John Collins by Anthony à Wood

The following extract gives details of John Collins. It is a version of the text which appears in: Anthony à Wood, Athenae Oxonienses: An exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the University of Oxford (Rivington, 1815). We have made some changes to the language while still retaining its old-fashioned style in many places. For example, we have made the following changes:

accomptant = accountant
accompts = accounting
astma - respiratory disease
divers = several different
hath = has
intestine wars = domestic wars
living without = living outside
redstreak cider = cider made from red-skinned apples
suffered = allowed
to wit = that is

He is our version of Anthony à Wood's text:


[I must] let the reader know something of John Collins the accountant, who [was] a person of extraordinary worth considering his education. He was born at Wood-Eaton near to, and in the county of Oxford, on Saturday 5 March 1624. His father was a non-conformist divine, and though not allowed to preach in churches, yet in prisons to malefactors, which, with the correcting of the press, obtained him a subsistence.

At 16 years of age John Collins was put an apprentice to a bookseller (one Thomas Allam) living outside the Turl-gate at Oxford, but troubles soon after following, he left that trade, and was employed in clerkship under, and received some mathematical knowledge from, Mr John Marr one of the clerks of the kitchen to prince Charles, afterwards King Charles II. I mean the same Mr Marr who was eminent for his mathematical knowledge, and noted for his excellent dials, wherewith the gardens of his majesty king Charles I were adorned.

But the domestic wars and troubles increasing, Collins lost that employment and went seven years to sea, most part of it in an English merchant-man, that became a man-of-war in the Venetian service against the Turks: in which, having leisure, he applied part of his studies to mathematics, and merchant accounts, and upon his return he fell to the practice thereof, and afterwards professed writing, merchant accounts, and some parts of mathematics: and having drawn up some books of accounts, and several different loose equations, for the instruction of his scholars in the year 1652, he committed the to the press, under the title of 'An Introduction to Merchants Accounts'. They were reprinted in 1665 without alteration, and in 1666 the fire consumed the greater part of the impression. At length it was reprinted with the addition of two more 'Accounts' than were formally extant.

On the 13th of October 1667 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society upon the publication in the 'Philosophical Transactions' of his 'Solution of a Problem concerning Time, that is, about the Julian Period, with several different Perpetual Almanacks in single Verses; a Chronological Problem', and other things afterwards in the said 'Transactions' concerning 'Merchants Accounts, Compound Interest', and 'Annuities', etc. While Anthony Earl of Shaftsbury was lord chancellor he nominated him in several different references concerning suits depending in Chancery, about intricate accounts, to assist the stating thereof, which was his emolument to him and to the shortening of the charge of the parties concerned: from which time especially, his assistance was often used in other places and by other persons; whereby he not only obtained some wealth but a great name, and became accounted in matters of that nature the most useful and necessary person of his time, and thereupon, towards the latter end, he was made accountant to the royal fishery company.

His works, besides the afore-mentioned, are among others
(1) 'The Sector on a Quadrant: or, a Treatise containing the Description and Use of four several Quadrants, etc.', London 1658, qu; in which there are very curious prints of two great quadrants, and of two small quadrants, with particular projections on them serving for the latitude of London. See in the 'Astronomical Appendix to the Sphere of Marcus Manilius made an English Poem', London 1675, fol. pag. 116, written by Edward Sherbourne esq; afterwards a knight.
(2) 'Mariner's plain Scale new plained'. This is a treatise of navigation and was printed in 1659. In which, besides projections of the sphere, there are constructions for many astronomical problems and spherical propositions. This book has found good acceptance, and is now become a common theme to the scholars of Christ Church hospital in London, whereof forty (by his majesty's bounty and the establishing a lecturer to instruct them) are constantly taught navigation.
(3) 'Treatise of Geometrical Dialling', printed 1659. This is of good esteem, both for the newness and easiness of method in situating the requisites, and drawing the hour-lines.
(4) 'The Doctrine of Decimal Arithmetic, simple Interest, etc. As also of compound Interest and Annuities; generally performed for any Time of Payment, etc.', London 1664 in a quarter of a sheet, for portability in a letter case. It was published again by J.D.- London 1685.
(5) 'An Introduction to Merchants Accounts: containing seven distinct Questions or Accounts. 1. An easy Question to Enter Beginners, etc.', London 1674, fol.
(6) 'A Plea for bringing in of Irish Cattle and keeping out of Fish caught by Foreigners, etc', London 1680, qu.
(7) 'Address to the Members of Parliament of the Counties of Cornwall and Devon, about the Advancement of Tin, Fishery and other Manufactures', Ibid.
(8) 'Salt and Fishery: A Discourse thereof, insisting on the following Heads. 1. The several Ways of making Salt in England, etc', London 1682, qu.
(9) 'Thoughts concerning some defects in Algebra. - In a letter to Dr Wallis', Philosophical Transactions vol. 159, 20 May 1684.
(10) 'Arithmetic in whole Numbers and fractions, both vulgar and decimal: with Tables for the Forbearance and Rebate of Money, etc', London 1688, tw. published by Thomas Plant accountant.

What other things Mr Collins has written I know not: and therefore I shall only say, that if we did not further enlarge by telling the world how much it is obliged for his pains in exciting the learned to publish their works, and in acting the part of an ingenious obstetrix at the press, in correcting and drawing of schemes, we should be much injurious to his memory.

After the act at Oxford was finished, 1682, he rode thence to Malmsbury in Wiltshire, in order to view the ground to be cut for a river between Isis and Avon: which journey being performed between twelve at noon and eleven at night in a hot day, he did, at his arrival at his inn, drink more than he should at that time (being hot and his blood not settled) of cider made from red-skinned apples; which giving him an respiratory disease, and that a consumption, he died thereof in his lodgings on Garlick-hill in London, on Saturday 10 November 1683; whereupon his body was buried on Tuesday following in the church of St James Garlick-hith in the south isle just behind the pulpit.


JOC/EFR July 2012

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