Lives of the fellows

William Heberden

b.23 March 1767 d.19 February 1845
AB Cantab(1788) AM(1791) MB Oxon(1792) MD(1795) FRCP(1796) FRS

William Heberden, M.D., was the second but only surviving son of William Heberden, M.D., the distinguished author of the " Commentarii de Morborum Historiâ et Curatione," by his wife Mary, daughter of Francis Wollaston, esq., F.R.S., and was born in Cecil-street, 23rd March, 1767. He was educated at the Charterhouse, and at St. John’s college, Cambridge, of which house he was a fellow. He proceeded A.B. 1788 as first senior optime, and was the second Chancellor’s medallist for that year. In 1789 he obtained one of the member’s prizes for middle bachelors, and in 1790 one of those for senior bachelors. He proceeded A.M. 1791; was incorporated on that degree at Oxford, as a member of Christchurch, 9th July, 1791; and then took his degrees in physic—M.B. 26th June, 1792; and M.D. 28th April, 1795. He was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1795; a Fellow, 30th September, 1796; was Censor 1799,1808; Harveian orator, 1809; and Elect, 1st November, 1823, in place of Dr. Baillie, deceased.

Dr. William Heberden was elected physician to St. George’s hospital 15th November, 1793, and resigned his office there in 1803. He was appointed physician extraordinary to the queen in 1795, physician extraordinary to the king in 1805, physician in ordinary to the queen in 1806, and in 1809 physician in ordinary to George III, "by whom he was more than once offered a baronetcy with a pension in the most gracious manner—distinctions which his own feelings induced him to decline. While thus in much prosperity, having attained in all periods of his life the highest honours to which his studies or profession could lead him, and being in the full enjoyment of the reputation they carried with them, he was suddenly, in 1812, left a widower with nine young children. Everything was at once sacrificed to the sense of duty by which he felt himself called upon to superintend the highest interests of the children committed to his charge. The charms of general society, the excitement of professional engagements, each having strong claims upon an intellectual and active mind, were abandoned cheerfully for the wearisome and unostentatious duties of watching over an infant family and administering to their comfort. His practice as a physician was now restricted to his attendance at Windsor castle, and this alone interrupted even for a day his devotion to his children. Under the suspension of the more bustling engagements of life, he retired to the little village of Datchet, Bucks, where he lived for fourteen years, surrounded by his books, and rather avoiding than courting society. During this period he printed and dedicated to his children a translation of Plutarch on 'Brotherly Love,' and he had previously written and published a little treatise on general education,(1) which of themselves sufficiently attest the anxious occupation of his mind. As he obtained further leisure, he amused himself with translating Cicero’s ‘Letters to Atticus,’ which he published in two vols, octavo. In 1826, having attained his purpose in absenting himself from London, he returned thither again, partly with the design of affording one of his sons, then entering upon the preliminary studies of a physician, that information and encouragement which he had himself received with so much delight from a parent’s lips."(2) The death of this son in 1828 from a dissection wound; of another son in 1829; and subsequently of his eldest daughter, led him to devote the years of life yet remaining to him to the study of the Scriptures and the consolations of religion. In 1830 he published his "Reflections on the Gospel of St. John;" in 1836 a translation of the "Catholic Epistles," which was circulated among his friends: and in 1839, at their request, he published a translation and commentary on the whole of the Apostolic Epistles and the Book of Revelation.

Dr. Heberden died at his house in Cumberland-street, on the 19th February, 1845, aged seventy-eight, and was buried in the family vault at Windsor. He is commemorated by the following inscription:—

In memory of an excellent father,
William Heberden, M.D.,
for many years physician to his late Majesty
King George the Third.
He was an elegant and an accomplished scholar
graced by great suavity of manners,
and influenced in all his intercourse with the world
by practical and unaffected piety.
To his children he was endeared by every claim
that love or care or self-denial
can make upon gratitude and affection.
He was born 23 March, 1767, and died 19 February, 1845.
In memory also of Elizabeth Catherine,
his amiable and beloved wife,
who died 21 May, 1812, in her 36th year, leaving 9 children.
She was the only child of Charles, son of Sir John
Miller,Bart., formerly of Lavant, Sussex.

Dr. William Heberden was a fellow of the Royal Society and the author of—
Observations on the Increase and Decrease of different Diseases, particularly of the Plague. 4to. Lond. 1801.
Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases. 8vo. Lond. 1802.
A translation of his father’s celebrated work. Morborum Puerilium Epitome. 8vo. Lond. 1804.

William Munk

[(1) A Dialogue after the Manner of Cicero’s Philosophical Disquisitions. 12mo. Lond. 1818.
(2) Medical Gazette]

(Volume II, page 457)

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