4 Dec 2004All dayCRASSH


Free-Thinking and Language-Planning in Late Seventeenth Century England

An AHRB-funded project based at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge

Francis Lodwick's writings
Project team
Forthcoming Events
Further Reading


The project examines religious heterodoxy and its role in natural philosophy in the latter half of the seventeenth century. It focuses on the extraordinary figure of Francis Lodwick (1619-94), a London merchant of Dutch-French extraction who published the first proposal in English for an artificial language, A Common Writing (1647). Lodwick also left extensive manuscript remains, including a number of highly unorthodox religious treatises, commonplace books, a utopia, and at least two catalogues of his large library. The project seeks to relate Lodwick's philosophical and theological interests to his social milieu. In the earlier period of his life, Lodwick was involved with the Hartlib circle, and after the Restoration he is to be found in the social group centred around Robert Hooke, and including John Aubrey, Edmond Halley, Abraham Hill, and Hans Sloane. It was no doubt his association with these men which prompted his election to the Royal Society in 1681, in which he played a central administrative role until his death. An important part of the project will be the charting of this network of associations, facilitating investigation into the complex relationship between 'public' and 'private' spheres in the lives of the early-modern experimental philosophers. This will also involve consideration of the material world in which these men moved, with Lodwick's library being of particular interest.

The main objective of the project will be the publication of a critical, annotated edition of Lodwick's works, comprising both the printed and manuscript writings, and the library catalogue. A collection of essays and an intellectual biography are also planned, which, along with a series of symposia and conferences, will disseminate the ideas generated by the project.
Francis Lodwick's writings

Lodwick published his linguistic work in several short treatises: A Common Writing: Whereby two, although not understanding one the others Language, yet by the helpe thereof, may communicate their minds one to another (1647); The Ground-Work, Or Foundation Laid, (or so intended) For the Framing of a New Perfect Language: And an Vniversall or Common Writing (1652); An Essay Towards An Universal Alphabet (n.d.); and two essays in Philosophical Transactions 16, no. 182 (1686). He also translated several Dutch works for publication, most notably Swammerdam's Ephemeri Vita, the translation of which was printed in London in 1681.

The bulk of his work, however, remained in manuscript. Most is now in the Sloane collection in the British Library. The texts in these manuscripts develop strikingly unorthodox ideas: that there were men before Adam, that the different nations of the world had arisen polygenetically, and that there was no common origin of languages. Lodwick argued that the Bible was textually unstable, generated from prior documents, and that since it recorded the history of the Jewish nation alone, it could not be considered binding for non-Jewish peoples. He also rejected the notions of the fall and original sin, and supported the practices of divorce and usury.

Lodwick did not think in a vacuum. His [curious] blend of extreme scepticism concerning Christian theology and extreme optimism concerning human reason can be traced to many influences, some of them undoubtedly Socinian. But his opinions on the great antiquity of the world, the existence of men before Adam, and his emphasis on the Judaeocentric nature of the Bible furnish unmistakable evidence of the influence of Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676), whose notorious Prae-Adamitae (1655) had expounded precisely these beliefs. Until now, no major English exponent of La Peyrère's pre-Adamism has been identified. This project is an important step towards a fuller understanding of the ways in which heterodox ideas like La Peyrère's may have influenced the development of natural philosophy in England.
Project team

Co-director: Prof. Ludmilla Jordanova
Prof. Jordanova is the Director of CRASSH at Cambridge. Some recent publications include: Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraits 1660-2000 (London: Reaktion Books/National Portrait Gallery, 2000); 'Richard Mead's Communities of Belief in Eighteenth-Century London', in Christianity and Community in the West: Essays for John Bossy, ed. S. Ditchfield (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), pp.241-59; 'Portraits, People and Things: Richard Mead and Medical Identity', History of Science 41 (2003), pp.293-313.

Co-director: Dr. William Poole
Dr. Poole is a Fellow of New College, Oxford. Recent and forthcoming publications include: 'The Divine and the Grammarian in the 17th-Century Universal Language Movement', Historiographia Linguistica 30 (2003), pp. 273-300; 'Seventeenth-century Preadamism, and an Anonymous English Preadamist' (contexts, edition, and commentary), The Seventeenth Century 19 (2004), pp. 1-35; 'The Genesis Narrative in the Circle of Robert Hooke and Francis Lodwick', in Scripture and Scholarship in Early Modern England, ed. A. Hessayon and N. Keene (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, forthcoming)

Associate Advisor: Dr. Richard Serjeantson
Dr. Serjeantson is a member of the History Faculty at Cambridge. Some recent publications include: (ed.) Meric Casaubon, Generall Learning: A Seventeenth-Century Treatise on the Formation of the General Scholar (Cambridge: RTM, 1999); 'Herbert of Cherbury before Deism: the Early Reception of the De veritate', The Seventeenth Century 16 (2001), pp. 217-38; 'Natural Knowledge in the New Atlantis', in Francis Bacon's 'New Atlantis', ed. Bronwen Price (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 82-105.

Associate Advisor: Prof. Simon Schaffer
Prof. Schaffer is a member of the History and Philosophy of Science Department at Cambridge. Publications in this area include: (with Steven Shapin) Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1985); (coeditor with Michael Hunter) Robert Hooke: New Studies (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1989); 'Regeneration: the Body of Natural Philosophers in Restoration England', in Steven Shapin and Christopher Lawrence (eds.), Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (Chicago University Press, 1998), pp. 83-120.

Research Associate: Dr. Felicity Henderson
Dr. Henderson was recently appointed to the project following her year as Munby Fellow in Bibliography at the University Library, Cambridge. She has published in the area of early-modern literature, especially neo-Latin satire.
Forthcoming events

A series of workshops, symposia and conferences are planned for the duration of the project. A one-day symposium on 'The Intellectual and Cultural Lives of Protestant Strangers in Early-modern England' will be held on Saturday 25 March 2006. A major conference on the theme of Religious Heterodoxy in 17th Century England will be held on 25-26 July 2006. Another major conference is planned for summer 2007 on 'Social Networks'. Anyone with research interests in these areas who would like to take part in symposia or conferences is invited to contact us. An exhibition will also accompany the project, examining the role of merchants in intellectual culture in late seventeenth-century London.

Contact us
CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1RX

Further reading

Francis Lodwick: A Working Bibliography

Michael Hunter, The Royal Society and its Fellows 1660-1700: the Morphology of an Early Scientific Institution (British Society for the History of Science, 1982; 2nd ed. 1994)

William Poole, 'A Baboon in the Garden of Eden: the Private Heresies of Francis Lodwick', Times Literary Supplement 5204 (27 December 2002), pp. 10-11.

Richard H. Popkin, Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676): His Life, Work and Influence (Leiden and New York: Brill, 1987)

Vivian Salmon, The Works of Francis Lodwick: a Study of his Writings in the Intellectual Context of the Seventeenth Century (London: Longman, 1972).

M. M. Slaughter, Universal Languages and Scientific Taxonomy in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1982)

The Hartlib Papers Project at Sheffield University

The Newton Project at Imperial College London


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk