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23 Oct

James Ussher: Academic Modernity

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Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, intellectually the most imposing figure of this early period, combined moderate religious Calvinism and academic modernity in a manner more typical of the contemporary Dissenter than of bishops of the established church. He gave financial assistance to Samuel Hartlib, who as well as being publisher of Petty’s Advice, acted as a one-man clearing-house for advanced ideas in education, religion and the sciences. In 1641 he paid the publishing costs of Arnold and Gerard Boate’s Philosophia Naturalis (Dublin, 1641), being in agreement with the book’s strongly anti-Aristotelian tone. When in 1640 Dr Prideaux expressed fears over some of John Dury’s pansophist writings […], his friend Constantine Adams, ‘to shade off this needlesse fear,…did instance unto him in the ArchB. of Armach’. […]

But Ussher himself was no scientist, and knew relatively little of the New Learning’s techniques and justification. His correspondence with the English mathematician Henry Briggs and with the astronomer John Bainbridge was concerned largely with the help the new science could provide for his own historical and chronological studies. […] Nonetheless Ussher’s interest in science did lead him to acquire some of the manuscripts belonging to John Dee, Edward Wright and John Bainbridge.

From K. Theodore Hoppen (1970) The Common Scientist in the the Seventeenth Century: A study of the Dublin Philosophical Society 1683-1708, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 11-12.

To put the printing of the Philosophia Naturalis into perspective, of the 93 books printed in Dublin between 1626 and 1650, it was the only one dealing with science (even taking the widest possible sense of the term.) The Boates are cited by Robert Boyle in his Origin of forms and Qualities alongside Lucretius, Bacon and Gassendi as excellent authors who are opposed to Aristotelian ideas.

I’m intrigued by James Ussher, patron of the New Learning, but I haven’t as yet found any more on this side of him in relation to science. This from Renaissance Mathematicus, In defence of the indefensible, explains how the work of Ussher and others like him laid the foundation of both modern history and archaeology.

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  1. Pingback: “Too Gentle a Soul”: James Ussher | Irish Philosophy

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