Biography by Samuel Dale

From a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, printed in Further Correspondence of John Ray, 1928, edited by Robert W T Gunther, Vice-President of the Linnean Society.

On the 17th of January 1705, Died that great Father of the Botanick Science, Mr John Ray, at his house in Black Notley in the county of Essex, in which parish he was likewise born on the 29th of November 1628, being the son of one Roger Ray, by profession a blacksmith. Yet was not his father’s fortune at so low an Ebb, but that he could afford this his Son liberal education, the first rudiments of which was at a Grammar School in Braintree-Church, under the tuition of one Mr Love where he profitted so well that, on the 28th of June 1644, he was admitted into Catherine-Hall in Cambridge, where he continu’d about a year and three quarters, and then remov’d himself to Trinity-College, of which he was admitted one of the Minor Fellows on the 8th of September 1649; and, about six months after, one of the Major Fellows. He was after that one of the Senior-Fellows of that College, but when admitted, or how long he continued so, cannot be known, there being a chasm for many years in their books. Upon the Restoration in 1660 he return’d to be one of the Major Fellows.

In 1658 he first began to travel in search of plants, and other Natural and Artificial Curiosities (those of cambridge being well known to him before), and from Cambridge rode to Chester, from whence he went through parts of Wales into Shrewsbury, and returned by Gloucester.

In 1661 he accompanied Mr Willoughby and others into the North of England, and from Berwick they made a tour into Scotland, and , having visited Edinburgh, Sterling, Glasgow, and other places of note, return’d into England by Carlisle.

The next Year they made a western Tour, going from Cambridge to Chester and thro’ Wales into Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, and others, and return’d to London by Windsor.

In the year 1663 [April 18] , he travel’d with the said Mr Willoughby, Mr Skippon and Mr Bacon, thro’ Holland, Germany, Italy, France, etc., of which he hath already publish’d an Account.

In 1667 he and Mr W made a 2d tour into the West of England, in which they visited Worcestershire and all the Western Countys; and upon his return to London (viz Nov 7) he was admitted Fellow of the Royal Society.

The following year he visited Kent alone, and afterwards made a 2d Tour into the North; but, being seiz’d with the Meazels in Westmoreland, he proceeded no further, but went to the house of his dear Friend Mr W at Middleton.

In the year 1671 he made a 3d Tour into the Northern County of England, being accompanied by Thomas Willisell, an expert Botanist. Besides these, he made divers small Journeys into Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Sussex, collecting many useful Observations, Itenerarys of which he left in Manuscript worthy to be printed.

July 1673 he married Margaret one of the daughters of John Oakeley of the Parish of Launton in Oxfordshire, Gent., a younger branch of the Shropshire Family, by whom he had only four daughters, three of which survive him. After his Marriage, he continued in Warwickshire until Michaelmas 1677, when he return’d into his native country; and, having lived about a year and three quarters at Faulkborn-Hall, he removed into Black Notley into a house of his own erection, where, to use his own words, "He intended (God willing) to settle for the Short Pittance he had yet to live in this World": which accordingly came to pass.

As to the Casualties of his Life and his Deseases, I find nothing noted by him in his Diary except the Meazels aforesaid, and alltho’ he had had the Small Pox, yet it was in his younger years, before he began to keep an account. The latter part of his Life was accompanied with much pain, occasion’d by certain ulcers in his legs, which, altho’ they would make him often complain, yet did they not hinder him from prosecuting his studies until about three months before his death.

As he was not born to any paternal estate, so he was never master of any great one; he never made it the labour of his life to Live Great (having often refus’d Preferment) but to be content with Agar’s Portion. The aforesaid legacy left him by Esqr. W being by much the greatest part of what he enjoy’d in this World.

He was Author of many excellent Books, of which a Catalogue is already printed before his Methodus Insectorum, printed 1705. Had it pleas’d God to have continued him some time longer, the World would have been oblig’d with an History of Insects, the Title of which he intended to be Historia Insectorum, precipue Britannicorum, quam nunc conscibere aggredior. A celeberrimi viri, Amici nostri aeternum honorandi, D. Francisci Willoughby, Armigeri, notis et Observationibus maximam partem desumpta est. Additis quam post ejus mortem vel nobis sedulo indagantibus inventa vel ab Amicis hanc Historiae Animalium partem communicata sunt.

But Death preventing him, the Copy (which is the only one he left, besides his Iteneraries aforementioned), remain’d yet unpublished, altho’ he had made a large progress in it.

And so famous was he in Foreign Countries that a Correspondence with him was desired by all the Learned Men of his time.

His Character. In his Conversation he was affable (being not puffed by his Learning) and always communicative of anything he was Master of. In his Dealings he was very conscientious, and so entirely scrupulous about Oaths that he never took the Solemn League and Covenant in the late unhappy times, believing it an unlawful Oath, as he hath often declared. So upon the 24th of August 1662 he quitted his Fellowship aforesaid, because he could not, in the Oath of Abjuraton, swear that he did believe it was [not] binding to others.

In his life he was Charitable to the Poor, according to his ability; sober, frugal, studious and religious, allotting the greatest part of his Time to the Service of God and his Studies.

As to his Religion he was a member of the Church of England, being ordained both Deacon and Presbyter by Robert, then Lord Bishop of Lincoln, in his Chappel at Barbican near London, on the 23d of December 1660, and in this Communion did he continue unto his dying day.

As his death came not to him unexpected, so it found him not unprepar’d, he being found in all the duties of a good Christian, but relying upon the Merits of his Saviour Jesus Christ in the Hope of Glory.

As to his worldly Estate he settled all upon his Wife and Daughters, except a small Legacy to the Poor of his own Parish and 5li. to trinity College to buy Books for the Library.

All his collections of Natural Curiosities he bestowed upon his friend and neighbour, Mr Dale, to whom he caused them to be deliver’d about a week before his Death.

And as this learned man never affected pomp in his lifetime, so at his death he desired to be privately buried, ordering his corps to be nailed up that none might see him, and altho’ the Reverend Rector of the Parish offer’d him on his death bed a place of interment in the chancel of his church, yet he modestly refused it, choosing rather to be buried in the church yard with his ancestors.


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