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

VERNON, FRANCIS (1637?–1677), traveller and author, born about 1637, near Charing Cross, was son of Francis Vernon of London, and brother of James Vernon [q. v.], secretary of state in the reign of William III. He was admitted in 1649 to Westminster school, whence he matriculated on 10 Nov. 1654 at Christ Church, Oxford. He graduated B.A. on 28 Jan. 1657–8, and M.A. on 17 July 1660. Being ‘possessed of an insatiable desire of seeing,’ he began his travels even before he had taken his master's degree. During one of his expeditions he was taken by pirates and sold, and ‘endured much misery.’ On his release he seems to have returned to Oxford. In 1668 he was chosen on the ground of his long travel and experience to accompany the Earl of Carlisle, ambassador-extraordinary to Sweden, and the king wrote to the dean and chapter of Christ Church requesting leave of absence for him. He was next appointed to go with Ralph Montagu [q. v.] to Paris as secretary to the embassy. His letters, it appears, did not give satisfaction (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1670, p. 174), but he remained there till the end of 1671.

During this time Vernon acted as the medium of communication between the scientific men of France and England. Among his correspondents was Edward Pococke [q. v.], the orientalist, copies of whose son's Latin version of ‘Ibn-al-Tifail’ he presented to the Sorbonne and to Huyghens. Another correspondent was John Collins (1625–1683) [q. v.], the mathematician, for whom Vernon obtained, through Père Berthet, many foreign scientific works, among which were Descartes's ‘Traité de la Mécanique’ and the third volume of his ‘Letters’ and Pascal's ‘Triangle Arithmétique.’ He also sent the mathematician James Gregory a copy of Fermat's ‘Diophantus.’ Edward Bernard [q. v.], the astronomer, valued Vernon's opinion; and Gregory told Collins he always ‘admired him for his great knowledge in many sciences and languages.’ Vernon's services to science were recognised by his election to the Royal Society on his return to England in 1672, his proposer being Henry Oldenburg [q. v.]

In spite of the dissuasions of his friends, Vernon's ‘itch of rambling’ did not allow him to remain long in England. His last journey was from Venice, through Dalmatia, Greece, and the Archipelago to Persia. Writing from Athens to the English resident at Venice, he said that he had well examined the ruins of the temple at Delphi, and all that was remarkable at Thebes, Corinth, Sparta, and Athens; had clambered up mounts Helicon and Parnassus; and had diligently but vainly searched on the banks of the Alpheus for the Stadium Olympium. Arriving in Persia in the spring of 1677, he became engaged in a quarrel with some Arabs over a penknife, and was murdered by them. He was buried at Ispahan two days afterwards. A letter to Oldenburg, dated 10 Jan. 1675, was printed in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of 1676 (cxxiv. 575, Abridg. ii. 284), under the title ‘Observations made during Travels from Venice through Dalmatia … to Smyrna.’ It was translated into French by Jacob Spon, who incorporated it in his ‘Réponses à la Critique publiée par M. Guillet,’ 1679, 12mo.

Vernon's ‘Journal,’ which was begun at Spalatro and finished at Ispahan, was found among the papers of Dr. Robert Hooke [q. v.] It contains short notes and many inscriptions. Wood says that he left behind him a piece of poetry and several observations on his travels ‘not fit to be published because imperfect and indigested.’ A Latin poem entitled ‘Oxonium Poema,’ published in 1667, under the initials ‘F. V. ex æde Christi,’ has been identified as by Vernon. It is a description of Oxford and its environs.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon (Bliss), iii. 1133–4, and Fasti, pp. 190, 224; Welch's Alumni Westm.; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Twells's Life and Works of Pocock, 1740, pp. 66–8; Rigaud's Corresp. of Scientific Men in the Seventeenth Century, i. 139–41, 151–6, 160–5, 176–9, 186–7, ii. 121, 221–2, 243; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1668–9 p. 179, 1670 pp. 127, 174; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vii. 275, 276, 9th ser. iv. 4.]

G. Le G. N.