Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Floyer, John

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1149806Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19 — Floyer, John1889Joseph Frank Payne

FLOYER, Sir JOHN (1649–1734), physician, born in 1649, was the son of Richard Floyer of Hintes, Staffordshire. He entered as commoner of Queen's College, Oxford, at the beginning of 1664, being then fifteen years of age. He was B.A. 16 April 1668, M.A. 1671, B.M. 27 June 1674, B.M. 8 July 1680 (Wood). After twelve years' residence in Oxford, he settled at Lichfield as a physician. He was knighted in or before 1686, whether merely for professional eminence or for political services does not appear; but he would seem to have been in some way mixed up with the intrigues of James II in 1686 to obtain control over the corporation of Lichfield. There is no record of any other notable events in his life, except the publication of his several books. Floyer's name is known in connection with that of Samuel Johnson, who was, by his advice, sent up to be touched by Queen Anne for the ‘evil.’ It is also noteworthy that some of Floyer's books were printed for Michael Johnson, bookseller, of Lichfield, father of the lexicographer. Floyer attained considerable eminence in his profession, and died on 1 Feb. 1734.

Floyer was one of the most original physicians of the great scientific period in which he lived. His works show independence of thought and the spirit of research; while some have been important as being the starting-points of new methods in medical practice.

His first book, ‘The Touchstone of Medicines,’ contains a number of operations on the taste and smell of plants and other drugs, considered as a guide to their medicinal virtues, a subject treated of by Galen and other ancient writers, and by some of the moderns, though not now held to be worth consideration. This work, as well as that on animal humours, which is of the same class, contains many chemical and microscopical observations, but it appears to have been treated with some ridicule.

His work on the pulse watch is much more important. Floyer was the first to make regular observations upon the rate of the pulse, counting the number of beats in a minute by the watch. Before his time, though other points connected with the pulse had been carefully studied, this had been neglected. The pulse watch was merely a watch constructed to go for exactly one minute. Though Floyer's observations were not perfectly accurate, still, in Haller's words, he ‘broke the ice,’ and introduced a practice now universal. Floyer did good service also by his advocacy of cold bathing in a work published under different titles in several editions. He showed that the Roman customs of bathing had been prevalent in Britain in former times, and attributed to their disuse the occurrence of many diseases. He even went so far as to ascribe salutary physical consequences to infant baptism by immersion, and advocated the restoration of this ancient method of performing the rite. Indeed he succeeded more than once in getting children thus baptised according to the rubric; and his authority has been quoted by theological advocates of baptism by immersion. He also built or got built a cold bath in the neighbourhood of Lichfield.

The work on asthma is also very noteworthy, not only as containing excellent clinical observations, but as giving the first account, derived from dissection, of the change in the lungs now called emphysema, which is found in one of the forms of asthma as then understood. This observation, which has been often quoted in modern text-books, was made not on the human subject, but on a broken-winded mare. Floyer clearly distinguishes spasmodic asthma (from which he himself suffered), and assigns for it the same cause as do most modern authorities, viz.: ‘contraction of the muscular fibres of the bronchia.’ His other medical writings are less important. Haller remarks that Floyer's works were less known abroad than they deserved to be, and even in this country he has hardly received full justice. He was evidently a man of miscellaneous as well as medical learning, and greatly interested himself in the study of prophecy.

He wrote: 1. ‘Φαρμακο-Bάσανος, or the Touchstone of Medicines,’ London, printed for Michael Johnson at Lichfield, vol. i. 1687, vol. ii. 1690, 8vo. 2. ‘Preternatural State of the Animal Humours, described by their Sensible Qualities,’ London, 1696, 8vo. 3. ‘An Enquiry into the Right Use of Baths,’ London, 1697, 8vo; afterwards under other titles, viz.: ‘The Ancient Psychrolusia Revived,’ London, 1702, 1706; ‘History of Hot and Cold Bathing,’ with appendix by Dr. Baynard, London, 1709, 1715, 1722; Manchester, 1844, 12mo; in German, Breslau, 1749; in Latin, Leyden, 1699, Amsterdam, 1718. 4. ‘Treatise on the Asthma,’ London, 1698; 3rd ed. 1745, 8vo; in French, Paris, 1761 (Watt, Bibl. Brit.) 5. ‘The Physician's Pulse Watch,’ vol. i. 1707, vol. ii. 1710, 8vo. 6. A letter on bathing in Dr. Joseph Browne's account of cures performed by cold baths, London, 1707. 7. ‘A Letter concerning the Rupture of the Lungs,’ London, 1710, 8vo (Watt). 8. ‘The Sibylline Oracles, translated from the Greek,’ London, 1713, 8vo. 9. ‘A Vindication of the Sibylline Oracles,’ London, 1715, 8vo. 10. ‘Two Essays, on the Creation and on the Mosaic System,’ Nottingham, 1717, sm. 8vo. 11. ‘An Exposition of the Revelations,’ London and Lichfield, 1719. 12. ‘Exposition and Vindication of Esdras’ (announced as on sale 1722; not seen). 13. ‘An Essay to restore the Dipping of Infants in their Baptism,’ London, 1722, 8vo. 14. ‘Medicina Geronocomica, or the Galenic Art of Preserving Old Men's Healths,’ London, 1724, 1725, 8vo. 15. ‘A Comment on Forty-two Histories described by Hippocrates in his “Epidemics,”’ &c., London, 1726, 8vo. 16. Two memoirs in ‘Philos. Transactions,’ vols. xxi. and xxiii., of no great importance.

Floyer states that the following manuscripts were left in the library of Queen's College, Oxford, but they are not named in Coxe's Catalogue of Oxford MSS.: (1) ‘Advice to a Young Physician;’ (2) ‘Medicines distributed into Classes by their Tastes;’ (3) ‘The Third and Fourth Parts of the Pulse Watch;’ (4) ‘Essay on Air, Exercise,’ &c. Two letters of Floyer's, without importance, are among the Brit. Mus. MSS.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ii. 979 (1721); Harwood's Lichfield, 1806; Haller, Bibl. Med. Pract. iv. 10; Gent. Mag. March 1734.]

J. F. P.