The Royal Society and Ireland William Molyneux, F.R.S. (1656-1698)

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<ul><li><p>The Royal Society and Ireland William Molyneux, F.R.S. (1656-1698)Author(s): K. Theodore HoppenSource: Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Dec., 1963), pp. 125-135Published by: The Royal SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 05:10</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>The Royal Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Notes and Records ofthe Royal Society of London.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 05:10:00 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>125 </p><p>THE ROYAL SOCIETY AND IRELAND </p><p>WILLIAM MOLYNEUX, F.R.S. (I656-I698) </p><p>By K. THEODORE HOPPEN Research Student, Trinity College, Cambridge </p><p>[Plate 18] </p><p>THE seventeenth century was not a period during which science can be said to have flourished in Ireland. Only in the last twenty years of the </p><p>century did that country give any response to the New Learning, a learning which was, in England, no longer regarded as new, in the sense of revolu- </p><p>tionary, and which was becoming accepted by the majority of thinking men. That there was any significant activity at all, in the field of science during these last two decades, was due, in the main, to William Molyneux. </p><p>Molyneux was born in Dublin in 1656, of a distinguished and well-to-do </p><p>family. He was sent to a Grammar school in that city, and in 1671 entered Trinity College, Dublin (I). After he had obtained his bachelor's degree he was sent by his father to London to take up the study of law at the Middle </p><p>Temple. His career at the university had been a successful one, and on going down he had been presented with a testimonial, 'Drawn up in the strongest Terms &amp; in an Uncommon Form, Signifying the high opinion they had conceived of his Genius, the Probity of his Manner &amp; the Remarkable </p><p>Progress he had made in letters' (2). Molyneux spent three years in London, but, as he puts it, 'my inclination to the Study of the law was not so strong as to make me master of the profession' (3). </p><p>While still an undergraduate Molyneux had 'conceived a Great Dislike to the Scholastick Learning then taught in that place; [the university] And </p><p>young as he was, he fell intirely into Lord Bacon's Methods &amp; those prescribed by the Royal Society' (4). The young student spent most of his leisure hours reading the works of Bacon, Descartes, Gassendi, and Digby, as well as the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (5). There is no evidence to suggest that he attended any meetings of the Royal Society while he was studying at the Temple but, in I680, when he was in London seeking a cure for his blind wife, he met several Fellows of the Society, of whom he mentions Sir Charles Scarborough, Walter Needham, and Richard Lower (6). It was in the same year that he applied himself 'fully to mathematical learning' (7), and within twelve months had started a long correspondence </p><p>4 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 05:10:00 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Plate 18 </p><p>[Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Ireland </p><p>ENGRAVING OF WILLIAM MOLYNEUX </p><p>There are no surviving portraits of William Molyneux taken from life. This engraving is in stipple by James Henry Brocas of Dublin and is dated September I803. It is taken from a portrait of William Molyneux by Robert Home in the Theatre of Trinity College, Dublin. </p><p>[Facing page 125 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 05:10:00 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>T26 </p><p>with the astronomer John Flamsteed, F.R.S. In common with most of the scientists of the time Molyneux was anything but a specialist. Astronomy, however, was to remain his chief interest, and his most famous scientific work dealt with the general subject of optics (8). </p><p>Ireland, in the early I68o's did not afford many facilities to the scientific worker, and this fact forms the subject for countless complaints by Molyneux and others. In September I68I he writes to Flamsteed, 'Living here in a </p><p>Kingdom barren of all things, but especially of the ingenious artificers, I am </p><p>wholly destitute of instruments, that I can rely upon' (9). Thirty years before Robert Boyle had judged Ireland to be a 'barbarous country, where chemical </p><p>spirits were so misunderstood and chemical instruments so unprocurable, that it was hard to have any Hermetic thoughts in it' (Io). Despite these difficulties </p><p>Molyneux persevered in his scientific studies and experiments. In 1682 he joined Moses Pitt in the latter's work on the English Atlas, managing the Irish section of this immense undertaking. The Atlas was to contain detailed </p><p>descriptions of the areas delineated, including information on climate, soils, minerals, ancient monuments, population, customs, and trade (i ). In order to gather such information, Molyneux had printed for him a sheet of queries, which was distributed around Ireland, soliciting replies concerning particular baronies and counties (12). Pitt's arrest in I685 ended the progress of this scheme, and Molyneux, who had collected 'an heap of rude materials' relating to some twenty counties, burnt all that he had written on the subject. He notes however that, 'I have still by me the rough papers of many other persons' (I 3). </p><p>In the Spring of the year 1683 Molyneux's younger brother Thomas left Ireland to study medicine at Leyden. He interrupted his journey in London, staying there for several weeks. While he was there Thomas attended several </p><p>meetings of the Royal Society and wrote about them to his brother in Ireland, giving a well observed description of such a meeting, and also character sketches of some of the Fellows. In a letter dated May 1683, he writes, </p><p>'The President Sir John Hoskins, sits in a chair at the upper end of the table, with a cushion before him. The Secretary Mr Aston, a very ingenious man, at the side on his left hand, he reads the heads, one after another, to be debated and discoursed of at the present meeting; as also whatever letters, experiments, or informations have been sent in since their last meeting, of all which as they are read, the fellows which sit round the room, spake their sentiments, and gave their opinions if they think fitting' (14). </p><p>William had asked "his brother to write him something of the characters of </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 05:10:00 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>127 </p><p>some of the Fellows, and he does so in a letter written the month following. Mr Flamsteed is a 'free, affable, and Humble Man, not at all conceited or dogmatical', Dr Grew is 'a very civil, obliging person', while Robert Hooke, with his usual ill-luck, is described as being 'the most ill-natured, self-conceited man in the world, . . pretending to have had all other inventions when once discovered by their authors to the world' (15). </p><p>These letters probably suggested to William, that a similar scientific society might be founded at Dublin. In October 1683 therefore he began to look around for others who might be interested in such a project. 'I first', he writes. 'brought together about half a dozen, that met weekly in a private room of a coffee-house, on Cork Hill, merely to discourse of philosophy, mathematicks. and other polite literature, as things arose obiter, without any settled rules or forms' (I6). Soon, however, with the help of Sir William Petty and some others, the Dublin Philosophical Society was officially set up in January 1683/4, and was to meet regularly every Monday during university term. until April 1687. The new society, which appointed Molyneux its first Secretary (17), lost no time in opening a correspondence with the two scientific societies in England, the Royal Society and the Philosophical Society at Oxford. In February 1683/4, Molyneux wrote to Robert Plot at Oxford informing him of the existence of the new society at Dublin. 'We are'. he wrote, 'at present but weak and our foundation unsetled, so that we are uncertain whether our building will stand or fall, especially considering the like structure has never been offered at in this kingdom' (I8). Plot had. however, already received a letter from Dr Robert Huntington, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and a member of the Dublin Society, complaining of the severe difficulties a scientific group laboured under in Ireland. </p><p>Huntington, in somewhat purple prose, exclaims that, 'Here, Alas! We are destitute of all such Helps &amp; Advantages; Scarce a place to put Or Heads in a Room big enough to hold us.... free us from Egyptian bondage, yt we man't be slaves' (I9). The Royal Society was very ready to correspond with Dublin, and Plot was instructed to tell Huntington that they 'willingly embrace the correspondence of the Society at Dublin; and had ordered their </p><p>Secretary to write to them in the manner proposed' (20). Francis Aston, Secretary to the Royal Society, therefore wrote to </p><p>Molyneux congratulating him on the establishment 'of a Society of Honour- able and Learned persons; for the Improvement of natural knowledge', and </p><p>assuring him of all the help the Royal Society could give (21). This was the </p><p>beginning of a long and fruitful dialogue between the two countries, and without the help of the societies in England, that at Dublin could hardly have </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 05:10:00 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>128 </p><p>survived for very long. William Molyneux was a well-to-do gentleman and was able to devote all his time to the business of the Dublin Society, being among its most active members. In the period October 1683 to November I686 he read, in all, twenty-five papers to the Society dealing with a wide </p><p>variety of subjects, from 'Why heavy bodies dissolved swim in menstrua </p><p>specifically lighter than themselves', to 'On comparing the weather at Oxford and Dublin'. </p><p>The Dublin Society did not publish a journal in which to print the most </p><p>interesting of the papers read at its meetings, so that its members com- municated their findings through the Philosophical Transactions. There are in all thirteen articles by Molyneux in the Phil. Trans. and many more by other members of the Dublin Society. One of the papers by Molyneux deals with a phenomenon that was a source of continual fascination for many contemporary English scientists, the supposed petrifying qualities of Lough Neagh in Ulster (22). Molyneux adopts a mildly sceptical attitude about the </p><p>powers of the lough, although he does not dismiss them altogether. This article was written in response to some questions from the Oxford Society, which had discussed the problem at its meeting of 26 March I684 (23). Molyneux thought highly of the importance of the Phil. Trans. in the further- ance of scientific communication and discussion. Writing to Flamsteed in April 1683 he rejoices that their publication is to be resumed, for 'Truly we Forreiners suffered much for want of them, for we were thereby kept Ignorant of What was doing abroad in the Ingenious World... And moreover there are many Pretty Quaint Notions that some Persons may have, of which </p><p>they would think it Impertinent to write a Book and yet are willing to Publish Abroad, and for this designe no thing can be more convenient than the Transactions' (24). Molyneux did however have some 'Pretty Quaint Notions', about which he was willing to write a book. His first publication had been a translation of Six Metaphysical Meditations by Descartes in I680, to which he contributed a preface (25). In this he states that, 'Here, what was commonly asserted without proof, is not only proved but mathematically demonstrated, viz. That God is the Fountain and Original of Truth.' </p><p>Molyneux may be numbered among those, who fervently believed that the study of natural philosophy, was an aid and a prop to religion, and that it would afford 'occasion of admiring and adoring the Divine Wisdom' (26). This religious approach to science was fairly common at the time, and was often a defensive mechanism against those who attacked natural philosophy for undermining 'sound religion'. Sometimes, however, it led to rather </p><p>strange exercises, as when the Reverend John Keogh, also a member of the </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 05:10:00 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>I29 </p><p>Dublin Society, demonstrated mathematically, 'what dependence the several degrees of beings have on God Almighty, from the highest Angel to the lowest insect'. Isaac Newton is said to have approved 'mighty well' of this production (27). </p><p>After I680 Molyneux did not publish any books for six years, being kept busy, at first with the English Atlas, and later by the affairs of the Dublin Society. In May I685 he received a grant of I0oo from the Irish Govern- ment to enable him to view and make draughts of the fortresses in Flanders, as part of his duties as Chief Engineer and Surveyor-General of the King's Buildings and Works in Ireland, to which post he had been appointed the year before (28). He broke off his journey at London where he had Richard Whitehead, the instrument maker, construct a telescopic dial of his own design. This contrivance was the subject of his next book, entitled Sciothericum Telescopicum. In the Epistle Dedicatory to the Earl of Clarendon, Molyneux gives the first clear and reasoned exposition of his general attitude towards science, as represented by the New Learning. There are no doubts in his unqualified admiration for that kind of science propagated by the Royal Society, and in his equally trenchant attack on the 'ancient Notions of Philosophy'. This was but 'verbose empty stuff' consisting only of 'vain Distinctions and idle Evasions' (29). 'True Philosophy', as he terms it, is worthwhile, 'as far as it tends to illustrate the creation, and set forth the infinite power of the Creator; as also to increase the convenienc...</p></li></ul>


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