Mudge, John (DNB00)

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MUDGE, JOHN (1721–1793), physician, fourth and youngest son of the Rev. Zachariah Mudge [q. v.], by his first wife, Mary Fox, was born at Bideford, Devonshire, in 1721. He was educated at Bideford and Plympton grammar schools, and studied medicine at Plymouth Hospital. He soon obtained a large practice, to the success of which his family connection, his skill and winning manner, alike contributed. In 1777 he published a ‘Dissertation on the Inoculated Small Pox, or an Attempt towards an Investigation of the real Causes which render the Small Pox by Inoculation so much more mild and safe then the same Disease when produced by the ordinary means of Infection’—a sensible work, which shows considerable advance upon the previous treatises by Mead and others. On 29 May 1777 Mudge was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in the same year was awarded the Copley medal for his ‘Directions for making the best Composition for the Metals for reflecting Telescopes; together with a Description of the Process for Grinding, Polishing, and giving the great Speculum the true Parabolic Curve,’ which were communicated by the author to the society, and printed in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (1777, lxvii. 296). The ‘Directions’ were also issued separately by Bowyer (London, 1778, 4to). Sir John Pringle [q. v.], the president, in making the presentation, remarked: ‘Mr. Mudge hath truly realised the expectation of Sir Isaac Newton, who, about one hundred years ago, presaged that the public would one day possess a parabolic speculum, not accomplished by mathematical rules, but by mechanical devices.’ The manufacture of telescopes continued to occupy much of his spare time. He made two large ones with a magnifying power of two hundred times; one of these he gave to Count Bruhl, whence it passed to the Gotha observatory, the other descended to his son, General William Mudge (see Brewster, Edinburgh Encyclopædia, art. ‘Optics,’ xv. pt. ii. p. 661).

In 1778 he published ‘A Radical and Expeditious Cure for recent Catarrhous Cough,’ with a drawing of a remedial inhaler, which obtained wide acceptance. Some further small medical treatises were well received, and evoked several invitations to Mudge to try his fortunes in London. But he preferred to remain at Plymouth, where he practised for the remainder of his life, first as surgeon, and, after 1784, when he received the degree of M.D. from King's College, Aberdeen, as a physician.

Mudge inherited a friendship with the family of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and when in 1762 Dr. Johnson accompanied Sir Joshua on his visit to Plymouth, the pair were the guests of Dr. Mudge, ‘the celebrated physician,’ writes Boswell, ‘who was not more distinguished for quickness of parts and variety of knowledge than loved and esteemed for his amiable manners.’ Johnson became a firm friend of the family, and in 1783 he wrote very earnestly to the doctor respecting a meditated operation. ‘It is doubtless painful, but,’ he asks, ‘is it dangerous? The pain I hope to endure with decency, but I am loth to put life into much hazard.’ Another intimate friend was John Smeaton, to whom, after the storm of January 1762, Mudge wrote a letter of congratulation on the safety of the Eddystone. Above 80,000l. worth of damage was done in Plymouth harbour and sound, but the injury to the lighthouse was repaired with a ‘gallipot of putty’ (letter dated 15 Jan. in Narrative of the Building of the Eddystone Lighthouse, 2nd edit. p. 77). Other allies and guests of Mudge were James Ferguson, the astronomer, and James Northcote, originally a chemist's assistant, who owed his position in Reynolds's studio to the Plymouth doctor. Northcote subsequently spoke of Mudge as ‘one of the most delightful persons I ever knew. Every one was enchanted with his society. It was not wit that he possessed, but such a perfect cheerfulness and good humour that it was like health coming into the room’ (Northcote, Conversations, ed. Hazlitt, p. 89). A well-known London physician on one occasion, in sending a patient to Stonehouse for the mild air, told the lady that he was sending her to Dr. Mudge, and that if his physic did not cure her, his conversation would. He died on 26 March 1793, and was buried near his father in St. Andrew's Church, Plymouth.

Mudge was married three times, and had twenty children. By Mary Bulteel, his first wife, he had eight children. His second wife, Jane, was buried on 3 Feb. 1766 in St. Andrew's. He married thirdly, 29 May 1767, Elizabeth Garrett, who survived him, dying in 1808, aged 72. His sons, William [q. v.] and Zachariah [q. v.], by his second and third wives respectively, are noticed separately.

A very fine portrait of Mudge as a young man by Sir Joshua Reynolds has been engraved by Grozier, W. Dickinson, and S. W. Reynolds. The original is now in the possession of Arthur Mudge, esq., of Plympton. A second portrait is by Northcote. Both are reproduced in Mr. S. R. Flint's ‘Mudge Memoirs.’ A portrait of his eldest son John (who died early) at the age of fifteen was presented to Dr. Mudge on his thirty-seventh birthday by Sir Joshua, who was generally chary of such gifts. A list of portraits of the family by Reynolds and other painters, is appended to the ‘Mudge Memoirs.’

[Gent. Mag. 1793 pt. i. p. 376; Mr. Stamford Raffles Flint's Mudge Memoirs, pp. 79–120; Boswell's Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 378, 486, iv. 240; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, xix. 675–6; Northcote's Life of Reynolds, p. 111; Georgian Era, iii. 485; Burke's Landed Gentry; Rees's Cyclopædia, xxxv. art. ‘Telescope;’ Thomson's History of the Royal Society.]

T. S.