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Significant Scots
Dr John Gregory


Dr John GregoryGREGORY, (DR) JOHN, a distinguished physician of the eighteenth century, was descended from a family of illustrious men, whose names and discoveries will ever form a brilliant page in the history of the literature of Scotland. Many of the members of this family held professorships in the most distinguished universities, both in this and the southern kingdom; and we may turn to the name of Gregory for those who raised Scotland to an equal rank with any other nation in the scientific world. John Gregory was born at Aberdeen, on the 3rd of June, 1724, being the youngest of the three children of James Gregory, professor of medicine in King's college there. This professor of medicine was a son of James Gregory, the celebrated inventor of the reflecting telescope.

When John Gregory was seven years of age, he lost his father, wherefore the charge of his education devolved upon his elder brother, James, who succeeded his father in the professorship. He acquired his knowledge of classical literature at the grammar school of Aberdeen, where he applied himself with much success to the study of the Greek and Latin languages. He completed a course of languages and philosophy, at King's college, Aberdeen, under the immediate care of principal Chalmers, his grandfather by the mother's side. He studied with great success under Mr Thomas Gordon, the professor of philosophy in that college; and, to the honour of both, a friendly correspondence was then commenced, which was maintained till the end of Gregory's life. In noticing those to whom Gregory was indebted for his early education, it would be unpardonable to pass over the name of Dr Reid, his cousin-german; the same whose "Inquiry into the Human Mind" forms so conspicuous a feature in the history of the intellectual philosophy of the eighteenth century; - and here we may remark the existence of that family spirit for mathematical reasoning, which has so long been entailed on the name of Gregory. The essay on quantity, and the chapter on the geometry of visibles, prove this eminently in Dr Reid; and the success with which Gregory studied under air Gordon, can leave no doubt of its existence in him. In 1741, Gregory lost his elder brother George, a young man concerning whom there was entertained the highest expectation; and the year following, John and his mother removed from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. He studied three years at Edinburgh, under Monro, Sinclair, and Rutherford; and on his first coming to Edinburgh, he became a member of the medical society there, which was the cause of an intimacy between him and Mark Akenside, author of "The Pleasures of Imagination."

The university of Leyden was at this time in very high reputation, and Gre-gory repaired thither, after having studied at Edinburgh for three years. Here he had as his preceptors, three of the most eminent men of the age-Goubius, Royen, and Albinus; he also cultivated the acquaintance of some fellow students who afterwards became eminent in the literary and political world; amongst whom the most eminent were John Wilkes, esq., and the honourable Charles Townshend. While prosecuting his studies at Leyden, John Gregory was honoured with an unsolicited degree of doctor of medicine, from King's college, Aberdeen; and after two years' residence on the continent, he returned to his native country, and was immediately called to fill the chair of philosophy in that seminary where he had first been nurtured, and which, lately, had conferred on him so great a mark of her regard. He lectured for three years at Aberdeen on the mathematics, and moral and natural philosophy; when, in 1749, from a desire to devote himself to the practice of medicine, he resigned, and took few weeks' tour on the continent, of which the chief object seems to have been amusement. Three years after the resignation of his professorship, Dr Gregory married Miss Elizabeth Forbes, daughter of lord Forbes, a lady of extraordinary wit, beauty, and intellectual endowment.

The field of medical practice in Aberdeen was already almost entirely preoccupied by men of the first eminence in their profession, and the share which fell to Dr Gregory was not sufficient to occupy his active mind. He went to London in 1754, and his fame as a physician and as a literary man being already far extended, he had no difficulty in being introduced to the first society. Here it was that the foundation was first laid of that friendship which existed between him and lord Lyttleton. It was at this period, also, that he became acquainted with lady Wortley Montague and her husband. This lady kept assemblies, or conversaziones, where the first characters of the kingdom resorted. By this lady he was introduced to all the most eminent men in the kingdom for taste or genius; yet he is indebted to her for a favour of a far higher order - the continuance of that friendship she had ever shown towards him, to his posterity. About this period Dr Gregory was chosen fellow of the Royal Society of London, and his practice was daily increasing. Dr James Gregory professor of medicine in King's college, Aberdeen, to whose care Gregory owed so much, died in 1755, which created a vacancy in that chair. Dr John Gregory was elected in his own absence, and being a situation which suited his inclination he accepted it. There were many circumstances which would render a return to his native country agreeable. He was to be restored to the bosom of the friends of his infancy, he was to be engaged in the duties of a profession in which he felt the highest interest, and to the enjoyment of the society of Reid, Beattie, Campbell, and Gerard. He entered on the duties of his new office in the beginning of 1756.

A literary club met weekly in a tavern in Aberdeen, which was originally projected by Drs Reid and Gregory. It was called the Wise Club, and its members consisted of the professors of both Marischal and King's college, besides the literary and scientific gentlemen about Aberdeen. An essay was read each night by one of the members, in rotation. Most of the distinguishing features of the philosophical systems of Gregory and his colleagues, who have been already mentioned, were first delivered in this society. Gregory's work on the faculties of man and other animals, was first composed as essays for the Wise Club, but afterwards arranged and published under the patronage of his friend lord Lyttleton-the first instance in which Gregory appeared to the world as an author. This work, which was published in London, 1764, was entitled, "A Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Man, with those of the animal world."

Dr Gregory remained in the chair of medicine in Aberdeen for eight years, when, with a view to the increase of his practice, he removed to Edinburgh, and two years afterwards was appointed successor to Dr Rutherford in the university there, as professor of the practice of physic, and in the same year, 1766, he succeeded Dr Whyt as first physician to his majesty in Scotland. Dr Gregory lectured for three years solely on the practice of physic; but at that time an agreement was entered into by his honoured colleague Dr Cullen-the celebrated author of the system of Nosology which goes by his name-that they should lecture in turn on the theory and practice of medicine, which was continued for many years. None of Dr Gregory's lectures were ever written, except a few introductory ones on the duties and qualifications of a physician; which probably would not have made their appearance, had it not been the circumstance of one of his students offering a written copy, taken from notes, to a bookseller for sale, which induced Gregory to publish the work, the profits of which he gave to a poor and deserving student. This will always be a standard work among medical men, and will ever remain a lasting monument of the author's profound research, energy of mind, and liberality of opinion. Nothing could so effectually convince us, as the perusal of this work, of the truth of one of his observations-"that the profession of medicine requires a more comprehensive mind than any other." This work was published in 1770, and the same year he published his Elements of the Practice of Physic, a work which was intended as a text book for his pupils, and was excellent as far as it went, but never was completed.

The amiable and accomplished wife of Dr Gregory lived only with him nine years, during which period he enjoyed all the pleasure which domestic happiness could afford. He regretted her death exceedingly; and, as he says himself, he, for the amusement of his solitary hours, wrote that inimitable little work-"A Father's Legacy to his Daughters." In this work he feelingly states, that while he endeavours to point out to them what they should be, he draws but a very faint and imperfect picture of what their mother was.

Gregory inherited from his mother a disease, with which he had from the age of eighteen been frequently attacked. This was the gout, of which his mother died suddenly while sitting at table. The doctor often spoke of this to his friends, and one day when talking with Dr James Gregory, his son (author of the Conspectus Theoreticae Medicinae), it was observed by the latter, that as he had not had an attack these three years past, it was likely the next would be pretty severe. Dr Gregory was not pleased with this remark of his son, but unfortunately the prediction was true. Dr Gregory had gone to bed in his usual health on the 9th of February, 1773, and seems to have died in his sleep, as he was found in the morning without the slightest appearance of discomposure of feature or limb. Dr Beattie laments him pathetically in the concluding stanzas of the Minstrel:-

Art thou, my Gregory, for ever fled,
And am I left to unavailing woe;
When fortune's storms assail this weary head
Where cares long since have shed untimely snow!
Ah! now for ever whither shall I go?
No more thy soothing voice my anguish cheers,
Thy placid eyes with smile no longer glow,
My hopes to cherish and allay my fears
'Tis meet that I should mourn - flow forth afresh, my tears.

Dr. Gregory was considerably above the middle size, and although he could not be called handsome, yet he was formed in good proportion. He was slow in his motion, and had a stoop forward. His eye and countenance had a rather dull appearance until they were lighted up by conversation. His conversation was lively and always interesting; and although he had seen much of the world, he was never given to that miserable refuge of weak minds - story telling. In his lecturing he struck the golden mean between formal delivery and the ease of conversation. He left two sons and two daughters; Dr James Gregory, who was the able successor of his father in the university of Edinburgh; William Gregory, rector of St Mary's, Bentham; Dorothea, the wife of the Rev. A. Allison, of Baliol college; and Margaret, wife of J. Forbes, Esq. of Blackford.


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