Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Frewen, Thomas

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1047929Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20 — Frewen, Thomas1889Charles Creighton

FREWEN, THOMAS, M.D. (1704–1791), physician, was born in 1704. He practised as a surgeon and apothecary at Rye in Sussex, and afterwards as a physician at Lewes, having obtained the M.D. degree previous to 1755. He became known as one of the first in this country to adopt the practice of inoculation with small-pox. In his essay on ‘The Practice and Theory of Inoculation’ (Lond. 1749) he narrates his experience in three hundred and fifty cases, only one having died by the small-pox so induced. The common sort of people, he says, were averse to inoculation, and ‘disputed about the lawfulness of propagating diseases’—the very ground on which small-pox inoculation was made penal a century later (1842). The more refined studies of our speculative adepts in philosophy, he says, have let them into the secret that the small-pox and many other diseases are propagated by means of animalcula hatched from eggs lodged in the hairs, pores, &c. of human bodies. In 1759 he published another short essay on small-pox, ‘Reasons against an opinion that a person infected with the Small-pox may be cured by Antidote without incurring the Distemper.’ The opinion was that of Boerhaave, Cheyne, and others, that the development of small-pox after exposure to infection could be checked by a timely use of the æthiops mineral. Frewen's argument was that many persons ordinarily escape small-pox ‘who had been supposed to be in the greatest danger of taking it,’ and that the æthiops mineral was irrelevant. His other work, ‘Physiologia’ (Lond. 1780), is a considerable treatise applying the doctrines of Boerhaave to some diseases. One of his principles is: ‘Wherever nature has fixed a pleasure, we may take it for granted she there enjoins a duty; and something is to be done either for the individual or for the species.’ He died at Northiam in Sussex, on 14 June 1791, aged 86.

[Gent. Mag.; Giles Watts's Letter to Dr. Frewen on his behaviour in the case of Mr. Rootes, surgeon, Lond. 1755.]

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