George Atherton Aitken.

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

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A week, and Ar'buthnot a day ' ;

but in the same piece we find :

' Arbuth'not is no more my friend,
Who dares to irony pretend.'

Similarly Gay, in the Prologue to the Shepherds Week,

'This leech Arbuth'not was yclept,'

but a few lines later :

' I'll hie with glee
To court, this Ar'buthnot to see.'

The poets apparently felt justified in placing the accent
wherever the exigencies of the verse rendered it con-
venient. The name is pronounced Arbuth'not in Scot-
land ; but most people in England would place the accent
on the first syllable.

In 1695 Dr. Woodward, Professor of Physic at Gresham
College, published An Essay towards a Natural History
of the Earth and Terrestrial Bodies, especially Minerals ;
as cdso of the Sea, Rivers, and. Springs. With an Account
of the Universal Deluge, and of the effects that it had upon
the Earth. Woodward was in advance of his contem-
poraries in his views upon many geological and botanical
questions, but he allowed himself to be carried away by
theories which he formed ; and his vanity and pompous
manner towards strangers who came to see his collections
of fossils and other curiosities exposed him to frequent
ridicule. In this Essay he asserted that the centre of the
earth was originally a cavity, full of water — the ' great
Deep ' — which burst forth at the Flood ; that the whole
globe was thereupon dissolved ; and that the present
earth was formed by the promiscuous mass of sand, soil,
shells, &c., falling down again, the heaviest first, in


accordance with the law of gravity. By this means he
explained the existence of shells, bones, and leaves em-
bodied in stones as well as in chalk or sand, and he
maintained that the shells found in the lower strata were
always heavier than those in the upper strata. This
statement was easily refuted, and Woodward's whole
theory of the Deluge led to a long controversy, to which
Arbuthnot contributed his first work of importance. This
piece, published in 1697, with the date Dec. i, 1697, at the
end, was An Exaviination of Dr. Woodward's Account of
the Deluge, Sc, with a comparison between Steno's Philo-
sophy and the Doctor's, in the case of marine bodies dug up
out of the earth. By J. A., M.D. With a Letter to the
Author, concerning an Abstract of Agostino Scylla's book
on the same subject, printed in the Philosoiihiccd Transac-
tions. By W\^illiani\ W \oodward\ F.R.S.'^ Arbuthnot
ably pointed out the very numerous difficulties which
made it impossible to accept Woodward's theory : and in
order to meet the objection that the hypothesis was
accepted by the well-known mathematician Steno, he
proved that in the parts to which most exception could
be taken Woodward's philosophy was different from
Steno's. In summing up he very happily referred to
Woodward's weaknesses, but at the same time acknow-
ledged with perfect fairness the useful contributions the
Doctor had made to scientific knowledge. ' It is plain —
(i) That Steno's hypothesis is not burdened with all the
difficulties of Dr. Woodward's ; I will not say it is liable
to none. (2) That as Nature shews the same face to
every man, sagacious persons will jump strangely as to
their conjectures about her. (3) That though Dr. Wood-
ward's hypothesis seems to be liable to many just excep-

' Hearne (MS. Diaries, Ixxx. 182) is that exquisite coxcomb well

notes, ' Penes me in 8°. An exam- lash'd, but in mercy to him, and in

ination of Dr. Woodward's Account hopes, tho' vain, of his amendment,

of the Deluge By J. A., i.e. the Author suppress'd the copy

John Arbuthnot. ... In this book soon.'


tions, the whole is not to be exploded ; there are a great
many things which I question not but he will make out
beyond all contradiction; and if he takes off the objec-
tions I have proposed, I'll promise him, I am not in the
least disposed to cavil; only I cannot forbear to wish
that people were more diligent in observing, and more
cautious in system-making. First, the world is malicious,
and when they write for an opinion it spoils the credit of
their observations. They have then taken their party,
and may be suspected for partial witnesses. In the next
place, mankind, in these matters, is naturally too rash,
and apt to put more in the conclusion than there is in the
premises. Yea, some there are so fond of an opinion that
they will take pleasure to cheat themselves, and would
bring everything to fit their hypothesis. Then only we
may expect to succeed in compiling of theories, when we
build upon true and decisive observations; and survey
the works of Nature with the same geometry (though in
a more imperfect degree) by which the Divine Architect
put them together.'

Shortly after the appearance of this book Arbuthnot
wrote to Dr. Charlett, and alluded, among other things,
to the controversy that was then raging around Dr.
Bentley. Wotton, in his Reflections on Ancient and
Modern Learning, had replied to Sir "William Temple,
and in 1697 Bentley added a dissertation to the second
edition of Wotton's book, showing the spuriousness of the
Epistles of Phcdaris. The Hon. Charles Boyle, who had
published, with the countenance of the University of
Oxford, an edition of the E'pistles of Phcdaris, replied to
Bentley, and was in his turn answered by Bentley's
Dissertation on the Epistles of Phcdaris, with an Ansiuer
to the Objections of the Hon. C. Boyle, Esq.

Honoured Sir

The kind message I had from yow by M^. Pricket t'other
day putts me in mind of a neglect of my duty : which is to


wish yow a good new year in all health & prosperity to your
self & success in your designe for the good of a society which
I have many obligations to honour ; were it not that I have
hardly any thing besides to tell yow but what I know yow
have from much better hands I should be often troublesome to
yow. I was in hopes of having a good account of my freinds
at Oxford to night by D^. Gregoiy, but I find by a letter of his
I am disappointed at present, I don't hear of any remarkable
newes about town, the Czaar ^ & My Lady Mckelsfield '^ make
up the greatest part of the diversion. As for the standing
army we reckon ther's an end of that. I was pleased to see
Mr. Alsops ^ ^sop. M^. Bentley sayes ther is three faults in
the Latin of Canis in praesepe. M^. Charles Bernard ^ told me
he bid him instance in one, he said exteri si quid sciant for
sciunt. M^. Bernard ask'd him if he was sure it was wi-ong.
he said it was & bid him depend upon it. the next day W^.
Bernard sent him this verse in Horace si quid componere
curem, but was sorry afterwards he did not lett him publish
his criticism. We expect impatiently some reply to his
dissertation at the end of Wottons book. This new act of
Parlia* against corresponding with K. James lyes very heavy
upon a great many people it is reckon'd to comprehend above
20 thousand at least. I believe I know above thirtie of my
aquaintance that must gett them gone befor the day appointed,
Sir Andrew Forester, W. Cockburn &c ; severall Ime sure
have not money to pay for ther passage to Graves end, &
which is yet harder they are like to be very ill receiv'd in
ffrance, wher they are putting a tax upon foreigners, some
say on pvtrpose to discourage those who might leave England
on this occasion. We are expecting the Count de Talard over
here as ambassadour with a splendid equipage he stayes only
at Paris to give My Ld Portland a dinner, it is no newes to
tell yow of his highness the Duke of Gloucesters '' preceptors
& governour My Ld Marlborough The Bp. of Salisbuiy
La Vastem- a french refugee whom yow have seen at Oxford

' Peter the Great reached Eng- ^sop was published in 1698, at

land from Holland on the nth of Dean Aldrich's charge. The book

January, 1698. contains a sneer at Bentley.

2 The Earl of Macclesfield ob- * Charles Bernard (1650-1711)

tained a divorce from his wife, who was the principal surgeon of his

was the mother of Richard Savage, day. He delighted in books, and

the poet (see Luttrell's Diary, iv. 323, was a friend of Swift's.

332-5; 342, 344, 347, 35o)- ^ Son of the Princess Anne, and

^ Anthony Alsop's selection from heir presumptive to the throne.


& I can't tell how many Mon^rs & one sort of people &

other. I hope at least the University of Oxford may have the

interest to have one. I have not had the good fortune to see

M^". Jeffreys since he came home. I have made some enquiry

about him and expect a return befor I proceed further. I shall

use the freedom to give my respects to the Warden of All

Souls \ the Dean of Christs Church & D^. Wallis'. I long

for good weather & leisure to see your self and the rest of my

freinds at Oxford. If I should be so happy as to have a line

from yow please to direct it for me at the Pine apple in St

Martins Street. Pricket said he was going out of town but I

fancy not without seeing the Czaar. I hop yow will excuse

this trouble and beleive that I will alwayes be

Hond Su-

Your most humble servant

Jo : Arbuthnott.
London Jan : 25. 9I.


please to- aquaint the Dean of Christs Church that M"".

Pate has brought from Italy all Chaussunes musick.

On the 8th of May, 1698, Thomas Creech, the translator
of Horace and Lucretius, wrote to Dr. Charlett : ' Yesterday
I met w*^ Mr. Arbutlinot who is very much your servant ;
upon his persuasion I ventured a little too far at first
[after an illness], so y* I am not for the City to-day =^;' and
on the 24th of June Humphrey Wanley ^ wrote : ' To-day
I had the honor to dine at M''. PejDys's with him, Capt.
Hatton, y^ Dean of Xt. Church, D'". Gregoiy, Dr. Smith ^
Dr. Arbutlinot, &c.' ^ Samuel Pepys died in 1703.

Arbuthnot's next piece, An Essay on the Usefulness of
Mathematical Learning, in a Letter from a Gentleman in
the City to his Friend in Oxford, was published at Oxford
in Febmary, 1701'. It is dated at the end November

1 Dr. Gardiner, the 'Dominick' was a protege of Dr. Cliarlett's
of the Spectator, No. 43. (see Hearne's Diary, July 10, 1726).

2 John Wallis, D.D., wrote gram- = pj. Thomas Smith, antiquary
matical and mathematical works, and friend of Thomas Hearne, died
sometimes in opposition to Thomas jn 17 10, aged 72.

Hobbes. He died in 1703. « Ballard MSS. xiii. 43.

^ Ballard MSS. xx. 27. 7 msiQ^y ^y ^/,e Works of the Learned.

* Humphrey Wanley (^1671-1726)


25, 1700, but tlie 'Imprimatur' is dated Jan. 28, \\%\.
The book appeared anonymously, and has been attributed,
though it does not appear on what ground, to Martin
Strong, who published a pamphlet in 1692 on the in-
decency and unlawfulness of privately baptizing children,
unnecessarily, with the public form; and a sermon, in
1709, on the duty of religious education. Arbuthnot's
Essay — for there is no reason to doubt the authorship ^ —
is in the form of a letter, intended to incite the receiver
to a closer and more vigorous pursuit of mathematical
learning. After pointing out how important a place
mathematical studies held in the estimation of the
ancients, Arbuthnot says that the chief advantages which
accrue to the mind from these studies are: (i) In accus-
toming it to attention ; (2) In giving it a habit of close
and demonstrative reading ; (3) In freeing it from preju-
dice, credulity, and superstition. ' Truth is the same
thing to the understanding as music to the ear, and
beauty to the eye.' He then dwells upon the vast extent
and usefulness of mathematics in other parts of know-
ledge; in all branches of science, in painting, music,
architecture, civil affairs, and even in the consideration
of things that depend on chance. The ancients had more
need for mechanics in the art of war than we have, be-
cause gunpowder has produced a force far exceeding all
the engines they contrived for battery. 'And this I
reckon has lost us a good occasion of improving our
mechanics : the cunning of mankind never exerting itself
so much as in their arts of destroying one another.' But
if gunpowder has made mechanics less serviceable in war,
it has made geometry more necessary. It must, then, be
the duty of a Government to encourage mathematical
learning ; and such studies should be more general at our
Universities, from whence the State justly expects and

^ This Essay occupies the first Works 0/ the late Dr. Arbuthnot, i-] 51.
place in vol. i. of the Miscellaneous


demands men who are acquainted with both speculation
and practice. Finally, as regards the order and method
of studying mathematics, no one at a University should
be taught the practice of any rale without the reason and
demonstration of the same. The case is different when
we are teaching seamen or artisans ; but at the Univer-
sities nothing must be taken on trust, for it is from those
seats of learning that the men must come who are able to
remedy the defects of the arts. It follows that no part of
mathematics ought to be taught by Compendiums. ' It is
time, and not the bulk of books, we ought to be sparing
of ; and I appeal to any person of experience whether solid
knowledge is not acquired in shorter time by books
treating fully of their subjects than by Compendiums and


Arbuthnot's son George, probably the eldest child, was
born about 1703. Of Arbuthnot's wife we know prac-
tically nothing, except that she died in 1730; even her
name has not been recorded. But there is no doubt that
Arbuthnot had a happy married life, and that he deeply
loved his children.

By means of his skill, combined with his wit and
learning, Arbuthnot had now come to the front as a
physician, and on St. Andrew's Day, 1704, he was elected
a Fellow of the Royal Society. In the following year, on
the 30th of October, he was appointed Physician Extra-
ordinary to the Queen, ' by her Majesty's special command,
in consideration of his good and successfull services per-
form'd as Physitian to his Royal Highnesse,' Prince
George of Denmark^. The Prince, it seems, had been
taken suddenly ill at Epsom, and had been successfully
treated by Arbuthnot, who happened to be on the spot,

* Remarks and CoUections 0/ Thomas the Oxford Historical Society, 1885,
Mearne. Edited by C. E. Doble, for vol. i. p. 63.



and who was always afterguards employed by the Prince
as his physician ^. In the meantime Arbuthnot published,
in the summer of 1705, an octavo volume, without date, of
Tables of the Grecian, Roman and Jewish Measures, Weigfds
and Coins, reduced to the English Standard^. The book
was dedicated to the Prince, by his ' dutifuU servant Jo.
Arburthnott, M.D.'

It would appear from the following letter ^ to ' the most
Honoured Doctor Charlet' that in 1703 Arbuthnot was
already in attendance on the Queen, and this receives
some confirmation from a tradition that he was physician
to several of the Queen's children.

* The prince died on Oct. 28, and
was buried privately on Nov. 13,
1708. Arbuthnot's Bill for official
mourning, is in the Bodleian
(Tanner MS. 305, f. 214) :

Dr. Arbuthnot's Bill, NoV. 1708.
for 5 yards of superfine )

cloathat20 sh.peryard \ °^ °° °°
for lining & other ex- )

penses of making . ) 4 10 00

9 10 o
Examined & thinke the

prizes reasonable, Delawarr.
June 20"*, 1709.
EeC* then of the Adminis-\

trators of his late Royall

Highness Prince George

of Denmarke by the

hands of the Hon'"e

Spencer Compton Esq''.

the sume of Nine pounds

Ten shillings in full of

the within mentioned

Bill I say reed. . . ./
Wittness Jo : Arbuthnott

Edw : Godfrey. Physitian to Pr.

Cha : Bint. George of Den-


^ Remarks and Collections of lliomas
Hearne, vol. i. p. 4. 'July 11, 1705.
Tables of the Grecian . . . Measures, &c.,
by Jo. Arbuthnott, Lond., 1705, 8".
. . . See whether Mr. Arbuthnott
in his Tables has not made use of
Dr. Hakewell in his Discourse of

s. d.
10 o

Providence and Dr. Bernard de
Ponderibus & Mensuris.' The title-
page and the tables of which Ar-
buthnot's book consists were en-
graved by Sturt, and in some copies
each leaf is mounted on a guard,
and folded in the centre, while in
others the leaves are bound so as to
form an oblong octavo volume.

3 Ballard MSS. xxiv. 61. On Aug.
20, 1702, Dr. E. Gibson (afterwards
Bishop of London) wrote to Dr.
Charlett from Tunbridge "Wells :
' My sei-vice to M^ Isted, D'.
Gregory, and D''. Arbuthnot ' (Bal-
lard MSS. vi. 45). On June 26,
1705, Dr. George Clarke wrote from
Windsor : ' D"". Arbuthnot was w"*
me when I receivd the favour of
your letters of the 22'"i with M"".
Hally's probleme, & the two Cata-
logues of the books w^** have come,
& are coming out at y" Theater. I
gave the Doctor the catalogue you
design'd for him & lent him the
probleim, w'''^ he says is very ex-
traordinary, tho' what the Professor
writes does not stand in need of
any body to vouch for its excel-
lence' (Ballard MSS. xx. 34}.
Hearne calls Clarke a crony of Dr.
Charlett's. He was a Fellow of All
Souls, an antiquaiy, and a poli-


H<1 Sir

I receaved yours, & thank yow heartily for your Ballad ;

It is not as yet resolved so farr as I know that her Majesty

shall go to the Bath, but I do beleive she will, & if she do's

I fancy it will be a little sooner than last year. I can give yow

no newes in I'eturn for yours. I have seen this day a most

impudent petition of the Commission of the Kirk, to the

Parliament against toleration in Scotland. I think it will be

of service to print it, & it will fully answer your occasional

Ballad, affairs ther seem to be in great faction & confusion,

by the honest & wise management of the Queens Ministers,

as yow may guess ; but the ridiculous complaisance of the

Cavalier party is past all comprehension, for they forsooth, out

of a fear for the Queens Honour won't suffer a Ministiy to be

touch'd that are ruining her affairs as fast as they can ; please

to show this to D^. Gregory and tell him it is the state of the

case, when it comes to greater maturity I shall give him a

more particular account of it. I hop to see yow at Act time

for the meantime wishing yow all health & happiness remain


Your most affectionate

friend & humble servant

Jo : Arbuthnott.
Windsor, June 8"^, 1703.

In 1706 Arbutlinot was in correspondence with the
brilliant but eccentric Lord Peterborough, who had
during the past few months directed a most successful
campaign in Spain. In May, when Barcelona was hard
pressed, and Sir John Leake, who had brought a fleet
to relieve the town, wished to wait for reinforcements,
Peterborough set out in an open boat, and having found
the squadron, after searching for a day and night, pro-
duced a commission giving him supreme command, and
at once gave orders for an attack upon the French. But
when news of his arrival was received the French raised
the siege. Peterborough then wished to march upon
Madrid, but his plans were thwarted by the German ad-
visers of King Charles the Third ^ and after quarrelling

1 On June 27, the day before he sent a long letter to Sir Charles
wrote to Ai-buthnot, Peterborough Hedges : ' I have the power of a


with, the other commanders he set out for Italy in
August to negociate with the Genoese for money for King
Charles. On the 28th of June he wrote to Arbuthnot from
Eequena ^ : ' I have received your letter and in it the
agreeable news of the better health of the Prince, and
of her Ma*y^ being so perfectly well. I hope we have
some share in contributing towards itt. I believe there
cannot be better Physick for a Prince than good news
and the pleasing accounts of successe.' It was hard to
bring machines of government that had long been out
of order to perfect motions, but what had happened in
Her Majesty's reign showed what England was capable of,
when the intentions of those that govern are good in the
main. To gain those ends it was necessary to break loose
from the dull and common methods, and Peterborough had
exposed himself to some hazards (not of bullets but of
speeches) to give the world some taste of their strength
under a management that was entirely English. He had
been without materials for the well or the sick, and the
Ministers of the court of Spain were the most arrant
Sir Martin Marr-alls of the world. ' I would faine save
Italy and yett drink Tea with you att the Smirna ^ this

"Winter Tell Paterson I now and then frett, that

I have not been able to bring about our American
projects ^, but I am glad our Union gos on well. I assure

Dictator, of a tyrant, when the England which Montague adopted

King is absent. In truth I do all, in 1694, started tlie famous Darien

but the King himself is made use scheme in 1695. In 1699 the

of to obstinict me upon all occasions ; scheme ended in comjilete failure,

and it may be easily conceived how to the great disappointment and

I am with his Ministers, whose indignation of the Scotch people,

avarice I cannot satisfy and whose In 1705 the agents of the Darien

plunder I am obliged to obstruct.' Company seized ujjon the captain

^ Mr. Baillie's MSS. of one of the ships of the East India

* The Smyrna Coffee House, in Company, who was charged with

Pall Mall, was a favom-ite resort of piracy and with the murder of a

Swift and Prior. It was a centre of captain employed by the Darien

political gossip (Tatler, Nos. 10 and Company. It was afterwards found

78 ; Spectator, No. 457). that the Darien captain was alive,

' Paterson, who first suggested but so bitter was the popular fcel-

the plan of a national Bank of ing that the unfortunate prisoner


j^ou there is nothing pleases me more. Tell Mr. Scarborow
he might have spared an hower att ombre with a wife
to have writt me now and then a letter. My service to
Dr. Garth and my friends. Your most affectionate servant,

After long negociations, the Commissioners appointed
to arrange for the Union of England and Scotland met
in April, 1706, and agreed upon Articles of Union in
July. But many classes of the Scotch people were
hostile to the proposed treaty, and it was not until
January, 1707, that the measure was passed by the
Scotch Parliament. Towards the close of the year,
while the controversy was at its height, Arbuthnot pub-
lished in Edinburgh a quarto pamphlet with the title,
A Se7'mon preach'd to the Peo'ple at the Mercat-Cross of
Edinburgh ; on the subject of the Union. Eccles. Chap. 10.
Ver. 27. Printed in the Year 1706^. In this piece he
argued ably against the prejudices of his own country-
men ; pointed out to them the intimate conjunction
between three dismal companions. Pride, Povert}'-, and
Idleness (' this is a worse Union a great deal than that
which we are to discourse of at present ') ; dwelt upon
the prosperity of England ; hinted to any whose hostility
was due to the united force of the Skillin and Louis d'or
that both of them were not to be put in the balance with
the Guinea ; and concluded with an appeal to his readers
to ponder his text, 'Better is he that laboureth, and

was hanged. By the terms of the edition of Miscellanies by Swift,

Union between England and Scot- Arbuthnot, Pope and Gay, and on

land, the Darien Company was dis- October 29, 1741, Pope wrote to

solved, Arbuthnot's son, George : ' I told

' This piece was reprinted in Mrs. Arbuthnot [Arbuthnot's daugh-

London in December, 1706, accord- ter, Ann] that I would on no ac-

ing to the History oj the Works of the count print in the Miscellanies that

Learned ; but the London edition sermon at Edinburgh, and it may

was post-dated 1707. The Sermon be proper you should tell Bathurst

is printed in the second volume of the same thing, for the reason you

the Miscellaneous Works, 1751, with gave, which is a very good one'

an editorial preface by Buncombe. (Pope's Works, edited by Edwin and

In 1743 Bathurst published a fourth Courthope, vol. vii. p. 489).



aboundeth in all things, than he that boasteth himself,
and wanteth bread.'

In September, 1707, Arbuthnot visited Dr. George
Hickes, who wrote to Dr. Charlett on the 6th : ' Dr.
Arbuthnot shall be very welcome to me, and I shall take
his visit and acquaintance for a great respect ^.'

"We have a glimpse of Arbuthnot's kindliness in the

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 3 of 47)