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James Gregory, M.D., Author of "The History of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland"


Dr. James Gregory, the son of Dr. John Gregory, sometime Professor of Medicine in King's College, Aberdeen, and afterwards in the University of Edinburgh, was born in the former city, in 1753, and received the earlier part of his education at the grammar school instituted by Dr. Patrick Dun. In consequence of his father's removal to Edinburgh in 1765, he subsequently studied at the University there, and took his degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1774. He then repaired to Leyden, where he attended the lectures of the celebrated Gobius— the favourite student and the immediate successor of the great Boer-haave.

Dr. John Gregory died in 1773, before the education of his son had been completed; and, according to a previous arrangement, Dr. Cullen succeeded to the Practice of Physic. From this period the Professorship of the Institutes of Medicine was kept open, by various means, till 1778, when Dr. Gregory, then only in his twenty-third year, was appointed to the vacant chair. Although young, he was eminently qualified for the situation, from the extent of his acquirements and his own natural talents. Of this we need no better proof than is afforded by his text-book, " Conspectus Medicinae Theoretics ad usurn Acade-micum," which he published a few years after obtaining the professorship, and which procured for its author a high professional character throughout Europe.

In 1790, on the death of Dr. Cullen, Dr. Gregory was elected Professor of the Practice of Physic, and successfully maintained the reputation acquired by his predecessor. His success as a teacher was great; and his class was, during the long period he filled the chair, numerously attended by students from all parts of the world. He also held the appointment of first Physician to his Majesty for Scotland.

Dr. Gregory was distinguished for his classical attainments, and especially for proficiency in the Latin language, to which his thesis, "De Morbis Coeli Mutatione Medendis," in 1774, bore ample testimony. His talents for literature and general philosophy were of a high order; and that he did not prosecute these to a greater extent was no doubt owing to the pressure of his professional duties, which scarcely left him an hour to himself. In 1792, he published two volumes 8vo, entitled " Philosophical and Literary Essays," in which he combated the doctrine of fatalism maintained by Dr. Priestley in a work previously published by that author under the title of " Philosophical Necessity." He forwarded the manuscripts of his essays to Dr. Priestley for perusal prior to publication, but the Doctor declined the honour, on the ground that his mind was made up, and that he had ceased to think of the subject.

Respecting Dr. Gregory's extensive practice, and the numerous patients who, attracted by his fame, came from great distances to consult him, several anecdotes have found their way into books of light reading. The scene in his study with a guzzling, punch-drinking citizen of Glasgow, is amusing, and must be familiar to almost every reader. No man possessed more gentlemanly manners than Dr. Gregory; yet, in such cases as that of the Glasgow merchant, or of the lady who came from London to consult him against the infirmities of age, he expressed himself with a brevity and bluntness the reverse of gratifying.

Dr. Gregory was likewise the author of a "Dissertation on the Theory of the Moods of Verbs"—a paper read to the Royal Society, of which he was a member; and he published an edition of Cullen's "First Lines of the Practice of Physic," two vols. 8vo.

We have now to allude to a series of publications, commenced in 1793, which hut for the extraordinary degree of local excitement created hy them at the time, we should willingly have passed over without comment. The first of these was a pamphlet by Dr. Gregory, in which he endeavoured, by internal evidence, to fix the authorship of a book, entitled "A Guide for Gentlemen studying Medicine at the University of Edinburgh," upon the two Doctors Hamilton, father and son. The author of the "Guide" had been somewhat severe in his strictures in regard to some of the professorships of the University; while, in the opinion of Dr. Gregory and his friends, an undue degree of praise had been bestowed upon the midwifery classes taught by Drs. Hamilton. To this Dr. James Hamilton, junior, replied in a well-written pamphlet, in which he calmly, yet with spirit, urged the groundlessness of the accusation, and the unprovoked asperity of his opponent. In the meantime law proceedings had been instituted against the publisher of the "Guide," in order to discover the author, while Dr. Hamilton commenced counter-proceedings against Dr. Gregory, for the injuries his character had sustained by the manner in which he had been traduced.

In 1800, another paper warfare occurred, in consequence of a memorial addressed by Dr. Gregory to the managers of the Royal Infirmary, complaining of the younger members of the College of Surgeons being there allowed to perform operations. This was replied to by Mr. John Bell, surgeon; and a controversy ensued, which for some time engrossed the whole attention of the Edinburgh medical profession.

Again, in 180G, the Doctor entered into a warm controversy with the College of Physicians, owing to some proceedings on the part of that body which he considered derogatory to the profession.

In 1808, he printed, for private circulation, a small volume in 8vo, entitled "Lucubrations on an Epigram:" also, in 1810, "There is Wisdom in Silence"—an imitation from the Anthologia; and "The Viper and the File"—an imitation of the well-known fable of Phoedrus, "Vipera et Lima." As a specimen of his epigrammatic talents, we give the following—

"O give me, clear angel, one lock of your hair'—
A bashful young lover took courage and sighed;
'Twas a sin to refuse so modest a pray'r—
'You shall have my whole wig,' the dear angel replied."

Dr. Gregory was of an athletic figure, and naturally of a strong constitution. He had enjoyed good health; and, from his abstemious mode of life, might have been expected to live to extreme old age. The overturn of his carriage, whilst returning from visiting a patient, by which accident his arm was broken, proved injurious to his constitution. He was afterwards repeatedly attacked with inflammation of the lungs, which ultimately caused his death. He died at his house in St. Andrew Square, on the 2nd April, 1821, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.

Dr. Gregory was twice married. By his second wife—a daughter of Donald Macleod, Esq. of Geanies, and who still survives—he left a numerous family. His eldest son was educated for the bar, and was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1820. A younger son, Donald, who died in October, 1836, in the prime of life, was for several years Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland ; and in this situation he highly distinguished himself by his zeal, assiduity, and agreeable manners. In his late work, entitled the "History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland," brought down to the year 1625, he has fortunately left us a permanent memorial^ of his learning and accurate research—not the less valuable that it is, in fact, one of the first attempts to investigate the history of that portion of the British Empire, not by reference to vague traditions and idle reveries, but by the most careful examination of original documents, and the various public records. This work, indeed, forms part only of his contemplated scheme, for, had his life been spared, he intended to have followed it up with another volume relating to the other great division, or the Central Highlands, which could not have failed to have proved of even greater historical interest, independently of what he purposed to have prefixed—"A Dissertation on the Manners, Customs, and Laws of the Highlanders," at an early period ; and for which, we believe, he had collected very important materials.

When the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers was formed, in 1793, Dr. Gregory entered warmly into the spirit of the design, and was among the first to enrol himself in the ranks. He never, however, attained eminence in his military capacity. The well-known Sergeant Gould used to say, "he might be a good physician, but he was a very awkward soldier." At drill, he was either very absent or very inquisitive, and put so many questions, that Gould, out of temper, often said—" —— it, sir, you are here to obey orders, and not to ask reasons: there is nothing in the King's orders about reasons!"

Aware of his deficiency, the Doctor was not only punctual iu attending all regimental field-days, but frequently had the Sergeant-Major at his own house to give him instructions. On one of these occasions, the Sergeant, out of all patience with the awkwardness and inquisitiveness of his learned pupil, exclaimed in a rage—"Hold your tongue, sir, I would rather drill ten clowns than one philosopher /"

Small parties of the volunteers were drilled privately in the Circus (now the Adelphi Theatre). On one of these occasions, while marching across the stage, the trap-door used by the players having been inadvertently left unbolted, the Doctor suddenly disappeared to the " shades below ;" upon which a wag belonging to the corps exclaimed —"Exit Gregor's Ghost!"—an allusion to a popular Scotch ballad called "Young Gregor's Ghost."


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