Whitehead, John (1740?-1804) (DNB00)

WHITEHEAD, JOHN (1740?–1804), physician and biographer, was born about 1740, apparently at Dukinfield, Cheshire, of humble parents who had left the old dissenting congregation to join the Moravians (1738). He had a classical education. Early in life he became connected with the movement of the Wesleys, having been converted by a methodist preacher, Matthew Mayer of Stockport (Tyerman, John Wesley, 1870, ii. 474). He acted as a lay preacher at Bristol. Leaving this vocation, he married and set up in Bristol as a linendraper. Being successful he removed to London, where he joined the Society of Friends, became a speaker in that body, and conducted a large boarding-school at Wandsworth. Barclay the brewer offered him a life annuity of 100l. to travel with his son on the continent; he accepted. At Leyden he entered as a medical student on 16 Sept. 1779 (when his age is given as thirty-nine), and graduated M.D. on 4 Feb. 1780. On the death (19 Jan. 1781) of John Kooystra, M.D., he became physician to the London dispensary, through the influence of John Coakley Lettsom [q. v.] He was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians on 25 March 1782. In 1784 the Friends pushed his candidature as physician to the London Hospital; he was returned as elected on 28 July, but the election was declared not valid, one vote being bad through a slight informality. He attended the Wesleys as their medical adviser. John Wesley thought him second to no physician in England, and was anxious for his return to methodism. He left the Society of Friends in 1784 and again became a methodist; he would have quitted his medical practice, and devoted himself entirely to the ministry, if Wesley would have given him ordination. He preached the funeral sermon for Wesley, which went through four editions in 1791, 12mo, and realised 200l., which he handed over to the society.

Wesley left his papers to Thomas Coke [q. v.], Whitehead, and Henry Moore (1751–1844) [q. v.], giving them full discretion, as his literary executors, to deal with them as they thought fit. The three agreed to bring out a life of Wesley, but to await the appearance of a promised life by John Hampson [q. v.] This life, mainly written and in great part printed before Wesley's death, was really the work of Hampson's father (also John Hampson), who had left methodism from disappointment at not being included in the ‘legal hundred,’ constituting the conference under Wesley's ‘deed of declaration’ of 1784. At a meeting of preachers James Rogers proposed, and the executors agreed, that Whitehead, being the man of most leisure, should write the life, and receive a hundred guineas for it; for this purpose he was entrusted with all Wesley's papers. Hampson's ‘Life’ was published at Sunderland in June 1791. On 6 July Whitehead issued ‘Proposals’ for printing by subscription ‘a full, accurate, and impartial’ life of Wesley, remarking that ‘nothing has yet been published which answers to any one of these characters.’ With the proposals was printed a document signed (21 June) by Wolff, Horton, and Marriott, Wesley's general executors, soliciting Whitehead to write the life. At the conference (opened at Manchester on 26 July) the arrangement was confirmed and Whitehead placed on the book committee. Moved by his friends, who represented that the work would realise a large sum, Whitehead now claimed the copyright and half the profits. Then began a wrangle about his custody and use of Wesley's papers. On 9 Dec. 1791 the quarterly circuit meeting removed him from the list of preachers; subsequently the authorities at City Road chapel withheld his ticket of membership. Cooke and Moore at once undertook a life of Wesley, without access to his papers, which Whitehead denied them. The work, mainly by Moore, was begun in January and completed in February 1792; published on 2 April, it had the authority of conference; two editions of ten thousand copies each were disposed of within the year. At the conference of July and August 1792, Whitehead was called upon to submit the papers for examination and sifting. His offered compromise was accepted by a committee, but the dispute went on; both parties began civil actions. Proceedings were stayed; the London society paying all costs, amounting to over 2,000l.

The first volume of Whitehead's ‘Life’ of Wesley was published in 1793, 8vo, the included ‘Life’ of Charles Wesley being issued separately in the same year; the second volume appeared in 1796, 8vo. It fell undeservedly flat, being in every respect superior to the ‘Life’ by Coke and Moore. In 1796 Whitehead returned Wesley's papers to the methodist book-room. Before they reached Moore's hands (1797) some had been destroyed by John Pawson as ‘useless lumber.’ Aided by these manuscripts, Moore brought out his new life of Wesley in 1824–5. No higher tribute can be paid to the excellence of Whitehead's work than the constant use which Moore makes of it, frequently, and without acknowledgment, adopting its language, though criticisms of Whitehead are not spared. Whitehead's ‘Life’ was reprinted at Dublin in 1806, with some additions.

In 1797 Whitehead was restored to membership in the methodist body. He died at his residence, Fountain Court, Old Bethlem, in 1804; the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ gives 7 March as the date of his death, and 14 March as that of his interment in Wesley's vault at City Road chapel; these dates are probably correct, but the inscription added in 1840 gives 18 March as the date of death, while Stevenson says he died ‘at the end of February,’ and was buried on 4 March. His will, dated 24 Feb., codicil 26 Feb., was proved 15 March 1804. He left a widow (Mary), children, and grandchildren. His funeral sermon was preached by Joseph Benson [q. v.] There is no portrait of him; ‘a full-length figure in the picture of Mr. Wesley's deathbed is said to be that of Dr. Whitehead’ (Stevenson, p. 378).

Besides the life of Wesley, he published: 1. ‘An Essay on Liberty and Necessity. … By Philaretus’ [1775], 12mo (against Toplady). 2. ‘Materialism philosophically examined,’ 1778, 8vo (against Priestley). 3. ‘Tentamen physiologicum … sistens novam theoriam de causa reciprocarum in corde et arteriis contractionum,’ Leyden, 1780, 4to. 4. ‘To whom it belongs,’ 1781, fol. (a quaker broadsheet, signed ‘Principle’). 5. ‘A Report … of a Memoir containing a New Method of treating … Puerperal Fever,’ 1783, 8vo (translated from the French of Denis Claude Doulcet, with notes). 6. ‘A Letter on the Difference between the Medical Society of Crane Court and Dr. Whitehead,’ 1784, 8vo. 7. ‘A True Narrative of … the Difference between Dr. Coke, Mr. Moore, Mr. Rogers, and Dr. Whitehead, concerning … the Life of … Wesley,’ 1792, 8vo. 8. ‘A Defence of a True Narrative,’ 1792, 8vo. 9. ‘A Letter to the Methodist Preachers,’ 1792, 8vo. 10. ‘Circular to the Methodist Preachers,’ 1792, 8vo.

[Gent. Mag. 1804, i. 283; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, ii. 328; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, 1867; Whitehead's Life of Wesley (preface), and his True Narrative; Moore's Life of Wesley (preface); Stevenson's City Road Chapel, 1872, pp. 131, 172, 370, 377; Album Studiosorum Academiæ Lugduno-Batavæ, 1875, p. 1132.]

A. G.