Lives of the fellows

John Caius

b.6 October 1510 d.29 July 1573
AB Cantab(1532-3) AM(1535) MD Padua(1541) FRCP(1547) MD Cantab(1558)

John Caius, M.D., was the son of Robert Caius of Norwich and Alice (Wodanell) his wife, and was born in that city 6th October, 1510. After receiving his rudimentary education at a school in his native city, he was, on the 12th September, 1529, transferred to Gonville hall, Cambridge. He appears in the first instance to have turned his attention to divinity, as before he was twenty-one years old he translated from Greek into Latin two works on prayer, and from Latin into English the paraphrase on St. Jude by Erasmus, of whose treatise, "de Verâ Theologiâ," he also made an epitome.

His father died in l532, and he took the degree of A.B. 1532-3. He was appointed principal of Physwick hostel 12th November, 1533, and elected a fellow of Gonville hall 6th December in the same year. He commenced A.M. 1535, and on 25th October in that year, with the master and other fellows of Gonville hall, subscribed the submission to the King's injunctions.

In 1539 he set out for Italy and studied physic at Padua under John Baptist Montanus, the great medical teacher of his time. Whilst at Padua, Caius lodged in the same house with the celebrated anatomist Vesalius, and pursued his anatomical studies with an ardour equal to that of his companion. On 13th May, 1541, he took the degree of doctor of medicine at Padua, being at the same time public professor of Greek in that university, a salary for which, or for public lectures on the Greek text of Aristotle, which about this time he delivered in conjunction with Realdus Columbus, was paid by certain noble Venetians. In 1543 he made the tour of the greater part of Italy, visiting all the most celebrated libraries, and collating MSS., principally with the view of giving correct editions of the works of Galen and Celsus.

Returning to England, he was, on the 22nd December, 1547, admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians, an event thus recorded by himself in the Annals:- "Vicesimo secundo Decembris, in comitiis cooptatus est, Joannes Caius, doctor Patavinus, Norvicensis, in Collegium; lectis prius literis testimonialibus universitatis Patavinæ, de gradu doctoratûs sui, qui fuit anno domini 1541, Maii xiij." On the 30th March, 1550, on the death of Dr. Burgess, he was appointed an Elect, and Consiliarius in that and the following year. In the Annals for 1552, occurs the following (to me) inexplicable memorandum: "Junii xxv. In frequentiss, comitiis lectæ sunt secundo literæ testimoniales nobilissimæ academiæ Patavinæ de doctoratû Joannis Caii doctoris." At the next quarterly comitia he was elected Censor and Consiliarius.

Of his medical career up to this period but little is known with certainty. He is believed to have practised his faculty at Cambridge, Norwich, and Shrewsbury, in the last-named of which towns he is said to have been sojourning in 1551, when the sweating sickness broke out there. In the following year (1552, having then taken up his permanent abode in London) he published an account of that disease in English, which he afterwards improved and translated into Latin. He was physician successively to Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth; but from the office of physician to the last he is said to have been removed in 1568, in consequence of his adherence to the Roman Catholic faith.

In 1555 Dr. Caius was appointed President of the College of Physicians, and was annually re-elected to the year 1560 inclusive. Towards the end of this period his time and attention were much occupied with the magnificent design he had long had in view, and upon which he was then engaged, of enlarging and augmenting the resources of the college at Cambridge in which he had been educated. The annual election of officers at the College of Physicians was in 1559 postponed to so late a period as the 22nd December, mainly on account of Dr. Caius's absence at Cambridge. He himself records this circumstance in the Annals, as follows: "Ante eum diem xxij. electio esse nulla potuit, quòd die quo ex statuto esse debuit Præsidens Cantabrigiæ erat, tractandis, componendis, et ornandis Collegii sui rebus et negotiis. At post reditum, variis suis cujusque negotiis ita distracti erant Electores, ut citiùs ad electionem sufficiens eorum numerus in unum congregari, nequebat." He was succeeded as President by Dr. Richard Masters, and on the 17th October, 1561, handed over to his successor the whole of the College funds, amounting to 55l. 13s. 3d. The sum he had received six years before, on his election as President, was, he tells us, thirty-eight shillings and six pence only; and during his tenure of office the ornaments or insignia of the President had all been procured. We find him re-appointed President in 1562, and again in 1563, when he makes the following entry: "Absoluta et perfecta sunt Statuta et elegantèr transcripta. His et multis aliis gestis, sed paucioribus quam par est, propter pestem plebiscitum et Præsidentis absentiam, constituendo quæ ad ædificationem Collegii sui pertinebant. Ut reversus est Præsidens, et ad sesquiannum officio hic suo functus est, 12 Maii, 1564, id resignavit et redditâ 22 Junii omnium ratione restitutisque omnibus, quietem jam et immunitatem petiit, tum propter senium, tum propter multitudinem negotiorum Cantabrigiæ, quibus tum premebatur, præcipuè vero, quod per septennium et amplius functus Præsidentis officio est, gravibus suis laboribus et magno dispendio. Quod tamen eo æquius tulit quod Collegii honori atque commodo, Collegis contentioni fuit."

It would almost seem that the Fellows feared the College could not proceed in its functions without the assistance of Dr. Caius, for, notwithstanding the above appeal, we find him elected President for the ninth and last time in 1571. On the 15th November, 1572, in consideration of his age, engagements elsewhere, and long and valued services to the College, he was excused from further attendance, except at the quarterly comitia, or on occasions when any very extraordinary or important business was under discussion.

Dr. Caius, in anticipation of his death, the very day of which he is said to have foretold, caused his own grave to be made in the chapel of Caius College on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of July; and died at a house in the parish of St. Bartholomew the Less, London, as he had predicted, on the 29th July, 1573, aged sixty-three. His body was, on the Tuesday after his death, removed from London, in order to its sepulture in the college chapel, pursuant to his testamentary directions. It was met at Trumpington Ford by the master and fellows of his college, and the vice-chancellor, doctors, and others of the university, by whom it was conducted into the town in honourable procession. On the following day, after a sermon in the university church, his remains were consigned to the tomb. Upon his monument in the college chapel, in place of an epitaph, there is merely inscribed -
Vivit post funera virtus.
Fui Caius.
Ætatis suæ Lxiij. Obiit xxix Julii, A.D. 1573.

The eminent services rendered by Dr. Caius to the College of Physicians, and his claim to the respect and gratitude of all interested in its honour and welfare, are thus recorded by Dr Goodall: "He was the first inventor of those ensigns of honour by which the President of the College is distinguished from the rest of the Fellows; the account of which he has thus entered in his Register: 'Ante hunc annum nulla, a Collegio condito, reddita ratio fuit acceptorum et expensorum, nullave solennis ratio instituendi aut honorandi Præsidentem, pulvinari, caduceo, libro, et sigillo, aut excogitata aut usitata; ullave deponendi munus et officium, primusque hos honores et excogitavit Caius et usus est. Neque certè inanes sunt honores isti. Nam caducæus, sive virga argentea, regendum significat mitius et clementius, contra quam solebant olim, qui virgâ regebant ferreâ, prudenter autem regendum, agendumque doceat serpentes, prudentiæ indices. Sustineri autem istis modis Collegium indicant insignia Collegii in summo posita. Jam vero cognitione Collegium fulciri indicio est liber, cujus etiam summum occupant eadem insignia. Quod autem pulvinar honoris honestamentum sit, et sigillum fidei signum et firmamentum, nemo est qui nescit. Vocentur hæc virtutis insignia.' He hath left behind him a book, written with his own hands, of the College Annals, (1) bearing date anno Domini 1555, and ending anno Domini 1572; which book was the first that was ever wrote of their affairs, and is managed with that excellent method, clearness of style, and fulness of matter, that all the memorable transactions of the College are there to be found entered in their due time and order. I cannot, therefore but heartily wish, that he may ever continue an exemplar to all succeeding Registers of this royal foundation. He was so eminent a defender of the College rights and privileges, that there happening, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, to arise a difference betwixt the physicians and surgeons, whether the surgeon might give inward remedies in the sciatica, French pox, or any kind of ulcer or wound, &c., Dr. Caius was summoned (as President of the College) to appear before the Lord Mayor and others of the Queen's delegates, before whom he so learnedly defended the College rights and the illegality of the surgeons' practice in the forementioned cases, against the bishop of London, master of the rolls, &c. (who brought many arguments in behalf of the surgeons), that it was unanimously agreed by the Queen's Commissioners, that it was unlawful for them to practise in the forementioned cases. He was so religious in observing the statutes of the College that, though old, he durst not absent himself from the College's comitia without a dispensation which he hath entered after the following manner, in the conclusion of his Annals: 'Decimo quinto Novembris, an. Dom. 1572. Visum est Præsidenti et cæteris Electoribus præsentibus omnibus in his Comitiis, concedere Joanni Caio Doctori propter senium, et alia Collegii negotia perfuncta laboriosius per anteacta tempora, liceat abesse à Comitiis et convocationibus omnibus præterquam ordinariis quæ celebrantur in fine trimestris cujusque spatii, si in urbe fuerit et per valetudinem liceat, et eis in quibus gravia Collegii tractantur negotia.’”

No sketch of Dr. Caius would be complete without a particular mention of his munificent foundation at Cambridge. On the 4th September, 1557, be obtained the letters patent of Philip and Mary, by which Gonville hall was refounded as Gonville and Caius college, he being declared a co-founder with Edmund Gonville and William Bateman, bishop of Norwich. The new foundation was to consist of a master and twelve fellows; ten of the latter are named in the charter, and Dr. Caius was empowered to nominate the other two, as also twelve scholars. He was also authorised to frame statutes, and to grant lands not exceeding a stipulated value. He subsequently endowed the college with the manors of Croxley, Hertfordshire, the manors of Runcton and Holme, Norfolk, and the advowsons of Runcton, Holme, and Wallington, in that county; also the manor of Bincombe, with the advowson, and Woobourn, in the county of Dorset. He enlarged the site of the college, and built an additional court, as also the three singular gates respectively inscribed to Humility, to Virtue and Wisdom, and to Honour. He also gave plate, money, books, and other things, and framed an elaborate code of statutes for the government of the society. He was incorporated M.D. in 1558, and on the 24th January, 1558-9, was prevailed upon, though not without reluctance, to accept the office of master of the college, then vacant; but, whilst he held that position, he declined to receive the stipend and emoluments.

One incident of a painful character which occurred at Caius College, only a short time before Dr. Caius's death, must not be passed by unnoticed. He retained in his college certain books and vestments, which had been used in the Roman Catholic service. This came to the knowledge of Dr. Sandys, bishop of London, who wrote on the subject to Dr. Byng, the vice-chancellor of the university, whose proceedings appear in his report to Lord Burghley, the chancellor, dated 14th December, 1572 : "I am further to give your honor advertisement of a greate oversight of D. Caius, who hath so long kept superstitious monumentes in his college, that the evill fame thereof caused my lord of London to write very earnestly unto me, to see them abolished. I could hardly have been persuaded that suche thinges by him had been reservid. But, causing his owne company to make searche in that college, I received an inventory of muche popishe trumpery - as vestmentes, albes, tunicles, stoles, manicles, corporas clothes, with the pix and sindon and canopie, beside holy water stoppes with sprinkles, pax, sensars, superaltaries, tables of idolles, mass bookes, portuises, and grailles, with other suche stuffe, as might have furnished divers massers at one instant. It was thought good, by the whole consent of the heades of howses, to burne the books, and such other thinges as served most for idolatraous abuses, and to cause the rest to be defacid; whiche was accomplished yesterday, with the willing hartes as appeared of the whole company of that howse." Dr. Caius's own account of this scandalous outbreak of fanaticism is subjoined. "An. 1572, 13th Decemb. Discerpta, dissecta, et lacerata priùs, combusta sunt omnia ornamenta Collegii hujus, privatâ authoritate Tho. Bynge Procan. (ut ipse dicebat) nec æquè invisum erat illi quicquam, quam nomen et imago Christi crucifixi, B. Mariæ et S. Trinitatis, nam has indignis modis tractavit dissecando, et in ignem projiciendo, et abominandi titulis et epithetis prosequendo. Nec hoc factum est, nisi instigantibus quibusdam male affectis sociis, quorum alii rem procuraverunt convivio, alii, ne conserventur, aut noctu sustollantur, pervigiles extiterunt. Sed ex his alios Deus morte sustulit, alios aliis modis subduxit, non sine ignominiâ. Ut celarent tamen culpam suam, dissimularunt sedulo, et omnem culpam in Dimsdallum quendam Pensionarium Collegii nostri transtulerunt, cum tamen ipsi omnis male authores extiterunt. Ad hoc profuerunt foco, ut multum defatigatè comburendo, ab horâ 12 ad tertiam, idem Tho. Bynge, Joan. Whitgift Præfectus Coll. Trin. et Gul. (Rog.) Goade Præfectus Coll. Regalis. Postremo, quæ combuere nequiverunt, malleis contuderunt et violârunt, et tantus erat illis fervor in religionem, ut nec beneficia personarum, nec gratia in Academiam, ædificio et æditis libris suadere potuit moderationem." (2) Dr. Caius resigned the mastership of his college in favour of Thomas Legge, A.M., 27th June, 1573.

From his countrymen in general, and from the medical profession in particular, Dr. Caius has another and lasting claim to respect, in the fact that he was the first to introduce the study of practical anatomy into this country, and the first publicly to teach it, which he did in the hall of the Barber Surgeons, shortly after his return from Italy: an honour originally (I believe) claimed for him by Sir George Baker, Bart., M.D., in his Harveian Oration for 1761, and established on very satisfactory evidence in the "Commentarius de Joanne Caio, anatomiæ conditore apud nostrates," published by Sir George, as an Appendix to the Oration. [P. but see Encolius.] [His claims to be remembered by posterity and of his labours in the cause and teaching of anatomy, of the high estimation in which his teaching of anatomy was held by his contemporaries appears from an inscription on the portrait of him – dated A.D.1563 at Caius College it is as follows: (Latin text).]

The intellectual acquirements of Dr. Caius were in a marked degree those which characterised the period during which he flourished. Like his distinguished predecessor Linacre, whose character he held in the highest esteem, and upon whose example he has been thought to have modelled himself, Dr. Caius was a profound classical scholar, and devoted much of his time to the study of the best Greek medical authors. His writings, which were very numerous, establish his claim to the reputation of a linguist, a critic, a physician, a naturalist, and an antiquary. (3) His accurate knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages, and his critical abilities, are amply evinced by his translations, annotations, and the multitude of books, of which he gave corrected editions. His earliest literary effort was the translation of certain devotional works from the Greek, and he next employed himself in annotating the posthumous Latin works of his friend Frammingham. These, with the works themselves, were lost during Caius's absence in Italy. While there he wrote commentaries upon Galen's treatises, "de Administrationibus Anatomicis" and "de Motu Musculorum," which, with a corrected edition of the originals, and other works of the same author, he printed at Basil, in 1544. The correction and elucidation of the works of this great physician seemed to be an object, of all others, the most interesting to him. To this end, Caius employed incredible labour, in collating MSS. and comparing parallel passages; and his industry and sagacity were attended with such success, that he not only gave much more correct editions of many of Galen's works than had before appeared, but recovered some that had been long in obscurity and neglect. He likewise restored the Hippocratic treatise, "de Anatomia," the substance of which had been concealed under another title; and that "de Medicamentis," never before printed. That a profound and critical knowledge of Greek was requisite in the execution of these attempts is obvious, and it is probable that no scholar in Europe was at that time superior, or perhaps equal, to him in this respect. To the Latin medical writers he also devoted much attention. Celsus was the companion of his tour through Italy, and, by a collation of several printed copies with the MSS. at Florence and Urbino, he was enabled to make large emendations, not only of that author, but also of Scribonius Largus. These he enriched with annotations; but it does not appear that they were ever committed to the press.

Another subject for which Caius was well qualified gave occasion to his latest critical performance. This was the genuine pronunciation of the Greek and Latin languages. It is certainly extraordinary, that so soon after the revival of letters in this kingdom, we should have departed in our pronunciation of the learned languages, from those who were our masters in them. With regard to Latin we stand alone, and in opposition to every other European nation, in our manner of pronouncing the vowels. Caius, by a long continuance abroad, and connection with foreign literati, was led to prefer their method. As to Greek, he wished to have it pronounced after the manner of the modern Greeks, and not according to that introduced by Sir John Cheke. His treatise on this subject was not printed till the year after his death, and was reprinted with some other of his minor works by Dr. Jebb in 1729.

Caius's intimate acquaintance with the works of Galen supplied him with all the medical knowledge of the sixteenth century, which, it is well known, was circumscribed within the limits of that physician's voluminous writings. For him Caius entertained the profoundest esteem and veneration, and from a person thus prepossessed in favour of a particular master we are not, perhaps, to expect many new observations or discoveries in his profession. His works in medicine will, upon the whole, confirm this remark. His annotations on the Greek and Latin medical classics, are understood to have been almost exclusively philological; and his own treatise, "de Medendi Methodo," a general system of the practice of physic, drawn up during his abode in Italy, is confessedly formed upon the principles of Galen, and of his own teacher, Montanus. He claims the merit of arranging, selecting, and clothing in more correct language the ideas of his preceptor; but he also asserts that some things in the work are entirely his own -"nam ut plura Galeno quam e Montano accepta sunt, ita quædam ex nostrâ officinâ (ut de me modestius loquar) certè promanarunt." His account of the sweating sickness, or, as he named it, the Ephemera Britannica, is however indisputably original. He had witnessed the disease in 1551, and carefully studied it; and his treatise concerning it, in English, though hastily drawn up, will bear comparison with the best medical writings of the sixteenth century. "Although," says Hecker (4) "judged according to a modern standard, it is far from being satisfactory, yet it contains an abundance of valuable matter, and proves its author to be a good observer."

As a naturalist, Caius appears in a very respectable light. In the accuracy, extent, and originality of his information, in several departments of natural history, he had no equal among his contemporaries in this country, and but few superiors on the continent. He was a correspondent and intimate friend of Gesner, who, in the preface to his "Icones Animalium," styles him a man of consummate erudition, judgment, fidelity, and diligence; and in an epistle to Queen Elizabeth bestows upon him the epithet of "the most learned physician of his age." For Gesner's use, he drew up short histories of certain rare animals and plants, which were transmitted at different times, and inserted in the great naturalist's works. At his request, Caius composed a treatise on British dogs, which Gesner's death in 1565 prevented him from using. It was improved, enlarged, and published by Caius himself, in 1570. The method adopted in this work seemed so judicious to Mr. Pennant, that he inserted it entire in his "British Zoology;" and, according to this respectable authority, all of our physician's descriptions of animals, are proofs of his great knowledge in this branch of natural history.

Caius, at an early period, evinced a propensity for antiquarian studies. About the time he left Cambridge, he projected a history of his native city, Norwich, but was prevented by other occupations from executing his design. This taste he resumed in after life. The occasion was as follows:- Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to Cambridge in 1564, when the public orator, in a speech before her Majesty, extolled the antiquity of that university, to the prejudice of that of Oxford. This incited Thomas Key, a fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, to vindicate the honour of the seminary to which he belonged in a publication, wherein he asserted that it was founded by some Greek philosophers, companions of Brutus, and was restored by Alfred about the year 870. This was too great a triumph to be borne by the Cantabrigians; and accordingly Dr. Caius, at the instigation of Archbishop Parker, steps forth, and in a learned dissertation, to which he affixed the signature of "Londinensis," asserted the antiquity of his own university, and called in question that of Oxford. With all the forms of antiquarian certainty and precision, he establishes its foundation by one Cantaber, 394 years before Christ, and in the year of the World 4300 and odd. Thus, after defeating the Oxford claim from the companions of Brutus, yet allowing them an origin as far back as Alfred, he gains a priority of time to Cambridge of 1267 years! This was first printed in 1568, and re-published in 1574, with the addition of a History of the University of Cambridge in two parts; one giving an account of its origin, ancient state, and the foundation of the several colleges; the other containing a complete description of it, as it existed in his own time. Another of his antiquarian works, "De Antiquis Britanniæ Urbibus," was left in MS. at his death, and is now apparently lost.

There are three portraits of this distinguished physician at Caius College, Cambridge, but not one in the College of Physicians. One, on panel, is dated 1563 [This has been copied in 1882 by a local artist Claude Speechby? employed by Dr. Walter Lewis? and the copy was presented to the college by that gentleman shortly before his death. It is now in the Censors Room.]; another, a profile, supposed to represent him in his forty-third year; and the third is believed to have been taken about 1719, from his corpse, when casually exposed to view during the execution of repairs in the College Chapel. [This brings to my mind what I saw about A.D. 1719 in Caius College Chapel. I remember yt wn they were then repairing & beautifying that Chapel ye workmen had broke a hole either by accident or design into Dr Caius’s Grave wch was a hollow place lin’d with brick on ye North side of ye Chapel at a little distance from his Monumt wch is a mural one. The Lid of ye Coffin was off when I look’d in with a Candle fix’d in a long cleft stick wch ye workmen furnish’d me with, & with wch I cou’d survey ye sepulchre very easily. The side of ye Coffin were remaining, tho in a disjoynted & rotten condition. The Body seem’d to have been a very lusty one, & ye coffin was pretty full of it. The Flesh was of a yellowish black colour, & yielded to ye least touch of ye stick & fell to pieces. The eyes were sunk deep into their sockets. A long grey beard very much like that wch we see in ye picture of him, only this was grown very rough by long time; I think it was then about 145 years fm ye time of his death. I touch’d his beard with ye stick, & turn’d it a little on one side; It accordingly lay on one side, having lost all manner of elasticity. I therefore brought it back to its right place again. The eight occasion’d in me serious reflections, & I went away with such a regard as I thought due to ye memory of so considerable a man as Dr Caius had been. Warren’s Book, ed. A.W.W. Dale, Cambridge, 1911, p.75.] For a complete list of Dr. Caius's published and unpublished works, I must refer to Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. vol. i, p. 315, et seq.

William Munk

[(1) For an account of the Annals, see Appendix.
(2) Athenæ Cantab., vol. i, pp. 313, 314.
(3) The Life of Caius, by Aikin, is the most complete I have met with. To it I have been much indebted, and in what follows I have done little more than condense his narrative.
(4) "Epidemics of the Middle Ages." Sydenham Soc., 8vo. London, 1844, p. 302.]

(Volume I, page 37)

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