Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drake, Nathan

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DRAKE, NATHAN (1766–1836), literary essayist and physician, belonging to a Yorkshire family of considerable standing, was born in 1766 at York, where his father, Nathan, was an artist, and where his younger brother, Richard, was afterwards a surgeon. He received a scanty preliminary education, lost his father in 1778, and in the following year began his professional studies as apprentice to a general practitioner in York. He went to Edinburgh in 1786, where he graduated as M.D. in 1789, with an inaugural thesis, ‘De Somno.’ He first thought of settling as a physician at Billericay in Essex, but moved in 1790 to Sudbury in Suffolk. Here he became acquainted with Mason Good, who was established there as a general practitioner. A community of interest in medical and literary matters drew them together, and resulted in an intimate friendship, which continued till Dr. Good's death in 1827, and was a great source of happiness to both. Probably finding that there was no room for a physician at Sudbury, Drake removed in 1792 to Hadleigh in Suffolk, where he continued to carry on his professional and literary labours for forty-four years till his death in 1836. He was happily married in 1807, and left behind him a widow and three children. His life was uneventful and useful; he was an honorary associate of the Royal Society of Literature, and was universally esteemed as a religious and truly excellent man. Drake's contributions to general literature consist chiefly of miscellaneous essays, critical, narrative, biographical, and descriptive, which were favourably received at the time of publication. They are not written in a pretentious spirit, and ought not to be judged by a standard different from the author's own. The following are the titles, in some cases abridged: 1. ‘Literary Hours,’ 1st edit. in 1 vol. 1798, 4th edit. in 3 vols. 1820. 2. ‘Essays illustrative of the “Tatler,” “Spectator,” and “Guardian,”’ 3 vols. 1805. 3. ‘Essays illustrative of the “Rambler,” “Adventurer,” “Idler,” &c.,’ 2 vols. 1809. 4. ‘The Gleaner, a series of Periodical Essays, selected,’ &c., 4 vols. 1810. 5. ‘Winter Nights,’ 2 vols. 1820. 6. ‘Evenings in Autumn,’ 2 vols. 1822. 7. ‘Noontide Leisure,’ 2 vols. 1824. 8. ‘Mornings in Spring,’ 2 vols. 1828. A more ambitious work was his ‘Shakespeare and his Times,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1817. The thought and labour bestowed on this work were supposed to have materially impaired his health, and his case is believed to be that which is mentioned by his friend, Mason Good, in his ‘Study of Medicine,’ iii. 322–3, 4th edit. The work contains all that the title leads us to expect; it was favourably reviewed by Nares in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ vol. lxxxviii. Gervinus also, in his ‘Shakespeare Commentaries’ (English translation, p. 16, ed. 1877), mentions it in laudatory terms, and says that the work has the merit of having brought together for the first time into a whole the tedious and scattered material of the editions and of the many other valuable labours of Tyrwhitt and others. He published a sort of supplementary work, under the title, ‘Memorials of Shakespeare, or Sketches of his Character and Genius by various writers,’ 1828. A posthumous work appeared in 1837, entitled ‘The Harp of Judah, or Songs of Sion, being a Metrical Translation of the Psalms, constructed from the most beautiful parts of the best English Versions.’ His professional writings consisted only of a few papers contributed to medical periodicals, especially five in the ‘Medical and Physical Journal,’ 1799–1800, ‘On the Use of Digitalis in Pulmonary Consumption,’ on which subject he was considered an authority, and in connection with which his name is mentioned by Pereira, ‘Materia Medica,’ p. 1394, ed. 1850.

[Gregory's Memoirs of Mason Good, 1828; Gent. Mag. new ser. vol. vi.; Ann. Reg. 1836; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 87; Trans. of Prov. Med. and Surg. Assoc. vol. vii. 1839.]

W. A. G.