Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/St. André, Nathanael

ST. ANDRÉ, NATHANAEL (1680–1776), anatomist, was a native of Switzerland, who is said to have been brought to England in the train of a Jewish family. He earned his living either by fencing or as a dancing-master, and he probably taught French and German, for he was proficient in both languages. He was soon placed with a surgeon of eminence, who made him an anatomist. There is no notice of his apprenticeship among the records of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, and it does not appear that he was ever made free of the company, so that it is probable that he was throughout life an unqualified practitioner, at first protected by court influence. St. André's knowledge of German led George I to appoint him anatomist to the royal household. The patent is dated May 1723, and he was then living in Northumberland Court, near Charing Cross, where he practised his profession, and held the post of local surgeon to the Westminster Hospital, then a dispensary. He published in 1723 a translation of Garengeot's treatise of chirurgical operations, and he was also engaged in delivering public lectures upon anatomy.

Unfortunately for himself, St. André became, in 1726, involved in the imposture of Mary Tofts [q. v.] of Godalming, who professed to be delivered of rabbits. In consequence of the determination shown by Queen Caroline to have the matter thoroughly investigated, Howard the apothecary, who attended Mary Tofts, summoned St. André to see her, and he, taking with him Samuel Molyneux [q. v.], secretary to the Prince of Wales (afterwards George II), reached Godalming on 15 Nov. 1726. St. André was deceived, and believed the truth of the woman's story in all its impossible details. He published a full account of the case, and appended to it a note that ‘the account of the Delivery of the eighteenth Rabbet shall be published by way of Appendix to this Account.’ The king then sent his surgeon, Cyriacus Ahlers, to report upon the case, and the woman was brought to London and lodged at the Bagnio in Leicester Square. The fraud was then exposed by Dr. Douglas and Sir Richard Manningham, M.D., who eventually succeeded in obtaining a confession.

St. André only once presented himself at court after this exposure, and, although he retained his position of anatomist to the king until his death, he never drew the salary. Molyneux was seized with a fit in the House of Commons, and died on 13 April 1728. St. André had been on terms of intimacy with him, and had treated him professionally. Molyneux's wife, Lady Elizabeth, second daughter of Algernon Capel, earl of Essex, left the house with St. André on the night of her husband's death, and was married to him on 17 May 1730 at Heston, near Hounslow in Middlesex. This proceeding caused a second scandal, for it was vehemently suspected that St. André had hastened the death of his friend by poison. There is no reason to believe that Molyneux died from other than natural causes. Nevertheless, St. André and his wife, who was dismissed from her attendance upon Queen Caroline in consequence of her marriage, found it necessary to retire into the country. They moved to Southampton about 1750, and lived there for the last twenty years of St. André's long life. His marriage placed St. André in easy circumstances, for the Lady Elizabeth Capel had a portion of 10,000l. when she married Molyneux in 1717, and she inherited a further sum of 18,000l., with Kew House, on the death in 1721 of Lady Capel of Tewkesbury, her great-uncle's widow. This money, however, went from St. André on his wife's death, and he died a comparatively poor man, at Southampton, in March 1776.

St. André's mind appears to have been strongly inclined towards mysticism, and he was beyond measure credulous. He complained of having been decoyed and poisoned by an unknown person on 23 Feb. 1724–5. His complaint was investigated by the privy council, who offered a reward for the discovery of the alleged offender; but the whole business seems to have arisen in the imagination of St. André, unless, indeed, it was done for the purpose of bringing his name before the public. It is difficult to determine whether St. André was more knave than fool in the affair of Mary Tofts, but it is tolerably certain that he was both. It is equally certain that he was extremely ignorant; that he was lecherous and foul-mouthed is allowed by his partisans as well as by his enemies. He had some professional reputation as a surgeon, though it was rather among the public than among his brethren. Lord Peterborough was his patient, and he was once called upon to treat Pope when by accident he had hurt his hand.

There is a portrait of St. André in the engraving by Hogarth published in 1726. It is entitled ‘Cunicularii, or the Wise Men of Godliman in consultation,’ and it was paid for by a few of the principal surgeons of the time, who subscribed their guinea apiece to Hogarth for engraving the plate as a memorial of Mary Tofts. St. André is labelled ‘A’ in the print, and is represented with a fiddle under his arm, in allusion to his original occupation of a dancing-master. He is described as ‘The Dancing-Master, or Præter-natural Anatomist.’ A detailed account of the persons caricatured in this print is contained in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1842, i. 366).

[Memoir by Thomas Tyers in the Public Advertiser, reprinted in Gent. Mag. 1781, pp. 320, 513, and again, with critical remarks, in Nichols and Steeven's Genuine Works of Hogarth, London, 1808, i, 464–92; an account of his own poisoning will be found in the Gazette, 23 Feb. 1724–1725. The story of Mary Tofts, the rabbit breeder, is told at greater length in the British Medical Journal, 1896, ii. 209.]

D’A. P.