Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brocklesby, Richard (1722-1797)

BROCKLESBY, RICHARD (1722–1797), physician, was born at Minehead in Somersetshire, and was the only son of Richard Brocklesby of Cork. His mother was Mary Alloway of Minehead, and both families belonged to the Society of Friends. On 29 March 1734 Brocklesby entered the school of Abraham Shackleton, at Ballitore, co. Kildare, so that he was one of the senior boys when Burke went there in May 1741. They were contemporaries at school for less than a year, but this early acquaintance was continued when both came to live in London, and they were friendly throughout life. After some studies at Edinburgh, in 1742 Brocklesby went to Leyden and graduated M.D. there on 28 June 1745. His graduation thesis on this occasion (Dissertatio Medico, inauguralis de Saliva sana et morbosa, 4to, Leyden, 1745) seems to have been suggested by a case which he had seen at Edinburgh, in which the administration of five grains of mercury was followed by the secretion of one hundred pounds of saliva. He describes clearly the expectoration of pneumonia and that of hydrophobia, and throughout the essay shows extensive reading and a power of lively expression. He attacks Pitcairn and the intromechanicians in general, and speaks with gratitude of his own teacher Gaubius. During the next twelve months Brocklesby settled in London, and in 1751 became a licentiate of the College of Physicians. In 1754 he received a degree from the university of Dublin, and was incorporated M.D. at Cambridge in the same year. His election as a fellow of the College of Physicians followed in 1756 (Munk, Coll. of Phys. ii. 202). In 1758 he was appointed physician to the army, and served in Germany. In 1763 he settled in Norfolk Street, Strand, where he soon obtained a large practice. He enjoyed the friendship of Burke and of Johnson, and showed that he deserved to be loved by both. In a kind letter to Burke on 2 July 1788 (Burke Correspondence, 1844, iii. 78), Brocklesby makes him a present of 1,000l., and says that he would be happy to repeat the gift 'every year until your merit is rewarded as it ought to be at court.' Brocklesby attended Dr. Johnson on many occasions, and in his last illness (Boswell, Johnson, ii. 481). Boswell describes a dinner at Brocklesby's (ii. 489), at which Johnson was present with Valiancy, the antiquarian, Murphy, and Mr. Devaynes, the king's apothecary, on 15 May 1784. In June 1784, when Johnson's going to Italy was discussed, Boswell (ii. 527) records another instance of Brocklesby's generosity: 'As an instance of extraordinary liberality of friendship, he told us that Dr. Brocklesby had upon this occasion offered him a hundred a year for his life. A grateful tear started into his eye as he spoke this in a faltering tone.' Many instances of this physician's kindness to less distinguished persons are recorded (Burke Correspondence, 21 July 1777 ; Munk, Coll. of Phys. ii. 203). The early distinction of Dr. Thomas Young was largely due to the kindness with which Brocklesby, who was his great-uncle, encouraged his studies (Memoir of Thomas Young, London, 1831), and Young dedicated his inaugural dissertation for M.D. to him. Brocklesby's first publication after he settled in London was 'An Essay concerning the Mortality among Horned Cattle,' 8vo, 1746. The chief new suggestion contained in it is that the infected bodies should be properly buried in deep graves. In 1749 he published 'Reflections on Antient and Modern Music, with the application to the cure of diseases, to which is subjoined an essay to solve the question wherein consisted the difference of antient music from that of modern times.' The author's name does not appear upon the title-page. The essay contains much learning and many interesting remarks. It was probably suggested by a story the author had heard in Edinburgh of a gentleman who had been engaged for the Pretender in 1715, had been himself wounded, and had lost two sons in the battle of Dunblane. He fell into a nervous fever from melancholy, and no treatment did him good till his physician caused a harper to play to him day after day, when he revived, and at last regained his health. Brocklesby seriously recommends the more regular use of music as a means of treatment. In 1760 he delivered the Harveian oration at the College of Physicians, and it was printed in quarto. Its most memorable passage is a fine panegyric upon the Dr. Hodges the account of whose death in poverty after he had stayed in attendance on the sick throughout the plague brought tears to the eyes of Dr. Johnson. In 1764 Brocklesby published his most important work, 'Œconomical and Medical Observations, in two parts, from the year 1758 to the year 1763 inclusive, tending to the improvement of military hospitals and to the cure of camp diseases incident to soldiers,' 8vo, London. This was the first book in which sound principles of hygiene were laid down for the army. There were then but few barracks, and those few were ill built. Brocklesby shows that the soldiers must have plenty of air in their rooms if they are to remain healthy. Proper regulations are drawn up for field hospitals, and the necessity for giving the doctor absolute command in the hospital is pointed out. The observations on camp diseases are clear and original, and the remarks on treatment singularly wise. There is an interleaved copy of the book, with a few alterations and additions in the author's hand, in the library of the College of Physicians. To the same library Brocklesby gave a splendid copy, in twenty-five volumes folio, of Grævius and Gronovius's 'Thesaurus,' which contains an inscription in his handwriting. Brocklesby became F.R.S., and published some papers in the 'Philosophical Transactions.' He published also an account of a curious case of irregular pulse in 1767, and some experiments on seltzer water in 1768, both of which are to be found in the 'Medical Observations and Inquiries by a Society of Physicians in London,' 1767 and 1771. His compositions are all clear, and show that he possessed well-digested learning and good powers of observation. His conversation was abundant and full of all kinds of knowledge, but sometimes flowed too fast. Burke once speaks of 'Brocklesby's wild talk,' and Johnson once caught him up for giving too hasty an opinion as to the sanity of a reputed lunatic, and on another occasion corrected his quotation of some lines of Juvenal. But Brocklesby was often happy in his quotations, especially from Shakespeare, as Boswell's reports of his conversations with Johnson amply show (Boswell, Johnson, ii. 571). In Rees's 'Cyclopædia' (under the name) there is an account of a curious duel between Brocklesby and Dr. (afterwards Sir) John Elliot [q. v.] After a short period of failing health Brocklesby died suddenly on 11 Dec. in the same year as Burke. He was buried in the church of St. Clement Danes, and bequeathed his house and its furniture, pictures and books, with 10,000, to Dr. Thomas Young. His portrait was painted by Copley, and has been engraved.

[Leadbeater Papers, London, 1862, vol. i.; Boswell's Johnson, 1791, vol. ii.; Memoir of Thomas Young, London, 1831; Peacock's Life of Young, 1855; Burke's Correspondence (ed. Fitzwilliam); Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, vol. ii.; Brocklesby's several works.]

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