Samuel Lee was a notable Puritan divine who was close to John Wilkins (see catalogue nos. 19, 36 and ). After studying at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, he was created M.A. by the Parliamentary Visitors in April 1648, the same month as they appointed Wilkins Warden of Wadham. In October Lee was elected to a fellowship at Wadham, and he remained there despite a subsequent election to All Souls, becoming Sub-warden of Wadham in 1652 and Dean in 1653. He resigned his fellowship in 1657, Cromwell having appointed him minister of St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, in 1655. Under Wilkins, Wadham was a centre of activity in experimental natural philosophy. Lee dedicated his Orbis miraculum to the Warden, Fellows and Students: ‘It was not long since my happiness and honour … to enjoy a Fellowship for several years in that your goodly Seminary of all polite Literature.’
Lee has great respect for the editors of the Polyglot Bible (catalogue no. 73), ‘whereby not onely our Country, but the very age is honoured’ (sig.A2). Although Villalpando’s Temple is illustrated there, Lee denies that it can be a true representation of Solomon’s. Rather, he says, it was derived from the visionary temple of Ezekiel, which cannot ever have existed: it was simply too large for Mount Moriah, where Solomon’s Temple was built. Villalpando may have been ‘the most learned and laborious Temple student, that ever proceeded into publick light’, but his reconstruction was impossible. What Ezekiel saw was not a material building but ‘the Church of Christ, being the Gospel-Temple, whose great enlargement was signified by that vision’ (sig. A2 verso). In fact the illustration of the Temple building in Orbis miraculum seems to be derived from Montano (see figure 47). The editor of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible provided Lee with a more secure and rational model of the actual Temple, and his own modifications then take it in the direction of an English church.
In his first chapter Lee sets himself to establish the distance and direction between London and Jerusalem, and in doing so shows a reasonable familiarity with practical mathematics, appropriate to a tract addressed to Wilkins from an author present in Wadham during the 1650s. Values given by Ptolemy and by Selden are suppressed in favour of latitudes from Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables and a longitude difference from Longomontanus. A more difficult question is the proper authority for the length of a degree. Historical re-assessments of the value given by Ptolemy are traced through Snell and Clavius, but ‘to proceed to more certainty’ Lee cites Gassendi and particularly The Seaman’s Practice of Richard Norwood – ‘a late learned Improver of his Mathematicall Knowledge towards the advancement of the Art of Navigation’ (p.10). Norwood’s value was based on a survey he conducted between London and York in 1635. His work and his call for an improved determination led Lee into a discussion of the state of practical mathematics in England: ‘our Observations and Experiments are now come to a greater maturity, for the encouragement of so worthy a Work’ (p. 11). He refers to the advantages offered by the invention of logarithms, and to the opinions of Vincent Wing and of William Oughtred, ‘the incomparably learned in the Mathematicks … the great Ornament of our Nation’. Determining the compass direction occasions further excursions into the English literature on practical navigation.
As for the Temple itself, it offers spiritual lessons about the gospel and the new covenant and Lee’s substantial account of the building is a necessary preface to these, but he cannot attribute mystical significance to the design and dimensions. He discusses the cubit in some detail, but his treatment is sardonic and inconclu sive. His description of the design is prosaic and matter-of-fact; it purposely distances the author from commentators ‘who delight much to converse with numbers in the School of Pythagoras’ (p. 181). Here Lee’s attitude is in accord with that of his colleagues in Wadham, Wilkins and Seth Ward, as expressed in their Vindiciae Academiarum of 1654. We can take it that Lee’s response to Villalpando was agreeable to Wilkins. It is also in line with the attitude of Christopher Wren (catalogue no. 60), who would have known Lee at Wadham.