Dickinson, Edmund

, a celebrated physician and chemist, was son of William Dickinson, rector of Appleton in Berkshire, and born there in 1624. He acquired his classical learning at Eton, and from thence, in 1642, was sent to Merton-college in Oxford. Having regularly taken the degrees in arts, he entered on the study of medicine, and took both the degrees in that faculty. In 1655 he published his “Delphi Phcenicizantes, *kc.” a very learned piece, in which he attempts to prove that the Greeks borrowed the story of the Pythian Apollo, and all that rendered the oracle of Delphi famous, from the holy scriptures, and the book of Joshua in particular *. His


It must not be concealed that Anthony Wood has suggested, that the real author of the above-mentioned work was Henry Jacob, a prudigy of

| work procured him much reputation both at home and abroad; and Sheldon (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury) is said to have had so high a sense of its value, that he would have persuaded the author to have applied himself to divinity, and to have taken orders; but he was already fixed in his choice. To this treatise were added, 1. “Diatriba de Nore in Italiam adventu; ejusque nominibus ethnicis.” 2. “De origine Druidum.” 3. Oratiuncula pro philosophia liberanda,“which had been spoken, by him in the hall of Merton college, July 1653, and was the first tiling which made him known among the learned. 4.” /acharias Bogan Edmundo Dickinson;“a letter filled with citations from the most ancient authors in support of his opinions, and the highest commendations of his learning, industry, and judgment. TheDelphi Phoenicizantes,“&c. came out first at Oxford in 1655, 12mo, and was reprinted at Francfort, 1669, 8vo, and at Rotterdam in 1691, by Crenius, in the first volume of his” Fasciculus dissertation uo> Historico-critico-philologicarum," 12mo. Afterwards Dr. Dickinson applied himself to chemistry with much assiduity; and, about 1662, received a visit from Theodore Mundanus, an illustrious adept of France, who encouraged him mightily to proceed in the study of alchemy, and succeeded in persuading him of the possibility of the transmutation of metals, a credulity for which he probably paid first in his purse, and afterwards in his reputation. At length he left his college, and took a house in the High-street, Oxford, for the sake of following the business of his profession more conveniently. In. li>69 he married for the first time; but his wife dying in child- bed, and leaving him a daughter, he some time after married a second, who also died in a short time. His wives were both gentlewomen of good families.

On the death of Dr. Willis, which happened in 1684, Dickinson removed to London, and took his house in St. Martin’s- lane where, soon after recovering Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, lord chamberlain to Charles II. when all hopes of recovery were past, that nobleman | introcluced him to the king, who made him one of his physicians in ordinary, and physician to his household. As that prince was a lover of chemistry, and a considerable proficient, Dickinson grew into great favour at court; which favour lasted to the end of Charles’s reign, and that of his successor James, who continued him in both his places. In 1636 he published in Latin his epistle to Theodore Mundanus, and also his answer, translated from the French into Latin: for, in 1679, this chemist had paid him a second visit, and renewed his acquaintance. The title of it in English is, “An Epistle of E. D. to T. M. an adept, concerning the quintessence of the philosophers, and the true system of physics, together with certain queries concerning the materials of alchemy. To which are annexed the answers of Mundanus,” 8vo. After the abdication of his unfortunate master, he retired from practice, being old, and much afflicted with the stone, but continued his studies. He had long meditated a system of philosophy, not founded on hypothesis, or even experiment, but, chiefly deduced from principles collected from the Mosaic history. Part of this laborious work, when he had almost finished it, was burnt; but, not discouraged by this accident, he began it a second time, and did not discontinue it, till he had completed the whole. It came out in 1702 under the title of “Physica vetus et vera sive tractatus de naturali veritate hexoemeri Mosaici, &c.” In this he attempts, from the scriptural account of the creation, to explain the manner in which the world was formed. Assuming, as the ground of his theory, the atomic doctrine, and the existence of an immaterial cause of the concourse of indivisible atoms, he supposes the particles of matter agitated by a double motion; one gentle and transverse, of the particles among themselves, whence elementary corpuscles are formed; the other circular, by which the whole mass is revolved, and the regions of heaven and earth are produced. By the motion of the elementary corpuscles of different magnitude and form, he supposes the different bodies of nature to have been produced, and attempts, upon this plan, to describe the process of creation through each of the six days. He explains at large the formation of human nature, shewing in what manner, by means of a plastic seminal virtue, man became an animated being. This theory, though founded upon conjecture, and loaded with unphilosophical fictions, the author not only pretends | to derive from the Mosaic narrative, but maintains to have been consonant to the most ancient Hebrew traditions. The use which this theorist makes of the doctrine of atoms, shews him to have been wholly unacquainted with the true notion of the ancients on this subject; and indeed the whole work seems to have ben the offspring of a confused imagination, rather than of a sound judgment. Burnet, who attempted the same design afterwards, discovered far more learning and ability. This work, however, was in such demand as to be printed again at Rotterdam in 1703, in 4to, and at Leoburg, 1705, 12mo.

Besides the pieces above mentioned, he is supposed to have been the author of “Parabola philosophica, seu iter Philareti ad montem Mercurii.” He left behind him also in ms. a Latin treatise on the Grecian games, which was annexed to an account of his life and writings, published at London in 1739, 8vo, by the Rev. W. N. Blomberg, rector of Fulham. He died of the stone, April 1707, being then in his eighty-third year, and was interred in the church of St. Martin in the Fields. 1


Life, by Blomberj. Biog. Brit. —Ath, Ox. vol. II. and Wood’s Life, 1772, p. 172.