Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Good, John Mason

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GOOD, JOHN MASON (1764–1827), physician and miscellaneous writer, the second son of the Rev. Peter Good, a congregational minister at Epping, was born at Epping on 25 May 1764. His mother, a Miss Peyto, the favourite niece of the Rev. John Mason [q. v.], author of ‘Self-Knowledge,’ died in 1766. Good was well taught in a school kept by his father at Romsey, near the New Forest, and the latter's system of commonplace books was of great use to the son in after life. While at school he mastered Greek, Latin, and French, and showed unusual devotion to study. At fifteen he was apprenticed to a medical practitioner at Gosport, and during his apprenticeship he mastered Italian, reading Ariosto, Tasso, and Dante. In 1783–4 he went to London for medical study, attended the lectures of Dr. George Fordyce and others, and became an active member of the Physical Society of Guy's Hospital. In the summer of 1784, when only twenty, he settled in Sudbury, in partnership with a Mr. Deeks, who very shortly retired. Here Good married in 1785 a Miss Godfrey, who only survived six months, and in 1788 a Miss Fenn, who bore him six children, and survived him. In 1792 he lost a considerable sum of money by becoming surety for friends, and although relieved by his father-in-law, he determined to free himself from difficulty by literary work. He wrote plays, translations, poems, essays, &c., but failed for some time to sell anything. At last he gained a footing on ‘The World,’ and one of the London reviews. In 1793 he removed to London, entering into partnership with a medical man, and on 7 Nov. was admitted a member of the College of Surgeons. His new partner was jealous of him, and soon caused the business to fail. While struggling to surmount his difficulties, Good in February 1795 won a prize of twenty guineas offered by Dr. Lettsom for an essay on the ‘Diseases frequent in Workhouses, their Cure and Prevention.’ In 1794 he became an active member of the ‘General Pharmaceutic Association,’ designed to improve the education of druggists, who were then notorious for their frequent illiteracy and mistakes. At the request of some members of this society Good wrote his ‘History of Medicine, so far as it relates to the Profession of the Apothecary,’ 1795. He now gained considerable practice, and contributed to several leading periodicals, including the ‘Analytical’ and the ‘Critical’ Reviews. The latter he edited for some time. In 1797 he began to translate Lucretius into blank verse. In order to search for parallel passages, he studied successively Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Persian; he was already acquainted with Hebrew; later he extended his acquirements to Russian, Sanscrit, Chinese, and other languages. Much of his literary work was done while he walked the streets on his rounds; even his translation of Lucretius was thus composed, a page or two at a time being elaborated, until it was ready for being written down. This work occupied the intervals of nearly six years till 1805. The notes still have considerable value from their parallel passages and quotations. From 1804 to 1812 he was much occupied, with his friend and biographer, Olinthus Gregory [q. v.], in the preparation of ‘Pantologia,’ a cyclopædia in twelve volumes, to which he furnished a great variety of articles, often supplying by return of post articles requiring much research. In 1805 he was elected F.R.S. In 1811–12 he gave three courses of lectures at the Surrey Institution, which were afterwards published in three volumes, under the title ‘The Book of Nature.’ In 1820 he devoted himself to practice exclusively as a physician, and obtained the diploma of M.D. from Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in 1822 he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. In this year he published his ‘Study of Medicine’ in four volumes, which was well received and sold rapidly, but proved of no permanent value. In it he endeavoured to unite physiology with pathology and therapeutics, an attempt which was bound to fail owing to the defective state of those sciences. His enormous labours at length told on his constitution, and for some years before his death his health was bad. He died of inflammation of the bladder on 2 Jan. 1827, in his sixty-third year, at the house of his widowed daughter, Mrs. Neale, at Shepperton, Middlesex. Only one other child, a daughter, survived him. His son-in-law, the Rev. Cornelius Neale, senior wrangler in 1812, died in 1823. His grandson was Dr. J. M. Neale [q. v.]

No man could be more conscientious or industrious than Good. He had a striking power of acquiring knowledge and of arranging it in an orderly fashion. But he was without creative ability, and hence his works, while full of erudition, pleasingly though not brilliantly imparted, are not of permanent value. He was always active in works of benevolence, and had strong religious feelings. During the latter part of his residence at Sudbury he became a Socinian or unitarian, and from the time of his settling in London to 1807 he was a member of a unitarian church. In that year he withdrew, in consequence of what he considered recommendations of scepticism delivered from the pulpit, and he afterwards became a member of the established church, attaching himself to the evangelicals. In his later years he was an active supporter of the Church Missionary Society, giving the missionaries instruction in useful medical knowledge.

Good wrote: 1. ‘Maria, an Elegiac Ode,’ 1786, 4to. 2. ‘Dissertation on the Diseases of Prisons and Poorhouses,’ 1795. 3. ‘History of Medicine, so far as it relates to the Profession of the Apothecary,’ 1795, 2nd edit. 1796, with an answer to a tract entitled ‘Murepsologia,’ criticising the first edition. 4. ‘Dissertation on the best Means of employing the Poor in Parish Workhouses,’ 1798. 5. ‘The Song of Songs, or Sacred Idyls,’ translated from the Hebrew, with notes critical and explanatory, 1803; two translations, one literal, the other metrical, are given, and the book is regarded as a collection of love-songs. 6. ‘The Triumph of Britain,’ an ode, 1803. 7. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Alexander Geddes, LL.D. [q. v.] ’, 1803. 8. ‘The Nature of Things; translated from Lucretius, with the original Text and Notes, Philological and Explanatory,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1805–7. Jeffrey, in the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ x. 217–34, wrote: ‘These vast volumes are more like the work of a learned German professor than of an ungraduated Englishman. They display extensive erudition, considerable judgment, and some taste; yet they are extremely dull and uninteresting.’ This translation has since been published in Bohn's Classical Library. 9. ‘Oration before the Medical Society of London on the Structure and Physiology of Plants,’ 1808. 10. ‘Essay on Medical Technology,’ 1810 (‘Trans. Medical Society,’ 1808). This essay gained the Fothergillian medal. 11. ‘The Book of Job, literally translated, with Notes and an Introductory Dissertation,’ 1812, 8vo. 12. ‘Memoir of Rev. John Mason, prefixed to a new edition of his “Treatise on Self-Knowledge,”’ 1812. 13. ‘Pantologia,’ in conjunction with Olinthus Gregory and Newton Bosworth, 12 vols. 1802–13. Good wrote most of the medical and scientific articles, with some on philological subjects. 14. ‘A Physiological System of Nosology,’ 1817. 15. ‘The Study of Medicine,’ 4 vols. 1822, 2nd edit. 1825; two editions were afterwards edited by Samuel Cooper (1780–1848) [q. v.], 1832 and 1834. Six American editions of this work had been published up to 1835. 16. ‘The Book of Nature,’ 3 vols. 1826. This reached a third edition in England, and there were several American editions. 17. ‘Thoughts on Select Texts of Scripture,’ 1828. 18. ‘Historical Outline of the Book of Psalms,’ edited by the Rev. J. M. Neale, 1842. 19. ‘The Book of Psalms, a new Translation, with Notes,’ 1854. 20. ‘Thoughts for all Seasons,’ 1860. Good also wrote much in periodicals, besides those mentioned, contributed largely for some years to Dodsley's ‘New Annual Register,’ and was one of the editors and principal writers of ‘The Gallery of Nature and Art,’ 1821 (see Life, pp. 88, 108). He contributed the introduction and notes to Woodfall's edition of ‘Junius,’ 1812. Many of his occasional poems are contained in his ‘Life,’ and several in his ‘Thoughts for all Seasons.’ He left in manuscript, in addition to works that have been published since his death, a new translation of the ‘Book of Proverbs.’

[Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Character of John Mason Good, by Olinthus Gregory, 1828; Funeral Sermon, with Notes and Appendix, by C. Jerram, 1827; Gent. Mag. (1827), xcvii. pt. i. 276–8.]

G. T. B.