Stephen Paget.

John Hunter, man of science and surgeon (1728-1793); online

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IT The Broad,








Masters of Medicine




Stephen Pa get
VArcy Power
Ernest Hart
H. Lalng Gordon
John G. McKendrick
Sir William Stokes
Michael Foster
Timothy Holmes
J. F. Payne
C. Louis Taylor








- i***^

of Science anD burgeon







Copyright by T. Fisher Unwin, 1897, for Great Britain

and Longmans Green ff Co. for the

United States of America







MISS B AILLIE'S name must come first of those
who have helped me. The Baillie manu-
scripts, her gift to the Royal College of Surgeons,
are of the very highest value, full of facts about
Hunter ; and she has allowed me to publish other
letters and papers concerning him from her private
collection of autographs and records of her family.

Mr. J. B. Bailey, the late Librarian of the College,
collected and gave to the Library a great number of
photographs, drawings, newspaper cuttings, &c., re-
lating to Hunter. I hope that I have made good
use of them.

I thank Sir William MacCormac, President of the
College, for permission to publish some of these letters
and records ; Mr. D'Arcy Power, who has most
kindly looked over what I have written ; Mr. Charles



Louis Taylor, assistant editor of this series, and Mr.
Hewett, who have helped me in many ways. The
praise of John Hunter, and the long list of his
achievements, are known to all of us : I have only
tried to draw a plain sketch of him as he was seen
by the men of his own days.

LONDON, September, 1897.





I. LONG CALDERWOOD, 1728-1748 . 19



EARL'S COURT . . . . 83

IV. LONDON, 1772-1783. JERMYN STREET . 95


vii. ST. GEORGE'S HOSPITAL . . . -194


IX. AFTER HUNTER ..... 235

APPENDIX . . . . . .26l

(A) The Hunters and the Baillies.

(B) Chief References.



IF we try to find, in Hunter's mental character,
the facts to which may be ascribed his great in-
fluence in the promotion of medicine and surgery, I
think it may justly be assigned to the degree in which
he introduced the exercise of the observant scientific
mind into the study and practice of surgery. In his own
mind the chief attraction to science may be traced in his
love of collecting. He collected " everything " as ir
by natural disposition and in imitation of his brother
William but I think there is no evidence that he
studied any part of his collection except that which
became the Hunterian museum. This he studied in
its widest range : and thus became as no one else
in his time was a comparative anatomist and a path-
ologist ; and he brought the knowledge of all that he
thus acquired into union with his knowledge of medical
and surgical practice. Through him, medicine and
surgery came to be practically studied in the light of



all these sciences. Naturally, he had been brought to
the study of them after what may still be considered the
best and most perfect system that of scientific obser-
vation : he himself probably regarded it as only natural ;
but there is no clear evidence of his being self-studious.

Till he came to the teaching of other students,
Hunter probably never taught himself any of the rules
of scientific study : he was one of the few rare men to
whom the love of carefully observing the course of
Nature is sufficient for the motives and safe methods
of scientific study.

For he saw the right method, and when he wanted
to teach it he told it in words, quoted in Baron's
Life of Jenner, "Don't think, try ; be patient, be
accurate ; " plain words still useful in the whole
range of medicine and of knowledge relating to it.
We may believe that in what he read and what he heard
in conversation with most of the leading medical men
of his time, it was evident that they thought they
could make what they believed to be knowledge more
nearly complete, and more accurate, by "thinking"
over what they already believed they knew to be
true and fit to be expressed in "general principles."
But the facts were rarely quite true ; the general
principles deduced from them were still more rarely
true or safe for further guidance.

Hunter's rule may be well used in the promotion ot
all science. It so often seems safe to believe that by
careful thinking over the facts already found and even



repeatedly tested and confirmed, we may be able to
think of others which appear naturally to follow them,
and thus, by thinking, to enlarge our knowledge.
But the history of science may teach that this is rarely
safe ; and that every " thinking " must be " tried "
patiently and carefully, by experiment or repeated care-
ful observation, before it can be safely accepted as truth.
Hunter held by this rule. He did indeed think ; he
spent long times in only thinking ; but we may
believe that in many of these long times his conclusion
was that in thus thinking he was tempting himself to
the wrong way, and that, at most, it could only
suggest how he should patiently and carefully " try "
what he had been led to think. Thus at least we
may test his writings, and much of his museum work.
The same may be held now ; facts are more numerous,
and more nearly fully known ; but few are even now
so complete as to be safe for generalising, and so it
must yet be for a long time in all the divisions of
medical science. The surety of every belief can only
be sure after it has been "tried" by experiment or
further observation.

The influence of Hunter may be observed in a com-
parison of the progress of medical science and practice
in the present and in the last century. It is impossible
to tell how much of the change may be due to him ;
but the increase of accurate scientific observation, and
the reliance on it rather than on theories, are clearly
in accordance with his rule of study. And on the



whole the amount of good done, as measurable at this
time, has been greatest in proportion as it has been
done by men working with scientific minds, both
observing and thinking. Men have varied in their
tendency to careful observation or to mere thinking ;
they have varied as have the several individual mental
fitnesses or inclinations ; but the general tendency has
been to observation, to the accumulation of facts as
in the work of Pasteur and Lister.

This, then, was Hunter's chief distinction : that his
mind was set on science, while his business was
practical surgery. He was not, at first, scientific ; he
had mere business-teaching in his boyhood and a
natural love of collecting ; but, after maturity, he
became scientific, and then was made constantly
active in science by his continued love of collecting,
and by the use of his collection for the advancement
of pathology, and by the study of all structures even
remotely connected with the specimens in his collec-
tion. Thus his mind, given to science, was engaged
in practice ; he associated surgery with science, and
made them mutually illustrative. Before his time,
surgeons had been " empirical " ; and this word had
been used not in its real sense of " experimental," but
as meaning something discreditable, something not
founded on " principles." Yet these " principles "
were only thoughts exercised on insufficient facts,
gradually but very slowly becoming more nearly sure,
but hardly applicable from one century to the next.



Each mind has its personal inclination either
toward thinking, or toward observation and the one
should be balanced by the other : that is, the complete
scientific mind should be carefully observant, looking
into everything, recording or collecting, and then
thoughtfully repeating observations and comparing
what had seemed most different ; testing the obser-
vations in one range of facts by those in all others.

Therefore Hunter's lesson, " Don't think, try,"
is admirable for all pursuit of science ; a great con-
tribution to scientific work, from one who was a
surgeon, and most truly a " naturalist." For, in all
retrospects of medical practice, where one sees the
continued use of modes of treatment now deemed use-
less or mischievous such as long or frequent bleeding,
either local or general there was no want of thinking
that these were useful. So with the frequent use
of mercury and of purgatives, there were ample
" reasons " for these methods of practice ; and the
reasons seemed so good that observations were really
not made. The thinking was clearer than the facts ;
the thinking determined the observations, till the facts
became too frequent and too hard ; and then,
commonly, the real facts were for a time put aside.




" I believe that I was in many ways a naughty boy. . . . The school
as a means of education to me was simply a blank." DARWIN.

WE who write this series of the "Masters or
Medicine " must address all readers, and set
forth the work of the Masters as physicians and
surgeons ; but we cannot offer to everybody an un-
reserved account of the processes of disease and their
treatment. I will do my best, avoiding this offence,
to steer clear of the opposite folly of giving a trivial
or gossiping account of John Hunter.

He came of a very old Scotch family, probably
of Norman origin, the Hunters of Hunterston in
Ayrshire, whose history goes back to the thirteenth
century. The old manor-house of Hunterston, with
its tower of great antiquity, is still standing ; once a



stronghold, now a farm-house. The Hunters of
Long Calderwood in Lanarkshire were a younger
branch of this family, through Francis Hunter, grand-
father of John Hunter. Long Calderwood is a small
estate, seven miles from Glasgow, and one mile north
of the village of East Kilbride ; with a good stone
house, two stories high. Here John Hunter, son of
John Hunter, was born on February 13, I728, 1 the
last of ten children. Death came again and again to
Long Calderwood : of all the brothers and sisters
John, Elizabeth, Andrew, Janet, James, Agnes,
William, Dorothea, Isabella, and John the first three
died in childhood, and four others Janet, James,
Agnes, and Isabella died in the prime of life.

Of their father, Dr. Matthew Baillie said that he
was a man of good understanding, of great integrity,
and of an anxious temper. There is a portrait of him
in the entrance hall of the Royal College of Surgeons,
which was originally drawn in crayons by his son
James, and was afterward copied in oils for his son
William. Their mother, Agnes, was a daughter of
Mr. Paul, a maltster, and treasurer of the City of
Glasgow : " a woman of great worth and of consider-
able talents." (M. Baillie.)

1 The parish register says the I3th ; he himself observed the I4th as
his birthday, and that is the day of the Hunterian Oration at the Royal
College of Surgeons. Probably he was born during the night of the
I3th-i4th, and in the room over the kitchen. A report of the
house, written in 1867, says that it has not change i since 1728, except
that it was then thatched and is now slated, and two rooms downstairs
have been thrown into one.



The home at Long Calderwood could afford only
what was most necessary for the children :

" Their father, from the expenses of a large family,
altho' managed with great frugality, was occasionally
obliged to sell portions of his estate. This increased
the constitutional anxiety of his mind, and he was
often kept awake in the night from thinking upon the
difficulties of his situation."

James, the first son who lived to grow up, died of
phthisis when he was twenty-nine years old. He was
handsome, clever, and beloved by all of them ; and
William Hunter used to say that he was the cleverest
of the family, and that if he had lived nothing could
have prevented him from being the first physician in
London. He was educated to be a Writer to the
Signet ; but he gave up law for medicine, and went
to London, and began to work at anatomy, living
with William ; then broke down with haemorrhage
from the lungs, went home in 1743, and died there.

Janet married a young timber merchant, named
Buchanan, who had come from London and settled in
business at Glasgow. He was good-looking, un-
businesslike, and fond of society ; and there is a
further charge against him, that he "joined to his
other companionable talents the unfortunate endow-
ment of a good voice and a musical ear." Having
become bankrupt, he took to teaching music in
Glasgow ; " and besides teaching, was appointed
Clerk to an Episcopalian Society of Christians. To



this day he is recollected by the familiar name of
Amen" (Adams.) Janet died within a year after
her marriage, and left no child ; and Buchanan, in his
old age, married again.

Dorothea was more happy in her husband ; she
married the Rev. James Baillie, the minister at Hamil-
ton, near Kilbride, afterward Doctor of Divinity and
Professor of Divinity (November, 1775) at Glasgow.
He died in 1778, leaving his wife poor. They had
three children, Matthew, Agnes, and Joanna.
Matthew became a famous physician in London, a
" Master of Medicine " whose name is still honoured.
Joanna had the gift of poetry, and was of great renown
in her day ; she was " the immortal Joanna," one of
Sir Walter Scott's closest friends. Agnes lived to the
extreme old age of a hundred years and seven months.

William was of himself enough to make the name
of Hunter for ever memorable. He too was one of
the Masters of Medicine. If John did at last sur-
pass him, it was William who set him on the way
to do it : and until John Hunter went to London,
William was the Elder Brother of the parable, and
John was the Prodigal Son, in the Kingdom of
Science. 1

1 And in the little home-kingdom of Long Calderwood there was, we
may believe, the same difference between them. See the reminiscences
of their niece, Mrs. Joanna Baillie, at the end of this chapter. Note
that those children who lived to grow up had pet names James was
Jamie, Dorothea was Dolly, Agnes was Nannie, Isabella was Tibbie,
John was Jockie or Johnny at Long Calderwood and Jack in London,
William was Willie.



William was born ten years before John, on May
23, 1718. He was diligent at school; and in 1731
went with a bursary to Glasgow College for five
years. Then he began to read for the ministry, but
changed his mind, and made application to be school-
master in his native village, and happily failed to get the
appointment. Next came his friendship with Cullen,
in the days when Cullen had yet to make a name ; and
from 1737 to 1740 William lived with him at Hamilton,
helping him in the uphill work of a scattered country
practice. 1 " His conversation was remarkably lively
and agreeable, and his whole conduct was more strictly
and steadily correct than that of any other young per-
son I have ever known : " this was Cullen's estimate
of him. In 1740, he attended Alexander Monro's
lectures at Edinburgh; in the summer of 1741, he
set his face toward London. Here he lived for a short
time with Dr. Smellie, of Lanark, who had come to
London two years before him, and was laying the
foundations of great success, practising as an apothecary
and accoucheur, having a shop in Pall Mall. Then he
became assistant to Dr. John Douglas, and was
resident in his house on the Piazza, Covent Garden ;
and entered as a surgeon's pupil at St. George's

1 " Their principal ambition was to procure the means of improving
their medical education and grade ; and in order to further this honour-
able object it was stipulate.! that one of them should be allowed to study
during the winter in some medical school, while the other should con-
tinue to carry on the business in the country, for the profit of both
parties." (" Lives of British Physicians," London, John Murray,



Hospital, which was then only seven years old, and
as a dissecting pupil under Dr. Frank Nicholls : he
also attended lectures on experimental philosophy.
Next year, 1742, Dr. Douglas died. William
Hunter still lived with the family, and was paying his
addresses to Miss Douglas, and acting as tutor and
guardian of her brother. In 1743, he contributed his
first paper to the Transactions of the Royal Society,
" On the Structure and Diseases of Articulating

There was at this time a society of naval surgeons
in London, who met at a house in Covent Garden
to hear Samuel Sharpe lecture on the operations of
surgery. He gave up the lectures, from ill-health, and
increase of practice ; and in 1746 William Hunter
took his place, and added to the course on operative
surgery a set of lectures on anatomy. Here is the
advertisement of them, from the London Evening
Post, of January 9-12, 1748 :

On Monday, the 1st of February, at Five in the
Will Begin

To which will be added, the Operations of Surgery,
with the Application of Bandages.
Gentlemen may have an Opportunity of learning the
Art of Dissecting during the whole Winter Season, in
the same manner as at Paris.



Printed Proposals to be delivered at Mr. Millar's,
Bookseller, opposite to the End of Katherine Street in
the Strand.

He made about seventy guineas in fees for his first
course : a larger sum of money, he said, than he had
ever been master of before ; but the money went to
help his friends, and in 1747 he had to put off the
lectures for a fortnight, because he could not afford
to pay for the advertisement of them. That year
(August 6) he was admitted to the Corporation or
Surgeons of London : and in 1748 x made a tour through
Holland to Paris, and on his way visited Albinus at Ley-
den. He came back to London in time to prepare his
lectures for the winter ; and in September, a fortnight
before the course began, John Hunter joined him.

Their father did not live to see the beginning or
their success; he died on December 30, 1741, seventy-
eight years old. Their mother died on November 3,
1751, aged sixty-six. At the Royal College or
Surgeons there is a letter from the father, only three
months before his death, to William Hunter : on the
question whether he should come home and enter into
partnership with Cullen, or stop in London and be
assistant to Dr. Douglas. The letter is in James's
handwriting, only signed by the father :

" Nothing has proved a greater comfort than the

1 This is the date assigned to the tour by Simmons, on good evidence.
William also went to Paris with young John Douglas, soon after Dr.
Douglas's death in 1742. See the letters at the end of this> chapter.



hopes of seeing you here soon ; but your letter has
cast a very great damp upon us all. ... I surely must
soon expect to be beyond this side of time, considering
my age and present indisposition, being for some days
past confined to my bed with sickness, and a severe fit
of the gravel, and would be glad to have you near me
for the little while I shall be in this world ; though at
the same time I should be sorry to hinder you from
making your way in the world, the best way you can.
I wish you to consider well what you do. With Dr.
Cullen you may be very comfortably settled, and make
money, and if you miss this opportunity now, you can-
not be sure of it at another time. Dr. Douglas's kind
offer is only for a time. He may die before you come
home or are settled, and leave you without friends at
a great enough uncertainty. I suppose now you
know very well" the difference between the expense of
living at home and abroad, and that perhaps cloaths and
pocket-money may cost you more than your whole
expense at home would do. You know my willing-
ness to assist you, but you know too, that already I
have gone fully as far as my numerous family will
allow of. You must now do something for yourself.
Consider all these things, and if you can persuade me
that it is for your good, I will not be against it."

The old home at Long Calderwood passed through
many hands after the father's death : it came to James,
to William, to Matthew Baillie, to John, to his son,
and to Matthew Baillie's son, William Hunter Baillie ;



to whose daughter, Miss Baillie, it now belongs. It
was Mrs. Joanna Baillie's home for a time ; and it
was John Hunter's world till he was seventeen years

Throughout his boyhood he was good at such games
as the village afforded to boys, and observant of Nature ;
but deficient in self-control, idle, and ignorant a great
disgrace for a Scots boy living within walking distance
of Glasgow College, whose father was a gentleman,
whose brothers were studying law and medicine. He
afterward said of himself: "When I was a boy, I
wanted to know all about the clouds and the grasses,
and why the leaves changed colour in the autumn j I
watched the ants, bees, birds, tadpoles, and caddis-
worms ; I pestered people with questions about what
nobody knew or cared anything about." He hated
his school-books ; nor did he see the good of learning
even at Oxford, in a couple of months that he wasted
there long after boyhood was over. " They wanted to
make an old woman of me, or that I should stuff Latin
and Greek at the University ; but these schemes I
cracked like so many vermin as they came before me."

When he was seventeen, he went for a short time
to the Buchanans at Glasgow, and amused himself
in the timber-yard, but did not set his hand to
anything, and soon returned home. At last, when
he was getting on for twenty, he came to himself, and
London began calling in his ears, as is her way with
all the best men in Scotland. He wrote to William,



asking leave to come and work under him ; else he
would enlist in the Army. He got a kindly answer,
bidding him come and stay. He started at once,
riding with Francis Hamilton, a friend of the family ;
and in September, 1 748, the two brothers joined hands
to work together in London.

From a Letter written by Mrs. Joanna Baillie.

. . . Dr. William Hunter was the son of John Hunter
of Long Calderwood in the parish of Kilbride, this
place being a small possession upon which he lived
many years, and the only remaining one, of several
which he had purchased in or near the same parish,
that he died possessed of.

I mention this, because it has been said by mistake
in one of the late published lives of John Hunter, that
this small farm or estate had been in the possession
of the family for several generations ; whereas Dr.
Hunter's Father, who was the son of a younger son of
the family of Hunterston obliged from some domestic
unhappiness to leave his home at an early age, had no
patrimony of any kind, and the money which enabled
the Doctor's Father to purchase lands which the pres-
sure of a large family that he wished to educate
liberally obliged him afterwards to sell arose from his
Father marrying a woman who was in those days a
pretty considerable heiress.



William Hunter, whilst a boy and a young man in
his Father's house, was of a diligent and careful disposi-
tion, indefatigable in making himself master of any-
thing that he wished to know, but at the same time
having a great relish for everything droll or character-
istic, and taking great pleasure in conversing with the
country people in the neighbourhood, and amusing
himself with their peculiarities, which he had a par-
ticular turn for drawing out. He was of principles to
be depended upon at all times for doing what is right,
affectionate to his family, and ready to lift up his hand
in defence of his brothers and sisters, but not of that

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Online LibraryStephen PagetJohn Hunter, man of science and surgeon (1728-1793); → online text (page 1 of 15)