November 2014 Book of the Month: Mathematicall Magick by John Wilkins (1648)


Jesus College Libraries

P1020827 Title-page of Mathematicall Magick: Fellows’ Library L.3.11 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Mathematicall Magick proclaims itself the first text on mechanics written in English. Using ideas indebted to classical authorities like Archimedes, Wilkins defends the intellectual importance of tools usually associated with workmen. Wilkins describes ingenious, labour-saving applications of simple devices like screws and pulleys.

The first part explains the workings of gears and catapults, while the second section demystifies automatic inventions perceived as ‘magick’, such as clocks and windmills. Wilkins also offers support for the feasibility of flying machines and even space travel. The mechanical principles are illustrated throughout, which contributes to the practical, accessible nature of the work. The College’s copy even shows how a reader understood a concept by making his own faint sketch in the margins. 

Reader’s sketch in the margins: Fellows’ Library L.3.11 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford) Reader’s sketch in the margins: Fellows’ Library L.3.11 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Wilkins was a scientist of some renown…

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This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

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