Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gibbes, James Alban

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GIBBES or GHIBBES, JAMES ALBAN, M.D. (1611–1677), Latin poet, was born (not, as stated by Wood, at Rouen, but) at Valognes, for in his will, still preserved at Rome, he speaks of himself as ‘nativo di Vallone, appresso Cadomo, diocesi di Constanza.’ Although Valognes is sixty miles from Caen, it is the only place in the diocese of Coutances answering to this description. His father, William Gibbes, a native of Bristol, where his family had considerable property, was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, but marrying Mary Stonor, who belonged to an Oxfordshire catholic family, he embraced catholicism. They settled at London, but being disquieted on account of their religion went to France in 1609, where, two years afterwards, James Alban was born. He did not set foot in England till his ninth year, when he rejoined his parents, who had shortly before returned thither, the father ultimately becoming physician to Queen Henrietta Maria. Gibbes was sent to the English college at St. Omer, and afterwards travelled in the Low Countries, Spain, Germany, and Italy. At Padua he was the pupil of the eminent anatomist, Vesling or Wesseling. In 1644 he settled at Rome, where Evelyn visited him in that year and was shown by him over a hospital and orphanage of which he was physician. Evelyn spells his name Gibbs, but the latter had inserted h in it, apparently for the sake of pronunciation, and italianised it into Ghibbesio. He passed the remainder of his life at Rome, with the exception of two years at Modena as tutor to Almerico, second son to Duke Francis I, a post which ill-health obliged him to relinquish. His handsome face, wonderful power of mimicry, entertaining conversation, and mastery of six living languages, coupled with his medical skill, gained him a succession of patrons, viz. Cardinal Caponi, Cardinal Spada, in whose house he resided till Spada's death, and Prince Giustiniani, with whom Gibbes thenceforth resided. He composed several Latin eulogies on Pope Leo X, and enjoyed the favour of his three successors. Alexander VII in 1647 gave him a vacant professorship of rhetoric at Sapienza College worth 60l. a year, as well as a canonry at San Celso; to Clement IX he dedicated two odes, and Clement X seems to have given him a retiring pension. In 1667 the Emperor Leopold I sent him the diploma of poet laureate. In 1668 appeared at Rome in four books dedicated to Clement IX his ‘Carminum Pars Lyrica ad exemplum Q. Horatii Flacci,’ with the author's portrait prefixed. The rich gold chain and medal accompanying the emperor's diploma, Gibbes, after much deliberation and by the advice of Oxford scholars at Rome, presented to Oxford University. In a letter of 5 April 1670 to the vice-chancellor announcing the gift, he speaks of his father's connection with the university, and mentions his own thirty years' absence from England. In the following February, 1670–1, Oxford, at the suggestion of the Duke of Ormonde, chancellor, conferred the degree of M.D. on Gibbes, ‘the Horace of his age,’ as Wood styles him, but the diploma was not signed till August 1673. Gibbes, who valued the honour as one never before awarded to an English catholic, wrote twice meanwhile to inquire the cause of the delay. In 1673 appeared a second volume of his Latin verses, and in 1676 was published again at Rome ‘Carmina Marmoribus Arundelianis fortasse perenniora,’ in honour of Cardinal Philip Thomas Howard [q. v.] Wood, on the evidence of those who remembered Gibbes, describes him as ‘a very conceited man, a most compact body of vanity.’ His recently published will shows inordinate anxiety for the preservation of his four portraits, for the erection of a monument and bust over his tomb in the Pantheon, for the custody of his books as a separate collection at the English college at Rome, and for the publication of his manuscripts. His monument and portraits have disappeared; his manuscripts were apparently never published. The poet laureate medal is still at Oxford. He was a collector of art curiosities, and bequeathed to Prince Giustiniani a linnet with two cages of his own make. He left legacies to William Byam and to an English convent at Rome, where his sister had been educated. His residuary legatee was Benedetto Hercolani, whom he had trained as a physician and whom he directed to take the name of Ghibbesio. He died 26 June 1677. His heir slightly altered the epitaph appended by Gibbes to his will, and omitted the sixteen Latin verses with which it ended. His manuscripts, bequeathed to Sapienza College, consisted of Greek and Latin poems dedicated to the Emperor Leopold, epigrams dedicated to the Earl of Castlemaine, Latin letters ‘ad principes viros,’ and thirty-three orations dedicated to Oxford and Cambridge universities. The Alessandrina, Casanatense, and Vittorio Emanuele libraries at Rome possess fourteen of his published works. Besides the three volumes of Latin poems mentioned above, he issued ‘Epistolarum Selectarum Tres Centuriæ’ and ‘Pinacotheca Spadia sive Pontificorum Romanorum Series.’ No copy of his ‘De Medico,’ written, according to Wood, on the model of Cicero's ‘De Oratore,’ seems now known.

[Art. by Domenico Bertolotti, in Il Buonarroti, a Roman periodical, 16 Aug. 1886, reprinted as Un Professore alla Sapienza di Roma nel Secolo XVII poco conosciuto, Rome, 1886, 8vo; preface to his poems, by Carolus Cartharius, who mistakes Gibbes's age; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 326, 338–42; Evelyn's Diary; Pryce's Hist. of Bristol.]

J. G. A.