Charleton, Walter

, a very learned physician, and voluminous writer, the son of the rev. Walter Charleton, M. A. some time vicar of Ilminster, and afterwards rector of Shepton Mallet, in the county of Somerset, was born at Shepton Mallet, February 2, 1619, and was first educated by his father, a man of extensive capacity, though but indifferently furnished with the goods of fortune. He was afterwards sent to Oxford, and entered of Magdalen Hall in Lent term 1635, where he became the pupil of the famous Dr. John Wilkins, afterwards bishop of Chester, under whom he made great progress in logic and philosophy, and was noted for assiduous application and extensive capacity, which encouraged him to aim at the accomplishments of an universal scholar. But as his circumstances confined him to some particular profession, he made choice of physic, and in a short time made as great a progress in that as he had done in his former studies. On the breaking out of the civil war, which brought the king to Oxford, Mr. Charleton, by the favour of the king, had the degree of doctor of physic conferred upon him in February 1642, and was soon after made one of the physicians in ordinary to his majesty. These honours made him be considered as a rising character, and exposed him to that envy and resentment which he could never entirely conquer. Upon the declension of the royal cause, he came up to London, was admitted of the college of physicians, acquired considerable practice, and lived in much esteem with the ablest and most learned men of the profession; such as sir Francis Prujean, sir George Ent, Dr. William Harvey, and others. In the space of ten years before the Restoration, he wrote and published several very ingenious and learned treatises, as well on physical as other subjects, by which he gained great reputation abroad as well as at home; and though they are now less regarded than perhaps they deserve, yet they were then received with almost universal approbation. He became, as Wood tells us, physician in ordinary to king Charles II. while in exile, which honour he retained after the king’s return; and, upon the founding of the royal society, was chosen one of the first members. Among other patrons and friends were | William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle, whose life Dr. Cliarleton translated into Latin in a very clear and elegant style, and the celebrated Hobbes, but this intimacy, with: his avowed respect for the Epicurean philosophy, drew some suspicions upon him in regard to his religion, notwithstanding the pains he had taken to distinguish between the religious and philosophical opinions of Epicurus in his own writings against infidelity. Few circumstances seem to have drawn more censure on him than his venturing to differ in opinion from the celebrated Inigo Jones respecting Stonehenge, which Jones attributed to the Romans, and asserted to be a temple dedicated by them to the god Coelus, or Coelum; Dr. Charleton referred this antiquity to later and more barbarous times, and transmitted Jones’s book, which was not published till after its author’s death, to Olaus Wormius, who wrote him several letters, tending to fortify him in his own sentiment, by proving that this work ought rather to be attributed to his countrymen the Danes. With this assistance Dr. Charleton drew up a treatise, offering many strong arguments to shew, that this could not be a Roman temple, and several plausible reasons why it ought rather to be considered as a Danish monument; but his book, though learned, and enriched with a great variety of curious observations, was but indifferently received, and but coldly defended by his friends. Jones’s son-in-law answered it with intemperate warmth, and many liberties were taken by others with Dr. Charleton’s character, although sir William Dugdale and some other eminent antiquaries owned themselves to be of our author’s opinion; but it is now supposed that both are wrong. Notwithstanding this clamour, Dr. Charleton’s fame was advanced by his anatomical prelections in the college theatre, in the spring of 1683, and his satisfactory defence of the immortal Harvey’s claim to the discovery of the circulation of the blood, against the pretence that was set up in favour of father Paul. In 1689 he was chosen president of the college of physicians, in which office he continued to the year 1691. A little after this, his circumstances becoming narrow, he found it necessary to seek a retreat in the island of Jersey; but the causes of this are not explained, nor have we been able to discover how long he continued in Jersey, or whether he returned afterwards to London. All that is known with certainty is, that he died in the latter end of 1707, and in the eighty-eighth year | of his age. He appears from his writings to have been a man of extensive learning, a lover of the constitution in church and state, and so much a lover of his country as to refuse a professor’s chair in the university of Padua. In his junior years he dedicated much of his time to the study of philosophy and polite literature, was as well read in the Greek and Roman authors as any man of his time, and he was taught very early by his excellent tutor, bishop Wilkins, to digest his knowledge so as to command it readily when occasion required. In every branch of his own profession he has left testimonies of his diligence and his capacity; and whoever considers the plainness and perspicuity of his language, the pains he has taken to collect and produce the opinions of the old physicians, in order to compare them with the moderns, the just remarks with which these collections and comparisons are attended, the succinctness with which all this is dispatched, and the great accuracy of that method in which his books are written, will readily agree that he was equal to most of his contemporaries. As an antiquary, he had taken much pains in perusing our ancient historians, and in observing their excellencies as well as their defects. But, above all, he was studious of connecting the sciences with each other, and thereby rendering them severally more perfect; in which, if he did not absolutely succeed himself, he had at least the satisfaction of opening the way to others, of showing the true road to perfection, and pointing out the means of applying and making those discoveries useful, which have followed in succeeding times. There is also good reason to believe, that though we have few or none of his writings extant that were composed during the last twenty years of his life, yet he was not idle during that space, but committed many things to paper, as materials at least for other works that he designed. There is now a large collection of his ms papers and letters on subjects of philosophy and natural history in the British Museum. (Ayscough’s Catalogue.) His printed works are, 1 . “Spiritus Gorgonicus vi sua saxipara exutus, sive de causis, signis, et sanatione Lithiaseos,Leyden, 1650, 8vo. This book is usually called De Lithiasi Diatriba. 2. “The darkness of Atheism discovered by the light of nature, a physicotheological treatise,London, 1651, 4to. 3. “The Ephesian and Cimmerian Matrons, two remarkable examples of the power of Love and Wit/ 7 London, 1653 and 1658, 8vo. | 4.” Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charletoniana: or a fabric of natural science erected upon the most ancient hypothesis of atoms,“London, 1654, in fol. 5.” The Immortality of the human Soul demonstrated by reasons natural,“London, 1657, 4to. 6.” Oeconomia Animalis novis Anatomicorum inventis, indeque desumptis modernorum Medicorum Hypothesibus Physicis superstructa et mechanice explicata,“London, 1658, 12mo; Amsterdam, 1659, 12mo; Leyden, 1678, 12mO; Hague, 1681, 12mo. It is likewise added to the last edition of” Gulielmi Cole de secretione animali cogitata.“7.” Natural history of nutrition, life, and voluntary motion, containing all the new discoveries of anatomists,“&c. London, 1658, 4to. 8.” Exercitationes Physico-Anatomicse de Oeconomia Animali,“London, 1659, 8vo printed afterwards several times abroad. 9.” Exercitationes Pathologicæ, in quibus morborum pene omnium natura, generatio, et causae ex novis Anatomicorum inventis sedulo inquiruntur,“London, 160, and 1661, 4to. 10.” Character of his most sacred Majesty Charles II. King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland,“London, 1660, one sheet, 4to. 11.” Disquisitiones duae Anatomico-Physica? altera Anatome pueri de ccelo tacti, altera de Proprietatibus Cerebri humani,“London, 1664, 8vo. 12.” Chorea Gigantum, or the most famous antiquity of Great Britain, vulgarly called Stonehenge, standing on Salisbury Plain, restored to the Danes,“London, 1663, 4to. 13.” Onomasticon Zoicon, plerorumque animalium differentias et nomina propria pluribus linguis exponens. Cui accedunt Mantissa Anatomice, et quiedam de variis Fossilium generibus,“London, 1668 and 1671, 4to; Oxon. 1677, fol. 14.” Two Philosophical Discourses the first concerning the different wits of men the second concerning the mystery of Vintners, or a discourse of the various sicknesses of wines, and their respective remedies at this day commonly used, &c. London, 1663, 1675, 1692, 8vo. 15. “De Scorbuto Liber singularis. Cui accessit Epiphonema in Medicastros,London, 1671, 8vo; Leyden, 1672, 12mo. 16. “Natural History of the Passions,London, 1674, 8vo. 17. “Enquiries into Humane Nature, in six Anatomy-prelections in the new theatre of the royal college of physicians in London,London, 1680, 4to. 18. “Oratio Anniversaria habita in Theatro inclyti Collegii Medicorum Londinensis 5to Augusti 1680, in commemorationem Beneficiorum a | Doctore Harvey aliisque præstitorum,London, 1680, 4to. 19. “The harmony of natural and positive Divine Laws,London, 1682, 8vo. 20. “Three Anatomic Lectures concerning, l.The motion of the blood through the veins and arteries. 2. The organic structure of the heart. 3. The efficient cause of the heart’s pulsation. Read in the 19th, 20th, and 21st day of March 1682, in the anatomic theatre of his majesty’s royal college of Physicians in London,London, 1683, 4to. 21. “Inquisitio Physlca de causis Catameniorum, et Uteri Rheumatismo, in quo probatur sanguinem in animali fermentescere nunquam,London, 1685, 8vo. 22. “Gulielmi Ducis Novicastrensis vita,London, 1668, fol. This is a translation from the English original written by Margaret, the second wife of William duke of Newcastle. 23. “A Ternary of Paradoxes, of the magnetic cure of wounds, nativity of tartar in wine, and image of God in man,London, 1650, 4to. 24. “The errors of physicians concerning Defluxions called Deliramenta Catarrhi,London, 1650, 4to, both translations from Van Helmont. 25. “Epicurus his Morals,London, 1655, 4to. This work of his is divided into thirty-one chapters, and in these he fully treats all the principles of the Epicurean philosophy, digested under their proper heads; tending to prove, that, considering the state of the heathen world, the morals of Epicurus were as good as any, as in a former work he had shewn that his philosophic opinions were the best of any, or at least capable of being explained in such a manner as that they might become so in the hands of a modern philosopher. This work was translated into several modern languages. 26. “The Life of Marcellus,” translated from Plutarch, and printed in the second volume of “Plutarch’s Lives translated from the Greek by several hands,London, 1684, 8vo. 1


Biog. Brit.—Ath. Ox. vol. II.