He was born 2 June 1644 (inscription under a portrait in Ars Anatomica). Enemies asserted that his first education was from a charlatan with whom he travelled, and to whose stock-in-trade he succeeded. His travels extended to New England.
Salmon set up looking for patients near the Smithfield gate of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He treated all diseases, sold special prescriptions of his own, as well as drugs in general, cast horoscopes, and professed alchemy. He moved to the Red Balls in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street. In 1684, after a short residence in George Yard, near Broken Wharf, Salmon moved to the Blue Balcony by the ditch side, near Holborn Bridge, where he continued to reside till after 1692. He used to attend the meetings of a new sect at Leathersellers' Hall.
Salmon accumulated a large library, had two microscopes, a set of Napier's bones, and other mathematical instruments, some arrows and curiosities which he brought from the West Indies, and Dutch paintings. He died in 1713. His portrait is prefixed to his edition of Diemerbroek, and to his 'Ars Anatomica,' which appeared posthumously in 1714. Several other engraved portraits are mentioned by Bromley, among them being one by Vandergucht.
Salmon published in 1671 Synopsis Medicinæ, or a Compendium of Astrological, Galenical, and Chymical Physick, in three books. The first book is dedicated to Dr. Peter Salmon, a wealthy physician of the time; the third to Thomas Salmon of Hackney, but the author does not claim to be related to either. Laudatory verses included one by Henry Coley, and state the work to be an admirable compound of Hermes, Hippocrates, Galen, and Paracelsus. A second edition appeared in 1681, a reissue in 1685, and a fourth edition in 1699. Richard Jones of the Golden Lion in Little Britain, who published this book, brought out in 1672 Salmon's Polygraphice, the Art of Drawing, Engraving, Etching, Limning, Painting, Washing, Varnishing, Colouring, and Dyeing, dedicated to Peter Stanley of Alderley, who may have consulted Salmon professionally. Besides the mechanical parts of art, descriptions are given of the ways of representing the passions and emotions in portraiture. At the end Salmon advertises his pills, which are to be had for three shillings a box, and are good for all diseases.
In 1681 Salmon brought out a new edition of his Synopsis for a fresh publisher, Thomas Dawks, who also published his Horæ Mathematicæ in 1679, Doron Medicon in 1683, and Iatrica seu Praxis Medendi, in 1681 (reissued in 1684).
Salmon brought out a prophetic almanac in 1684, his first publication of the kind; and says in the preface that he liked to deal in medicine better than in prophecy. In 1687 he published, with Randal Taylor, Select Physical and Chirurgical Observations, and in 1689, with Edward Brewster, a translation of the anatomy of Isbrand van Diemerbroeck of Utrecht. In 1690 he published A Discourse against Transubstantiation, in the form of a dialogue between a Protestant and a papist.
His Medicina Practica, with the Claris Alcymiae, (3 vols. London, 1692) reveals its scope in its subtitle:
Practical Physick. Shewing the Method of Curing the most Usual Diseases Happening to Humane bodies. As all Sorts of Aches and Pains, Apoplexies, Agues, Bleeding, Fluxes, Gripings, Wind, Shortness of breath, Diseases of the Breast and Lungs, Abortion, Want of Appetite, Loss of the use of Limbs, Cholick, or Belly-ache, Appositions, Thrushes, Quinsies, Deafness, Bubo's, Cachexis, Stone in the Reins, and Stone in the Bladder... To which is added, The philosophick Works of Hermes Trismegistus, Kalid Persicus, Geber Arabs, Artesius Longævus, Nicholas Flammel, Roger Bacon, and George Ripley. All Translated out of The best Latin Editions, into English...
This vademecum combines medicine with alchemy. According to Lynn Thorndike, reference in alchemical tradition to Artesius is to the Artephius of Roger Bacon who lived to 1025, and traces back to Al-Tughrai. His recorded cases may often be traced to other sources. It is plausible that, as Salmon says was asserted (Iatrica, preface), he was acted as amanuensis of another person. Salmon followed with the Pharmacopeia Londinensis. Or, the New London Dispensatory, (6 vols. London, 1696).
In 1696 also appeared Salmon's The Family Dictionary, a work on domestic medicine. In 1698 Salmon took part in the Dispensary controversy (see Sir Samuel Garth), in a Rebuke to the Authors of a Blew Book written on behalf of the Apothecaries and Chirurgians of the City of London. In 1699 he published a general surgical treatise, Ars Chirurgica. In 1700 he published a Discourse on Water Baptism. In 1707 he published The Practice of Physick, or Dr. Sydenham's "Processus Integri" translated, and in 1710 and 1711 two folio volumes, Botanologia; or the English Herbal, dedicated to Queen Anne.
Parts of the Bibliothèque des Philosophes (1672), and the Dictionnaire Hermetique (1695), are attributed to him, and besides the books mentioned above, he wrote Officina Chymica, Systema Medicinale, Pharmacopœia Bateana, and Phylaxa Medicinæ. The bibliography of his works is complex: several were reprinted with alterations.
- David M. Knight and Matthew Eddy, Science and Beliefs: From Natural Philosophy to Natural Science2005:53, note.
- "George Vertue's List of Robert White’s Portraits"
- Moore 1897, pp. 209,210
- John Ferguson, Bibliotheca Chemica, s.v. "Salmon (William)", gives bibliographical details.
- Lynn Thorndike (1 March 2003). History of Magic and Experimental Science. Kessinger Publishing. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-7661-4439-2. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Moore, Norman (1897). "Salmon, William (1644-1713)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 50. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 209, 210.