Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Culpeper, Nicholas

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CULPEPER, NICHOLAS (1616–1654), writer on astrology and medicine, was son of Nicholas Culpeper, a clergyman beneficed in Surrey and a kinsman of the Culpeper family settled at Wakehurst, Sussex. He was born in London 18 Oct. 1616; went to Cambridge in 1634 for a short time; obtained a good knowledge of Latin and Greek; studied the old medical writers; was apprenticed to an apothecary of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate; and about 1640 set up for himself as an astrologer and physician in Red Lion Street, Spitalfields. He supported the parliamentarians and the religious sectaries, and is reported to have engaged in at least one battle in the civil war on the parliamentary side, where he was seriously wounded in the chest. He does not appear to have relinquished his medical practice for any length of time during the war, and acquired a high reputation among patients in the east of London. In 1649 Culpeper brought himself into wider note by publishing an English translation of the College of Physicians' ‘Pharmacopœia’ under the title of ‘A Physical Directory, or a Translation of the London Dispensatory. By Nich. Culpeper, gent. (London: Printed for Peter Cole).’ A portrait of the translator is subscribed ‘In Effigiem Nicholai Culpeper, Equitis.’ This unauthorised translation excited the indignation of the College of Physicians, which was fully reflected in the royalist periodical, ‘Mercurius Pragmaticus,’ pt. ii. No. 21 (4–9 Sept. 1649). The book is there described as ‘done (very filthily) into English by one Nicholas Culpeper,’ who ‘commenced the several degrees of Independency, Brownisme, Anabaptisme; admitted himself of John Goodwin's schoole (of all ungodlinesse) in Coleman Street; after that he turned Seeker, Manifestarian, and now he is arrived at the battlement of an absolute Atheist, and by two yeeres drunken labour hath Gallimawfred the apothecaries book into nonsense, mixing every receipt therein with some scruples, at least, of rebellion or atheisme, besides the danger of poysoning men's bodies. And (to supply his drunkenness and leachery with a thirty shilling reward) endeavoured to bring into obloquy the famous societies of apothecaries and chyrurgeons.’ The translation has none of the defects here attributed to it, and the abuse was obviously inspired by political opponents and the societies whose monopolies Culpeper was charged with having infringed. In 1652 a broadside was issued entitled ‘A Farm in Spittlefields where all the knick-knacks of Astrology are exposed to open sale. Where Nicholas Culpeper brings under his velvet jacket: 1. His Chalinges against the Doctors of Physick; 2. A Pocket Medicine; 3. An Abnormal Circle,’ &c. Second and third editions of the ‘Directory’ appeared in 1650 and 1651 respectively. In 1654 Culpeper renamed the book ‘Pharmacopœia Londinensis, or the London Dispensatory. Further adorned by the Studies and Collections of the Fellows now living of the said Colledge, by Nich. Culpeper, gent., student in physick and astrology, living in Spittlefields, near London. Printed by a well-wisher to the Commonwealth of England,’ 1654. In September 1653 Culpeper again trespassed on the monopoly claimed by the recognised medical writers by publishing (with Peter Cole) a book entitled ‘The English Physician Enlarged, with 369 medicines made of English Herbs that were not in any impression until this. The Epistle will inform you how to know this impression from any other.’ This work, like its predecessor, had an enormous sale. An edition of 1661 was edited by Abdiah Cole. Five editions appeared before 1698, and it was reissued in 1802 and 1809. Other books which appeared in Culpeper's lifetime were: 1. ‘Semeiotica Uranica, or an Astronomicall Judgment of Diseases,’ based on Arabic and Greek medical writings, 1651. 2. ‘A Directory for Midwives,’ 1651. 3. ‘Galen's Art of Physic,’ 1652. 4. ‘Catastrophe Magnatum, or the Fall of Monarchy,’ 1652. 5. ‘Idea Universalis Medica Practica,’ Amsterdam, 1652, (in English) 1669. 6. ‘An Ephemeris for 1653,’ 1653. 7. ‘Anatomy,’ 1654. 8. ‘A New Method of Physic,’ 1654. Active medical practice and the composition of these works, all of which embodied much research, ruined Culpeper's health, and he died of consumption, originally engendered, it is said, by his old wound, on Monday, 10 Jan. 1653–4, aged 38. He married and was the father of seven children. He was cheated of his patrimony, according to his own account, in his youth, and was always in straitened circumstances, yet he was ready at any time to give gratuitous medical advice to the poor. His widow was married for the second time to John Heyden, author of the ‘Angelical Guide.’

Culpeper left many manuscripts in his wife's custody. ‘My husband,’ Mrs. Culpeper wrote in 1655, ‘left seventy-nine books of his own making or translating in my hands,’ and Peter Cole, the publisher, was invited to print them. He had already, it was alleged, published seventeen books by the astrologer, and had paid liberally for them. But a rival stationer named Nathaniel Brooks put forward several works with Culpeper's name on the title-page. The chief of these were: (1) ‘Culpeper's Last Legacy left and bequeathed to his Dearest Wife for the Publick Good,’ 1655, which included treatises on fevers, the pestilence, and the Galenists' system of medicines, together with a collection of original aphorisms; (2) Culpeper's ‘Astrologicall Judgment of Diseases,’ 1655, in the preface to which Brooks states that many of Culpeper's manuscripts came to him on his death; and (3) ‘Arts Masterpiece, or the Beautifying Part of Physick,’ 1660. The authenticity of these works seems in the main undoubted, in spite of Mrs. Culpeper's denials. In 1656 Peter Cole issued ‘Two Books of Physick, viz. Medicaments for the Poor, or Physick for the Common People, from the Latin of Prævortius, and Health for the Rich and Poor by Diet without Physick.’ In the preface Mrs. Culpeper denounced Brooks, and called ‘Culpeper's Last Legacy’ in part a forgery and in part ‘an undigested Gallimawfrey.’ In succeeding years Peter Cole employed Abdiah Cole [q. v.], probably a relative, to prepare for the press a large number of those medical tracts and translations which Culpeper was stated to have left him in manuscript. Among these are: ‘The Rational Physician Library,’ 1662; ‘Chemistry made Easy and Useful,’ translated from Sennertus, 1662; and ‘The Chirurgeon's Guide,’ 1677. In 1802 G. A. Gordon, M.D., published a collective edition of Culpeper's works in four volumes. This edition includes (1) The English Physician enlarged, or the Herbal, (2) the London Dispensatory, and (3) the Astrologicall Judgment.

A portrait of Culpeper was prefixed to the ‘Last Legacy’ as well as to the ‘Directory.’

[Gent. Mag. 1797, pt. i. pp. 390–1, 477–8; Gordon's edition of Culpeper's Works; Culpeper's Works; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; see also art. Abdiah Cole.]

S. L. L.