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Ray [Wray], John

1. Dates
Born: Black Notley, near Brainton, Essex, 29 Nov. 1627
Died: Black Notley, 17 Jan. 1705
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 78
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
Roger Ray was a blacksmith.
No information on financial status beyond the implication of the trade.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.
The Grammar School at Braintree.
Cambridge, 1644-51; initially Catharine Hall; transferred to Trinity College in 1646; B.A.,1648; M.A.,1651.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
I think there is no way to avoid calling him a Puritan. In 1662 he resigned his fellowship rather than accept the act of uniformity. Though frequently offered preferment in the church (when he was always in some financial need), he kept refusing. As late as the early 90s he refused an offer from Tillotson. However, he was not a belligerent Puritan. He fully accepted the Restoration, and Raven claims that he remained in lay communion with the Anglican Church.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Botany, Zoology, Entomology
Subordinate: Paleontology, Anatomy, Geology
At Cambridge Ray was part of a group that pursued comparative anatomy, and relevant ones of his publications (Synopsis animalium and Wisdome of God) draw upon and reveal his extensive knowledge of it.
Ray was the greatest English natural historian of the century. His primary interest was botany. Fairly early he formed the plan with his student and patron, Francis Willughby, to do a joint general natural history, Ray to cover the plants. Catalogus plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium, 1660. He contributed the "Table of Plants" to Wilkins' Real Character, 1669, the first systematic work in botany published in England. Catalogus plantarum Angliae et insularum adjacentium, 1670; it contains a section on pharmacology, what Raven calls a huge collection of prescriptions. Methodus plantarum nova, 1682, his principles of classification. Historia plantarum, 3 vols., 1686-1704. And others.
When Willughby died, Ray took over his parts of the general history. He published Ornithologiae libri tres, 1676, and Historia piscium, 1686, under Willughby's name, though Ray himself contributed most of the content. Synopsis animalium quadrupedium et serpentini, 1693, and Historia insectorum, posthumous 1710, appeared under Ray's name. Entomology was a subject of serious interest to him.
Three Physcio-Theological Discourses, 1693, reveals his extensive knowledge of geology and of paleontology. He was deeply involved in the discussion of fossils, and this involved him also in purely geological questions.
See the Preface to Synopsis methodica styrpium britannicarum, 1690, in which Ray identified his work as a naturalist with the new experimental philosophy.
The Wisdom of God, 1691, his work in natural theology, was his most popular book.
It would also be legitimate to list embriology as a subordinate science; he published in the Philosophical Transactions on spontaneous generation (which he opposed). I think that physiology would also be legitimate; he is said to have left behind a manuscript on respiration.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Patronage
Secondary: Personal Means, Publishing
Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1649-62. Greek Lecturer, 1651-3; Mathematics Lecturer, 1653-5; Humanity Reader, 1655-7; Pralector, 1657; Junior Dean, 1658; Steward, 1659 and 1660. (All of these are college offices.) Resigned rather than take oath of conformity, 1662.
Tutor in the home of Sir Thomas Bacon, Oct. 1662 to March 1663. Ray and Willughby then went on an extended tour of the continent (1663-6), clearly at Willughby's expense.
Lived partly at Francis Willughby's estates in Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire, 1666-75. Willughby, his student and colleague, and a wealthy member of the gentry, was also Ray's patron. Willughby left him an annuity of 60, 1672. Ray stayed on as tutor to the children until 1675, when Willughby's mother, also his patron, died; the widow immediately terminated the relation. Ray retired then to Black Notley, where the annuity was his principal income.
Resided in Edward Bullock's estate near Black Notley, possibly as tutor, 1677-9.
Ray inherited a small farm which contributed to the family's maintenance.
He did earn money from his industrious publishing. Thus the terms for Historia plantarum are known--30 plus twenty copies for each volume.
8. Patronage
Types: Gentry, Scientist, Eccesiastic Official
Ray is an interesting case--utterly dependent on patronage after he resigned from Trinity, but unwilling, despite real need, to compromise himself and accept patronage in the church that was offered to him. The relationship with Willughby (and his mother) was the foundation of his life as a naturalist. Add Thomas Bacon and Edward Bullock, and several others below.
He did use dedications. Catalogus plantarum Angliae, 1670, to Willughby, whom he calls his "patron (maecenas)." Synopsis quadrupedium to Peter Courthorpe and Timothy Burrell, also students and gentry. Also another book to Courthorpe. Observations Topographical, 1673, to Philip Skippon, another student and gentry. Methodus plantarum nova, 1682, and Historia plantarum to Charles Hatton, younger son of Baron Hatton. Note that neither Hatton nor anyone else would pay for plates, so the Historia appeared without illustrations. Sylloge europeanarum, 1684, to Edward Bullock, son of the earlier Edward Bullock, Ray's patron. Historia piscium, 1686, to Samuel Pepys (as President of the Royal Society) and to the Society, which financed the publication of the book; Pepys personally financed many of the plates (50 worth). Synopsis stirpium britannicarum, 1690, to Thomas Willughby, son of Francis. Wisdom of God, 1691, to Willughby's sister, Lady Lettice Wendy. Miscellaneous Discourses, 1692, to Archbishop Tillotson.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Pharmacology
See above.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Friendship and collaboration with Willughby, 1662-72. Friendship with Martin Lister, John Wilkins, T. Millington, Robert Hooke, John Cope, John Aubrey, Isaac Barrow.
Correspondence with Dr. Tancred Robinson, Hans Sloane, J. Morton, W. Moyle, Edward Lhwyd and others. Ray appears to have been in touch with all of the naturalists in England. In his connections there is good evidence of a scientific community in existence. There are editions, inadequate, of his correspondence.
Royal Society, 1667.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 16, 782-7. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 5, 3494-9.
  2. C.E. Raven, John Ray, Naturalist: His life and Works, (Cambridge, 1942)). W. Derham, Memorials of John Ray, (London, 1946). S.H. Vines, "Robert Morison, 1620-1683, and John Ray, 1627-1688," in F.W. Oliver, ed. Makers of British Botany, (Cambridge, 1913), pp. 8-43. G.L. Keynes, John Ray, a Bibliography, (London, 1951). Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, (London 1790), 1, 189-281.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Agnes Arber, "A Seventeenth-century Naturalist: John Ray," Isis, 34 (1943), 319-24.
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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