Davy, Martin (DNB00)

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DAVY, MARTIN (1763–1839), physician, and master of Caius College, Cambridge, was born in 1763, his father being a country gentleman of moderate estate at Ingoldisthorpe, Norfolk. He was educated first at the Norwich grammar school, and was afterwards a pupil of a Yarmouth surgeon. Later he studied medicine at Edinburgh, and adopted the Brunonian system [see Brown, John, 1735–1788]. He entered at Caius College, Cambridge, in 1786, and graduated M.B. in 1792 and M.D. in 1797. In 1795 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the mastership of Caius, when Richard Belward was elected. He was, however, elected in 1803, on Belward's death. Both before and after his election to the mastership Davy practised medicine with considerable success; but his devotion to practice was not sufficient to overcome his love of personal comfort. He was a strong whig, but on one occasion specially gave his name as one of the assenting graduates to Pitt's re-election as member for the university. Nevertheless, on Pitt's death, he by his veto in the caput prevented the erection of a statue of him at the cost of the university. This, however, was ultimately a benefit to the university; for Pitt's friends subscribed so largely for a statue that after it had been paid for the surplus sufficed for founding the Pitt scholarships and building the front of the Pitt or University Press.

Another objectionable proceeding in which Davy was prominent occurred when he was first vice-chancellor, in 1803–4. In order to exclude a capable local practitioner named Thackeray from taking a medical degree, a special restrictive interpretation was given to a statute relating to medical study. By this Thackeray was excluded after he had been permitted to go through the entire course of medical study. The restriction was not removed until 1815, when Thackeray took the M.B. degree. Davy, however, is credited with having thrown his college more freely open by abolishing restrictions and making academical merit the avenue to college preferment; and the college certainly increased considerably in repute during his time. Dr. Parr was an intimate friend of Davy's, notwithstanding the latter's tory principles. In 1811 Davy took holy orders, and was admitted D.D. In 1827 the tory ministry gave him the rectory of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and he was subsequently made prebendary of Chichester in the year 1832. He was vice-chancellor a second time in 1827–8. An unfavourable view of his strong and uncertain temper and his self-indulgence is given by Gunning (Reminiscences, l. c.). He died at Cambridge on 18 May 1839, and was buried on 25 May in the antechapel of his college. Davy wrote in 1809 an interesting pamphlet entitled ‘Observations upon Mr. Fox's Letter to Mr. Grey contained in Lord Holland's preface to C. J. Fox's History of the Early Part of the Reign of James the Second,’ 1808, p. xii. Fox having appealed to Chaucer's application of the term ‘merry’ to the nightingale in ‘The Flower and the Leaf,’ line 99, and to negative evidence from Theocritus, Davy exhaustively discusses the question, showing that in Chaucer's use ‘merry’ means pleasant and sweet, and is not associated with mirth, while the term used by Theocritus is equally incapable of bearing Fox's interpretation. He bequeathed Heacham Lodge, Norfolk, with its furniture, to follow the mastership of Caius. There is a portrait of him by Opie in the master's lodge, Caius College, and another by Sir W. Beechy at Heacham.

[Times, 21 May 1839; Gent. Mag. 1839, new ser. xii. 88; Athenæum, 1839, p. 966; Parr's Memoirs (Johnstone), i. 527, 544–6, viii. 406; Gunning's Reminiscences of Cambridge, 1854, ii. 189–202, 359–66; information from Sir G. E. Paget, M.D., F.R.S.]

G. T. B.