The chair of chemistry in the University of Edinburgh in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries

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  • The CHAIR of CHEMISTRY m the UNIVERSITY of EDINBURGH in the

    XVIIIth and XIXth CENTURIES JOHN E. MACKENZIE The University, Edinburgh, Scotland

    A brief account of the establishment of the Medical School of the "Town's College" or University leads to a description, wually accompanied by portraits, of the oc- cu@nts of the Chair of Chemistry, which, in the early h y s , was allied with Physic or Medicine. Dr. James Crau- furd (1713-26) appears to have been a most successful fihysician, if not a great pofessor of chemistry. Next come Dr. Andrew Plummer and Dr. John Innes (1726- 55) as Joint Professors of Medicine and Chemistry. Plummer lectured on Chemical Phumacy, while Innes conjked himself to Medicine. Dr. William Cullen (1755- 66), after some years in country medical practice, lectured

    on Physic, Materia Medica, Botany, and Chemistry for e h e n years in Glasgow, before coming to Edinburgh. He was a great physician and trained many students who came to fame, including his successor both in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, Joseph Black (1766-95). Reference i s made to Black's work on Magnesia Alba and on latent heat and to his distinguished pupil, Benjamin Rush, first Professor of Chemistry i n America. Thmnas Charles Hope (1795-1844), whose discovery of struntia is notable, was a most distinguished lecturer. William Gregory (18&58), Lyon Plnyfair (1858-69), and A. Crum Brown (1869-1908) bring us to the beginning of the huen- tieth century.

    ' 0 N ENTERING the Chemistry Department of the University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, one perceives on the right hand a granite stone on which are inscribed the names of the dignitaries concerned with the design, erection, and opening of th6 department and on the left hand a similar, but less ornate, stone bearing the names of the professors of chemistry and the dates of their appointments to the Chair (Figures 1 and 2).

    The first appointment was made more than two cen- turies ago a t a time when Scotland was in a very un- settled state. The Jacobite RisingsG'The Fifteen" (1715) and "The Forty-five" (1745)-were to decide whether the country was to be ruled by kings of the House of Hanover or of the Stuarts. In Sir Alexander Grant's "Story of the University of Edinburgh,"' it is recorded that William Robertson, the minister of Gladsmuir (a parish about 12 miles distant from Ed- inburgh) and later (1762-1793) Principal of the Uni- versity, left his manse when the Young Pretender's army was approaching Edinburgh, joined the volun- teers, and when the city had surrendered to Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, went to Haddington and offered his services to General Sir John Cope. It was in these troublous times that the chair of chemistry was established. The Town Council of Edinburgh, which was responsible for appointments in "The Town's College," proceeded in December, 1713, to "elect, nominate and choose Dr. James Craufurd to be Professor of Physic and Chemistry in the said Univer- sity, and appoint convenient rooms to be appropriated to him," and he was "not to expect any salary as Pro- -

    1 G u m . SIR A., "Story of the University of Edinburgh." Longmans, Green and Co., London, &st ed., 1884, vol. 11, p. 266.

    50

    fessor"!! Dr. Craufurd, as a successful physician, could afford to be professor without salary, though he did receive class fees from his students. Indeed, until comparatively recently, the income of a professor de- pended mainly upon the fees he drew from his students and the writer remembers vividly paying three guineas to Professor P. G. Tait, the natural philosopher, and observing an enormous pile of gold sovereigns and silver shillings on the table a t which the formidable man wrote the names of the students on their class cards. Now the professors are in receipt of definite salaries and do not receive class fees and are not responsible for the salaries of the departmental staffs.

    Craufurd, who had been a pupil of the celebrated 3

  • Boerhaave in Leyden, accepted the appointment and gave courses of lectures "sometimes." He does not appear to have taken up chemistry with any great success, the subject having become unpopular owing to the attacks of Dr. Pitcairne, the first professor of physic. According to Lyon Playfair2 "Students had learnt to look on it with contempt and the professors did not en- courage its study." Though not a great chemist, Craufurd was evidently a man of parts. His colleague, Dr. Joseph Gibson, the first prbfessor of midwifery, eulogised him on account of "his universal literature and consummate medical knowledge" and "his beauti- ful character, as a good man and sincere friend." Crau- furd was appointed to the chair of Hebrew in 1719, showing one direction of his "universal literature."

    No portrait of Craufurd appears to exist, so we can only guess as to his appearance.

    Until the beginnmg of the eighteenth century, the usual method of entering the medical profession was by undergoing apprenticeship to a physician or surgeon, but now i t was beginning to be felt that something more was needed. Accordingly the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons held "colleges" or courses of instruction and influenced the Town Council to appoint professors in such subjects as anatomy, medicine, chemistry, physic, and midwifery within the University. Such appointments were made, and they have already been referred to in the cases of chemistry, physic, and of midwifeq. This was the beginning of the University Medical School, which with the older Colleges of Physi- cians and Surgeons, has given name and fame to Edin- burgh as a centre of medical education.

    Craufurd does not appear to have continued his duties as professor of chemistsy for many years. In 1726, the Town Council appointed Dr. Andrew Plum- mer and Dr. John Innes to be professors of medicine and chemistry. Innes devoted himself entirely to medicine, so attention may be directed to his colleawe.

    point in Science, the great Maclaurin (Professor of Mathematics) always appealed to him as to a living library; and yet so great was his modesty, that he spoke to young audiences upon a point he was per- fectly master of, not without hesitation.''

    Plummer having become paralytic and unable to carry on his duties, the Town Council in 1755 appointed William Cullen to be joint professor of medicine and chemistry.

    Plummer, like Craufurd, had been a student of ~ i e r - From the biography written by Thomson,J hame and was a graduate of Leyden University. He professor of medicine and p&thology in the University lectured on chemical p h h a c y for twenty-nine years of ~ d i ~ b ~ ~ ~ h , some biographical details may be se. and a purgative pill containing c & ~ ~ e l and sulphurated lected. william cullen was the second son in a family antimony is known in pharmacy under the name Of of seven sons and two daughters, his father being factor "Plummer's Pill." Having analysed the water of the to ~~k~ of ~ ~ ~ i l ~ ~ ~ , as well as owning a small es. spring a t Moffat and observed the of the di- tate in Lanarkshire. Born in 1710, he first went to the mate, he caused many patients to resort to it in search grammar school of ~ ~ ~ i l ~ ~ ~ and then to the university of health and thus established the reputation of Moffat of Glasgow, where he apprentice to John as a health resort. Paisley, member of the Faculty of Physicians and Sur-

    In the absence of a portrait, the following pen picture geons, and graduated as doctor of medicine of the by Dr. Foth-gill3 is worth quoting: "Plummer is no University of Glasgow in 1729. After making several more: he knew Chemistry well; laborious, attentive, voyages to the West Indies as ship's surgeon and spend- and exact, had not a native diffidence veiled his talents ing some months in London with Mr. Murray, an apoth- as a prdector, he would have been the foremost in the ecary in Henrietta Street, he practised medicine a t pupils' esteem. Such was the gentleness of his nature, Shotts, then a small village in Lanarkshire, for a couple such his universal knowled~e, that in any disputed of vears. The inheritance of a small lewcv enabled -

    him to devote his attention exclusively ro &udy and ' PLAYPAIR, L.. "A century of chemistry in the University of in the winter sessions 1734-35-36 he attended medical Edinburgh." Murray and Gibb, Edinburgh, first ed., 1858, p. 8. . TaomsoN, ,., "rife of wuiam Cullen, M,D,;. William classes in Edinburgh and became one of the founders Blackwood, Edinburgh, first ed., 1832, p. 524. of the Medical Society which received a Royal Charter

  • in 1778 and still continues to be a living force in the medical world. Returning to medical practice in 1736 he numbered amongst his patients the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton and most of the county families of the district round about Hamilton. In addition to his professional work, Cullen interested himself in civic affairs and was twice elected a magistrate of Hamilton.

    In 1741 he mamed Anna Johnstone, a daughter of the minister of Kilbarchan in Renfrewsbue, by whom he had a family of seven sons and four daughters. Three years after his marriage he migrated to Glasgow, where, in addition to private medical practice, he gave lectures on the theory and practice of physic, on ma- teria medica, on botany, and on chemistry. At first these lectures do not appear to have been recognized by the University, but in 1747 the University faculty ordered a sum of 52 to be appropriated for the pur- chase of apparatus necessary for the teaching of chem- istry. In the years 1747 and 1748 Cullen spent 136 on apparatus! Thereafter he spent 20 each year on its upkeep.

    respect of his hearers. His opinion of the early chem- ists is shown in the following quotation from his open- ing lecture in Glasgow: ". . . in our lectures, you will notice a

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