Gilbert the Englishman (DNB00)

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GILBERT the Englishman (fl. 1250), is said to be the first practical English writer on medicine, but the Master Richard quoted by Gilbert in his ‘Compendium’ was perhaps an earlier English writer on the subject. According to Bale and Pits, Gilbert, after studying in England, went abroad to extend his knowledge; and on returning to England he became physician to Hubert Walter. For these statements no authority is given, and it is improbable that Gilbert was physician to Hubert, since he must have survived the archbishop for half a century or more. For Gilbert's true date we have the internal evidence of his ‘Compendium,’ wherein he quotes Richard, who lived in the early half of the thirteenth century, and also Averroes, whose works were not translated till towards the middle of that century. Again he says that he had met Bertrand, son of Hugh, lord of Jubilet, in Palestine; a Hugh of Jubilet was engaged in an ambuscade in 1227, and had a son named Bertrand, who is probably the person referred to. On these data we may fix Gilbert's time of writing about 1250; Dr. Freind puts it as late as 1270. His work must have been written within the century, for Gilbert is himself quoted in the ‘Rosa Medicinæ’ of John of Gaddesden (1280?–1361). Gilbert was undoubtedly an Englishman, and studied and practised abroad. In one manuscript he is called chancellor of Montpelier, and he mentions among his patients a Count of Forez; he also uses medical terms which seem to be derived from the Romance languages rather than from English, such as ‘bocium gulæ,’ ‘bosse de la gorge,’ a swelling in the throat.

Dr. Freind praises Gilbert for having exposed the superstitious customs of the monks, and adopted a rational method of medicine. Gilbert does not, however, appear to have been much in advance of other writers of the time, nor to have had much originality; M. Littré says that his writings abound in ridiculous and superstitious formulæ, although they contain something of more value, and ought not to be neglected in the medical history of the thirteenth century. Gilbert's chief work was a ‘Compendium Medicinæ,’ also called ‘Lilium or Laurea Medicinæ.’ This work is divided into seven books which treat (1) of fevers, (2) of diseases of the head and nerves, (3) of the eyes and face, (4) of diseases of the external members, (5 and 6) of internal diseases, (7) of diseases of the generative system, gout, cancer, diseases of the skin, poisons, &c. Like his contemporaries, Gilbert is generally content to borrow from the writings of the Greeks and Arabs, citing among others Aristotle, Avicenna, Rases, and Averroes. The most characteristic feature of the work is that it contains a small number of observations drawn from his own experience. It was printed in 1510 at Lyons as ‘Compendium Medicinæ Gilberti Anglici tam morborum universalium quam particularium, non tantum medicis, sed et cyrurgicis utilissimum. Correctum et emendatum per dominum Michaelem de Capella.’ It was also printed at Geneva in 1608 as ‘Laurea Anglicana seu compendium totius medicinæ.’ Numerous manuscripts have survived. Other works by Gilbert are: 2. ‘Commentarii in Versus Ægidii de Urinis.’ It is certain that Gilbert composed such a commentary, and it is quoted by John of Gaddesden; these quotations, however, show that it is not the commentary still extant and ascribed to Gilbert (MSS. Sorbonne, 6988 and 992; there is also a manuscript in Merton College Library under the name of Gilbertus Anglicus). 3. Pits ascribes to Gilbert a ‘Practica Medicinæ.’ In the catalogue of the Bibliothèque, a work in MS. 7061 is assigned under this title to Gilbert. But in the manuscript it is entitled simply ‘Tractatus magistri G. de Montepessulano’ (Montpélier), and the same work in MS. 996 Sorbonne is called ‘Summa magistri Geraudi.’ 4. ‘Experimenta magistri Gilberti Cancellarii Montepessulani’ (Bibliothèque MS. 7056). This is a collection of receipts, many of which bear Gilbert's name and are certainly his, for they agree closely with passages in his ‘Compendium’ without being identical. 5. ‘Compendium super Librum Aphorismorum Hippocratis.’ 6. ‘Eorundem Expositio.’ These two works exist in Bodleian MS. 720. 7. ‘Antidotarium,’ MS. Caius College. Bale and Pits also add 8. ‘De Viribus Aquarum et Specierum.’ 9. ‘De Proportione Fistularum.’ 10. ‘De Judicio Patientis.’ 11. ‘De re Herbaria.’ 12. ‘De Tuenda Valetudine.’ 13. ‘De Particularibus Morbis.’ 14. ‘Thesaurus Pauperum.’ Nothing further is known about them. Tanner following Leland calls Gilbert Leglæus; this is due to confusion with Gilbert de Aquila or L'Aigle, who lived at least a century later.

[Bale, p. 256; Pits, p. 277; Tanner, p. 474; Freind's History of Physick, 4th edit. 1750, ii. 250, 267–276; Wright's Biographia Britannica Literaria; Histoire Littéraire de la France, xxi. 393–403, article by E. Littré.]

C. L. K.