Chapter 2: 'Soe Suitable to my Genius.'

The Stukeleys were a long-established East Anglian family. Great and Little Stukeley 'whence our Name & Family came, & where our Ancestors formerly lived' are two small villages near Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire, but William's family had been resident since at least before his grandfather's generation in the neighbourhood around the small market town of Stamford, Lincolnshire.[1] In the memoirs of his life written in 1720 Stukeley recorded that his grandfather John (1623-1675) had lost a large part of the family estates due to his genial personality and popularity with the local gentry, 'which was no small Detriment to his Affairs, keeping them Company at their Sports & Diversions, Racing, Hunting, Gameing & the like'.[2] William's father, also called John, had been born in 1657, becoming a clerk to his elder brother Adlard in the family's law firm in nearby Holbeach, 'the old seat of the family'. Adlard never married, but John courted the second of the four daughters of Robert Bullen, another East Anglian family, whom he met in London during the law courts' terms. He was twenty nine, she was seventeen or eighteen, and they married at Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, on 28 May 1686. Their first child was miscarried, but 'on Monday the 7th Novemb. 1687 between 7 & 8 a clock at night I was born in my Fathers house in Holbech'.[3]

Why the name William for this first child? The father and grandfather were both John, the eldest of William's two younger brothers was John, the younger was Adlard. William does not appear to have featured as a family name before. Could there have been a political reason? When William was born in the winter of 1687 the last Stuart king, James II, was still on the throne, but only just. His open Catholicism had been a threat to the stability of the country even before he had ascended the throne in 1685. The Whig government had attempted to introduce three bills between 1679 and 1681 which would have excluded James from succeeding his ostensibly Protestant brother, Charles II. Another civil war on the scale of that which had ended in 1649 with the execution of their father, Charles I, was an increasingly real threat. In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth -- Charles II's Protestant bastard son -- led a rebellion in the West Country: this ended disastrously with the battle of Sedgemoor, Monmouth's execution and Judge Jeffrey's infamous 'Bloody Assizes'. Whilst Monmouth's rebellion had met with little popular support, when James doubled the size of his standing army and appointed some Catholic officers, Parliament protested. In February 1686 he prorogued it, and it did not meet again for the rest of his reign. England's Protestant majority became desperately concerned about the security of their Church and Parliament -- even Newton was involved in the effort to resist the Stuart king's autocratic, pro-Catholic rule, becoming briefly MP for Cambridge University. Other than an unlikely return to a republic, Protestant England's only hope for survival was James II's official heir, William of Orange, the Dutch grandson of Charles I and husband of James's daughter, Anne. When James's Catholic wife gave birth to a son and heir in 1688, however, William lost his pre-eminency, and all seemed truly lost for the Protestant cause. It is this event that finally prompted 'the Glorious Revolution'. On 5 November 1688, two days before William Stukeley's first birthday and at the invitation of the Whig opposition, William of Orange landed in Devon with a small army. His father-in-law vacillated over military resistance, then fled to France. James's flight was interpreted by the Whigs as a tacit abdication, and the crown was offered to William and Mary. The 'Glorious Revolution' was by no means the last of the Stuarts. Devoted to the principle of the divine right of kingship, many Tories continued to hold Jacobite sympathies despite the Stuarts' Catholicism and their Scottish heritage. England would be regularly threatened by French-backed Jacobite invaders from the battle of the Boyne in 1690 until Culloden in 1746 and the final exile of James II's grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the 'Young Pretender'.

Could John Stukeley's naming of his son have been a political act, then, a public statement of his support for the house of Orange? It is possible: William Stukeley recorded in his memoirs that his father 'was a stickler in the Revolution from his enmity to Popery & arbitrary Power.'[4] But after the dramatic events of the first few months of his life, William grew up in the security of the Protestant succession. He seems to have had an enjoyable childhood. He was close to his father, who he described as 'A true & indefatigable Friend, & one who had or deservd no Enemy … a sincere Lover of his Country & the National Church'. His father was 'very affectionate to his wife, tender yet reasonably strict to his children, a kind Master to his Servants & Laborers'. In politics and religion he was 'Loyal to his Prince, a Zealous Enemy to Popery & Tyranny, attachd to the Church of England & against persecuting the Dissenters, never saying any thing worse of them than that they thought differently from him'. All told in William's opinion, 'Never any Country Gentleman left a fairer Character, nor was more regretted'.[5] He was less close to his mother, though. William was the only one of her children not to be immediately given to a wet nurse, and though he described her as 'the fondest parent in the world yet she had that peculiarity that she could not show in the common feminine tenderness, so that she scarce in her life ever kiss'd any of her children.'[6] This, he said, led him into a certain shyness with women as a young man, and he would not marry until he was in his early forties.

In 1692 William was placed in the Free-School at Holbeach, where he learnt to read and write, as well as the less academic skills of dancing, drawing, and playing the flute. When 'a pot of Roman coyns' was discovered in a neighbouring village he managed to get some of them, '& began a collection. & drew them out on paper, as I got them. & that gave me an inclination to Antiquitys.'[7] His father encouraged this interest by having him transcribe an old inscription cut above the door of a church, whilst a visit to an aunt in the Lincolnshire Wolds bred a lifelong enthusiasm for the upland countryside and travel: 'The variety of ascents, the fine Prospect gave me a satisfaction I was an utter Stranger to before & I fancyd myself in an Enchanted World.'[8] He also learnt to make maps and plans, and like the young Isaac Newton he enjoyed making things. These included stone carvings and puppets, as well as baking miniature bricks out of which he constructed small buildings and arches. He also showed an early interest in botany and medicine: 'I usd to goe a Simpling with Mr Ascough Apothecary in the Town … & knowing pretty many Plants layd I believe the Foundation for my Inclinations to the Study of Physic, in that early Age.'[9] By the end of his schooling at the age of thirteen he had reached the top of his class, '& had got a relish for learning … & it was with reluctance I left it.'[10] Apprenticed as a clerk in the family business, he recorded later that his father had great hopes for him in the law, '& often flatterd me that he had ever conceived thoughts of my Being a Great Man, which I always wonderd at.'[11] But the teenage Stukeley found his legal training unfullfilling, and 'insted of transcribing tautological stuff on parchments, briefs &c I was ever poreing on books, to improve in learning.'[12] He was, however, able to visit London regularly on business with his father, which he enjoyed, travelling to the law courts and staying at their rooms in the newly-built chambers at Staple Inn. On his first visit in June 1701 he 'bought books of philosophy, astronomy, physic.'[13] He also took 'particular delight' in visiting the construction of Sir Christopher Wren's new cathedral of St Paul's, '& would clamber up the scaffolds & ladders among the workmen to observe their arts & Engines.' When he accompanied his father to Westminster,

instead of hearing Tryals, I was busy at the Booksellers stalls & generally filld my Pockets home with Books which he usd to observe & chide me for spending my Money. I bought Microscopes & Burning Glasses, Prospect Glasses, Magnetic Compasses, Dials & all sorts of that kind of Ware & was terribly puzzled to hide 'em from him & convey 'em down into the Country. I bought several Books of Astronomy & Anatomy & Physic which at all leisure hours I was continually poring upon & drawing schemes from 'em. In short my Fa[the]r found all prevailing Symptoms of my eager Inclinations to a Study of a more refind Nature than that of the Law.[14]

Finally accepting his eldest son's true genius, William was allowed to quit his training and his less-gifted brother John took on his position as clerk. On 20 November 1703 William was admitted a pensioner at Bene't Hall, now Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and went to reside there the Ladyday following, 1704, aged sixteen. In an early letter John Stukeley advised his son to 'avoyd the looseness & inconsideratenesse of the present age, & begin to exert your reason soe farr as to consider the end & order of the Creacon.'[15] It was good, almost prescient advise, and it would last him a lifetime.

At Cambridge University

In the seventeenth century Oxford and Cambridge were criticized by supporters of the new science as havens of scholasticism. Since their medieval foundation both universities had certainly focused on the scholastic, classical curriculum. They were storehouses of knowledge rather than places for the advancement of research or the persual of experimental learning. The establishment of new institutions, such as the Royal Society, in the seventeenth century led contemporaries (as well as some modern historians) to question the actual role of the universities in advancing the scientific revolution: the philosopher Thomas Hobbes asked, 'as for natural philosophy, is it not removed from Oxford and Cambridge to Gresham College in London, and to be learned out of their gazettes?'[16] Recent research, however, has shown that it is incorrect to infer from these foundations that the universities did not also play an important function in developing the new science.[17] Though the universities were to some extent inhibited by their medieval statutes in what they could teach, by the mid-seventeenth century Cartesian mechanical philosophy was making an impact throughout Europe. The universities also trained minds. Whilst it was the Royal Society rather than Oxford or Cambridge that was at the forefront of scientific experimentalism, its Fellows were still largely university-educated men. At the same time, an increase in the number of science books being published at both universities between 1700 and 1710 suggests that this was a period of renewed importance for the reception and teaching of natural philosophy. The first popular exposition of Newton's Principia had been published in Oxford in 1701 by the Scottish astronomer and mathematician John Keill (1671-1721). But it was Cambridge which emerged in the early eighteenth century as the more important of the two universities for new scientific study.[18] Newton's presence at Cambridge no doubt played an important part, even if his work was considered by many to be too difficult to understand. Students were overheard in the street observing, 'there goes the man who has writt a book that neither he, nor anyone else understands'.[19] Indeed, William Derham recorded Newton telling him that in order 'to avoid being baited by little Smatterers in Mathematicks … he designedly made his Principia abstruse; but yet so as to be understood by able Mathematicians.'[20]

It was also said that Newton often presented his statutory lectures to empty theatres, though it appears that there was a certain reluctance on the part of many students (and, indeed, professors) to attend any lectures at this date. Isaac Barrow, Newton's predecessor as Lucasian Professor, complained when Professor of Greek that 'Sophocles and I acted in an empty theatre', whilst in 1710 a German visitor to Cambridge remarked that lectures were given 'to the bare walls, for no one comes in'.[21] Nevertheless, Stukeley arrived at an important moment in the history of the university. Though Newton had left Trinity College for London following his appointment as Master of the Mint in 1699, the seeds of his discoveries in natural philosophy were beginning to bear rich fruit. Richard Bentley, who in 1692 had used Newtonian principles to prove the existence of God, played an important part in this process. Born in Yorkshire in 1662 and educated at St John's College, Cambridge, he was ordained in 1690 and in the last decade of the century made a name for himself as a biblical scholar with an interest in scientific matters: hence his use of Newton in the Boyle Lectures, and his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1694. In February 1700 he was appointed Master of Trinity College, and from this position played an active role in promoting Newtonian natural philosophy. He had an observatory erected in the college and a chemical laboratory built on the Fellow's bowling green. In 1706 he established a Junior Fellow, Roger Cotes (1682-1716), in the newly endowed Plumian Professorship of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy: Cotes went on to act (with Bentley's assistance) as editor of the second edition of Principia, published as we saw in the last chapter with a strongly supportive preface by him in 1713. Bentley also provided chambers in the college for Whiston, Newton's nominated successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.[22] But in spite -- or more probably because -- of his modernism, Bentley's Mastership of Trinity was unpopular with many of the College's Fellows. In 1710 a number of them sent a petition charging him with financial maladministration to the bishop of Ely, who was responsible for such administrative matters. Bentley responded by publishing a short pamphlet, The Present State of Trinity College in Cambridg[e], in which he described the Fellows' protests as 'the last Struggle and Effort of Vice and Idleness against Vertue, Learning and Good Discipline'.[23] There was a flurry of pamphlet responses, including the anonymous A True and Impartial Account of the Present Difference Between the Master and Fellows of Trinity College. At the same time as complaining about the cost of Bentley's 'Elegant Chymical Elaboratory, and his Astronomical Topknot', the author disapproved of the Master's introduction of the new science, with its accompanying controversies. He claimed that before Bentley's arrival Trinity students made 'an early and substantial Acquaintance with the finest antient Authors, which are certainly the best Companions to Divinity, or any other Study whatsoever', whereas the effect of Bentley's Mastership had been 'to trouble that clear Stream of their Studies, and consequently to choak and extirpate those Principles of Loyalty and Religion'.[24] But Bentley stood firm against all his critics. When Stukeley revisited Cambridge in 1741 Bentley was still Master of the college, despite the long years of law suits aimed at ousting him. Stukeley paid him a call, finding the seventy-nine year old 'now a mere piece of ruins of a great man.'[25] He died the following year.

Through Bentley's effort, in the first decade of the century the new science had made major inroads at Trinity. Stukeley almost venerated the college, and would write of taking 'particular pleasure' in visiting Newton's old rooms, 'where he composd his Immortal Principia, having a prodigious veneration for my Illustrious Country man.'[26] But Stukeley had the good fortune to arrive at Cambridge's one other progressive college, Corpus Christi, and was happy with his choice. In 1705 he wrote a letter to an old school friend, Ambrose Pimlow, who would eventually also join him at the university:

Many a time doe I reflect upon the goodnesse of Providence who took me … from that troublesome & laborious though gainfull State [working for his father] & adopted me for a Son of our Alma Mater; brought me into this renowned Theater of Learning & Wisdom & (which I reckon a particular happinesse) planted me in this Colledge above all other, when I had noe interest in any one … for all the riches of the Indies I would not have chang'd my College. That regular (though something strict) government of our Colledge soe suitable to my Genius, the small number of lads to w[ha]t other Colledges have, but above all the continual Lectures which we have in classicks ethicks, mathemat[ics] & Philosophy &c … makes me esteem (after a diligent enquiry) our Colledge to be the best of all … We at p[r]es[en]t with Mr Denny goe to Lectures in Philosophy we read all Newtons & Boyles Works, those Most famous Miracles of Mankind. O Philosophy (says Tully) thou Empresse of life[,] One day spent in thy studys is to be preferd before an Idle Eternity …[27]

Stukeley was right in recognizing his luck in his choice of college. The study of theology had always been predominant at Corpus Christi, but scientific interests had become well established during the later seventeenth century, particularly under the Mastership of John Spencer (1630-1693) between 1667 and 1693. Spencer, an authority on Hebrew, was the author of De Legibus Hebraeorum Earum Rationibus (1685), a book which has been considered a founding text in the study of comparative religion, and to which we shall return in chapter 6.[28] Other eminent Fellows at Corpus Christi included two Royal Society Fellows, the comparative anatomist Edward Tyson (1651-1708), and the physician William Briggs (1642-1704) who was the first person in England to write about vision and whose Opthalmographia (1676) was an anatomical study of the eye. Briggs's Theory of the Eye (1685) was published at the desire of Newton, who wrote a commendatory preface to it. But Corpus Christi owed its reputation for openness to new intellectual movements to Charles Kidman, who had encouraged his pupils to read controversial new works such as Locke's An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), the study of which was prohibited at Oxford University in 1703.[29] Kidman had been chaplain to Thomas Tenison whilst he was bishop of Lincoln, and Tenison (1636-1715) had been another influential Fellow of Corpus. Tenison, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1695, had personally ensured the success of the Boyle Lectures by supplementing Boyle's original endowment with 'a yearly stipend of £50 per annum for ever', with Bentley and Samuel Clarke being among those whom he appointed as lecturers.[30] But Kidman had not remained in Tenison's entourage on the latter's promotion to the archbishopric, apparently due to 'the clamour raised against him [Kidman] as a person of Latitudinarian principles, from a Sermon preached before the University, on 'Private Judgement in Matters of Religion''.[31] As Kidman's case reveals, Corpus Christi College's Master and Fellows were thus 'mostly Whigs and supporters of the Hanovarian succession'[32], the sort of group that has been identified as followers of the new science, and no doubt this environment helped influence Stukeley's subsequent Whig and Latitudinarian sympathies.

Stukeley's remarks on his period as Cambridge student are particularly important to modern historians as there are, surprisingly, almost no significant diary or journal sources by students or graduates of the university before his own extensive account.[33] He attended lectures 'sometime[s] twice & thrice a day', and in the most informative passage of his 1720 autobiography, he recorded the major books from which he had been taught. His tutors, Robert Danny and Thomas Fawcett, were both Fellows of Corpus Christi. Danny, he wrote,

read to us in Classics, Ethics, Logic, Metaphysics, Divinity, & the other in Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry[,] Philosophy[,] Astronomy, Trigonometry. Mr Fawcett read to us in Tullys offices, the Greek Testament, Maximus Tyrius by Davis, Clerks Logics, Metaphysics, Grotius de jure Belli & Pacis,[34] Pufendorf de Officio hominis & Civis.[35] Wilkins Natural Religion[,][36] Lock of human Understanding,[37] Tullys Orations, Mr Danny read to us in Wells Arithmetica numerosa & Speciosa[,] Pardies Geometry[,][38] Tacquets Geometry by Whiston[,][39] Harris's use of the Globes,[40] Rohaults Physics by Clark.[41] he read over to us Clarks 2 Volumes of Sermons at Boyles Lectures,[42] Varenius Geography put out by Sr Isaac Newton[43] & many other occasional pieces of Philosophy & the Sciences subservient thereto. These courses we went thro with so much constancy that with moderate application we could scarce fail of acquiring a good knowledg therein.[44]

This list (together with my extrapolation of the full texts, their dates, and authors given in the endnotes) offers a detailed insight into the scope and depth of learning at this time, and is significant for the numerous contemporary writings relating to science and philosophy, as well as two of the principal contemporary works on natural religion, Wilkins's Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion and Clarke's A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation. (By contrast, the absence of Descartes from this list is also, perhaps, notable.) It appears from the inclusion of Wilkins and Clarke's two books that Stukeley's tutors were aware of the relationship between the new science and the dangers of heterodoxy which I examined in my first chapter, and which some Fellows of Trinity considered as threats to the orthodoxy of their students. There appear to have been no such similar protests at Corpus Christi, however. Indeed, Stukeley and his principal tutor, Danny, went on to become close friends. Danny had in turn been one of Kidman's students, and was also a close friend of the Professor of Astronomer, Roger Cotes. On Danny's death in 1730, Stukeley would describe him as 'a person of admirable learning, wit, & good conversation, a great Mathematician, divine, & universal scholar'.[45]

Stukeley's reading list is interesting, with its focus on logic, metaphysics, philosophy and theology, for he was actually a student of physic. As such, he was brought closely into the university faculty with the strongest interest in natural philosophical subjects. Even in the Middle Ages, for those professionally trained in medicine the university offered a stimulus to the study of the wider natural world in general. Indeed, the very word 'physic' is derived from the Greek 'phusis', meaning 'nature'. As Christopher Merrett, a doctor and a fellow of the Royal Society, explained in The Character of a Compleat Physician as Naturalist, published in around 1680, 'The word Physician … is plainly & fully rendered by the word Naturalist, (that is) one well vers'd in the full extent of Nature, and Natural things.'[46] Not surprisingly, one of eighteenth-century England's greatest collectors, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), was also one of its foremost doctors. He travelled to Jamaica in 1687 and published a catalogue of the island's plants, he revived the Chelsea Physic Garden, and his natural history collection formed the foundation of the British Museum. The other university disciplines closely associated with the new science such as botany, zoology and chemistry were thus all offshoots from the study of medicine. And the interest of physicians in astronomy had a tradition from at least Copernicus, who was himself a student of medicine,[47] and if not earlier through the ancient study of astrology. As we shall see in my next chapter, the belief that planetary bodies could effect the health and happiness of human bodies survived well into the eighteenth century and was propagated by a number of notable medical practitioners: Stukeley held a lifelong interest in astrology, and had his horoscope taken on numerous occasions by the astrologer Tycho Wing,[48] which is one of the reasons he kept such careful record of the major events in his life. The medical faculty at Cambridge appears, therefore, to have been the principal stimulus for the study of science and natural history within the University in general, providing a 'core' of students and fellows with the necessary training and equipment (and motivation) for undertaking scientific research.[49] Stukeley's reminiscences thus also inform us that, as well as his philosophical reading mentioned in the previous paragraph, 'All this while I turnd my mind particularly to the study of Physick & in order thereto began to make a diligent & near inquisition into Anatomy and Botany'. In the company of another student of physic he

began to steal dogs & dissect them & all sorts of animals that came our way. We saw too, many Philosophical Experiments in Pneumatic Hydrostatic Engines & instruments performed at that time by Mr Waller … & the doctrine of Optics & Telescopes & Microscopes & some Chymical Experiments with Mr Stephen Hales then Fellow of the College now of the Royal Society. I contracted acquaintance with all the Lads (& them only) in the University that studyd Physic … With these I usd to range about once or twice a week the circumjacent Country & search the Gravel & chalk pits for fossils … We hunted after Butterflys, dissected frogs, usd to have sett meetings at our Chambers, to confer about our studys try Chymical experiments cut up Dogs Cats & the like.[50]

A diligent student, Stukeley soon became a Scholar. In the winter of 1706 Danny provided him with 'a Room in the College to dissect in & practise Chymical Experiments which had a very strange appearance with my Furniture in it the Wall was generally hung round with Guts Stomachs bladders preparations of parts & drawings. I had sand furnaces Calots Glasses & all sorts of Chymical Implements … I often prepard the Pulvis Fulminans & sometime surprizd the whole College with a sudden explosion'.[51] This last experiment with fulminic acid had been described by Newton in Opticks, and it is possible that Stukeley was making his own investigations. Newton had speculated that the action of 'certain Powers, Virtues or Forces' in small particles might explain the heat given off in various chemical reactions, including that of 'the Pulvis fulminans, composed of Sulphur, Nitre, and Salt of Tartar, [which] goes off with a more sudden and violent Explosion than Gun powder'.[52]

Out of term Stukeley also studied in London, recording in his memoirs that he was there in November 1706, going to courses of anatomy with George Rolf in Chancery Lane, who later became professor of anatomy at Cambridge. He also became acquainted with the poet John Gay, who later wrote Beggar's Opera, and at the same time he studied architecture.[53] Back in Cambridge he had contact with the physician James Keill (1673-1719), who like his brother the astronomer John was a promoter of Newtonian philosophy.[54] Whilst lecturing at Oxford, Keill had, according to one of his students, used his 'considerable knowledge of the Mathematics … in explaining Muscular Motion.'[55] Conveniently, Corpus Christi was also associated with chemical and anatomical studies. John Waller, a College Fellow from 1695 to 1717, took the above-mentioned classes in 'Philosophical Experiments' which Stukeley attended. Waller, and then after him John Mickleberg, another Corpus Fellow, successively followed the Italian natural philosopher John Francis Vigani into the new university chair in chemistry. Vigani (1650?--1712) had set himself up as a private tutor of chemistry at Cambridge in the early 1680s, and had for a while been a close friend of Newton's, before apparently irreparably offending him with 'a loose story: about a Nun.' By 1703 he had become the University's first professor of chemistry.[56] Vigani also offered a course of anatomy classes, a subject which Stukeley had been studying under his own supervision since at least 1705. He took 'great delight' in going to St John's College gardens '& studying there & in the Summer I spent many hours in poring more especially upon my Anatomical Authors so that I had made my self Master of the Fabric of the human body … so that I had nearly as good a notion of that Science at that time, tho' I had never been at a human dissection'.[57] Stukeley was accompanied to Vigani's chemical experiments at Trinity by his friend Stephen Hales (1677-1761), a Fellow of Corpus Christi who would later apply Newton's principles of attraction to his meticulous study of plant biology. Through his experiments and observations of plants, Hales made hugely important contributions to the understanding of plant physiology, and he finally disproved the popular belief that sap circulated around a plant like blood. The results of this work were contained in his Vegetable Staticks (1727) and Statical Essays (1733). According to his biographer, Hales's interest in natural philosophy and botany that was acquired from Stukeley.[58] Hales also made influential researches on air and ventilation in the 1740s, having attended with Stukeley Whiston's classes on 'Hydrostatics and Pneumatics' in the 'chymical laboratory' at Trinity. Whiston and Cotes delivered these first lectures on experimental philosophy at Cambridge from May 1707, presenting experiments that elucidated the natural philosophy of Boyle and Newton. Stukeley also recorded that together he and Hales 'made the first [planetary] sphere that moved by clock work, whence Rowley took the idea of the Orrery.'[59] Stukeley's interest in mechanical devices is also revealed in his friendship with Cotes's assistant, Stephen Gray (d. 1736). An experimenter in electricity, Stukeley described him as 'a very ingenious Man' and the inventor of 'the water microscope mentiond in the Philosophic transactions'. Together with Gray's nephew, who was also a student a Corpus, they 'usd to smoak many a late pipe together & try Various Experiments in Philosophy'.[60]

In Stukeley's notes we clearly witness the importance laid upon experimentation and observation at Corpus Christi, if not also elsewhere within the University, as well as his own personal inquisitiveness and many-varied skills. For as well as ridding the old family cat 'of the infirmitys of age' and making 'a handsom sceleton of her bones', he 'likewise sceletonisd several different sorts of birds, & made air pumps & 20 inventions to try mechanical & philosophical Experiments I had learnt in my Academical Lectures.'[61] His drawing skills were taken advantage of by a College Fellow who asked him to make copies of some wood cut drawings for a 'history of printing'. He was rewarded for his work with 'Dr Clarks Two Volumes of Sermons at Mr Boyls Lectures … & the dutch edition of Grotius de Jure naturae & Gentium.'[62] The gift of these two books is actually quite interesting: Clarke's Boyle Lectures had been delivered in 1705, and published in London the following year as A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation. We have already noted that Stukeley's tutors included this book amongst his reading, but natural religion was a subject in which Stukeley would have a life-long interest, and the proof of Christianity a goal of his life's work. Hugo Grotius (1583-1643) in turn was a Dutch humanist scholar, whose works included an influential treatise The Truth of the Christian Religion, which I shall discuss in Part II. Does the gift of these books indicate an interest of Stukeley's that was a latent one at Cambridge, the study of which he was encouraged in whilst a student, perhaps by this Mr Oliver? As we shall see later, the study of the origins and history of religion was a subject of some interest amongst Neoplatonic scholars of seventeenth-century Cambridge, including John Spencer, the former Master of Stukeley's College. It is not unlikely that Spencer's influence was still being felt in the college whilst Stukeley was an undergraduate. It is interesting at the very least to suggest that the origins of Stukeley's concern with these subjects can be traced to such an early date.

These, then, were the focal points of Stukeley's studies, and he pursued them with characteristic energy and enthusiasm. The only interruption to his studies was a traumatic one, 'the melancholy Catastrophe' of the sudden death of his beloved father in his chambers at Staple Inn in February 1706, and of his uncle Adlard, in the same bed, only three weeks later.[63] Despite these sad events -- and a life-threatening bout of smallpox which attacked the whole household that summer and carried off Robert, his youngest brother -- Stukeley was able to continue his studies in Cambridge, with his mother supervising the affairs of the family estate. But the following spring she too sickened of 'an hysteric Cholic' and on 8 July 1707 she died. That same day Stukeley's brother John claimed to see a woman 'all in white' descending the staircase and then 'instantly vanish'. William 'chided him severely for entertaining such a fancy as I imagind it … but his own Fate so soon following made me think there might possibly be such a thing as an admonition from some higher Power of his approaching Dissolution'.[64] For the following month John died of a 'bloody flux' -- dysentery -- aged only eighteen. Suddenly finding himself the only surviving adult in a grieving family rapidly reduced to two younger siblings, and so ill himself 'that the whole Country gave me over for gone', William was forced to take responsibility for the Stukeley's affairs. He sold the furniture and let the house to cover some of his father's outstanding debts. These amounted to around £400, 'which was a very great sum in the whole & checkd all my ambitious flights'. Through 'common principles of honesty & Respect to my Fathers Memory' he determined to repay them all, but this financial responsibility, together with that of completing his studies and overseeing the care of his brother and sister, would hang over him for the next ten years.[65]

Yet these rapid misfortunes do not appear to have too long dampened his spirits. By Michaelmas 1707 he was back at Cambridge completing his studies. He continued to attend Vigani's Chymical Lectures, '& this time went thro' a Course of Materia Medica with him. I was a particular Favorite of his, & often visited him & receivd his Visits again'.[66] While those contemporaries who had been reading for Bachelor of Arts completed their studies and left the University, Stukeley remained on his longer course, visiting the apothecaries' shops and studying drugs, and undertaking 'a little Gratis Practise among the poor people that depended upon the College & such lads as would trust themselves to my care'.[67] When back in Holbeach on Ashwednesday 1708 he and another student took advantage of the death of a local man who had hanged himself. Human corpses for anatomical study were hard to come by, but this body had been buried 'in the highway' -- presumably by a crossroads with a stake through its heart, as the law for 'self-murder' then demanded. Stukeley and his friend dug up the corpse, and after dissecting it they boiled it down and assembled the bones. They did not appear to fear the law catching up with them for their crime, as Stukeley put the macabre ornament into 'a fine Glass case with an inscription in Latin' and set up in his summer house, so that 'all the World came to see the wondrous sight.' Not surprisingly, 'The Country people were strangely alarmd at this unusual Operation'.[68] That same summer he also made more traditional preparations for his future career, making numerous excursions to converse with neigbouring physicians 'of any Note & eminence in Practise', such as Theophilus Hill of Peterborough.[69]

Boston, Lincolnshire

An MB in medicine at Cambridge required six years of study, but students often stayed for only three, returning later to fulfill the academic requirements. Stukeley spent about four years at the university, returning to Cambridge from this long stay in Holbeach in December 1708 to prepare for the taking of his degree. His thesis, on 'Catamenia pendent a plethora', was successfully defended on 24 January 1709. From then until June he spent his time in and around Holbeach, putting his family affairs in order and making a number of country visits to view antiquities. Then in order to perfect his medical studies, at Whitsuntide he moved into his father's old chambers at Staple Inn in London. He considered it 'convenient to see the Method of the Hospitals here where all sorts of Cases in Physic & Surgery occurring I might perfectly learn the Symptoms & see the Diagnostics before my eyes[,] & make such observations upon the progress of Diseases & the treatment of the Physicians upon them & so fix them in my Memory as would fully qualify me for launching out into the Practise of the Profession I had spent so much time & money in studying.'[70] He chose the medieval foundation of St Thomas's Hospital, then situated on the south bank of the Thames by London Bridge, which had only recently been rebuilt, and enlarged in attractive new buildings. The principal reason for this choice was St Thomas's eminent physician, Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), who, in both his 'Illustrious Character', his writings and his successful practise, struck Stukeley as having the right 'Dignity & Figure' for their profession.[71] Mead was the eleventh son of a noncomfomist London minister, and had studied physic at the universities of Utrecht and Leiden. He had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1703 following the publication of his Newtonian-influenced A Mechanical Account of Poisons. The next year he published (in Latin) another work shaped by Newtonian mechanics, A Treatise Concerning the Influence of the Sun and the Moon upon Human Bodies. Mead had travelled to Italy in 1695 to take his MD at the university of Padua, and had developed an interest in antiquities whilst visiting Turin, Rome and Naples. So as well as respecting his Newtonian connections (and his Whig politics), Stukeley found a mutual interest in antiquities and classical learning, and the two men quickly became friends.

By February 1710, however, having been seven months in London 'under the Strictest Course of Studys both Theoretical & Practical' Stukeley claimed to have grown 'heartily tir[e]d' of the capital. Deciding to take up practice in the countryside, he got himself a black servant (which would have been quite a status symbol) and on the same day that the famous libel trial of the High Church Tory polemicist Henry Sacheverell commenced he returned to Cambridge '& cast my eyes upon the neighboring Town of Boston, where I had many Relations & acquaintance'.[72] At Boston he could remain close to the family estates in Holbeach, and 'could best take cognisance of my Affairs[,] & pursue the design I had of extricating my Self out of debt, & look after the education of my Bro[the]r & Sister.'[73] On May Day 1710 he arrived in Boston, then a not insignificant port town trading in wool, and set himself up in practise. In comparison to his otherwise well-documented life, little is known of these seven years spent back in Lincolnshire. It does appear that they were largely focused on settling the family debts, administering the estates, and caring for his young siblings. He wrote subsequently in his memoirs that the resolution of these problems 'took up to my lasting Grief & detriment many of the best years of my Life when I was fittest for the spur of Ambition & most capable of pushing my way into the World with that alacrity & effect the most to be expected from my juvenile blood.'[74] Stukeley's time in Boston should be seen as an interlude in which he brought his financial affairs to rights, allowing him to return to London fired with repressed ambition and aiming for social and intellectual success. As he later reflected to cheer himself up over these lost years, 'I was but young & might still have many happy years in Reserve that would not fail to make me full amends'.[75] For to be outside of Oxford, Cambridge or London was almost to be out of the world. When Robert Danny left Cambridge for Yorkshire in 1725 he wrote to his former student, 'you must … look upon me as a lover of Learning, destitute of some of the principal means of Improvement, & consequently rusting in a Desert'.[76] One of the most important functions the Royal Society served was as a communications hub for men of philosophic interest -- often provincial doctors, clergymen and lawyers -- to send their observations and discoveries and to have them heard and judged by their peers. So it was that whenever Stukeley was out of London he would expend a great deal of effort attempting to erect philosophical clubs to succour his love of learning and intelligent conversation, and he did not miss the opportunity to make regular returns to the capital.

So his time in Boston was not wholly without its pleasures. He recorded that by curing several young children of fits this 'in a small measure raised me a character', and the following year his brother Adlard came to live with him. Stukeley helped to set him up as an apprentice to an apothecary.[77] He was also responsible for establishing a 'botanic Society' for the local apothecaries and surgeons, going out 'simpling', or collecting, once a week. They bought for themselves John Ray's three volume catalogue of British plants to accompany their studies.[78] More importantly, he also became a member of the Gentlemen's Society in the neighbouring market town of Spalding, an antiquarian and literary society founded in 1710 by the lawyer Maurice Johnson (1688-1755). Stukeley had met Johnson in London along with Roger (1672-1744) and Samuel Gale (1682-1754), sons of the renowned antiquary and Dean of York, Thomas Gale. With these three friends and a few other gentlemen they formed a small club that met at a coffeehouse near the Temple to talk about the ancient history of Britain. These meetings were the genesis of the future refounding of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1717, and Johnson and the Gale brothers would become three of his closest companions. In the Spalding Gentlemen's Society, Johnson hoped to emulate the spirit of study he had experienced as a law student in the capital. Its interests included antiquities, 'natural and artificial curiosities' and such 'improvements lending to the common benefit & entertainment of Mankind.'[79] Early members (many of whom corresponded rather than actually attended meetings) numbered some of Stukeley's closest friends and associates, including Newton, the Gale brothers, and the antiquaries Sir John Clerk (1684-1755) and Beaupré Bell (1704-1741). The Spalding Society became a provincial off-shoot of the Royal Society, and its many and varied interests would have allowed Stukeley to maintain many of the intellectual interests he had developed at Cambridge. Indeed, in a letter of 1735 to Johnson, Roger Gale wrote 'who could have expected such a learned correspondence and so many curious observations to have been communicated to, and made by a sett of virtuosi allmost out of the world'.[80] Johnson also encouraged Stukeley developing interest in antiquities and travel, suggesting various books in British history that he ought to read [see chapter 5]. Up to now, Stukeley's reading appears to have been focused largely on the sciences, but he laid off his chemical researches around this time, and instead from 1710 began making the annual summer journeys around England which would result in his first major publication, the Itinerarium Curiosum in 1724.

Whilst in Boston he also first took a real interest in political matters. Surprisingly, given his background and his future studies and friendships, in an effort to win the custom of wealthy patients he aligned himself with the Tories' High Church party (though in 1711 he dined at King's Lynn alongside Robert Walpole, the town's prospective Whig MP). However, not finding his Tory 'interest' promoted, he 'thence … began to study matters out of my profession, antiquitys, chronology, genealogys, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy.'[81] It is perhaps that it was around this time he made friends with the theological writer Sir Richard Ellys (?1688-1742), who became MP for Boston in 1719. Ellys had a keen interest in antiquarian studies and possessed strong religious convictions, first as an Arminian, then from 1730 as a Calvinist. In 1736 Stukeley would write that it was Ellys who had led him in 'the way of turning all the force of human learning and classical knowledge into its right channel … the illustration of the scriptures, and the cause of religion.'[82] It is clear, then, that although he was no longer in London or at the university, Stukeley was not entirely lost from the learned world (as Danny had considered himself), though as we shall now see, the capital was very much its intellectual heart.

London and the Royal Society

In 1717 Stukeley left Boston and returned to London, where he would remain until 1726. He claimed that he moved there 'neither for plesure, nor profit; but that I might indulge my propensity to study.'[83] We can presume he had by now paid off most of the outstanding debts that had resulted from his father's early death, had found suitable positions for his brother and sister, and now at nearly thirty years of age was ready to cut a figure for himself in metropolitan society. In one of his many sets of memoirs written late in his life, he reflected that it was his intention to live at his father's old lodgings at Staple Inn '& to indulge my love to learning.' But 'by following Dr Mead to his coffeehouses, & being apparently much in his favour, I had great respects paid to me', and he was drawn into practice 'beyond my design.'[84] Whether such a contemplative life had ever really been his intention, the move to London precedented a rapid change in his fortunes. He was almost immediately involved in the refounding of the Society of Antiquaries, where he was made secretary, whilst his friends Roger Gale became vice-president, Samuel Gale treasurer and Maurice Johnson honourary librarian. By October 1719 Johnson was writing to tell him, 'you have friends no where more earnestly wishing you felicity & success than in your own country [i.e. Lincolnshire], to which you must give me leave to say, you are an ornament; & amongst your countrymen let me beg you will be assured no one can be rejoiced more in your prosperity than I do. But your gains are our loss, that your assistance when we want health, and your good company for its preservation, are too remote'.[85] Stukeley's obviously amiable personality -- so missed by Johnson -- together with his friendship with Mead, played an important part in his success. He dined regularly with Mead, when they would drink 'nothing but french wine. So that I was every winter laid up with the gout', a disorder from which he would be constantly troubled, and in the Spring he was obliged to ride 'for my health. & that brought me into the humor & love of travelling; whereby I indulg'd my self in the study of the antiquities of my country.'[86]

Though he had only just arrived in the city, regular escapes from it to study antiquities would remain an imperative. This vacillation between the needs of business and the love of learning, between London and the countryside, was a character trait that lasted throughout his life. He recognized that there were pleasures and enjoyments, advantages and disadvantages, to be had in both. This love of the countryside was partly for medicinal reasons: despite its elegant squares and fashionable pleasure gardens, eighteenth-century London was dangerous, overcrowded and polluted. By 1700 and with a population of between 500,000 and 750,000 people it was Europe's largest city, easily dwarfing Britain's next largest conurbation, Norwich, which had only 30,000 inhabitants. London was the hub of British cultural, political, and intellectual life, as well as a major centre for manufacturing and marketing. The Bank of England had been established in 1694 to help finance the war with France, and the civil service was expanding rapidly. With unprecedented military successes on the continent under the leadership of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709), by the time the War of the Spanish Succession came to an end with the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 Great Britain had become a, perhaps the, major power in European politics. She was also enjoying the early stages of profound economic growth. Commercial optimism was at a peak by 1720, the year of the South Sea Bubble, when Stukeley added to his increasing fortune. He bought South Sea Company stock when it was floated in April, and by the end of May had already realized £350 in cash -- profits which, he later reflected, made me neglect the practise of physick'. He escaped the greatest highs and lows, however: on 2 June with stock having increased in value by some seven hundred per cent, he recorded the 'Surprizeing Scene in Change Alley' when 'Nobility, Ladys, Brokers, & footmen' all scrambled as equals in the sale of shares. But by 23 September when the Bubble burst 'the World', he wrote, was 'in the utmost distraction, thousands of familys ruind.'[87]

Like commerce, the eighteenth-century scientific community was characterized by London-based circles of sociability, patronage and influence, with Isaac Newton as its central figure. He had left Cambridge in 1696 to become Master of the Mint in the Tower of London, and in 1703 had been elected President of the Royal Society, spending the remainder of his long life resident in the capital. As Stukeley would record later of his own nine years in London,

in the florishing time of my life, I had the greatest intimacy, with Thomas Ld Pembroke, Heneage Earl of Winchelsea, Sr Isaac Newton, Dr Halley, Mead, Sr Hans Sloan, Ld Oxford, James West, John Bridges, D[uke] of Argyle, Tom Rawlinson, Dr [John] Freind, Dr [John] Arbuthnot, Dr [John] Morton, Dr Walt[er] Harris, Sr Godfrey Kneller, & in short, with the whole sett of learned men & Vertuoso's, wh[o] at that time abounded. & by having recourse to thir librarys, I arriv'd to a considerable degree of knowledg & equal reputation.[88]

Other close acquaintances made in this period included the physico-theologist William Derham, George I's physician-in-ordinary Sir Tancred Robinson who admitted Stukeley 'among his most intimates', the Somerset herald and antiquary John Warburton, and the unrelated William Warburton.[89] He also met the now octogenarian Sir Christopher Wren, who signed his 'Liber Amicorum' with the words 'Pondere Numero et Mensura' beneath Newton's own flourishing motto, 'Ars longa. Vita brevis.' A third famous signature on this page is Halley's.[90] Stukeley appears to have made friends with Halley at an early stage after his return to London, for in 1717 he presented a paper to the Royal Society which 'was read by Dr Halley[,] Secretary, purporting an ocular demonstration of the earths rotation on its axis. this is from the universal appearance of the steepness of the hills, mountains, & elevated ground, in general, on the west & north sides: with a gentle, & longspread descent, to the south & east. this, indisputably is owing to the earths rotation, from west to east.' Stukeley observed that this must have happened when the Earth was still moist, i.e. on the third day of the Creation. He had made this discovery during his journeys around England, and recorded it in the Itinerarium Curiosum. But it was Mead who nominated him for fellowship of the Royal Society, and he was admitted on 20 March 1718 by Newton.[91] From the Society's foundation the largest professional group of members had been physicians, not a surprising fact given the close association we have already seen between medicine and the new science. Membership of the Society was thus a natural (though by no means assured) and important step for Stukeley, and by aligning himself with an influential Newtonian such as Mead he could almost assure himself of success as a London physician. He made swift advancement at the Society under the patronage of its famous president, and to understand Stukeley the natural philosopher is the first step in understanding Stukeley the antiquary.

A Newtonian Society

By 1705 the supporters of Newtonian philosophy had become the most influential coterie in the Royal Society, which was soon enjoying a revival under its new and illustrious president. In a manuscript 'Scheme for establishing the Royal Society' Newton mused that 'Natural Philosophy consists in discovering the frame and operations of Nature, and reducing them, as far as may be, to general Rule or Laws, establishing these rules by observations and experiments, and thence deducing the causes and effects of things'.[92] This was to be the Newtonians' guideline, and Stukeley became a part of this important group of natural philosophers. Given the significance of his work and the appearance and popularization of a domestic, Protestant alternative to continental Cartesianism, the impact of Newtonian natural philosophy on early eighteenth-century English thought was enormous. As the writings and careers of Stukeley's friends and contemporaries in the medical profession exhibit -- men like Mead, John Freind, George Cheyne and Nicholas Robinson -- sowing one's writings with the seeds of Newtonian philosophy could reap rich financial reward and social advancement.[93] Stukeley's education and philosophical interests at Cambridge had moulded him in the tenets of the new science, providing an appropriate foundation for a successful career as a London virtuoso. For, despite the increasingly public coffee-house lectures, a university education was almost essential for even beginning to understand the Newtonian philosophy, let alone applying it. Stukeley recorded how, 'being Sr Isaac's countryman, of Lincolnshr, & pretty constant in attendance at the weekly meetings of the Royal Society, from that time, I was well receiv'd by him, & enjoyd a good deal of his familiarity, & friendship.' He would often visit the President at home in the company of prominent Fellows such as Mead and Halley and the mathematicians Brook Taylor (1685-1731), William Jones (1675-1749) and Martin Folkes (1690-1754). Sometimes he visited Newton alone, '& we discoursd upon divers curious matters, as well as on country news'. In November 1719 at Newton's direction he was elected to the Council, the Society's regulating body, '& upon the casual absence of a secretary,' he was sometimes 'order'd' by Newton 'to take his seat, for that sitting. Several times, I was proposd by him, & elected an auditor of the yearly accounts of the Society, at the same time we dind with him, at his house by Leicester fields.'[94] These were important responsibilities, and they admitted him into the very heart of the Society. This developing relationship with Newton and his philosophical friends and acolytes is expounded in more detail amongst Stukeley's papers. For example, he recorded in his diary that on 13 February 1721 'Sir Is. Newton presented me with the new Edition of his optics. We discours'd about muscular motion.' Then on the 23 February 'Dr Halley & I breakfasted at Sir Is. Newtons' and he 'showd us the famous glass of Mr Hugens, 170 foot radius, which he had lately bought.'[95] Newton did not court many friendships, and the influence of this relationship upon Stukeley's intellectual progress and the ideas expressed and developed in his manuscript and published writings, both scientific and antiquarian, should not be underestimated. As we shall see, only by understanding his scientific influences and intellectual context will we recognize that his antiquarian ideas were not as outlandish or as esoteric as has previously been considered. In fact, much of Stukeley's work -- both scientific, antiquarian and theological -- can be related to his acquaintances in the Newtonian circles he frequented in London in the early 1720s.

These colleagues in the Royal Society also offered Stukeley the opportunity of participating in less orthodox aspects of the new science, and to rub shoulders with those freethinkers who did not share Newton's faith in the wisdom -- or indeed the existence -- of God. Stukeley's lodgings were in Great Ormond Street, Bloomsbury, where his neighbours included Mead and Folkes, with whom he also soon became friends. Stukeley and Folkes had much in common: Folkes had been at Clare Hall, Cambridge, from 1706 and had a keen interest in both natural philosophy and antiquities. Independently wealthy (having inherited a huge fortune his father had made as a lawyer), he was a gifted mathematician. He had been elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society as early as 1713 (it was this sort of progress that Stukeley had missed by his exile in Boston), and was favoured by Newton, becoming (with Sloane) one of the two vice-presidents in 1723. It was written of him later that 'His love of a studious and contemplative life, amidst a circle of friends of the same disposition, disinclined him in a very high degree to the business and hurry of a public one'.[96] We have noted the period's horror of atheism, but Folkes was not afraid of boasting about his unbelief, for his financial security did not depend upon any show of orthodoxy. Stukeley recorded that in 1720 his new friend 'set up an infidel Club' which met at his house on Sunday evenings, 'where Will Jones, the mathematician, & others of the heathen stamp, assembled. He invited me earnestly to come thither but I always refusd.'[97] Though he resisted this invitation, in 1729 he told Samuel Gale that whilst living in London he had 'been laughed out of going to church on account of my profession' and would recall that though he had started off regularly attending church, 'yet in time I was banter'd out of it by my brethren of the [medical] faculty; & by absenting, became, in a manner voyd of religion.'[98] At this period physicians had a certain notoriety as unbelievers in religion, and their supposed atheism was almost taken for granted. But in spite of their difference of opinion over religion, Stukeley and the freethinking Folkes remained close friends, at least until the latter rose in time to become President of the Royal Society in 1741, and brought his mismanagement and irreligion with him into its meetings.[99]

In November 1721, however, Stukeley's intimate relationship with the Newtonian circle went suddenly awry. Halley had recently been appointed as John Flamsteed's successor as Astronomer Royal at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the demands of which led him to surrender his position as one of the two Secretaries to the Royal Society. Stukeley 'was induced', he wrote, 'by Lord Pembroke, Lord Paisley, Lord Percivale, Sr Hans Sloan, Mr Roger Gale, & very many more of the principal members of the Royal Society, to offer my self for Secretary, in room of Dr Halley'.[100] But by standing in opposition to Newton's own favoured candidate, the physician James Jurin, Stukeley recorded how his former allies Newton, Halley, Mead and 'the whole Mathematical Party' turned against him.

I had 27 voices & 13 who had promised me did not appear, & thro' the great diligence of the contrary side & Indolence of my Friends, a great many that were brought thither only by my Interest, were induced to vote against me: whereby we were outnumberd to the vast satisfaction & rejoycing of our Opponents -- Nec tam Turpe fuit vinci quam contendisse decorum.[101]

The successful candidate, Jurin (1684-1750), was a former fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and like Stukeley he was closely associated with Mead, Folkes and the London Newtonian circle. However, and most importantly, Jurin was also an accomplished iatrochemist and mathematician who had publicly lectured on Newtonian natural philosophy.[102] Stukeley did not have the intellectual or mathematical weight to replace a man like Halley, and Jurin's own reputation and recognition would be enhanced by his position as Secretary to the Royal Society. Although he was friends with these prominent figures of the mathematical party, Stukeley admitted that his philosophical outlook was directed much more towards natural history -- and its bedfellow antiquities -- than to the more mathematically orientated natural sciences of Newton and his other followers. For example, in 1723 Stukeley recalled that at Cambridge he had 'acquired a very good foundation in the mathematics & I own it is very bewitching,' for mathematics 'furnishes us with vast opportunitys of searching out the wonders of providence in the disposal of the natural world'. But he had chosen to study antiquities instead because it was concerned with God's 'dispensations of the moral & the animated in the rational part of the creation'.[103] Notwithstanding his attempts to write on natural philosophical subjects in a Newtonian vein, Stukeley was actually aligned more closely with the Society's other vice-president, the venerable physician, collector and natural historian Sir Hans Sloane, who had become another of his influential patrons.[104] Stukeley's support from this one friend, Sloane, at the same time as opposition from another, Mead, reveals the split at the heart of the Royal Society. For in spite of the general conviviality of its meetings, it was divided into two factions, broadly defined as the mathematical and the natural historical parties. Their two chief representatives after Newton's death in 1727 -- Folkes and Sloane respectively -- would come head to head in a heated contest over who should succeed him as President. Folkes would lose, and his vocal supporter and right-hand man, Jurin, would lose his hard-won Secretaryship. This would have been small consolation to Stukeley, who was only a minor, early casualty in this conflict. But the rejection in 1721 affected Stukeley's relationship with Mead: he would later write how 'I had the most intimate converse & familiarity with him. Then he opposd me in being Secretary to the Royal Society. This begat some coolness between us'.[105] His friendship with Newton also cooled, and he told Conduitt in 1727 that his biographical notes 'would have been much fuller' if he had not had this 'misfortune to fall under Sr Isaac's displeasure for many years'.[106] Such a snub from Newton was not unprecedented, and illustrates the nature of the control he exercised over the Society during his presidency. But as Stukeley noted later, 'as I did not alter in my carriage & respect toward him; after that, he began to be friendly to me again.' By 1726 Newton could nominate him as one of the Society's annual 'visitors', sent to examine the new astronomical instruments at the Royal Observatory. Two of his companions on this visit to Halley were members of the Society's mathematical party, the Folkes and Taylor. Also included in this group of visitors were the Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, John Machin, and the instrument-maker George Graham.[107] It was good company to be in, and it reflects Stukeley's clear return to favour.[108]

But despite these events we should not think of Newtonian 'disciples' slavishly following their 'master', an image given occasionally by some historians. Robert Schofield points out that Newton did not assemble defenders of his ideas 'into a unified and consistent band of disciples'. Rather, 'individual Newtonians, scattered throughout Britain, were left without constraint to present their separate and idiosyncratic versions of Newton's theory of matter and its action.'[109] And Michael Hunter has likewise observed that 'though there was undoubtedly a 'Newtonian' lobby in the earth sciences, it is an exaggeration to postulate any unanimity in such matters, since opinion remained inchoate.'[110] As we shall see in the following chapters, my examination of Stukeley's scientific and antiquarian writings confirms Schofield and Hunter's statements, and Stukeley used his Newtonian knowledge in a novel fashion. In his application of the philosophy expounded in Newton's two major works, Stukeley was clearly a 'Newtonian', but his did not make Stukeley's career an easy ride, nor limit him as an uncritical supporter of either Newton himself of other members of the Newtonian circle. Furthermore, whilst I have emphasized here Newton's importance to early modern science, it is necessary to be aware that his popularity did not sweep entirely across the board of British natural philosophical studies. Richard Westfall notes, for example that year after year a fifth to a quarter of Royal Society fellows voted against Newton's election to the Council, whilst Cartesian ideas (and publications) also remained in circulation in England. Indeed, Stukeley held a copy of Descartes' Principia Philosophiae in his library, and cited it in his work.[111] In may next two chapters I shall explore Stukeley's scientific writings in detail, dividing them according to a major theme in early modern science, the notion of the microcosm and the macrocosm: 'Thus this great Machine of the Universe has a resemblance to the lesser one of the Human Creature.'[112] I shall begin with the 'microcosm' of the body and Stukeley's work as a physician and anatomist, before moving on in chapter 4 to the 'macrocosm' of the natural world, and Stukeley's speculations on such Newtonian themes as the creation of the world and the order of the universe.

[1] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 12.

[2] Ibid. f. 1.

[3] Ibid. f. 4. Stukeley was of the belief that his mother's family were descendants of the family of Anne Boleyn.

[4] Ibid. f. 5v.

[5] Ibid. ff. 5v, 6v.

[6] Ibid. f. 4.

[7] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 121 f. 9.

[8] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 9.

[9] Ibid. f. 9.

[10] Ibid. f. 11v.

[11] Ibid. f. 12.

[12] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 121 f. 11.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 12.

[15] Stukeley (1980) p. 123.

[16] Quoted in Johns (2000), p. 159.

[17] See Gascoigne (1990) pp. 208, 214-8.

[18] See Gascoigne (1984) p. 3, and Rousseau (1982) p. 206. Keill later went on to hold the Savilian Professor of Astronomy from 1712. According to Frank (1973) p. 240, after 1700 Cambridge University was 'consistently educating greater numbers of eminent scientists than Oxford; the cohort trained at Cambridge during the first three decades of the eighteenth century outnumbering its Oxford counterparts more than two to one.'

[19] Quoted in Westfall (1980) p. 209.

[20] Keynes MS 133, f. 10.

[21] Quoted in Westfall (1980) p. 209. See also Gascoigne (1984) pp. 2-3.

[22] Whiston's university lectures on astronomy and physics were popular, and were soon published as Praelectiones astronimcae (Cambridge 1707) and Praelectiones physico-mathematicae (Cambridge 1710) with English translations following in 1715 and 1716.

[23] Bentley (1710) p. 6.

[24] Anon. (1711) pp. 13-14.

[25] Stukeley, diary 27 July 1741, Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 125 ff. 15-6.

[26] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 27. Stukeley uses the word 'country' here in the more specific sense of 'county', i.e. that Newton was also from Lincolnshire; it is used elsewhere in this sense also.

[27] I am grateful to the curator of the Osborn Collection at Yale University Library, Connecticut, for providing me with a transcript of this letter, which is held in their collection.

[28] DNB.

[29] Gascoigne (1984) p. 21; Gascoigne (1988) p. 174.

[30] See Gascoigne (1988) p. 81.

[31] Masters (1831) p. 372.

[32] Clark-Kennedy (1929) p. 11.

[33] Frank (1973) p. 250.

[34] Hugo Grotius, Hugonis Grotti de Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres (Paris, 1625).

[35] Samuel Pufendorf, De Officio Hominis et Civis Juxta Legem Naturalem Libri Duo (Sweden, 1673).

[36] John Wilkins (1614-1672), Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion (London, 1675).

[37] John Locke (1632-1704), An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (London, 1690).

[38] Ignace Gaston Pardies (1636-1673), Short, But Yet Plain Elements of Geometry and Plain Trigonometry, Render'd into English, by J. Harris (London, 1701). A French Jesuit, Pardies had correspondences with Athanasius Kircher and Newton, and was in personal contact with Huygens. His Elemens de Geometrie was first published in 1671. (DSB).

[39] Euclides, The Elements of Euclid with Select Theorems out of Archimedes. By A. Tacquet. To Which are Added, Practical Corollaries. By W. Whiston.

[40] John Harris (?1666-1719), The Description and Uses of the Celestial and Terrestrial Globes; And of Collins's Pocket Quadrant (London, 1703) This short user's guide contains descriptions of the two globes with definitions of terms, and problems that may be solved by the globes, such as finding latitude and longitude of places and stars, finding the Sun and stars' rising and setting points.

[41] Jacques Rohault (1620-1675), Jacobi Rohaulti Physica: Latine Vertit, Recensuit et Uberioribus jam Annotationibus, ex Illustrissimi Isaaci Newtoni Philosophia Maximam Partem, Haustis… (Cambridge? 1697). Clarke's Latin translation of Rohault's Traité de physique (1671) was made to replace that made by Théophile Bonet in 1674. Rohault was a leading French advocate of Descartes, and his Traité was intended as an elementary synthesis of Cartesian natural philosophy, but Clarke's translation contained notes promoting the new philosophy of mechanics expressed in Newton's Principia, which had not by that date been accepted at Cambridge. Clarke's edition became the standard Cambridge textbook on Rohault, reached an expanded fourth edition in 1718, and was translated into English by Clarke's brother.

[42] Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, The Obligations of Natural Religion, And the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation … Being 16 Sermons Preached at St Pauls 1704 and 1705, at the Boyle Lectures (4th edition, 1716) first published in two volumes (1706).

[43] Bernandus Varenius (1622-1650), Geographia Universalis (Amsterdam 1650). This work 'established a framework for physical geography capable of including new facts of discovery as they arose. The work became the standard geographic text for more than a century' (DSB). Newton's edition was first published at Cambridge in 1672, with an edition of Newton's version edited by Jurin published (also in Cambridge) in 1712. See A Compleat System of General Geography, Improved by Sir I Newton and Dr Jurin (English translation, 2 vols, London 1734). Stukeley observed in 1727 that Newton had to 'some measure imitated' Varenius's method 'in his own work', perhaps a reference to the various editions Newton published of his Principia and Opticks (Stukeley, Keynes MS 136).

[44] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 14.

[45] Stukeley (1980) p. 121.

[46] Quoted in Cook (1990) p. 414.

[47] Gascoigne (1990) pp. 210, 240-3.

[48] See Wellcome MS 4729.

[49] Gascoigne (1985) p. 396. The association of medicine and the new philosophy was not automatic, however. See Cook (1985) for a discussion of the Warwickshire doctor Henry Stubbe's pamphlet responses in 1670 and 1671 to Glanvill's Plus Ultra, which he perceived as attacking university-taught physic. Glanvill had argued that only the Royal Society could bring the experimental method necessary for successful curative medicine.

[50] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 14-14v.

[51] Ibid. f. 22.

[52] Newton (1721) pp. 350-3.

[53] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 121; according to Stukeley, Rolf was professor of anatomy at Cambridge University (SS 1, p. 39).

[54] Stukeley (1882) p. 42.

[55] Quoted in Gascoigne (1988) p. 161.

[56] Keynes MS 130.7, f. 1r. Frank (1973) p. 245. Wotton in 1694 defined chemistry as 'the Art of Dividing Bodies by Fire'. Wotton (1604) p. 183.

[57] Bod. MS. Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 16. Stukeley's posthumous sale catalogue of his books includes a manuscript described as 'Vigani's Course of Chemistry at Cambridge, 1705'; item 409 in Piggott (1974) p. 438.

[58] Clark-Kennedy (1929) p. 19.

[59] Stukeley (1980) p. 121. John Millburn has examined the history and significance of this orrery, and observes that whilst Hales's model 'certainly merits a place in the history of that instrument, if only a minor one', from his study of Stukeley's incomplete and uncertain drawing of their instrument he concludes that the latter's 'role in the history of orreries was clearly only a secondary one.' Millburn (1974) pp. 522, 527.

[60] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 27v.

[61] Ibid. f. 21.

[62] Ibid. f. 27v.

[63] Ibid. f. 17.

[64] Ibid. ff 22v--23v.

[65] Ibid. f. 26.

[66] Ibid. f. 26v.

[67] Ibid. f. 26v.

[68] Ibid. f. 25v.

[69] Ibid. f. 28v..

[70] Ibid. f. 30v.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid. f. 32; Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 667/1 f. 7.

[73] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 32.

[74] Ibid. f. 17.

[75] Ibid. f. 17v.

[76] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 113, f. 140v, February 1725.

[77] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 ff. 32, 33.

[78] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 121 f. 23; Stukeley (1980) p. 110.

[79] Stukeley SoA MS 283.

[80] SS 3, p. 129, 25 August 1735.

[81] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 666 f. 39v; Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 667/1 f. 7v.

[82] Stukeley (1736) p. vi. Stukeley dedicated Palaeographia Sacra 1 to Ellys. Ellys published three antiquarian treatises in Fortuita Sacra: Quibus Subiicitur Commentarius de Cymbalis (Rotterdam, 1727). Stukeley owned a copy of the book: see Piggott (1974) p. 433, catalogue item no. 258

[83] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 666 f. 15.

[84] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 121 f. 26.

[85] Stukeley (1980) p.126; Johnson to Stukeley, Spalding, 14 October 1719.

[86] Bod. MS. Eng. misc. e. 121 f. 28.

[87] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 34-34v; Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 666 f. 40v.

[88] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 666 f. 15v and 16r. These men, variously physicians, lawyers, noblemen and a portrait painter, were members of some if not all of the three principal societies Stukeley was involved with, and are all to be found in the DNB. The most important library was Rawlinson's, who was satirized by Joseph Addison in the Tatler as 'Tom Folio'.

[89] Stukeley (1980) p. 113 and p. 116, and also Nichols (1817) p. 799.

[90] Bod. MS Eng. misc. d. 459.

[91] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 666 f. 3v.

[92] Quoted in Westfall (1980) p. 632.

[93] See Guerrini (1989), and Rousseau (1988) for discussions of Cheyne's career and his relationship with Newtonian philosophy; see Guerrini (1989) and Brown (1987) for discussions of the 'Newtonian physiologists' Pitcairne, Keill, Mead and Cheyne.

[94] Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 142 f. 6; see also Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 667/1 f. 11r.

[95] Stukeley (1980) p. 55.

[96] John Nichols, (1812-1818), ii, 592.

[97] Stukeley, SS 1, p. 99-100.

[98] Stukeley SS 1, p. 228; Stukeley MS Eng. misc. e. 126 f. 83.

[99] See Haycock and Rousseau (1999), and chapter 9.

[100] Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 142 ff. 11-12.

[101] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 36r.

[102] See Rusnock (1996), esp. pp. 8-16.

[103] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 f. 266.

[104] As Secretary himself between 1693 and 1712 Sloane had revitalized the Philosophical Transactions.

[105] Stukeley (1980) p. 100.

[106] Keynes MS 136, Stukeley to John Conduitt, 26 June 1727.

[107] Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 142 ff. 16-7. See Westfall (1980) p. 688

[108] Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 1423 f.12. On 15 April 1726, for example. Stukeley visited Newton, 'dind with him, & spent the whole day with him, alone.' It was on this occasion that Newton recounted the story of the falling apple.

[109] Schofield (1970) p. 19.

[110] Hunter (1981) p. 185.

[111] Westfall (1980) p. 697; Hunter (1981) pp. 185-6; Piggott (1970) p. 440, item 480.

[112] FM MS 1130 Stu (1) f. 126.

© 2022 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL -

Privacy Statement

  • University of Oxford
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC