Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anthony, Francis

ANTHONY, FRANCIS (1550–1623), a noted empiric and chemical physician, was born in London 16 April 1550, the son of a goldsmith, who had a place in the jewel office under Queen Elizabeth. He studied at Cambridge and became M.A. 1574. He is said to have been afterwards M.D. in one of our universities, but in which does not appear. His knowledge of chemistry was presumably derived from his father. He commenced medical practice in London without a license from the College of Physicians; and after six months was called before the president and censors of the college (A.D. 1600), when, being examined in medicine and found ignorant, he was interdicted practice. For disregarding this injunction, he was fined five pounds and committed to prison, whence he was released by a warrant of the lord chief justice. The college, however, got him recommitted, and Anthony submitted. Being again prosecuted for the same offence and refusing to pay a heavy fine, he was kept in prison for eight months, till released at the petition of his wife, and on the ground of poverty, in 1602. He continued to practise in defiance of the college, and further proceedings were threatened, but not carried out, probably because Anthony had powerful friends at court. His practice consisted chiefly, if not entirely, in the prescription and sale of a secret remedy called aurum potabile, from which he derived a considerable fortune. He died 26 May 1623, leaving two sons: John, who became a physician in London [see Anthony, John]; and Charles, who practised at Bedford. According to the writer in the 'Biographia Britannica' (1747, i. 169), who professes to have derived his information from family manuscripts, Anthony was a man of high character and very liberal to the poor.

The career of Anthony and his conflict with the College of Physicians illustrate the conditions of the medical profession in the seventeenth century. He was obnoxious to the college, not only because he practised without a license, or because he lauded chemical remedies and despised the traditional 'Galenical'—i.e. animal and vegetable drugs—but because he kept the composition of his remedy a secret, and put it forward as a panacea for all diseases. Anthony was a man of some learning, and defended his panacea in several pamphlets, in which he quotes many authors, chiefly chemists, as Raymond Lully and Arnold de Villa Nova, in support of his contention. He refers to Paracelsus with an apology, but disclaims any special debt to him; and among other authorities to Conrad Gesner, who had written of aurum potabile (The Treasure of Euonymus, London, 1565, p. 177). Of these tracts, the two earlier (Fr. Antonii Londinensis Panacea Aurea, Hamburg, 1598; and Medicinæ Chymicæ et veri potabilis Auri assertio, Cambridge, 1610) are probably very rare, and the present writer has not been able to find them; but the latter is known from the answer to it published by Matthew Gwinne (Aurum non Aurum In Assertorem Chymicæ, sed veræ Medicinæ desertorem, Fr. Anthonium, Londini, 1611). His later book (Apologia Veritatis illucescentis pro Auro Potabili, London, 1616; also in English the Apologie or Defence, &c. of Aurum Potabile, same date) is well known. In these Anthony labours to show that metals are excellent medicines, gold most of all; that by his method it was dissolved in a potable form and furnished a universal medicine. His adversaries denied the superiority of metallic to other medicines and the special efficacy of gold, declared that Anthony's method did not dissolve gold, and there was no such thing as a universal medicine. Anthony offered to demonstrate his process to certain select witnesses; and it appears that a trial actually took place at the College of Physicians in 1609, in the presence of 'Baron' Thomas Knivet, the master of the mint, and other skilled persons, when an ounce of gold was given to Anthony, which, by his method, he failed to dissolve (Gwinne, Aurum non Aurum, p. 169). The process is indeed given in the 'Biographia Britannica,' ostensibly on the authority of a manuscript of Anthony's own; and it is evident that as there described the ultimate product could not contain any gold. The efficacy of the remedy, if any, as a cordial, was possibly due to certain ethers which would be formed in the process of distillation, and also to the good canary wine in which it was ultimately dissolved. In Anthony's last work he relates the history of numerous cures which he says he performed on various distinguished persons. This brought upon him a violent attack from a Dr. Cotta, one of whose patients was spoken of. In spite of these attacks the potable gold became a very popular remedy.

The popular belief in the virtues of gold, though based on fanciful grounds, was too deeply rooted to be shaken, and even Robert Boyle, in 1685, says that, though prejudiced against ‘aurum potabiles and the like ’ (sic), he found a certain tincture of gold which had marvellous effects (Boyle on Specifick Medicines, London, 1685). It is now known that preparations of gold have some, though not very potent, medicinal properties; but certainly not the marvellous powers attributed to preparations which, after all, did not contain it.

[Goodall's Royal College of Physicians, London, and an Historical Account of the College's Proceedings against Empiricks, &c., London, 1684; Biogr. Britannica, 1747; Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses, s. v. ‘Gwinne,’ i. 513, ed. 1721; Cotta's Antiapology, showing the Counterfeitness of Dr. Anthony's Aurum Potabile, Oxford, 1623.]

J. F. P.