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Was born at Croft in Yorkshire, though in what particular year is unknown. After receiving the rudiments of his education at North Alveston in that county, he was admitted, in 1651, to Clare Hall, Cambridge, under the tuition of Mr. John Tillotson, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury; but subsequently he removed to Christ College, of which house he became fellow in 1657. In 1685, he was elected master of the Charter-House in London, and soon after took orders. After the revolution, he was appointed chaplain in ordinary 'to king William. It is said, that he was proposed as successor to Dr. Tillotson in the see of Canterbury; but was thrown out, on a plea of the bishops, that his writings were too sceptical. His death happened in 1715.
His works are, 1. Telluris Theoria Sacra; or, Sacred Theory of the Earth ; first published in 1680. This work was so highly admired, that he was induced, at the particular instance of Charles II. to translate it into English, or rather, to re-write it; since some of the chapters are newly modelled, and several new ones added. The English title runs thus :-" The Sacred Theory of the Earth, containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the General Changes which it hath already undergone, or is to undergo, till the Consummation of all Things : in two volumes. The two first books concerning the Deluge and concerning Paradise: the two last books concerning the Burning of the World, and concerning the New Heavens and New Earth ; with a Review of the Theory, and of its Proofs ; especially in reference to Scripture." To the sixth edition, published in 1726, is added, the Author's Defence of the Work from the Exceptions of Mr. Warren, and the Examination of Mr. Kcil.
The sixth chapter of the first book is full of magnificent imagery. The author is describing the dissolution of the primeval world; its surface bursting asunder in a thousand parts,
and its gigantic fragments tumbling with a thundering surge into the vast and fathomless abyss beneath.
In order to understand this description, it is necessary to premise, that the primæval earth, (according to the theory of Burnet) as resulting from a state of chaotic fluidity, consisted of three different portions or strata, of the formation of which he gives the following conjectural explanation: When the confused and he terogeneous particles of the chaos began to separate and to coalesce into masses, agreeably to the laws of their specific gravity, the grosser particles would first sink to the centre of the earth, forming there a nucleus to the supernatant Auid. The incumbent mass would still tend to purify itself; the lighter and more oily particles, 'mounting upwards, would form a sort of pellicle on the surface of the waters, which oily pellicle would serve to receive and entangle the particles of earth and other substances descending from the regions of the air, in which they had been diffused and suspended, Thus a crust would be gradually formed on the fluid surface, and which would receive continual augmentations by the successive accretion of fresh particles, both from above and 'below. We have hence three spherical layers of different matter; the ponderous central mass; the middle watery sphere; and the sphærical crust surmounting the whole, of which the exterior surface is supposed to have formed the primaval habitable world ; and wbich was“ smooth, regular, and uniform, without mountains and without a sea." From this particular structure of the earth our author explains its subsequent dissolution by water, and its present appearance.
We cannot believe (says he) but that the heat of the sun, within the
of some hundreds of years, would have reduced this earth to a considerable degree of dryness in certain parts; and also have much rarefied and exhaled the waters beneath it: and considering the structure of that globe, the exterior crust, and the waters lying round under it, both exposed to the sun, we may fitly compare it to an æolipile, or an hollow sphere with water in it, which the heat of the fire rarefies and turns into vapours and wind. The sun here is as the fire, and the exterior earth is as the shell of the æolipile, and the abyss as the water within it; now when the heat of the sun had' pierced through the shell and reached the waters, it began to rarefy them, and raise them into vapours; which rarefaction made them require more space and
room than they needed before, while they lay close and quiet. And finding themselves penned in by the exterior earth, they pressed with violence against that arch, to make it yield and give way to their dilatation and eruption. So we see all vapours and exhalations enclosed within the earth, and agitated there, strive to break out, and often shake the ground with their attempts to get loose. And in the comparison we used of an æolipile, if the mouth of it be stopt that gives the vent, the water rarefied will burst the vessel with its force. And the resemblance of the earth to an egg, which we used before, holds also in this respect; for when it heats before the fire, the moisture and air within being rarefied, makes it often burst the shell. And I do the more willingly mention this last comparison, because I observe that some of the ancients, when they speak of the doc: trine of the Mundane Egg, say that after a certain period of time it was broken.
But there is yet another thing to be considered in this case; for as the heat of the sun gave force to these vapours more and more, and made them more strong and violent; so, on the other hand, it also weakened more and more the arch of the earth that was to resist them, sucking out the moisture that was the cement of its parts, drying it immoderately, and chapping it in sundry places. And there being nó winter then in close up and unite its parts, and re