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HEBERDEN, William (1710-1801)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-HEBEW
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/archive-and-historical-library-collections ›
Full title: HEBERDEN, William (1710-1801)
Date(s): c.1744-[1784]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 7 volumes
Name of creator(s): Heberden | William | 1710-1801 | physician

Context

Administrative/Biographical history:

William Heberden was born in London in August 1710, of an old Hampshire family. He was educated at St Saviour's Grammar School, Southwark, before being sent at an early age to St John's College, Cambridge, in 1724. He graduated BA in 1728, and then MA in 1732. He was elected Fellow of his College in April 1731 and began to study medicine, partly at Cambridge and partly in a London hospital. In 1734 he received a fellowship of his College. Between 1734 and 1738 he was Linacre Lecturer in Physic, and proceeded to MD in 1739. During the next decade he practiced medicine in the university, and gave an annual course of lectures on materia medica. Whilst at Cambridge he acquired a reputation as a good classical scholar, and was well versed in Hebrew. He contributed `A Letter from Cleander to Alexias on Hippocrates and the State of Physic in Greece' to the collection called The Athenian Letters (1741). A specimen of his method of lecturing is preserved in his Antitheriaca: An Essay on Mithridatium and Theriaca (1745), which is a warning against superstitious polypharmacy and is charactised by `learning and good sense' (Munk's Roll, 1878, p.160).

In 1745 Heberden was admitted a candidate of the Royal College of Physicians, and was made Fellow in 1746. In 1748 he was persuaded to move to London by Sir Edward Hulse, physician to George III, and settled in Cecil Street where his practice began to thrive. Upon leaving Cambridge he donated his collected specimens, used to illustrate his lectures, to St John's College. In 1749 he was made Fellow of the Royal Society, and was made Gulstonian Lecturer and Censor at the Royal College of Physicians. In the following year he was nominated Harveian Orator at the College. He gave up his fellowship at St John's College in 1752 to a poorer scholar, and in the same year married Elizabeth Martin.

In 1760 he held the offices of Croonian Lecturer and Censor at the Royal College of Physicians. Heberden was held in high esteem by George III, and in 1761 upon Queen Charlotte's arrival in England was named her physician in ordinary. However Heberden chose to decline the post because, it is said, `he was apprehensive it might interfere with those connections of life that he had now formed' (ibid, p.163). In 1762 he was constituted an Elect of the College, an office in which he remained until 1781.

Heberden is considered one of the most eminent of English physicians of the eighteenth century, and was renowned for his charity and gentle manner. Samuel Johnson, lexicographer, literary biographer and one of Heberden's patients, spoke of him as `Ultimus Romanorum, the last of our learned physicians', although it has been asserted that he was more the `first of the moderns' (DNB, 1891, p.360). It has been said that he made `valuable contributions to the science of medicine', although he was not a prolific writer (ibid, p.359). He published several papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and in the Medical Transactions of the College of Physicians, a publication Heberden first promoted in 1763. His account of angina pectoris was the first description of this disease, whilst his paper on chickenpox was also original. Heberden was a patron of learning and printed, at his own expense, two editions of Euripides' plays, edited by Jeremiah Markland, the Greek scholar. He also published Conyers Middleton's Appendix to his Dissertation on the Servile Condition of Physicians among the Ancients. His interest in classical literature was further reflected in his election, in 1770, to Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

About 1770 he moved to Pall Mall, where he continued in practice. He was made honorary member of the Royal Society of Medicine in Paris in 1778. In 1783, after over thirty years continuous practice in London, he took partial retirement and resided during the summer months in a house he had bought at Datchet, near Windsor. He continued for some years to return to London to practice during the winter, eventually retiring from practice completely some years before his death. He began to compile in his seventies his Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases (1802), which his son William Heberden the younger published, in Latin and then in English, after his death. As an acute clinical observer he had always been in the habit of taking copious notes of his cases, and these formed the basis of this work. The Commentaries proved extremely popular, both in England and abroad, and passed through several editions.

Heberden's first wife died in 1754, just two years after their marriage; she left him one son, Thomas, who became Canon of Exeter. In 1760 he married Mary Wollaston and had eight children, of whom only two survived their father, one being the aforementioned William Heberden the younger, a reputed physician in his own right.

Heberden died on 17 May 1801 at the age of 90, at his house in Pall Mall. He was buried in the parish church at Windsor, where his family erected a monument to his memory.

Publications:
Antitheriaca: An Essay on Mithridatium and Theriaca (1745)
Commentarii de Morborum Historia et Curatione (London, 1802, 1807; Frankfurt, 1804; Leipzig, 1805, 1927; English translation ascribed to William Heberden junior, London, 1803, 1806)
Medical and non-medical papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and the Medical Transactions of the College of Physicians
Strictures upon the Discipline of the University of Cambridge addressed to the Senate, anonymous - attributed to Heberden by Halkett and Laing and Bowes (London, 1792)
An Introduction to the Study of Physic, with a prefatory essay by L. Crummer with a reprint of Heberden's Some Account of a Disorder of the Breast, Le Roy Crummer (New York, 1929)

Publications by others about Heberden:
William Heberden: Physician of the Age of Reason, Ernest Heberden (London, 1989)

Content

Scope and content/abstract:

Heberden's papers, c.1744 - [1784], include his notes on the history and cure of diseases, 1782, thought to be the original manuscript for his Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases (1802), and his index of the history of disease, [1784] (date '22 Maii 1784' is written at the end of the volume), containing the notes from which his Commentaries were drawn up; Manuscript of his Goulstonian Lectures, 1749, in Heberden's hand; Index of materia medica containing remedies and their effects compiled by Heberden from his case notes, with additional notes on the opposite pages by his son, William Heberden the younger, 18th century. The collection also includes manuscript volumes attributed to Heberden's hand, 'An Introduction to the Study of Physic', c.1744-1755; 'Preliminary Observations', c.1782; 'A Collection of Essays', 18th century (although it is now thought that this manuscript is definitely not in Heberden's hand).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Latin and English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Unrestricted

Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

It is likely that Heberden's notes on the history and cure of diseases and his index of materia medica compiled from his case notes were both in the possession of Heberden the younger for a time. There is a note written by Heberden the younger on the inside cover of the two volumes testifying to the manuscripts being those of his father. The former was most likely used by Heberden the younger, in his preparation for posthumous publication of his father's Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases (1802), whilst the latter is annotated throughout by Heberden the younger.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Heberden's index of the history of disease was presented to the Royal College of Physicians by William Heberden the younger, Heberden's son, .n.d.; His Goulstonian Lectures were presented by Dr Arnold Chaplin [1917]; Manuscripts attributed to Heberden, 'An Introduction to the Study of Physic', 'Preliminary Observations', and 'A Collection of Essays', were presented by Dr Le Roy Crummer of Los Angeles, 10 September 1931; The immediate source of transfer of the notes on the history and cure of diseases and index of materia medica is unknown (see 3.2.3)

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is also material relating to Heberden held elsewhere in the College archives, including Heberden's statement of a plan to publish medical papers offered to the College in a publication called Medical Transactions of the College of Physicians, printed, 1766 (MS2537); Reference to his attendance at Samuel Johnson's post-mortem, 1784, in James Wilson (1765-1821) and James Arthur Wilson's (1795-1882) record of post-mortem examinations, 1784-1853 (MS655); Several manuscript copies of his Goulstonian Lectures, n.d. [18th century] (MS347-349), possibly in the hand of and belonging to Richard Wright, surgeon (MS347); thought to be in the hand of Thomas Harrison (1771-1824), librarian of Queen's College, Cambridge (MS348); and in an anonymous hand (MS349); Heberden's receipt for 10 for his Croonian Lecture, 1760, amongst College papers on the Croonian lectures (MS1012/12); His name on a list of those present at a meeting of the College Elects about chirurgical lectures, 1771 (MS1022/16); Letter from Arnold Chaplin (1864-1944) to Sir Norman Moore (1847-1922) presenting the College with Heberden's manuscript of his 1749 Goulstonian Lectures (MS346), 1917, in a volume of Library Committee Minutes (MS2000/145); Letter from W.B. Heberden to Sir Humphry Rolleston (1862-1944) regarding Heberden's portrait by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839), 1922, in a volume about College portraits (MS2002/37). There are also a number of Heberden's letters, 1751-1780, amongst the College's Autographed Letters Collection (ALS);


Heberden's lecture notes, including those on materia medica, in the hand of Thomas Hayes, 1737-1738, are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; Three of his papers submitted to the Royal Society are held at the Royal Society. See the National Register of Archives for details; Some of Heberden's letters are held in the British Library. See the British Library Manuscripts Catalogue.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

His notes and index on the history and cure of diseases, 1782-[1784], are thought to be the original manuscript for the posthumously published Commentarii de Morborum Historia et Curatione (London, 1802, 1807; Frankfurt, 1804; Leipzig, 1805, 1927; English translation, Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases, ascribed to William Heberden junior, London, 1803, 1806); The collection also includes a manuscript attributed to Heberden, c.1744-1755, thought to be a draft of the posthumously published An Introduction to the Study of Physic, with a prefatory essay by L. Crummer with a reprint of Heberden's Some Account of a Disorder of the Breast, Le Roy Crummer (New York, 1929)

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, vol. XXV, Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee (eds.) (London, 1891) [DNB, 1891, pp.359-60]; The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol. II, 1701-1800, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, 1878, pp.159-64]; `William Heberden', H.S. Carter, Scottish Medical Journal, 1957, 2, pp.480-84; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled May 2003; Modified September 2003

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