Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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On leaving Cambridge he resolved to go to the Continent, with the view of extending his knowledge[Pg 143] of natural history, to which he had long been devoted. Accordingly, in the spring of 1663, accompanied by Mr Willughby, Mr Skippon, and Mr Bacon, his pupils, he crossed to Calais, and traversing the Low Countries, visited Germany, Italy, and several islands in the Mediterranean. In returning homewards he directed his way through Switzerland and France, and arrived in his own country in the spring of 1666, with a rich store of materials for the cultivation of his favourite science. He now occupied himself in reading the works that had been published during his absence; in reviewing and arranging Mr Willughby's collections; and in making a catalogue of such plants as were natives of the English soil. He was also employed during the winter in forming a table of plants and quadrupeds to illustrate the famous work of Dr Wilkins on a "Real or Universal Character." In the summer of 1667, he made a journey into the west, accompanied by his favourite pupil. While on this excursion the two friends described many natural objects, and in particular examined the Cornish mines, and the methods employed for smelting ores.

His fame as a naturalist being now fully established, he was solicited to become a member of the Royal Society, which he accordingly entered in 1667. The remainder of this year he spent with his friends in Sussex and Warwickshire. In 1668, he made a journey into Yorkshire and Westmoreland, where he assiduously exerted himself in collecting plants and animals. The greater part of the winter was passed in Warwickshire, with Mr Willughby, who in the following spring engaged with him in a series of experiments on the ascent and descent of[Pg 144] the sap in trees, the results of which were published in the Philosophical Transactions.

Although botany seems to have been his principal study, his attention was by no means confined to it, for, like most naturalists of the time, he was a general collector. The materials which he had accumulated in the course of his journeys having now increased to a great extent, he began to digest his observations; commencing, rather oddly, with a set of proverbs, which he made ready for the press, although they were not published till 1672. In 1669, he also prepared his Catalogue of English Plants, which was printed in the following year.

At this time he changed his name to Ray, omitting the initial letter; the altered mode of spelling being, as he conceived, more correct. In one of his notes to Dr Lister he mentions his having had an offer of L.100 per annum to travel with three young noblemen, expressing, at the same time, his unfitness for the office, and his unworthiness of so large a salary. To this his friend replies: "I joy you of the condition offered you. If you accept it, I wish you all the satisfaction and comfort in the world of it; and I pray God, of his infinite mercy, to preserve you in your travels, and to send me home again my dear friend well. Fix not long with them in any place; for the gentry of France are very proud, and will soon (when acquainted) learn them to despise their tutors, however well deserving." This proposal, however, Mr Ray rejected, being in a weak state of health, and considering it more expedient to continue his pursuits.

In the spring of 1671, he had an attack of jaundice, of which, as he informs Dr Lister, he[Pg 145] "got pretty well rid." On recovering, he pursued his experiments on the motion of sap, and in summer visited several of his acquaintances; after which, in July, he commenced a journey to the northern counties, taking with him Thomas Willisel, from whose assistance in collecting and describing plants he derived much profit.

In this erratic mode of living,—at one time wandering over the country in quest of its rarer productions, at another residing with his friends at their country-seats, enjoying their conversation, and deriving instruction from the inspection of their collections,—Mr Ray must have experienced much real happiness; one principal source of which, however, was now dried up. He had scarcely returned from his excursion when he was informed of the dangerous illness of Mr Willughby, who, having been seized with violent pain in his head, followed by pleurisy and fever, expired in the thirty-seventh year of his age, on the third day of July 1672.

The character of this estimable man and excellent naturalist cannot be better described than in Dr Derham's words:—"His example deserves the imitation of every person of great estate and honour. For he was a man whom God had blessed with a very plentiful estate, and with excellent parts, capable of making him useful to the world. And accordingly he neglected no opportunity of being so. He did not (as the fashion too much is) depend upon his riches, and spend his time in sloth or sports, idle company-keeping, and luxury; but practising what was laudable and good,—what might be of service to mankind. And among other[Pg 146] virtuous employments, one he much delighted in was the searching after, and describing of, animals (birds, beasts, fishes, and insects), which province he had taken for his task, as Mr Ray had that of plants. And in these matters he was a great master, as he was also in plants, fossils, and, in short, the whole history of nature; to which I may add that of coins, and most other curious parts of learning. And in the pursuit and acquest of this knowledge he stuck neither at any labour or cost. Noble monuments of which he left behind him in those posthumous pieces which Mr Ray afterwards published."

To render a separate article unnecessary, some particulars may here be given respecting that distinguished individual. He was born in Lincolnshire in 1635, and, as has already been mentioned, studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the tuition of Ray, whose most intimate friend he continued to be until the period of his premature and lamented death. Dr Derham states, from a conversation which he had with Ray a short time before his last illness, that "these two gentlemen, finding the history of nature very imperfect, had agreed between themselves, before their travels beyond sea, to reduce the several tribes of things to a method; and to give accurate descriptions of the several species, from a strict view of them." Both entered upon the task with an enthusiasm which could have been excited only by an intense love of nature, and although Ray was more successful in the event, Willughby was not less industrious during his short career. Ornithology and ichthyology seem to have been his favourite studies, and in prosecuting[Pg 147] them he formed an extensive museum, not, however, excluding other objects. In 1668, he married the daughter of Sir H. Bernard, and settled at Middleton Hall in Warwickshire, where he continued his researches under the eye of his former tutor. His untimely death prevented the publication of his several essays, which were left to the care of Mr Ray, who was also one of the executors of his will. As a special mark of his friendship, besides bequeathing an annuity of £60, he confided to him the education of his two sons, Francis and Thomas, the first of whom died before attaining his twentieth year. The younger was one of the twelve peers created on the same day by Queen Anne, on which occasion he received the title of Lord Middleton.

Mr Ray accordingly betook himself to the instruction of these two young gentlemen, the eldest of whom was only four years of age at the period of their father's decease. For their improvement he composed his Nomenclator Classicus, which was published in 1672, and which, with respect to the names of natural objects, was much more accurate than any that had previously appeared. Having resolved to discharge his duties with fidelity, he was obliged to give up the thoughts of another botanical excursion which he had meditated, as well as to refuse the invitation of Dr Lister, who wished him to live in his house at York.

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