Blackwell, Elizabeth

, an ingenious lady, to whom physic was indebted for the most complete set of figures of the medicinal plants, was the daughter of a merchant of Aberdeen, and born, probably about the beginning of the last century. Her husband, Dr. Alexander Blackwell (brother of Dr. Thomas, the subject of our next article) received an university education, and was early distinguished for his classical knowledge. By some he is said only to have assumed the title of doctor after his successful attendance on the king of Sweden, but the other report is more probable, that when he had regularly studied medicine, he took his degree at Leyden under Boerhaave. Having failed in his attempt to introduce himself into practice, first in Scotland, and afterwards in London, he became corrector of the press for Mr. Wilkins, a printer. After some years spent in this employment, he set up as a printer himself, and carried on several large works, till 1734, when he became bankrupt. To relieve his distresses, Mrs. Blackwell, having a genius for drawing and painting, exerted all her talents: and, understanding that an herbal of medicinal plants was greatly wanted, she exhibited to sir Hans Sloane, Dr. Mead, and other physicians, some specimens of her art in painting plants, who approved so highly of them as to encourage her to prosecute a work, by the profits of which she is said to have procured her husband’s liberty, after a confinement of two years.

Mr. Rand, an eminent apothecary, was at that time demonstrator to the company of apothecaries, in the garden at Chelsea, and by his advice she took up her residence opposite the physic garden, in order to facilitate her design, by receiving the plants as fresh as possible. He not only promoted her work with the public, but, together with Mr. Philip Miller, afforded her all possible direction and assistance in the execution of it. After she had completed the drawings, she engraved them on copper, and coloured the prints with her own hands. During her abode at Chelsea, she was frequently visited by persons of quality, and many scientific people who admired her performances, and patronized her | undertaking. On publishing the first volume in 1737, she obtained a recommendation from Dr. Mead, Dr. Sherard, Mr. Rand, and others, to be prefixed to it. And being allowed to present, in person, a copy to the college of physicians, that body made her a present, and gave her a public testimonial of their approbation; with leave to prefix it to her book. The second volume was finished in 1739, and the whole published under the title, “A curious Herbal, containing 500 cuts of the most useful plants whicih are now used in the practice of physic, engraved on folio copperplates, after drawings taken from the life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added, a short description of the plants, and their common uses in physic,” 2 vols. fo!.

The drawings are in general faithful, and if there is wanting that accuracy which modern improvements have rendered necessary, in delineating the more minute parts, yet, upon the whole, the figures are sufficiently distinctive of the subject. Each plate is accompanied with an engraved page, containing the Latin and English officinal names, followed by a short description of the plant, and a summary of its qualities and uses. After these occurs the name in various other languages. These illustrations were the share her husband took in the work.

This ill-fated man, after his failure in physic and in printing, became an unsuccessful candidate for the place of secretary to the society for the encouragement of learning. He was then made saperintendant of the works belonging to the duke of Chandos at Cannons, and experienced those disappointments incident to projectors. He also formed schemes in agriculture, and wrote a treatise on the subject, which, we are told, was the cause of his being engaged in Sweden. In that kingdom he drained marshes, practised physic, and was even employed in that capacity for the king. At length he was involved in some state cabals, or, as some accounts inform us, in a plot with count Tessin, and was put to the torture, which not producing a confession, he was beheaded, Aug. 9, 1747. The British ambassador was recalled from Sweden in the same year, among other reasons, for the imputations thrown on his Britannic majesty in the trial' of Dr. Blackwell. Soon after this event, appeared “A genuine copy of a Letter from a merchant in Stockholm, to his correspondent in London, containing an impartial account of Dr. Alexander Blackwell, his plot, trial, character, and behaviour, both under | examination and at the place of execution, together with a copy of a paper delivered to a friend upon the scaffold,” in which he denied the crime imputed to him. When Mrs. Blackwell died does not appear. An improved edition of her Herbal was published by Trew, the text in Latin and German, Nuremberg, 1750 1760, fol. and at Leipsic was published in 1794, 8vo, “Nomenclator Linnaeanus in Blackvellianum Herbarium per C. G. Greening,” a proof of the estimation in which this work is still held on the continent. 1


Nichols’s Bowyer. —Pulteney’s Hist, and Biog. Sketches. —Gent. Mag. vol. XV II. where is an account of Mr. Blackwell somewhat different from the above, Mr. Blackwell’s family were not very desirous of preserving his memory.