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Lister, Martin

1. Dates
Born: Buckinghamshire, early April 1639 He was christened at Radclive, Buckinghamshire, on 11 April.
Died: Epsom, 2 Feb. 1712
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 73
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
Sir Martin Lister. The mother also was from a family of gentry.
The family had estates (in the plural) in the North and the Midlands. Lister attended Cambridge as a Pensioner. In all, bearing in mind Lister's resources to study medicine on the continent for a number of years and not forgetting the mother's status, I do not see how to avoid the conclusion that the family was, at the least, prosperous.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.; Montpelier
Cambridge University; St. John's College, B.A., 1658; M.A., 1662.
Studied medicine at Montpellier, 1663-6.
M.D., 1684 by Oxford--note the date: not an earned degree; awarded because of his donations to the Ashmolean Museum.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Zoology, Entomology, Paleontology
Subordinate: Geology, Botany, Medicine
Lister worked initially on mollusks and later returned to the subject. Historia . . . conchyliorum, 1685-92, was his most important publication.
His classification of spiders was a major achievement in its time. He also worked on other insects. Historiae animalium Angliae tres tractatus, 1678. He translated Goedaert's book on insects into English, 1682.
Lister's concern with mollusks brought him into the debate on fossils; he was convinced that the deluge theory of fossils was impossible, and hence he rejected their animal origin. Fossils in turn took him into geology, and he developed what is nearly a stratigraphical utilization of fossils. Lister was the first to sugest geological (stratigraphical) maps.
As a natural historian he was concerned with plants. He contributed to Ray's Cambridge Catalogue of Plants and to his Catalogus anglicae, 1680.
He also published on medicine, as field in which he was quite conservative. Dissertatio de humoribus was old- fashioned humoralism. Before this he published De fontibus medicatis Angliae, 1682. Also Sex exercitationes medicinales, 1694, and other medical publications.
Lister published a considerable number of articles (51 in one counting) in the Philosophical Transactions.
It would be possible to list Lister as well under Natural History and Anatomy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Secondary: Academia, Patronage
Fellow of John's College, 1660-9.
Medical practice in York, 1669 (possibly 1670)-83. In London, 1683-98.
Accompanied Lord Portland as personal physician on his embassy to Paris, 1698.
One of the Queen Anne's physicians, 1702-9. Second physician in ordinary to Anne, 1709-12.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Government Official
Charles II mandated his fellowship in 1660; the family had been ardent royalists and got their reward.
He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1687 by mandate of James II.
Appointed physician by Queen Anne.
Lister became the Queen's physician through the influence of Sarah Churchill, who was his cousin or niece. I am not listing family relations as patronage, although the line of demarcation is vague.
Personal physician to Lord Portland.
Most of Lister's publications did not carry dedications, an indication of his independent position. However, he did dedicate De cochleis . . . exoticis, 1685 (the first part of Historia . . . conchyliorum) to William Courten. Courten was the grandson of the very wealthy Sir William Courten. The wealth had been dissipated by the intervening generation, though Courten appears to have been prosperous. He was also a naturalist, however, and the title page of Lister's book states explicitly that it was published at the author's expense. I think there was no patronage involved here. Nor do I think it was in the dedication of Letters and Divers Other Mixt Discourses in Natural Philosophy to Boyle.
However, Lister dedicated his Journey to Paris, 1699, to Lord Somers, the Lord Chancellor, and his Hippocratis aphorismi, 1703, to Sidney Godolphin, who either was or would soon be Lord Treasurer. Note that Lister became personal physician to the Queen in 1702. These dedications do look like patronage.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
Lister's Exercitationes medicinales concern themselves partly with medicines.
I am tempted to list him also under Cartography for his suggestion of stratographical maps. However, it appears to have been merely an idea with him; he did not produce such a map.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Medical College
Informal Connections: During his stay in Montpellier, Lister became familiar with a considerable number of the leading French and English naturalists, including Ray. Close friendship (and correspondence) with John Ray, 1667-76; with Edward Lhwyd in 1690s. Correspondence with Oldernburg. He had also a fairly broad international correspondence. At least some of Lister's correspondence has been published (Gunther and Lankester); other letters are in the Bodleian, the British Museum, and the Royal Society.
Royal Society, 1671; Council, 1684-6; Vice-president, 1685- 7.
Royal College of Physicians, 1687; Censor, 1694.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 11, 1229-30. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 5, 2974-5.
  2. William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), 1, 442-5.
  3. S. Wood, "Martin Lister, Zoologist and Physician," Annals of Medical History, n.s. 1 (1929), 87-104. (Most of this consists of extracts from Lister's Journey to Paris.) Geoffrey Keynes, Dr. Martin Lister: A Bibliography, (Goldaming, Surrey, 1981). R.P. Stearns, "Introduction" to Lister, A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698, (Urbana, 1967), pp. ix-lvi.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. J. Carr, The Biological Work of Martin Lister (1638-1712), Ph.D.
  2. dissertation, University of Leeds, 1974.
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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