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WILKINS, JOHN.

An essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language.

      London, printed for Sa: Gellibrand, and for John Martin printer to the Royal Society, 1668. First edition, large paper copy, folio, pp. [20], 454, [2] blank, [156]; engraved vignette title bearing the arms of the Royal Society, 4 engraved plates (1 folding), 2 very large folding tables; separate title and pagination for An Alphabetical Dictionary wherein all English words according to their various significations are … explained, London, 1668; occasional marginal flaws, small rust hole to 2G2 (no loss), 2R1 and 2R4 printed on a smaller sheet, neat restoration to paper flaw on the final leaf; full contemporary mottled calf with a nice central panel in gilt, neatly rebacked, gilt-paneled spine in 7 compartments, morocco label in 1, extremities a bit rubbed and worn, some modest scratching to the covers, but all in all a very good and compelling copy, with a handful of interesting early eighteenth-century annotations which show a particular interest in Wilkins' analysis of the alphabet with which the reader takes issue (Chapter XIII). Wilkins (1614-1672), bishop of Chester, was proficient in both mathematics and astronomy, and was an early proponent of, and active in the foundation of certain weekly meetings of learned men of his time, which subsequently became the Royal Society, of which he was the first secretary. In 1648, he was made warden of Wadham College, Oxford, where he became intimate with Boyle, Wren and Evelyn. In 1656 he married Cromwell's sister. Wilkins' interest in universal language goes back to 1641 when he published the anonymous Mercury, or the secret and swift messenger, "the first rudimentary attempt at constructing a framework for a universal language and alphabet, though it had obvious connections with the development in England of both short-hand and cypher" (see Alston VIII, 277). "John Wilkins' Essay…, more than any other work of its period, reflects the staggering range of 17th-century British intellectual inquiry and the unprecedented rigor of its scientific method … [He] was a principal organizer, if not the prime catalyst of the British scientific revolution" (Subbiondo, John Wilkins and 17-Century British Linguistics, p. xiii). His Essay is his most important work, in which he was assisted by John Ray, Francis Willoughby, and others. It is said that this work inspired Ray to develop his own botanical classification, and lead him later to publish his work on proverbs. Wilkins' Essay "is the largest and most complete work in a long tradition of speculation and effort to create an artificial language that would, in a contemporary phrase, "repair the ruins of Babel." In his own time Wilkins' stature and influence were very considerable … his influence was divided between such men as Hooke, Boyle, and Ray on the one hand, Tilloston, Stillingfleet, and Patrick on the other. In this sense he shaped the temper of England in the latter half of the seventeenth century and left a significant impression on the eighteenth." See DSB; Wing W-2196; Alston VII, 290 (noting that all copies do not contain the plates as are present here); Lowndes, p. 2922: "A masterpiece of invention … The index, which is also in its kind a masterpiece, is by Dr. Wm. Lloyd."

      [Bookseller: Rulon-Miller Books ABAA/ILAB]
Last Found On: 2012-06-22          Check current availability from:     Antiqbook


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