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Significant Scots
Allan Burns


BURNS, ALLAN. This talented anatomist and surgical writer, in whom a life of high promise was too soon arrested, was the son of the Rev. Dr. Burns, minister of the Barony Church, Glasgow; a venerable clergyman, who, after bearing for several years the title of "father of the Church of Scotland," on account of his seniority, died in 1839, at the very advanced age of ninety-six. Allan Burns was born at Glasgow on the 18th September, 1781. When not more than fourteen years old, he entered the medical classes, where his diligence and proficiency were so remarkable, that only two years afterwards, he was able to undertake the entire direction of the dissecting rooms of Mr. John Burns, his brother, who at that time was a lecturer on anatomy and surgery in the city of Glasgow. In this situation, his opportunities of extending and perfecting his knowledge were so carefully employed, that he attained, even though still a youth, a high reputation among the practical anatomists of his day. His views being directed to medical practice in the army, he went to London, in 1804, for the purpose of obtaining a commission; but, before his application was made to that effect, he received an offer that altered his intention. It was to repair to St. Petersburg, and undertake the charge of an hospital which the Empress Catherine was desirous of establishing in her capital, upon the English plan. Allan Burns had been recommended to her majesty by Dr. Creighton, as one every way qualified for this important charge; and when the offer was made, it was with the understanding that he might make a six months’ trial before finally closing with it. Tempted by so alluring a prospect, Burns left London for St. Petersburg, and commenced the duties of his new career. But Russia was not at that time the country which it has now become, and the sensitive mind of the young Scot was soon sickened by the Asiatic pomp and Scythian barbarism with which he was surrounded. On this account, he abandoned the tempting prospect of court favour and professional advancement that were held out to him, and returned to Scotland before the six months of probabion had ended. At his departure, he was presented by the empress with a valuable diamond ring, as a token of the royal approbation and esteem.

On returning to his native country, which was at the commencement of 1805, Burns resolved to occupy the place of his brother, who had discontinued his lectures on surgery and anatomy. This he did in the winter of the following year, and quickly won the admiration of his pupils, by the correctness and extent of his professional knowledge, and great power of illustration. Indeed, as a lecturer, the most abstruse subjects in his hands became plain and palpable, and the driest subjects full of interest. Still, however, notwithstanding his reputation as a lecturer, his fame would have been limited and evanescent, had it not been for the works he published, by which the high admiration of those who knew him was participated in by the world at large. The first of these publications, which appeared in 1800, was entitled, "Observations on some of the most Frequent and Important Diseases of the Heart: or Aneurism of the Thoracie Aorta: or Preternatural Pulsation in the Epigastric Region; and on the Unusual Origin and Distribution of some of the Large Arteries of the Human Body; Illustrated by Cases." The second, which was published in 1812, was entitled, "Observations on the Surgical Anatomy of the Head and Neck; Illustrated by Cases." This was the whole amount of his authorship, with the exception of two essays, which he contributed to the "Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal"; one, on the anatomy of the parts concerned in the operation for crural hernia; the other, on the operation of lithotomy. The career of professional distinction which these works had so favourably opened up to him, was closed before it could be further pursued. So early as 1810, his health had begun to give way, and though he continued to lecture for two years afterwards, it was with great difficulty and pain. His death occurred on the 22nd of June, 1813.


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