Thomas Lawrence, M.D., was the second son of capt. Thomas Lawrence, R.N., by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Gabriel Soulden, merchant, of Kinsale, in Ireland, and widow of colonel Piers, and was born in the parish of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, on the 25th May, 1711.(1) His preliminary education, which was commenced in Dublin, was completed at the grammar school of Southampton, under the Rev. Mr. Kingsman. In October, 1727, he was admitted a commoner of Trinity college, Oxford, and as a member of that house proceeded A.B. 7th November, 1730; A.M. 25th May, 1733; when, devoting himself to physic, he removed to London and attended the anatomical lectures of Dr. Frank Nicholls, and the practice of St. Thomas’s hospital. He took the degree of M.B. 14th May, 1736; M.D. 17th October, 1740; and on the resignation of Dr. Nicholls was chosen anatomy reader in the university of Oxford. He continued in this office for several years, but resided in London, where he also delivered lectures on anatomy. In 1750, Dr. Lawrence ceased lecturing, and devoted himself entirely to practice. He was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1743; a Fellow, 1st October, 1744; was Gulstonian Lecturer in 1744; Censor, 1746, 1752, 1753, 1757, 1759; and Registrar from 1747 to 1766 inclusive. He delivered the Harveian oration in 1748; the Croonian lectures in 1751; and was appointed Lumleian lecturer in December, 1755. Dr. Lawrence was named an Elect 7th May, 1759; was Consiliarius 1760, 1761, 1763; and was elected President of the College in 1767. To this office he was annually reelected for seven consecutive years.
Few men have been more respected by the College; none, probably, by their attainments were better qualified for practice than Dr. Lawrence; yet as a physician he made but little progress. He was an elegant classical scholar, a good anatomist, and a sound practitioner; but in his endeavour to attain to eminence it was his misfortune to fail. " He was a man," says Sir John Hawkins, " of whom in respect of his piety, learning, and skill in his profession, it may be almost said the world was not worthy, inasmuch as it suffered his talents for the whole of his life to remain in a great measure unemployed, and himself to end his days in sorrow and obscurity. He was above the art by which popularity is acquired, and had—besides some personal defects and habits which stood in his way—a vacuity of countenance very unfavourable to an opinion of his learning or sagacity, and certain convulsive motions of the head and shoulders that gave pain to the beholder, and drew off attention from all that he said."
Dr. Lawrence was the physician and intimate friend of our great lexicographer, Johnson, and was never mentioned by him but in terms of the highest respect and admiration. " Lawrence," said Johnson, "is one of the best men whom I have known. He was a man of strict piety and profound learning, but little skilled in the knowledge of life or manners, and died without ever having enjoyed the reputation he so justly deserved." To console him under some family disappointment, Johnson addressed to him a fine Latin ode, which is inserted in his works. In January, 1780, Dr. Lawrence lost his wife, a bereavement from which he never recovered. This sad event is memorable in our literary history, as it gave occasion to one of the finest letters which Johnson ever wrote. Soon after this Dr. Lawrence lost his hearing, and in the early part of 1782 was struck with paralysis. He resigned his place of Elect 25th March of that year, and in the June following withdrew with his family to Canterbury. His mind eventually gave way. He died honoured and lamented by all who knew him, on the 6th June, 1783, aged seventy-two, and was buried in the church of St. Margaret, Canterbury. A tablet in Canterbury cathedral bears the following inscription:—
ThomÆ Laurence, M.D.
Qui ad studia, quæ virum liberaliter eductum mediciuæ
aptiorem faciunt, ipsa quæ faciunt Medicum adjunxit.
Ilium adhuc juvenum ad se allexit optimum salutaris artis
hanc ætate provectior toto pectore excepit:
hanc altius subtiliusque in Oxonio suo excoluit:
hanc denique in medium protulit,
atque ex cathedrâ illustravit.
Ad usum medendi vocatus, munere suo functus est
Diligenter et Honesté:
In morbis dignoscendis acutus, in curandis simplex:
Nihil interim sibi laudis arrogabat,
nec gloriolæ appetens nec lucelli;
In scriptis suis puritatem integram Latini sermonis attigit,
rem suam omnem ornatè explicans,
eamque nec impeditam verbis, nec brevitate obscuram:
In communi vitâ victûsque consortio facilis, modestus, affabilis:
nunquam se aliis præponens, neminem sibi adversum habuit.
In collegio Medicorum Londinensi onera quævis,
non secus ac honores, æquâ mente sustinuit,
in Registrarium, in Prælectorem sæpius,
in Præsidem per octennium electus.
Accedente senectâ morbo tentatus est insanabili ac diuturno;
nihilominus tamen beatus ille, etiam ante obitum,
verè dici potuit, cui unicum mali solamen adfuit,
vitæ bene actæ conscientia.
Natus est Patre classis Britannicæ Navarcho;
Uxorem duxit Franciscam Caroli Chauncy Medici Derbiensis
filiam, ex quâ novem liberos suscepit:
Quorum Grulielmus Chauncy in Indiis Orientalibus,
Carolus apud Lyme Regis in Comitatu Dorsetensi, decesserunt;
Francisca Harrietta et Johannes eodem quo pater tumulo clauduntur;
Tres alii tenerâ aetate abrepti fuerunt.
Superstites Hoc monumentum posuere.
Obiit 6° Die Junii A.D. 1783
et sepultus est in vicinâ aede Parochiali
Dr. Lawrence was the author of the " Life of Harvey," prefixed to the College edition, in quarto, of that great man’s works, and on the 3rd March, 1766, was voted l00l. for his services to the College in this respect. He also wrote the life of his friend and patron, Dr. Frank Nicholls; and to him we owe the following works, all of them in the choicest Latin :—
De Hydrope Disputatio Medica. 12mo. Lond. 1756.
This is an interesting and amusing book, written in very choice Latin. It purports to be a dialogue between the great Harvey, Sir George Ent, and Dr. Hamey; the two latter seeking information from the matured experience and cautious observation of the discoverer of the circulation.
Prælectiones Medicæ XII. De Calvariæ et Capitis Morbis. 8vo. Lond. 1757.
De Naturâ Musculorum. 8vo. Lond. 1759.
Fran. Nicolsii Vita. 4to. Lond.
[(1) "Dr. Lawrence is said to have been the grandson of another Dr, Thomas Lawrence, who was first physician to queen Anne, and physician-general to the army. He lived to a great age and held appointments under four successive princes, beginning with Charles II, by whom he was appointed physician to the garrison at Tangier, part of the dowry of queen Catherine."— Gent’s. Mag, vol. lvii, part i, p. 191]