Lives of the fellows

Hugh Chamberlen

b.1664 d.1728
AM Cantab(1683) MD(1689) FRCP(1694)

Hugh Chamberlen, MD, was the eldest son of Hugh Chamberlen, MD. He was born in 1664, and educated at Trinity college, Cambridge, of which house he was a fellow commoner. He graduated AM per Literas Regias 1683, and on the 30th October, 1684, was settled at Leyden, and entered on the physic line. He was created doctor of medicine at Cambridge (Comitiis Regiis) 8th October, 1689. Dr Chamberlen was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians the day after Palm Sunday, 1693; and a Fellow 2nd April, 1694. He was Censor in 1707, 1718, and 1721, but resigned that office, on account of ill health, 14th February, 1722. Dr Chamberlen was the most celebrated man-midwife of his day, and his name is inseparably connected with the obstetric forceps, subsequently much improved by Smellie and others.(1) He published a translation of Mauriceau’s Midwifery, a work once in great request, and republished as late as 1755. He was also the author of a small work entitled Queries relating to the Practice of Physick. 18mo. Lond. 1694.

In 1723 Dr Chamberlen attended bishop Atterbury, in the Tower, in the place of Dr Friend, himself a prisoner there. He died in 1728, and a noble monument was erected to his memory in Westminster abbey by the duke of Buckingham. The long Latin epitaph, the production of bishop Atterbury, which records, besides his skill, his benevolence, liberality, and many other amiable personal qualities, is as follows:-
Hugonis ac Petri utriusque Medici
Filius ac Nepos:
Medicinam ipse feliciter excoluit et egregiè honestavit,
ad summam quippe Artis suæ peritiam,
summam etiam in dictis et factis fidem,
insignem mentis candorem,
morumque suavitatem adjunxit;
ut, an languentibus, an sanis acceptior esset,
an medicus, an vir melior,
certatum sit inter eos,
qui in utroque laudis genere primarium fuisse
uno ore consentiunt.
Nullam Ille medendi rationem non assecutus,
depellendis tamen puerperarum periculis,
et avertendis infantium morbis,
operam præcipuè impendit;
eâque multoties cavit,
ne illustribus familiis eriperentur hæredes unici,
ne patriæ charissimæ cives egregii;
universis certe prodesse quantum potuit, voluit;
adeòque distractâ in partes Republicâ
cum iis a quorum sententiâ discessit
amicitiam nihilominus sanctè coluit,
artisque suæ præsidia lubens communicavit.
Fuit Ille
tantâ vitæ elegantâ ac nitore,
animo tam forti tamque excelso,
indole tam propensâ ad munificentiam,
specie ipsâ tam ingenuâ atque liberali,
ut facile crederes
prosapiæ ejus nobilem aliquem extitisse auctorem,
utcunque ex præclarâ stirpe veterum Comitum de Tankerville
jam a quadragentis Illum annis ortum nescires.
In diversâ quam expertus est Fortunæ sorte,
quod suum erat quod decuit semper tenuit;
cum magnis vivens haud demissè se gessit,
cum minimis non asperè, non inhumanè;
utrosque eodem bene merendi studio complexus,
utrisque idem æquè utilis ac charus.
Filius erat mirâ in Patrem pietate,
pater filiarum amantissimus quas quidem tree habuit,
unam è primâ conjuge,
duas ex alterâ, castas, bonas, matrum simillimas;
cum iis omnibus usque ad mortem conjunctissimè vixit:
tertiam uxorem sibi superstitem reliquit.
Ad humaniores illas ac domesticas virtutes tanquam cumulus accessit,
rerum Divinarum amor non fictus,
summa Numinis ipsius reverentia;
quibus imbuta mens, exuvias jam corporis depositura,
ad superiora se erexit,
morbi diutini languoribus infracta permansit;
et vitam tandem minimè vitalem,
non dissolutè non infructuosè actam,
morte verè Christianâ claudens,
ad patriam cælestem migravit; obiit 17 Junii, A.D. 1728,
annis sexaginta quatuor expletis;
provectiori ætate sanè dignus,
cujus ope effectum est,
ut multi non inter primos penè vagitus extincti
ad extremam senectutem possint pervenire.
Viro integerrimo, amicissimo,
ob servatam in partu vitam,
ob restitutam sæpius et confirmatam tandem valetudinem,
Monumentum hoc Sepulchrale
ejus effigie insignitum posuit
Edmundus Dux Buckinghamiensis,
appositis hìc inde statuis
ad exemplum marmoris antiqui expressis,
quæ et quid ab illo præstitum sit
et quid Illi redditum licet
adhuc debetur posteris testatum faciant.

William Munk

[(1) To the Chamberlens, several of whom practised midwifery with success and reputation, we are indebted for the invention of the obstetric forceps, “a noble instrument,” says Chapman, which has probably saved more lives than any mechanical invention ever made. Its value in this respect is evidently alluded to by Bishop Atterbury in the above inscription to the memory of Dr Hugh Chamberlen. To which of the family the invention is really due, it is perhaps impossible now to determine. The fact that the instrument was long kept a secret by the inventor and his relatives, has thus far rendered impenetrable the obscurity which veils its early history. Dr Hugh Chamberlen, in the translator’s address to the reader, prefixed to his version of Mauriceau’s treatise “On the Diseases of Women with Child and in Childbed, as also the best means of helping them in natural and unnatural Labours,” says in reference to the forceps which he nowhere names as such or describes, “My father, brothers, and myself (though none else in Europe, as I know) have by God’s blessing and our industry, attained to and long practised a way to deliver women in this case, without any prejudice to them or their infants; tho’ all others being obliged for want of such an expedient to use the common way do and must endanger, if not destroy one or both with hooks. By this manual operation a labour may be dispatched (on the least difficulty) with fewer pains and sooner to the great advantage and without danger, both of woman and child.” “I will now take leave,” continues he, “to offer an apology for not publishing the secret I mention we have to extract children without hooks where other artists use them; viz - there being my father and two brothers living that practise this art, I cannot esteem it my own to dispose of it nor publish it without injury to them and I think I have not been unserviceable to my own country, although I do but inform them that the forementioned three persons of our family and myself can serve them in these extremities with greater safety than others.” The balance of evidence as to the actual inventor of the forceps is, perhaps, on the whole, in favour of Dr Peter Chamberlen, a Fellow of the College, and very eccentric man, before mentioned, p. 194, who died in 1682, possessed of the estate of Woodham Mortimer hall, Essex, where a curious collection of midwifery instruments, and among these the forceps, was accidentally discovered about the year 1815. They were found under a trap-door in the floor of the uppermost of a series of closets, built over the entrance porch. In the space between the flooring of this closet and the ceiling below, was found, among a number of empty boxes, a cabinet containing old coins, trinkets, letters, and some obstetric instruments. These instruments were given to Mr Carwardine by the lady of the mansion, and presented by that gentleman to the Medico-Chirurgical Society, where they are now preserved. The letter accompanying this interesting donation, together with figures of the instruments found, may be seen in the 9th volume of the Transactions of the Society.]

(Volume I, page 504)

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