I am currently reading Improvement of the Mind (1741) by Isaac Watts, and at various instances in the book he mentions people whom I have a hard time tracking down. For example, on Page 14:

Sobrino is a temperate man and philosopher (...)

Or on page 11:

Lucidas and Scintillo are young men of this stamp

I am not sure what I should make of these passages, since I can’t find anything on Google, for example the philosopher Sobrino. Who is Watts referring to?

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: These are fictional types, not real people.

Take your first example with a little more context:

A Man much addicted to Luxury and Pleasure, Recreation and Pastime, should never pretend to devote himself entirely to the Sciences, unless his Soul be so reform’d and refin’d that he can taste all these Entertainments in his Closet, among his books and papers. Sobrino is a temperate Man and Philosopher, and he feeds upon Partridge and Pheasant, Venison and Ragouts, and every Delicacy, in a growing Understanding and a serene and healthy Soul, tho’ he dines on a Dish of Sprouts or Turnips. Languinos lov’d his Ease, and there chose to brought up a Scholar; he had much Indolence in his Temper, and as he never cared for Study, he falls under universal Contempt in his Profession, because he has nothing but the Gown and the Name.

Isaac Watts (1743). The Improvement of the Mind, p. 14. London: J. Brackstone. My emphasis.

The first sentence is a little moral homily about the proper behaviour to be adopted by scholars. Then the next two sentences are (fictional) positive and negative examples. The name Sobrino is modelled on Italian sobrio meaning “sober, temperate”; the character follows the advice, and prospers. The name Languinos is modelled on Italian languido meaning “languid, indolent”; the character neglects the advice and declines.

In your other example, Lucidas is modelled on lucido meaning “bright, shining” and Scintillo is modelled on scintilla meaning “spark”. Their names suit their characters:

Lucidas and Scintillo are young Men of this Stamp: They shine in Conversation, they spread their native Riches before the Ignorant; they pride themselves in their own lively Images of Fancy, and imagine themselves Wise and Learned; but they had best avoid the Pretense of the Skilful, and the Test of Reasoning; and I would advise them once a Day to think forward a little, what a contemptible Figure they will make in Age.

Watts, p. 11.

  • So they're sort of like UX personas or user types? Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 8:39

Watts includes small vignettes at regular intervals in his book. They have names such as Arithmo (page 21 in the 1885 reprint), Positivo (page 26), Jocander (page 28), Niveo and Euron (page 49), Studentio and Plumbinus (page 54), Cario and Faber (page 64), Divito, Politulus and Aulinus (page 65), Solinus and Probus (page 66), Pellucido (page 83), Penseroso (page 127), Lectorides (page 128), Mnemon (page 137).

Names such as Positivo (cf. the adjective "positive"), Studentio, Sobrino (cf. the adjective "sober" in the sense of "moderate" or "serious") and Mnemon (see mnemo- on Wiktionary) suggest that these names are fictitious. The vignettes appear to be intended to bring to life the concepts Watts discusses. (They remind me of personas in user experience design, though much less detailed.) The name "Penseroso" may even have been borrowed from John Milton's poem Il Penseroso (1645/1646).

There are apparently exceptions. For example, Watts mentions John Milton and his poem Paradise Lost (page 69), Zeno (page 99), Isaac Newton (page 103; it is not obvious whether Mathon was a real person), Plato, Cicero, Boyle, Locke and Newton (page 123) and Richard Grey (page 144, author of Memoria technica).

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