Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Caius, John (1510-1573)

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CAIUS, JOHN (1510–1573), occasionally referred to as John Caius, junior, in order to distinguish him from another John Caius [q. v.] who was poet laureate to Edward IV, was an eminent scholar and physician of the sixteenth century. His name is generally supposed to be a Latinised form of the English name Kay or Kaye. He was born at Norwich on 6 Oct. 1510, the son of Robert Caius and Alice (Wodanell) his wife, and may be regarded as the first of a series of eminent men who have practised and adorned the profession of medicine in that city. For a knowledge of the main facts of his literary career we are indebted chiefly to the account given by himself in his sketch entitled 'De Libris propriis Liber,' written, about three years before his death, at the request of his friend Thomas Hatcher. He appears to have received a good elementary education in his native city, and on 12 Sept. 1529 was admitted a student of Gonville Hall in the university of Cambridge, where, owing to the successive labours of Erasmus, Sir John Cheke, and Sir Thomas Smith, the new learning, and especially the study of Greek, was being cultivated with great success. It was also the time when Cheke and Smith were endeavouring to introduce a new method of pronouncing Greek, an innovation which gave rise to considerable controversy. Caius, who seems from the first to have inclined to the conservative view, took a lively interest in the contest, and subsequently wrote a treatise on the subject. The bent of his studies at that period shows that he was designing to become a theologian. He translated into English a Latin paraphrase of St. Jude by Erasmus, and epitomised the same writer's popular treatise, entitled 'Ratio veræ Theologiæ,' for the benefit of a young friend whose mind had been perplexed by the new opinions then becoming current. In November 1533 he was appointed principal of Fiswick's Hostel in the university, and on 6 Dec. in the same year was elected a fellow of Gonville Hall. In 1535 he commenced M.A., and in the course of the year made his submission, in common with the rest of the society, to the royal injunctions sent down for the purpose of remodelling the discipline of the university and introducing the new learning. It may consequently be inferred that when he left England for Padua in 1539 he had not definitely pledged himself to the acceptance of the tenets of catholicism; that he ultimately did so, is attributed to the associations which he formed while resident at the latter university. At Padua, according to his own statement (De Libris propriis, p. 163), he lectured on the Greek text of Aristotle 'concurrently' with Realdus Columbus, but his name does not appear in the 'Fasti' of Facciolati, who gives lists of the teachers and professors in the university from the earliest times. While at Padua, however, there can be no doubt that his attention was mainly given to those scientific acquirements for which he afterwards became celebrated. He studied medicine under John Baptist Montanus, an eminent physician, and anatomy under the yet more distinguished Andreas Vesalius, in whose house he resided for eight months. On 13 May 1541 he was created M.D. of the university of Padua. On quitting Padua he proceeded on a tour through Italy, and his observations, recorded in the treatise above referred to, on the libraries and the state of learning in Venice, Florence, Urbino, Ferrara, Sienna, Bologna, Pisa, and Rome, though brief, are of considerable interest. At Florence he was the guest of Cosmo de' Medici. On leaving Italy he proceeded on a similar tour through France and Germany, and in the latter country he mentions, as scholars with whom he became well acquainted, Melanchthon, Joachim Camerarius, and Sebastian Munster. His main object during these months appears to have been to obtain, by the collation of the best manuscripts, an accurate text of Galen and Hippocrates. He also took especial pains to note the practice of continental scholars in the pronunciation of Greek, and finding that this was generally in conformity with the older method, he eventually gave his deliberate verdict in favour of this method (as opposed to that recently introduced at Cambridge) in his treatise 'De Pronunciatione Græcæ et Latinæ Linguæ.'

He returned to England in 1544, and shortly after, at the command of Henry VIII, commenced to deliver lectures on anatomy, which were attended by many of the principal surgeons in London. According to his own statement (De Libris propriis, p. 171), he continued these lectures for a period of twenty years. He appears, however, to have been resident for some time at Shrewsbury, and again at Norwich. On 21 Dec. 1547 he was admitted a fellow of the College of Physicians, was an elect in 1550, and a member of the council in the ensuing year. During his residence in Shrewsbury the 'sweating sickness' broke out, and at the request of his friend Robert Warmington he compiled a short tract in English, 'A Boke or Counseill against the Sweate or Sweating Sicknesse,' which he afterwards expanded into the longer Latin treatise, 'De Ephemera Britannica.' He was shortly after appointed one of the Physicians to King Edward VI, and retained his post under Queen Mary. In the practice of his profession Caius soon acquired considerable wealth, which, being unmarried, he resolved to employ in the encouragement of science and learning. Foremost among his schemes was the refounding of Gonville Hall, the home of his early education. On 4 Sept. 1557 he obtained letters patent from Philip and Mary empowering him to carry out his design, and the college from this time became known as Gonville and Caius College, he being declared a co-founder with Edmund Gonville and William Bateman, bishop of Norwich. In the following year, on the occasion probably of his being incorporated M.D. of the university, he revisited Cambridge, apparently for the first time subsequently to his leaving England for Padua (Hist. Cant. Academiæ, p. 3), and his account of his impressions shows how great had been the change in the university during the preceding twenty years. In January 1559 he 'unwillingly and with much entreaty' was prevailed upon to accept the mastership of the college, vacant by the death of Thomas Bacon, but he altogether refused to receive a stipend or emoluments in any form. To this circumstance and his known munificent intentions in relation to the society we may attribute the fact that when, in the following September, the royal commission visited the university and displaced the heads who were known to favour catholicism, he was left undisturbed in his office. His benefactions to his college were both judicious and munificent. He enlarged the original site of the buildings, and erected an additional court, together with the three gates of Humility, Virtue, and Honour—the last being executed after his death from plans which he had prepared, 'indiflerently copied, in the late Professor Willis's opinion, 'from the sepulchral monuments of the ancients,' and representing probably a reminiscence of his observations in Italy. His eminence, now almost unrivalled, in his profession led to his being retained in his office of chief royal physician on the accession of Elizabeth; and on the occasion of her visit to the university in 1564 he was assigned the initiatory part in the disputations in physics, as 'antient in the faculty.' As,however,the enactments against catholics increased in stringency, he could no longer be exempted from their operation, and in 1568 he was dismissed from his post of royal physician, a proceeding suggested perhaps by prudential considerations quite as much as by religious intolerance. His reputation among his own profession continued unimpaired. In 1571 he was for the ninth time elected to the office of president of the College of Physicians. The distinction thus conferred upon him was more than repaid by the eminent services which he rendered to the society. In the notable dispute between the physicians and the surgeons, when the former body challenged the right of the latter to administer internal remedies as part of their treatment of external maladies, he appeared before the commissioners appointed to try the case, and maintained the exclusive functions of the profession over which he presided. His arguments were deemed so conclusive that the decision was unanimously given in favour of the physicians. It was through his influence that a grant was obtained from the crown of the bodies of criminals after their execution for dissection. He compiled the 'Annals' of the college from its foundation; and it was at his suggestion that the society first adopted the insignia of the presidential office—the cushion, silver verge, book, and seal.

Caius's relations with the society over which he ruled at Cambridge were less happy. Lying, as he did, under the suspicion of aiming at a restoration of catholic doctrine, he was an object of dislike to the majority of the fellows, and could with difficulty maintain his authority. He retaliated vigorously on the malcontents. He not only involved them in lawsuits which emptied their slender purses, but visited them with personal castigations, and even incarcerated them in the stocks (State Papers, Dom. Eliz. xxxix. 5). Expulsions were frequent, not less than twenty of the fellows, according to the statement of two of their number, having suffered this extreme penalty. In their resentment, they brought forward articles accusing him of atheism. Archbishop Parker and Sir William Cecil (afterwards Lord Burghley), who were called upon to adjudicate in these disputes, did not altogether acquit Caius, although they confirmed several of his acts of expulsion (Parker Correspondence, pp. 251-2).

The strong feelings of resentment evoked in England by the massacre of St. Bartholomew led to renewed feelings of animosity against all suspected of harbouring catholic sympathies; and one of the fellows, having discovered that the master had in his secret possession a collection of ornaments and vestments such as were used in the Roman ritual, gave information to the ecclesiastical authorities. An inquiry was forthwith instituted by Sandys, the intolerant bishop of London, and this having led to an examination of the master's premises, the different prohibited articles discovered in his keeping were publicly burnt in a bonfire in the college court. The indignity was keenly felt by Caius, who, in his 'Annals' of the college, animadverts upon the ingratitude thus shown for his services to the society and to learning. In the following year we find him devoting his leisure to the compilation of his 'History of the University,' not improbably as a distraction from his harassed and dejected feelings. It was his last service to letters. Blomefield indeed suggests that his life was shortened by the growing intolerance of the times, his death, which took place in London, having occurred (29 July 1573) only seven months after the events above described. By his will, dated a few days before, he appointed Archbishop Parker his literary executor; and availing himself of powers conferred by a grant obtained from the society in the preceding September, he nominated Thomas Legge, of Jesus College, his successor in the mastership. He was interred in the college chapel, where the simple inscription on his monument, 'Fui Caius. Vivit post funera virtus,' with simply the addition of the date of his decease, affords a striking contrast to the prolixity and fulsome adulation customary in such inscriptions in those times.

A few years before his death Caius became involved in a controversy respecting the comparative antiquity of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and in his zeal for the reputation of the latter was led to maintain its priority in a treatise which must be looked upon as the least creditable of all his writings. He was answered by a writer who, singularly enough, bore the same surname, one Thomas Key, a fellow of All Souls [see Caius, Thomas], Oxford; and his treatise was subsequently reprinted by Hearne with the criticisms of his antagonist appended (Oxford, 8vo, 1730). He availed himself on more than one occasion of the services of Richard Grafton the printer, and it has been surmised that he rendered that writer material assistance in the compilation of his chronicle.

Of the three portraits of Caius in the possession of the college, that in the combination room, representing him in profile, is the most striking, and is an admirable work of art. About 1719, in the course of certain repairs in the college chapel, his tomb was opened and the corpse fully exposed to view. 'After comparing the picture' (probably the portrait in the hall) ' with his visage,' says Blomefield, 'there was found a great resemblance' (Ives, Select Papers, p. 65).

Out of the long list of Caius's works given by himself, only the following seem to have been printed: 1. 'De Medendi Methodo libri ii. ex Cl. Galeni et Joh. Bapt. Montani sententia,' Basileæ, 1544, 8vo. Dedicated to William Butts; reprinted Lovanii, 1556, 8vo (in Joh. Caii Opera), with dedication to Sir John Mason; also printed in 'Joh. Bapt. Montani Opuscula,' Basil, 1558. 2. 'Galeni libri aliquot Græci, partim hactenus non visi, partim repurgati, annotationibusque illustrati,' Basileæ, 1544, 4to (dedicated to Henry VIII, containing (1) Galeni de placitis Hippocratis et Platonis liber primus jam primum inventus et in Latinum sermonem versus.' This book was wanting in previous editions of ‘Galen,’ but is printed in later ones chiefly from Caius's text, the manuscript of which is still preserved in the Caius College Library. His Latin version was reprinted in the collective Latin edition of ‘Galen’ issued by Frellon, Lyons, 1550. (2) ‘Galenus de Comate secundum Hippocratem, Græce.’ (8) ‘Galenus desuccedaneis, Græce.’ (4) ‘Galeni de anatomicis administrationibus libri novem, Græce’ (not new, but with amended text and notes). Some of these notes, Caius asserts, were added by Rouille, the printer of Lyons, to his Latin edition of this book published in 1551, which, however, we have not been able to trace. The remainder forms, properly speaking, a second volume dedicated to Antony Denne, and contains (5) ‘Galeni de motu musculorum libri duo, Græce’ (amended text, with notes); (6) Fragment of the seventh book of ‘Galenus de Usu partium’ (wanting in previous editions); (7) ‘Hippocrates de medicamentispurgantibus, Græce’(not before printed). 3. ‘Galeni de tuenda valetudine libri sex’ (Greek text only and without notes; dedicated to Edward VI, ‘supreme head of the church’), Basil, 1549, 8vo. 4. ‘A Boke or Counseill against the Disease commonly called the Sweate or Sweatyng Sicknesse,’ dedicated to William, earl of Pembroke; printed by Grafton, London, 1552, 8vo. A very rare book, reprinted in Babington's translation of Hecker's ‘Epidemics of the Middle Ages,’ Lond. Syd. Society, 1844, and later; also in Grüner and Haeser, ‘Scriptores de Sudore Anglico,’ Jena, 1847. 5. ‘Joannis Caii Opera aliquot et versiones,’ Lovanii, 1556, 8vo, containing: (1) ‘De Medendi Methodo’ (second edition), dedicated to Sir John Mason; (2)‘De Ephemera Britannica liber unus,jam primum excusus.’ This Latin treatise on the sweating sickness appears to have been written, or at least begun, at the same time as the English tract, from which it is quite distinct, and was intended especially for the medical profession, while the former was addressed to the public. This was meant to consist of two books, according to the author's statement. It is dedicated to Antony Perenot, bishop of Arras. This work was reprinted in London, 1721, 8vo; also Berlin, 1833, 12mo, edited by Hecker; and in Grüner's ‘Scriptores’ above cited. (8) ‘Galenus de propriis libris; de ordine librorum suorum; de ratione victus Hippocratis in morbis acutis; de decretis Hippocratis et Platonis liber primus.’ All these, in Latin versions by Caius, dedicated to George Day, bishop of Chichester. A good woodcut head of Caius, in profile, is prefixed to this volume, and repeated in the middle of it. 6. ‘Galeni Pergameni libri. De Septimestri partu, Brevis designatio dogmatum Hippocratis, De Ptissana, De Ossibus; integri et emendati,’ Basil, s.a. 8vo, Greek text only. These treatises are dedicated respectively to Thomas Wende, Robert Warmyngton, and Thomas Marron (Maro), the dedications being dated February 1557. 7.‘De Antiquitate Cantabrigiensis Academiæ libri duo, Londinensi authore. Londini per H. Bynneman,’ 1568, 8vo. Subjoined is ‘Assertio Antiquitatis Oxoniensis Academiæ, incerto authore ejusdem Gymnasii;’ reprinted by Day, London, 1574, 4to, with the name of Caius as author; also the Oxford tract; and a further contribution to the controversy by Caius with title, ‘Historiæ Cantabrigiensis Academiæ ab urbe condita libri duo, auth. Joh. Caio.’ 8. ‘De pronunciatione Grecæ et Latinæ linguæ cum scriptione nova libellus,’ London, J. Day, 1574, 4to, usually bound up with the last. 9. ‘De Canibus Britannicis libellus; De variorum animalium et stirpium historia libellus; De libris propriis liber, jam primum excusi Londini per Gul. Seresium,’ 1570, 8vo (with separate titles). The first tract was written to Conrad Gesner, the celebrated naturalist, and was intended as a contribution to his ‘History of Animals,’ but not published in consequence of Gesner's death. The second was to be a further contribution. These three were reprinted (Lond. 1729, 8vo) with the treatise ‘De pronunciatione Grecæ,’ &c. 10. ‘Of Englishe Dogges. A short treatise written in Latine by Johannes Caius, drawne into Englishe by Abraham Fleming,’ London, 1576, 4to. 11. ‘Epistola Bartholomæo Clerke. Prefixed to his translation of Castilion,’ London, 12mo, 1577 (Athenæ Cantab.) The above list of Caius's printed books, drawn up from actual inspection, is believed to be complete, though it is possible there may have been later continental editions of one or two of the classical works. The following are said, on the authority of ‘Athenæ Cantab.,’ still to exist in manuscript: 1.‘Annales Collegii de Goneville et Caius a Collegio condito libri duo,' Caius Coll. 2. ‘Annotationes in Galenum,’ Univ. Lib. Camb. 3. ‘Annales Collegii Medicorum Lond. ab A.D. 1520-65,’ Coll. Phys. London. 4. ‘Notes on Hippocrates,’ Caius Coll. 5.‘De Canonicis libris Veteris Testamenti,’ Caius Coll. 6. Notes on ‘Alex. Aphrodisii de prudentia,’ Caius Coll. 7. ‘Notes on Aristotle,’ Caius Coll. 8. Additions to Robert Talbot's ‘Annotations on the Itinerary of Antoninus,’ Caius Coll.

Caius's own list above referred to contains seventy-two titles, including sixteen original works, seven versions from Greek into Latin, and ten commentaries, besides texts, discovered, edited, and amended, but all the rest appear to have perished. Some, he says, were lost through the dilatoriness of Oporinus, the printer of Basel.

Caius's medical writings have a high value. Living in an age when book-learning was the mark of the skilled physician, and himself a profound scholar, he was still notable for his power of observation. He saw what was important, and described it with precision. His description of the symptoms of the sweating sickness is the classical account of that remarkable epidemic, with which his name is inseparably associated. His works on that subject must be regarded as the most important medical writings produced in England before the time of Harvey, and their value is shown by the fact that both the Latin and the English treatise have been each three times reprinted in this and the last century. Comparing Caius with the continental writers on the same subject (who were chiefly Germans), Haeser says: 'Caius omnium qui de sudore Anglico scripserunt, princeps putandum est.'

Caius's Latin writing is terse and lucid. It is evidently modelled on the style of Celsus, from whom he borrows many words, and sometimes whole phrases. His English is vigorous. He was a good naturalist, as well as an excellent physician and scholar. In every department of learning he seems to have been proficient.

[Munk'a Coll. of Phys. i. 37-109; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab, i. 312-18; Goodall's Coll. of Phys.; Mullinger's Hist. of Univ. of Cambridge, vol. ii.; Bibliography and medical criticism kindly supplied by Dr. J. F. Payne.]

J. B. M.