Sir Samuel Garth (16611719)



  • Author
  • Physician
  • M.D.

Biographical details

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Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

GARTH, Sir SAMUEL (1661–1719), physician and poet, eldest son of William Garth of Bowland Forest in the West Riding of Yorkshire, was born in 1661, and sent to school at Ingleton, at the foot of Ingleborough. In 1676 he entered at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and there graduated B.A. 1679, M.A. 1684, and M.D. 1691, after having in 1687 gone to Leyden to study medicine. He settled in London, where he was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians, 26 June 1693. In 1694 he delivered the Gulstonian lectures. His subject was respiration, but he never published the lectures, though requested to do so. He soon attained practice, was able to hold his own among the wits, and, without becoming an active politician, was known to be a whig. In 1697 he delivered the Harveian oration at the College of Physicians on 17 Sept., and it was ordered to be printed by the president and censors on the 27th of the same month. It is dedicated to Charles Montague, then first lord of the treasury and president of the Royal Society. Half of the oration is a panegyric of William III. On the last page Garth alludes to a scheme, which had been discussed in the college from 1687, for establishing a dispensary where poor people could obtain advice and prescriptions from the best physicians. While a large majority of the fellows of the college supported this scheme, a minority allied themselves with the apothecaries of the city, who tried to defeat the plan, chiefly by charging exorbitant prices for the drugs prescribed. In 1699 Garth published ‘The Dispensary, a Poem,’ which is a record of the first attempt to establish those out-patient rooms now universal in the large towns of England. ‘The Dispensary’ ridicules the apothecaries and their allies among the fellows. It was circulated in manuscript, and in a few weeks was printed and sold by John Nutt, near Stationers' Hall. A second and a third edition appeared in the same year, to which were added a dedication to Anthony Henley, an introduction explaining the controversy in the College of Physicians, and copies of commendatory verses. A fourth edition appeared in 1700, a sixth in 1706, a seventh in 1714, and a tenth in 1741. The poem continued to be generally read for fifty years, and some of its phrases are still quoted. It describes a mock Homeric battle between the physicians and the apothecaries, Harvey being finally summoned from the Elysian fields to prescribe a reform. ‘Horoscope’ represents Francis Bernard [q. v.], who had been apothecary to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and whose courage during the plague led to his election to the medical staff. His note-books show that the insinuations about his practice were unfounded. His former position led him to take the apothecaries' side. Among his allies Dr. William Gibbons figures as Mirmillo, Dr. George Howe as Querpo, Dr. Edward Tyson as Carus, Dr. William Gould as Umbra, and Sir Richard Blackmore as the Bard. On the physicians' side Dr. Charles Goodall as Stentor is the most redoubtable combatant. Garth added and omitted or altered lines throughout the ‘Dispensary’ in later editions, but most readers will differ from Pope in the opinion that every change was an improvement. The copy of the third edition, which belonged to Garth's friend, Christopher Codrington, is in the library of the College of Physicians of London, and has the names added in his handwriting. Hallam (Literature of Europe, 4th ed. iii. 490) and other critics have suggested that the ‘Dispensary’ was a copy of Boileau's ‘Lutrin,’ but Garth owes more to Dryden's ‘MacFlecknoe,’ although, as the author admits in his preface, the lines in praise of King William's martial activity are copied from Boileau's verses in praise of Lewis (‘Le Lutrin,’ ii. 133 sq.) In 1700 he obtained the permission of the censor's board (Annals of the College of Physicians, 3 May 1700) for the body of Dryden to lie in state at the college. He made a Latin oration in praise of the poet, and accompanied his remains to Westminster Abbey. In 1700 he translated the ‘Life of Otho’ in the fifth volume of Dryden's ‘Plutarch,’ and in 1702 the first philippic in ‘Several Orations of Demosthenes,’ published by Tonson. He became a member of the Kit-Cat Club, and wrote the verses inscribed on its toasting glasses to Lady Carlisle, Lady Essex, Lady Hyde, and Lady Wharton (printed at the end of the tenth edition of the ‘Dispensary,’ London, 1741). He wrote verses easily, and some, preserved in manuscript, were certainly intended to be read only by men far advanced in post-prandial potations (manuscript, in Garth's hand, belonging to Dr. Munk). His handwriting was always hurried and slovenly, but amidst the occupations of a large practice he found time to help the distressed. His notes to Sir Hans Sloane (Sloane MS. in Brit. Mus. 4045) always go straight to the point, as: ‘Dear Sir Hans,—If you can recommend this miserable slut to be flux'd you'll do an act of charity for, dear sir, your obedt sert Sl Garth.’ He married Martha, daughter of Sir Henry Beaufoy, and had one child, a daughter, who married Colonel William Boyle. Lady Garth died on 14 May 1717, and was buried in the parish church of Harrow. Garth continued to write throughout life; in 1711 he wrote a verse dedication of Lucretius, in 1715 ‘Claremont,’ a poem on Lord Clare's villa; and in 1717 an edition of Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses,’ in English verse, of no great merit. He also wrote in verse a dedication of Ovid's ‘Art of Love’ to Richard, earl of Burlington, and one to Lady Louisa Lenox with Ovid's ‘Epistles,’ an epilogue to the tragedy of ‘Cato,’ a prologue to ‘Tamerlane,’ and a prologue to the ‘Music Meeting in York Buildings.’ He was knighted on the accession of George I, and became physician in ordinary to the king and physician-general to the army. The ‘Chronological Diary,’ 1714, states that he was knighted with the sword of Marlborough. He lived in Covent Garden, grew wealthy by practice, and died on 18 Jan. 1719, after a brief illness, and was buried beside his wife at Harrow. Pope wrote that Garth was ‘the best natured of men,’ and that ‘his death was very heroical, and yet unaffected enough to have made a saint or philosopher famous.’ His portrait, of kit-cat size, by Kneller, hangs to the left of the fireplace in the censor's room at the College of Physicians, and gives him a fresh complexion and cheerful expression, in a flowing wig. A drawing by Hogarth represents him at Button's coffee-house standing by a table at which Pope is sitting.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 498; Garth's Works; Johnson's Lives of the Poets, ed. 1781, ii. 313; An Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets, London, 1720; Cibber's Lives of the Poets, London, 1753, iii. 263; Merrett's Short View of the Frauds and Abuses committed by Apothecaries, London, 1670; A Charter granted to the Apothecaries of London, London, 1695; Thomas Brown's Physick lies a-bleeding, or the Apothecary turned Doctor, London, 1697; The late Censors deservedly censured by Lysiponius Celer, M.D.L., London, 1698; The Necessity and Usefulness of the Dispensaries, London, 1702; The Present State of Physick and Surgery in London, 1701; Bellum Medicinale, 1701; Pitt's Craft and Frauds of Physic exposed, 1702; Spence's Anecdotes.]

N. M.

Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)

GARTH, SIR SAMUEL (1661–1719), English physician and poet, was born of a good Yorkshire family in 1661. He entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1676, graduating B.A. in 1679 and M.A. in 1684. He took his M.D. and became a member of the College of Physicians in 1691. In 1697 he delivered the Harveian oration, in which he advocated a scheme dating from some ten years back for providing dispensaries for the relief of the sick poor, as a protection against the greed of the apothecaries. In 1699 he published a mock-heroic poem, The Dispensary, in six cantos, which had an instant success, passing through three editions within a year. In this he ridiculed the apothecaries and their allies among the physicians. The poem has little interest at the present day, except as a proof that the heroic couplet was written with smoothness and polish before the days of Pope. Garth was a member of the Kit-Kat Club, and became the leading physician of the Whigs, as Radcliffe was of the Tories. In 1714 he was knighted by George I. and he died on the 18th of January 1719. He wrote little besides his best-known work The Dispensary and Claremont, a moral epistle in verse. He made a Latin oration (1700) in praise of Dryden and translated the Life of Otho in the fifth volume of Dryden’s Plutarch. In 1717 he edited a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, himself supplying the fourteenth and part of the fifteenth book.