Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cogan, Thomas (1736-1818)

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COGAN, THOMAS (1736–1818), physician and philosopher, born at Rothwell in Northamptonshire on 8 Feb. 1736, was the half-brother of Eliezer Cogan [q. v.] For two or three years he was placed in the well-known dissenting school at Kibworth Beauchamp, but was removed from this establishment at the age of fourteen, and spent the next two years with his father. He was then sent to the Mile End academy, where Dr. John Conder was the divinity tutor, but being dissatisfied with its management was transferred at his own request to a similar institution at Homerton. Doubts as to the truth of the doctrines of Calvinism prevented him from joining the dissenting ministry. While he was undecided an accident induced him to cross in 1759 from Harwich to Holland, where he found that the Rev. Benjamin Sowden, the English minister of the presbyterian church, maintained at Rotterdam, by the joint authority of the English and Dutch governments, with two pastors, required a substitute to enable him to revisit his native shores. Cogan promptly applied for and obtained the place. He still, however, continued to seek for a pastorate over a dissenting congregation in England, and about 1762 he was selected as the minister of a chapel at Southampton, where he soon publicly renounced Calvinism and adopted the doctrines of unitarianism. A quarrel with his congregation naturally followed, and Cogan thereupon returned to Holland, becoming the junior minister of the English church at the Hague. He was introduced to Mr. Graen or Groen, originally a silversmith at Amsterdam, and afterwards a banker, and was wooed and won, as the story goes, by the banker's only daughter, a beauty and an heiress, with a fortune of eight or ten thousand pounds. It was a condition of the marriage that Cogan should enter the more settled profession of medicine, and he accordingly matriculated at Leyden on 16 Oct. 1765, and took his degree of M.D. in 1767. Restlessness was his characteristic in early life, and he is said to have practised during the few years which he passed in Holland ‘successively at Amsterdam, Leyden, and Rotterdam.’ From the latter city he returned to London and settled in Paternoster Row, where he soon obtained a lucrative practice, especially in midwifery. This could not well have been later than 1772, and by 1780 he was once more in Holland. According to one account his labours had told on his health, according to another the fortune which he had inherited and the fees he had pocketed during his short term of professional life satisfied his desire for wealth. In 1780 at any rate he resigned his connection to Dr. John Sims, for many years the leading accoucheur in London, and retired to Holland to prosecute his studies in moral philosophy. To gratify his wife they rented the noble mansion of Zulestein, the ancestral home of the family ennobled in this country by the title of Rochford, and in this magnificent retreat they dwelt until the invasion of Holland by the French republicans in 1795 drove them once more back to Harwich. After resting for a time at Colchester, so as to be in a convenient position to return to Holland on its liberation from the invader, Cogan and his wife fixed their home at Bath. Although authorship was always his chief pleasure, a subordinate attraction was now found in farming. He rented a farm at South Wraxall, near Bradford-on-Avon, studied agriculture, practically and scientifically, competed for and won some of the prizes awarded at the meetings of the Bath and West of England Society, and if he did not by his exertions materially add to his resources, at least he found pleasure in his work and preserved the natural vigour of his mind. Farming remained a joy to him throughout his life; when he quitted Bath he took farms at Clapton and at Woodford, and at the time of his death he was the tenant of a farm near Southampton. Mrs. Cogan died at Bath in 1810 and was buried at Widcombe; her niece, Miss Gurnault, died soon after. Cogan gave up housekeeping at Bath and removed to London. The last years of his life were mainly passed in his lodgings in London or at his brother's house at Higham Hill. On the closing day of 1817 he caught a cold by walking in a thick fog from his rooms in Covent Garden to visit a friend. A few weeks later he went to his brother's with a presentiment that he could not recover, and died there on 2 Feb. 1818. On 9 Feb. he was buried at Hackney. His vivacity and good temper remained with him until the last.

Cogan's thesis for his medical degree at Leyden was delivered there on 20 Feb. 1767, and printed in the same year. It was entitled ‘Specimen Medicum inaugurale de animi pathematum vi et modo agendi in inducendis et curandis morbis,’ and could have been amplified by him had not a want of leisure at first and the subsequent labours of others rendered such a proceeding unnecessary. A society for the preservation of life from accidents in water was instituted at Amsterdam in 1767, and its operations became known to Cogan. On his return to England a few years later he found that Dr. William Hawes had expended much time and money on a similar project, and the two doctors thereupon united their energies in the undertaking. Each of them brought fifteen friends to a meeting at the Chapter Coffeehouse in St. Paul's Churchyard in the summer of 1774, when the Royal Humane Society was duly formed. Cogan translated from the original Dutch in 1773 the ‘Memoirs of the Society instituted at Amsterdam in favour of Drowned Persons,’ 1767–71, and prepared the first six annual reports of the English society. His interest in this charitable work lasted unimpaired throughout his life. He started a branch at Bath in 1805, and left the mother-foundation in his will the sum of 100l. One of the five gold medals minted for the society is inscribed to the memory of Cogan, and in its annual report for 1814 is a portrait of him, with a handsome eulogy of his talents as an author and of his zeal as the co-founder of the Royal Humane Society. His next publication was an anonymous account of ‘John Buncle, junior, gentleman,’ 1776, which purported to be a memoir of the youngest son of Thomas Amory's whimsical creation of John Buncle, by his seventh wife, Miss Dunk. In 1793 he published, without his name, two volumes entitled ‘The Rhine; or, a Journey from Utrech [sic] to Francfort [sic], described in a series of letters in 1791 and 1792.’ The success of this labour justified its republication in 1794 with his name on the title-page, and the printing at Haarlem of a Dutch translation in 1800. This translation of Cogan's work into Dutch was balanced by his translating into English from that language in 1794 the work of Professor Peter Camper, ‘On the Connexion between the Science of Anatomy and the Arts of Drawing, Painting, Statuary.’ All these books were, however, eclipsed by his elaborate treatises on the passions. The first of them bore the name of ‘A Philosophical Treatise on the Passions,’ 1800, 2nd edit. 1802. Then succeeded an ‘Ethical Treatise on the Passions,’ in two parts, the first of which appeared in 1807 and the second in 1810. Two volumes of ‘Theological Disquisitions on Religion as affecting the Passions and on the Characteristic Excellencies of Christianity’ followed in 1812 and 1813 respectively, and the whole five treatises were published in a set in 1813. Last of all came in 1817 a bundle of ‘Ethical Questions, or Speculations on the principal subjects of Controversy in Moral Philosophy.’ His design was ‘to trace the moral history of man in his pursuits, power, and motives of action,’ and the excellence of his definitions and illustrations has been highly extolled. He analysed the subject with as much tenderness as he had been taught to dissect the human body. A long analysis of Cogan's writings will be found in Jared Sparks's ‘Collection of Essays and Tracts in Theology’ (1824), iii. 196–233, which also contains (pp. 237–362) a reprint of his ‘Letters to William Wilberforce on the doctrine of Hereditary Depravity, by a Layman’ (pseud. i.e. T. Cogan), in which he warmly denounced the view supported by Wilberforce in his ‘Practical View of the prevailing Religious Systems of Professed Christians,’ and strongly argued, as he always did, for the happiness of all mankind. These letters originally appeared in 1799, and were printed in more than one cheap edition for the use of the unitarian book societies. A fragment of his ‘Disquisition on the Characteristic Excellencies of Christianity’ was appended in 1822 to a discourse by Lant Carpenter [q. v.] A miniature portrait of Cogan is preserved in the museum at Bristol.

[Gent. Mag. lxxxviii. pt. i. pp. 177–8, 648 (1818); Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 181, 239, 732; Jay's Autobiography, pp. 465–70; Monthly Repository, xiv. 1–5, 74–6, 105 (1819), with portrait; Annual Biography, iii. 73–99 (1819); Hunter's Old Age in Bath, Sherwen and Cogan (1873), pp. 29–56; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ix. 116 (1878).]

W. P. C.