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Power, Henry

1. Dates
Born: Annesley, Nottinghamshire, c.1623 No document establishes Power's birth. The memorial plaque to him in Wakefield gives his age at death as 45, and this is generally accepted. However, the Christ's College register set his age as 15 on 9 June 1641.
Died: New Hall (Wakefield), Yorkshire, 23 Dec. 1668
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 45
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
John Power was a merchant in Halifax, one of the most influential men in the city. Religio medici, composed while Browne was in Halifax, may have been addressed to him.
He is described as prosperous.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A., M.D.
Cambridge, Christ's College, 1641-55; B.A. 1644; M.A. 1648; M.D. 1655.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Power did not become involved in the religious divisions of his day; he had close friends in all camps.
In his microscopical observations Power was much concerned to illustrate the workmanship of God.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Microscopy, Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Chemistry, Astronomy, Physiology
It is difficult to categorize Power's scientific disciplines. He was interested in all aspect of the new natural philosophy, including natural history. As a medical student he became interested in Harvey's discoveries. With Towneley, he carried out meteorological measurements. I may well be underrepresenting his involvement in the life sciences. For example, he produced some embriology and was one of the early preformationists.
However, he is best known for Experimental Philosophy, in Three Books, 1664, which included the first microscopical observations published in England, and also explored atmospheric pressure, and presented some (though not much) work on magnetism. It appears that he independently discovered Boyle's Law. Experimental Philosophy was explicitly directed to demonstrating the "atomic" (i.e, mechanical) philosophy.
Power left a number of manuscripts on chemistry, especially in relation to physiology.
He was also a student of astronomy. He equipped himself with a telescope for observing. He was an ardent Copernican.
In his final years he produced a manuscript, intended for publication, on anatomy and physiology, a work which returned to his early interest in Harvey and made circulation central.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Medical practice at Halifax and New Hall (Wakefield), 1655- 68.
8. Patronage
Type: Aristrocrat
He was encouraged and supported by Sir Thomas Browne. Browne had been the friend of Power's father. I have not found anything in the relation that I want to call patronage.
His manuscript treatise on physiology states that it was "Drawn up for the satisfaction of the Ld Delamere."
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal connections: Close friendship and extensive correspondence with Sir Thomas Browne (published in Browne's Works). Friendship with Dr. Robinson (I think this is Reuben Robinson.) Corresponded with Boyle, by whom he was deeply influenced.
Royal Society (with whom he corresponded), 1661.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 16, 256. T. Cowles, "Dr. Henry Power, Disciple of Sir Thomas Browne," Isis, 20 (1933), 344-66.
  2. T. Birch, The History of the Royal society, (London, 1756), 1, 22.
  3. L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8, 211-16.
  4. Marie Boas Hall, "Introduction," to Power, Experimental Philosophy, (London 1966), ix-xxvii.
  5. Charles Webster, "Henry Power's Experimental Philosophy," Ambix, 14 (1967), 150-78. This is the best source on Power that I have found.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. J.W. Clay, "Dr. Henry Power of New Hall, F.R.S.," Halifax Antiquarian Society Papers, Reports, 1917, pp. 1-31.
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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