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Dr John Arbuthnot.
DIED A. D. 1734-5.
John ARBUTHNOT, the son of a clergyman of the episcopal church of Scotland, and allied to the noble family from which he derived his name, was born at Arbuthnot, near Montrose, not long after the Restoration. Having at a proper age entered the university of Aberdeen, he applied himself with diligence to his studies, and ultimately took his doctor's degree. His father, not accommodating himself to the change of affairs at the Revolution, forfeited his living, and retired to a small estate of his own, while John and his brothers were compelled to look to their own exertions for their livelihood. Dr Arbuthnot resolved to push his fortunes in London, where he was hospitably received into the house Mr William Pate, where he resided for some time, and supported himself by teaching the mathematics. While he was thus employed, Dr Woodward, in 1695, published his · Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth ;' a work to which Arbuthnot wrote an answer in 1697, under the title of • An Examination of Dr Woodward's Account of the Deluge,' &c. ; which, considering the imperfect acquaintance at that time with the science of geology, may be accounted a learned performance. It certainly laid the foundation of Arbuthnot's fame, which was much extended by an essay he published in 1700, On the Usefulness of the Mathematics to young students in the universities.' This is a production of very great merit; perhaps there is nothing on the same subject superior to it in our language. Had Dr Arbuthnot written nothing besides, this tract alone would have raised him to a considerable rank in the republic of letters. No person, it has been said, who is unacquainted with the mathematics, can peruse it without being made painfully sensible of the inferiority to which his ignorance depresses him. The advantages which he so convincingly demonstrates to accrue to the mind from mathematical studies, are principally these :-Ist, They induce and confirm a habit of attention. 2d, They accustom to close and demonstrative reasoning. 3d, They emancipate the mind from prejudice, credulity, and superstition. Through the whole, the Doctor manifests his comprehensive learning, and intimate acquaintance with the discoveries which at that time had been made in every part of philosophy. His practice increasing with his reputation, he now became known to many of the most celebrated men of his day, and was, in 1704, elected a fellow of the Royal society, to which a few years after he communicated a paper, which is printed in the Philosophical transactions, entitled, Of the Regularity of the Births of both Sexes. Among the innumerable footsteps, he says, of Divine Providence, there is a very remarkable one to be observed in the exact balance that is maintained between the numbers of men and women. He is of opinion that this equality of births has no probable cause in physics ; and the scholium which he draws from the whole is, that polygamy is contrary to the law of nature, and injurious to the propagation of the human race.
* In this, and a few other instances, we have departed from a rigid adherence to the plan of our work, as expressed in the title; no history of the Augustan age of English literature would have been complete without a notice of Dr Arbuthnot.
In 1705, Prince George of Denmark was suddenly taken ill at Epsom, and Dr Arbuthnot being on the spot, was called to his assistance. The result of his attendance on the prince was his appointment as physician-extraordinary to Queen Anne. In 1709 this appointment was followed by that of fourth physician in ordinary; and in 1710 he was admitted a fellow of the college of physicians. The confidence reposed in him by his royal mistress appears by the terms in which he is spoken of by Swift, who calls him “the queen's favourite physician," and again “ the queen's favourite." Being thus distinguished by his professional abilities, his influence at court, and his literary attainments, Arbuthnot acquired the friendship not only of the leading men of his party, as Harley and Bolingbroke, but that of all the wits and scholars of his time. On Swift's visit to London in 1710, a strict intimacy was formed between them, and soon after Pope was added to the number of his friends.
In the year 1712 appeared the first part of · The History of John Bull, of which it has been justly said, that “ never was a political allegory inanaged with more exquisite humour, or a more skilful adaptation of characters and circumstances.” The doubt entertained respecting the author of this satire, has been dispelled by Swift and Pope, who both distinctly attribute it to Dr Arbuthnot. Pope declares that Arbuthnot was the “ sole author.” The object of this highly humorous production was to throw ridicule upon the splendid achievements of Marlborough, and, if possible, to render the country discontented with the war. Arbuthnot—who was one of that literary phalanx attached to the fortunes of Harley and the tories—was aware how entirely that minister's power depended on a peace with France, and, therefore, he applied all the vigour of his wit to the accomplishment of that end; and there is every reason to believe that the · History of John Bull' was eminently efficacious in forwarding the purposes of the tories. The ingenuity of the story, united to its intelligible, straightforward, comic humour, procured for it a favourable reception everywhere; but to politicians, the exquisite skill of its satire gave it a peculiar relish. After the accession of the house of Hanover, a supplement to the • History' appeared; but it has been doubted whether this is a genuine production of Arbuthnot's pen or not. Some are of opinion that the two first parts, as printed in Swift's works, are all that proceeded from Arbuthnot.
Early in the year 1714 he engaged with Pope and Swift in a design of writing a satire on the abuses of human learning in every branch. The execution of it was to be in the manner of Cervantes, under the history of some feigned adventures. The name by which the intended hero was to be called, was now assigned to that assemblage of wits and learned of which these three formed the nucleus, and it was called the “ Scriblerus club." Harley, Atterbury, Congreve, and Gay, were members. In this brilliant collection of learning and genius, no one was better qualified, both in point of wit and erudition, than Dr Arbuthnot, to promote the object of the society, which was to ridicule the absurdities of false taste in learning, under the character of a man of capacity enough, but 'no judgment, who had industriously dipped
into every art and science. But the prosecution of this noble design, at least in a regular way, was prevented by the queen’s death, which deeply affected Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot, who were all of them warmly attached to Lord Oxford's ministry; and a final period was afterwards put to the project, by the separation and growing infirmities of Dean Swift, by the bad health of Dr Arbuthnot, and other concurring causes. The incomplete essay towards this design, entitled “The first book of the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus,' excites deep regret that its progress should have been checked. “ Polite letters,” says the learned editor of Pope's works,“ never lost more than in the defeat of this scheme; in the execution of which work this illustrious triumvirate would have found exercise for his own peculiar talents, besides constant employment for those they all had in common. Dr Arbuthnot was skilled in every thing which related to science; Mr Pope was a master in the fine arts ; and Dr Swift excelled in the knowledge of the world. Wit they had all in equal measure; and this so large, that no age perhaps ever produced three men to whom nature had more bountifully bestowed it, or in whom art had brought it to higher perfection.” A portion of their labours still survives in three inimitable pieces :—the first book of Martinus Scriblerus;' the · Travels of Gulliver;' and the Art of Sinking in Poetry. Of these, the first book ofScriblerus' was published after the death of Dr Arbuthnot in 1741, in the quarto edition of Pope's prose works; the · Travels of Gulliver' in 1726 ; and the “ Art of Sinking' in the miscellanies of Pope and Swift, in 1727. There seems to be every reason to believe that, of the three pieces above-mentioned, Arbuthnot was the sole author of the first, Swift of the second, and Pope of the third. The Scriblerus has, it is true, been printed in the collected editions of the works both of Swift and Pope; yet the internal evidence is sufficient to prove it the entire production of Arbuthnot, to whom Warton has attributed the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth, and twelfth chapters,
whatever may be determined of the other parts of the memoirs." The medical and antiquarian knowledge displayed in the other chapters, and the ridicule on Dr Woodward in the third, afford strong presumption of their having the same origin as the rest.
The humorous essay concerning the origin of the sciences, which is usually appended to the memoirs of Scriblerus, appears from Spence to be a joint production of Arbuthnot, Pope, and Parnell.
The death of the queen was the finishing blow to the hopes of the tories. Never was the dispersion of a party more complete. Arbuthnot too felt severely the change in his circumstances ; but, even whilst writhing under the painful mortification which usually, or but too frequently, attends a reverse of fortune, his satirical humour and spirit of wit turned the very cause of his pain into objects of diversion. In a letter of condolence to Swift, he thus writes : “I have an opportunity calmly and philosophically to consider that treasure of vileness and baseness that I always believed to be in the heart of man, and to be hold them exert their insolence and baseness ; every new instance, instead of surprising and grieving me, as it does some of my friends really diverts me,--and in a manner proves my theory.”
In a subsequent letter, a still more deplorable account is given of the misfortunes in which the queen's death had involved her courtiers ; “ The queen's poor servants are like so many poor orphans exposed in the streets.” Arbuthnot himself was compelled to quit his apartments in St James' palace, and take a house in Dover street, where he endeavoured to forget his political anxieties in literary occupation. His spirits appear to have suffered considerably at this time, for, in a letter to Pope, dated September 7th, 1714, he says: “I am extremely obliged to you for taking notice of a poor, old, distressed courtier, commonly the most despicable thing in the world. This blow has so roused Scriblerus, that he has recovered his senses, and thinks and talks like other men. From being frolicsome and gay, he is turned grave and morose." This depression of spirits, however, had not given him a distaste for the society of his friends : “ Martin's office,” he adds, “ is now the second door on the left hand in Dover street, where he will be glad to see Dr Parnell, Mr Pope, and his old friends, to whom he can still afford a half-pint of claret.”
Among all the political opponents of the tories, none appear to have incurred greater odium than Burnet, whose honest relation of the history of his own times excited at once the fear and the spleen of his enemies. To ridicule that valuable work, even before its publication, all the literary talent of the tories was put in requisition, and Arbuthnot performed his share of the task; at least, there is a piece printed at the end of his miscellaneous works, which bears evidence, both internal and external, of its being an emanation from the mind of Arbuthnot, and which has for its object the ridicule of the bishop of Sarum. The title runs thus : Notes and Memorandums of the six Days preceding the Death of a Right Reverend containing many Remarkable Passages, with an Inscription designed for his Monument.' Such is its keen and comic humour, that a short extract will probably not be unacceptable to the reader. The personal vanity and egotism of Burnet are thus unmercifully ridiculed :
“Sunday-Wake at four: Reflect on the strange somnations of the night. Remember the saying of Horace, velut ægri somnia ; what have I to do with heathen poets ? the soul must be immortal, but not Dodwell's way. Asgill a fool: no man can be translated but from one see to another : there is some sense in that, verily ! Spectres, pointed fires, headless mortals, visionary elysiums, creatures of the fancy. That part of the dream about walking on a great bridge, and falling from thence into a boundless ocean, where I sunk down and saw at the bottom, Daniel Burgess, William Pen, &c. carries a fine allegory. Nothing at all in it, however. The Lord has more work for me to do still. Call for my man Jonathan. Brings a candle. Fancy Jonathan looks like Death. Say a prayer and a half of my own. Jonathan and I reason thus about death.
“ Mast.-Suppose you are Death, tell me what you would say to me now, Jonathan.
“ Jonath.— I Death I wo Sir, I can't be Death ; nay, I am no relation of his; never saw him in my life, Sir.
“ Mast.—Thou man of carnal understanding and gross ignorance ; thou and every worm (for what is man but a worm ?) art related to him! Life and Death are akin, as much as flesh and corruption : therefore suppose thyself Death, and speak to me in his name.
“ Jonath.-In the name of Death, then, what is it you would have, Sir?
“ Mast-You must say you are come to visit me, and ask me some questions; and I will reply to you. This will fortify my spirits, and make me less afraid of real Death when he approaches.
“ Jonath.-—I come, Sir, to tell you that you have lived long enough, and enjoyed the good things of the world : it is not fit you should live to be a week older: your sense and reason are gone : you are a burden to the earth : repent and come away with me.
66 Mast. That is too much. You should have left out burden of the earth, and those things: I see you don't understand my meaning. No more of this.
“ Jonathan departs. Think of his stupidity. It could not be out of design-he thinks his master mad. Rise at seven. Indisposition in
Send for a list of the Lent preachers : make pishes at some
Will it come to my turn ? St Andrews, a large parish : a great many odd saints' names about this town should be abolished. The alınanacks ought to be corrected. Red letters abomination. Resolve to see nobody to-day. Resolve to drink three quarts of watergruel instead of my tea. Sick, very sick,call for my man: order him to bring the folio in manuscript of my own life and times. Consider what a great name I shall leave behind me. Doctor Wellwood stole his memoir from my conversation. If he has gained a great reputation, I shall certainly. Better than Thuanus. Man brings the book ; begin to read : an excellent preface : very happy at prefaces. Courts of Charles and James : juggling, tricking, mistresses, whores spiritual and temporal; French money, more money ; slavery, popery, arbitrary power, liberty, plots, Italy, Geneva, Rome, Titus Oates, Dangerfield; money again ; peace, war, war, peace; more money. Lay down this book. Reflect how I came to know all this : Lord L-ale, a good deal: R-l a good deal more: the king some.
Conferences with great men : informations : multitudes of pamphlets. Cabinetted twice in one day: absconded a week: appeared again : run away : hactenus hæc: call for dinner: dine alone, with health to friend Benjamin. Hear a knocking at the door : two letters out of the country: one from Geneva. Mem. To answer the latter this night. Ask my man how I look ? answered, Better than when he played the part of Death to me. Sicken immediately after dinner. Fumes 1-want of digestion. Drink a glass of wine. Try to go to sleep in my easy chair : nod a little : wake better. Return to my book : read and drink tea till night: much about myself: vacancies of places; bishopricks, deaneries, livings: new oaths : clergy obstinate: Sherlock alone: South and Sherlock: Fenwick, Collier. Parliament against us.
Tories prevail : miserable times ; preach against them. Interrupted : friend comes in by Jonathan's mistake. Good news, however: all of our side, public justice: no security like it. Talk of indifferent matters. Pity poor LMd Thomas's son. It must be dissolved. Afflictions fall to the righteous : sons are strange giddy things: think of my Tom. Read a page of my book to my friend. He is in raptures. I am much better: talk cheerfully: drink some sack. Clock strikes nine; he goes.
Walk about a little. Feet weak. Giddiness in the head. Call for my quilted cap: look on the glass : cap falls over mine eyes : sad token.
New fears. Mem. To send for a physician in the