Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hill, John (1716?-1775)
HILL, JOHN, M.D., calling himself Sir John, as member of the Swedish order of Vasa (1716?–1775), miscellaneous writer, the second son of the Rev. Theophilus Hill, is said to have been born at Peterborough in 1716. Early in life he was apprenticed to an apothecary, and after serving his term set up for himself in a small shop in St. Martin's Lane, Westminster. He tried to increase his profits by studying botany, and was employed by the Duke of Richmond and Lord Petre in the arrangement of their gardens and collections of dried plants. Hill travelled over the country in search of the rarer plants, specimens of which were to be dried by a particular process, and published by subscription with descriptive letterpress. Failing to increase his income sufficiently by these means, he went on the stage, but after several unsuccessful attempts, both at the ‘little theatre’ in the Haymarket and at Covent Garden, he resumed his business as an apothecary. In October 1738 he sent Rich a manuscript libretto of ‘Orpheus, an English Opera.’ It was not, however, accepted, and the production of Theobald's ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ by Rich at Covent Garden in the following year led to a prolonged controversy between them. At this time Hill appears to have kept an apothecary's shop in James Street, Covent Garden. Martin Folkes and Henry Baker, members of the Royal Society, introduced him to several men of letters, and in 1746, while holding ‘a trifling appointment of apothecary to a regiment or two in the Savoy,’ published a translation of Theophrastus's ‘History of Stones.’ In March of the same year the first monthly number of the ‘British Magazine’ appeared under his editorship. A supplement for January and February was published afterwards to complete the yearly volume, and the ‘Magazine’ was carried on until December 1750. In March 1751 he contributed a daily letter called ‘The Inspector,’ described by D'Israeli as being ‘a light scandalous chronicle all the week with a seventh-day sermon’ (Calamities and Quarrels of Authors, p. 367), to the ‘London Advertiser and Literary Gazette.’ The first number appeared on 5 March 1751, and the letters were continued for over two years. Hill was now kept fully employed by the publishers, and wrote on all kinds of subjects, compiling book after book with marvellous rapidity. He obtained a diploma of medicine from the university of St. Andrews, and picked up scandal for the ‘Inspector’ in the chief places of fashionable amusement. His satirical and scurrilous writings frequently involved him in squabbles. Failing to obtain the requisite number of names for his nomination to the Royal Society, he attacked the society in several satirical pamphlets, specially vituperating Folkes and Baker, his former patrons, and in 1751 published ‘A Review of the Works of the Royal Society,’ holding up to ridicule the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ to which he had himself contributed two papers a few years previously (Phil. Trans. Abr. ix. 200, 337). In 1752 he engaged in a paper warfare with Fielding, who attacked him in the ‘Covent Garden Journal,’ and in the following year, in ‘The Story of Elizabeth Canning considered,’ he censured Fielding's private treatment of this case. In the first and only number of ‘The Impertinent,’ published on 13 Aug. 1752, he grossly abused Christopher Smart, and renewed the attack in the ‘Inspectors’ for 6 and 7 Dec. 1752. Smart, on discovering Hill's authorship, retorted in ‘The Hilliad: an epic poem,’ in which he addresses Hill as ‘Pimp! Poet! Paffer! 'Pothecary! Player!’
Hill also squabbled with Woodward the comedian, and was publicly thrashed at Ranelagh by an Irishman named Brown. Because his farce called ‘The Rout’ was hissed off the stage he made a series of venomous attacks upon Garrick. Garrick replied in the well-known epigram:
For physic and farces, his equal there scarce is,
His farces are physic, his physic a farce is.
In the following year (1753) Hill took Garrick to task for his faulty pronunciation in a pamphlet entitled ‘To David Garrick, Esq. The Petition of I. in behalf of herself and her sisters.’ To this Garrick replied with another epigram, and writing to Hawkesworth on 20 March 1759 says: ‘Such a villain sure never existed: his scheme now is abuse, and he talks of a paper call'd ye Theatre, in which his Pen will be as free as my crabstick whenever I meet his worship’ (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 55). In all these controversies Hill invariably got the worst of it. In 1759 he commenced the publication of ‘The Vegetable System.’ This cumbrous work, consisting of twenty-six folio volumes, and containing sixteen hundred copper-plate engravings representing twenty-six thousand different plants, was undertaken by Hill at the instance of his patron Lord Bute. It was not completed until 1775, and caused Hill heavy pecuniary losses, though it gained him the order of Vasa from the king of Sweden in 1774, and he thenceforth called himself Sir John. Hill next turned quack, and applied himself to the preparation of various herb medicines, such as ‘the essence of waterdock,’ ‘tincture of valerian,’ ‘pectoral balsam of honey,’ and ‘tincture of bardana,’ by the sale of which he made considerable sums of money. Through Bute he obtained the appointment of superintendent of the Royal Gardens at Kew; the grant, however, does not appear to have been confirmed. He died of gout, a disease for which he professed to have an invaluable specific, on 21 Nov. 1775, in Golden Square, and was buried at Denham. Hill was a versatile man of unscrupulous character, with considerable abilities, great perseverance, and unlimited impudence. On the king asking Johnson what he thought of Dr. Hill, Johnson answered that ‘he was an ingenious man, but had no veracity,’ adding that he was ‘a very curious observer, and if he would have been contented to tell the world no more than he knew he might have been a very considerable man, and needed not to have recourse to such mean expedients to raise his reputation’ (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ii. 38–9). Recklessly extravagant in his style of living, Hill was ‘in a chariot one month, in jail the next for debt’ (Whiston MS. quoted in Nichol's Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 724). The greater number of his books, many of which were published anonymously or under a pseudonym, are mere trashy compilations. Some of his botanical works, however, did good service in their day, and the first Linnæan flora of Britain was due to Hill (Jackson, Guide to the Literature of Botany, xxxvi).
Hill was a justice of the peace for Westminster, a ‘member of the Imperial Academy,’ and a ‘fellow of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Bordeaux.’ According to Walpole he was at one time earning ‘fifteen guineas a week by working for wholesale dealers,’ and on the accession of George III was ‘made gardener of Kensington, a place worth two thousand pounds a year’ (Walpole, Letters, Cunningham's edit. iii. 372–3). Whiston records that ‘he was forbid Chelsea garden for making too free with it’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 724). Hill's own gardens at Bayswater, where he cultivated the plants from which he prepared his quack medicines, covered the site of Lancaster Gate.
Hill married twice. His first wife, whom he married quite early in life, was a Miss Travers, the daughter of Lord Burlington's household steward. His second wife was the Hon. Henrietta Jones, sister of Charles, fourth viscount Ranelagh. She survived her husband, and in 1788 wrote ‘An Address to the Public … setting forth the consequences of the late Sir John Hill's acquaintance with the Earl of Bute,’ in which she attributed the loss of her husband's fortune and health to Bute.
Hill contributed many articles to the ‘Supplement to Mr. Chambers's Cyclopædia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences’ (1753), which was edited by George Lewis Scott. The authorship of Mrs. Glasse's ‘Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy,’ published anonymously in 1747, has been frequently, though erroneously, attributed to him [see Glasse, Hannah]. The British Museum possesses several satirical prints containing allusions to Hill (Cat. of Prints and Drawings, 1877, vol. iii. pt. ii. Nos. 3183, 3184, 3185, 3187, 3212, 3213, and 3279). His portrait was painted by F. Cotes in 1757, and engraved by R. Houston.
Hill's separate publications were: 1. ‘Orpheus, an Opera,’ London, 1740, fol. 2. ‘An answer to the … lyes advanc'd by Mr. John Rich, Harlequin; and contain'd in a Pamphlet, which he … calls an Answer to Mr. Hill's Preface to Orpheus,’ London, 1740, 8vo. 3. ‘Θεοφράστου τοῦ Ἐρεσίου περὶ τῶν λίθων βιβλίον. Theophrastus's History of Stones. With an English version, and … Notes. … By John Hill. To which are added two Letters … on the Colours of the Sapphire and Turquoise, and … upon the effects of different Menstruums on Copper &c.,’ London, 1746, 8vo; in Greek and English; second edition enlarged, London, 1774, 8vo. 4. ‘A Complete History of Drugs. Written in French by … Pomet. … To which is added what is farther observable on the same subject from … Lemery and Tournefort, divided into three classes: vegetable, animal, and mineral. … Illustrated with … copper-cuts. … Done into English. … The fourth edition … corrected with … additions,’ London, 1748, 4to; in two parts. 5. ‘History of Fossils,’ London, 1748, fol. 6. ‘A General Natural History; or Descriptions of the Animals, Vegetables, and Minerals of the different parts of the World. … Including the History of the Materia Medica, Pictoria, and Tinctoria of the present and earlier ages. As also … a series of critical enquiries into the Materia Medica of the Ancient Greeks,’ London, 1748–52, fol., 3 vols. 7. ‘The Actor; a Treatise on the Art of Playing,’ &c., London, 1750, 12mo. 8. ‘Lucina sine concubitu. A Letter humbly address'd to the Royal Society,’ &c.; the third edition, London, 1750, 8vo, signed ‘Abraham Johnson;’ translated into French, London, 1750, 8vo; reprinted in vol. i. of ‘Fugitive Pieces on Various Subjects by several authors,’ editions 1761, 1762, 1765, 1771. 9. ‘A Dissertation on Royal Societies. In Three Letters from a Nobleman on his Travels to a Person of Distinction in Sclavonia,’ &c., London, 1750, 8vo. 10. ‘A Review of the Works of the Royal Society of London, containing animadversions on such of the papers as deserve particular observation,’ &c., London, 1751, 4to; second edition, London, 1780, 4to. 11. ‘A History of the Materia Medica,’ &c., London, 1751, 4to. 12. ‘The Œconomy of Human Life. Part the Second. Translated from an Indian Manuscript, found soon after that which contain'd the original of the first part; and written by the same hand. In a second letter from an English Gentleman residing at China to the Earl of ***,’ London, 1751, 12mo. The first part was written by the Earl of Chesterfield, but the authorship of the second part is ascribed to Hill by Whiston. See ‘Notes and Queries,’ 1st ser. x. 8, 74, 318. The book passed through a great number of editions. 13. ‘The Adventures of Mr. George Edwards, a creole;’ the second edition, London, 1751, 12mo; another edition, London, 1788, 8vo. 14. ‘The History of a Woman of Quality; or the Adventures of Lady Frail [i.e. Anne, viscountess Vane]. By an impartial hand,’ London, 1751, 12mo. 15. ‘Letters from the Inspector to a Lady, with the Genuine Answers. Both printed verbatim from the originals,’ London, 1752, 8vo. 16. ‘Essays in Natural History and Philosophy, containing a series of discoveries by the assistance of microscopes,’ London, 1752, 8vo; translated into Dutch, Haarlem, 1753, 8vo. 17. ‘The Inspector,’ London, 1753, 12mo, 2 vols. 18. ‘The Conduct of a Married Life; laid down in a series of Letters, written by the Hon. Juliana Susanah Seymour, to a young lady, her relation, lately married,’ London, 1753, 12mo. 19. ‘The Story of Elizabeth Canning considered. With remarks on what has been called a clear state of her case by Mr. Fielding,’ &c., London, 1753, 8vo. 20. ‘Observations on the Greek and Roman Classics, in a series of Letters to a Young Nobleman,’ &c., London, 1753, 8vo. 21. ‘The Critical Minute; a Farce,’ London, 1754. 22. ‘Urania; or a Compleat View of the Heavens, containing the Ancient and Modern Astronomy in form of a Dictionary,’ &c., London, 1754, 4to. 23. ‘Thoughts concerning God and Nature, in answer to a book written by the late Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke,’ 1755, 4to. 24. ‘The Actor; or a Treatise on the Art of Playing. A new work written by the author of the former,’ &c., London, 1755, 12mo. 25. ‘The Useful Family Herbal; or an Account of all … English Plants … remarkable for their Virtues and of Drugs … and their Uses. … With an introduction, containing Directions for … Preserving … Herbs … and Receipts for Making … Distilled Waters, … and an Appendix;’ the second edition, London, 1755, 8vo; another edition with coloured plates, Bungay, 1812, 8vo; other editions published at Bungay, 1820 (?) and 1822. 26. ‘The British Herbal; an History of Plants and Trees natives of Britain, cultivated for use or raised for beauty,’ London, 1756, fol. 27. ‘The Naval History of Britain … to the conclusion of the year 1756. Compiled [by J. Hill] from the papers of Captain George Berkley, and illustrated with sea-charts,’ &c., London, 1756, fol. 28. ‘Eden, or a Compleat Body of Gardening. … Compiled and digested from the papers of the late Mr. Hale by the authors of the Compleat Body of Husbandry,’ &c., London, 1757, fol., in 59 numbers. 29. ‘The Sleep of Plants and Cause of Motion in the Sensitive Plant explain'd in a Letter to C. Linnæus,’ &c., London, 1757, 12mo; second edition, London, 1762, 8vo; translated into French by M. A. Eidous, Paris, 1773, 8vo; also translated into German and Italian. 30. ‘The Construction of the Nerves and Causes of Nervous Disorders practically explained, &c. By Christian Uvedale, M.D.,’ London, 1758, 8vo. 31. ‘The Virtues of Wild Valerian in Nervous Disorders,’ &c., London, 1758, 8vo; third edition, London, 1758, 8vo; twelfth edition, London, 1772, 8vo. 32. ‘An Idea of a Botanical Garden in England,’ &c., London, 1758, 8vo. 33. ‘The Fabrick of the Eye,’ London, 1758, 8vo. 34. ‘The Management of the Gout. By a Physician, from his own case. With the virtues of an English plant, Bardana, not regarded in the present practice, but safe and effectual in alleviating that disease. By George Crine, M.D.,’ London, 1758, 8vo. 35. ‘An Account of a Stone in the possession of the Right Honourable the Earl of Strafford, which on being watered produces excellent mushrooms. With the History of the Iolithos, or Violet Stone of the Germans,’ London, 1758, 8vo. 36. ‘The Book of Nature; or the History of Insects … illustrated with copperplates. … With the Life of the Author [Jan Swammerdam] by H. Boerhaave’ [translated, with notes, by Hill], London, 1758, fol.; in two parts. 37. ‘The Rout; a Farce of Two Acts’ [in prose], London, 1758, 8vo; second edition, London, 1758, 8vo. 38. ‘A Method of Producing Double Flowers from Single, by a regular course of culture,’ London, 1758, 8vo; second edition, London, 1759, 8vo. 39. ‘The Gardener's New Kalendar; divided according to the twelve months of the year. … Containing the whole practice of gardening. … The system of Linnæus … also explained,’ &c., London, 1758, 8vo. 40. ‘Outlines of a System of Vegetable Generation,’ London, 1758, 8vo; translated into German and Dutch. 41. ‘To David Garrick, Esq. The Petition of I. in behalf of herself and her sisters,’ London, 1759, 8vo. 42. ‘Practice of Gardening, explained to all capacities,’ London, 1759, 8vo. 43. ‘Exotic Botany illustrated, in thirty-five figures of curious … plants; explaining the sexual system, and tending to give some new lights into the vegetable philosophy,’ London, 1759, fol.; second edition, London, 1772, fol. 44. ‘Cautions against the immoderate use of Snuff. Founded on the known qualities of the Tobacco Plant … and enforced by instances of persons who have perished … of diseases occasioned … by its use,’ London, 1759, 8vo. 45. ‘The Virtues of Honey in preventing many of the worst disorders,’ &c., London, 1759, 8vo; third edition, London, 1760, 8vo; another edition, London, 1784, 12mo. 46. ‘The Usefulness of Knowledge of Plants; illustrated in various instances relating to medicines, husbandry, arts, and commerce, &c.,’ London, 1759, 8vo. 47. ‘Observations on the account given of the Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors of England, &c., in article vi. of the Critical Review, No. xxxv. for December 1758’ [1759?]. Horace Walpole, writing to Gray in February 1759, resents Hill's alliance in this book (Letters, 1857, iii. 209). 48. ‘Of the Origin and Production of Proliferous Flowers,’ &c., London, 1759, 8vo; second edition, London, 1759, 8vo; translated into German and Dutch. 49. ‘The Vegetable System, … or a series of … observations tending to explain the internal structure and the life of the Plants,’ &c., London, 1759–75, fol., 26 vols.; second edition, London, 1770–5, fol., 26 vols.; another edition of vol. i., London, 1762, 8vo. 50. ‘Flora Britanica, sive synopsis methodica stirpium Britanicarum post tertiam editionem Synopseos Raianæ … nunc primum ad … C. Linnæi methodum disposita,’ London, 1760, 8vo. 51. ‘Hillii Envcleata Observatio Microscopica Decima et Sexta,’ appended to ‘Jacobi Theodori Kleinii … dubia circa Plantarvm Marinarvm Fabricam Vermicvlosam cum tribus tabvlis,’ Petropoli, 1760, 4to. 52. ‘Botanical Tracts. By Dr. Hill. … Publish'd at various times. Now first collected together,’ London, 1762, 8vo. 53. ‘On the Virtues of Sage in Lengthening Human Life. With rules to attain old age,’ &c., London , 8vo. 54. ‘Centaury, the Great Stomachic, in preference to all other Bitters, in that it gives appetite and digestion,’ &c., London, 1765, 8vo; translated into French, London, 1770, 8vo. 55. ‘The Old Man's Guide to Health and Longer Life …;’ fifth edition, London, 1764, 8vo; sixth edition, London, 1771, 8vo. 56. ‘Hypochondriasis; a practical treatise on the nature and cure of that disorder, commonly called the hyp and hypo,’ London, 1766, 8vo. 57. ‘A Method of Curing Jaundice and other disorders of the Liver, by the herb Agrimony, taken in the manner of Tea. … Second edition, … with a figure of the plant,’ &c., London, 1768, 8vo. 58. ‘Polypody. The ancient doctrine of the virtues of that herb, tried and confirmed,’ London, 1768, 8vo. 59. ‘Hortus Kewensis; sistens herbas exoticas, indigenasque rariores, in area botanica … apud Kew cultas,’ London, 1768, 8vo; editio secunda, aucta, London, 1769, 8vo. 60. ‘The Family Practice of Physic; or a plain … method of curing diseases with the plants of our own country,’ &c., London, 1769, 8vo. 61. ‘Herbarium Britannicum exhibens plantas Britanniæ indigenas, secundum methodum floralem novam digestas, cum historia, descriptione,’ &c., London, 1769–70, 8vo, 2 vols. 62. ‘The Construction of Timber from its early growth, explained by the Microscope and proved from experiments,’ &c., London, 1770, fol. and 8vo; second edition, London, 1774, fol. 63. ‘The Gardener's Pocket-book, or Country Gentleman's Recreation, &c. By R. S., Gent.,’ London [1770?], 12mo. 64. ‘The Management of the Gout in diet, exercise, and temper; with the virtues of Burdock Root. … Eighth edition,’ &c., London, 1771, 8vo. 65. ‘Virtues of British Herbs, with the history, description, and figures of the several kinds. … The fourth edition, with additions Nos. I. II.,’ London, 1771, 8vo; another edition, Nos. I–III., London, 1771–2, 8vo, in two parts.
- ‘Cautions against the use of violent Medicines in Fevers; and instances of the Virtue of Petasite Root,’ &c., London, 1771, 8vo.
- ‘Fossils arranged according to their obvious Character, with their History and Description,’ &c., London, 1771, 8vo.
- ‘Sparogenesia; or the Origin and Nature of Spar,’ London, 1772, 8vo.
- ‘Twenty-five new Plants, rais'd in the Royal Garden at Kew: their History and Figures,’ London, 1773, fol.
- ‘A Decade of Curious Insects, … shewn in their natural size, and as they appear enlarg'd before the lucernal Microscope, … with their History, Characters, … and Places of Abode, on ten quarto plates [coloured], and their explanations,’ &c., London, 1773, 4to.
- ‘A Decade of Curious … Trees and Plants. … Accurately engraved; with their History … in English and Latin,’ London, 1773, fol.; translated into Italian, 1786.
- ‘Plain and Useful Directions for those who are afflicted with Cancers. … With an Account of the Vienna Hemlock, with which Dr. Stork did so great good in cancers. And a History of some absolute cures performed by the English herb Cleavers, communicated … by a Lady of Quality [the Countess Dowager of Stafford],’ &c., London, 1773, 8vo.
- ‘Horti Malabarici pars prima … Nunc primum classium, generum, et specierum characteres Linnæanas, synonyma authorum, atque observationes addidit, et indice Linnæano adauxit J. Hill,’ London, 1774, 4to. No more of this edition of Draakestein's book was published.
- ‘Enquiries into the Nature of a new Mineral Acid discovered in Sweden, and of the Stone from which it is obtained; to which is annexed an Idea of an artificial arrangement, and of a natural method of Fossils,’ London, 1775, 8vo; in two parts.
- ‘Circumstances which preceded the Letters to the Earl of —— [Mexborough?] and may tend to a discovery of the Author,’ London, 1775, 8vo.
- ‘The Power of Waterdock against the Scurvy. … Tenth edition’ [with plates], London, 1777, 8vo.
The following works have also been attributed to Hill:
- ‘A Complete Body of Husbandry,’ fol. and 8vo, 4 vols.
- ‘The History of Botany,’ &c., 4to.
- ‘Tracts, Medical and Botanical,’ 4 vols.
- ‘Orchides,’ fol.
- ‘A History of the Aggregates on Cluster-headed Plants,’ &c., fol.
- Two pamphlets on the State Papers, and other matters respecting the revolution in Sweden.
- ‘Travels in the East,’ 8vo, 2 vols.
- ‘The History of Mr. Lovell; a Novel.’
[Short Account of the Life, Writings, and Character of the late Sir John Hill, M.D., 1779; Sir John Hawkins's Life of Samuel Johnson, 1787, pp. 211–13; Boswell's Life of Johnson (G. B. Hill's edition), ii. 38–9, iii. 285, iv. 113; Davies's Life of Garrick, 1808, i. 359–61; Murphy's Life of Garrick, 1801, i. 209–10, 291–2, 327–9; Drake's Essays, 1810, ii. 238–45; D'Israeli's Calamities and Quarrels of Authors, 1859, pp. 362–76; Lawrence's Life of Henry Fielding, 1855, pp. 304–7, 326; Donaldson's Agricultural Biography, 1854, p. 55; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, 1812, ii. 379–80, 724, iii. 732, vi. 89; Chambers's Book of Days, ii. 601–4; Baker's Biog. Dramat., 1812, i. 341–8; Dilly's Repository, 1783, iv. 1–67; Gent. Mag. 1751 xxi. 47, 69–71, 1752 xxii. 28–9, 47, 387, 568–70, 599, 601, 1753 xxiii. 55, 109–10, 1759 xxix. 36–7, 1771 xli. 569, 1774 xliv. 282, 1775 xlv. 551, 1819 vol. lxxxix. pt. i. p. 301; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, 1789, iv. 304; Townsend's Catalogue of Knights, 1828, p. 94; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 127, 198, viii. 206, xi. 30, 52, 198, 3rd ser. vi. 37, vii. 55, 4th ser. i. 453, 6th ser. i. 356, 406, 7th ser. vii. 168, 253; Pritzel's Thesaurus Lit. Bot. 1872, p. 144; Jackson's Guide to the Literature of Botany (Index Soc. Publ. 1880, No. viii.); Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Bohn's Lowndes; Brit. Mus. Cat.]