John Arbuthnot

From Academic Kids

Dr. John Arbuthnot, often known simply as Dr. Arbuthnot, (April 29, 1667February 27, 1735), was a British physician and author best known for his satirical writings.



Arbuthnot was born in Kincardineshire, Scotland, son of Rev Alexander Arbuthnot, an Episcopalian minister and Margaret, née Lammie. He graduated with an arts from Marischal College in 1685. After the 1691 death of his father, Arbuthnot went to London, where he supported himself by teaching Mathematics.

In 1692, he translated Christian Huygens' treatise on probability, adding material of his own. This was the first work on probability published in English. Also in 1692, he entered University College, Oxford, and in 1696 he received an M.D. at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Around 1700, Arbuthnot published his Essay on the usefulness of mathematical learning. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1704.

Being by a fortunate accident at Epsom, he was called in to provide medical care for Prince George of Denmark, who was suddenly taken ill there, and was so successful in his treatment that he was appointed his regular physician. This circumstance made his professional fortune, for his ability enabled him to take full advantage of it, and in 1705 he became physician extraordinary to Queen Anne. He became the cherished friend of Swift and Pope, and himself gained a high reputation as a wit and man of letters.

He married Margaret whose maiden name was probably Wemyss. Their children included Anne, Margaret, George and Rev Charles Arbuthnot.

After the death of Queen Anne, Arbuthnot lost his court appointments, but this, as well as more serious afflictions with which he was visited, he bore with serenity and dignity.

Literary Career

Arbuthnot is one of the founding members of the Scriblerus Club. The club was an informal group of friends that included Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Gay. Henry St. John the Viscount Bolingbroke, and Edward Harley the 2nd Earl of Oxford were occasional members and contributors to the club projects, as well. The club began as a project of satirizing the abuses of learning wherever they might be found.

Arbuthnot was regarded by the other wits of the club as one of the sharpest and funniest, but Arbuthnot allowed his children to play with his papers, and even to burn them. He has therefore left fewer literary remains than the other members of the club. Arbuthnot is best remembered for his two 1712 "John Bull" pamphlets, which satirized the Whig war party (in the War of the Spanish Succession). Along with the other "Tories," Arbuthnot supported the Treaty of Utrecht. As a Scribblerian, Arbuthnot contributed significantly to The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus. His antiquarian interests are reflected in much of the satire of the father of Martinus. Scholars suspect that Arbuthnot contributed to other productions of club members (and to anonymous letters to periodicals edited by friends, such as The Guardian), but it is impossible to be sure. Other works include A Treatise concerning the Altercation or Scolding of the Ancients, and the Art of Political Lying. He also wrote various medical treatises, and dissertations on ancient coins, weights, and measures. He was an honourable and amiable man, one of the very few who seems to have retained the sincere regard of Swift, whose style he made the model of his own, with such success that writings by the one were sometimes attributed to the other: his Art of Political Lying is an example. He has, however, none of the ferocity of Swift.

Arbuthnot aided the sickly Alexander Pope, and Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot was written to him (just after Arbuthnot's death). It is one of the few places where Pope mentions his own ill health, and he praises Arburthnot for helping him maintain, "This long disease, my life." Why Pope held this praise until after Arbuthnot's death is a matter of speculation.


External link

gl:John Arbuthnot


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