Mathematicall magick. Or, the wonders that may be performed by mechanicall geometry.

London, printed by M[iles]. F[lesher]. for Sa. Gellibrand at the brasen Serpent in Pauls Church-yard, 1648.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. [xvi], 295, [i]. A–T8, V4 (A1 blank), 8 engraved plates (3-full page), in this issue “The words “powers. motions.” are bracketed together on title page” ESTC, title and text within box rule, many small woodcut diagrams in text, woodcut initials, typographical ornaments, contemporary manuscript ex dono on title “Thomas Jeynson Dono Dedit Tobias Parnell”, “J. Crossley’s book 1791” on pastedown, a few early annotations, Erwin Tomash’s book-label on pastedown. Light age yellowing, some mostly marginal dust soiling, thumb marks and small stains. A good copy, with good margins in modern three-quarter dark calf over marbled boards, original endleaves retained.

First edition of this charmingly illustrated and important work, the first book on mechanics written in English, by Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, and a founder member of the Royal Society. The work is more about mechanics than mathematics, and discusses, among other things, flying machines, carts with sails, automata and perpetual motion machines. Wilkins dedicated his work to His Highness the Prince Elector Palatine.. It is divided into two books, one headed “Archimedes, because he was the chiefest in discovering of Mechanical powers,” the other was called “Daedalus” because he “was one of the first and most famous amongst the Ancients for his skill in making Automata. Wilkins sets out and explains the principles of mechanics in the first book and gives ideas in the second book on future technical developments such as flying which he anticipates as certain, if only sufficient exercise, research and development could be directed to their research.

In the 20 chapters of the first book, traditional mechanical devices are discussed such as the balance, lever, wheel or pulley and block and tackle, wedge, and screw. The powers acting on them are compared to those acting in the human body. The book deals with the phrase attributed to Archimedes saying “that if he did but know where to stand and fasten his instrument, he could move the world” and shows the effect of a series of gear transmissions one linked to the other. Finally, siege engines like catapults are compared with the cost and effect of modern guns. In the 15 chapters of the second book, various devices are examined which move independently of human interference like clocks and watches, water mills and wind mills. Wilkins explains devices being driven by the motion of air in a chimney or by pressurised air. A land yacht is proposed driven by two sails on two masts, and a wagon powered by a vertical axis wind turbine. A number of independently moving small artificial figures representing men and animals are described. The possibilities of improving the type of submarine designed and built by Cornelis Drebbel are considered. Wilkins explains that it should be possible for a man, too, to fly by himself if a frame were built where the person could sit and if this frame was sufficiently pushed in the air. In chapter VII, Wilkins discusses various methods how a man could fly, namely by the help of spirits and good or evil angels (as related on various occasions in the Bible), by the help of fowls, by wings fastened immediately to the body or by a flying chariot.

John Wilkins was educated at Oxford and took his degree in 1631. He entered the church, lectured at Oxford and held a number of chaplaincies. He married the sister of Oliver Cromwell, something that certainly did not hinder his career. He was Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, Master of Trinity College and Bishop of Chester. He was a founder of the Royal Society and was an active member of its council. This work is the first book on mechanics written in English, Both the flying chariot and sailing chariot are illustrated, along with many other of his inventions. The work served as a manifesto to the newly formed Royal Society and strongly influenced the future direction of research by the members.

Tobias Parnell was probably the Uncle of the celebrated poet Thomas Parnell. “Tobias Parnell a gilder and painter was an Alderman… The Parnell family were strong supporters of the Parliamentary cause. .. Tobias Parnell refused to take the Oath of Alegiance to the King, and dying in 1653 was buried at Astbury.” DNB (on the poet Thomas Parnell).

ESTC R6164; Wing W2198. Erwin Tomash Library, W74 (this copy).


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