Worcester Cathedral Library’s medical book collection contains many different works. An example of an early 18th century physician who was also an author is Dr. John Freind. He led a busy life joining two military expeditions to Europe, writing several books and travelling to Italy to meet contemporary doctors. He even became a member of parliament and was arrested for high treason. Yet, when he passed away on 6th July 1728, he was a physician to royalty and a respectable member of the establishment.
The Cathedral copy of Freind’s writings was published after his death in 1733. The book itself is in Latin and Greek and contains eight different sections. The book might strike the general visitor to the Library as a mixture of the historical, traditional and the contemporary. Freind’s colleagues were clearly impressed by his translation of Ancient Greek author Hippocrates’ first and third books on “Morals of the Common People”. However, not all his work was like this. Dr. Freind had originally written his history of medicine, which formed the last work in this book, in English. It was his 1733 editor Dr. John Wigan who had translated it into Latin. This book also included Freind’s own contemporary thought upon subjects such as fevers. To understand why Freind’s book contained both the conventional and the contemporary it is necessary to study his life.
John Freind was born in 1675. He was the son of a rector in Northamptonshire, who made sure that his sons were well-educated. From Westminster School John went to Christ Church, Oxford. He studied to become a master of Physick. His first medical work was published in 1703. In 1704 he lectured in chemistry at the university. A year later he had given up his Oxford post to join the Earl of Peterborough’s military expedition to Spain as physician to the army, which lasted two years. He then made his way back to England via Italy to meet two famous Italian physicians he admired called Giorgio Baglivi and Giovanni M. Lancisi. When he came back to Britain, he was surprised to find that the Earl of Peterborough’s conduct of the Spanish expedition was being severely criticized. John Freind thought these criticisms so unfair that he wrote in defence of the Earl’s conduct, in 1707. His attempt to defend the Earl’s actions did not meet with much success[i].
On 12 July 1707 Freind was finally made a Doctor of Physick. In 1709 his Oxford “chemical lectures” of 1704 were published. In 1712 he was made a member of the Royal Society where he met eminent scientific people such as Sir Isaac Newton. He then accepted the post of physician to the Duke of Ormond on his military expedition to Flanders. It was through military experiences such as these that Freind was said to have gained an understanding of wounds and diseases prevalent in encampments[ii]. He returned to England and established a medical practice. It was only on 9th April 1716, however, that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In the same year he published two items: One by the Ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates and the other was a medical commentary on purging in the second fever of smallpox in a letter addressed to Dr. Richard Mead, a very noted doctor of his era, as well as a medical author[iii].
On 7th March 1717, Freind gave the Gulstonian (Goulstonian) lecture in the Royal College of Physicians[iv]. He was chosen to be one of the censors of this body on 30th September 1718 for two years. It is the role of the censors to maintain the high standards and practices of the profession. Then on 25th March 1719 he donated £50 towards the repair of the College of Physicians’ building[v]. On 18th October 1720 he gave an anniversary oration in the theatre of the Royal College of Medicine in the William Harvey Institute, which was later published and a copy of which is in the book in the Cathedral.
In 1722, having now gained experience and position as an important figure in his profession he decided to stand for Parliament as MP for Launceston in Cornwall. Had this been one of Freind’s ambitions all along? If so, Freind’s political adventure swiftly came to an end when he spoke out in Parliament in support of men who had been seized as part of a suspected Jacobite plot. He was arrested along with several others as possible suspects in the matter. The charge was high treason and he was sent to the Tower of London where he stayed for many months.
The reason for this extraordinary turn of events was that he was now mixed up in the government’s very real fears about the Bishop of Rochester’s conspiracy or the “Atterbury plot” which was a plot to install a Catholic Jacobite on the throne. Many important figures were thought to be involved in the matter and came under suspicion. It is not possible to say here if Dr. Freind was really involved although it is thought that he was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause[vi]. He was fortunate in that his release was due to his friend Richard Mead[vii].
However, the fact that Freind used his time in the tower to write another brief medical letter on smallpox suggests he was not entirely worried about his situation. He also used this time to plan his History of Physick, which was to cover medical history from the time of the Ancient Greek doctor Galen through to the 16th Century. This was eventually published in two parts in 1725 and 1726. Freind dealt with the ancient authors, then Arabic medicine and finally with European medicine from the Middle Ages to just before his own era.
Freind’s recovery from his foray into politics seemed to have been complete when he was accepted as physician to Queen Caroline[viii]. Clearly his reputation had been restored. Unfortunately, his health was by now in decline and when he caught a fever on top of whatever illness he was suffering from, his fellows were unable to save him. The fact that the Royal Family gave a pension to his widow shows their sadness at the news and their respect for him[ix].
If you are interested in medical history and are visiting the area why not visit Worcester’s George Marshall Medical Museum or the Worcester Infirmary Museum to learn more about the history of medicine or book a tour of the Cathedral Library and see some of the medical books.
Biographia Britannica or the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland from the earliest ages …. Vol. 3 London, 1750
Chambers’s Encyclopaedia Volume IX, George Newnes Ltd. London, 1950.
Chambers’s Encyclopaedia Volume VI, George Newnes Ltd. London, 1950.
The Dictionary of National Biography. The Concise Dictionary part 1 from the beginnings to 1900, Oxford University Press, London 1965.
Geoffrey Holmes, The Making of a Great Power – Late Stuart and Early Georgian Britain 1660-1722, Longman, London 1993.
Eric William Sheppard, A Short history of the British Army, Constable, London 1959.
[i] For very brief assessments of the Earl of Peterborough see Eric William Sheppard, A Short history of the British Army, Constable, London 1959, p.26; Geoffrey Holmes, The making of a Great Power – Late Stuart and Early Georgian Britain 1660-1722, Longman, London 1993, pp.203, 239
[ii] Biographia Britannica or the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland from the earliest ages …. Vol. 3 London, 1750, p.2033. This opinion was attributed to the editor of his published works Dr. Wigan.
[iii] Chambers’s Encyclopaedia Volume IX, London 1950, p.178
[iv] Biographia Britannica or the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland from the earliest ages …. Vol. 3 London, 1750, pp.2036-2037
[v] Biographia Britannica or the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland from the earliest ages …. Vol. 3 London, 1750, p.2037
[vi] Chambers’s Encyclopaedia Volume VI, London, 1950, p.11
[vii] Chambers’s Encyclopaedia Volume IX, London 1950, p.178
[viii] Biographia Britannica or the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland from the earliest ages …. Vol. 3 London, 1750, p.2042
[ix] Biographia Britannica or the Lives of the Most Eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland from the earliest ages …. Vol. 3 London, 1750, p.2043