Robinson, Bryan (1680-1754) (DNB00)

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ROBINSON, BRYAN (1680–1754), physician and writer, born in 1680, graduated M.B. in 1709, and M.D. in 1711, at Trinity College, Dublin. He was anatomical lecturer there in 1716–17, and in 1745 was appointed professor of physic. On 5 May 1712 he was elected fellow of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland, having been ‘candidate’ on 24 Aug. 1711. He was three times president of the college—in 1718, 1727, and 1739. He was also a member of the Irish Royal College of Surgeons. He practised in Dublin, and probably attended Esther Vanhomrigh (‘Vanessa’), who bequeathed to him 15l. sterling ‘to buy a ring’ (Swift, Works, ed. Scott, 2nd edit. xix. 380). He died at Dublin on 26 Jan. 1754.

Robinson had a reputation in his day, both as a medical and mathematical writer. His earliest work was a translation of P. de la Hire's ‘New Elements of Conick Sections,’ 1704. In 1725 he published an account of the inoculation of five children at Dublin. ‘The Case of Miss Rolt communicated by an Eye-witness’ was added in an edition printed in London in the same year. This was followed in 1732–3 by Robinson's chief work, the ‘Treatise on the Animal Economy.’ It was attacked by Dr. T. Morgan in his ‘Mechanical Practice,’ and defended by the author in a ‘Letter to Dr. Cheyne.’ The latter is annexed to the third edition, which appeared in two volumes in 1738, and contained much additional matter. Robinson was an ardent admirer of Newton, and tried to account for animal motions by his principles, and to apply them to the rational treatment of diseases. He attributed the production of muscular power to the vibration of an ethereal fluid pervading the animal body, a doctrine essentially in accord with modern views. His chapter on respiration shows him also to have had a glimmering of the nature of oxygen, in anticipation of the discoveries of Priestley and Lavoisier in 1775. Sir Charles Cameron characterises the whole ‘Treatise on Animal Economy’ as a remarkable work for its day (cf. Haller, Bibl. Chirurgica, ii. 148). Robinson's next work was a ‘Dissertation on the Food and Discharges of Human Bodies,’ 1747. It was translated into French, and inserted in ‘Le Pharmacien Moderne,’ 1750. It was followed by ‘Observations on the Virtues and Operations of Medicines’ (1752), which attracted much attention (cf. Burrows, Commentaries on the Treatment of Insanity, p. 640). Robinson also edited Dr. R. Helsham's ‘Course of Lectures in Natural Philosophy,’ 1739 (2nd edit. 1743; reissued in 1767 and 1777).

Robinson also wrote a ‘Dissertation on the Æther of Sir Isaac Newton’ (Dublin, 1743; London, 1747); and an ‘Essay upon Money and Coins’ (1758), posthumously published by his sons, Christopher and Robert. Part ii. is dedicated to Henry Bilson Legge, chancellor of the exchequer, with whom the author was acquainted. The work displays knowledge of the history of currency; its main object is to advocate the maintenance of the existing standard of money. Besides numerous tables, it contains Newton's representation to the treasury on 21 Sept. 1717 regarding the state of the gold and silver coinage.

Portraits of Robinson are in the possession of the Irish College of Physicians, and at the house of the provost of Trinity College, Dublin. Bromley mentions an etching of him, at the age of seventy, by B. Wilson.

[Todd's Cat. of Dublin Graduates; Register of the King and Queen's Coll. of Physicians in Ireland; Cameron's Hist. of the Royal Coll. of Surgeons in Ireland, pp. 16–18, 98, 685; Noble's Contin. of Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England, iii. 282–3; London Mag. 1754, p. 92; Cat. of Royal Med. and Chirurg. Soc. Library, vol. ii.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; authorities cited.]

G. Le G. N.