Station Two: Works of Wilkins

John Wilkins

A Discourse Concerning a New World & Another Planet in 2 Bookes (1640)

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 An Essay open at the title page

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John Wilkins's first publication, in 1638, was The Discovery of a World in the Moone, or a discourse tending, to prove, that 'tis probable there may be another habitable world in that planet. Discussion of the habitability of the moon had been spurred on by publications of Galileo and Kepler in 1610, the latter of whom was keen to speculate about inhabited cities on the moon (the former was not). Interest in Oxford soon caught on: in as early as 1611, one of the formal degree exercises in the university debated 'whether the moon was habitable'. Such speculations eventually gave rise to one of the more entertaining works of the period, and one that was to influence Wilkins decisively. This was Francis Godwin's lunar fantasy, The Man in the Moone of 1638, a pseudonymous and posthumous publication, in which a Spanish midget flies to the moon, attached to a geese-powered kite. There he finds a utopian civilization. If Wilkins is the father of popular science, then Godwin is the father of science-fiction; and when Wilkins read this little work, he was moved to revise his 1638 book, publishing an expanded version in 1640 under the title A Discourse concerning a New World and Another Planet. This time, Wilkins was interested not just in the possibility of the moon being a 'world', but how one might get there. These were not dangerous views - neither the church nor the academe proscribed such theories - but they were sensitive issues, and it is notable that Wilkins did not set his name to either of these books. His 1638 book, indeed, was licensed, and the licenser revealingly assented to publication with the phrase 'Perlegi hæc Παραδοξα', 'I have inspected this paradox', 'paradox' being the academic term for something that went beyond or challenged contemporary doxa or teachings.