Heberden, William

, an eminent physician and very accomplished scholar, was born in London in 1710, and received the early part of his education in that city. At the close of 1724, he was sent to St. John’s college, Cambridge, where he proceeded A. B. in 1728, and M. A. in 1732. In 1730 he obtained a fellowship, and directed his attention to the study of medicine, which he pursued, partly at Cambridge, and partly in London. Having taken his degree of M. D. in 1739, he practised physic in the university for about ten years. During that time he read every year a course of lectures on the Materia.Medica, and made for that purpose a valuable collection of specimens, which he presented to St. John’s college in 1750, to which society, about ten years after, he presented soirre astronomical instruments. In 1746 he became a fellow of the royal college of physicians, and two years afterwards leaving Cambridge, he settled in London, and was elected | into the royal society in 1749. He very soon got into great business, which he followed with unremitting attention above thirty years, till it seemed prudent to withdraw a little from the fatigues of his profession. He therefore purchased a house at Windsor, to which he used ever afterwards to retire during some of the summer months; but returned to London in the winter, and still continued to visit the sick for many years.

In 1766 he recommended to the college of physicians the first design of the “Medical Transactions,” in which he proposed to collect together such observations as might have occurred to any of their body, and were likely to illustrate the history or cure of diseases. The plan was soon adopted, and three volumes have successively been laid before the public, in 1768, 1772, and 1785. Among the useful communications contained in these volumes, the papers of Dr. Heberden himself are most prominent in number and value. His account of a fatal disorder of the chest, which he denominated Angim pectoris, first called the attention of physicians to it, as an idiopathic disease: and the numerous cases of it, which have since been promulgated, evince its frequency and importance. In this work, also, Dr. Heberden first gave an accurate descrip*. tion of the chicken-pox, pointing out its diagnostic symptoms with precision, chieHy with a view to prevent the very easy mistake of confounding it with a mild small-pox. Dr. Heberden communicated some other papers to the royal society, which were printed in its Transactions.

In 1778, the royal society of medicine in Paris chose him into the number of their associates. He declined all professional business several years before his death, which did not take place until May 17, 1801, when he was in his ninety-first year.

From his early youth he had always entertained a deep sense of religion, and a consummate love of virtue, an ardent thirst after knowledge, and an earnest desire to promote the welfare and happiness of all mankind. By these qualities, accompanied with great sweetness of manners, he acquired the love and. esteem of all good men, in a degree which perhaps very few have experienced; and after passing an active life with the uniform testimony of a good conscience, he became an eminent example of its in*­fluence, in the cheerfulness and serenity of his latest age.

To this character, part of a sketch of his life prefixed to | his “Commentaries, published in 1802, much might be added. No physician, indeed, was ever more highly or more deservedly respected. His various and extensive learning, his modesty in the use of it, his freedom from jealousy or envy, his independent spirit, his simple yet dignified manners, and his exemplary discharge of all the relative duties, are topics on which all who knew him delight to dwell. Mr. Cole, who bestows very high praise on him, an article in which that gentleman was in general penurious, gives us the following anecdote of Dr. Heberden, which corresponds with the above account of his reverence for religion.Understanding that Dr. Con. Middleton had composed a book on the ‘ Inefficacy of Prayer,’ he called upon his widow soon after the Dr.‘s death, and asked her if she was not in possession of such a tract? She answered that she was; he then asked her, if any bookseller had been in treaty with her for it? She said that a bookseller had offered her 50l. for it. He then demanded, if there was a duplicate ’ No‘ upon that he requested to see it, and she immediately brgught it, and put it into his hands. The Dr. holding it in one hand, and giving it a slight perusal, threw it into the fire, and with the other hand gave her a 50l. note.“This anecdote Mr. Cole had from Dr. Newton, bishop of Bristol. It is certain that Dr. Middleton’s widow bequeathed her husband’s remaining Mss. to Dr. Heberden, from which, in, 1761, he obliged the learned world with a curious tract, entitled” Dissertations de servili Medicorum conditione Appendix,“&c. with a short but elegant advertisement of his own. In 1763, a most valuable edition of the” Supplices Mulieres“of Euripides, with the notes of Mr. Markland, was printed entirely at the expence of Dr. Heberden; and, in 1763, the same very learned commentator presented his notes on the two Jphigenix,” Doctissimo, & quod longe prastantius est, humanissimo viro Wilhelmo Heberden, M. D. arbitratu ejus vel cremandtE, vel in publicum emittendae post obiturn scriptoris,“&c. He wrote the epitaph in Dorking church on Mr. Markland, who had” bequeathed to him all his books and papers. One of these, a copy of Mill’s Greek Testament in folio, the margin filled with notes, was kindly lent by Dr. Heberden, “with that liberal attention to promote the cause of virtue and religion which was one of his many well-known excellences,” to the publisher of the last edition of Mr. Bowyer’s | Conjectures on the New Testament, 1782,” 4to. To Dr. Heberden Mr. Bowyer also bequeathed his “little, cabinet of coins, a few books specifically, and any others, which the doctor might chuse to accept.” To Dr. H.’s other publications, we may add his “Αντιθηριακα, an Essay on Mithridatium and Theriaca,” 1745, 3vo. He was also a writer in the “Athenian Letters,” and in his early life contributed some notes to Grey’s “Hudibras,” as acknowledged by that editor in his preface.

Dr. Heberden married, Jan. 19, 1760, Mary, eldest daughter of William Woilastou, esq. by whom he had five sons and three daughters, who all died before him, except Dr. William Heberden, one of his majesty’s puysiciuns, and Mary, the eldest daughter, married to the rev. George Jenyns, prebendary of Ely. His son published in 1802, a Latin and English edition of his father’s last work, entitled “Gulielmi Heberden Commentarii de Morborum Historia et Curatione,” in 8vo. These faithful records of experience are related with perfect candour, and without any admixture of hypothesis: the powers of medicine, however, are estimated with that moderation which arises from the scepticism of long life and practice, and which some have thought carried a little too far in this work; yet a work, like this, formed on the most accurate observation, cannot be too often referred to by medical practitioners and medical writers, both, as a source of instruction and as a model. 1


Life prefixed to the Commentaries. -Nichols’s Bowyer. Cole’s ms Atben in Brit, Mus.