King, Edmund (DNB00)


KING, Sir EDMUND (1629–1709), physician, born in 1629, practised, after apprenticeship, as a surgeon in London. He lived at first in Little Britain, and had a museum in his house which he took pleasure in showing to students. He used to keep dried specimens, such as the ileo-cæcal valve, pressed in a large paper book, and he dissected animals as well as the human subject (Sloane MS. 1906). About 1665 he took a house in Hatton Garden, and was married at St. Andrew's Church, Holborn, on 20 June 1666, to Rebecca Polsted of the adjoining parish of St. Sepulchre. In the same year he published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ a paper on the parenchymatous parts of the body, and maintained, from microscopic observation, that they contained enormous numbers of minute blood-vessels. In 1667 the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ contained a long account by him of the transfusion of the blood of a calf into a sheep, with a view to proving that one animal may live with the blood of another. The experiment was carefully conducted by means of an apparatus of pipes and quills. In 1669 he published further microscopic researches to show that glands consisted of tubes and vessels only. He was fond of insects, and in 1667 published a paper on ants, and in 1670 one on leaf cutter bees (both in ‘Philosophical Transactions’). He had examined the eggs of ants microscopically, and studied the ways of life in ant-hills. He is probably one of the investigators described as antmen and bearmen by the Duchess of Newcastle (Description of a New World, 1668, p. 15). He was acquainted with Lord Arundel, Sir William Petty, Dr. Needham, and Robert Boyle, and some of his experiments were carried on at Arundel House in the Strand. Sheldon, the archbishop of Canterbury, created him M.D.; he was incorporated at Cambridge in 1671, and in 1677, on bringing a commendatory letter from the king, was admitted an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians of London. He was admitted a regular fellow 12 April 1687, being one of the nominees of James II's charter, and was thus completely converted from a surgeon into a physician. He was knighted and sworn physician to the king in 1676.

On the morning of 2 Feb. 1684–5 King was sent for by Charles II. Charles talked incoherently, but the physician did not ascertain the morbid change at work (Burnet, History of my own Time, edit. 1724, i. 606). By Lord Peterborough's advice he paid a second visit to the bedchamber, and at the moment that he entered Charles fell down in a fit. King bled him immediately. Charles gradually regained consciousness. The other physicians who arrived approved the bleeding, and the privy council advised that King should receive a reward of 1,000l.; but as that body has no command of funds, and as the subsequent fatal termination prevented any expression of royal gratitude, King never received his fee. King approved of viper powder, but liked the volatile salt better (original letter to Sir Hans Sloane). In the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1686 he published an account of the autopsy of Mr. Robert Bacon, a demented person, who had a calcified pineal gland in his brain, renal and vesical calculi and gallstones. He mentions that he had dissected one hundred brains. In the preface to the ‘Pharmaceutice Rationalis’ of Dr. Thomas Willis [q. v.], who became his close friend, King's dexterous dissections are commended. His next observations (Phil. Trans.) were on animalculæ in pepper. He had looked at them ‘with my best microscope,’ and had noticed that when oats and some herbs were left in water, living organisms became discoverable in it. He tried the effects of sack, ink, sulphuric acid, and other fluids on these amœbæ. In November 1688 he published a further paper in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ on the tubular structure of reproductive glands in men, guinea-pigs, and bulls. He had a considerable practice, from which he did not retire till he was seventy-two, and thenceforward he spent much time in the country. His own loss of strength compelled him in 1701 to give up attending the aged poet, Sir Charles Sedley, whose death he had foretold at his first visit, and he handed on the patient to Sir Hans Sloane (original letters in Sloane MS. 4050). He died in Hatton Garden 30 May 1709. His portrait by Lely, which he bequeathed to the College of Physicians, and which hangs in the reading-room of the college, represents him with a large aquiline nose and a dark complexion. It was engraved by Williams.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 448; Phil. Trans. of the Royal Society; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time, London, 1724; Wilkin's Sir Thomas Browne's Works, London, 1836, i. 52; Sloane MS. 1906 in British Museum; Mr. Edward Browne's Journal; Sloane MS. 4050, ff. 169, 177, 179. The last, a letter on the death of Sir Charles Sedley, is dated in error by Sir E. King himself 1601 for 1701.]

N. M.