Chamberlen, Hugh (fl.1720) (DNB00)
|←Chamberlayne, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 10
Chamberlen, Hugh (fl.1720)
|Chamberlen, Hugh (1664-1728)→|
CHAMBERLEN, HUGH, the elder, M.D. (fl. 1720) physician and economist, the eldest son of Peter Chamberlayne, M.D., by marriage with Jane, eldest daughter of Sir Hugh Myddelton, bart., was born in the parish of St. Anne's, Blackfriars, between 1630 and 1634. It is doubtful whether he ever took or obtained a degree in physic, although he is styled doctor of medicine in the state papers and on the lists of the Royal Society. From his father he inherited the faculty for bringing himself conspicuously before the public by schemes of a more or less visionary character. In 1668 he busied himself with a project for freeing the city of the plague, as we learn from a paper in his handwriting, preserved in the Record Offices (Cal. sate Papers, Dom. 1665-6, p. 423). In August 1670, while staying at Paris, he met the celebrated surgeon, François Mauriceau, and two years later he published a translation of the latter's treatise on mid-wifery. This became for long afterwards the standard text-book on the subject, and passing through several editions was republished as late as 1765. In the preface, which was repeated without alteration in all subsequent editions, are many remarkable statements, notably those relating to the invention and use of the obstetric forceps by the translator's family. Chamberlen now acquired considerable reputation in his profession, more especially as a man-midwife, and on the petition of his father he obtained, in Febuary 1673, the reversion of Sir John Hinton's place as physician in ordinary to the king, which office fell to him the following October.
In 1685 Chamberlen came again before the public as the author of ‘Manuale Medicum: or a small Treatise of the Art of Physick in general and of Vomits and the Jesuits Powder in particular,' 8vo, London, 1685. By the tone of this little book, which was written, as he tells us in the preface, for the use of a son he sent to the East Indies, he gave great offence to his more orthodox professional brethren, who regarded him, and not unreasonably, as a busy, adventurous empiric. Accordingly we find that in March 1688 the College of Physicians had, at the information of Dr. Charleton, taken action against him for the illegal and evil practice of medicine, and fined him 10l. on pain of being committed to Newgate. He continued, however, to enjoy an extensive business at court, while he was always selected by James II to attend his queen in her confinements. At the birth of the Prince James Edward, afterwards known as the Old Pretender, on 10 June 1688, Chamberlen came too late to be present. His very curious letter to the Electress Sophia of Hanover on the circumstances, dated (but in a different handwriting) from the Hague on 4 Oct. 1713, and now preserved in the Birch MS. 4107, f. 150, has always been cited as most important evidence against the popular theory of the prince being a supposititious child (Dalrymple, Memoirs of Gt. Brit. and Ireland, l773, ii. 311-13). Although valued for his professional skill, there is little doubt that Chamberlen's politics found small favour in the eyes of royalty; indeed, in the letter referred to Chamberlen speaks of his 'being a noted whig, and signally oppressed by King James.' Cooke, too (History of Party, i. 453-4), commenting on the birth of the Old Pretender, alludes to Chamberlen as 'a known whig who had suffered for his political principles.' Thus it will be seen why it was thought necessary in June 1686 to issue 'A Pardon to Hugh Chamberlain of all Treasons, misprisons of Treason, Insurrection, Kebellions, & other Crimes and Offenses by him comitted before the first day of June instant, and of all Indictments, Conviccons, Paines and fforfeitures by reason thereof: With such Clauses and non obstantes as are usuall in Pardons of like nature' (Docquet Books, Signet, Record Office).
Chamberlen's last medical effort was published in 1694, with the title 'A few Queries relating to the Practice of Physick, with remarks upon some of them, modestly proposed to the serious consideration of Mankind, in order to their information how their lives and healths (which are so necessary, and therefore ought to he so dear to them) may be better preserved,' 8vo, London, 1694. It contains little more than what he had already adduced in his 'Manuale Medicum,' but at the end he published 'A Proposal for the better securing, of health, intended in the year 1689 and still ready to be humbly offered to the Consideration of the Honourable Houses of Parliament.' This desirable object, he suggests, might be attained by a small yearly sum to be assessed upon each house, in order that every family might be served 'much better and cheaper than at present, with Visits, Advice, Medicine, and Surgery.' He suggests that the existing laws which provided against the sale of bad food and adulterated drinks should be revised and strictly enforced, besides periodical cleansings of the streets and houses.
For several years, as he himself tells us, his famous land bank project had occupied much of his attention, out it was not until November 1690 that he issued from his house in Essex Street the first draft of his scheme, with the title, 'Dr. Hugh Chamberlen's Proposal to make England Rich and Happy.' The plan was frequently modified, but briefly stated, the bank was to advance money on the security of landed property by issuing large quantities of notes on the fallacy that a lease of land for a term of years might be worth many times the fee simple. The next nine years found Chamberlen living in an atmosphere of the keenest excitement. A glance at the bibliography of the subject, some forty-five pamphlets in number, which the assiduity of his biographer. Dr. Aveling, has gathered together for the first time, will show how readily Chamberlen met the attacks of foes and rivals alike. From the same source we find that he set apart three evenings in the week to explain his project to all who cared to learn and to answer objections, while to members of parliament he paid especial court, in the hope of winning their support. In December 1693 Chamberlen laid his plan before the commons, and petitioned to be heard. As the result a committee was appointed which reported that the plan was 'practicable and would tend to the benefit of the nation.' By this time, however, the absurdity of the scheme had become apparent, and the report lay unnoticed on the table. Two years later the project was revived in a greatly modified form, much to Chamberlen's vexation; the bill (7 & 8 Will. III, cap. 31) passed both houses and received the royal assent on 27 April 1696, but immediately afterwards the parliament was prorogued (Macaulay, Hist. of Eng. iv. ch. xxi.; Commons' Journals, xi. 22, 80).
The collapse of the land bank scheme was received with a storm of derision, and its unfortunate projector was forced eventually to fly the country. Although Luttrell (Relation of State Affairs, 1857, iv. 496) and the author of a broadside published on the occasion ('Hue and Cry after a Man-Midwife, &c.' in Brit. Mus.) lend weight to the popular impression that Chamberlen retired to Holland immediately after his failure, that is, in March 1699, he in point of fact went no further than Scotland, where he resided some considerable time. For in 1700 he was urging the latest development of his land bank scheme upon the parliament of Scotland, the advantages of which he advocated with his customary ability in a pamphlet of fifty pages, entitled 'A Few Proposals humbly recommending .... the Establishing a Land-Credit in this Kingdom,' &c., 4to, Edinburgh, 1700. Two years later we find him busied with a plan for the union of Scotland and England, which he explained in a volume called 'The Great Advantages of both Kingdoms of Scotland and England, by an Union. By a Friend to Britain. Printed in the year 1702.' This is undoubtedly one of the ablest pamphlets ever penned in support of a political cause. His proposals, remarks Dr. Aveling in his exhaustive analysis of the book, 'for the election of representative peers and compulsory education are proofs of his astuteness and far-seeing policy.'
Chamberlen ultimately withdrew to Amsterdam, where he practised his profession for several years, but probably with little success, for we can only surmise that poverty forced him to part with the long-cherished family secret of the midwifery forceps to the Dutch surgeon Hendrik van Roonhuisen, whose acquaintance he had formed in that city. Altnough every search has been made, nothing can be discovered in regard to Chamberlen's latter days. We have found, however, that he was still alive in November 1720, for on the 14th of that month he renounced administration to the estate of his second son, Peter, 'late commander of H.M.'s ship "Milford," a bachelor deceased,' and letters were granted to Hugh Chamberlen the younger, M.D. [q. v.], the natural and lawful brother (Administration Act Book, P. C. C. 1720). By his marriage on 28 May 1663 at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, with Dorothy, daughter of Colonel John Brett, Chamberlen had three sons, Hugh [q. v.], Peter, and Myddelton, and one daughter, Dorothy. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on April 1681.
[A full Account of Chamberlen's Life and Writings in Dr. J. H. Aveling's Tho Chumberlens and the Midwifery Forceps, pp. 125-79; authorities cited above; Francis's Hist. of the Bank of England, i. 67; Will of Col. J. Brett, proved in P. C. C. 28 March 1672.]