Lives of the fellows

Walter Charleton

b.2 February 1619 d.24 April 1707
MD(1642-3) FRCP(1664) FRS

Walter Charleton, M.D., was the son of the Rev. Walter Charleton, rector of Shepton Mallet, in Somersetshire, and was born in the rectory house of that parish, 2nd February, 1619. After receiving a good preliminary education, under his father’s immediate superintendence, he was sent to Magdalen hall, Oxford, where he became the pupil of Dr. Wilkins, afterwards bishop of Chester; and, under his able guidance, made great progress in logic and philosophy, and was noted for assiduous application and extensive capacity. He applied himself to medicine; and on the breaking out of the civil war, when Charles I retired to Oxford, Charleton though then only twenty-two years of age, (“vir proculdubio doctus et in sua facultate clarus,” are the words of his grace) was created doctor of medicine (16th January, 1642-3); and soon afterwards appointed physician to the King.

When the royal cause became desperate, Dr. Charleton removed to London; and on the 8th April, 1650, was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians. He was one of two travelling physicians to Charles II, Sir Edward Greaves, Bart., being the other, and was appointed physician in ordinary to the King while in exile, an honour he retained after the Restoration. [P. See State Papers, 1660, p.185.] He was one of the original fellows of the Royal Society. In December, 1664, Dr. Charleton was elected an Honorary Fellow of the College of Physicians; and on the 23rd January, 1676-7, was admitted an Ordinary Fellow.

He was Anatomy reader or Gulstonian lecturer (I am not sure which) in 1679 [Gulstonian lecturer. Coll. Cash Bk, Apr 3, 1679]; and on this occasion delivered the first lecture in the new (or Cutlerian) theatre in Warwick-lane. (1) He was Harveian Orator in 1680; Censor, 1677, 1682; Elect, 1686; Consiliarius, 1687; President, 1689, 1690, 1691. Shortly after this, Dr. Charleton’s circumstances being straitened, he left London and retired to Jersey. On the 29th December, 1693, his place of Elect was declared void by his absence, and Dr. Downes appointed in his stead. At this point all the biographical notices I have met with cease; for, though they are correct in fixing the point of his death some fourteen years later, they are altogether silent as to the intervening period.

The College Annals, however, enable me to supply this deficiency. It is clear that Dr. Charleton, after an absence of a few years only, returned to London, apparently from Nantwich, where he was living when Wood wrote. (2) He was senior Censor for nine consecutive years, from 1698 to 1706, both included; was re-appointed Elect on the first vacancy, viz., 5th December, 1701, in place of Dr. Burwell, resigned; was Consiliarius 1702, 1703, 1704, 1705, 1706; again Harveian Orator in 1702 [misprint for 1705] and 1706; and on the 6th December of the same year, 1706, was appointed Harveian librarian, with a salary of 20l. per annum. [At that time he was living in Rupert St Covent Garden.] Dr. Charleton died of a lingering illness, 24th April, 1707, in the 87th year of his age.

He is represented by his contemporary Wood as “a learned and an unhappy man, aged and grave, yet too much given to romances.” [According to Goodall (Epistle Dedicatory to his Historical Account of the College’s Proceedings against Empiricks) Dr Charleton had been invited to accept one of the professor’s chairs at Padua.]

He was a very voluminous writer; and the following is, I fear, but an incomplete list of his published works: -
Spiritus Gorgonicus, vi suâ saxiparâ exutus, sive de causis, signis et sanatione Lithiaseos, Diatriba. 8vo. Lugd. Batav. 1650.
A Ternary of Paradoxes: Of the Magnetic Cure of Wounds: Nativity of Tartar in Wines: the Image of God in Man: written in Latin by John Baptist van Helmont; translated by W. Charleton. 4to. London, 1650.
The Darkness of Atheism dispelled by the Light of Nature. A physico-theological treatise. 4to. Lond. 1652.
The Ephesian and Cimmerian Matrons: two remarkable examples of the Power of Love and Wit. 8vo. London. 1653.
Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charltoniana; or, a Fabrick of Natural Science erected upon the most ancient hypothesis of Atoms. Folio. Lond. 1654.
Epicurus: his Morals. 4to. London. 1655.
The Immortality of the Human Soul, demonstrated by reasons natural. 4to. Lond. 1657.
Economica Animalis: novis in Medicina hypothesibus superstructa et mechanicè explicanda. 12 mo. Lond. 1658.
The Natural History of Nutrition, Life, and Voluntary Motion, containing all the new discoveries of Anatomists. 4to. Lond. 1658.
Exercitationes Physico-Anatomicæ de economiâ Animali. 8vo. Lond. 1659.
A Character of His Most Sacred Majesty Charles the Second, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith &c. 4to. Lond. 1660.
Exercitationes Pathologicæ; in quibus Morborum penè ominum natura, generatio, et causæ ex novis Anatomicorum inventis sedulo inquiruntur. 4to. Lond. 1660.
Chorea Gigantum, or the most famous Antiquity of Great Britain, Stonehenge, standing on Salisbury Plain, restored to the Danes. 4to. Lond. 1663.
Disquisitiones duæ Anatomico-physicæ: altera Anatome Pueri de cælo tacti; altera de proprietatibus Cerebri humani, 8vo. Lond. 1664.
Gulielmi Ducis Novicastrensis Vita. Folio. Lond. 1668.
Onomasticon Zoicon, plerorumque Animalium differentias et nomina propria pluribus linguis exponens. 4to. Lond. 1668.
Two Philosophical Discourses: the first concerning the different Wits of Men, the second concerning the Mystery of Vintners. 8vo. Lond. 1668 [1668 – error for 1669].
De Scorbuto liber singularis: Cui accessit Epiphonema in Medicastros. 8vo. Lond. 1671.
The Natural History of the Passions. 8vo. Lond. 1674.
Enquiries into Humane Nature, in six Anatomy Prelections in the new Theater of the Royal College of Physicians in London. 4to. Lond. 1680.
The Harmony of Natural and Positive Divine Laws. 8vo. Lond. 1682.
Three Anatomy Lectures, read in March, 1682, in the Anatomie Theater of His Majesty’s Royal College of Physicians in London. 4to. Lond. 1683.
Inquisitio Physica de Causis Catameniorum et Uteri Rheumatismo. 8vo. Lond. 1685.
[50. CHARLETON (Walter) Exercitationes Pathologicae, in quibus morborum penè omnium natura, generatio & caussae, ex Novis Anatomicorum Inventis. Bologna, Perroni de Ruinetus, 1675. £10 10s
12mo, Old vellum, 2ff + 238pp. A very rare Continental edition of one of Charleton’s principal works first published in London in 1661. It is interesting as showing the wide diffusion of English scientists’ works on the Continent in the 17th century. Davis and Orioli list 1. 10/58]

Dr Charleton also printed his two Harveian orations, and published a translation of some of the writings of Van Helmont. His portrait is in the College, and there is another in the Gallery at Oxford. [Mead under Charleton’s portrait by Sir Godfrey Meller ? wrote the following lines ?.] [Charleton’s portrait in 1678 when he was 56 yrs of age was painted and engraved by Loggan. This is the one in the College. WM]

William Munk

[(1) “1678-9, Janii. xxi. Dr Charleton jussus est anatomicam lectionem celebrare Comitiis indictivis peractis præsentem terminum sequentibus: quod manus summa cum laude perfecit stato tempore, et Theatrum Cutlerianum primus bonis auspiciis inauguravit, præfata prius, a Præside consummatissimo, oratione nervosâ inaugurali.”
(2) “Hodie vivit et valetudine fruitur juxta Nantwich in agro Cestriensi.” Hist. et Antiq. Univ. Oxon.]

(Volume I, page 390)

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