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Henry Vaughan: poet and doctor of physic.

As evidenced by two of Henry Vaughan's biographers, F. E. Hutchinson and Stevie Davies, little of certainty has been discovered concerning the seventeenth-century poet's practice of medicine. Questions that Hutchinson raised in his 1947 study - concerning, for example, where, or indeed if, Vaughan received formal medical training at a university, when he began to practice medicine, what his theoretical orientation toward healing was, and how it related to the medical authorities he translated or cited - have not been resolved fifty years later in Davies' recent biography.(1) As to possible connections between Vaughan's dual professions of poet and physician, literary critics remain steadfast in their search for medical ideas and images in his poetry but would not expect to find Vaughan's poetry cited as evidence in a medical treatise written by one of his contemporaries. This, however, is exactly what is present in William Russell's A Physical Treatise, Grounded, not upon Tradition, nor Phansy, but Experience (London, 1684). Russell's quoting of an extended passage from 'The Tempest' by the 'Pious and Learned Silurist' is noteworthy for at least three reasons: it shows that in the 1680s Vaughan and his poetry were known and appreciated in court circles greatly removed from the valley of the Usk and the Brecon Beacons where Vaughan wrote and practised medicine. Secondly, Russell's laudatory comments clearly indicate that he shares Vaughan's medical views, that he, in fact, sees Vaughan as a kindred spirit whose iatrochemical orientation and conception of nature as beneficent are compatible with his own medical philosophy. These contemporary comments, in turn, serve as indications of how Vaughan's poem was interpreted in the late seventeenth century and may thus be useful in establishing new critical perspectives as well as insights into the poet's practice of medicine.

In a letter to his cousin John Aubrey dated 15 June 1673, Vaughan provides a rare insight into his second calling: 'My profession also is physic, [] I have practised now for many years with good successe (I thank god!) & a repute big enough for a person of greater parts than my selfe.'(2) This renown, as well as Vaughan's reputation as a poet, was at least sufficient to have reached William Russell, whose A Physical Treatise of 1684 identifies the author as 'Chymist in Ordinary to His Majesty [Charles II]'. Along with his brother, Richard, best known for his translations of alchemica; and iatrochemical treatises, William Russell appears to have had a thriving business selling chemical medicines in late seventeenth-century London.(3) Russell's 'Preface to the Reader' reveals his belief in universal cures as being 'more efficacious, safe, certain and speedy, than any particular Remedy whatsoever' (A4-[A4.sup.v]), a conviction justified on the grounds of antiquity: 'Hermes Trismegistus [in] his Smaragdine Table sufficiently declares [it], where he saith, As is that, which is above, so is that which is beneath; and all is by the Mediation of One Thing' ([A5.sup.v]). In the medical controversies of the time, Russell clearly favours iatrochemistry over the practices of the Galenic school, as he frequently cites the ideas of Paracelsus and van Helmont and notes that 'every Universal Remedy ha[s] its Root in the first, or second life of Minerals and Metals' (7).

However, unlike many partisans of Galen and Paracelsus, Russell is not blinded by zeal for one side at the expense of the other; in fact, he repeatedly emphasizes that nature is the most important force in effecting cures:

Nature is that we ought to observe, to strengthen her where she is weak, to enlighten her where dark, to pacify her when inraged; that Fear may vanish, Rage may cease, and Amazement be expelled. Whosoever can accomplish this, shall find the most stubborn, and accounted uncurable Diseases, to fly before him. (40)

For Russell, the chief value of the writings of Paracelsus and van Helmont is not their prescriptions for remedies but their injunctions to follow nature in seeking cures: 'What shall we do?', he asks, 'Where shall we seek? unless we can find the Path of Nature in general, we shall not be able by Art to answer her deficiency in particular' (41). At this point he appeals to Vaughan, citing a twelve-line passage from 'The Tempest' (lines 5-16) to support his argument that the physician should follow the lead of beneficent nature:

The Pious and Learned Silurist, in his Silex Scintillans, hath something fitted to this purpose, where he saith:

When Nature on her Bosome saw Her Children dye, And all her Fruits withred to Straw, Her Breasts grown dry; She made the Earth (her Nurse and Tomb) Sigh to the Sky: Till to those sighs, fetcht from her Womb, Rain did reply. So, in the midst of all her Fears And faint Requests. Her earnest Sighs procur'd those Tears. That fill'd her Breasts.


In addition to variations in capitalization and punctuation, it will be noticed that Russell's transcription of the poem contains several substantive changes from the texts provided in modern editions by L. C. Martin, French Fogle, and Alan Rudrum. Most notably, Russell supplies 'Children' for 'Infants' in the second line, 'Fruits' for 'flowres' in the third, parentheses in the fifth line, and 'those Tears' for 'her tears' in the eleventh. What is the authority for Russell's variations? Was he quoting carelessly from the 1650 edition of Silex Scintillans, from another source, or from memory? Although Vaughan's modern editors provide no information on alternate texts that Russell might have been following, his version may help to illuminate one editorial dispute surrounding this passage. The fact that these twelve lines deviate from the four-line stanzaic form used in the rest of the poem and are printed in italics caused Martin to refer to the passage as '[a]n insertion or postscript', adding that 'Line 17 follows on 1. 4' (741 n.). While the italic fonts and varying stanzaic form visually separate this passage from the rest of the poem (it is easy to see why Russell extracted it on these grounds alone), it is misleading for Martin to suggest that the poem achieves organic unity only with the passage removed - a point that Rudrum argues effectively.(4) More important for present purposes, however, Russell's inclusion of this extract in his medical treatise enables us to locate Vaughan's poem and perhaps his practice of physic a little more accurately in their true historical setting.

STANTON J. LINDEN Washington State University

1 F. E. Hutchinson, Henry Vaughan: A Life and Interpretation (Oxford, 1947), 181-94; Stevie Davies, Henry Vaughan (Mid Glamorgan, Wales, 1995), 12 13, 172, 180, 187-90.

2 Quoted in The Works of Henry Vaughan, ed. L. C. Martin, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1957), 688.

3 Valuable information on this practice of iatrochemistry is included in John Headrich's Arcana Philosophia or, Chymical Secrets. Containing the noted and useful Chymical Medicines of Dr. Wil. and Rich. Russel Chymists (London, 1697).

4 See Henry Vaughan: Complete Poems, ed. Alan Rudrum (New York, 1995), 576n.
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Author:Linden, Stanton J.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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