An Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language

From A Cheeky Pint from the Bottle-O

An Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language by John Wilkins

Part II, Chapter VII


Those several relations of Quantity, whereby men use to judge of the Multitude or Greatness of things, are styled by the name of MEA∣SURE, Dimension, mete, survey, Rule; to which the relative term of PROPORTION, Portion, Rate, Tax, Size, Scantling, Pittance, Share, Dose, Mess, Symetry, Analogy, commensurate, dispense, allot, adapt, is of some Affinity, signifying an equality or similitude of the respects that several things or quantities have to one another. They are distinguishable into such as respect either

  • VALOR. IV.
  • Duration.

I. To the Measure whereby we judge of the MULTITUDE of things may be annexed NUMBER, enumerate, reckon, compute, muster, count, re-count, Tale, tell, Arithmetic, Cyphering. If the way of Numeration were now to be stated, it would seem more convenient to determine the first Period or Stand at the number Eight, and not at Ten; because the way of Dichotomy or Bipartition being the most natural and easie kind of Di∣vision, that Number is capable of this down to an Unite, and according to this should be the several denominations of all other kinds of Measures, whether of Capacity, Gravity, Valor, Duration. So eight Farthings would make a Peny, eight Pence a Shilling, eight Shillings an Angel, eight Angels a Pound. So eight Grains should make a Scruple, eight Scruples a Dram, eight Drams an Ounce, eight Ounces a Pound, &c. But because general custom hath already agreed upon the decimal way, therefore I shall not insist upon the change of it.

The different degrees of Number generally received, are these.

ONE, Ace, Unite, Once, First, Imprimis, Single.
TWO, a Couple, a Brace, a Pair, a Yoke, Second-ly, Twice, Double, Twofold, Bipartite.
THREE, a Leash, Ternary, Trey, Third-ly, Tertian, Thrice, Treble, Threefold, Tripartite, Trine-ity.
FOUR, Fourth-ly, Quartan, Quaternion, Fourfold, Quadruple, Qua∣drupartite. Quartile.
FIVE, Fifth-ly, Quintuple, Fivefold.
SIX, Sixth-ly, Sixfold, Sextuple, Sextile, Senary.
SEVEN, Seventh-ly, Septuple, Sevenfold.
EIGHT, Eighth-ly, Octuple, Eightfold.
NINE, Ninth-ly, Ninefold.

How other numbers besides these here enumerated may be expressed both in writing and speech, see hereafter, Chap.

II. Measures of Magnitude do comprehend both those of Length, and of Superficies or Area, together with those of Solidity; both compre∣hended in that which is adjoyned, viz. the word CAPACITY, hold, contain. The several Nations of the World do not more differ in their Languages, then in the various kinds and proportions of these Mea∣sures. And it is not without great difficulty, that the Measures observed by all those different Nations who traffick together, are reduced to that which is commonly known and received by any one of them; which labour would be much abbreviated, if they were all of them fixed to any one certain Standard. To which purpose, it were most desirable to find out some natural Standard, or universal Measure, which hath been esteem∣ed by Learned men as one of the desiderata in Philosophy. If this could be done in Longitude, the other Measures might be easily fixed from thence.

This was heretofore aimed at and endeavoured after in all those va∣rious Measures, derived from natural things, though none of them do sufficiently answer this end. As for that of a Barly corn, which is made the common ground and original of the rest, the magnitude and weight of it may be so various in several times and places, as will render it inca∣pable of serving for this purpose; which is true likewise of those other Measures, an Inch, Palm, Span, Cubit, Fathom, a Foot, Pace; &c. none of which can be determined to any sufficient certainty.

Some have conceived that this might be better done by subdividing a Degree upon the Earth: But there would be so much difficulty and uncertainty in this way as would render it unpracticable. Others have thought, it might be derived from the Quick-silver experiment: But the unequal gravity and thickness of the Atmosphere, together with the various tem∣pers of Air in several places and seasons, would expose that also to much uncertainty.

The most probable way for the effecting of this, is that which was first suggested by Doctor Christopher Wren, namely, by Vibration of a Pendulum: Time it self being a natural Measure, depending upon a revolution of the Heaven or the Earth, which is supposed to be every-where equal and uniform. If any way could be found out to make Longitude commensurable to Time, this might be the foundation of a natural Standard. In order to which,

Let there be a solid Ball exactly round, of some of the heaviest metals: Let there be a String to hang it upon, the smallest, limberest, and least subject to retch: Let this Ball be suspended by this String, being extended to such a length, that the space of every Vibration may be equal to a second Minute of time, the String being, by frequent trials, either lengthned or shortned, till it attain to this equality: These Vibrations should be the smallest, that can last a sufficient space of time, to afford a considerable number of them, either 6, or 500 at least; for which end, its passing an arch of five or six degrees at the first, may be sufficient. The Pendulum being so ordered as to have every one of its Vibrations equal to a second minute of time, which is to be adjusted with much care and exactness; then measure the length of this String, from its place of suspension to the Centre of the Ball; which Measure must be taken as it hangs free in its perpendicular posture, and not otherwise, because of stretching: which being done, there are given these two Lengths, viz. of the String, and of the Radius of the Ball, to which a third Proportional must be found out; which must be, as the length of the String from the point of Suspension to the Centre of the Ball is to the Radius of the Ball, so must the said Radius be to this third: which being so found, let two fifths of this third Proportional be set off from the Centre downwards, and that will give the Measure desired. And this (according to the discovery and observation of those two excellent persons, the Lord Viscount Brouncker, President of the Royal Society, and Mon. Huygens, a worthy Member of it) will prove to be 38 Rhinland Inches, or (which is all one) 39 Inches and a quarter, according to our London Standard.

Let this Length therefore be called the Standard; let one Tenth of it be called a Foot; one Tenth of a Foot, an Inch; one Tenth of an Inch, a Line. And so upward, Ten Standards should be a Pearch; Ten Pearches, a Furlong; Ten Furlongs, a Mile; Ten Miles, a League, &c.

And so for Measures of Capacity: The cubical content of this Standard may be called the Bushel: the Tenth part of the Bushel, the Peck; the Tenth part of a Peck, a Quart; and the Tenth of that, a Pint, &c. And so for as many other Measures upwards as shall be thought expedient for use.

As for Measures of Weight; Let this cubical content of distilled Rainwater be the Hundred; the Tenth part of that, a Stone; the Tenth part of a Stone, a Pound; the Tenth of a Pound, an Ounce; the Tenth of an Ounce, a Dram; the Tenth of a Dram, a Scruple; the Tenth of a Scruple, a Grain, &c. And so upwards; Ten of these cubical Measures may be called a Thousand, and Ten of these Thousand may be called a Tun, &c.

As for the Measures of Mony, ’tis requisite that they should be determined by the different Quantities of those two natural Metals which are the most usual materials of it, viz. Gold and Silver, considered in their Purity without any allay. A Cube of this Standard of either of these Metals may be styled a Thousand or a Talent of each; the Tenth part of this weight, a Hundred; the Tenth of a Hundred, a Pound; the Tenth of a Pound, an Angel; the Tenth of an Angel, a Shilling; the Tenth of a Shilling, a Peny; the Tenth of a Peny, a Farthing.

I mention these particulars, not out of any hope or expectation that the World will ever make use of them, but only to shew the possibility of reducing all Measures to one determined certainty.

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