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Mayow [Mayouwe, Mayo], John

1. Dates
Born: Bray, near Looe, Cornwall, Dec. 1641 Earlier sources gave various dates from 1640 to 43. McKie found the record of baptism, 21 Dec. 1641.
Died: London, Sept. 1679
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 38
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
Phillip Mayowe was a member of a well established, substantial Cornish family.
Clearly affluent. Note that Mayow went to Oxford initially as a commoner, although patronage soon moved him into a Fellowship at All Souls.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, L.D.
Oxford University; initially Wadham, then All Souls in 1660; 1658-1670; B.C.L., 1665; D.C.L., 1670.
The law degrees followed from his place (as a jurist) in All Souls. Mayow's interest was never law; he studied medicine, although he took no degree in medicine.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physiology, Chemistry, Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Medicine
Mayow is known for his studies of the interrelated problems of atmospheric composition, combustion, and respiration, all involving (for him) the nitro-aerial spirit. His reputation has undergone major ups and downs, but right now, after a period of denigration, he is taken quite seriously.
Tractatus duo, 1668--on respiration and rickets.
Tractatus quinque, 1674--the original two (altered) plus three more on nitro-aerial spirit, fetal respiration, and muscular motion. Mayow described the muscuar actions around the chest cavity that are involved in respiration. The treatise on the nirto-aerial spirit contained an analysis of the Bath waters. The treatises of 1674 expound a general natural philosophy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Medicine
He remained a Fellow of All Souls until his death.
Medical practice, 1670-9, primarily in Bath.
According to gossip, Mayow searched for a wealthy woman to marry, was tricked by a false pretense of wealth, and, not long before his death, married a woman with nothing, much to his chagrin.
8. Patronage
Type: Gentry
Owed his Fellowship in All Souls to Henry Coventry. He dedicated Tractatus quinque, 1674, to Coventry, who was then Secretary of State. (I'm not sure what his status was in 1660.)
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Friendship with Hooke. Pupil of Thomas Willis or Thomas Millington. Participation in the final stages of the informal Oxford circle of physiologists.
Royal Society, 1678.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 13, 175-7. J.R. Partington, "The Life and Work of John Mayow", Isis, 47 (1956), 217-30, 405-17.
  2. Allen G. Debus, "The Paracelsian Aerial Niter", Isis, 55 (1964), 43-61.
  3. T.S. Patterson, "John Mayow in Contemporary setting", Isis, 15 (1931) 41-96, 504-46.
  4. John F. Fulton, A Bibliography of Two Oxford Physiologists, (Oxford, 1935). (See Oxford Bibliographical Society, Proceedings & Papers, 4 (1934-5), 1-62.) Francis Gotch, Two Oxford Physiologists: Richard Lower (1631- 1691), John Mayow (1643-1679), (Oxford, 1908). Anthony à Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 3, 1199-1200.
  5. Robert G. Frank, Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists: A Study of Scientific Ideas, (Berkeley, 1980).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Henry Guerlac, "John Mayow and the Aerial Nitre, " Actes du septième congrès internationale d'histoire des sciences, (Jerusalem, 1953), 332-49.
  2. Walter Boehm, "John Mayow and his Contemporaries," Ambix, 11 (1963), 105-20.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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