Charleton, Walter (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

CHARLETON, WALTER, M.D. (1619–1707), physician, was the son of the rector of Shepton Mallett in Somerset, where he was born 2 Feb. 1619. He received his early education from his father, and when sixteen entered at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, under the tuition of Dr. Wilkins. The influence of the author of the essay towards a real character and a philosophical language may probably be traced in the elaborate tabulation and analysis which characterize all the writings of Charleton. Some of his university exercises and notes are extant (Sloane MS. 1532), and show that he worked hard as an undergraduate, and had already formed the beautiful handwriting which he preserved all its clearness to the end of his days. At the early age of twenty-two (1641) he received the degree of M.D., and in the same year was appointed physician to the king, who was then at Oxford. As Harvey was in actual attendance on the royal person, Charleton's appointment must be regarded as an act of favour to a promising member of the loyal university, rather than a proof of the young doctor's professional skill. In 1650 Charleton settled in London, and was on 8 April admitted a candidate of the College of Physicians. He was appointed physician to the exiled king, an office certainly without emolument and without duty, for Charleton's works show him to have remained in London. He published two books in 1650, was prevented from writing by an attack of dysentery in 1651, and between 1652 and the Restoration brought out eight more books. During this period he lived in Russell Street, Covent Garden (Preface to Physiologia), and was true to the royal cause, receiving no favour from the Commonwealth, and complying with the times no further than by suppressing the word 'king' on the title-page of his 'Physiologia' (1654), where he describes himself as physician to the late Charles, monarch of Great Britain. He was continued in his office of physician at the Restoration, and published in 1661 a eulogium on Charles II, which describes the profligate king as one to whom no interest is so dear as religion; a man in whom clemency, justice, piety, fortitude, and magnanimity are found in perfect union. Charleton was one of the first elected fellows of the Royal Society in 1662 (Thomson, History of Royal Society, 1812, p.3), and on 23 Jan. 1676 was admitted a fellow of the College of Physicians (Munk, Coll. of Phys. 1878, i. 390). He gave the first lectures delivered in the Cutlerian Theatre in Warwick Lane, in 1680 delivered the Harveian oration, and was president in 1689, 1690, and 1691. Between 1660 and 1692, in which year straitened circumstances compelled him to leave London, he published, besides the king's 'Character' and the Harveian oration, six separate books in Latin, and seven in English. The one which attracted most general attention was 'Chorea Gigantum' (1663), a treatise intended to prove that Stonehenge was made by the Danes, and used by them as a place of assembly, and of the inauguration of kings. The only argument is that similar stone works exist in Denmark, and this had been supplied to Charleton by the Danish antiquary, Wormius, with whom he had corresponded on the book of Inigo Jones, in which Stonehenge is said to be a Roman temple. The 'Chorea Gigantum' will always be kept in memory by the fine epistle (Derrick, Dryden, 1760, ii. 154) which Dryden wrote in its praise, the noblest poem in which English science has been celebrated by an English poet. The 'Epistle to Dr. Charleton' is prefixed to what was probably the first published copy of the 'Chorea,' that presented to the king, which, bound in red morocco, with a double crowned C on the sides, is preserved in the British Museum. After his last year of presidency at the College of Physicians, Charleton left London for a time. He had been the physician of many of the old royalists, and as his patients disappeared had no modern views to attract new ones, nor enough purely medical repute to retain his practice. He retired to Nantwich (Wood, Hist. et Antiq. Oxon.), but soon returned to London, and was senior censor in the College of Physicians from 1698 to 1706, and delivered Harveian orations in 1702 and 1706, and in the latter year was appointed Harveian librarian. He died 24 April 1707. Two portraits of Charleton are to be found in his works. The earlier (Immortality of the Human Soul, 1657) represents him as a slim young man with a high forehead, large eyes, flowing hair, a small moustache, and a shaven chin. The later portrait (Inquiries into Human Nature, 1680), of which the original is at the College of Physicians, shows him as a stout, rather heavy-looking old man in gown and bands. Charleton's printed works and manuscript remains (Sloane MS. 3413 is his 'Commonplace Book') show him to have been a man of wide reading both in medicine and in classical literature. He was an exact scholar, critical of Latin (see manuscript notes by Charleton on a copy of 'Needham de foetu' in British Museum, which once belonged to Charleton), but too diffuse in expression in both languages. His medical books are hard reading, and contain no new observations of his own, but they show the transition from the old scholastic way of writing on medicine to the new method of stating observations and drawing conclusions from them. Charleton valued all the discoveries of his time, but in setting them forth he could not free himself from the scholastic forms in which he had been bred. He had in early life read too much in Van Helmont, and his academic success was probably injurious to him as a physician by encouraging him to spend too much time in reading and composition, and too little at the bedside of patients. He nowhere shows any genius for medicine, and, though he sometimes relates cases, exhibits no acuteness of observation. Hobbes and Lord Dorchester, Prujean and Ent were his friends, and all that is known of his character is in his favour. He mentions (Immortality of the Human Soul, 1657, p. 13) that he was subject to fits of depression, which is probably what Wood (Hist. et Antiq. Oxon.) means by calling him an unhappy man. In 1653 he had already learned (Immortality of Soul, p. 11) 'that sapere domi, to endeavour the acquisition of science in private, ought to be the principal scope of a wise man,' and his voluminous works prove that he was consistent in this opinion throughout life; and though enough of personal vanity is to be found in his writings to show that he must have sometimes thought he deserved more success than he obtained, he nowhere complains, and seems to have found permanent pleasure in the exercise and increase of his accumulations of learning. In religion he was a high churchman, in philosophy an epicurean, and in politics one of the last of the old royalists. In the British Museum copy of his 'Three Anatomic Lectures' (1683) is a list by himself, headed 'Scripta jam in lucem emissa,' which names twenty-one works, but it is not without mistakes. His works are: 1. 'Spiritus Gorgonicus,' Leyden, 1650, a treatise in which the formation of calculi in the human body is attributed to a definite stone-forming spirit. The College of Physicians' copy has notes in his own handwriting. 2. 'Ternary of Paradoxes,' 1650, a translation from Van Helmont. The British Museum copy was presented by Charleton to a Mr. Kim. 3. 'Deliramenta Catarrhi, or the incongruities couched under the vulgar opinion of Defluxions,' London, 1660. A translation from Van Helmont. 4. 'The Darkness of Atheism expelled by the Light of Nature,' London, 1652. 5. 'Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charltoniana, or a Fabrick of Science natural upon the Hypothesis of Atoms,' London, 1664. The microscope, he says, demonstrates the divisibility of matter (p. 117); atoms are the first and universal matter (p. 99); since the letters of the alphabet permit of 295,232,790,039,604,140,847,618,609,643, 520,000,000 combinations, it is obvious that the combinations of numerous atoms may produce all known bodies. The College of Physicians' copy was presented by Charleton. 6. 'Epicurus, his Morals,' London, 1656. 7. 'The Immortality of the Human Soul demonstrated by the Light of Nature,' London, 1657. Two dialogues between Athanasius (Charleton) and Lucretius in the garden and presence of Isodicastes (Marquis of Dorchester). 8. 'The Ephesian and Cimmerian Matrons,' London, 1658. Another edition, 1668, translated into Latin by Bartholomew Harris, 1665. 9. 'Oeconomia Animalis,' London, 1669. A general treatise on physiology. A fourth edition was published, London, 1669, and editions abroad, Amsterdam 1654, Leyden 1678, Hague 1681. 10. 'Dissertatio epistolica de ortu animae humanae,' 1669. Addressed to Dr. Henry Yerburie [q. v.] To this is appended a short letter of advice to a patient, the Genoese ambassador. 11. 'Natural History of Nutrition,' London, 1669. An English version of 9. 12. 'Exercitationes Physico-anatomicae,' Amsterdam, 1659. A slightly altered reprint of 9. 13. 'A Character of his most Sacred Majesty Charles the Second,' London, 1661. 14. 'Exercitationes Pathologicae,' London, 1661 . A collection of hypotheses on the causes of disease; for example, that hatred causes epilepsy and the gout, and that surprise causes catalepsy. No autopsies are described, and no cases observed by the author. 15. 'Chorea Gigantum, or the most famous Antiquity of Great Britain, Stonehenge, standing on Salisbury Plain, restored to the Danes,' London, 1663, 2nd edition, 1725. 16. 'Inquisitiones duae Anatomico-physica : prior de fulmine: altera de proprietatibus cerebri humani,' London, 1665. 17. 'Gulielmi Ducis Novocastrensis Vita,' London, 1668. A translation into Latin of Margaret Cavendish's life of her husband. 18. 'Onomasticon Zoicon,' London, 1668, 2nd edition, 1671, and 3rd, Oxford, 1 677. A list, with English, Latin, and Greek names, of all known animals, including an account of the contents of Charles II's menagerie in St. James's Park, followed by an original description of the anatomy of Lophius piscatorius and of Galeus, both of which Charleton had dissected himself, and by a general description of fossils. 19. 'Concerning different Wits of Men.' II. 'Of the Mysterie of Vintners,' London, 1669. I. is a very trivial essay. II. A series of notes on preventing putrefaction in wines, originally read at the Royal Society in 1662. 20. 'De Scorbuto,' London, 1672. The British Museum copy has manuscript notes by author. 21. 'Natural History of the Passions,' London, 1674. A translation from the French of Senault. 22. 'Socrates Triumphant, or Plato's Apology for Socrates,' London, 1675. 23. 'Inquiries into Human Nature,' London, 1680. Six lectures on human anatomy and physiology. 24. 'Oratio anniversaria' (Harveiana), 6 Aug. 1680. 25. 'The Harmony of Natural and Positive Divine Laws,' London, 1682. 26. 'Three Anatomie Lectures,' London 1683. (1) On the motion of the blood through the arteries and veins. (2) On the organic structure of the heart. (3) On the efficient causes of the heart's pulsation. 27. 'Inquisitio physica de causis catameniorum et uteri rheumatismo,' London. 1685. 28. 'Life of Marcellus in Dryden's Plutarch,' London, 1700. 29. 'Oratio anniversaria' (Harveiana), London, 16 Aug. 1705. In manuscript : 1. 'De Symptomatibus' (Sloane MS. 2082), a general summary of the symptoms of diseases. 2. 'Tables of Materia Medica' (ib.) Both these were written before or in 1642. 3. 'General Notes on Diseases,' with many tables (ib, 2084). 4. Charleton's 'Commonplace Book' (ib. 3413), containing many quotations from the classical medical authors, and from Tacitus, Lucian, Democritus, Palladius, Possidonius, Vulpius: an abstract of De Graaf on reproduction, and of Bernard Swabe's treatise on the pancreas; a catalogue of Sir T. Browne's museum and of his pictures, a Latin version of Marvell's poem on Colonel Blood, a tabulation of names of colours, a classification of trees, and a collection of 'formulæ laudatoriæ,' chiefly from George Buchanan.

[Charleton's Works; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878. i. 390; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iv. 762; Wood's Antiq. et Hist. Oxon.]

N. M.