Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Moxon, Joseph

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MOXON, JOSEPH (1627–1700), hydrographer and mathematician, was born at Wakefield, Yorkshire, on 8 Aug. 1627, and at the age of fifty had, according to his own account, been 'for many years conversant in … smithing, founding, drawing, joynery, turning, engraving, printing books and pictures, globe and map making, mathematical instruments, &c.' (Mechanick Exercises, Preface). He had also spent some time in Holland and had acquired a knowledge of the language. As early as 1657 he was settled in a shop on Cornhill, 'at the sign of Atlas,' where he published an edition of Edward Wright's 'Certain Errors in Navigation detected and corrected.' Here, too, he sold 'all manner of mathematical books or instruments and maps whatsoever,' and published 'A Tutor to Astronomie and Geographic; or an easy and speedy way to know the use of both the Globes, celestial and terrestrial,' 1659, 4to. Shortly after 1660 he was nominated 'hydrographer,' i.e. map and chart printer and seller, to the king. His shop at this time was on Ludgate Hill; afterwards, in 1683, it was 'on the west side of Fleet Ditch,' but always 'at the sign of Atlas.' In 1674 he published ' A Brief Discourse of a Passage by the North Pole to Japan, China, &c., Pleaded by Three Experiments and Answers to all Objections that can be urged against a passage that way' (London, 4to, 2nd ed. 1697). But his principal work was 'Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy-works. Begun 1 Jan. 1677-8, and intended to be continued monthly.' It is an interesting exposition of 'handy-works,' and though after about a year he stopped the publication on account of the Popish plot, which, he says, 'took off the minds of my few customers from buying,' he resumed it in 1683 with a detailed and technical account of type-founding and printing. It is said that he 'was the first of English letter-cutters who reduced to rule the art which before him had been practised but by guess; by nice and accurate divisions he adjusted the size, situation, and form of the several parts and members of letters and the proportion which every part bore to the whole' (Timperly, Dictionary of Printers and Printing, p. 567). In November 1678 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He died in 1700. The fifth edition of the 'Tutor to Astronomie,' &c., referred to above, printed in 1699 'for W. Hawes at the Rose in Ludgate Street,' has a portrait with the date of his birth; and a second portrait is mentioned by Bromley.

Besides the works already named, Moxon was the author of:

  1. 'A Tutor to Astronomy and Geography, or the Use of the Copernican Spheres,' 1665, 4to, a different work from that with the same first title, published in 1659.
  2. 'Vignola, or the Compleat Architect,' translated from the Italian of Barozzio, 1665, 12mo.
  3. 'Practical Perspective,' 1670, fol.
  4. 'Regula Trium Ordinum Literarum Typographicarum, or the Rules of the Three Orders of Print Letters,' 1676, 4to.
  5. 'Mathematicks made Easie, or a Mathematical Dictionary,' 1679, 8vo.

Most of his works went through several editions in his lifetime, and were reprinted in the eighteenth century. James Moxon was presumably a younger brother; his name appears on the map prefixed to Joseph Moxon's 'A Brief Discourse,' 1674, and in 1677 he was established in a shop 'neer Charing Cross in the Strand, right against King Harry the Eighth's Inne' (Compendium Euclidis Curiosi, translated out of the Dutch).

[Timperley's Dictionary of Printers and Printing, p. 567; Lupton's Wakefield Worthies; Moxon's writings.]

J. K. L.