Ferriar, John (DNB00)

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FERRIAR, JOHN (1761–1815), physician, son of the Rev. Alexander Ferriar or Ferrier, and his wife Mary Burn, was born at Oxnam, near Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, on 21 Nov. 1761. After his father's death in 1764 he was taken to the neighbourhood of Alnwick, where his mother married her second husband, Thomas Ilderton. Ferriar studied medicine at Edinburgh, and took his M.D. degree in 1781, the subject of his graduation thesis being ‘De Variola.’ On his marriage to Barbara Gair at Alnwick in 1782, he entered on the practice of his profession at Stockton-on-Tees, but about 1785 removed to Manchester, where he was soon brought into contact with the founders of the Literary and Philosophical Society of that town. The first paper he wrote for the society was ‘Of Popular Illusions, and more particularly of Modern Demonology.’ This was read in 1786, and was followed by an ‘Essay on the Dramatic Works of Massinger,’ which brought him into wide repute, and was afterwards reprinted by Gifford in his edition of ‘Massinger's Works’ (1805). In 1787 he wrote for the society ‘Observations on the Vital Principle,’ and subsequently contributed an ‘Account of an Ancient Monument in Hulne Abbey, Northumberland,’ illustrated by himself; ‘An Argument against the Doctrine of Materialism;’ ‘Comments on Sterne;’ and ‘Conjectures on the Use of the Ancient Terrassed Works at Orton Scarr.’ Some points in his paper on ‘Materialism’ were assailed by Dr. William Tattersall of Liverpool, to whom Ferriar rejoined in a bantering tone. In 1788 he wrote ‘The Puppet Shew: a Didactic Poem,’ and published ‘The Prince of Angola, a Tragedy altered from the play of Oroonoko (by T. Southern), and adapted to the circumstances of the Present Times’ (Manchester, 8vo).

On 8 Oct. 1789 he was appointed to the post of a physician of the Manchester Infirmary. An epidemic fever in the town was the means of drawing public notice to the wretched condition of the dwellings of the working classes, and led Ferriar to take an active and important part in causing the local authorities to pay more attention to sanitary laws. He urged especially the establishment of baths, the shortening of the protracted hours of labour of the factory children, and the closing or cleansing of insanitary dwellings. He was a principal worker in connection with the Manchester board of health, and with the establishment of fever-wards at Stockport.

The first volume of his ‘Medical Histories and Reflections’ was published in 1792, the second in 1795, and the third in 1798. They contained in a clear and simple style valuable discussions of sanitary matters and of cases and observations derived from his hospital practice. A second edition, with additions and omissions, came out in four volumes in 1810–13; and an American reprint was published at Philadelphia in 1816. In the second edition is ‘An Essay on the Medical Properties of the Foxglove,’ which was first issued separately in 1799. He is believed to have aided William Simmons in an acrimonious medical controversy with Dr. Hull in 1798–9, and to have helped Sir G. Philips in his pamphlet on ‘Reform in Parliament’ (1792).

Ferriar's best-known work is his ‘Illustrations of Sterne; with other Essays and Verses,’ printed at Manchester in 1798. The second edition (Warrington, 1812, 2 vols.) contains some additional pieces, but one of those given in the earlier collection and called ‘Knaster, an Elegy,’ is omitted. Sterne's obligations to the old French novelists and to Burton's ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ are skilfully traced in this criticism, but Ferriar's intention was rather to illustrate his author than to convict him of plagiarism. One of the pieces in the second edition is an entertaining poem entitled ‘The Bibliomania, an Epistle to Richard Heber, Esq.,’ originally published in a shorter version at Warrington in 1809 (4to, 14 pp.). It was reprinted in the ‘Palatine Note-book,’ vol. ii. 1882. His last work was ‘An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions,’ 1813, containing ingenious views on mental hallucinations.

He died at Manchester on 4 Feb. 1815, aged 53, and was buried at St. Mary's Church. His portrait, engraved by G. Bartolozzi, after a drawing by T. Stothard, was published shortly after his death. Two of his sons distinguished themselves by their bravery as members of the British Legion in Venezuela.

[Memoir by J. E. Bailey in Palatine Note-book, ii. 65, 100; see also ibid. i. 178, ii. 45, 80, 127, 129, 192, 225, iv. 174; R. Angus Smith's Centenary of Science in Manchester, 1883; Edinb. Med. and Surg. Journal, 1815, xi. 268; Index Cat. of Libr. of Surgeon-General's Office, U.S. Army, iv. 659; Evans's Cat. of Engr. Portraits, ii. 151.]

C. W. S.