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JOHN RADCLIFFE, the son of a gentleman possessing a small estate at Wakefield, in Yorkshire, was born at that place, in the year 1650. After having received the rudiments of education at the grammar school of his native town, he removed, in 1665, to Oxford, where in 1669, he took the degree of B. A. at University College, and afterwards became a fellow of Lincoln. Determining upon the practice of physic, he attended several lectures on botany, chemistry, and anatomy; and distinguished himself, although neither zealous nor industrious, by the rapidity with which he acquired a knowledge of those sciences. Neglecting the older authorities, his principal medical study consisted in the perusal of works published by modern surgeons and physicians of eminence; and his collection of books was so scanty, that, on one occasion, when Dr. Bathurst, the head of Trinity College, asked him where was his library, he pointed to a few phials, a skeleton, and a herbal. In 1672, he took the degree of M. A.; in 1675, that of B. M.; and, immediately afterwards, commenced practice at Oxford.
He soon excited the animosity of all the old practitioners by his sarcasms, and opposition to their mode of treatment; but, notwithstanding this disadvantage, he rapidly advanced in reputation. Having exercised his wit with more freedom than prudence against Dr. Marshall, the rector of Lincoln College, the latter endeavoured to enforce against him the statutes requiring that, after a given period, the fellows should obtain a dispensation, unless they entered into holy orders; and Radcliffe, consequently, abandoned his fellowship.
In 1682, he took the degree of M. D., going out grand compounder; and, in 1684, having amassed considerable wealth, he removed to London; where, in less than two years he not only became in full practice, but received the appointment of physician to the Princess Anne of Denmark; whom, however, he declined to attend, at Nottingham, in 1688, lest, it is supposed, he should give offence to the Orange party'; alleging, as an excuse, the number and danger of his other patients.
On the accession of King William, he was consulted by his majesty, notwithstanding the attendance of the celebrated Dr. Bidloe, who was chief physician to the king; and upon the recovery of Mr. Bentinck, (afterwards Earl of Portland) and Mr. Zulestein, (afterwards Earl of Rochford) from severe indisposition, in which he had successfully treated their cases, after they had been pronounced incurable by other medical men, the king presented him with five hundred guineas out of the privy purse, and proposed to make him one of the royal physicians, with an addition of £200 a year to the usual allowance. This offer Radcliffe though proper to decline, but still continued to attend the king, from whom, during the first six years of his reign, he received nearly eight thousand guineas for his professional assistance. At this time the chief nobility were among his patients, and he had formed an enormous private practice; as much, perhaps, by his eccentricity of manner, as his ability in the treatment of disease. In 1691, he received one thousand guineas from the queen, for restoring to health the young
Duke of Gloucester, son of the Prince and Princess of Denmark, whose life had been despaired of by the court physicians. After this cure his reputation became so great, that Dr. Gibbons, a neighbouring practitioner, is said to have made £1,000 a year by those who were unable to obtain admission to Radcliffe for advice.
In 1694, Queen Mary being attacked with the small-pox, he was called in to advise upon her case, and, on perusing the prescriptions of her other physicians, before he entered her majesty's room, he pronounced her " a dead woman" a prediction which was speedily verified. During the same year, on being sent for by the Princess Anne of Denmark, he told the messenger, after hearing her symptoms described, "that she had nothing but the vapours; and was as well as any other woman, if she would but think so." For this he was dismissed from his appointment as her physician; but such was her confidence in his skill, that, in 1699, when her son, the Duke of Gloucester, again became alarmingly indisposed, she solicited his attendance. On examining the patient, he at once pronounced the case to be hopeless, and abused the two medical men who had been in attendance on his highness, with great acrimony; assuring one, that it would have been well for himself and his patient had he followed his father's occupation of basket-making; and the other, that had he stuck to the murdering of nouns, as a country school-master, he would have escaped from deserving to be whipped with one of his own rods.
In 1695, he received £1,200 from the king, and the offer of a baronetage, (which, however, he declined, because he had no children to inherit it,) for having, at his majesty's request, gone abroad to attend the Earl of Albemarle; who, being speedily restored to health, by Radcliffe's treatment, had presented him with four hundred guineas as a fee, and a diamond ring of great value, as well as a sufficient sum to defray the whole of his travelling expenses.
Two years after, on being called in to prescribe for the king, whose physicians had foretold his speedy recovery, and declared that he would live for a number of years, Radcliffe took up a copy of L'Estrange's Esop, which his
majesty had been perusing, and, after reading the fable of the sick man, who, on complaining of a variety of ailments, was told that all was well with him, he said to his royal patient, "May it please your majesty, yours and the sick man's case are the very same you are buoyed up, by persons who know not your malady nor the means of removing it, with hopes that it will soon be driven away; but I must be plain, and tell you that, although in all probability, if you adhere to my prescriptions, and provided your majesty will forbear making long visits to the Earl of Bradford's, (where the king, says Pittis, was wont to drink very hard,) I may be able to lengthen out your life for three or four years; yet I cannot venture to say I can make you live longer." In a short time, the king so far recovered as to be able to visit Holland; but, about the close of 1699, he became afflicted with dropsy in the lower extremities, and sending for Radcliffe, asked him-pointing to his swollen ancles as he spoke-"Doctor, what do you think of these?" "Why, truly, sir," replied Radcliffe, "I would not have your majesty's two legs, for your three kingdoms." By this freedom, he gave so much offence, that the king would never afterwards receive him; although the Earl of Albemarle, and other influential persons, often and earnestly interceded in his behalf.
On the accession of Anne, Lord Godolphin exerted himself, but without success, for Radcliffe's reinstatement as her physician; the queen declaring that, if he should be sent for, he would tell her messenger again, that she had "nothing but the vapours." In 1703, he had an alarming attack of pleurisy, which he increased, at its commencement, by imprudently drinking a bottle of wine, and subsequently aggravated by neglect. Mr. Bernard, serjeant-surgeon to the queen, bled him most profusely, and thus subdued the inflammation; but the next day he rashly insisted upon being carried to Kensington. When queen heard of this circumstance, which does not appear to have retarded his recovery, she remarked, "that nobody had reason to take any thing ill from him, since it was plain he had used other people no worse than he used himself." A few years after, he
attended her husband, Prince George of Denmark, at her majesty's request; and plainly told her, that having been grossly tampered with, nothing in the art of medicine could keep him alive above six days; within which period, the prince died of dropsy.
In 1710, he appears, with some difficulty, to have been dissuaded from relinquishing his practice, principally by the Archbishop of York, who, under his treatment, had recovered from a very dangerous illness. On the impeachment of Sacheverell, he exerted his influence, with great zeal, to procure the acceptance of bail for that turbulent divine; and on the arrival of Prince Eugene, in England, he invited his highness to a substantial repast of roast beef and strong beer; in allusion to which the prince is said to have remarked, that "he could not wonder at the bravery of the English nation, since they had such food and liquors of their own growth."
In 1713, he became member for Buckingham, in which capacity he supported the malt-tax, and the bill to prevent the growth of schism. Shortly afterwards, in consequence of frequent and severe attacks of gout, he began gradually to retire from practice; earnestly recommending to his patients Dr. Mead, as his successor.
Queen Anne being attacked with a dangerous illness, on the 28th of July, 1714, he received an order to attend her; to which he is said to have replied, "that he had taken physic, and could not come." The public were so indignant at his refusal, that, according to his own statement, he did not dare to leave home; being threatened, in several letters, "with being pulled to pieces, if ever he went to London." The real motive for his non-attendance appears to have been a doubt, in his own mind, whether the order he had received was a sufficient authority for him to act: and, considering the violent animosity which existed between him, and all the practitioners of medicine of the old school, he may, perhaps, be acquitted of brutality towards the queen; as, in case the disorder should end fatally (which it did), some enemy would, doubtless, attribute the event to his want of skill. The following is an extract of a letter written by him, on this subject, four
days after the queen's demise:-“ 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, before a sovereign's demise. However, as ill as I was, I would have went to the queen, in a horselitter, had either her majesty, or those in commission next her, commanded me so to do." Soon after the death of the queen, a member of the house of commons, who was a personal friend of the doctor, moved, apparently without effect, that "he might be ordered to attend in his place, for the purpose of being censured for not having attended on her majesty."
He died at his house at Carshalton, on the 1st of November, 1714; and was buried, with great honours, at Oxford, on the 4th of the following month. By his will, he left an estate in Yorkshire, to the master and fellows of University College, for the foundation of two travelling fellowships of £300 a year each; directing the surplus of the rent to be applied in the purchase of perpetual advowsons for the members of that college: he also bequeathed £500 a year to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, "towards mending the diet," and £100 a year for the purchase of linen; to University College, £5,000 for the enlargement of the building; £40,000 for the erection of a library at Oxford, £150 a year for the librarian, and £100 a year, for ever, for buying books. He left £1,000 a year to one of his sisters; £500 a year to his other sister; the same to one of his nephews; and to his other nephew and niece, £200 a year each. The residue of his property, with the exception of some small bequests, he gave to trustees for charitable purposes.
The character of this celebrated man has been variously drawn; some persons affirming that he was nothing more than an ingenious and active empiric, who, by constant practice had attained some skill in his profession, while others assert that his cures were the result of reflection and talent: the former are by far more numerous, but among the latter, stands no less a name than that of the illustrious Mead. Mandeville, in his Essay on Charity Schools, concludes
a violent Philippic against him, by asking, "What must we judge of his motive, the principle he acted upon, when, after his death, we find that he has left a trifle amongst his relations, who stood in need of it, and an immense treasure to an university that did not want it?" In a letter found in his closet, after his decease, addressed to his sister, Millicent, was the following remarkable sage: "You will find, by my will, that I have taken better care of you, than perhaps you might expect, from my former treatment of you; for which, with my dying breath, I most heartily ask pardon. I had, indeed, acted the brother's part much better, in making a handsome settlement for you while living, than after my decease; and can plead nothing in excuse, but that the love of money, which I have emphatically known to be the root of all evil, was predominant over me."
His conversation was witty, his manner excessively abrupt, and his disposition petulant and irascible. On one occasion he suddenly quitted a patient, Lady Trevor, because her husband, knowing that he was at variance with most of the London physicians, had sent for Dr. Breach, of Oxford, to consult with him. An old lady, who had spoken disrespectfully of his talents, being taken seriously ill, her daughter, for whom he entertained a great respect, obtained a visit from him, on the pretence that she herself was indisposed: Radcliffe's stay was, however, short; for no sooner had he been made acquainted with the fact, than he abruptly departed, observing, that "he neither knew what was good for an old woman, nor what an old woman. was good for." Tyson, of Hackney, a notorious usurer, having gone to his residence for advice, clad in mean attire, with a view to save the fee, was thus roughly addressed by Radcliffe, who had penetrated through his paltry disguise:"Go home, sir, and repent, as fast as you can; for the grave and the devil are equally ready for Tyson of Hackney, who has raised an immense estate out of the spoils of orphans and widows, and will certainly be a dead man in ten days." Tyson, it is said, died about a week after, leaving property to the amount of £300,000.
His habits are said to have been very intemperate; and he once refused to quit a tavern, until he had finished his bottle, although urgently entreated, by her husband, to visit a lady who was duct, the gentleman forcibly carried him in great danger. Irritated by his contime, calling him a villain and a rascal, out of the house-Radcliffe, in the meanand swearing, that, in revenge, he would into effect. cure his wife; a threat which he carried
lowing effect, has been related of him: Another tavern anecdote, to the folwhile dining, one day, with Lord nobility, at the Mitre, in Fleet Street, Granville, and others of the principal he received a letter from a man then under sentence of death, in Newgate, that he had, some time before, stolen for a highway robbery, acknowledging £150 from Radcliffe; whose intercession he, however, earnestly solicited, Radcliffe immediately applied to Lord to obtain a commutation of his sentence. Granville on the subject; observing, that the man's confession gave him much pleasure, as it established the innocence of one whom he had unjustly suspected of the offence; and through that nobleman's interest, the culprit Virginia; whence, in a short time, he was reprieved, and transported to sent produce to Radcliffe, exceeding in value the amount of his loss.
When residing in Bow Street, he obtained leave to have a door placed in the garden-wall of his next-door neighbour, Sir Godfrey Kneller, in order that he might take an occasional walk, among the shrubs, in Sir Godfrey's garden. His servants, however, at that the latter threatened to have the length became so annoying to Kneller, door bricked up. "Tell him," said Radcliffe," that he is welcome to do what he likes, so that he does not paint it." plied, "I can take anything from Dr. To this insulting message, Kneller reRadcliffe but his physic."
cotemporaries, even though they coinIn his deportment to his medical cided with him in opinion, he was posed his notions, violent and grossly overbearing and rude; and, if they opinsulting. He appears, in return, to have been visited with much abuse, on account of his adherence, in the treatment of small-pox cases, to the maxims