Lives of the fellows

Peter Shaw

b.1694 d.15 March 1763
MD LRCP(1740) FRCP(1754)

Peter Shaw, M.D.—Of this eminent physician and voluminous writer but few records remain. He is said to have been descended from an old county family in Berkshire, and was the son of Robert Shaw, A.M., master of the Grammar school at Lichfield, who died in 1704, and whose memorial is in St. Mary’s church in that city. Dr. Peter Shaw presumably was born at Lichfield about 1694. Of his education, general or medical, I fail to recover any particulars. Many of the early years of his professional life were probably passed in the country, and some of them certainly at Scarborough. But as early as 1726 he was already in London, apparently without any degree, and practising physic, without the licence of the College. (1) Where he was residing for some years after this, is not known, but he was " usefully employed in facilitating the study of chemistry in England by his excellent translations of the chemical works of Stahl and of Boerhaave, as well as by his own writings and lectures on that subject."(2) On the 25th June, 1740, being then a doctor of medicine, but of what university is not stated, he was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians, and about that time must have settled in London, where he soon attained popularity and an extensive business. He was warmly patronised by Sir Edward Hulse, bart., one of the court physicians then gradually withdrawing himself from practice, who, writing in 1748 to Dr. Heberden, said that Dr. Shaw had even then too much business, and more than he could possibly do. In 1752 he was appointed physician extraordinary to George II, and the same year was created doctor of medicine at Cambridge, by royal mandate. After coming again before the Censors’ board for examination, he was admitted a Candidate of the College 16th April, 1753, and a Fellow 8th April, 1754. In the last named year he was appointed physician in ordinary to the king, and he was the usual medical attendant upon that monarch in his journeys to Hanover. He was nominated to the same office on the accession of George III, but did not long survive, dying on the 15th March, 1763. He was buried in the nave of Wimbledon church, where there is the following inscription:—
To the Memory of Peter Shaw, M.D.
Physician in Ordinary to their
Majesties George the 2nd and George the 3d
who died March 15th, 1763.
Aged 69 Years.

Dr. Shaw had married Frances, the daughter of John Hyde, esq., of Quorndon, co. Leicester. His daughter Elizabeth, by this marriage, became the wife of Dr. Richard Warren. Dr. Shaw’s portrait is in the College. It was presented by Mrs. Pelham Warren, 19th April, 1836.

Dr. Shaw, who is now but little known, except by his editions of Bacon and Boyle, was one of the most active, industrious and favoured physicians of his time. He wrote largely, and in some instances hastily, as he was wont in his later years to confess, and as is admitted by his son-in-law and eulogist, Dr. Richard Warren. His character and services to literature and science are so feelingly portrayed by Dr. Warren, in his Harveian oration for 1768, that I give the passage in a note.(3)

Of the products of Dr. Shaw’s prolific pen the following is, I fear, but an imperfect list:—
The Dispensatory of the Royal College of Physicians, London. 8vo. Lond. 1721.
A Treatise of Incurable Diseases. 4to. Lond. 1723.
The Philosophical Works of the Hon. Robert Boyle, abridged, methodised, and disposed under the general heads of Physics, Statics, Pneumatics, Natural History, Chemistry, and Medicine. The whole illustrated with notes containing the improvements made in the several parts of Natural and Experimental knowledge. 3 vols. 4to. Lond. 1725.
The Dispensatory of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Translated from the Latin. 8vo. Lond. 1727.
A New Method of Chemistry, including the Theory and Practice of the Art, being a translation of Boerhaave’s " Institutiones Chemiæ." 4to. Lond. 1727.
A New Practice of Physic, wherein the various Diseases incident to the Human Body are described, their Causes assigned, their Diagnostics and Prognostics enumerated, and the Regimen proper to each delivered; with a competent number of Medicines for every stage and symptom thereof, prescribed after the manner of the most eminent physicians among the moderns, and particularly those of London. 2 vols. 8vo. Lond. 1726. The 7th edition of which appeared in 1753.
Philosophical Principles of Universal Chemistry, from the Collegium Jenense of G. E. Stahl. 8vo. Lond. 1730.
Three Essays in Artificial Philosophy, or Universal Chemistry. 8vo. Lond. 1731.
The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, &c., Methodised and made English from the Originals; with occasional notes to explain what is obscure and show how far the several plans of the author for the advancement of all the parts of knowledge have been executed to the present time. 3 vols. 4to. Lond. 1733.
Chemical Lectures read in London in 1731 and 1732, and at Scarborough in 1733, for the Improvement of Arts, Trades, and Natural Philosophy. 8vo. Lond. 1734.
An Inquiry into the Contents and Virtues of the Scarborough Spa. 8vo. Lond. 1734.
Examination of the Reasons for and against the Subscription for a Medicament for the Stone. 8vo. Lond. 1738.
Inquiries on the Nature of Miss Stephens’s Medicaments. 8vo. Lond. 1738.
Essays for the Improvement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, by means of Chemistry. 8vo. Lond. 1761.
Proposals for a Course of Chemical Experiments, with a view to Practical Philosophy, Arts, Trade, and Business. 8vo. Lond, 1761.
New Experiments and Observations upon Mineral Waters, by Dr. F. Hoffman, extracted from his Works, with Notes, &c. &c.

William Munk

[(1) "1726. July 1. Mr. Shaw appeared, said he was not determined to stay in town, nor to follow the practice of physic here."
(2) Thomson’s Life, Lectures, and Writings of William Cullen, M.D. 8vo. Edinb. 1859. Vol. i, p. 39.
(3) Vir erat, si quis alius, ad societatem planè factus. Quid illo aut fidelius amico aut sodali jucundius? Mira in sermone, mira etiam in ore ipso vultuque suavitas. Ad hoc, ingenium dulce, facile, eruditum, semper infra aliorum æstimationes se metiens, nihil sibi vindicans. Laboriosum vitæ curriculum, ut vobis vestræque arti quàm maximè inserviret, instituit et peregit. Postquam Baconi philosophiam illustrasset, et auctiorem reddidisset, ad artem chemicam excolendam sese accinxit. Artem satis in se amplam invenit, sed caligine involutam, iisque principiis fere innixam, quæ vix intelligi, nedum explicari potuerunt. Huic arti multum lucis attulit insignis ille philosophiæ experimentalis instaurator Boyleus; qui tamen non tam nova chemiæ extruxit fundamenta, quàm dejecit vetera: lautam satis supellectilem ab eo, rationes vero non accepimus; materiam unde erui possit vera rerum explicatio uberem satis reliquit, explicationem verò non attigit. Hic igitur, cujus desiderio omnes tenemur, farraginem Boyleanam aptè, distinctè, ordinatè disposuit, ex fumo lucem dedit, ea demùm chemiæ posuit principia, ut artem vere philosophicam esse jam tandem agnoscamus, et quod inter scientias jure reponi mereatur lubentissime illi acceptam referamus. Idem, juvenis admodum, literarum et medicinae culturæ totum se tradidit; quod satis testantur multa et erudita opera, nonnulla quidem ab aliis scripta, sed ab eo edita et illustrata, nonnulla proprio marte elaborata. Fatendum sanè est, quòd quædam forsan praepropero et præcoci ingenio, generosi tamen, etsi nondum subacti saporis, inter prima studiorum rudimenta eifudit: nec pudet hoc fateri, cum hujusmodi scripta, quæ aliorum famæ, forsan satis essent, ipse (nam sæpe de iis pulchrè disputantem audivi) ipse solitus est minoris facere. " More scilicet magnorum virorum et magnarum rerum fiduciam habentium; nam levia ingenia, quia nihil habent, nihil sibi detrahunt. Magno ingenio multaque nihilominus habituro, convenit etiam simplex veri erroris confessio; præcipuéque in eo ministerio, quod utilitatis causâ posteris traditur."—Oratio ex Harveii Instituto habita MDCCLXVIII]

(Volume II, page 190)

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