Beddoes, Thomas (1760–1808)

Chemist and physician. Born at Shifnal, Shropshire, son of Richard Beddoes and Ann Whitehall. Educated at Bridgnorth Grammar School, by private tutor, and at Pembroke College, Oxford (matric. 1776, BA 1779, MB and MD 1786), and Edinburgh. Reader in Chemistry at Oxford from 1788. In the early 1790s, a growing reputation as a radical led to his surveillance by Home Office spies and failure to gain the Regius Chair in Chemistry. He left Oxford for Bristol in 1793 and married Anna Edgeworth, sister of the novelist Maria (1768–1849; DNB), in the following year. Beddoes was involved in the political protest movements of the mid-1790s and possibly first met Southey in 1795, during the latter’s immersion in Bristol politics. In 1799, Beddoes opened the Pneumatic Institute (from 1802 the Preventive Medical Institution for the Sick and Drooping Poor) in Hotwells, Bristol. Southey participated in the experiments with gases carried out by Beddoes and Humphry Davy, and recorded in Notice of Some Observations Made at the Medical Pneumatic Institution (1799). Beddoes was a prolific writer on medical, political and educational reform. He was also a poet: author of Alexander’s Expedition (1792) and a contributor to Southey’s Annual Anthology (1799). Southey respected Beddoes’s medical judgment, consulting him on more than one occasion. In 1809 he recorded that ‘From Beddoes I hoped for more good to the human race than from any other individual’. However, disagreements about poetry ensured that their personal relationship was not warm. Southey dismissed Beddoes as a ‘hypercritic of the Darwin school’ and was furious when his ‘Domiciliary Verses’ (a parody of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Southey) found its way into the first volume of the Annual Anthology. Joseph Cottle, who was responsible for the poem’s inclusion, was ordered by Southey not to solicit any further contributions from Beddoes.

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