Lives of the fellows

Samuel Musgrave

b.29 September 1732 d.5 July 1780
AB Oxon(1753) AM(1756) MD Leyden(1763) MD Oxon(1775) FRCP(1777)

Samuel Musgrave, M.D.—This accomplished scholar was born at Washfield, in the county of Devon, on the 29th September, 1732; and was educated at the grammar school of Barnstaple during the mastership of Mr. Wright. He was entered a scholar of Corpus Christi college, Oxford, 27th February, 1749; and proceeded A.B. 27th February, 1753; A.M. 5th March, 1756. Soon afterwards he was elected one of the Radcliffe travelling fellows, and, in pursuance of the conditions of that appointment, spent several years upon the continent. He divided his time between Holland and France. In 1760 he sent to the press "Some Remarks on Dr. Boerhaave’s Theory of the Attrition of the Blood in the Lungs," 8vo. Lond.; and in 1762 published at Leyden" Exercitationes duæ in Euripidem," 8vo. In 1763 he took the degree of M.D. at Leyden, and printed as his academical exercise a learned essay in defence of empirical medicine ("Dissertatio Inauguralis de Medicinâ Empiricâ"). He then revisited Paris, and was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres. The term of his Radcliffe fellowship having expired, Dr. Musgrave returned to England, and settled at Exeter; and on the 24th July, 1766, was elected physician to the Devon and Exeter hospital. His success in Exeter not proving commensurate with his expectations, he resigned his office at the hospital, and in the latter part of 1768 removed to Plymouth.

In the following year (12th August, 1769), Dr. Musgrave astonished the county, and indeed the whole kingdom, by the publication of "An Address to the Gentlemen, Clergy, and Freeholders of the County of Devon." This Address, ostensibly called forth by the circumstance that the sheriff of the county had then summoned a meeting to consider the propriety of petitioning both Houses of Parliament for the redress of grievances, was altogether of so extraordinary a nature, and proved so damaging to the doctor’s character, that some account of its contents becomes necessary in elucidation of Dr. Musgrave’s subsequent career, and of the lamentable circumstances under which he died. In the Address Dr. Musgrave tells us that, during his residence at Paris in 1764, he had received trustworthy information that an overture had, in that year, been made to certain influential members of Parliament, in the name of the chevalier d’Eon, importing that he, the chevalier, was ready to impeach three persons, two of whom were peers of the realm and privy councillors, of selling the then recent peace to the French Government. On Dr. Musgrave’s return to England in 1765, he obtained an interview with lord Halifax, then Secretary of State, and communicated the information he had received, at the same time urging his lordship to send for the chevalier, question him, and examine his papers. Lord Halifax, who the doctor admits was polite though evasive, at first objected to any public step that might excite alarm, and naturally asked for confirmatory or documentary evidence in support of so grave a charge. Dr. Musgrave thereupon submitted copies of four letters to and from lord Hertford, purporting to bear upon the subject. These were apparently unsatisfactory as evidence ; and lord Halifax, considering the charge groundless, peremptorily refused to take any steps whatever in the affair. Nothing daunted, Dr. Musgrave then applied to the Speaker of the House of Commons, but with no better result. Here for a time the matter rested as regards the doctor, who, however, tells us he had been informed by Mr. Fitzherbert, that, subsequently to his interview with lord Halifax, an overture had been made to the chevalier d’Eon, the object of which was to get the papers out of his hands for a stipulated sum of money.

It is difficult to assign a reason for Dr. Musgrave’s untimely publication. Although he had not succeeded as a physician in Exeter, where the ground was already occupied by Dr. Andrew and Dr. Glass, his prospects at Plymouth were most encouraging, and nothing was wanting but patience and abstinence from public and party strife, to place him at the head of the profession in that town and neighbourhood. All Dr. Musgrave’s hopes of professional success were however blighted by the publication of the Address. In it he claims credit for pure patriotism, and a desire to visit with befitting punishment those who, high in the councils of this country, had proved traitors to its interests. He admits he was himself unable to support the charge of corruption against those he accused; and his immediate complaint to the freeholders of Devon was of a different nature, and against a different person—the refusal of lord Halifax to proceed on his information, he regarded as a wilful obstruction of national justice, for which he wished to see his lordship undergo a suitable punishment. The Address led to a host of pamphlets. It was at once answered by the chevalier d’Eon, who repudiated all knowledge of Dr. Musgrave, and emphatically denied everything that had been advanced concerning himself; the statements in the Address were also minutely examined, and discredited in an anonymous pamphlet; and finally, after a full hearing in the House of Commons, the doctor’s assertions were voted in the highest degree frivolous and unworthy of credit.

Devonshire no longer offered Dr. Musgrave a chance of success, and after a time he determined on trying his fortune in London. Preparatory thereto, and as a necessary preliminary to his admission to the Fellowship of the College of Physicians, he, on the 8th of December, 1775, took his degree of doctor of medicine at Oxford. He fixed himself in Hart-street, Bloomsbury; was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians on 30th September, 1776; and a Fellow, 30th September, 1777. He was Gulstonian Lecturer and Censor in 1779. Dr. Musgrave’s life in town was a constant struggle with difficulties. Though active and energetic, a good practitioner, and a most accomplished scholar, he did not succeed as a physician. His sole resource thenceforward was his pen, which, indeed, was rarely idle. In 1776 he published a pamphlet, entitled, " Speculations and Conjectures on the Qualities of the Nerves;" in 1777 his relative Dr. William Musgrave’s treatise, "De Arthritide Primigeniâ et Regulari;" in 1779 his Gulstonian lectures before the College of Physicians, embracing dyspnœa, pleurisy, peripneumony and pulmonary consumption; and lastly, a thin pamphlet, "On the Nature and Cure of the Worm Fever." These, Dr. Musgrave’s medical works, are now well nigh forgotten. They were evidently written as a last and desperate effort to obtain notice and practice. They did not effect their object; the doctor’s circumstances became more and more embarrassed, and he died at his lodgings, in Hart-street, in great poverty, on the 5th of July, 1780, in the forty-eighth year of his age. In the burial ground of St. George’s, Bloomsbury, where he was interred, is a stone with the following short inscription:—
Here lies the body of Samuel Musgrave, M.D., who departed this life July 5, 1780, in his 48th year.

In 1781 a posthumous work was published, by subscription, for the benefit of the doctor’s family. It comprised, "Two Dissertations. 1. On the Grecian Mythology. 2. An Examination of Sir Isaac Newton’s Objections to the Chronology of the Olympiads." 8vo. Lond.

As a Greek scholar Dr. Musgrave had few superiors.He was passionately fond of Euripides, with whose works his name will descend to the latest posterity. He had, as we have seen, already published at Leyden two valuable dissertations on this author, and his MS. notes and collections were known to be so valuable, that the university of Oxford purchased them for 200l. They are incorporated in the excellent edition, in four volumes 4to. which issued from the Oxford press in 1778. This edition, besides the Greek text and Latin version, contains the author’s life, by Moscopulus, Thomas Magister, and Aulus Gellius; a chronology of events relative to the Grecian stage, various readings and annotations, the fragments of the lost tragedies, with the Greek scholia of seven tragedies, and an index to the notes.

William Munk

(Volume II, page 312)

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