Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bagwell, William

BAGWELL, WILLIAM (fl. 1655), a London merchant and writer on astronomy, is stated by Burke, in his pedigree of the Bagwells of Ireland, to have been a brother of Alderman Backwell, but his name is not mentioned in the Backwell pedigree, and the different spelling of the name would seem to militate against the supposition. As the inscription on his portrait in 1659 gives his age as sixty-six, he was probably born in 1593(Granger, Biog. Hist, of England, iii. 121). According to his own account in 'The Mystery of Astronomy made Plain,' he was bred a merchant of good quality, and skilfully furnished with knowledge. He had 'seen the world abroad,' and for several years had carried on an extensive trade, when losses beyond the seas led to his being sent to prison for debt. In 1654 he had been in and out of prison for twenty years. The tedium of confinement he relieved by writing an 'Arithmetical Description of the Celestial and Terrestrial Globes,' a treatise which he deemed too abstruse for popular use, but yet worthy to be placed in some university to be consulted by the learned. The manuscript is in the British Museum (MS Sloane 652). After being set at liberty in 1654 Bagwell was put by some friends in good employment, and in 1655 published 'The Mystery of Astronomy made Plain,' a simplification of his more elaborate treatise. Bliss, in a note to Wood (Fasti ii. 221), states that he dedicated his 'Sphinx Thebanus or Ingenious Riddle,' 1664, to the worshipful Humphry Brook, doctor of physic, his approved good friend and patron. So strongly was Bagwell impressed with the value of the discipline he obtained from his hard experiences, that in 1645 in 1645 he published 'The Distressed Merchant, and Prisoner s Comfort in Distress,' a lugubrious piece of doggerel, which is caricatured in 'Wil Bagnal's Ghost, or the Merry Devill of Gadmunton in his Perambulations of the Prisons of London,' by E. Gayton, Esq., 1655, and in 'Will Bagnalls Ballet,' in 'Wit Restored,' 1658. Bagwell also published another short poem, entitled 'An Affectionate Expostulation for the Pious Employment both of Wit and Wealth.' In 1652 there was published, by order of Cromwell, 'A Full Discovery of a Foul Concealment, or a True Narrative of the Proceedings and Transactions of the Committee for the Accompts of the Commonwealth of England with William Bagwell and John Brockedon, accomptants, Discoverers and Plaintiff's against the Committee of Hartford, the Treasurer and Paymaster there in the year 1643;' but possibly the William Bagwell of this title-page may be another person.

[Preface to Mystery of Astronomy made Plain, in the frontispiece to which is his portrait by Gaywood; various allusions in the Distressed Merchant; Granger's Biog. Hist, of England, iii. 121-2 ; MS. Sloane 652.]

T. F. H.