Martyn, John

, professor of botany at Cambridge, was born Sept. 12, 1699, in Queen-street, London, where his father Thomas was a merchant. His mother, whose maiden name was Catharine Weedon, died Nov. 1, 1700. After being educated at a private school in the neighbourhood, he was taken, at the age of sixteen, into the counting-house of his father; but, without neglecting the duties of this station, he had already so strong a taste for literature, that he constantly devoted much of the night to study, allowing himself, for many years, only four hours for sleep. In the summer of 1718 he first acquired a taste for botany, in consequence of his acquaintance with Mr. Wilmer, an apothecary, who afterwards became demonstrator in the Chelsea-garden, Dr. Patrick Blair, and Dr. William Sherard, under whose instructions his progress was rapid. He soon became desirous of commencing author, and began by translating Tournefort’s History of the plants growing about Paris, from French into English, in 1720. This, however, he did not print till 1732, when the title was “Tournefort’s History of Plants growing about Paris, with their uses in Physic, and a mechanical account of the operation of medicines. Translated into English, with many additions. And accommodated to the plants growing in Great Britain,” 2 vols. 8vo. This year he undertook various botanical excursions, which were chiefly performed on foot, that he might observe plants in their natural situations, as ueU as insects, which had now likewise excited his attention. The leading character of his mind seems to have been a taste for inquiry, which prompted him to examine every thing for himself. His observation of the works of God directed his thoughts to the divine origin of all things, and his perusal of the writings of some of the most famous adversaries of revealed religion, served but to confirm him in its truth. About the year 1721 he became acquainted with the celebrated Dillenius, and in conjunction with him and several others, amongst whom we find the names of Deering, Thomas Dale, and Philip Miller, established a botanical society, which met every Saturday evening, first at the Rainbow coffee-house in Watlingstreet, and afterwards in a private house. Dillenius was president, and Martyn, who was secretary, read before this society a course of lectures, upon the technical terms of the science, the foundation, as it is presumed, of what he | afterwards published. These meetings were continued for about five years only.

We are not informed of the period at which Mr. Martyn changed his mercantile occupation for the medical profession, to which he was, doubtless, led by the general tenour of his pursuits. In 1723 he was offered admission into the royal society, which he declined, as it appears by one of his letters to Dr. Blair, from pure modesty. His objections, however, were overcome the next year; and he soon proved himself an active and worthy member, by his various communications, to be found in the Transactions of that learned body. In 1726 he published his tables of Officinal Plants, in twenty pages folio, disposed according to Ray’s system, under the title of “Tabulae Synopticae,” &c. Lond.fol. dedicated to Sir Hans Sloane. He had given a public course of lectures in Botany the preceding year, and had, with the assistance of Dr. Blair, undertaken to make a collection of birds. His herborizing excursions were from time to time continued, notwithstanding his various labours and engagements in town. His second course of lectures there, in 1726, being much approved, he was recommended by Dr. Sherard and Sir Hans Sloane as fit to teach the science in which he excelled, in the University of Cambridge. Accordingly he gave, in 1727, the first botanical course ever read in that university; and for the use of his pupils reduced the alphabetical catalogue of Cambridge Plants, printed by Ray, into a systematic form, according to the principles of its author, and published it under the title “Methodus Plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium,” Lond. 12mo. As he excelled in the knowledge of cryptogamous vegetables, he improved the work in that department; and he now very judiciously laid aside the old systematic practice, of separating trees and shrubs from herbs, in his classification. In 1728 he published the first Decade of a sumptuous work, entitled “Historia Plantarum Rariorum,” in imperial folio, in which his merit in description is conspicuous. The plates were drawn by that great artist Van Huysum, engraved in mezzotinto by Kirkall, and printed in colours; but in the latter part of their execution they fail very much, that mode of colouring plates having scarcely ever been found to answer. Four more Decades of this work appeared in the course of nine years; after which it ceased, on account of the great expence of the undertaking. When this | publication commenced, its author is said to have “sedulously applied himself to the practice of physic.” Sir James Smith thinks this must have been as an apothecary, for Mr. Martyn was not, by any medical degree, authorized to practise as a physician.

In 1729, he had a design of reading botanical lectures at Oxford, and it is not known what prevented this scheme, unless that he might, upon reflection, consider it as interfering with the recent establishment of the Sherardian professorship there, in favour of his friend Dillenius. In the following year we find him projecting, in conjunction with Dr. Russell, a new edition of Stephens’s Latin Thesaurus; but this design was dropped, and he engaged in a far more easy and pleasant work, along with the same friend, and some others, entitled the “Grub-street Journal,” a periodical publication, which had a large sale, and contains a great variety of satirical remarks on, and anecdotes of living authors, forming indeed a kind of prose and verse “Dunciad,” and, like that celebrated poem, sometimes takes liberties with characters that ought to have been noticed with more respect. The best papers were afterwards collected in 2 vols. 12mo, 1737, under the title of “Memoirs of the Society of Grub-street.” Mr. Martyn’s papers are distinguished by the signature B. and Dr. Russel’s by that of M. The poetical part was published in a separate volume, with an emblematic frontispiece, and is more scarce.

On the 26th of May, 1730, Mr. Martyn was admitted of Einanuel college, Cambridge, with an intention of taking his degrees in physic; but after keeping five terms, his marriage, and the necessary attendance to his profession, caused him to relinquish this design *.*He had resided for three years in Great St. Helen’s; but the town

*About this time he was an unsuc- Transactions“from 1720 to that time, cessful candidate for the post of secre- in conjunction with Mr, John Eames, taryto the royal society. His oppo- who, however, abridged only three nent was Dr. Mortimer, who had the chapters, while Mr. Martyn completinterest of s r Hans Sloane and of the ed the whole in 3 vols. 4to. 1734, as coim, which, Mr. Martyn’s son says, a continuation of the previous abridgwas” too prevalent for 1 he literary ment in 5 vols, by Lowthorp and part of the society;“In 1731 he was Jones. Among his other literary laengaged in putung together Churchill’s hours, he was also engaged in the Collect ion of Voyages and Travels;” General Dictionary, including Bayle,“published proposals fir an edition of 1 vols, fol. but his articles appear only Virgil’s Georgics, anl entered into ar- in the first three volumes, tides for abridging the” Philosophical | air disagreeing with his constitution, which was asthmatic, he removed to Chelsea, where he married, on the 20th of August, 1732, Eulalia, youngest daughter of John King, D. D. rector of Chelsea, and prebendary of York, by whom he had three sons and five daughters. Four of the latter died young, but the other children survived him.

At the close of this year the Professorship of Botany at Cambridge becoming vacant, by the death of Mr. Bradley, all eyes were directed towards Mr. Marty n as the properest person for this situation; and, after some slight opposition to him as a nonjuror, which he removed, by taking the requisite oaths, he was unanimously elected Feb. 8, 1733. In two or three years, however, after obtaining the appointment, he finally ceased to lecture, from want of encouragement, and especially the want of a botanic garden, at Cambridge. There had been hopes of the latter being established in 1731, through the liberality and zeal of a Mr. Brownell of Willingham; but the scheme fell to the ground, nor was it revived with effect till many years afterwards.

Nevertheless, our indefatigable botanist and scholar was not idle. The work on which his literary fame chiefly and firmly rests is his splendid quarto edition of Virgil’s Georgics, which appeared in 1741, dedicated to Dr. Mead. Here his abilities and his acquisitions had their full scope. The text was accompanied by an English translation, and ample notes in the same language. In these the editor was enabled, from his peculiar studies, to throw more light upon the natural history of his author, than any one before him had done, nor is it easy to improve upon his perfor<­mance. He was assisted in the astronomical part by his friend the celebrated Halley, to whose worth he has given a just and feeling tribute in the preface. In 1749 he published the Bucolics on the same plan, and intended to have gone through the whole of the Roman poet; but growing infirmities, and the loss of his wife, who died of a cancer in the breast this year, for a while damped his ardour. The labours of his profession, too, were becoming burthensome. He speedily indeed repaired his domestic loss, marrying, in July 1750, Mary-Anne, daughter of Claude Fonnereau, esq. of London, merchant. This lady bore him one son, and survived him. | In the spring of 1752 he retired from practice, and took a farm in a most beautiful situation at Streatham, and, but for occasional attacks of the gout, enjoyed several years of learned leisure united with scientific experience, in attention to the business of his farm, and the care of his family. On the 30th of January, 1761, he resigned his professorship of botany in favour of his son the rev. Thomas Marty n, who was elected in his stead, and who has ever since filled that station with honour to himself and to his parent. In gratitude for this election, so consonant to his own wishes, Mr. Martyn, some time afterwards, gave his botanical library, of above 200 volumes, with his drawings, herbarium, and collections of seeds and materia mtdica, to the university, for which the thanks of that body were very handsomely returned him in 1765.

This worthy man died at Chelsea, to which place his increasing infirmities had induced him, about a year previous, to return, Jan. 29, 1768, in the sixty- ninth year of his age, and was interred in the burying-ground there, near his first wife.

To the works already noticed, as published by Mr. Martyn, we may add a translation of Boerhaave’s treatise on the powers of medicine, 1740, 8vo, a translation and abridgment of the “Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris,” in conjunction with Chambers, the author of the Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, Lond. 1742, 5 vols. 8vo; and a translation of Dr. Walter Harris’s “Treatise of the acute diseases of Infants,” ibid. 1742, 8vo. In 1743 he resumed his abridgment of the Philosophical Transactions, and published the eighth, ninth, and tenth volumes, in 1747 and 1756. He left also a great many manuscripts on various branches of science and literature. In 1770, his son published “Dissertations and critical Remarks upon the ^neids of Virgil. By the late John Martyn, &c.” 12mo, with some account of the author and his writings, from which the preceding article has been taken. 1

1 Life as above. Abridged also by Sir J. Smith in —Rees’s Cyclopedia.