Station Four: Wilkins Donations (Science)

Kenelm Digby

Two treatises, in the one of which, the Nature of Bodies, in the other, the Nature of Mans Soule,
is looked into, in way of discovery of the immortaility of reasonable soules
(1645)


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A quite different publication is Kenelm Digby's Two Treaties, on the body, and on the soul. This was a popular work, reprinted three times in the Restoration. It also attracted immediate responses in the form of Alexander Ross's The Philosophicall Touch-stone, or Observations upon Sir Kenelm Digbie's Discourses of the Nature of Bodies, and of the Reasonable Soule (London, 1645), and Nathaniel Highmore's The History of Generation (London, 1645). The stance of Ross, who also took occasion to inveigh against another tract on the mortality of the soul, is apparent from his subtitle: ' ... in which his erroneous paradoxes are refuted, the truth, and Aristotelian philosophy vindicated, the immortality of mans soule briefly, but sufficiently proved.' Ross, who still has the power to irritate, was a tedious pedant: in the same year he published Medicus Medicatus, a critique of Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici along with Digby's observations on Browne; he also attacked John Wilkins in print with his The New Planet No Planet, or the Earth No Wandring Star Except in the Wandring Heads of Galileans (1656). Ross is merely a useful barometer of conservative opinion, but Nathaniel Highmore (1613-1685) is a more significant figure. A physician, he had been educated at Trinity College, Oxford, and in the first civil war he was one of the experimental circle in Oxford associated with William Harvey and George Bathurst, with whom Highmore conducted experiments on chicks. These were the experiments that would in time lead to Harvey's own Exercitationes, featured here too. Highmore's refutation of Digby was dedicated to the young Robert Boyle, and in it he adopts an atomist theory of matter.