“the polymath physician Henry Stubbe (1632–1676)”

author of one of the earliest appreciations
in English of Islam, and the first writer
on climate change to be published in
a scientific journal (1667)

During his lifetime, Stubbe was known as an accomplished scholar. Contemporaries such as Thomas Hobbes “much esteemed” Stubbe “for his great learning and parts,” while Anthony Wood noted that Stubbe was “admirably well qualified with several sorts of learning and generous spirit.” Henry Oldenburg, S.R.S., editor and publisher of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1667–8, described “that learn’d and inquisitive physitian, Dr. Stubbes” as a “curious and learned person” and “curious observer” whose Jamaican Observations were a “laudable Example [which] may both quicken and direct other Travellers in the Particulars, to be taken notice of in their Voyages.”

Stubbe’s interests & inquiries were wide-ranging, extending from clinical medicine to natural history & philosophy to cultural studies. A precocious Greek & Latin scholar, Stubbe worked on a Latin translation of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and sided with Hobbes in his campaign against John Wallis, the Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford, before being drawn into “heavy political and religious pamphleteering” in the later 1650s, promoting a form of Interregnum republicanism which had a “posthumous influence” “continuing well into at least the second decade of the eighteenth century and probably beyond.” (J. R. Jacob, 6) Like the radical free-thinkers Charles Blount and John Toland before and after the Revolution of 1688–1689, Stubbe wished

to reduce, if not eliminate, the power of the clergy; to put in place of a clerically dominated Christianity a civil religion whose purposes would be secular, moral and political; to build a nation of virtuous patriots and soldiers rather than Christian believers obedient to clerical authority; and to sever science and learning from conventional Protestantism and attach them to the purposes of civil religion, the secular state and the people.

(James R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, Radical Protestantism, and the Early Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press, 1983, 164)

After the Restoration settlement of 1660, which Stubbe provisionally supported — “Although [Stubbe] embraced the monarchical Restoration, if not the ecclesiastical one, his adherence to monarchy was highly provisional and departed radically from Restoration orthodoxy.” (J. R. Jacob, 3) — the radical Independent and republican polemicist worked as a political pamphleteer for the Crown. In the early 1670s, Stubbe produced nationalist propaganda for the British government (among other things, justifying the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and the Declaration of Indulgence) before turning to “seditious discourses and printing and publishing unlicensed papers” relating to the heated controversy over the marriage between James, duke of York, and Mary of Modena, for which the state issued a warrant for Stubbe’s arrest.

Stubbe’s eclectic scholarly pursuits culminated c.1674 in one of the earliest appreciations in English of Islam — his scribal publication entitled An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism,

which expanded upon Edward Pococke’s tolerant and historicized view of Islam to include the prophet Muhammad as well. The work remained unpublished until the twentieth century, though it enjoyed a limited manuscript circulation.

(Mordechai Feingold, “Stubbe [Stubbes, Stubbs], Henry (1632–1676), author and physician,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., Jan. 2008, n. pag.)

Although Stubbe’s manuscript on Islam was not printed until 1911, three excerpts from it appeared in print in 1693 and 1695, in letters by Charles Blount to the earl of Rochester (published twice), and to Thomas Hobbes. (Henry Stubbe and the Beginnings of Islam: the Originall & Progress of Mahometanism, ed. and introd. by Nabil Matar, New York: Columbia University Press, 2014, 49)

To this day, his biographers depict Henry Stubbe as a “truly erudite and enigmatic person” (M. Feingold, n. pag.), one who defies easy categorization in 20th-century terms as either an anti-modern “Scholastic throwback” (in fact, Stubbe was an early experimental philosopher, active in the Oxford Circle of scientists who would later found the Royal Society; he received his medical training from the celebrated Oxford physician and natural philosopher, Dr. Thomas Willis; and he continued to be patronized by Robert Boyle, despite their growing ideological differences after 1669) or “an unprincipled turncoat who always sided with the winning party” (Jacob makes a persuasive argument that there is “continuity” between Stubbe, the young, radical don at Oxford in the 1650s, and Stubbe, the older, conservative royalist and churchman after 1660).

The Oxford antiquary, Anthony Wood, who knew him well, explained the enigmatic Stubbe — “the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced” — in terms of a flawed, imprudent character (outwardly symbolized by his red hair):

... He [Stubbe] was accounted a very good Physitian, and excellent for those matters that compleat it, as Simpling, Anatomy and Chymistry: and in the times of Usurpation, that is while Oliver and Richard [Cromwell] ruled, when then he thought it the Nations interest to subvert the true Monarchy of England, he was passionately addicted to the new Philosophy, and motion’d several ways for the introducing it amongst the Gentry and Youth of this Nation: and the reason was, as he saith, that it would render all the Clergy contemptible, lessen the esteem and reverence in the Church, and make them seem egregious Fools in matter of common discourse. But as he was so admirably well qualified with several sorts of Learning and a generous Spirit, so he was very unhappy in this, that he was extream rash and imprudent, and wanted common discretion to manage his parts. He was a very bold man, utter’d any thing that came into his mind, not only among his Companions, but in publick Coffey-houses, (of which he was a great frequenter) and would often speak his mind of particular persons, then accidentally present, without examining the company he was in, for which he was often repremanded, and several times threatned to be kick’d and beaten. He had a hot and restless head (his hair being carret-colour’d) and was ever ready to undergo any enterprize, which was the chief reason that macerated his body almost to a Skeleton. He was also a person of no fix’d Principles, and whether he believed those things which every good Christian doth, ’tis not for me to resolve. Had he been endowed with common sobriety and discretion, and not have made himself and his learning mercenary and cheap to every ordinary and ignorant Fellow, he would have been admired by all, and might have pick’d and choos’d his Preferment. But all these things being wanting, he became a ridicule, and undervalued by sober and knowing Scholars and others too.

(Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, 2 vols., 1691–2, 2.414–415)

Among those characterizing Stubbe as “Ridiculous, and void of any true honour, no way fit to regulate the Kingdom” was the chemical physician, Mary Trye (fl. 1662–75), who, like Stubbe, had practised medicine in and around Warwick before moving to London in October 1674. In her medical polemic defending “against the calumnies and abusive reflections of Henry Stubbe a physician at Warwick,” published in 1675, Trye disparaged the learned Stubbe as “our English Cicero” (Trye, 19), a “Sophister” (Trye, 41), “This great talker of Physick” (Trye, 62), and “This malicious disguiser” (Trye, 68) — in essence, accusing Stubbe of being a Medicus turned “Verbalist” and “Politicus” rather than a true “Medicinalist,” like herself:

But I confess, I admire this Medicus [i.e., Stubbe] as Cicero is said to be admired, more for his tongue then his heart; for I see his words and actions are as different, as a Frenchman’s words and his writings: Platonick Lover like, who is described by our English saying, to be one that is still saying Grace, and never falls to his Meat: He says well, if all that he says were true, And although he thinks he hath said enough, in saying, his Patients depose for their Cures; yet I am never the more convinced by that, unless he will tell me, when he will raise them up again; and that is a Prophetick inspiration, I fear this divine Physician is not yet Glorified with.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 123–4)

Elsewhere, she maligned his medical practice with dismissive references, tinged with racism, to Stubbe’s American experience:

And lastly he tels us [in his autobiography], he hath been his Majesties Phisitian in the Island of Jamaica, but that he did little service there, he owneth, being sick; This I am apt enough to believe, so that if he were His Majesties Phisitian, he was far enough off Him [the king], and I think he was rightly plac’d, and ’tis no great matter if he were sent there again, the place I am told being most fit for him.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 22–3)

Later, she slurs Stubbe as “this Quacking Parrot; and Chego Doctor” (Trye, 109) — an unfair assessment of the physician who bothered to report from Jamaica about the colonists’ blatant disregard for the lives of their West African slaves, the ones most often plagued by the small species of flea found in the West Indies and South America (Pulex or Sarcopsylla penetrans) commonly known as chigoe or jigger (also called Tons in Brazil, and Nigas by some Carib Indians, as recorded in Histoire Naturelle et Morale des Iles Antilles de l’Amerique [Roterdam, 1658], by Charles de Rochefort et al.). In another of his Jamaican reports published by the Royal Society, Stubbe documented the appalling state of health care for blacks in the Americas during the 1660s:

Of the Cirons or Chegos enough is said by Ligon [i.e., in Richard Ligon’s A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados (London, 1657)]. I knew a man who burnt his Negro alive, because he was over-run with them. When they come among the nervous and membranous parts, they are very painful, and not to be pull’d out, lest your needle touch the nerves; and in other places the hole you cut, to take them out, equals a pease.

(H. Stubbe, “An Enlargement of the Observations ... by that Learn’d and Inquisitive Physitian, Dr. Stubbes,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 15 June 1668, 3.36, 706)

Trye’s animus against Stubbe builds the more she scrutinizes “the Information Mr. Stubbe gives of his own Life,” especially in his “History of his Life, and what principles he is accomplished with,” wherein she discerns mostly “subtlety & hypocrisie” in a self-portrait that neglects mentioning “any of the worser part” (Trye, 20–3). Trye, a royalist, is clearly not convinced by Stubbe’s profession of innocence during the civil war years, hinting darkly at his complicity in the regicide:

He saith he was at school at Westminster, but 17 years of age, and a little Stature, when the KING was beheaded; Or rather (if he please) Murdered, and I am very glad to hear it was so; otherwise I should have thought ----.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 22)

and later pointing out that Stubbe “owns himself, he once deserv’d to loose his Head” (Trye, 125).

As a good monarchist, Trye acknowledges the “mercy of our good King [who] hath been so great as to pardon him” despite evidence of Stubbe’s “malicious principles, and ill nature” in raining “abuse [on] His Majesties servants, and sufferers,” including her own father. “It is much ingratitude, and no good return of such an Offender, to repay his Prince by persecuting and abusing his charitable and suffering Servants, raking them out of their Graves with falsities and envy,” opines Trye. As such, Stubbe’s actions seem to her at odds with his words. Stubbe dissembles, and only “seems to confess, beg pardon, and amend” for his services to the Commonwealth, as when justifying the political and religious propaganda he so skilfully created for his patron from the 1640s, the controversial Parliamentarian and great republican strategist Henry Vane, whose “understudied ideological legacy survived the débâcle of 1659 to influence the subsequent development of republicanism on both sides of the Atlantic” (R. E. Mayers, “Vane, Sir Henry, the younger (1613–1662), Politician and Author,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., May 2015, n. pag.). With relish, Trye repeats Stubbe’s lame excuses for the artful pamphleteering which, according to Anthony Wood, “palliated in print Sir Henry Vane’s wickedness”:

There being Quarrels between the Presbyterians and Sir H. V’s Friends, he [Stubbe] sided with his Patron Sir H. V. [i.e., Sir Henry Vane, executed after the Restoration of 1660 for having been a powerful republican leader during the Interregnum] His Retribution to his Generous Patron was, to promise him if ever he were able to serve him effectually, and this he says he did; who questions it, and wrote those so invidious Queries to terrifie the Presbyterians, but protests they contain no Tenents of his ----- So ’tis like he took that Task in hand as Cicero did his, to shew his Eloquence.
     Many other things of this nature he writes of himself, mentioning sometimes, a good deed, or two, he did among the rest; But I must desire the [curious] Reader, if he requires further satisfaction, to view his papers.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 22)

J. R. Jacob explains that, after 1660, Stubbe artfully concealed crypto-republican sentiments in a “rhetoric of double meaning” (necessitated by the new political climate of the early Restoration, which demanded outward allegiance to the established church and monarchy). Stubbe engaged in heated controversy with the Royal Society during 1668–72, opening the pamphlet wars in 1670 with four treatises,

“all excoriating the aims and work of the society as well as the learning of its propagandists.” (M. Feingold, n. pag.) According to Jacob, “Stubbe’s rhetorical duplicity” in these works sometimes confused readers like Mary Trye, who “was not certain what the ‘aims’ of” Stubbe’s attacks on chemical “Ingenuity” and the Royal Society truly were, although “she recognized that there was behind these attacks a ‘disguised design’” (J. R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, Radical Protestantism, and the Early Enlightenment, 162, 109, 196n185).

In his controversy with the Royal Society, Stubbe linked

scientific inquiry and the accumulation of knowledge to the progressive secularization and de-Christianization of society. His was a program for the radical reform of knowledge and society; theirs [propagandists for the Royal Society and the Chemical College of Physicians, dubbed the “Anti-Colledge of Pseudo-Chymists” by Stubbe], for the reform of knowledge alone.

(J. R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, Radical Protestantism, and the Early Enlightenment, 4)

Trye picked up on enough of Stubbe’s concealed messages to describe him as “not like a Schollar, a Physician, a Gentleman, or any thing that can be called ingenious; but rather some kind of Politicus, and so beneath my notice” (Trye, 128). She noted, for example, the rhetorical trickery behind his demagogic claim that “ingenious Scrutinies, and the conversation of such Societies [i.e., The Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge], is the way to introduce Popery” (Trye, 72). Stubbe knew full well such innuendo would ensure popular “opposition” to the new science and its institutions:

The Medicus at Warwick, whom I look upon to be a sole Verbalist; well knowing the Constitution of this Kingdome, by the experience he hath had under his Master Sir H. V. [Stubbe became Sir Henry Vane’s protégé while a pupil at the famous Westminster School (within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, in the City of Westminster, London), where the headmaster, Richard Busby, recommended him to Vane, who provided financial support for the boy at Westminster, and then at Christ Church college, Oxford] in the late times of Murder, and Rebellion; as well as by other satisfaction, and what a Bug-Bear the name of Popery is to the Generality of the common people; and how ready Unanimously they will be to catch at a thing that sounds of that, and to oppose any thing that hath but the least colour of the Religion, or letter of the Name; although they know not why nor wherefore, (though they may have reason) but follow Tradition like their Tutor the Verbalist.
     The Medicus being well assured of this; as well knows, he shall be sure to procure at least this advantage to his disguised design; that the common people will quickly hearken to his Bell, and applaud his goodness; let it be what it will, though to their own destruction, so long as it bears the gloss of a papall prevention: He thus begins to Tinckle, the consequence of the Royal Society, Experiment, Ingenuity, the most laudable and commendable, Nay, absolute necessary improvement of Knowledge is dangerous, and the Fore-runner of Popery....

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 79–80)

Trye is also concerned that “because he speaks so very passionately, and as positively” Stubbe will command an audience for his “Scurrility, Railings and Abuses”: after all, “we know how oftentimes, many Men have great Learning, and come to be famous in Repute, and yet not be able to Cure Diseases so well as Physicians of less esteem.” (Trye, 112, 127, 117) In medicine, she thinks, professional status should be tied to clinical outcomes. Thus, Trye offers Stubbe “my medicinal Tender” and challenges him to a duel “by Experiment” (Trye, 125, 95):

And to sum up my Challenge to M. Stubbe, thus I say, That I will Cure any of these Diseases before-named; and more, those that he cannot, if it be in the power of natural means to relieve them, (for I hope he will not tender me impossibilities.) And that all things may be certainly proposed in few words, to ascertain the method and course of this Challenge, Mr. Stubbe shall have the first refusal and experiment of such of these Diseases, and so many Patients as he shall choose to himself; and those that he cannot recover in such a reasonable time as shall be by judicious and proper Physicians thought fit, I will: To this purpose the Battel may be set in order; And to this offer I challenge Mr. Henry Stubbe a Physician at Warwick.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 122–3)

Furthermore, if Stubbe

thinks it not above him, but will come to an experimental Tryal, let a judicious way and method be propos’d for it, (if not that I have mention’d) ... And I will also, before our Engagement in every disease, discourse him therein, and give a rational and proper account of the same, and when I have so done, I will Cure the Disease, and allow his odds, &c. (if desired) as I have before expressed: for he shall find me principl’d with Queen Elizabeths Motto, semper eadem [always the same].
     And whether this be not a fair and civil proposal, I demand the Judgement of every ingenious Reader.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 127)

Trye was clearly worried that the crafty Stubbe would refuse “this fair end of our Phlebotomical and Chymical dispute” since he had already refused “his Friend O Dowdes [Trye’s father] proffer ... when he offer’d to Cure any Disease, with the best Professors of his Gang, for Five Hundred pounds.” (Trye, 126, 123). Anticipating a similar outcome in her own case, Trye counters:

Now I return to my Chymical Vindication, and to tell Mr. Stubbe, that it rests much upon him to come to an experimental Essay: And that I may aggravate him the more, I will acquaint him with what he would willingly (no doubt) be ignorant of; and that is, the sick Patients are dissatisfied, because he will not justifie what he dares invent and publish: He brags he is a great Schollar, and hath arriv’d to the period of Learning, if so, let him evince that excellency, since its denied: and if those Persons and Medicines he decries as contemptible, excell and surpass all his knowledge, where doth the odium fall? He accuseth the ingenuity and Royal promotion of this Age, as that which infringeth and bears upon his interessed Physical Profession; and such attempts, though never so necessary and profitable to the Universe, ought to be consulted by opposition and diminution of its growth and fertility; Yet if the Innovation, as he terms it, of this Royally ingenious Age, be found more serviceable and available, more real and beneficial to King and People, then other more private interests, though more ancient pretences: what would this Incendiary drive at? ... unless Mr. Stubbe will accept my offer, I conceive Alchymical Medicines, and the Medicinalist, are thereby unfetter’d, and free’d from his desir’d Bondage.... But if he thinks to avoide this just Charge, and the true merit of his Doctrine, by Scurrility, Railings and Abuses (because I see he is so apt, right or wrong, to abuse living or dead) and so think to hide his Errors, and cloud the truth by such degenerate means shifts.
     I shall then conclude that course to be not like a Schollar, a Physician, a Gentleman, or any thing that can be called ingenious; but rather some kind of Politicus, and so beneath my notice: And I doubt not, but all Men will count him Ridiculous, and void of any true honour, no way fit to regulate the Kingdom.
     Yet if this should prove the Case, I will not forsake him; But am resolv’d to beg that leave, which I believe I shall not be denyed; And he shall be sure then to receive that Return and Reply I have reserved for him: And more then that, I will with the Astrologer, once a year imploy my Printer.
     Last of all, if he looks upon it to be more Prudent and Physical to remain scornfully Silent, I cannot say further.

(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 124 and 127–8)

And neither did Stubbe, although some new-found prudence of character had little to do with it. At this point in his career, Stubbe had nothing to gain from engaging in medical theatrics with Mary Trye. By 1675, Stubbe’s war with the Royal Society as an expression of covert radicalism was over. To further his critical and reformist agenda — promoting “a paganizing naturalism and secular historicism which fundamentally challenged any form of orthodox Protestantism and which put in its place a civic religion which harked back to Selden, Harrington and Hobbes and looked forward to the Enlightenment” (J. R. Jacob, 163) — Stubbe turned next to Islamic history.

Stubbe’s MS., An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism (written sometime after 1671), presented Mohammed’s “prophetic monarchy” — where “civil order came directly from priestless religion which eliminated wealth and poverty and produced a toughened, virtuous citizenry ready to accomplish difficult and useful tasks” (J. R. Jacob, 125) — as a model for contemporary monarchs such as Charles II, describing Mohammed as

an enlightened despot, tolerant, efficient, charitable, socially and economically egalitarian, the inspired leader of a powerful and prosperous empire whose policies were to be admired and emulated.

(J. R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, Radical Protestantism, and the Early Enlightenment, 125 and 127)

There is no way to know what new works were then being contemplated by one of the 17th century’s most talented political pamphleteers. A year after publication of Trye’s Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, Stubbe died.

Late in the evening on 12 July 1676, while riding from Bath to Bristol to attend a patient, and ‘his head being then intoxicated with bibbing, but more with talking, and snuffing of powder’ ... Stubbe drowned in a shallow river 2 miles from Bath. He was buried two days later in St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church in Bath, with his old adversary Joseph Glanvill [Glanvill’s Plus Ultra (1668) was one of the public-relations texts promoting the nascent Royal Society that provoked the science wars of 1670–1] preaching an indifferent funeral sermon. The fate of his papers appears to have concerned the government, for his study was immediately sealed and the bishop of London was expected ‘to appoint a person to inspect the papers for dangerous papers state and church’....

(Mordechai Feingold, “Stubbe [Stubbes, Stubbs], Henry (1632–1676), author and physician,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., Jan. 2008, n. pag.)


NOTE:  Additional excerpts from Mary Trye’s Medicatrix, or, The Woman-Physician (London, 1675) are to be found in the webessay on Mary Trye (fl. 1662–75) — chemical physician, medical reformer, and early promoter of evidence-based health interventions.