Lives of the fellows

William Briggs

b.1642 d.4 September 1704
AB Cantab(1666) AM Oxon(1670) MD Cantab(1677) FRCP(1682)

William Briggs, MD, was the son of Augustine Briggs, an alderman of Norwich, who represented that city in four parliaments. Our physician when thirteen years of age was sent to Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, and placed under the care of Dr Tenison, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. He proceeded bachelor of arts in 1666; was elected a fellow of his college in 1668; took his degree of master of arts in 1670; and on the 26th October of that year was incorporated at Oxford on his master’s degree. He then travelled for some time upon the continent, and ultimately proceeded doctor of medicine at Cambridge, 30th July, 1677. Dr Briggs was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 5th April, 1680, and a Fellow 22nd December, 1682. He was Censor in 1685, 1686, 1692.

He was appointed one of the physicians to St Thomas’s hospital in 1682, and was one of the physicians in ordinary to king William III. Dr Briggs died 4th September, 1704, at Town Malling, in Kent, and was buried there on the 11th. He had married Hannah the only daughter and heiress of Edmund Hobart, of Holt, in the county of Norfolk, esquire, and in Holt church a cenotaph to Dr Briggs’s memory was erected in 1737 by his son, Henry Briggs, DD, rector of that parish and chaplain in ordinary to the king. It is thus inscribed -
Virtus est Dei.
This tablet is erected to the Memory of
William Briggs, MD,
Physician in Ordinary to King William the III,
Fellow of the College of Physicians in London,
and of the Royal Society.
He was born at Norwich,
being son of Augustine Briggs, Esqr.,
four times Member of Parliament for that City,
descended from an ancient family of that name at Salle in this
He was admitted into Corpus Christi College in Cambridge
at thirteen years of age under the care of
Dr. Tenison, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury,
where he was chosen fellow,
and had the tuition of a good number of pupils,
discharging that trust with honour to the College.
After he had improved himself by his travels into foreign countries,
being well versed in most parts of learning, he settled at London,
where he practised with great success,
and soon became very eminent in his profession.
He was particularly famous for his exquisite skill in difficult cases
of the eye,
and published two valuable treatises upon that subject.
He died September the 4th, 1704, aged 62,
at Town Malling, in Kent, where he lies interred,
leaving three children, Mary, Henry, and Hannah.

Dr Briggs was the author of some interesting papers in the Philosophical Transactions and of
Ophthalmographia, sive Oculi ejusque Partium Descriptio Anatomica: cui accessit Nova Visionis Theoria. 12mo. Cantab. 1676.

”The hypothesis of vibrations as an explanation of the phenomena of nervous action,” writes Dugald Stewart, “first attracted public notice in the writings of Dr William Briggs. It was from him that Sir Isaac Newton derived his anatomical knowledge; along with which he appears plainly from his Queries to have imbibed also some of the physiological theories of his preceptor.”(1) Dr Briggs’ portrait, by R White, was engraved by J Faber.

William Munk

[(1) Dugald Stewart’s Philosophical Essays. Collected works by Sir William Hamilton, Bart., vol. v, p. 11.]

(Volume I, page 424)

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