James, Dr. Robert

, an English physician of great eminence, and particularly distinguished by the | preparation of a celebrated fever-powder, was born at Kinverston in Staffordshire, A. D. 1703. His’ father was a major in the army, his mother a sister of sir Robert Clarke. He was educated at St. John’s college in Oxford, where he took the degree of A. B. anc! afterwards practised physic successively at Sheffield, Li’jhneld, and Birmingham. He then removed to London, and became a licentiate in the college of physicians; but in what year we cannot say. At London, he applied himself to writing, as well as practising physic; and, in 1743, published a “Medicinal Dictionary,” 3 vols. folio. Soon after, he published an English translation, with a supplement by himself, of “Ramazzini de morbis artificum;” to which he also prefixed a piece of Frederic Hoffman upon “Endemial Distempers,” 8vo. In 1746, “The Practice of Physic,” 2 vols. 8vo; ia 1760, “On Canine Madness,” 8vo; in 1764, “A Dispensatory,” 8vo. On June 25, 1755, when the king was at Cambridge, James was admitted by mandamus to the doctorship of physic. In 1778, were published “A Dissertation upon Fevers,” and “A Vindication of the FeverPowder,” 8vo; with “A short Treatise on the Disorders of Children,” and a very good print of Dr. James. This was the eighth edition of the “Dissertation,” of which the first was printed in 1751; and the purpose of it was, to set forth the success of this powder, as well as to describe more particularly the manner of administering it. The “Vindication” was posthumous and unfinished: for he died at his house in Bruton-street, March 23, 1776, while he was employed upon it. The editor informs us, that “it is only a part of a much larger tract, which included a defence of his own character and conduct in his profession; and was occasioned,” he says, “by the violent and calumnious attacks of his brethren of the faculty.

The affectionate remembrance of Dr. James, by Johnson in his Life of Smith, deserves to be preserved among the honourable testimonies to the character of the former. “At this man’s table,” says the biographer, speaking of Mr. Walinsley, “I enjoyed many cheerful and instructive hours, with companions such as are not of‘teh found; with one who has lengthened, and one who has gladdened life; with Dr. James, whose skill in physic will be long remembered: and with David Garrick, whom I hoped to have gratified with this character of our common friend: ’but what are the hopes of man” &c. -It appears from the life | of Johnson, that he had gained some knowledge of physic from James, which he in return made useful to his friend, by assisting him in his Medicinal Dictionary. “My knowledge of physic,” said he, “I learnt from Dr. James, whom I helped in writing the proposals for his dictionary, and also a little in the dictionary itself.” Boswell adds, “I have in vain endeavoured to find out what parts Johnson wrote for Dr. James. Perhaps medical men may.” There can be very little doubt, from the style of the address, that the dedication of that work to Dr. Mead belongs entirely to the pen of Johnson. The elegance and originality of the compliments in it sufficiently mark the hand of that great master. It may not be amiss to insert it here, as a model of dedicatory address, highly honourable to Dr. James if his own, and creditable even to have deserved from Johnson.

"Sir, That the Medicinal Dictionary is dedicated to you, is to be imputed only to your reputation for superior skill in those sciences which I have endeavoured to explain and facilitate: and you are therefore to consider this address, if it be agreeable to you, as one of the rewards of merit; and if otherwise, as one of the inconveniences of eminence. However you shall receive it, my design cannot be disappointed; because this public appeal to your judgment will shew, that I do not found my hopes of approbation upon the ignorance of my readers, and that I fear his censure least, whose knowledge is most extensive. I am, sir, &c.

R. James."

The dictionary is, in effect, considered as a work highly honourable to the author, and retains its credit unimpaired after the continued progress and improvements of medicine for several years. Dr. Johnson certainly held James in high esteem, and though he did not burst out into any passionate exclamation of grief, on reading of his death (as his biographer relates), he doubtless felt considerable regret, as appeared not only by his manner of returning to the subject; but by his mention of him above-cited from the life of Smith. The regret which remains upon the mind after reflection, is as sincere, if not as violent, as that which shews itself at first in impatient lamentations. “No man,” said he, on some occasion, “brings more mind to his profession than James” and undoubtedly no man was better able to judge of mind, than the person who pronounced that opinion.

Dr. James was rough in his manners, and, if not very | generally misrepresented, far from temperate in his habits; but strong sense usually appeared in his coarse expressions, and no man had more sagacity, when his head was clear, which of a morning was always the case. Several whimsical stories, perhaps of no precise authority, are told of his evening prescriptions: and he is said, in comparing his patient’s pulse with his own, sometimes to have confused the two; and, finding that one was quickened by intemperance, to have bluntly accused the patient, perhaps a delicate lady, of being in liquor. But James, whatever failings he might have, was without doubt an able and acute physician, and his dictionary will remain a noble monument of his industry and knowledge. His person had not more delicacy than his manners, being large and gross.

His fever powder was for a long time violently opposed by the faculty, who, as the composition was kept a secret, considered it as a nostrum, and refused to prescribe or countenance it. The admirable effects experienced from it forced it into general use, and it is now considered as the most efficacious medicine for fevers that is known. Dr. Pearson, who, in the Philosophical Transactions,vol. LXXXI. took great pains to analyze it, concludes that “by calcining bone ashes, that is, phosphorated lime, with antimony in a certain proportion, and afterwards exposing the mixture to a white heat, a compound may be formed containing the same ingredients, in the same proportion, and possessing the same chemical properties;” and the London Pharmacopoeia of 1788 contains a prescription, under the title of Pulvis Antimonialis, which is intended to answer the same purposes. “It is well known,” says Dr. Pearson, “that this powder cannot be prepared by following the directions of the specification in the court of chancery.” He therefore instituted a laborious chemical inquiry, first analytical, and then synthetical, in order to ascertain the composition.

Whether James was the real inventor of the powder, may admit of a doubt. “The calcination of antimony and bone-ashes produces,” says Dr. Pearson, “a powder called Lile’s and Scbawanberg’s fever powder; a preparation described by Schroeder and other chemists 150 vears ago.

According to the receipt in the possession of Mr. Bromfield, by which this powder was prepared forty-five years ago, and before any medicine was known by the name of | James’s powder, two pounds of hartshorn shavings must be boiled, to dissolve all the mucilage, and then, being dried, be calcined with one pound of crude antimony, till the smell of sulphur ceases, and a light grey powder is produced. The same prescription was given to Mr. Willis above forty years ago, by Dr. John Eaton of the college of physicians, with the material addition, however, of ordering the calcined mixture to be exposed to a given beat in a close vessel, to render it white.“” Schroeder prescribes equal weights of antimony and calcined hartshorn; and Poterius and Michaelis, as quoted by Frederic Hoffman, merely order the calcination of these two substances together (assigning no proportion) in a reverberatory fire for several days." It has been alleged, that Dr. James obtained the receipt for his powder of a German baron named Schwanberg, or one Baker, to whom Schwanberg had sold it. This account we have not been able to verify, but if it- be true, baron Schwanberg, as he is called, was probably the descendant of the Schawanberg mentioned so long ago. Be it as it may, Dr. James was able to give that credit and currency to the medicine which otherwise it would not have had, and the public are therefore indebted to him for publishing, if not for inventing, a preparation of most admirable effect.

Dr. James was married, and left sons and daughters. His eldest son, Robert Harcourt James, was educated at Merchant Taylors’ school, and afterwards at St. John’s college, Oxford, for the profession of physic. 1


Preceding edition of this Dict. —Boswell’s Life of Johnson.