Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Allen, John (1660?-1741)
ALLEN, or ALLEYN, JOHN (1660?–1741), physician and inventor, the date of whose birth is not positively known, was M.D., but of what university does not appear. He was admitted extra-licentiate of the College of Physicians of London 13 Sept. 1692; practised, and apparently died, at Bridgewater, Somersetshire. The very existence of this physician has, strangely enough, been called in question, even quite recently (Wernich und Hirsch, Biograph. Lexicon der Aerzte, Wien, 1884), and contemporary writers (Manget, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Medicorum, Genevæ, 1731, i. 106, and Eloy, Dict. Historique de la Médecine, Mons, 1778, i. 95) believed the name under which his chief work, the ‘Synopsis Medicinæ,’ was published, to be a pseudonym (nom supposé), though it is quoted correctly in ‘Acta Eruditorum’ (Lipsiæ, 1720, p. 75). But there can be no doubt as to the identity of this author and Dr. Allen of Bridgewater. His portrait, engraved by Van der Gucht, ad vivum, is also extant to show that he actually existed. Allen published in 1719 ‘Synopsis universæ Medicinæ practicæ; sive doctissimorum Virorum de Morbis eorumque causis ac remediis judicia,’ a work which became extremely popular, being printed in many editions at home and abroad, both in Latin and translated into modern languages. This work claims to be entirely practical, and not to deal with the new views and hypotheses which abounded in the medicine of the time, but makes no pretensions to originality. It gives, under the head of each disease, the opinions of various authors, ancient and modern, to which the writer added, especially in later editions, certain observations of his own. Allen published also ‘Specimina Ichnographica; or a brief narrative of several new inventions and experiments,’ London, 1730, 4to, pp. 44. These inventions were three: (1) a new method of saving coal in the engine for raising water by fire (i.e. Savery and Newcomen's atmospheric steam-engine) by enclosing the fire within the boiler; (2) a further proposal to place such an engine, made by this improvement more portable, in a ship, and, by forcing water out of the stern, to make the vessel move, so that it could be navigated in a calm; if ever carried out, this would have been probably the first known model of a steamship; and (3) a new method of drying malt. These inventions were patented. Allen is also said to have invented a new model of a chariot going on steel springs, probably at that time a novelty. In 1730 Allen was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, to which he had in 1716 communicated a paper containing the plan of a ‘Perpetual Log’ for ships. He died 16 Sept. 1741.
The editions of the ‘Synopsis Medicinæ’ were very numerous. In the following list those marked with an asterisk have been verified by the present writer:—Latin: first edition, Londini, *1719, 8vo, third (enlarged), ibid. *1729, 1749; Amstelodami, 1720, 1723, *1730 (ed. quinta); Venetiis, 1732, *1762; Francofurti, 1749, 1753. English: translated by a physician, 2 vols., London, *1730, 8vo; translated by the author, 2 vols., London, *1733, 8vo, also 1740, 1761. French: translated by Devaux, with additions, Paris, *1728, 3 vols. 12mo; translated by Boudon, Paris, 1737, 6 vols., ibid. 1741, 7 vols., 1752, 7 vols. German: Budissin, 1726.[Gent. Mag. 1741, p. 500; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 152, 411, 431; Eloy's Dict. Historique; Brit. Mus. Catalogue; Munk's College of Physicians, 2nd ed. i. 485.]