Full Title: An Essay Towards a Real Character, And a Philosophical Language. By John Wilkins . . . London: Printed for A. Gellibrand, and for John Martin Printer to the Royal Society, 1668.
It may perhaps be expected by some, that I should give an account of my ingaging [sic] in a Work of this nature so unsuitable to my Calling and Business.
For the satisfaction of such, they may please to take notice, that this Work was first undertaken, during that vacancy and leasure [sic] which I formerly enjoyed in an Academicall [sic] station, to which the endeavours of promoting all kind of usefull [sic] knowledge, whereby Learning may be improved, is a very suitable imployment [sic]. In the time of that daily and intimate converse which I then injoyed [sic], with that most Learned and excellent Person Dr. Seth Ward, the present Bishop of Salisbury. I had frequent occasion of conferring with him, concerning the various Desiderata, proposed by Learned men, or such things as were conceived yet wanting to the advancement of several parts of Learning; amongst which, this of the Universal Character, was one of the principal, most of which he had more deeply considered, than any other Person that I knew. And in reference to this particular, he would say, That as it was one of the most usefull, so he judged it to be one of the most feasible, amongst all the rest, if prosecuted in a regular way. But for all such attempts to this purpse, which he had either seen or heard of, the Authors of them did generally mistake in their first foundations; whilst they did propose to themselves the framing of such a Character, from a Dictionary of Words, according to some particular Language, without reference to the nature of things, and that common Notion of them, wherein Mankid does agree, which must chiefly be respected, before any attempt of this nature could signifie [sic] any thing, as to the main end of it.
It was from this suggestion of his, that I first had any distinct apprehension of the proper course to be observed, in such an undertaking; having in a Teatise I had published some years before, proposed the Hebrew Tongue as consisting of fewest Radicals, to be the fittest ground work for such a design.
Besides the many Private conferences to this purpose, I must not forget to mention, that Publique account which he hath given to the World, of Vindiciae Academiarum; wherein he endeavours to vindicate those Ancient and famous schools of Learning, from such reproaches, whereby some Ignorant and ill-natured men (taking the advantage of those bad Times) would have exposed them to contempt and ruine [sic]. In which Treatise there is mention made of some considerable preparations, towards the Design here proposed, which if his other necessary employments [sic] would have permitted him to have prrosecuted, would without doubt, long ere this, have been advanced to as great a Perfection, as the first Essay in so difficult a matter could have attained. . . .
If any shall suggest, that some of the Enquiries here insisted upon (as particularly those about the Letters of the Alphabet) do seem too minute and trivial, for any prudent Man to bestow his serious thoughts and time about. such Persons may knwo, t hat the discovery of the true nature and Cause of any the most minute thing, doth promote real Knowledge, and therefore cannot be unfit for any Mans [sic] endeavours, who is willing to contribute to the advancement of Learning. Upon which Account some of the most eminent Persons, in several Ages, who were Men of business, have not disdained to bestow their pains about the First elements of speech . . .