Lives of the fellows

James Drake

b.1667 d.2 March 1706/7
Mb Cantab(1690) MD(1694) FRS(1701) FRCP(1706)

James Drake, M.D., was born at Cambridge, in 1667. He was educated at Caius college, and as a member of that house proceeded M.B. 1690, M.D. 1694. Settling in London, he was patronised by Sir Thomas Millington, and some other eminent physicians, and in 1701 was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1698; and a Fellow 30th September, 1706. Dr. Drake was a man of warm feelings, and, preferring politics to physic, became a violent party writer. He was concerned in 1697 in the publication of a pamphlet, entitled "Commendatory Verses upon the Author of prince Arthur and king Arthur;" and in 1702 he published " The History of the last Parliament begun at Westminster Feb.10, in the 12th year of king William, A.D. 1700." The House of Lords, thinking that this work reflected too severely on the memory of the king, summoned the author before them in May, 1702, and ordered him to be prosecuted by the attorney-general. He was brought to trial, but acquitted. In 1704 Dr. Drake, in concert with Mr. Poley, the member for Ipswich, wrote "The Memorial of the Church of England, humbly offered to the consideration of all true lovers of the Church and Constitution." This pamphlet was anonymous, and every precaution was taken by the authors to elude discovery. The treasurer Godolphin, and the other great officers of the Crown, therein severely reflected on, were so incensed at the publication that they represented it to the queen, as an insult on her honour, and as conveying an intimation that the Church was in danger under her administration. In the speech from the throne, 27th October, 1705, her Majesty alluded to "The Memorial," and was addressed by both Houses of Parliament upon that occasion. Soon afterwards the queen, on the petition of the House of Commons, issued a proclamation for discovering the author of the pamphlet. Drake was generally suspected, but proof could not be obtained against him; and even the masked female who conveyed the MS. to the printer could never be discovered. Parliament, however, was not the only body that resented the publication; for the grand jury of the city of London having presented it at the sessions, as "a false, scandalous, and traitorous libel," it was forthwith burnt in the sight of the Court then sitting, and afterwards before the Royal Exchange by the common hangman. In April, 1706, Dr. Drake was prosecuted for the publication of "Mercurius Politicus," a newspaper which reflected seriously upon the conduct of Government. The case was argued in the court of Queen’s Bench, when, upon a flaw in the information, the trial was adjourned; and in November following the doctor was acquitted; but the Government brought a writ of error. The severity of this prosecution, joined to repeated disappointments, and, it is said, ill-usage from some of his political party, produced a fever, and that fever death, on the 2nd March, 1706-7.(1) " Dr. Drake was a man of quick, pregnant parts, well stored with learning, and improved by good conversation. He had a great mastery of the English tongue, and wrote with ease and fluency, in a manly style. Though various judgments were passed upon his political writings, according to people’s different humours, passions, and interests, yet all agreed in commending his way of writing."(2)

Dr. Drake is remembered in the profession by his "Anthropologia Nova; or a New System of Anatomy, describing the Animal Economy, and a Short Rationale of many Distempers incident to Human Bodies," 2 vols. 8vo.; a work once highly and deservedly popular, which was finished a short time only before the author’s decease, and was published in 1707, with a commendatory preface by Dr. Wagstaffe, reader of anatomy at Surgeons’ hall, and physician to St. Bartholomew’s hospital. It came to a second edition in 1717, and to a third in 1727, and continued to maintain its popularity until displaced by the " Anatomy," of Cheselden. Dr. Drake added notes to the English translation of "Le Clerc’s History of Medicine and in the " Philosophical Transactions" there is a clever paper from his pen, "On an Influence of Respiration on the Motion of the Heart, hitherto unobserved." He was also the author of a comedy, "The Sham Lawyer, or the Lucky Extravagant," chiefly borrowed from two of Fletcher’s plays, which was produced at the Theatre Royal. In 1703 he sent to the press "Historia Anglo-Scotica; or, an Impartial History of all that happened between the Kings and Kingdoms of England and Scotland, from the beginning of the reign of William the Conqueror to the reign of queen Elizabeth." This was publicly burnt at Edinburgh, as his "Memorial " had been in London. The "Memorial" was reprinted in 1711, with an introductory preface containing the life of the author,—a memoir which has formed the basis of all subsequent sketches of this unfortunate man. His portrait by Thomas Foster was engraved by M. Van Gucht.

William Munk

[(1) "The second day of this month (March, 1706-7) Dr. James Drake, Fellow of this College, died of a fever: a gentleman of very pregnant parts and good learning, as appears by the writings he has left behind him, and deserved a much better treatment from the great world than he met with in it."—Annals, vol. vii, p. 244.
(2) Biographia Britannica.]

(Volume II, page 15)

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