Tabor, John

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(b. Faccombe, Hamshire, England, 1667),


Son of the rector of Faccombe parish, Tabor graduated B.A. at Merton College, Oxford, in 1687 and received his medical degree there on 20 March 1694. An adherent of the English iatromathematical school that developed under the aegis of Newtonianism during the early eighteenth century. Tabor attempted to incorporate medical animism into a mathematical framework in his Exercitationes medicae (1724). He accepted the rational soul or anima, which presumably induced and controlled the activities of living organisms, as the fundamental cause of physiological processes. Because the anima manifested itself through the movements of bodily parts and fluids according to the established laws of physical motion, however, Tabor held that the primary task of medical theory was the calculation of the size, shape, and movement of organic structures.

Familiar with a wide range of classical and contemporary authors, Tabor owed most to the work of Borelli and employed the computations and mechanical models characteristic of his writings. He devoted considerable attention to detailed, albeit inconclusive, formulations of the shape and elasticity of muscle fibers and offered a comprehensive, if unoriginal, account of the heart’s struture and function. While maintaining that the anima was the primary force preseving organic systems against decay, Tabor followed John Freind and James and John Keill in admitting physical attraction as an independent force capable of affecting physiological activity. He construed disease, for example, as the process by which the anima, through muscular spasms, fevers, and similar means, restored bodily equilibrium by counteracting the attractive force of foreign and deleterious particles. Tabor”s work had little influence and fell into obscurity with the general demise of iatro-mathematics in the second half of the eighteenth century. His use of animist hypotheses was intended to emphasize the insufficiency of purely mechanical explanations and reflected Tabor’s concern to reconcile reductionist and vitalist traditions in physiological theory.


I. Original Works. Tabor’s major work was Exercitationes medicae quae tam morborum quam symptomatum in plerisque morbis rationem illustrant (London, 1724). An article of antiquarian interest appeared as “An Accurate Account of a Tessellated Pavement, Bath, and Other Roman Antiquities, Lately Discovered Near East Bourne in Sussex.” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,30 (1717–1719), 549–563, 783–802.

II. Secondary Literature. The only source for biographical data on Tabor is Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses,IV (Oxford, 1892), 1453. A useful account of his medical ideas is Kurt Spengel, Versuch einer pragmatischen Geschichte der Arzneikunde, 3rd ed., V (Halle, 1828), 233–234, 349, J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry,II (London, 1961), 623–625, discusses Tabor’s opposition to John Mayow’s theory of nitro-aerial particles.

Martin Fichman