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Significant Scots
George Cunningham Monteath

MONTEATH, GEORGE CUNNINGHAM, author of a Manual of the Diseases of the Human Eye, was born, December 4, 1788, in the manse of Neilston, Renfrewshire, of which parish his father, the Rev. Dr John Monteath, (latterly of Houston and Killallan,) was then minister. After passing through the medical and surgical classes in the university of Glasgow, the subject of this notice attended the hospitals in London, where he attracted the notice of Sir Astley Cooper, and other eminent anatomists, and received a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1809, by the recommendation of Dr M. Baillie, he was appointed surgeon to lord Lovaine’s Northumberland regiment of militia, in which situation he remained four years, honoured with the affection and esteem of all his brother officers. He then resigned his commission, and commenced practice in Glasgow, as a physician and oculist. In 1813, he commenced, with a friend, a series of lectures on practical anatomy, but was soon obliged, by the rapid increase of his practice, to relinquish this duty. Being the first practitioner in Glasgow who devoted particular attention to the diseases of the eye, he soon became celebrated, not only in the city, but over all the west of Scotland, for his skilful treatment of that class of complaints, and had many important and difficult cases intrusted to him. In 1821, he published his Manual of the Diseases of the Human Eye, which became a popular work on the subject. Though possessed originally of a good constitution, Dr Monteath gradually sank under the pressure of his multifarious duties; and, having been seized with inflammation, in consequence of a night journey, he was cut off, January 25, 1828, in the fortieth year of his age.

Dr Monteath was characterized, by one who knew him well, and who undertook the task of commemorating his death in the public prints, as "at once an accomplished physician and an eminent surgeon." His mind, distinguished as it was by clearness of method, minuteness of observation, and soundness of judgment, was particularly fitted for the investigations of the former profession. His power of distinguishing, (perhaps the power upon which success in the practice of medicine depends more than any other,) added to his thorough knowledge of what others had discovered, and his readiness in applying what either his erudition or his experience supplied, made some regret that he did not devote himself to the business of a physician alone.

"As a surgeon, however, his success was perhaps still more remarkable. It was not the success of chance,—it was the result of patient application, at an early period of life, to that science, without which all attempts at eminence in this department, must necessarily fail,—we mean the science of anatomy. It was the result of close and emulous attention to the practice of the ablest surgeons in the metropolis. It was attributable in no small degree to an accuracy in planning his operations, and a collectedness of mind at the time of operation, such that no accident could occur which had not been preconsidered, or which could in the slightest measure discompose him. Every surgical operation which he undertook, had evidently been the subject of much previous thought,--every ordinary circumstance had been carefully investigated,--many circumstances which a common mind would probably have overlooked, had been weighed with deep attention,--and neither the honour of his art, nor the safety of his patient, was at any time left to what might occur at the moment.

"Dr Monteath was particularly distinguished as an oculist, and was unquestionably the first individual in this city who materially improved the treatment of the diseases of the eye. It was here that the qualities of mind, to which we have already alluded, were of the greatest service to him,—namely, his power of minute observation, and the art, in which he so highly excelled, of distinguishing cases, which, though they might seem alike when viewed superficially, were, in fact, very different, and might require even opposite means of cure.

"Dr Monteath’s attention to his patients was particularly deserving of approbation, it extended to the poorest as well as the richest, and allowed no circumstance to escape notice, which could tend, even in a remote degree, to alleviate suffering, or secure recovery. Those who had no other means of judging of his superiority as a medical practitioner, must have been struck with this trait of his character, and acknowledged it as an excellence of no mean value. His manner was soothing, and his politeness fascinating. None who had ever employed him as a medical attendant could see him approach without feeling their distress already in part subdued, their fears allayed, and their hopes invigorated, by the presence of one, in whose ample skill and unwearied pains they could so implicitly confide."

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