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Cheyne, George

1. Dates
Born: Methlick, Aberdeenshire, 1673? Most sources list the birth as 1671, but the record of Cheyne's baptism in 1673 survives, and there is one other piece of evidence to support that year.
Died: Bath, 13 April 1743
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 70
2. Father
Occupation: Peasant/Small Farmer
Although the information is not certain, it appears that James Cheyne was a farmer who rented the land he farmed, but called himself a gentleman. In support of this, the family had a long, distinguished history in the region, and George Cheyne was related to Bishop Burnet. A half brother who was much younger was an Anglican clergyman near Bath.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Scotland
Career: England
Death: England
4. Education
Schooling: Aberdeen, M.D.
Cheyne studied initially for the ministry; it is fairly well established that he was a student in Marischal College, Aberdeen. Apparently he did not earn a B.A., and the nature of his M.D. does not incline me to claim the equivalent of a B.A.
Then he was apparently a tutor for a period.
Beyond this the record becomes unclear. In her early article, Guerrini asserts categorically that he was Pitcairn's student (in medicine) in Leiden, which had to have been in 1692. By her later work she is extremely skeptical that Cheyne was ever a student at Leiden. Older accounts have him studying medicine with Pitcairn in Edinburgh. All agree that he studied with Pitcairn, but as Pitcairn never had a university appointment in Edinburgh, this had to have been informal study.
M.D., 1701, from King's College, Aberdeen; it is clear that he did not return to study medicine in Aberdeen, however, and that he received the degree entirely on the recommendation of Pitcairn.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Medicine
Subordinate: Mathematics, Natural Philosophy
Cheyne's first book was A New Theory of Fevers, 1701; in the tradition of iatromechanics.
In 1703 Fluxionum methodus inversa, a pedestrian work on the calculus; he did not further pursue mathematics.
Philosophical Principles of Natural Religion, 1705, and in 1715 the other half as it were, Philosophical Principles of Revealed Religion. Both of these drew heavily on Newtonian natural philosophy. All of his later medical books contained discussions of natural philosophy, a mechanistic philosophy influenced by Newtonian concepts of force, and in his old age with a vitalistic principle added.
In his years in Bath Cheyne became one of England's most widely read medical writers, propounding a life of pious moderation (in contrast to his own early behavior, which left him weighing about 450 pounds.)
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Secondary: Patronage, Publishing
During his first years in London Cheyne supported himself as a tutor (in mathematics) to William Ker, the younger brother of the Duke of Roxburgh.
Medical pactice, 1702-43, initally in London, after 1720 in Bath. Cheyne had many eminent patients, including Samuel Richardson, Alexander Pope, John Wesley, Samuel Johnson, David Hume, and members of the squirarchy and aristocracy such as Richard Tennison, Sir Joseph Jekyll, and the Countess of Huntingdon.
There is solid evidence in his correspondence with Richardson of his earnings from his medical publications.
8. Patronage
Types: Physician, Gentry, Aristrocrat
Cheyne's connection with Pitcairn is well established; he himself acknowledged his debt to Pitcairn. His New Theory of Fevers was published as the work of a client defending his master in a local dispute, and he then replied to Pitcairn's continuing assailants. He dedicated Fluxionum methodus inversa to Pitcairn.
He composed his Philosophical Principles of Natural Religion, 1705, for the use of John Ker, later Duke of Roxburgh, who may also have been Cheyne's pupil, and dedicated it to him.
He composed Observations Concerning . . . Gout, 1720, for his "friend," Richard Tennison, and similarly An Essay on Health and Long Life, 1724, for Sir Joseph Jekyll.
He dedicated The English Malady, 1733, to Lord Bateman.
He correspondend extensively (1730-9) with the Countess of Huntingdon, largely on medical advice to her, his patient. This correspondence is published and ought to be a good source on the relations of a physician to his patron. Cheyne dedicated his Essay on Regimen to the Earl of Huntingdon.
He dedicated Natural Method of Curing the Diseases of the Body and Disorders of the Mind, 1742, to Lord Chestefield.
Cheyne's correspondence with Samuel Richardson (published) in the 30s may help illuminate the economics of publishing in the period when authors began to support themselves in that way in place of patronage. See Mullett's discussion of the economics of publishing.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: At least a peripheral member of a prominent circle of medical and scientific writers that included David Gregory, Edmund Halley, Richard Mead and John Arbuthnot.
Friendship with Samuel Richardson.
Correspondence with the Countess of Huntingdon.
Fellow of the Royal Society in 1702.
  1. C.F. Mullet, Introduction to The Letters of Dr. George Cheyne to the Countess of Huntingdon, (San Marino, CA, 1942), R489 .C5
  2. C.F. Mullet, Introduction to The Letters of Doctor George Cheyne to Samuel Richardson (1733-1743), (University of Missouri Studies, 18, No. 1), (Columbia, MO, 1943). AS36 M67, v.18 W.G. Hiscock, David Gregory , Isaac Newton and their Circle, (Oxford, 1937). Q155 .G821
  3. Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 3, pp. 494-8.
  4. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 4, 217-19. R.S. Siddall, "George Cheyne, M.C., Eighteenth Century Clinician and Medical Author," Annals of Medical History, 3rd ser. 4 (1942), 95-109.
  5. Anita Guerrini, "James Keill, George Cheyne, and Newtonian Physiology, 1690-1740," Journal of the History of Biology, 18 (1985), 147-66.
  6. _____, "The Tory Newtonians: Gregory, Pitcairne, and their Circle," Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), 288-311.
  7. _____, Natural Philosophy;, Medicine and Culture in Eighteenth- Century Britain: George Cheyne and Some Contemporaries, forthcoming. I have read the first two chapters in manuscript.
  8. Henry Viets, "George Cheyne, 1673-1743," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 23 (1949), 435-52.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Geoffrey Bowles, "Physical, Human and Divine Attraction in the Life and Thought of George Cheyne," Annals of Science, 31 (1974), 481-2. (I think these pages cannot be for the whole article.) T.M. Brown, The Mechanical Philosophy and Animal Oeconomy, Ph.D dissertation, Princeton University, 1968, pp. 249-67
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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