Portrait of John Wilkins

by Mary Beale

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 Portrait of John Wilkins
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Wilkins was local to Oxfordshire, the son of a goldsmith and the grandson of a famous puritan preacher. He grew up on the High Street, he went to school locally, and he attended New Inn Hall and then Magdalen Hall. After taking his B.A. and M.A. there (1631, 1634), he stayed on briefly as a tutor; among his pupils was Walter Charleton, who was later to be a pivotal writer in the introduction of the atomistic philosophy to an English readership. Wilkins himself, who took holy orders in 1637 and 1638, proceeded to a number of ecclesiastical positions, culminating in a chaplaincy to Charles-Louis, the Elector Palatine. These preferments allowed Wilkins to occupy a politically ambiguous or at least ambidextrous position: Charles-Louis was nephew to Charles I, but was living in London from the mid-1640s on a parliamentary subsidy. When the Parliamentary Visitation of 1648 purged Oxford University and installed its own men where necessary, Wilkins was one of them, becoming Warden of Wadham in April 1648 at an extremely young age for such a position. He was hedging his bets, though, as he subsequently travelled on the continent with the Elector, and he only took up office in person in Wadham a year after his initial appointment.