Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Poole, Robert

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POOLE, ROBERT (1708–1752), medical and theological writer, was born in 1708, but his parentage cannot be traced. Nearly all that can be found out about this singular man is derived from his own writings. He states that after studying some years in the [‘Congregational Fund’] academy of arts and sciences under Professor Eames [see Eames, John], and attending some courses of anatomy under Dr. Nichols, professor of anatomy at Oxford, and of chemistry under Dr. Pemberton, professor of physic at Gresham College, he entered (2 March 1738) as a physician's pupil at St. Thomas's Hospital, where he followed the practice chiefly of Dr. Wilmot. His studies continued about three years, and in May 1741 he set out on a journey to France, his chief object being to obtain a degree in medicine from the university of Rheims. On 15 July 1741, after one day's examination in Latin, he received his diploma, and, having visited the hospitals in Paris and studied there, returned by way of Holland to his home at Islington after three months' absence. He would seem subsequently to have practised as a physician, for on the foundation of the Middlesex Infirmary (afterwards the Middlesex Hospital) in 1745 he became physician to the institution, but resigned in October 1746, when the constitution of the infirmary was altered (see Erasmus Wilson, History of the Middlesex Hospital, 1845, pp. xiv, 3, 182). He was appointed in 1746 physician to the small-pox hospital, which he had assisted to found, but resigned this office in 1748.

Poole's medical career was not a long one, for in October 1748 he embarked on a voyage to Gibraltar and the West Indies, chiefly, it would seem, for the sake of his health, and visited Barbados, Antigua, and other islands. In June 1749 he was attacked with fever. His diary, which is minutely kept, ends on 6 July. He returned home, however, since he was buried at Islington on 3 June 1752 (Lysons, Environs of London, 1795, iii. 158). The journals of this voyage were published after his death, under the title of ‘The Beneficent Bee,’ with an anonymous preface which ends with these words: ‘The present and eternal happiness of his fellow-creatures was his principal concern, and he spent his fortune, his health, nay, even his life, in order to promote it.’ These words indicate Poole's high character and aims. He was not only a physician, but a religious enthusiast, who, as a friend and follower of George Whitfield, was not ashamed of being called a methodist. During his hospital studies and on his travels he busied himself in religious exhortation and in distributing good books. His professional life was too short to be productive. He was a most industrious student and an indefatigable taker of notes, but evidently by his private fortune independent of his profession. He appears not to have been married, and never belonged to the College of Physicians. His portrait, a mezzotint by J. Faber after Augustus Armstrong, is prefixed to his first volume of travels. It gives his age, in 1743, as thirty-five.

Poole's writings form two groups. The first group were published with the pseudonym of Theophilus Philanthropos. They are as follows, all being printed at London in 8vo. The editions mentioned are those in the British Museum.

  1. ‘A Friendly Caution, or the first Gift of Theophilus Philanthropos,’ 1740.
  2. ‘The Christian Muse, or Second Gift of Theophilus Philanthropos,’ 2nd edit. 1740. This is in verse.
  3. ‘The Christian Convert, or the Third Gift of Theophilus Philanthropos,’ 1740.
  4. ‘A Token of Christian Love, or the Fourth Gift of Theophilus Philanthropos,’ 1740.
  5. ‘A Physical Vade-mecum, or Fifth Gift of Theophilus Philanthropos,’ 1741.
  6. ‘Seraphic Love tendered to the Immortal Soul, or the Sixth Gift of Theophilus Philanthropos,’ 4th edit. 1740.

The first four ‘Gifts’ and the sixth are all of the same kind, being short books or tracts of an edifying and devotional character. They are adorned with extraordinary allegorical frontispieces, engraved on copper, in some of which the author's portrait is introduced. These tracts were on sale at 8d. or 1s. each, but were also to be had, if desired, gratis, with a small charge for binding, being evidently meant also for private distribution. The fifth ‘Gift’ is entirely different. It contains a full description of St. Thomas's Hospital in his time, its buildings, arrangements, and staff, with a complete copy of the ‘Dispensatory’ or pharmacopœia of that hospital, as well as of those of St. Bartholomew's and Guy's Hospitals. Drawn up with great care, it is an important historical memorial of hospital affairs and medical practice in the eighteenth century. This also has, in some copies, a curious allegorical frontispiece, and in one copy we have found the portrait of the author. The authorship of these works is established not only by the dedications and other personal details, but by allusions to them in the acknowledged works of the author.

The works published in Poole's own name are: 1. ‘A Journey from London to France and Holland, or the Traveller's Useful Vade-mecum, by R. Poole, Dr. of Physick,’ vol. i. 2nd edit. London, 1746; vol. ii. 1750. This work contains a minute journal of the author's travels, with interesting remarks on the Paris hospitals, freely interspersed with religious and moral reflections. The bulk is made out with a French grammar, a sort of gazetteer of Europe, and other information for travellers. 2. ‘The Beneficent Bee, or Traveller's Companion: a Voyage from London to Gibraltar, Barbados, Antigua, &c., by R. Poole, M.D.,’ London, 1753. This is a traveller's journal of the same character as the former. All Poole's works display minute accuracy, a thirst for information of all kinds, and a passion for statistics, besides the personal characteristics already mentioned.

[Poole's Works; cf. a fuller account of some of them by Dr. W. S. Church in St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, xx. 279, and xxi. 232; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 77.]

J. F. P.