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

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two following letters to Dr. Charlett, at Hambledon, near
Henley-on-Thames^. Dr. David Gregory^ was attacked
in 1708 by consumption, and went to Bath for the waters ;
but on his return to London, with his wife, he was
stopped by an accession of illness at Maidenhead, and
Arbuthnot, who was sent for from Windsor, found him
dying. On the day of his death Dr. George Smalridge
set out from London towards Brentford with Mrs.
Arbuthnot, to meet Dr. Gregory and his wife, and
doubtless to break to them the news that one of their
children was dead, and the others sick with smallpox *.

Maidenhead, Greyhound Inn,

Tuesd. 3^ afternoon,

Oct. 10, 1708 ^
Dear Sir

This gives yow the bad news of the death of our dear
freind D^. Gregory, who dy'd about one a clock this afternoon,
in this Inn, on his way to London from Bath. He sent to me
last night to Windsor ; I found him in a resolution to go
forward to London this morning, from which I happily

1 Ballard MSS. xii. 98. George
Hickes (1642-1715), who was one
of the non-juring bishops, is best
known as the author of the great
Lingiiarum veterum septentrionalium

2 Ballard MSS. xxiv. 63, 64 ;
printed in Letters written by eminent
Peisons in the Seventeenth and EigJtteenth
Centuries, 181 3, vol. i. pp. 176-8. Dr.
Charlett became Eector of Ham-
bledon in 1707.

^ Dr. Gregory twice mentioned
Arbuthnot in letters written to Dr.
Charlett in June, 1707: 'Dr. Ar-

buthnot continues to have a due
sense of your former kindnesses to
him, & gives you his services most
heartily' (Ballard MSS. xxiv. 30,
31). Dr. Gregory married, in 1695,
Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Oliphant,
of Langtoun.

1 Ballard MSS. vii. 13, Dr. Smal-
ridge to Dr. Charlett, Oct. 16, 1708.

^ This letter is endorsed, ' 17 Oct.
1708. Not received before 8 of the
Clock on Sunday morning 17 Oct.
by a Gentlemans Boy of New


disswaded [him] finding him in a dying condition. He has a
child his only daughter dead at London of the small pox, of
which neither he nor his wife knew anything off for I would
not tell them ; the rest of his family lye sick of the same disease,
so you may easily guess what a disconsolate condition his poor
widow must find herself in. She would be glad to see yow to
advyce about his buiying. My present thought & advyce is
to bury him at Oxford, wher he is known, amongst those who
will shew a great deal of respect to his memory, & it is
allmost the same distance from this place as London. Mrs.
Gregory begs the favour to see yow here if possible, being one
of his most intimate freinds, whom he allwayes confided in.
I am in great greif and shall stay here as long as I can in
hopes of seeing yow, If I am not here yow will find his
brother in law J)^. Oliphant.

I am, Dear Sir

your most humble Servant

Jo : Aebuthnott.

Dear Sir,

I have been extremely afflicted for the loss of our worthy
freind D^. Gregory. I am sure yow have lost a true &
sincere freind & an agreeable companion. I gave yow the
account of his death, the manner of which was as became a
great & a wise man. The first resolution was to have
bm-y'd him at Oxford which indeed I was mightily for but
ther was nobody ther to embalm his body & befor we could
have gott people from London it would have smelt they having
lett four & twenty hours pass without doing anything :
besides his poor ^\dfe was in a distraction what to do, whether
to go to her family, one of which was dead & the rest sick of
the small pox, so that when all cireimistances were consider'd
& fche had talk'd with her Brother D^. Oliphant, it was
thought advyseable to bury him at Maidenhead wher he was
attended very decently, M^. Cherry having been very ser^^ce-
able. M". Gregory desires to do all the honour to his memory
that she can & if it be usual to make a Monument in another
place she would willingly erect one in Oxford \ I should be
glad [if j yow would talk with his worthy freind the Dean of
Christ Church about this matter. His papers relating to

1 A monument was erected in the nave of St. Mary's Cliurch, Oxford, by
the widow.



Apollonius^ are to be putt in M"*. Dean's hands. We are
using our interest for John Keill ^ but have great difficulties
to manage some people". I shall trouble yow to give my
ser'v^'ces to my freinds at Oxford,

I am, with all respect, Sir

Your most obliged freind &

most humble servant

Jo : Arbuthnott.

Eobert Harley, a member of Marlborough's composite
Ministry, began in 1707 to plot against the Churchills,
and to undermine their influence with the Queen, who
was wearied with the violence of the Duchess of Marl-
borough. He found a tool in his cousin, Mrs. Abigail
Hill, who was a cousin also of the Duchess. Abigail Hill
worked upon Anne's fear of danger to the Church, and
managed affairs so well that she became the Queen's
favourite and confidante. She was made bedchamber
woman, and in the summer was secretly married, in Ar-
buthnot's lodgings in the Palace, in the Queen's presence,
to Samuel Masham, of Prince George's household. A few
months later the Duchess of Marlborough referred in a
letter to ' the Scotch doctor Arbuthnot ^.' The feud be-
tween the different parties in the Ministry grew in
intensity, and when it was discovered that Gregg, a clerk
in Harley 's office, was in treasonable correspondence with
France, the Queen, pressed by Marlborough, was reluc-
tantly compelled to agree to the resignation of IJarley
and his friends. Gregg was hanged, but the Queen sent
comforts and necessaries to him by Arbuthnot while he

^ Halley brought out this work thority will pass with M"". Keill,

on Apollonius's Conies in 1710. because his book was approved by

^ John Keill (1671-1721) was a D"". Freind of Christchurch, and by

pupil of Gregory's at Edinburgh, two excellent mathematicians, my

and followed his teacher to Oxford. very worthy friends, D^ Arbuthnott

In 1698 he published An Examina- and M''. Craig.' Keill afterwards

Hon of Br. Burnet's Theonj of the Earth, became Savilian Professor of Astro-

in which he attacked Wotton. In nomy (Irving's Lives of Scottish

the third edition of his Eeflections Writers, vol. ii. pp. 268-287).

upon Ancient and Modem Learning '■' Correspondence of the Duchess of

Wotton wrote: 'Dr. Cheyne's au- MaWtorow^/i, vol. i. p. 415.



was in prison ^. Marlborough had now attained his end,
but Anne never forgave him, and the triumph was short.
The immediate cause of the downfall of the Whigs
was the impeachment of Dr. Henry Sacheverell, early in
1 710. Sacheverell was charged with preaching sermons
reflecting on the principles of the Revolution, but the
trial resulted in what was a virtual triumph for the
accused. In April the Duchess of Marlborough had a
stormy interview with the Queen, which proved to be
the last time they were to meet. In June, the Earl of
Sunderland, Secretary of State, and son-in-law of Marl-
borough, was dismissed ; and on the 8th of August
Godolphin's services were dispensed with. The office of
Treasurer was placed in commission, but Harley became
Chancellor of the Exchequer, and practically Prime
Minister. On August 25 Peter "Wentworth wrote from
London to Lord Raby ^ : ' I come here to hear news, and
find still all parties agree that there will be a new Par-
liament. I made a visset to Mr. Scarborough, who is
very well with Mrs. Masham, and yet better with Dr.
Albertinote ' — i. e. Arbuthnot : spelling was not a strong
point with the Wentworths — ' who is a very cunning
man, and not much talkt of, but I believe what he says
is as much heard as any that give advise now, and his
opinion is that there must be a new Parliament . . . . '
Scarborough ' told me he had this answer from very good
hands, wch by his way of speaking I believe was Dr.
Alburtinote, the Prince's Doctor, who is hardly a moment
from Kingsenton.' The expected dissolution of Parlia-
ment came on the 21st of September, and writs were
issued for a new Parliament, to meet in November. In
another letter, written about this time, Peter Wentworth
told Lord Raby, who wished to serve again in the
army and to succeed General Stanhope in the command

* Miss Strickland's Lives of the ^ Wentworth Papers, 1883, p 138.

Queens of England, vol. viii. p. 299.



in Spain, that 'the Prince's Doctor, a Scotchman, is a
powerful solicitor for Argile with Mrs. Masham, who now
is visited in crowds by Whigs and Torys, some of whom
I have heard wish her damn . . . The Scotch are national,
and there is no getting the Doctor in another interest,
so that in my poor opinion there is not much hopes for

In November, 1709, Arbuthnot was appointed Physician
in Ordinary to the Queen, in succession to Dr. Hannes,
and on the 27th of April, 17 10, he was admitted as a
Fellow of the College of Physicians 2. In the same year
he published in the ' Philosophical Transactions ' ^ a paper
entitled An Argument for Divine Providence, taken from
the constant regularity observed in the Births of both Sexes.
' By Dr. John Arbuthnott, Physytian in Ordinary to Her
Majesty, and Fellow of the College of Physytians and
the Eoyal Society.' In this essay he gave a mathematical
argument to show that Art, and not Chance, governs the
production of the sexes, males being naturally liable to
greater risk than females ; and he deduced the corollary
that polygamy is contrary to the law of Nature.

Arbuthnot frequently corresponded with Dr., after-
wards Sir, Hans Sloane, i\\e eminent physician and
naturalist, but the hastily written notes that have come
down to us chiefly relate to professional cases, or to books
or medicines borrowed by Arbuthnot *. In one letter,
without indication of the year, Arbuthnot said that he
had of late been in a very bad state of health, and he

'^ Wentworth Papers, 10,']. In Decern- ^ Vol. 27, p. 186. The paper is

ber 1710, John Campbell, second given in full in the 'Abridgment'

Duke of Argyle, was made Knight of the ' Transactions ' (v. ii. 240),

of the Garter, and on the nth of but without the title,

the following month was appointed * Sloane MSS. 4036, ft". 153-175

Ambassador Extraordinary to Spain, (Brit. Mus.). The earliest dated

and Commander-in-Chief of the letter is of 1707, and the last, 1713 ;

English forces in that kingdom. but some of those without date

' College of Physicians, Annals must have been written in or after

(Hist. MSS. Commission, Report 1716, because they are addressed tc

viii. pt. i. p. 231). ' Sir Hans Sloane, Bart.'

D 2


asksd Dr. Hans Sloane to call next day, to meet some
other doctors, at St. James's Place, ' next door to the
two White Balls.' In another letter, dated Winchester,
April 2, 1 710, Arbuthnot said he once thought of
changing the ci'est — a peacock's head — of the family
coat, which consisted of three mullets and a crescent
on a field azure, with ' Laus Deo ' for motto. The sup-
porters were two griffins. He had once a mind to
alter the peacock's head for a common cock's head, with
the motto 'Vigilando,' that being more proper for a
physician ^.

A prolonged controversy in the scientific world was
drawing to a head at this time, and as Arbuthnot took
an active part in the matter it must be briefly noticed
here. In 1705 a committee of the Royal Society, con-
sisting of the Hon. F. Roberts, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir
Christopher Wren, Arbuthnot, and David Gregory, was
appointed to superintend the publication of the observa-
tions of the heavens which had been made during the
past thirty years by the Rev. John Flamsteed, the
Astronomer Royal, Prince G-eorge having undertaken
to bear the expense ^. A long wrangle ensued, in which
each party accused the other of procrastination ; and in
1708 it was decided that if Flamsteed would not correct
the proofs of his Catalogue of the Fixed Stars, the work
should be put into someone else^s hands, without further
delay. But nothing more was done until December
17 10, when a Board of Visitors to the Observatory was
appointed by a Royal order to arrange for the publica-
tion of the Catalogue, and to take cognizance of official
misconduct on the part of the Astronomer Royal. In

^ Of course Arbuthnot was not 85-6, 226-7, 280-94, 306, 320) ;

entitled to use the arms of Viscount articles on Flamsteed in the lAc-

Arbuthnott without a difference ; tiotiary of National Biogrcqihy, and in

and there is no trace of his having the Qucnierly Review for Dec. 1835

•taken out arms for himself. and Edinhvrgh Beriew for Jan.

^ Account of the Eev. John Flamsteed, 1836 ; Historical MSS. Commission,

by F. Baily. 1835 (especially pp. Eleventh Report, part iv. pp. 200-1.


April and May, 171 1, Flamsteed liad a long corre-
spondence witli Arbutlinot, in which Arbuthnot pressed
for the remainder of the Catalogue, while Flamsteed
complained, not without some reason, that Halley had
altered and spoilt his work. In October an altercation
occurred between Flamsteed and Newton ; and the
Historia Goeledis was ultimately published in 17 12.
avowedly completed without Flamsteed's concurrence.

Another scientific dispute in which Newton was con-
cerned was brought to a conclusion at about the same
time. In 171 1 a question arose between Leibnitz and
Keill as to whether Leibnitz or Newton was the inventor
of the method of Fluxions, and in March, 1 712, Arbuthnot
was one of a committee appointed by the Royal Society
to enquire into the matter. They arrived at the con-
clusion that Newton was the first inventor ^.


In September, 17 10, Swift arrived in London from
Ireland, and began the famous series of letters to Esther
Johnson — the ' Journal to Stella ' — which afford such in-
valuable aid in tracing the course of events during the
ensuing years. He came from Laracor to settle a question
about first-fruits, which affected the Irish clergy, and no
doubt he at the same time ho]Ded to obtain some prefer-
ment for himself. His Whig friends, he thought, neg-
lected him and the business upon which he was engaged,
whereas Harley and the Tories did ever3i;hing in their
power to enlist his aid on their side. For some
months the old friendships were maintained, but cool-
ness gradually sprang up, and by November Swift had
undertaken the management of the principal Tory organ,
the Examiner, which had been started in August by

^ Brewster's Life of Sir Isaac New- ary History of the Eighteenth Century,
ton ; Nichols' Illustrations of the Liter- iv. 23.


King, Prior, and others. ' To say the truth,' he wrote,
' the present ministry have a difficult task, and want me.
Perhaps they may be just as grateful as others ; but, ac-
cording to the best judgment I have, they are pursuing
the true interest of the public ; and therefore I am glad
to contribute what is in my power. For God's sake,
not a word of this to any alive.' We do not find any
reference to Arbuthnot in the Journal until March 19,
171 1, when Swift wrote : 'The Duke of Argyle is gone;
and whether he has my memorial' — an application on
behalf of Captain Bernage — ' I know not, till I see Dr.
Arbuthnot, to whom I gave it. That hard name belongs
to a Scotch doctor, an acquaintance of the Duke's and
me ; Stella cannot pronounce it.' If Swift had here ex-
plained how the Doctor pronounced his name, the doubt
which now surrounds the point would have been re-
moved. It is clear that Swift had only recently made
Arbuthnot's acquaintance, and in the original letter (ac-
cording to Nichols) Swift spelt the name ' Arthburthnet,'
in a clear large hand, so that his correspondent might
not mistake any of the letters.

There is no further allusion to Arbuthnot in the
Journal until the loth of August, when Swift, who was at
Windsor, says he had been for a ride to see the country.
' Dr. Arbuthnot, the Queen s physician and favourite,
went out with me to show me the places : we went a
little after the Queen, and overtook Miss Forester, a maid
of honour, on her palfrey, taking the air ; we made her
go along with us. . . . We met the Queen coming back,
and Miss Forester stood, like us, with her hat off while
the Queen went by. The Doctor and I left the lady
where we found her, but under other conductors ; and
we dined at a little place he has taken about a mile
off.' Swift did not like Miss Forester, ' although she be
a toast, and was dressed like a man.' On the 8th of
September Swift was again at Windsor, where the Queen


was recovering from an attack of tlie gout, and he
and Harley (now Earl of Oxford and Lord Treasurer)
supped together, ' with Mr. Masham, and Dr. Arbuthnot,
the Queen's favourite physician, a Scotchman.' On the
following day, Sunday, the usual company supped
at Harley's, 'which was Lord Keeper, Mr. Secretary,
George Granville, Masham, Arbuthnot, and I.' A week
later Swift again visited Windsor. The ministers re-
turned to town on the i8th : ' I am alone,' wrote Swift, ' to
seek my fortune ; but Dr. Arbuthnot engages me for my
dinners ; and he yesterday gave me my choice of place,
persons, and victuals for to-day. So I chose to dine with
Mrs. Hill, who is one of the dressers, and Mrs. Masham's
sister, no company but us three ; and to have a shoulder
of mutton, a small one, which was exactly, only there
was too much victuals besides ; and the Doctor s wife
was of the company. And to-morrow Mrs. Hill and I
are to dine with the Doctor.' This is Swift's first allusion
to Arbuthnot's wife.

Next morning Swift and Arbuthnot had a pleasant
ride to see Cranbourne Lodge, Lord Eanelagh's house,
and the Duchess of Marlborough's Lodge, and the Park.
' Arbuthnot made me draw up a sham subscription for
a book called A History of the Maids of Honour since
Harry the Eighth, shewing they make the best wives,
with a list of all the maids of honour since, &c. ; to pay
a crown in hand, and the other crown upon delivery of
the book ; and all in common forms of those things. We
got a gentleman to write it fair, because my hand is
known ; and we sent it to the maids of honour, when
they came to supper. If they bite at it, it will be a very-
good court jest ; and the Queen will certainly have it.
We did not tell Mrs. Hill.' On the 20th Arbuthnot and
Mrs. Hill went to Kensington for the day, to see Mrs.
Masham, Mrs. Hill's sister-in-law, who had been ill, but
they found the patient better. On the 21st Swift wrote :


' The maids of honour are bit, and have all contributed
their crowns, and are teazing others to subscribe for the
book. I will tell Lord Keeper and Lord Treasurer to-
morrow ; and I believe the Queen will have it.' The
evening was squandered at Lewis's^ lodging, where he
and Arbuthnot played at piquet. Afterwards Swift re-
gretted the loss of time, for he had much business on his
hands, and little time to do it. The pamphleteers against
the ministry were very bold and abusive, and Swift
urged that an example should be made of one or two
of them. On the 23rd he told the jest about the maids
of honour to Harcourt ; it had been confided to Oxford
on the previous evening ; ' That rogue Arbuthnot puts it
all upon me.'

Two days later Swift sent for Bernage, an officer serv-
ing under Colonel Fielding, on whose behalf he had been
making some efforts in the spring ^, ' to let him know that
Dr. Arbuthnot is putting in strongly to have his brother '
— George — ' made a captain over Bernage's head . Arbuth-
not's brother is but an ensign, but the doctor has great
power with the Queen : yet he told me he would not do
anything hard to a gentleman who is my friend ; and I
have engaged the secretary and his colonel for him.' On
the next day Bernage, full of the spleen, told Swift
that Arbuthnot's brother had ^vritten from Windsor
(where he went to solicit) that he had got the company ;
and Swift thereupon wrote to Arbuthnot at "Windsor,
' not to insist on doing such a hardship.' Fears were set
at rest on the 27th, when George Granville, Secretary for
War, told Swift (after keeping him a while in suspense),
that Arbuthnot had waived the business, because he would
not wrong a friend of Swift's, and that George Arbuthnot
was to be a lieutenant, and Bernage a captain^. Bernage,

' Erasmus Lewis, Under-Secre- a captain in Colonel Kane's regi-

tary of State. ment. Prior notes in his Diary

Page 38. [History of his Own Time, 1740, p.

' In 1 7 13 George Arbuthnot was 398), 'Mr. Geoi-ge Arbuthnot hav-



therefore, was made easy; 'lie has ten shillings a day,
besides lawful cheating. However, he gives a private
sum to his colonel ; but it is very cheap : his colonel
loves him well, but is surprised to see him have so many
friends.' At night Swift received ' a very handsome
rallying letter ' from Arbuthnot, to say that he had that
morning given up his brother's pretensions in compliance
with Swift's wishes, and that the Queen had spoken to
Mr. Granville to make the company easy in the other
having the caj)tainship. ' Whether they have done it to
oblige me or no,' Swift wrote, ' I must own it so. He says
he this very morning begged Her Majesty to give Mr.
Bernage the company.' Next day Swift went to Windsor,
and had an opportunity of thanking Arbuthnot for his
kindness to Bernage. He supped with St. John, Prior,
and two private ministers from France, and a French
priest. These last, who passed under assumed names, were
M. Mesnager, the Abbe Dubois, and the Abbe Gaultier,
and Mesnager, on behalf of France, had, the day before,
signed preliminary articles of peace with England.

On the 4th of October, after riding with a number of
others in the morning, Swift, Arbuthnot, and the
Mashams dined with Mrs. Hill. 'Arbuthnot made us
all melancholy; he expects a cruel fit of the stone in
twelve hours ; he says he is never mistaken, and he
appears like a man that is to be racked to-morrow. I
cannot but hope it will not be so bad ; he is a perfectly
honest man, and one I have much obligation to.' Swift
thought he had strained his thumb while boxing the ears

ing served as Captain in Her
Majesty's Eegiment of Foot, com-
manded by Colonel Kane, came to
me [at Paris] this i6th day of No-
vember, 1713, N.S., and acqviainted
me that the said Regiment having
been broke at Calais in June last,
he the said George Ai-buthnot is no
otherwise provided for by the Gov-

ernment than by the half pay which
her Majesty has been graciously
pleased to allow to the officers of the
said Eegiment.' On the 5th of the
following March Prior gave a certi-
ficate to George Arbuthnot, mutatis
mutandis, the same as that of the
i6th of November 1712 (? 1713), the
date only changed.


of his servant Patrick, who had gone out, and taken the
key of the house with him. ; but Arbuthnot feared it
might be the gout. Apparently, however, the doctor was
mistaken, for the thumb was soon better. Of Arbuthnot's
own illness nothing more is said.

At the beginning of December there was much anxiety
among the ministry owing to a reported coalition between
some peers of the High Church party and the Whigs, to
oppose the conclusion of a peace upon the terms proposed
by the Government. But after some hesitation it was
decided that Parliament should meet on the day appointed,
the 7th of December. In the House of Lords a clause was
inserted in the address at the instance of the Earl of
Nottingham, advising the Queen not to make a peace
without ensuring the separation of Spain from the terri-
tories of the Bourbons ; but in the House of Commons a
similar clause was rejected. Swift thought that the
Queen herself was wavering, and when, on the following
day, Arbuthnot (' the Queen's favourite physician ') asked
Lord Oxford 'how he came not to secure a majority,^ the
Treasurer could give no very satisfactory reply. A week
later Swift and others thought the ministry would last
only a few days. ' Arbuthnot is in good hopes that the
Queen has not betrayed us, but only has been frightened
and flattered, &c. But I cannot yet be of his opinion,
whether [that] my reasons are better, or that my fears
are greater.' These fears turned out ultimately to be


On the 4th of January, 17 12, Swift dined in the city
with his printer, and gave him ' a ballad made by several
hands, I know not whom. I believe Lord Treasurer had
a finger in it ; I added three stanzas ; I suppose Dr.

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 4 of 47)