Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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It was some years before Thevenot obtained possession of the manuscripts, and after his death they passed into various hands, but were bought in 1727 by the illustrious Boerhaave, who arranged and published them in two folio volumes, prefixing a life of the author, from which we have drawn the materials of this notice.

The learned editor gives an interesting account of the instruments and expedients employed by Swammerdam in dissecting insects and other minute animals. When the anatomical preparations, insects, and apparatus, were offered for sale, no purchaser could be found, and the collection was subsequently dispersed. The manuscripts and drawings of the Biblia Naturæ were deposited by Boerhaave in the library of the University of Leyden.

The works of Swammerdam contain more original and accurate observations than those of any naturalist who preceded him, excepting Aristotle. He refuted numerous errors committed by his predecessors, and carried his observations to a degree of minuteness and accuracy truly astonishing; but it is not a little surprising that he succeeded less in describing[Pg 134] the structure of large objects than in delineating the organs of the most minute.

His classification of insects differs very materially from those now in use. The characters of his four classes he derives from the state in which each insect appears after its birth, and those through which it passes before attaining its entire development. In the first he places all those which issue from the egg with nearly the same form as that which they have at the period of their full growth; such as spiders, slugs, leeches, &c. In the second are included those which, like the grashopper, issue with six feet, and some time after cast off the covering under which the wings were concealed. These insects run or leap with agility in their first stage, which is not the case with those of the next class. To the third are referred insects which undergo greater changes, such as caterpillars, and which proceed from the egg in the state of a worm, remain in that state for some time, cast off their hairy covering, assume the form of a chrysalis, when they become motionless, and finally emerge in a winged state. The fourth class consists of such as, like the common fly, on changing the form under which they issued from the egg to assume that of a worm, do not cast their covering, but become separated from it, while it remains and forms a shell or egg-like investiture, in which the insect remains in the pupa state until it finally emerges with wings.

The history of Swammerdam must excite our sympathy and commiseration; but that, as some have alleged, he lost his reason towards the end of his life, and became subject to mania, arising from religious melancholy, no one who has any share of[Pg 135] that piety which he evinced will feel disposed to admit. Although he lived in misery, the close of his life was perhaps more enviable than that of many who have gone smiling to their final rest; and it is well for those who, before the period arrives when as the tree falls so it must lie, can like him become truly sensible of the vanity of all earthly pursuits, even although after death they should be pointed out as the victims of a distempered imagination.


[H] Reaumur, Histoire des Insectes, tome i. p. 28.

[Pg 136]


Account of the Life and Writings of Ray.

Birth and Parentage of Ray—He receives the Rudiments of his Education at Braintree School—At the age of Sixteen enters at Katherine Hall, Cambridge—Removes to Trinity College, where he passes through various Gradations, and becomes a Fellow—Publishes his Catalogue of Cambridge Plants, and undertakes several Journeys—Extracts from his Itineraries—Resigns his Fellowship—Becomes a Member of the Royal Society—Publishes his Catalogue of English Plants, &c.—Death of his most intimate Friend, Mr Willughby—Character of that Gentleman—Mr Ray undertakes the Education of his Sons, and writes a Vocabulary for their Use—Notice of Dr Lister—Several Works published by Mr Ray, who improves and edits Willughby's Notes on Birds and Fishes—Continues his scientific Labours—Remarks on the Scoter and Barnacle—Letters of Dr Robinson and Sir Hans Sloane—Notice respecting the latter—Publication of the Synopsis of British Plants, the Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of Creation, &c.—Estimate of the Number of Animals and Plants known—Synopsis of Quadrupeds and Serpents—Classification of Animals—Various Publications—Ray's Decline—His last Letter—His Ideas of a Future State, and of the Use of the Study of Nature—His Death, Character, and principal Writings.

The distinguished individual whose history we are about to sketch, and who is considered by many persons of the present age as the greatest naturalist that Britain has yet produced, was born on the 29th November 1628, at Black Notley, near Braintree in Essex. His father, Roger Wray, was a blacksmith,—a circumstance which affords another proof that[Pg 137] natural history has had among its most successful cultivators men of all stations in society, from the lowest to the highest. He received the rudiments of his education at Braintree School, under the care of a Mr Love, who, it seems, was but indifferently qualified for his office. Young Wray, however, profited so well by his opportunities of acquiring knowledge, that at the age of sixteen he was sent to the University of Cambridge, where he entered at Katherine Hall in June 1644. As it is not stated that on this occasion he had to draw on the generosity of any of his rich neighbours, it is to be presumed that his father was in prosperous circumstances. At the end of a year and three-quarters he removed to Trinity College, where he had the good fortune to have for his tutor Dr Duport, a man of great learning, under whose direction he acquired considerable skill in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages. About three years afterwards he was chosen Minor Fellow of Trinity, at the same time with his friend the celebrated Isaac Barrow; and, after passing through the usual gradations, was appointed Greek lecturer of the College in October 1651, Mathematical lecturer in October 1053, and Humanity reader in October 1655. After this he was made Prælector Primarius, Junior Dean, and College Steward, having been sworn into the latter office in 1659.

During the time of Mr Wray's residence at the university, he had several gentlemen of great merit under his tuition. He also became eminent as a pulpit orator, being, according to the testimony of Dr Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury, "much celebrated for his preaching solid and useful divinity, instead of that enthusiastick stuff, which the[Pg 138] sermons of that time were generally filled with." He contracted an intimate friendship with Mr John Nid, who, like himself, was an ardent "admirer of the works of God," and whom, in a funeral sermon, he eulogizes for his admirable amenity and candour, his strict probity, innocence of life and manners, singular modesty, and great learning. He was aided by this gentleman in writing his Catalogue of Cambridge Plants, which he published in 1660, and which was found of great use in promoting the much-neglected study of botany at that university. But before it was entirely finished, he was deprived of the companion whose society had afforded him so much delight.

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