Lives of the fellows

Martin Lister

b.c.1638 d.2 February 1711/12
AB Cantab(1658) AM(1662) FRS MD Oxon(1683) FRCP(1687)

Martin Lister, MD, was a nephew of Sir Matthew Lister, MD, an influential Fellow of our College, before mentioned. He was born at Radcliffe, in Buckinghamshire, about the year 1638, and at a fitting age was sent to St John’s college, Cambridge, as a member of which he took the first degree in arts, in 1658. In 1660, immediately after the Restoration, he was by mandate of king Charles II made a fellow of his college. He proceeded master of arts in 1662, and then, applying himself to physic, travelled into France for improvement. Returning home in 1670, he settled at York, and there practised with great reputation for many years.

Whilst at York he availed himself of every opportunity his professional avocations would admit of investigating the natural history and antiquities of the county. These pursuits brought him acquainted with Mr Lloyd, keeper of the Ashmolean museum at Oxford, an institution which Dr Lister enriched with several altars, coins, and other antiquities, together with a large number of valuable natural curiosities. He also sent several observations and experiments on various branches of natural philosophy to Mr Lloyd, who, communicating some of them to the Royal Society, Lister was thereupon recommended and elected a fellow. His book on conchology, Historia, sive Synopsis Methodica Conchyliorum, published in 1685, formed a new era in the science, and contributed chiefly to give celebrity to its author. It contains very accurate figures of all the shells known in his time, amounting to upwards of a thousand, and it deserves to be recorded that they were all drawn by his two daughters, Susannah and Mary Lister. “This work of Lister’s,” says Dr Thomson, “notwithstanding the progress which the study has since made, still retains its value, and is indispensable to the student of conchology.”(1)

Dr Lister was also one of the first in this country to study the economy of the spider tribe, and there are various papers by him on this subject in the Philosophical Transactions, containing many original and very interesting observations concerning them. He contributed about forty papers in all to the Philosophical Transactions. Of these the most valuable was one on Geology in 1683 (vol. xiv); speaking of which, Sir Charles Lyell says: “Dr Lister was the first who was aware of the continuity over large districts of the principal groups of strata in the British series, and who proposed the construction of regular geological maps.”(2)

Resolving by the advice of some of his friends to remove to London, he was created doctor of medicine at Oxford 5th March, 1683, the chancellor himself recommending him as “a person of exemplary loyalty, of high esteem among the most eminent of his profession; of singular merit to that university in particular, having enriched their museum and library with presents of valuable books, both printed and in manuscript, and of general merit in the literary world by several learned books which he had published.” Dr Lister was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1684; was created a Fellow by the charter of king James II, and was admitted as such 12th April, 1687. He was Censor in 1694.

In 1698 Dr Lister attended the earl of Portland in his embassy from king William III to the court of France. Of this journey he published an account containing observations on the state and curiosities of Paris, which was ridiculed by Dr William King in “A Journey to London.” In 1709, on the indisposition of Dr Hannes, Dr Lister was appointed one of the physicians in ordinary to queen Anne, and retained that office till his death on the 2nd February, 1711-2.(3) He was buried in the church at Clapham, where there was formerly a monument bearing the following inscription:-
Near this place is buried the body of
Doctor of Physick, a Member of the
Royal Society, and one of
Queen Ann’s Physicians,
who departed this life,
the second day of
February, 1711-12.

Dr Lister was the author of the following works:-
Historia Animalium Angliæ. Tres Tractatus de Araneis - de Cochleis tum terrestribus tum fluviatilibus - de Cochleis Marinis. 4to. Lond. 1678.
Appendix in Historiam Animalium Angliæ. 4to. Ebor. 1681.
Letters and divers other Mixt Discourses in Natural Philosophy. 4to. Lond. 1683.
De Thermis et Fontibus Medicatis Angliæ. 8vo. Lond. 1684.
Exercitationes et descriptiones Thermarum ac Fontium Medicatorum Angliæ. 12mo. Lond. 1686.
Sex Exercitationes Medicinales de quibusdam Morbis Chronicis. 8vo. Lond. 1694.
Exercitatio Anatomica in quâ de Cochleis maxime Terrestribus et Limacibus agitur. 8vo. Lond. 1694.
Dissertatio Anatomica de Buccinis Fluviatilibus et Marinis. 8vo. Lond. 1695.
Exercitatio Anatomica Conchiliorum Bivalvium utruisque Aquæ. Huic accedit Dissertatio Medicinalis de Calculo Humano. 4to. Lond. 1696.
A Journey to Paris in the year 1698. 8vo. Lond. 1699.
Dissertatio de Humoribus in qua veterum ac recentiorum Medicorum ac Philosophorum opiniones et sententiæ examinantur. 8vo. Lond. 1709.

And in 1705 Dr Lister edited an edition of Apicius Cælius:-
De Opsoniis et Condimentis sive Arte Coquinariâ. 8vo. Lond. 1705. This is now scarce, 120 copies only, it is said, having been struck off.

William Munk

[(1) Thomson’s History of the Royal Society. 4to. Lond. p. 83.
(2) Geology, vol. i, p. 45. 3rd edition.
(3) “Vir in indagando ardens et laboriosus potissimum quidem in testaceis animalibus et insectis; tamen ut etiam artem clinicam exerceret, ad hypotheses easque subinde minus probabiles pronus.” Haller Biblioth. Medic. Practicæ, vol.iii, p.290.”]

(Volume I, page 442)

<< Back to List