Boyle, then resident for divers years in Oxford.
“ These meetings in London continued, and after the King's return in 1660 were increased with the accession of divers worthy and honourable persons; and were, afterward, incorporated by the name of the Royal Society, &c. and so continue to this day.” (See Smith's Collection of MSS. in the Bodl. Libr.)
* In December of the same year, he was principally