George Atherton Aitken.

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

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artists, like people who build upon a short lease, will calculate
the duration of a lie surely to answer their pui-pose ; to last just
as long, and no longer, than the turn is sei-ved.

The tenth chapter treats of the characteristics of lies ; how
to know, when, where, and by whom invented. Yovir Dutch,
English, and French ware are amply distinguished from one
another ; an exchange lie from one coined at the other end of
the town : great judgment is to be shown as to the place, where
the species is intended to circulate ; veiy low and base coin w^ll
sei'\'e for Wapping ; there are several coffee-houses, that have
their particular stamps, which a judicious practitioner may
easily know. All your great men have their proper phanta-
teustics. The author says he has attained by study and appli-
cation to so great skill in this matter, that, bring him any He,
he can tell whose image it bears so truly, as the great man
himself shall not have the face to deny it. The promissory hes
of great men are known by shouldering, hugging, squeezing,
smiling, bowing ; and their lies in matter of fact by immoderate

He spends the whole eleventh chapter on one simple question,
whether a lie is best contradicted by truth, or by another lie ?
The author says that, considering the large extent of the
cylindrical surface of the soul, and the great propensity to be-
lieve hes in the generality of mankind of late years, he thinks
the properest contradiction to a he is another he. For example,
if it should be reported, that the Pretender was at London, one
would not contradict it by saying he never was in England ;
but you must prove by eye-witnesses that he came no farther
than Greenwich, and then went back again. Thus if it be
spread about, that a great person were dying of some disease,
you must not say the truth, that they are in health, and never


had such a disease, but that they are slowly recovering of it.
So there was not long ago a gentleman, who affirmed that the
treaty with France for bringing popeiy and slaveiy into
England was signed the 1 5th of Sejiteniber ; to which another
answered very judiciously, not by opposing truth to his lie, that
there was no such treaty ; but that, to his certain knowledge,
there were many things in that treaty not yet adjusted.

The account of the second volume of this excellent treatise
is resei-ved for another time.






[See Images 56-59.]





In the reign of Queen Anne (which, notwithstanding those
happy times which succeeded, every Englishman may remem-
ber) thou mayst possibly, gentle reader, have seen a certain
venerable person who frequented the outside of the Palace of
St. James's, and who, by the gravity of his deportment and habit,
was generally taken for a decayed gentleman of Spain. His
stature was tall, his visage long, his complexion olive, his brows

' Mr. Pope, Dr. Arbuthnot, and
Dr. Swift projected to write a
satire, in conjunction, on the abuses
of human learning ; and to make
it the better received, they pro-
posed to do it in the manner of
Cervantes (the original author of
this species of satire^ under the
liistory of some feigned adventures.
They had observed those abuses
still kept their ground against all
that the ablest and gravest authors
could say to discredit them ; they
concluded therefore, the force of
ridicule was wanting to quicken
their disgrace ; which was here in
its place, when the abuses had been
already detected by sober reason-
ing ; and Truth in no danger to
suffer by the premature use of so
powerful an instrument. But the
separation of our authors' friends,
which soon after happened, with
the death of one, and tlie infirmities

of the other, put a final stop to their
project, when they had only drawn
out an imperfect essay towards it,
under the title of the First Book of
the Memoirs of Scrihlerus,

Polite letters never lost more than
in the defeat of this scheme, in
which each of this illustrious tri-
umvirate would have found exercise
for liis own peculiar talent ; besides
constant employment for that they
all had in common. Dr. Arbuthnot
was skilled in every thing which
related to science ; Mr. Pojie was a
master in fine arts ; and Dr. Swift
excelled in the knowledge of the
world. Wit they had all in equal
measure, and this so large, that n<p
age perhaps ever produced three
men, to whom Nature had more
bountifully bestowed it, or Art
brought it to high perfection.

X 2


were black and even, his eyes hollow yet piercing, his nose
inclined to aquiline, his beard neglected and mixed with grey :
all this contributed to spread a solemn melancholy over his
countenance. Pythagoras was not more silent, Pyrrho more
motionless, nor Zeno more austere. His wig was as black and
smooth as the plumes of a raven, and hung as straight as the
hair of a river god rising from the water. His cloak so com-
pletely covered his whole person, that whether or no he had
any other clothes (much less any linen) under it, I shall not
say ; but his sword appeared a full yard behind him, and his
manner of wearing it was so stiff, that it seemed grown to his
thigh. His whole figure was so utterly unlike anything of
this world, that it was not natural for any man to ask him a
question without blessing himself first. Those who never saw
a Jesuit, took him for one, and others believed him some high
priest of the Jews.

But under this macerated form was concealed a mind replete
with science, burning with a zeal of benefiting his fellow-
creatures, and filled with an honest conscious pride, mixed with
a scorn of doing or suffering the least thing beneath the dignity
of a philosopher. Accordingly he had a soul that would not
let him accept of any offers of charity, at the same time that
his body seemed but too much to require it. His lodging was
in a small chamber uj) four j^air of stairs, where he regularly
paid for what he had when he eat or drank ; and he was often
observed wholly to abstain from both. He declined speaking
to any one, except the Queen, or her first Minister, to whom he
attempted to make some applications ; but his real business or
intentions were utterly unknown to all men. Thus much is
certain, that he was obnoxious to the Queen's Ministiy ; who
either out of jealousy or envy, had him spirited away, and
carried abroad as a dangerous person, without any regard to the
known laws of the kingdom.

One day, as this gentleman was walking about dinner-
time alone in the Mall, it happened that a manuscript
dropped from under his cloak, which my sei'vant picked up,
and brought to me. It was written in the Latin tongue,
and contained many most profound secrets, in an unusual
turn of reasoning and style. The first leaf was inscribed
with these words, CodiciUus, seu Lihcr Mcmormlis, Martini
Scrihelri. The book was of so wonderful a nature, that it


is incredible what a desire I conceived that moment to be
acquainted with the author, who I clearly perceived was some
great philosopher in disguise. I several tunes endeavoured to
speak to him, which he as often industriously avoided. At
length I found an opportunity (as he stood under the Piazza by
the Dancing-room in St. James's) to acquaint him in the Latin
tongue, that his manuscrii:)t M^as fallen into my hands ; and,
saying this, I presented it to him, with great encomiums on
the learned author. Hereupon he took me aside, sui-veyed me
over Avith a fixed attention, and opening the clasps of the
parchment cover, spoke (to my great surprise) in English, as
follows : —

' Courteous stranger, whoever thou art, I embrace thee as
my best friend ; for either the stars and my art are deceitful,
or the destined time is come which is to manifest Martinus
Scriblerus to the world, and thou the person chosen by fate for
this task. What thou seest in me is a body exhausted by the
labours of the mind. I have found in Dame Nature not indeed
an unkind, but a very coy Mistress : watchful nights, anxious
days, slender meals, and endless labours, must be the lot of
all who pursue her through her labyrinths and meanders.
My first vital air I drew in- this island (a soil fruitful of
philosophers), but my complexion is become adust, and my
body arid, by visiting lands (as the poet has it) alio sub
sole caJenies. I have, through my whole life, passed under
several disguises and unknown names, to screen myself from
the envy and malice which mankind express against those who
are possessed of the Arcanum Magnum. But at present I am
forced to take sanctuary in the British Court, to avoid the
revenge of a cruel Sj^aniard, who has pursued me almost
through the whole terraqueous globe. Being about four years
ago in the city of Madrid in quest of natural knowledge, I was
informed of a lady who was marked with a pomegranate upon
the inside of her right thigh, which blossomed, and, as it were,
seemed to ripen in the due season. Forthwith was I possessed
with an insatiable curiosity to view this wonderful phenomenon.
I felt the ardour of my passion increase as the season advanced,
till, in the month of July, I could no longer contain. I bribed
her duenna, was admitted to the bath, saw her undx'essed, and
the wonder displayed. This was soon after discovered by the
husband, who finding some letters I had writ to the duenna.


containing expressions of a doubtful meaning, suspected me of
a crime most alien from the purity of my thoughts. Incon-
tinently I left Madrid by the advice of friends, have been
pursued, dogged, and waylaid through several nations, and
even now scarce think myself secure within the sacred walls of
this palace. It has been my good fortune to have seen all the
grand phenomena of nature, excepting an earthquake, which I
waited for in Naples three years in vain ; and now by means of
some British ship (whose colours no Spaniard dare ajiproach^)
I impatiently expect a safe passage to Jamaica, for that benefit.
To thee, my friend, whom fate has marked for my historio-
grapher, I leave these my Commentaries, and others of my
works. No more — be faithful and impartial.'

He soon after performed his promise, and left me the Com-
mentaries, giving me also further lights by many conferences ;
when he was unfortunately snatched away (as I before related)
by the jealousy of the Queen's Ministry.

Though I was thus to my eternal grief deprived of his con-
versation, he for some years continued his correspondence, and
communicated to me many of his projects for the benefit of
mankind. He sent me sonre of his writings, and recommended
to my care the recovery of others, straggling about the world,
and assumed by other men. The last time I heard from him
was on occasion of his strictures on the Dunciad : since
when, several years being elapsed, I have reason to believe this
excellent person is either dead, or carried by his vehement
thirst of knowledge into some remote, or perhaps vmdiscovered
region of the world. In either case, I think it a debt no
longer to be delayed, to reveal what I know of this prodigy of
science, and to give the history of his life and of his extensive
merits to mankind ; in which I dare promise the reader, that,
whenever he begins to think any one chapter dull, the style
will be immediately changed in the next.

' This marks the time when the the war which had been declared

Introduction was written. (^Pope.) against Sjmin in 1739, Vernon

— Pope, it will be remembered, pub- had just been rei^ulsed in an attack

lished these Memoirs in 1741, in the on Carthagena.
midst of the varying fortunes of


Of the Parentage and Family of Scriblerus, how he was


In the city of Munster in Germany, lived a grave and
learned gentleman, by profession an antiquary ; who, among
all his invaluable curiosities, esteemed none more highly than
a skin of the true Pergamenian Parchment, which hung at the
upper end of his hall. On this was curiously traced the ancient
pedigree of the Scrihleri, with all their alliances and collateral
relations (among which were reckoned Albertus Magnus, Para-
celsus Bombastus, and the famous Scaligers in old time
Princes of Verona) and deduced even from the times of the
elder Pliny to Cornelius Scriblerus ; for such was the name of
this venerable personage, whose glory it was, that, by the
singular virtue of the women, not one had a head of a
different cast from his family.

His wife was a lady of singular l^eauty, whom not for that
reason only he espoused ; but because she was undoubted
daughter either of the great Scriverius, or of Gaspar Barthius.
It happened on a time the said Gaspar made a visit to Scriverius
at Haarlem, taking with him a comely lady of his acquaintance,
who was skilful in the Greek tongue, of whom the learned
Scriverius became so enamoured, as to inebriate his friend, and
l)e familiar with his mistress. I am not ignorant of what
Columesius' affirms, that the learned Bai-thius was not so over-
taken, but he perceived it ; and in revenge suffered this unfor-
tunate gentlewoman to be drowned in the Ehine at her return.
But Mrs. Scriblerus (the issue of that amour) was a living

' Columesius relates this from Isaac Vossius, in his Opuscula, p. 102.


proof of the falsehood of this report. Dr. Cornelius was
farther induced to his marriage, from the certain information
that the aforesaid lady, the mother of his wife, was related to
Cardan on the father's side, and to Aldrovandus on the mother's :
besides which, her ancestors had been professors of Physic,
Astrology, or Chemistiy, in German Universities, from genera-
tion to generation.

With this fair gentlewoman had our Doctor lived in a com-
fortable union for about ten years ; but this our sober and
orderly pair, without any natural infirmity, and with a constant
and frequent compliance to the chief duty of conjugal life, were
yet unhapi:)y, in that Heaven had not blessed them with any
issue. This was the utmost grief to the good man ; especially
considering what exact precautions and methods he had used to
procure that blessing : for he never had cohabitation with his
spouse, but he pondered on the rules of the ancients, for the
generation of children of wit. He ordered his diet according
to the prescription of Galen, confinmg himself and his wife for
almost the whole first year to goat's' milk and honey. It
unfortunately befel her, when she was about four months gone
with child, to long for somewhat, which that author inveighs
against as prejudicial to the understanding of the infant.
This her husband thought fit to deny her, affirming, it was
better to be childless, than to become the parent of a fool.
His wife miscarried ; but as the abortion proved only a female
foetus, he comforted himself, that, had it arrived to perfection,
it would not have answered his account ; his heart being wholly
fixed upon the learned sex. However he disdained not to
treasure up the embryo in a vial, among the curiosities of his

Having discovered that Galen's prescription could not deter-
mine the sex, he forthwith betook himself to Aristotle. Ac-
cordingly he withheld the nuptial embrace when the wind was
in any pomt of the south ; this author ^ asserting that the
grossness and moisture of the southerly winds occasion the pro-
creation of females, and not of males. But he redoubled his
diligence when the wind was at west, a wind on which that
great philosopher bestowed the encomiums of Fattener of the
earth, Breath of the Elysian Fields, and other glorious eulogies.

' Galen. Lib. de Cibis boni et mali succi, cap. 3. (Pope.)
^ Arist. xiv. Sect. Prob. 5. i^Popo.)


For our learned man was clearly of opinion, that the semina
out of which animals are i)roclucetl, are animalcula ready
formed, and received in with the air.

Under these regulations, his wife, to his unexpressible joy,
grew pregnant a second time ; and (what was no small addition
to his happiness) he just then came to the possession of a con-
siderable estate by the death of her uncle, a wealthy Jew, who
resided at London. This made it necessary for him to take a
journey to England ; nor would the care of his posterity let
hun suffer his wife to remain behind him. During the voyage,
he was perpetually taken up on the one hand how to employ
his great riches, and on the other, how to educate his child.
He had already determined to set apart several annual sums, for
the recovery of manuscripts, the effossion of coins, the procuring
of mummies ; and for all those curious discoveries by which
he hoped to become (as himself was wont to say) a second
Peireskius. He had already chalked out all possible schemes
for the improvement of a male child, yet was so far pre-
pared for the worst that could happen, that before the nine
months were expired, he had composed two Treatises of Edu-
cation ; the one he called, A Daughter's Mirror, and the other
A Son's Monitor.

This is all we can find relating to Martinus, while he was in
his mother's womb, excepting that he was entertained there
with a concert of music once in twenty-four hours, according to
the custom of the Magi ; and that on a particular day ', he was
observed to leaj) and kick exceedingly, which was on the first
of April, the birth-day of the great Basilius Valentinus,

The truth of this, and every preceding fact, may be de-
pended upon, being taken literally from the Memoirs. But I
must be so ingenuous as to own, that the accounts are not so
certain of the exact time and place of his birth. As to the first,
he had the common frailty of old men, to conceal his age : as
to the second, I only remember to have heard him say, that he
first saw the light in St. Giles's parish. But in the investiga-
tion of this point foi-tune has favoured our diligence. For one

' Ramsey's Cyrus. (Pope.") It was folly, when amongst the many ex-

with judgment, that the Authors cellent things which may be learned

chose rather to ridicule the modern from antiquity, we find a modern

relator of this ridiculous practice, writer only picking out their ab-

than the Ancients from whence he surdities. (_Warburton.)
took it ; as it is a sure instance of


day as I was passing by the Seven Dials, I overheard a dis-
pute concerning the place of nativity of a great astrologer,
which each man alleged to have been in his own street. The
circumstances of the time, and the description of the person,
made me imagine it might be that univei'sal genius whose life
I am writing. I returned home, and having maturely con-
sidered their several arguments, which I found to be of equal
weight, I quieted my curiosity with this natural conclusion,
tliat he was born in some point common to all the seven streets ;
which must be that on which the column is now erected. And
it is with infinite pleasure that I since find my conjecture con-
firmed, by the following passage in the codicil to Mr. Neale's ^

I appoint my Executors to engrave the following Inscription on
the Column in the centre of the seven streets which I erected.


But Mr. Neale's order was never performed, because the
Executors durst not administer.

Nor was the birth of this great man unattended with pro-
digies : he himself has often told me, that on the night before
he was born, Mrs. Scriblerus dreamed she was brought to bed of
a huge ink-horn, out of which issued several large streams of
ink, as it had been a fountain. This dream was by her hus-
band thought to signify that the child should prove a very
voluminous writer. Likewise a crab-tree ^ that had been
hitherto barren, appeared on a sudden laden with a vast quan-
tity of crabs : this sign also the old gentleman imagined to be
a prognostic of the acuteness of his wit. A great swarm of
wasps ' played round his cradle without hurting him, but were
veiy troviblesome to all in the room besides : this seemed a
certain presage of the effects of his satire. A dunghill was
seen within the space of one night to be covered all over with
mushrooms : this some interpreted to promise the infant great
fertility of fancy, but no long duration to his works ; but the
father was of another opinion.

' ' I went to see the building be- Late lotteries in imitation of those

ginning near St. Giles's, where at Venice ' (Evelyn's Diary, Oct. 5,

seven streets make a star from a 1694). The column was removed

Doric pillar placed in the middle in 1773.

of a circular area ; said to be built ^ Virgil's Laurel. Donat. (Pope.)

by Mr. Neale, introducer of the " Plato, Lucan, &c. i^Pope.)


But what was of all most wonderful was a thing that seemed a
monstrous fowl, which just then dropped through the sky-light,
near his wife's apartment. It had a large body, two little dis-
proportioned wings, a prodigious tail, but no head. As its
colour was white, he took it at first sight for a swan, and was con-
cluding his son would be a poet : but on a nearer view, he per-
ceived it to be speckled with black, in the form of letters ; and
that it was indeed a paper-kite which had broke its leash by the
impetuosity of the wind. His back was armed with the Art
Military, his belly was filled with Physic, his wings were the
wings of Quarles and Withers, the several nodes of his
voluminous tail were diversified with several branches of
science ; where the Doctor beheld with great joy a knot of
logic, a knot of metaphysic, a knot of casuistry, a knot of
polemical divinity, and a knot of common law, with a lantern
of Jacob Behmen.

There went a report in the family that, as soon as he was
born, he uttered the voice of nine several animals ; he cried like
a calf, bleated like a sheep, chattered like a magpie, grunted
like a hog, neighed like a foal, croaked like a raven, mewed like
a cat, gabbled like a goose, and brayed like an ass. And the
next morning he was found playing in his bed with two owls,
which came down the chimney. His father greatly rejoiced
at all these signs, which betokened the variety of his eloquence,
and the extent of his learning ; but he was more particularly
pleased with the last, as it nearly resembled what happened at
the birth of Homer '.


The Speech of Cornelius over his Son, at the hour

OF HIS Birth.

No sooner was the cry of the infant heard, but the old
gentleman rushed into the room, and snatching it into his
arms, examined every Imib with attention. He was infinitely
pleased to find that the child had the wart of Cicero, the wry
neck of Alexander, knots upon his legs like Marius, and one of
them shorter than the other, like Agesilaus. The good Cor-
nelius also hoped he would come to stammer like Demosthenes,

1 Vid. Eustath. in Odyss. 1. xii. ex Alex. Paphio, et Leo. AUat. de patr.
Horn. pag. 45. (Pope.)


in order to be as eloquent ; and in time an"ive at many other
defects of famous men. He held the child so long, that the
midwife, grown out of all patience, snatched it from his arms,
in order to swaddle it. ' Swaddle him ! ' quoth he, ' far be it
from me to submit to such a pernicious custom ! Is not my
son a man, and is not man the lord of the universe? Is it
thus you use this monarch at his first arrival in his dominions,
to manacle and shackle him hand and foot ? Is this what you
call to be free-born? If you have no regard to his natural
liberty, at least have some to his natural faculties. Behold
with what agility he spreadeth his toes, and moveth them
with as great variety as his fingers ! a power which, in the
small circle of a year, mxay be totally abolished, by the enormous
confinement of shoes and stockings. His ears (which other
animals turn with great advantage towards the sonorous object)
may, by the ministiy of some accursed nurse, for ever lie flat
and immoveable. Not so the ancients, they could move them
at pleasure, and accordingly are often described arrectis auribus. '
'What a devil,' quoth the midwife, 'would you have your son
move his ears like a drill ?' ' Yes, fool,' said he, 'why should
he not have the perfection of a drill, or of any other animal ? '
Mrs. Scriblerus, who lay all this while fretting at her husband's

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 28 of 47)