Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by Norman Moore
John Ray (16271705)
[John Ray (16271705), the first important writer on natural history in English, was born at Black Nettley, in Essex, on 29th November 1627, and, after education at Braintree School, entered at the College or Hall of St. Catharine at Cambridge, 28th June 1644. The chief exercises of the College were at that time philosophical and theological disputations, and after two academical years he migrated to Trinity College, where the regulations allowed him more time to pursue the studies in natural history to which he was already addicted. He was elected a Fellow with his friend Isaac Barrow, 8th September 1649, and his portrait hangs to this day in the College Hall. He preached in the days of the Rebellion both in his College chapel and the University Church, but was only ordained deacon and priest by the Bishop of Lincoln, 23rd December 1660, and resigned his Fellowship rather than make a declaration, in the terms of the Bartholomew Act, against the Covenant. The rest of his life was spent in the pursuit of natural history, and especially of botany and ornithology, in travels on the Continent and in England, and in editing the works of his friend Willoughby. He died at his birthplace in Essex on 17th January 1705.]
RAYS scientific writings are chiefly in Latin, but he had given much consideration to his own language, and made a collection of English proverbs. Of his English works the most interesting are The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of the Creation, published in 1691, and his Itineraries, published after his death by his friend Dr. William Derham, in 1710. The former may be regarded as the precursor of Paleys Natural Theology, written in the same University later in the century. The demonstration of the wisdom of the Deity from His works coincides in a large part of its extent with the proof of His existence from the evidence of design in the natural world. The Itineraries describe Rays travels in England, Wales, and Scotland. He excels in simple description, and is, however technical his subject, always free from pedantry. Long sentences like those of his friend Isaac Barrow occasionally occur in his writings, but he has the great merit in a scientific writer of always making his subject clear, and of so expressing himself that his reader thinks of what is told without noticing the manner of telling.