Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Moffett, Thomas
MOFFETT, MOUFET, or MUFFET, THOMAS (1553–1604), physician and author, born in 1553, probably in the parish of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, was of Scottish descent, and the second son of Thomas Moffett, citizen and haberdasher of London, who was also free of the Girdlers' Company. His mother was Alice Ashley of Kent (Ashmole MS. 799, f. 130). Both the physician and his father should, it seems, be distinguished from a third Thomas Moffett, who in January 1575 was employed at Antwerp on political business, and endeavoured under the directions of Burghley and Leicester to win the confidence of the Earl of Westmorland and other English rebels in exile, in order to induce them to quit the Low Countries (Cal. Hatfield MSS. ii. 86–93). This man was reported to be too reckless a dice-player to satisfy his employers (ib.), and he is doubtless the ‘Captain Thomas Moffett’ who petitioned Elizabeth in March 1589 for a license to export four hundred tuns of beer, on the ground that he had served Edward VI and Queen Mary in many countries (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 586).
An elder brother of the physician resided at Aldham Hall, Essex. Peter Moffett (d. 1617), apparently a younger brother, was rector of Fobbing, Essex, from 1592 till his death in the autumn of 1617 (Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 268), and seems to have been author of ‘The Excellencie of the Mysterie of Christ Jesus,’ London, 1590, 8vo (dedicated to Margaret, countess of Cumberland, and Anne, countess of Warwick), and of ‘A Commentarie upon the whole Booke of the Proverbs of Solomon,’ London, 1596, 12mo (dedicated to Edward Russell, earl of Bedford).
After spending, it is said, five years at Merchant Taylors' School (Foster, Alumni Oxon.), Thomas matriculated as a pensioner of Trinity College, Cambridge, in May 1569, but migrated, 6 Oct. 1572, to Caius College, where he graduated B.A. While becoming an efficient classic, he studied medicine under Thomas Lorkin [q. v.] and John Caius (1510–1573) [q. v.] His fellow-students and friends included Peter Turner [q. v.], Timothy Bright [q. v.], and Thomas Penny [q. v.], who all distinguished themselves in medical science. During his undergraduate days he was nearly poisoned by eating mussels (Health's Improvement, p. 250; Theatrum Insectorum, p. 283, in English, p. 1107). Choosing to proceed M.A. from Trinity in 1576, he was expelled from Caius by Thomas Legge, the master [q. v.] In 1581 the latter was charged, among other offences, with having expelled Moffett without the fellows' consent. Wood's suggestion that Moffett was educated at Oxford appears to be erroneous (Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 574–5).
On leaving Cambridge Moffett went abroad. At Basle he attended the medical lectures of Felix Plater and Zwinger, and after defending publicly many medical theses there in 1578, he received the degree of M.D. In the same year he published at Basle (1578, 4to) two collections of his theses: one entitled ‘De Anodinis Medicamentis,’ the other ‘De Venis Mesaraicis Obstrvctis ipsarvmqve ita affectarum Curatione,’ with a dedication to Penny. A copy of the latter in the Cambridge University Library has an affectionate inscription in Moffett's autograph addressed to his old tutor Lorkin. In 1579 Moffett visited Italy and Spain; there he studied the culture of the silkworm, which he made the subject of a poem, and became an acute observer of all forms of insect life. He was at Nuremberg in July 1580, and frequently at Frankfort between the following October and the spring of 1582. Four letters which he addressed between 1580 and 1582 to Petrus Monavius are printed in Laurentius Scholz's ‘Epistolarum Philosophicarum Volumen,’ Frankfort, 1598.
Moffett, while on the continent, adopted with enthusiasm the Paracelsian system of medicine, and when he settled again in England he shared with John Hester [q. v.] the chief burden of upholding its principles there. He returned to Cambridge in 1582, and was incorporated M.D. In July he accompanied Peregrine Bertie, lord Willoughby [q. v.], to Elsinore, to invest King Frederick of Denmark with the order of the Garter. He notes that the court dinners lasted from seven to eight hours (Health's Improvement, p. 294), and that he made the acquaintance of Tycho Brahe and Peter Severinus. At the end of 1583 he completed in London, with a dedication to Severinus, his most elaborate exposition of his medical principles, ‘De Jure et Præstantia Chemicorum Medicamentorum Dialogus Apologeticus’ (Frankfort, 1584, 12mo; new edit. Ursel in Nassau, 1602, 8vo). In style Moffett sought to imitate Erasmus's ‘Colloquia.’ With this essay he printed five letters dated from London between February and April 1584—four addressed to ‘Philalethes Germanus’ and one to ‘Endymion Luddipolensis.’ The work attracted attention abroad and figured in Lazarus Zetzner's ‘Theatrum Chemicum,’ Strasburg, 8vo, 1613 (i. 63–90). Moffett subsequently illustrated his sobriety as an investigator by publishing a digest of Hippocrates, whose merits were unduly disparaged by many of the newer school of medicine to which Moffett belonged. This book he entitled ‘Nosomantica Hippocratea sive Hippocratis Prognostica cuncta ex omnibus ipsius scriptis methodice digesta’ (Frankfort, 1588, 8vo).
By 1588 Moffett had secured a good practice, at first apparently in Ipswich and afterwards in London. On 22 Dec. 1585 he was admitted a candidate of the College of Physicians, and on 29 Feb. 1588 a fellow, becoming censor in the same year. Among his early patients were Lady Penruddock and Sir Thomas and Edmund Knyvet of Norfolk. In July 1586 he and Penny attended during her last illness at Hansworth Anne Seymour, duchess of Somerset, widow of the protector, and they attested her will. Moffett seems to have first made the lady's acquaintance in early youth (Theatrum Insectorum, pp. 14, 21). In 1590 he was in attendance on Sir Francis Walsingham at Barn Elms, Surrey. Next year he was appointed physician to the forces serving in Normandy under the Earl of Essex; and on 6 Jan. 1591–2 he sent a note to the earl from Dieppe advising him to return to England (Cal. Hatfield MSS. iv. 174). On settling again in London, Moffett appears to have spent much time at court. He came to know Sir Francis Drake, who first showed him a flying-fish, ‘milvus marinus’ (Health's Improvement, p. 245); interested himself in the eccentricities of Woolmer, ‘the foul feeder’ (ib. pp. 123, 376), and was much patronised by Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke [q. v.], and his family. Mary Herbert [q. v.], the earl's wife, attracted by his cultured tastes, ultimately induced him to leave London for her own home in Wiltshire, and the latter part of his life was spent at or near Wilton as a pensioner of her husband. By the earl's influence he was elected M.P. for Wilton on 24 Oct. 1597. Walter Sweeper, when dedicating to William, third earl of Pembroke, his ‘Brief Treatise’ in 1622, wrote that ‘that godly and learned phisitian and skilful mathematician Mr. Doctor Moffet, my most worthy and kind friend,’ resided in Wilton House, but according to Aubrey, his patron soon gave him the neighbouring manor-house of Bulbridge for his residence (Nat. Hist. p. 89). He died there on 5 June 1604, and was buried in Wilton Church.
Moffett combined with his interests in science real literary aptitude. An ‘epitaphe or epigram or elegies, done by Mr. Morfet,’ was entered in the books of the Stationers' Company, by Edmund Bollifant, 15 Jan. 1588–9, but of this effort nothing else is known. Ten years later he published pseudonymously an interesting poem, embodying some of his observations in Italy and Spain. It is entitled ‘The Silkwormes and their Flies; Lively described in verse, by T. M. a Countrie Farmar, and an Apprentice in Physicke. For the great benefit and enriching of England. Printed at London by V. S. for Nicholas Ling, and are to be sold at his shop at the West ende of Paules,’ 1599, 4to. It is dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke, whom he describes as ‘the most renowned patroness and noble nurse of learning,’ and he notices in detail her literary labours (Collier, Bibl. Cat. i. 539). A copy is in the British Museum. Chamberlain wrote to Carleton, 1 March 1598–9, ‘The Silkworme is thought to be Dr. Muffetts, and in mine opinion is no bad piece of poetrie’ (Chamberlain, Letters, Camd. Soc., p. 47). ‘Moffatts Silkwormes and their Flies’ is highly praised in Nicholas Baxter's ‘Sir Philip Sydney's Ourania,’ 1606.
Moffett has been hastily identified with the T. M. who wrote the prose tracts ‘Father Hubbards Tales,’ and ‘The Blacke Booke,’ both issued in 1604, but his claim may be safely rejected [see Middleton, Thomas, (1570?–1627)].
Two professional works by Moffett appeared posthumously. He had completed in 1590 a valuable work on the natural history of insects, partly compiled from the writings of Edward Wotton and Conrad Gesner, and from papers left to him by his friend Penny. He obtained permission to print it at the Hague on 24 May 1590, and wrote an elaborate dedication to the queen, but delays followed. Laurence Scholz of Frankfort is said to have roughly edited the manuscript in 1598. When James I ascended the English throne, Moffett readdressed the dedication to him. At Moffett's death the manuscript, still unprinted, came into the hands of Darnell, his apothecary, who sold it to Sir Theodore Mayerne [q. v.], and in 1634 Mayerne published it, dedicating it to Sir William Paddy, and describing Moffett as ‘an eminent ornament of the Society of Physicians, a man of the more polite and solid learning, and renowned in most branches of science.’ The original manuscript, with the two dedications addressed respectively to Elizabeth and to James I, is now in Sloane MS. 4014. The title of the printed volume ran: ‘Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum … ad vivum expressis Iconibus super quingentis illustratum,’ London, 1634, fol. Translated into English by J. R. as ‘The Theater of Insects, or lesser living Creatures,’ it was appended with the plates to Edward Topsell's ‘History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents’ (1658). Haller in his notes on Herman Boerhaave's ‘Methodus Studii Medici’ praises the copiousness of the species described and the character of the engravings, and while admitting that Moffett gave credence to too many fabulous reports, acknowledged him to be the prince of entomologists before John Swammerdam (1637–1680).
Moffett's second posthumously issued book was: ‘Health's Improvement; or Rules comprising and discovering the Nature, Method, and Manner of Preparing all sorts of Food used in this Nation. Written by that ever Famous Thomas Mvffett, Doctor of Phisick; corrected and enlarged by Christopher Bennet, Doctor of Physick and Fellow of the Colledg of Physitians of London,’ London, 4to, 1655. This is a gossipy collection of maxims respecting diet, which Moffett intended to supplement by a similar work on ‘drinks’ (p. 221). It was probably compiled about 1595. Another edition was published in 12mo, 1746, with a life of the author, by William Oldys, and an introduction by R. James, M.D.
In Sloane MS. 4014 (‘Theatrum Insectorum’) a frontispiece engraved by William Rogers supplies a portrait of Moffett, and at the foot of the dedication he is described as ‘Scot-Anglus.’ Gesner, Edward Wotton, and Penny are depicted on the same plate.
By license dated 23 Dec. 1580 Moffett married, at St. Mary Cole Church, London, his first wife Jane, daughter of Richard Wheeler of a Worcestershire family, though she was described at the time of her marriage as a spinster of St. Ethelburgh's parish (Chester, Marriage Licences, ed. Foster, p. 952). She was buried at Wilton 18 April 1600. Moffett's second wife was a widow named Catherine Brown. She survived him, and to her children by her first husband—two sons Richard and Benedict, and two daughters Susan and Martha—Moffett left, with other bequests, his musical instruments, including a pair of virginals. Of his will (proved 20 Nov. 1604 and printed by Oldys) his brothers William and Thomas were overseers, and mention is made in it of his own daughter Patience and his ‘dear friend and father in Christe, Mr. Parker.’ His widow appears to have died at Calne, Wiltshire, in 1626. By her will, proved 26 June in that year, she left a portrait of Moffett and a book in his writing, probably ‘Health's Improvement,’ to his daughter Patience. The William Moffett (1607–1679), M.A. of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and vicar of Edmonton from 1631 till his death (Newcourt, Repert. i. 600), who has verses prefixed to William Hodgson's ‘Divine Cosmographie,’ 1640, was doubtless the physician's nephew; he married, as a widower, aged 56, on 24 Oct. 1663, Mary Borne of Edmonton (Chester, Marriage Licences, ed. Foster, p. 931).[Life by Oldys in Moffett's Health's Improvement, 1746; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr.; Hoefer's Hist. de la Chimie, ii. 26; Moffett's Works; Joannes Antonius Van der Linden's De Scriptis Medicis, Amsterdam, 1637, p. 454; Hunter's manuscript Chorus Vatum (Addit. MS. 24487, ff. 441 sq.); Brit. Mus. Cat. s. v. ‘Moufet;’ Hazlitt's Bibliographical Handbooks.]