Francis Lodowyck (1619-1694)

In August 1619, Francis Lodowyck was born in London to Waldrave Lodowyck and Judith Roussel, prominent members of the London Dutch church. Self-educated, Francis became a wealthy merchant like his father, trading in books and cloth on the Continent, but his innovative system for a universal language, outlined in A Common Writing (1647) and The Ground-Work, or Foundation Laid…for the Framing of a New Perfect Language (1652), eventually earned him the respect of the Royal Society, whose members elected the sixty-two-year-old amateur to their distinguished ranks in 1681. His election might have been hastened earlier by his friendships with Samuel Hartlib[*] and Robert Hooke had it not been hindered more by his lack of formal schooling.

Unlike Bishop John Wilkins, another Royal Society fellow who attempted a universal language, Lodowyck appears to have been motivated—at least, initially—by a material desire for more expeditious international trade. Long before Wilkins would help found the Royal Society, his Mercury (1641) inspired Lodowyck’s language system, which in turn, laid the foundation for Wilkins’s later development in An Essay Towards a Real Character (1668). Quite fittingly, Lodowyck (along with John Aubrey) attempted to improve Wilkins’s Essay after the latter’s death, though the project was ultimately abandoned. Lodowyck’s third and final published work, An Essay Towards an Universal Alphabet, appeared in a larger work of Royal Society scholarship, Philosophical Transactions (1686), thirty-four years after The Ground-Work.

Though known in his time only for his work in linguistics, Lodowyck left behind many unpublished, uncirculated manuscripts, including a utopian fiction (ironically called A Country Not Named) that explored his radical theology. His writings reveal he believed, among other heterodoxies, that men preexisted Adam and that the Bible was only applicable as a history of the Jewish people. He almost certainly came to these heresies through the influence of Isaac La Peyrere’s Prae-Adamitae, a banned book of which Lodowyck owned both an English and Latin copy. Yet, in spite of these potentially alienating, private beliefs, Lodowyck still managed to situate himself firmly within the public scientific community of Restoration England, counting amongst his friends and acquaintances such influential minds as George Dalgarno, John Ray, Edmund Halley, Christopher Wren, and Abraham Hill.

Lodowyck died in January 1694 in London.

[*] Though Hartlib was never a fellow of the Royal Society, his “Circle” of correspondents was an important influence on the foundation and membership of the Society.


Bretton Chatham

Works Cited

“Francis Lodwick: A Brief Sketch.” Centre for Early Modern Studies. Oxford, 2004-2010. Web. 9 October 2014.

Salmon, Vivian. “Lodwick, Francis.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford UP, 2004. Web. 9 October 2014.