Robert Payne (natural philosopher)

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Robert Payne (1596–1651) was an English cleric and academic, known also as a natural philosopher and experimentalist. He was associated with the so-called Welbeck Academy by his position as chaplain (with duties as secretary) to William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Newcastle. The position also brought him a close friendship with Thomas Hobbes.


Payne was borne at Abingdon, and was educated at John Roysse grammar school. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford in 1611, and graduated B.A. in 1614. He was a contemporary as student of William Backhouse, who later showed him friendship at the end of the First English Civil War. In 1624 he became the second Fellow of Pembroke College. He put himself forward as candidate for Gresham Professor of Astronomy in 1626.[1]

In 1630 Payne entered the Cavendish orbit with his nomination as rector of Tormarton by the Earl of Newcastle.[2] A mathematical correspondence with Charles Cavendish led him out of academia. He was taken on as chaplain, by April 1632, at Welbeck Abbey, where he assumed multiple roles in the household.[3][4] This period of his life, from which his notability as an intellectual figure arises, was cut short in 1638. At that point Newcastle took on responsibility for the upbringing of the Prince of Wales.[5]

Pyle then returned to Oxford, as a canon of Christ Church. He was created D.D. in 1642, and was deprived of his living in 1646.[5] At this period Payne did what he could to circulate the ideas and manuscripts of Hobbes in Oxford, and to reduce the hostility of Gilbert Sheldon.[6] The Parliamentary visitation of Oxford in 1648 saw Payne deprived of his college position. He ended his life with family, in Abingdon.[5]


Payne was not a published author: his significant work was left in manuscript.[2] He undertook some chemical experiments with Newcastle in the 1630s.[7] As reported later by Newcastle, one involved lapis prunellae (a mixture here of saltpetre and brimstone), as a form of indoor firework.[8]

He translated a work by Galileo, Della scienza mecanica, from Italian to English in 1636, from a manuscript copy.[9] The previous year he had also translated the second half of Della misura dell'acque correnti of Benedetto Castelli, a work on fluid mechanics.[10][11] The original manuscripts were obtained from Marin Mersenne, and the work was for Charles Cavendish.[5]

Scholarly debate continues as to the possible attribution of manuscripts from the Cavendish circle to Payne: the discussion goes deeper than handwriting, since Payne acted also as a copyist. One work, the Short Tract on First Principles initially thought to be by Hobbes, is now thought by Timothy Raylor and Noel Malcolm to be by Payne. Mordechai Feingold suggests another candidate.[5]


  1. ^ John David North; John James Roche (1985). The Light of nature: essays in the history and philosophy of science presented to A. C. Crombie. Springer Science & Business. pp. 266–9. ISBN 978-90-247-3165-7. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Andrew Pyle (editor), The Dictionary of Seventeenth Century British Philosophers (2000), Thoemmes Press (two volumes), article Payne, Robert, p. 635–7.
  3. ^ Ted-Larry Pebworth (2000). Literary circles and cultural communities in Renaissance England. University of Missouri Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-8262-1317-4. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Ted-Larry Pebworth (2000). Literary circles and cultural communities in Renaissance England. University of Missouri Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-8262-1317-4. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Payne, Robert". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37837.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help) (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Nicholas Tyacke (1997). Seventeenth-century Oxford. Oxford University Press. p. 414–. ISBN 978-0-19-951014-6. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle; Susan James (28 August 2003). Political Writings. Cambridge University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-521-63350-5. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  8. ^ Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Charles Harding Firth (editor), The Life of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, to which is added The true relation of my birth, breeding and life (1886), p. 200 note;
  9. ^ Juhana Lemetti (16 December 2011). Historical Dictionary of Hobbes's Philosophy. Scarecrow Press. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-8108-5065-1. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  10. ^ Cornelis Hendrik Leijenhorst; Cees Leijenhorst (2002). The mechanisation of Aristotelianism: the late Aristotelian setting of Thomas Hobbes' natural philosophy. BRILL. p. 13. ISBN 978-90-04-11729-7. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  11. ^ Noel Malcolm (11 November 2004). Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-19-927540-3. Retrieved 3 April 2012.