Natural philosopher John Wilkins’ Mathematical Magick of 1648 contains a startling passage in which he foretells the advantages of a long-range submarine, or “ship, wherein men may safely swim underwater”:
- ‘Tis private; a man may thus go to any coast of the world invisibly, without being discovered or prevented in his journey;
- ‘Tis safe; from the uncertainty of Tides, and the violence of Tempests, which do never move the sea above five or six paces deep. From Pirates and Robbers which do so infest other voyages; from ice and great frosts, which do so much endanger the passages toward the Poles.
- It may be of very great advantage against a Navy of enemies, who by this means may be undermined in the water, and blown up.
- It may be of a special use for the relief of any place that is besieged by water, to convey unto them invisible supplies: and so likewise for the surprisal of any place that is accessible by water.
- It may be of unspeakable benefit from submarine experiments and discoveries.
Wilkins was aware of Cornelius Drebbel’s primitive sub of 1620, but he looks much farther ahead, seeming to foresee combat submarines and deep-sea exploration vessels.
“I am not able to judge what other advantages there may be suggested, or whether experiment would fully answer to these notional conjectures,” he concluded. “But however, because the invention did unto me seem ingenious and new, being not impertinent to the present enquiry, therefore I thought it might be worth the mentioning.”
(From Joseph J. Thorndike Jr., ed., Mysteries of the Deep, 1980.)