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NATURAL HISTORY, AND THE FINE ARTS.
MEMOIR OF SIR HANS SLOANE, BART.,
FOUNDER OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
A SKETCH of the useful life of this illustrious physician and naturalist, cannot but be acceptable to our readers, at a time when the proposed improvements in the British Museum, detailed in the recent report of the committee of inquiry, form the general topic of conversation in the scientific and literary circles of the day. It has been compiled principally from contemporary writers whose authenticity may be relied on.
Sir Hans Sloane, Bart., was the son of Alexander Sloane, who was placed at the head of a colony of Scots which James I. settled in the north of Ireland, and the subject of this biographical sketch was born, on the 16th of April, 1660, at Killileagh, in that district. He discovered a strong inclination for natural history, even in his infancy, and devoted those hours generally employed by young persons in trifling pursuits, to the study of nature, and the admiration of her multiform and attractive productions. At 1} age of sixteen, he was seized with a spitting of blood, which inter rupted the regular course of his studies, and confined him to his chamber for three years. He had already acquired enough of the healing art to know that such a malady was not to be suddenly cured ; and his prudence directed him to abstain from any stimulant that might tend to increase the disorder. By a strict regimen adopted at this time, and which he afterwards always observed, he was enabled to prolong his life beyond the ordinary bounds assigned to the age of man; being himself an example of the truth of his favourite maxim, “ That sobriety, temperance, and moderation, are the best preservatives, and the most powerful that Nature has vouchsafed to mankind.”
He had scarcely recovered from his first attack when his desire to pursue his medical studies (the profession he had selected) induced him to visit London, for the purpose of obtaining advantages in this way which he could not hope to find in Ireland. Soon after his arrival he placed himself with Stafforth, the first chemist of the day, who was brought up under the illustrious Stahl; and by his instructions he became perfectly acquainted with the nature and preparation of the various articles which formed the materia medica of that period. He also studied botany at the Apothecaries' Gar. den, Chelsea, which had been opened in 1673, for the benefit of young students. He attended all the public lectures on anatomy and medicine then given in the metropolis, and neglected nothing which had any reference, however remotely, to the profession in which he had embarked.
But he was no less distinguished as a naturalist than as a physician. His enthusiasm for this interesting study introduced him to the acquaintance of Mr. Boyle and Mr. Ray, and to them be communicated every striking fact or object of curiosity that came under his observation. His intimacy with these two great men continued till their death, and his remarks often excited their wonder, and obtained their unqualified approbation. After four years intense study in London, Mr. Sloane resolved to visit foreign countries, for further improvement. With this view he set out for France, accompanied by two other students. Having been at Paris, where he attended the lectures of the celebrated Tournefort, and other emi. nent professors, and visited the literati and the scientific, he directed his steps to Montpellier, where he spent a whole year in collecting plants, and in pursuing his botanical studies. He returned to England in 1684, with the intention of pursuing the medical profession, at the early age of twenty-four. Immediately on his arri. val he visited his illustrious friends Mr. Boyle and Mr. Ray, and to the latter he transmitted a variety of plants and seeds, which this author has described in his Historia Plantarum, with proper acknowledgements.
Soon after his return from abroad, Mr. Sloane was elected a Fel. low of the Royal Society, and, in the year 1687, of the College of Physicians. This last election happened on a very extraordinary occasion, of which we think it worth while to give a short notice. At a meeting of the Society on the 19th of October, 1685, the president, Sir Thomas Witherley, one of the king's physicians, having acquainted them that a writ of quo warranto was to issue against their charter in the next term, it was put to the vote and carried nem. con., that the College should themselves deliver up their charter into his Majesty's hands; which surrender was subscribed by all the Fellows. On the 29th of March, 1686, the president acquainted the College it was his Majesty's pleasure that the number of Fellows should be increased from forty to sixty or eighty; and on the 12th of April, 1687, the Diploma of King James II. was brought to the College, and solemnly accepted by the Society, and thirty new Fellows were that day admitted, among whom were Dr. Hans Sloane, afterwards the founder of the British Museum, and Dr. John Radcliffe, the founder of the celebrated library at Oxford. Dr. Sloane, some time afterwards, took an opportunity of bearing witness to Dr. Radcliffe's great merit as a physician. In order to express his utter contempt of those who seek to depreciate the talents of their contemporaries, he observes, in the Introduction to the second volume of The Natural History of Jamaica, that such shallow persons would “needs persuade him that Dr. Radcliffe could not cure a disease, because he had seen a recipe of his where the word pilula was spelled with two ls.”
When only in his twenty-eighth year, Sir Hans Sloane accom. panied the Duke of Albemarle on his appointment to the government of the island of Jamaica, in the quality of physician, being chiefly induced by his attachment to natural history to undertake a voyage which wos not thought, at that time, to be altogether free from danger. As he was the first man of learning whom the love of science alone had led from England to that part of the globe, and was, besides, of an age when both activity of body and ardour of mind concur to vanquish difficulties, his travels were eminently successful. To say nothing of the other curiosities with which he enriched his native country, he brought home from Jamaica and the adjacent islands at which he touched, no fewer than 800 different species of plants; a number much greater than had ever been previously imported into England by any individual. His stay in Jamaica did not exceed fifteen months, when the governor and the doctor returned home, and settled in London. His friend Mr. Ray was astonished at the results of his science and industry. “When I first saw,” says Mr. Ray, “ the author's stock of dried plants collected in Jamaica and some of the Caribbee Islands, I was surprised at the great variety of capillary plants, not thinking there had been so many to be found in both the Indies.”