George Atherton Aitken.

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

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by it, to keep his money in his pocket ; and if, upon this
account, I should incur the clamours of the Sharpers, I do
not much regard it, since they are a sort of people the
world is not bound to provide for.' ' The whole art of
gaming, where there is anything of hazard, is to calculate,
in dubious cases, on which side there are most chances ;
and the principles here laid down would enable anyone,
even in the midst of the game, to make a sufficiently
accurate conjecture.' ' I will not debate whether one
may engage another in a disadvantageous wager ; if a
man enters the lists he takes it for granted that his
fortune and judgment are at least equal to those of his
playfellows ; but false dice and tricks are inexcusable,
for the question in gaming is not, who is the best
juggler. There are very few things of which we have any
real knowledge which cannot be reduced to a mathematical
reasoning, and such reasoning, when practicable, is always

^ Kippis's Biographia Britannica, 1778.


the best. The calculation of the quantity of probability
might be applied to many things besides games ; politics
are nothing else but a kind of analysis of the quantity of
probability in casual events, and a good politician
signifies no more but one who is dexterous at such
calculations ; only the principles which are made use of
in the solution of such problems can't be studied in a
closet, but acquired by the observation of mankind.'
The rest of the book is occupied with the demonstration,
in a popular form, of a number of propositions relating to
the chances of the game with dice or cards. 'A
mathematician will easily perceive it is not put in such a
dress as to be taken notice of by him, tli.ere being abund-
ance of words spent to make the more ordinary sort of
people understand it.'

We now come to an event in Arbuthnot's life which
has not previously been suspected. On October 6, 1694,
two years after the publication of the Laivs of Chance,
Arbuthnot entered University College, Oxford, as ' Socio
Commensalis,' or Fellow-commoner. The entry in the
college books is simply ' Ego Johannes Arbuthnot lubens
subscribe ' ; there are none of the usual particulars of
parentage, age, or tutor's name. Arbuthnot was then
twenty-seven and it would appear that a Fellow-commoner
was a man of greater age than the ordinary undergraduate,
and was not compelled to enter under any particular tutor.
There were at that time no less than five classes among the
undergraduates : ' Socio Commensalis,' ' Generoso Com-
mensalis,' ' Commensalis Primi, or supremi, or superioris,
ordinis,' ' Commensalis,' and ' Serviens ' ; but in the
eighteenth century the use of the first two titles was

The Master of University College during Arbuthnot's
residence was Dr. Charlett, with whom he maintained a
friendship in later life. Charlett was fond of society and
was a copious letter-writer ; but he was at the same time


a scholar and a patron of learning. He had been made
Master at the early age of thirty-seven, only two years be-
fore Arbuthnot entered the college. Such of Arbuthnot's
literary contemporaries as were Oxford men — Addison,
Prior, King, Atterbnry — had naturally graduated several
years before he went to the University ; but some of
them still lived at Oxford, or visited the city from time
to time, and he may thus have made their acquaintance.
Steele left Merton College to join the army at the
beginning of the year in which Arbuthnot entered
University College.

A youth named Edward Jeffreys was admitted to
University College on the same day as Arbuthnot, and it
is evident that Arbuthnot was acting as his companion
and private tutor. Edward Jeffreys was the eldest son
of Jeffrey Jeffreys, Esq., afterwards Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys,
of Roehampton, Surrey, and St. Mary Axe, London,
member of Parliament for Brecon, and alderman of the
city of London ^ ; and on the 28th of December, 1694, a
few weeks after young Jeffreys had gone to University
College, his father wrote to Dr. Charlett :

I am extremely well pleased of y® character you give me of
my son, and of Mr. Arbuthnot ^.

The following letters from Arbuthnot, the earliest that
we possess, were all addressed to Dr. Charlett ^ :

1 The entry of Edward Jeffreys' 1689. Hobbes had lived in this

admission in the college books is as house with the last Earl, and there

follows : ' Ego Edwardus Jeffreys Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys died (Lyson's

filius natu maximus Galfridi Encirons of London). He was member

Jeffreys Armigeri de Roughampton for Brecon from 1690 to 1698, and

in eomitatu Surreii Inbens snb- from 1701 until his death in 1709.

scribo sub tutamine magistri Hud- ^ Ballard MSS. (Bodleian), xi.

son.' Jeffreys, who entered as T7. On April 18, 1695, William

'Primi ordinis Commensalis,' was Strachan wrote to Dr. Charlett

an ordinary undergraduate, and from Utrecht, 'Give my humble

would no doubt be considerably service to Mr. Arbuthnot of

younger than Arbuthnot. His your College ' (Ballard MSS. xxvii.

father obtained possession of the 54).

house belonging to the Earls of ^ Ballard MSS. xxiv. 56, 57, 58,

Devonshire upon the death of the 59.

last Countess of Devonshire in



Honour'l S''

I hop yow will excuse my so long silence which proceeds
from no principle against writing, but my stay in the contrey
being but just now come to toun.

We have been very well received by evry body ; M^". Jeffreys
and his lady are very sensible of your care and to say truth
M"" Edward behaves himself very prettily. M"". Nick : needed
no body to introduce him to his fathers aifection, for he
is sufficiently master of that faculty himself ; however I
beleive he will not come to Oxford again.

M^. Jeffreys has given me orders to doe in the window as I
please, so you may assure your self ther shall be no delay, and
I had spoke to M^. Cook^ ere now, but the Vice-Chanclour ^ being
resolved to doe M^". Jeffreys the honour of a visit at his contrey
house on Saturday next if his business permitt, I am resolved
befor that time to carry Cook to the Vice-Chanclour. D"".
Gregory ^ will introduce me who I beleive goes along with the
Vice-Chanclour to Eouhamptoun ; In a word whatever yow
have to order me in that affair please to aquaint me and it
shall be done.

I wold desire yow likewise to excuse M^. Edward for not
writing, the fondness nowe is over & so he will have leisure to
mind his duty.

By my stay in the contrey yow may guess I am a stranger
to news but I will trouble yow w* some when I can come
by these that are good fresh especially a scheme of the
Jacobites politicks. The M. of Carmarthen * sitts as president
of the Councill but the contest betwixt his and the other party
is so high that one of them must to pot. My L. Poland ^ has

^ Henry Cook (1642-1 700) painted
an altar-piece for New College,
Oxford, and was employed by
William III to repair Kaphael's

- Henry Aldrich, D.D., became
Vice-Chancellor in 1692, and was
Dean of Christ Church from 1689 to
1 7 10. He was musical, and very

■' Dr. David Gregoiy, born at
Aberdeen in 1661, was Savilian
Professor of Astronomy at Oxford
(Irving's Lives of Scottish Writers,
1839, vol. ii. 239-267).

* Sir Thomas Osborne, Lord High

Treasurer, was made Baron Osborne
in 1673, Earl of Danby in June of
the same year, Marquis of Car-
marthen in 1689, and Duke of
Leeds in 1694.

' Hans William Bentinck came
to England with William III, and
in 1689 was created Earl of Port-
land. The King went abroad on
May 12 {two days before Arbuthnot
wrote this letter) attended, among
others, by Lord Portland, who had
just obtained from his royal master
the lordships of Denbigh, Bromfield
and Yale, in Denbighshire. The
gentlemen of the county protested


gott a small present from the K. of 25000 a year of the P. of
Wales estate, but ther are many caveats put in ag* it by those
who have leases. Zuleistein^ has gott another of the D. of
Powis's ^ but it was stop'd at the seall ; the Duke being only
a tenant for life. D'". Gregory gives yow his service if ther is
any thing I can serve yow in heir command S^"

Your most humble servant


London : May 14, 95.

Eeverend S""

I call'd according to your order at Mr. Sares who carry'd me
to Vandebanks, he had nothing compleat by him to shew
me save a gentlemans picture w'^^ when I look'd at in the
Koom I could not desern the difference betwixt it and a good
fresh piece of painting till I came near and touch'd it and
to say truth this is one of the main objections I have ag* your
Altar piece that the art is so great that it will represent to the
eye a piece of painting. M"". Sare ask'd him about Cusheons,
he sayes for these things he agrees by the Dutch ell square
which is f of an English yard to doe it all silk will be about
50 s. and upon a worsted warp 40 s. I saw in his loom one of
Le Bruns fyne pieces doing for my Lord Stowell, it will be a
very noble piece when it is compleated.

I have a letter from Doctor Gregory in which he gives yow
his humble service, he sayes he has yours & that he has
wrote to yow since, he complains of the difficulty of removing
wives, he sayes Archimedes's Mechanicks wold have faill'd him
ther he desires yow will excuse his stay to the V. Cha. &
he hopes to be at Oxford ag* the beginning of Nov'".

I told yow in my last letter that M^. Jeffreys will lend
yow the 100 11. which yow may have when yow please.

I have seen a great many who remember yow kindly I
shan't be able to answer all the invitations I have to drink
your good health. This day D^. Eatcliff =* din'd with Mr.
Jeffreys ; he has giv'n M^". Edward some new injunctions but he
sayes he finds him almost well and that ther is no danger.

to the Treasury, and then petitioned ^William, third Baron Powis,

the House of Commons, which Avas created Earl in 1674 and

presented an address to the King, Marquis in 1687. He accompanied

with the result that the grant was James II to France and was by him

recalled. made Duke of Powis. He died at

* William Henry de Nassau, Lord St. Germains in 1696.

of Zuylestein, was made Master ^ Dr. John Radcliffe, who died in

of the Robes by William III. 1714-


Amongst other news I heard him tell he had ))in this morning
with S^" Tho : Clergis \ who is in a fitt of an apoplexie and he
doubts much of his recovery, so its probable the Vniversity
will be putt to the pains to chuse a new member of Pari'"*.
I find its still a question if ther will be a new one. his
Ma'^i'^ is expected next week. The rate of guineas heir makes
great disturbance in business ; the receivers won't take them
in the K's taxes, and this day the colliers have bin with the
seven complaining of the trouble & impediments they receive
in ther business on this occasion ; Cap*" Pitts master of one of
the E. Indian ships is like to ransom his ship & bring her
home he comes w* sad complaints of the E. India company
& this day I heard a Merch* say that if he comes home he
won't give the company 50 per cent for ther stock, ther is
some great roguery I can't tell what it is. Ther is like to be
great opposition ag* the passing of this grant of the incomes of
the Principality of Wales upon my Ld Portland, the Welsh
Gentry interest themselves so much ag* it that they proceed to
great heats, but the K's order is positive after a representation
of the Lds Commissioners. To fill up the page I must tell yow
that M^". Germain" was catch'd abed w* a Lady a brewers
daughter being a considerable fortune and by her freinds
threaten'd into marriage who broke into the room & offer'd
to pistoll him, that was the reverse of Jenny Eieks case. The
Archi' of Glasgow is in toun ^ Ther are no new books ;
fearing to wearie yow I must begg leave only to remain

Your most humble serv^,

Jo : Arbuthnott.
London, Octob'' 3<i, 1695.

Eev"cl Sr
I have yours and wrote one to yow last week by M^, Jefi'reys's
order, which I found the other day in the counting house
having been neglected ; nothing else could have excus'd me.

* Sir Thomas Clarges was member 1698), reputed son of William III,

for the University of Oxford Ln the Prince of Orange. His relations

Parliament which met in March, with Lady Mary Mordaunt, wife of

1690, and was dissolved on Oct. II, the Duke of Norfolk, occasioned

1695, a week after this letter was much scandal.

written. In the following Parlia- ^ Presumably John Paterson,

ment his place was taken by Sir wliowas translated from Edinburgh

William Trumbull, Secretary of in 1687, but was ejected soon after

State. the Eevolution of 1688.

° Sir John Germain (knighted in


What I had wrote ther was chiefly concerning the Bp. of
St. David's ' ; M^. Jeffreys having desir'd that as far as yow
could have influence, ther might be all justice done him in the
report of the evidence, he being convinc'd from a pai'ticular
knowledge of the matters alleg'd ag*^ him, that ther was a great
dele of malice in his adversaries, and that the Bp. was not so
culpable as they had represented to the world ; that upon an
account which M^. Jeffreys gave My Lord Abingtoun he was
pleas'd to befriend the Bp. very much in the house of Lords.

My. Edward I suppose has told yow of our safe arryvall
at Eouhampton and that M^". Allen was pleasd next Sunday to
give us a sermon in M^. Jeffrey's chappell ; we are very
acceptable and M^*. Edward behaves himself very much to
his fathers satisfaction, I hope we shall see Oxford within
a month, for our military exploits are deferr'd a year longer,
I took the effectuall method to stop them. M"^, Jennings told
me [he] had expos'd that project sufficiently befor he had mine.

This morning I saw D^. Kadcliff he ask'd kindly for yow.
the Dean of Christ church lodges at his house, but he was
not dress'd, severall whom I have seen give yow ther service
particularly "M^. Cook the painter, M"*. Pate ^, but none more
particularly then M'". Swall the bookseller ^ whose civilitys are
valuable, if rated according to ther scarcity.

We have seen the entry of the Venetian Ambassadours
which was veiy splendid, and yesterday we saw them at the
play-house wher they seem'd to be well-pleas'd and had the
complaisance to clap with the rest of the audience, to morrow
we hope to see them at the Banqueting house ; they goe with
the King on Saturday next.

Newes I have none but what are in the publick papers
politicks are so scarce they are risen cent per cent, false newes
like false money are only to pass with the gove^^ foi- ther is no
lying but upon the side of it. Ferguson^ they say is like
to swing unregretted ; an old complotter of his one Charletoun
ask'd the K. leave to see him he having been his intimate
freind. The K. told him he w^old grant it him upon condition
he wold give his honour to tell him all which pass'd betwixt
them, Charletoun answer'd that his freind being upon his life.

1 Thomas Watson, Fellow of St. => Abel Swalle, of St. Paul's

John's, Cambridge, was deprived of Churchyard.

the bishopric in 1699, for simony * Ferguson was tried for high

and other crimes. treason, with Sir John FenAvick and

• See page 7. others.


such a visit wold be rather insidious, and might doe him
a mischief wheras he intended him a kindness but assur'd the
K. if ther was any concern'd his own person immediatly
he wold not think himself oblidg'd by any tyes of freindship
to conceall it so he was deny'd.

People are at ther witts end about the money, what is like to
become of them after the 8th of May, ther is hardly any new
money goes except in some pay*^ from exchequer, for people
will never be prevail'd upon to lett broad money goe when
dipt will serve ther turn ', they say ther is a clause in this act
for the new bank^ allowing them to take 500 000 11. of any
silver money whatsomever which will make dipt money goe
for a considerable time. People find ways to elude the penalty
of the act about guineas as discounting bank notes for so much
loss if payd in guineas, bargaining for ther commodities for so
much less ; however the law will be severely executed, they
change them at the tower for 2 2 ss. new money.

M"". Jeffreys did sign in the lieutenancy and I find most are
of opinion that now this association is turn'd into a Law people
will take the opportunity of that excuse and the house is not
like to be much thinner for it \ I shall trouble yow to give my
respects to Mi". Cornwallis, M^. Bertie * and M^. Hudson '. Ther

I The wholesale clipping of the an act declaring anyone incapable

silver coinage caused great anxiety of public trvist, or of serving in par-

in 1695-6, and a severer Act against liament, vi\\o did not sign. An

clippers served only to alarm the order was also passed in council for

nation, so that guineas equal in depriving of their commissions all

value to 21S. 6f?. in silver, rose to 30s. who had not signed the association

The loss to the couiitry was at last while it was voluntary,

stopped by recoining all the current * In 1697 Mr. A. Bertie wrote to

cash ; and the critical state of affairs Dr. Charlett: 'I just parted from Dr.

in April, as the day fixed for the Gregory and Mr. Arbuthnot, where

discontinuance of the old coins wee drunck y'' Health' (Ballard

drew near, was relieved by the MSS. xxxix. 70). In the Parliament

issue of Exchequer bills. of 1690-1695 Montagu Bertie, Lord

^ The Land Bank, an abortive Norreys, was member for Oxford

attempt to rival the recently estab- county, and the Hon. Henry Bertie

lished Bank of England. and Sir Edward Norreys were

^ In consequence of the discovery of members for Oxford city. Charles
the Assassination plot in February, Bertie was made Treasurer and Pay-
associations binding the members to master of the Office of the Ordinance
support King William and the sue- in 1702.

cession as settled by the Bill of ^ .lohn Hudson, Jeffreys' college

Rights were formed by both Houses tutor. He was made D.D. in 1701.

of Parliament. The association was His edition of Pate rculus, 1693, was

afterwards signed throughout the published at the charge of Dr.

country, and this was followed by Charlett.


are great changes at court talk't off, some think that they
resolve to remove all old rotten matterials and have all new, it
making the more lasting and orderly edifice. This is two
letters in one, which will I hope excuse my being so tedious.
I am

K. Sr

Your most humble servant

Jo : Arbuthnott.
London : Apryle 30, 96.

Our fleet sayls westward upon some expedition.

Revi<i S^
I thank yow heartily for yours, which I had the other day,
Mr. Edward had his book, but the letter his father kept
because he wold not lett him know of any design he had
of taking him from Oxford, his father talks now of sending
him ther in the winter and keeping his chamber for him still
in case he should have occasion for it, for the present we have
entirely quarrell'd with all humane learning, so that tho your
book be a very noble present and finely printed, the foot ball
and cudgells had bin fitter for us. The Dean of Christs church
& D'". Ratcliff were here last week wher yow were kindly
remembred. The Bishop of London ^ was here on munday
last, it will be no newes to tell yow D^". Lancaster " is married.
I have chid M\ Edwai'd in being so negligent in writing to his
tutor, but he treats him like the rest of his business ; his
father sayes he repents his having taken him from Oxford, yow
may imagine it is a wondrous hard task to send him back
again, we have had twenty resolutions, but the present design
is to bring him up to his own business, and perhaps as I hinted
before to send him to Oxford in winter ; such an unsteddiness
makes me incapable to doe him any service, and for my part I
am resolv'd on some other course of life, wherin I can not
doubt of your kindness, because yow never gave me the least
occasion to doe so. I shall trouble yow to give my service
to M^. Hudson, He make his pupill write to him next week,
and D'^. Gregory whom (not having seen M^. Newton ^ as yet,

^ Henry Compton, who was Steele's paper in the Spectator, No.

translated from Oxford in 1675. 43, Mr. Froth being Dr. Charlett

^ William Lancaster, Provost of (^Hearne's Dmr?/, April 22, 171 1\
Queen's College, was made D.D. in ^ Sir Isaac Newton was knighted

1692. He was the 'Sly-Boots' in in 1705.


nor been in town this forthnight) I had nothing to write to.
Mr. Jeffreys gives yow his service and resents ' very much your
kindness to his son and none has more reason both for him and
my selfe then

Your most humble serv*
Jo : Arbuthnott.
Kouhampton, June 6"', 96.

Upon the death of Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys in 1709, his son
Edward was elected Member for Brecon, in his place, and
retained the seat during the Parliament of 17 10 to 1713-
After that time we hear nothing of him'-.

Very shortly after writing this last letter Arbnthnot car-
ried out his resolve to try ' some other course of life,' and
went to St. Andrews, where, in September, 1696, at the age
of 29, he took his doctor's degree in medicine. He had not
studied at St. Andrews, but was admitted a member of
the University in virtue of his graduation in medicine.
The following are the entries in the records of the
University : —

ii™° Septembris 1696.
Quo die generosus hie, cujus nomen infi*a subscribitur,
gradum Doctoratus in Medicina (praestitis praestandis) adeptus
est, honorem hunc conferente K.D. M^o Alex^^o Monro. D.
Praefecto Collegii S*' Salvatoris nostri ac graduum promo tore.

Jo : Arbuthnott.

11™" Sep^'is 1696.

Quo die generosus hie, cujus nomen infra subscribitur
Medicinae Studiosus (praestitis praestandis) in albmn Acade-
miae receptus est.

Jo : Arbuthnott.

A paper giving particulars of the theses prepared by
Arbuthnot for this occasion was printed, doubtless at St.
Andrews. It consists of two leaves, the title-page being
as follows : Theaes Medlcae de Secretione Aniniali, ' quas

^ Feels. French, 'ressentir.' 1727, and who held offices under

^ The Edward Jeffreys, who was the Crown, may have been a rela-
member for Droitwich from 1710 to tive of the member for Brecon.



favente Deo Opt. Max. Ex Auctoritate D.D. Georgii Hamil-
ton Principalis Coll. S. Leonardi In Academia Andraea-
politana, Et Ejusdem Academiae Rectoris Magnifici, nee
non Amplissimi Senatus Academici Decreto, Pro Gradu
Doctoratus in Medicina Consequendo, Publico Examini
subjicit Joannes Arbuthnot Anct, & Resj). In Scliolis
Marianis Ad Diem 11 Septembris Hora 10 a.m. Ex
Officina Georgii Mosman, Anno Domini M.DC.XCVI.'
On the back of tbe title is a dedication to Arbntlinot's
friend, Edward Jeffreys, ' Adolescenti Ingenuo Edwardo
Jeffreys Collegii Universitatis apud Oxonienses Superioris
ordinis commensali Theses hasce D.D. Auctor.' The re-
maining leaf, printed on one side only, contains seven
theses. It is interesting to find the following passage in
a letter from George Hamilton, Principal of St. Andrews,
to Dr. Charlett, written on September 14, three days after
Arbuthnot took his degree ^ : ' The bearer, Dr. Arbnthnot,
is a gentleman of great merit, that has acquitt himself
extraordinarily well both in his private and publick tryalls
in solemn meetings of several Professors and Doctors of
Medicine towards his promotion.'

It will have been noticed that in the entries in the
books of St. Andrews and in his letters Arbuthnot spelt
his name ' Arbuthnott,' while in the printed theses it is
spelt ' Arbuthnot ' ; and it is curious that he always spelt
it with two t's in signing his own name, but with one on
the title-pages of his books. 'Arbuthnot' is the older form
of the word, but the spelling 'Arbuthnott' was intro-
duced apparently in the seventeenth century, and is still
preserved in Viscount Arbuthnott's title and in the name
of the village where Arbuthnot was born. It is singular
that in another matter relating to the name — the pronun-
ciation — there was uncertainty even among Arbuthnot' s
friends. Pope wrote :

' To second, Ai-'butlinot, thy art and care ' ;

^ Ballard MSS. xxxvi. 99.
C 2


but in another place :

' Farewell, Arbuth'not's raillery
On every learned sot ! '

Swift, in his poem, Vevaes on the Death of Doctor Swift,
wrote :

'Poor Pope will grieve a month, and Gay

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 2 of 47)