Thomas Harriot

Aubrey's Brief Lives

Obituaries Index

Sir Robert Moray (from Francis Stuart) declared at the Royal Society 'twas when the comet appeared before the Dutch war -- that Sir Francis had heard Mr Harriot say that he had seen nine comets, and had predicted seven of them, but did not tell them how. 'Tis very strange; let the astronomers work it out.

Mr Hariot went with Sir Walter Raleigh into Virginia, and has written the Description of Virginia which is since printed in Mr Purchas's Pilgrims.

Dr Pell tells me that he finds among his papers (which are now, 1684, in Dr Busby's hands) an alphabet he had contrived for the American language, like devils.

When Henry Percy, ninth earl of Northumberland and Sir Waiter Raleigh were both prisoners in the Tower, they grew acquainted, and Sir Waiter Raleigh recommended Mr Hariot to him, and the earl settled an annuity of two hundred pounds a year on him for life, which he enjoyed. But to Hues (who wrote On the Use of Globes) and to Mr Warner, he gave an annuity of but sixty pounds per annum. These three were usually called 'the earl of Northumberland's three Magi' They had a table at the earl's expense, and the earl himself had them to converse with, singly or together.

He was a great acquaintance of Master Ailesbury, to whom Dr Corbet sent a letter in verse, December 9, 1618, when the great blazing star appeared:
Now for the peace of Gods and men advise,
(Thou that hast wherewithal to make us wise),
Thine own rich studies, and deep Harriot's mine,
In which there is no dross, but all refine.
The bishop of Salisbury (Seth Ward) told me that one Mr Haggar (a fellow-countryman of his), a gentleman and a good mathematician, was well acquainted with Mr Thomas Hariot, and was wont to say, that he did not like (or valued not) the old story of the Creation of the Worid He could not believe the old position he would say 'Nothing is made out of nothing.' But, said Mr Haggar, a nothing killed him at last; for in the top of his nose came a little red speck (exceeding small) which grew bigger and bigger, and at last killed him. I suppose it was that which surgeons call a noli me tangere.

He made a philosophical theology, wherein he cast off the Old Testament, and then the New one would (consequently) have no foundation. He was a Deist. His doctrine he taught to Sir Waiter Raleigh, Henry, earl of Northumberland, and some others. The divines of those times looked on his manner of death as a judgement upon him for valuing the Scripture at nothing.
From John Aubrey's Brief Lives. (Edited by R Barber, Boydell Press, 1982)