Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Willughby, Francis

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WILLUGHBY, FRANCIS (1635–1672), naturalist, was born at Middleton, Warwickshire, in 1635. He was collaterally descended on his maternal grandfather's side from Sir Hugh Willoughby [q. v.], his father's father being Sir Percivall Willughby, the male representative of the Willoughbys of Eresby, and his father's mother the eldest daughter and heiress of Sir Francis Willughby of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire. His father, Sir Francis Willughby, who died 17 Dec. 1665, married Cassandra, daughter of Thomas Ridgeway, earl of Londonderry [q. v.], and Willughby was their only son. ‘He was, from his childhood,’ says Ray, ‘addicted to study. … As soon as he had come to the use of reason, he was so great a husband of his time as not willingly to lose or let slip unoccupied the least fragment of it, … so excessive in the prosecution of his studies … that most of his intimate friends were of opinion that he did much weaken his body and impair his health’ (The Ornithology of Francis Willughby, 1678, pref.) Willughby entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1653, as a fellow-commoner, his tutor being James Duport [q. v.], who in 1660 dedicated his ‘Gnomologia Homeri’ to Willughby and three others. Ray, who was eight years Willughby's senior, had entered Trinity College in order to become Duport's pupil, but in 1653 was already himself Greek lecturer, and became soon after mathematical lecturer, and in 1655 humanity reader. Isaac Barrow, to whom Willughby's mathematical tastes recommended him, had been elected to a fellowship at the same time as Ray in 1649. Willughby graduated B.A. in 1655–6, and proceeded M.A. in 1659.

In 1660 Willughby spent a short time at Oxford in order to consult some rare works in the libraries there; and in the preface to his ‘Catalogus Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam,’ published in that year, Ray alludes to help received from Willughby and to his success in the study of insects. In a letter to him, dated 1659, Ray asks for his help, for Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire, towards a catalogue of British plants (Correspondence of John Ray, Ray Soc., p. 1). In 1661 Willughby did not accompany Ray on the second botanical journey described in ‘Mr. Ray's Itineraries,’ published in his ‘Remains’ in 1760, though in the notes and in Derham's ‘Life of Ray’ he is stated to have done so, the naturalist's companion being Philip Skippon (op. cit. p. 3), but in May and June 1662 he did accompany Ray on his third journey from Cambridge through the northern midland counties and Wales. He appears to have parted company from him in Gloucestershire, to have chanced upon a find of Roman coins near Dursley, and to have fallen ill at Malvern (op. cit. p. 5). Willughby was at this time much interested in mathematical questions, as appears from two letters of his, dated March 1662 and October 1665, to Barrow, published by Derham in the ‘Philosophical Letters’ (1718). Barrow dedicated to him and others his edition of ‘Euclid,’ and is recorded in Cole's manuscripts to have said ‘that he never knew a gentleman of such ardor after real learning and knowledge, and of such capacities and fitness for any kinde of learning.’

It must have been at this time that, as Ray afterwards told Derham (Memorials of Ray, p. 33), he and Willughby ‘finding the “History of Nature” very imperfect … agreed between themselves, before their travels beyond sea, to reduce the several tribes of things to a method, and to give accurate descriptions of the several species from a strict view of them. And forasmuch as Mr. Willughby's genius lay chiefly to animals, therefore he undertook the birds, beasts, fishes, and insects, as Mr. Ray did the vegetables.’ Ray, having been deprived of his fellowship in August 1662 by the operation of the Act of Uniformity, he and Willughby determined to go abroad, and left Dover for Calais on 18 April 1663, accompanied by Philip (afterwards Sir Philip) Skippon and Nathaniel Bacon, two of Ray's pupils. On 22 May Willughby was included in the original list of fellows of the Royal Society, which had been incorporated on 22 April. War with France compelled the travellers to turn aside into Flanders, after which they traversed Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, and Malta. In August 1664 Willughby parted from the others at Montpelier, and accompanied a merchant into Spain. His journey is summarised in a letter to Ray, written from Paris in December (Corresp. of Ray, p. 7). Many of the travellers' papers were lost on their return journey; but Ray published their ‘Observations. … Whereunto is added a brief Account of Francis Willughby, esq., his Voyage through a great part of Spain,’ in 1673, and many of Willughby's specimens of birds, fishes, fossils, dried plants, and coins are still at Wollaton Hall.

Recalled to England by the death of his father in December 1665, Willughby was kept at Middleton Hall during much of 1666; but on 22 July, in company with Robert Hooke and others, he observed the eclipse of the sun through Boyle's 60-foot telescope in London (Phil. Trans. 9 Sept. 1666). In October of that year Dr. John Wilkins [q. v.] wrote asking his assistance in drawing up tables of animals for his ‘Essay towards a Real Character,’ which was published in 1668; and Ray spent the greater part of the following winter at Middleton, as he says in a letter to Martin Lister, ‘reviewing, and helping to put in order, Mr. Willughby's collections … in giving what assistance I could to Dr. Wilkins in framing his tables of plants, quadrupeds, birds, fishes, &c., for the use of the universall character’ (Memorials of Ray, p. 17); in the dedication of his work, however, Wilkins acknowledges his indebtedness to Willughby in respect of animals, and to Ray only in respect of plants. From June to September 1667 Willughby and Ray made a tour into the south-west of England (ib. p. 21); but Willughby's marriage in 1668 temporarily suspended their collaboration. Ray was, however, re-established at Middleton Hall in September 1668, and in the following spring the two friends carried out some important experiments on the rise of sap in trees (Phil. Trans. iv. 963). In the autumn of 1669 Willughby sent letters to the Royal Society on the ‘cartrages’ of rose leaves made by leaf-cutting bees. In 1671 he wrote on the same subject and on ichneumon wasps, and from a letter from Ray to Lister in 1670 he seems to have added considerably to the latter's list of English spiders (Corresp. of Ray, p. 60). At the close of 1671 Willughby meditated a journey to America to ‘perfect his history of animals;’ but his health, never robust, failed him. He was taken seriously ill in June 1672, and died at Middleton Hall on 3 July 1672. He was buried in Middleton church, his tomb being surmounted by a bust and bearing a Latin epitaph, probably by Ray. There is also a marble bust of him in Trinity College Library, Cambridge, and an oil portrait at Wollaton, from which that by Lizars in Sir William Jardine's ‘Naturalist's Library’ was engraved. The genus Willughbeia, an important group of Malayan rubber plants, was dedicated to him by William Roxburgh [q. v.] The leaf-cutting bee described by him bears his name as ‘Megachile Willubuella.’

Willughby married, in 1668, Emma, second daughter and coheiress of Sir Thomas Bernard, by whom he had three children, Francis, Cassandra, and Thomas. Francis, born in 1668, was created a baronet in 1676, no doubt as an honour to his father's memory, but died in 1688. Cassandra married James Brydges, first duke of Chandos [q. v.]; and Thomas, who succeeded to the baronetcy in 1688, was created Baron Middleton in December 1711, being one of the batch of peers created in one day under Harley and St. John; he died in 1729. Mrs. Willughby in 1676 married Sir Josiah Child [q. v.]

Ray was one of five executors of Willughby's will, under which he received an annuity of sixty pounds. Until 1676 he acted as tutor to the children of his friend, and, from letters printed in his ‘Correspondence’ (pp. 101, 103), he seems soon to have decided that it was his duty to publish what Willughby had done towards his history of animals. ‘Viewing,’ he says, ‘his manuscripts after his death, I found the several animals in every kind, both birds, and beasts, and fishes, and insects, digested into a method of his own contriving, but few of their descriptions or histories so full and perfect as he intended them; which he was so sensible of that when I asked him upon his deathbed whether it was his pleasure they should be published, he answered that he did not desire it, nor thought them so considerable as to deserve it … though he confest there were some new and pretty observations on insects. But considering that the publication of them might conduce somewhat to the illustration of God's glory … the assistance of those who addict themselves to this part of philosophy, and .. the honour of our nation … he not contradicting, I resolved to publish them and first took in hand the Ornithology’ (Preface to The Ornithology of Francis Willughby, 1678). This was published in 1676 as ‘Francisci Willughbeii … Ornithologiæ libri tres in quibus aves omnes … in methodum naturis suis convenientem … describuntur … Totum opus recognovit, digessit, supplevit Joannes Raius. Sumptus in chalcegraphos fecit illustriss. D. Emma Willughby vidua,’ London, pp. 312, fol. Of this work Neville Wood says Willughby was ‘the first naturalist who treated the study of birds as a science, and the first who made anything like a rational classification … His system … is without doubt the basis on which the ornithological classification of Linnæus is founded’ (Ornithologist's Text-book, pp. 3, 4). Ray next prepared an enlarged edition of this work in English, which he published in 1678 as ‘The Ornithology of Francis Willughby …’ his own share in which is described by the words, ‘translated into English and enlarged with many additions throughout the whole work. To which are added three considerable discourses: I. On the Art of Fowling. II. Of the Ordering of Singing Birds. III. Of Falconry,’ London (pp. 448, fol.) On 18 Feb. 1684 Ray, then settled at Black Notley, Essex, writes to Sir Tancred Robinson [q. v.] that he had extracted out of Willughby's papers, ‘revised, supplied, methodized, and fitted for the press,’ the ‘Ichthyology.’ The Willughby family not assisting in the publication of this work, as they had in the case of the former, it was issued at the expense of Bishop Fell and the Royal Society, various fellows of the society bearing the cost of the copperplate illustrations, and the work being printed at the Oxford University Press under the title of ‘Francisci Willughbeii … de Historia Piscium libri quatuor … Totum opus recognovit, coaptavit, supplevit, librum etiam primum et secundum integros adjecit Johannes Raius … Oxonii,’ 1686 (pp. 373, fol.) In the last year of his life Ray resolved to complete Willughby's ‘History of Insects,’ but, at Dr. Tancred Robinson's suggestion, preceded it by his ‘Methodus Insectorum,’ published in 1705, just after his death. In August 1704 he wrote to Dr. Derham of the larger work: ‘The main reason which induces me to undertake it is because I have Mr. Willughby's history and papers in my hands, who had spent a great deal of time and bestowed much pains upon this subject … and it is a pity his pains should be lost … I rely chiefly on Mr. Willughby's discoveries and the contributions of friends; as for my own papers on the subject they are not worth preserving.’ The ‘Historia Insectorum’ was published in 1710 as ‘auctore Joanne Raio,’ edited by Derham for the Royal Society; but it abounds throughout with acknowledgments of indebtedness to Willughby, expressed in terms of the highest deference. There seems little reason to class Ray's posthumous ‘Synopsis Methodica Avium et Piscium,’ published in 1713, among works mainly due to the labours of Willughby; but when we remember the intimate friendship of the two men, their undoubted collaboration in the tables prepared for Dr. Wilkins's work, and the definite statements as to his own share in the work made by Ray, a man of unquestionable modesty, we recognise that it is futile to attempt to apportion the credit. When Sir James Edward Smith writes ‘we are in danger of attributing too much to Mr. Willughby, and too little to’ Ray (Linnean Transactions, vol. i.), he errs only in a less degree than does Swainson in saying that ‘all the honour that has been given to Ray, so far as concerns systematic zoology, belongs exclusively to’ Willughby.

[Memoir by Joshua Frederick Denham in Sir W. Jardine's Naturalist's Library, vol. xvi.; authorities cited.]

G. S. B.