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Significant Scots
William Hamilton


HAMILTON, WILLIAM,a celebrated surgeon, and lecturer on anatomy and chemistry in the university of Glasgow. This meritorious individual was unfortunately cut off from the world too early in life, and too suddenly, to be enabled to give to the world those works on his favourite science, on which he might have founded his fame, and the circle of his influence and renown was hardly so extensive as to attract the attention of posterity; but a tribute to his memory, in the form of a memoir of his life, and remarks on his professional acquirements, read by his friend professor Cleghorn to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and inserted in the transactions of that eminent body, justifies us in enumerating him among distinguished Scotsmen. William Hamilton was born in Glasgow, on the 31st July, 1758. His father was Thomas Hamilton, a respectable surgeon in Glasgow, and professor of anatomy and botany in that university; and his mother, daughter to Mr Anderson, professor of church history in the same institution. He followed the usual course of instruction in the grammar school and college of his native city, from which latter he took the degree of master of arts in 1775, at the age of seventeen. Being supposed to show an early predilection for the medical profession, he proceeded to Edinburgh, then at the height of its fame as a school for that science, where he studied under Cullen and Black, the early friends of his father. The bad health of his father recalled the young physician after two sessions spent in Edinburgh, and both proceeded on a tour to Bath, and thence to London, where the son was left to pursue his studies, with such an introduction to the notice of Dr William Hunter, as a schoolfellow acquaintanceship between his father and that distinguished man warranted. The prudence, carefulness, and regularity of the young manís conduct, while surrounded by the splendour and temptation of the metropolis, have been commended by his friends; these praiseworthy qualities, joined to a quick perception on professional subjects, and an anxiety to perfect himself in that branch of his profession which calls for the greatest zeal and enthusiasm on the part of the medical student, attracted the attention of his observing friend. He was requested to take up his residence in Dr Hunterís house, and finally was trusted with the important charge of the dissecting room, a valuable, and probably a delightful duty. He seems to have secured the good opinion he had gained, by his performance of this arduous and important function. " I see and hear much of him," says Dr Hunter, in his correspondence with the young manís father, "and every body regards him as sensible, diligent, sober, and of amiable dispositions." Ė "From being a favourite with every body, he has commanded every opportunity for improvement, which this great town afforded, during his stay here; for every body has been eager to oblige and encourage him. I can depend so much on him, in every way, that if any opportunity should offer of serving him, whatever may be in my power, I shall consider as doing a real pleasure to myself." Such were the character and prospects of one, who, it is to be feared, was then nourishing by too intense study the seeds of dissolution in a naturally feeble constitution. Soon after, the fatherís state of health imperiously requiring an assistant in his lectures, the son undertook that duty, and in 1781, on his fatherís final resignation, was nominated his successor, a circumstance which enabled his kind friend Dr Hunter to fulfill his former promise, by stating to the marquis of Graham, that he considered it "the interest of Glasgow to give him, rather than his to solicit the appointment." The father died in 1782, and the son was then left the successor to his lucrative and extensive practice, in addition to the duties of the university. During the short period of his enjoyment of these desirable situations, he received from the poorer people of Glasgow, the character, seldom improperly bestowed, of extending to them the assistance, which a physician of talent can so well bestow. He kept for the purpose of his lectures, and for his own improvement, a regular note-book of cases, which he summed up in a tabular digest at the termination of each year. Of these notes, he had before his death commenced such an arrangement as would enable him to form from them a system of surgery which he intended to have published. Some extracts from this collection are preserved by the biographer we have mentioned, as characteristics of the style of his composition, and the extent of his observation. In 1783, he married Miss Elizabeth Stirling, a lady accomplished, and of good connexions in Glasgow. Within a very few years after this event, the marked decay of his constitution alarmed his friends, and his knowledge as a physician enabled him to assure himself that death was steadily approaching. He died on the 13th day of March, 1790, in the 32d year of his age. Few, even of those who have departed in the pride of lifeóin the enjoyment of talents, hopes, and prosperity, seem to have caused greater regret, and it cannot be doubted that it was deserved. His manner as a public instructor is thus described by Mr Cleghorn: "As a lecturer, his manner was remarkably free from pomp and affectation. His language was simple and perspicuous, but so artless, that it appeared flat to those who place the beauty of language in the intricacy of arrangement, or the abundance of figures. His manner of speaking corresponded with his style, and was such as might appear uninteresting to those who think it impossible to be eloquent without violent gestures, and frequent variations of tone. He used nearly the tone of ordinary conversation, as his preceptor Dr Hunter did before him, aiming at perspicuity only, and trusting for attention to the importance of the subjects he treated."


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