John Arbuthnot

John Arbuthnot (April 29, 1667 – February 27, 1735) was a British physician and author best known for his satirical writings.

Arbuthnot was born in Kincardineshire, Scotland, son of Rev Alexander Arbuthnot, an Episcopalian minister and Margaret, née Lammie. After the 1691 death of his father, Arbuthnot went to London, where he supported himself by teaching Mathematics.

In 1692, he translated Christian Huygens' treatise on probability, adding material of his own. This was the first work on probability published in English. Also in 1692, he entered University College, Oxford, and in 1696 he received an M.D. at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Around 1700, Arbuthnot published his Essay on the usefulness of mathematical learning. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1704.

He was called in to provide medical care for Prince George of Denmark, and in 1705 he was made physician extraordinary to Queen Anne.

He married Margaret whose maiden name was probably Wemyss. Their children included Anne, Margaret, George and Rev Charles Arbuthnot.

Arbuthnot is one of the founding members of the Scriblerus Club. The club was an informal group of friends that included Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Gay. Henry St. John the Viscount Bolingbroke, and Edward Harley the 2nd Earl of Oxford were occasional members and contributors to the club projects, as well. The club began as a project of satirizing the abuses of learning wherever they might be found.

Arbuthnot was regarded by the other wits of the club as one of the sharpest and funniest, but Arbuthnot allowed his children to play with his papers, and even to burn them. He has therefore left fewer literary remains than the other members of the club. Arbuthnot is best remembered for his two 1712 "John Bull" pamphlets, which satirized the Whig war party (in the War of the Spanish Succession). Along with the other "Tories," Arbuthnot supported the Treaty of Utrecht. As a Scribblerian, Arbuthnot contributed significantly to The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus. His antiquarian interests are reflected in much of the satire of the father of Martinus. Scholars suspect that Arbuthnot contributed to other productions of club members (and to anonymous letters to periodicals edited by friends, such as The Guardian), but it is impossible to be sure.

Arbuthnot aided the sickly Alexander Pope, and Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot was written to him (just after Arbuthnot's death). It is one of the few places where Pope mentions his own ill health, and he praises Arburthnot for helping him maintain, "This long disease, my life." Why Pope held this praise until after Arbuthnot's death is a matter of speculation.

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