Friday, November 07, 2008

a footnote

I've done lots of research on a thesis I'm writing, so much that it surprises me when I find something new and unexpected. This sentence fragment appears in a letter from the 17th-century mathematician who's the subject of the research: "Afterwards the warrs here breaking out I went 7 years to sea, most of it in the Venetian service against the Turk, wherein my hazard was almost as various as those of Dr Johnson sett out in his Sermon in print..." Curious about the sermon, I searched the printed publications of the mid-seventeenth century to see whether I couldn't locate this Dr. Johnson. Happily, this afternoon I found a book of 1664 by a William Johnson, Dr. of Divinity, called Deus nobiscum a sermon preached upon a great deliverance at sea: with the narrative of the dangers and deliverances, which seems to be the right one. Its text is in the Early English Books database and that's behind a paywall. Luckily, it has also been excerpted in a free and public source: A history of shipwrecks, and disasters at sea, from the most authentic sources (1833). This book, digitized by the University of Toronto, gives a brief summary with the text:
Dr. Johnson's deliverance, 1648.

THE narrator of the following shipwreck, as well as the sufferer, was Dr. William Johnson, a chaplain to Charles II. He embarked at Harwich, in the ship William and John, under the command of Daniel Morgan, on the twenty-ninth of September, 1648. The ship belonged to merchants of Ipswich. The writer does not say whither the William and John was bound, but it seems probable it was to some part of Norway, as that was the destination of the vessel in company, which took them up from the boat.
The narrative tells how the ship went down in the North Sea having burst some planking below water level, how a passing ship effected a dangerous rescue under high winds, how that ship then struck submerged rocks and split in two against a small isle off the coast of Norway, how Norwegians rescued the survivors after many harrowing hours of exposure on the rock, and how -- on making his way back to England, divested of his money and all his writings -- he endured other mishaps. Throughout he's careful to report only what he himself experienced and could understand. While honoring the many who selflessly provided help, he's also charitable toward those behavior was ignoble, selfish, mean, and despicable.

He was never well-known and authored no other books. An old book gives some biographic details in describing Warboys, the place where he spent his final years: "William Johnson, D. D. Rector of this towne, was author of & book intituled 'Deus Nobiscum, or a Sermon preached upon a great Deliverance at Sea, 1648; with a Narrative annexed,' &c. wherein it is said, that 'he was twice shipwrackt, and that he lived four days without any sustenance, and lay two nights and two days upon a rock in the deep several times, all hope of life being taken away.' — The said Dr. Win. Johnson had been (Fellow) of Queen's College, Chaplain and Sub Almoner to King Charles the Second, and the most witty and pious man living: he died Archdeacon of Huntingdon, March, l666-7, and was buried at Westminster, aet. fifty-four."

From its subject and date of publication, Johnson's book seems likely to be the one to which my man referred. The likelihood is strengthened by his dedication of the work to "My much esteemed Friend CHARLES SCARBURGH, Doctor of Physick, at his House in Black-Friers London." This Scarburgh appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and has his own wikipedia entry. As a physician to King Charles II, he would have been an associate of Johnson in his position as chaplain. One of the founding members of the Royal Society, Scarburgh was also an associate of Seth Ward who later nominated my man to be a Fellow. It's a strong likelihood they knew one another.

There are probably some other connections to be unearthed as well. For example, both Scarburgh and my man were bibliophiles and students of mathematics. Scarburgh left a large math library which probably contained works authored by my man or shepherded by him through the press. Though there aren't any surviving letters between them, they corresponded with some of the same men. It's unlikely that I'll be able to find a direct link between my man and Johnson, but these indirect ones are suggestive.

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{Charles Scarburgh. Source:}

{Warboys Parish Church. Source:}

{A shipwreck. Source:}

{Norwegian Coast. Source:}

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