Lives of the fellows

Samuel (Sir) Garth

b.1659 d.18 January 1718/19
AB Cantab(1679) AM(1684) MD(1691) FRCP(1693)

Sir Samuel Garth, MD - The life of this estimable man has been so often written, and is of such easy access, that I shall limit myself almost entirely to a mention of those incidents in his career which refer to the College of Physicians. Sir Samuel was the eldest son of William Garth of Bolam in the county of Durham; and was educated at Ingleton, whence, in 1676, being then in the seventeenth year of his age, he was admitted to Peterhouse, Cambridge, as a member of which he proceeded AB 1679; AM 1684. On the 4th September, 1687, he was entered on the physic line at Leyden. He proceeded MD at Cambridge 1691. Dr Garth was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1692; and a Fellow 26th June, 1693. He delivered the Gulstonian lectures in 1694, "de Respiratione;" which were so highly approved, that he was called on by the President and Censors to publish them, which he promised to do in Latin, but I believe did not. He gave the Harveian oration in 1697; and was Censor 1702.

On the accession of king George I he received the honour of knighthood, was appointed physician in ordinary to the king, and physician-general to the army. Sir Samuel died, after a short illness, 18th January, 1718-9, and was buried at Harrow-on-the-Hill. He and his wife Martha, daughter of Sir Henry Beaufoy, of Emscote, Warwickshire, are buried in the chancel under the communion table, with the following rude inscription to mark the spot:
In this Vault Lies the Body of ye
Lady Garth late wife of Sir Samuel
Garth Knt who dyed ye 14th of May
in ye year 1717
Sir Samuel Garth
Obiit Jane the 18th 1718.

They left an only daughter, who married Colonel William Boyle, a younger son of the honourable Colonel Henry Boyle.

The College of Physicians at the time of Garth's admission to its fellowship, was engaged in the charitable design of prescribing for the sick poor gratis, and of furnishing them with medicines at prime cost. The charity was begun by an unanimous vote of the College on the 27th July, 1687, (1) directing all the members of the corporation to give when desired, their advice gratuitously to all the neighbouring sick poor within the city of London or seven miles around. And with the view of rendering this vote more effectual, it was determined on the 13th August, 1688, that the laboratory of the new college in Warwick-lane should be fitted for preparing the medicines, and the room adjoining for a repository. But this measure gave offence to many apothecaries, who found means to raise a party in the College against it. On the day after Palm Sunday, 1694, the College in full Comitia passed a resolution enjoining strict obedience from all its members to the order of 1688. Despite of this, a heavy and interested opposition still clogged the progress of the charity, and at the Comitia Majora Ordinaria of the 22nd December, 1696, a proposition was made and adopted for establishing the dispensary by voluntary subscriptions from the Fellows, Candidates and Licentiates of the College, no less than fifty-three of whom joined by their subscriptions and a public document in this benevolent scheme.

Garth, who from his admission into the College had warmly approved of the new charity, detesting the action of the apothecaries and of some of his own brethren in this affair, resolved to expose them in his admirable satire "The Dispensary" a poem full of spirit and vivacity, and on which his reputation in the present day chiefly rests. The sketches of some of his contemporary physicians are severe and biting - they are interesting to us at the present time as giving us an insight we could not otherwise obtain into their history and manners, and though doubtless exaggerated by the licence conceded to poetry, must have been true to nature, or the work would not obtained such an immediate and extensive popularity. As regards mere personal matter, much of the original interest of the satire is now lost and need not be regretted, "but the soft Ovidian verse - the elegant imagery with which the author has adorned a subject by no means promising, and the fresh, buoyant spirit which pervades the whole - establish 'The Dispensary' as a classic."

The first edition came out in 1699, and went through three editions in the course of a very few months. In 1706 he brought out the sixth edition much improved, with several descriptions and episodes never before printed. It has been said that "the public gained and lost by every edition - gained what the author added, and lost by whatever he expunged." We hear of but little opposition to the dispensary after the appearance of Garth's poem. The charity seems to have continued its benevolent work down to 1724, when the portion of the College which had been assigned to it, was appropriated to other wants and purposes of the institution.(2)

The year 1700 presents an incident in Garth's life which did him everlasting honour. He it was who stepped forward to provide a suitable interment for the neglected corpse of Dryden, which he caused to be brought to the College in Warwick-lane, where it lay in state for ten days. He proposed and encouraged by his own example a subscription for defraying the expense of a funeral; he pronounced an eulogium in Latin over the great poet's remains; and then attended the body from the College to Westminster abbey, where it was interred between the graves of Chaucer and of Cowley. Permission to bring the poet's body to the College was sought from the Censors' board 3rd May, 1700, and stands thus recorded in the Annals: "At the request of several persons of quality that Mr Dryden might be carried from the College of Physicians to be interred at Westminster, it was unanimously granted by the President and Censors," Garth was a member of the Kitkat Club, which included all "the talents" of the Whig party. He contributed the verses inscribed on the drinking glasses of the club: and these were printed in Dryden's Miscellanies.

Besides "The Dispensary," Sir Samuel Garth published, in 1715, a short poem entitled "Claremont," and an edition of Ovid translated into English. This was in 1717, and was his last literary production; to it he prefixed an excellent preface, in which he not only gives a general idea of the whole work, and points out its prinicipal beauties, but shows the uses of the poem, and how it may be read to most profit.

An excellent portrait of Garth, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, is in the College. It was presented by Dr Charles Chauncey in 1763, and has been engraved.

William Munk

[(1) 1687. Julii 27. A Collegio Regali Medicorum Londinensium, conspirantibus in id omnium suffragiis edictum hodie et decretum est, ut quoties Pauper aliquis in parochiâ aliquâ intra Londinum et septem circa milliaria, horâ quâvis commodâ sese sisterit coram quovis nostrum socio scilicet socio honorario, candidato aut licentiato illi in proximum habitanti, petens medicum consilium, id ab eo promptè satis reférat idque precariæ.
(2) 1725. June 25. A motion being made "that in consideration of the expiration of the lease to the Dispensary at Christmas last, a Committee be appointed to consider and determine what is proper to be done with that part of the College commonly called the ante library, and the museum over it; and to give directions for the altering and fitting them up in such manner that they may be an addition and ornament to the College library." Annals.]

(Volume I, page 498)

<< Back to List