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Thumbnail of Cornelis Drebbel (source)
Cornelis Drebbel
(1572 - 7 Nov 1633)

Dutch inventor who built the first navigable submarine, which underwent trials in the River Thames for the Navy.


from Blackwood’s Magazine (1917)

Cornelis Drebbel engraving
Cornelis Drebbel (source)

[p.106] Although the development and final success of the submarine has been rendered possible only by the discoveries of recent years, the building of a ship to navigate beneath the surface of the sea is an old event. The invention dates back not much less than 300 years, to a time when the practical realisation of the idea might seem impossible. For how build such a ship out of timber? And how propel it when no form of engine was available? Again, how dwell within it when death from suffocation mast so very soon put an end to the voyage? It might appear as if there was no escape from these difficulties. And yet, in spite of all, the idea was made a reality by the genius of one forgotten man. Let as follow the clues which the writings of the seventeenth century extend to as in our search for the true and first inventor.

A small calf-bound volume, which shows not a little of the wear and tear of time and usage, lies before us. On the title-page is the comprehensive title of the period:—

Mathematical Magic; or the Wonders that may be performed by Mechanical Geometry. In Two Books. Concerning Mechanical Powers, Motions. Being one of the most easy, pleasant, useful (and yet most neglected) parts of Mathematics. Not before treated of in this Language. By J. Wilkins, late Ld. Bp. of Chester.

London: Printed for Edw. Gellibrand at the Golden Ball in St Paul’s Churchyard, 1680.

Opposite the title-page appears:— Effigies Reverendi admodum viri Johannis Wilkins nuper Episcopi Cestriensis; [Figure of Very Reverend John Wilkins, late Bishop of Chester] beneath a portrait of the Bishop. He wears canonicals and the contemporary wig. It is a thoughtful, sensitive face. This man is not our looked-for inventor. But in his book are many strange thoughts on the submarine, and from it we learn to whom we must pay the tribute of discovery.

The time-stained leaves are filled with rude prints of impossible machines. The learned Bishop takes his reader in hand with all the enthusiasm of the dreamer. If we doubt, he appeals to the ancients, and authority is used to enforce the logic of his endless arithmetic We have levers and pulleys and geared wheels multiplying effort to the uprooting of huge trees, the motive-power being a gentle breeze issuing from the lips of a cloud-encircled head. Nay, he tells us how we may add up geared wheels to the point of moving the world itself. The only trouble is that the naughts accumulate to such an extent that the numbers become unreadable. Each time we count np the naughts we get a different result. The book is “a most easy, pleasant, and [p.107] useful” reductio ad absurdum of mechanical principles.

And yet John Wilkins (1614-1672) was no small man. In his day he ranked high as theologian and natural philosopher. He was one of the eight men who founded the Royal Society; and, it is said that, far more than any one of the other seven—Seth Ward, Robert Boyle, Sir W. Petty, John Wallis, Jonathan Goddard, Ralph Bathurst, and Christopher Wren, — our learned Bishop was the actual founder. It is most profitable to contemplate the writings of this man. They convey an idea of the scientific atmosphere of the times. Bear in mind that we are dealing with the thoughts of a prominent man of his day. Let us look at his pages a little closer. We arise from them with the predominant thought: How did Newton escape all this?

Here are learned comparisons of the Catapultae of the ancients and “the gunpowder instruments now in use.” Here we have the subtlety of an inquiry as to how we may contrive a machine which will move just as slowly as the heavenly bodies are swift. Through page after page of such ideas there runs that effort of the mind—which is never manifest but with the higher spirits, and is always pathetic—to get free from the limitations of the senses. “It is certain,” he says, “that our senses are extremely disproportioned for comprehending the whole compass and latitude of things.” .

With such matters as pertain to the lever, the wedge, and the geared wheel, the first part of the book is occupied. The Second Book goes into more diversified problems. Here in the first chapter we have the “Wind Gun.” This is nothing more nor less than an air-gun. “The foroe of it in discharge is almost equal to our powder guns.” And the Bishop ends his reflections on the subject by suggesting what is essentially a machine-gun! The sailing chariot follows. Clocks—subject ever fascinating to the mechanician—come next, and we are told of a watch so minute “as to be contained in the form and quantity of a jewel for the ear, where the striking of the minutes may constantly whisper unto us, how our lives do slide away by a swift succession.” Which is surely worthy even of Jeremy Taylor.

From these discourses we are led to the subject with which the present essay is chiefly concerned. For in Chapter V. we are confronted with a disquisition, in many respects startling, on the possibilities of the submarine. But the Bishop makes no secret of the fact that the invention is none of his, but belongs to a yet earlier pioneer. Here are the heading and opening words of Chapter V. :—

“Concerning the possibility of framing an Ark for Submarine navigation. The difficulties and conveniences of such a contrivance.

“It will not be altogether impertinent unto the discourse [p.108] . . . to mention what Marsennus doth so largely and pleasantly descant upon, concerning the making of a ship, wherein men may safely swim under water.

“That such a contrivance is feasible and may be effected is beyond all question, because it hath been already experimented here in England by Cornelius Drebbel; but how to improve it unto public use and advantage, so as to be serviceable for remote voyages, the carrying of any considerable number of men, with provisions and commodities, would be of such excellent use as may deserve some further inquiry.”

Two names are here mentioned in connection with the genesis of the submarine. We will first inquire into the part played by Mersennus.

F. Marini Mersenni was a French theologian and philosopher who was born in 1588 and died in 1648. He started life with the disadvantage of humble birth, but he lived to be the author of many profound books. Finally he fell a victim to that ignorance of science which he spent his life in combating. An ignorant doctor, letting the blood of the philosopher, opened an artery instead of a vein; the result being death from exhaustion in a few days. In his will he left his body to the furtherance of medical science.

Of his many works one only concerns us: the Cogitata Physico Mathematica, which was printed in Paris in the year 1644. This treatise covers the whole ground of contemporary science, inclusive of mus [sic] and navigation.

In that section of Mersenni’s book which deals with navigation there is a sub-section entitled, Navia sub aquis natans. It is apparently written in entire ignorance of any prior work—experimental or conjectural—on the subject. It is entirely speculative. As we read it we find it difficult to escape the conclusion that Bishop Wilkins’ couple of references to Mersenni are scarcely sufficient to satisfy the claims of literary morality. Without any notable exception, every idea put forward by the Bishop is to be found in the Cogitata. But let us be charitable. The earnest which the life of Wilkins gives of high thoughts and deeds, the esteem in which he was held by contemporaries whose names stand high even among the most venerated of his times, are sufficient reasons for discarding the first impression of plagiarism. Frailties, physical rather than moral, will account for such things. However, the reader must bear in mind when later in this essay he resumes the chapter penned by Wilkins, that the ideas are those of Marini Mersenni.

But it is time now to turn to the second name mentioned by Wilkins, that of Cornelius Drebbel. Who was this man who is credited with actually making and working a submarine early in the seventeenth century? Cornelius Drebbel, we are informed by the ‘Dictionary of National Biography,’ was born in Alkmaar in Holland in the year 1572, of a [p.109] family of good position. He seems to have begun life as an artist and engraver. In 1604 he came to England, probably with Constantin Huygens, father of the great mathematician, and himself a man of no small fame. In England Drebbel was taken into favour by James the First and given residence in Eltham House, near London—a royal residence long since demolished. These favours were in return for the many inventions presented to the King by the young Dutohman.

Among these inventions was a “perpetual motion” which won European fame, and which seems to have had a really long run for a thing of the kind. The Hon. Robert Boyle refers to it, and expresses his opinion that it was worked by a thermometer—that is, by the thermal changes of volume from day to day of some large volume of liquid or gas. And so it well might be, for the representation of this machine which survives shows the working parts—a sort of floating orrery—carried upon a pedestal capable of holding concealed a considerable volume of the working substance. Of course such a contrivance was no more perpetual motion than would be a wheel kept rotating by the winds or by the tides. Whether Boyle’s conjecture is correct or not, we are sure that the thing was something in the nature of a trick.

Drebbel went to Prague at the invitation of the Emperor of Germany, Rudolph II., himself an ardent student and patron of science. He returned to England, probably in 1512, after the death of the Emperor. But being appointed tutor to the son of the Emperor Ferdinand II., he again took up his residence in Prague. This was a responsible and honourable post, and sufficiently indicates the high status of Drebbel among his contemporaries. Unfortunately for Drebbel, the Thirty Years’ War broke out, Prague was besieged and captured by the Elector Palatine, Frederio V., and the inventor was thrown into prison and ruined. James I. of England, however, procured his release, and England remained thereafter his home till his death in 1634. He is mentioned as being present at the funeral of his august Master, and in later life it is recorded that he took charge of certain fire-ships sent by Buckingham against the besieged forces of La Rochelle. Again he is referred to as being concerned with a company formed to drain the fens of Eastern England.

There is no doubt that Drebbel enjoyed among his contemporaries a wide reputation for scientific attainments. He was, indeed, credited with much which he could not legitimately have claimed. He is, for instance, reputed with such control of the weather as to be able to produce rain and cold from the sky at his will. It is said that he on one occasion practised these powers to the confusion of his royal Master when the latter expressed some scepticism. It is certain that he discovered a [p.110] valuable die and invented something of the nature of a mine or torpedo, which was operated by a new explosive. According to Pepys, Drebbel’s son, many years later — in 1662 — tried to induce the Admiralty to take up this invention. We may be sure, unsuccessfully.

Drebbel’s standing among the men of science of his time sufficiently appears from the terms in which Robert Boyle speaks of him. Boyle lived among and with his contemporaries in a remarkable degree. He held Drebbel in high esteem. He refers to him as a “deservedly famous mechanician and chymist.” This should be ample vindication of the charge of charlatanism which is said to have been directed against him by some few of his contemporaries, for Boyle was both a wise and a just man.

The precise date of Drebbel’s invention of a submarine boat is not forthcoming from surviving references to the subject. But we appear safe in concluding that it was between the years 1612, when he returned to England, after his first visit to Prague, and 1623. As regards the earlier limit: The Prince of Wurtemberg came to England in 1610 and inspected the “perpetual motion” machine. His secretary’s account of the visit is extant. It refers to the perpetual motion, but says nothing about a submarine boat. So interesting a matter could hardly have been passed over if the boat had existed at the time. More especially is this probable in the light of the interest shown in Drebbel. Cornelius is thus described by the secretary of the Prince: “The inventor’s name was Cornelius Trebel, a native of Alkmaar, a very fair and handsome man, and of very gentle manners, altogether different from such like characters.” (!) As regards the later limit: Two letters are known, dated Dec. 21, 1622, written by the eminent French philosopher and antiquarian, Peireso (1580-1637). Peireso had shortly before quitted England, and now writes to his friends Camden and Selden as to the truth of the inventions of Cornelius Drubelsius, who is in the service of the King of Great Britain, and residing in a house near London. He refers to the perpetual motion, the submarine boat, and the telescope and microscope. The mention of the telescope and microscope refers undoubtedly to a belief, then current, that Drebbel had invented these instruments. The truth seems to be that he merely brought them for the first time into England, from Holland. These letters fix the date of the invention of the submarine as prior to 1623.

We know little about the details of Drebbel’s submarine boat. A Dutch writer—C. van der Woude — writes about Drebbel in 1645: “He built a ship in which one could row and navigate under water, from Westminster to Greenwich, the distance of two Dutch miles, even five or six miles, or as far as one pleased. In the boat a person could see [p.111] under the surface of the water and without candle light as much as he needed to read in the Bible or any other book. Not long ago this remarkable ship was yet to be seen lying in the Thames or London river.”

Of importance is the evidence of the Hon. Robert Boyle. In his ‘New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall’ (Oxford, 1660) he mentions that Drebbel “is affirmed by more than a few credible persons to have contrived for the late learned King James, a vessel to go under water, of which tryal was made in the Thames with admired success, the vessel carrying twelve rowers besides passengers, one of which is yet alive, and related it to an excellent mathematician that informed me of it. Now that for which I mention this story is, that having had the curiosity and opportunity to make particular enquiries among the relations of Drebbel and especially of an ingenius Physician (Dr Kuffler) that marry’d his daughter concerning the grounds upon which he conceived it feasible to make men unaccustomed to continue so long under water without suffocation, or (as the lastly mentioned person that went in the vessel affirms) without inconvenience, I was answered that Drebbel conceived, that ‘tis not the whole body of the Air, but a certain Quintessence (as Chymists speak) or spirituous part of it, that makes it fit for respiration, which being spent, the remaining grosser body or Carcase (if I may so call it) of the Air, is unable to cherish the vital flame residing in the heart; so that (for ought I oould gather) besides the mechanical contrivance of his vessel, he had a chemycal liquor which he accounted the chief secret of his submarine navigation. For when from time to time he perceived that the finer and purer part of the Air was consumed or over-clogged by the respirations and steams of those that went in his ship, he would by unstopping a vessel full of this liquor, speedily restore to the troubled Air such a proportion of vital parts as would make it again for a good while fit for respiration, whether by dissipating or precipitating the grosser exhalations or by some other intelligible way I must not now stay to examine.” Boyle then states that Drebbel kept the nature of the liquor a close secret, and justifies his own inquiry because of “the man and his invention being extraordinary.”

Much of the foregoing information respecting Drebbel’s submarine is to be found collected in W. B. Rye’s ‘England as seen by Foreigners in the Days of Queen Elizabeth and James the First’ (London, John Russell Smith, 1865). It leaves us with little doubt that, failing equally good evidence for some yet earlier candidate for the honour, we must adjudge Cornelis Drebbel the inventor of the submarine. He more especially claims this acknowledgement on the [p.112] well-attested fact that he actually put the invention to the test of trial, and—for the times— successful trial. He may have got the idea from some previous writer. It is one which must come to the mind of a thoughtful man who looks out over the sea and reflects on the life which freely moves therein: just as from remote times man yearned for the wings of the dove. But had any one ever before the courage and skill to go down into the sea in a ship? True, the diving-bell appears to have been a yet earlier accomplishment. But we cannot regard the bell as anticipating the boat. The difficulties to be overcome in the construction of the bell are quite different and relatively trifling. We may not, indeed, assume that in all cases of invention the fact of accomplishment confers priority. But in the case which we are considering, the merit of successful trial so far exceeds the mere conception that our attitude undoubtedly satisfies the claims of equity. We must accordingly adjudge Cornelis Drebbel, the Dutchman, to be the inventor of the submarine.

Of the genius of Drebbel there can be no doubt. There is the repeated testimony of his wise and just contemporary, Robert Boyle. He writes of him: “It is certain that Drebbel, that great, singular, learned mechanician, did by help of this instrument (the thermometer) make a dial continually to move of itself regularly showing both the time of the day and the motions of the heavens.” Boyle’s endeavours to learn the chemical secrets of Drebbel is also testimony to his opinion of him. It was customary in those days to preserve secret new discoveries—more especially those of chemical nature. We see something of this even in the case of Newton’s discoveries. It is said by Rye that Drebbel published little of value. He wrote on the nature of the elements a book which was reprinted in Dutch, in Latin, and in German. The book is very scarce. There is a portrait of Drebbel in some of the editions, revealing a head and face of rare power. Drebbel appears to have preserved his chief discoveries secret — transmitting them, probably, as heirlooms.

We may well ask what were the chemical discoveries which enabled Drebbel to accomplish the feat of submarine navigation. It is quite certain that no closed vessel of reasonable dimensions could have contained sufficient air for the respiration of twelve hardworking men during a journey from Westminster to Greenwich, at the fastest pace we may ascribe to the vessel. Almost nothing as to the chemistry of the air was known at the time. It was a hundred and fifty years before the researches of Priestley and Lavoisier. And although Van Helmont (1577-1644) had got so far as to recognize the existence of different kinds of gas, he regarded air as an element. Hooke, in 1665, attempted a theory of combustion which [p.113] approximated, although vaguely, to the facts. John Mayow, in 1681, published the conclusion that respiration and combustion are analogous phenomena. But these advances were not available to Drebbel. We can only suppose that, either by accident or by research, Drebbel had discovered the property of certain substances — e.g., a solution of quicklime in water —of removing from respired air its poisonous properties. It is to be regretted that Boyle did not penetrate Drebbel’s secret; but he leaves no doubt that Drebbel had divined the complex nature of the atmosphere, and had attained to an idea of what his liquor accomplished. That being so, we must accord Drebbel a high place among the pioneers of chemical science. The absorption of the carbon dioxide would have enabled the voyage to be much prolonged. Compressed air may have been carried. Pipes going to the surface, assisted by circulating fans or pumps, would, of course, also have enabled the voyage to be accomplished. But if this is the explanation, we must suppose Boyle to have been quite deceived, and the information given to him untruthful. As we shall presently see, Wilkins (that is to say, Mersenni) also discusses the difficulty of respiration in the submarine. He wrote at a later date, and there is reference to the supposed discovery, by a French diver, of a liquor potent to rejuvenate the air rendered poisonous by usage. It is plain that Drebbel’s success in overcoming this difficulty was considered by his contemporaries as not the least remarkable part of his accomplishment.

As regards other details, the recapitulation of Mersenni’s views contained in Bishop Wilkins’ extraordinary book may help us. It is not improbable that some of the suggestions put forward had actually been carried out by Drebbel. Thus the method of propulsion was probably that described in the ‘Mathematical Magic’ But in completing our interrupted extract from the Bishop’s work we must not father on the great inventor of the submarine the absurdities of the philosopher. The Bishop proceeds:—

“Concerning which there are two things chiefly considerable—

The [1] many difficulties with their remedies [and, 2] great conveniences.

“The difficulties are generally reducible to these three heads.

“1. The letting out, or receiving in any thing, as there shall be occasion, without the admission of water.” This first difficulty is to be overcome thus: “Let there be certain leatheren bags made of several bignesses ... for the figure of them being long and open at both ends. Answerable to these let there be divers windows, or open places in the frame of the ship, round the sides of which one end of these bags may be fixed, the other end coming within the [p.114] ship being to open and shut as a purse. Now if we suppose this bag thus fastened to be tyed close about towards the window, then anything that is to be sent out may be safely put into that end within the ship, which being again close shut, and the other end loosened, the thing may be safely sent out without the admission of water.

“So again, when any thing is to be taken in, it must be first received into that part of the bag towards the window, which being (after the thing is within it) close tyed about, the other end may then be safely opened. It is easy to conceive, how by this means any thing or person may be sent out, or received in, as there shall be occasion; how the water, which will perhaps by degrees leak into several parts, may be emptied out again, with divers the like advantages. Though if there should be any leak at the bottom of the vessel, yet very little water would get in, because no air could get out.

“2. The second difficulty in such an Ark will be the motion or fixing of it according to occasion; The direction of it to several places, as the voyage shall be designed, without which it would be very useles, if it were to remain only in one place, or were to remove only blindfold, without a certain direction; And the contrivance of this may seem very difficult, because these submarine Navigators will want the usual advantages of winds and tides for motion, and the sight of the heavens for direction.

“But these difficulties may be thus remedied; As for the progressive motion of it, this may be effected by the help of several Oars, which in the outward ends of them shall be like the fins of a fish to contract and dilate. The passage where they are admitted into the ship being tyed about with such leather bags (as were mentioned before) to keep out the water. It will not be convenient perhaps that the motion in these voyages should be very swift, because of those observations and discoveries to be made at the bottom of the sea, which in a little space may abundantly recompense the slowness of its progress.

“If this Ark be so ballast as to be of equal weight with the like magnitude of water, it will then be easily moveable in any part of it.

“As for the ascent of it, this may be easily contrived, if there be some great weight at the bottom of the ship (being part of its ballast) which by some cord within may be loosened from it; As this weight is let lower, so will the ship ascend from it (if need be) to the very surface of the water; and again as it is pulled close to the ship, so will it descend.

“For the direction of this Ark the Mariners needle may be useful in respect of the latitude of places; and the course of this ship being more regular than others, by reason it is not subject to Tempests or unequal winds, may more [p.115] certainly guide them in judging of the longitude of places.

“3. But the greatest difficulty of all will be this, how the air may be supplied for respiration. How constant fires may be kept in it for light and for the dressing of foods. ... Eight cubic feet of air will not serve a Diver for respiration above one quarter of an hour: the breath which is often sucked in and out, being so corrupted by the mixture of vapours, that nature rejects it as unserviceable. Now in an hour a man will need at least 360 respirations, betwixt every one of which there shall be ten second minutes, and consequently a great change and supply of air will be necessary for many persons and any long space.” One way out of the difficulty is to make the vessel itself “of large capacity, that as the air in it is corrupted in one part, so it may be purified and renewed in the other; or if the mere refrigeration of the air would fit it for breathing, this might be somewhat helped by bellows, which would cool it by motion.” And we are further treated to the suggestion that “it is not altogether improbable” that the mere circulation of air around a lamp or fire maintained in the boat might serve to purify the air as in the “first and second Regions” (of the atmosphere). Finally, the Bishop refers to Mersennus for a reported discovery by “one Barricus, a Diver, “whereby a man “might easily continue under water for six hours together.” From the discussion of this difficulty by Mersenni and Wilkins, it is evident that they knew nothing of Drebbel’s methods of encountering it. We gather, too, from their remarks how intense was the prevailing ignorance on the subject of respiration, and how far in advance of his times was the inventor of the submarine.

But “the many advantages and conveniences of such a contrivance,” as set forth by the Bishop and Mersenni, are the most extraordinary part of the whole matter. They are carefully enumerated as follows:—

“1. ‘Tis private; a man may thus go to any coast of the world invisibly, without being discovered or prevented in his journey.

“2. ‘Tis safe; from the uncertainty of Tides and the violence of Tempests, which do never move the sea above five or six paces deep. From Pirates and Robbers which do so infest other voyages; from ice and great frosts, which do so much endanger the passages towards the Poles.

“3. It may be of very great advantage against a Navy of enemies, who by this means may be undermined in the water and blown up.

“4. It may be of special use for the relief of any place that is besieged by water, to convey unto them invisible supplies, and so likewise for the surprisal of any place that is accessible by water.

“5. It may be of unspeakable benefit for submarine experiments and discoveries, as, [p.116] The several proportions of swiftness betwixt the ascent of a bladder, cork, or any other light substance, in comparison to the descent of stones or lead. The deep caverns and subterraneous passages where the sea water in the course of its circulation doth vent itself into other places, and the like. The nature and kinds of fishes, the several arts of catching them, by alluring them with lights, by plaoing divers nets about the sides of this Vessel, shooting the greater sort of them with guns, which may be made by it may be put out of the ship by such bags as were mentioned before, with divers the like artifices and treacheries, which may be more successively (sic) practiced by such who live so familiarly together. These fish may serve not only for food, but for fewel likewise, in respect of that oyl which may be extracted from them; the way of dressing meat by lamps, being in many respects the most convenient for such a voyage.

“The many fresh springs that may probably be met with in the bottom of the sea, will serve for the supply of drink and other occasions.

“But above all, the discovery of submarine treasures is more especially considerable, not only in regard of what hath been drowned by wrecks, but the several precious things which grow there, as Pearl, Coral Mines, with innumerable other things of great value, which may be much more easily found out, and fetcht up by the help of this, than by any other usual way of the Urinators (divers).

“To which purpose the great Vessel may have some lesser cabins tyed about it, at various distances, wherein several persons, as Scouts, may be lodged for the taking of observations, according as the Admiral shall direct them. Some of them being frequently sent up to the surface of the water, as there shall be occasion.

“All kinds of arts and manufactures may be exercised in this Vessel. The observations made by it may be both written, and (if need were) printed here likewise. Several colonies may thus inhabit, having their Children born and bred up without the knowledge of land, who could not chuse but be amazed with strange conceits upon the discovery of this upper world.”

Some part of this might be regarded as the lively wit of an amusing essayist. But there is nothing in the solemn Mersenni or learned Bishop Wilkins to suggest mere joking. The standpoint of seventeenth century science must be borne in mind. Authority and superstition still held dominion over such thinkers as Mersenni and Wilkins. They are so accustomed to accept mere hearsay that their world becomes filled with ideas the most grotesque, which pass for facts. The Bishop, indeed, introduces many of his statements without even the sanction of any identifiable witness. Something is “storied” and forthwith becomes worthy to enter into the category of the possible or the probable. He [p.117] is, for instance, endeavouring to establish the thesis that flying might become a possible human accomplishment if only it were sufficiently practised. This is how he backs up his theory: “And,” he says, “it is storied of a certain young man, a Sicilian by birth, and a Diver by profession, who had so continually used himself to the water, that he could not enjoy his health out of it. If at any time he stayed with his friends on the land, he should be so tormented with a pain in his stomach, that he was forced for his health to return back again to the Sea, wherein he kept his usual residence; and when he saw any ship, his custome was to swim to them for relief, which kind of life he continued till he was an old man, and dyed.” This yarn is good enough to prop his argument! And there was no one to laugh at them. The lesser minds were in still worse plight. To them the distinction between fable and fact was still more indefinite. Wilkins and Mersenni were learned men and stood far uplifted above their fellows; but still they had not risen clear of the mists and seen the light which to-day is shed even upon the humble in life.

J. Joly.

Image of Drebbel not part of original text. From Blackwood’s Magazine (1917), Vol. 202, 106-117. (source)

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Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

by Ian Ellis
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