Transcripts of writings of Dr John Wallis (1616-1703), mathematician, undated, c.1850

Scope and Content

The collection comprises two manuscript volumes. The first (MS 13/1) contains 19th century transcripts of 24 letters between John Wallis and the Rev. Edmund Elys, dated December 1690 to April 1699. The letters contain discussion on religious and theological issues.

The volume also includes transcripts of three letters from John Wallis to Dr Thomas Smith, 14 July 1692, 6 July 1697 and 21 December 1698; and a transcript of a letter from Dr Arthur Charlett to the Archbishop of Canterbury [Archbishop Thomas Tenison], 22 September 1700.

All of the transcripts are in the same hand but the identity of the transcriber is unknown. On the first page of the volume, a note states that the correspondence was copied from a volume then in the possession of Joseph Parkis Esq. The current location of the original letters between Wallis and Elys is unknown. No other letters between them are listed in C.J. Scriba, 'A Tentative Index of the Correspondence of John Wallis, F.R.S.', Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 22 (1967), 58-93. The originals of the remaining four letters are now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The second volume (MS 13/2) contains a transcript of treatise in which Dr Wallis criticizes Lewis Maidwell's proposals for an Academy. The original manuscript was written in November 1700, with a supplement dated January 1700/01. The treatise is followed by extracts from the Journal of the House of Commons relating to Maidwell's proposals, dated 1699-1705. At the end is a transcript of a paper posted by Professor [Nathaniel] Bliss, Savilian Professor of Geometry from 1742-65, inviting scholars to attend his house to discuss mathematical issues.

All of the transcripts are in the same hand, which is different from that in MS 13/1, but the identity of the transcriber is unknown. The introduction to the volume states that the treatise was then unpublished, and had been 'copied from the Original in Dr Wallis' own handwriting, which is preserved in the Savilian Library, at Oxford [now part of the Bodleian Library's collections of rare books and printed ephemera], MSS No. 57. It has since been published and edited by the Oxford Historical Society.

The date of the transcripts in both volumes is unknown but the style of handwriting and stationery used suggests a date around the middle of the 19th century.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dr John Wallis was born in Kent in 1616 and was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He was awarded B.A. in 1637 and M.A. in 1640. He was ordained in 1640, and served as private chaplain to Sir Richard Darley at Buttercrambe, Yorkshire, and to the widow of Horatio Lord Vere, 1642-3. A Parliamentary sympathiser, he was minister of the sequestered living of St. Gabriel, London, and from 1647 of St. Martin's in Ironmonger Lane. In 1649, he was made Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford (a post he held until his death) and was incorporated M.A. from Exeter College, Oxford in the same year. In 1660, he was nominated as a royal chaplain and obtained an appointment among the divines commissioned in 1661 to revise the prayer book. He was also employed as a decipherer and was involved in the foundation of the Royal Society in 1663. His acclaimed 'Truth tried; or Animadversions on the Lord Brooke's Treatise on the Nature of Truth' was published in 1643; he also published a number of important mathematical and theological works. He died in 1703.

The Reverend Edmund Elys was born in Devon in about 1634 and was educated at Wadham and Balliol Colleges, Oxford (B.A. 1655, M.A. 1658). In 1659 he succeeded to his father's rectory of East Allington but he was deprived of the rectory on the accession of William III for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. In 1680 he was imprisoned. He retired to Totnes, Devon where died in 1708. Elys wrote a number of tracts on theological matters, interesting himself particularly in the question of the Trinity. He was also a poet.

Dr Arthur Charlett, (1655-1722) was Master of University College, Oxford, and chaplain to William III and Queen Anne. Dr Thomas Smith (1638-1710) was a cleric, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, librarian of the Cotton Library, and writer.

Lewis Maidwell or Maydwell (1650-1715) was educated at Westminster School, and buried in Westminster Abbey. He ran a school in Westminster and taught grammar. Between 1700 and 1704 he presented four petitions to Parliament, seeking state support for an Academy to teach navigation, military skills and mathematics, but the scheme did not succeed. It was opposed by Dr Wallis. Maidwell published 'An Essay upon the Necessity and Excellency of Education' in 1705.


No archival arrangement has been necessary.

Access Information

Accessible to all registered readers.

Other Finding Aids

This description is the only finding aid available for the collection. Copyright on the description belongs to The University of Nottingham.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements


Conditions Governing Use

Reprographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email

Custodial History

The collection was acquired by the library of University College Nottingham (now The University of Nottingham) in October 1933 from George H. Wallis. It is assumed that these volumes were created by members of the Wallis family and held in the custody of the family prior to their deposit with the college.

Related Material

Bodleian Library, Oxford: Printed books presented to the Savilian Library by John Wallis during his time as Savilian professor of geometry between 1649 and 1703; copies of political correspondence in cipher; correspondence with Thomas Smith, 1677-1699; and other correspondence and papers. References: MSS Eng misc c 382, c 475; MSS Smith; MSS Don c 49, d 45, e 12


T.W. Jackson (ed.), 'Dr. Wallis' letter against Mr. Maidwell', in Collectanea. First series (Oxford Historical Society, 1885), 269-337

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Geographical Names