The Man in the Moon

Lynn Fahy, one of our catalogers, mentioned that she had cataloged a book last year which struck her as fascinating–and so it is!  The man who wrote it, John Wilkins (1614­-1672), was a serious theologian and natural philosopher that had some pretty radical (and funky) ideas.  He was Bishop of Chester, a founder of the Royal Society of London (he chaired the initial meeting on November 28, 1660), and a former Master of Trinity College (Cambridge).  We have half a dozen of his books in the Watkinson–the one I want to read is Mercury: or The secret and swift messenger. Shewing how a man may with privacy and speed communicate his thoughts to a friend at any distance, which we have in an 1802 collection of his writings.


In 1638 he published The Discovery of a new world, or, A Discourse tending to prove, that (’tis probable) there may be another habitable world in the moon.  This popularizing book “aimed to expound and defend the new world picture developed by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler” (DNB).  Among the “propositions proved in this discourse” are: “That those Spots and brighter Parts, which by our Sight may be distinguished in the Moon, do shew the difference betwixt the Sea and Land in that other world.”; “That the Spots represents the Sea, and the brighter parts the Land.” ; “That there are high Mountains, deep Vallies, and spacious plains in the Body of the Moon.” ; “That there is an Atmo-sphaera, or an Orb of gross Vporous Air, immediatey encompassing the Body of the Moon. ; “That as their World is our Moon, so our World is their Moon”.


This copy of the fifth editon (1684) is also interesting for the following note, in an 18th century hand:  “. . . Shortly after this work appeared, the famous Dutchess of Newcastle, meeting the Bishop, observed to him that he had omitted to notice very important points, namely, the accommodations for travellers during their journey to the Moon–Dr. Wilkins replied that she was the last person in the world who ought to make such a remark, as she had built such a vast number of fine Castles in the Air that she could bait at one of her own houses every night during her journey.”

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