The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 29, 2013

November 29, 1627

John Ray, (November 29, 1627 to January 17, 1705), was an English theologian and botanist. His interests were wide as was typical of the educated then. For instance he published a collection of proverbs in 1670, titled:

A Collection of English Proverbs: Digested Into a Convenient Method for the Speedy Finding Anyone Upon Occasion; with Short Annotations. Whereunto are Added Local Proverbs with Their Explications, Old Proverbial Rhythmes, Less Known Or Exotic Proverbial Sentences, and Scottish Proverbs.

The collection of proverbs typified the investigative talents of the early modern scientists. There was a drive to collect and then to classify, and this was Ray's approach to his other interests.  All driven by the adventure of discovery.

Ray's father was a blacksmith and his mother was "noted for her piety and her knowledge of medicinal herbs." The quote is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where we got most of our details, if not all our conclusions. Ray studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked in various capacities there later. In addition to lecturing he also preached. His first book Catalogus plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium (1660) described native plants growing 
around Cambridgeshire. He would travel around England and beyond searching for plant specimens to study, and in this he had help from colleagues, including Francis Willughby. He typically "collected botanical, natural philosophical, and topographical observations." The ODNB article notes:"experiments of the rise of sap in trees and making observations of snails and of spiders' threads." Such observations would result in Historia plantarum,(1686, 1688).

[Such interests] prompted Ray to embark on 'a general history of nature' and ...[his writing] also articulated his acceptance of the role of a plastic spirit in forming animals according to the divine plan. ....

During much of the 1690s Ray was engaged ....[in studying]  the nature of fossils. In general he was inclined to accept that they were the remains of once-living creatures, and he also suggested that their current distribution might owe something to observable changes in the nature of the surface of the earth. He qualified these opinions, however, by stressing that the fossils which had so far been discovered were not unlike known plants and animals, and that their burial might owe something to the action of the biblical flood, as well as to natural effects. He argued that those remains which seemed to be unfamiliar might represent species of which the surviving representatives had not yet been discovered. ... his fullest treatment of ...[fossils]  was in Miscellaneous Discourses Concerning the Dissolution and Changes of the World (1692). ...

In 1691 Ray had published ...The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation. .... Ray produced a coherent natural theology in which the evidence of the heavens, geology, botany, zoology, and human anatomy suggested the providential action of a benevolent deity who was responsible for the creation of all things. ....
[Such work illustrates Ray's sentiment that] "I know of no occupation which is more worthy or more delightful for a free man than to contemplate the beauteous works of Nature and to honour the infinite wisdom and goodness of God the Creator."

......In the twentieth century Ray's most effective biographer, Charles Raven, co-opted him in an attempt to heal the perceived breach between science and religion, deploying the concept of organic design to suggest the unfolding of divine purpose through evolution.

Thus the ODNB. In conclusion we mention certain proverbs among the thousands John Ray collected; just a few recall things that still inform as they did over three hundred years ago.

Be not a baker if your head be of butter.

The balance distinguishes not between gold and lead.

There is no cake but there is the like of the same make.

The charitable give out at the door, and God puts in at the

The cat is hungry when a crust contents her.

The liquorish cat gets many a rap.

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