Observations historical, critical, and medical, on the wines of the ancients. And the analogy between them and modern wines. With general observations on the principles and qualities of water.

Edward Barry, 1700

Edward Barry (1696 -) was among the most influential physicians of the seventeenth century in Ireland. He was born in 1696 in Cork. At the age of fifteen, he entered Trinity College in Dublin where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1617 and continued his studies in Leiden, under the guidance of the physician Herman Boerhaave. A copy of his thesis is kept at the British Museum Library, titled: Dissertatio Medica Inauguralis de Nutritione. Once back in Dublin, in 1726 he published his first book: On a consumption of the lungs, which incorporates themes addressed in his thesis. In 1733 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society. Then, in 1740 he was examined by the committee of the University of Dublin to obtain his Doctor's degree. The favourable judgment allowed him to join the College of Physicians. In the '40s he practised medicine in Dublin and, thanks to his diplome, in 1745, Barry was appointed general physician of the Irish military forces. In 1761 he left Ireland and moved to England, where he was admitted as a fellow of the College of Physicians in London. It was in London that the treatise titled Observations Historical was published in 1775, one year before his death. This was the first and only edition.

In the 1770s, Barry spent some years in Bath, which is a small English city, famous for its thermal waters and Roman baths. This became an inspiration for his writings.

Barry's treatise Observations Historical, Critical, and Medical, on the Wines of the Ancients represents a novelty: it is the first book in English that discusses modern wines and the ones of the ancients.

The work is dedicated to his son, Dr. Nathanien Barry and begins with a preface by the author. The whole treatise is composed of thirteen chapters and concludes with a final appendix. The first chapter is about the general nature and principles of wine. In the following chapters, it is analysed the rules of the ancients in making wine, specifically in chapter III. In particular, the treatise debates the use of wine by Greek physicians in Antiquity such as Hippocrates, Artaeus, Galen, Celsus, Dioscorides, with some references to Sydenham (1624 – 1689), the "English Hippocrates" considered the father of English medicine.

It is critical to notice that chapters IX and X are about water: chapter IX is about the nature and quality of water, whereas chapter X is about the thermal waters of Bath. The final appendix is dedicated to a discussion about modern wines. French wines are considered as well as Spanish ones, and he includes a discussion about Port wine.

It is considered that Barry's treatise - which investigates the subject of wine's heating – might have influenced the development of Madeira's wine trade and production on the turn of the eighteenth century.

The treatise Observations Historical is present at the National Library of Portugal (BNP).

Editions & Translators

  • The book was first published in 1775. It was published in London by Thomas Cadell.


[1] HANCOCK D., Commerce and Conversation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic: The Invention of Madeira Wine, in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 1998, vol. 29, n. 2, pp. 197-219.

[2] KIRKPATRICK P. C., Sir Edward Barry, Bart., M.D.; Physician-General to His Majesty's Forces in Ireland, in Medical Miscellany PART III, Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, 1909, pp. 443-461.

[3] SANDLER M., PINDER G., Wine. A Scientific Exploration, Taylor & Francis Inc, London 2003.