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Merrett [Merret], Christopher

1. Dates
Born: Winchcomb, Gloucestershire, 16 Feb. 1614
Died: London, 19 Aug. 1695
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 81
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
We have only his name, like his son, Christopher Merrett.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A., M.D.
Oxford University, first Gloucester Hall, then Oriel College in 1633, 1631-43; B.A.,1635; then back to Gloucester Hall; M.A., 1636; M.D., 1643.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History
Subordinate: Botany, Medicine, Chemistry
Merrett's major work was Pinax rerum naturalium britannicarum, 1667, which was planned to replace How's Phytologia. However, Merret was not a field naturalist, but a compiler of the information in books and from a couple of field people. The book included the first attempt to construct a British fauna. It also contains a good deal on geology, fossils, and minerals. In regard to the last, Merrett also published an article in the Philosophical Transactions on the tin mines of Cornwall.
Raven certainly dismisses Merrett as a botanist. However, he did contribute articles on vegetable physiology to the Philosophical Transactions.
He published one medical work in 1682.
The Art of Glass, 1662, contains a great deal about the preparation of chemical materials for glass.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Secondary: Scientific Society
Medical practice, 1640-95, said to have been a considerable practice.
Keeper of the library and museum of the Royal College of Physicians, 1655-66, when the library, along with the College, went up the the great fire. This position was definitely paid--20 per annum. After the fire, the College refused to continue paying Merrett because there was no library to tend. He claimed the appointment was for life, and sued. He not only lost the suit but was expelled from the College in 1681.
8. Patronage
Type: Physician
Nominated by William Harvey as the first Keeper of the library and museum of the Royal College of Physicians, which Harvey had endowed. Harvey allowed 20/year for the library.
Merrett dedicated Pinax to Baldwin Hamey, a wealthy physician.
Merrett also dedicated his Art of Glass, 1662, to Robert Boyle. I have hesitated with this because of Boyle's wealth. Merrett and Boyle were friends, however, and I have decided not to treat this dedication as patronage.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology, Chemistry
Merrett presents a problem. Raven asserts that he was less interested in science for its own sake than in the practical ends it might serve. His translation of Neri's book into the Art of Glass, with Merrett's considerable additions to it, is said to have helped the glass industry in England and indeed (through translations) elsewhere in northern Europe. Even though Merrett was not engaged personally in glass making, he made himself familiar with the operations in London glass works. I am unable not to list it, and I list it under practical chemistry. He was also interested in metallurgy, and published an article on refining in the Philosophical Transactions.
The preface to Pinax emphasizes the utility of the book for pharmacology.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Medical College
Informal Connections: Friendship with Harvey, 1640s-1657. Friendship with Boyle.
Royal Society, 1660--one of the original group. Earlier he had been one of the group in London, the misnamed "Invisible College," generally taken as the precursor to the Royal Society.
Royal College of Physicians, 1651-1681. Gulstonian lecturer, 1654; Censor seven times between 1657 and 1670.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 13. 288-9. C.E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckham to Ray, (Cambridge, 1947), pp. 298-338. William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), 1, 258-64 Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 4, 430-2.
  2. Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, 2 vols. (London, 1790), 1, 290- 7.
  3. W.E.S. Turner, "A Notable British Seventeenth Century Contribution to the Literature of Glass-Making," Glass Technology, 6 (1962), 201-13.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Charles Dodds, "Christopher Merrett, F.R.C.P. (1614-1695), First Harveian Librarian," Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 47 (1954), 1053-6.
  2. Alber J. Koinm, Christopher Merrett: A Portrait in Miniature of Seventeenth Century Natural Science, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas, 1968.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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