Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Potter, Francis

POTTER, FRANCIS (1594–1678), divine and mechanician, was second son of Richard Potter (d. 1628), prebendary of Worcester, and his wife, who belonged to the Horsey family of Clifton, Dorset. He was born at Mere vicarage on Trinity Sunday (29 May) 1594, and educated at the King's school, Worcester. In 1609 he went up as a commoner to Trinity College, where his elder brother, Hannibal (see below), was a scholar; he graduated B.A. in 1613, and M.A. in 1616. In 1625 he proceeded B.D., and, after his father's death in 1628, succeeded him as rector of Kilmington, although he did not at first reside there continuously. He escaped sequestration during the civil war and interregnum. He had always been sickly, and subsequently became nearly blind. He died unmarried in April 1678 (cf. Hoare, Wiltshire, i. 158), and was buried in the chancel at Kilmington. His friend Aubrey describes him as ‘like a monk,’ and as ‘pretty long visaged, and pale clear skin, gray eie.’

Potter was a practical mechanician. He made quadrants with a graduated compass of his own invention, which he gave to Aubrey. He also theorised as to the transfusion of blood (about 1640), and communicated his results through Aubrey to the Royal Society, of which he was admitted a fellow on 11 Nov. 1663, soon after its foundation (R. Thomson, Hist. Roy. Soc.). He made a fine dial (probably that seen in Loggan's view) on the north side of the original quadrangle of Trinity College. He also drew and painted; the copy of the founder's portrait still in Trinity College hall is his work, and Aubrey says that he designed an instrument for drawing in perspective, which was afterwards re-invented by Wren. He was fond of chess, which he played with his contemporary at Trinity, Colonel Bishop, accounted by Aubrey ‘the best of England.’ He also experimented with bees, and showed Aubrey their thighs in a microscope (Aubrey, Wiltshire, p. 68).

Potter formed a wild but ingenious theory of the Number of the Beast, connecting 25, the ‘appropinque’ square root of 666, with various Romish institutions; he elaborated it in a manuscript which was read in 1637 by Joseph Mead [q. v.], and commended as a wonderful discovery, ‘the happiest that ever yet came into the world,’ and as calculated to ‘make some of your German speculatives half wild’ (Mead to Hartlib, Works, p. 1076). It was published as ‘An Interpretation of the Number 666’ (Oxford, by Leonard Lichfield, 1642), with a symbolical frontispiece, an opinion by Mead prefixed, and a preface dated from Kilmington. Wood says it was translated into French, Dutch, and Latin; but the only translation extant is in Latin, printed in a small octavo at Amsterdam in 1677, and attributed (Ath. Oxon. iv. 408) to Thomas Gilbert (1613–1694) [q. v.] of St. Edmund Hall (cf. Matthew Poole, Synopsis Criticorum, vol. iv. pt. ii. pp. 1891–5). It was reprinted at Worcester in 1808. Pepys, who read the work in November 1666, considered it ‘mighty ingenious.’

His elder brother, Hannibal Potter (1592–1664), matriculated from Trinity College, Oxford, in 1607, was elected scholar in 1609, graduated B.A. in 1611, M.A. in 1614, B.D. in 1621, and D.D. in 1630; in 1613 he was elected fellow of Trinity. He was presented to the livings of Over-Worton, Oxfordshire, and Wootton, Northamptonshire, in 1625, and was preacher at Gray's Inn from 1635. On 8 Aug. 1643 he was admitted president of Trinity by the visitor, though William Chillingworth [q. v.] is said to have had a majority of votes. Potter was pro-vice-chancellor during the parliamentary visitation of 1647, and showed some ingenuity in obstructing the visitors. On 13 April he was deprived of the office of president by the parliamentary chancellor, the Earl of Pembroke. At the same time he was deprived of Garsington, a benefice attached to the presidency, and subsequently ‘endured great hardships in a most woeful manner’ (Walker, Sufferings, ii. 133); and though he obtained the curacy of Broomfield, Somerset, worth 25l. or 30l. a year, he was soon turned out either for ‘insufficiency’ (Neal, Puritans, iii. 389), or for using the liturgy. He was restored to his offices in 1660, and died on 1 Sept. 1664, being buried in the old chapel of Trinity College (Wood, Hist. and Antiq. ed. Gutch, II. ii. 507–70; Burrows, Reg. Parl. Visit.; Cal. State Papers, Dom., passim).

[Memoir by John Aubrey in Bodleian Letters, ii. 496–505 (amusing, but inaccurate); Wood's Life in Athenæ Oxon. (ed. Bliss), iii. 1155; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. xxv. 229–31; MSS. Burs. at Trinity College.]

H. E. D. B.