History of Science book by John Wilkins

The Mathematical and Philosophical Works of the Right Reverend John Wilkins, Late Lord Bishop of Chester.


I. The Discovery of a New World: Or, a Discourse tending to prove, that ’tis probable there may be another Habitable World in the Moon. With a Discourse of the Possibility of a Passage thither.

II. That ’tis probable our Earth is One of the Planets.

III. 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.

IV. Mathematical Magick: Or the Wonders that may be perform’d by Mechanical Geometry.

V. An Abstract of his Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language.

To which is prefix’d the Author’s Life, and an Account of his Works.

London, 1708.

This book is absolutely stunning collection. I read the entire “Mercury” book in one sitting. It goes through codes, ciphers, a history of cryptography (as of the mid-1600s, when this was written), secret messages, so on and so forth. The level of knowledge available to the Renaissance people is amazing! Some of these codes seem uncrackable!

Wilkins was one of the first to propose that yes, you can be a Christian but ALSO believe that the Earth is a planet. This book was written about a century after Copernicus died. The scandal of his theory–that the Earth is not the center of the universe–had died down, and Wilkins embraced the new scientific conception of the Earth orbiting the sun.

However, he goes one step further, and talks about the possibility of life on the Moon. This would have gotten him burned at the stake a century earlier, but now he’s saying that not only is the Earth a planet, but it may not be the only one inhabited by creatures.

Additionally, he proposes a ways of getting to the Moon. He proposes a “flying chariot” complete with mechanical (clockwork) engine, but also suggest attaching wings to a man–and as proof, look at the roc (which he calls “Ruck”, and which we know today is a mythical bird) with its 12-foot feathers, and which is able to carry an elephant!

Also is a book on mathematics and geometry, complete with several woodcut engravings of various geometric figures. See photos for one of them.

This book has a large bookplate of the Royal Academy Regimental Library. Dated ’69, but not sure if that’s 1769 or 1869!

Full leather binding, with blindstamped rules & fleurons, gilt rules to covers, red leather label on spine and gilt fleurons; marbled endpapers. We had this professionally restored, the leather is now supple, the binding very solid. All pages clean & unmarked with the exception of the page opposite the title page. This has a great old inscription which starts off, “This book is exceedingly scarce…” Based on ink & handwriting, this inscription is at least a century old.

This is a scarce book indeed. This is the first collected edition. This includes the engraved title page (pictured) for “A Discourse concerning a New World and Another Planet” as well as the engraved portrait of the author.

To purchase this book, or to see more photos, please visit the Etsy listing at https://www.etsy.com/listing/472665264/antiquarian-science-book-life-on-the

john wilkins