Wing, Vincent

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(b. North Luffenhanm, Rutland, England, 19 April 1619; d. North Luffenham, 30 September 1668)


Wing’s father, for whom he was named, was a small landowner. Young Wing had little formal education and began earning his living at an early age as a surveyor, almanac compiler, astrologer, and prolific writer of astromical works, His almanacs were the most popular of their time; and in Flamsteed’s judgment, Wing produced “our exactest ephemerides.” He was an eager polemicist and frequently was involved in public disputes over astronomical and astrological matters.

Wing’s career as an astronomer mirrors the development of astronomical thought during the seventeenth century. His first book, Urania practica (1649), asserted the stability of the earth and was Ptolemaic in spirit. A published attack on it by Jeremy Shakerley may have led to Wing’s conversion to Copernicanism. By 1651 he had accepted the fundamentals of Keplerian astronomy as modified by Ismael Boulliau.

Like many astronomers in the second half of the seventeenth century, Wing, following Boulliau and Seth Ward, opted for an “empty-focus” variant of Kepler’s second law, holding that a planet moving in an elliptical orbit describes equal angles in equal times about the focus not occupied by the sun. In works published in 1651 and 1656 Wing, adopting Boulliau’s method, had his elliptical orbits, including that of the moon, generated in purely geometrical fashion by circles and epicycles. In his posthumously published Astronotnin Britannica, however, he discarded the epicycles in favor of a refined version of the theory proposed by Ward in the latter’s As tronomiu geometrice (1656), in which the elliptical orbits were assumed to be physically generated. Wing’s celestial mechanics contained a mixture of Cartesian and Keplerian components, with a rotating sun and celestial vortex pushing the planets around in their orbits.


I. Original Works. Wing produced a great many almanacs, ophemerides, and astrological pamphlets. His chief works are Urania practica (London, 1649: 2nd ed., 1652); Ens fictum Shakerle v, His In–artificial Anatomy of Urania practice (London, 1649), written with William Leybourn: Hartnonicon coeleste: Or the Coelestial Harmony of the Visible World (London, 165 1): Astrononria instaurata: Or a Near and Compendious Rcslauration of Astronomy’ (London, 1656): Geo–dates practices: Or the Art of Surreving (London, 1664); Examen astronomiae Carolinae (London, 1665); and Astronomia Britannica (London, 1669).

II. Secondary Literature. See J. B. J. Delambre, Histoire de l’astronomie moderne, II (Paris, 1821), 519–524; and John Gadbury, A Brief Relation of the Life and Death of the Late Famous Mathematician and Astrologer, Mr. Vincent Wing (London, 1670).

Wilbur Applebaum