George Atherton Aitken.

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

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discourse, at last broke out to this purpose : ' My dear, I have
had many disputes with you upon this subject before I was a
month gone ; we have but one cliild, and cannot afford to
throw him away upon experiments. I'll have my boy bred
up like other gentlemen, at home, and always under my own
eye.' All the gossips with one voice, cried Ay, ay ; but Cor-
nelius broke out in this manner : ' What, bred at home ! Have
I taken all this pains for a creature that is to live the inglorious
life of a cabbage, to suck the nutritious juices from the spot
where he was first planted ? No ; to perambulate this terraqueous
globe is too small a range ; were it permitted, he should at
least make the tour of the whole system of the sun. Let
other mortals pore upon maps, and swallow the legends of
lying travellers : the son of Cornelius shall make his own legs
his compasses ; with those he shall measure continents,
islands, capes, bays, straits, and isthmuses. He shall him-
self take the altitude of the highest mountains, from the Peak
of Derby to the Peak of Teneriffe ; when he has visited the
top of Taurus, Imaus, Caucasus, and the famous Ai'arat, where


Noah's ark first moored, ho may take a slight view of the
snowy Eiphaeans, nor would I have him neglect Athos and
Olympus, renowned for poetical fictions. Those that vomit
fire will deserve a more particular attention ; I will thei'efore
have him observe with great care Vesuvius, ^Etna, the burning
mountain of Java, but chiefly Hecla, the greatest rarity in
the Northern regions. Then he may likewise contemplate the
wonders of the mephitic cave. When he has dived into the
bowels of the eai*th, and surveyed the works of nature under
ground, and instructed himself fully in the nature of volcanoes,
earthquakes, thunders, tempests, and hurricanes, I hope he
will bless the world with a more exact survey of the deserts of
Arabia and Tartaiy than as yet we are able to obtain : then
will I have him cross the seven gulfs, measure the currents in
the fifteen famous straits, and search for those fountains of
fresh water that are at the bottom of the ocean.' — At these last
words Mrs. Scriblerus fell into a trembling : the description
of this terrible scene made too violent an impression upon a
woman in her condition, and threw her into a strong hysteric
fit, which might have proved dangerous, if Cornelius had
not been pushed out of the room by the united force of the


Showing what befel the Doctor's Son and his Shield,
on the day of the christening.

The day of the christening being come, and the house filled
with gossips, the levity of whose conversation suited but ill
with the gravity of Dr. Cornelius, he cast about how to pass this
day more agreeably to his character ; that is to say, not without
some profitable conference, nor wholly without observance of
some ancient custom.

He remembered to have read in Theocritus, that the cradle
of Hercules was a shield ;• and being possessed of an antique
buckler, which he held as a most inestimable relic, he deter-
mined to have the infant laid therein, and in that manner
brought into the study, to be shown to certain learned men of
his acquaintance.

The regard he had for tliis shield had caused him formerly


to compile a dissertation concerning it\ proving from the
several properties, and particularly the colour of the rust, the
exact chronology thereof.

With this treatise, and a moderate supper, he proposed to
entertain his guests ; though he had also another design, to
have their assistance in the calculation of his son's nativity.

He therefore took the buckler out of a case (in which he
always kept it, lest it might contract any modern rust), and
entrusted it to his house-maid, with orders that, when the
company was come, she should lay the child carefully in it,
covered with a mantle of blue satin.

The guests were no sooner seated, but they entered into
a warm debate about the triclinium, and the manner of
decubitus of the ancients, which Cornelius broke off in this
manner : —

' This day, my friends, I purpose to exhibit my son before
you ; a child not wholly unworthy of inspection, as he is
descended from a race of vix-tuosi. Let the physiognomists
examine his features ; let the chirographists behold his palm ;
but above all, let us consult for the calculation of his nativity.
To this end, as the child is not vulgar, I will not present him
unto you in a vulgar manner. He shall be cradled in my
ancient shield, so famous through the Universities of Europe.
You all know how I purchased that invaluable piece of an-
tiquity, at the great (though indeed inadequate) expense of all
the plate of our family, how happily I carried it off, and how
triumphantly I transported it hither, to the inexpressible grief
of all Germany. Happy in every circumstance, but that it
broke the heart of the great Melchior Insipidus ! '

Here he stopped his speech, upon sight of the maid, who
entered the room with the child ; he took it in his arms, and

' Behold then my child, but first behold the shield ; behold
this rust, — or rather let me call it this precious aerugo, —
behold this beautiful varnish of time,— this venerable verdure
of so many ages — ' ^

» Dodwell's De Parma egwes^n iroorf- Hearne's edition of Livy (1708).

wardiana Dissertatio was published See Nollekins and his times, by J. T.

posthumously by Hearne (Oxford, Smith, i. 39 ; Spence's Anecdotes ;

1713V, and Arbuthnot's story of the and a letter from Lord Castledur-

Shield is a satire on Dr. Wood- row to Swift, Dec. 4, 1736.

ward. The cut referred to on 2 Qf popg-g i^oral Essays,' v. 37.
p. 320 was originally executed for


In speaking these words, he slowly lifted up the mantle
which covered it, inch by inch ; but at eveiy inch he uncovered
his cheeks grew paler, his hand trembled, his nerves failed,
till on sight of the whole, the tremor became universal ;
the shield and the infant both dropped to the ground, and he
had only strength enough to cry out, * God ! my shield, my
shield ! '

The truth was, the maid ''extremely concerned for the repu-
tation of her own cleanliness, and her young master's honour)
had scoured it as clean as her andirons ^

Cornelius sunk back on a chair, the guests stood astonished,
the infant squalled, the maid ran in, snatched it up again in her
arms, flew into her mistress's room, and told what had hap-
pened. Down stairs in an instant hurried all the gossips,
where they foimd the Doctor in a trance : Hungary water,
hartshorn, and the confused noise of shrill voices, at length
awakened him : when, opening his eyes, he saw the shield in
the hands of the housemaid. ' O woman ! woman ! ' he
cried (and snatched it violently from her), 'was it to thy
ignorance that this relic owes its ruin ? Where, where is
the beautiful crust that covered thee so long ? where those
traces of time and fingers as it were of antiquity ? Where
all those beautiful obscurities, the cause of much delightful
disputation, where doubt and curiosity went hand in hand, and
eternally exercised the speculations of the learned ! All this
the rude touch of an ignorant woman hath done away ! The
curious prominence at the belly of that figure, which some
taking for the cuspis of a sword, denominated a Eoman
soldier ; others accounting the Insignia Virilia, pronounced to
be one of the Dii Termini ; behold she hath cleaned it in like
shameful sort, and shown to be the head of a nail. my
shield ! my shield ! well may I say with Horace, non bene
relida Parmula.'

The gossips, not at all inquiring into the cause of his sorrow,
only asked if the child had no hurt ; and cried, ' Come, come,
all is well ; what has the woman done but her duty ? a tight
cleanly wench I warrant her ; what a stir a man makes

^ Cf. Pope ('Moral Essays,' v. 41), ' Poor Vadius, long with learned
writing of antiquaries who * the spleen devoured,

inscription value, but the rust Can taste no pleasure since his
adore' : — shield was scoured.'


about a bason, that, an hour ago, before this laljour was
bestowed upon it, a country barber would not have hung at
his shop door.' 'A bason ! ' cried another, ' no such matter, 'tis
nothing but a paltry old sconce, with the nozzle broke off \'
The learned gentlemen, who till now had stood speechless,
hereupon looking narrowly on the shield, declared their assent
to this latter opinion ; and desired Cornelius to be comforted,
assuring him it was a sconce and no other. But this, instead
of comforting, threw the Doctor into such a ^aolent fit of
passion that he was carried off groaning and speechless to
bed ; where being quite spent, he fell into a kind of


Of the suction and nutrition of the great Scriblerus
IN HIS Infancy, and of the first rudiments of his

As soon as Cornelius awaked, he raised himself on his elbow,
and casting his eye on Mrs. Scriblerus, spoke as follows :
' Wisely was it said by Homer, that in the cellar of Jupiter
are two barrels, the one of good, the other of evil, which he
never bestows on mortals separately, but constantly mingles
them together. Thus at the same time hath heaven blessed me
with the birth of a son, and afflicted me with the scouring of
my shield. Yet let us not rej)ine at His dispensations, who
gives and who takes away ; but rather join in prayer, that the
rust of antiquity which He hath been pleased to take from my
shield may be added to my son ; and that so much of it as
it is my purpose he shall contract in his education may never
be destroyed by any modern polishing,'

He could no longer bear the sight of the shield, but ordered
it should be removed for ever from his eyes. It was not long
after purchased by Dr. Woodward, who, by the assistance of
Mr. Kemp, incrusted it with a new rust, and is the same
whereof a cut has been engraved, and exhibited to the great
contentation of the learned.

Cornelius now began to regulate the suction of his child.
Seldom did there pass a day without disputes between him and
the mother, or the nurse, concerning the nature of aliment.

' The same view is expressed in the Censor for April 20, 1715.


The poor woman never dined but he denied her some dish or
other, which he judged prejudicial to her milk. One day she
had a longing desire to a piece of beef, and as she stretched her
hand towards it the old gentleman drew it away, and spoke to
this effect : ' Hadst thou read the ancients, O nurse, thou
wouldst prefer the welfare of the infant which thou nourishest,
to the indulging of an irregular and voracious appetite. Beef,
it is true, may confer a robustness on the limbs of my son, but
will hebetate and clog his intellectuals,' While he spoke this,
the nurse looked upon him with much anger, and now and
then cast a wishful eye upon the beef. — 'Passion,' continued
the Doctor, still holding the dish, ' throws the mind into too
violent a fermentation ; it is a kind of fever of the soul, or, as
Horace expresses it, a short madness. Consider, woman, that
this day's suction of my son may cause him to imbibe many
ungovernable passions, and in a manner spoil him for the
temper of a philosopher. Komulus, by sucking a wolf, became
of a fierce and savage disposition ; and were I to breed some
Ottoman emperor, or founder of a military commonwealth,
perhaps I might indulge thee in this carnivorous appetite.' —
'What,' interrupted the nurse, 'beef spoil the understanding?
that's fine indeed — how then could our parson preach as he
does upon beef, and pudding too if you go to that ? Do not
tell me of your ancients ; had not you almost killed the poor
babe with a dish of demonial black broth?' — ' Lacedsemonian
black broth, thou wouldst say,' replied Cornelius ; 'but I cannot
allow the surfeit to have been occasioned by that diet, since it
was recommended by the divine Lycurgus. No, nurse, thou
must certainly have eaten some meats of ill digestion the day
before, and that was the real cause of his disorder. Consider,
woman, the different temperaments of different nations :
What makes the English phlegmatic and melancholy, but beef ?
What renders the Welsh so hot and choleric, but cheese and
leeks? The French derive their levity from their soups, *
frogs, and mushrooms : I would not let my son dine like an
Italian, lest like an Italian he should be jealous and revengeful :
The warm and solid diet of Spain may be more beneficial, as it
might endow him Avith a profound gravity, but at the same
time, he might suck in with their food their intolei'able
vice of pride. Therefore, nurse, in short, I hold it requisite
to deny you, at present, not only beef, but likewise whatso-



ever any of those nations eat.' During this speech the nurse
remained pouting, and marking her plate with the knife, nor
would she touch a bit during the whole dinner. This the
old gentleman obser%dng, ordered that the child, to avoid the
risk of imbibing ill humour, should be kept from her
breast all that day, and be fed with butter mixed with honey,
according to a prescription he had met with somewhere in
Eustathius upon Homer. This indeed gave the child a gi-eat
looseness, but he was not concerned at it, in the oi^inion that
whatever harm it might do his body would be amply recom-
pensed by the improvements of his understanding. But from
thenceforth he insisted every day upon a particular diet to be
obsei'\'ed by the nurse ; under which having been long uneasy,
she at last parted from the family, on his ordering her for
dinner the paps of a sow with pig ; taking it as the highest
indignity, and a du^ect insult upon her sex and calling.

Four years of young Martin's life passed away in squabbles
of this nature. Mrs. Scriblerus considered it was now time to
instruct him in the fundamentals of religion, and to that end
took no small pains in teaching him his catechism. But Cor-
nelius looked upon this as a tedious way of instruction, and
therefore employed his head to find out more pleasmg methods,
the better to induce him to be fond of learning. He would
frequently caiTy him to the pui^iDet-show of the creation of the
world, where the child, with exceeding delight, gained a notion
of the history of the Bible. His first rudiments in profane
histoiy were acquired by seeing of raree-shows, where he was
brought acquainted with all the princes of Europe. In short,
the old gentleman so contrived it to make every thing contri-
bute to the miprovement of his knowledge, even to his veiy dress.
He invented for him a geographical suit of clothes, which might
give him some hints of that science, and likewise some know-
l3tlge of the commerce of different nations. He had a French
hat with an African feather, Holland shirts and Flanders lace,
English cloth lined with Indian silk, his gloves were Italian,
and his shoes wei'e Spanish : he was made to observe this, and
daily catechised thereupon, which his father was wont to call
' travelling at home. ' He never gave him a fig or an orange
I>ut lie oljliged him to give an account from what countiy it
came. In natural history he was much assisted l)y his curiosity
in sign-posts, in so much that he hath often confessed he owed


to them the knowledge of many creatures which he never found
since in any author, such as white lions, golden dragons, &c. He
once thought tho same of green men, but had since found them
mentioned by Kercherus, and verified in the history of William
of Newbury '.

His disposition to the mathematics was discovered very
early, by his drawing ^ parallel lines on his bread and butter,
and intersecting them at equal angles, so as to form the whole
superficies into squares. But in the midst of all these improve-
ments a stop was put to his learning the alphabet, nor would
he let him proceed to letter D, till he could truly and distinctly
pronounce C in the ancient manner, at which the child un-
happily boggled for near three months. He was also obliged
to delay his learning to write, having turned away the writing-
master because he knew nothing of Fabius's waxen tables.

Cornelius having read, and seriously weighed the methods by
which the famous Montaigne was educated \ and resolving in some
degree to exceed them, resolved he should speak and learn nothing
but the learned languages, and especially the Greek ; in which
he constantly eat and drank, according to Homer. But what
most conduced to his easy attainment of this language was his
love of gingerbread ; which his father observing, caused to be
stamped with the letters of the Greek alphabet ; and the child
the veiy first day eat as far as Iota. By his particular applica-
tion to this language above the rest, he attained so great a
proficiency therein, that Gronovius ingenuously confesses he
durst not confer with this child in Greek at eight years old ■* ;
and at fourteen he composed a tragedy in the same language,
as the younger Pliny ^ had done before him.

' Gul. Neubrig. Book i. ch. 27 * So Montaigne says of his Latin,

I, Pope). * George Bueanan et Mark Antoiue

^ There are some extravagant lie i Murret, mes precepteurs domes-
told of the excellent Pascal's amaz- tiques, m'ont dit souvent que
ing genius for mathematics in his j'avois ce language en mon enfance
early youth ; and some trifling si prest et si a main qu'ils craigno-
directions given for the introduc- ient a m'accoster. — Somme, nous
tion to the elements of science, in nous latinizames tant, qu'il en
Mr. Locke's book of Education regorgea jusque a nos villages tout
(^Warburton"). autour, oil il y a encores, et ont pris

^ He was taught Latin in his pied par I'usage, plusieurs ajjpella-

nurse's arms, and not suffered to tions Latines d'Artisans et d'outils '

hear a word of his mother-tongue, i^Warburton).

till he could speak the other per- ° Plin. Ejjist. lib. vii ^Pope).
fectly i^Warburton).

Y 2



He learned the Oriental languages of Erj^enius, who resided
some time with his father for that purpose. He had so early a
relish for the Eastern way of writing, that even at this time he
composed (in imitation of it) the Thousand and One Arabian
Tales, and also the Persian Talcs, which have been since trans-
lated into several languages, and lately into our own with par-
ticular elegance by Mr. Ambrose Philips. In this work of his
childhood he was not a little assisted by the historical traditions
of his nurse.


A Dissertation upon Playthings.

Here follow the instructions of Cornelius Scriblerus concern-
ing the plays and playthings to be used by his son Maiiin.

'Play was invented by the Lydians as a remedy against
hunger, Sophocles says of Palamedes, that he invented dice
to serve sometimes instead of a dinner. It is therefore wisely
contrived by nature, that children, as they have the keenest
appetites, are most addicted to plays. From the same cause,
and from the unprejudiced and incorrupt simplicity of their
muids it proceeds, that the plays of the ancient children are
preserved more entire than any other of their customs '. In
this matter I would recommend to all who have any concern in
my son's education that they deviate not in the least from the
primitive and simple antiquity.

' To speak first of the whistle, as it is the first of all play-
things. I will have it exactly to correspond with the ancient
fshiJa, and accordingly to be composed sc-ptcm paribus disjuncfa

' I heartily wish a diligent search may be made after the true
crepitaculum, or rattle of the ancients, for that (as Architus
Tarentinus was of opinion) kept the children from Ijreaking
earthen ware. The China cups in these days are not at all the
safer for the modern rattles ; M-hich is an evident proof how far
their ercpiiacula exceeded ours.

' I would not have Martin as yet to scourge a top, till I am
better informed whether the trocJms, which was recommended

' Dr. Aibuthnot used to say. that uiicorruj^t but amongst children ;
notwithstanding all the boasts of whose games and plays are deliver-
tho safe conveyance of tradition, ed down invariably from one gene-
it was no where preserved pure and ration to another (^Warburton >


by Cato, be really our present top or rather the hoop, which the
]>oy.s drive with a stick. Neither cross and pile, nor ducks and
drakes are quite so ancient as handy-dandy, though Macrobius
and St. Augustine take notice of the first, and Minutius Foelix
describes the latter ; but handy-dandy is mentioned )jy Aiistotle,
Plato, and Aristophanes.

'The play which the Italians call cinque, and the French
mourre, is extremely ancient ; it was played at by Hymen and
Cujiid at the marriage of Psyche, and termed hj the Latins,
digitis micare.

' Julius Pollux describes the omiUa or chuck-farthing : though
some will have our modei'n chuck-farthing to be nearer the
aphetinda of the ancients. He also mentions the hasilindu, or
king I am ; and myinda, or hoopers-hide.

'But the chf/findra described by the same author is certainly
not our hot-cockle ; for that was by pinching and not by
striking ; though there are good authors who affirm the ratJia-
pygismiis to be yet nearer the modern hot-cockles. My son
Martm may use either of them indifferently, they being equally

' Building of houses and riding upon sticks have been used by
childi-en in all ages, ^dificare casas, equitare in arundine longa.
Yet I much doubt whether the riding upon sticks did not come
into use after the age of the centaurs.

' There is one play which shows the gravity of ancient edu-
cation, called the acinefinda, in which children contended who
could longest stand still. This we have suffered to perish
entirely ; and, if I might be allowed to guess, it was certainly
first lost among the French.

' I will permit my son to play at apodidiascinda, which can be
no other than our puss in a corner.

' Julius Pollux, in his ninth book, sj^eaks of the melolonthe or
the kite ; but I question whether the kite of antiquity was the
same mth ours ; and though the 'OpTvyoKonlu or quail-fighting is
what is most taken notice of, they had doubtless cock-matches
also, as is evident from certain ancient gems and relievos.

' In a word, let my son Martin disport himself at any game
truly antique, except one, which was invented by a people
among the Thracians, who hung up one of then- companions in
a rope, and gave hun a knife to cut himself do\ATi ; which if he
failed in, he was suffered to hang till he was dead ; and this


was only reckoned a sort of joke. I am utterly against this, as
barbarous and cruel.

* I cannot conclude without taking notice of the beauty of
the Greek names, whose etymologies acquaint us with the
nature of the sports ; and how infinitely, both in sense and
sound, they excel our barbarous names of plays.'

Notwithstandmg the foregoing injunctions of Dr. Cornelius,
he yet condescended to allow the child the use of some few
modern playthings ; such as might j)rove of any benefit to his
mind, by instilling an early notion of the sciences. For ex-
ample, he found that marbles taught him percussion, and the
laws of motion ; nutcrackers the use of the lever ; swinging on
the ends of a board, the balance ; bottle-screws, the vice ;
whirligigs, the axis and peritrochia ; bu-dcages, the pulley ;
and tops, the centrifugal motion.

Others of his sports were faiiher carried to improve his tender
soul even in virtue and morality. We shall only instance one
of the most useful and instructive, Bob-cherry, which teaches
at once two noble virtues, patience and constancy ; the first
in adhering to the pursuit of one end, the latter in bearing a

Besides all these, he taught him as a diversion, an odd and
secret manner of stealing, according to the custom of the Lace-
daemonians ; wherein he succeeded so well, that he practised it
to the day of his death.


Or THE Gymnastics, in what exercises Martinus was


SORT OF A Man his Uncle was.

Nor was Cornelius less careful in adhering to the rules of the
purest antiquity, in relation to the exercises of his son. He
was stripped, powdered, and anointed, but not constantly bathed,
which occasioned many heavy complaints of the laundress about
dirtying his linen. When he played at quoits, he was allowed

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 29 of 47)