George Cheyne (physician)
Methlick Aberdeenshire, Scotland
George Cheyne (1672-1743) was a Newtonian physician and Behmenist, deeply immersed in mysticism. Born in 1672 in Methlick, near Aberdeen in Scotland, he was baptized in Mains of Kelly, Methlick, Aberdeenshire, on 24 February 1673. He died in Bath on April 12, 1743. The books he published during his life show his wide interest which extended from medicine and natural philosophy to religion, metaphysics, astronomy and mathematics. His books were most of the time very successful and as a result they were translated into other languages, e.g. Latin, Dutch, French, Italian and German.  The printer and author Samuel Richardson printed several of his books. Among many others Thomas Gray, Samuel Johnson, John Wesley, John Byrom and Edward Young liked his work. His clients included Alexander Pope, John Gay and Samuel Richardson. Today he is best known for his contribution to vegetarianism.
Cheyne was acquainted with Sir Isaac Newton and provoked Newton to publish his Quadratures and with it, his Light & Colours. Newton later offered him financial support to publish Fluxionum methodus inversa (The Inverse Method of Fluxions), but apparently he turned down the offer. Newton refused to see him any more.
In order to succeed in medical practice, Cheyne tried to develop a rapport with his patients by regularly visiting the local taverns where they spent time, a practice common among medical practitioners of the day. He became a popular figure of local social life, and the quantity of rich food and drink he consumed in consequence left him grossly obese and very unhealthy. He began a meatless diet, taking only milk and vegetables, and regained his health. But when he returned to a more typical diet - albeit more moderate than he had previously indulged - he regained weight and his health once again deteriorated. He went back to his vegetarian diet for the remainder of his life, recommending it for everyone suffering from obesity.
Cheyne did not believe that the present state of things is "from all Eternity". Using the metaphor of "a Piece of Clock-work", he argues that when a thing depends upon another thing as its cause, this implies that “the first thing exists that the second may exist”. He adds: "remove the sun and there will be no fruit, take away the moon and the seas would stagnate, destroy our Atmosphere and we should swell like poison´d Rats". Therefore, it is absolutely impossible, according to Cheyne, that “any of the Species of Animals or Vegetables should have existed from all Eternity”.
Cheyne also wrote on fevers, nervous disorders, and hygiene. In 1740 he wrote The Essay on Regimen and this work is often quoted by vegetarians and animal rights activists, particularly the following passage:
To see the convulsions, agonies and tortures of a poor fellow-creature, whom they cannot restore nor recompense, dying to gratify luxury and tickle callous and rank organs, must require a rocky heart, and a great degree of cruelty and ferocity. I cannot find any great difference between feeding on human flesh and feeding on animal flesh, except custom and practice.
Speaking from personal experience, Cheyne asserted that mental depression afflicted the brilliant rather than the dull, writing that "those of the liveliest and quickest natural Parts ... whose Genius is most keen and penetrating were most prone to such disorders. Fools, weak or stupid Persons, heavy and dull Souls, are seldom troubled with Vapours or Lowness of Spirits."
Cheyne went to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. During these years he may have spent a brief time in Leiden. Having finished his studies he went to London in 1701 where he started a practice and became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1702. Cheyne describes his own life up to 1733 in The English Malady.
Practice in Bath and London
In the summer Cheyne worked in Bath and in the winter at London. However, in 1718 he decided to give up his practice in London to settle in Bath permanently.  Roy Porter refers to Cheyne as one of the originators of the neurological school of psychiatry. Though appreciated by many, Cheyne was sometimes the subject of banter as appears from the following poem, which appeared in the 1730s (reprinted in 1757 in the London Magazine). The reference to Cheyne’s weight was based on the fact that Cheyne with 32 stone (almost 203 kg) was seriously overweight. After an illness Cheyne lost almost 10 stone.
- Tell me from whom, fat-headed Scot
- Thou didst thy system learn
- From Hippocrate thou hast it not
- Nor Celsus, nor Pitcairne.
- Suppose we own that milk is good
- And say the same of grass
- The one for babes is only food
- The other for an ass.
- Doctor! One new prescription try
- (A friend's advice forgive;)
- Eat grass, reduce thyself, and die
- Thy patients then may live.
Cheyne’s reply was:
- My system, Doctor, is my own
- No tutor I pretend
- My blunders hurt myself alone
- But yours your dearest friend.
- Were you to milk and straw confin'd
- Thrice happy might you be
- Perhaps you might regain your mind
- And from your wit get free.
- I cannot your prescription try
- But heartily "forgive"
- 'Tis nat'ral you should bid me die
- That you yourself may live.
The subjects in Cheyne´s books were of a medical, philosophical and mathematical nature, but certain metaphysical and religious issues of the day, combining Enlightenment objectives with ideas in mystical and radical Pietism, played an important part. His writings, which often went through several editions, were translated into Latin, Dutch, French, Italian and German. His main works are:
- The Philosophical Principles of Religion Natural and Revealed, 1705 (Part I) and 1715 (Part II) which is mainly concerned with metaphysical matters or the spirit. The first part contained "the Elements of Natural Philosophy and the Proofs for Natural Religion arising from them". Part II contained "the Nature and Kinds of Infinites; their Arithmetick and Uses, and the Philosophick Principles of Revealed Religion".
- Observations concerning the Nature and due Method of treating the Gout, 1720, which deals with physical matters or the body. In this book Cheyne shares his "Observations concerning the Nature and due Method of treating the Gout, … together with an account of the Nature and qualities of the Bath Waters".
- The Essay of Health and Long Life, 1724, which is equally focussed on physical matters or the body. In the Preface Cheyne wrote that he had consulted nothing but his “own Experience and Observation on my own crazy Carcase and the Infirmities of others I have treated”. In the first chapter Cheyne wrote that it was easier to preserve health than to recover it, and to prevent diseases than to cure them.
- The English Malady, 1733, which discusses nervous diseases of all kinds. The subtitle of the work was a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all kinds, Spleen, Vapours, Lowness of Spirits, Hypochondraical, and Hysterical Distempers, etc."
- The Essay on Regimen, 1740, which discusses metaphysical matters, but physical matters as well. It was especially meant for Cheyne's "fellow-sufferers, the gouty, consumptive, or nervous valetudinarian-low-livers".
- The Natural Method of Cureing [sic] the Diseases of the Body, and the Disorders of the Mind depending on the Body, 1742, which is mainly concerned with physical matters, but sometimes also with metaphysical matters. It was his last work and became very popular (five editions).
- Cheyne, George, The Philosophical Principles of Religion Natural and Revealed, published in 1705 (Part I), 1715 (Part II).
- Cheyne, George, Observations concerning the Nature and due Method of treating the Gout, (1720).
- Cheyne, George, The Essay of Health and Long Life, 1724.
- Cheyne, George, The English Malady, 1733. Facsimile ed., ed. Eric T. Carlson, M.D., 1976, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 978-0-8201-1281-7.
- Cheyne, George, The Essay on Regimen, 1740.
- Cheyne, George, The Natural Method of Cureing the Diseases of the Body, and the Disorders of the Mind depending on the Body, 1742.
- Guerini, Anita, Obesity and Depression in the Enlightenment, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2000.
- Henderson, G.D., Mystics of the North-East, Including I. Letters of James Keith, M.D., and Others to Lord Deskford; II. Correspondence between Dr. George Garden and James Cunningham, Aberdeen, 1934.
- Joling-van der Sar, G.J., The Spiritual Side of Samuel Richardson: Mysticism, Behmenism and Millenarianism in an Eighteenth-Century English Novelist, 2003.
- Merritt Sale Jr., William, Master Printer, Ithaca, 1950.
- Mullett, Charles F., The Letters of Dr. George Cheyne to the Countess of Huntingdon, Huntingdon Library, San Marino, California, 1940.
- Mullett, Charles F., The Letters of Doctor George Cheyne to Samuel Richardson (1733-1743), University of Missouri Studies, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Columbia, 1943.
- Porter, Roy, Mind-forged Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987.
- Porter, Roy, Discovering the History of Psychiatry, Oxford, 1994.
- George Cheyne - at upenn.edu
- George Cheyne - at Electric Scotland
- Stuart, Tristram, The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times (W.W. Norton, 2007).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wood, James, ed. (1907). "Cheyne, George". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.
- Guerini, Anita, Obesity and Depression in the Enlightenment, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2000, pp. 239-243.
- Joling-van der Sar, Gerda J., The Spiritual Side of Samuel Richardson: Mysticism, Behmenism and Millenarianism in an Eighteenth-Century English Novelist, 2003, footnote 293, p. 81.
- Never at Rest, Richard S. Westfall, p. 639 ISBN 0-521-27435-4)
- Cheyne, George, The Philosophical Principles of Religion Natural and Revealed, published in 1705 (Part I), p. 143.
- Cheyne, George, The Philosophical Principles of Religion Natural and Revealed, published in 1705 (Part I), pp. 145-146.
- Cheyne, George, The Philosophical Principles of Religion Natural and Revealed, published in 1705 (Part I), p. 168.
- Cheyne, George, The Essay on Regimen, 1740, p. 70.
- Anita Guerrini, "James Keill, George Cheyne, and Newtonian Physiology, 1690-1740", in the Journal of the History of Biology, 18, 1985, p. 254 and in Obesity and Depression in the Enlightenment: The Life and Times of George Cheyne, Oklahoma, 2000, p. 30 and p. 198, n. 43.
- The English Malady, 3rd ed., 1734, pp. 325-364.
- G.D. Henderson, Mystics of the North-East, Including I. Letters of James Keith, M.D., and Others to Lord Deskford; II. Correspondence between Dr. George Garden and James Cunningham, Aberdeen, 1934, pp. 75, 99, 105, 141.
- Roy Porter, George Cheyne: The English Malady (1733), London, 1990. See also Porter's Mind-forged Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987 and Porter’s Discovering the History of Psychiatry, Oxford, 1994.
- Joling-van der Sar, Gerda J., The Spiritual Side of Samuel Richardson: Mysticism, Behmenism and Millenarianism in an Eighteenth-Century English Novelist, 2003, p. 45.
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