Mead, Richard

, a most distinguished physician, whose abilities and eminence in his profession, united with his learning and fine taste for those arts which embellish and improve human life, long rendered him an ornament, not only to his own profession, but to the nation and age in which he lived, was born at Stepney, Aug. 11, 1673, and received the early part of his education under his father, the subject of the preceding article, who, with the assistance of Mr. John Nesbitt, superintended the education of | his large family.*


Sir John Hawkins has made some singular remarks on ‘Mr. Mead’s educating his son to be a physician. He says that “his example was an inducement with other dissenting ministers to ake physicians of their sons. Oldfield, Clark, Nesbit. Lobb, and Munckley, were the sons of dissenting teachers, and they generally succeeded. The hospital of St. Thomas and that of Guy, in Somh<vark, were both under the government ofdissenters and whigs and as soon as any one became pliysician of either, his fortune was looked upon as made.” Hawkins’s Life of Johnson.

In 1688, he was placed under the care of Mr. Thomas Singleton and in 1689 under Grsevius, at Utrecht. His eldest brother had been a pupil of this professor, and recommended Richard to him as a modest young man, who had made some progress in good literature. In 1692 he removed to Leyden, xvhere he attended for three years the lectures of Herman and Pitcairn, and applied himself most successfully to the study of physic. This last named professsor was seldom very communicative out of college, yet Mr. Mead found the art of recommending himself so far to his good graces, that he drew from him several observations, which he afterwards introduced in his writings, but never without acknowledging to whom he was indebted for them. He there also formed an intimacy with Boerhaave, with whom he afterwards maintained the most friendly intercourse through life. Mr. Mead’s eldest brother, Samuel, having projected a visit to Italy, in company with David Polhill, esq. and Dr. Thomas Pellet, afterwards president of the college of physicians, invited our student to make a fourth, which was indeed the summit of his wishes, for he had already contracted that taste which distinguished him in after-life, and which he hoped to gratify in a country abounding with objects of the first curiosity. Nor was he unprepared to make the necessary inquiries. At Florence he asked to see the Mensa Isiaca, but not being able to obtain any information about it, he desired leave to search for it in a lumber-room over the gallery; where he found this valuable piece of antiquity, buried in rubbish, and for many years given over as lost. He took his degree of doctor of philosophy and physic at Padua, Aug. 16, 1695; and passed sorne time afterwards at Naples and Rome. On his return, about Midsummer 1696, he settled in the very house where he was born; married Ruth, the daughter of Mr. John Marsh, merchant of London; and practised in his profession there for seven years with great success. In 1702 he published his “Mechanical Account of Poisons.” These essays, however | justly esteemed on their first appearance, did their author still more honour in the edition he published of them more than forty years afterwards, as he then had the candour to retract some opinions too hastily advanced. In 1703 he communicated to the Royal Society, an analysis of Dr. Bonomo’s discoveries, relative to the cutaneous worms that generate the itch, which was inserted in the Philosophical Transactions of that year. The original letter of Bonomo to Redi was published in Italian, in 1687; and Dr. Mead met with it in his travels in Italy. This, with his “Account of Poisons,” produced him a place in the Royal Society in 1704; and in 1706, he was chosen one of their council, and in 1717 a vice-president. He was also chosen physician to St. Thomas’s hospital, May 5, 1703, when he removed from Stepney to Crutched Friars where having resided seven years, he removed into Austin Friars; and about the same time was appointed by the company of surgeons to read the anatomical lectures in their hall.

In 1704, appeared his treatise “De imperio solis ac lunae in corpore humano, et morbis inde oriundis.” The influence of the sun and moon upon human bodies, which had been admitted by all antiquity, and seemed founded upon incontestable phenomena, appeared to him to be deducible from the theory of attraction, lately established by sir Isaac Newton. Dr. Mead therefore attempted to show, that periodical influences were produced on the living body, as upon the tides of the sea and the atmosphere. Of this work he published an enlarged edition in 1748; and whatever may be thought of the system, it contains many observations of importance in medical practice.

Dr. Mead’s reputation now greatly increased his business, and recommended him to the patronage of the most eminent of the faculty. In 1707 he had the degree of M. D. conferred on him by the university of Oxford, by diploma. On the last illness of queen Anne, he was called in consultation, two days before her death. Cautious and reserved as physicians usually are on such occasions, Dr. Mead, either more discerning or more bold, no sooner saw the queen than he declared her in immediate danger; and when he found his brethren demur on this opinion, he said it would be sufficient to send to Hanover an account of the present symptoms, by which the physicians of that court would immediately perceive that, before the account came to them, the queen would be no more. Having | opened his mind freely on this subject to his friend and protector Dr. Radcliffe, the latter made use of that friendship to excuse his own attendance. Radcliflfe surviving the queen but three months, Mead removed to his house, and resigned his office in St. Thomas’s hospital.

Dr. Mead was not more to be admired for the qualities of his head than to be loved for those of his heart. Though he was himself a zealous whig, yet party principles did not prevent his attachment to men of merit, by whatever denomination they might happen to be distinguished. Thus he was intimate with Garth, with Arbuthnot, and with Freind. Of his connexion with, and liberal conduct to, the latter, we have already given an account (vol. XV. p. 112, 113). Dr. Mead, however, amidst so many excellent qualities, was not without resentments equally steady. That against Woodward was certainly carried to a length highly exceptionable; as we find by Mead’s preface to his treatise on the small pox, it had not subsided twenty years after Woodward’s death. The first quarrel between Mead and Woodward was of a personal kind, but in what it originated we know not. Mead felt it, however, in such a manner, that he went to Woodward’s lodgings to demand satisfaction; and meeting him at Gresham college, under the arch in the way from the outer court to the green court, he drew his sword, and bid Woodward defend himself, or beg pardon, which, it is supposed, he did. This rencontre is recorded in the view of the college, prefixed to Ward’s “Lives of the Gresham Professors,” in which Woodward is represented kneeling, and laying his sword at the feet of his antagonist. Mead was the friend and patron of Ward, which may account, although it cannot well excuse, his introducing and perpetuating a foolish circumstance so foreign to the nature of his work.

Dr. Mead was admitted fellow of the college of physicians, April 9, 1716; and executed the office of censor in 1716, 1719, and 1724. In 1719, on an alarm confirmed by the fatal plague at Marseilles, the lords of the regency directed Mr. Craggs, then secretary of state, to apply to Dr. Mead, to give the best directions for preventing the importation of the plague, or stopping its progress. His opinion was approved; and quarantine directed to be performed. Of his “Discourse concerning Pestilential Contagion,” no less than seven editions were printed in 1720; the eighth, which appeared in 1722, and again in 1743, | was enlarged with many new observations, and translated into Latin by professor Ward, as the first edition had been by Mr. Maittaire. This discourse is said to have greatly hurt his practice, fora time at least, not for medical, but political reasons, as it was suspected to be intended to prepare the way for barracks, &c. at a time when the nation was extremely jealous of a standing army. By order of the prince of Wales, Dr. Mead assisted, Aug. 10, 1721, at the inoculation of some condemned criminals; and the experiment succeeding, the two young princesses, Amelia and Caroline, were inoculated April 17, 1722, and had the distemper favourably.

As Dr. Mead was ever anxious to support the honour of his profession by his liberal’ conduct, and by associating with it the character of a friend and patron of learning, he took an opportunity to assert its dignity in his “Harveian Oration,” read before the college in October 1723, and afterwards published. In this oration he endeavoured to shew, that the profession was exercised by several families of distinction among the Romans; and he annexed to it a dissertation on some coins, which had been struck at. Smyrna, in honour of physicians. This publication was the origin of a controversy, which was begun by Dr. Conyers Middleton, and in which Mead was supported by his friend professor Ward, of the Gresham college. Dr. Middleton, with much erudition, undertook to prove the servile condition of the Roman physicians. The controversy was carried on in a manner honourable to both parties; and Dr. Middleton, in a subsequent work on Greek and Egyptian antiquities, spoke of Dr. Mead in terms of great respect.

On the accession of George II. to the throne in 1727, Dr. Mead was appointed physician in ordinary to his majesty, and had afterwards the satisfaction of seeing his two sons-in-law (Dr. Wilmot and Dr. Nicholls) his associates in the same station.

Busied as Dr. Mead was in the duties of his profession, he never lost sight of the interests of literature, and was most liberal in the promotion of it. Mr. Carte, the historian, who, on account of political suspicions, had retired to France in 1722, having employed himself there in collecting materials for an English translation of Thuanus, Dr. Mead quickly perceived that this plan might be enlarged. He looked on this country as too disinterested to | desire to possess this foreign treasure alone, and was willing England might do for Thuanus more than France itself, by procuring for all Europe the first complete edition of this excellent history. He therefore remunerated Carte for the pains he had taken, and employed Mr. Buckley, as an editor equal to the task, whose three letters written in English to Dr. Mead, contain many curious particulars concerning the history itself, and the plan of this new edition. These letters were translated into Latin by professor Ward, and prefixed to the splendid edition of Thuanus, published in 1733, in 7 vols. folio.

Without the interposition of Dr. Mead, Mr. Button’s invention, to draw foul and corrupted air from ships ancl other close places, by the means of fire, would have probably been neglected and lost; but, being thoroughly convinced of the advantages of this method, he determined to support it, and accordingly engaged the lords of the admiralty to order a trial of the new machine to be made, at which he and several members of the Royal Society attended. He also not only presented a memorial to that learned body, in which he demonstrated its simplicity and utility, but at the expence of 200l. caused a model of it to be made in copper, which he deposited in their museum. At length, after ten years’ solicitation, he obtained of the lords of the admiralty an order to Mr. Sutton, to provide all the ships in his majesty’s navy with this useful machine; and a drawing, with a description, being published in 1749, Dr. Mead added his “Treatise on the Scurvy,” in which he ascribed that fatal disease to moisture combined with putridity.

Being arrived at the time of life when retirement becomes necessary, he declined the presidentship of the college of physicians, which was offered him in October 1744, and now employed his leisure in revising his former, and composing new works. He had, so early as 1712, communicated to Dr. Freind his opinions respecting the importance of purgatives in the secondary fever of small-pox, upon which subject Dr. Freind published a letter in 1719. But it was not till 1747, that Dr. Mead printed his treatise “De Variolis et Morbillis,” which contains many valuable observations on both these diseases, and also strong recommendations of the practice of inoculation. To this treatise, which was written in a pure Latin style, he subjoined a translation of Rhazes’s commentary on the Smallpox, into the same language, a copy of which be had | obtained from Leyden, through the assistance of his fellowstudent Boerhaave, with whom he had maintained a constant correspondence. In 1749 he published his “Medicina Sacra, seu de Morbis insignioribus qui in Bibliis memorantur,” 8vo. The object of this work was to shew that the diseases, mentioned in the Bible, were explicable on natural grounds and in this he particularly attempted to prove that the daemoniacs mentioned in the gospel were only insane, or epileptic persons. His last work, a summary of the experience of his professional life, was published in 1751, under the title of “Monita et Praecepta Medica,” 8vo. This little volume was almost purely practical, consisting of detached observations on a variety of diseases and medicines, many of which have stood the test of subsequent experience: it was frequently reprinted, and was translated into English, under his inspection, by Dr. Stack.

This was the last, and perhaps the most useful, of all his works, which have been since collected and published in 1762, 4to. He died on Feb. 16, 1754; and on the 23d he was buried in the Temple church, near his elder brother Samuel, whose property he had inherited, and to whose memory the doctor had caused an elegant monument to be placed, with his bust, and a suitable inscription, by Dr. Ward. To Dr. Mead there is no monument in the Temple; but an honorary one was placed by his son in the north aile of Westminster-abbey. Over the tomb is the doctor’s bust; at his right hand a wreathed serpent, darting its tongue, and on his left several books. Below the bust are his arms and crest. The inscription to this was also written by Dr. Ward.

Dr. Mead was twice married. By his first lady, whom we have mentioned, he had ten children (of whom three survived him, two daughters married to Dr. Wilmot and Dr. Nicholls, and his son Richard, heir to his father’s and uncle’s fortunes): by the second lady, Miss Anne Alston, sister to sir Rowland Alston of Odell in Bedfordshire (whom he married in 1724), he had no issue. Dr. Mead raised the medical character to a higher dignity than ever was known in this or any other country. During almost half a century he was at the head of his profession, which is said to have brought him in one year upwards of seven thousand pounds, and between five and six for several years. The clergy, and in general all men of learning, were welcome to his advice; and his doors were open every | morning to the most indigent, whom he frequently assisted with money; so that, notwithstanding his great income, he did not die very rich. He was a most generous patron of learning and learned men, in all sciences, and in every country; by the peculiar munificence of his disposition, making the private gains of his profession answer the end of a princely fortune, and valuing them only as they enabled him to become more extensively useful, and thereby to satisfy that greatness of mind which will transmit his name to posterity with a lustre not inferior to that of the most distinguished characters of antiquity. To him the several counties of England, and our colonies abroad, applied for the choice of their physicians. No foreigner of any learning, taste, or even curiosity, ever came to England without being introduced to Dr. Mead; and he was continually consulted by the physicians of the continent. His large and spacious house in Great Ormond street became a repository of all that was curious in nature or in art, to which his extensive correspondence with the learned in all parts of Europe not a little contributed. The king of Naples sent to request a collection of all his works; presented him with the two first volumes of signor Bajardi, and invited him to his own palace: and, through the hands of M. de Boze, he frequently had the honour of exchanging presents with the king of France. He built a gallery for his favourite furniture, his pictures, and his antiquities. His library, as appears by the printed catalogue of it, consisted of 6592 numbers, containing upwards of 10,000 volumes, in which he had spared no expence for scarce and ancient editions. It was at that time mentioned as remarkable, although it will not be thought so now, that many of his books sold for much more than they had cost him. The sale of the whole amounted to 5500l. His pictures also were chosen with so much judgment, that they produced 3417l. 11s. about six or seven hundred pounds more than he gave for them; and the total amount of his books, pictures, coins, &c. &c. was 16,069l. 8s. Md. Nor did he make this great collection for his own use only, but freely opened it to public inspection. Ingenious men were sure of finding at Dr. Mead’s the best helps in all their undertakings; and scarcely any thing curious appeared in England but under his patronage. By his singular humanity and goodness, “he conquered even Envy itself;” a compliment which was justly paid him in a | dedication, by the editor of lord Bacon’s Works, in 1730. But the most elegant compliment he received, or couid receive, was in the dedication written by Dr Johnson for Dr James, which we have inserted in vol. XVIII. art. James. Dr. Johnson once said of Dr. Mead, that “he lived more in the broad sunshine of life than almost any man.” He constantly kept in pay a great number of scholars and artists of all kinds, who were at work for him or for the public. He was the friend of Pope, of Halley, and of Newton; and placed their portraits in his house, with those of Shakspeare and Milton, near the busts of their great masters, the ancient Greeks and Romans. A marble bust of Dr. Harvey, the work of an excellent artist, from an original picture in his possession, was given by him to the college of physicians: and one of Dr. Mead, by Roubillac, was presented to the college in 1756, by the late Dr. Askew. A portrait of him was etched by Pond, another by Richardson; a mezzotinto by Houston, from a painting of Ramsay; and an engraved portrait by Baron. There was also a medal of him struck in 1773, long after his decease, by Lewis Pingo.

Among the many characteristic anecdotes of Dr. Mead, which have been published, one is, that he never took a fee of any clergyman, except of Mr. Robert Leake, fellow of St. John’s college, Cambridge; who, falling into a valetudinarian state, dabbled rather too much with the writings, and followed too closely some of the prescriptions, of the celebrated Dr. Cheyne. Being greatly emaciated in a course of time, by keeping too strictly to that gentleman’s regimen, misapplying perhaps his rules, where the case required a different treatment, his friends advised him to apply to Dr. Mead; which he did, going directly to London to wait on the doctor, and telling him that “he had hitherto observed Cheyne’s directions, as laid down in his printed books.Mead (a proud man and passionate), spoke with contempt of Cheyne and his regimen. “Follow my prescriptions,” said he, “and I will set you up again.” Mr. Leake submitted; and beginning to find some benefit, he asked the doctor every now and then, whether it might not be proper for him to follow at the same time such and such a prescription of Cheyne; which Mead took ill. When the well-meaning patient was got pretty well again, he asked the doctor what fees he desired or expected from him. “Sir,” said the physician, “I have never yet, in the | whole course of my practice, taken or demanded any the least fee from any clergyman. But since you have been pleased, contrary to ‘what I have met with in any other gentleman of your profession, to prescribe to me, rather than to follow my prescriptions, when you had committed the care of your recovery tomy skill and trust, you must not take it amiss, nor will, I hope, think it unfair, if I demand ten guineas of you.” The money, though not perhaps without some little reluctance, was paid down. The doctor at the time told Leake, “You may come to me again, belore you quit London.” He did so; and Mead returned to him six guineas out of the ten which he had received. 1


Life by Dr. Maty, 1755, 8vo, and that prefixed to his works. Biog. Brit. Hawkins’s Life of Johnson. Nichols’s Bowyer, vol. I. p. ’266, and vol. VI. p. 212. Dibdin’s Bibliomania, p. 485.