Merrett, Christopher

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(b. Winchcomb, England, 16 February 1614; d. London, England, 19 August 1695)

natural history, glassmaking.

Merrett, who like his father and younger son was baptized Christopher, was educated at Oxford, where he obtained the M.B. in 1636 and the M.D. in 1643. He had married Ann Jenour of Kempsford by the time he commenced practice in London about 1640. Admitted as a fellow of the College of Physicians in 1651, he became the first keeper of their new library and museum given by William Harvey and compiled its first printed catalog (1660). The founding of the Royal Society (1660), of which he was an original member, provided an outlet for Merrett’s varied interests.

In 1662, at the suggestion of Robert Boyle and the instigation of the Royal Society, Merrett translated Antonio Neri’s L’arte vetraria (1612), a pioneer work. By adding his own extensive observations on the construction of glassmaking furnaces, the types of glass being manufactured in England, and the raw materials used, Merrett gave considerable impetus to glassmaking in England and other European countries.

William How’s Phytologia (1650) was still in demand when it went out of print. At the publisher’s request Merrett wrote Pinax rerum naturalium Britannicarum (1666) to replace it. Since he was no fieldworker but a sedentary and inexpert naturalist, he enlisted all the help possible and revealed a wide knowledge of the relevant literature by giving more precise references than his predecessors had. By his own admission the list was imperfect (“inchoatus”). Although the large botanical section, with over 1,400 species and synonyms from Gerard and John Parkinson, was soon superseded, the section on mammals and birds is important as the first attempt to construct a British fauna. The name Merrettia was given to a group of unicellular algae by S. F. Gray.

When the College of Physicians was destroyed by fire in 1666, Merrett saved and looked after 150 books; but the College argued that since they now had no library, they had no need of a keeper. The last years of Merrett’s life were clouded by the consequent dispute, which cost him his fellowship (1681), allegedly for nonattendance. His only medical publications were those that contributed to the war of mutual denigration between the physicians and the apothecaries.


I. Orginal Works Merreitt’s main work is Pinax return naturalium Britannicarum (London, 1666; another ed., 1667). He translated A. Neri, L’arte vetrarai as The Art of Glass, … With Some Observations on the Author, … (London, 1662); it also appeared in Latin (London, 1668), in German (Amsterdam, 1679; Frankfurt, 1689), and in French (Paris, 1752).

II. Secondary Literature. See C. E. Raven, “William How and Christopher Merrett,” in his English Naturalists From Neckham to Ray (Cambridge, 1947), 298–338; and W. E. S. Turner, “A Notable British Seventeenth Century Contribution to the Literature of Glass-Making,” in Glass Technology, 6 (1962), 201–213.

Leonard M. Payne