King's College London
Online Exhibitions
To scrutinize the whole of Nature: The Royal Society and its fellows 1660-1730

John Ray and taxonomy

John Ray. Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicum. Londini: impensis Gulielmi & Joannis Innys Regiæ Societatis Typographum, 1724 [St. Thomas’s Historical Collection QK306. R3]John Ray. Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicum. Londini: impensis Gulielmi & Joannis Innys Regiæ Societatis Typographum, 1724 [St. Thomas’s Historical Collection QK306. R3]John Ray (1627-1705), who became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1667, had devised the biological classification tables for John Wilkins’ An essay towards a real character. He and Nehemiah Grew were the Society’s leading biologists during its first forty years, although there is no evidence of a close working relationship between the two.

Ray’s contribution to botany and zoology lay not in microscopy but in taxonomy. He was the first to use the concept of ‘species’ as a taxonomical sub-division, and the first to attempt to classify botanical specimens systematically, incorporating information about each plant’s pharmacological and medicinal qualities. Linnaeus built on Ray’s work, but did not acknowledge it. Throughout his career, Ray was preoccupied with ascertaining the correct criteria for classifying plants; at the end of his career he tended to emphasise a plant’s reproductive organs as the differentiating factor.

This work first appeared in 1690. Ray depended for this book, as for his others, on the supply of specimens from a network of correspondents, including Sir Hans Sloane. Ray stated that his intention was to supply:

brief and characteristic notes not only of the genera but of all particular species: it will not exceed the size of a catalogue but will give the general reader, even without pictures, a clear and unmistakable knowledge of each.

ARCHIOS™ | Total time:0.2137 s | Source:cache