Radcliffe, Dr. John

, an eminent English physician, was born at Wakefield in Yorkshire, where his father possessed a moderate estate, in 1650. He was taught Greek and Latin at a school in the same town and, at fifteen years of age, was sent to University college, in Oxford. In 1669, he took his first degree in arts; but no fellowship | becoming vacant there, he removed to Lincoln college, where he was elected into one. He applied himself to physic, and ran through the necessary courses of botany, chemistry, and anatomy in all which, having excellent parts, he quickly made a very great progress. He took the degree of M. A. in 1672, and then proceeded in the medical faculty. It is remarkable, that he recommended himself more by ready wit and vivacity, than by any extraordinary acquisitions in learning; and, in the prosecution of physic, he rarely looked further than to the pieces of Dr. Willis, who was then practising in London with a very distinguished character. He had few books of Any kind so few, that when Dr. Bathurst, head of Trinity college, asked him once in a surprise, “where his study was” RadclifTe, pointing to a few phials, a skeleton, and an herbal, replied, <* Sir, this is Radclitfe’s library.“In 1675 he proceeded M. B. and immediately began to practise. He never paid any regard to the rules universally followed, but censured them, as often as he saw occasion, with great freedom and acrimony which drew all the old practitioners upon him, with whom he waged an everlasting war. Yet his reputation increased with his experience and before he had been two years established, his business was very extensive, and among those of the highest rank. About this time, Dr. Marshall, rector of Lincoln college, opposed his application for a faculty-place in the college, which was to serve as a dispensation from taking holy orders, which the statutes required him to do, if he kept his fellowship. This was owing to some witticisms which Raclclirle, according to his manner, had pointed at the doctor. The church, however, being inconsistent with his present situation and views, he chose to resign his fellowship, which he did in 1677. He would have kept his chambers, and resided there as a commoner; but Dr. Marshall being still irreconcilable, he quitted the college, and took lodgings elsewhere, tn 1682 he went out M.D. but continued two years longer at Oxford, increasing both in wealth and fame. In 1684 he went to London, and settled in Bow-street, Covent-garden. Dr. Lower was there the reigning physician but his interest beginning to decline on account of his whig principles, as they were called, Radcliffe had almost an open field and, in less than a year, got into high practice, to which perhaps his conversation contributed as much as his reputed skill in his profession, for | few men had more pleasantry and ready wit. In 1686, the princess Anne of Denmark made him her physician. In 1687, wealth jlo wing in upon him very plentifully, he had a mind to testify his gratitude to University college, where he had received the best part of his education; and, with this intent, caused the East window, over the altar, to be put up at his own expence. It is esteemed a beautiful piece, representing the nativity of our Saviour, painted upon glass; and appears to be his gift, by the following inscription under it:D. D. Joan. Radcliffe, M. D. hujus Collegii quondam Socius, A. D. M.DCLXXXVII.“He is called” Socius;" not that he was really a fellow, but, being senior scholar, had the same privileges, though not an equal revenue, with the fellows. In 1638, when prince George of Denmark joined the prince of Orange and the princess, his consort, retired to Nottingham, the doctor was pressed, by bishop Compton, to attend her in quality of his office, she being also pregnant of the duke of Gloucester; but, not choosing to declare himself in that critical state of public affairs, nor favouring the measures then in agitation, he excused himself on account of the multiplicity of his patients.

After the Revolution, he was often sent for to king William, and the great persons about his court; and this he must have owed entirely to his reputation, for it does not appear that he ever inclined to be a courtier. In 1692 he ventured 5000l. in an interloper, which was bound for the East Indies, with the prospect of a large return but lost it, the ship being taken by the French. When the news was brought him, he said that “he had nothing to do, but go up so many pair of stairs to make himself whole again/‘ In 1693, he entered upon a treaty of marriage with the only daughter of a wealthy citizen, and was near bringing the affair to a conclusion, when it was discovered that the young lady had an intrigue with her father’s book-keeper. This disappointment in his first love would not suffer him ever after to think of the sex in that light he even acquired a degree of insensibility, if not aversion for them and often declared, that” he wished for an act of parliament, whereby nurses only should be entitled to prescribe to them.’ 7 In 1694, queen Mary caught the small-pox and died. “The physician’s part,” says bishop Burnet, u was universally condemned and her death was imputed to the negligence or unskilfulness of Dr. Radcliffe. He | was called for; and it appeared, but too evidently, that his opinion was chiefly considered, and most depended on. Other physicians were afterwards called, but not till it was too late."

Soon after, he lost the favour of the princess Anne, by neglecting- to obey her call, from his too great attachment to the bottle, and another physician was elected into his place. In 1699, king William returning from Holland, and being indisposed, sent for Radcliffe; and, shewing him his swoln ancles, while the rest of his body was emaciated and skeleton-like, said, “What think you of these?” “Why truly,” replied the physician, “I would not have your majesty’s two legs for your three kingdoms” which freedom lost the king’s favour, and no intercessions could ever recover it. When queen Anne came to the throne, the earl of Godolphin used all his endeavours to reinstate him in his former post of chief physician but she would not be prevailed upon, alledging, that Radcliffe would send her word again, “that her ailments were nothing but the vapours.” Still he was consulted in all cases of emergency and. critical conjuncture; and though not admitted as the queen’s domestic physician, he received large sums for his prescriptions.

In 1703, Radcliffe was himself taken ill (on Wednesday, March 24), with something like a pleurisy neglected it; drank a bottle of wine at sir Justinian Isham’s on Thursday, took to his bed on Friday and on the 30th was so ill, tiiat it was thought he could not live till the next day. Dr. Stanhope, dean of Canterbury and Mr. Whitfield (then queen’s chaplain, and rector of St. Martin, Ludgate, afterwards vicar of St. Giles, Cripplegate), were sent for by him, and he desired them to assist him. By a will, made the28th, he disposed of the greatest part of his estate to charity; and several thousand pounds, in particular, for the relief of sick seamen set ashore. Mr. Bernard, the serjeant-surgeon, took from him 100 ounces of blood and on the 31st he took a strange resolution of being removed to Kensington, notwithstanding his weakness, from which the most pressing entreaties of his friends could not divert him. In the warmest time of the day he rose, and was carried by four men in a chair to Kensington, whither he got with difficulty, having fainted away in his chair. “Being put to bed,” says Dr. Atterbury, on whose authority we relate these particulars, “he fell asleep immediately, and | it is concluded now (April 1) that he may do well so that the town- physicians, who expected to share his practice, begin now to think themselves disappointed.” Two days after, the same writer adds, “Dr. Radclitfe is past all danger: his escape is next to miraculous. It hath made him not only very serious, but very devout. The person who faath read prayers to him often (and particularly this day) tells me, he never saw a man more in earnest. The queen asked Mr. Bernard how he did and when he told her that he was ungovernable, and would observe no rules, she answered, that then nobody had reason to take any thing ill from, him, since it was plain he used other people no worse than he used himself.

He continued, however, in full business, increasing in wealth and eccentric temper, to the end of his days always carrying on, as we have before observed, war with his brethren the physicians, who never considered him in any other light than that of an active, ingenious, adventuring empiric, whom constant practice brought at length to some skill in his profession. One of the projects of “Martin Scriblerus” was, by a stamp upon blistering-plasters and melilot by the yard, to raise money for the government, and give it to Radcliffe and others to farm. In Martin’s “Map of Diseases,” which was “thicker set with towns than any Flanders map,Radcliffe was painted at the corner, contending for the universal empire of this world, and the rest of the physicians opposing his ambitious designs, with a project of a treaty of partition to settle peace.

In 1713 he was elected into parliament for the town of Buckingham. In the last illness of queen Anne, he was sent for to Carshalton, about noon, by order of the council. He said, “he had taken physic, and could not come.” Mr. Ford, from whose letter to Dr. Swift this anecdote is taken, observes, “In all probability he had saved her life for I am told the late lord Gower had been often in the same condition, wtth the gout in his head.” In the account that is given of Dr. Radcliffe in the “Biographia Britannica,” it is said, that the queen was struck with death the twenty-eighth of July that Dr. Radcliffe’s name was not once mentioned, either by the queen or “any lord of the council” only that lady Masham sent to him, without their knowledge, two hours before the queen’s death. In this letter from Mr. Ford to dean Swift, which is dated the thirty-first of July, it is said, that the queen’s disorder began | between eight and nine the morning before, which was the thirtieth and that about noon, the same day, Radcliffe was sent for by an order of council. These accounts being contradictory, the reader will probably want some assistance to determine what were the facts. As to the time when the queen was taken ill, Mr. Ford’s account is most likely to be true, as he was upon the spot, and in a situation which insured him the best intelligence. As to the time when the doctor was sent for, the account in the Biog. Brit, is manifestly wrong for if the doctor had been sent for only two hours before the queen’s death, which happened incontestably on the first of August, Mr. Ford could not have mentioned the fact on the 31st of July, when his letter was dated. Whether Radcliffe was sent for by lady Masham, or by order of council, h therefore the only point to be determined. That he was generally reported to have been sent for by order of council is certain but a letter is printed in the “Biographia,” said to have been written by the doctor to one of his friends, which, supposing it to be genuine, will prove, that the doctor maintained the contrary. On the 5th of August, four days after the queen’s death, a member of the House of Commons, a friend of the doctor’s, who was also a member, and one who always voted on the same side, moved, that he might be summoned to attend in his place, in order to be censured for not attending on her majesty. Upon this occasion the doctor is said to have written the following letter to another of his friends

"Dear Sir, Carshalton, Aug. 7, 1714.

"I could not have thought that so old an acquaintance and so good a friend, as sir J n always professed himself, would have made such a motion against me. God knows my will to do her majesty any service has ever got the start of my ability; and I have nothing that gives me greater anxiety and trouble than the death of that great and glorious princess. I must do that justice to the physicians that attended her in her illness, from a sight of the method that was taken for her preservation by Dr. Mead, as to declare nothing was omitted for her preservation but the people about her (the plagues of Egypt fall on them) put it out of the power of physic to be of any benefit to her. I know the nature of attending crowned heads in their last moments too well to be fond of waiting upon them, without being sent for by a proper authority. You have heard of | pardons being signed for physicians, beforea sovereign’s demise however, ill as I was, I would have went to the queen in a horse-litter, had either her majesty, or those in commission next to her, commanded me so to do. You may tell sir J n as much, and assure him from me, that his zeal for her majesty will not excuse his ill usage of a friend, who has drank many a hundred bottles with him, and cannot, even after this breach of a good understanding that ever was preserved between us, but have a very good esteem for him. I must also desire you to thank Tom Chapman for his speech in my behalf, since I hear it is the first he ever made, which is taken more kindly and to acquaint him, that I should be glad to see him at Carshalton, since I fear (for so the gout tells me) that we shall never more sit in the House of Commons together. I am, &c.

John Radcliffe.

But, whatever credit may now be paid to this letter, of however it may now be thought to justify the doctor’s refusal to attend her majesty, he became at that time so much the object of popular resentment, that he was apprehensive of being assassinated; as appears by the following letter, directed to Dr. Mead, at Child’s coffee-house, in St. Paul’s church-yard:

"Dear Sir, Carshalton, Aug. 3, 1714.

"I give you, and your brother, many thanks, for the favour you intend me to-morrow; and if there is any other friend that will be agreeable to you, he shall meet with a hearty welcome from me. Dinner shall be on the table by two, when you may be sure to find me ready to wait upon you. Nor shall I be at any other time from home, because I have received several letters, which threaten me with being pulled to pieces, if ever I come to London. After such menaces as these, it is easy to imagine, that the conversation of two such very good friends is not only extremely desirable, but the enjoyment of it will be a great happiness and satisfaction to him, who is, &c.

John Radcliffe.

Radcliffe died on the first of November the same year, having survived the queen just three months and it is said, that the dread he had of the populace, and the want of company in the country village, which he did not dare to leave, shortened his life, when just sixty-four years old. | He was carried to Oxford, and buried in St. Mary’s church in that city.

He had a great respect for the clergy; and shewed much judgment in bestowing his patronage. He gave the rectory of Headbourne-worthy, Hants, to the learned and pious Dr. Bingham and it was through his solicitation that the headship of St. Mary hall, at Oxford, was conferred on the celebrated Dr. Hudson whom he so much esteemed, that it has been generally supposed it was to the persuasion of Dr. Hudson, that the university was indebted for the noble benefactions of Dr. Radcliffe for the Library * and Infirmary which bear his name and for an annual income of 600l. for two travelling fellowships. To University college also he gave, besides the window over the altar-piece already mentioned, the money which built the master’s lodge there, making one side of the Eastern quadrangle.

We do not find that he ever attempted to write any thing, and probably he would not have succeeded as an author. He was believed to have been very little conversant in books, which made Dr. Garth say, humourously enough, that “for Radcliffe to leave a library, was as if an eunuch should found a seraglio.A most curious but ungracious portrait is given of him by Dr. Mandeville, in his


Dr. Radcliffe’s idea, in December 1712, was to have enlarged the Bodleian library. “The intended scheme was as we learn from Dr. Atterbury’s ” ‘Epistolary Correspond­*^5i A ’ f^K u Ut middle wmdow of the Selden part, a room of ninety feet long and as high as the Selden part is, and under it to build a library for Exeter college, upon whose groundt must stand. Exeter college has consented, upon condition that not only a library be built for them, but some lodgings also, has readily proferred to furnish the rest; amiiih.ll, after h. ta. pjr. fected the building, to give WOl. for ever to furnish it with books." This scheme not having been adopted, the doctor left 40.000l. for building a new library; with 150l. a year for the librarian, and 100l. a year to buy it books. The foundation stone was laid? June 16, 1737, with the following inscription on a plate of copper:

Quod fdix faustumque sit

Academic Oxoniensi,

Die XVI kalendarum Junii


Carolo Comite de Arran Cancellario,

stephano Niblet, S,T. P.


T homa Paget & Johanne Land, A. M.


Paudente un dique togata gente,

Honorabilis admodum

Baroaeltu "

Fdwardus Smith Mrmigen, Rad c Ln munTfieentiss mi Curiiorp. P P Jacobo ctbbs Architccto )bs ‘ Arct The whole building was completed in VtVf; and on the 12th of April, 17 was opened with, great solemnity.

| Essay on Charity Schools,” subjoined to his “Fable of the Bees.” What, however, the late Dr. Mead has recorded of him, is no small testimony in his favour; namely, that he was deservedly at the head of his profession, on account of his great medical penetration and experience."

Some remarkable traits in his character may be discovered in the following detached remarks and extracts:

His caprice in his profession seems to have been unbounded. When the lady of sir John Trevor, the master of the Rolls, was dying, in the summer of 1704, she was given over by Radcliffe as incurable. The master, thinking it a compliment to Radcliffe not to join any of the London physicians with him, sent to Oxford for Dr. Breach, an old crony, to consult on that occasion which made such a breach with Radcliffe that he set out in a few days for Bath where he is represented “as delighting scarce in any other company but that of papists.

The lady of sir John Holt he attended, in a bad illness, with unusual diligence, out of pique to the husband, who was supposed not to be over-fond of her.

When Mr. Harley was stabbed by Guiscard, Swift complains, that, by the caprice of Radcliffe, who would admit none but his own surgeon, he had “not been well looked after;” and adds in another place, “Mr. Harley has had an ill surgeon, by the caprice of that puppy Dr. Radcliffe; which has kept him back so long.

May 26, 1704, he carried some cause against an apothecary, by the aid of the solicitor-general Harcourt; and “two days before,” Atterbury says, “a play was acted, wherein the doctor was extremely ridiculed upon that head of his quarrel with the apothecary. A great number of persons of quality were present among- the rest, the duchess of Marlborough and the maids of honour. The passages where the doctor was affronted were received with the utmost applause.

In 1709, he was ridiculed by Steele, in the “Tatler,” under the title of “the mourning Æsculapius, the languishing hopeless lover of the divine Hebe, emblem of youth and beauty.” After curing the lady of a severe fever, he fell violently in love with her; but was rejected. The story is thus related in the “Biographia Britannica” “The lady who made the doctor, at this advanced age, stand in need of a physician himself, was, it is said, of great beauty, wealth, and quality and too attractive not to inspire the | coldest heart with the warmest sentiments. After he had made a cure of her, he could not but imagine, as naturally he might, that her ladyship would entertain a favourable opinion of him. But the lady, however grateful she might be for the care he had taken of her health, divulged the secret, and one of her confidants revealed it to Steele, who, on account of party, was so ill-natured as to write the ridicule of it in the Tatler.

This article shall be closed with an extract from the Richardsoniana “Dr. Radcliffe told Dr. Mead, ‘ Mead, I love you, and now I will tell you a sure secret to make your fortune; use all mankind ill.’ And it certainly was his own practice. He owned he was avaricious, even to spunging, whenever he any way could, at a tavern reckoning, a sixpence, or shilling, among the rest of the company, under pretence of * hating (as he ever did) to change a guinea, because (said he) it slips away so fast.‘ He could never be brought to pay bills without much following and importunity nor then if there appeared any chance of wearying them out. A paviour, after long and fruitless attempts, caught him just getting out of his chariot at his own door, in Bloomsbury-square, and set upon him. ’ Why, you rascal,‘ said the doctor, * do you pretend to be paid for such a piece of work why you have spoiled my pavement, and then covered it over with earth to hide your bad work.’ ‘ Doctor,’ said the paviour, 4 mine is not the only bad work that the earth hides’ ‘ You dog you,’ said the doctor, ‘ are you a wit you must be poor, come in’ and paid him. Nobody,” adds Mr. Richardson, “ever practised this rule, * of using all mankind ill,’ kss than Dr. Mead (who told me himself the story, and) who, as I have been informed by great physicians, got as much again by his practice as Dr. Radcliffe did.

Many other anecdotes are given of this singular character in “Some Memoirs of his Life,” published in 1714 or 1715, chiefly written by William Pittis, of New college, Oxford, assisted by information from Dr. Mead. A fourth edition of this appeared in 1736, to which Mr. Pittis annexed his name, with an appendix of “Letters,” and the new title of “Dr. Radcliffe’s Life and Letters.1


Life as above. Biog. Brit. Swift’s Wdrks see Index. Burnett’s Own Times. Atterbury’s Correspondence. Lysons’s Euvirons, vol. I, and vol. IV. Bowles’s edition of Pope’s Works. Utters by Eminent Persons, 3 vols, 8vo, 1813. —Gent. Mag. Index.