Imágenes de páginas




I wish that some one would make a study of the effect of increase of population upon the customs and character of men. Few people are the same in town as they are in the country, or the same in England as they are in Africa. These are commonplaces of observation. Men are so susceptible to the influence and opinions of others, that often, as the points of contact with other persons multiply, so their whole character modifies in the direction of a dull uniformity with their neighbours, and they become, if not less themselves, for the change is real if sometimes temporary, at least less individually distinct.

No doubt these changes are temporary and vary as the number of those with whom we are in contact varies, but if we enormously increase the cause of these changes, it is plain that some great effect must be produced.

In England to-day there are roughly about eight times as many people as there were at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The results of this increase are difficult to over-estimate, but one of the most important is the decrease of personal influence in history. Court intrigues are but little now, but they were everything in Queen Elizabeth's day, when it was possible for the sovereign to have personal knowledge of and personal influence upon all her most distinguished subjects.

Another effect which I wish particularly to emphasise is the greater dulness and lack of individuality in ordinary lives. Amid this great mass of people men's lives and characters are dissipated vaguely; it is difficult to grasp any salient features. And change, which is essential to the picturesque, is so much more difficult. We get it, of course, in new colonies and waste places of the earth, but not in England.

That is why biography is becoming a lost art. Every one must have his two volumes, full of minute details, which must all be put in, because all are equally important or unimportant. But all these pages present no definite picture of the man, except to those who knew him, and after a year no one reads them. Contrast the usual type of seventeenth-century biography: a few

pages, a preface possibly to some treatise on philosophy, politics, or medicine, written in frank, trenchant English, and there is the man drawn in bold outlines, a living picture of him and his life. The modern biographer is not to blame, his task is so much more difficult; in those days even ordinary men were so much more distinct from each other, and that was because they were so much fewer in number.

If Nicholas Culpeper had lived in England in the nineteenth century, he would probably have been a fashionable physician, with a tendency to dabble in hypnotism and other mysterious byways of physical science, looked upon askance by the majority of his profession, and treated contemptuously by the medical papers. He would have given largely to charities, and done a great deal of good besides in unostentatious ways. He would have had a large and varied acquaintance, to whom his wit and experience of life would always have made him acceptable; he would have become more and more conventional in his practice as years went by, and would at last have died comfortably at a good old age, amid the lamentations of his patients. His biography would have been published along with a selection from his letters, and he would never have been heard of again.

But living in the seventeenth century, with greater freedom and opportunity of change, he stands out a distinct figure, characteristic in some respects of his age, yet peculiarly himself.

The chief authorities for his life besides his own writings are a narrative of his life, prefixed to his School of Physic, published in 1659, and a nativity calculated by a brother astrologer, John Gadbury. This nativity had the advantage of being calculated in the light of experience after his death by one who knew him well, and therefore has more claim to confidence than the ordinary prophetic type.

Into the short space of thirty-eight years he managed to pack an astonishing amount of labour and incident.

He was born in 1616, the son of a Sussex clergyman, and a scion of the famous house of Culpeper. His father died when he was yet young, and at the age of eighteen he went up to Cambridge. Here his generous temper began to display itself, for he contrived to squander great part of his patrimony. At the same time he is stated to have acquired a good knowledge of Greek and Latin, and it is more charitable to assume that the money was squandered on books and tutors than on riotous living.

In one of his vacations it chanced that he made the acquaintance of a beautiful girl of good family in the county of Sussex. Acquaintance soon mutually ripened to something warmer, but the parents of the lady were obdurate in their objections to the penniless undergraduate. Love, however, was not to be so easily thwarted, and a runaway match was arranged.

Nicholas was to start from Cambridge and the lady from Sussex; they were to meet and be married. But man appointeth, God disappointeth; this happiness was not to be. 'Mars and other envious planets' intervened. · On her way to the place of rendezvous the lady was struck and killed by lightning, and the fatal news was conveyed to Culpeper as he was travelling towards his dead to him, but otherwise still living saint.'

A friend, who happened to be passing at the moment, one Sir Nicholas Astey, 'comforted him with the best rhetoric he could, and took him to his mother in a coach.' Taking him to his mother was probably more effective than the rhetoric. She was delighted to receive her son so unexpectedly returned from Cambridge, but presently, on learning his grief, she fell into a sickness, from which she never afterwards recovered.

The lady was an heiress, for she possessed the sum of 2,0001. and 5001. a year, a very handsome fortune, and this may have accentuated the grief of the mother, but we are expressly told that her riches had no power over Culpeper.

For a time Culpeper was crushed by this great misfortune, but he was not the man to give way utterly, and he devoted himself to the study of medicine and astrology. Time assuaged his grief, but he was never wholly the same man again. Though he could be cheerful and merry on occasion, the shock had been so great that he was always really a melancholy man.

One consolation he might reap from so great a blow: though life might and did prove very fruitful of 'evil, he could never experience anything so grievous again, and this was the secret of his patient equanimity through the remainder of his life.

The profession of medicine has generally been more remarkable for doing good than receiving, and Nicholas Culpeper made early proof of this. His grandfather, who had intended to leave him his estate, was so incensed at his refusal to become a clergyman, and his pursuit of medicine instead, that he changed his will and left him no more than 408. But nothing could make him forsake the course that he had chosen, and he received this small sum with a smile when it was paid over to him.

Other obstacles followed : an apothecary to whom he had apprenticed himself failed and absconded ; another did not prove much more satisfactory; but at last, about 1640, he set up as an astrologer and physician in Red Lion Street, Spitalfields.

It must have been about this time that he had to flee to France in consequence of a duel which he fought, but what the occasion and result of it was I have been unable to discover.

Once settled as a doctor, he did not altogether confine himself to his craft, but took a great interest in political and religious controversy. He was strongly on the side of the Parliamentarians, and VOL. XLIII-No. 255

3 E

in 1643, by one of those changes of profession which were then 80 frequent, took up arms and enlisted in the Parliamentary army.

Here his ill-luck pursued him; in one battle he was wounded by a small-shot in the chest. His health never recovered; he was forced to abandon the profession of arms and return to his former occupation.

By this time he had tired of living as a bachelor, and one Mrs. Alice Field engaged his affections. She brought him, besides her other qualities, a considerable fortune. This time we are not told that the fortune did not weigh with him in his choice. The marriage was only fairly prosperous; six out of seven children died- a curious commentary on Culpeper's reputation as an authority on the rearing of children. Mrs. Culpeper survived her husband, but she must have been not discontented with her mode of life, for she shortly afterwards married another astrologer, John Heydon.

The incidents of the battlefield do not seem to have interfered with his practice. From this time on he lived in the East End of London, labouring without a pause at his profession and his books, beloved by his poor neighbours, and engaged in constant controversies and conflicts with those who accused him of quackery and plagiarism. At last, in 1654, while still comparatively a young man, but broken down prematurely by the many troubles and incessant labours of his busy life, he died. Two other circumstances contributed to his end

one was the wound from which he had never recovered, the other was the fact that he 'excessively took destructive tobacco, which deprived him of his stomach. Even the near approach of death could not quell his indomitable spirit. “If I die,' he said, 'I do but go out of this miserable world to receive a crown of immortality.'

And thus,' says his biographer, 'in the strength of the flower of his age he departed this life, who, if he had lived a few years longer, Christendom had been filled with his fame.'

There are two or three portraits of Culpeper extant. He was of a lean and spare habit of person ; his dark hair, after the fashion of that day, which was by no means confined to Cavaliers, hung in long curls on each side of his head, and was cut in a straight fringe over his forehead; he wore a slight moustache, up-turned at the ends; the face is long and narrow, and of a swarthy complexion; the whole expression sad, yet with a twinkle in the dark eyes; not a strong face, but a pleasant one.

There are two aspects of a man on which his fame may restthat under which he appears to those who know him personally, and that under which he appears to the world at large.

There is something wonderfully attractive in Culpeper's personal character. Though himself a constant prey to that melancholy which was in him partly characteristic of the temper of his time, partly the result of his own great sorrows, though often'wanting company he would seem like a dead man,' he was ever a witty and eloquent companion, full of jests and conceits. Of himself he says that mirth was the best cordial he could prescribe; and John Gadbury, who drew his horoscope, remarks with some acrimony, 'that with things of the most serious concernment he would mingle matters of levity and extremely please himself in so doing,' which reads more like a personal reminiscence than a calculation of starry influences.

I cannot find that any of his witty sayings have survived but onethat in curing a patient he would not remove the consumption from their persons into their purses, which, however vile a pun, must have fallen gratefully upon the sick man's ears.

'No money, no doctor,' was never his maxim. In the exercise of his art, as in every other department of life, he was generous to prodigality. The money he received from rich persons 'he spread upon

the waters and laid it forth for those that were in want. A contemporary said of him, “The poor must perish if his charity did not relieve them.'

Such a man was not likely to amass a fortune, and it is not surprising to learn that he was always in financial difficulties. Though he spent himself early and late for the good of his countrymen, he was always an enemy to his own preferment, and never could be persuaded to take those steps which common-sense would urge to place his fortunes on a satisfactory basis.

It is strange to be told that he had few friends, and it is of a piece with the ill-luck that always pursued him that those mostly deceived him.' 'But that,' pathetically remarks his biographer, 'was not to him alone, 'tis generally morbus mundi, the distemper of the whole world.'

We need not attribute Culpeper's lack of friends to any defects of temper. Friendship is a plant of rare and doubtful growth. While one cause is working to foster and preserve it, a thousand may be urging its overthrow and destruction. Time and distance alone, the most common of circumstances, are enough to loosen the closest ties. A busy man has often the least opportunities, and of all busy men a doctor, especially if he be also a writer, is the busiest. In both departments Culpeper was the most laborious of men. At his death he left behind him no fewer than seventy-nine unpublished works, besides those which appeared in his lifetime. If we take into account his extreme activity as a practising physician in one of the poorest, dirtiest, and most unhealthy quarters of a city remarkable for dirt and poverty, and remember that all this was crowded into the short space of fifteen to eighteen years, his industry appears to be indeed phenomenal.

On his published works Culpeper's title to fame must rest. Nothing is more difficult than to decide upon a man's claims when the art in which he laboured was hardly emerging from the

« AnteriorContinuar »