George Atherton Aitken.

The life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians online

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Oxford University Press Warehouse
Amen Corner, E.G.

112 Fourth Avenue


Ox/ord UnivcrsHy Press.

John Arbuthxot, M.D.









I think Dr. Arbuthnot the first man among them. He was the most
universal genius, being an excellent physician, a man of deep learning,
and a man of much humour. Dr. Johnson










All who are interested in the literary and social history
of the eighteenth century are to some extent familiar with
the name and character of Doctor Arbiithnot ; but, gener-
ally s^Deaking, knowledge of him is confined to what may
be gathered from the correspondence of his friends, Pope
and Swift. The letters Arbuthnot sent to and received
from those friends must always remain the chief source
of information, but there are many other quarters from
which further details can be gathered. Writers have,
however, followed each other in producing Life after
Life of Pope and Swift, and edition after edition of their
Works, while no one has made any serious attempt to do
a similar service for Arbuthnot, though he was equal to
any of his contemporaries in wit and learning, and was
possessed of a character which was more loveable than
that of any of his better-known acquaintances.

In the present volume an effort has been made to do
tardy justice to the reputation of a good and clever man.
The story of Arbuthnot's life is here told with such fulness
as the materials at our disposal permit of, and consider-
able additions have been made to what was previously
known. The question of his literary work is surrounded
with difficulties, for he generally published anonymously,
and took no trouble to secure fame through his writings.


With the unselfishness which was a marked characteristic,
he was always ready to help any of his friends, and much
of his work is therefore merged in the humorous writings
of Swift, Pope, Gay and others, and cannot now be dis-
tinguished. The matter is, moreover, complicated by the
publication in 1750, fifteen years after Arbuthnot's death,
of a collection of Miscellaneous Works, which was at
once repudiated by his son. Most of the pieces in that
collection are obviously not Arbuthnot's, but some are
undoubtedly his. We must, therefore, have very distinct
corroborative evidence before we accept as genuine any
pamphlet thus attributed to him.

With the exception of a few medical and scientific
writings, everything that we know with certainty to be
Arbuthnot's is here reprinted ; and a few tracts of
doubtful authenticity, but which are not improbably his,
have been added. A detailed Bibliography has also been

It remains to thank those to whom I am most indebted
for aid in the preparation of this book. Mr. W. H.
Baillie gave me access to a number of letters in his pos-
session addressed to Arbuthnot by various friends. Most
of these letters are now printed for the first time, and
their value will be seen when it is stated that they include
new and very interesting letters from Swift, which
supplement the letters from Arbuthnot that we already
possessed. The letters from Pope, which were published
in Elwin and Courthope's edition of that poet's Works,
are now printed, after collation with the originals, and
with the old spelling restored. The Marquis of Bath
kindly examined the Scriblerus papers at Longleat, and
sent me copies of the verses in which Arbuthnot had
a part ; and Mr. S. G. Perceval was good enough to


render me a like service in the case of some letters in
his possession.

For help in tracing the story of Arbuthnot's family
history I have to thank, in the first place, Mr. George
Arbuthnot-Leslie, who lent me valuable papers, and Mrs.
James Arbuthnot, of Peterhead, who furnished some
interesting particulars. Mr. Robert G. Arbuthnot, Mr.
F. F. Arbuthnot, and Colonel and the Misses Allardyce,
aided me in various ways ; and Sir "William Fraser,
K.C.B., Deputy Keeper of the Records, Edinburgh, and
Mr. David "Winter, of the General Registry Office, very
courteously answered my enquiries. For most of the
information now first given respecting Arbuthnot's father
and his own early years I am indebted to the Rev. R. M.
Spence, the present minister at Arbuthnott. "Wlien I
visited Arbuthnot's birthplace, Mr. Spence and his family
received me most kindly, and did everything in their
power to help me.

The Rev. J. F. Bright, D.D., Master of University
College, Oxford, took considerable trouble in answering
the questions that arose when I discovered that Arbuthnot
entered that College. Mr. Robert "Walker, at Aberdeen,
and Mr. J. Maitland Anderson, at St. Andrews, were
equally kind in the assistance they gave me ; and I need
hardly say that every facility has been afforded me at the
British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Advocates'
Library, and South Kensington, and by Mr. Challenor
Smith, of the Probate Registry, Somerset House, and
Mr. J. Balfour Paul, Lyon King at Arms. I am much
indebted to the Royal College of Physicians, and to the
Treasurer, Sir Dyce Duckworth, M.D., for permission to
reproduce the portrait of Dr. Arbuthnot which forms the
frontispiece to this volume.


Of the published writings which I have consulted, it
will suffice here to mention two : Mr. Leslie Stephen's
article on Arbuthnot in the Dictionary of National Bio-
graphy, in which, in a very short space, the main facts of
Arbuthnot's life were for the first time set forth in an
accurate manner; and the edition of Pope's Works,
recently completed by Mr. Courthope, which is invaluable
to all students of the period.

G. A. A.

November, 1891.


Preface ......... vii

Life op Dr. Arbuthnot i

Appendices : —

I. Genealogical Notes . . . . . .171

II. Bibliography 176

Works of Dr. Arbuthnot : —

The History of John Bull ....
The Art of Political Lying ....
Memoirs op Martinus Scriblerus
An Essay concerning the Origin of Sciences


The Humble Petition of the Colliers .

Eeasons humbly offered by the Company of Up-
holders .......

Mr. John Ginglicutt's Treatise

A Sermon Preached at Edinburgh

An Essay on the Usefulness of Mathematical
Learning .......

Gnothi seauton ......

Doubtful Works attributed to Dr. Arbuthnot: —

Notes and Memorandums of the six days preceding the

Death of a late Eight Eeverend . . -445

The Sickness and Death of Dr. Woodward . . .464
It cannot rain but it pours . . . . . .471

The most wonderful Wonder . . . . .475

An Account of the State of Learning in the Empii'e of
Lilliput ......... 483

Critical Eemarks on Capt. Gullivers Travels . .491
Index .......... 507










About three miles east of Bervie^ a small town on
tlie coast of Kincardineshire, between Stonehaven and
Montrose, stands Arbnthnott Castle. Of the castle itself,
and of its various owners, it is not necessary to our
purpose to speak at length ; but, fortunately for the family
and for those interested in its story, one of its members,
Alexander Arbuthnott, who was Principal of King's
College, Aberdeen, until his death in 1583, and who was
also the first Protestant minister at Arbuthnott, left a
manuscript history called Origims et Incrementi Arbvth-
noticae Familiae Descriptio Historica ; and this account is
immediately connected with our subject, from the fact
that Dr. Arbuthnot's father wrote a continuation, the
original of which is now in the Library of the Faculty of
Advocates at Edinburgh : A continuation of the Gene-
alogie of the noble family of Arbuthnott by Mr. Alexr.
Arbuthnott sometime Minister at the Kirk of Arbuthnott.
An abstract of these accounts is given in the Calendar of
the papers in the possession of Viscount Arbuthnott, which
was prepared by Sir William Fraser for publication by
the Historical Manuscripts Commission in 1881 ; and the
reader can there trace the history of the various lairds
from the thirteenth century, or earlier, to the seventeenth,

^7 ^


when Robert was created first Viscount Arbuthnott by
Charles I. His son Robert, who succeeded to the title in
1655, took a somewhat active part in public affairs, and
lived until 1682. The third Viscount, whose name was
also Robert, married in the following year Anne,
daughter of George, Earl of Sunderland, but he died in
1694, in his thirty-first year.

Lord Arbuthnott was patron of the living of Arbuthnott,
and sometimes the parson was a connection of the patron's
family. Such was the case in 1662, when Dr. Arbuthnot's
father became incumbent upon the death of the Rev.
John Sibbald ^. The Rev. Alexander Arbuthnott was the
son of Robert Arbuthnott^, a gentleman farmer of Scots-
mill, a pretty place near Peterhead, and grandson of
John Arbuthnott, who was Notary Public in 1598. The
descent has been traced two generations further back, to
James Arbuthnott, who was of Lentusch, Kincardineshire,
in 1540, and whose three sons moved northwards about
1560, in order to be under the protection of the Keiths,
the hereditary Earls MarischaP, who had intermarried
with their own family. John, one of Alexander Arbuth-
nott's brothers, was factor to the Earl Marischal ; while
another brother, Robert, was a farmer in Buchan, and has

' In his Continuation of the Gene- ^ A copy of the inscription in

alogie of the noble family of Arbuthnott St. Fergus Churchyard to Robert

the Rev. Alexander Arbuthnott Arbuthnott and his wife Beatrix

wrote : ' Mr. John Sibbald was Gordon is given in Annals of Peter-

my own predecessor at the Kirk head, by P. Buchan : Peterhead,

of Arbuthnott, whose memory is 1819, p. 134.

yet recent in this place, and his ^ George, the tenth Earl Maris-

fame doth and will flourish to all dial, joined the Earl of Mar in

succeeding ages for his pious and the insurrection of 17 15, and was

religious life, his great painfulness attainted and deprived of all his

in his calling, his learning and dignities {Notes on Dignities in the

charitable works.' Sibbald was Peerage of Scotland which are dormant,

chiefly instrumental in building or xvhich have been forfeited, by W. O.

a school, gave money for a school- Hewlett: London, 1882, pp. 156-163;

master, and left his books, worth An Historical and Authentic Account of

more tlian 1000 marks, for the use the ancient and noble Family of Keith,

of incumbents who might follow Earls Marischal of Scotland, by P.

him. He died suddenly, after Buchan : Peterhead, 1820;.
thirty years' work.


liad numerous descendants, many of whom have dis-
tinguished themselves in the public service. It does not
appear precisely how the branch of the family to which
Arbuthnot belonged was connected with the Lairds of
Arbuthnott ; and Arbuthnot's father, in his notes on the
family history, says nothing of himself.

In 1666 Alexander Arbuthnott married. On March 18,
to quote from the parish register, 'Mr. Alexander
Arbuthnott, Parson of Arbuthnott, and Margaret Lammy
[Lamy] in the Parishe of Marytown, gave up their names
to be proclaimed for marriage,' and they ' were married
April 4.' In the following year we find the entry
which most immediately concerns us : ' Aprile 29, 1667.
Alexander Arbuthnott^ Parson of Arbuthnott, had ane
Sone baptized named Johne.' Other children followed ;
Robert, baptized in 1669; Alexander, 167 1; Katherine,
1672 ; Alexander, 1675, — the elder child of the name
having no doubt died ; Anne, 1681 ; Joan, 1685 ; and
George, 1688. Of several of these we shall hear from
time to time.

The present manse, pleasantly situated in a hollow
through which the Water of Bervie flows to the sea,
stands on the site of the house where Arbuthnot was born,
and it is probable that the oldest portions of the building
— which has been added to at different times — include
the four rooms of which the house perhaps consisted two
hundred years ago. But be this as it may, there are still
some fine yew trees in the manse garden which must
have been several hundred years old when Arbuthnot
was a boy. The neighbouring church, moreover, of which
his father was minister, is still the parish church. It was
gutted by fire in 1889, but while the more modern
additions were destroyed, the fine old walls remained, and
the building, which was consecrated in the thirteenth
century, has now been carefully restored as nearly as
possible to its original form.

B 2


No particulars have come down to us of Arbuthnot's early
years ; and, taking into account the difficulties of loco-
motion at that time, we cannot share the interest felt
by Dr. Beattie in Scotsmill, where Arbuthnot's grand-
father lived. 'This place,' says Beattie in a letter to
Mrs. Montagu, ' in a romantic situation on the brink
of a river, about three miles from Peterhead, .... I
often visit as classic ground, as being probably the place
where the Doctor, when a schoolboy, might often pass
his holidays ^' It is stated, with greater probability,
that Arbuthnot was educated at Marischal College, Aber-
deen, but as the record of students of the college does
not go back beyond the beginning of the last century
the story cannot be tested. Arbuthnot afterwards took
his degree in medicine, not at Aberdeen, but at St,

The first great turning-point in Arbuthnot's life came

when he was twenty-one. The Revolution of 1688

brought with it greater changes in Scotland than in

England, because the measures introduced by James II

had been especially repugnant to the majority of the

Scotch nation. All who had not been willing to comply

with the Episcopalian form of Church government had

been deprived of religious and civil rights, and it is not

to be wondered at that when the opportunity presented

itself the people were quick to retaliate. There were

grave disorders, especially in the west, and some 200 of

the clergy were expelled from their homes and churches,

and in many cases were very roughly used in the ' rabbling

of the curates,' which commenced on Christmas Day, 1688.

Others were turned out by the Privy Council for refusing

to acknowledge "William and Mary. Twelve bishops were

deprived, and they met with little s^^mpathy. Only two

days before William III landed, the Scotch bishops

1 An Account of the Life and Writ- William Forbes, Bart., 1807, vol. ii.
ings of James Beattie, LL.D., by Sir pp. 357, 358.


at Edinburgli composed a letter to King James, wliom
tliey called ' the darling of lieaven.' "When the bishops
had been expelled and the General Assembly restored,
all had been done that was necessary for the re-establish-
ment of Presbjrterianism, and in June, 1690, an Act was
passed ratifying the Confessions of Faith, and vesting the
Church government in the hands of the ministers who had
been ousted in 1661. In October the General Assembly
met, and Commissions were appointed to go through the
country and purge out obnoxious ministers. The King
wrote to the General Assembly that he expected them to
act in such a manner that there should be no occasion to
repent of what had been done. ' AVe never could be of
the mind that violence was suited to the advancing of
tme religion ; nor do we intend that our authority shall
ever be a tool to the irregular passions of any party.'
The Assembly, though many of its members would
have preferred more thorough-going measures, answered
respectfully that they had suffered too much from op-
pression ever to be oppressors. But the Commissions
they appointed certainly did not always show the mo-
deration that had been promised^.

Alexander Arbuthnott was among the clergy who
would not conform to the Presb3d:erian system, and
accordingly, on the 29th of September, 1689, he was de-
posed from his living by his patron, Viscount Arbuthnott.
The minister and his sons were strong partisans of the
Stuarts, and the second son, Robert, a youth of twenty,
had taken part in the battle of Killiecrankie, in the
preceding July, when the Highlanders achieved a victory
for James, which, however, they were not able to pursue.
Alexander Arbuthnott retired to a small property he had
inherited, called Kinghornie, which still gives its name

^ Tiie Clturch History of Scotland, by xiii and xvi ; Lecture on the Revolution

.John Cunningham, 1882 ; Wod- Settlement, delivered in St. Giles's

row's History of the Sufferings, &c.; Cathedral by the Rev. R. H. Story.
Macaulay's History of England, chaps.


to a farm in the parish of Kinneff ^ In this quiet spot,
near Hallgreen Castle, and on rising ground by the sea,
about three miles south-east of Arbuthnott, he spent the
few remaining months of his life. He died on the 27th of
February, 169 1, but the religious strife in which he had
been involved was not closed over his grave. AYhen
deprived of his charge he had, it seems, carried away with
him the Session record, and in November, 1690, soon after
his successor, Francis Melvill, had been ordained, certain
persons were appointed to see the late incumbent on the
matter. But their visit appears to have been without
result, and immediately after his death the question of
the return of the book was again raised in the Kirk
Session in the manner described in the following minute :

March 4, 1691. Wednesday. The which day the Session
met. Sederunt, Kobert Viscount of Arbuthnott, Alex. Arbuth-
nott of Pitcarles*^, &c.. Elders, and William Leper, Alex. Jeffray,
&c., Deacons. They considering that M^ Alex. Arbuthnott
late incumbent departed this life on Friday last, the twentieth
and seventh of February, and that the Session book is not
given vip, it is thought fit that Thomas Allardes should go and
speak to his sons and desire them to give up the said book, or
if they will not to assure them that the ground in order to the
said M^. Alexander's burial would not be opened ; which
message the said Thomas undertook to deliver and to return
their answer on Thursday before ten of the clock in the
forenoon, which was that M^". John Arbuthnott his eldest lawful
son had given his bond to the Viscount of Arbuthnott for the

* Statistical Account of Scotland This Andrew was father of the

(1845), vol. xi. p. 158, by the Rev. Alexander Arbuthnott who was

James Mylne, of Arbuthnott. lb. Principal of Aberdeen University,

vol. xi. p. 313. The fourth son of Kobert (the third),

^ The third son of Robert, third named Robert, was presented by his

laird of that name, was called father to the living of Arbuthnott,

Alexander, and his father gave him and there spent the remainder of

in patrimony a piece of land an exemplary life. He resided

adjacent to the manor house of with his brother in Pitcarles, thei'e

Arbuthnott, called Pitcarles, which being, as the Rev. Alexander

had formerly been possessed by Arbuthnott tells us in his family

Andrew, son of Robert (the second) notes, no manse at that time for

and grandson of Robert (the third). the incumbent.


deliveiy of the said book under the failzie [forfeiture] of
one hundred merks.

The burial was accordingly permitted, and took place,
as we learn from the register, on the 6th of March. The
question of a monument was then raised, and on the 8th
of April 'The Viscount of Arbuthnott informed the
Session that Mr. John Arbuthnott had spoke to him and
desired to have the liberty of making ane tomb or
monument above the grave of his deceased father, Mr.
Alex. Arbuthnott late incumbent of this congregation, to
which the said Viscount replied that it would neither be
done without the answer of the heritours nor without
the will and consent of the Session, neither without ane
bill presented to the Session desiring the same, as is
foiTaal in all judicatories, as also the inscription of the
said tomb must be seen and known, that there be
nothing found therein which may be derogatory to the
present Government, or reflecting on the present minister
at the place.' Perhaps Arbuthnot refused to comply
with these conditions ; at all events, no monument to his
father is now extant.


Upon the death of Alexander Arbuthnott his sons left
their native countrv to seek their fortune in various
directions. John went to London ^, and maintained
himself by teaching mathematics. He lived, it is said, at
the house of Mr. AVilliam Pate, a woollen-draper, who
was well known for his learning -. It cannot be stated

' In Noble's Continuation of Gran- time there. This statement seems

ger's Biographical History, i8o6 (vol. to be without confirmation,

iii. p. 365), it is said that on leaving - Swift said Pate was ' both a hel

Scotland, Arbuthnot went first to espnY and a woollen-draper,' and he

Dorchester, but stayed no length of mentions dining with him on seve-



exactly wlien this important step was takeu, but if a
little book which was published anonymously in London
in 1692 is rightly attributed to Arbuthnot, it is probable
that he left Scotland soon after his father's death in the
spring of 169 1.

The book referred to, Of the Laius of Chance, reached a
fourth edition, and was afterwards reprinted in the
Supplement to the second edition (1751) of the Mis-
cellaneous Works of the late Dr. Arbuthnot. It will be
necessary therefore at once to say something of the
credentials of this posthumous collection of pieces attri-
buted to Arbuthnot. In the autumn of 1750 two volumes
of Miscellaneous Works appeared, with ' Glasgow ' given
on the title-pages as the place of publication, and a
second edition, ' with Additions,' soon followed. In
September, Arbuthnot's son, George, inserted an adver-
tisement in the papers declaring that these volumes were
' not the "Works of my late father, Dr. Arbuthnot, but an
imposition on the Publick.' This repudiation, however,
cannot have been intended for more than a disavowal of
responsibility ; for when we examine the contents we
find that some of the pieces are undoubtedly Arbuthnot's,
and that some are known to be by other writers ; while
in the case of the remainder we have little or nothing to
guide us but internal evidence. It will be necessary to
refer to this subject from time to time, and we shall be
assisted in the enquiry by the effort that has now been
made, though sometimes without success, to trace back

ral occasions (Swift to Hunter, Jan.
12, 1709 ; Journal to Stella, Sept. 17
and 24, Oct. 6, 1710). Pope asked
Hughes (April 19, 17 14) to get Pate
to help in promoting the subscrip-
tions to his ' Homer ' ; and Steele's
anecdote of the prudent woollen-
draper, ' remarkable for his learning
and good-nature' {Guardian, No. 141)
probably refers to Pate. A note
from Pate to Sir Hans Sloane about

a pattern of black cloth is preserved
in the British Museum (Add. MS.
4055, f. 29% He died in December,
1746, and was buried at Lee, Kent.
It is stated in Scott's ' Swift ' that
Pate was educated at Trinity Hall,
Cambridge, and obtained the B.A.
degree ; but there is no mention of
him in the list of Cambridge gradu-
ates, or in Cole's MSS.


each pamphlet in the collection to the form in which it
originally appeared. The Miscellaneous Works were re-
printed in 1770, with a short Life, the accuracy of which
George Arbuthnot admitted ^

The duodecimo volume Of the Laws of Chance was
published, as we have seen, in 1692, and it was reprinted
in the Miscellaneous Works with the title Huygens de
Ratiociniis in Ludo Aleae : Translated into English by
Dr. Arbuthnot It was, in all probability, correctly
attributed to the Doctor — who was himself a great card-
player — and if this is the case, it was his first publication.
In the preface it is stated that the discourse was in great
part a translation from Huygens. ' The whole I under-
took for my own divertisement, next to the satisfaction of
some friends, who would now and then be wrangling about
the proportions of hazards in some cases that are here
decided. . . . My design in publishing it was to make it
of more general use, and perhaps persuade a raw Squire

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 1 of 47)