Duncan, Daniel

, an eminent physician, born at Montauban in Lano-uedoc in 1649, was the son of Dr. Peter Duncan, professor of physic in that city, and grandson to William Duncan, an English gentleman, of Scottish original, who removed from London to the south of France about the beginning of the last century. Having lost both his parents while yet in his cradle, he was indebted, for the care of his infancy and education, to the guardianship of his mother’s brother, Mr. Daniel Paul, a leading counsellor of the parliament of Toulouse, though a firm and professed protestant. Mr. Duncan received the first elements of grammar, polite literature, and philosophy, at Puy Laurens, whither the magistracy of Montauban had transferred their university for a time, to put an end to some disputes between the students and the citizens. The masters newly established there, finding their credit much raised by his uncommon proficiency, redoubled their attention to him; so that he went from that academy with a distinguished character to Montpellier, when removed | thither by his guardian, with a view to qualify him for a profession which had been for three generations hereditary in his family .*


A long account of this family is given in a note on Mr. Duncan’s article in the Biographia Britannica.

His ingenuity and application recommended him to the esteem and friendship of his principal instructor there, the celebrated Dr. Charles Barbeyrac (uncle to John Barbeyrac the famous civilian), whose medical lectures and practice were in high reputation. Having taken his favourite pupil into his own house, the professor impressed and turned to use his public and private instruction by an efficacious method, admitting him, at every visit he paid to his patients, to consult and reason with him, upon ocular inspection, concerning the effect of his prescriptions. When he had studied eight years under the friendly care of so excellent a master, and had just attained the age of twenty-four, he was admitted to the degree of M. D. in that university. From Montpellier he went to Paris, where he resided nearly seven years. Here he published his first work, upon the principle of motion in the constituent parts of animal bodies, entitled: “Explication nouvelle & mechanique des actions an i males, Paris, 1678.” It was in the year following that he went for the first time to London, to dispose of some houses there, which had descended to him from his ancestors. He had, besides, some other motives to the journey; and among the rest, to get information relative to the effects of the plague in London in 1665. Having dispatched his other business, he printed in London a Latin edition of his “Theory of the principle of motion in animal bodies.” His stay in London, at this time, was little more than two years; and he was much disposed to settle there entirely. But in 1681 he was recalled to Paris to attend a consultation on the health of his patron Colbert, which was then beginning to decline. Soon after his return he produced the first part of a new work, entitled, “La chymie naturelle, ou explication chymique & mechanique de la Tiourriture de Tanimal,” which was much read, but rather raised than satisfied the curiosity of the learned; to answer which he added afterwards two other parts, which were received with a general applause. A second edition of the whole was published at Paris in 1687. In that year likewise came out his “Histoire de l’animal, ou la connoissance | du corps animé par la méchanique & par la chymie.” He left Paris in 1683, upon the much-lamented death of Colbert, the kind effect of whose esteem he gratefully acknowledged, though in a much smaller degree than he might have enjoyed, if he had been less bold in avowing his zeal for protestantism, and his abhorrence of popery. He had some property in land adjoining to the city of Montauban, with a handsome house upon it, pleasantly situated near the skirts of the town. It was with the purpose of selling these, and settling finally in England, that he went thither from Paris. But the honourable and friendly reception he met with there determined his stay some years in his native city. In 1690, the persecution which began to rage with great fury against protestants made him suddenly relinquish all thoughts of a longer abode in France. Having disposed of his house and land for less than half their value, he retired first to Geneva, intending to return to England through Germany; an intention generally kept in petto, but for many years unexpectedly thwarted by a variety of events. Great numbers of his persuasion, encouraged by his liberality in defraying their expences on the road to Geneva, had followed him thither. Unwilling to abandon them in distress, he spent several months in that city and Berne, whither great numbers had likewise taken refuge, in doing them all the service in his power. The harsh and gloomy aspect which reformation at that time wore in Geneva, ill agreeing with a temper naturally mild and cheerful, and the sullen treatment he met with from those of his profession, whose ignorance and selfishness his conduct and method of practice tended to bring into disrepute, occasioned his stay there to be very short. He listened therefore with pleasure to the persuasion of a chief magistrate of Berne, who invited him to a residence more suited to his mind. He passed about 8 or 9 years at Berne, where to his constant practice of physic was added the charge of a professorship of anatomy and chemistry. In 1699, Philip landgave of Hesse sent for him to Cassel. The princess, who lay dangerously ill, was restored to life, but recovered strength very slowly. Dr. Duncan was entertained for three years with great respect, in the palace of the landgrave, as his domestic physician. During his stay at that court, he wrote his treatise upon the abuse of hot liquors. The use of tea, which had not long been introduced into Germany, and in | the houses of only the most opulent, was already at the landgrave’s become improper and immoderate, as well as that of coffee and chocolate. The princess of Hesse, with a weak habit of body inclining to a consumption, had been accustomed to drink these liquors to excess, and extremely hot. He thought fit, therefore, to write something against the abuse of them, especially the most common one last mentioned. Their prudent use, to persons chiefly of a phlegmatic constitution, he allowed. He even recommended them, in that case, by his own example, to be taken moderately warm early in the morning, and soon after dinner; but never late in the evening, their natural tendency not agreeing with the posture of a body at rest. He wrote this treatise in a popular style, as intended for the benefit of all ranks of people; the abuse he condemned growing daily more and more epidemical. Though he deemed it too superficial for publication, he permitted it to be much circulated in manuscript. It was not till five years after that he was persuaded by his friend Dr. Boerhaave to print it, first in French, under the title of “Avis salutaire a tout le monde, contre Tabus cles liqueurs chaudes, & particulierement du caffe, du chocolat, & du the.Rotterdam, J 705. He printed it the year following in English.

The persecution of protestants in France continuing to drive great numbers of them from all its provinces into Germany, he defrayed occasionally the expences of some small bodies of these poor emigrants, who passed through Cassel in 1702, in their way to Brandenburg, where encouraging offers of a comfortable maintenance were held out by Frederic, the newly created king of Prussia, to industrious manufacturers of every sort. The praises these people spread of Dr. Duncan’s liberality, when they arrived at Berlin, procured him a flattering invitation to that court. Here he was well received by the reigning prince; who appointed him distributor of his prudent munificence to some thousands of these poor artificers, and superintendant of the execution of a plan formed for their establishment. This office he discharged with great credit and internal satisfaction; but with no other advantage to himself. Though appointed professor of physic with a decent salary, and physician to the royal household, he found his abode at Berlin likely to prove injurious to his health and fortune. His expences there were excessive, and | increasing without bounds by the daily applications made to him as distributor of the royal bounty, which fell short of their wants. Besides, the intemperate mode of living at that court was not according to his taste, and this last reason induced him. in 1703, to remove to the Hague. In this most agreeable residence he settled about twelve years, a short excursion to London excepted in 1706, for the purpose of investing all his monied property in the English funds. He kept at this time a frequent correspondence with Dr. Boerhaave, at whose persuasion he published a Latin edition of uis Natural Chemistn with some improvements and additional illustrations. He commenced about the same time a correspondence upon similar subjects with Dr. Richard Mead, From the time of his leavijig London in 1681. it appears that Dr. Duncan constantly entertained thoughts of fixing there his final abode. He however did not effect this purpose till about the end of 1714. He expressed an intention to quit the Hague some months sooner; but unhappilv just then he was suddenly seized with a stroke of the palsy, which greatly alarmed his friends. Yet, when he had overcome the first shock, he found no other inconvenience from it himself till his death twenty-one years after, except a slight convulsive motion of the head, which seized him commonly in speaking, but never interrupted the constant cheerfulness of his address. To a patient likely to do well he would say, “It is not for your case that I shake my head, but my own. You will soon shake me off, I warrant you.” He dedicated the last sixteen years of his life to the gratuitous service of those who sought his advice. To the rich who consulted him, from whom he as peremptorily refused to take a fee, he was wont to say, with a smile, ‘ The poor are my only paymasters now; they are the best I ever had; their payments are placed in a government-fund that can never fail; my security is the only King who can do no wrong.“This alluded to the loss he had sustained, in 1721, of a third part of his property by the South Sea scheme, which, however, produced not the least alteration in his purpose, nor any retrenchment of his general beneficence to the poor. He left behind him a great number of manuscripts, chiefly on physical subjects. The writers of the” Bibliotheque Britannique“for June 1735, whence the substance of this account is taken, close the article relating to him with this short sketch of his character” His conversation was easy, | cheerful, and interesting, pure from all taint of partyscandal or idle raillery. This made his company desired by all who had a capacity to know its value; and he afforded a striking instance that religion must naturally gain strength from the successful study of nature.“He died at London, April 30, 1735, aged 86. He left behind him an only son, the reverend doctor Daniel Duncan, author of some religious tracts; among the rest,” Collects upon the principal Articles of the Christian Faith, according to the order of the Catechism of the Church of England.“Printed lor S. Birt, 1754. This was originally intended for an appendix to a larger work, completed for the press, but never published, entitled,” The Family Catechism, being a free and comprehensive Exposition of the Catechism of the Church of England.“He corresponded with the writers of the” Candid Disquisitions,“c. in which work he was from that circumstance supposed to have had some share. He died in June, 1761, leaving behind him two sons, both clergymen, the younger of whom, John Duncan, D. D. rector of South Warmborough, Hants, died at Bath Dec. 28, 1808. He was born in 1720, and educated at St. John’s college, Oxford, where he took his degrees of M. A. in 1746, B. D. 1752, and D. D. by decree of convocation in 1757. Jn 1745 and 1746 he was chaplain to the king’s own regiment, and was present at every battle in Scotland in which that regiment was engaged. He afterwards accompanied the regiment to Minorca, and was present at the memorable siege of St. Philip’s, which was followed by the execution of admiral Byng. In 1763 he was presented to the college living of South Warmborough, which he held for forty-five years. Besides many fugitive pieces in the periodical journals, Dr. Duncan published an” Essay on Happiness,“a poem, in four- books; an” Address to the rational advocates of the Church of England;“the” Religious View of the present crisis“” The Evidence of Reason, in proof of the Immortality of the Soul,“collected from Mr. Baxter’s Mss. with an introductory letter by the editor, addressed to Dr. Priestley; and some other tracts and occasional sermons. He contributed to the” Biographia Britannica,“the life of his grandfather, and an account of the family of Duncans and what the editor of that work said of him in his life-time may be justly repeated now,” that he sustained the honour of his family, in the respectability of his character, in the liberality | of his mind, and in his ingenious and valuable publications." 1


Biog. Brit.