Graunt, John (DNB00)

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GRAUNT, JOHN (1620–1674), statistician, son of Henry Graunt, a Hampshire man, who carried on business at the sign of the Seven Stars in Birchin Lane, London, and Mary, his wife, was born there on 24 April 1620, and baptised on 1 May in the church of St. Michael, Cornhill (Register of that parish, printed by the Harleian Soc. p. 114). He received a sound English education, and was bound apprentice to a haberdasher of small wares, ‘which trade he mostly followed, though free of the Drapers' Company.’ He gained such esteem by his integrity that when only thirty years old he was able to procure for his friend Dr. (afterwards Sir) William Petty the professorship of music in Gresham College (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 215). After passing through the ward offices of the city, he was elected a member of the common council, where he remained two years. He was also captain of the trained band for several years, and afterwards major for two or three more. Eventually he resigned all his public appointments in consequence of his change of religion. He had been bred a puritan, and for several years took notes of sermons ‘by his most dextrous and incomparable faculty in short-writing,’ and for some time he professed himself a Socinian, but in his latter days he joined the Roman catholic church, of which he remained a member until his death.

He had, as he tells us, paid attention to the bills of mortality for several years before he had any intention to publish his discoveries. Dr. Campbell states that his ‘Observations’ first appeared in 1661, but the earliest edition in the British Museum was issued in 1662 as ‘Natural and Political Observations mentioned in a following Index, and made upon the Bills of Mortality, by John Graunt, Citizen of London. With reference to the Government, Religion, Trade, Growth, Ayre, Diseases, and the several Changes of the said City,’ London, 1662. The dedication to John, lord Roberts, baron of Truro, is dated from Birchin Lane, 25 Jan. 1661–2, and there is a second epistle dedicatory to Sir Robert Moray, president of the scientific society which was soon incorporated as the Royal Society. The author, though a shopkeeper, was on 9 Feb. 1661–2 at once proposed as a candidate and admitted a member of the society on the 26th of that month. The ‘Observations’ laid the foundation of the science subsequently styled ‘Political Arithmetic’ by Sir William Petty. After their publication the most exact register of births and burials then existing in Europe was established in France; and Charles II specially recommended Graunt to be chosen an original member of the newly incorporated Royal Society, advising the society ‘that if they found any more such tradesmen, they should be sure to admit them all, without any more adoe’ (Sprat, Hist. of the Royal Society, p. 67). An order of the council of the Royal Society was passed on 20 June 1665 for publishing the third edition of the ‘Observations,’ which appeared the same year. A fourth impression also appeared at Oxford in 1665; and a fifth edition, still further enlarged, appeared at London in 1676, after the author's death, edited by Sir William Petty, who improved it so much that he sometimes spoke of it as his own. This has led to the erroneous statement of Bishop Burnet, repeated by Lord Macaulay, that Sir William was the real author. There is, however, abundant testimony to Graunt's authorship (Biog. Brit.; McCulloch, Literature of Political Economy, p. 271). Finally the ‘Observations’ were reprinted in Dr. Thomas Birch's ‘Collection of the Yearly Bills of Mortality,’ London, 1759, 4to, pt. ii.

After retiring from business Graunt was admitted into the management of the New River Company as a trustee for Sir William Backhouse, alderman of London, who had been concerned with Sir Hugh Myddelton in the original undertaking. This circumstance, coupled with the fact of his being a convert to catholicism, gave rise to the baseless calumny that he had some hand in the great fire of London. The charge was first made by Echard (Hist. of England, ii. 833), who had been told by ‘an eminent prelate’ that Graunt contrived to stop the supply of water to the city the night before the outbreak of the fire on Sunday, 2 Sept. 1666. Burnet, who probably was Echard's informant, gives a more detailed account of the affair. That there is absolutely no truth in the story was conclusively proved by Maitland (Hist. of London, edit. 1739, p. 291), who on examining the books of the company ascertained that Graunt was not admitted into its government until 25 Sept. 1666, or twenty-three days after the breaking out of the fire.

Graunt died of the jaundice at his house in Birchin Lane on 18 April 1674, and was buried on the 22nd in the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street (Smith, Obituary, p. 102). His funeral was attended by a concourse of illustrious men, among whom Sir William Petty was conspicuous for his grief.

Wood says that Graunt ‘was an ingenious and studious person, generally beloved, was a faithful friend, a great peace-maker, and one that had often been chosen for his prudence and justness an arbitrator. But above all his excellent working head was much commended, and the rather for this reason that it was for the public good of learning, which is very rare in a trader or mechanic.’

By his wife Mary he seems to have had several children, two of whom were buried in St. Michael's, Cornhill, in 1643 and 1662.

In addition to the ‘Observations on the Bills of Mortality,’ he wrote ‘Observations on the Advance of Excise,’ manuscript. Wood states that he also left a manuscript ‘about religion.’ One John Graunt, a comfit-maker, who dwelt at the sign of the Half Moon in Bucklersbury, published several works on religious subjects between 1643 and 1652.

[Birch's Hist. of the Royal Society, i. 75, 76, 77; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time (1823), i. 401; Dr. Campbell in Biog. Brit. iv. 2262; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 426, iii. 189, 190; Echard's Hist. of England, ii. 833; Gillow's Bibl. Dict.; Kennett's Register and Chronicle, p. 613; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 929; Thomson's Hist. of the Royal Society, p. 3, Appendix p. lxx; Weld's Hist. of the Royal Society, i. 117; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), i. 711, iv. 218.]

T. C.