John Ray 1627-1705

From Book Owners Online

John RAY 1627-1705

Biographical Note

Born at Black Notley, Essex, son of Roger Ray, blacksmith. BA Trinity College, Cambridge 1648, minor fellow 1649, MA and Greek lecturer 1651, mathematical lecturer 1653, junior dean 1658. Although he was ordained in 1660, his nonconformist leanings led him to refuse the oath required in 1662 and he lost his Trinity fellowship. With financial support from Francis Willughby and others he then pursued the botanical interests he had developed in the 1650s, which had already led to the publication of a catalogue of plants found in Cambridgeshire (1660). During the early 1660s he travelled with Willughby and others in Britain and Europe to observe plants and animals, which led to the publication of his Catalogus plantarum Angliae (1670). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1667. His continued botanical work led to his Historia plantarum of 1686-88, containing detailed descriptions and classifications of many thousands of plants. After the death of Willughby in 1671 Ray undertook the editing and completion of his work on fishes, which appeared as Historia piscium in 1686.

Although remembered primarily for his botanical work – he is sometimes called “the English Linnaeus” - Ray’s theological roots led him to publish devotional and philosophical books also. The wisdom of God manifested in the works of creation (1691) deduced the existence of a benevolent deity from the evidence provided by nature, man and astronomical observations. His reflections on fossils led to Miscellaneous discourses concerning the dissolution and changes of the world (1692), in which he discussed the various theories of their origin.


Ray’s books were inherited by his widow; shortly after his death she described to Sir Hans Sloane her intention to have a listing drawn up by Samuel Dale, with a view to selling them to relieve her financial pressures. The library was auctioned in London by Thomas Ballard, 11 March 1708. The sale catalogue contains 1350 lots, divided between miscellaneous Latin etc (868), French and Italian books (50) and English books (432). Although the catalogue notes the presence of “several [celebrated editions of books] on large paper, gilt back” the collection has been described primarily as a working library, with good holdings of contemporary natural history, botany and science as well as theology.


  • Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2010.
  • Bibliotheca Rayana, 1708, ESTC T21611. Reproduced in A. N. L. Munby (ed), Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons, vol. 11, 1975.
  • Keynes, G. John Ray: a bibliography, 1951.
  • Mandelbrote, Scott. "Ray [formerly Wray], John (1627–1705), naturalist and theologian." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Matthews, A. G. Calamy revised. Oxford, 1934.
  • Raven, C. John Ray, 1950.