John Ray

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John Ray
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{{short description|British botanist (1627–1705)}}{{Other people}}{{Use dmy dates|date=July 2012}}{{Use British English|date=July 2012}}

Black Notley, near Braintree, Essex>Braintree17051711df=y}}|death_place = Black Notley|alma_mater = Trinity College, CambridgeSt Catharine's College, Cambridge|residence =|citizenship =England>English|ethnicity =|field = Botany, Zoology, Natural history, Natural theology|academic_advisors = James Duport|author_abbrev_bot = Ray}}File:John Ray by Roubiliac, British Museum.jpg|thumb|250px|John Ray by RoubiliacRoubiliacJohn Ray FRS (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was an English naturalist widely regarded as one of the earliest of the English parson-naturalists.Armstrong, 2000. p. 2 Until 1670, he wrote his name as John Wray. From then on, he used 'Ray', after "having ascertained that such had been the practice of his family before him".Gunther, Robert W.T. 1928. Further Correspondence of John Ray. Ray Society, London. p. 16 He published important works on botany, zoology, and natural theology. His classification of plants in his Historia Plantarum, was an important step towards modern taxonomy. Ray rejected the system of dichotomous division by which species were classified according to a pre-conceived, either/or type system {{Elucidate|date=June 2016}}, and instead classified plants according to similarities and differences that emerged from observation. He was among the first to attempt a biological definition for the concept of species.Historia plantarum generalis, in the volume published in 1686, Tome I, Libr. I, Chap. XX, page 40 (Quoted in Mayr, Ernst. 1982. The growth of biological thought: diversity, evolution, and inheritance. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press: 256)


Early life

(File:John Ray birthplace's in Black Notley, Essex.jpg|thumb|John Ray's birthplace in Black Notley, Essex)(File:Blue plaque to John Ray.jpg|thumb|Blue plaque to John Ray)John Ray was born in the village of Black Notley in Essex. He is said to have been born in the smithy, his father having been the village blacksmith. After studying at Braintree school, he was sent at the age of sixteen to Cambridge University: studying at Trinity College.{{acad|id=RY644J|name=Ray, John}} Initially at Catharine Hall, his tutor was Daniel Duckfield, and later transferred to Trinity where his tutor was James Duport, and his intimate friend and fellow-pupil the celebrated Isaac Barrow. Ray was chosen minor fellow{{efn|While still a B.A.}} of Trinity in 1649, and later major fellow.{{efn|On attaining his M.A.}} He held many college offices, becoming successively lecturer in Greek (1651), mathematics (1653), and humanity (1655), praelector (1657), frias (1657), and college steward (1659 and 1660); and according to the habit of the time, he was accustomed to preach in his college chapel and also at Great St Mary's, long before he took holy orders on 23 December 1660. Among these sermons were his discourses on The wisdom of God manifested in the works of the creation,The wisdom of God manifested in the works of the Creation, Google Books and Deluge and Dissolution of the World. Ray was also highly regarded as a tutor and he communicated his own passion for natural history to several pupils. Ray's student, Isaac Barrow, helped Francis Willughby learn mathematics and the Ray collaborated with Willughby later.JOURNAL, Mullens, W.H., Some early British Ornithologists and their works. VII. John Ray (1627-1705) and Francis Willughby (1635-1672), 290–300, 2, 9,weblink British Birds, 1909, BOOK, The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist, Birkhead, Tim, Bloomsbury, 2018, 978-1-4088-7848-4, London, 24–25,

Later life and family

After leaving Cambridge in 1662 he spent some time travelling both in Britain and the continent.{{sfn|Vines|1913}} In 1673, Ray married Margaret Oakley of Launton in Oxfordshire; in 1676 he went to Middleton Hall near Tamworth, and in 1677 to Falborne (or Faulkbourne) Hall in Essex. Finally, in 1679, he removed to his birthplace at Black Notley, where he afterwards remained. His life there was quiet and uneventful, although he had poor health, including chronic sores. Ray kept writing books and corresponded widely on scientific matters. He lived, in spite of his infirmities, to the age of seventy-seven, dying at Black Notley. He is buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul where there is a memorial to him.(File:Memorial to John Ray in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul in Black Notley.jpg|thumb|Memorial to John Ray in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul in Black Notley)(File:Close-up of John Ray memorial.jpg|thumb|Close-up of memorial to John Ray)


(File:John Ray woodcut.jpg|thumb|right|Woodcut (1693))At Cambridge, Ray spent much of his time in the study of natural history, a subject which would occupy him for most of his life.{{sfn|Vines|1913}} When Ray found himself unable to subscribe as required by the ‘Bartholomew Act’ of 1662 he, along with 13 other college fellows, resigned his fellowship on 24 August 1662 rather than swear to the declaration that the Solemn League and Covenant was not binding on those who had taken it.(wikisource:Ray, John (DNB00)) Tobias Smollett quoted the reasoning given in the biography of Ray by William Derham:"The reason of his refusal was not (says his biographer) as some have imagined, his having taken the solemn league and covenant; for that he never did, and often declared that he ever thought it an unlawful oath: but he said he could not say, for those that had taken the oath, that no obligation lay upon them, but feared there might."Tobias George Smollett (1761) The Critical review, or, Annals of literature, Volume 11 pp. 92–93His religious views were generally in accord with those imposed under the restoration of Charles II of England, and (though technically a nonconformist) he continued as a layman in the Established Church of England.From this time onwards he seems to have depended chiefly on the bounty of his pupil Francis Willughby, who made Ray his constant companion while he lived. Willughby arranged that after his death, Ray would have 6 shillings a year for educating Willughby's two sons.In the spring of 1663 Ray started together with Willughby and two other pupils (Philip Skippon and Nathaniel BaconBOOK, Gribbin, John, John Gribbin, Science, a History, 1543-2001, Allen Lane, New York, 2002, ) on a tour through Europe, from which he returned in March 1666, parting from Willughby at Montpellier, whence the latter continued his journey into Spain. He had previously in three different journeys (1658, 1661, 1662) travelled through the greater part of Great Britain, and selections from his private notes of these journeys were edited by George Scott in 1760, under the title of Mr Ray's Itineraries. Ray himself published an account of his foreign travel in 1673, entitled Observations topographical, moral, and physiological, made on a Journey through part of the Low Countries, Germany, Italy, and France. From this tour Ray and Willughby returned laden with collections, on which they meant to base complete systematic descriptions of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Willughby undertook the former part, but, dying in 1672, left only an ornithology and ichthyology for Ray to edit; while Ray used the botanical collections for the groundwork of his Methodus plantarum nova (1682), and his great Historia generalis plantarum (3 vols., 1686, 1688, 1704). The plants gathered on his British tours had already been described in his Catalogus plantarum Angliae (1670), which formed the basis for later English floras.In 1667 Ray was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1669 he and Willughby published a paper on Experiments concerning the Motion of Sap in Trees. In 1671, he presented the research of Francis Jessop on formic acid to the Royal Society.{{sfn|Raven|1950}}In the 1690s, he published three volumes on religion—the most popular being The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691), an essay describing evidence that all in nature and space is God's creation as in Bible is affirmed. In this volume, he moved on from the naming and cataloguing of species like his successor Carl Linnaeus. Instead, Ray considered species' lives and how nature worked as a whole, giving facts that are arguments for God's will expressed in His creation of all 'visible and invisible' (Colossians 1:16).Ray gave an early description of dendrochronology, explaining for the ash tree how to find its age from its tree-rings.Armstrong, 2000. p. 47

Ray's definition of species

Ray was the first person to produce a biological definition of species, in his 1686 History of Plants:
"... no surer criterion for determining species has occurred to me than the distinguishing features that perpetuate themselves in propagation from seed. Thus, no matter what variations occur in the individuals or the species, if they spring from the seed of one and the same plant, they are accidental variations and not such as to distinguish a species... Animals likewise that differ specifically preserve their distinct species permanently; one species never springs from the seed of another nor vice versa".Mayr Growth of biological thought p256; original was Ray, History of Plants. 1686, trans E. Silk.

System of classification

As outlined in his Historia Plantarum (1685–1703):{{sfn|Singh|2004|loc=John Ray p. 302}} "Father of Nature"


Ray published about 23 works, depending on how they are counted. The biological works were usually in Latin, the rest in English.Keynes, Sir Geoffrey [1951] 1976. John Ray, 1627–1705: a bibliography 1660–1970. Van Heusden, Amsterdam. His first publication, while at Cambridge, was the Catalogus plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium (1660), followed by many works, botanical, zoological,theological and literary.{{sfn|Vines|1913}}

List of selected publications

  • 1660: Catalogus plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium (Catalogue of Cambridge plants)
  • 1668: Tables of plants.
  • BOOK, Ray, John, John Ray, Catalogus plantarum Angliae, et insularum adjacentium: tum indigenas, tum in agris passim cultas complectens. In quo praeter synonyma necessaria, facultates quoque summatim traduntur, unà cum observationibus & experimentis novis medicis & physics, Catalogue of English plants, 2nd, 1677, 1668, A Clark, London,weblink latin,
  • 1670: Collection of English proverbs.
  • 1673: Observations in the Low Countries and Catalogue of plants not native to England.
  • 1674: Collection of English words not generally
  • 1675: Trilingual dictionary, or nomenclator classicus.
  • 1676: Willughby's Ornithologia.{{efn|"In fact, the book was Ray's, based on preliminary notes by Francis Willughby".p52{{sfn|Raven|1950}}Chapter 12 "Willughby and Ray laid the foundation of scientific ornithology".Newton, Alfred 1893. Dictionary of birds. Black, London}}
  • BOOK, Ray, John, John Ray, Methodus plantarum nova: brevitatis & perspicuitatis causa synoptice in tabulis exhibita, cum notis generum tum summorum tum subalternorum characteristicis, observationibus nonnullis de seminibus plantarum & indice copioso, New method of plants, 1682, Faithorne & Kersey, London,weblink latin, harv,
    • weblink" title="">English translation by Stephen Nimis
  • 1686: History of fishes.{{efn|Plates subscribed by Fellows of the Royal Society. Samuel Pepys, the President, subscribed for 79 of the plates.}}
  • 1686–1704: Historia plantarum species [History of plants]. London:Clark 3 vols;
    • Vol 1 1686, Vol 2 1688, Vol 3 1704 (in Latin){{efn|The third volume lacked plates, so his assistant James Petiver published Petiver's Catalogue in parts, 1715–1764, with plates. The work on the first two volumes was supported by subscriptions from the President and Fellows of the Royal Society.}}
  • BOOK, Ray, John, John Ray, Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicarum: in qua tum notae generum characteristicae traduntur, tum species singulae breviter describuntur: ducentae quinquaginta plus minus novae species partim suis locis inseruntur, partim in appendice seorsim exhibentur : cum indice & virium epitome, Synopsis of British plants, 1690, Sam. Smith, London,weblink Latin,
    • 2nd ed 1696
  • 1691: The wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation 7th ed. 2nd ed 1692, 3rd ed 1701, 4th ed 1704, 7th ed 1717{{efn|7th ed. Printed by R. Harbin, for William Innys, at the Prince’s-Arms in St Paul’s Church Yard, London 1717. Each edition enlarged from the previous edition. This was his most popular work. It was in the vein later called natural theology, explaining the adaptation of living creatures as the work of God. It was heavily plagiarised by William Paley in his Natural theology of 1802.p92{{sfn|Raven|1950}}p452}}
  • 1692: Miscellaneous discourses concerning the dissolution and changes of the world{{efn|This includes some important discussion of fossils. Ray insisted that fossils had once been alive, in opposition to his friends Martin Lister and Edward Llwyd. "These [fossils] were originally the shells and bones of living fishes and other animals bred in the sea". Raven commented that this was "The fullest and most enlightened treatment by an Englishman" of that time.{{sfn|Raven|1950}}p426}}
  • 1693: Synopsis of animals and reptiles.
  • 1693: Collection of travels.
  • 1694: Collection of European plants.
  • 1695: Plants of each county. (Camden's Britannia)
  • BOOK, Ray, John, John Ray, De Variis Plantarum Methodis Dissertatio Brevis, Brief dissertation, 1696, Smith & Walford, London,weblink latin, harv,
    • weblink" title="">English translation by Stephen Nimis
  • 1700: A persuasive to a holy life.
  • BOOK, Ray, John, John Ray, Methodus plantarum emendata et aucta: In quãa notae maxime characteristicae exhibentur, quibus stirpium genera tum summa, tum infima cognoscuntur & áa se mutuo dignoscuntur, non necessariis omissis. Accedit methodus graminum, juncorum et cyperorum specialis, 1703, Smith & Walford, London,weblink latin, harv,

  • 1705. Method and history of insects
  • 1713: Synopsis methodica avium & piscium: opus posthumum (Synopsis of birds and fishes), in Latin. William Innys, London vol. 1: Avium vol. 2: Piscium
  • 1713 Three Physico-theological discourses{{efn|This is the 3rd edition of Miscellaneous discourses, the last by Ray before his death, and delayed in publication. Its main importance is that Ray recanted his former acceptance of fossils, apparently because he was theologically troubled by the implications of extinction.BOOK, Bowler, Peter J., Peter J. Bowler, 2003, Evolution: the history of an idea, 3rd, California, p37 Robert Hooke, like Nicolas Steno, was in no doubt about the biological origin of fossils. Hooke made the point that some fossils were no longer living, for example Ammonites: this was the source of Ray's concern.Hooke, Robert 1705. The posthumous works of Robert Hooke. London. repr. 1969 Johnson N.Y.p327}}
  • BOOK, Dillenius, Johann Jacob, Dillenius, Ray, John, John Ray, Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicarum: in qua tum notae generum characteristicae traduntur, tum species singulae breviter describuntur: ducentae quinquaginta plus minus novae species partim suis locis inseruntur, partim in appendice seorsim exhibentur: cum indice & virium epitome (editio tertia multis locis emendata, & quadringentis quinquaginta circiter speciebus noviter detectis aucta ), Synopsis of British plants, 1724, 1690, 3rd, Gulielmi & Joaniis Innys, London,weblink Latin,

Libraries holding Ray's works

Including the various editions, there are 172 works of Ray, of which most are rare. The only libraries with substantial holdings are all in England.p153 The list in order of holdings is:
The British Library, Euston, London. Holds over 80 of the editions. The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. The University of Cambridge Library. Library of Trinity College Cambridge. The Natural History Museum Library, South Kensington, London. The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, Deansgate, Manchester The Sobrang Bayabas, University of Bayabas


Ray's biographer, Charles Raven, commented that "Ray sweeps away the litter of mythology and fable... and always insists upon accuracy of observation and description and the testing of every new discovery".{{sfn|Raven|1950}}p10 Ray's works were directly influential on the development of taxonomy by Carl Linnaeus.The Ray Society, named after John Ray, was founded in 1844. It is a scientific text publication society and registered charity, based at the Natural History Museum, London, which exists to publish books on natural history, with particular (but not exclusive) reference to the flora and fauna of the British Isles. As of 2017, the Society had published 179 volumes.WEB,weblink The Ray Society, 25 December 2017, The John Ray Society (a separate organisation) is the Natural Sciences Society at St Catharine's College, Cambridge. It organises a programme of events of interest to science students in the college.WEB,weblink John Ray Society, St Catharine's College, Cambridge, 7 May 2013, In 1986, to mark the 300th anniversary of the publication of Ray's Historia Plantarum, there was a celebration of Ray's legacy in Braintree, Essex. A "John Ray Gallery" was opened in the Braintree Museum.WEB, John Ray,weblink Braintree Museum, 1 February 2015, The John Ray Initiative (JRI) is an educational charity that seeks to reconcile scientific and Christian understandings of the environment. It was formed in 1997 in response to the global environmental crisis and the challenges of sustainable development and environmental stewardship. John Ray's writings proclaimed God as creator whose wisdom is "manifest in the works of creation", and as redeemer of all things. JRI aims to teach appreciation of nature, increase awareness of the state of the global environment, and to promote a Christian understanding of environmental issues.WEB, Mission,weblink The John Ray Initiative, 1 February 2015,

See also







Books and articles

  • BOOK, Sachs, Julius von, Julius von Sachs, Geschichte der Botanik vom 16. Jahrhundert bis 1860, History of botany (1530-1860), 1890, 1875, Oxford University Press, Oxford, translated by Henry E. F. Garnsey, revised by Isaac Bayley Balfour,weblink 13 December 2015, 10.5962/bhl.title.30585, , see also {{Google books|iT5-CgAAQBAJ|History of botany (1530-1860)}}
  • ODNB, 23203, Ray [formerly Wray], John (1627–1705), naturalist and theologian, Scott, Mandelbrote, {{harvid, Mandelbrote, 2015, }}
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Patrick, The English Parson-naturalist: A Companionship Between Science and Religion, 2000, Gracewing, 978-0-85244-516-7,
  • BOOK, Birch, Thomas, The History of the Royal Society of London for Improving of Natural Knowledge from Its First Rise, in which the Most Considerable of Those Papers Communicated to the Society, which Have Hitherto Not Been Published, are Inserted as a Supplement to the Philosophical Transactions, Volume 3, 1757, Millar, London,weblink harv,
  • BOOK, Oliver, Francis W., 1913, Francis Wall Oliver, Makers of British Botany, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,weblink harv,
  • BOOK, Pavord, Anna, Anna Pavord, The naming of names the search for order in the world of plants., 2005, Bloomsbury, New York, 9781596919655,weblink 18 February 2015, harv, See also ebook 2010
  • BOOK, Raven, Charles E., Charles E. Raven, John Ray, naturalist: his life and works,weblink 1950, 1942, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [England], 9780521310833, 2nd, 10 December 2015, harv,
  • BOOK, Raven, Charles E., Charles E. Raven, English naturalists from Neckham to Ray: a study of the making if the modern world, 1947, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 9781108016346,weblink
  • BOOK, Singh, Gurcharan, Plant Systematics: An Integrated Approach, 2004, Science Publishers, 1578083516,weblink 3, 23 January 2014, harv,
  • JOURNAL, Thompson, Roger, Some newly discovered letters of John Ray, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, July 1974, 7, 1, 111–123, 10.3366/jsbnh.1974.7.1.111,
  • BOOK, Lankester, Edwin, Edwin Lankester, The Correspondence of John Ray: Consisting of Selections from the Philosophical Letters Published by Dr. Derham, and Original Letters of John Ray in the Collection of the British Museum, 1848, Ray Society, London,weblink (also here at Biodiversity Heritage Library)
  • BOOK, Vines, Sydney Howard, Sydney Howard Vines, Robert Morison 1620–1683 and John Ray 1627–1705, 8–43, {{harvid, Vines, 1913, }}, in {{harvtxt|Oliver|1913}}


External links

John Ray Initiative

{{wikisource author}}{{commons category}}{{List of systems of plant taxonomy}}{{Natural history}}{{Authority control}}

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