Lives of the fellows

Matthew Gwinne

b.? d.1627
MD Oxon(1593) LRCP(1600) FRCP(1605)

Matthew Gwinne, MD, was born in London, but descended from an ancient family in Wales. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ school, and in 1574 was elected a scholar of St John’s College, Oxford, of which house he afterwards became perpetual fellow. In 1582 he was made regent master, and was appointed to read lectures on music. He was chosen junior proctor in 1588, and in September 1592, was the first replier in a disputation held at Oxford for the entertainment of queen Elizabeth. Having studied medicine ten years, he proceeded MB 17th July, 1593, and the same day was actually created MD by virtue of two letters from the chancellor of the university, Thomas Sackville, lord Buckhurst. In 1595, by leave of his college, he attended Sir Henry Upton, ambassador from queen Elizabeth to the French court, in quality of his physician.

On the foundation of Gresham college, Dr Gwinne was chosen its first professor of physic, he being one of two nominated by the university of Oxford, and having a further recommendation from the lord chancellor Egerton. At the commencement of the lectures in Michaelmas term, 1598, he began with an oration in praise of the founder and the institution, which with another, delivered in Hilary term following, on the same subjects, was afterwards printed. Dr Gwinne was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1600; Candidate 25th June, 1604; and Fellow, 22nd December, 1605. He was Censor in 1608, 1609, 1610, 1611, 1616, 1620; Registrar, 22nd December, 1608, and again in 1627; Elect, 14th February, 1623-4. He was appointed physician to the Tower in the beginning of 1605. In August of the same year, James I with his queen and the whole court, visited Oxford, and were entertained for three days with academical exercises of all kinds. Among the rest the two following medical questions were proposed for disputation.

“An mores nutricum a puerulis cum lacte imbibantur? Negatur.”

“An frequens suffitus nicotianæ exoticæ sit sanis salubris? Negatur.”

The respondent was Sir William Paddy, the king’s physician, and the opponents Dr Gwinne and others. The king’s inveterate dislike to tobacco is well known, and Dr Gwinne was politic enough to express his sentiments fully upon that subject, when the trial of skill was over. In the evening of the same day, a Latin comedy, entitled “Vertumnus, sive annus recurrens,” written by Dr Gwinne (and published by him in 1607), was acted at Magdalen College.(1)

Dr Gwinne, in September, 1607, resigned his professorship at Gresham college, probably upon marriage. After this he continued to practise physic in London with great reputation. In 1620 he was appointed one of the commissioners for garbling tobacco - for the king, full of suspicions of the weed, and attentive to the health of his subjects, caused directions to be drawn up for picking and sorting this commodity - in which one of the faculty was, among persons of other professions, to be concerned.

Dr Gwinne died in the parish of St Mary Magdalen, Old Fish Street, and as Wood correctly states, in 1627, not as Ward would have us believe, in or after 1639, and the time of his death must have been October, or the early part of November, for, at the general election for that year (30th September, 1627) Dr Gwinne was appointed Registrar, and on 20th November, 1627, Dr Fox was appointed to that office “in locum defuncti Dris Gwinne.”

The following works of Dr Gwinne, in addition to the two already mentioned, namely the Vertumnus, and the introductory lectures at Gresham college, are still extant:
Epicedium in obitum illustrissimi herois Henrici Comitis Derbiensis. Oxon. 1593.
Nero, Tragædia nova. Lond. 1603.
Oratio in Laudem Musices, in Ward's Lives of the Gresham Professors.
Aurum non aurum, sive Adversaria in assertoren Chemiæ sed veræ Medicinæ desertorem, Fran. Anthonium. Lond. 1611.
Verses in English, French, and Italian.
A Book of Travels.
Letters concerning Chymical and Magical Secrets.

Ward gives the following summary of Dr Gwinne’s character. “He was a man of quick parts, a lively fancy, and poetic genius, had read much, was well versed in all sorts of polite literature, accurately skilled in the modern languages, and much valued for his knowledge and success in the practice of physic. But his Latin was formed upon a wrong taste, which led him from the natural and beautiful simplicity of the antients into points of wit, affected jingle, and scraps of sentences detached from the old authors, a custom which at that time began too much to prevail both here and abroad. And he seems to have contracted this humour gradually, as it grew more in vogue, for his ‘Oratio in Laudem Musices’ is not so deeply tinged with it as his ‘Orationes duæ,’ spoken many years afterwards in Gresham college.”

William Munk

[(1) “Vertumnus sive annus recurrens, Oxonii, 29 Augusti, Anno 1605, coram Jacobo Rege, Henrico Principe, proceribus a Johannensibus in scena recitatus, ab uno scriptus phrasi comica prope tragicis senariis 4to. 1607.” Malone in his notes to Macbeth gives a curious account of a long search for the origin of the Shakspeare idea of the witches in Macbeth, and finds it in this interlude: he adds, “to the Latin play of Vertumnus by Dr Matthew Gwinne which was acted before the king by some of the students of St John’s, we are indebted for the long sought for interlude performed at St John’s Gate, for Dr Gwinne has annexed it to his Vertumnus.”]

(Volume I, page 118)

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