Johnston, Nathaniel (DNB00)
JOHNSTON, NATHANIEL, M.D. (1627–1705), physician, was eldest son of John Johnston (d. 1657), by Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Hobson of Usflete, Yorkshire. The father, a native of Scotland (cf. pedigree in Dugdale, Visit. of Yorkshire, 1665, Surtees Soc., p. 6), lived for some time at Reedness in Yorkshire, and, according to Hunter (Thoresby, Diary, i. 39 n.), afterwards became rector of Sutton-on-Derwent. Nathaniel was born in 1627, and had a brother, Henry [q. v.] (d. 1723), who is noticed separately. Nathaniel is probably the Nathaniel Johnston who was received into the third class in St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, in 1647. He proceeded M.D. from King's College, Cambridge, in 1656; was created a fellow of the College of Physicians by the charter of James II, and was admitted on 12 April 1687. He practised at Pontefract, but paid more attention to the antiquities and natural history of Yorkshire than to his profession. Thoresby first made Johnston's acquaintance at Pontefract on 26 Feb. 1682, when Johnston not only gave him good advice as to his health and encouragement in his studies, but, Thoresby adds, ‘was pleased to adopt me his son as to antiquities’ (Thoresby, Diary, i. 39). Thoresby was thenceforth a great friend and correspondent of Johnston. Johnston fell out of practice, moved to London in 1686, and became a high tory pamphleteer. He lived at first at the Iron balcony in Leicester Street, next Leicester Fields, where Wood dined with him 4 Sept. 1688 (Life in Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. p. cxiii). The revolution deprived him of all hope of preferment. Thoresby (Diary, i. 301), writing on 27 May 1695, says that he ‘walked to the Savoy; visited poor Dr. Johnston, who, by his unhappy circumstances, is little better than buried alive.’ De la Pryme (cited by Hunter, ib. i. 39 n.) notes in his ‘Diary’ (11 Nov. 1696): ‘Dr. Johnston, after thirty years' labour in writing his history of Yorkshire, gives us now some hopes to see it brought to light. The Doctor is exceeding poor; and one chief thing that has made him so was this great undertaking of his. He has been forced to skulk a great many years, and now he lives privately with the Earl of Peterborough, who maintains him. He dare not let it be openly known where he is.’ Johnston had left most of his curiosities at Pontefract, where Thoresby saw them, badly preserved, 8 April 1703. He died in London in 1705. He owned at the time a great house and other properties at Pontefract and in the neighbourhood, which were sold by order of the court of chancery in 1707 (London Gazette, No. 4317). Johnston married in 1653 Anne, daughter of Richard Cudworth of Eastfield, Yorkshire, and had four sons, and a daughter, Anne; of the sons, the eldest, Cudworth, attained some eminence as a physician in York, and died before his father in 1692. Cudworth's son, Pelham Johnston, (d. 1765), graduated M.D. at Cambridge in 1728, was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians of London in 1732, practised in London, and died at Westminster 10 Aug. 1765.
In 1686 Johnston published ‘The Excellency of Monarchical Government,’ a folio of 490 pages, beginning with ancient history, and then discussing the royal power in England and its relation to the power of parliament. He largely followed Hobbes, and, besides much classical learning, shows considerable knowledge of English chroniclers and legal authorities. In 1687, in answer to a pamphlet of Sir William Coventry [q. v.], he issued ‘The Assurance of Abby and other Church Lands in England,’ the object of which is to demonstrate that even if the religious orders were restored in England, the possessors of the church lands confiscated by Henry VIII could not be disturbed. Johnston was answered by John Willes (cf. Fiddes, Cardinal Wolsey, 2nd edit., pp. 392–393; Dodd, Church Hist. i. 569). To defend James II's treatment of Magdalen College, Oxford, he issued on 23 July 1688 ‘The King's Visitatorial Power asserted, being an impartial Relation of the late Visitation of St. Mary Magdalen College in Oxford.’ In order to obtain the necessary information, he corresponded with Obadiah Walker; visited Oxford with Thomas Fairfax, and talked to Anthony à Wood, but his information was chiefly derived from the royal commissioners. In the same year he published a volume of political ‘Enquiries,’ and subsequently ‘The Dear Bargain … the State of the English Nation under the Dutch,’ anon.
For thirty years Johnston studied the antiquities of Yorkshire, and he left over a hundred volumes of collections, written in a very crabbed scrawl, which Thoresby likened to Runic, Drake to Arabic, and Hearne described as a sort of shorthand (cf. Drake, Eboracum, Pref.) Johnston borrowed much from the manuscripts of Roger Dodsworth [q. v.] He intended writing volumes on the model of Dugdale's ‘Warwickshire’ and Plot's ‘Natural History of Staffordshire,’ and proposals for printing his notes were published without result in 1722 by his grandson, the Rev. Henry Johnston, into whose hands his collections passed. Bishop Gibson made some use of the collections in editing Camden's ‘Britannia.’ In the ‘Catalogi MSS. Angliæ’ (Oxford, 1697), ii. 99, is an account of 130 volumes. On Henry Johnston's death in 1755, ninety-seven volumes were purchased by Richard Frank of Campsall, Yorkshire, who allowed John Burton, M.D. [q. v.], to examine them when preparing his ‘Monasticon Eboracense.’ These remain in the possession of Frank's descendant, B. F. Frank, esq., and are calendared in the Historical Manuscripts Commission's 6th Rep. A few other volumes are among the Gough MSS. in the Bodleian Library; the British Museum possesses two (Harl. MS. 6185 and Addit. MS. 18446); but many seem to have been destroyed or stolen.