Wagstaffe, William (DNB00)

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WAGSTAFFE, WILLIAM, M.D. (1685–1725), physician, was born at Cublington in Buckinghamshire, of which his father, a younger son of the ancient family of his name, seated at Knightcote in Warwichshire, was rector. He was nearly related to Sir Joseph Wagstaffe [q. v.] and to the Colonel Wagstaffe who was prominent at the retaking of the close of Lichfield Cathedral. He went to school at Northampton, and in 1701 entered at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. on 16 June 1704 and M.A. on 5 May 1707. He left Oxford in 1707 and went to live in London, where his relative Thomas Wagstaffe [q. v.], the nonjuror, carried on a practice of physic, which, as it was based on academical training and extensive reading, and was undertaken from a necessity due to a fidelity to conscience, was not interfered with by the College of Physicians, which then had power to stop all unlicensed practice. William Wagstaffe acquired a taste for medical studies, and married Thomas Wagstaffe's daughter, who died soon afterwards. He married, secondly, the daughter of Charles Bernard [q. v.], surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and graduated M.B. and M.D. as a grand compounder at Oxford on 8 July 1714. He was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians on 22 Dec. 1718, and was a censor in 1720. He became reader on anatomy to the Barber-Surgeons on 15 Dec. 1715, and, on the death of Dr. Salisbury Cade, was on 29 Dec. 1720 elected physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He published in 1722 ‘A Letter showing the Danger and Uncertainty of inoculating the Small Pox,’ and edited, with a preface, the anatomical manual of James Drake [q. v.], entitled ‘Anthropologia Nova.’ He was a lover of good company, and, spending more time in society than in study, became impoverished and, in consequence, melancholy. In March 1725 he obtained formal leave of absence from St. Bartholomew's (Original Minute-book), and went to Bath for his health. He died there on 5 May 1725.

‘The Miscellaneous Works of Dr. William Wagstaffe’ was published in October 1725 (cf. Mist's Journal, 16 Oct.). A second edition appeared in 1726. The pieces had appeared separately, and have sufficient literary merit in the opinion of Charles Wentworth Dilke (Papers of a Critic) to justify a conjecture that Swift was their real author. Sir Henry Craik, in his ‘Life of Swift’ (chap. xi.), holds Dilke's hypothesis to be almost irresistible. The Rev. Whitwell Elwin has, on the other hand, expressed an opinion that the evidence contained in the volume, and confirmed by contemporary records, proves that the true author is the one named on the title-page. ‘A Commentary on the History of Tom Thumb,’ the first piece, is written to ridicule the two numbers of the ‘Spectator’ which praise Chevy Chase. ‘Crispin, the Cobbler's Confutation,’ is an attack on Benjamin Hoadly (1676–1761) [q. v.], and ‘The Representation of the Loyal Subjects of Albinia’ on Marlborough. ‘The Character of Richard Steele’ was written to support Queen Anne's last ministry, and attacks violently numerous passages in the ‘Englishman’ and its editor (Steele himself credited Swift with this piece; cf. Aitken, Life of Steele, i. 415). ‘A Letter from the Facetious Dr. Andrew Tripe at Bath’ is an attack on John Woodward [q. v.] after his encounter with Richard Mead [q. v.] Wagstaffe had no personal enmity against Steele, whom he did not know by sight. Daniel Turner [q. v.], who had met him in consultation, praises his honesty and good nature (Physician's Legacy Surveyed, p. 2). He was a friend of John Freind [q. v.], and had probably met Swift at Charles Bernard's (Journal to Stella). He applauded Sacheverell, and was a high churchman and a hater of the whigs.

[Works, 1725, with a biographical preface, which contains evidence that Henry Levett [q. v.], one of the physicians to St. Bartholomew's, was its author; Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 59; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 323–7; St. Bartholomew's Hospital manuscript Minute-book; Norman Moore's Letter on Wagstaffe in Athenæum, 10 June 1882.]

N. M.