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Significant Scots
William Cullen

William Cullen M.D.CULLEN, WILLIAM, M.D., one of the most highly gifted and accomplished physicians that Scotland has produced, was born on the 15th of April, 1710, [In most of the biographical notices published of Dr Cullen, the date of his birth is referred to the year 1712, an error corrected by Dr Thomson, in his elaborate life of Dr Cullen, 8vo. 1832, who states the year of his birth to have been 1710, on the authority of the Session Record of the parish of Hamilton.] in the parish of Hamilton, in the county of Lanark. His father was by profession a writer or attorney, and also farmed a small estate in the adjoining parish of Bothwell, and was factor to the duke of Hamilton. His mother was the daughter of Mr Roberton of Whistlebury, the younger son of the family of Roberton of Ernock. The family consisted of seven sons, and two daughters, and the subject of the present biographical sketch was the second son. His father dying shortly after the birth of the youngest child, his mother afterwards married Mr Naismyth, a writer in Hamilton.

Poverty is too often the inheritance of genius, and in the present instance, although in a respectable station of life, the parents of young Cullen, from the scantiness of their means, found it necessary to place him at the grammar school of Hamilton. Institutions of this kind are conducted on a scale so peculiarly liberal and extensive in Scotland, that in them the rudiments of education are often better and more profoundly taught, than they are in schools frequented by the children of the richer and higher classes of society. Accordingly at this grammar school Dr Cullen received the first part of his education. There are people here, says Mr John Naismyth (the minister of the parish in 1792,) who remember him at school, and saw him in girl’s clothes, acting the part of a shepherdess in a Latin pastoral. [Statist. Acc. Of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 201.] We do not find any anecdotes of him at this early period of his life, which indicate the features of the character he afterwards displayed; but we are informed that he was here particularly distinguished by the liveliness of his manner; by an uncommon quickness of apprehension and by a most retentive memory; qualities which he continued to possess to the latest period of his life. Although the funds possessed by his family were not, as we have already intimated, very ample, he was sent from the grammar school of Hamilton to the university of Glasgow; and at the same time was bound apprentice to Mr John Paisley, who was a member of the faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, and enjoyed an extensive practice in that city. It does not appear that he went through a regular course of education at this seminary, but having early chosen medicine as a profession, the classes which he attended were probably regulated with a view to that object. "I am able," says Mr Bower, "to give only a very imperfect account of the manner in which medicine was taught at the time when Cullen’s residence was fixed in Glasgow. There were professors whose business it was to give lectures on medical science; but these were on a comparatively small scale, and bore no proportion to the opportunities now afforded to students of physic in that university. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the principal means of improvement, which at this time he had within his power, were derived from observing his master’s practice, and perusing such medical works as he could procure." [History of the University, vol. ii. p. 377.] Little is known concerning the persons with whom Dr Cullen associated at this period; but that he acquitted himself satisfactorily and honourably, and gained the approbation and esteem of his master is evident from the flattering manner in which Mr Paisley acted towards him; for many years after his apprenticeship had terminated, when Dr Cullen was a lecturer in the university of Glasgow, Mr Paisley testified his regard for him, by throwing open his library for the use of his students. The life of a man so devoted to science must necessarily be of a studious and sequestered character; but, that he felt that desire of distinction, which is so often the indication of superior talents and the best pledge of future improvement, appears, by a circumstance related of him by one of his early friends, the late Mr Thom, minister of Govan. This gentleman mentioned to Dr Thomson, that if Cullen happened to be in the company of his fellow students, when any subject of speculation or debate was started with which he was imperfectly acquainted, he took very little share in the conversation, but when they met again, if the same discussion happened to be introduced, he never failed to show that in the interval he had acquired a more useful knowledge of the question, in all its bearings and details, than that to which the best informed of his companions could pretend.

Having terminated his studies at Glasgow, Dr Cullen, towards the end of the year 1729, went to London, with the view of improving himself in his profession, and there, soon after his arrival, through the interest of commissioner Cleland, who was a friend of Pope, and author of a letter prefixed to one of the editions of the Dunciad, he obtained the appointment of surgeon to a merchant ship, which traded between London and the West Indies. On the occasion of this appointment he underwent a medical examination, at which he acquitted himself with satisfaction to his examiners, "who," says his younger brother, "were pleased to pay him some very flattering compliments, and to encourage him strongly to persevere in that diligence which it was evident to them he had employed in the study of his profession." Mr Cleland, a relation of his own, was fortunately the captain of a vessel in which he obtained this appointment. During the voyage in which he was now engaged, he did not neglect the opportunity it afforded him of studying the effects of the diversity of climate on the human constitution, and the diseases which are so prevalent and fatal in our West Indian settlements. The facts he then gathered – the observations he then made, - he subsequently referred to in his lectures in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. After returning from the West Indies he remained a short time in London, where he attended the shop of Mr Murray, an apothecary; and it is supposed that here it was that he first paid particular attention to the study of materia medica. About this period – the end of the year 1731, or the beginning of the year 1732 – in consequence of the death of his eldest brother, the duty of arranging his father’s affairs devolved upon him; besides which, the necessity of providing for the education of his younger brothers and sisters, rendered it expedient for him to return to Scotland. Aware of these circumstances, his friend, captain Cleland, invited him to reside with him at his family estate of Auchinlee in the parish of Shotts, and to take charge of the health of his son, who was affected with a lingering disorder. This situation was peculiarly convenient for Dr Cullen in commencing the practice of his profession, for it was near to Hamilton, the place of his birth, and in the vicinity of the residences of many of the most respectable families in the county of Lanark, besides which, it was in the neighbourhood of his patrimonial property, the lands of Saughs, and of another small farm which belonged to his family in the parish of Shotts. Whilst residing there, he seems to have combined with his medical practice the most unremitting application to his studies. Captain Cleland was often heard to say, that nothing could exceed his assiduity at this period; for when not engaged in visiting patients or in preparing medicines, his time was wholly occupied with his books.

Dr Cullen having remained practising in this situation nearly two years, succeeded to a small legacy by the death of a relation, and still ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, he determined to devote his attention exclusively to his studies, before fixing himself as a medical practitioner in the town of Hamilton. Accordingly he proceeded to the retired village of Rothbury, near Wooler in Northumberland, where he resided with a dissenting clergyman, and was there chiefly occupied with the study of general literature and philosophy. How long he remained there has not been exactly ascertained; but immediately afterwards he went to Edinburgh, where, engaged in the prosecution of his general studies, he remained during the winter sessions 1734-35-36. The medical school of the university of Edinburgh was at this period only beginning to attain the celebrity it now enjoys; for although professorships to each of the different branches of medical science had been instituted, and several attempts had been made to systematise a course of instruction, it was not until the year 1720, that these important objects were carried into effect. When Dr Cullen commenced his studies at this university, the celebrated Monro lectured on anatomy; the amiable and humane Dr St Clair on the theory of physic; Drs Rutherford and Jones on the practice of physic; Dr Plummer on chemistry; and the learned and the indefatigable Dr Alston on materia medica and botany. All these distinguished indiviuals having been pupils of the great Boerhaave, taught from their several chairs his doctrines, which for upwards of forty years held unlimited sway in the medical school of Edinburgh. The Royal Infirmary, although in progress, was not at this time open to the public, nor were the advantages that are to be derived from clinical lectures yet recognized. A useful adjunct to this school of medicine was at this period formed, by the institution of the Medical Society, which originated in the latter end of the August of 1734. Dr Cleghorn, Dr Cuming, Dr Russel, Dr Hamilton, Mr Archibald Taylor, and Dr James Kennedy, then fellow students at Edinburgh, and intimately acquainted with each other, after spending a social evening at a tavern, agreed to meet once a-fortnight at their respective lodgings, where it was arranged that a dissertation in English or Latin on some medical subject should be read, and afterwards discussed by the auditors. Dr Cullen, says the History of the Society, with the discrimination, characteristic of a mind devoted to activity, and eager in the pursuit of knowledge, hastened, as appears from a part of his correspondence still preserved, to unite himself with a society, which even in its infancy had honours and advantages at its disposal. In its labours it may safely be presumed he took a prominent and animated share, and there can be no doubt that the value of its discussions were both attested and augmented by his distinguished participation. [History of the Medical Society of Edinburgh, printed for the Society, xxi.] This Society, thus humble in its commencement subsequently held its meetings in a room in the Royal Infirmary, until adequate funds having been raised, the building, known as the hall of the Medical Society in Surgeon’s Square, was founded. On this occasion an elegant and appropriate oration was delivered by Sir Gilbert Blane, after which the assembly rising to fulfil the purpose of their meeting, proceeded to the adjacent area, where the foundation-stone was laid by Dr Cullen, who, having shared the labours of the association during its early infancy, had now lived to participate the well earned triumph of its more mature age. [Ibid.] This fact is worthy of commemoration, because it was in the hall of that society that the doctrines of Boerhaave received their refutation, while they were yet taught within the walls of the university; and it is in the same hall of that society that the doctrines of Dr Cullen himself, are now as keenly contested, and are already, to the satisfaction of many persons, as satisfactorily overthrown. It appears indeed as if there were a fatality attending all systems of philosophy and science; for however correct the facts may appear on which such superstructures are raised, the progress of discovery must, by adding to our knowledge new facts, modify and alter the relations of those previously known, and thus undermine the whole foundation on which the superimposed fabric seemed to rest in perfect security.

Dr Cullen continued his studies in Edinburgh until the spring of 1736, when he left it, to commence business as a surgeon in Hamilton, where he appears to have been employed by the duke and duchess of Hamilton, and all the families of any consideration in that neighbourhood. During his residence there, the duke of Hamilton was attacked with an alarming disease, which did not readily yield to the remedies he prescribed, and therefore it was deemed adviseable to call in Dr Clerk, who was accordingly sent for from Edinburgh. This accomplished physician highly approved of Dr Cullen’s management of the duke’s case, and was so pleased with Dr Cullen, that he ever afterwards took every opportunity of cultivating his friendship. Thence arose an interesting correspondence between them on various literary and professional subjects, which, on the part of Dr Clerk, was chiefly conducted through his son, Dr David Clerk. In the year 1757, this intercourse was terminated by the death of Dr Clerk, on which occasion Dr Cullen evinced his esteem and respect for his deceased friend, by writing an account of his life and character, which he read to a meeting of their mutual friends, held in the hall of the Royal Infirmary.

Dr Cullen appears to have been peculiarly fortunate in the choice of his companions and friends; among whom we find many individuals whose names are an ornament to science and literature. At Hamilton he became acquainted with Dr William Hunter, with whom he ever afterwards continued on terms of the greatest intimacy, each living to see the other placed, by the concurrent suffrages of their medical brethren, at the head of his own department of medical science. Dr Cullen and Dr William Hunter are said to have projected a singular partnership at this period; the popular account of which is, that being sensible of the great importance of a more scientific education than was then commonly enjoyed, and generously solicitous to increase each other’s medical attainments, beyond the mere demands of lucrative occupation, they agreed, that each should alternately be at liberty to study for a season at Edinburgh or London, while the other conducted the business in the country for their mutual emolument:—but this does not appear to have been the true object of their arrangement. When Dr William Hunter became the friend of Dr Cullen, it is evident that Dr Cullen had completed his elementary education, and the agreement that took place between them was, that Dr William Hunter should go and prosecute his medical studies in Edinburgh and London, and afterwards return to settle in Hamilton, as a partner of Dr Cullen, the object of which partnership was to enable Dr Cullen, who disliked the surgical department of his profession, to practise only as a physician; while his friend and partner, Dr William Hunter, was to act among their connections only as a surgeon. Dr Hunter’s biographer, Dr Foart Simmons, gives the following account of the nature and termination of this arrangement, "which," says Dr Thomson, "is, I have reason to believe, strictly correct. His father’s consent having been previously obtained, Mr Hunter, in 1737, went to reside with Dr Cullen. In the family of this excellent friend and preceptor he passed nearly three years, and these, he has been often heard to acknowledge, were the happiest years of his life. It was then agreed that he should go and prosecute his studies in Edinburgh and London, and afterwards return and settle in Hamilton in partnership with Dr Cullen. Mr Hunter, after prosecuting his studies for a winter at Edinburgh, went to London, where he was introduced to Dr James Douglas, who was at that time engaged in the composition of his great anatomical work on the bones, and looking out for a young man of abilities and industry, whom he might employ as a dissector. This induced him to pay particular attention to Mr Hunter; and finding him acute and sensible, he desired him to make another visit. A second conversation confirmed the Doctor in the good opinion he had formed of Mr Hunter; and, without any further hesitation, he invited him into his family to assist in his dissections, and to superintend the education of his son. Mr Hunter having communicated this offer to his father and Dr Cullen, the latter readily and heartily granted his concurrence to it, but his father, who was very old and infirm, and expected his return with impatience, consented, with reluctance, to a scheme, the success of which he thought precarious." Dr Cullen having, for the advantage of his friend, thus generously relinquished the agreement between them, was for a time deprived of a partner; but still determining to practise only as a physician, he took the degree of doctor of medicine at Glasgow in 1740, and, in the following year, entered into a contract with Mr Thomas Hamilton, surgeon, on terms similar to those which had been formerly agreed on, between him and Dr Hunter.

Dr Cullen, during his residence at Hamilton, was twice elected magistrate of that place; first, in the year 1738, and again in the year 1739. While in the magistracy, he appears to have taken an active share in the agricultural improvements, beginning at that time to be introduced into the west of Scotland. He frequently attended the meetings of the trustees appointed for the improvement of the high roads, and was much consulted by them on the different matters that came under their consideration. Some of his papers relative to these subjects, exhibit singular proofs of habits of arrangement, and accuracy in transacting business, and a knowledge of rural and agricultural affairs, which must have rendered his advice particularly acceptable. Agriculture was a study which continued at an after period of his life to interest his attention; for we find him, when a lecturer on chemistry, endeavouring to throw light upon it by the aid of chemical science; and, in the year 1758, after finishing his course of chemical lectures, he delivered, to a number of his friends and favourite pupils, a short course of lectures on agriculture, in which he explained the nature of soils, and the operation of different manures.

Dr Cullen, early in life, became attached to Miss Anna Johnstone, daughter of the Rev. Mr Johnstone, minister of Kilbarchan, in the county of Renfrew. She was nearly of his own age; and he married her on the 13th of November, 1741. Mrs Cullen is described to have been a woman who possessed many personal charms; and also great mental endowments. Dr Anderson, who was the contemporary and intimate friend of Dr Cullen remarks,—"She was beautiful, had great good sense, equanimity of temper, an amiable disposition, and elegance of manners; and brought with her a little money, which, although it would be little now, was something in those days to one in his situation of life. After giving him a numerous family, and participating in the changes of fortune which he experienced, she peacefully departed this life, in the summer of 1786."

After his marriage, Dr Cullen continued for three years to practise as a physician at Hamilton; during which period, when not engaged in the more active and laborious duties of his profession, he devoted his time to the studies of chemistry, natural philosophy, and natural history; nor is there any doubt but that at this time, he was preparing and qualifying himself to teach those branches of science, on which he very shortly afterwards became so eminent a lecturer. Hitherto the prospects and advantages held out by the duke of Hamilton, prevented his seeking a wider and more appropriate field for the display of his abilities; but after the death of the duke, which happened at the end of the year 1743, he was induced, by the solicitations of his personal friends, and of many respectable families, to transfer his residence to Glasgow. He settled in that city in the end of the year 1744, or beginning of 1745, at which period Dr Johnstone was professor of medicine in the university, and Dr Hamilton was the professor of anatomy and botany, but neither of them gave lectures. Dr Cullen, who, we have already seen, possessed an active and enterprising mind, soon perceived the possibility of establishing a medical school in Glasgow, similar to that which had been established in Edinburgh. Accordingly, in the summer of 1746, he made arrangements with Dr Johnstone, the professor of medicine, to deliver, during the following winter, a course of lectures on the theory and practice of physic, in the university. This course lasted six months; and, in the following session of 1747, with the concurrence of Dr Hamilton, the professor of botany, besides lecturing on the practice of physic, he gave lectures, in conjunction with a Mr John Garrick, the assistant of Dr Hamilton, on materia medica and botany. Dr Cullen in his practice of physic class never read his lectures; in allusion to which practice, he observed, "written lectures might be more correct in the diction, and fluent in the style, but they would have taken up too much time that might be otherwise rendered useful. I shall be as correct as possible; but perhaps a familiar style will prove more agreeable than a formal one, and the delivery more fitted to command attention."

In the first lecture which Dr Cullen delivered in Glasgow, it is worthy of remark, that after explaining to his audience his reasons for not adopting as text books the Institutions and Aphorisms of Boerhaave—works at that period usually employed in the different medical schools of Europe—he added, "I ought to give a text-book myself; but shall not attempt it until after a little more experience in teaching. In the meantime, I shall endeavour to supply its place by an easy clear order and method, so that the want of it may be less felt." The modesty of feeling expressed by this determination not to publish any text-book, until a "little more experienced," is consonant with that pure spirit of philosophy which always characterises a high independent mind, that is animated by the love of truth, and not by the vain desire of personal aggrandisement. Dr Cullen, in delivering his lectures on the practice of physic, deviated from the old custom of lecturing in Latin, and gave his lectures in the English language, which was decidedly a very judicious innovation on the old practice, which was one of a monkish character. His lectures on botany were, however, delivered in Latin; and fortunately the notes of these lectures being still preserved, controvert the allegation that he adopted the custom of lecturing in the English because he was unable, from ignorance, to lecture in the Latin language. This decidedly was not the case; nor is there any reason to believe that he was actuated by any other motive in adopting this new custom, excepting that of facilitating the communication of knowledge to his students; an object which, throughout his whole life, he kept most steadily in view.

As the institution of a course of lectures on chemistry was essential to a regular medical school, Dr Cullen proposed to the faculty of the university of Glasgow, that lectures should be permitted to be given on that branch of science by himself, and Mr John Garrick, brother of the late Robert Garrick, Esq. of Hamilton, who was at that time assistant to Dr Hamilton, the professor of anatomy. These proposals having been approved, and the necessary preliminary arrangements made, the lectures on chemistry were commenced by Mr Garrick; but he being taken ill, the remaining part of the course was delivered by Dr Cullen. In commencing his second course of chemistry, Dr Cullen printed and distributed among his students, "The plan of a course of chemical lectures and experiments, directed chiefly to the improvement of arts and manufactures, to be given in the college of Glasgow, during the session 1748." But besides these lectures, Dr Cullen, in the summer of 1748, gave lectures in conjunction with Mr Garrick, on materia medica and botany. Of the lectures delivered on materia medica only a few fragments of notes have been preserved; and these are not sufficient to afford a precise idea of the general plan which he followed. The lectures on materia medica and botany were again delivered in 1749; but how long they were delivered after that period has not been ascertained." In his lectures on botany, Dr Cullen followed the system of Linnaeus, in reference to which, in one of his lectures introductory to the practice of physic, he observes, "When a little more than thirty years ago, I first got a sight of the Botanical System of Linnaeus, the language in which it was expressed appeared to me a piece of the most uncouth jargon and minute pedantry that I had ever seen; but in length of time it became as familiar to me as my mother tongue; and with whatever difficulties this system was received in most parts of Europe, it has now surmounted these, and its utility has reconciled every person to the study of it." In thus introducing the Linnaean system of botany into the course of instruction at the university of Glasgow, Dr Cullen displayed no ordinary sagacity; for although the natural arrangements of Jussien and Decandolle are now chiefly taught in the universities of this country, yet the artificial classification of Linnaeus was the ladder by which botanists ascended securely to the generalizations of the natural system, and is still of great use in determining generic and specific distinctions. After Dr Cullen discontinued his lectures on botany, he still pursued his botanical studies; as appears from a letter of a Danish physician, which contains the answer of Linnaeus to certain queries that had been referred to him by Dr Cullen. It does not appear from the MS. of Dr Cullen, that any intercourse was kept up after this between Linnaeus and him; but Dr Thomson finds a letter from one of the pupils of Linnaeus, requesting the introductory letters on botany which Dr Cullen had promised to Linnaeus. Already it must be obvious that Dr Cullen, in devoting his attention so minutely, to so many branches of science, displayed a mind of no ordinary activity and comprehensiveness. He seems, indeed, to have felt in its full force the observation of Cicero, that "all the sciences are connected, tendering to each other a mutual illustration and assistance."

During the period that he lectured on chemistry in Glasgow, the celebrated Dr Black became his pupil; and as Dr Cullen throughout his whole career as a lecturer and as a professor, took a warm interest in the progress of every emulous student, he was not long in discovering the talents of his young pupil. Professor Robison, in his memoir of the life of Dr Black, observes, that Dr Cullen was not long in attaching Mr Black to himself in the most intimate co-operation, insomuch, that the latter was considered as an assistant in all his operations, and his experiments were frequently introduced into the lecture as good authority. Thus began a mutual confidence and friendship, which did honour both to the professor and his pupil, and was always mentioned by the latter with gratitude and respect. Dr Black, after remaining nearly six years at the college of Glasgow, left it to terminate his studies in Edinburgh; and Dr Cullen continued to correspond with him during the time of his studies. Many of these letters have been preserved, and relate principally to the chemical investigations in which they were mutually engaged; but Dr Thomson observes, that, "During this intercourse, Dr Cullen seems to have been careful to avoid entering on any field of inquiry, in which he anticipated that his pupil might reap distinction." A letter of Dr Black’s occurs, wherein, alluding to this ungenerous procedure, he thus addresses Dr Cullen:—"I received your packet of chemistry, which rejoiced me extremely. A new experiment gives me new life; but I wonder at the reserve and ceremony you use with respect to me. Did I learn chemistry from you only to be a bar to your enquiries? The subject is not so limited as to be easily exhausted, and your experiments will only advance me so much farther on." Helvetius, and many other philosophers have maintained, that all mankind must be more or less actuated by the dictates of self-interest; and difficult as it may be to analyse the motives by which human conduct is often regulated, yet it cannot be concealed that the narrow-minded policy which Dr Cullen in this instance betrayed, was significant of a selfishness altogether unworthy of the general tenor of his character.

During the period that Dr Cullen lectured on chemistry in Glasgow, his attention was particularly directed to the general doctrines of heat, on which various observations are found among his manuscripts, that have been preserved. The only essay which he published on this subject appears in the second volume of the Edinburgh Philosophical and Literary Transactions. He also, in the end of the year 1753, transmitted to the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, a paper, entitled, "Some Reflections on the Study of Chemistry, and an essay towards ascertaining the different species of salts; being part of a letter addressed to Dr John Clerk." This letter afforded a specimen of an elementary work on chemistry, which he at that time meditated; but which, from other multifarious occupations, he did not execute. The reputation he was now daily acquiring as a lecturer on chemistry, obtained for him the acquaintance of many persons of distinction, who were celebrated for their talents and love of science. Among these was Lord Kaimes, then Mr Home, who, being devoted to scientific pursuits, naturally found pleasure in the correspondence and society of a man, whose mind was so congenial to his own. Lord Kaimes was especially delighted to find that Dr Cullen had devoted so much attention to his favourite pursuit, agriculture; and continually urged him to publish a work on this important science. That Dr Cullen had at this period made some progress in the composition of a work on agriculture, we learn from Dr Thomson, who informs us of the existence of a manuscript, part of which is in Dr Cullen’s own hand-writing, entitled, "Reflections on the principles of Agriculture." Among his papers there is also an essay "On the Construction and Operation of the Plough;"composed apparently about the same period, and read before some public society, most probably the philosophical society in the college of Glasgow. The object of this essay was to explain the mechanical principles on which ploughs have been constructed, to find out what is the importance and effect of each part, and to examine what variation each, or all of them, require according to the difference of soil in which they are employed. In the year 1752, Dr Cullen’s opportunities of cultivating agriculture were increased by his undertaking to manage and to improve the farm of Parkhead, situated about eight miles from Glasgow, which he had purchased for his brother, Robert Cullen, Esq. who was at the time employed in a mercantile situation in the West Indies. But much as the attention of Dr Cullen was devoted to it, it does not appear that he published any thing theoretical or practical on agriculture; but he corresponded with lord Kaimes very particularly on the subject, and the letters that transpired between them are well worthy of perusal.

Dr Cullen, about the end of the year 1749, was introduced to the earl of Islay, afterwards the duke of Argyle; and, according to the authority of Dr Thomson, the introduction took place through the interest of lord Kaimes, who made a request to that effect through Mr Lind, the secretary to the duke. This appears from a letter addressed to Dr Cullen by Mr Martine, and which proceeds thus:—"August, 1749. Mr Lind, at Mr Home’s desire, talked very particularly about you to the duke of Argyle; and your friends here desire that you will wait on his grace upon his arrival at Glasgow, which will be to-morrow evening." We are furthermore informed that the more immediate cause of Dr Cullen’s being introduced to the duke of Argyle at this time, was to obtain his grace’s consent and patronage to his succeeding Dr Johnstone as professor of medicine in the Glasgow university. A venerable member of the college of justice, who, in his youth, knew Dr Cullen, and remembers him well, has favoured us with the following anecdote. About this period, the duke of Argyle being confined to his room in Roseneath castle with swelled gums, sent for Dr Cullen. His grace, who was fond of dabbling occasionally in medicine, suggested a fumigation of a particular kind, and described an instrument which he thought would be suited to administer it. Dr Cullen, willing to humour his new patron, instantly set off for Glasgow, procured the instrument, which was made of tin, according to the fashion described, and sent it early next morning to Roseneath. The noble patient finding it adapted to the purpose required, and feeling himself better after the fumigation, was much pleased with the attention of his physician, in whose welfare he subsequently took considerable interest. The duke of Argyle had himself been educated at the university of Glasgow, had made a distinguished figure there, and had chosen the law as his profession. He afterwards studied law at Utrecht, but, on returning to Scotland, changed his determination, adopted the military profession, and became one of the most accomplished politicians of his age. By the influence of this nobleman with the crown, Dr Cullen was appointed to be the successor of Dr Johnstone in the university of Glasgow, and was formally admitted as the professor of medicine in that university, on the 2d of January, 1751.

During the residence of Dr Cullen in Glasgow, he still devoted a considerable portion of his time to chemistry, more especially investigating its application to the useful arts. He endeavoured particularly to suggest various improvements in the art of bleaching, and proposed an improved method in the manufacture or purification of common salt; which consisted in precipitating the earthy ingredients contained in the brine of sea-water, by a solution of common potash, by which a salt is obtained more pure than that prepared in the ordinary manner; but owing to this process being too expensive to be adopted in the manufacture of salt on a large scale, it has never yet been brought into general use. He wrote on this subject an essay, entitled, Remarks on Bleaching, which remains among his manuscript papers, but appears never to have been published, although a copy of it was presented to the board of trustees for the Encouragement of Fisheries, Arts, and Manufactures, in Scotland, in the records of which institution, for June, 1755, it is mentioned, that "three suits of table linen had been given as a present to Dr William Cullen for his ingenious observations on the art of bleaching."

From the period of his appointment to be professor of medicine in the university of Glasgow, until the year 1755, Dr Cullen, besides his lectures on chemistry, delivered annually a course of lectures on the theory and practise of physic. He also projected at this period the design of publishing an edition of the works of Sydenham, with an account, in Latin, of his life and writings; but although he made some few preparations to commence this work, he very shortly abandoned the undertaking. Dr Thomson informs us, that his private practice at this time, although extensive, was by no means lucrative, and as a considerable portion of it lay in the country, he had but little time to pursue his scientific studies. These circumstances seem to have induced some of his friends to propose his removing to Edinburgh; a scheme mentioned by himself in a letter to Dr Hunter, dated, August, 1751, which we here subjoin:—"I am quite tired of my present life; I have good deal of country practice, which takes up a great deal of my time, and hardly ever allows me an hour’s leisure. I got but little money for my labour, and indeed by country practice with our payments a man cannot make money, as he cannot overtake a great deal of business. On this account I have some thoughts of acceding to a proposal that was lately made to me, of removing to Edinburgh. Dr Plummer, professor of chemistry, is a very rich man, has given up practice, and had proposed to give up teaching in favour of Dr Elliot; but this gentleman died about six weeks ago, and upon this event some friends of mine, and along with them, some gentlemen concerned in the administration of the town of Edinburgh, have proposed to use their influence with Dr Plummer to induce him to resign in my favour. As the income of that office cannot be very considerable, and my success in the way of practice is uncertain, I have hesitated about agreeing to their proposal; but provided they can make the establishment such as will afford me a livelihood, the situation and manner of life there will be so much more agreeable than at present, that I resolve to hazard something, and have agreed to accept the invitation when made to me in a proper way. However, Plummer’s consent and some other circumstances are still in doubt; and this, with other reasons, requires the affair to be kept as secret as possible."

Lord Kaimes likewise wrote several letters to Dr Cullen, advising him to transfer his residence to Edinburgh, explaining to him, at the same time, various circumstances which promised favourably for his future success. Dr Cullen, in reply to these suggestions, explained the various reasons which induced him to decline at that time removing to Edinburgh, a step which he thought would then be hazardous to himself and family; but shortly after this, in the year 1755, Dr Plummer, the professor in the chair of chemistry, having suffered an attack of palsy, several candidates were put in nomination as his successor, and among these, Dr Home, Dr Black, and Dr Cullen. Dr Black took the earliest opportunity of acquainting Dr Cullen of Dr Plummer’s illness, and declared his resolution not to allow any wishes or engagements of his own to interfere with the interests of his friend and preceptor. But Dr Plummer, in the meantime, remaining indisposed, his relations and the other professors of the university, prevailed on Dr Black to teach his class for the ensuing winter. Lord Kaimes in the meantime exerted himself in canvassing on the behalf of Dr Cullen; he wrote to provost Drummond urging his claims—to Dr Whytt, pointing him out as a desirable colleague—to lord Milton, assuring him that he was the fittest person in Europe to fill the chemical chair. At this critical juncture of affairs, the duke of Argyle arrived in Edinburgh, and employed the weight of his whole interest in favour of Dr Cullen. The arrangement which had been made by the friends and relations of Dr Black, for him to lecture during the illness of Dr Plummer, appears not to have given satisfaction to the town council, who, as patrons of the university, have the privilege of regulating its affairs.

At length, after the lapse of some months, Dr Plummer still continuing unable to lecture, the town council appointed Dr Cullen joint professor of chemistry during the life of his colleague, with the succession in the event of his death; at the same time reserving to Dr Plummer all the rights and privileges of a professor, and particularly that of teaching whenever his state of health would permit of it. Dr Cullen, on receiving this intelligence, addressed a letter to Dr Black, from which, in reply to the generous offer made by Dr Black, we find the following passage:—"While you could expect to be elected a professor, I approved of every step you would take, though in direct opposition to myself; but now that I fancy your hopes of that kind are over, I do not expect opposition; I do expect your favour and concurrence."

Dr Cullen was thus appointed professor of chemistry in the university of Edinburgh; but the medical professors objected to his election, urging, "that it was made without the consent or demission of Dr Plummer, who, upon this ground, had resolved to protest against Dr Cullen’s admission into the university," and they stated, "that the Senates Academicus would therefore decline receiving Dr Cullen into their body, until he should either obtain Dr Plummer’s demission and purchase his laboratory, or until the point at issue should be determined in a court of law, by a declaration of privileges." Notwithstanding this opposition, Dr Cullen entered on his duties as professor of chemistry, by beginning a course of lectures in the university, in the January of 1756. It does not appear that he took any step to obtain a formal admission into the university; but he consulted his friend, the celebrated George Drummond, who was then the provost of Edinburgh, who recommended the adoption of a measure, proposed by Dr Monro, primus, by which the difficulty was obviated. This consisted in Dr Cullen’s giving up his appointment as sole professor, and being re-elected as the joint professor with Dr Plummer; a commission to which effect was signed on the 10th of March, 1756. Dr Plummer, however, did not survive long; he died in the July following, and then Dr Cullen was elected sole professor of chemistry in the university of Edinburgh.

The admission of Dr Cullen into that university, constitutes a memorable era in its history. Hitherto, chemistry had been reckoned of little importance, and the chemical class attended only by a very few students; but he soon rendered it a favourite study, and his class became more numerous every session. From the list of names kept by Dr Cullen, it appears that during his first course of lectures the number amounted only to seventeen; during the second course it rose to fifty-nine; and it went on gradually increasing so long as he continued to lecture. The greatest number that attended during any one session, was one hundred and forty-five; and it is curious to observe, says Dr Thomson, that several of those pupils, who afterwards distinguished themselves by their acquirements or writings, had attended three, four, five, or even six, courses of these lectures on chemistry. Dr Cullen’s fame rests so much on his exertions in the field of medical science, that few are aware how much the progress of chemical science has been indebted to him. In the History of Chemistry, written by the late celebrated Dr Thomson, professor of that science in Glasgow, we find the following just tribute to his memory. "Dr William Cullen, to whom medicine lies under deep obligations, and who afterwards raised the medical celebrity of the college of Edinburgh to so high a pitch, had the merit of first perceiving the importance of scientific chemistry, and the reputation which that man was likely to earn, who should devote himself to the cultivation of it. Hitherto, chemistry in Great Britain, and on the continent also, was considered as a mere appendage to medicine, and useful only so far as it contributed to the formation of new and useful remedies. This was the reason why it came to constitute an essential part of the education of every medical man, and why a physician was considered as unfit for practice, unless he was also a chemist. But Dr Cullen viewed the science as far more important, as capable of throwing light on the constitution of bodies, and of improving and amending those arts and manufactures that are most useful to man. He resolved to devote himself to its cultivation and improvement and he would undoubtedly have derived celebrity from this science had not his fate led rather to the cultivation of medicine. But Dr Cullen, as the true commencer of the study of scientific chemistry in Great Britain, claims a conspicuous place in this historical sketch." [The History of Chemistry, by Thomas Thomson, M.D., F.R.S.E. Professor of Chemistry in the University of Glasgow, 1830.]

Dr Cullen’s removal to Edinburgh was attended by a temporary pecuniary inconvenience, for no salary being attached to his chair in the university, his only means of supporting himself and family, were derived from the fees of students, and such practice as he could command; under these circumstances, he appears to have undertaken a translation of Van Swieten’s commentaries on Boerhaave, in which he expected the assistance of his former pupils, Dr William Hunter and Dr Black. But we have already seen that his class became more numerously attended every session; besides which his practice also began to increase, so that his prospects having brightened, he relinquished this undertaking. In addition to lecturing on chemistry, he now began to deliver lectures on clinical medicine in the Royal Infirmary. This benevolent institution was opened in the December of 1741, and soon afterwards Dr John Rutherford, who was then professor of the practice of physic, proposed to explain, in clinical lectures, the nature and treatment of the cases admitted; a measure highly approved of by the enlightened policy of the managers, who, besides permitting students on paying a small gratuity to attend the hospital at large, appropriated two of its wards for the reception of the more remarkable cases which were destined, under the selection and management of one or more of the medical professors, to afford materials for this new and valuable mode of tuition. The privilege of delivering a course of clinical lectures was granted by the managers of the Royal Infirmary to Dr Rutherford in the year 1748, and in the following year extended to the other professors of medicine belonging to the university; none of whom, however, seem to have availed themselves of it, excepting Dr Rutherford, until the year 1757, when Dr Cullen undertook to deliver a course of such lectures, and was soon joined in the performance of that duty by Drs White and Rutherford. Dr Cullen soon obtained great reputation as a teacher of clinical medicine. "His lectures," observes Dr Thomson, were distinguished by that simplicity, ingenuity, and comprehensiveness of view which marked at all times the philosophical turn of his mind, and I have been informed by several eminent medical men who had an opportunity of attending them, and more particularly by one who acted as his clinical clerk in 1765, were delivered with that clearness and copiousness of illustration with which in his lectures he ever instructed and delighted his auditors." [Thomson’s Life of Cullen, vol. i.]

In the winter session of 1760, Dr Alston, who was the professor of materia medica, died, shortly after commencing his course of lectures for the season. It was well known that Dr Cullen had already devoted considerab1e attention to this branch of medical science; and that he had lectured upon it in the university of Glasgow; and the students of medicine therefore presented a petition, soliciting him to lecture in the place of Dr Alston. Dr Cullen accordingly commenced a course of lectures on materia medica in the beginning of January 1761. Some years afterwards a volume was published entitled "Lectures on the Materia Medica, as delivered by William Cullen, M.D., professor of medicine in the university of Edinburgh." In the preface of this work, the editors state "as the following sheets are not alleged to be printed by his (Dr Cullen’s) directions, it may be necessary to lay before the public the reasons that induced the editors to this step, as nothing can be farther from their thoughts than the least intention of injuring either the fame or interest of that gentleman, for whose mind and abilities they have the greatest esteem. This is so far me case, that they would think themselves extremely happy if, on a sight of this work, the learned author could be induced to favour the world with his improved sentiments on this subject, which could not fail of being a most useful as well as an acceptable present to the public. The editors have no other motive for making this work public, than a concern to find a performance, which so far excels in method, copiousness of thought, liberality of sentiment and judgment, all that have been before written on the subject, in danger of being lost to the world," Dr Cullen, however, objecting to the publication of this work, applied to the court of Chancery for an injunction to prohibit its sale, which was immediately granted. The physician who supplied the booksellers with the notes, is on all hands admitted to have been influenced by no pecuniary or unworthy motive; but the professor objected to the work, complaining, "that it was by no means sufficiently perfect to do him honour; that it had been unexpectedly undertaken and necessarily executed in a great hurry;—that it was still more imperfect from the inaccuracy of the gentleman who had taken the notes, &c.,, When, however, it was represented, that a great many copies were already in circulation, Dr Cullen was persuaded to allow the sale of the remaining copies, on condition "that he should receive a share of the profits, and that the grosser errors in the work should be corrected by the addition of a supplement. Accordingly, on these terms it was published, nor is it doing more than an act of justice to state, that it contains all the information on materia medica which was known at that period, and may yet be consulted with advantage by the student.

In consequence of his increasing infirmities and age, Dr John Rutherford, the professor of the practice of physic, resigned his chair in February, 1766, in favour of Dr John Gregory, who had held for several years the professorship of physic in the college of Aberdeen. When his intention of resigning became known, every effort was made by the friends of Dr Cullen to procure for him this professorship, the duties of which he had, by his clinical labours in the Infirmary, proved himself eminently qualified to discharge. The exertions of Dr Cullen’s friends, however, proved unavailing, and Dr Gregory was duly appointed as the successor to Dr Rutherford. In the April of the same year the chair of the theory of physic was vacated by the death of Dr Whytt; but we are informed that Dr Cullen was so much disgusted with the conduct of the patrons of the university, and with the treatment he had received in relation to the chair of the practice of physic, that he rather wished to retain the chair of chemistry, than to be translated to that of the theory of medicine. His friends, however, earnestly urged him to take the chair vacated by the death of Dr Whytt; and on this occasion he received the most flattering and gratifying testimony of the esteem entertained towards him, both by his fellow professors and the students of the university. The professors came forward with a public address to him, wherein, after expressing their conviction that he was the most competent person to teach the theory of medicine, they added, that they "thought it a duty they owed the town, the university, and the students of physic, and themselves, to request of him, in the most public and earnest manner, to resign the professorship of chemistry, and to offer himself to the honourable patrons of the university as a candidate for the profession of the theory of physic." The students also came forward, and presented an address to the lord provost, magistrates, and town council, wherein they boldly stated, "we are humbly of opinion that the reputation of the university and magistrates, the good of the city, and our improvement will all, in an eminent manner, be consulted by engaging Dr Gregory to relinquish the professorship of the practice for that of the theory of medicine, by appointing Dr Cullen, present professor of chemistry, to the practical chair, and by electing Dr Black professor of chemistry."

At length Dr Cullen consented to become a candidate for the chair of Dr Whytt, and was elected professor of the institutes or theory of medicine, on the lst of November, 1766; and, on the same day, his friend and former pupil Dr Black was elected in his place professor of chemistry. The proposal in the address of the students respecting Dr Cullen’s lecturing on the practice of medicine, being, both by the professors and succeeding students, urged on the consideration of the patrons of the university, it was agreed that Dr Cullen should be permitted to lecture on that subject, and accordingly, with Dr Gregory’s permission, Dr Cullen delivered a course of lectures in the summer of 1768, and during the remainder of Dr Gregory’s life, Drs Cullen and Gregory continued to give alternate courses on the theory and practice of physic. The death of Dr Gregory, however, took place on the 10th of February, 1773, and Dr Cullen was immediately appointed sole professor of the practice of physic.

While Dr Cullen held the professorship of the institutes of medicine, he published heads of lectures for the use of students in the university; which were translated into French, German, and Italian; but he went no further than physiology. After succeeding to the chair of the practice of physic, he published his Nosology, entitled "Synopsis Nosologiae Methodicae." It appeared in two 8vo volumes, which were afterwards in 1780 much improved. In this valuable work he inserted in the first volume abstracts of the nosological systems of Sauvages, Linnaeus, Vogel, and Sagar;—and in the second his own method of arrangement. His classification and definitions of disease have done much to systematize and facilitate the acquirement of medical knowledge;—not but that, in some instances, he may have placed a disease under an improper head; and in others given definitions that are very imperfect, for these are defects, which, considering the wide field he had to explore, might reasonably have been expected. Although it may be only an approximation to a perfect system, it is desirable to classify, as far as we are able, the facts which constitute the ground-work of every science; otherwise they must be scattered over a wide surface, or huddled together in a confused heap—the rudis indigestaque moles of the ancient poet. The definitions contained in this Nosology are not mere scholastic and unnecessary appendages to medical science;—so far from this, they express the leading and characteristic signs or features of certain diseases, and although it is true that a medical practitioner, without recollecting the definitions of Dr Cullen, may recognize the very same symptoms he has described, and refer them to their proper disease, still this does not prove that the definitions of Cullen are the less useful to those who have not seen so much practice, and who, even if they had, might pass over without observing many symptoms to which, by those definitions, their attention is called. The professors and teachers of every science know the necessity of inducing their pupils to arrange and concentrate their thoughts on every subject, in a clear and distinct manner; and in effecting this, the study of the Nosology of Dr Cullen has been found so useful, that it is still constantly used by the students of the university, who find that, even although their professors do not at present require them to repeat the definitions of disease, given by Dr Cullen, verbatim, still they cannot express themselves, nor find, in any other nosological work, the method or manner of describing the characteristic symptoms of disease, so concisely and correctly given as in his Noseology. Accordingly, notwithstanding the march of medical knowledge, and notwithstanding the Nosology of Dr Cullen was published three quarters of a century ago, it is still the text-book of the most distinguished medical schools in Europe, and some years ago an improved edition of it was edited by the learned translator of Magendie, Dr Milligan.

When Dr Cullen succeeded to the chair of the practice of physic, we have stated, that the doctrines of Boerhaave were in full dominion; but these Dr Cullen felt himself justified in relinquishing, although his doing so made him appear guilty of little less than heresy in the eyes of his professional contemporaries. "When I studied physic," says he," in this university, about forty years ago, I learned the system of Boerhaave, and except it may be the names of some ancient writers, of Sydenham and a few other practical authors, I heard of no other names or writers on physic; and I was taught to think the system of Boerhaave was very complete and sufficient. But when I retired from the university, being very much addicted to study, I soon met with other books that engaged my attention, particularly with Baglivi’s Specimen De Fibra motrice et Nervosa, and at length with the works of Hoffman. Both of these opened my views with respect to the animal economy, and made me perceive something was wanting and required to be added to the system of Boerhaave. I prosecuted the inquiry; and, according to the opportunities I had in practice and reading, I cultivated the new ideas I had got, and formed to myself a system in many respects different to that of my masters. About twenty years after I had left the university, I was again called to it to take a professor’s chair there. I still found the system of Boerhaave prevailing as much as ever, and even without any notice being taken of what Boerhaave himself, and his commentator Van Swieton, had added to his system. Soon after I came here I was engaged to give clinical, that is practical lectures, and in these I ventured to give my own opinion of the nature and cure of diseases, different in several respects from that of the Boerhaavians. This soon produced an outcry against me. In a public college, as I happened to be a professor of chemistry, I was called a Paracelsus, a Van Helmont, a whimsical innovator, and great pains were taken in private to disparage myself and my doctrines. This went so far, that my friend and patron, the late George Drummond, whose venerable bust you see in the hall of the Infirmary, came to me, requesting seriously that I would avoid differing from Dr Boerhaave, as he found my conduct in that respect was likely to hurt myself and the university; I promised to be cautious, and on every occasion spoke very respectfully of Dr Boerhaave. I have continued always to hold the same language as I expressed in my last lecture, and I shall do it most sincerely, as I truly esteem Dr Boerhaave as a philosopher, a physician, and the author of a system more perfect than any thing that had gone before, and as perfect as the state of science in his time would admit of. But with all this I became more and more confirmed in my own ideas; and especially from hence that I found my pupils adopt them very readily. I was, however, no violent reformer, and by degrees only I ventured to point out the imperfections and even the errors of Dr Boerhaave’s system; and I have now done the same in the preface which I have given to the new edition of the First Lines."

The first edition of Dr Cullen’s Practice of Physic was published in 1775;—it spread rapidly through Europe, and is said to have produced the author about three thousand pounds sterling—a very considerable sum in those days. Pinel and Bosquillon published several translations of it in Paris; and it also appeared translated into German, Italian and Latin. A valuable edition of it has recently appeared, edited by the late Dr William Cullen (a relation of the author) and Dr J. C. Gregory, who have added, in an appenuix, such illustrations as explain the progress of medical science since it was originally published. We need hardly add that the most valuable edition of it, as a work of Dr Cullen’s, is that edited by Dr Thomson, who having access to Dr Cullen’s manuscript notes, submitted to the profession an improved edition of this work in the year 1827. The system of medicine explained and advocated by Dr Cullen in his lectures and in his work "The First Lines of the Practice of Physic" is raised on the foundation which had previously been laid by Hoffman, who pointed out, more clearly than any of his predecessors, the extensive and powerful influence of the nervous system, in producing and modifying the diseases to which the human body is liable. Although the study of pathology does not appear to have been so zealously pursued at that period as it is at present, yet Dr Cullen, in his course of clinical instruction, always dwelt on the importance of inspecting the bodies of those who died under his treatment, and connecting the post mortem morbid appearances with the symptoms that had been exhibited during life. In addressing a letter to Dr Balfour Russel, the author of the best work on the Plague published in this country,—he observes, "you will not find it impossible to separate practice from theory altogether; and therefore if you have a mind to begin with the theory, I have no objection. I think a systematic study of the pathology and methodus medendi will be necessary previous to the practice, and you may always have in view a system of the whole of physic." But notwithstanding this, it must be admitted that Dr Cullen was too fond of theorising, and like all other philosophers who are anxious to frame a particular system, he often commenced establishing his superstructure before having accumulated a sufficient number of facts to give it a secure foundation. Hence the works of Bonetus, Morgagni, and Lieutaud contain more pathological knowledge than those published at a later date by Dr Cullen.

Dr Cullen, in discharging his duties as a professor, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, took very great pains in the instruction of his students; perhaps he is entitled to the credit of having taken a deeper and more sincere interest in their progress than any professor with whose history we are acquainted. Dr James Anderson, who was his pupil and friend, bears the most unequivocal testimony to his zeal as a public teacher. For more than thirty years, says he, that the writer of this article has been honoured with his acquaintance, he has had access to know, that Dr Cullen was in general employed from five to six hours every day, in visiting his patients, and prescribing for those at a distance who consulted him in writing; and that, during the session of the college, which, in Edinburgh, lasts from five to six months, he delivered two public lectures of an hour each, sometimes four lectures a day, during five days of the week; and towards the end of the session, that his students might lose no part of his course, he usually, for a month or six weeks together, delivered lectures six days every week; yet, during all that time, if you chanced to fall in with him in public or in private, you never perceived him either embarrassed or seemingly in a hurry; but at all times he was easy and cheerful and sociably inclined; and in a private party of whist, for sixpence a game, he could be as keenly engaged for an hour before supper, as if he had no other employment to mind, and would be as much interested in it, as if he had a thousand pounds depending on the game. [The Bee, or Literary Intelligence, vol. i. p. 8.] The professors of universities are too generally apt to hold their offices like sinecures, going lazily through the business of their duties, by reading five times a week, in an indifferent tone, a lecture of an hour’s length, after which, retiring within the magic circle of their dignity, they are too often above condescending to come into any sort of personal contact with their pupils. It is particularly one of the evils of the Edinburgh university, that scarcely ever dues any tie exist between the pupil and the professor; they seldom come necessarily into personal communication, and consequently the greater is the credit due to those professors who cultivate the acquaintance of their students, and take as much interest in their studies without as within the walls of the university. Dr James Anderson, who had every opportunity of judging correctly, informs us, that "the general conduct of Dr Cullen to his students was this;—with all such as he observed to be attentive and diligent he formed an early acquaintance, by inviting them by twos, by threes, or by fours, at a time, to sup with him; conversing with them on these occasions with the most engaging ease, and freely entering with them on the subject of their studies, their amusements, their difficulties, their hopes, and future prospects. In this way he usually invited the whole of his numerous class, till he made himself acquainted with their abilities, their private characters, and their objects of pursuit. Those among them whom he found most assiduous, best disposed, or the most friendless, he invited most frequently, until an intimacy was gradually formed which proved highly beneficial to them. Their doubts with regard to their objects of study, he listened to with attention, and solved with the most obliging condescension. His library, which consisted of an excellent assortment of the best books, especially on medical subjects, was at all times open for their accommodation, and his advice in every case of difficulty to them, they always had it in their power most readily to obtain. From his general acquaintance among the students, and the friendly habits he was on with many of them, he found no difficulty in discovering those among them who were rather in hampered circumstances, without being obliged to hurt their delicacy in any degree. He often found out some polite excuse for refusing to take payment for a first course, and never was at a loss for one to an after course. Before they could have an opportunity of applying for a ticket, he would lead the conversation to some subject that occurred in the course of his lectures, and as his lectures were never put in writing by himself, he would sometimes beg the favour to see their notes, if he knew they had been taken with attention, under a pretext of assisting his memory. Sometimes he would express a wish to have their opinion on a particular part of his course, and presented them with a ticket for that purpose, and sometimes he refused to take payment, under the pretext that they had not received his full course; in the preceding year, some part of it having been necessarily omitted for want of time, which he meant to include in this course. These were the particular devices he adopted with individuals to whom economy was necessary, and it was a general rule with him never to take money from any student for more than two courses of the same set of lectures, permitting him to attend these lectures for as many years longer as he pleased, gratis. He introduced another generous principle into the university, which ought not to be passed over in silence. Before he came to Edinburgh, it was the custom for medical professors to accept of fees for medical assistance when wanted, even from medical students themselves, who were perhaps attending the professor’s own lectures at the time; but Dr Cullen would never take fees as a physician from any student at the University; although he attended them when called in, with the same assiduity and care as if they had been persons of the first rank, who paid him most liberally. This gradually induced others to adopt a similar practice; so that it has now become a general rule at this university for medical professors to decline taking any fees when their assistance is necessary for a student." [The Bee, or Literary Intelligence, vol. i. p. 48, 49.]

Dr Aiken, who was also a pupil of Dr Cullen, bears similar testimony to the generous conduct manifested by him to his students. "He was cordially attentive," says he, "to their interests; admitted them freely to his house; conversed with them on the most familiar terms; solved their doubts and difficulties; gave them the use of his library; and, in every respect, treated them with the respect of a friend, and the regard of a parent." [General Biography, vol. iii. p. 255.] Nor was the kind interest which Dr Cullen took in the pursuits of young persons confined to his students alone. Mr Dugald Stewart informed Dr Thomson, that during a slight indisposition which confined him for some time to his room, when a boy of fourteen or fifteen years of age, he was attended by Dr Cullen. In recommending to his patient a little relaxation from his studies, and suggesting some light reading, the Doctor inquired whether he had ever read the history of Don Quixote. On being answered in the negative, he turned quickly round to Mr Stewart’s father, and desired that the book should be immediately procured. In his subsequent visits to his patient, Dr Cullen never failed to examine him on the progress he had made in reading the humorous story of the great pattern of chivalry, and to talk over with him every successive incident, scene, and character, in that history. In mentioning these particulars, Mr Stewart remarked, that he never could look back on that intercourse, without feeling surprise at the minute accuracy with which Dr Cullen remembered every passage in the life of Don Quixote, and the lively manner in which he sympathized with him in the pleasure he derived from the first perusal of that entertaining romance. In what degree of estimation Mr Stewart continued to hold that work, may be seen by the inimitable character which he has given of it, in his dissertation on the progress of metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy. [Thomson’s Life of Dr Cullen, vol. i. p. 136.]

Dr Cullen, after having been elected professor of the practice of medicine, devoted his time entirely to his duties as a public lecturer, and to his profession; for his fame having extended, his private practice became very considerable. Already we have observed that he had a large family; and about this time, having become acquainted with the celebrated John Brown, a sketch of whose life we have already given in this Biographical Dictionary, he engaged him to live in his family as the preceptor of his children, and also as an assistant at his lectures, the substance of which Brown repeated and expounded in the evening to his students; for which purpose the manuscript notes of the morning lectures were generally intrusted to him. It is well known that the habits of John Brown were extremely irregular. His son, who has written a short memoir of him, observes, "Unfortunately, among his qualifications, economy held no place. At the commencement of his medical studies, he very naturally turned his attention to cultivate the acquaintance of those individuals among whom he proposed earning a livelihood. It was not among the serious, the wise, or the aged, that he was likely to procure pupils; his companions therefore would necessarily be the young, the thoughtless, and, very frequently, the dissipated. The pleasures of the table, and the unconstrained hilarity he enjoyed at the convivial meetings of such companions, were, by nature, sufficiently agreeable to one of his vivacity of disposition and strong passion; but the distinguished figure he made on such occasions, as a man of brilliant wit, and the deference paid to his superior talents, must have rendered these meetings still more gratifying to him. It is not surprising, then, that after having been habituated to such association for a succession of years, he acquired a taste for company and high living, which was confirmed as he advanced in life, exposed to the same necessity of cultivating the acquaintance and rendering himself agreeable to those on whom his livelihood depended." After having been his most favourite pupil, John Brown became the most intimate of Dr Cullen’s friends; but, three or four years afterwards, a quarrel took place between them, after which they ever regarded each other with feelings of the most determined hostility. By the friends of John Brown it is alleged, that Dr Cullen behaved towards him in a deceitful manner, for that he held out promises to interest himself in assisting him to obtain a professor’s chair in the university; instead of which, when the opportunity presented itself, knowing that John Brown had adopted a theory of medicine different from his own, he tacitly opposed his election; and when the magistrates, or patrons of the university, asked him who John Brown was, so far from giving him his support, he, after some pretended hesitation, blasted his success, by observing, with a sarcastic smile, "Surely this can never be our Jock." [Life of Dr John Brown, - prefixed to his worked by William Cullen Brown, M.D. iii.] Besides which, it is also affirmed, that when John Brown applied for admission into the society which published the Edinburgh essays, Dr Cullen, who had great influence there, contrived to get a majority to reject his petition. In reply to all this,—"and without attempting to vindicate either party, it must appear obvious, that John Brown’s rejection by the patrons of the university as a professor must have been the necessary consequence of the dissipated character which he possessed; and it is more than probable that Dr Cullen himself, having sons now advancing in life, saw the necessity of discountenancing their intimacy with one whose habits of intemperance were likely to lead them into dissipation." John Brown soon became the founder and champion of a system of medicine opposed to that of Dr Cullen; and the palaestra where the opponents and advocates of both theories met, and where their disputatious were carried on with the greatest vigour, was the hall of the medical society. The doctrines of Cullen had there, some years previously, triumphed over those of Boerhaave; but they in their turn were now destined to receive a shock from the zealous advocates of the new theory, which was warmly espoused by many, both at home and abroad.

Dr Cullen continued to deliver his lectures until within a few months of his death, when, feeling himself subdued by the infirmities of age, he was induced to resign his professorship; "but, for some years before his death," observes Dr James Anderson, "his friends perceived a sensible decline of that ardour and energy of mind which characterized him at a former period. Strangers, who had never seen him before, could not be sensible of this change; nor did any marked decline in him strike them, for his natural vivacity still was such as might pass in general as the unabated vigour of one in the prime of life." He resigned his professorship in the end of December, 1789. In the medical commentaries published at that period, his death is thus announced: "About the end of December, 1789, Dr William Cullen, after having taught medicine at Edinburgh for many years, with a degree of reputation which not only did honour to himself, but also to the university of which he was a member, being now arrived at his seventy-seventh (ninth) year, and finding himself unable, from age and infirmities, any longer to discharge the duties of his office, sent a letter to the patrons of the university of Edinburgh, resigning into their hands his professorship of the practice of physic." [Medical Commentaries, vol. v. 491.]

Dr Cullen, on the occasion of his resignation, received many honourable testimonies of regard from the different public societies in Edinburgh.

The lord provost, magistrates, and town council presented him with an elegant piece of silver plate, with a suitable inscription, in acknowledgment of the services he had rendered to the university and to the community.

The senatus academicus of the university, the medical society, the physical society, and many other scientific and literary societies, voted addresses to him, expressive of the high sense entertained of his abilities and services.

The physical society of America also forwarded to him a similar address, and concluded by expressing the same wish which had been likewise embodied in the other addresses. It thus concludes – "And, finally, we express our most cordial wishes that the evening of your days may be crowned with as great an exemption from pain and languor as an advanced state of life admits of, and with all the tranquillity of mind which a consciousness of diffusive benevolence to men and active worth aspires."

The several deputations from these public bodies were received by his son Henry, who replied to them by acknowledging the satisfaction which they gave to his father, and the regret he felt, that, in consequence of his ill state of health, he was unable to meet them, and express his sentiments in person to them. [Evening Courant, January and February, 1790.]

Dr Cullen did not long survive his resignation of the professorship; he lingered a few weeks; and died on the 5th of February, 1790, in the eightieth year of his age. His funeral was a private one, and took place on the following Wednesday the 10th of February; when his remains, attended by a select number of friends, were interred in his burial-place in the church-yard of Kirk Newton, near his house of Ormiston Hill, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh.

Of the character of Dr Cullen, in the more retired circle of private life, we know little; few anecdotes having been preserved illustrative of the peculiarities of his habits, disposition, or domestic manners. We have been informed, by one who remembers him well, that he had no sense of the value of money. He used to put large sums into an open drawer, to which he and his wife went whenever either of them wanted money. He and his wife lived happily, and many who recollect them, have borne testimony to the delightful evenings they always spent whenever they visited them. Dr Cullen’s external appearance, says his friend Dr Anderson, though striking and not unpleasing, was not elegant. His countenance was expressive, and his eye, in particular, remarkably lively, and, at times, wonderfully expressive. In his person he was tall and thin, stooping very much about the shoulders. When he walked, he had a contemplative look, and did not seem much to regard the objects around him. [The Bee or Literary Intelligence, vol. i. 166.]

After Dr Cullen’s death, his son, the late lord Cullen, entertained the intention of writing his life, which, however, he did not accomplish. Soon after his lordship died, Dr Cullen’s papers, consisting of letters from private friends, sketches of essays, notes of lectures, and medical consultations, were placed by his surviving family in the hands of Dr Thomson, with a request that he would endeavour to draw up, from these documents, and from the information he could procure from other sources, such an account of his life, lectures, and writings, as might in some degree satisfy the curiosity of the public. We need only state, that Dr Thomson executed their wishes in a most able manner; his life of Dr Cullen supplying us with all the information concerning his public career that can possibly be desired. It remains only for us to add, that the doctrines promulgated by Dr Cullen, which have had so great an influence on medical science, are now keenly contested; but whether, in after years, they stand or fall, all parties must unite in paying a just tribute of admiration to the genius and acquirements of a man who was certainly an ornament to the age in which he lived.

An Account of the Life, Lectures, and Writings of William Cullen, M.D.
Professor of the Practice of Physic in the University of Edinburgh by John Thomson, M.D., F.R.S.L.& E. in two volumes first published in 1832 now re-issued along with a second volume, and having prefixed to it a biographical notice of the author. (pdf)
Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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