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This eminent physician and naturalist, who was one of Ray's most intimate friends, was born, in 1638, in the county of Buckingham. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge, and having chosen the medical profession, settled at York as a practitioner. In the year 1683, he removed to[Pg 148] London, when he took the degree of doctor at Oxford, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Having, in 1698, attended the Earl of Portland on his embassy to France, he published, when he returned, an account of the journey, which was ridiculed by Dr William King in a parody, in consequence of the minute observations in natural history which it contained. In 1709, he was made physician in ordinary to Queen Anne; but he occupied this post only two years, as he died in February 1711. Omitting his medical writings, which are not of much importance, we may observe, that besides composing several papers which were printed in the Philosophical Transactions, he published the following works on shells, which are referred to by the naturalists of the present day as important productions:—
Historia Animalium Angliæ, with three tracts on spiders, land and fresh-water shells, and marine shells, together with fossils having the form of shells. 4to, London, 1678.
Exercitatio Anatomica de Cochleis. 8vo, 1694. Exercitatio Anatomica Altera, de Buccinis Fluviatilibus et Marinis. 8vo, 1695. Exercitatio Anatomica tertia Conchyliorum Bivalvium. 4to, 1696.
Historiæ sive Synopsis Conchyliorum libri iv., 2 vols. folio, 1685-1693. An edition was published, in 1770, by Mr Huddesford, keeper of the Ashmolean Library at Oxford. Of this work there is a new impression by Mr Dillwyn, with a scientific index. The plates of the Historia Conchyliorum were executed from drawings by his daughters, and are in general accurate.
As a specimen of the correspondence which naturalists[Pg 149] hold with one another, we may present the following letter to Mr Ray:—
"Sir,—August 18, I passed through Marton Woods, under Pimco-Moore, in Craven. In these woods I then found very great plenty of Mushromes, and many of them then wither'd, and coal-black; but others new sprung and flourishing. They are some of them of a large size, and yet few much bigger than the Champignon or ordinary red-grilled eatable Mushrome, and very much of the shape of that; that is an exactly round cap, or crown, which is thick in flesh, and open deep gills underneath; a fleshy, and not hollow, round foot-stalk, of about six fingers breadth above ground, and ordinarily as thick as my thumb. The foot-stalk, gills, and cap, all of a milk-white colour. If you cut any part of this mushrome, it will bleed exceeding freely and plentifully a pure white juice. Concerning which, note,
"1. That the youngest did drop much more plentifully and freely than those that were at their full growth and expansion. That the dried and withered ones had no signs of milk in them that I then discern'd.
"2. That this milk tastes and smells like pepper, and is much hotter upon the tongue.
"3. That it is not clammy or roapy to the touch.
"4. That although I used the same knife to cut a hundred of them, yet I could not perceive all that time, that the milk changed colour (as is usual with most vegetable milks) upon the knife blade.
"5. That it became, in the glass viol I drew it into, suddenly concrete and stiff, and in some days[Pg 150] dried into a firm cake, or lump, without any serum at all.
"6. That it then also, when dried, retained its keen biting taste, as it does at this day, yet not so fierce: Its colour is now of a yellowish green, yet very pale.
"7. This milk flows much faster from about the outmost rimm, or part equivalent to the bark of plants, than from the more inward parts, &c.
"8. I observed these mushromes even then, when they abounded with milk (not to be endured upon our tongues) to be exceeding full of fly-maggots; and the youngest and tenderest of them were very much eaten by the small grey naked snail.
"You can tell me what author describes this mushrome, and what he titles it.
"I have revised the History of Spiders, and added this summer's notes. Also I have likewise brought into the same method the land and fresh water snails, having this year added many species found in these northern lakes. And by way of Appendix, I have describ'd all the shell-stones that I have anywhere found in England, having purposely viewed some places in Yorkshire where there are plenty. The tables of both I purpose to send you. I am not so throughly stocked with sea-shells as I wish and endeavour. I aim not at exoticks, but those of our own shores. Concerning St Cuthbert's Beads, I find 3 species of them in Craven: and this makes it plain, that they have not been the back-bone of any creature, because I find of them ramous and branched like trees.
"York, October 12, 1672."
Soon after Mr Willughby's death, Mr Ray lost[Pg 151] another of his best friends, Bishop Wilkins, who died on the 19th November 1672. Being thus deprived of some of those persons whose intercourse had afforded him the purest pleasure, he began to think of consoling himself by marriage; having formed an attachment to a young woman recommended by her personal and mental accomplishments. She was the daughter of Mr John Oakeley of Launton, in Oxfordshire. They were married in Middleton Church, on the 5th June 1673. This lady gave him important assistance in educating Mr Willughby's children; and afterwards, by her unremitting attentions and constant affection, contributed to enliven his mind, when he was labouring under the pressure of protracted disease.
In the year just named, he published an account of the observations which he had made in his travels on the Continent, to which was appended a catalogue of plants observed in foreign countries, and also, about the same time, his Collection of Unusual or Local English Words, adding to it a catalogue of English birds and fishes, and an account of the way of smelting and refining metals and minerals. Mr Oldenburgh, the secretary of the Royal Society, having solicited him by numerous letters to communicate any discoveries which he might have made, he sent several papers, some of which were printed in the Philosophical Transactions, as well as a discourse concerning seeds and the specific differences of plants, which was read to the members.
In 1674 and the following year, he was busily engaged in the task of preparing for the press Mr Willughby's observations on birds. These notices had been committed to paper without any method,[Pg 152] and left in a very imperfect state, so that the trouble of revising and digesting was of no light kind. Without at all detracting from the merits of the author, whose labours, according to Dr Derham, were such, "that he allowed himself little or no time for those recreations and diversions which men of his estate and degree are apt to spend too much of their time in, but prosecuted his design with as great application, as if he had been to get his bread thereby," it may fairly be presumed, and indeed has been generally admitted, that the greater part of his works belong in fact to Mr Ray, who, however, claimed no merit in the performance. The book was published in 1676, in Latin, with engravings, which, in the titlepage, are designated as icones elegantissimi et vivarum avium simillimi, although few who inspect them will be disposed to concur in the opinion now stated. It was afterwards translated into English by his affectionate editor, and put forth with large additions in the year 1678. Derham apologizes for the inferior execution of the plates, which were done at the charge of the author's widow. "Considering," says the Doctor, "how well the engravers were paid for their labour, it is great pity they had not had some able person in London to have supervised them, that they might have given better likenesses to the birds than what most of them have. But this is what Mr Ray could only complain of, but not help, by reason of his being in Warwickshire, at a distance from London, where every thing was transacted by letters,—a method which could never afford sufficient directions in a matter of that nature." The descriptions, however, are in general excellent,[Pg 153] regard being had to the state of science at the time when they were written. Some of them, indeed, are very imperfect, and there is, besides, a deficiency of method, which becomes more striking when they are compared with those of Temminck or Selby, or any other of our best modern ornithologists.