Thomas Sydenham : biography
Thomas Sydenham (10 September 1624 – 29 December 1689) was an English physician. He was born at Wynford Eagle in Dorset, where his father was a gentleman of property. His brother was Colonel William Sydenham. Thomas fought for the Parliament throughout the English Civil War, and, at its end, resumed his medical studies at Oxford. He became the undisputed master of the English medical world and was known as 'The English Hippocrates’. Among his many achievements was the discovery of a disease, Sydenham's Chorea, also known as St Vitus Dance.
At the age of eighteen Sydenham was entered at Magdalen Hall, Oxford; after a short period his college studies appear to have been interrupted, and he served for a time as an officer in the Parliamentarian army during the Civil War. He completed his Oxford course in 1648, graduating as bachelor of medicine, and about the same time he was elected a fellow of All Souls College. It was not until nearly thirty years later (1676) that he graduated as M.D., not at Oxford, but at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where his eldest son was by then an undergraduate.
After 1648 he seems to have spent some time studying medicine at Oxford, but he was soon back in military service, and in 1654 he received the sum of £600, as a result of a petition he addressed to Oliver Cromwell, pointing out the various arrears due to two of his brothers who had been killed and reminding Cromwell that he himself had also faithfully served the parliament with the loss of much blood.
In 1655 he resigned his fellowship at All Souls and married, and probably a few years later went to study medicine at Montpellier. In 1663 he passed the examinations of the College of Physicians for their licence to practice in Westminster and 6 miles round; but it is probable that he had been settled in London for some time before that. This minimum qualification to practice was the single bond between Sydenham and the College of Physicians throughout the whole of his career.
He seems to have been distrusted by some members of the faculty because he was an innovator and something of a plain-dealer. In a letter to John Mapletoft he refers to a class of detractors "qui vitio statim vertunt si quis novi aliquid, ab illis non prius dictum vel etiam inauditum, in medium proferat" ("Who by a technicality suddenly turn if something is new, if someone should disclose something not previously said or heard"); and in a letter to Robert Boyle, written the year before his death (and the only authentic specimen of his English composition that remains), he says, "I have the happiness of curing my patients, at least of having it said concerning me that few miscarry under me; but [I] cannot brag of my correspondency with some other of my faculty .... Though yet, in taken fire at my attempts to reduce practice to a greater easiness, plainness, and in the meantime letting the mountebank at Charing Cross pass unrailed at, they contradict themselves, and would make the world believe I may prove more considerable than they would have me."
Sydenham attracted to him in warm friendship some of the most discriminating men of his time, such as Boyle and John Locke.
Among the lives of Sydenham are one (anonymous) by Samuel Johnson in John Swan's translation of his works (London, 1742), another by CG Kuhn in his edition of his works (Leipzig, 1827), and a third by Robert Gordon Latham in his translation of his works published in London by the Sydenham Society in 1848. See also Frédéric Picard, Sydenham, sa vie, ses œuvres (Paris, 1889), and JF Payne, T. Sydenham (London, 1900). Dr John Brown's Locke and Sydenham, in Hares subsecivae (Edinburgh, 1858), is of the nature of eulogy. Many collected editions of his works have been published, as well as translations into English, German, French and Italian. Dr WA Greenhill's Latin text (London, 1844, Syd. Soc.) is a model of editing and indexing. The most interesting summary of doctrine and practice by the author himself is the introduction to the 3rd edition of Observationes medicae (1676). A colleague, Dr John Browne described him as, 'the prince of practical medicine, whose character is as beautiful and as genuinely English as his name.
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