Pemberton, Henry (DNB00)


PEMBERTON, HENRY (1694–1771), physician and writer, born in London in 1694, went, after receiving a good general education in England, to Leyden in August 1714. There he studied medicine under Boerhaave, and ‘contemplated with great effect’ the best mathematical authors. From Leyden he passed to Paris to study anatomy, and bought a valuable collection of mathematical works at the sale of the library of the Abbé Gallois. He returned to London to attend St. Thomas's Hospital, but went back to Leyden in 1719 as the guest of Boerhaave, and graduated M.D. on 27 Dec. of that year. On his final settlement in London Pemberton did not practise much, owing to his delicate health. He was, however, an industrious writer on medical and general subjects. He became a fellow of the Royal Society, and contributed many papers to its ‘Transactions’ (Phil. Trans. vols. xxxii.–lxii.). One of these, a demonstration of the inefficiency of an attempted proof by Poleni, an Italian mathematician, of Leibnitz's assertion that the force of descending bodies is proportional to the square of their velocity, was transmitted to Sir Isaac Newton by Dr. Mead, and gained for Pemberton Newton's friendship. Newton brought him a refutation by himself based on other principles. This was afterwards printed as a postscript to Pemberton's paper (vol. vi. 570 in Hutton and Shaw's Abridgment). Pemberton was employed by Newton to superintend the third edition of the ‘Principia.’ The new edition, which appeared in 1726, had a preface by Newton, in which Pemberton is characterised as ‘vir harum rerum peritissimus.’ Pemberton saw much of Newton in his old age. In 1728 he published ‘A View of Sir I. Newton's Philosophy.’ It is dedicated to Sir R. Walpole, and is preceded by a preface containing the writer's recollections of the philosopher. A German translation of pt. i. of the ‘View,’ by S. Maimon, appeared at Berlin in 1793. Pemberton's book was not remunerative to himself, and was regarded as disappointing. George Lewis Scott, however, recommended it to Gibbon as a propædeutic (Gibbon, Miscellaneous Works, 1837, p. 233). In 1724 Pemberton assisted Mead in editing W. Cowper's ‘Myotomia Reformata.’ Four years later (24 May 1728) he was appointed Gresham professor of physic in succession to Dr. Woodward. His ‘Scheme for a course of Chymistry to be performed at Gresham College’ appeared in 1731. Two courses of his lectures were published by his friend James Wilson—the first, in 1771, on chemistry; the second, in 1779, after Pemberton's death, on physiology. For seven years (1739–1746) he was chiefly employed in the preparation of the fifth ‘London Pharmacopœia’ for the Royal College of Physicians. He himself performed all the chemical and pharmaceutical experiments. The work was published in 1746 as ‘Translation and Improvement of the London Dispensatory,’ and he received from the college a gift of the copyright and a hundred guineas above the expenses incurred. Pemberton died on 9 March 1771.

In addition to the works mentioned above and some treatises left in manuscript, Pemberton wrote: 1. ‘Dissertatio Physico-Medicinalis Inaug. de Facultate Oculi ad diversas Rerum Computatarum Distantias se accommodante,’ Leyden, 1719. 2. ‘Epist. ad Amicum [viz. J. Wilson] de Rogeri Cotesii Inventis,’ 1722 (showing how Cotes's theorems by ratios and logarithms may be done by circle and hyperbola). 3. ‘Observations on Poetry, occasioned by Glover's “Leonidas,”’ 1738. His ‘Account of the Ancient Ode’ prefaces West's ‘Pindar,’ and a paper ‘On the Dispute about Fluxions’ is in the second volume of Robins's ‘Works.’

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. iii. 382–3; Peacock's Index of English Students at Leyden; Gent. Mag. 1771, p. 143; Brewster's Life of Sir I. Newton, ed. W. T. Lynn, pp. 285–6; Ward's Lives of the Gresham Professors, ii. 301; Weld's Hist. Roy. Soc. i. 318; Georgian Era, ii. 556; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. (founded on Hutton and Shaw's Abridgment of Phil. Trans.); Watt's Bibl. Brit. ii. 743; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit. ii. 1548; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Pemberton's Works; authorities cited.

G. Le G. N.