PITCAIRN, a local
surname, derived from lands of that name in the parish of Leslie,
Fifeshire. The family of Pitcairn of Pitcairn was one of the oldest in
that county. Piers de Pitcairn, their ancestor, swore fealty to Edward
I. in 1296. Nisbet (Historical and Critical Remarks on Ragman Roll,
appended to System of Heraldry, vol. ii. p. 38) states that he had seen
charters of this family as far back as 1417, and adds: “Of them was
Robert Pitcairn, commendator of Dunfermline, secretary during the
regency of Moray, Lennox, Mar, and Morton; a great complier with
everything uppermost, a great timeserver, a great enemy to Queen Mary,
and a very humble servant of the regents. There is no memory of him
remaining.” He was one of the nine persons chosen by the regent Moray to
accompany him to England in 1568, when he went to justify his
proceedings against Queen Mary, and one of the commissioners for him
during all the conferences at York. Calderwood (Historie, vol. ii. p.
504) calls him “a wise and trustie man.” He was appointed a lord of
session in 1568, was often chosen a lord of the articles, and in 1570
was secretary of state, which office he held during the three succeeding
regencies, and afterwards under James VI. After the assassination of the
regent Moray and the retirement of the lords of the queen’s party to
Linlithgow, the commendator of Dunfermline was sent ambassador to Queen
Elizabeth to solicit her aid against them, and to signify to her that a
regent would not be chosen without her appointment or consent. In 1572
he was one of the commissioners appointed to meet, “and conclude with
the superintendents and ministers in the kirk, or commissioners
authorized by them, anent all matters” relating to the church. The
following year he was one of the commissioners who signed the articles
of pacification concluded at Perth. IN 1578 he was sworn a member of the
king’s council. ON 28th January 1581, with the rest of the king’s
household, he subscribed the second Confession of Faith, commonly called
the king’s confession. He was one of the parties engaged in the Raid of
Ruthven in 1582, and in August of the following year, when colonel
William Stewart, (see PITTENWEEM, baron), had regained all his favour
with the king, the commendator of Dunfermline sent him a velvet purse,
containing 30 four-pound pieces of gold, and desired friendship with
him. The colonel straightway informed the king, insinuating that it was
a bribe that he might betray his majesty, and divided the pieces among
thirty of the guard. Every man bent his piece and carried it hanging at
his knapsack or hat, all the way from Perth to Falkland, while the purse
was carried on a spear point, (Calderwood, vol. iii. p. 721). A few days
thereafter, the commendator of Dunfermline was apprehended at Falkland,
where the king then was, and confined in Lochleven castle, where he
remained about a month. He was set at liberty on 23d September, on
finding caution to remain in Dunfermline, and about six miles round
about, under a penalty of £10,000. On his death in 1584, he was
succeeded as commendator of Dunfermline by the master of Gray, on whose
extrusion in 1587, Henry Pitcairn became commendator.
One of the family of
Pitcairn of Pitcairn acquired by marriage the estate of Forthar, also in
Fifeshire, after which the lands of Pitcairn went to a younger son, from
whom was descended Archibald Pitcairne of Pitcairn, the celebrated
physician, poet, and wit, a memoir of whom is given below. Of the elder
branch, David Pitcairn, M.D., became the representative, on the death of
his uncle, Dr. William Pitcairn, who practiced as a physician in London
for nearly half a century, and was many years president of the college
of physicians there. Of Dr. David Pitcairn a notice is also given below.
Mr. Robert Pitcairn,
writer to the signet, the editor of the valuable and extensive
collection of ‘Ancient Criminal Trials of Scotland,’ 3 vols, 4to, which
bears his name, was a native of Perth. For a long time he was the head
of the Edinburgh Printing and Publishing Company, and secretary of the
Calvin Translations Society, instituted in May 1843, for the publication
of new and original translations of the writings of John Calvin. For the
last two years of his life he held a situation in the General Register
House, Edinburgh. He died suddenly, on the street, in July 1855.
PITCAIRNE, ARCHIBALD, an eminent physician and poet, was born at
Edinburgh, December 25, 1652. His father, Alexander Pitcairne, who was
engaged in trade, and became one of the magistrates of that city, was a
descendant, as above indicated, of the ancient family of Pitcairn of
Pitcairn, in Fifeshire, and his mother, whose name was Sydserf, belonged
to a good family in the county of Haddington, descended from Sydserf of
Ruthlaw. He commenced his classical education at the school of Dalkeith,
and from thence removed in 1668 to the university of Edinburgh, where he
obtained in 1671 his degree of M.A. He studied first divinity, and then
the civil law, the latter of which he pursued with so much ardour as to
injure his health. He was, in consequence, advised by his physicians to
proceed to the south of France; but by the time he reached Paris, he
found himself much recovered, and resolved to attend the law classes at
the university there. Meeting, however, with some of his countrymen, who
were medical students, he was induced to abandon the study of the law,
and for several months attended the hospitals with them. On his return
to Edinburgh he became acquainted with Dr. David Gregory, the celebrated
professor of mathematics, and directing his attention to the exact
sciences, he soon attained to such proficiency as to make some
improvements in the method of infinite series, then lately invented.
Believing, with many learned men of his time, that there was some
necessary connection between mathematics and medicine, and hoping to
reduce the healing art to geometrical precision, he finally fixed on
physic as a profession. There being, however, in Edinburgh at this
period, no other medical school than the sick-chamber and the drug-shop,
he returned to Paris about 1675, where he prosecuted his medical studies
with diligence and enthusiasm. In August 1680 he received from the
faculty of Rheims the degree of M.D., which in August 1699 was likewise
conferred on him by the university of Aberdeen. After making himself
master of the science of medicine from the earliest periods, he returned
to Edinburgh, with the firm resolution to reform and improve it in
practice. In November 1681 the royal college of physicians of Edinburgh
was incorporated, and his name, as one of the first members, graced the
original patent from the crown. He settled as a physician in his native
city, and ere long rose to the highest eminence in his profession.
Soon after establishing
himself in Edinburgh, he married Margaret, daughter of Colonel James Hay
of Pitfour, who died, after bearing him a son and a daughter, when he
wrote an elegiac poem to her memory. The children, also, were soon
removed by death. In 1688 he published his ‘Solutio Problematis de
Historicis,’ in vindication of Harvey’s claim to the discovery of the
circulation of the blood. In consequence of his high reputation, he was
invited, in 1692, by the curators of the university of Leyden, to fill
the chair of physic there, at that time vacant. His well-known Jacobite
principles excluding him from all public employments at home, he
accepted the invitation, and delivered his inaugural oration the 26th
April of that year. During his residence at Leyden, where among his
pupils was the celebrated Boerhaave, he published several dissertations,
chiefly with the view of showing the utility of mathematics in the study
of medicine. In little more than a year after, he returned to Scotland
to fulfil a matrimonial engagement with Elizabeth, daughter of Sir
Archibald Stevenson, one of the king’s physicians at Edinburgh. This
lady he married in 1693, and as her friends were unwilling that she
should leave her native place, he resigned his chair at Leyden, and once
more settled in practice in Edinburgh. His great success, however, as
well as his powers of satire, soon raised around him a host of enemies,
and he was attacked in various publications of the period, particularly
in a sarcastic little volume, entitled ‘Apollo Mathematicus,’ the
production of Dr., afterwards Sir Edward, Eyzat. Sir Robert Sibbald
having published a treatise in ridicule of the new method of applying
geometry to physic, Dr. Pitcairne published an answer in 1696, under the
title of ‘Dissertatio de Legibus Historiae Naturalis.’ The opposition to
him was shown even within the college of physicians itself. Having, on
November 18, 1695, tendered a protest against the admission of certain
Fellows, one of whom was Dr. Eyzat, on account of its having been
conducted in an irregular manner, the matter was referred to a
committee, who, on the 22d, delivered in a report that Dr. Pitcairne’s
protestation was “a calumnious, scandalous, false, and arrogant paper.”
The meeting approving of this report, did thereupon suspend him “from
voting in the college, or sitting in any meeting thereof;” nay, it was
even proposed to prohibit him from the practice of physic. After a
violent and protracted contention, during which various attempts at
reconciliation were made, the president, Dr. Dundas, on January 4, 1704,
proposed an act of oblivion, which was unanimously agreed to, and Dr.
Pitcairne resumed his seat in the college.
In October 1701 the
college of surgeons admitted him a Fellow, an honour which had never
been bestowed upon any other physician. He appears to have held, also,
the nominal appointment of medical professor in the university of
Edinburgh. During the year last mentioned he republished his Medical
Treatises, with some new ones, at Rotterdam, in one volume 4to, under
the title of ‘Dissertationes Medicae,’ dedicating the work to Lorenzo
Bellini, professor at Piza, who had inscribed his ‘Opuscula’ to him. A
more correct edition of the same appeared a few months before his death.
Dr. Pitcairne died at
Edinburgh, October 20, 1713, and was interred in the Greyfriars’
churchyard. By his second wife he had a son and four daughters, one of
whom, Janet, was, in October 1731, married to the earl of Kelly. He was
universally considered the first physician of his time. He is said to
have had one of the best private libraries of that day, which, after his
decease, was purchased by the czar of Russia. His Latin poems, collected
after his death, were, with others, published by Ruddiman, in 1727, in a
small volume, entitled ‘Selecta Poemata Archibaldi Pitcairnii et aliorum;’
and, according to Lord Woodhouselee, they comprise almost all that are
of any value in that publication. He was also the author of a comedy
called ‘The Assembly,’ printed at London in 1722, which Mr. George
Chalmers says is “personal and political, sarcastic and profane, and
never could have been acted on any stage.”
At the solicitation of
his literary and political friends Dr. Pitcairne was in the habit of
printing, for private circulation, the numerous jeux d’esprit which he
composed from time to time with extraordinary facility. These were
generally on single leaves or sheets of writing paper, and many of them
were distinguished for their brilliancy and elegant Latinity; but, from
this ephemeral way of distributing them, few of them, it is supposed,
have been preserved. Of these pieces, Archibald Constable, Esq., the
well-known publisher of Edinburgh, who died in 1827, and who was named
after Dr. Pitcairne, had formed a very large and valuable collection,
with numerous manuscript effusions in prose and verse. These Mr.
Constable had intended to publish, with the rest of his miscellaneous
poetry, accompanied by a Life of Pitcairne, for which he had amassed
extensive materials. A large folio volume of printed and MS. Pieces,
being part of these collections, appeared in a London bookseller’s
catalogue, priced at £10 10s.; but it is not known into whose possession
the volume was transferred.
A small atheistical
pamphlet, attributed to Dr. Pitcairne, entitled ‘Epistola Archimedis qad
regem Gelonem Albae Graecae, reperta anno aerae Christianae,’ 1688, was
made the subject of the inaugural oration of the Rev. Thomas Halyburton,
professor of divinity in the university of St. Andrews, in 1710, which
was published at Edinburgh in 1714, under the title of ‘Natural Religion
Insufficient, and Revealed Necessary to Man’s Happiness.’ Dr. Pitcairne
has been generally represented as a professed unbeliever, and it must be
admitted that his profane jests but too much exposed him to the
character of a scoffer at religion. But, as remarked by the writer of
his life in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, whatever doubts might be
entertained as to the soundness of his creed, they are completely
removed by his verses written on Christmas Day; and Dr. Drummond has
stated, that, during his last illness, he continued in the greatest
tranquility of mind, and evinced just apprehensions of God and religion.
A pleasing specimen of
this eminent physician’s poetical powers, being a poem ‘On the King and
Queen of Fairy,’ in two versions, Latin and English, will be found in
Donaldson’s Collection, under the assumed name of Walter Denestone. An
account of the Life and Writings of Dr. Pitcairne, by Charles Webster,
M.D., was published at Edinburgh in 1781.
Dr. Pitcairne was
likewise author of ‘Babell, or the Assembly, a Poem, M.DC.XCII.’ Like
the comedy of ‘The Assembly,’ this satirical poem was written in
ridicule of the proceedings of the General Assembly, in the year 1692;
but until 1830 it remained in MS., when it was printed for the members
of the Maitland Club, under the editorial care of George R. Kinloch,
Esq. That gentleman made use of two MSS., one in the possession of Dr.
Keith of Edinburgh, the other in the library of Mr. Dundas of Arniston,
which had formerly belonged to the well-known Scottish collector, Robert
Milne of Edinburgh.
Dr. Pitcairne’s published
Solutio Problematis de Historicis; seu de Inventoribus, Dissertatio.
Edin. 1688. Afterwards much enlarged. Leyden, 1693, 8vo.
Oratio, qua ostenditur Medicinam ab omni philosophandi secta, esse
liberam. Lugd. Bat. 1692, 8vo. Or 4to. Edin. 1713, 4to.
Babell, or the Assembly; a Poem. 1692.
De Sanguinis Circulatione iis animalibus genitis et non genitis. Leyden,
Apollo Mathematicus; or the Art of Curing Diseases by the Mathematicks,
according to Dr. Pitcairne’s principles, 1695, 8vo.
Dissertatio de Curatione Febrium, quae per evacuations institutor. Edin.
1695, and in various collections.
Dissertatio de Legibus Historiae Naturalis. Edin. 1696, 12mo.
Dissertationes Medicae. Roterdam, 1701, 4to. The same, Edin. 1713, 4to.
Opuscula Medica. Roterdam, 1714, 4to.
Elementa Medica Libris duobus, quorum prior theoriam, posterior praxin
exhibit. Hag. 1718, 4to. Leyden, 1737, 8vo. In English. Lond. 1718,
The Assembly; a Comedy. Lond. 1722. New edition. Edin.
Opera omnia, duobus tomis comprehensa. Hag. Cam. 1722, 4to.
Selecta Poëmata Archibaldi Pitcairnii et aliorum. Edin. 1727, 8vo.
Published by Ruddiman.
Opera omnia Medica. Ven. 1733. Leyden, 1737, 4to.
PITCAIRN, DAVID, M.D., an eminent physician, the eldest son of
Major John Pitcairn of the marines, killed in the attack upon Bunker’s
Hill, in 1775, and Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Dalrymple, Esq. of
Annefield, Dumfries-shire, was born May 1, 1749, in the house of his
grandfather, the Rev. David Pitcairn, minister of Dysart, Fifeshire.
After being at the High school of Edinburgh for four years, he attended
the classes at the university of Glasgow till he was twenty; spending
much of his leisure time with the family of the Rev. James Baillie,
minister of Bothwell, Lanarkshire, father of Dr. Matthew Baillie and
Joanna Baillie. In 1769 Mr. Pitcairn entered at the university of
Edinburgh, and studied medicine there for three years. In 1772 he went
to London, and attended the lectures of Dr. William Hunter and Dr.
George Fordyce. About the same time, that he might obtain an English
degree in physic, he entered at Bennet college, Cambridge, where he
graduated. In 1780 he was elected physician to St. Batholomew’s
hospital, London, and in 1792 physician to Christ’s hospital. The former
office, on account of the great increase of his private practice, he
resigned in 1793. By the death of Dr. Warren in June 1797, Dr. Pitcairn
was placed at the head of his profession in London. It was his
friendship for Dr. Matthew Baillie which first brought that eminent
physician into notice. Although there was a great disparity of years,
there existed betwixt them a long and uninterrupted friendship, and the
confidence reposed by Dr. Pitcairn in the professional abilities of his
friend was sincere, Dr. Baillie being his only medical adviser to the
last moment of his existence.
Dr. Pitcairn died in
April 1809. He was a man of elegant literary accomplishments, joined to
much professional knowledge. In person he was tall and erect. He was
fond of country sports and athletic games, particularly of golf. It was
a saying of his that “the last thing a physician learns in the course of
his experience is to know when to do nothing.” A flattering tribute to
his memory, written by Dr. Wells, was inserted in the Gentleman’s
Magazine soon after his decease. It thus concludes: “Although of great
practical knowledge, and having made many original observations on
disease, he never published anything, but he fell a victim to a disease
which had before escaped the observation of medical men, inflammation of
the larynx, and so had the peculiar and melancholy privilege of
enlightening his profession in the very act of dying.”