Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Linacre, Thomas
LINACRE, THOMAS (1460?–1524), physician and classical scholar, was born about 1460, most probably at Canterbury. Caius, a good authority, distinctly calls him Cantuariensis (Hist. Cantab. Acad. ii. 126, 1574; Tanner, Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica, 1748, p. 482). Holinshed, Weever, and Fuller give Derby as his birthplace, but without authority, and his supposed kinship with the Linacre family of Linacre Hall, Derbyshire, is equally uncertain. He received his first education at Canterbury, probably at the school of the monastery of Christ Church, under William de Selling (or Tilly), afterwards prior, a scholar who had travelled in Italy and acquired a knowledge of Greek, and whose learned tastes had a great influence upon his pupil. At the age of twenty, as is supposed, Linacre was sent to Oxford, to what college is not known, but in 1484 he was elected fellow of All Souls. In the college register he is not described as of founder's kin; and may therefore be regarded as lacking that qualification. At Oxford it is very probable that he received instruction in Greek from Cornelio Vitelli, then resident there and believed to have been the first teacher of Greek in England (Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia, Basel, 1570, p. 618). He became also an intimate friend of two scholars, William Grocyn and William Latimer, who were well known as students and afterwards teachers of the Greek language.
Subsequently, about 1485–6, Linacre went to Italy in the suite of his old tutor, Selling, who was ambassador from Henry VII to the pope (Leland, De Scriptoribus Britannicis, 1709, ii. 483). He is said to have accompanied the embassy as far as Bologna, where he was introduced to Angelo Poliziano, but then left it, and went to Florence, where he was permitted by Lorenzo de' Medici to share the instructions given by Poliziano and Demetrius Chalcondylas to the two young princes, Piero and Giovanni de' Medici. The latter became pope under the name of Leo X, and was in after years not unmindful of this association with Linacre. After a year spent in Florence he passed to Rome, where, while reading a manuscript of Plato in the Vatican Library, he formed the acquaintance of another great scholar, Hermolaus Barbarus. It is probable that from Barbarus Linacre acquired a bias to the study of Aristotle, Dioscorides, Pliny, and other medical writers, in whom the Italian scholar, though not himself a physician, took great interest (Pauli Jovii Descriptio Britanniæ; Elogia Virorum, etc., per Georgium Lilium, Basel, 1578, pp. 40 et seq.).
From Rome Linacre proceeded to Venice, where he made the acquaintance of Aldus Manutius Romanus, the printer, who received him kindly, and on two occasions expressed a high opinion of his learning and scholarship; viz. in the dedication to Albertus Pius, prince of Carpi, of Linacre's translation of ‘Proclus de Sphæra’ (Astronomici Veteres, Venice, 1499); and the dedication of the second volume of the first edition of Aristotle in Greek, dated February 1497, in which Aldus refers to ‘Thomas Anglicus’ as a witness of the pains bestowed on the printing of Greek manuscripts.
At Padua Linacre graduated as M.D., and probably spent some time in medical study. The memory of the brilliant disputation which he sustained for his degree against the senior physicians is preserved by Richard Pace in his ‘De Fructû ex Doctrina,’ Basel, 1517, p. 76.
Linacre's next stay in Italy was in Vicenza, where he studied under Nicolaus Leonicenus, a celebrated physician and scholar, who long afterwards referred to this connection (Brewer, Letters and Papers relating to Henry VIII, vol. iv. pt. iii. p. 2874). His return to England through Geneva, Paris, and Calais is hinted at in two Latin poems by Janus Vitalis and Joannes Latomus (printed in Johnson's Life of Linacre, p. 147). According to these poems, Linacre on leaving the southern side of the Alps (probably by the Great St. Bernard), and bidding farewell to Italy, indulged his fancy in building a rough altar of stones, which he dedicated to the land of his studies as ‘sancta mater studiorum.’
It is not clear how long Linacre remained in Italy, but Erasmus speaks of several years; and he certainly returned home after Grocyn, who is believed to have come back to England in 1491. His stay might therefore have extended over six years. There is little ground for the suggestion that he paid a second visit to Venice in 1499, when his first work was published there.
After Linacre's return to Oxford he was incorporated M.D. on his Padua degree, and read some public lectures, probably on medical subjects. A more definite statement is made by Wood that he gave lectures at a later period, apparently about 1510. Doubtless his refined Latin scholarship and profound knowledge of Greek gave him, along with his friends Grocyn and Latimer, a position of great distinction, and he was as fortunate in his pupils as he had been in his preceptors. Thomas More acquired from him a knowledge of Greek, and Erasmus, who came to Oxford in 1497, partly to learn that language, owed Linacre a debt, which he generously acknowledged; though it is not clear whether Linacre or Grocyn was more specially his instructor. Colet, another member of the brilliant band of Oxford scholars often spoken of by Erasmus, was also Linacre's intimate friend till an unfortunate quarrel about the Latin grammar which the latter wrote for St. Paul's School broke off their intimacy.
It is stated by Caius that Linacre, on some occasion after his return to Oxford, migrated to Cambridge, but whether this was merely a temporary visit due to an outbreak of plague which occurred in his own university, or for the purpose of study, is uncertain. However, his foundation of a lectureship at Cambridge in after times seems to show some grateful recollection of the sister university.
About 1500 or 1501 Linacre was called to court as tutor to the young Prince Arthur. This appointment seems to be foreshadowed in his dedication to the prince of a translation from the Greek into Latin of ‘Proclus on the Sphere’ (1499), evidently before he had received any such nomination. The office came to an end with the death of the prince in April 1502, if not earlier, and was probably little more than nominal. It does not appear to have involved any medical duties, but soon after the accession of Henry VIII in 1509 Linacre was made one of the king's physicians, with a salary of 50l. a year. This office was then marked by an external state and dignity, curiously described by George Lily [q. v.], a junior contemporary, in his ‘Elogia.’ From this time, if not before, Linacre lived chiefly in London, and was actively employed as a physician, having among his patients great statesmen, such as Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Warham, and Bishop Fox, besides his own intimate friends, Colet, More, Erasmus, Lily, and other scholars.
It is curious that about this time begins the long list of Linacre's ecclesiastical preferments. In 1509 he received the rectory of Mersham in Kent; in the same year the prebend of Easton-in-Gordano at Wells; in March 1510–11 the living of Hawkhurst; in 1517 a canonry and prebend of St. Stephen's, Westminster; in 1518 the prebend of South Newbald, York, and the rectory of Holsworthy, Devonshire. In 1519 he was made precentor of York Cathedral, and finally in 1520 rector of Wigan, Lancashire. He was admitted to priest's orders on the title of the last-mentioned preferment, 22 Dec. 1520 (Tanner). Tanner improbably dates his admission to deacon's orders in 1509. It was concerning Linacre's preferment to Hawkhurst that Ammonius wrote to Erasmus in 1511 that Linacre ‘sacerdotio auctus est’ (Erasmi Epistolæ, ed. 1521, p. 358; Brewer, Letters, etc., of Henry VIII, ii. 136). Linacre doubtless received his earlier preferments while still a layman. There is no evidence that he ever resided at any of the places mentioned, and he resigned several benefices within a few months of their bestowal, probably in favour of an aspirant who had received the promise of the next presentation, and was willing to pay the holder to vacate. Such arrangements for rewarding the favourites of the court or the prelacy without expense to the patron were not uncommon then and not unknown since. From these endowments Linacre derived a great portion of the wealth which he afterwards employed for public purposes.
After receiving priest's orders there is no doubt that Linacre gave up practice and devoted himself to clerical life, his object being, as he states in the dedication of one of his books to Archbishop Warham, to obtain more leisure for literary work. Sir John Cheke relates that Linacre when advanced in years, taking in hand the New Testament for the first time (though he was a priest), and reading in Matthew vii. the Sermon on the Mount, threw away the volume exclaiming, ‘Either this is not the Gospel or we are not Christians’ (De Pronunciatione Græcæ Linguæ, Basel, 1555, pp. 176, 281). Selden assumes the story to refer only to the prohibition of swearing (De Synedriis Veterum Ebræorum, lib. ii. cap. xi. 6).
In 1523 Linacre received his last court appointment, being made, along with Ludovicus Vives, Latin tutor to the Princess Mary, then five years old, and being also charged with the care of the princess's health. Though the appointment must have been a sinecure, it gave occasion for the composition of a Latin grammar, ‘Rudimenta Grammatices,’ intended for the use of the royal pupil.
In 1524 Linacre's health was evidently breaking, and in June he executed his will, but continued to work at the revision of his work ‘De emendata structura,’ probably almost on his deathbed. He died on 20 Oct. 1524 of calculus, at the age, as is supposed, of sixty-four, and was buried in the old cathedral of St. Paul's. For more than thirty years no memorial marked his grave; but this neglect was repaired in 1557 by John Caius, who wrote a Latin epitaph, preserved by Dugdale, and printed in Johnson's life. Caius tersely sketches his character thus: ‘Fraudes dolosque mire perosus, fidus amicis, omnibus ordinibus juxta carus.’
The foundation of the College of Physicians was mainly due to Linacre's efforts, and was his most important public service. The letters patent constituting the college were granted by Henry VIII on 23 Sept. 1518, on the prayer of the king's physicians, John Chambre, Thomas Linacre, and Ferdinand de Victoria, and three other physicians, and especially of Cardinal Wolsey. They incorporated the above physicians with others of the same faculty, giving them the sole power of licensing to the practice of physic in London and seven miles round, with other privileges which were confirmed by a statute of 14 Henry VIII, and extended to the whole of England. Although other physicians are mentioned, they took no part in the early business of the college, and Linacre's predominance is proved by the facts that he was the first president, and remained so till his death; that the meetings of the college were held in his house in Knightrider Street, of which he conveyed a portion to the college during his lifetime; and that he gave to the college his medical library. Probably also his influence with Wolsey led to the grant being obtained. He has always therefore been honoured as the projector and founder of the college, the plan of which was, according to John Caius, taken from similar institutions in Italy. This great and successful scheme shows Linacre to have been in constructive skill and foresight at least the equal of his contemporary Colet.
Linacre's benefactions to the universities were also of great importance. It was well known in his lifetime that he intended to found a lectureship in medicine at Oxford, and a curious letter of thanks to him from the university is preserved in the Bodleian Library (translated in Johnson's Life, p. 269), where this intention is expressly mentioned; but the necessary letters patent authorising the foundation were not obtained till eight days before Linacre's death. By these permission was given to found three lectureships in medicine, two in the university of Oxford, one in Cambridge, to be called Lynacre's Lectures. The large estates applied to the purpose were originally to be held in trust by the Company of Mercers (Rymer, Fœdera, London, 1712, xiv. 25; Johnson Life, p. 330); but in the end Sir Thomas More, Tunstall, bishop of London, and two other persons were appointed trustees. No application of the funds was, however, made till the third year of Edward VI, when Tunstall, the only surviving trustee, assigned two lectureships to Merton College, Oxford, and one to St. John's College, Cambridge. It is quite clear that Linacre meant them to be university foundations, but Wood states the reasons for settling the Oxford foundation in Merton to have been the decay of the university in Edward VI's reign, and the special distinction of Merton as a medical college. These appointments gradually sank to the position of college lectureships, and ultimately sinecures held by fellows, till the splendid revival of the foundation in the present Linacre professorship of physiology. At St. John's, Cambridge, the lectureship also came in the end to be a mere sinecure, and, moreover, as we are informed, through imprudent management of the property, the income intended for the reader seems to have been completely lost. Linacre's great schemes for medical teaching in the universities thus fell far short of his design.
It is difficult now to estimate Linacre's skill as a physician, but it was probably considerable. He was honoured with the confidence of the most important persons in church and state, and of the most distinguished scholars. Erasmus speaks highly of his friend's medical services, and the one specimen of his treatment which has been preserved shows the practical good sense of a family doctor. His advice to William Lily in a grave disorder was an instance of his accurate diagnosis and prognosis. Doubtless he practised well according to the knowledge of his day; but he has left no original observations of his own, which, if relating to the epidemics of his time, might have been of great value. In common, however, with other learned physicians, whom we may call the ‘medical humanists,’ he did medicine the great service of calling men back to the study of the classical medical writers, in place of the ‘Neoterics’ and ‘Arabists,’ who had long been regarded as the fountains of knowledge. The revival of classical medicine, though not without its drawbacks, led immediately to the revival of anatomy, of botany, and of clinical medicine as progressive sciences, and produced results quite comparable to those ascribed to the renascence in other departments of knowledge. Among the medical humanists certainly no one enjoyed a higher reputation than Linacre, or did better service to the cause of learning.
It was, however, as a scholar that he was most highly esteemed by his contemporaries. Erasmus, Budé, Melanchthon, Lascaris, Aldus, Vives, and many more pay him the highest eulogies. Erasmus said that Galen, in Linacre's version, spoke better Latin than he did Greek in the original, and Aristotle in Linacre's Latin had a grace of style hardly equalled in his own tongue. In Greek he was regarded as a prodigy of learning, while rhetoric and dialectic (according to Richard Pace) equally claimed him as their own. Finally, in the language of the time, he was a great philosopher, that is, deeply read in the ancient scientific and medical writers.
Linacre's personal character was highly esteemed by his contemporaries. He was evidently capable of absolute devotion to a great cause, animated by genuine public spirit, and a boundless zeal for learning. Erasmus is believed to have humorously sketched Linacre in the ‘Encomium Moriæ’ as an enthusiast in recondite studies, but no mere pedant. He had, it would seem, no enemies.
Linacre's writings fall under two heads, grammar and medicine. His grammatical works were: 1. ‘Linacri Progymnasmata Grammatices Vulgaria,’ 4to, b.l., no date (1525?); an elementary Latin grammar in English, to which are prefixed Latin verses by Linacre himself, by Thomas More, and by William Lily. The first, the only known specimen of Linacre's metrical composition, are a sort of dedication to the teachers and boys of England. Lily's verses refer to a former edition of the work, published under a false name and much corrupted, but now restored to its pristine purity, and published with the author's name. This is evidently the lost grammar prepared by Linacre for St. Paul's School, but rejected by Colet (see Erasmi Epistolæ, ed. Basel, 1521, p. 420). If so, it must have been written about 1512, and probably printed about that time. This work has a considerable resemblance to Colet and Lily's joint production, and may after all have served as the basis of the St. Paul's grammar. A unique copy is in the British Museum. 2. ‘Rudimenta Grammatices,’ composed for the use of the Princess Mary. The earliest complete copy accessible is ‘Rudimenta Grammatices Thomæ Linacri diligenter castigata denuo. Londini in ædibus Pynsonianis,’ 4to, roman letter, without date, but in style closely resembling Linacre's translations printed by Pynson about 1523–4. The copy in the British Museum is bound up with another on vellum, which wants the title-page, and was possibly printed earlier. Both contain a dedication to the Princess Mary, then accidence and construction with ‘Supplimenta;’ the latter might, from internal evidence, have been written by Lily or some one connected with him. This work is essentially the same as No. 1, though somewhat expanded, and it is clear that Linacre took up his earlier grammar and revised it for the use of the princess. This grammar was translated into Latin by Robert Buchanan, and printed at Paris by Robert Etienne in 1533, passing through at least ten editions in France in thirty years. 3. ‘De Emendata Structura Latini sermonis libri sex,’ London, by Richard Pynson, December 1524, 4to. This labour of many years was issued two months after Linacre's death. The passage in the ‘Encomium Moriæ’ (ed. Basel, 1521, p. 251), where Erasmus speaks of a sexagenarian scholar and physician who had tortured himself for twenty years in grammatical studies, and only hoped he might live long enough to distinguish rightly the eight parts of speech, evidently alludes to it. It contains no accidence, but rules of construction and syntax, with an immense number of examples from the classics and many Greek quotations. Such a work could not possibly have been intended for a school grammar. It was long regarded as a standard work, and even as late as 1669 was referred to by Milton as ‘though very learned, thought not fit to be read in schools’ (Accedence commenc't Grammar, 1669, preface). Though often reprinted on the continent (Paris, 1527, and frequently also at Basel, Venice, Lyons, &c.), often with a laudatory preface by Melanchthon, no second edition appeared in this country.
Linacre's translations from Greek into Latin, on which his contemporary fame chiefly rested, must have been all made from manuscripts except No. 3, of which the Greek text was printed at Venice in 1500. They were as follows: 1. ‘Proclus de Sphæra,’ in the collection called ‘Astronomici Veteres,’ Venice, by Aldus Romanus, 1499, fol., dedicated to Prince Arthur. A letter of William Grocyn to Aldus is also prefixed. 2. ‘Galen, De Sanitate tuenda,’ Paris, by Rubeus, 1517, fol. Dedicated to Henry VIII. The British Museum has a copy on vellum presented to Cardinal Wolsey, with a manuscript dedication, which is reprinted in Johnson's life of Linacre. At the College of Physicians is a copy with manuscript dedication to Fox, bishop of Winchester, also printed by Johnson. This version was frequently reprinted abroad, and adopted in the collective Latin editions of Galen. 3. ‘Galen, Methodus Medendi,’ Paris, by Maheu, 1519, fol. Dedicated to Henry VIII, whose presentation copy on vellum is in the British Museum, along with a similar copy containing a manuscript dedicatory letter to Cardinal Wolsey. This work was revised by Budé, who prefixed an extremely eulogistic preface, and was seen through the press by Lupset. Notwithstanding, Linacre before his death made 2225 emendations in it, which were sent to Italy and incorporated in the Venice edition (Terrapeutica, &c., 4to, 1527) by the editor, Lucas Panetius. It was reprinted in Paris 1526, 8vo; 1530, fol., and many times later, as well as in the collective editions of Galen's works. Linacre dedicated the translation by special command to Henry VIII, and speaks of it as the last of three works, each comprising one of the integral parts of medicine, dedicated to the king. The second of these must have been the ‘De Sanitate;’ but what the first was is difficult to conjecture, as no other known work of Linacre's answers the description. Either the work never got beyond the stage of manuscript, or the printed edition has entirely perished. 4. ‘Galen, De Temperamentis et de Inæquali Intemperie,’ printed by Siberch, Cambridge, 1521, 4to. One of the first books printed at Cambridge, and said to be the first printed in England, in which Greek types were used. Reproduced in facsimile, Cambridge, 1881, with introduction and life of Linacre by the present writer. Dedicated to Pope Leo X, from whom Linacre had, through Richard Pace, the king's secretary, and the English envoy at the papal court, solicited some favour, which he here acknowledges (Brewer, Letters of Henry VIII, iii. 1204, 1275). (A second edition, 24mo, 1527, is in the British Museum, with no name of printer or place, but possibly printed at London.) 5. ‘Galen, De Naturalibus Facultatibus,’ Pynson, London, 1523, 4to. Dedicated to Archbishop Warham. 6. ‘Galen, De Pulsuum usu. In ædibus pinsonianis,’ London, s.a., 4to (1523?). Dedicated to Cardinal Wolsey. The last two appeared in one volume, with ‘Galen de Motû Musculorum’ translated by N. Leonicenus, and edited by Linacre. Some fragments from Paulus Ægineta, &c., are added in a later edition, Paris, 1528. 7. ‘Galen de Symptomatum Differentiis et Causis,’ Pynson, London, 1524, 4to. A posthumous publication, with a prefatory notice of Linacre. Besides these, it is known that Linacre contemplated the translation of more if not all of Galen's works, and had also planned, with his friends Grocyn and Latimer, a complete translation of the works of Aristotle. Linacre's own share, or a part of it, we know from Erasmus was actually executed, though never printed. It included several physical treatises of Aristotle. Erasmus speaks also of other completed works laid up in Linacre's desk for the benefit of future students; but they do not seem to have been published, owing to the excessive fastidiousness for which Erasmus reproached him.
A single letter of Linacre's has been preserved. It is partly in Greek, and is addressed to Budé at Paris (Gul. Budæi Epistolæ, 4to, Paris, 1520, fol. 7). An interesting manuscript catalogue of William Grocyn's library, compiled by Linacre in his own handwriting, as his friend's executor and legatee, together with his executorship accounts, is preserved at Merton College, Oxford, and has been published by the Oxford Historical Society (Collectanea, 2nd ser. 1890, edited by Professor M. Burrows). Grocyn's will was proved by Linacre on 20 July 1522.
Linacre's own will is extant, having been proved on 18 July 1525. Since the bulk of his property and his library had been assigned during his lifetime the bequests are not important, but show that the testator had a brother, sisters, and other relations. The manuscript dedications of special volumes of his works already mentioned are believed to be in his own handwriting, and his autograph occurs in volumes in the library of the College of Physicians, at New College, Oxford, and elsewhere.
A portrait presumed to be that of Linacre is an oil-painting in the possession of the queen attributed (without probability) to Quentin Matsys; a copy is at the College of Physicians. It was engraved in Pettigrew's ‘Medical Portrait Gallery,’ and reproduced by photography in the Cambridge reprint of the treatise ‘De Temperamentis,’ 1881.
[Life of Thomas Linacre, by John Noble Johnson, M.D., edited by Robert Graves, London, 1835, 8vo (the only complete memoir, giving most of the original authorities); Bale's Script. Brit. Cat. 1548; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus; Erasmus, Epistolæ, in many passages (some letters referring to Linacre are printed in Brewer's Letters relating to Henry VIII); Wood's Athenæ Oxon (Bliss), vol. i. col. 42; Freind's Hist. of Medicine, ii. 400, and App. (with letter from Maittaire), p. 33; Biog. Brit. 1760, v. 2970; Seebohm's Oxford Reformers; J. F. Payne's Introd. to reprint of Linacre's Galen de Temperamentis, Cambridge, 1881; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, i. 12; Knight's Colet, 1724.]