Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Combe, Charles

COMBE, CHARLES, M.D. (1743–1817), physician and numismatist, was born on 23 Sept. 1743, in Southampton Street, Bloomsbury, where his father, John Combe, carried on business as an apothecary. He was educated at Harrow, and among his schoolfellows were Sir William Jones (with whom he afterwards continued to be intimate) and Dr. Parr. He rose to the sixth form, but did not proceed to the university. Coming to London, he studied medicine, and on his father's death in 1768 succeeded to his business. In 1783 the degree of doctor of medicine was conferred on him by the university of Glasgow, and he began to practise as an obstetric physician. On 5 April 1784 he was admitted by the College of Physicians a licentiate in midwifery; on 30 June he was nominated a governor of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1789 he was chosen physician to the British Lying-in-Hospital in Brownlow Street, and on resigning the post in 1810 was appointed consulting physician to the institution. He had also some considerable private practice, and made a valuable collection in materia medica, which was purchased by the College of Physicians shortly after his death. He died, after a short illness, at his house in Vernon Place, Bloomsbury Square, on 18 March 1817, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, and was buried in Bloomsbury cemetery, Brunswick Square. A portrait of Combe was painted by Medley, and engraved by N. Branwhite. He married, in 1769, Arthey, only daughter of Henry Taylor, by whom he had four children. His eldest son was Taylor Combe, the numismatist and archæologist [q. v.]

Combe had a taste for classical studies, and especially for numismatics. He was elected a fellow of the Society of antiquaries on 10 Jan. 1771, and of the Royal Society on 11 Jan. 1776. In 1773, or earlier, he made the acquaintance of William Hunter, the anatomist. He always continued on intimate terms with him, and greatly aided him in getting together his fine collection of coins. Hunter's manuscript account of the sums expended on his collection shows that he not infrequently purchased from Combe coins of all classes. The largest payment made to him is 185. (in 1777), 'for weights and large brass (Roman coins),' which had been collected by Combe himself. Combe contemplated a complete catalogue of the Hunter coin collection, but only published one instalment his well-known work entitled 'Nummorum veterum Populorum et Urbium qui in Museo Gulielmi Hunter asservantur Descriptio, figuris illustrata,' London, 1782, 4to. A Latin preface gives the history of the Hunter collection. The illustrations, contained in sixty-eight engraved plates, are poor as works of art; but Combe took care that they should be more faithful to the original coins than the illustrations in previous numismatic works. Eckhel pronounced the text of the work to be compiled 'erudite, nitide et adcurate.' (For rectifications see Dr. J. Friedlaender, in the Numismatische Zeitschrift, 1870, pp. 321-8, and Dr. Imhoof-Blumer in Zeitschrift fur Numismatik, 1874, i. 321-7.) Combe was appointed one of the three trustees to whom Hunter (who died in 1783) left the use of his museum for thirty years, after which the collection passed to the Glasgow University. In 1788 Combe began to work in conjunction with Mr. Henry Homer, fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, upon an edition of Horace, with variorum notes. Dr. Parr was also originally to have taken part in the work. Combe's colleague died before the first volume was completed, and he finished the work alone, which was published as 'Q. Horatii Flacci Opera cum variis lectionibus, notis variorum et indice completissimo,' 2 vols. 1792-3, 4to. It was a fine specimen of typography, but some errors, especially in the Greek quotations in the notes, were severely commented on by Dr. Parr in the 'British Critic.' Combe replied with 'A Statement of Facts,' &c., and was answered by Parr in 'Remarks on the Statement of Dr. Charles Combe,' 1795, 8vo. Combe also published a work on 'large brass' coins, entitled 'Index nummorum omnium imperatorum, Augustorum et Cæsarum . . . ,' London, 1773, 4to. It only extends to the reign of Domitian. He wrote the memoirs prefixed to the sale catalogue of the Rev. Richard Southgate's library (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. vi. 359), and contributed to the appendix to Vertue's 'Medals of Thomas Simon,' 2nd edit. 1780 (ib. viii. 75). Besides coins he collected some rare books, especially editions of the Bible, some of which were purchased by the British Museum.

[Gent. Mag. vol. lxxxvii. pt. i. (1817), pp. 375,. 467-8; Annual Biography and Obituary for 1818, ii. 298-305; Hunk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 337-8; Hose's Biog. Dict.; Eckhel's Doctrina Num. Vet. i. p. clxx; Hunter's manuscript Account of My Purchases in Medals (a transcript of it by T. Combe is in the Library of the Department of Antiquities, British Museum); Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 162, 163, vi. 359, viii. 75; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.